India Insight

Interview: Chidambaram on the state of India’s economy

By John Chalmers, Frank Jack Daniel and Manoj Kumar

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The Indian government will have to rein in spending and cut subsidies to meet its fiscal deficit target, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Monday, underlining that an austerity drive will not be blown off course by an election due next year.

The urbane Harvard-educated lawyer, now in his third stint as finance minister, spoke to Reuters in an interview ahead of a trip to the United States. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

Do you think that the government has done enough to pull the economy out of the crisis that we saw it in several weeks ago?
One can never say we’ve done enough. We’ve done a lot of things, but we have to do many more things, and I think we will do them in the next few weeks and months, both by the government and by the central bank.

Can you give us an example of some of the steps that would be taken?
Well, I think if the volatility of the rupee has been contained and speculation has come to an end, the central bank may want to unwind some of the measures it took earlier. On the government side, sooner than later, we will have to address the issue of higher subsidies than budgeted, on both fuel and food.

What about the slowing growth and the impact that it has on tax revenues?
Customs revenues are good, but excise revenues are a bit down, but we have an ambitious plan to target the stop filers and non-filers of service tax. We have offered them an amnesty scheme, so I hope that what we lose in the excise side, we can make up in the service tax side. But direct taxes are quite satisfactory so far. So altogether, at the moment, I am not too worried about the revenue side. We will continue to make every effort to achieve the revenue target as budgeted.

Modi, Kejriwal become latest video game characters as developers focus on elections

Politicians are becoming the Super Mario Brothers equivalent for Indian video gamers as 2014 election fever starts to settle over the country.

Software developers have been developing all kinds of new games and apps in recent years as Indians increasingly shift to smartphones of companies such as Samsung, Apple, Micromax and Karbonn. Now politics has crept into the mix.

In ‘Modi Run’, which debuted in July, players help the kurta-clad Narendra Modi — the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate — navigate various obstacles in a run through India’s states to become the country’s premier.

Woody Allen stops “Blue Jasmine” India release because of anti-tobacco ads

(We have updated this post with a statement from Allen’s publicist)

Woody Allen’s latest movie “Blue Jasmine” will not debut in India this weekend after the filmmaker objected to anti-tobacco ads that the Indian government requires cinemas to play before and during movies that feature scenes with characters smoking.

Allen refused to make “customisations” in the film to accommodate the ads, which led to distributor PVR Pictures cancelling the release, said two sources familiar with the matter. Both sources declined to comment because they were not authorized to talk about it with journalists.

“Blue Jasmine,” which critics have praised as the 77-year-old Allen’s best work in recent years, stars Cate Blanchett as a wealthy New York socialite who endures a humiliating fall from grace after her husband is arrested for financial crimes. The film was supposed to come out in India this weekend, three months after its U.S. release.

Wedding photographers in India beat economic gloom

Rising costs and a slowing economy haven’t darkened the mood of wedding photographers in India. More couples than ever are willing to spend thousands of rupees on photo albums, pre-wedding shoots and videos, allowing photographers to take a bigger slice of India’s $30 billion weddings business.

“People are willing to spend more money now compared to what they were spending three years back,” said Delhi-based photographer Vijay Tonk, who charges around 100,000 rupees for clicking pictures at a two-day function, 10 times more than what he charged in 2010. “It’s a status symbol now to spend money and have good (pictures).”

Professional photographers, some of whom charge as much as 100,000 to 300,000 rupees ($1,600 – $4,800) for a single day, have not seen any slowdown in client queries. With 20 confirmed wedding assignments in the next three months, 26-year-old Tonk has been forced to say no to some couples.

Meet Prakash Tilokani, the man who clicks India’s rich and famous

When Prakash Tilokani started taking pictures at the age of 16, he had no clue that one day he would be the man behind the lens at India Inc’s weddings.

From selling pictures at 20 rupees (32 cents) each in 1984 to charging at least 300,000 rupees ($4,800) for a day now, it’s been an eventful journey for 47-year-old Tilokani, one of India’s most famous wedding photographers.

Today, with offices in Delhi and Baroda in Gujarat, Tilokani has a team of 40, including his son Rahul, who specialises in video editing. Other than India, the team travels around the globe to shoot the weddings of the rich and influential. Their client list includes families of the billionaire Ambani brothers, Essar’s Ruias, Hero MotoCorp’s Munjals, Videocon’s Dhoots and Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

Markets this week: Sensex falls 2.6 percent, Jindal Steel slumps 9 percent

After rising for four consecutive weeks, the BSE Sensex fell 2.6 percent in the last five trading sessions, as a surprise repo rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Sept. 20 dampened investor confidence and battered banking shares.

Rate-sensitive sectors were hurt — the banking index and the realty index lost over 7 percent in the week. YES Bank fell 14.5 percent, SBI lost 6 percent while shares of DLF slumped 13 percent.

While analysts expected the new RBI chief Raghuram Rajan to hold rates last week, expectations for monetary policy have suddenly shifted towards further tightening after the rate hike, a recent Reuters poll showed.

Social media not a game changer in 2014 elections

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.

Parties are trying to ride the digital wave by conducting workshops to teach leaders and foot soldiers how to improve engagement on websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The country of 1.2 billion people had around 165 million Internet users as of March, the third-largest in the world, according to data from India’s telecommunications regulator. But the number of social media users is likely to grow to about 80 million by mid-2014, a report released in February said.

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.

Delhi shaped South Asia’s Muslim identity, Pakistani author says

Raza Rumi is based in Lahore, but the public policy specialist and Friday Times editor’s new book is based in another milieu entirely. “Delhi by heart” is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years.

By his own admission, it is a “heartfelt account” of how a Pakistani comes to India, an “enemy country”, and discovers that its capital has, in fact, so many things common with Lahore.

“I wanted to write the biography of Darah Shikoh, the great Indian Mughal prince,” Rumi said. “While researching for that, and while visiting Delhi all the time, I felt really it merits a Pakistani version as well because for these five years we have been so much cut off and we have misunderstood each other so much that it is time to sort of build bridges. Hence the book.”

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