Archive for ‘India alert’

24/04/2014

Mumbai Shop Owners: Cut Taxes and Tame Corruption, Please – India Real Time – WSJ

As Mumbai’s traders hit the polls Thursday, many said they voted in favor of lower taxes and against corruption. High income and sales tax, import duty and rising prices have made it tougher to do business, many shop owners said.

Chetan Pishtoi at his plywood store, Sagar Ply, in South Mumbai. Shanoor Seervai/The Wall Street Journal

“In the past, I voted for the Congress,” says Chetan Pishtoi, a plywood-shop owner at Colaba market in South Mumbai, referring to the political party that currently leads India’s national government. “But now my eyes have opened. I see what [Narendra] Modi has done in Gujarat. If he wins, maybe he will do the same for India,” says Mr. Pishtoi, 30 years old.

Mr. Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the rival Bharatiya Janata Party, is campaigning on the economic strength of the western state of Gujarat, where he is chief minister.

Mr. Pishtoi says food prices rose so much in recent years that he had to give his employees raises. “The public in Mumbai are sleeping hungry and the government hasn’t done anything about it,” Mr. Pishtoi says. Tomatoes and onions, he says, are priced beyond the reach of many.

Raju Lalwani at his men’s clothing store in Mumbai. Shanoor Seervai/The Wall Street Journal

Raju Lalwani, who runs a men’s clothes store, is also concerned about inflation. “Cloth has become so expensive, and even the tailors charge too much for stitching,” Mr. Lalwani says. “If the political party changes, maybe business will improve.”

His shop, Lovely Silk Stores, has been a family-run business for three generations. But the 58-year-old says his children won’t inherit the business. His son is studying to be an accountant, and his daughter is in grade 12.

via Mumbai Shop Owners: Cut Taxes and Tame Corruption, Please – India Real Time – WSJ.

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23/04/2014

Guns and Gowns: Documentary shows two faces of the Indian woman | India Insight

Cosmetic surgeon Jamuna Pai inspects the face of the Miss India contestant before her in Mumbai, furrows her brow and points to a blemish. The verdict: the young woman needs a botox injection in her chin because the “proportions are off by 0.6 percent.”

About 400 kilometres away in the town of Aurangabad, worlds apart from India’s financial capital, a middle-aged woman in a sari lectures adolescent girls about wanting careers.

“How can you deny 5,000 years of evidence that you are the weaker sex? Stop asking for equality,” she thunders to her audience of rapt teenagers in traditional Indian attire.

The two women in Mumbai and Aurangabad, and the subjects of their scrutiny are at the crux of Nisha Pahuja‘s film “The World Before Her,” which opens in Indian cinemas next month.

The documentary juxtaposes two training camps — one for the Durga Vahini (army of Durga), the women’s unit of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), and the other for the annual Miss India beauty pageant.

Pahuja said that she wanted to make a film that would explore a common theme in two worlds that at first look like they are opposites. What they have in common, Pahuja said, is that women are constantly being told, often by women themselves, that they are not good enough, whether they are being judged for their perfect legs or being pushed to give in to the patriarchal society.

“And that’s what makes it more dangerous, because it’s a combination of these two extreme perspectives and they are married to each other. That is terrifying. It is regressive ideology masquerading as progress. It will create this bubble, and people won’t be able to see beyond it,” the film-maker said.

“The World Before Her” shows girls at the Durga Vahini camp being taught martial arts and to fire a gun as part of self-defence training. The students are told these skills are essential if they are to defend Hinduism “against the threat of Islam and Christianity.”

Pahuja’s film also puts the spotlight on a boot camp for 19 women contesting in the country’s beauty pageant. Here, they are primped and pushed — often in ways they aren’t comfortable with — to make them fit the exacting standards of a contest winner.

Pahuja started work on the documentary in 2008, and didn’t complete it until four years later. The Canadian-born filmmaker said she wanted to make a documentary on the Miss India contest, but expanded the film’s scope when she heard of right-wing protests against the contest’s swimsuit round.

“It took me two years to get access to the Durga Vahini camp, but when I went there, and met Prachi (one of the camp instructors, a fiery 24-year-old who says she wants to be the next Sadhvi Pragya Singh, a Hindu woman accused of orchestrating terror attacks), I realized that this was a compelling part of the story of the Indian woman,” Pahuja, 46, told India Insight in an interview.

