Archive for ‘India alert’

22/09/2017

Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

“IT WAS 2012…I was number 37,” says Ashwini, referring to the badge that was pinned on her shirt pocket.

Her task was to go onto the stage and introduce herself to around 70 eligible bachelors and their parents. Families then conferred and, provided caste and religious background proved no obstacle, would approach the event’s moderator asking to meet number 37. At midday girls would wait for prospects to swing by, again with parents on either side. A brief exchange might establish the potential bride’s cooking skills or her intention to work after marriage. If the two sides hit it off, they would exchange copies of their horoscopes. Nearly 50 men lined up to meet Ashwini that day, speed-dating style. No one made the cut. She later married a colleague.

Such gatherings form an important part of the wedding industry, worth around $50bn a year, in a country where arranged marriages continue to be the norm. India has 440m millennials—roughly, the generation born between 1980 and 1996—and a further 390m youngsters have been born since 2000, so there are plenty of anguished parents for marriage facilitators to pitch to. KPMG, a consultancy, estimates that out of 107m single men and women, 63m are “active seekers”. For now, only a tenth surf the internet to find a spouse. But the number who do is about to explode, argue executives in the marriage-portal business (India has 2,600 such sites). “After Facebook [took off], people are more open about their lives than ever before, which has had a great knock-on effect,” says Gourav Rakshit of Shaadi.com, one of India’s oldest matrimonial sites.

Take Matrimony.com, the country’s biggest online matchmaker, which raised $78m in its initial public offering on September 13th. Its shares began trading this week. It runs 300-odd websites in 15 languages, catering to different castes and religions. It has sites for divorcees, the disabled, the affluent (“Elite Matrimony”) and for those with unfavourable astrological charts, which make it difficult to find a match. All online firms run a “freemium” model: upload your profile at no charge and let an algorithm match horoscope details with potential partners filtered by age, caste, education, income and sometimes (alas) complexion. Or you can pay for features like instant chat or a colourful border around your profile to ensure the algorithm returns you as a top search result.

Such a long list of options means that finding a match on the web can be time-consuming and tedious. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says one suitor. Predictably, many also complain that online profiles often do not reflect reality. Outright fakes remain a scourge. This month a man was arrested in Delhi for extorting over 5m rupees ($77,700) from 15 women by luring them on matrimonial websites. And no amount of artificial intelligence can yet identify what will make two youngsters click.

Spouseup, a south Indian startup, is undaunted. It trawls social media to determine a candidate’s personality and recommends matches by calculating a “compatibility score”. Nine-tenths of its 50,000 users are non-resident Indians who usually fly to India for a month or so, scout for partners, settle on one, get hitched and fly back together. For these time-starved travellers, the machine-led scouring “provides an insight that would come from five coffee dates,” says Karthik Iyer, the firm’s founder. Banihal, which is based in Silicon Valley, relies on a long psychometric questionnaire of around 100 questions to match like-minded partners.

Real-world complements to online efforts can help secure a match. Some services, such as IITIIMShaadi.com, aimed at people graduating from prestigious universities, also act as conventional wedding-brokers, by meeting prospects on their clients’ behalf. The job is no different from that of a headhunter, says Taksh Gupta, its founder. He charges anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 rupees for the service. His most recent catch, after a search lasting over two years, was a husband for a 45-year-old woman from a prestigious university who would settle for no less than an Ivy League groom. Matrimony.com, too, has over 400 “relationship managers” and 140 physical outlets.

“The opportunity is huge”, enthuses Murugavel Janakiraman, boss of Matrimony.com. Around four-fifths of new customers now come via smartphones, lured by instant alerts about new potential matches and services that match up people in the same town. But the spread of smartphones also brings competition. Casual-dating apps are spreading fast. Tinder, on which decisions about eligibility rarely benefit from parental advice, now counts India as Asia’s largest, fastest-growing market.

Source: Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

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18/09/2017

China and India water ‘dispute’ after border stand-off – BBC News

The river gets severely flooded during monsoon season every year causing huge losses in northeast India and Bangladesh

China and India may have defused a potential border conflict but the stand-off seems to have led to dispute over another contentious issue: water.Delhi says it has not received any hydrological – the scientific study of the movement, distribution and quality of water – data for the Brahmaputra river from upstream China this monsoon season, notwithstanding an agreement.

One of Asia’s major rivers, the Brahmaputra, originates in Tibet and flows down to India before entering Bangladesh where it joins the Ganges and empties into the Bay of Bengal.

Beijing has said its hydrological stations are being upgraded which means it cannot share data..

