India Insight

U.S. consulate for sale, in India’s daily paper

For sale: a spacious, well-built Mumbai townhouse with beautiful views, well-heeled neighbours and one considerate, well-respected former owner.

Lodged between an advert for hair loss treatment and an article on illicit after-hours drinking in India’s commercial hub, the U.S. government consulate in Mumbai invited bids for its two consulate properties in Tuesday’s Times of India newspaper.

The consulate building, located at a much sought-after address in the exclusive Breach Candy neighbourhood in the south of the city, has long been outgrown by its inhabitants, who already have a new location in Mumbai’s northern business district.

But a buyer has been elusive. Enter the world’s most-read English language daily.

“For sale,” read the red text of the advert on page 5 of the newspaper, “The American Consulate Properties”.

Congress’ 2007 leadership whispers underscore 2011 election dangers

Rumblings within the ruling Congress party that suggested the “jettison” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the party’s electoral failures in state elections in 2007, cited in a secret diplomatic cable published on Monday, are a timely reminder of the dangerous implications of failure for Congress in elections this month.

India's ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi watched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) fills nomination papers seeking to retain her post as the party chief at her residence in New Delhi September 2, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

The electorates of Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will go the polls this month to elect new state legislatures, in the first tests of public confidence in India’s ruling party that has been implicated in a string of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals over the past nine months.

Singh, a 78-year-old technocrat and economic reformist, had his leadership questioned by senior aides to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who mooted a more politically sellable replacement following electoral defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, detailed a U.S. state department cable accessed by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.

India’s Iran double-speak could shed light on its Libya muddle

India’s Congress-led government has a “flimsy” relationship with Iran, and holds a far more U.S.-centric view of Tehran despite a number of public statements clashing with Washington’s stance towards the country, a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable said.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) toasts alongside India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a state dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi November 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jason Reed

The diplomatic double-speak alleged in the cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu on Saturday, shows Congress’ ability to address diplomatic pressures while maintaining bigger geopolitical relationships, and could shed some light on India’s decision to abstain from supporting a no-fly zone to thwart attacks by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on civilians, seen by some as a rebuttal of Western influence on New Delhi.

The cable, authored by the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, describes a 2008 statement rejecting U.S. demands for India to urge Iran to suspend its nuclear programme as “mere tactics in the UPA’s domestic political machinations.”

With Libya, is India confused or just too clever by half?

India abstained last week from a U.N. vote on the no-fly zone in Libya that also authorised military action, but since then it has been more vocal in its rejection of airstrikes, joining China and Russia in criticising the coalition of Western powers and the Arab league and its actions against the Libyan government.

One of three Air Force Global Strike Command B-2 Spirit bombers returns to home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Kenny Holston/U.S. Air Force photo/Handout“We regret the air strikes that are taking place in Libya. We are viewing ongoing violence with grave concern,” Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters on Monday, in comments carried by NDTV television channel. It echoed an official comment on Sunday.

India’s declarations signal that New Delhi will not step in line with the West despite its growing ties with the United States and Europe — highlighted by a string of visits last year, including President Barack Obama’s and the leaders of France and the United Kingdom.

Diplomatic disaster deja vu for incensed India

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” so wrote Ian Fleming in his James Bond thriller Goldfinger.

With the reported frisking of Indian U.N. representative Hardeep Puri at a U.S. airport coming just days after a similar incident involving a senior Indian diplomat, the outraged Indian foreign ministry may well be considering the third option.
A passenger is scanned using "backscatter x-ray technology" at a security check-point at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts November 22, 2010.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder
After expressing its anger at the pat-down of Indian Ambassador to Washington Meera Shankar on Thursday, the emergence of Puri’s incident has India feeling unfairly victimised.

Protests have been lodged and strong words issued out of New Delhi. In response, a review of protocol has been promised by Washington.

Could Obama’s loss be India’s gain?

As the pundits predicted, India will have the inauspicious honour of being the first country to host U.S. President Barack Obama following the largest shift in public support away from an incumbent President’s party in over 60 years.
U.S. President Barack Obama attends a DNC Moving America Forward Rally at Cleveland State University in Ohio, October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

But if the results show a clear message of dissatisfaction at Washington from U.S. voters, the fallout once the dust settles on Capitol Hill could well result in good news for India.

Here are three ways that a shift in Washington politics could play into India’s interests:

from Afghan Journal:

The view from Pakistan: India is a bigger threat than the Taliban, al Qaeda

A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, from a donkey inside a compound at a makeshift factory in Karachi July 25, 2010. A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, at a makeshift factory in Karachi.

India may have  a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban.

It's not just the Pakistani military that believes a bigger, richer India is an existential threat. A majority of ordinary people share that perception as well. That ought to worry Indian policy planners. Of the Pakistanis polled, 23 percent think the Taliban is the greatest threat to their country, and 3 percent think al Qaeda is, despite the rising tide of militant violence in Pakistan's turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, and also in the heartland cities.

One must approach all surveys with caution, especially so in countries such as India and Pakistan with very large populations.  Pew conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,000 adults in Pakistan between April 13 and 28 of 2010. It says the sample was disproportionately urban, and parts of the troubled areas of the northwest and Baluchistan were not covered. For a country with a population of over 170 million, drawing hard conclusions based on a sample size that small  must come with a mandatory health warning.

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