Archive for ‘India alert’

18/01/2017

Why Are Party Symbols Like the Bicycle So Important in Indian Elections? – India Real Time – WSJ

A familiar Indian political saga played out in the country this month, as two factions of a party squabbled over what emblem to identify themselves with for upcoming state elections.In a democracy of over 1.2 billion people, many of whom are still illiterate and identify their choice on the ballot paper by the symbol adopted by the party, the answer has more than symbolic importance.

In the case of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, a bloc of the ruling Samajwadi Party is hoping to pedal to success using the symbol of a bicycle in regional polls that start next month.

The Election Commission of India ruled earlier this week that the right to use the name of the Samajwadi Party, or the Socialist party, and its logo—the bicycle–belonged to Akhilesh Yadav, the incumbent chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and not his father and party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The Yadav father and son have been dueling over control of the party, each claiming to be its head, since it split earlier this month. At the center of the contention was whose faction gets to use the bicycle, the party’s logo since its inception in 1992.The Election Commission of India said the group led by younger Akhilesh Yadav is the genuine Samajwadi Party and “is entitled to use its name and (the) reserved symbol ‘bicycle’” because it had the support of the majority of the party cadre.

Jostling over political symbols is an established trend in India, especially when parties split.

The emblems are valuable because they could be used to solicit voters’ loyalty that would have taken years to cultivate.

Congress, the current national main opposition party, has had to choose new symbols in the past after party splits. It settled for its current symbol–an open palm, which a party leader said stands for hard work and toil–ahead of the 1980 elections.Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party meanwhile has retained its original election symbol– the lotus flower, that epitomizes creativity and prosperity in Hinduism–since its formation in 1980.

The bicycle has significant brand value for the Samajwadi Party, which has its voter base in the mostly rural and agrarian Uttar Pradesh, where the human-powered vehicle is one of the most-favored and affordable means of transportation. To connect to voters, the party’s leaders often cycle during campaigns and distribute bikes to their supporters.

The party says on its website that it “gives immense importance to the development of common man and thus adopted the vehicle of the common man–a bicycle as its symbol.”

Source: Why Are Party Symbols Like the Bicycle So Important in Indian Elections? – India Real Time – WSJ

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18/01/2017

This Is Just How Unequal India Is – India Real Time – WSJ

New report from Oxfam highlights how the country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few

Country Percentage of wealth top 1% has
Global

51

Australia

22

Belgium

18

Brazil

48

Canada

26

Denmark

31

France

25

Germany

31

India

58

Italy

25

Mexico

38

Netherlands

24

New Zealand

20

South Africa

42

Sweden

36

U.K.

24

U.S.

42

The richest 1% of Indians hold 58% of the country’s total wealth, according to Oxfam India.

The stark inequality in India is worse than the global data put out by the organization, which show that the richest 1% have more than 50% of the total world wealth, Oxfam said.

It said recently improved data on the distribution of wealth, particularly in countries like India and China, indicate that the poorest half of the world has less wealth was previously thought. Oxfam singled out India repeatedly in the report.

It said that companies are increasingly driven to pay higher returns to their shareholders. In India, the amount of profits corporations share with shareholders is as high as 50% and growing rapidly, the report said.

A family sits atop a pile of hay on a horse cart on a highway near Amritsar, India, Nov. 4, 2016.

The report said the annual share dividends paid by from Zara’s parent company to Amancio Ortega – the world’s second richest man – are equal to around 800,000 times the annual wage of a worker employed by a garment factory in India.

Oxfam said that the combined wealth of India’s 57 billionaires is equivalent to that of the country’s poorest 70%.“India is hitting the global headlines for many reasons, but one of them is for being one of the most unequal countries in the world with a very high and sharply rising concentration of income and wealth,” Nisha Agarwal, chief executive of Oxfam said in a statement.

Oxfam said India should introduce an inheritance tax and raise its wealth levies as well as increasing public spending on health and education. It said it should end the era of tax havens and crack down on rich people and corporations avoiding tax.

Source: This Is Just How Unequal India Is – India Real Time – WSJ

18/01/2017

Air India starts selling seats in female-only section – BBC Newsbeat

Air India has begun selling female-only seat sections.

