Thursday, September 27, 2012

A selection of news articles

A selection of newspaper articles covering a number of topics. The first is from “The Diplomat” website & talks about Kashmir (with links to two articles from “The Guardian”: one about tourism in Kashmir & the other about the insurgency).

The second is from “The Telegraph” (UK) website & talks about Raul Ghandi.

The third is also from “The Telegraph” (UK) & talk about Ganges River dolphins (I didn’t know there was anything left living in the Ganges River but there you go !!):

By Sumit Ganguly
September 26, 2012

In a recent BBC interview, the noted British writer of Indian origin, Salman Rushdie, argued that the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir should, in an ideal world, enjoy independence.

His argument is hardly novel and has been made many times, including among some intellectual circles in India and Pakistan.  Most importantly, some Kashmiri political activists in the Indian as well as Pakistani segments of this divided state have also periodically raised this prospect.

Despite the seeming attractiveness of this option, it is expressly not a solution to this long-standing dispute. To understand why the dispute has proven so intractable, exacted such a high price in blood and treasure and continues to fuel the Indo-Pakistan rivalry, it is necessary to briefly review its origins. 

The roots of the dispute hark back to the partition of the British Indian Empire in 1947.

At the time of British colonial disengagement, the state was comprised of 565 such entities, all of which had been nominally independent as long they recognized the British as the paramount power in South Asia. Accordingly, they had control over most of their domestic affairs but defense, foreign relations and communications had been the preserve of the British Crown.  As independence approached and the British, unable to forge unity between the two principal, nationalist political entities, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, chose to partition their empire. The princely states were given the option of joining one of the two nascent countries on the basis of geographic propinquity and religious demography. 

The state of Jammu and Kashmir posed a dilemma. It had a Hindu monarch, a predominantly Muslim population and it abutted both India and Pakistan.  The monarch, Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu, obviously did not wish to accede to Pakistan, which had been created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. However, he was also loath to throw in his lot with India because he feared that the socialist leanings of India’s dominant nationalist leader (and eventually its first prime minister), Jawaharlal Nehru, would spell the end of his vast monarchical privileges.  As he dithered on the question of accession, a tribal rebellion erupted in the state. Within days thereof Pakistan chose to send in troops, disguised as local tribesmen, to support the revolt. In a panic, Singh appealed to India for military assistance. India agreed to send in troops but only after obtaining the imprimatur of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, the leader of the largest, secular and popular organization in the state, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference.  After Singh’s accession Indian troops flew in and stopped the Pakistan-assisted tribal advance, but not before they had managed to seize about a third of the state.

As the fighting continued, on the advice of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, India referred the case to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In the UNSC, the issue quickly became embroiled in the politics of the Cold War and therefore deadlocked. Even when a plan emerged to hold a referendum to determine the wishes of the Kashmiris, India and Pakistan could not agree to the terms of its implementation. Subsequently, bilateral negotiations and two wars (in 1965 and 1999) were used to try and resolve it status.

To compound matters, in 1989, an insurgency erupted in the Indian-controlled portion of the state.  The origins of the insurgency were rooted in electoral and other malfeasances on the part of the Indian state. Following its outbreak Pakistan quickly became involved in supporting, organizing and training the insurgents, thereby expanding the insurgency’s scope and deepening its lethality. After an initial poorly implemented counterinsurgency strategy, Indian forces devised more sophisticated methods.

Combined with electoral reform, India used massive transfers of national government assistance and persistent repression of the insurgents to put down the rebellion. Consequently, Indian-controlled Kashmir now enjoys order if not law.  Nonetheless, many Kashmiris, especially its Muslim-majority population, remain alienated and distrustful of the Indian government.

Given the substantial and persistent disaffection of Kashmiris, combined with the costs of a major military presence in the state, might it not be desirable for India to simply grant the state independence and be rid of both the moral opprobrium as well as the material costs of holding onto the territory?

This ostensibly attractive proposition is fundamentally flawed for four major reasons.

 First, even if India and Pakistan both granted independence to their portions of Kashmir, and the two portions merged, what would happen to the religious and sectarian minorities- the Hindus, Buddhists and Shia- within the state? Despite their demands for self-determination, Kashmiri Muslim political activists, let alone their insurgent counterparts, have never agreed to protect the rights of such “nested minorities.”

Second, there’s little reason to believe such an entity would be economically viable. Kashmir is indeed a land of spectacular beauty and a tourist haven. However, tourism alone would not be able to provide for the economic needs of the population. Before long it would prove to be yet another ward of the international community.

Third, it is far from clear that if India chose to walk away from the portion of Kashmir that it controls, Pakistan would readily follow suit. Beset with sectarian, class and regional strife, Islamabad would be loath to dispense with a significant part of its country. Indeed Pakistan-controlled Kashmir’s exit could easily trigger a series of demands for secession elsewhere, thereby threatening to unravel an already fragile social fabric in Pakistan.  Fourth and finally, a behemoth neighbor, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), though hardly sympathetic toward India, would nevertheless fear the demonstration effects an independent Kashmir would have for its own secessionist forces in Tibet and Sinkiang.

In sum, the views of Rushdie and other intellectuals of his ilk, however well meaning, are misguided. In their rush to alleviate human suffering they may be advocating policies that would leave the very people they seek to help worse off. 


India's Congress Party facing leadership crisis over Rahul Gandhi's reluctance

India's ruling Congress Party is facing a leadership crisis over the reluctance of Rahul Gandhi to take on a more important role ahead of elections.