But the BBC has found that China continues to share data for the same river with Bangladesh, the lowest downstream country in the Brahmaputra basin.

The river data issue between China and India comes after the two countries ended a tense stand-off over a disputed Himalayan border area that lasted more than two months.

The Brahmaputra gets severely flooded during monsoon season every year, causing huge losses in northeast India and Bangladesh.

Megadams: Battle on the Brahmaputra

  • The two countries have agreements with China that requires the upstream country to share hydrological data of the river during monsoon season between 15 May and 15 October.
  • The data is mainly of the water level of the river to alert downstream countries in case of floods.

“For this year…we have not received the hydrological data from the Chinese side beginning 15 May until now,” Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of India’s External Affairs Ministry said last month at a regular briefing.

“We don’t know the technical reasons behind this but there is an existing mechanism under which China is to provide hydrological data to us.

Disputes along the long border between China and India remain unresolved in several areas

The Chinese side last week said there was a technical problem.

“Last year, due to the needs for reconstruction after being damaged by the flood and out of such technological reasons as upgrading and renovation, the relevant hydrological stations in China do not have the conditions to collect relevant hydrological data now,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a press briefing last week.Officials from Bangladesh, however, said they were still receiving water level and discharge level data of the Brahmaputra from China.

“We received data of water level of the Bramahaputra from China few days ago,” Mofazzal Hossain, a member of the joint rivers commission of Bangladesh told the BBC.

“We have been receiving such data from three hydrological stations in Tibet since 2002 and they have continued to share the figure with us even during this monsoon season”.

Uncertainty

Bangladesh’s water resources minister Anisul Islam Mohammad also confirmed to the BBC that his country was receiving hydrological data from China.

But for India, China has hinted at an uncertainty over resumption of sharing of data.

“As regards whether the providing of relevant hydrological data will be resumed, it depends on the progress of the above-mentioned work,” spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

India only recently secured the agreement with China on receiving monsoon data of the Brahmaputra river, after years of efforts.

Delhi has also asked for data for non-monsoonal flows of the river, because there are suspicions in India that China could divert the waters of the Brahmaputra to its parched regions during dry seasons.

The river flows down to India before entering Bangladesh

Beijing has constructed several hydropower dams on the river, which is known as Yarlung Zangbo in Tibet.

It says they do not store or divert water and they will not be against the interest of downstream countries.

But in recent years, particularly in northeastern India, fears are also growing that China could suddenly release a huge amount of water.Residents of Dibrugarh in Assam, where the river has one of its widest stretches, say they have witnessed the water levels of Brahmaputra sharply rise and fall in very short periods of time.

There have also been increasing incidents of landslides blocking rivers and unleashing sudden floods in the Himalayas.

Flood warnings

A recent study has in fact, shown Tibet topping the list of places across the globe that has experienced an increase in water. Experts say all these factors make early flood warnings from China even more crucial.

Officials with India’s water resources ministry say the recent developments have left them somewhat worried.

“We thought we would now be able to convince them to share the hydrological data of the non-monsoon season so that there is no suspicion that they would divert water during lean season,” an official, preferring anonymity, told the BBC.”

“But now we are not getting even the monsoon flow information, this is a worrying sign and it also shows their [China’s] intention.”

A year ago, China blocked a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo river as part of its most expensive hydro project, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The news came just when Indian media were suggesting that Delhi could pull out of the Indus Water Treaty – signed with Pakistan – following a militant attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.

As an upstream country for Bangladesh and Pakistan, India too has time and again been accused by these downstream countries of ignoring their concerns.

Experts say these are compelling evidences that water is indeed emerging as a key issue in South Asia’s geopolitics.

Source: China and India water ‘dispute’ after border stand-off – BBC News

15/09/2017

India launches first bullet train project – BBC News

Mostly funded by a $17bn loan from Japan, the bullet train will run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched work to build India’s first high-speed train in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat.Mostly funded by a $17bn (£12.78bn) loan from Japan, the bullet train will run between Ahmedabad city and Mumbai.

When the service starts operating in five years’ time, the 500km (310-mile) journey time is expected to be cut to three hours from the current eight.

Mr Abe is making a two-day visit to India, a close ally of Japan.

“My good friend Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a far-sighted leader. He took a decision two years ago to bring high-speed train in India and to create a new India,” he said, after laying the foundation stone on Thursday.

“I hope to enjoy the beautiful scenery of India through the windows of the bullet train when I come back here in a few years.”

The 750-seat train is scheduled to run from August 2022.

Does India need bullet trains?

