Editorial/Migration in silicon
Making of a winner
Letters to the Editor

When 40 Indian software programmers were arrested by United States immigration officers in Texas, much attention focussed on the migrants’ being handcuffed. This dramatic end to a six month investigation was just the latest in a series of US crackdowns on immigration fraud among software programmers. Stories about US officers chasing illegal Mexican workers across the Rio Grande are commonplace. What is unusual is the sight of such officers now going after holders of H-1B visas, the hallmark of the migrant knowledge worker.

The distinction is economically irrelevant. The economic demand that brings illegal Mexican grape pickers to the US also apply to illegal Indian integrated chip designers. And these rules ensure that such crackdowns by the US government are pointless exercises — as pointless as earlier attempts by the Indian government to reverse the so called “brain drain’’.

Indian knowledge workers began migrating to the West as early as the Seventies. But the rapid growth of information based industries has converted a trickle into a flood. No better reflection of this development exists than the H-1B visa, which allows a firm to sponsor foreign technical workers for up to six years in the US. In 1997, about 26,000 such visas were issued. This year, 115,000 will be issued. About half of these visas will be granted to Indians. The US law governing H-1B visas expires next year. The US is already debating the visa’s future.

Unsurprisingly, US labour unions and professional organizations are demanding that H-1B visas be done away with. Temporary worker visas, they argue, depress wages for US programmers, medical workers and engineers. This is undoubtedly the case. On the other side are software companies like Microsoft or Intel who find body shopping for Indian programmers a means to keep labour costs down. They have two arguments in their favour. One, there is a huge shortage of information workers in the US. The US software industry has some 300,000 vacant jobs and insufficient numbers of trained Americans to fill the gap. Two, information based work is easily transferable across borders. If migrant labour is blocked, US programmers’ wages will rise. However, given the competitiveness of the software industry, many firms will simply shift work offshore. If Indian programmers cannot be brought to the US, the programming will go to India. This is already happening because the limits on H1-B visas ensures the supply of knowledge workers remains below demand.

When the administration of Mr Bill Clinton agreed in 1998 to increase H1-B visa numbers to their present level, it insisted on clauses to protect US workers. For example, a company hiring a migrant knowledge worker must ensure no US worker loses his job as a consequence and that no US worker can fulfil the job description. Most companies ignore these unenforceable clauses. In theory, this means many H1-B visa holders do not fully comply with the law — and are thus guilty of fraud. Hence the recent dragnets in Texas and elsewhere that have ensnared Indian programmers.

The truth is such drives are useless. US companies are desperate for cheap programmers. The penalties for hiring illegal migrants are cosmetic. The incentives are stacked in favour of firms hiring such workers. The money involved ensures middlemen will ship such people to various silicon outposts. Expulsions of Mexicans only meant the workers would waste a few days smuggling themselves back across the border. Similarly, arresting programmers means a few days wasted in detention while an immigration lawyer secures the visa holders’ release. Compared to the thousands of Indian programmers flowing into the US, the odd dozen that are thrown out are less than a byte in the memory bank. The real story of knowledge worker migration is in the millions who are getting away, not the handful who are stopped.    

A bewildered nation feels humiliated and sad. Our pride has been ground to the Australian dust. The poor Indian cricket team has been pelted with myriad accusations. Gutless, no confidence, no leadership, no team spirit, lack of physical fitness, administrative bungling and intrigue, too much money are some of the reasons various experts have flung at them.

Unhappily, not all of them are without substance. Watching the world’s greatest batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, amongst the ruins of the Indian cricket team is heart- breaking. The peerless Richie Benaud described the look on a subdued Tendulkar’s face as a mixture of disappointment, despair or simply disillusionment. Who is to blame for all this?

To examine the issue closely, one has to highlight some of the basic requirements of a good team. Talent, top level fitness, team spirit, leadership, proper preparation, confidence, strong infrastructural support and pride. We will talk about talent last, since talent seldom attains full bloom without supportive conditions. How does our team measure up to the other basic requirements? In fitness levels, the galaxy of all time greats commentating on television seems to be unanimous that the Indian team is below par.

