India Insight

Has Congress lost the plot on inflation?

“Government Plan To Tackle Prices Is Just Hot Air” screamed the front page of Friday’s Mail Today, as India’s political media lined up to belittle what was billed as a list of anti-inflationary remedies but was robustly rejected as “already failed measures and oft-repeated homilies.”

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ruling Congress party Chief Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stand to attention as the national anthem is played during an oath-taking ceremony inside the presidential palace in New Delhi May 28, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meetings this week with senior cabinet ministers to tackle year-high food inflation dragged on long into the night, keeping editors on tenterhooks and assuring Congress of front page headlines.

This morning, those headlines would have made for painful reading. After rumours of export curbs and future markets tweaks, what emerged to be a paltry list of recommendations was seen by many as nothing but ineffective band-aids for a broken economy requiring surgery.

Barraged by charges of inaction over tackling corruption, Congress appears to be heading towards firefights on two fronts as India runs out of patience with the ruling party’s attempts to curb inflation.

From economic hero to inflation-battered zero, perhaps more than anyone else Prime Minister Manmohan Singh encapsulates the Congress party’s current woes.

Rough justice as woman kills politician she accused of rape

An alleged rape and a violent stabbing left an Indian politician dead and a 40-year-old woman in police custody on Tuesday night, as Rupam Pathak reportedly took the law into her own hands to avenge 18-month-old sexual assault charges.
A file photo showing an incarcerated prisoner REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Bihar state legislator Raj Kishore Kesri was killed in his own home before an audience of dozens by a mother of two after charges first lodged in May 2010 against the four-time representative were reportedly dropped “under duress” from Kesri and his associates.

Pathak will almost certainly be sent to jail for her premeditated crime, after appearing to take what she considered the only option available to punish the man she says raped her.

A local school owner, Pathak was beaten by Kesri’s supporters after the stabbing, and as she was taken to hospital reportedly shouted: “Don’t take me for treatment. Hang me. I don’t want to live anymore. Nobody knows what I have been through.”

Congress takes comfort in DMK smiles, for now

Smiles, handshakes and declarations of friendship abounded during a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi on Monday, as the investigation into a $39 billion telecoms scam that has centred on the Tamil Nadu party appeared to have been forgotten in favour of coalition camaraderie.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to Karunanidhi, President of DMK (Dravida Munetra Kazhagam) party during an election rally in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 4, 2006.  REUTERS/Babu
With parliament paralysed and DMK MP Andimuthu Raja sacked from his role as telecoms minister as a result of the scam, the last thing Singh needed was signs of dissent from a key member of his Congress party’s ruling coalition.

After appearing to snub the Prime Minister on his arrival on Sunday – choosing instead to “meet a poet” – Karunanidhi, also chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was all smiles during a 25-minute meeting, telling reporters afterwards that the relationship was “strong”.

Singh returned the favour, telling national broadcaster Doordarshan: “The alliance remains as strong as ever”.

Forget journalistic ethics. The Radia tapes have wider implications

British press magnate Lord Northcliffe once stated: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, attends the annual general meeting of Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai July 2, 2010 REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files
It’s interesting, then, that in a season of multi-billion dollar scandals that has seen India’s 24/7 news machine at its probing, questioning, investigative best, one — perhaps bigger and more serious than all the rest — has failed to make the hourly bulletins.

Taped conversations involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, anonymously leaked from a reported set of around 5,000 recordings made by India’s Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities, appear to reveal the unholy nexus between India’s business leaders and the political policymaking machine.

But due to the embarrassing proximity that the Indian media elite have to the most controversial dialogues amongst her web of business, political and journalism sources, full-blown coverage has not been seen.

India takes calm approach to Arundhati Roy’s Kashmir remarks

Prize-winning author and activist Arundhati Roy gestures during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi. REUTERS/B Mathur

After initial signs that India’s government might move to censure controversial remarks by novelist and activist Arundhati Roy, it appears New Delhi has sidestepped a potential political minefield with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the country only a week away.

On Sunday, Roy told a conference in New Delhi that Kashmir has “never been an integral part of India”, sparking a strong backlash.

Opposition politicians called for “the strongest possible action” against her “seditious” remarks and Law Minister Veerappa Moily declared the comments “most unfortunate”.

What’s in a (Gandhi) name?

A boy plays cricket near a poster of India's former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, inside the premises of the Congress party headquarters in New Delhi April 7, 2009.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/FilesFor the past 63 years in India, it wasn’t too difficult for most ministers to think up a name for a highway, a nuclear plant or a scheme to crank up the production of solar energy.

They just picked one of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts who had ruled the country for most of the years since Independence and whose members are widely seen as the power behind the present Congress party-led federal government.

That cosy — and politically expedient — practice is getting frowns from the top levels of government. Local media have quoted the country’s top civil servant asking ministers to go easy on the “widespread and indiscriminate” practice, with many of the projects not delivering results.

from Summit Notebook:

Paranoid governments and conspiracy theories

Adi Godrej

Adi Godrej

Adi Godrej, who marshals his namesake $2.5 billion diversified group, believes the Indian government is “paranoid” about the possible effects of allowing more foreign investments into sectors such as airlines.

“They (the Indian government) have not allowed foreign airlines to invest in private airlines, and they cite security. I don’t see what security would be compromised,” Godrej told the Reuters India Investment Summit in Mumbai.

“If British Airways or Delta got to own part of an Indian private airline, they are worried about what would happen in times of a war, etc. You are in control of your country. What can they do in difficult times to stop it?” he said.

Adviser’s attack on Congress shows party tensions

Appearing to signal dissent in the ranks of India’s ruling Congress party, the Prime Minister’s media adviser told reporters last night that the “status-quoist” party was only concerned with winning elections.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C), Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) and India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel (L) attend the inauguration ceremony of the newly constructed Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi July 3, 2010 REUTERS/B Mathur“The Congress is by nature a status-quoist, pragmatic party,” Harish Khare, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was reported by the Hindustan Times as saying on Tuesday.

“It does not believe in any conviction. (Its) only conviction is to win elections,” the Indian Express added.

No criticism please, we’re Indian

Suddenly, it is not cool to be against the scandal-plagued Commonwealth Games.

A commuter walks past the Commonwealth Games 2010 mascot in New Delhi October 3, 2009. REUTERS/Parth SanyalThe CWG was meant to be Delhi’s big coming-out party, India’s assertion that it is a global powerhouse capable of doing what China did with the Beijing Summer Olympics two years ago.

Instead, the Games, scheduled for October, are turning out to be a costly embarrassment, with daily revelations of corruption, fraud and political wrongdoing that has triggered big headlines and much hand wringing by outraged citizens, sportsmen and even politicians.

But suddenly, being against the CWG is almost unpatriotic.

In an “emotional appeal” with a visual of the Indian tricolour published in all leading newspapers on the weekend, industrialist Subrata Roy flayed the “recent continuous and negative media coverage” that has left organisers and volunteers feeling “totally demoralised and dejected”.

Fuel price hike: Reactions from the common man

The government raises petrol prices by 3.5 rupees/litre and decides to make them market-determined. Diesel gets costlier by 2 rupees/litre and cooking gas by 35 rupees a cylinder.

Reuters spoke to people in the streets of New Delhi to get their reaction.

PANKAJ (senior manufacturing analyst, GM motors)

ANUBHAV SRIVASTAVA (member, RTI foundation) 

DISHITA (freelancer at an ad agency)

GAURAV (a student)

(Flip cam videos by Rohan Dua)

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