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from India Insight:

Ponzi scheme in West Bengal flames out, embers linger

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Suicides, thousands of duped investors, hundreds of laid-off journalists, bickering politicians, protests slack regulation, one suspected mastermind arrested: it's Ponzi scheme time in West Bengal, and it looks likely that little will change after the drama ends.

The latest fleecing of poor and middle-class investors brought in an estimated $730 million, according to media reports, though public interest litigation filed in the Calcutta High Court by one lawyer says the amount is as high as Rs. 300 billion. ($5.5 billion) The head of the Saradha Group and accused mastermind of the scheme, Sudipta Sen, was arrested in Kashmir on April 23 after two weeks as a fugitive. He has maintained his innocence, and reportedly threatened suicide, saying he might not be able to repay investors.

Sen started out as a small-time property dealer in the late 1990's in Kolkata. His Saradha Group in the past decade had interests in real estate, tours groups and newspapers and television stations, and eventually owned nearly 100 companies.

Data from India's Ministry of Corporate Affairs reveals interesting details. Many were incorporated in a one-week period in January 2011. They shared an address: 455 Diamond Harbour Road, Behala, Kolkata. They each listed working capital of Rs. 5 lakh each ($9,196). Their email addresses were the same. India's market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, began investigating the Saradha Group in 2010.

from India Insight:

Short skirts, bad stars and chow mein: why India’s women get raped

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If you thought the Delhi gang rape would cause a serious debate on women’s rights in India, you'd be half right. Let's look at the other half: last December's brutal incident seems to have put a spell on India’s politicians, holy men and otherwise educated people.

From suggesting that the rape victim should have called her rapists “brother” to blaming her stars, plenty of reasons cited for the crime lay the blame on the women whom men brutalise, or portray women in ways that reveal our skewed attitude toward women and their place in our society. When given an opportunity to figure out ways to improve the  education and behaviour of men, and thus try to reduce the  number of rapes that occur in India, many people revert to the  more traditional method: limit the rights of women.

from India Insight:

Nine miracles Congress might expect from Rahul Gandhi

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Now that Rahul Gandhi has assumed what many would say was his rightful place, expectations from him would be high. These will be all the more pressing within the Congress party, which will look to its new vice president to help it retain power. Here is a list of those possible expectations: Hook the young ones: Gandhi is widely presented as the youthful face of the 128-year-old Congress party. At 42, he is the youngest leader in the highest ranks. With 70 percent of India’s population below the age of 35, today's young people form an irresistible voting bloc to court. Target Dalits and "backward" classes: Rahul Gandhi’s visits to the homes of Dalits and so-called backward classes, in particular in rural India, have been well recorded. You could say that it's just politics and public relations, but Congress needs to show more support for groups that often gravitate toward smaller regional parties. Duplicate NSUI and Youth Wing experiments: This means tackling what federal minister Jairam Ramesh called “structural problems” within Congress. Gandhi has brought about vital electoral and membership reforms in the Congress's Youth Wing as well as its National Students Union of India, providing a wider gateway for people to enter politics. Many Congress delegates at the party's meeting in Jaipur demanded similar progress. At the moment, members in the top Congress body are nominated, and candidates for election are usually hand picked by the party high command. Image makeover: Congress needs an image makeover in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of 2014. Rahul Gandhi’s relatively clean image and straight-talk against graft could be the party’s hope at a time when corruption scandals threaten to end its 10-year rule at the center. New alliances, preserving old friends: Who knew that lacking political experience would be a job qualification? Gandhi, with this important note on his CV, can forge new alliances and nurture old friendships that are prone to developing cracks. The “Gandhi” name: The name and the party have been intertwined since India's independence. Whether the brand value behind the name is good or bad is sometimes hard to say. Rahul Gandhi has a chance to eliminate the need to ask the question. If he can eliminate or minimize fighting among party members, this will help. Ground realities: Congress has been accused of being out of touch with reality. Gandhi will need to project a friendly face and speak realistic words to help the party's image. Speaking of which... speak up: Though Rahul has been a politician for nine years, public speaking has not been his forte. He has rarely expressed his opinion on various burning topics. This has emboldened the opposition and given the media evidence to say that he is not ready for senior management. It's time to share. Lead India into the new century: A thumping victory in the 2014 elections with Gandhi as vice president and leader of the party's campaign committee for the elections would be nice. Congress workers will hope that he will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate as well, a trump card in the face of regional and hostile forces such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister (and former Congress ally) Mamata Banerjee. That said, some dreams may be a little too unrealistic for now.

