India Insight

Pricey onions mean more tears for businesses, public

By Anupriya Kumar and Arnika Thakur

Onion prices recently reached 100 rupees per kilogram ($1.62) in some parts of New Delhi. It is hard to emphasize enough how prices like that are hurting businesses and the public. Onions are one of India’s staples, and people consume 15 million tonnes of them a year. Now, many people can’t afford to buy as many as they need – or any at all.

The government’s efforts to ease the price, which has quadrupled in some cities in the past three months, are unlikely to succeed. Heavy rains have reduced crop yields and delayed harvesting. Now, the average price of onions in India is 83 rupees per kilo, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said in an interview with Reuters published on Wednesday.

Here’s how the people are reacting to the “onion crisis”. (We have edited responses for clarity)

Surendra Anand, Anand Restaurant, New Delhi
Onions used to be about 15 rupees a kilo, they are 70 to 80 rupees now. They are expensive, but we can’t stop using them. We need onions to make gravy, and we can’t charge the customers for that. We are not reducing our usage, but it is affecting our margins.

Dipti Chandra, Ghaziabad
Yes, definitely it has hit our consumption. The raised prices have affected our monthly budget significantly. So we now try and add fewer onions to vegetables, and also prepare dishes with far less curry content.

Interview: Sheila Dikshit on elections, rise of Modi and Kejriwal

By Aditya Kalra and Shashank Chouhan

The emergence of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a credible contender in the Dec. 4 state election in Delhi has not dampened the Congress party’s confidence, its chief minister Sheila Dikshit said on Tuesday.

Dikshit, 75, who has been chief minister of India’s capital since 1998, spoke to Reuters at her official residence about the upcoming elections, the rise of Kejriwal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

Opinion polls show that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will eat into your vote share this time. What is your view?
I have nothing to say. All these polls that are being conducted I think are somewhere in the air, they don’t reflect reality because nobody has made up their mind. How do I vote for the Aam Aadmi when I don’t even know what the Aam Aadmi stands for. It has jhadoo (broom) which they say is going to sweep everything away, but what are you going to do? With the Congress, at least you have 15 years of work to show.

Uncompromising Kejriwal won’t support any party if Delhi gets hung assembly

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

The Aam Aadmi Party has up-ended the calculations of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the race for control of New Delhi in one of five state assembly elections later this year.

Party leader Arvind Kejriwal is an uncompromising anti-corruption crusader who has tapped into a vein of urban anger after a string of breathtaking graft scandals.

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Reuters spoke to Kejriwal at his New Delhi office about the state assembly election in December and his plans to root out corruption. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Interview: Modi’s bubble will burst before 2014 elections – Kapil Sibal

By John Chalmers and Devidutta Tripathy

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

Telecommunications and Law Minister Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress party leader, spoke to Reuters in an interview at his office in New Delhi. Here are edited excerpts:

What do you think of the impressive rise of Narendra Modi?
I don’t know about both the qualitative expression ‘impressive’ and the word ‘rise’. Because normally, the law of nature is that he who rises falls. And the quicker he rises, the quicker he falls. So, I don’t know how the laws of nature are going to work as far as Narendra Modi is concerned. I do believe that a lot of this, a lot of this, is hype and it’s based on a private army being employed by Narendra Modi to disturb the cyberspace in his favour. And we’ll see if he moves forward at all or not. Because at some time or the other, as you know all bubbles burst, that’s again the law of nature. This bubble too will burst.

Do you think it would burst before the elections?
Oh, I’m sure it will. Because bubbles can’t last this long.

Shashi Tharoor on Congress’ social media plans, digital presence of Gandhis

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to influence election results.

India Insight interviewed Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resources and one of the earliest adopters of Twitter in Indian politics. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:

Can social media be a game changer in the upcoming general election?
I think it can be a game influencer, but I wouldn’t go beyond that at this stage, because what we are discovering is that you need various ways of reaching out to the electorate, and social media happens to offer an additional way, not a substitute for any of the traditional means of campaigning.

Arvind Gupta, BJP IT cell head, on party’s social media plans

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to significantly influence election results.

