India Insight

from Expert Zone:

U.S.-India dispute: A diplomat and a double-standard laid bare

(The following essay is commentary. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Reuters)

Relations between the United States and India have crashed to their lowest ebb since the last millennium, something many Americans might have missed during the holiday buzz.  A spat over the treatment of a diplomat and her maid threatens the foundations of a key international partnership, and the implications extend far beyond foreign policy. This case could endanger American diplomats, businesspeople and tourists travelling abroad.

The fight began with the December arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India’s Deputy Consul in New York.  Khobragade, a young mother accused of under-paying her maid and making a false statement on a visa form, says she was hand-cuffed, strip-searched, and thrown in a holding facility with violent criminals.  India regards her arrest as a violation of diplomatic immunity.  The United States argues that such immunity does not extend to consular officials.

The incident provoked widespread protests in India, and the government withdrew many privileges accorded to American diplomats.  Some, such as a suspension of the right to import liquor, are inconveniences.  Others, like the removal of security barriers outside the embassy in New Delhi, and issuing officials with ID cards noting that their bearers are subject to arrest for many offenses, could put U.S. diplomats in physical danger.  Indian officials have demanded an apology, but the United States has offered only a statement of “regret.”  The federal prosecutor who launched the case, said, “Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond” those to which she was entitled.

Why are Indians more outraged by a diplomat stripped naked than by a maid (also Indian) allegedly stripped of her pay?  For starters, there is a deep strain in Indian society that sees the forcible disrobing of a woman as an unspeakable humiliation. One of the most famous episodes in the ancient epic Mahabharata describes the heroine Draupadi being hauled before a hostile mob, and saved only when her sari becomes infinitely long as her assailants try to rip it from her body.  Modern-day India is wrestling with a rash of vicious gang rapes, and trying to deal with sexual humiliation of women that had traditionally been kept secret.  In this context, many were shocked by the spectacle of a government official denuded in a foreign holding-cell.

from Expert Zone:

The return of the ugly American

(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author's own)

Nearly a month after American authorities arrested India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, outside her children’s school and charged her with paying her Indian domestic worker a salary below the minimum wage, bilateral relations remain tense. India’s government has reacted with fury to the mistreatment of an official enjoying diplomatic immunity, and public indignation has been widespread and nearly unanimous. So, has an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries come to an end?

Judging from Indian leaders’ statements, it would certainly seem so. India’s mild-mannered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that Khobragade’s treatment was “deplorable.” National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon called her arrest “despicable” and “barbaric,” and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid refused to take a conciliatory phone call from US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Interview: BJP’s Harsh Vardhan slams AAP-Congress alliance in Delhi

By Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal

India’s Congress party and the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entered an “unholy alliance” to share power in Delhi following state elections in the national capital, the chief ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in an interview on Dec. 31.

Harsh Vardhan, who lost the race for chief minister of the capital region to AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal, said he thinks that the Congress party and the AAP had “some sort of understanding” before the elections. He offered no proof. Spokesmen for the AAP and the Congress party denied these charges.

Kejriwal, 45, was sworn in as the youngest chief minister of Delhi on Dec. 28. The anti-corruption activist and former civil servant surprised India with his strong showing and is likely to create uncertainty over how the 2014 general elections and race for the prime minister’s seat will turn out.

Movie Review: Joe B Carvalho

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

A contract killer with a schizophrenic personality; a woman who is blind but doesn’t know it; a police officer who spends more time in bikinis than catching criminals; and a detective who never shows any signs of intelligence — these are characters in Samir Tewari’s disaster of a movie “Mr Joe B Carvalho”.

Arshad Warsi plays the title character, that of a detective hired to stop a couple eloping, but finds himself embroiled in another matter. Mahesh Ramchandani’s hare-brained script stops making sense about ten minutes into the film.

Styled as somewhat of a surreal comedy, Tewari’s film has some bizarre situations that are impossible to make sense of or make us laugh. The reason why Carvalho and his lady love (Soha Ali Khan) break up is because he saves her from a snake, a scorpion and a live puppet — all of whom turn up in her bedroom — but in the process causes harm to her family members. The entire scene is absurd, badly acted and not even remotely funny. And this isn’t the only such scene.

