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Hash’Tag’Amla

Form is temporary and class is permanent. A cliché that has been often used in cricket commentary to describe batsmen of great skill.

The tenth edition of IPL concluded recently with Mumbai Indians being crowned the champions for the third time. The heartening thing about the biggest showpiece of international cricket is its ability to showcase promising young talents and much needed alternate mode of sustenance to domestic players.

As a cricket fan who will completing three decades of following cricket, I would remember 2017 IPL differently though. Hashim Amla a dyed in the wool test batsman making significant contributions and emerging as one of the top scorers in the tenth edition.

When he made his debut around 2004 when T20s was still in its infancy nobody would have guessed that Amla would make an impact in this format. After all he is known to exhibit great composure, persistence, steadfastness qualities valued in test cricket. T20s on the contrary preferred their heroes to be mercurial, edgy and volatile and that came in handy given the harried nature of the format. In T20s bound by time constraints one’s instincts take control of their game with no time for deeper analysis and patient control. On the contrary test cricket one had infinite time at their disposal.

Teams have understood this and have different people playing in each of these varied formats with hardly anyone who is considered a test speciality playing the T20 format. This makes Hashim Amla’s feat unique is the way he plays all the three formats with due adjustments and style suited to the needs of each of the format. On the contrary, David warner plays the same way across all three formats.

Among the younger generation of fans who have taken up watching cricket post the 2000s, test cricket is seen a sort of skulduggery of sorts compared to the entertainment quotient that comes with T20s.

Any keen follower of amla’s cricketing career would certainly notice that he has certainly made adjustments to meet the changing needs. Those cuts in the test matches are replaced by slaps outside of the offs ump lending elevation. More sixes in his repertoire in the T20 format compared to the boundaries.

In celebrating his performance in this IPL, I would like to call in a change in the time tested adage often quoted in addressing class batsmen. “Form is temporary, class is permanent and format is indifferent” to them.

Bahubali : Lessons from reading the cover

Some confessions first. I haven’t seen the movie Bahubali yet. I am more than eager to judge the book by its cover without giving it it’s due and not feeling guilty of doing so. I am biased with indignation here.

Recently the Tamil film fraternity requested people who critique movies to defer their opinions by three days post the release. And this they hope would ensure them recover the ‘making costs’ and make them immune to the critic’s wisecracks and any adverse impact consequently.

Now that SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus has earned more than 1000 crore across the country, one feels morally less burdened to be candid. My in-laws who haven’t stepped in to a movie hall in over a decade watched this movie and happily reported that it was like yesteryear mythological movies and found it enjoyable. That news made me more comfortable as it ensured that my potential to inflict any financial damage to the movie was none.

More than the movie, the celebration of the movie maker’s efforts even before it’s theatrical release got me wondering. That Bahubali would be a commercial success across India was a foregone conclusion even before the movie was released. Only Salman khan and Rajinikanth could have pulled this off. And their films ride hugely on their individual charisma with the quality of film making often redundant.

This is perhaps the first time a period drama, that too from south with actors hitherto unknown to the rest of the country, managed to evoke this kind of excitement. One of the columnists in a popular south daily lamented how this movie threatens the renaissance that started happening in Tamil movies, with stories getting precedence over stardom.

A casual look at the movie reviews clearly indicate that the movie is a winner for all the wrong reasons. Despite typecast characters and a storyline utterly lacking novelty the film glorifies feudal hierarchy and celebrates pseudo machismo – that has no relevance today.  We as a nation are better off without that. I wouldn’t even go to the extent of comparing the visual effects with Lord of the rings or Mahabharata for inspiration. With an insipid story-line and characterization, the graphics only reminds you of the popular children’s game ‘Temple run’ and certainly not Lord of the Rings.

This movie has become such a phenomenon it has become impossible to criticize and argue on its demerits. Like many things currently in our country there has been a groundswell support for this movie and any lone voice that was critical went unheard. A spectacular canvass is proving to be good enough to stifle critical thinking that it may encounter. One could sense it from the support it received from all quarters, especially the big stars who often have millions riding on them. It is great endorsement for their stardom which gives them the license to demand obscene fees.

