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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hyper-local marketing for startups

Since last week, one can’t miss the advertisement of Eon tutorials in Malleshwaram area (in Bangalore city). It’s on every gate of houses/offices along with No Parking sign. In spite of several such signages which use No Parking boards to advertise, one cannot help taking note of Eon. Not for its colorful board design, but for the sheer number of boards they have managed to display. They are on EVERY gate. As you happen to walk or jog or drive by any road, you will take note of it. all this despite several other signage boards on the gates. Sub conscious registers it well. Ask anybody about Eon tutorials in Malleshwaram area. They might not remember where they saw it, but surely will tell you they heard about it before. From Eon tutorials business point of view, this is a tremendous marketing achievement. Their claim is simple – tutorials for any class all over Bangalore! I would imagine these sign boards are put up in other areas of Bangalore as well (unless they don’t have cash to spend on it). Now the decision for parents is made easy. Eon has produced top of mind recall. Either curious parents will call to inquire from them or hear about them from other parents. In any case, number of students inquiring for admission or even getting themselves admission should increase. (I am not invested in them J and do not know actual conversion rate).

This got the marketer inside me thinking. For a moment, assume they were a pan-India company and they set aside budget for their marketing team. What would marketing team do? Open a website, with parents and students as target market, get bloggers to write about them, get Google to show them in search results for related keywords, advertise near schools, on facebook etc. This is perhaps what they will do considering most consumer startups in India are already doing similar stuff. The bigger idea would have been to spray in all cities and hope to get required buzz. If a marketer were to think of what Eon has done, maybe it has an important lesson. What if all marketing effort is focused in one region or city? Spend (the always constrained) marketing budget in hyper-focused manner. Ensure it gets buzz within that region. This is possible and well demonstrated by Eon. Note: signage board as a medium of advertisement is not important, setting up the hyper-local buzz is important. Ensure your target audience (parents/students/…) as case maybe don’t miss it. This is sure shot way to create a buzz with a section of target audience (and can be executed with less budget). If the product/service doesn't get inquiries/sales from that region in a reasonable period of time, it validates viability of that offering. If it does convert into sales, it’s a good indicator of offering’s acceptance in a wider market as well. In any case, the result of product-market fit will be known. If product/service does convert into sales, the marketing team will have a happy problem to solve – to satisfy those initial customers and create the all-important word-of-mouth social buzz. Hey, Isn't this the lean-marketing way anyway? J

Not surprised to hear stories about how Yelp first proved their product in San-Francisco first or how FourSquare got their numbers initially with hyper-focus on one city. Perhaps these companies planned that way or executed it that way for lack of initial marketing/operation budget. Reason could be anything; hyper-local marketing is a great way to start marketing in a consumer startup.

I don’t see many Indian startups adopting this thinking. Any thoughts why?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Telcos - how about adding intelligence to pipes?

Having worked in telcom domain for 12 years, I cant help noticing stark difference between the telco world and the internet world. Now that I am trying my hands on internet “stuff” for nearly 1 year, the difference is more apparent than before.

Much like the telcos, internet companies have gathered users, built a brand and store user data (think of Google, Facebook, Pinterest and likes as internet companies). Data is the core treasure and then in priority comes their brand; which can be obtained by e.g. through advertisements. Intuition should be telling them “hold on to data and don’t expose it anybody else”. On contrary… over time, they realized that opening up data to the world makes them an attractive proposition for a community of developers and their users. People will figure out innovative ways to profitably build applications in diverse domains. Think of Zynga and host of others who have built a business using social data exposed by Facebook (which Facebook by itself could not have done without defocusing from their main business). As a platform provider of data, Facebook only needs to create a business model to monetize exposed data. Data privacy regulations have to be respected and they have found ways to take permission from user. E.g. my private data is not compromised when Farmville uses my friends list since I authenticated Zynga using my Facebook credentials. Facebook and Zynga are examples of zillion others to illustrate power of open data architecture.

