Clothes diplomacy: A new way to inspire world leaders?

'C' for Clothes-Diplomacy: Michelle Obama's floral blue printed outfit during India visit by an Indian designer did make a statement! Exchanging clothes as a token of friendship seems to be the new trend: A Mysore silk shawl presented to Obama (left) and Pakistan's PM Nawaz Sharif's gift of saree to Modi's mother (extreme right) are all signs of successful diplomacy!

‘C’ for Clothes-Diplomacy: Michelle Obama’s floral blue printed outfit during India visit by an Indian designer did make a statement! Exchanging clothes as a token of friendship seems to be the new trend: A Mysore silk shawl presented to Obama (left) and Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif’s gift of saree to Modi’s mother (extreme right) are all signs of successful diplomacy!

Clothes maketh a man. Man maketh new friends.

Michelle Obama’s outfit during Obama’s India visit caught the eye of many Indians worldwide, and (most likely) turned Bibhu Mohapatra (the Indian designer who created Michelle’s outfit) into a celebrity overnight! Michelle seems to have an eye for designers creating fashion clothing in different countries. She sure has a novel way of inspiring friendship in the countries that the couple visit. US President Barack Obama was also presented with a Mysore silk shawl during the Republic day celebrations in India. It makes me think of clothes’ exchange as a great way to connect world leaders.

Raising a toast on clothes diplomacy, I am reminded of a moment last year when PM Modi connected with his counterpart, Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif. Modi was pleasantly surprised when PM Sharif gifted a white sari to his mother just after his party’s historic win in 2014. The tweet elaborated this connection between the two leaders- “Nawaz Sharif ji told me he stays in Islamabad but goes to meet his Mother once in a week.” Reciprocating the friendship, Modi sent a shawl for PM Sharif’s mother as a gesture acknowledging this connection. In times when the world is divided over serious differences, I see this as a chance for world leaders to connect, build upon and pass it on as a customary (clothes) legacy!

On exchanging good will, I recently read that Obama sent in a richly embroidered ‘chadar’ (holy cloth) at the mausoleum of the Garib Nawaz on the inaugural day of the week-long Urs at the popular Ajmer Dargah Sharif, where people from different religions come to pay respect. The ‘chadar’ was handed over to Haji Chishty “on behalf of the US government and Mr Obama by US ambassador Richard Verma, deputy chief of mission Micheal Pelletier and other officials” on Friday morning (24th April). Ajmer’s Dargah Sharif has been a favorite shrine for several rulers, kings, emperors, and in recent years, other leaders from Pakistan and other countries.

If clothes were a token of respect, cultural exchange and friendship, it is time to spread this wave and make real bonds. A new chapter in diplomacy?

What do you say? Clothes make the difference? Write to me.

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Try the ‘Flying Mantra’ to achieve cultural and religious understanding

Breaking the ice : Discussing different viewpoints on a plane journey might be healthy for both the worlds, which  need to meet somewhere- Why not on a flight!

Breaking the ice : Discussing different viewpoints on a plane journey might be healthy for both the worlds, which need to meet somewhere- Why not on a flight!

The paparazzi kept buzzing last week with controversy about an Iranian man refusing to sit next to a woman in the plane. This is not the only time such incidents have made headlines. The New York Times quotes that many flights from New York to Israel have been delayed over the last year. One particular instance last year took place when a few men from the Jewish community refused to sit next to women resulting in flight delay and confusion. Laura Heywood, 42 (traveling from San Diego to London via New York) had a similar experience when a man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood may have refused to budge having felt offended by the idea that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate! But there is more to it than flying together!

People flying around the globe will always clash with worlds that are different from their own. Who would expect to meet all similar people on travel journeys and flights? Similarities can be boring! But sometimes certain differences make it difficult for others to grasp seemingly ‘ordinary’ things in one world, to present itself as a rather odd/awkward situation for another person (owing to the cultural differences), just like in this case. And with incidents like flight delays people are expected to fret and struggle for a way out. Flight attendants are well-trained to pacify different view-points and to find mid-way solutions. But it may not always be easy! Well, flights cannot possibly have ethnic rulebooks for different communities that can be played alongside safety instructions! Flying and safety rules are used to keep passengers well-informed and it should be enough! Keeping the humor intact, it might be a great idea to actually have people from different ethnicities and differing opinions about people based on their perception according to religion, color, eating habits etc. to sit next to each other over a long flight.