Unless you are overcome with nationalistic zeal of supporting an Indian movie maker attempting special effects of international standard, there isn’t a good reason for you to watch the movie. But then we live in different times. Refusal to play a part in such acts invites the collective wrath of the society or makes you a cynic who can’t see goodness in everyday goodness.

But then the overriding message is clear. We all fall for the primacy effect. We fell for the cover as nothing inside the book mattered. A glossy expensive cover than can earn you more than 1000 crores even if it had nothing in-between worth talking about. Markandeya katju’s in his moment of epiphany was right about us.

The reality check!

If reality shows are indication of our country’s performing talent, then we are nation bursting with singers, dancers and Jokers (or clowns if you like). I will just take an example of one of the regional channels that I follow. They have singing reality show, a dance reality show, a comedy reality show. I am sure this applies to every channel that operates at a national or regional level in this country. That will bring the number of performers to thousands who are entertaining us on everyday basis.

It has almost become a defacto template for every entertainment channel as they continue to host song, dance and comedy shows indicating a huge demand for these kinds of shows among Indian viewers. Effectively this makes us believe that every Indian is an art patron whose day will be incomplete without his daily dose of entertainment. Or is it because there is extraordinary talent that is waiting without a platform to showcase their skills? I wonder?

What could perhaps explain the incredible following for these kinds of shows? Certain trends emerge when you give it a closer look

  • Source content: if one examines the nature of content that is part of the song and dance shows, one typically sees the movie based content that gets played out in the form of songs that are being sung or dances that are being choreographed. Given that Bollywood (or any other regional movie form) has huge popularity, one could see them riding on that popularity. A smart and conscious choice of not reinventing the wheel.
  • People: This is a place where ordinary people are ushered in to the world of stardom. I guess this aspect of the show where you see ordinary people achieving celebrity-hood makes the narrative compelling. A typical rag to riches story wherein a commoner achieves extraordinary fortunes. One can see the attention paid to their personal stories, that are brought alive during these programmes. Many viewers are fixated on certain contestants not just because of their talent but also because of who they are.
  • Drama: It is also noteworthy that all these shows are not just about performance and showcasing talent. There is a fair degree of drama that is played out around wins and losses, judges anger, contestants behaviour, problems surrounding their personal lives etc. The drama adds more flavour to these programmes and ensures  interest levels are sustained on an ongong basis
  • Humour: The other aspect is humour. In the past humour was confined to specific sections and larger public discourse was devoid of humour with a lot of serious talk. However today humour is more widespread with social media fuelling this trend with memes being the new order of expression. One positive thing of all these is that no one is spared. One could see this reflecting in these reality shows as well. The downside is the kind of humour that is in circulation. In an all-time low, calling people names, ridiculing one’s physical traits have found  large scale acceptability under the guise of humour and have become the order of the day.

In a nutshell one could see content created with minimal effort, with ample drama and ridicule branded as humour finding mass acceptance across the country. Our country needs a ‘reality check’ on the idea of entertainment.

Can the Modi phenomenon by undone?

I am writing this just before the results of UP elections. It’s been two days since the exit polls were out and there has been plenty of debate on the veracity of it. Many who have been actual part of the actual exercise are debating whether it should exist at all.

If the actual results of UP, toe the line of exit polls, India’s politically most important state would have a BJP government. All credits should go to one man, the remarkable Narendra Modi and rightly so. But for him, his party stood no chance of pulling this off.

Ever since he won the 2014 election, Narendra modi has only gained in strength and stature. He commands an incredible aura and seen by many as someone who could do nothing wrong. He creates an incredible first impression as somebody who is not corrupt, hardworking, business friendly, speaks for hindus/Hindutva and as an active proponent of nationalistic zeal. These impressions mask any other negatives that may exist. Modi makes a classical case for ‘Halo effect’ where first impressions mask everything else, especially negatives.