Imagine if telcos in India opened up their data. Privacy of data comes to the fore first… assume telcos have smartly handled it by taking permission from users E.g. via SMS for opt-in kind of services. India has nearly 600 million mobile subscribers and nearly 60 million facebook users. Who is more likely to have more data about your social graph? your telco or facebook. Remember telco knows who you call (close ones), who your friends call, how frequently, at what time of day, from which location, who do you SMS, how many times, with what text content and other way data about who called you etc. This is accurate way to understand who is important to you. In addition, by analysing data traffic moving in and out of network nodes, telcos already know which web pages you visited, what did you click, which e-commerce site you browsed, which product you intended to buy etc. If you think carefully, this is nearly as much data what facebook and Google put together have about you. Imagine if your telco were to start a mobile ad network. Since they knows which pages you browsed, which products you expressed interest to buy online and content of your SMS messages, what pages your friends browsed (wow), it could provide far more contextual advertisement than Google can provide. Although some of it appears to violating user privacy, a deeper thought can create value by staying within regulatory boundaries of user privacy. You could argue this is not core business of the telco. Well this is exactly where the telco will benefit by opening data to others who can create a business around it and make money. By unlocking the power of hidden data, telcos can create additional revenue streams. Apps will provide telcos a value differentiator from their competitors. E.g. you might stick to Vodafone and not switch to Airtel since you already use an app which inturn uses network data+your data. Telcos are currently collecting user’s government approved verification documents as proof of identity. Imagine if they exposed this data to third parties with a view to verify individuals, online hiring and online small credit agencies would use it as preliminary verification method. What’s currently done to satisfy regulation can be used to perhaps create new revenue stream. These are only examples to think in one direction. If telcos were to flex thinking muscles, they can uncover lot more useful cases. All this by providing secure APIs to developers and inviting them to hackathons to innovate. Instead telcos are happy protecting data assets (just like spectrum asset) in an oligarchy ending up providing a conduit pipe which provides commodity voice minutes and data bytes. Clearly, telcos have missed the bus. CIOs from internet domain can make this difference. Biggies have tried their hand but efforts are not enough. Airtel’s app store is not yet a runaway success. Vodafone had an initiative towards open data architecture but effort has weaned away without visible results.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 was helluva year. Excited about possibilities future can bring.

Looking back into one year could be daunting, more so if it threatens to expose own vulnerability. During my long walk with close friends, I have shared with them about my progress report… which has often triggered constructive discussions and ideas. Sharing with you could just stimulate further ideas...

When we started Shoutout, there were many assumptions. that people would complain… that India has enormous number of people who complain on regular basis… that we will evolve a business model after gathering a critical mass of consumer complaints… that we will magically weave an SEO band to attract consumers in hoards… that somebody will invest in us once consumers start pouring in… that we can draw living expenses to sustain and grow. When we launched, consumers came in good numbers to vent out complaints. Bloggers wrote about the exciting new story and companies started resolving complaints based on complaints. So far so good… till we started to define all foundational assumptions in numbers. We found from Flipkart’s yearly report that they received 1M active users during the year. This number was startling! much lower than any of own estimates. It does give a ballpark on number of active internet users in India. My folks at home use Gmail, Facebook and Youtube to consume information. However are they so active on the internet to transact (Flipkart, ICICI bank etc…) and contribute content (shoutout and the likes)? Probably not right away. They will, like millions of other internet users in India… take few more years to become really active. However we didn’t have financial muscle to sustain that long. A respected investor in town showed interest but perhaps found us wanting on techie skills. We had to move on… ShoutOut was exciting and will still be exciting. Opportunity still exists for somebody to grab this market, perhaps for those who can sustain for a longer timeframe.

Pushed to the corner drawing board, we had to find another opportunity to build a business. 2 of my well meaning advisors pointed to my past experience in B2B markets… they wondered why I wasn’t playing to our strengths. And that tipped us over to mold ShoutOut into an enterprise business. And then started a fresh set of assumptions… that businesses would like to hear feedback from their customers… that there are lot of such businesses in India (to start with) whom we can sell… that decision makers in service organizations would like to analyze consumer voice to make decisions on a ongoing basis. But now we were wiser than before. We realized it’s better to start small, make note of all assumptions and validate before drawing grand plans (these are established startup virtues made popular as lean startup principles). We also had learnt few other facts… that we had to learn coding to remain lean… that we had to build a product and prove market acceptance before seeking out for funding. After few weeks, we had learnt CSS, Javascript, SQL and RubyOnRails. Keen to follow lean principles, we had to now build a product with minimal features… which could still solve somebody’s pain point resulting in revenue. Our product is now ready… absolutely proud to have built it ourselves. Spencers retail and CafĂ© Coffee Day have agreed to pilot the product and we are on way to validate its viability in market. I like to believe we have setup ourselves to fail fast. If it has to succeed, it will by validating our assumptions. Else we will move on again… Market will finally have final say in validating my startup’s den of gambling assumptions. Although we know by facts that most startups fail… fight we will, hope we will.