The restriction will apply to the front row of six seats on economy flights and comes after reports some women were being groped by other passengers.

A general manager from Air India told The Hindu they wanted to reassure passengers who were travelling alone.Meenakshi Malik said: “We feel, as national carriers, it is our responsibility to enhance comfort level to female passengers.

“In cases of unruly behaviour, the airline crew are authorised to take action as per the law

Jitendra Bhargava Executive Director, Air IndiaThe airline will also now carry two pairs of restrainers to deal with disruptive passengers who can not be controlled.

From later this week, the six seats will be made available on the Airbus A320 aircraft on flights within India.

The women-only seats may be extended to other flights in the next few months.

Single passengers will be able to request the seats when they check in, without any extra cost.

The seats on the very front row will be made available at check-in

Not everybody connected to the airline is happy with the move though.

Former Air India Executive Jitendra Bhargava told The Hindu: “To my knowledge, this happens nowhere in the world. Planes are not unsafe for women passengers.”

In cases of unruly behaviour, the airline crew are authorised to take action as per the law.”The airline is no stranger to controversy.In 2015, bosses told some staff they were too fat to be air attendants and were costing the company a fortune in fuel.

Source: Air India starts selling seats in female-only section – BBC Newsbeat

17/01/2017

China Overtakes India as World’s Fastest-Growing Economy, IMF Says – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China took back in the crown in 2016 thanks ‘primarily’ to Modi’s cash cancellation

 China 6.7
India* 6.6
Asean-5 4.8
Mexico 2.2
U.K.  2
Eurozone 1.7
U.S. 1.6
Japan 0.9
South Africa 0.3
Russia -0.6
Nigeria -1.5
Brazil -3.5
*India estimate is for the year that ends March 31, 2017. The Asean-5 countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source: China Overtakes India as World’s Fastest-Growing Economy, IMF Says – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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16/01/2017

India’s prime minister has a knack for shrugging off embarrassment | The Economist

ADDRESSING a conference in his home state of Gujarat on January 10th, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, exuded confidence. India’s economy is the fastest-growing and one of the most open in the world, he declared, reaffirming his government’s commitment to reform.

The 5,000-strong audience, sprinkled with foreign heads of state and corporate bigwigs, applauded warmly. One multinational’s boss drew cheers with a sycophantic call for India to “export” Mr Modi to run his home country, America, too.

The optimism and praise, however, contrasted with sobering economic news. Since November rating agencies have sharply lowered their growth forecasts. Small and medium-sized firms report big lay-offs. Vehicle sales fell in December by 19% compared with the previous December, their steepest drop in 16 years, says a car-industry lobby group. Housing sales in India’s eight biggest cities slid by 44% in the last quarter of 2016 compared with the year before, reckons Knight Frank, a global property firm, in a report. “The Indian government’s demonetisation move on November 8th brought the market to a complete standstill,” it says, alluding to Mr Modi’s surprise order to withdraw 86% of the notes used in daily transactions.

There is little doubt that Mr Modi’s assault on cash has caused ordinary Indians disruption, annoyance and, particularly for the poorest, severe distress—though the pain is easing now as the government prints more money to replace the scrapped notes. Yet just as would-be foreign investors seem happy to continue boosting Mr Modi, many Indians also still trust and admire the prime minister. Like America’s president-elect, Donald Trump, who once claimed he could “shoot somebody” and not lose votes, Mr Modi’s support seems oddly unaffected by his flaws. Anecdotal evidence, online polling and informal surveys all suggest that the prime minister’s misstep has scarcely dented his standing.

Opinion polls in India have a poor record, and none published since the demonetisation drive has specifically measured Mr Modi’s popularity. However, two surveys carried out in December in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous, suggest that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains poised to perform well in imminent state elections. When the results from several rounds of voting are tallied in March, the BJP could be basking in its biggest triumph since Mr Modi won national elections in 2014. The party has not suffered in municipal votes in several states since November and is well positioned in several other looming state polls.

Prior to the demonetisation drive, Mr Modi had handily weathered other storms. Murderous communal riots tarnished his long term as chief minister of Gujarat, for instance. Yet according to Pew, a research firm, the prime minister’s popularity in mid-2016, at an enviable 81%, had declined only marginally from a stunning 87% the year before. The liking is personal: Mr Modi regularly scores higher in such polls than either his party or his policies.