“The World Before Her,” won Best Feature at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, and a clutch of awards at other festivals. The documentary is backed by Indian film-maker Anurag Kashyap and actress Nandita Das.

Pahuja, who was raised in Toronto, said her film was evidence that the two ideologies — the perceived superficial consumerism of the pageant and the fundamentalism of right-wing Hindu groups — co-existed in India.

via Guns and Gowns: Documentary shows two faces of the Indian woman | India Insight.

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21/04/2014

On the Fence: Will Indians Actually Vote Against Corruption, or Not? – India Real Time – WSJ

A report in today’s Wall Street Journal probes an important contradiction in the Indian electorate: People say they are fed up with corruption — but will they say it at the ballot box?

Political corruption is a defining issue in the national vote, which runs all month. The only issue that tops it is economic growth, according to a survey sponsored by the Lok Foundation. Indians rank political parties as the most corrupt institutions in the country, Transparency International says.

The Journal traveled to Karnataka to look at the parliamentary race in Shimoga, where B.S. Yeddyurappa — a seasoned politician who faces corruption allegations — is representing the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr. Yeddyurappa, who is considered a front-runner in the race, denies the allegations.

From interviews with voters in and around Shimoga, two things are clear: Pretty much everyone knows about the allegations against Mr. Yeddyurappa. And pretty much everyone thinks all politicians are corrupt. As a result, many people said they will simply vote for the person who they feel will help him or her the most.

“Corruption needs to be eradicated,” said Manjula H.N., a young woman who lives in a village about a half-hour drive into the countryside.  But, she said, she is more worried about unemployment.

Bottom line: She was leaning toward voting for the BJP. “Yeddyurappa has done more good works” for locals than the other candidates, she said.

via On the Fence: Will Indians Actually Vote Against Corruption, or Not? – India Real Time – WSJ.

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19/04/2014

India’s Mobile Marketers Try Phone Calls to Reach Rural Consumers – Businessweek

In many parts of the world, businesses relentlessly market to customers via their Web-connected smartphones, slipping pitches into everything from interactive games to graphics-laden productivity apps. Not so in rural India: To better reach the country’s 833 million villagers, Unilever (UL) is delivering free Bollywood music to their basic cell phones via old-fashioned phone calls.

In India, Mobile Ads Mean Phone Calls

Between the popular tunes and cheesy jokes presented during the 15-minute recorded programs served up by Unilever’s mobile phone music service, users listen to four product ads. Consumers are biting: In March, at least 2 million people subscribed to the free service available in two states, says Anaheeta Goenka, executive director of Lowe Lintas & Partners, the agency handling the campaign for the world’s second-biggest consumer company. The service expanded to Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, on March 31.

Companies from Unilever to PepsiCo (PEP) to Mondelēz International (MDLZ) are turning to mobile campaigns to win over consumers who live in locales where cable television or even newspapers may have limited reach. In a country where most people don’t live in big cities and 88 percent of phones aren’t smart, the tuneful approach makes sense because rural spending growth now exceeds that of India’s urban centers. And mobile phone ads cost less and are more targeted than mass media campaigns on the subcontinent.

via India’s Mobile Marketers Try Phone Calls to Reach Rural Consumers – Businessweek.

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19/04/2014

India struggles with rebel threats during election – Businessweek

Indians cast ballots Thursday on the biggest day of voting in the country’s weekslong general election, streaming into polling stations even in areas where leftist rebels threatened violence over the plight of India’s marginalized and poor.

Nationwide voting began April 7 and runs through May 12, with results for the 543-seat lower house of Parliament to be announced four days later. Among the 13 key states voting Thursday was Chhattisgarh, now the center of a four-decade Maoist insurgency that has affected more than a dozen of India’s 28 states.

With roadside bombings, jungle ambushes and hit-and-run raids, the rebels aim for nothing short of sparking a full-blown peasant revolt as they accuse the government and corporations of plundering resources and stomping on the rights of the poor.

via India struggles with rebel threats during election – Businessweek.

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19/04/2014

Sustainable Design Is a Given in India – India Real Time – WSJ

“Architecture should be ethical and show empathy toward the human condition,” said Bijoy Jain, whose firm Studio Mumbai received the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture from L’Institut Francais D’Architecture in 2009. The Indian modernist—known for blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, and creating oases of peace from local stone and wood—studied in the U.S. and worked on the Getty Center in Los Angeles. He established his practice in 1996, building a compound that houses dozens of the craftsmen he employs near his own handsome but humble residence in the countryside of Alibag, not far from central Mumbai.

