India Insight

India’s busy Auto Expo and the risk of an industry believing its own publicity

After fighting through the sea of camera-wielding car enthusiasts clutching their bags filled with corporate gifts to meet with Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman of the Mahindra group, it was difficult to argue with his rosy view of India’s car industry.

“Just look at all these people,” said Mahindra. “If these crowds translate into market appetite, it’s not much of a slowdown,” he added, shaking his head at the view from a glass-walled office high above the teeming masses at the India Auto Expo on Friday.

Mahindra has reason to be cheerful. Sales of cars by his group’s autos arm have remained strong this year. But he wasn’t the only executive shrugging off a slump in India’s car industry with glib comments about the sharp elbows of hundreds of thousands of excited punters that thronged the India Auto Expo this weekend.

The data is much less encouraging. Come April, the same executives could likely be digesting a year that saw sales volumes fall. Just a year previously, they were toasting 30 percent growth. But the Auto Show, held every two years in the capital, didn’t give the impression of an industry filled with ideas to tackle the slide.

SUVs, green technology vehicles and cutting-edge concept cars stole the headlines and drew in the crowds, aside from the free calendars and the chance to catch a glimpse of a Bollywood star or two.

More than Lokpal, does Anna need a speech writer?

By Diksha Madhok

The self-styled crusader against corruption, the “modern Gandhi”  — Anna Hazare — has managed to pick on one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. While pitching for a strong Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, Hazare resorted to an unfortunate idiom about childless women, when he said, “Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?”

However the word in Hindi, “banjh”, does not have the same clean and scientific connotation as “infertile” or “sterile”. It means “barren” and is used as a derogatory term for women who fail to bear children. A woman who does not produce a child loses her social status inside and outside the house. While the ostracism in urban India may not be as obvious, contempt for childless women is reinforced through colloquialism and Bollywood.

Popular culture still depicts women who don’t reproduce, even if it is out of choice, as incomplete and good-for-nothing. It is not uncommon for infertile women to be barred from baby shower or child-naming ceremonies as they are considered the harbingers of ill-omen. Even if the husband is infertile, the wife ends up shouldering the blame for a childless marriage and is often subjected to treatments ranging from exorcism to numerology. Subordination, violence and estrangement are all likely consequences of infertility for a woman.

We are flying, without salary: Kingfisher pilots to passengers

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Passengers onboard Kingfisher Airlines flights are being treated to more than run-of-the-mill announcements for the past couple of days. Pilots employed by the beleaguered airline have devised a unique form of protest.

Just before passengers deplaned, Kingfisher pilots announced they have not been paid for two months and they are still flying purely due to a “sense of duty towards the guest”, local media reported on Thursday.

A civil aviation ministry official travelling on one of those flights went to the cockpit and congratulated the pilots for not resorting to “industrial action”, the Economic Times newspaper said citing a pilot.

from Global Investing:

Retail volte face confirms India as BRIC that disappoints

Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs banker who coined the term BRICs to capture the fast-growing emerging-markets quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China,  has fingered India as the BRIC that has disappointed the most over the past decade in terms of reforms, FDI and productivity. New Delhi's latest decision to put on hold a landmark reform of its retail sector will only confirm this view.

The government's backtracking on plans to allow foreign investment in supermarkets will not surprise those accustomed to New Delhi's record on key economic reforms. But it means India's weak performance on FDI receipts will continue and that's bad news for the worsening balance of payments deficit.  Speaking of the retail volte face, O'Neill said: "They shouldn’t raise people's hopes of FDI and then in a week, say, 'we’re only joking'".

Various Indian lobby groups that oppose the reforms contend that foreign giants such as Wal-Mart and Tesco will kill off the livelihoods of millions of small traders.

from Photographers' Blog:

License to kill

By Danish Siddiqui

 

Mumbai provides everyone living in it with an opportunity to earn and survive. Be it a white-collared job in a multinational company located in one of the city’s plush high rise buildings or killing rats by night in the filthiest and dirtiest parts of India's financial capital. This time, my tryst was with the latter.