Some pundits speak of “Modi magic” to explain his immunity from criticism, but there are more straightforward reasons. One is the prime minister’s talent as a politician. Although often dour in countenance, Mr Modi is a pithy speaker in Hindi, with an unerring nose for the class-driven grudges that often guide voter sentiment. In debates over demonetisation, he successfully projected himself as a champion of the common man against currency hoarders and tax evaders. He is also extremely protective of his own image as a man above the fray. Mr Modi’s dress, gestures and public appearances are theatrically staid and uniform, punctuated by meaningful looks and silences. He does not hold press conferences, preferring to retain control of his narrative via carefully rehearsed interviews and his monthly “From the Heart” radio address.

Pygmy-slayer

Mr Modi is also lucky. His well-funded, highly disciplined and pan-Indian party faces an unusually divided and uninspiring opposition. Congress, a party that ran India for decades and still commands a nationwide base, is burdened by squabbling and corrupt local branches and a lack of clarity over ideology and the role of the Gandhi dynasty. India’s many other parties are all parochial, tied to the interests of one state, caste or other group, and so with little hope of playing a national role. Handed the golden opportunity of Mr Modi’s demonetisation fumble, the opposition has failed to mount a united charge.

Other institutions that might check Mr Modi’s ambitions, such as the press and the judiciary, are also not as vigilant as in other democracies. Some parts of the media are owned by Mr Modi’s friends and supporters; others by business groups with interests that are vulnerable to retribution. Journalists, whistle-blowers and activists are keenly aware that critics of the government often pay a price, whether in the form of “trolling” on the internet, harassment by officials or spurious lawsuits. India’s courts, meanwhile, do often clash with the government but are cautious in picking fights: on January 11th India’s supreme court airily dismissed a public-interest lawsuit demanding investigation of documents that appear to implicate dozens of officials in bribe-taking.

Even Mr Modi’s foes believe his administration is less corrupt than previous ones have been. However, as the banknote debacle revealed, it is not necessarily much more competent. The most iron-clad rule of Indian politics is anti-incumbency. Even the investors vying for Mr Modi’s attention may take note that, for all the talk of openness, India still has some of the world’s most tangled rules, highest corporate tax rates and most capricious officials.

Source: India’s prime minister has a knack for shrugging off embarrassment | The Economist

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16/01/2017

Why do Indians vote for ‘criminal’ politicians? – BBC News

Why do India’s political parties field candidates with criminal charges?

Why do the voters favour them despite their tainted past?

Political scientist Milan Vaishnav has been studying links between crime and democracy in India for many years now. His upcoming book When Crime Pays offers some intriguing insights into what is a disturbing feature of India’s electoral democracy.

The good news is that the general election is a thriving, gargantuan exercise: 554 million voters queued up at more than 900,000 stations to cast their ballots in the last edition in 2014. The fortunes of 8,250 candidates representing 464 political parties were at stake.

The bad news is that a third (34%) of 543 MPs who were elected faced criminal charges, up from 30% in 2009 and 24% in 2004.

Fiercely competitive

Some of the charges were of minor nature or politically motivated. But more than 20% of the new MPs faced serious charges such as attempted murder, assaulting public officials, and theft.

Now, India’s general elections are not exactly a cakewalk.The Indian politicians facing criminal charges

Why do many India MPs have criminal records?

Politics and the barrel of the gun

Over time, they have become fiercely competitive: 464 parties were in the fray in 2014, up from 55 in the first election in 1952.

The average margin of victory was 9.7% in 2009, the thinnest since the first election. At 15%, the average margin of victory was fatter in the landslide 2014 polls, but even this was vastly lower than, say, the average margin of victory in the 2012 US Congressional elections (32%) and the 2010 general election in Britain (18%).

India’s elections are fiercely competitiveAlmost all parties in India, led by the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress, field tainted candidates. Why do they do so?

For one, says Dr Vaishnav, “a key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold, hard cash”.