Mr. Jain’s home was recently part of “Where Architects Live,” an installation at the global design fair Salone del Mobile in Milan that re-created the residences of world-renowned talents including Zaha Hadid, Daniel Liebeskind and Shigeru Ban. Mr. Jain said he sees his live-work complex as a laboratory for new ideas and a standard-bearer for old traditions. “There’s a lineage of carpentry and masonry, building with high skill and great efficiency that’s specific to India, and I am transferring that ideology to projects around the world,” said the globe-trotting architect, 49, who is working on projects in Switzerland, Spain and Japan and will teach a semester at Yale this fall. Mr. Jain spoke to us about sustainable design, how he’d blow $20,000 and the most beautiful restaurant in the world.

via Sustainable Design Is a Given in India – India Real Time – WSJ.

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17/04/2014

Non Residents Are Stakeholders in India’s Future Too – India Real Time – WSJ

Conversations in Mumbai are usually about the elections these days – be it at roadside food stalls or in the boardrooms of India’s financial capital.

The stakes, after all, are high: following a period of robust growth, the country’s economy has slowed considerably in the past few years – largely because of (depending on who you talk to) the global crisis, policy paralysis, corruption and such. Inflation too is a massive concern.

The need of the hour, most agree, is a secular, stable and investment-friendly government that helps create prosperity for India’s multitude, and not just for a few seen close to the powerful.

That in essence is also the main topic of discussion some 2000kms to the west of the city – for non-resident Indians in Dubai, a fast growing regional financial hub.

Back in the 70s and 80s, hordes of Indians left the country in search of better opportunities – many of whom came to the oil-producing Middle East countries. The tech boom of the 90s provided them another global opening, though by then economic reforms at home were also taking effect – helping drive growth and creating more and better-paying jobs in the next decade.

Many Indians still look abroad for livelihood, but have increasingly channelled a big chunk of their earnings back home in search of returns. And why not? Even global investors are happily betting on the country’s future.

India topped the global list for remittances in 2013 – receiving some $70 billion, according to a World Bank report last week, underscoring its importance as an important source of foreign exchange. To be sure, remittances last year were “more than the $65 billion earned from the country’s flagship software services exports,” the World Bank noted.

That the country has been among the leading recipients of remittances over the past few years is not surprising, given that some 25 million Indians (variously classified) live abroad and, in several cases, continue to have strong familial ties back home.

The importance of Indians living overseas and their contribution to the country has been recognised on various platforms – such as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which has been held every year since 2003 to “mark the contribution of Overseas Indian community in the development of India,” according to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

The ministry says these conventions facilitate the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and people for “mutually beneficial activities”. Simply put, Indians living overseas are increasingly participating more actively back home.

But they – the millions of NRIs – still can’t vote from foreign locations and choose a government of their liking in the country’s general elections.

via Non Residents Are Stakeholders in India’s Future Too – India Real Time – WSJ.

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16/04/2014

India Signs Power Contracts for 700 Megawatts of Solar Capacity – Businessweek

India signed contracts to purchase solar power from companies building 700 megawatts of capacity awarded in a national auction.

English: Photovoltaic system with 19 Megawatts...

English: Photovoltaic system with 19 Megawatts peak near Thüngen/Bavaria Deutsch: Solarpark/photovoltaikanlage mit 19 Megawatt Spitzenleistung nahe Thüngen/Bayern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The government is waiting to sign purchase agreements for the remaining 50 megawatts from the auction in February, Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, said today in an interview in New Delhi. The agreements, which lock in rates for the power generated for 25 years, bind developers to complete the plants within 13 months.

Two developers dropped out after winning bids, including St. Peters, Missouri-based SunEdison Inc. (SUNE:US), which said last week it gave up a 20-megawatt project because local equipment shortages and prices make it unviable. The other developer that Kapoor didn’t identify forfeited its project after failing to get permission from its parent to proceed, he said.

via India Signs Power Contracts for 700 Megawatts of Solar Capacity – Businessweek.