I decided I wanted to meet Mumbai's rat-killer army employed by the city's civic body. Very little is known about this tireless force that works the bylanes of the metropolis every night. Mumbai's municipal corporation employs 44 rat killers and also has a freelance contingent, who aspire to be on the payrolls one day. Employees of the pest control department receive a salary of 15,000 to 17,000 Indian Rupees ($294 to 333) while contract laborers are paid 5 Indian rupees ($0.10) per rat they kill. The rat killers are expected to kill at least 30 rodents per night and hand over the carcasses to civic officials in the morning. If they fall short by even one rodent, they are expected to make it up the next night or else they stand to lose a day’s pay.

I zeroed in on a family living in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, six of whom kill rats for a living. The oldest of them is Javed Sheikh, 61, who has been killing rats for the last four decades. The youngest rat-killer, on the other hand, is Javed's son, 12-year old Waseem Sheikh. Only the father and the eldest son are employed by the sanitation department of Mumbai’s municipal corporation; the rest work as freelancers.

from Photographers' Blog:

Circus nostalgia

By Vivek Prakash

There are a couple of stories I've been waiting to do since I heard that I'd be moving to India last year. Maybe it's part nostalgia, part fascination, but I'm happy to be able to interpret these stories visually, finally.

The last time I was at a circus was some twenty-five years ago. My father brought me to the Bandra Reclamation in Mumbai to see it. I can't remember which one it was, maybe the Apollo Circus? I remember the smell of fresh dirt and popcorn. There were fireworks. There was a dome where three people on motorbikes rode on the walls without crashing into each other. There were big cats; lions and tigers with some jumping through flaming hoops. I was wide-eyed and thrilled. I've dreamed of seeing and photographing that show for years.

Twenty-five years later, I came to the very same location, with a camera in hand. When the Rambo Circus pitched tent, I jumped at the chance to spend a few days documenting what Indian circuses are like. This place has been in my imagination for so long.

from Afghan Journal:

India-Afghan strategic pact:the beginnings of regional integration

A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence.  Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India's role in Afghanistan including  a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan  people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi's way to expand influence. 

Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani  said India and Afghanistan were "both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to."  The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani's comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.

It continued to hold discussions, meanwhile, on the grant of the Most Favoured Nation to India as part of moves to normalise ties. Late last month the cabinet cleared the MFN, 15 years after New Delhi accorded Pakistan the same status so that the two could conduct trade like nations do around the world, even those with differences.

Beyond the F1 buzz, India need more drivers

By Abhishek Takle

I knew India would fall in love with Formula One when I witnessed Lewis Hamilton do a demo drive in Bangalore last month in front of 40,000 massively excited fans thrilled by the assault on their senses . Our first grand prix at Noida last weekend only proved me right. The world’s finest drivers were given a taste of the adulation usually only handed out to Indian cricketers on home soil.

Even if the 95,000 race day attendance fell short of a sell-out at the $450 million Buddh International Circuit, it was still pretty impressive and  all the indications point to the sport growing and attracting ever larger crowds in the years ahead as the word spreads. My stand at Turn 3 was certainly packed with fans, the majority of whom were Indians and decked out in Ferrari red.

Unsurprisingly for a cricket-crazy nation taking its first, baby steps into the world of global motorsport, most of the fans did not appear to be close followers of motor racing.

ISI certified, but failing to live up to standard?

Go to any market and you will find many products ranging from cosmetics to food and heavy industrial materials sport ISI or ISO certification tags, indicating that they are safe for use and assure a certain level of quality.

Even cheap toys from wholesale markets, which on face value alone look like brittle recycled plastic, can be seen with a ‘quality’ tag, giving one a feeling that the mark is being easily used and abused by unscrupulous manufacturers.

On Friday, Food Minister K.V. Thomas indicated that some Indian companies may be churning out sub-standard products despite displaying the quality tags.

from Photographers' Blog:

Jostling for space in Mumbai

By Danish Siddiqui

To live in the world’s second most populous country and city is itself an experience. When I was asked to do a feature story on the world's population crossing the 7 billion mark, I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy task. This was simply because there were so many stories to tell in this city of dreams, Mumbai.

I chose to do a story on the living conditions of Mumbai’s migrant population who pour in to the city by the hour.

I decided to go to a slum which is inhabited mostly by migrants arriving from the northern part of India in search of a better future. Most of the migrants who live there work as taxi drivers and manual laborers. It was difficult to get access as they were always apprehensive of journalists. But I was able to convince a couple of them over a cup of tea after which they opened the doors of their one room world to me.

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