Two or three day training camps prior to a foreign tour are still prevalent in Indian cricket. These are relics of the past amateur days, fifty years behind time. What is needed is a two or three year physical programme monitored closely by experts to achieve peak fitness, which is a must at top levels.

I am told South Africa selects a nucleus of 30 contracted talented players. Experts look after their coaching and training schedules. If they are injured, they are rehabilitated. Irrespective of selection in the team, the players are paid a contracted fee. Why can’t we learn from them and do something similar?

Team spirit and leadership go hand in hand. This is a most difficult and demanding task, specially in our case. The players are from different states, speak different languages, have different attitudes, like different foods, have different habits and as if this is not enough, there are those pushed into the team by electoral pressures and require mollycoddling.

To get the best out of a player, a captain must know the strengths and weaknesses of his players. Apart from time to get to know his team, the captain himself must have leadership qualities and a shrewd tactical sense.

The greatest batsman in the world need not necessarily be the best captain or a great leader. The appointment of Mohammed Azharuddin as a captain at a time when he was having serious domestic problems was a monumental blunder. It destroyed him.

The poor chap must have been torn asunder with the probing, crippling pressure of the press on his private life and the tensions of team performance among other problems. By the time things had settled down and he could have had a proper shot at it, he was replaced .

Ajay Jadeja, who has shown the best competitive attitude and has plenty of the much needed spunk, is out in the cold. In Indian sports, a different or independent view is considered as dissent. He who raises his voice is ruthlessly crushed by the mandarins in power. Tendulkar’s towering talent and the respect that he enjoys, alas, has not been able to unleash the great force of team spirit.

Now, we come to proper preparation. For many decades, our team has been going to Australia. Even the uninitiated like me know that the wickets are different. The ability to play the high bounce and swing is paramount. So how did we prepare our batsmen for this?

One would think that we could prepare a similar wicket and get our boys to at least practise on it for a few weeks before the tour. But then, where is the time? The bandwagon is hurtling towards more and more money and matches are crammed into every nook and corner.

How and when can a young player work on his weaknesses, physically and technically? Coaches come and go amidst a flurry of political activity. Jagmohan Dalmiya has thrust us — like Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu — on to the world stage only to be massacred. The crores will disappear if we don’t have a good team. Television, the provider, is being switched off in disgust. No one is going to watch even if Azharuddin eats his bat as he did in a horrendously tasteless television commercial.

The real McCoy is the team that performs. So much for preparing the team properly and yet so much is still unsaid. Players have been shuttled across continents to play and then sent back without playing. A comparative unknown is pulled out of the hat, flown to Australia and the poor chap is shovelled in at one down.

Oh yes! This is a world of turbulent murky waters full of treacherous undercurrents. The players hanging on to their places tenaciously — under unbearable pressure to perform. Staying afloat and surviving, not winning, is the essence. Under such conditions, can a team — if it can be called that — grasp the elusive winning element of team spirit?

Any strong team needs solid administrative support. Levels of skill are sky high. Margins are paper thin. One dropped catch can turn a match on its head. At this level, no plums are going to land on your lap.

Pride and confidence have been destroyed. The poor boys instead of concentrating on watching the ball and giving their all, have a lurking fear and are constantly looking over their shoulders: will they be dropped? Are they going to be judged on a single stroke of bad luck? Are these the conditions that a team can flourish in? Certainly not.

So pick your teams very very carefully and then, stick with them. Tell them and let them feel that they are the best. Back them to the hilt and give them pride. Picking teams is a most difficult task. No one can measure heart or the ability to fight to the last and never give in.

Let the crucible of top-level exposure give ultimate shape to our team. I have seen the magic of confidence. It transformed John McEnroe from a struggling qualifier to a semi-finalist at Wimbledon within a fortnight. Confidence is like cryogenic rocket fuel. It enables the ultimate breakthrough to the skies.