The rising cost of elections and a shadowy election financing system where parties and candidates under-report collections and expenses means that parties prefer “self-financing candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute ‘rents’ to the party”. Many of these candidates have criminal records.

There are three million political positions in India’s three-tier democracy; each election requires considerable resources.

Many parties are like personal fiefs run by dominant personalities and dynasts, and lacking inner-party democracy – conditions, which help “opportunistic candidates with deep pockets”.

‘Good proxy’

“Wealthy, self financing candidates are not only attractive to parties but they are also likely to be more electorally competitive. Contesting elections is an expensive proposition in most parts of the world, a candidate’s wealth is a good proxy for his or her electoral vitality,” says Dr Vaishnav, who is senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.Political parties also nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds to stand for election because, simply put, they win.

During his research, Dr Vaishnav studied all candidates who stood in the last three general elections. He separated them into candidates with clean records and candidates with criminal records, and found that the latter had an 18% chance of winning their next election whereas the “clean” candidates had only a 6% chance.

Many Indians vote on lines on identity and religion

He did a similar calculation for candidates contesting state elections between 2003 and 2009, and found a “large winning advantage for candidates who have cases pending against them”.

Politics also offers a lucrative career – a 2013 study showed that the average wealth of sitting legislators increased 222% during just one term in office. The officially declared average wealth of re-contesting candidates – including losers and winners – was $264,000 (£216,110) in 2004 and $618,000 in 2013, an increase of 134%.

‘Biggest criminal’

Now why do Indians vote for criminal candidates? Is it because many of the voters are illiterate, ignorant, or simply, ill-informed?

Dr Vaishnav doesn’t believe so.

Candidates with criminal records don’t mask their reputation. Earlier this month, a candidate belonging to the ruling party in northern Uttar Pradesh state reportedly boasted to a party worker that he was the “biggest criminal”. Increasing information through media and rising awareness hasn’t led to a shrinking of tainted candidates.

Dr Vaishnav believes reasonably well-informed voters support criminal candidates in constituencies where social divisions driven by caste and/or religion are sharp and the government is failing to carry out its functions – delivering services, dispensing justice, or providing security – in an impartial manner.

“There is space here for a criminal candidate to present himself as a Robin Hood-like figure,” says Dr Vaishnav.

Clearly, crime and politics will remain inextricably intertwined as long as India doesn’t make its election financing system transparent, parties become more democratic and the state begins to deliver ample services and justice.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suggested state funding of polls to help clean up campaign financing. Earlier this month, he said people had the right to know where the BJP got its funds from. Some 14% of the candidates his BJP party fielded in the last elections had faced serious charges. (More than 10% of the candidates recruited by the Congress faced charges). But no party is walking the talk yet.

Source: Why do Indians vote for ‘criminal’ politicians? – BBC News

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13/01/2017

India’s Working Women – The Numbers – Briefly – WSJ

India has one of the world’s most lopsided female participation rates in its labor force, an imbalance global chains want to change as they establish foothold in the world’s second-most populous nation.

A Wall Street Journal article outlines how fast-food chains have become an unlikely source of female empowerment and employment.

Here is a look at the numbers behind the country’s female workforce.

Less Than One Third

Only 27% of India’s workforce is female, far below the world average of 50%, according to the World Bank. Tanzania has the highest percentage of women in its workforce, at 88%, while Syria has the lowest, at 14%.

63%

A vast majority of India’s working women–about 63%–are employed as helpers on farms. Women typically account for less than one in five employees in sectors outside agriculture.

1%

It is hardest to find women in the transportation sector in India, partly because families shield their daughters and sisters from traveling alone and forbid them from activities that may involve late nights, such as trucking. Only 1% of India’s transport sector is made up of women.

At Least One Third

At least one in three employees working for a global food chain in India is female. American fast-food chains offer female-only shifts, self-defense classes, mentoring programs and parents’ lunches to draw more women into their stores and convince their families they are a safe place to work. Having 30% workers as women may not seem particularly high, but that’s more than twice the average for the food-service industry in India, where only 14% workers are female.

Source: India’s Working Women – The Numbers – Briefly – WSJ

13/01/2017

India’s Massive Aadhaar Biometric Identification Program – The Numbers – Briefly – WSJ

The rollout of India’s new biometric identification system is not without problems as outlined in a story in The Wall Street Journal Friday.