My closest of friends have often challenged my wisdom of not having an easier life with a cushy corporate job. The journey to hang on and discover new inroad to what we believe makes it exciting lends a sense of purpose to every new day. The satisfaction of trying than wishing makes the effort worthwhile. As they say, startups are not for weak hearted… certainly not for those who are not prepared to fail. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rajini gives marketing lessons to Kotler

If you didnt know who Phillip Kotler is, he is the marketing guru who theorized marketing as a subject and wrote record selling books on this topic. Marketing profs, students will vouch for having to grudge through pages of theory to understand a seemingly simple concept of marketing. Well as Indians know it, the Sun takes Rajini-bath for getting skin tan. Therefore Rajini qualifies to give marketing lessons to the guru himself.

Well. thats exactly what strikes you after seeing ShoutOut Consumer complaints. Creators of this comic have used Rajinikanth as mascot to pack powerful marketing punch which can go viral by itself. In new age of internet and social media, there is myriad possibilities of information but what survives is real content which makes sense, adds value, appeals to people and hopefully creates a chuckle. Kotler didnt live long enough to experience internet and social media as powerful marketing tool. But Rajinikanth is using his popularity and mass appeal to market a novel idea of consumer activism. This is India's first scrollable webcomic. You can expect many firsts with Rajini in frame.

As i see evolving internet space, innovation is taking center stage. Promoters can buy ad-space and burn cash like is happening with deal websites in India. Or they have choice to create powerful idea and back it up with sharable content which can market itself. This for me, is a new area of study in marketing subject. something which Rajini is popularizing through ShoutOut after era of Kotler.

Long live Kotler, long live Rajini sir and long live ShoutOut.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Indian lessons for global telcos


Having worked in India region very closely with telecommunication mobile service providers for past 1 year, I have noticed stark differences how they operate to survive and make profits when compared to other renowned, older global telcos. This article is business summary of my distilled observations. If you work in telecommunications area or related businesses, this could be interesting read. If you wish to know more ways India can contribute to developed countries and feel proud, read on. For others, this will be not be interesting.

Truth about Indian telcos

India has witnessed unparalleled subscriber growth over 10 years. When writing this article, total mobile subscriber base was ~750M! Indian telcos fight still competition, face declining ARPU (Average revenue per User) and steeply rising costs. ARPU in 2009 was $2.9/month and coming down always. Despite systemic business challenges, leading telcos like Bharti and Reliance enjoy EBITDA margins of 30% and more! On this count, they perform on par with global telcos like AT&T, Deutsche telecom, Vodafone group. Compare APRU of ~$50/month in US, ~$23 in Germany, ~$59 in Japan, ~$15 in Brazil and Mexico – clearly there is something to learn from Indian telcos. Only few aspects can be attributed to scale and relative lower cost of human capital available in India. Truth lies in rock-bottom cost model which extracts most optimal economies at 3 levels. First Indian telcos have art of producing “cheapest talk minutes”. Second they maximize network utilization leading to better MOU (Minutes of Usage) rates which radically de-layers traditional telco operations. Third is distribution model for new SIM cards is unique unparalleled in more mature markets leading to extremely low customer acquisition costs. Let’s examine more in detail.

Producing “cheapest talk minutes”

