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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:

‘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:

‘Powerful’ Mamata has much to lose

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Time Magazine's decision to name Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee one of the world's 100 most powerful people couldn't have been more ironic.

It comes at a time when the "populist woman of action" is drawing criticism from many quarters after some of her fledgling government's recent decisions sparked public outrage and a media furore.

from India Insight:

Out of the DMK frying pan and into Mamata’s fire for Congress

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Fresh from negotiating the continued support of one key coalition ally, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party heavyweights must now tackle the demands of the more politically canny and locally powerful Mamata Banerjee.

India's Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks before giving the final touches to the annual budget for the railways in New Delhi February 24, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur

As the bleary eyes of Congress negotiators turned over the morning papers on Wednesday after almost two days of political horse-trading with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the relief of front page headlines declaring the Tamil Nadu party's climbdown will have been cut short by the ominous presence of Banerjee and her own seat-sharing demands in the political minefield of West Bengal.

from The Great Debate (India):

Do frequent accidents indicate a crumbling infrastructure?

At least 60 people were killed when a fast-moving Uttar Banga Express rammed into the waiting Vananchal Express at Sainthia in West Bengal early on Monday.
Soldiers and onlookers gather near the wreckage of train carriages at the site of an accident at Sainthia in West Bengal July 19, 2010. REUTERS/Rupak De ChowdhuriWhile officials have virtually ruled out any terror link, the fact the trains were on the same track when the accident happened, does indicate possible human lapses.

In May, a train sabotage blamed on Maoist rebels killed more than 70 people. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee came under criticism after the Gyaneshwari Express was attacked.

from India Insight:

Jyoti Basu – poster boy of Indian communism

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(UPDATE: Communist patriarch Jyoti Basu died on Sunday)

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rushed to Kolkata on Thursday just to pay a 22-minute visit to the hospital where 95-year-old Jyoti Basu is battling for life, the trip spoke volumes about the communist patriarch's relevance in Indian politics.

Veteran communist leader and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, is seen during his 95th birthday celebrations in Kolkata July 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw/FilesIndia's longest serving chief minister is on ventilator support but the throngs of teary-eyed followers outside the hospital, the 24x7 mediapersons camping outside and the steady stream of political dignitaries indicate the respect Basu commands across the political spectrum.

from India Insight:

Are the Maoists gaining ground in West Bengal?

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Hundreds of tribal people backed by the Maoist guerrillas stormed the high-speed Rajdhani Express, one of the country's most prestigious passenger trains, in West Bengal on Tuesday. Police and security forces could free the train and its driver after a five-hour-long hostage drama, including a gunfight with the rebels in the forest.Maoists have stepped up violence across eastern and central India and internal security experts say it indicates a growing dominance of the insurgents in the state.The rebels raided a police station in West Bengal this month and abducted a senior official after gunning down two of his colleagues.Police officer Atindranath Dutta was held captive for two days and freed in exchange for 23 tribal women lodged in prisons for suspected Maoist links.Maoist attacks on police posts are nothing new in an area that has witnessed an anti-insurgency operation since June and the rebels have taken effective control of large swathes of the countryside.The insurgents say they are waging war on behalf of the poor and the landless against the state. The attack has raised concerns and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the swap was an "exception, not a norm."Security experts say the Maoists, whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has identified as the country's biggest internal threat, have thrown an open challenge to the authorities.In June a combined force of central paramilitary troops and state police retook control of Lalgarh, a town captured by the Maoists in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.The government began cracking down on the rebel leaders and sympathisers since then.The policeman abduction episode has apparently galvanised the communist government in West Bengal which has said it will heavily weaponise policemen and fortify its police stations. The NGOs working in Maoist-affected areas blame the government for the state of affairs.Is increasing Maoist violence in West Bengal indicative of a growing clout of the rebels?

from India Insight:

After wooing voters, Mamata charms Bengal Inc

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Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee rolls on with a bagful of bounty for one and all in West Bengal, even as the state's corporate big wheels close ranks with her.Her eyes all set on the 2011 assembly elections, Banerjee shed the image of an anti-industry politician, using to the hilt the resources the world's largest employer (Indian Railways) could offer.The industry-basher epithet stuck thick on Mamata after Tata Motors made an angry exit from Singur last year, bowing before a wave of protests over 400 acres of farmland acquired forcibly by the communist state government for the Nano plant.Just when a section of people and political pundits had written her off, Mamata's gamble with the land movement and the state's poor human rights record paid off.Now in a hurry to catch the 2011 train, Mamata (referred to in local media as chief minister-in-waiting) has impressed industrialists with her impatience to fast-track projects in West Bengal.She is now offering land to set up factories, emphasizing on setting up Public Private Partnership (PPP) models to develop the infrastructure of railway and industry."Mamata means business" wrote The Telegraph after her August 21 meeting with industrialists. The largest circulated English daily from eastern India had less than a year ago written against the Trinamool Congress chief for driving out the Tatas from Singur.Mamata's meeting was a durbar of sorts as she addressed members of the country's three leading chambers of commerce and urged industrialists to set up shop on available railway land."I urge you all to take the opportunity and use the land available to set up industry," she told industrialists, chanting her slogan of Ma, Mati and Manush (Mother, Soil and People).Mamata said the railways had already prepared a land bank and about 112,000 acres are available.With her popular railway budget and various initiatives, the ghosts of Singur seemed to have been exorcised. Mamata said land disputes can be avoided with proper planning and human approach.The meeting, which has been organised by the Railways, cleared any doubts about her anti-industry posturing in the past.For now it is brand Mamata that rules Bengal as excitement builds up in the run-up to her big show in 2011.

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