India Insight

Fare wars over India: You win, airlines lose

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

Indians like it cheap — be it a car, a phone call or airfare. If that plane ticket is about 25 percent cheaper than a train ticket, you can imagine the rush to buy.

Airlines in India are doing just that. Jet Airways, until recently the biggest Indian carrier, offered 2 million tickets at nearly half price in a “goodwill gesture”. Its website crashed soon after, just as SpiceJet’s did when it offered a million tickets for just 2,013 rupees  last month. That led many to believe the offer was a hoax.

I was lucky to book a New Delhi-Guwahati return ticket for March, paying just 3,578 rupees compared to the 13,047 rupees I paid for a one-way ticket as recently as November, and 4,420 rupees for the cheapest round-trip ticket on the Rajdhani Express, India’s premier long-distance train.

No doubt reduced fares are excellent news for consumers. But does it make business sense?

Indian airlines hardly make money, and everyone knows the fate of Kingfisher Airlines. High fuel prices and expensive airports make India a tough sell for airlines, with tickets usually priced below cost. State taxes up to 30 percent make jet fuel more than 50 percent more expensive in India compared to the global average, one of the reasons why foreign carriers prefer to stay away from the local market.

Photo gallery: Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela 2013

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

Even if faith didn’t bring you all the way to Allahabad’s Kumbh Mela to wash away your sins, a visit to the largest religious congregation on earth can be overwhelming and surprisingly rejuvenating.

But faith does move millions…

Devotees walk for miles to reach the mela complex from the Allahabad railway station, believing that a dip at the sangam (confluence of holy rivers) would drown a lifetime of sins.

Corruption trumps reforms and economics in Kejriwal’s politics

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

The transformation of Arvind Kejriwal from taxman to anti-corruption activist and politician has been hard to ignore. He became something of a celebrity last year when he launched broadsides against rich, powerful people. That in turn gave him a platform to enter politics with his “Aam Aadmi Party” (party of the common man). Now Kejriwal, 44, must build a party in time to contest state-level elections in New Delhi this year.

After an hour-long election speech on a makeshift dais at a bus stand, the novice politician was visibly tired as he climbed into an off-white SUV for the journey home to Ghaziabad. I waited for him to stop coughing and take a sip of water before asking questions. We then had an animated, if one-note discussion about India’s economy and politics. The short story? Fix corruption and you fix everything else. Details about the economy, such as statistics and reports on inflation and economic growth? Just numbers for the media to repeat.

India ponders deficit control after the gold rush

India’s central government in January raised the tax on refined gold imports by 50 percent. This increase to 6 percent from 4 percent is the second rise this fiscal year. Why does it keep making gold more expensive, particularly as the nation enters its prime wedding season when brides will be bedecked with the metal from head to toe?

That’s part of the problem — a large part. India’s cultural attachment to gold is something that anybody who has been to an Indian wedding could tell you about. For those of you who haven’t, consider this report from CBS’s “60 Minutes” TV news program:

“India’s love for gold is almost a religion. Beyond being a symbol of wealth and status, gold is part of worship and culture – a tradition that goes back thousands of years. From birth to death, for men and women, among rich and poor – acquiring gold is a goal for the people of India. All of which has made India the world’s largest consumer of gold and thus a powerhouse in industry … Just as part of the American dream is to own a home, the dream in India is to own gold. For Indians, gold jewelry is wearable wealth, financial security that’s also a fashion statement.”

from Photographers' Blog:

Meet Miss Malini

Mumbai, India

By Vivek Prakash

Where I live is not the India of most people's imaginations or memories, and it's hardly the India I once knew as a kid.

My Mumbai has easygoing cafes, organic markets, swish malls, expensive restaurants serving great food and wine, fabulous nightclubs and raucous house parties. The idea that this India is any less "real" than bad infrastructure or the world of Slumdog Millionaire is misguided.

India has many crosses to bear - I acknowledge that. I'll be the first one to complain about crumbling roads, horrid traffic, corrupt politicians, impossible bureaucracy and the gulf between rich and poor. But you'd better get used to the idea that slowly but surely, generational change is taking place. My Mumbai is probably the India of the future.

