India Insight

Book Talk – Ten years on, Chetan Bhagat says better prepared to face critics

Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. If you’re in India, the chances are that there’s at least one of his novels on your bookshelf or one of his columns in the newspaper in front of you on the table. If you still haven’t escaped from him, there are tons of interviews lately like this one showing up in front of you.

Once dismissed as persona non grata by literary critics for being a non-writer, Chetan Bhagat is India’s bestselling author to date, according to his publisher.

Through his plain prose, the banker-turned-writer has touched India’s young people, who see echoes of their lives in his stories of campus life, call centres, cricket, entrepreneurship, communal violence, inter-caste marriage, and love.

Ten years on as a professional writer, Bhagat, 40, says he is better prepared to face criticism. “I can dispassionately talk about it. It cannot bother me enough to disrupt me. But in the initial stages there were real moments of doubt,” he told India Insight ahead of his latest book’s launch in Delhi.

“Half Girlfriend” is a novel about a timid, non-English speaking Bihari boy’s journey in a world dominated by “English types”, and who “half-romances” a rich Delhi girl.

Budget 2014: Reactions from the common man

Security personnel stand guard near sacks containing the papers of the federal budget for the 2014/15 fiscal year, at the parliament in New Delhi July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan AbidiPrime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government on Thursday unveiled a first budget of structural reforms that seek to revive growth, while spurning the temptation to resort to higher borrowing.

(Click here for Budget 2014 highlights)

India Insight spoke to people in New Delhi’s central business district for their thoughts on the budget:

ASHISH SHARMA, 36, regional manager, Bharti AXA

“Decision to increase FDI in insurance is welcome. This means that more expertise will come into the sector, which is good for general insurance.”

Bollywood seeks tax breaks from Budget 2014

By Shashank Chouhan and Sankalp Phartiyal

Bollywood is hoping that the newly elected government’s first budget will contain tax breaks that will let it write a happy ending, at least for this year and next.

The Indian movie business, led by the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, hopes Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget will reduce the tax burden on movie studios as well as theatre owners and operators, and will provide incentives that would let them open more theatres around the country to boost ticket sales.

While the entertainment tax on movie tickets varies from one state to another, filmmakers pay numerous other fees, such as a 12.36 percent service tax to the central government that is charged on payments to actors and film crews, as well as customs on any imports such as movie equipment. This, industry insiders say, makes it tough to make more money. In Maharashtra, Bollywood’s home state, the taxes on a movie can comprise up to 61 percent of a film’s budget.

Railway Budget 2014: Highlights at a glance

In his maiden budget, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda said the bulk of future railway projects will be financed through public-private partnerships and his ministry would seek cabinet approval for allowing foreign direct investment in the state-owned network, excluding passenger services.

India’s railway, the world’s fourth-largest, has suffered from years of low investment and populist policies to subsidise fares. This has turned a once-mighty system into a slow and congested network that crimps economic growth.

The Narendra Modi government pushed through a steep hike in rail passenger and freight fares last month, and expectations were high there would be bold proposals to improve the railways – a lifeline for 23 million Indians every day.

Brokerages bullish on Sensex, revise targets after Modi win

By Sankalp Phartiyal and Aditya Kalra

Indian stock markets rallied to record highs in May with the benchmark BSE Sensex breaching the 25,000 mark for the first time after Narendra Modi won a clear mandate to govern Asia’s third-largest economy.

Markets surged as Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies stormed to power on promises to revive India’s struggling economy, which is growing below 5 percent, and create more jobs for its 1.25 billion people.

The Sensex touched a record high of 25,375.63 on May 16, the day election results were announced, while the broader Nifty hit a life high of 7,563.50 the same day. The Sensex is up 18.1 percent so far this year.

India equity funds ride Modi rally in May, post best month in five years

India’s diversified equity funds outperformed the broader markets in May and recorded their best monthly performance in five years, as stocks rallied on hopes of an economic revival after the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a decisive election mandate.

Equity funds clocked an average return of 11.57 percent in the month, the highest since May 2009 when funds rose 30.2 percent, data from fund tracker Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company, showed. In comparison, the BSE Sensex rose 8 percent.

Though blue-chip stocks gained, high exposure to better performers in the mid- and small-cap segment, and sectors such as financials and infrastructure, helped schemes outperform the broader markets, experts said.

Narendra Modi’s new team of ministers

The Indian government on Tuesday announced its list of cabinet ministers along with their portfolios, a day after Narendra Modi was sworn in as the new prime minister.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won a landslide victory in a mammoth general election, grabbing 336 of the 543 seats and ending the Congress-led government’s decade-long rule.

Besides Modi, 45 other members were inducted into the new council of ministers, a third smaller than the previous government. Modi himself would look after atomic energy, space, personnel and any ministry not allocated to a cabinet colleague.

Interview: Nitin Gadkari on the election, BJP’s priorities and Amit Shah

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)


By Shyamantha Asokan

Nitin Gadkari is a top leader of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party, which is forecast to emerge as the front-runner in the country’s mammoth general election. A series of opinion polls this year say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, will win the biggest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs. Results are due on May 16.

Modi and the BJP have been wooing voters with promises to rescue India from its slowest economic growth in a decade, leading to much speculation over the party’s exact plans for economic policy. But critics say the party, and Modi in particular, could be a divisive force along religious lines.

Reuters spoke to Gadkari, a former party president and a member of the BJP’s manifesto committee, at his residence in New Delhi. Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions have been paraphrased.

Young professionals in Bangalore favour Modi’s promise, shrug off riots

As far as Vinod Hegde is concerned, Indian prime minister candidate Narendra Modi bears no responsibility for the 2002 Gujarat riots. More to the point, Hegde doesn’t care.

Hegde, a 26-year-old stockbroker in Bangalore, said that for people like him, the Gujarat chief minister is the only choice to lead India after countrywide parliamentary elections that began this week.

Allegations that Modi failed to stop or even allowed deadly riots in 2002 don’t sway his vote, Hegde said. And if the ruling Congress party’s candidate is Rahul Gandhi, the choice becomes even clearer.

No anti-Muslim ideology in party – BJP’s Anurag Thakur

Many people see Anurag Thakur, 39, as the youthful face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress party-led government and the party of prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi. He is the son of the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s global young leaders this year.

In an interview with Reuters, Thakur spoke about Modi’s popularity as well as criticisms levelled against him. He also spoke about internal problems at the BJP, the party’s perceptions among Muslims, Congress PM contender Rahul Gandhi and more.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: The BJP has attacked Congress over many issues – price rise and corruption being the biggest. Do you think these problems will be solved if Narendra Modi comes to power?
A: Today, when the country wants someone who has experience, and can deliver, 65 percent people of the country want Modi as the PM. During NDA regime, there was hardly any price rise. There were no charges of corruption against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government colleagues.

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