  • Japan and India sign bullet train deal amid closer ties
  • India’s railway system carries more than 22 million passengers a day and much of the equipment is out of date, leading to frequent accidents and chronic delays.

It is part of the government’s ambition to link major cities with high-speed trains, but critics say passengers would be better served if investments were made to improve safety on the current, ageing rail network.

Supporters of the project say high speed trains will lead to improved commuter convenience, reduced congestion in big cities, more business, and improved infrastructure along the route.

Mr Modi has promised to make vast improvements to the network, and the bullet train was one of his key promises in the 2014 election.

India’s bullet train

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail transport

It will travel a distance of 500km (310 miles), cutting the journey time from Ahmedabad to Mumbai from eight to three hours.

  • There will be 12 stations on the route.
  • The majority of the route will be elevated. A part of it will run through a 7km long undersea tunnel.
  • It will have top speeds of up to 350km/h (217mph), more than double the maximum speed offered by the fastest trains running in India.

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail transport and some of their trains are ranked among the fastest in the world.

“This technology will revolutionise and transform the transport sector,” Indian Railways Minister Piyush Goyal was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

India’s railway tracks need to be modernised

Mr Modi recently replaced his railway minister after a series of accidents, including one last month which killed at least 23 passengers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

A previous accident in the same state last November killed 150 people, while one the year before killed 39.

Mr Modi and Mr Abe are expected to sign several agreements during the visit, and also inaugurate a Japanese industrial park. Gujarat already hosts Japanese automobile plants.The two leaders enjoy a close friendship – Mr Modi chose Japan as the destination for his first bilateral visit outside South Asia as prime minister.

Both countries are in territorial disputes with China, and their close ties are seen by some as a response against China’s growing influence in the region.

Source: India launches first bullet train project – BBC News

12/09/2017

Why inequality in India is at its highest level in 92 years – BBC News

Did India’s economic reforms lead to a sharp rise in inequality?

New research by French economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, author of Capital, the 2013 bestselling book on capitalism and increasing inequality, clearly points to this conclusion.

They studied household consumption surveys, federal accounts and income tax data from 1922 – when the tax was introduced in India – to 2014.

The data shows that the share of national income accruing to the top 1% of wage earners is now at its highest level since Indians began paying income tax.

The economists say the top 1% of the earners captured less than 21% of the total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. India, in fact, comes out as a country with one of the highest increase in top 1% income share concentration over the past 30 years,” they say.

How India’s currency ban is hurting the poorIs India winning the war on poverty?

To be sure, India’s economy has undergone a radical transformation over the last three decades.Up to the 1970s, India was a tightly regulated, straitlaced economy with socialist planning. Growth crawled (3.5% per year), development was weak and poverty endemic.

Some easing of regulation, decline in tax rates and modest reforms led to growth picking up in the 1980s, trundling at around 5% a year. This was followed by some substantial reforms in the early 1990s after which the economy grew briskly, nudging close to double digits in the mid-2000s.

Last November’s controversial cash ban slowed down the economy

Growth has slowed substantially since then, but India still remains one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The ongoing slowdown – growth was 5.7% in the April-June quarter, the slowest pace in three years – largely triggered by feeble demand, a controversial cash ban, declining private investment and weak credit growth, is a cause for concern.

And the need for fast-paced growth, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, is “far from over since India, after two decades of rapid growth, is still one of the poorest countries in the world”.

From their latest work on income inequality, Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty contend that there has been a “sharp increase in wealth concentration from 1991 to 2012, particularly after 2002”. Also, they conclude, India has only been really shining for the top 10% of the population – roughly 80 million people in 2014 – rather than the middle 40%.

The economists plan to release the first World Inequality Report, produced by a network of more than 100 researchers in December, where they will compare India’s inequality with other countries and suggest ways to tackle it.

Striking transition

They agree that unequal growth over a period of time is not specific to India, but market economies are not bound to be unequal. India’s case is striking in the fact that it is the country with the highest gap between the growth of the top 1% and that of the full population. Incomes of those at the very top have actually grown at a faster pace than in China.

The economists contend that the growth strategy pursued by successive governments has led to a sharp increase in inequality. China also liberalised and opened up after 1978, and experienced a sharp income growth as well as a sharp rise in inequality. This rise was however stabilised in the 2000s and is currently at a lower level than India.

In Russia, the move from a communist to a market economy was “swift and brutal” and today has a similar level of inequality to India.

“This shows that there are different strategies to transit from a highly regulated economy to a liberalised one. In the arrays of possible pathways, India pursued a very unequal way but could probably have chosen another path,” Dr Chancel told me.