India has one of highest mobile subscriber base in world. The country had 752M in 2010, second only to China’s 842M. This is from total population of 1.21B (from latest census statistic). India’s Minutes of Usage is highest in world – this largely reflects social pattern in India where people like to talk more with friends and family. This plus lower cost of minutes have resulted in these numbers - MOU in India ~4000 min/subscriber in 2010 when compared to ~2500 min for China and ~1600 min in Japan. To meet this requirement, Indian telcos scaled up network capacity and each handle in excess of 50m subscribers. They do it inexpensively by sharing passive infrastructure and massive outsourcing. Towers, generators and shelters are all shared usually by third companies. In India, if you wish to lease out your terrace, there is most likely a telco taker. E.g. A family near my house makes Rs.45,000/month for leasing out their terrace space to Airtel – little less than an average IT salary in Bangalore. Telcos save ~25% cost by sharing passive infrastructure like towers etc. It’s a win-win which is helping telcos cut OPEX corners and churn out cheaper minutes while it is helping families utilize their space profitably. Bharti Infratel, Vodafone Essar and Idea have jointly setup a company Indus Towers which handles their shared passive infrastructure. Recently Reliance Infratel and GTL came close to signing ~$11b deal which would have been world’s largest independent infrastructure company. These initiatives not only free up capital for other investments but also help reduce interest costs. Few Indian telcos are exploring active infrastructure sharing like antennae, feeder cables and transmission systems. At moment, they are forced to try it out due to fact that no operator has bagged a pan-India 3G license. So when subscriber roams in another circle where they don’t have license, they enter into roaming agreement - by settling roaming costs on net-net basis at end of quarter. This amounts to active sharing in nascent phase. But when this intensifies, telcos can share much more costs which will get passed on to end customer. In addition, Indian telcos outsource network implementation, operations and maintenance. Economies of scale works favorably in country like India. E.g.: Airtel pioneered this business model successfully which is now adopted globally. Recently Maxis announced a massive outsourcing deal with Huawei. Similarly Tata teleservices and Airtel have entered into infrastructure outsourcing deals with Nokia Siemens Networks to get their 3G radio and core equipment rolled out in record time.

Operational efficiency – better network Utilization levels

Indian telcos combine power of generating low cost minutes with record high utilization levels. Goal is to treat most expenses as variable costs and track them against minutes of usage. Despite having access to least spectrum resources when compared to global counterparts, Indian telcos serve more subscribers with higher MOU!  Although it has started to affect call quality adversely, telcos are continuing to hinge on growth story. Better utilization is made possible by cell densification – Airtel operates in 23 circles with more than 75% radio resources utilized. Similar are numbers with Vodafone and Idea. Recently Uninor has launched a special scheme where subscribers are given dynamic discounts based on time of day and cell of origination. They are incentivizing people to call from low call-density areas thereby increasing network utilization. Vodafone is doing similar trials in their key circle. With this comes decrease in call quality – call drops and poor voice reception etc. With rollout of Mobile Number Portability, telcos can’t ignore dissatisfied customers. Quality will be next push element for Indian telcos.

Cheap distribution model for SIM cards

Indian telcos spend thriftily on sales, marketing and customer service strategies. They serve predominantly prepaid market (~90% prepaid market). Prepaid model creates substantial cost reduction in billing and collection expenses. More critical is its inherent ability to sell more phones to low income customers. To get as many phones as possible, Indian telcos rely on local grocery stores (Mom & Pop stores as they call in US) where you can get recharge coupon for any operator and any tariff plan. Buying a phone or recharge coupon in India is akin to buying toothpaste. Many other outlets also sell SIM cards acting as distribution centers to telcos. It’s an income stream for house hold entrepreneurs. Telcos achieve high volumes with less commission to sales partners. Eg: Airtel pays 4% commission to local grocery stores on recharge coupon sales. To drive costs even more, Indian telcos encourage self electronic recharge systems rather than paper based recharging. In 2010, electronic recharges account for ~80% of all recharges across India (most of which happens with help of dealer at his shop). Telcos offer lower talk cost during off-peak hours and for students. They incentivize by offering long-distance minutes or other bonus programs. Recently Tata Teleservices has tied up with Big Bazaar to sell its SIM cards. Big Bazaar is hyper market which owns Pantaloon brand started by Kishore Biyani. It is always buzzing with people all of whom have access to Tata's SIM cards at its billing counters. They incentivize its customers with talk minutes with more purchase. Truly win-win. Tata gets free distribution channel while Big Bazaar adds zing element to its purchases. Plus Indian telcos don’t subsidise phones, you dot find any Indian telco investing in handset manufacturer. This decreases handset subsidies which they would have borne otherwise. Predominant prepaid market aids in making this possible.

