Posted by: John Elliott | August 12, 2008

This Elephant has moved from

Elephants, an expert friend tells me, migrate seasonally looking for greener pastures. For this elephant it was a long season in one place – 15 months since I started my blog on in April last year.

But it came time to move on, and the Elephant has now migrated (elephants can move quite fast!) to its new WordPress home here on  I’m not sure about greener though – it was good and rewarding in the old location, tended by editing mahouts in’s New York office who sharpened my intros, tidied up my English (yes, English), and caught errors. From now on, it looks like being me, unedited.

Mostly the blog has been fun. I can claim a few correct forecasts. One, just over a year ago, was that Vijay Mallya, the liquor “king” turned Kingfisher airline owner, would not let G.R.Gopinath’s dream of providing air flights for the masses survive long after he had bought a stake in Air Deccan, Gopinath’s budget airline.

Gopinath is now starting a separate air freight airline and deserves India’s congratulations and thanks for what Deccan did, even though Mallya’s hubris, and economic realities, have not allowed the dream to survive.

The warring Ambani brothers, who are using their companies – Mukesh’s RIL and Anil’s ADAG groups – to settle their irresponsible feud, have frequently appeared here. Recently Mukesh Ambani publicly displayed how ruthless he can be when he stopped his brother merging Reliance Communications with MTN of South Africa to form an international telecom player that would have been bigger than Mukesh’s businesses.

Whatever the legal rights or wrongs, that was a vicious and mean thing to do and should be taken as a warning by any international company thinking of doing deals with the brothers, especially Mukesh. On July 20, The Financial Times’ Lex column said “The family will now pay a high price for this behavior, since it pushes up the cost of doing business for all Reliance entities. The danger is that companies keen to do business with one brother start to fear vindictive behavior from the other.”

I’ve also written about many big multi-nationals such as General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. In India, the Tata group and its boss Ratan Tata have frequently appeared. One of the Tata posts sparked the most fury among Elephant’s readers, who snapped and snarled because I dared to say that Tata’s Taj hotels are not as good as they are cracked up to be (they often aren’t).

I also said I understood how Jaguar dealers in the US were doubtful that Tata Motors was the right home for that once iconic brand (the dealers have changed their mind – for me, the jury is still out). That post generated 196 comments – far more than any other. Many writers may have not read the post fully and were infuriated by isolated comments – some even demanded I should be sacked. Rational argument went out of the window and, judging by their silence since then, a few carried out their threats to boycott the blog.

I misjudged one Tata story – on the plight of rare Olive Ridley turtles on the Orissa coast. I wrote that Tata was running into trouble with Greenpeace and other environmental groups because the turtles’ nesting habits are threatened by the new port project at Dhamra. Sadly I was wrong. Greenpeace has failed to substantiate some of its accusations (which I queried) and, instead of building a broad-based campaign against Tata, has gone quiet. Other laudable and focused environmental campaigners seem to realize they have lost, now that port construction is well under way. This gives Tata a chance to prove its environmental credentials and ensure that everything possible is done to protect these rare creatures. I wonder if it will genuinely do so. Anyone who has ever seen the turtles crawl out of the sea at night to lay their eggs, and then slide back under the waves (as I have done on the Pakistan coast near Karachi), would want to do everything possible to preserve them.

There’s always a tendency, when writing about India, to suggest that events here are unique, which of course they are not. I realized recently that the behavior of India’s politicians – evident in last week’s confidence vote won by the government – was common in Britain 250 years ago.

Matthew d’Ancona, the editor of the London–based Spectator magazine, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph earlier this month about Gordon Brown, the beleaguered British prime minister [Gordon Brown is still up for it]  who he thinks has become “Namierite”. That is a reference to Sir Lewis Namier, an 18th century British historian, who argued that most political activity is explained “not by the power of ideas and ideals…..but by the complex interaction of factions and connections, the quest for personal advantage and naked careerism”.

In “The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III,” Namier wrote: “Men… no more dreamt of a seat in the House in order to benefit humanity than a child dreams of a birthday cake that others may eat it… the seat in the House was not their ultimate goal but a means to ulterior aims.”

I’m not saying (before angry commentators rise up in fury) that Indian politics are stuck in the groove of 18th century Britain. I’m simply pointing out that politicians are the same everywhere (is the U.S. any better?). So congratulations to all the Yadavs, to Mayawati, to Jayalalitha, and yes, to perpetuators of India’s mushrooming dynasties. You are heirs to a great tradition!


  1. S Gollamudi, Hyderabad, India
    http://no_url | |
    well written article i must say having been here for the first time. I
    agree that Indians are more excitable and tend to go to extreme positions
    without batting an eyelid. there are very few politicians who can speak in
    measured tones than P Chidambaram. Similarly our politicians are still
    medieval in behaviour- not that the West is any better the degree of
    corruption and the damage is much more when it impacts beyond borders eg
    the lobby and special interest groups in Washington. India will
    inexhorably move into modern times with more transparency in public life
    as the masses become more aware of things thanks to our media.

    From This Elephant is off to fresh pastures, 2008/08/01 at 7:59
    AM2008/08/01Approve | Unapprove | Spam | Delete

    http://no_url | |
    I like your summary article and I completely agree with “politicians are
    the same everywhere”, afterall humans are the same everywhere-although
    politicians often behave like animals lower down the food chain

    From This Elephant is off to fresh pastures, 2008/07/31 at 8:13
    AM2008/07/31Approve | Unapprove | Spam | Delete

    indianinamerica, boston, ma
    http://no_url | |
    BINGO !!!
    you got it !!!, politicians are same all over the world…Genius is in “how
    much control you give it to them to ruin an economy”…
    A free market, capitalistic society is GOOD…a communist or socialist
    policies, tend to make politicians center of gravity…
    we should NOT try to change politicians but change the system to a more
    capitalistic free market oriented government.

    From This Elephant is off to fresh pastures, 2008/07/30 at 9:11
    AM2008/07/30Approve | Unapprove | Spam | Delete
    Kg, India.
    http://no_url | |
    I have a couple of suggestions and comments on this post. I suggest buying
    a domain name and hosting wordpress so you have more control and not
    parade a something.wordpress. account for your writing stature (don’t you,
    oh great huncho of the Indian scene deserve your own domain? :).
    While you may be a critic how much of your knowledge is actually being in
    India and how much of it is through western media sources (tv/newspapers
    etc)? I would tread lightly on assumptions because we know how dangerous
    they can be. Take America’s Commander in Chief for example, I’m sure the
    general knowledge/awareness of the country ranks higher than his :).
    to sum up
    – Get a nice non standard wordpress theme, it’s not hard.
    – Get a domain name.
    – Remove those trillion tags
    – Keep writing, it is fun reading.

  2. Since you are riding the elephant, do read my post about “Animal Qualms”
    I have yet to go through your past posts and plan to do it over the week.

    Got to you thru Vinod Sharma’s India Retold

  3. Hey – thanks for the support – and for the first comment in Elephant’s new habitat!

  4. Good to see the blog continues.

    I hope this continues to encourage as many comments and debates as there were on the Fortune blog!

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