India’s economy grew at its slowest pace for three years in the April-to-June quarter

While inequality is rising in most parts of the world, certain countries are resisting this trend. For example, he says, the rise in inequality is much lesser in western Europe than in the Anglo-Saxon world or in emerging markets.

“This largely owes to social security mechanisms that are relatively more favourable to workers than capital as compared to other parts of the world, to relatively more efficient tax systems and government investment in public goods such as education, housing, health or transport.”

Clearly, the new research should help promote a vigorous debate on what more can be done to promote more inclusive growth in India and the need for more transparent income and wealth data.

Source: Why inequality in India is at its highest level in 92 years – BBC News

05/09/2017

Xi and Modi mend ties after border standoff – BBC News

Their meeting at the Brics summit in China’s port city of Xiamen came just days after the two countries resolved the three-month border dispute.

According to Chinese state media, Mr Xi told Mr Modi that “healthy, stable” China-India ties were necessary.

This was Mr Modi’s last engagement before an official visit to Myanmar.

In a meeting that lasted over an hour, Mr Xi called for putting its bilateral relationship with India on the “right track”, reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency. The Doklam border standoff and reported clashes between the Chinese and Indian army had strained diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The latest row between the two countries erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through the Doklam plateau.

India and China clash along border

China claims victory in India border row

Why is the India-China border stand-off escalating?

Mr Modi congratulated Mr Xi on a “very successful” execution of the three-day Brics summit, in a show of conciliatory support between the two leaders.

At a media briefing, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that the two countries would move forward with mutual respect. He made a reference to a June meeting between the two leaders, held in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana, where both countries reached a consensus that India and China must not allow differences to become disputes.

“Both sides agreed that there should be better communication and co-operation so that such occurrences don’t happen again,” Dr Jaishankar told reporters.

The Brics summit brings together the world’s five large non-Western economies – the other members are Brazil, Russia and South Africa – who are seeking a greater say in world affairs.

Economic ties were the focal point at the three-day gathering which began on Sunday. Both North Korea’s nuclear test and the border standoff between China and India were also discussed.

Source: Xi and Modi mend ties after border standoff – BBC News

28/07/2017

India’s once-shoddy transport infrastructure is getting much better

JUST after 1pm on July 31st 2012 lights blinked out across northern India. It was the world’s biggest-ever blackout, affecting more than 600m people. It was also a swingeing blow to a transport system that had struggled to cope at the best of times. Hundreds of trains came to a halt in open country and in the tunnels of Delhi’s underground railway. Some passengers had to wait for hours in shirt-drenching heat.

Five years on, India’s famously creaky transport infrastructure is starting to look strong. The power on which parts of it depend has also become far more reliable. The embarrassing system-wide collapses of 2012, and an earlier one in 2001, are now scarcely conceivable. A rush to expand the electricity supply has been so successful that analysts now warn of a looming excess of generating capacity.

On paper, India has long claimed some of the world’s most extensive road and rail networks. That belied reality: roads were twisting, bumpy, crowded and dangerous. Railways were largely single-track, which caused delays, or narrow-gauge, which limited their ability to carry large loads. By car or train it was rare to sustain speeds of more than 50kph (30mph). Puzzled tourists wondered why distances that looked small on a map took forever to traverse. The rail network had barely expanded since the days of the British Raj, despite having to handle some 8bn passengers a year. India’s remoter corners were tied to the centre by the thinnest of infrastructure threads. Snows blocked passage to Kashmir for days at a time in winter; floods regularly cut off much of the north-east.

That is changing, too. In recent months Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has inaugurated India’s longest road tunnel and longest bridge. The tunnel slashes driving time between Jammu and Srinagar, the winter and summer capitals of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, by two hours. It also makes the route passable all year round. The new bridge (pictured when it opened in May) spans the vast and moody Brahmaputra river, a once-formidable barrier running through the north-eastern state of Assam. Another one nearing completion will, for the first time, link Kashmir by rail to the rest of India. Rising a dizzying 359 metres (1,178 feet) over a gorge, it is the world’s tallest railway bridge.

China does it quicker

With less drama, transport networks are being overhauled. The central government has doubled budgets for both road- and rail-building since 2012, to a combined total of close to $30bn a year at today’s exchange rate. Progress on building expressways has been unimpressive. Unlike in China, where the government has been able to build big roads at astonishing speed thanks, not least, to its ability to kick farmers off their land at will, in India a more litigious system makes it harder to appropriate land. India’s government is also more sensitive than China’s to farmers’ political opinions (in India they can vote in proper elections). Building roads from which their animals and tractors are excluded is unpopular in the Indian countryside. But local governments are paving and widening rural roads at a rate of 117km a day.