Evolving landscape in India – global telcos watch this space

Success of Indian telcos will bring them to inevitable dilemma of service quality especially when growth story hits saturations levels. The EBITDAs which they enjoy today will no longer be sustainable. Telcos are made to pay out heavy cost for 3G licenses for which they will seek to make amends by extracting more from existing subscribers. All this while more OPEX cuts are happening with ever decreasing ARPUs. With MNP threatening churn, Indian telcos need to invest in quality. With ever increasing competition and consolidation in industry, customer experience becomes increasingly important. Its importance will be highlighted as soon as market reaches saturation in growth. For telcos, this presents them with new unique challenges and opportunities. Global telcos need to watch this part of world to see how it performs – after all an industry which has added 220m subscribers in 2010 with low APRUs yet solid returns would make right decisions.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Personal investment – How much is too much?

Is this article for you?
Is there a proven strategy for personal investments? How can I use it for my personal investments? How do I align all my future goals and formulate a simple investment strategy? How much should I invest and where?... if these are questions bothering you, read on. The article starts with a data illustrated introduction to how a planned, steady investment strategy can take you towards financial goals. One can use the this calculator to meticulously plan investments by following this strategy. If you are looking for advice to make quick money, this article is not for you. This write-up is based on data and not on opinion or personal philosophy. At end of this article, you will be able to formulate a personal investment strategy and arrive at how much investment is required. Read on if interested…

Investment strategy – is there learning from historical market data?
Index levels should not be a real determinant of an investing decision. Here is the reason. Let’s say Mr.X started investing in 1991. If X managed the feat of investing at the lowest level every year since 1991, annual returns would have been 15.88% CAGR as of June 1, 2009 at 13500+ levels. On the other hand, if X invested at the highest level every year, returns would have been 11.78% CAGR. Now, if X had invested on a fixed date every year, let’s say, January 1, then returns would have been a surprisingly 15.77%. The difference between a fixed date and the lowest date is just 0.11% p.a!

Since 1991, the CAGR as on March 9, 2009, for annual investments made at the highest Sensex levels was 8.21%, while it was 12.18% when the investments were made at the lowest levels. For investments made on January 1 every year, it was 12.08%. Now pause for a moment to think. Does the paltry difference in returns between the lowest levels and regular investments really matter to you? The key learning is that one must not worry too much about index levels being high or low. Invest in a systematic manner on a periodic basis. Investing one-time big money when market is low could be fraught with risks. In fact, returns in monthly investments on a fixed date are almost similar to the ones given by one-time investments done at the lowest level every year!

There is further substantiation by data – Even after several scams, crashes and fluctuations in FII investments that the Indian markets have witnessed in the past 30 years, the market has delivered 16.91% p.a. (at 18000 Sensex levels)! It’s not important to see green on your investments every day, week, month and even a year. It’s about long term planning to give your investments time to mature and grow. Sensex has multiplied six times every 10 years at 19% CAGR and if the same continues, then in 2018, the Sensex will be at 129600 points.

A suitable periodicity for salaried individuals is to invest every month (If you are a businessman, you can decide suitable frequency). Having arrived at this investment strategy, there are only 2 other main questions:
1. Where do I put my money?
2. How much should I invest every month?

Where do I put my money?
Market investments can give good returns with less-risk only if it stays invested over long term. In general consensus, definition of long term is period more than 5 years; the longer the better. Popular long-term investment options are bank FD, NSC, PPF, stocks and mutual funds. Investment in debt based schemes gives returns ~8%p.a. Returns from equity schemes vary significantly depending on risk profile of financial instrument. Depending upon risk–taking ability, one can choose combination of different investment vehicles (debt or equity). Considering that sensex index has given 19%p.a CAGR returns for past 20 years, it is safe to assume a more moderate number of 12%p.a returns on your investments for next 25 years (By smart investing, one can easily beat market by long way). This is assuming that Indian markets have lot more potential to develop in next 25 years where domestic demands increases, local consumption increases, goods gets developed locally and self sufficiency leads to organic development of GDP. In general, this is going by India shining story of BJP. Parking aside question of where exactly to invest, assuming 12%p.a CAGR aggregate returns on investments in long term is conservative assumption. The calculator assumes 12%p.a CAGR returns based on this reasoning. If you want to understand various investment vehicles where you can invest to get 12%p.a returns over long term, call a personal investment advisor. This involves deep market study and personal judgment which is beyond scope of this article.

How much to invest?
It is important to assume an annual rate of return rather than choice of your investment vehicle. For this reason, the calculator does not depend on choice of your investment vehicle.

There are 2 popular schools when you start planning for future:
1. Don’t plan much for future – cant predict what is in store 
2. Plan for all future possibilities.

