Ajay Kaul

BREXIT – a consequence of self-promoting leaders and the global economy?

In Economy, Politics on June 27, 2016 at 4:01 AM


A nation’s destiny was decided by a 3% vote differential on June 23rd – really??

The first time the British held a referendum on joining the European Union, was in 1975 and it received an approval by 67% of the vote – a solid yes!

A 2/3rd majority is often considered mandatory for key votes in democratic Houses across the globe. One would think a vote of this kind would have mandated the same. But it came across as a hurried exercise with each party’s leadership interested in their own future than the future of the nation as a whole.

It started as a 3-way clash of opinion about the EU along party lines –

  • the UKIP led by Nigel Farage, which aggressively campaigned against the EU
  • the Conservative Party itself which suffered from serious infighting over the topic of EU membership
  • the Labor Party under Jeremy Corbyn – they supported an EU membership, but could not come together on a common platform to campaign with the Conservative PM Cameron

But as the vote drew closer, it evolved into a personal clash between 3 personalities:


  • David Cameron, the British PM – who supported “Remain”
  • Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader – who also supported remain, but refused to share the campaign platform with rival David Cameron. A clear case of self before Party or Country
  • Boris Johnson – ex-Mayor of London and part of the Conservative Party – termed David Cameron’s biggest betrayal. He campaigned extensively for Brexit.

In the case of David Cameron – he opened the Brexit can of worms to reduce infighting within the Conservative party, so he could be the unanimous nominee for the PM’s job. He promised that if elected, he would hold an in-or-out referendum on continued British membership in the bloc. It was a bold assertion, but had not been thought through at all.

Here both Cameron and the British voter are at fault. Cameron, for floating an idea without thinking through the ramifications and the implementation details. And the voter for not pressing Cameron on the details.

Jeremy Corbyn is the biggest case of self before anything else. As a leader, he did not represent his party line of thinking to the populace sincerely enough. He would have witnessed an increase in his own stature as a leader, had he crossed party lines for the sake of the country. Here, the Labour Party is at a fault for not correcting this issue in time. Now, when it’s too late, senior party leaders like Lord Falconer have started to resign – too little, too late!


Boris Johnson is another case of self before the country. As recently as January, Johnson indicated his “preference” was to stay in the EU, and he wrote two versions of the article that declared which side he would be backing in the referendum when he declared his hand in February. Many now see his decision to campaign for “leave” as a case of blatant opportunism to propel himself into a leadership status. Like Cameron, his campaign too was slogan based – “Independence Day for Britain” instead of any specifics. He brushed aside any questions for specifics in preference for catchphrases and slogans.

Once again, the fault lies in the voter for just riding along and not pressing Boris Johnson for specifics. It is possible though that a lackluster “Remain” campaign contributed to Boris Johnson’s victory. He led an extremely energetic and lively campaign – he made the voters listen to him.

Now that the vote is over, what really lies ahead for the UK? And who’s going to lead the UK through the separation process that could span 2 years?


The biggest test of the quality of the decision will be the state of the economy. The UK economy was poised to be Europe’s largest economy by 2030, surpassing Germany – it had witnessed a higher rate of growth than the EU. The economy will be hit in the short-term, but will it regain its momentum in the long-term? Many – especially Scotland, Gibraltar and North Ireland are skeptical and are pressing hard for exiting the UK itself. And to add to that, banks are starting to leave London in favor of Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt – so London will no longer be the financial hub of Europe. These two events are enough to put the economy of the new “Little England” in reverse gear.

Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London during the 2012 Summer Olympics – so he has execution experience. But the issues he faces now, are on a completely different scale altogether. Can he deliver? The political circles in UK do not believe so. He is often referred to as “Donald Trump with a Thesaurus.”– that does say a lot

So, is it possible that as ground reality hits, the UK politicians look at reversing the vote? There is already word that the vote could be reversed in the Parliament or through other options

One issue does stand out – local economies are still coming to terms with the global economy – there is more uncertainty and more migrations and that is worrying the workers and residents in the traditional economies. This is giving rise to the Boris Johnsons and Donald Trumps and divisive politics. The voting pattern by age, is testament to this. The younger age group is more assimilated into the global economy than the older generation and hence less skeptical


Lawmakers across the globe need to take a deeper look at the global economy and try to manage it better through legislation – legislation that promotes growth with minimal disruptions locally. There is no silver bullet, but lawmakers need to acknowledge this issue and come together to discuss options and solutions.


Muhammad Ali: an icon, a disruptor and a marketing genius!

In equality, icon, leadership on June 12, 2016 at 5:43 PM



His words were as loud as his actions. He was among the first to connect with audiences across the globe. He was an athlete and a showman at the same time. And it was no surprise that BBC and Sports Illustrated declared him “Sportsman of the Century.” Muhammad Ali – the icon, left us on June 3, 2016 after disrupting status quo and inspiring millions across the globe.