India Insight interviewed Arvind Gupta, head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT division, in July about social media and the party’s plans for the elections. Here are edited excerpts:

Why the recent social media push?
It’s not sudden for us. We have been engaged in social media for the last three to four years. It’s been a consistent effort. I think only in the early part of this year, people started realizing that this could be one of the accelerators. I don’t call it a game changer, but an accelerator in this election.

India’s parliament gets its groove back, at least for now

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

India’s notoriously disruptive parliament has been going through a productive phase in the past two days. Bills are getting passed, politicians are discussing the state of the economy and for a change, members are listening to each other as they deliver well-researched speeches.

For a house with one of the poorest records of accomplishments in Indian history, the last two days were downright atypical.

On Monday, parliament debated a $20 billion plan for nine hours to provide cheap food to two thirds of the population. For a change, the government got the main opposition party on board by incorporating some of the changes that its opponents proposed.

The BJP and the Congress: a muddled economic ideology

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

As debates in India go, the one between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati – two of India’s leading economists – has been fairly civil. Not the belligerent speeches or noisy protests that characterise public discourse in the country. Instead, this battle of ideas is taking place in the rarefied circle of the nation’s think tanks and financial pages, with economists, writers and policy makers weighing in. But the civility cannot mask the intensity on both sides; moving beyond economic data and models, the debate has become personal. At stake is a very powerful question – what is the best way to improve the lot of India’s citizens?

Conveniently, both sides have articulated their vision for the country in two recent books. The first by Sen and his long time collaborator, Jean Dreze, titled “An Uncertain Glory” questions why India continues to lag on all social indicators despite two decades of free-market reforms. Their data shows that the country’s growth has largely bypassed the poor and that the reforms have benefited a privileged minority. To correct this imbalance, Sen and Dreze make the case for greater public intervention in health and education.

On the other side of the economic spectrum is ”Why Growth Matters“ by Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, his colleague at Columbia University. Their book is a forceful defence of India’s growth story. Bhagwati and Panagariya assert that reducing the role of the government and allowing private enterprises to flourish is the only way to lift millions of Indians out of poverty. The state can fund welfare programs only if the economy is growing at a fair clip and public revenues are healthy. That such an idea is even up for debate is frustrating to them.

Kejriwal’s party gears up for Delhi polls with election reforms

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

The Aam Aadmi Party (common man’s party), led by bureaucrat-turned-activist Arvind Kejriwal, is gearing up for state-level polls in Delhi this year with an array of candidates chosen for their honesty.

Kejriwal’s election plank is to cleanse India of corrupt politicians and bring more transparency to government. With graft scandals embarrassing the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Aam Aadmi Party is taking a more grassroots approach to the problem: weed out the bad ones before they become candidates.

Anyone can hope to be a election candidate for the party if they are endorsed by 100 potential voters from the constituency they hope to represent. Political analysts say that’s not too difficult but makes the process more transparent.

Who are India’s Maoists and why they are in the news

By Shashank Chouhan and Sankalp Phartiyal

Here’s a ready reckoner on the Maoist movement in India.

WHO ARE THE MAOISTS?

The Maoists, also known as Naxals in India, are inspired by the political philosophy of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong. They say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers. In 2004, several Maoist groups merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which is now the largest left-wing extremist organization in the country. Their aim is to overthrow the state and usher in a classless society. The Maoists are banned in India. They are not to be confused with the mainstream communist parties in India who regularly get elected to legislatures and parliament.

ARE THEY GETTING STRONGER?
The May 25, 2013 ambush was perhaps their most brazen attack on politicians. On June 13, 2013, Maoists attacked a passenger train in Bihar, killing three people. On April 6, 2010, the rebels killed at least 75 policemen in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The same year, Maoists were blamed for a sabotaging a crowded train in West Bengal, with around 100 passengers killed when it derailed. Maoists have also kidnapped bureaucrats and foreigners to force their demands on the state. Government data shows they have also destroyed hundreds of schools and infrastructure such as telephone towers.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE DIED SO FAR?
It is difficult to arrive at an exact number but government data shows nearly 8,000 people have been killed between 2001 and 2012.

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