On the railways, better signalling and tracks have pushed up the speed of faster trains to a respectable 140kph. Work is about to start on India’s first dedicated high-speed rail link, a 500-km track between the western city of Ahmedabad and the commercial capital, Mumbai. When the first line of the Delhi Metro opened 15 years ago, many passengers were surprised by its fast, clean and efficient service. India’s capital now has six such lines, some running below ground. Seven cities have such rapid-transit systems. Eight more are building them.More striking still is the growth in air traffic. Domestic passenger numbers have doubled since 2010, to nearly 100m a year. Last year alone the number surged by 23%. Indian airlines are snapping up new aircraft, with some 450 in operation and more than 1,000 on order. Mr Modi’s government has brought cheer to fast-growing private airlines. It plans to privatise much or all of the loss-making national carrier, Air India, and has also pushed through an ambitious scheme to encourage the use of smaller airports. Through a mix of subsidies and guarantees to airlines, plus ticket-price caps for passengers, the scheme aims to put 31 unused airports into passenger service and boost connectivity to 12 more that are reckoned to be underserved.

There will be plenty of power to operate them. Installed generating capacity has more than doubled since 2007. The capacity of power projects now being built should double it again from the present level, assuming they are all completed. Improvements to transmission are no less impressive. “We have a more advanced, more flexible grid than Europe’s,” enthuses Vinayak Chatterjee, an infrastructure consultant. He says the country can now more easily transmit power over long distances, such as from the north-east (which has a surplus) to the often undersupplied south.

The boost to India’s infrastructure has not been problem-free. An exuberant rush into public-private partnerships for big projects a decade ago left many private firms taking on bigger financial risks than they could manage. Many ventures stalled. Infrastructure-related deals are reckoned to account for around 10% of the nearly $200bn in non-performing loans that currently bog down India’s financial system.

The government’s own projects have not all run smoothly, either. A grim report by the state’s main auditing agency earlier this year painted a picture of incompetence and corruption in the Indian army’s Border Roads Organisation, which is responsible for building strategic roads along India’s mountainous border with China (see Banyan). Out of 61 roads that the agency was supposed to have built between 1999 and 2012, only 36% had been completed by 2016, the report revealed. Some of the unfinished ones came to a dead end in impassable gorges, or were abandoned because different stretches turned out to be impossible to join.

That is galling for India, which often rates its progress by comparing itself with China. Having spent three decades beefing up its own infrastructure before India began to get in on the act, the northern giant has set standards that India will still take decades more to match.

Source: India’s once-shoddy transport infrastructure is getting much better

27/07/2017

Does Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk ignore the role of the Indian army? – BBC News

Christopher Nolan’s epic World War Two film, Dunkirk, which tells the story of the mass evacuation of Allied troops from the northern coast of France in 1940, has been getting glowing reviews in India.

But many are glowering over Nolan turning a blind eye to the role of Indian soldiers in the battle. The Times of India wrote that their “significant contribution” was missing from Nolan’s “otherwise brilliant” work. Writing for Bloomberg View, columnist Mihir Sharma said the film “adds to the falsehood that plucky Britons stood alone against Nazi Germany once France fell, when, in fact, hundreds of millions of imperial subjects stood, perforce, with them”.

Few can deny the role of the subjects. Some five million Commonwealth servicemen joined the military services of the British empire during WW2. Almost half of them were from South Asia. Indian soldiers played a key role in major battles like Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Kohima and Imphal. A multinational force of British, Indian and African units recaptured Burma (Myanmar) for the Allies.

What actually happened at Dunkirk?

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk film reviewed

Has India’s contribution to WW2 been ignored?

What happened with the Indian soldiers in Dunkirk is less clear. Yasmin Khan, historian and author of The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War, says she has often wondered why there is very little factual data on their role in the battle, which many say cost Germany the war.

What is well known, she told me, is that four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, including a unit of the Bikaner State forces, served in France during the campaign on the Western Front, and some were evacuated from Dunkirk. Among them were three contingents of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. One contingent was taken prisoner by German forces.

According to one account, India also provided more than 2,500 mules – shipped from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Marseilles – to the war effort as the British animal transport companies had been phased out. An Indian soldier, Jemadar Maula Dad Khan, was feted for showing “magnificent courage, coolness and decision” in protecting his men and animals when they were shelled from the ground and strafed from the air by the enemy.