On the other hand, any attempt to tarnish his image has misfired so far and ironically further strengthened his image. That is quite a rarity among contemporary leaders. One can compare him to the mythical ‘Vali’ in Ramayana, as anyone who challenged him would immediately lose half of their strength to him.  This is evident from how he emerged unscathed after demonetisation with his popularity intact. In fact, it further enhanced his credibility as the crusader against corruption, purely for the attempt regardless of the results. Today as things stand, nobody is arguing against the success or failure of demonetisation, the very fact that Modi took the effort is good enough and places him head, shoulders and knee above the rest. Since I was too young when Indira Gandhi was around, I don’t think any leader commanded such position in my lifetime.

I fundamentally think this extraordinary image and aura of invincibility is due to our fascination for messiahs. It is evident in the demigod status we accord to our heroes. A quick example that comes to me is Sachin Tendulkar, who was accorded such status early in his career. Before the advent of dravid, ganguly the efforts of other players in the eleven didn’t get counted. Mythology is abundant with crusaders from Srikrishna to Rama who were there to pull us out of our misery and save us from the evil forces. A hero is often whom we look up to. The success of Modi is a testimony to our continued fascination for the one man who would rescue from the evil forces that are plaguing the country. He is clearly seen as the ‘chosen one’ who will rescue us from our state of penury and restore the grandiosity of the past.

All this brings us to an important question. Is this position permanent? Is he completely invincible? Especially with him completely owning the nationalism rhetoric, can anybody dislodge him at all. A great hero he has become. But like the great heroes of the past, is there a weak link – an Achilles heel?

Indeed, there is! One must look slightly south for answers. Tamilnadu is one state where he is yet to open his account. When the entire nation chanted Modi and gave him a popular mandate, one state stood out and voted for the indomitable ‘Amma’ without any signs of Modi wave. This defiance has an interesting subtext to it. It is a case of regional identity toppling the so called national identity. Tamilnadu has a history of such defiance with the popular anti-hindi movement which set the stage for Dravidian parties to capture power. Till date tamilnadu has been a fortress for regional parties where national parties made little headway.

Modi unlike in other states is clearly handicapped in wooing the voters here given that he doesn’t speak the language and cannot stoke the nationalistic sentiments to an electorate with strong regional bias. Therefore, the only narrative that can counter the rise of modi could be subaltern feelings that doesn’t necessarily getting reflected in the larger nationalistic sentiments of the country. It is the triumph of regional over national.

One could see that in Bihar, where the voters chose to support local established leaders over Modi. The electorate didn’t take it too kindly to the fact that BJP projected Bihar in poor light. Nitish and Laloo were quick to cash in and campaigned as a matter of regional pride.  I felt their stand against reservations and painting a poor caricature of Bihar went against them in Bihar elections.

Modi, being the astute politician he is has deftly managed regional sentiments so far. By donning local attire, approximating local icons he has ensured that he didn’t antagonize local sentiments. For instance, in tamilnadu he did that by wearing a dhoti and taking a photo-op with the Tamil superstar Rajnikanth.

While I narrated the case of Tamilnadu, this can happen in states with strong local subcultures that have unique counter narratives like west Bengal, Orissa and even Maharashtra. Especially in states where they have strong regional leaders who embody these sentiments, Modi hasn’t enjoyed similar levels of invincibility.

In the longer run therefore Modi’s success in places where there is a strong regional subculture would depend on how he effectively weaves his nationalistic bombast with regional fervour. Addressing local issues, honouring local tradition and giving due regard to local language would aid his success. Any threat to local pride would prove detrimental in the consolidation that he is aiming at.

On a personal note, while I am not a fan of Modi, I do recognize the fact he has brought credibility and buoyancy to his role which didn’t exist with politicians generally in India. One hopes that he accepts that there are many Indias that exist within the broader idea of India and he needs to acknowledge and appreciate it sooner than later. From what I see on ground, it seems like wishful thinking.

Post-truth: Ageing wine in a new bottle?

When I look back at 2016 two major political events caught my attention. Many call these changes unprecedented and are touted to bring in seismic changes to the world we live in.

