Archive for ‘India alert’

20/08/2014

Wounded Congress desperately seeking alliances for upcoming assembly elections

The Congress party is losing legislators but is keen to show it remains a political force as polls approach in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and Kashmir.

Still reeling from its decimation in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress now has to contend with legislators in several states quitting the party to join the Bharatiya Janata Party. There are rumours that even veteran Delhi Congress leader Dr AK Walia is in talks to join the BJP.

What makes the situation worse is that members of legislative assemblies from regional parties are also joining the BJP, making it hard for the Congress to compete.

The party is now desperately looking to form alliances with regional parties and even independent MLAs to save face in the upcoming state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

Jharkhand

With the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha deciding to merge with the BJP, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Congress to establish any sort of stronghold in the state. The party’s general secretary in the state, BK Hariprasad, says it is looking to put together an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, with which it has already reached an agreement in Bihar. The party is also working on a tie-up with Janata Dal (United), which split with the BJP before the general elections.

The party already has an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. However, the district presidents in the region are not keen to continue with it, following the JMM’s demand that it be allocated 25-30 of the 81 seats in state polls due at the end of the year.

“The party has a stronghold in the state and it will perform much better if we contest on our own instead of seat sharing,” a district president of the Congress said. “The leadership should not concede to the demands of the regional alliances and deprive our own people of a chance to contest the polls.”

via Scroll.in – News. Politics. Culture..

20/08/2014

Why decades of India-Pakistan negotiations have not resulted in any real progress

It’s simple. Pakistan wants something India has, but can offer nothing in return that India desires.

It took less than three months for the candle of hope lit by Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif at the Indian prime minister’s inaugural ceremony in Delhi to be extinguished. India has cancelled foreign secretary-level talks scheduled to be held in Islamabad next week because Abdul Basit, the Pakistani High Commissioner, met a few separatist leaders. It’s not as if Basit did anything illegal or novel. Kashmir being the apple of discord between India and Pakistan, it is natural for Pakistan’s envoy to consult with secessionist Kashmiris before an important round of bilateral discussions. It has been done many times before. On this occasion, though, the Modi government threw a hissy fit, which is being spun by pliant commentators as a “tough approach”.

The extinguishing of hope was predictable, and followed directly from the mistake of inviting Nawaz Sharif to Delhi. The two prime ministers should have met only when they had something serious to decide upon, after the spadework for an agreement, however minor, had been completed. The euphoria of the inauguration handshake created expectations difficult to fulfill, considering the deeply entrenched and entirely incompatible views of the opposing sides.

The fact that Narendra Modi is no Atal Behari Vajpayee turned Mission Difficult into Mission Impossible. Vajpayee was committed to a legacy-defining vision of securing lasting peace with Pakistan. There was a tiny possibility that he might have accepted the sacrifices essential for it, and convinced his party and the nation to go along. In the reign of Modi, whose idea of India is the most aggressive of any leader since independence, such a sacrifice is inconceivable.

Give and take

Any successful negotiation requires give and take from both sides. The stumbling block to resolving the Kashmir issue is that Pakistan wants something India has, but can offer nothing in return that India desires. Although the official positions of the two sides indicate that each is in occupation of territory that rightfully belongs to the other, in reality India has no use for that part of Kashmir we call POK. Nor has anybody in POK expressed a will to secede from Pakistan and join India. In any conceivable deal, then, India can only lose territory. The abstract peace dividend doesn’t provide anything close to adequate compensation for this physical loss. Which is why India has negotiated in bad faith for decades.

In 1972, the two nations signed the Simla Agreement, resolving not to wage further wars, and to address speedily the issue of Kashmir. In 1999, through the Lahore Declaration, we agreed essentially to the same things, tacking on a promise not to nuke each other. But for over 40 years, through cycles of violent insurrection and relative calm, through dozens of horrific terrorist attacks and thousands of peaceful demonstrations, through periods of sectarian amity and passages of ethnic cleansing, India’s position on the issue hasn’t budged an inch, down to the proscription of any maps that show Pakistani Kashmir for what it really is.

Why would any Indian politician risk negotiating in earnest, when it is clear that Indians in general do not give a fig for what Kashmiris actually want? We are happy to let our security forces commit crimes shielded by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. We are content to pour billions of rupees into defending an icy wasteland where our soldiers regularly die of exposure. We are barely moved by the discovery of unmarked graves in which thousands of Kashmiris were secretly and hastily buried.

via Scroll.in – News. Politics. Culture..