An Indian soldier who was evacuated from Dunkirk

The Indian soldiers and the mules were eventually ordered towards the coast. Many of the men could not take their animals on the retreat and gave them away to local people in France, according to the same account.

Historian John Broich says the Indian soldiers in Dunkirk were “particularly cool under fire and well organised during the retreat”.

“They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war,” he told Slate.

“Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East.

‘Survival story’

To be fair, Nolan has said that he approached the story “from the point of view of the pure mechanics of survival rather than from the politics of the event”.

“We don’t have generals in rooms pushing things around on maps. We don’t see Churchill. We barely glimpse the enemy,” he told the Telegraph. “It’s a survival story.

“Historian Joshua Levine, who is also the film’s historical consultant, told me that Dunkirk was a work of fiction and “it isn’t a film’s job to tell the full story of Dunkirk… and nor, in the time available, could it even try to do so”.

“This film focuses on a few protagonists whose paths cross occasionally, each one of whom experiences just a tiny corner of the whole story. As Hilary Mantel says about historical fiction, ‘The man who is fighting can’t see over the hill, out of the trench.’

What I’d love to see, though, is an Indian film about Dunkirk, or WW2 generally, and I sincerely hope Indian filmmakers are working on it.

“But what about the criticism that the role of Indian and their South Asian counterparts in WW2 has been forgotten?

Two Indian soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk arrive in England in June 1940

Yasmin Khan says that their “sheer scale of the contribution” has become apparent in Britain in recent years. “No longer is it simply an island story of heroic, plucky British fighting against Nazi-occupied continental Europe; it has now become increasingly customary for historians to refer to the contribution made by Asian, African and Caribbean servicemen in the 1940s”, she writes in her book.

A memorial to honour the role of these soldiers came up on London’s Constitution Hill in 2002. There have been museum exhibitions, oral history projects and TV documentaries to “reveal how crucial they [the soldiers] often were to the action, the sacrifices that they made in the face of terrible odds, and also to divulge individual stories of great bravery and intrepid action”.

“It is no longer true to suggest that this is an entirely forgotten story,” she says.

Meanwhile, Indians are flocking to watch Dunkirk, which opened at 416 screens, including 10 Imax screens, across the country, on Friday.

Unlike most Hollywood films, Dunkirk hasn’t been dubbed in any Indian language for wider viewership. Still, says Denzil Dias of Warner Brothers (India), the film raked in $2.4m (£1.84m) over the weekend. “This is the biggest opening of an English language-only film in India,” Mr Dias told me. Clearly, viewers are not fretting about the lack of Indian soldiers in Nolan’s tour-de-force.

Source: Does Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk ignore the role of the Indian army? – BBC News

25/07/2017

India swears in Ram Nath Kovind as 14th president

Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in on Tuesday as India’s 14th president, becoming the first member of a powerful Hindu nationalist movement to assume the highest public office in the world’s largest democracy.

The 71-year-old’s elevation also boosts the representation of his Dalit community, which ranks at the lower end of India’s ancient caste hierarchy, potentially helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi extend his voter base in a 2019 general election.

Kovind, a veteran politician and lawyer with a previously low profile, is a long-time member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers’ Association, a grassroots movement that also helped launch Modi’s political career.

Opposition leaders accused Modi of using the presidential race, which Kovind won easily in an electoral college last week, to further a divisive agenda through which, they say, he wants to redefine India as a Hindu-first nation.

In a speech at his swearing in Kovind, however, praised India’s diversity, saying it was “the core that makes us so unique”.

“I bow to the (1.25 billion) citizens of this great nation and promise to stay true to the trust they have bestowed on me,” Kovind said in parliament’s central hall.

India has around 200 million Dalits, previously known as untouchables, and many suffer social deprivation and economic exclusion.

Kovind’s rise caps a series of top appointments backed by Modi – including naming a hardline priest to lead India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh – that tighten the grip of the Hindu right on key public offices.

India’s constitution foresees a largely ceremonial role for the president, with the prime minister and his cabinet holding executive power.

But the president has a key role during political crises, such as when a general election is inconclusive, by deciding which party is in the best position to form a government.

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/places/india

 

24/07/2017

China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

China’s defense ministry on Monday warned India not to harbor any illusions about the Chinese military’s ability to defend its territory, amid a festering border dispute.

The stand-off on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the neighbors, who share a 3,500-km (2,175-mile) frontier, large parts of which are disputed.

“Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the People’s Liberation Army is hard,” ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a briefing, adding that its ability to defend China’s territory and sovereignty had “constantly strengthened”.

Early in June, according to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian guards crossed into China’s Donglang region and obstructed work on a road on the plateau.

The two sides’ troops then confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from its close ally, Bhutan, and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land connecting India and its remote northeastern regions.India has said it warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications.

The withdrawal of Indian border guards was a precondition for resolving the situation, Wu reiterated.

“India should not leave things to luck and not harbor any unrealistic illusions,” Wu said, adding that the military had taken emergency measures in the region and would continue to increase focused deployments and drills.

“We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region’s peace and tranquillity,” he said.

Speaking later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, would attend a meeting in Beijing this week of security officials from the BRICS grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Lu would not be drawn on whether the border issue would be discussed at the meeting, hosted by China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, meant to discuss multilateral issues.

“China hopes to maintain the peace and stability of the China-India border area, but certainly will not make any compromise on issues of territorial sovereignty,” Lu said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit China early in September for a summit of BRICS leaders.Indian officials say about 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 meters (yards) apart on the plateau.

They have told Reuters that both sides’ diplomats have quietly engaged to try to keep the stand-off from escalating, and that India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down without loss of face.

Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than its defeat suffered in a brief border war in 1962. China’s military has held live fire drills close to the disputed area, they said this month.

Source: China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

21/07/2017

Why India and Pakistan hate each other

EVERY AFTERNOON AT sunset, at a point midway along the arrow-straight road between Amritsar and Lahore, rival squads of splendidly uniformed soldiers strut and stomp a 17th-century British military drill known as Beating Retreat (pictured).

Barked commands, fierce glares and preposterously high kicks all signal violent intent. But then, lovingly and in unison, the enemies lower their national flags. Opposing guardsmen curtly shake hands, and the border gates roll shut for the night.

As India and Pakistan celebrate their twin 70th birthday this August, the frontier post of Wagah reflects the profound dysfunction in their relations. On its side Pakistan has built a multi-tiered amphitheatre for the boisterous crowds that come to watch the show. The Indians, no less rowdy, have gone one better with a half-stadium for 15,000. But the number of travellers who actually cross the border here rarely exceeds a few hundred a week.

Wagah’s silly hats and walks serve a serious function. The cuckoo-clock regularity of the show; the choreographed complicity between the two sides; and the fact that the soldiers and crowds look, act and talk very much the same—all this has the reassuring feel of a sporting rivalry between teams. No matter how bad things get between us, the ritual seems to say, we know it is just a game. Alas, the game between India and Pakistan has often turned serious.

After the exhaustion of the second world war Britain was faced with two claimants to its restless Indian empire, a huge masala of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups (half of which was administered directly and half as “princely states” under 565 hereditary rulers subject to the British crown). Just about everyone wanted independence. But whereas the Congress Party of Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a unified federal state, the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah argued that the subcontinent’s 30% Muslim minority constituted a separate nation that risked oppression under a Hindu majority. Communal riots prompted Britain’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to make a hasty decision. He split the country in two—or rather three, since the new state of Pakistan came in two parts, divided by the 2,000km (1,240-mile) expanse of the new state of India.

When the two new states were proclaimed in mid-August 1947, it was hoped the partition would be orderly. Lines had been drawn on maps, and detailed lists of personnel and assets, down to the instruments in army bands, had been assigned to each side. But the plans immediately went awry in a vast, messy and violent exchange of populations that left at least 1m dead and 15m uprooted from their homes.

Within months a more formal war had erupted. It ended by tearing the former princely state of Kashmir in two, making its 750km-long portion of the border a perpetual subject of dispute. Twice more, in 1965 and 1971, India and Pakistan fought full-blown if mercifully brief wars. The second of those, with India supporting a guerrilla insurgency in the Bengali-speaking extremity of East Pakistan, gave rise to yet another proud new country, Bangladesh; but not before at least half a million civilians had died as West Pakistan brutally tried to put down the revolt.

Even periods of relative peace have not been especially peaceful. In the 1990s Pakistan backed a guerrilla insurgency in Indian Kashmir in which at least 40,000 people lost their lives. In 1999 Pakistani troops captured some mountain peaks in the Kargil region, which India clawed back in high-altitude battles. A ceasefire in Kashmir that has held since 2003 has not stopped Pakistan-sponsored groups from striking repeatedly inside India. Pakistan claims that India, too, has covertly sponsored subversive groups.