Equity funds underperform Sensex for first time since 2008

India’s diversified equity mutual funds rose in 2013 but underperformed the broader markets for the first time in five years, as returns were dampened by the losses in the mid- and small-cap shares as well as financial companies.

These funds gained 4.8 percent on average in 2013, according to data from fund tracker Lipper, delivering lesser annual returns than the benchmark BSE Sensex after 2008.  The Sensex touched life highs in 2013 and ended 9 percent higher, boosted by foreign inflows of more than $20 billion.

Shares of smaller companies, however, underperformed, with the BSE mid-cap index falling 5.7 percent and the small-cap index sliding 11.2 percent. Waqar Naqvi, chief executive at Taurus Mutual Fund, said the sharp fall in mid- and small-cap stocks came as a surprise in 2013.

Sensex performers in 2013: TCS surges 73 percent, Sun Pharma gains 54 percent

By Aditya Karla and Sankalp Phartiyal

The BSE Sensex ended 2013 with gains of 9 percent after hitting life highs during the year. The benchmark index touched an all-time high of 21,483.74 on Dec. 9 after falling to a 2013 low of 17,448.71 in August.

Foreign inflows boosted sentiment on the street even as concerns about a slowing economy and high inflation weighed. Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) bought a net $20.1 billion worth of Indian shares in the year. FIIs had bought $24.5 billion worth of stocks in 2012.

The sharp fall in the rupee and recovering U.S and European economies boosted export-driven sectors, helping shares in many IT and pharma companies rank among the top Sensex performers.

Bollywood actor Farooq Shaikh dies at 65

Farooq Shaikh, the actor who embodied Everyman in Hindi films of the 1980’s and portrayed many memorable characters on screen, died in Dubai on Saturday. He was 65.

Shaikh is best known for his roles in films such as “Katha”, “Saath Saath” and “Chashme Buddoor”, where he straddled both commercial and art house cinema successfully.

His deadpan sense of humour stood him in good stead during his stint on television, where he played the lead in the Hindi adaptation of the British series “Yes, Prime Minister”.

The best (and worst) Bollywood films of 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

This was the year of the mega blockbuster in Bollywood. Box-office records were broken in 2013 as more and more audiences thronged into cinemas. It was also the year that Indian cinema celebrated a century of existence, cementing its place as one of the world’s most prolific film industries — one that thrives on its own audiences and talent, without having to borrow from elsewhere.

As for content, it was a mixed year, with an overriding focus on catering to the lowest common denominator to bring in the money. Films such as “Chennai Express” and “Dhoom 3” proved that, backed by a big star, this formula still works like a charm.

Critics, thankfully, don’t have to go by numbers. Here then, are my picks for the year’s best and worst, in no particular order:

Tendulkar exits, Anand slips during emotional 2013

Sachin Tendulkar bid a teary-eyed farewell to cricket while contemporary Viswanathan Anand lost his world chess crown in an emotional year for Indians in sports.

Forty-year-old Tendulkar, statistically the greatest batsman ever, walked into the sunset in November after his 200th test at his home Wankhede Stadium brought the cricket-crazy nation to a standstill.

“My life’s been 22 yards for 24 years. It’s hard to believe that wonderful journey is coming to an end,” an emotional Tendulkar said during a moving farewell speech as most Indians on and off the ground battled to hold back tears.

A Minute with Vijay Krishna Acharya on “Dhoom 3”

Vijay Krishna Acharya wrote all three films in India’s only action franchise – the Dhoom films, and directed the latest one. Fashioned as slick action thrillers in the mold of “Ocean’s 11” or “The Fast and the Furious”, the films always star an intelligent thief – an anti-hero who is too smart to be caught.

Opening this weekend to record-breaking ticket prices (three times the normal amount of a multiplex ticket), “Dhoom 3″ features Aamir Khan as a bank robber. Acharya, 45, spoke to Reuters about the film, why he wanted to shoot it in Imax, and what it takes to write a good anti-hero.

Why did you want to shoot “Dhoom 3” in Imax?

I have been a keen watcher of Imax films abroad, and always thought that we should experiment with the format. With this film, I had the sets, the locations and the story that lent itself to this kind of treatment. The audience that is discerning, and has been exposed to such films in the past, will definitely appreciate the IMAX experience.

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