from India Insight:

‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ meets ‘Indian Idol’ in West Bengal

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(Any career-destroying attempts at irony or humour are the responsibility of the author, and not of the chief ministers of Gujarat or West Bengal or any of their associates.)

Everybody's talking about how Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has fostered fair weather for businesses and investors in his state. Maybe he's making it too easy. In West Bengal, it looks like investors and business people must work a little harder for their returns. Take a look at that state's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. She isn't just making business people and investors work for their profits; she's making them sing.

from India Insight:

Elsewhere in India: girls, mobile phones and slapping your tormentors

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Here's a short roundup of regional news in India that attracted our interest this weekend. Any opinions expressed by the author are no doubt ill informed and ridiculous. Aditya Yogi Kalra contributed to this post.

Another politician, another reference to women being the root of all man's troubles. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh blamed "girlfriends, bikes and  mobile phones" for the rising number of road accidents in the state.  "It's a common sight to see youngsters driving two-wheelers while talking on cellphones which often leads to accidents. Youths should avoid such habits," Singh said. (PTI via CNBC-TV18)

from India Insight:

A kirana of one’s own

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India's kiranas, or small general stores, fear that the country's decision to allow Wal-Mart and other foreign companies to invest in grocery stores and other kinds of retailers will hurt their businesses.

They should go to Bangalore and talk to Nandini. She might brighten their mood.

Nandini, who lives in Bangalore's Indiranagar neighbourhood, was at Aditya Birla Group's More retail store, eyeing the detergents when I interviewed her about the new rules on foreign direct investment, or FDI.

from India Insight:

Mamata Banerjee: I’ve got Friday on my mind

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Mamata Banerjee's threat that her ministers would quit on Friday unless the Indian government scrapped its plan to save the economy was her way of giving the government time to consider its options.

I told my colleague Aditya that in reality, it was probably a chance for her to reconsider her move because there was no way that the government would bend to her desires.

from India Insight:

Political crisis in India: Mamata Banerjee moves out, UPA should move forward

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It wasn't unexpected. After more than three long years of association with the UPA II coalition government, key ally Mamata Banerjee is taking her name off the lease, packing up her things and getting ready to move out. Whether she has taken Congress' chances for holding power in India with her depends on how strong -- and willing -- the party's other friends are.

This move, precipitated by her anger at urgent government moves to fix India's economy, is a case of better late than never. There is no point being part of a coalition if you don't like how it works or the decisions that it makes.

from The Great Debate (India):

Will the Congress bow to Mamata’s demand and roll back economic reforms?

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Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, the biggest ally in Manmohan Singh's UPA government, pulled out of the ruling coalition on Tuesday, escalating a political firestorm over big-ticket reform measures launched last week.


Will the Congress roll back reforms?

from India Insight:

Bold move on diesel, but hold the rollback

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Sometimes the government does what it promises. India raised diesel prices by 5 rupees per litre on Thursday in a move guaranteed to alienate the common man, but please foreign investors, oil marketing companies and ratings agencies.

Opposition parties and key government ally Mamata Banerjee expressed their expected disappointment with the decision. The BJP called it a "cruel joke" and "mortal blow," while West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee planned a street rally on Saturday and said she was "shocked".

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