Analysts discern a pattern in this mutual harassment: whenever politicians on both sides inch towards peace, something nasty seems to happen. Typically, these cycles start with an attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir by infiltrators from Pakistan, triggering Indian artillery strikes, which prod the Pakistanis to respond in kind. After a few weeks things will calm down.

Just such a cycle started in late 2015, prompted, perhaps, by a surprise visit to the home of the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, by his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Hopes raised by this overture dimmed within days when jihadist infiltrators attacked an Indian airbase. Another suicide squad struck an Indian army camp near the border, killing 19 soldiers. Faced with public outrage, Mr Modi ordered a far harder response than usual, sending commando teams into Pakistan. In the past, India had kept quiet even when it hit back, leaving room for Pakistan to climb down. This time Mr Modi’s government moved to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, rebuffed behind-the-scenes efforts to calm tensions and sent unprovoked blasts of fire across the Kashmir border.

 India’s loss of patience is understandable. It has a population six times Pakistan’s and an economy eight times as big, yet it finds itself being provoked far more often than it does the provoking. When Mr Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, it promised to put muscle into India’s traditionally limp foreign policy. “India for the first time is being proactive, not just responding,” says Sushant Singh, a military historian and journalist. “This is a huge shift.”

Yet Mr Modi’s pugnacity raises the risk of a dangerous escalation. “After a routine operation, the adversary may or may not escalate; after a publicised operation he will have only one option: to escalate,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India’s more thoughtful intellectuals.

Whether India and Pakistan are reckless enough to come to serious blows would not matter so much if they simply fielded conventional armies. But they are equipped with more than 100 nuclear warheads apiece, along with the missiles to deliver them. Since both countries revealed their nuclear hands in the 1990s, optimists who thought that a “balance of terror” would encourage them to be more moderate have been proved only partially right. Indians complain of being blackmailed: Pakistan knows that the risk of nuclear escalation stops its neighbours from responding more robustly to its provocations. Worryingly, Pakistan also rejects the nuclear doctrine of no first use. Instead, it has moved to deploy less powerful nuclear warheads as battlefield weapons, despite the risk that fallout from their use might harm its own civilians.

India does espouse a no-first-use nuclear doctrine, but its military planning is said to include a scenario of a massive conventional blitzkrieg aimed at seizing chunks of enemy territory and crushing Pakistan’s offensive capacity before it can respond. India’s arsenal includes the hypersonic Brahmos III, the world’s fastest cruise missile, which can precisely deliver a 300kg payload to any target in Pakistan. An air-launched version could reach Islamabad in two minutes, and Lahore in less than one. And in a grim calculation, India, with four times Pakistan’s territory, sees itself as better able to absorb a nuclear strike.

Alarmists will probably be proved wrong. Both countries are prone to sabre-rattling theatrics, but they are well aware that the price of full-blown war would be appalling. And despite the uncertainties generated by the rise of China, the continuing troubles in Afghanistan and the incalculability of Donald Trump’s America, the international community still seems likely to be able to pull Pakistan and India apart if need be.

As this special report will argue, though, both Pakistan and India should more openly acknowledge the costs, to themselves and to the wider region, of their seven decades of bitter separation. These include not only what they have had to spend, in lives and treasure, on waging war and maintaining military readiness over generations, but the immense opportunity cost of forgoing fruitful exchanges between parts of the same subcontinental space that in the past have always been open to each other. Trade between the two rivals adds up to barely $2.5bn a year.

Perpetual enmity has also distorted internal politics, especially in Pakistan, where overweening generals have repeatedly sabotaged democracy in the name of national security. Pakistan has suffered culturally, too; barred from its natural subcontinental hinterland, it has opened instead to the Arab world, and to the influence of less syncretic and tolerant forms of Islam. For India, enmity with Pakistan has fostered a tilt away from secular values towards a more strident identity politics.

Reflexive fear of India prompts Pakistan’s generals to meddle in Afghanistan, which they see as a strategic backyard where no foreign power can be allowed to linger. In turn, India, because of the constant aggravation from Pakistan, has become bad-tempered with its smaller neighbours. Small wonder that intra-regional trade makes up barely 5% of the subcontinent’s overall trade, compared with more than a quarter in South-East Asia. And it is no surprise that Pakistan has opened its arms to China, which is offering finance, trade and superpower patronage.

This special report will seek to unravel the causes of this irrational enmity, and to explore the contrasting internal dynamics in both countries that sustain it. It will examine new factors in this complex geopolitical board game, such as the rise of China. And it will consider what might be done to nudge the two rivals away from the vicious circle that binds them.

Source: Why India and Pakistan hate each other

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