One of the biggest reasons there are still issues with the biometric IDs–which are already being used widely to distribute subsidies for food and fuel–is the sheer scale of Aadhaar.

Here are a few of the numbers that point to the size of the program which is leading to the problems.

1.1 BILLION

The number of Aadhaar cards issued. Enrollment started in 2009, and now the system can process 1.5 million applications a day. That still leaves out about 150 million Indians without cards.

86%

The percentage of all Indians who hold Aadhaar cards. For those older than 18 the percentage is 99.5%. Most of those left out are infants, because fingerprint recognition isn’t reliable until a certain age. Still the government has already started to assigning numbers to newborns.

15 MILLION

The number of transactions per day involving Aadhaar. That is a five-fold rise from a year ago when there were 3 million a day.

4 BILLION

The total number of times the Aadhaar system has been used so far for authentication and identification.

377 MILLION

Number of Aadhaar number linked to bank accounts. Going forward, the connection to bank accounts will make transactions smoother and allow bank clients to move funds just by using their fingertips.

Source: India’s Massive Aadhaar Biometric Identification Program – The Numbers – Briefly – WSJ

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12/01/2017

Amazon Yanks Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment – India Real Time – WSJ

Amazon.com Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.Her three tweets on the issue garnered more than 19,000 retweets and more than 30,000 likes, with some users calling on “all angry Indians” to email Amazon founder Jeff Bezos directly.

Source: Amazon Yanks Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment – India Real Time – WSJ

10/01/2017

Will India Get Rid of Plastic Money by 2020? – India Real Time – WSJ

After India’s government took 86% of currency out of circulation a couple of months ago, its main policy think-tank has a new plan for the country: rendering plastic money “irrelevant” by 2020.Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive Officer of NITI Aayog, which helps the government formulate long-term policies, said Sunday that India was in the midst of a “huge disruption” in financial technology and innovation, which will enable the country to transition from using plastic money to mobile transactions.

“By 2020, India will make all debit cards, all credit cards, all ATM machines, all [point-of-sale] machines totally irrelevant,” Mr. Kant said at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bangalore.

“In 30 seconds flat, we’ll all be doing our transactions by using our thumb.”

The annual event is aimed at increasing engagement between the government and Indians living overseas.

Mr. Kant was referring to a new mobile app launched by Mr. Modi last week as the 50-day deadline for depositing invalidated 500- and 1000-rupee bank notes came to an end.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event in Bangalore, India on Sunday.

Mr. Modi had on Nov. 8 announced the withdrawal of the country’s largest bank notes to crackdown on corruption and counterfeiting. The move caused a severe cash shortage in the economy, although Mr. Modi said later that the problems would abate in 50 days once new bills were back in circulation.

“Give me time until Dec. 30. After that, if any fault is found in my intentions or my actions, I am willing to suffer any punishment given by the country,” he had said.

After 50 days, queues were still forming outside ATMs to withdraw cash, despite the work to recalibrate almost all of the country’s 215,000 ATM machines to issue the new, slimmer notes being completed.

“Bhim,” the new digital payments app currently allows users of Google’s Android platform to transfer money directly from one bank account to another. The government plans to link the app to “Aadhar,” India’s unique identification program. Once that is done, consumers will be able to transact by using their thumbprints to authorize transactions.

“In the next two years, the power of ‘Bhim’ will be such that you wouldn’t need a smartphone, feature phone or even Internet. Your thumb would be enough,” Mr. Modi said at the unveiling of the app on Dec. 30.

The app has already been downloaded by more than 10 million users, Mr. Modi said in a tweet on Monday.

He also took to twitter to tell Indians how the app was a “fine example” of the government’s ‘Make in India’ plan aimed at encouraging local manufacturing, and also the use of technology to end corruption and black money.

On Sunday, Mr. Modi thanked 30 million Indians living abroad for contributing about $69 billion to India’s economy through remittances and hit back at the critics of his government’s currency move.

“It is unfortunate that some worshipers of black money are calling our move anti-people,” he said.

Source: Will India Get Rid of Plastic Money by 2020? – India Real Time – WSJ

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