India Insight

Is the media going overboard in its coverage of the Ambani feud?

The war of words between the billionaire Ambani brothers took an unexpected turn when younger sibling Anil offered an olive branch to elder brother Mukesh in a bid to resolve a feud over the split of the Reliance business empire in 2005.

The widespread coverage the Indian media has given to the squabble between the brothers has led to a debate on social networking sites such as Twitter, with some accusing news organisations of playing host to a reality show or soap opera that stars the Ambani family to boost ratings.

Prominent columnist Vir Sanghvi wrote through his Twitter account virsanghvi: “Do you think some network should plan a reality show on the Ambani battle? Or are they doing it already on the news?”

But the battle between the billionaire Ambani brothers is not a manufactured product for mass entertainment, as it involves two of the world’s wealthiest men and could pose a stumbling block to India’s goal of achieving energy security.

The siblings have been involved in several disputes since the family business was split in 2005 following the death of their father, Dhirubhai Ambani, a legendary Indian business tycoon who built Reliance from scratch.

Whose poor is poor?

“To define is to limit,” wrote T.S. Eliot.

Indeed sometimes, to limit things, they just may have been defined in a particular manner.

This struck home when I saw a communication by the World Bank on poverty estimates.

The World Bank produced an update of poverty numbers for the developing world based on an international price survey conducted in 2005.

Satyam — truth be damned?

If a stock dives 55 percent, is it time to go bargain hunting?

Absolutely not! At least that was the case with India’s Satyam Computer Services after it shocked investors on Wednesday by disclosing most of its profits were cooked up.

The disclosure came after the company’s botched attempt last month to buy two construction firms partly owned by its founders, which sent its shares diving 55 percent in one session by angry investors.

Chairman Ramalinga Raju said: “It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”

India in 2008: The year that was

Yet another year is coming to an end and independent India’s idea of being a republic is a year older. But is it any wiser?

On many counts, 2008 was both tumultuous and memorable for India, testing its men and the manner in which they confronted the challenges.

It was a year which saw the Manmohan Singh government face some of the toughest questions in its 4-year rule.

Play safe, stay away from stocks

mad.jpgThe world of equities seems to have opted for a bargain-basement sale. The BSE Sensex which scaled the dizzy heights of 21,000 points in January 2008 is today testing 10,000 and nobody is sure if the bottom has been found.

“Nowhere in the world are we close to a bottom. Put your money in a safe bank at 9 pct and forget about the stock market for the next two years,” Shankar Sharma, Joint Managing Director of First Global, told Reuters.

If that’s the case, one wonders if the response pattern will change to the Reuters Money question – Where do you see the Sensex by Diwali?? rtr1vg9f_comp.jpg

Fix politics before it hurts democracy

As a financial journalist, covering politics and parliamentary debate is sometimes part of my job. What I witnessed on Tuesday in parliament — wads of cash being flashed around inside the lowerhouse– is something I had never bargained for.

sg.JPGThe civil-nuclear deal with the United States will go through, and some reforms may be pushed by the government with the help of
its new allies. But politics will never be the same again, tainted by allegations of bribery and a vulgur display of money power.

Shortly after his government won a convincing victory in parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the victory sent a message to the world that “India’s head and heart was sound and India is prepared to take its rightful place in the comity of nations.”

Whither shareholder activism?

July is the season for shareholder meetings, an annual rite of passage for Indian companies, with directors, shareholders and reporters trooping into large, badly-lit auditoriums to hear the chairman speak glowingly of the achievements of the past year, and a litany of woes from shareholders.

As a reporter who has covered many of these meetings of some of India’s largest companies, I have quickly learned that shareholders’ questions have little to do with family squabbles, succession policy, ill-advised acquisitions, or unflattering media reports.

Instead, they usually range from pleas for factory visits and bigger dividends to the quality of the snack served at the meeting. A few will ask about the cost of printing the annual report, and offer up suggestions for new advertising campaigns or congratulatory verse on the company.

Crude realities for India’s economy

sg1.JPGOnly last year Indian policymakers were showing off the strong fundamentals of the economy to the world and pressing for a seat at the high table of global fora. Everything was going well — high growth, a surging stockmarket and a lot of attention from global investors attention.

But high oil prices and rising inflation threaten to bring the India growth story to its knees. Finance Minister PalaniappanChidambaram’s speech at a meeting of oil producing and consuming nations in Jeddah on Sunday showed the cracks in India’s confidence levels.

No doubt oil prices have spiralled, threatening the economic gains made by developing countries, as Chidambaram said in his speech.

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