Ali’s initiation into boxing was purely circumstantial – he wanted to beat up the kid who stole his bike. So he trained to box to achieve the goal. That really summed up his personality. If he felt something was not right, he made sure the world knew and then worked hard to fix it. And once he  had fixed it, he once again announced to the world. His sharp wit and a high energy level, gave him an extremely receptive audience across the globe.

Ali was born Cassius Clay in an era of segregation. He supposedly threw his Light Heavyweight Olympics Gold medal (from the Rome Olympics) in the Ohio River after being refused service in a “whites-only” restaurant.

Ali was brilliant at marketing himself – he would predict how he would beat his opponents and in what round. That alone piqued the interest of the audience. However, he amazed his fans when he actually met his predictions.

In 1964 Ali got his first shot at fame when he challenged heavyweight champion Sonny Liston to a championship bout. Despite being a 1-7 underdog, Ali announced himself to the world through confident predictions of victory – I am young, I am fast. He’s too ugly to be a World Champ. The World Champ must be pretty, like me.” Watch: Ali prepares for Sonny Liston

Ali won the championship bout in 6 rounds and proved to the world that his actions were as loud as his words.

Shortly after the win, Ali announced his conversion to Sufi Islam and his new name Muhammad Ali – “I am a free man. Cassius Clay was my slave name. I am no longer a slave.” And there he announced to the world that he was a disruptor, a challenger of status quo.

His challenge to status quo reached a new height when in April 1967, he refused induction into the U.S. Army to fight the Vietnam War. He angered many Americans after claiming, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong. You won’t stand up for me at home and you want me to go out and fight.” Watch:Muhammad Ali Interviews

Subsequently, he was stripped of his WBA title and his license to fight.

In June 1967, a court found him guilty of draft evasion, fined him $10,000, and sentenced him to five years in prison. Although he remained free, pending numerous appeals, he was still barred from fighting.

4 years later – in June 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, reversing the 1967 draft evasion sentence.

However, the best test of his talent, wit and strategic thinking came to the fore in October 1974, when he faced George Foreman in a very well publicized Heavyweight championship fight “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire. His reputation preceded him when he landed in Zaire. Chants of “Ali bomaye” (Ali kill him) could be heard across Zaire in the run up to the fight. Once again, while Foreman was busy preparing for the fight, Ali was connecting with his fans and building up the hype.

In fact, on the night of the fight, George Foreman delayed getting to the ring by 20 minutes – that was enough for the audience to erupt into the “Ali bomaye” chant while they waited.


He won the fight in 8 rounds, based on careful analysis of his opponent, his own physical abilities and a strong backing of the audience. He studied Foreman closely from a video of Foreman knocking Joe Frazier down six times to win the title in 2 rounds. Ali’s business manager Gene Kilroy says: “When Foreman knocked Joe down, George had his hands on the ropes in the neutral corner. Ali said: ‘No stamina. Wait till he hears round six, round seven, round eight’.” He used the rope-a-dope technique (tire out his opponent at the ropes) to ensure that he dragged Foreman to 8 rounds and ultimately knock him out. Watch: Ali vs Foreman fight

As a boxer, he possessed 6 qualities and together they made him unique – an iron clad chin, a ballet dancer’s footwork, hands that moved at the blink of an eye, an analytical brain and most important – a big heart and a bigger mouth!


He was a great sportsman indeed, but what made him greater, was his compassion and the fact that he stood for the poor and the powerless. His business manager, Gene Kilroy recalls a time in Zaire when a lady came by their camp in Zaire and said her son was sick. “Ali said: ‘We’ll go visit him.’ She took us to a leper colony. The staff would put the food down and walk away. Ali was soon lying down with the lepers, hugging them. I took about 10 showers when we got back. Ali just said: ‘Don’t worry about it, God’s looking out for us.’ He always had time for people.”

In his 2004 memoir – The Soul of a Butterfly, he says – “I’d like to be remembered as a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him”


They say a man’s character is best judged by what he does in adversity and Muhammad Ali met adversity head-on with humor. That was one of the traits that endeared him to his fans across the world. Watch: Muhammad Ali humor

“Comedy is a funny way of being serious,” he said in Esquire. “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.”

In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – which slowed him down and silenced him to an extent. But his wit and sharp thinking stayed very much intact. Watch him get Ed Bradley during this CBS 60 minutes interview – when his wife talks about his sleep pattern Ali – 60 minutes Interview

He was a great human being who epitomized love and friendship. Life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls. This touching eulogy from comedian Billy Crystal sums it up aptly Billy Crystal eulogy for Ali






Ladakh: high altitude, mountain passes and genuine hospitality

In Travel/Leisure on May 15, 2016 at 9:37 AM

Altitude – that’s the first word that crosses my mind when I land at Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport. At 10,682 ft. it is one of the highest altitude commercial airports in the world.


