India Insight

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A farewell message to the telegram

New Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

At 10 p.m. on July 14, India will send its final telegram before the service shuts the following day, signaling the end of a service that has been going for over 160 years. It is the latest means of communication to be killed off by the mobile Internet age.

From families waiting to hear from their children who migrated to India’s cities for work, to soldiers in remote areas for whom the telegram was the only way to stay in touch with relatives, the telegraph service has been used to connect millions of people across this vast country since the mid-19th Century.

Charged per word, some messages went on and on, while others chose to write single words like “love” – a simple message to express how they felt.

Today at the Central Telegraph Office in the heart of New Delhi, most of the counters are unmanned. Thirty years ago, the office was packed full with 500 members of staff, working non-stop to send around 20,000 messages a day as customers waited in long lines. Now, that number is only 20.

Telegraphist Veronica remembers what it was like being in the office 30 years ago: “This room would be full of people, it sounded like a factory. We had no time to talk to each other or even exchange a glimpse.” Messenger Om Dutt would deliver sacks of telegrams in the 1980s on his bicycle across New Delhi. Now, as he stepped out of the office, he had only a handful to deliver, most of them to government departments.

Rupee spoils holidays abroad for Indians, but not for all

With the rupee hovering near a record low, Indian tourists would be tempted to give foreign shores a miss this year. But staying home is not an option for Harsh Chadha, a multinational executive just back from a three-week family vacation in the UK.

Chadha, 35, is part of India’s growing elite, whose trips abroad are not affected by the vagaries of the currency market.

“[If I’m planning] a trip to a place like London [and] already spending enough money … a 10-15 percent increase in the dollar will not be pinching me a lot,” says Chadha, an IT director who bought pounds for 92 rupees ($1.5) each before going on vacation.

Interview with BJP leader Narendra Modi

By Ross Colvin and Sruthi Gottipati

Narendra Modi is a polarising figure, evoking visceral reactions across the political spectrum. Critics call him a dictator while supporters believe he could make India an Asian superpower. (Read a special report on Modi here)

Reuters spoke to Modi at his official Gandhinagar residence in a rare interview, the first since he was appointed head of the BJP’s election campaign in June.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions are paraphrased and some of Modi’s replies have been translated from Hindi.

Quote, unquote Narendra Modi

When Narendra Modi speaks, people listen. It’s not just because he’s widely expected to be the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for prime minister in elections due in 2014. The chief minister of Gujarat seems to know his audience well. They cheer him on and jeer at his opponents; they applaud every two minutes. But sometimes, what he says catches people’s attention.

(The Narendra Modi interview: puppy remark and more)

Here are some of Modi’s statements that made headlines:

“From snake-charmers, we are now a nation of mouse-charmers. Our youngsters are shaping the world with the click of a mouse with their feats in the IT sector,” he told an audience of students at Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce on Feb. 6.

The speech, broadcast on television, was seen by many as Modi’s first pitch to young, educated India as its future leader. He also said:

Tracking Sensex: Top gainers, losers this week

By Aditya Kalra and Ankush Arora

Indian shares started the month of July on a flattish note, with the BSE Sensex rising 0.5 percent in the week ending July 5 after climbing more than 3 percent the previous week.

However, a weak rupee continued to dampen sentiment as the unit ended the week below 60 to the dollar, adding to concerns about India’s current account deficit.

Here are the top five Sensex gainers and losers of the week:

GAINERS

ITC: India’s largest cigarette maker rose 5.5 percent this week, making it the best Sensex performer, boosted by a hike in cigarette prices and value buying after its recent underperformance in June.

Highlights of India’s food security bill

India’s cabinet on Wednesday issued an executive order to start a 1.3 trillion rupee ($22 billion) welfare programme that would bring cheap food to hundreds of millions of poor people throughout the country.

Despite the order, both houses of parliament must vote on the programme when they meet for the Monsoon session later this month.

The programme, which would provide highly subsidized food to about two-thirds of India’s population, is seen by many as a key initiative of the ruling Congress party, and one that can help them win votes in the 2014 general elections.

Tracking Sensex: top gainers, losers in June quarter

By Aditya Kalra and Ankush Arora

Indian shares ended the June quarter on a positive note as the Sensex and Nifty registered gains of around 3 percent during the period, data showed.

The markets managed to post gains in the quarter despite falling around 2 percent in June after the U.S. Fed said it plans to begin winding down its stimulus later this year if economic conditions are favourable.

In positive developments, monsoon rains arrived on time and covered the whole country two weeks ahead of schedule while inflation slipped below 5 percent. Sentiment was also boosted when rating agency Fitch revised its outlook on India back to “stable” from “negative”.

More pilgrims mean more trouble for shrines in north India

Nestled in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand attracts increasing numbers of visitors every year. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of visitors to the state rose nearly 200 percent to 30.3 million. With major Hindu shrines located in the state, about 70 percent of the tourists who visit the state visit religious sites. That is a worrying sign for ecologically fragile areas such as Kedarnath – a small temple town located 3,583 metres (11,755 feet) above sea level and almost entirely washed out in recent flash floods.

The rush to the Himalayas has been accompanied by a haphazard pattern of growth that might not be sustainable. A study by infrastructure group IL&FS IDC Ltd showed that the carrying capacities – maximum number of persons an environment can support — of various tourist centres in Uttarakhand reached saturation levels in 2010.

It is in this context that some environmentalists have been calling the devastating floods a man-made catastrophe. “Ecological fragility sets limits. Today these limits are being violated … and the pilgrimage to the Char Dhams is being turned into crass consumerist mass tourism,” said activist Vandana Shiva in an email conversation with me. (To see pictures from the flood crisis, click here)

India’s love for gold and the government’s efforts to curb it – a timeline

Google Trends shows that the term “current account deficit” is among top searches from India in 2013. Add “gold” as a comparative keyword and the searches for the commodity Indians love are far higher.

Indians buy gold for everything – investment, gifts, wedding ceremonies and auspicious days. But of late, this has become a pain for policymakers.

As the Indian economy struggles, policymakers say that high gold imports and the rising current account deficit are big concerns. India’s number one import, crude oil, and gold, it’s number two, hurt the current account deficit. While crude oil is necessary, gold is not, especially if we believe our finance minister.

Metal stocks top underperformers in 2013; outlook mixed

Shares of Indian metal companies are going through a rough patch in 2013 as a slowing economy at home coupled with rising input costs and weakness in Europe hurts demand.

Indian shares have had a mixed year so far, but the BSE metals index, which is a barometer of metal companies’ performance in India, has been the worst performer among sectors, data shows.

The 13-share metals index is down more than 33 percent this year, widely underperforming the benchmark BSE Sensex that has lost nearly 3 percent.

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