Indian cricket talent, alas, is being buffeted and thrashed dhobi-like on these rocks. Talent blooms only sometimes under difficult conditions. If we want the best crop, we have to prepare the soil carefully. Too much water and the roots are not strong. Too little and they die. Just the right amount, and talent will find strong healthy roots. We must not judge our cricketers harshly.

Having said all this, there has been a lurking suspicion in my mind triggered by a friend who said, “Is it not possible that our team is just not good enough?” The consumer-oriented advertising blitz on television, swept aloft on the wings of media hype, have taken our team to Olympian heights.

Our hopes have been blasted to the skies and now suddenly the haze has cleared. No less than the “little master”, Sunil Gavaskar, finds that some of our team members have not even got the basic technique right. In the absence of this, other qualities are of little consequence. For heaven’s sake, what were the selectors doing?

Then, the question of money. The shrewd and capable Jagmohan Dalmiya, admirably, has made the cricket board into a money-making machine and become the head of the International Cricket Council. The whirring turnstiles and the ring of the cash register are what the board sees and hears. The headlong pursuit of money has given a false direction to things.

It is time to pull up the reins and take a good look. It is time for Dalmiya to eschew politics and get the best professionals who know the game and let them make the decisions. If not, our boys will drop further behind, not due to lack of available talent but because the board has failed them. This is no small matter, it is a question of national pride.

The author is a distinguished tennis player and former captain of the Indian Davis Cup team    


Importance of being biological

Sir — The realization of their mutual dream must be cause of great jubilation for the doctor, Baidyanath Chakraborty, and the parents of the test tube babies (photograph in “Metro”, Jan 28). This indicates how many couples in the city alone take pains to have a biological child. Chakraborty must be lauded for giving their dreams shape. Going by the sheer numbers of test tube babies, it seems that for many couples adoption is still not an easy or immediate option. It seems to be a “last resort” for most couples, who would even spend beyond their means to have a biological child than adopt one. How long will it take for people to realize that the difference between a biological and an adopted child is illusory?

Yours faithfully,
Parag Chatterjee, Calcutta

Female of the species

Sir — What does the women’s bill mean for the women of the country? The plan of some politicians to ostracize women from mainstream politics is more atrocious than caste politics. Caste and creed are artificial distinctions while the difference between the sexes is natural. Unlike the former, the latter cannot be exploited for long. Therefore women will soon have to be given their rightful quota of seats in the legislature.

Yours faithfully,
Rana Ranjeet Kumar, Jamshedpur

Sir — The political implications of the bill for women’s reservation in legislative bodies can be far reaching if it becomes an act in the future. Thirty three per cent reservation is likely to bring about a tumultuous and dramatic change in national thinking as well as in patterns of voting.

Regional political satraps and fringe groups are likely to hear their death knell in the bill. This is foreshadowed in the agitated demeanour of the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mayawati while N. Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee and M. Karunanidhi are silent.

It is clear to all that political life will not be the same after the bill gains the status of an act.

Yours faithfully,
Jitesh Sonee, Calcutta

Sir — The country again witnessed a mockery of democracy over the tabling of the women’s reservation bill (“Bill of entertainment”, Dec 25). No one is really serious about it . If tokenism continues to play as big a role in future, women’s liberation too, will be in danger of regressing.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj Bolpur

Sir — Is it not telling that some frontrunning women’s organizations of the country have themselves opposed the government’s prescribed death penalty for rapists (“Women oppose death for rape”, Nov 1)? A reconciliation may be reached if capital penalty is made the maximum, and not the only, punishment for the crime.

Other forms of punishment like rigorous imprisonment could be retained with the provision of the most extreme punishment in the most despicable of cases.

Yours faithfully,
J.C. Bose, Calcutta

Sir — Lowering of the age of women to 60 for claiming concession as senior citizens while the cut off age for men remains at 65 is discriminatory.

This may be a politically motivated decision on the part of the railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, as this may ensure electoral support for her of women above 60 years.

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

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