A mid-path strategy is to plan for most likely events so that one is prepared to face likely eventualities. Our previous generations invested whatever they could save from their earnings. There was tendency to squeeze domestic spending and save rest in bank FD/post office/the likes. There was really not much need for detailed planning (there was not much scope since income levels were limited). Contrast to today’s earning levels, when salaries have risen well above previous generations; there is often lesser need to squeeze on domestic spending. Rather a well planned, systematic investment regime in long term can give corpus required for future needs. If future needs are well planned, one can enjoy excess without guilt of splurging on luxuries.

A balance between spending and saving is possible through planning. Here is how: (refer to this calculator alongside).
1. List down all your future financial goals.
2. For every financial goal, write down the year when it needs to be realized and corpus required in today’s money value.

E.g. Mr. X wants to build a house in next 20 years. The value of a similar house today is Rs.50 lakhs. The same house will cost X significantly higher money 20 years later due to general inflation or steep inflation specifically in real estate segment. To make matters simple, put aside inflation worries and write down its current value of Rs.50 lakhs.

For simplicity, the calculator assumes 9% inflation (safe to assume this number given history of growth of Indian economy over past 25 years). One could change this value if there is a good reason; the calculator allows you to change this number.

3. The calculator calculates future value of this money after so many years (20 years from the above example). Assuming that you invest monthly, the calculator calculates value of money which you need invest per month.

The calculator assumes a safe 12% p.a CAGR returns on investments. If you want to change this value based on your risk preference, feel free to change and see how other values change. It is an important input to the calculator and depends fully on your risk preference.

4. To make matter simpler, calculator sums up monthly investments required from all financial goals. One can understand what amount of money needs to be invested totally per month.

Once this plan is made comprehensively for all future financial goals, one can understand where he stands today. There can be 2 possibilities:
1. Current income and expenditure do not permit luxury of planned investment - It is a signal to tone down on needs/expenses. It will force you to prioritize financial goals. You could also think of alternate sources of income to supplement investment need.
2. You have surplus income than investment needs – It is a signal that you can afford daily luxuries more than today. You could also think of early retirement.

In either of the 2 cases, one can fully understand implications of savings, expenditure and make prudent personal decisions for future. A lot of financial institutions offer this as comprehensive financial planning package. With bit of time and application of mind, one can do this all by oneself without fear of being influenced. One might need expert advice to decide on investment vehicles but no longer on planning procedure itself.

Click here to open the calculator.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hind Swaraj and its context today

Is this article for you? Recently India celebrated centenary of “Hind Swaraj”. Often we wonder if we know enough of Indian history dating back to times of Independence. I have also often heard lot of open criticism about Gandhiji for his deeds, however many a time without adequate background information. This piece of writing tries to sew together pieces of history with contextual thoughts of Gandhiji in context of Hind Swaraj. If you are interested to know more, read on. Else this article can be dry and boring.

It was 1909. Forty-year-old Mahatma Gandhi wrote continuously for 10 days aboard the ship Kildonan Castle. He wrote since he could no longer “suppress himself.” At the end of this uneasy period he made a claim, “I have written an original book in Gujarati.” This book was Hind Swaraj (or Hind Swarajya, as originally titled), which got published in his journal Indian Opinion. In the last lines of Hind Swaraj Gandhi made a claim, “My conscience testifies that my life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment.”

This book was thought of as “a very dangerous thought” by the British, not because it encouraged revolt but for its open advocacy of Satyagraha to overthrow British supremacy. As expected, this book was banned by colonial government. Gandhiji translated the book into English and published it as Indian Home Rule. This simple book baffled its readers and continues to do so even today. Gandhiji dream was to make it so simple that it could be placed in the hands of a child. And yet, it continues to elude its readers.

What was ‘it’ that he referred himself to? And what fate awaited the text? Gandhiji’s dedication was towards essence of Hind Swaraj, which is neither ahimsa nor Satyagraha. It is the concept of civilization. Civilization for Gandhiji is that mode of conduct that points us to the path of duty, where the performance of duty is the same as morality. Gandhiji says that a ‘real’ civilization creates the possibility for us to know ourselves. This in essence was Swaraj for Gandhiji. Swaraj, for him was not self-rule but rule over oneself. All that happens around us which excludes this possibility is the ‘reverse of civilization’. Modern civilization shifts the focus of human worth to tangible objects. This is where machines become the measure of man. Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj advocates against modern civilization.