18/08/2014

Modi Sends India’s Soviet-Inspired Planning Commission Packing – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s prime minister used his inaugural Independence Day speech last Friday to cut off an arm of the country’s government that dates back nearly all the way to independence: the powerful, unloved and sometimes irrelevant-seeming Planning Commission.

The body was the creation of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who took from the experience of Japan and the Soviet Union the lesson that late-industrializing countries needed to use state intervention to transform their economies from the “commanding heights.” In the words of the 1950 cabinet resolution that created the commission: “The need for comprehensive planning based on a careful appraisal of resources and on an objective analysis of all the relevant economic factors has become imperative.”

Narendra Modi said on Friday that India could do better. The new prime minister said circumstances had changed since the commission’s creation. He said the federal government wasn’t the only driver of economic growth, and that state governments needed to be empowered to innovate. He promised the creation of a new institution that would serve as a platform for exchanging economic-policy ideas within government.

The announcement wasn’t unforeseen. The prime minister serves ex officio as the Planning Commission’s chairman. But Mr. Modi had spent his first months in office leaving the commission’s other full-time seats conspicuously unfilled. As a former chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, Mr. Modi was said at the time of his election this spring to have a strong interest in giving state governments more space to set budget priorities.

Killing the Planning Commission won’t entirely decentralize government spending in India. Federal tax revenue, according to the country’s constitution, is first distributed between the central and state governments by the Finance Commission. The Planning Commission then allocates spending to states along lines laid out in its Five-Year Plan for the economy.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. Critics have accused the Planning Commission of gradually usurping the Finance Commission’s role as chief arbiter between the federal and state governments, all in the service of Five-Year Plans that are meticulously crafted but rarely achieved. The current plan, which covers 2012 to 2017, runs to three volumes and more than 1,000 pages. It covers all and sundry from boosting the manufacturing sector and increasing female literacy to promoting sports medicine and modernizing the powerloom sector.

The Five-Year Plans pervade policy making in India, at least in name if not always in effect. All federal expenditure is classified as either “plan” or “non-plan,” depending on whether it is undertaken in pursuit of the current Five-Year Plan. The Planning Commission occupies a monolithic grayish structure in New Delhi—Yojana Bhawan, or “Planning House”—just down the road from Parliament.

via Modi Sends India’s Soviet-Inspired Planning Commission Packing – India Real Time – WSJ.

15/08/2014

Online sites shake up hidebound retailing in India – Businessweek

Finding a way into India’s vast but vexing market has long frustrated foreign retailers. Now, overseas investors are pouring billions of dollars into e-commerce ventures that are circumventing the barriers holding back retail powers such as Wal-Mart and Ikea.

Some investors see India as the world’s next big e-commerce opportunity, with the upcoming mammoth public stock offering of Chinese online giant Alibaba hinting at the potential.

Online shopping is still in its infancy in India at $2.3 billion of an overall $421 billion retail market in 2013, according to research firm Crisil. But it is growing fast and the potential of reaching a mostly untapped market of 1.2 billion people has sparked a funding-and-expansion arms race.

Flipkart, a Bangalore-based company founded in 2007 by two former Amazon employees, last month announced it had raised $1 billion in mostly foreign capital after building its registered users to 22 million.

A day later, Amazon raised the stakes with founder Jeff Bezos saying the company would pour $2 billion into developing its India business.

Snapdeal.com, another Indian e-commerce contender, has raised at least $234 million in the past year, and recently local media have reported that Rajan Tata of India’s Tata Group conglomerate is considering a personal investment in the company.

via Online sites shake up hidebound retailing in India – Businessweek.

15/08/2014

Modi Targets Bureaucrats, Manufacturing and Toilets in Independence-Day Speech – India Real Time – WSJ

In his first Independence Day speech Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listed the issues he plans to focus on as the leader of the world’s largest democracy: bickering bureaucrats, women’s rights, manufacturing jobs, trash and toilets.

“You might say Independence Day is an opportunity to talk about big ideas and make big declarations. But sometimes, when these declarations are not fulfilled, they plunge society into disappointment,”said Mr. Modi, who is the South Asian nation’s first prime minister born after India gained independence from Britain 67 years ago. “That’s why I’m talking about things we can achieve in our time.”

Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was propelled to power by Indians who, hungry for better jobs and a higher standard of living, grew frustrated with slowing growth under the previous Congress-led government. Since coming to power in May, Mr. Modi has made some cautious policy moves, disappointing some of his supporters who had expected immediate and bold change from his administration.