  • Donald trump will be the president of the most powerful democracy in the world
  • United Kingdom an important constituent of Europe exits the European union

In another less popular development the revered Oxford Dictionaries declared, ‘post-truth’ as the Word of the Year 2016. Post truth defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’

Many wise men attributed these events as a post-truth reality. And ‘post- truth’ emphasizes the importance of emotions and personal beliefs over objective facts in influencing decisions. They also added how these events stumped rationality which essentially means individual ethos and emotions are prone to erroneous judgement not bound by reason. A look at the recent events (Jallikattu, Ramjas college issue, Boycotting fizz drinks of MNC origin in tamilnadu etc) gives us an indication of how emotions wreak havoc on reason.

For those who are in the business of marketing research this comes  as no surprise at all. After all many brands, have been built forging an emotional connect with the consumers. The question is what is different to those involved in studying brands and consumers. What does ‘post-truth’ offer us?

It is more about the times we live in makes the impact of post-truth a bigger threat. We are living in an information age, where access to information has become easier than before, consumers are on a constant state of exposure to information. This makes their action and reactions extremely dynamic as they are in a constant state of flux.

On the other hand, time has become more precious commodity with one’s attention constantly divided in to job, family, entertainment etc. As the time pressure increases one’s attention span is extremely challenged.

Where does this all lead us to. We are looking at the consumer who is overloaded with information, has less attention and is bound by emotions and ethos. Consumer are increasingly more susceptible to process information and make decisions that defy logic. The current situation creates a fertile ground for this to happen at an alarmingly high frequency. The recent developments are a clear testimony to that. Moreover, information that has emotional baggage affecting larger population has the potential to spread like a wildfire and any intervention to drive logic subsequently becomes futile and misplaced.

There is a lesson here for marketers as well. Once on the wrong side of emotion it becomes difficult to handle when issues like nationalism comes in to play which could affect larger cross section of population. Even in an increasingly heterogenic society like ours, issues pertaining to ethos and beliefs have the potential to unite large swathes of population.  The consumer has greater affinity for binaries than ever before.

While brands have always been built after studying individual beliefs and societal ethos, I believe what has become crucial is the time one is left to manage these kinds of challenges. The rise of social media has blurred the difference fact and fiction and inflicts lasting damage to years of credibility in no time. A critical endeavour would therefore be to understand the changing perceptions especially in social media about brands. This would mean going beyond measuring standard brand metrics and study the nature of conversations about the brand and ascertain if it is at odds with the ethos in the society that it operates in on an ongoing basis. Given how technology is poised to take over individual lives, brands would do well to look out of for these potential landmines and address them beforehand.

Born with platinum spoon!

Two incidents narrated by my wife recently made my write this.

Incident -1:

This lady who lives in the gated society next to us is a working mother with a toddler to take care. This is what she does every day before she starts for her office. She picks up her child from the bed and drops her at the day care half asleep. The responsibility to take care of the child falls entirely on the day care centre right from giving her a bath, managing her bowels, feeding her, being her playmate, teaching her the necessities of life and putting her back to sleep. To me that sounded a whole lot to do. I would be happy if somebody managed all that for my kid. Recently I got to know the lady got extremely upset with her day care centre as she found to her dismay that they did not give shampoo wash to her daughter’s hair. My wife and her friend concluded she was overreacting and it certainly didn’t warrant the kind of dressing down the day care centre received from her. I concur.

Incident -2:

I came across a kid, all of 8 years with strong views on life. Both his parents are professionals working, reasonably well settled and holiday abroad once in a year. I am stating this to drive home that they are reasonably affluent and are financially able to meet the demands of their kid. They have their parents living in their ancestral village in their grand farmhouse surrounded by a lush green farm which few only can dream of. They have recently decided to spend their annual holiday vacationing abroad as their only kid couldn’t adjust to the earthy environs in their village. The mother proudly declared, after all he was born with ‘platinum spoon’

The above two events made me reflect on the approach I had towards studying consumers. Often in consumer research studies, our client would ask us to come up with ways to position their product. I always considered this one of the most exciting part of my work as it gives me an opportunity to think through and strategize for the client. Further it made feel part of something big, a childhood aspiration.

