India Insight

from India Masala:

Bachchan upset over fake video that shows him praising Modi

Amitabh Bachchan has threatened legal action over a YouTube video that apparently shows the Bollywood actor championing Narendra Modi as India's next prime minister.

Bachchan described the online video as "fake" on Wednesday and expressed outrage on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The 70-year-old actor said the video featured footage from a 2007 'Lead India' newspaper campaign but added visuals to suggest he was promoting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

"I wish to state that this is an illegal act, inviting strong action, one that I am appalled by, and one that has no concurrence from me at all," Bachchan said on Twitter. "Infuriated and angered."

The YouTube video has since been taken down.

Bachchan has appeared in a series of advertisements promoting tourism in the state of Gujarat, of which Modi is the chief minister, but has never openly supported the Hindu nationalist leader.

India’s TV import duty taxes travellers… and grey markets

India on Monday imposed a 36 percent duty on flat-screen televisions that travellers bring back from other countries, seen as another step to support a falling rupee. The move, however, will do little to help the economy but will cheer television manufacturers in India and hit grey markets, experts said.

India has taken various measures in recent months to deter the import of commodities such as gold as Asia’s third-largest economy tries to tamp down its current account deficit and a weak rupee that touched record lows below 65 per dollar this week.

The duty will not have significant effect on the rupee or on the current account deficit, which is estimated at 3.7 percent of the gross domestic product this year. With only seven months’ worth of foreign exchange reserves, India is taking a number of measures to narrow the gap between its imports and exports, though trying to discourage television purchases in foreign currency might not do much more than set an example.

Anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar shot dead

Narendra Dabholkar, who campaigned against superstition in India for more than two decades, was shot dead in Pune on Tuesday, police said.

Dabholkar, 67, was a physician-turned-activist who openly criticised and questioned supernatural phenomena attributed to practitioners of black magic in India.

He was instrumental in drafting a new law in Maharashtra state that sought to target conmen who exploited superstitious beliefs, especially among the illiterate. The controversial bill is yet to be passed by the state assembly due to opposition from right-wing groups and political parties who fear the new law might curb religious freedom.

Markets this week: BHEL is top Sensex loser

By Ankush Arora and Sankalp Phartiyal

The BSE Sensex had been headed for a week of gains until upbeat U.S. jobs data triggered fears of a soon-to-start tapering of the Fed’s monetary stimulus, pulling the benchmark down by a percent for the week ending Aug. 16. The broader Nifty slumped 4 percent on Friday, marking its biggest daily drop in almost two years.

The rupee also fell to a new record low of 62.03 versus the dollar on Friday despite the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government’s continued efforts to prop up the currency.
New measures by the RBI to restrict how much Indian citizens and companies can invest abroad raised fears of outright capital controls that could spook foreign investors, hurting the rupee further.

The outlook remains bleak as Indian shares marked their fourth consecutive weekly fall, totalling a decline of 7.7 percent.

Running rings around onion prices

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

The size and swiftness of the current price spike in onions has surprised everyone, even those who have been dealing with India’s most politically sensitive commodity for decades. How come retail prices have doubled in Mumbai in a week? Why did prices at Lasalgaon, India’s largest wholesale onion market, rocket 38 percent on Monday?

Sure, stocks are low after a drought last year in Maharashtra state, the top onion producer in the country. And there have been reports that this year’s crop is damaged in some pockets because of heavy rains – but that’s just a few thousand hectares.

It’s getting so bad that the government has had to cease its mantra of buy less, export more for other costly commodities and import onions for Indians to cook their classic dishes.

Some investors in India look to the stars for stock advice

The 2008 financial crisis gutted Girish Kumar’s portfolio value by 90 percent. So much for technical and fundamental analysis. The 42-year-old textiles businessman from Jaipur turned to astrology, and now he says the stars guide him to a profit every month.

Kumar is part of a group of Indians who think that analysing the positions of the planets, stars and other celestial bodies can predict the direction of the stock market and suggest which companies and sectors deserve their money.

“There is something in this universe that makes it run. I believe in that,” said Kumar, who pays an astrologer 100,000 rupees a year, about $1,700, for stock market advice.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Despite rising India-Pakistan tensions, little planning for the next big crisis

In the very early days after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, some in India, for the briefest of moments, believed Washington might be coming around to its point of view: that the problem and source of “cross-border terrorism” lay in Pakistan. Instead, an aggrieved India was forced to look on as Washington turned to its old ally Pakistan to help it fight the war in Afghanistan.

It was in that sour mood that New Delhi reacted with increasing anger to Pakistan’s support for Islamist militants targeting India in Kashmir and beyond. In October 2001, nearly 40 people were killed in a suicide attack on the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir state in its summer capital Srinagar. When militants attacked the Indian parliament in Delhi on December 13, 2001 - an attack blamed on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed - India mobilised for war.  Soon close to a million men were deployed on either side of the border in a tense standoff that was not resolved until the following summer, and only then after intense U.S.-led international diplomacy.

To those of us who witnessed the build-up to the 2001-2002 standoff, the rising tensions between India and Pakistan - with both sides accusing the other of escalating fighting on the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir - bear a troublesome resemblance to that time. Then and now are bookended by the U.S. presence in Afghanistan which began in 2001 and is due to end in 2014.

Nagpal case highlights challenges for civil servants in India

(Any opinions expressed here are not of Thomson Reuters)

How does a civil servant survive India’s labyrinthine government bureaucracies? The question has come up again after the government of Uttar Pradesh suspended an employee and charged her with illegally allowing the demolition of a wall that was going to form part of a mosque.

The case of Durga Shakti Nagpal, 28, boils down to whether she was inciting religious disharmony through her order, or whether she was getting her comeuppance for trying to stop a sand mining racket in India’s most populous state. Her suspension also has highlighted the difficulties that bureaucrats face every day.

We asked current and former bureaucrats: how do young officers deal with hostile politicians and superiors? Does the IAS need changes to how it operates to make it easier for civil servants to do their jobs honestly? Should the judiciary control the IAS, not the legislature?

Markets this week: BHEL, Sun Pharma top Sensex losers

By Ankush Arora and Sankalp Phartiyal

It was a tough week for Indian shares with the benchmark indexes bearing the brunt as the rupee tumbled to a fresh all-time low of 61.80 versus the dollar on Tuesday. Fears of the U.S. Federal Reserve tapering its stimulus also weighed on street sentiment. The BSE Sensex and the Nifty ended down around 2 percent each during the week.

The day the rupee breached its latest record low, India appointed former IMF chief economist Raghuram Rajan as the next Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor.

The central bank announced fresh steps after market hours on Thursday to curb volatility in the forex market. The rupee posted its best single-day gain in two weeks in anticipation of support measures by the RBI and the government.

Little public outrage as politicians unite against transparency

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

India’s political parties are united, for a change. It’s not over women’s safety or how many poor people the country has. They have closed ranks against moves to make parties accountable under the Right to Information (RTI) law.

The Cabinet has asked for changes in the RTI Act that, once approved by parliament, would exclude political parties from being covered by it. In other words, the Congress-led government wants to amend the very law that it once championed.

The government also opposes a recent ruling by India’s Supreme Court that bars jailed politicians from contesting elections and disqualifies them if convicted. A senior government minister told reporters on Aug. 1 that leaders of various political parties criticised the court ruling, which is seen as an affront to the supremacy of parliament.

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