It is this critic of modernity and belief that baffled its readers. Gopala Krishna Gokhale, otherwise a sympathetic elder to Gandhi, was perturbed by this pamphlet. He felt that it was “crude and hastily conceived” and he said Gandhi was certain to destroy it after spending a year in India. Not strangely, Gandhiji’s faith in the vision of Hind Swaraj sweetened as he came to inhabit India and this faith deepened with the weaver and the farmer. By 1919 he became a leader of the national movement, the printing and sale of Hind Swaraj became the symbol of defiance during the non-cooperation movement. Curiously, there was not much discussion on the text itself, not in English or Gujarati! The Congress ignored this document, prompting Gandhi to declare in 1921 that he was the only one to follow the ideals of Hind Swaraj, while the rest of the country had accepted only non-violence, that too as a strategy and not as an ideal.

Interesting that the grand debate on meaning of Swaraj that Gandhi and Tagore engaged themselves with great philosophical depth did not invoke Hind Swaraj. India seemed to have forgotten Hind Swaraj; Gandhi kept reminding interlocutors and critics to read the text in order to understand his actions more. The only troupe which was sensitive and alive to Hind Swaraj were the Theosophists. It was the Aryan Path, which opened up the debate on Hind Swaraj in 1938. Editor Sophia Wadia had invited comments on this book. None of those invitees asked to respond to the text had anything to do with politics or the national movement in India. Significantly, nobody from Indian origin was invited to respond to the text. This was a clear indication of the marginal space that Hind Swaraj had occupied in Indian political and intellectual scene.

It was Gandhiji again who took an initiative step and opened the debate on the future of India and concept of Hind Swaraj. The war in Europe had ended and Indian independence seemed imminent. It was at this crucial juncture that Gandhi opened the debate with his chosen political heir, Pandit Nehru, and through him with the people of the country. In October 1945 Gandhiji wrote a letter to Nehru in Hindustani (perhaps what he wanted to convey could only have been said in Hindustani). Gandhiji affirmed his faith in the ideals of Hind Swaraj as also the place of politics and governance as envisaged in it. He asserted that in fact his belief had only grown since the time he wrote Hind Swaraj. Gandhi knew that he was alone and hence wrote; “Therefore if I am left alone in it I shall not mind, for I can only bear witness to the truth as I see it.” Gandhiji knew that Nehru and the millions of Indians who held him in great reverence had little faith in Hind Swaraj. Nehru’s response to Gandhiji’s letter conceded that he had a dim recollection of Hind Swaraj from another reading about twenty years earlier. Even at that point it had seemed to Nehru “completely unreal.” But Nehru was certain that its argument signified not much more than the “romantic mythology of backwardness.” Nehru reminded Gandhiji that the Congress had never considered – much less adopted - the picture of India envisaged in Hind Swaraj. He told Gandhiji that it was not given to the Congress as a political body to consider “fundamental questions, involving varying philosophies of life.”

Nehru advanced a similar argument in a meeting that took place at Sewagram, Wardha; after Gandhi’s assassination. In March of 1948 Nehru made an impassioned plea for the political role of the Congress. In post-independent India, perhaps the only political leader to engage fundamentally with Hind Swaraj was Ram Manohar Lohiya. His essay, ‘Economics After Marx’, is the only serious engagement with Hind Swaraj after that period.

Last year India decided to celebrate the centenary of Hind Swaraj. However, it was not clear why this celebration. Was it about the text? Was it about the possibilities of Hind Swaraj in our times? We remain deeply ambiguous about Hind Swaraj with its critique of modernity, especially at a time when there is a large consensus on the desirability of nuclear energy. This ambiguity is about Gandhiji as well. He has come to occupy an increasingly fractured and narrow space in our imagination. We think of him when the country erupts in violence of the communal kind. But when violence takes the form of ‘terror’ we want a hard state, the kind of state that Hind Swaraj wanted undone. As we speak the language of law and order the possibilities of Hind Swaraj become more elusive.

A celebration of Hind Swaraj would require us to not only engage with the concept in the text, but in some measure seek to go beyond it. It would require us to re-imagine our self-rule to cast our own moral politics. It was this fact that one missed in the centenary year of Hind Swaraj, which perhaps is true meaning of Hind Swaraj.