I also loved simplifying complex subjects in the way it made sense to me. In my attempts to identify positioning I always looked at two key elements,

  1. Address an existing pain point or a need gap
  2. Address a relevant consumer aspiration

This simplification helped me in making sense of the research data (Qualitative) and present my thoughts with clarity. The above two incidents left me with a question mark on how to best reflect the mindset of the above consumers. To me they are the ‘entitled lot’ born with a ‘platinum’ spoon. I don’t know if today we as market researchers are addressing them as we ought to.

These are not isolated incidents as we do see these consumers in every walk of our lives. Many among us wouldn’t see anything wrong with sense of entitlement. One could see them at a restaurant, in the flights that we take, in the shopping aisles, etc. You could identify them in the way they speak or address others from a position of deep-rooted superiority sans humility .

This is fast becoming a national phenomenon too. The famed middle class anger about the ruling class is all about this entitlement. High taxes, poor roads, urban slums, issues with freebies to the poor, issues against reservation. The whole establishment and it’s ways comes in the way of their purported privilege.

This has only strengthened with the advent of e-commerce and the increase in the role of technology in our lives. Technology has brought in convenience and knowledge literally to one’s finger tips. Consumers have never had it better with every e-commerce player falling over each other to offer discounts.

In the past, any access to knowledge beyond your text books were only available in the libraries and one must invest the time and effort to gain knowledge. Purpose and obsession were essential.  If I compare it with today, with ease of access, one can claim expertise with twitch of their index finger.

One might argue that ease of access to information has given us a sense of empowerment. Unfortunately, this also breeds a sense of entitlement among those who are already privileged in terms of class, caste and cash even if their knowledge is just a delusion.

While empowerment and convenience in terms access have made our lives better (especially mine) an unpleasant fallout has been this growing sense of entitlement.

This puts the position of market researchers like me who are in the business of studying consumers a unique challenge as we advise our clients to improve the customer experience. I must confess it is going to be a hard task to buy loyalty and keep them satisfied with their current mindset.

Maybe it will be worthwhile to measure how brands today are performing in terms of meeting the entitlement quotient as they brace themselves to woo this consumer. And it will be interesting to see how it gets reflected while measuring brand equity and customer satisfaction. Consumer is really the king here and he knows it. We better heed to his voice or perish. i promise to study them and see how it get’s manifested in brand choices.

UP elections and the availability bias

The ongoing UP elections is seen as a referendum on many things. Foremost many see the outcome as an indicator of electorate verdict on the demonetisation. Secondly, they see it as midcourse check on the performance of narendramodi government. Few also see it as a semi-final of sorts to the parliamentary election in 2019.

UP despite being a constant laggard on various economic, social and human indicators is ironically an important state influencing the political affairs of the country. Modi’s much touted win in 2014 came with a substantial contribution from UP and hence it earned the tag of deciding the fate of prime minister(s). Historically it has played a key role and hence no controversy around that.

The first phase of UP polls registered around 64% turnout. I wouldn’t gamble picking my bets on the election basis voter turnout as that is something pollsters are trained to do. The BJP made a spectacular return to UP by winning most of the seats in their 2014 parliamentary election and therefore would be expected to repeat its past performance. With the passage of time and given that this is assembly elections, while the same success cannot be guaranteed, they are still the party to beat in the UP election.

SP is seen a genuine challenger to BJP and many factors are attributed to this. The newly formed SP-congress alliance, caste arithmetic, Muslim votes, Akhilesh’s popularity with the youth voters, demonetisation impact on trader community etc.

Beyond all this I feel one significant aspect has not been given due spotlight. The high decibel family feud played out right under the media glare would have much to contribute to its campaign than one can imagine.

In the run up to the elections, two events did occupy the national limelight during this period. Yadav family feud and state of Tamil Nadu. These are the events that enjoyed huge media devotion in the run up to the UP elections.

The roller-coaster family feud with many flip flops involving Shivpal-Rampal- Akhilesh and Mulayam captured much of media attention with national channels running a non-stop coverage on the family feud. One might think why a family feud which projected the family in bad light could even be considered a threat to BJP’s prospects.