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of New Delhi’s regal Red Fort Friday, Mr. Modi said he plans to set the government in order and stop bureaucratic squabbling, underlining his focus on administrative processes rather than economic overhauls. As “an outsider” to New Delhi, he said, he has been shocked since taking office to find that “there were dozens of governments inside the government,” each with “its own fiefdom.”

“Departments are fighting each other, suing each other in the Supreme Court,” Mr. Modi said. “How can they move the country forward?”

In his nearly hour-long speech delivered largely in Hindi, Mr. Modi reiterated his focus on making India a global manufacturing hub and export powerhouse.

Offering a new slogan in English, “Come, make in India,” Mr. Modi invited the world to come to India to manufacture.

“Sell anywhere in the world but make it here,” he said. “Electricals to electronics, chemicals to pharmaceuticals, automobiles to agro-products, paper or plastic, satellites or submarines — Come, make in India.”

Mr. Modi questioned why India needs to import “every little thing,” and urged the country’s youth to open factories and export goods.

Manufacturing makes up only around 15% of India’s gross domestic product as most of its rapid expansion over the last decades has come from the service sector. During spring elections the BJP said it planned to create millions of new jobs if elected. Economists say one of the best ways India can generate employment is through exports.

While India’s labor costs are among the lowest in the world, it has consistently failed to become an export powerhouse like China and Asia’s other largest economies.

Prime Minister Modi also announced initiatives aimed at modernizing India: a nationwide drive for cleanliness that would boost tourism, a program for parliamentarians to transform villages, one by one, into “model villages,” encouraging politicians and companies to build more toilets so people don’t have to use the outdoors and a push to open bank accounts for all Indians.

Mr. Modi also used his speech to address an issue the new opposition has been demanding discussion on: religious violence. A Hindu nationalist leader accused of not doing enough to stop communal violence in the state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister there, Mr. Modi Friday urged Indians to stop communal fighting. Just this week, opposition parties accused the BJP of polarizing Indians on religious lines and analysts have blamed Mr. Modi of not addressing recent tensions.

“Who benefits from this poison of communalism? It is an impediment to growth,” Mr. Modi said. “Let us choose peace instead and see how it propels our nation forward.”

via Modi Targets Bureaucrats, Manufacturing and Toilets in Independence-Day Speech – India Real Time – WSJ.

14/08/2014

War of Words Erupts Between India and Pakistan – India Real Time – WSJ

An all-to-familiar war of words has erupted between India and Pakistan, threatening to undo efforts to bridge the gap between the estranged neighbors, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain 67 years ago.

The latest rhetorical salvo was fired Wednesday by India’s foreign ministry, which said “mere denials or selective approaches toward terrorism” by Pakistan wouldn’t assuage Indian concerns about what it sees as backing from Islamabad for Islamic terror attacks on Indian soil.

This week’s bickering started when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a visit to the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, said Pakistan, too weak to fight a conventional war, was using terror groups to wage a “proxy war against India.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry the next day denounced Mr. Modi’s criticism as “baseless rhetoric.”

“It would be in the larger interest of the regional peace that instead of engaging in a blame game, the two countries should focus on resolving all issues through dialogue,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif to Delhi for his swearing-in ceremony, it ignited hope for better relations between the estranged neighbors.

The two countries’ foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet in Islamabad on Aug. 25 to “look at the way forward” in the bilateral relationship. But the current spat could cast a shadow over the meeting.

That poses a problem. Deep-rooted suspicion between India and Pakistan has stymied attempts at achieving greater economic integration and better connectivity in the region. Relations between India and Pakistan, a close ally of neighbouring China, also have a major impact on regional stability.

via War of Words Erupts Between India and Pakistan – India Real Time – WSJ.

13/08/2014

India Wants to Find the Saraswati River and Bring It Back to Life – India Real Time – WSJ

ndia’s new government says it plans to find and possibly bring back to life a long-lost river mentioned in sacred Hindu texts.

In answer to a question in Parliament Tuesday, Uma Bharti, the water resources and river development minister said India wants to “detect and revive,” the Saraswati River, described in Vedic texts.

“There are enough scientific evidences on the presence of the river Saraswati in some parts of the country through which it flowed about five to six thousand years ago,” she said on the floor of the lower house of Parliament. “Saraswati is not a myth.”

