Ubiquitous Supply Chain — Omnipresent!

You’re Rip Van Winkle or Kumbh Karan if you claim to have never heard or read about the supply chain since March 2020 — the time the coronavirus embraced the world. The word is pervasive. Omnipresent. No global political or business leader has not forgotten to chant this word to hide their inefficiencies to manage the affairs of their state or business.

If experts are to be believed — everybody is one because we have, without exception, some personal experience of being a victim of this magic word/s. Before one jumps to conclude that the kind of stock out or non-availability of goods for a long time — supply chain disruption or crisis — is nothing new. For decades, long waits to avail of anything from essentials to telephone connection or motorized car or two-wheelers was common in India. Yes, we are talking about supply chain disruption.

I vividly remember the Indian food crisis of the 1960s: the pre-green revolution era. Wheat-laden ships gifted by the Lyndon Johnson administration, it was said, appear like an army of ants on the move from the United States to the Indian shores when viewed from the sky.

As a nine-year-old kid, I stood with my maternal grandfather in front of the Triplicane Urban Cooperative Society or TUCS (fair price shop) in the erstwhile Madras for 4–5 hours to bag one kilo of rice per person. There was no guarantee we would return home with rice. What if the stock runs out before our turn comes? A big ‘if”. Supply chain disruption, yes.

Indeed the mismanagement cost the right to rule the state of Madras for the undivided original Indian National Congress. Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam lost the general election in 1965, and the national party never returned to St George to date — thus giving room to the rise of the Dravidian party. Poor supply chain crisis of essential items such as rice finished off the powerful political organization that fetched deliverance from British rule.

The famine was so rampant, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) that wrested power in the southern state ran a successful campaign maligning the Congress. “Kamaraja nadar kari thunna mattar; sunda eliya kanda, chumma vida maatar” (Kamaraj Nadar (the most respected and influential Congress leader at the national and state levels) does not eat mutton, chicken; but he will chase a mouse to satiate his hunger).

The Lyndon Johnson administration came to the rescue of India by enabling wheat shipment under the Public Law 480. At school mid-day meals, broken wheat replaced rice leading to rejection by young students, citing that we are rice, not wheat eaters like north Indians. Mind you, and the middle meal was free to school children. The anti-Hindi agitation in the state also poured oil into the burning supply chain disruption/scarcity issue.

Shift to 1998 and the Delhi state. Late Sushma Swaraj was the then Chief Minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party could not return to power in the elections held in 1999. Among other issues, the rising vegetable prices, especially onion, led to BJP’s defeat. Another victim of supply chain disruption.

Are we not familiar with the Hamara Bajaj issue? Bridegrooms demanded a Bajaj scooter as part of their dowry, and brides’ parents ran helter-skelter to procure one, readily throwing a hefty premium in the then prevailing license-permit raj. Supply constraint. Or you know what! The situation was no different from getting a landline telephone connection before India’s advent of mobile phones. Or cooking gas connections.

Shortage — demand outstripping supply — is common in almost all underdeveloped countries. Or it could be the supply is good, but logistics is the challenge: meaning, lack of transportation facility to move the goods from the point of production to the consumption centers.

Nobody used the word supply chain those days to describe the happening. Yet it was on display at regular intervals — new terminology capturing the old happenings.

The paanwala in the neighborhood heard convincing a regular customer: “Arre saab, I am not getting a regular supply of Banarasi paan leaves due to some problem. That’s why I am forced to use local paan leaves and you’re right to say it tastes different.” Yes, he is talking about supply chain disruption.

Several thousand kilometers away, connoisseurs of single malt whiskey in the United States are tweedling their collective thumbs because their favorite Ardamurchan single malt takes longer than usual to reach the American shores from Scotland. The only silver lining is that the liquor vendor, not them, bears the higher shipping cost. Yes, supply chain snarls!

Will you agree, the word has become ubiquitous? Not only death and taxes, but none can escape from the clutches of supply chain challenges too.




An avid watcher & practitioner in the world of communication

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