Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Some time back I was in one of India’s premier b-schools, for conducting summer placements for my organization. The first such experience for me- on the other side that is, and I got to experience and appreciate (not sure if that’s the right word to be using!) first hand the madness that’s a (premier) b-school placement process!
I being a creature of such a premier b-school myself, the external manifestations of the process were nothing new for me- in some ways it was even a déjà vu, so to say! Those crazy days and nights, with some 40 companies compressed into 3-4 days, last-minute shortlists, checking out your name in the lists and trying to gauge by which day you will get out of this crazy process, and return to a life with a semblance of normalcy. Then of course, those fun-filled 4 days, wherein you are pushed and pulled in and out of processes even as you struggle to remember which company you are appearing for and try to think up some high-sounding fancy about why you want to join the company and how till now every moment of your existence has been spent in ensuring your dream of joining company XYZ comes to fruition. All this even while you try to prevent yourself from blurting out in the Pepsi interview “I want to join Coke because…” (this has happened to someone I know!)
All this brings me to the point I wanted to bring forth and which has been in my mind from the day I was involved in that process as a recruiter. Why have a process compressed in 3-4 days at all? Why cant the entire placement process be spaced out over a period of say 1-2 months, wherein we would have separate companies coming over on separate dates, and students will be able to choose their favorite companies in a saner manner, and be able to perform better! I felt this most acutely while looking at the stressed out, tired and sleepy faces of the students when we were conducting the GDs and interviews! One guy we interviewed, mentioned they had been assembled in the auditorium at 4.30 in the morning, and here we were interviewing him at 2.30 in the (next) morning, almost 22 hours and running for the guy, through which he would have been shunted in and out of countless processes, being part of multiple GDs, some of which he would have cleared and some not, some interviews which he didn’t clear- so here was a tired, stressed, sleep-deprived bright 20-something sitting in front of us well past midnight, and we were expecting him to give of his best! How?? Is this another way to test how an individual performs under stress?? And is everyone really getting the best guy/guy they wanted? I don’t know.
The same process which seemed so exciting and adrenaline-filled as a student, suddenly didn’t feel so much exciting as a recruiter. And then you of course have the senior students acting as company contacts who also feel their share of the pressure having trying to juggle between the multiple (and many-a-times, king-sized) egos of 10 companies all at a time, all of whom want the best candidate, and invariably, there will be a missed feed here, and a resultant bruised ego there. To what avail?? And to imagine- this was just the summers, I could not fathom the amount of stress we make the students go through in the finals, where often a job in a particular company is seen as a make-or-break for their lives (at least on campus, though the fact that that’s not the case is only realized once we come out into the corporate world!)
I understand and appreciate the complexities for an institute involved in such a process, having to manage several high-profile companies and ensuring all of them have the satisfaction of being able to look at the top guys (that doesn’t always happen- that’s another story!). However, that I feel is a small price to pay compared to the monstrosity that we subject our young students to! And everything needs to be got used to- once a new system is put in place by all premier b-schools, all companies will get used to this in a matter of time. Students will also be better able to think logically and exercise their choice as to which companies to target- and not end up in a bank when they wanted to join an FMCG or vice versa(no disrespect to anyone here). We can even have sector-specific days- say 4 days dedicated to the banking sector only, if it gets too difficult to manage company X and convince them to come a day later than company Y! And have only those students interested in banking to appear during those days. Sounds difficult, I know, but why not give it a try?? This might also help in companies actually getting someone eager to join them, and consequently someone who sticks for a longer time.
Currently, I feel its all a result of the competition within our institutes as to how quickly the students can be placed/cleared, but someone needs to call time to this system! After all, wont we all want a win-win situation where the student gets to choose his/her favorite company/sector to sit for, the company gets the right candidate to interview and the student gets to really give of his best performance in the interview, instead of drearily waiting for the next feed and yet another process at 3 in the morning!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bengal-a political saga

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”- goes the saying. And living proof of this has been the left front government, or erstwhile government which has been in power in Bengal for 34 years, and was recently ousted, no routed by the Trinamool Congress- Congress alliance, and comprehensively booted out of power after 7 consecutive terms- a record by any means!
There are various stages to this story- for those who are uninitiated, misinformed or plain disinterested (which I suspect will be the majority!)- and to begin we must go back to our freedom struggle. During the later stages of our freedom struggle, when Netaji and some other leaders broke away from the ruling section in Congress (Gandhiji et al) owing to ideological differences, and an anti-capitalist anti-establishment feeling (Bengalis are anyways prone to these feelings!) started to take root in the Bengali intelligentsia, was laid the foundations of a Marxist movement, one which was pro-poor and pro-peasants, and which ideologically veered completely away from the primarily elite Congress leaders of the time.