Geologists have known for more than 100 years about ancient river beds passing through northern India that could be the Saraswati, said the Times of India. But reviving the river by bringing any underground water to the surface is “an impossible task,” Umesh Chaube, professor emeritus of water resource development and hydrology at IIT –Roorkee told the Hindustan Times.

Critics were quick to suggest it would be a waste of government money and a potential wild goose chase aimed at strengthening the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ties to its Hindu nationalist supporters.

A BJP spokesman did not respond to a request for the party response on Wednesday morning.

It wouldn’t be the first time that scientists have had to follow the hunches of politicians. Last year a team of government archaeologists had to excavate the ruins of an old palace in the state of Uttar Pradesh, after a famed Hindu holy man declared that there was 1,000 tons of gold buried under it. No gold was found.

via India Wants to Find the Saraswati River and Bring It Back to Life – India Real Time – WSJ.

13/08/2014

Class divide puts English to the test in India’s civil services

Indian students in recent weeks have protested the use of English in the country’s difficult civil service examinations. The students, usually from Hindi-speaking regions of India, say that the exams reflect a class divide: if you speak and write English well, you are seen as part of the educated, urban elite. If you do not, it’s because you are one of the disadvantaged, usually from smaller towns or villages.

English is a tricky subject in India. A language imposed by colonists who exploited the people and resources of the land for centuries, it also was the one language that people seeking independence from the British could use to speak to one another. It remains one of two official languages across India, though many people do not speak it well or at all. I spoke to some of the civil service aspirants who have complained about the language requirement and the structure of the exams, and learned about the role that they hope the exam will play in their lives.

Ashutosh Sharma is a 25-year-old psychology graduate from Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, who has been camping in Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar neighbourhood for the past two years, hoping that he will crack the examination one day.

“The entire protest is presented as a language issue. It’s much more than that. It’s about how a group of elite people in the country want to govern the things. How they cannot digest that a villager, who doesn’t match their lavish lifestyle, rises to the ranks on the basis of his knowledge and hard work,” he said.

Ashutosh said he comes from a village, and is better acquainted with the problems the country faces in these places. “When I was in the village primary school, I remember that the teacher would hardly come to take classes. There was no accountability. As a district magistrate, I would know better how the problem can be fixed and I can deal with the problem regardless of whether I speak English or not.”

via India Insight.

13/08/2014

Chennai, home of Indian coffee, scoffs as Starbucks enters the market

When Starbucks opened its first coffeehouse in Chennai last month, its 50th in India, many people wondered why the chain had waited so long to come to the city. Was it because it was summoning up courage to enter the land of filter coffee?

The US chain, which has entered India in partnership with the Tata group, opened its first outlet in Mumbai in October 2012. But it took two years for Starbucks to come to Chennai, where it opened its first outlet in the Velachary area on July 10. It plans to open a second outlet soon, in the Alwarpet locality.

Chennai is famous for its ubiquitous filter coffee, a potent brew made in a cylindrical metal device with two compartments separated by a fine filter that allows water to percolate through a bed of coffee powder. The decoction that drips through into the bottom compartment is then mixed with milk and sugar to produce the famous Chennai filter coffee.

For now, youngsters are thronging the new Starbucks outlet, but filter coffee, brewed in most Chennai homes and available in low-cost eateries around the city, might yet prove to be formidable competition.

Starbucks’ representatives did not reply to specific queries about the chain’s prospects in Chennai. But because Starbucks is not a pioneer, it will not have to create a market for its style of coffeehouse: another chain has already done that.

Indeed, the first battle for coffee in Chennai took place a good 15 years ago, when the city got its first Western-style coffee house with Café Coffee Day‘s first outlet in Nungambakkam in 1999. Since then, the chain has grown to 74 cafés, becoming the largest in the city.

Starbucks, therefore, not only has another competitor in Café Coffee Day but also a fellow-traveller, albeit one that got an early start.

via Scroll.in – News. Politics. Culture..

13/08/2014

Rising inflation, weak industrial output dampen hopes of economic turnaround in India

New economic data casts dark clouds over economic revival

The Consumer Price Index increased from 7.46%  in June to 7.96% in July, according to data released by the government on Tuesday. The CPI measures the change in market price levels for a representative basket of goods and services purchased by households. Meanwhile, overall factory output has decelerated by 1.8% in June to 3.4% due to a sharp decrease in the manufacturing activity.

via Scroll.in – News. Politics. Culture..

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