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USAID Learns From Pepsi: Appoint An Indian As Head, And It Is Easy To Win India -- The Gateway To Third World

19 November 2009

By Devinder Sharma

US President Barrack Obama's decision to appoint Rajiv Shah (of Indian-origin) to head USAID and thereby hoping to rejuvinate the US role in spearheading the 2nd Green Revolution has a clever streak. Putting a face that looks like one of them, it is much easier to convince the Third World that the US is there to help. In fact, this is emerging as a great marketing chip, a winning strategy that Pepsi had followed all these years.

Author, essayist and aspiring jazz violinist Mira Kamdar explains to you the meaning of The Shah Appointment at USAID

The elevation of Indra Nooyi as the chairperson and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, one of the world's biggest food and beverage companies, was therefore not without any purpose.

Nooyi has now emerged as the darling of the Indian pink newspapers, and is now for all practical purposes the business advisor to the Government of India. Any other PepsiCo CEO, I mean of any other nationality, would have failed to attain such proximity to the powers that be, and also to the media.

And once India gets addicted to the Pepsi fizz, you have got the world's biggest market under your control. The rest becomes much easy. And this, despite the Yoga guru Swami Ramdev, telling his audience every other day that Pepsi and Coke are very good toilet cleaners.

I tried it, and believe me since then I have kept Pepsi where it deserves to be: in my toilet.

Coming back to the marketing strategy, let me tell you it surely works. In the mid-1980s, PepsiCo was trying desperately to re-enter India (some years back, Pepsi and Coke were thrown out of India). Knowing that it will not gain an entry from the front door, PepsiCo tried to put a foot in the backdoor. Knowing that India was faced with a terrible militancy in Punjab, the food bowl, PepsiCo came up with a wonderful plan to usher in a 'second horticultural revolution' in Punjab.

And you obviously need an Indian face to convince India of your sincerity.

Ramesh Vangal was appointed head of the PepsiCo India operations, and I can tell you this marketing strategy did pay off. India allowed PepsiCo a backdoor entry, and Pepsi is now a household name. Perhaps agriculture was the only way to gain an entry into the Indian market, and the strategy succeeded because the company had very cleverly used an Indian to convince India.

The 2nd horticultural revolution that it had promised to usher in, has been all but forgotten. And this is what I had forewarned in my writings all the years.

As the then Agriculture Correspondent of the Indian Express, and based at Chandigarh, the Capital of Punjab, I had followed keenly the march of PepsiCo into the higher echelons of the Punjab government. I had spent quite a time in analysing the project proposals that PepsiCo had prepared, and invariably found that it didn't make much sense. My analysis, which my newspaper published religiously (I don't think it can happen now), did challenge the conclusions of some of the feasibility studies that PepsiCo had put out.

One fine morning, I got a call from a senior Punjab bureaucrat who wanted to facilitate a meeting between Ramesh Vangal and me. The same afternoon we met, and we had quite a long discussion. Ramesh Vangal was of course trying to tell me that he has a dream to bail out Punjab from its present crisis, and therefore sees the PepsiCo project as a way out. At one stage, he even told me and if I remember correctly it went like this: "I too am a patriot, Devinder."

I remember telling him that I never claim to be a patriot. I only love to do my duty to the best of my ability.

Several years later, when PepsiCo was well entrenched in Punjab, some parliamentarians demanded a status report against the claims that the company had made. A three-member expert committee was constituted, which went to PepsiCo's project sites and plants. The company decided to boycott the expert committee. Obvioulsy, the company knew that it would fail the scrutiny and therefore decided to stay out from the investigating eye of the expert committee.

A few weeks later, after the report was submitted to parliament, I dug out the report and published in my newspaper (at that time I worked briefly with Business & Political Observer in New Delhi). The expert committee report was of course very critical and clearly brought out that PepsiCo had not lived upto its promises.

After my exposure, Ramesh Vangal went on a media campaign, addressing a large number of press conferences across the country. I did attend his press conference in New Delhi, where he made an impassioned plea before journalists (who of course didn't know anything about agriculture) saying what wrong the committee had done to the company. The press meet ended, and we broke for lunch the moment I asked him a question.

"Mr Vangal, why didn't you bring all this to the notice of the expert committee," I asked.

"We had decided to boycott the committee," he replied.

"Than, why are you giving this explanation to an ignorant media, " I asked, and as you would guess his media advisors were quick to interrupt saying that let us now carry the discussion to lunch. Ramesh Vangal then recognised me, and what he told me is something that is not printable.

Anyway, the bigger question is that the 2nd Horticultural Revolution that PepsiCo had promised in Punjab, never happened.

USAID is certainly in a better position. Buttressed by financial support from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and backed by the MNCs, it is now gearing up to unleash the privately owned 2nd Green Revolution. It therefore needs a coloured face to justify the benevolence it is going to shower on the coloured people. It is however another matter that by the time 2nd Green Revolution ends, farmers would have all but disappeared, farm lands would be rendered barren and sick, bringing the world perilously close to a tripping point.

USAID supported 2nd Green Revolution would end the kind of agriculture we have always lived with. Your food will not be produced in the farm but in food factories. The World Bank is already considering subsidising the future food factories, which would not require farmers nor farm lands.

Welcome to the Grave New World.




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