India Insight

State elections loom in Karnataka, a state split wide open

With legislative assembly elections in the state of Karnataka just weeks away, politicians are preparing for an ugly battle for a state whose political future looks wide open.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be hard pressed to hang on to its lead in the state after its once tight-knit leadership ranks frayed under corruption charges and infighting. Given their recent poor performance in the urban local body elections, they might have much to worry about.

“Infighting cost us. KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha) and BSR Congress also took away our votes,” said state Higher Education Minister C.T. Ravi. But they don’t appear to be too unhappy because only about 30 percent of the state electorate was eligible to vote in the local polls.

Maybe they should be worried. The BJP’s likely candidate for prime minister in next year’s elections, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, didn’t show up for the beginning of statewide campaigning, though party leaders in Karnataka said that Modi will show up later to rally the base. The party needs to worry about this because Karnataka is its gateway to southern India, a region with a separate linguistic and cultural identity than the north, and one that accounts for some 20 percent of the country’s land mass and population. Regional groups often dominate the southern states rather than national parties, and without Karnataka, the BJP risks having no real, dominant presence in the South.

The BJP has had a tenuous reign in Karnataka. It came to power in 2008 and chose the charismatic and outspoken B.S. Yeddyurappa as chief minister. But infighting was there from the start, and breakaway groups sapped at the party’s influence. Yeddyurappa, who was forced out of the party in 2011 over accusations of illegal land deals and corruption, formed the KJP, while another disgruntled member, B Sriramulu, formed the BSR Congress. Both factions no doubt took votes from the BJP in the recent elections.

When did Narendra Modi become a “poster boy?”

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

I’ve encountered some interesting descriptions in the press of India’s political leaders. My favorite is “supremo,” which I’ve heard comes from British English. “Honcho” and “strongman” are common too. The one that catches my attention, primarily because I disapprove of it, is “poster boy.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was today’s poster boy, according to the Times of India print edition (I also see the article here). I’ve seen many more examples in recent weeks and months. Perhaps that’s understandable. Wherever you live, you will read a lot more about Modi in the next year because many people say that he will be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s selection for prime minister. As the most likely chief rival to the Gandhi family dynasty and its scion Rahul, Modi has captured the nation’s attention in a way that few other politicians have.

People say we should’ve priced our coffee higher – Tata Starbucks CEO

At first glance, Avani Davda looks like any other young person standing outside Starbucks waiting for a cup of coffee. Davda, 33, is not your typical customer. In fact, she is head of the Starbucks-Tata joint venture that brought the U.S. coffee chain to a country that traditionally wakes up to tea.

Davda is getting used to coffee, but as a vegetarian, she has not tried most of the non-vegetarian items on Starbucks’s menu.

In an interview with Reuters on March 25, she spoke about the chain’s progress since opening its first India location in Mumbai. It now has 11 locations in Mumbai and Delhi.

from The Human Impact:

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

"I am of the very strong opinion that India - which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history - will have to play a more assertive role in the world," Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

Photo gallery: Spirit of Holi in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar

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

The festival of Holi is easy on the pocket. All one needs is a packet of gulaal (coloured powder), buckets of water, friends and family; and perhaps some music and alcohol.

Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated to mark the beginning of spring and harvest season. In places associated with the Hindu god Krishna, Holi is traditionally played over several days with revellers flinging coloured powder and water at each other.

Telecom companies woo women with angel stores

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

Walk into the Vodafone store in Mumbai’s Prabhadevi neighbourhood, and it doesn’t look any different from the others across India. It’s crowded with customers waiting to pay their bills, lodge complaints and buy new mobile phone connections.

But there is a difference many haven’t noticed. This is one of Vodafone’s 15 “angel” stores, or retail outlets managed and run solely by female employees. Security, pantry staff, customer service resources and management level personnel — all are women.

Anti-rape bill goes easy on first-time stalkers, but only if innocent

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

Women have become increasingly worried about their safety in New Delhi after the gang rape and torture of a young woman aboard a moving bus last December. Not for nothing do people call the city India’s rape capital. Beyond the leers and the crass words that men often direct at women walking on the street, fresh fears have arisen over stalkers.

The Lok Sabha passed a bill to toughen penalties on rape and sexual assault on Tuesday, and among its penalties, it would make stalking punishable by jail time. But first-time offenders will be able to avoid being detained till investigation is complete, as the offence is bailable.

Making a case for tougher anti-stalking laws

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

Should any well meaning law proposed in a democratic parliament be shelved because it risks being misused in some form?

Unless we go into specifics, it is hard to generalize the question, but the eighteenth-century English scholar William Blackstone made a strong argument: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

Indian IT finds promise in Europe as continent looks at offshoring

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

Europe’s reluctance to send information technology and other business processing work to India might be changing, based on recent financial results from companies that specialize in handling “IT and business process outsourcing” work. It looks like this is a trend that will last more than a quarter.

Many European companies have shied away from sending work overseas, unlike American firms that jumped in feet first, seeking to cut IT costs by as much as 70 percent despite the barrier between two kinds of English. Add to that countries such as Germany and France, where the divide is between two languages altogether, and outsourcing faces a larger challenge.

from Photographers' Blog:

A widow’s refuge offers solace to the sorrowful

Vrindavan, India

By Adnan Abidi

The sound of applause echoing in the dingy shelter forced a smile on the face of Tulshi Dasi. An expression she had almost forgotten since her world turned white. The reason: she could now write and had just finished writing the English alphabet on a blackboard. And all this at the age of 70! She had never felt this empowered and never knew that learning was so much fun. As Dasi wrote a new chapter in her life in the grimy shelter in Vrindavan, that she shares with many women like her, her companions, around 50 odd widows applauded her progress.

GALLERY: WIDOW REFUGE

Widows, either abandoned by their family members or shunned by society, find their life's last refuge in various government run shelters such as this one. They come here from all across the country, but mostly from Bengal, where they survive by begging and chanting hymns in temples.

Hindu widows are branded as inauspicious by society and are forbidden to wear any form of color or be a part of any kind of celebrations like marriage and childbirth, hence most find respite amid their own kind, and seek solace in sorrow. As I spent my day with them I realized that learning was the best part of their day. Each of them would get up early, bathe and offer prayers together in the hall before resuming their daily chores of making prayer beads and flower garlands.

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