BJP who seemed to be the clear front runner owing to its spectacular feat in the parliamentary elections are having a huge challenge to out-manoeuvre this high visibility state for SP and draw attention back to them. BJP’s current campaign focusing on development all the allegations of the UP’s first family wouldn’t make the necessary dent because of lack of novelty.

This high media visibility that SP managed to garner lends a formidable case for ‘availability bias’s for the average UP voter. Availability bias operates successfully through recent events, vivid images leading to greater impact on the estimation of probability, especially political choices. In simple words it gives you a greater share or voice.

The family drama was novel, it had high charge emotional drama ingredients essential for grabbing attention and staying in memory for long time.  The very fact that the media spectacle played out for a longer duration of time it gave the young CM much needed visibility and less media attention to BJP. It gave a favourable image of a young scion who is trying to make a difference against all the odds that are staked against him.

 

There are some who are already saying that this entire family feud is staged and part of grand plan. I think there is merit in this theory as it managed to certainly take the wind out of the BJP’s sail. It will be interesting to see whether this strategy will pay enough dividends and win them the coveted elections.

The only new thing under the present circumstances would be to name a chief minister candidate to turn the tide in favour of BJP. An offer the BJP electorate cannot refuse and would win back the attention.

May the force be with us?

In a planet in far off galaxy there was a land mass surrounded by oceans on three sides and was land locked on one side with hard to cross snow-capped mountains. The southernmost tip of this land mass has been ruled by two orders in the past four decades.

The first order came to power by focusing on language and infusing regional pride among the community. For representation purposes let’s call it the ray of light.

The second order which was a splinter group from the first order, owes its origins to a steadfast dissent from the first order. For representation purposes let’s call it twig of two leaves. Presently there is bitter power battle that that is affecting the second order. Unlike the first order, the second order firmly believes in a ‘force’ that finds it’s mystical origin to the leader.

The force which permeates through the party members and its supporters and owes it’s presence to the supreme leader and his/her magnetic appeal.  The force inspires everyone to be subservient and find glory in that calling.

The force and its presence in the supreme leader confers extraordinary powers beyond the realm of mere mortals. The supreme leader on his part exudes infinite charisma and holds mass appeal. His subordinates uphold high order reverence to supreme leader and considers him/her scrutiny. The members of the second order are known only to exist as pale shadows of the supreme leader and can only survive as long as he/she casts her benevolent attention. They draw sustenance for their existence from the compassion of their supreme leader. Besides the leader to whom the force traces its origin has physical charms like fair complexion likened to the lotus which has furthered their appeal. So far the second order (the twig with two leaves) drew inspiration from the force and survived because of it. The force puts leader in the center of control and everyone follows suit.

Given that second order depends on force and force depends on it’s leader, the second order faces existential crisis without it’s charismatic leader. With the empire from north and heir apparent from first order close on their heels, it has become a struggle for the second order without the ‘force’

As the ‘lady’ and the ‘lieutenant’ battle it will be interesting to see how the power struggle will reinforce the potency of force. Many argue that ‘force’ is a thing of past as both the factions don’t have the necessary ‘charm’ to command with similar effect.  Interesting times ahead.

An order for our roadies?

Who is that one person who is non-negotiable in our everyday lives? Is there someone whom we cannot avoid irrespective of our socio-economic standing. Who is that everyday man integral to our lives.

Let me offer a clue. He is someone whom we love to hate. He is part of collective angst, rant almost on a everyday basis. Yet he is indispensable to our lives.

He is the ubiquitous Indian driver!

Evident from many Facebook posts one knows that each of us have our own favourite driver tale.  As someone who cannot drive to save my life, I am at awe with driving. It looks magical to me when people drive in autopilot mode multitasking.

Driving to me has many aspects to it that is hard to dismiss. It is not just a skill, it can be a profession, it is a business and we know now it can be huge industry as well. I don’t have the necessary statistics to back up but I would underscore driving as a profession is practiced by an overwhelming population. Perhaps in terms of people involved it may come next to agriculture in providing employment.