Many decades passed, but this movement was still restricted to a few groups here and there, and would have remained so, but for the emergency imposed by Smt. Gandhi on the nation in the 70’s. The period ’72-’77 saw an extremely turbulent and violent era in Bengal, where the foundations of the Naxal (present day Maoist) movement was built, and thousands of brilliant and idealistic youth of Calcutta took up arms against the excesses by the then Congress government in Bengal. Hundreds of lives were lost, many more irreversibly destroyed, and from that fire arose the Communist movement- on the premises of equality (which people craved for at that point), justice and power to poor, notable the peasants. Given the times and the background, they got massive public support, and the Congress government was crushed in the ’77 elections, bringing to power a CPI (M) government which was to rule the state for 34 long years!
We are talking here of a time when Calcutta was among the most progressive of the metros, leading the way not only in art and culture (which was natural, given the artistic inclinations of the average Bengali), but also in business and investments, which though were mainly state controlled at that time. But then started the stagnation. There was no slide or decline, really, just that the city remained still in time, a poor caricature of its former glorious self, while the others surged ahead. While ’91 opened the doors of the country to foreign investments and private enterprise, Bengal kept its doors firmly shut, with a mix of botched up economic policies of the left government and some misplaced ideas of social justice.
But where the problem really lay, and which will also be the legacy of this failed government, is the systematic destruction of the Bengali mind. If you don’t like a policy, call a bandh, stall work and force others to come to your terms. The obvious results- businesses started fleeing, and no new businesses entered.
So how did this government survive 7 terms? A very common, and understandable question. Well, the answer is systematic rigging of elections. The magic of the promised land had started to fade by the 90’s, but owing to the entire state machinery being in their hands, and grabbing of the rural votes by a mix of coercion, force, blackmailing, empty promises and doling out money, the left front managed to drag on the government. And in the process, with every passing day, they became more and more arrogant, unconnected with reality and indulged in one failed policy after another.
The setting was ripe for a new movement, a new face and so came the rise of Mamata Banerjee. Probably the most ridiculed leader at the national level (right up there with Lalu), it is interesting to trace her rise. She first came into political prominence in 1984, when as a firebrand youth Congress leader, she defeated political heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee, which was the equivalent of Holland beating Australia in cricket! This created huge ripples in the Indian political scenario, and she was spotted and picked up by Rajiv Gandhi, who was entering the fray at that time after his mother’s assassination in 1984. thus started the rise of Mamata Banerjee in Indian politics. This entire period saw her transform from a raw, theatrical, emotional leader to a true leader of the masses in Bengal. All through this phase, she was involved in several newsworthy events, but the tide really turned for her one fateful day in the early 90’s. She was surrounded by several CPM goons on a Calcutta street, and beaten to within an inch of her life with bamboo sticks in full public view! She survived the incident, and came out as a true rallying leader of the common public, who by now had started losing their faith in the left front government. She rose inside the Congress, broke away and formed the Trinamool Congress in 1998, got into alliances with the NDA at the centre, became the railway minister, came out from the alliance and joined the UPA, became railway minister again. But all through this period, she kept her eyes firmly set on the throne of Bengal and kept plotting the downfall of the left. The chance finally came in the 2009 parliamentary elections, which dealt a decisive blow to the left. The myth of their invincibility was shattered, and 2011 was an event waiting to happen- only the scale of the defeat crossed all expectations! And this was also aided by the Singur and Nandigram incidents. The first where Mamata scored a victory in the eyes of the people by driving out Tatas (whether she was right or not is a matter of further debate, but the fact remains that the fertile land was given away to the Tatas, while there was arid land available at not some great distance away!), the second where the state used violence on its own subjects- a sure-shot sign of nervousness and losing control. What has also mattered in this long battle is the fact that Mamata remains to this day, one of the few politicians in this country who boasts of a clean image!
Now that were done with the elections, and a new government being sworn in, what are the chances of things changing? Well, let me admit, it’s a long road ahead- investments need to be brought in, a better work culture needs to be created in this bandh-prone state, infrastructure needs to improve, the impoverished state coffers need some filling, and the right balance needs to be struck between industry and agriculture. Whether the new government can do all this, and how long all this will take, is anyone’s guess. But at least a beginning has been made, and what is that saying about you never know how good a person/team/group is unless you give them a chance. And that my friends, is something that the people of this state really deserve- a chance at redemption!