‘Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity’: Zila Khan on singing and Islam

The members of Praagaash, an all-girl band in Kashmir, split up this week after an influential cleric deemed their music un-Islamic. Zila Khan, one of India’s most popular sufi singers and daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, spoke to Reuters about how singing is closest to worship and meditation and how children should be allowed to sing.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Questions about Grand Mufti of Kashmir and Islam are best answered by experts in the field of religion. I am an expert in music, it will be no use pondering on subjects that I am not an authority on. There will be more experts to say better things on this issue. I can, however, talk about music, on my journey as a singer and the issue of women’s rights.

Obviously, I feel children should sing.

I feel the art of music and especially singing is the highest form of art in the world and in the cosmic cycle. To have the ilm (idea) and knowledge of this art is itself a blessing because it is much higher than any other form of art or work as such.

‘Vishwaroopam’ and Tamil Nadu’s cinema of politics

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

The most unfortunate aspect of the censorship controversy over Kamal Haasan’s new movie “Vishwaroopam,” which came out on Thursday, is that it is happening in Tamil Nadu. India’s southernmost state has a history of using cinema as a tool of political dissent and expression, particularly regarding the Dravidian movement, but that spirit seems to have vanished with the decision to release a truncated version of the film after Islamic groups said certain scenes offended them.

First, a recap: “Vishwaroopam” (background on that name here) is a spy thriller about a Muslim man living in New York, masquerading as a Hindu. He must thwart a plot by a group of Afghans to blow up the city. The film came out on Jan. 25 except in Tamil Nadu, where Muslim groups objected to the portrayal of some characters as bearded, wild-eyed “terrorists.” The state banned the film under India’s criminal code, and chief minister and former actress Jayalalithaa said she could not guarantee police protection at cinemas that showed the movie. She also said that the ban was a move to preserve “law and order.” Haasan agreed to remove seven scenes to mollify the groups.

Turning a Bangalore shanty town into a mall

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

The Bangalore city government and a private developer kicked more than 1,500 poor families out of subsidised housing in January, razed their neighbourhood and left them homeless. The reason? They want to build new, better housing – and a mall.

The flattening of 15 acres in the neighbourhood of Ejipura is another step to refurbish India’s information technology capital, where rents and property values have risen thanks to foreign companies pouring into the city and people from all over India seeking good jobs. As is often the case when there is money to be made, poor people are in the way.

Narendra Modi follows his roadmap to Delhi

The Narendra Modi charm offensive showed up in full force in India’s capital on Wednesday. Modi, the main opposition party’s likely prime ministerial candidate gave a speech on progress and development at one of Delhi’s premier colleges, the youthful audience greeted the 62-year-old politician with gusto, news outlets called his speech a “roadmap for India,” protesters showed up en masse and Twitter went bananas.

If not a direct declaration of grand political ambition, the nearly one-hour speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce sounded like a pitch for a national role: here was the chief minister of Gujarat talking about development to more than a thousand students in New Delhi, staying away from the usual and divisive political overtones, repeatedly referring to the youth of the country (future voters), and outlining his vision for India.

“The whole world is looking at India as a big marketplace. Why? Because they (other countries) think they can sell here easily. It is the demand of our time to make India a leader in manufacturing and dump our goods in the world market,” Modi said, according to our report on the Reuters news wire.

Budget speeches in India: it’s how you say it

The annual budget is a big event in India, but ministers’ speeches on the budget can be mighty boring. From Shakespeare to Bollywood, ministers have used all kinds of popular and esoteric sources to make their points. Whether that has helped is up to you. Here are a few examples from recent years:

President Pranab Mukherjee is a veteran Congress politician and has presented the last four budgets. His favourite authority to quote has been Kautilya, the great Indian pioneer of economics and politics who was prime minister in the court of King Chandragupta Maurya in the fourth century BC. Mukherjee quoted Kautilya in his first budget speech in 1984 and as recently as in 2010.

Thus, a wise Collector General shall conduct the work of revenue collection … in a manner that production and consumption should not be injuriously affected … financial prosperity depends on public prosperity, abundance of harvest and prosperity of commerce among other things

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