Leh – through the clouds

“Juley! Welcome to Ladakh.” The greeting from my Ladakhi guide is warm and genuine. The next word that crosses my mind is hospitality.

The Indian province of Jammu & Kashmir comprises of 3 regions, with distinct ethnicities:

  • Jammu – essentially the Hindu Dogra Rajputs,
  • Kashmir valley – majority Muslim and
  • Ladakh – majority Buddhist.

Ladakh is to the east of the Kashmir valley and borders China. In the 1962 war, Ladakh lost a chunk of its territory to China, now called Aksai Chin. So, being a border region, the Indian army presence is distinctly visible. Leh and Kargil are the two big towns in Ladakh. Kargil was the site of 1999 war with Pakistan – so Ladakh has paid its price for being a border town.

Leh is essentially a monastery town – it’s dotted with stupas, ancient palaces and monasteries. You can feel an air of spirituality in the air. So I start my day with a trip to the Shey Palace/Monastery.

Nestled on a hilltop overlooking the snow-capped Zanskar range of mountains, the Shey Palace/Monastery is in the midst of some lush green scenery, dotted with lakes and desert sand. Before I step into the monastery, I take time to absorb this surreal scenery.

Shey Palace is a 16th century palace. It houses the 3 storey copper gilded statue of the Buddha – 39 ft high

On the upper floor of monastery, a number of beautiful wall paintings are displayed. The lower floor has a library with a large number of neatly preserved manuscripts and is decorated with murals of Buddha in various poses

Shey Palace was built in 1665 by the King of Ladakh as his summer retreat house.

On the eastern perimeter of the palace, a series of gilded chortens add to the elegance of the palace and serve as a landmark for that area.

The Stok Palace Museum provides a peek into the heritage and history of the Ladakhi royal family before Ladakh was conquered by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s General Zorawar Singh. This large palace museum has only a small part open for visitors. Precious artefacts and relics related to Ladakh’s old monarchy are well-preserved in this museum – ancient coins, royal seals, regal costumes, precious jewelry and photographs. The warfare equipment is displayed in a separate room and includes an impressive assortment of swords, shields, bows, arrows, quivers and guns. The simplicity of design and size is striking, in comparison to the opulence of Mughal India. Overall, this seems to be the best historic museum in Ladakh, but in need of better maintenance and upkeep.


Leh – Stok Palace

My last stop of the day is the Shanti Stupa – a white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh. It was built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura. The project was built with the help of Ladakhi Buddhists, who offered voluntary labour, and Japanese Buddhists, who consider India as the “sacred” birthplace of the Buddha. The Shanti Stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base, enshrined by the Dalai Lama. Once again, the surrounding landscape is a treat to the eyes.

The Shanti Stupa was built to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism. It is considered a symbol of the ties between the people of Japan and Ladakh.

The next day, I am leaving for my high altitude drive through the 3rd highest motorable road in the world – Pangong Tso, through the Chang La Pass, at 17, 350 ft (5,360 meters) above sea level. The hospitality team at the hotel is up early to ensure I am fed well – “Sahib, we can’t let you drive to Pangong Tso on an empty stomach.”

The high altitude mountain passes make Ladakh a complete attraction for road trips. Snow-capped peaks amidst the barren landscape and stunning views of the valley are the added treats on the road trip. One must cross Changla Pass to reach the Pangong Tso Lake, one of the largest high altitude lakes in India. To get to the Changla Pass, you have to pass through a military check point – make sure you have your travel documents on you, to get past this checkpoint.

It’s freezing when I reach the top – the Changla Pass – the scenery is draped in a blanket of snow and a sign from Indian Army welcomes me and acknowledges that I am at an altitude of 17,586 ft (5380 m). A hot cup of tea is complimentary, but I am more interested in exploring the surroundings. The Changla Pass is open only between the months of May and October.

From Changla Pass, we move onward and downward through the winding roads along the Himalayas till we reach the Pangong Tso lake, at an altitude of 14,270 ft. (4,350 m). As we drive closer to the lake, my vision is frozen for a few seconds – it appears like a huge mirror reflecting the sky – yes, it is deep blue and calm. This would be an ideal spot for meditation – the scenery (a huge stretch of deep blue, dotted by snow-capped mountains) and the sound are hypnotic – I could go into a trance anytime. See video-Pangong Tso Lake and video-Pangong Tso lake-scenery

Pangong Tso lake is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India into Tibet (China). Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in Tibet. The lake is essentially saline and as a result does not support vegetation or aquatic life except for some small crustaceans.


As we drive back through the winding passes, the image and sounds of the lake stay etched in my mind. At the end of the day, I move it to the folder – “Nature’s Divine Spots”


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