Drivers do come in many avatars from your neighbourhood rickshawallahs, cabbies and the drivers from transport corporations and those who are employed as drivers in various organisations.

But my primary focus would be those who are part of the large unorganized sector driving cabs/rickshaws in your neighbourhood. This still accounts for employment in large numbers. For many individuals driving gives them a certain escape from poverty and first legitimate opportunity to earn with dignity. As a skill, it is easy and cost effective to acquire. And there is an ease of getting employed with the ever increasing demand.

It is not uncommon to hear stories or ‘rags to riches’ about drivers becoming fleet owners putting them on a path towards entrepreneurship and greater prosperity.

While the prospect of owning a car or becoming a fleet owner loom, their everyday lives are laden with challenges given the difficulties of the environment they operate in. In metros, many are likely to immigrants without proper documentation and shoddy accommodation, tussle for permits given the high demand, subject of road rage, unruly passengers, poor roads, fluctuating demand, rising fuel prices etc. They must survive these persistent challenges to etch out a living and focus on prospering or getting a head in their lives.  All these make him extremely vulnerable in the eyes of those who enforce law and thereby a potential target for bribes too.

Besides these challenges they are subject of intense ridicule in the larger society given their attitude to passengers viz. fleecing on fares, refusals etc. The worst being the cases of violence against women and the resultant image of cab drivers among the general public in the metro cities.

With increasing urbanisation there would be a constant demand for public transport and therefore the need for these ‘drivers’ would only go up. One on hand this provides a great opportunity for many to lift themselves from poverty and aspire for a better life. However, I feel there is a lack of a regulative framework which could govern the interests of this segment. While there are unions that are spread in cities, they are confined to specific geographies and are not spread across the country. And most instances they come to the fore only when it comes to fare hikes and nothing else. There hasn’t been a voice to address their welfare more holistically.

Given the fact that this sector employs in massive numbers it is high time the government regulates and brings in a national framework to manage their welfare. I could think of wide ranging areas which could bring in betterment to their lives right from education, health, safety and financials etc.

While these are not comprehensive, I could think of some of the areas where help could come in,

  1. A start would be to a national registry to include anyone with commercial vehicle license and ensure that his details are linked to Aadhar and voter ID. This will ensure that their ID is captured and the details are shared before they seek to be self- employed. This implies commercial license has to be distinct (Not sure if it exists already)
  2. The biggest advantage is this is a segment that manages cash flows daily and anybody who can support them are likely to reap huge dividends. If properly done one could look at creating a collective corpus (on a national level) that is self-sustaining and can help them with their life and livelihood challenges.
  3. Given the high risks governing their jobs, it is important to see if government can deduct a small subset of their earnings and provide them insurance against routine ailments and severe conditions that require hospitalisation. They could look at tie-ups with CGHS scheme hospitals, dispensaries to provide the necessary care
  4. One could also look at support system by forging tie-ups with automakers to provide vehicle loans. This could support them in them to become entrepreneurs and their endeavour to be independent. This could support those who are deemed not credit worthy. Besides they could look at measure to support them in routine repairs which is also substantial to many.
  5. Many are immigrants and without proper documentation struggle to get in to the banking system. Exclusive mobile banking, payment wallets could help them with their daily transaction needs, remittances and even saving and investment needs actively bringing them in the formal banking system.
  6. Savings schemes for kid’s education and dedicated plans for higher education could be done to ensure their aspirations for better education for their children could be met.
  7. Compulsive training in technology and deployment including GPS, biometrics, Aadhar linkage will be beneficial to passengers as well drivers in terms of safety and security. This can be ensured while they are applying for commercial license.
  8. Dedicated housing schemes that could look at a daily/weekly instalment modalities towards providing better housing amenities.
  9. Nationwide framework of tariffs taking in regional differences to ensure periodical upgradation of fares that is mutually agreeable (Passengers and drivers)

More importantly all the above thought would work if there is a nationwide or at least state-wide initiative to address them collectively. It is high time to address this as their numbers would only increase in the years to come and active regulation would ensure their lives are better.