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16/04/2014

Promises and more promises: India’s parties pitch their visions | India Insight

Campaign season in India means it’s also promise season, and political parties aren’t short on pledges for what they would do if they come to power after election results come out in May. From the Tamil Nadu-based MDMK party’s pledge to rename the country “The United States of India” to the Odisha-based BJD‘s promise to “guarantee” development projects, there are plenty of promises floating around to help parties capture, retain or regain power.

There has been plenty of coverage of the manifestos from the biggest national parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, so here are some highlights from the others.

Lok Satta Party: This Andhra Pradesh-based party has promised to nationalise the sale of liquor and to limit the number of stores where people can buy it. Families of liquor “victims,“ meanwhile, would get pensions.

BJD: In power for more than 10 years, the Biju Janata Dal of Odisha has promised to guarantee primary infrastructure needs in the state. It will also make it mandatory for industry to provide shares in projects to people whose land they buy for their projects.

DMK: The former ally of the ruling Congress party will oppose reservation, the setting aside of government jobs for members of groups recognized by the government as disadvantaged, based on economic criteria. It would, however, support caste-based reservation in the private sector. It also proposes that only qualified Tamil people be appointed as India’s envoys to the nations where Tamils live in considerable numbers. The party has also included not “bashing” other parties in their pitch.

AIADMK: Tamil Nadu’s ruling party says it would stop the sale and privatisation of state-owned companies. To stabilise the rupee, the AIADMK says it would not encourage short-term capital flows and will support long-term foreign direct investment.

CPI-Marxist: This Leftist party favours the production of goods for mass consumption rather than “unsustainable” luxury goods. It also would enforce a code of conduct for all elected representatives against sexist language. CPI-M favours revising the India-U.S. nuclear deal and will seek removal of nuclear weapons from the U.S. military base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

TMC: West Bengal’s ruling party, the Trinamool Congress, has promised it will provide a stipend and medical insurance to artists and folk performers. It has also promised to form a court to try human rights violations.

TRS: With the new state of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti says it will give a special “Telangana increment” to government employees to celebrate the state’s formation later this year.

JD(U): The Janata Dal (United) manifesto has promised legislation for the safety and security of migrant workers in India. It wants a commission to study the socio-economic condition of poor upper caste people to draft welfare measures for them.

MDMK: An ally of the BJP in Tamil Nadu, MDMK promises to rename the country “United States of India” to put emphasis on the federal structure. It wants to lift the ban on the LTTE, the Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka.

AAP: The Aam Aadmi Party, or common man party, is interested in animal welfare as well as human. It wants to protect the dignity of animals used in industries “for food, clothing and entertainment.” To encourage young people to join politics, it favours allowing 21-year-olds to run for office (the current minimum age is 25). Apart from laws to deal with violence against women, it promises long-term public education programmes to end the culture of gender-based discrimination. It has some provisions to regulate media as well.

BSP: The Bahujan Samaj Party of Uttar Pradesh, which counts millions of Dalits among its supporters, did not release any election pitch. “We do not release manifestos as we believe more in doing real development work for the people rather than making hollow claims which are never realised,” party chief and former UP Chief Minister Mayawati declared at a rally.

via Promises and more promises: India’s parties pitch their visions | India Insight.

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15/04/2014

As Growth Slows in India, Rural Workers Have Fewer Incentives to Move to Cities – WSJ.com

As a teenager, Ram Singh left this remote rural village and moved to fast-growing New Delhi to chase the spoils of his country’s economic boom.

For 14 years, he toiled in tiny, primitive factories making everything from auto parts to components for light switches. His wages barely kept pace with the cost of living and eventually he gave up on city life.

Today, he is back on the farm, scratching out a living from a small plot of land near his birthplace where he grows corn, wheat, potatoes and mustard.

“Whenever someone leaves his village for the city, he thinks, ‘I will earn money,’” says Mr. Singh, who isn’t certain of his age but says he is around 30 years old. “Everyone has dreams, but it’s not always in their power to turn them into reality.”

Just a few years after India was hailed as a rising economic titan poised to rival China—even surpass it—growth in gross domestic product has slowed to a pace not seen in a decade. The Indian economy expanded at an annual rate of 4.7% in the last quarter of 2013. That may be sizzling by Western standards, but it is a serious comedown for a country whose GDP growth peaked at 11.4% in 2010. Inflation is high, workers aren’t finding jobs, and industrialization and urbanization are stalling.

via As Growth Slows in India, Rural Workers Have Fewer Incentives to Move to Cities – WSJ.com.

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