Corporate Gurus do it all the time. They make you sit next to people you disagree with in a workplace during their training programs to help understand each other’s point of view. A long plane ride should be a classic case for similar discussions on differing viewpoints. If political correctness (PC) is to be used, people will never fly with anyone (after all) for they might find something wrong with the person seated next to them; it could be their attire, color, religion, sex, non-vegan habits and so on..

Flying is tough enough these days and we should not make flights tougher with such outlandish requests. In fact, it is a good idea to make people with different perspectives sit next to each other: they will learn the others perspective on a long flight. What do you think?

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

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Should HSBC’s expat model inspire the NRI Ministry of India?

Some cool ads by HSBC  which are global in nature and spirit: HSBC caters to a globally mobile segment of people who are constantly on the move  via its interactive and informative platform— Should India plan similar initiatives for the Indian diaspora spread globally and innovate products and services that align with times and global interests?

Some cool ads by HSBC which are global in nature and spirit: HSBC caters to a globally mobile segment of people who are constantly on the move via its interactive and informative platform— Should India plan similar initiatives for the Indian diaspora spread globally and innovate products and services that align with times and global interests?

The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank calls itself the world’s local bank. HSBC has a huge customer base in different parts of the world and a large number of it’s global customer base always happen to be on the move— be it for building careers, growing businesses, office relocation, or for international exposure etc. It’s unique ads always greet weary travelers coming out of the plane or getting on a long flight.

hsbc-bankI read that a market research company called YouGov hired by HSBC took the interviews of over 9000+ expats from 100 different countries this year. It is also interesting to follow tools like the expat finance tool, tax guide for different countries, expat videos, a Youtube channel along with a blog and I feel it makes a difference to mobile citizens who can connect on such platforms. Topics like ‘Expat Life’ can help expats immensely. The section covers important aspects of a moving expat’s life and happens to be quite popular globally. The NRI ministry could collaborate or take inspiration from HSBC as there are over 25 million strong Indian diaspora around the globe. Given PM Modi urging NRIs and People of Indian Origin (PIO) to join India’s new growth story this imperative becomes even more significant. The NRI Ministry with the help of similar surveys and initiatives can link with a large number of global Indians who want to stay connected to India and participate in this wave of growth.

As more and more Indians are turning into global citizens by joining multinationals, IT companies, and establishing global businesses in world locations, I see such initiatives as the ‘need and product of current times’. I also see Indian financial firms to pick up this pulse and gain an insight into the current trends of these globetrotting prospects as an serious investment of time and resources.

Do you think HSBC’s model can inspire the NRI ministry to come up with similar programs?

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

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‘Naming & shaming’ tax defaulters is likely to work in India!

'Naming & shaming' tax defaulters is likely to work in India!

Income Tax’ Department’s ‘Name & shame’ drive is a welcome initiative for it can infamously work on the psyche of tax defaulters as social pressures in India are high and it is likely to work in the government’s favor!

The Income Tax department in India picked the right pulse by naming Indian defaulters in a drive to collect tax money! Making defaulters conscious of their public image for the fear of losing face in the public is what probably drove the IT department to publish the names of 18 defaulters who owe up to Rs. 500 crore taxes to the exchequer.

Interestingly, in California, there is a similar drive to name tax defaulters. California’s new law (effective from Jan 1, 2012) requires officials to publicize the names of defaulters who owe more than $100,000 in delinquent taxes. The measure also authorizes the Franchise Tax Board to publish the top 500 names and titles of corporate officers of listed companies as well as delinquent taxpayers’ professional license information (if available).

In India, the ‘naming and shaming’ drive is likely to work even as society’s “who’s who” and bigwig tax defaulters are more likely to succumb to societal and peer pressure and line up for the tax payers queue. Why? Indians are culturally sensitive about losing face in public even as the social fabric in India values honorable conduct, and public image matters to most Indians. Indians readily look down upon law-breaking denizens as irresponsible citizens due to the society’s inherent value system. In America, while people will move on even as Chapter 7 and 11 bankruptcies will happen, Indians are prone to feeling ashamed to appear in social gathering etc. It is a good way to encourage tax payment with a corrective approach. I feel it will work better in India as compared to America.

A welcome drive by the Indian government, I feel it will also help in building a level of public awareness about tax defaulters who violate the law by wrongfully holding public money. I like the intent of the public notice which publishes the PAN numbers and last known address of tax defaulters.

In California, the published list can impact professionals as they face loss or denial of professional licenses including a driver’s license, and it also prohibits tax defaulters from entering into contracts with state agencies (for goods and services etc.). The most recent FTB list got a hit of 4.5 million views within a week.

What do you think will help in furthering this drive in India?

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