India Insight

from The Human Impact:

“Urinating in dams” to solve India’s drought? Minister faces backlash

As India's western state of Maharashtra reels from the worst drought in over four decades and millions of people face the risk of hunger, a top official has sparked outrage with a crass, insensitive joke that he should urinate in the region's empty dams to solve water shortages.

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and former irrigation minister, referred in a speech last weekend to a poor drought-hit farmer who had been on hunger strike for almost two months to demand more water.

"He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible," Pawar told the gathering, who responded with much laughter.

Dubbed as "Urine-Gate" by some sections of the media, Pawar's controversial comments have been played and replayed on India's national news channels over the past week, sparking a barrage of criticism from civil society groups and opposition politicians who are demanding he resign over the remarks.

Aid workers say almost one-fifth of Maharashtra, India's third-largest state and one of the biggest producers of sugar, pulses, cotton and soybeans, has been declared drought-hit. Dams are empty, farmland is parched and livestock are emaciated.

State elections loom in Karnataka, a state split wide open

With legislative assembly elections in the state of Karnataka just weeks away, politicians are preparing for an ugly battle for a state whose political future looks wide open.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be hard pressed to hang on to its lead in the state after its once tight-knit leadership ranks frayed under corruption charges and infighting. Given their recent poor performance in the urban local body elections, they might have much to worry about.

“Infighting cost us. KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha) and BSR Congress also took away our votes,” said state Higher Education Minister C.T. Ravi. But they don’t appear to be too unhappy because only about 30 percent of the state electorate was eligible to vote in the local polls.

Narendra Modi’s media blitz fraught with risk

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

During Gujarat’s elections last year, incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi used 3D technology to appear at more than one political rally simultaneously. Now re-elected, the man has increased his omnipresence, if such a thing is possible, with help from the media.

On April 8, Modi addressed the women’s wing of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The same evening, he was at Network18’s summit outlining his vision for India. The next day, Modi addressed businessmen in Kolkata, West Bengal. Later in the day, he delivered a fiery speech to his party people. All of these appearances got plenty of TV coverage, website analysis and Twitter attention.

When did Narendra Modi become a “poster boy?”

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

I’ve encountered some interesting descriptions in the press of India’s political leaders. My favorite is “supremo,” which I’ve heard comes from British English. “Honcho” and “strongman” are common too. The one that catches my attention, primarily because I disapprove of it, is “poster boy.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was today’s poster boy, according to the Times of India print edition (I also see the article here). I’ve seen many more examples in recent weeks and months. Perhaps that’s understandable. Wherever you live, you will read a lot more about Modi in the next year because many people say that he will be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s selection for prime minister. As the most likely chief rival to the Gandhi family dynasty and its scion Rahul, Modi has captured the nation’s attention in a way that few other politicians have.

Snapshots from Arvind Kejriwal’s hunger strike in Delhi

“Ankush, should we pay the electricity bill? The secretary of our apartments has advised us against it.” That was my mother’s question to me as I was leaving for Arvind Kejriwal’s fast venue in Delhi’s northeast corner, Dilshad Garden.

While I won’t be among those who refuse to pay electricity bills, Kejriwal’s supporters said hundreds of thousands of city residents had signed a pledge saying they would not pay their bills to the state.

Kejriwal said people should not pay because he says residents of Delhi are paying twice the amount they should be paying and began a hunger strike on March 23 against inflated bills.

Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi: The burden of perception

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

Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi might find that fighting each other over who will be India’s next prime minister is easier than fighting the perceptions of more than a billion of their countrymen about who the candidates really are.

Modi’s big battle, even if he doesn’t bring it up much, is against the perception that many people have of his role in encouraging the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat that left thousands dead. Many people meanwhile see Gandhi as a clueless kid, or “pappu”. Sample Rahul Gandhi’s speech to industrialists today in New Delhi.

People say we should’ve priced our coffee higher – Tata Starbucks CEO

At first glance, Avani Davda looks like any other young person standing outside Starbucks waiting for a cup of coffee. Davda, 33, is not your typical customer. In fact, she is head of the Starbucks-Tata joint venture that brought the U.S. coffee chain to a country that traditionally wakes up to tea.

Davda is getting used to coffee, but as a vegetarian, she has not tried most of the non-vegetarian items on Starbucks’s menu.

In an interview with Reuters on March 25, she spoke about the chain’s progress since opening its first India location in Mumbai. It now has 11 locations in Mumbai and Delhi.

Starbucks in India: Taste trumps price as fans rush in

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

The excitement on Garima Bajaj’s face is evident as she finally “makes it” to Delhi’s first* Starbucks store after dropping out of the queue twice before.

“Patience is always a virtue. It’s always good to wait,” the management student from Gurgaon said.

Bestselling author Amish Tripathi says writing career was thrust upon him

It’s hard to believe Amish Tripathi when he says he never set out to be a writer. The banker-turned-author of the popular Shiva trilogy recently won a million-dollar advance for a new series – and he hasn’t even finalized the topic yet.

Before his books took pride of place in shop windows, Tripathi was already living what some would call a charmed life. A management degree at one of India’s top business schools had led to a successful career in private and retail banking. But it was his admiration for Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, that catapulted him to literary stardom in India.

When “The Immortals of Meluha” and “The Secret of the Nagas” topped bestseller lists, the 38-year-old quit his job to become a full-time writer. “The Oath of the Vayuputras,” the third book in the mythological fantasy series, was launched in March.

from The Human Impact:

What stopped India’s “anti-rape” law from being a landmark?

So, three months after the outrage which sent thousands of Indians spilling out onto the streets to protest at the fatal gang rape of a woman on a bus in New Delhi, the country's parliamentarians were forced to sit up and listen and approve a tough new law to curb rising sexual violence against women.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has hailed the new "anti-rape" law - which means repeat rapists or those who leave their victims in a vegetative state can be hanged - as a law which would create a "revolution" in the largely patriarchal country.

But how much of a landmark law is it really?

Yes, there are certainly some welcome and promising provisions – making human trafficking, acid attacks, stalking and voyeurism criminal offences, expanding the definition of rape and sexual harassment, and making gender-insensitive police and hospital authorities more accountable.

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