According to sources close to the Gandhi family, their hope was for Rahul Gandhi (pictured) to emerge as the party's future leader and prime minister under Mr Singh's tutelage Photo: EPA

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
7:00PM BST 25 Sep 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh turns 80-years-old on Wednesday, and senior party figures believe he will not lead the party into the next general election, which could be as early as next year

However, there is a growing frustration by the refusal of Mr Gandhi to join the cabinet, take added responsibilities and eventually succeed Mr Singh to lead the country.

The Congress Party is seen in India as a Gandhi family franchise. The dynasty has provided three prime ministers since independence: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv – Rahul's late father. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, declined the opportunity to become prime minister in 2004.

According to sources close to the Gandhi family, their hope was for Rahul Gandhi to emerge as the party's future leader and prime minister under Mr Singh's tutelage.

But he has declined several offers from the prime minister to join his cabinet, and is set to decline once again in an expected reshuffle in the next few weeks.

His refusal to raise his profile as a Congress leader is causing growing anxiety within the party as Mr Singh's prime ministership draws towards its end and questions persist over Sonia Gandhi's health.

Mrs Gandhi is said by senior Congress sources to have cancer and regularly visits New York for treatment.

Congress concerns have been heightened by a series of corruption scandals that have weakened the government and the resignation last week of a key coalition partner in protest over decisions to allow Western supermarkets to enter India and cut fuel subsidies.

These anxieties have intensified pressure on Mr Gandhi to "step up" by taking over more of his mother's duties as party leader or accepting a cabinet position to raise his profile in the run-up to the next election.

According to sources in the family circle, Mr Gandhi has said his priority is to revive the Congress Party organisation and its electoral prospects following a series of state election defeats.

But he appears to be "in a funk," "dispirited" and "at a loss" over how to lead the party out of its current woes, sources close to the family said.

"He doesn't want a cabinet position because he doesn't want to be accountable for anything. He feels he should have power without getting involved in decision making.

The problem is he is not a fighter like his grandmother. He keeps telling people Congress is going to lose the next election and asking what he should do," said one family source.

Another, who believes cabinet experience would help him improve his leadership qualities, voiced his frustration. "Rahul has to decide. He can take over the party any time he wants to. He could have taken over in 2009, but he feels the party is more important (than him) and that's his focus.

"He's not coming into the cabinet and who can pressure him? He should have been in the cabinet in 2004. He's the grandson of Nehru, good-looking, English speaking. He would be a good minister, but with him it's 'party, party, party," he said.

The prime minister's communications adviser Pankaj Pachauri confirmed Mr Gandhi had declined an open invitation from Mr Singh to become a senior minister.

"He has invited Rahul Gandhi to join the cabinet and the decision has been left to Mr Gandhi. He has so far declined," he said.

Prabhu Chawla, editorial director of the New Indian Express and one of India's leading political commentators, said Mr Gandhi's younger supporters expect Congress to lose the next election and for him to take over as leader following that defeat.

"Congress without a Gandhi is like a company without shareholders," he said.

But some influential figures in the ruling family's circle believe by then he may no longer be the Congress Party's favourite Gandhi. One said his leadership of the party's campaign in this year's humiliating Uttar Pradesh state election and a poor showing in Bihar in 2010 had stirred support for his sister Priyanka to take over the mantle.

Senior party figures believe she has their grandmother Indira Gandhi's charisma and is expected to stand in her mother's Rae Bareilly constituency at the next election.

"If something happens to Sonia, the party will go for Priyanka," one influential Congress source said.


India's dolphins left 'miserable' by toxic pollution

Officials in India are launching a campaign to cheer the flagging spirits of listless river dolphins amid fears that toxic pollution has left them miserable.

The number of dolphins in India has more than halved from 5000 in 1982 to just 2000 today Photo: REX FEATURES

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
5:50PM BST 25 Sep 2012

They are planning to use the popularity of the freshwater dolphins to revive the Ganges, the country's holiest river, and reduce chemical pollution in its waters.

The number of dolphins in India has more than halved from 5000 in 1982 to just 2000 today. Up to 160 die every year because of fishing and pollution.

The Ganges is one of India's most polluted rivers and has become an open sewer, burial ground and chemical dump in several stretches.

Conservationists said the health and happiness of its dolphins is a key indicator of the level of pollution in its waters.

"The Ganges dolphin is a solitary animal compared to to marine dolphins but occasionally we see these dolphins engage in fun and joy in their habitat," said Professor R K Sinha, who has studied the Ganges Dolphin for more than 30 years. More recently however, as river pollution has increased, they have not displayed their customary joy.

"We are facing serious challenges in form of reduced river waters and pollution and if the dolphins are to be saved, we have to save the rivers first," he added.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

More on the FDI protests in India

Here’s a collection of articles on the protests about FDI (Foreign Direct investment). The article are from the “Sydney Morning Herald” & “Washington Post”:


Singh scrambles for solutions to put India back on track

Date: September 22, 2012

Asia-Pacific editor, Sydney Morning Herald

Unrest … Samajwadi Party activists block a train during a strike in Allahabad this week, above, and burn an effigy of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, below. Photos: AP/Rajesh Kumar Singh Photo: AP

THIS has been a tense and critical week in Indian politics, a week of decisions vital to the emerging economic giant regaining a high growth path.

We all know about the ''Incredible India'' - the travel destination of palaces, temples, and human colour. Now the world's economic analysts and strategists are looking for a ''Credible India'' that can take decisions and stick to them.

Needless to say, resource and energy supplier Australia has a lot riding on it.

Activists hold an effigy representing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet colleagues. Photo: AP

India has been in the economic doldrums for a couple of years. Economic growth that had hit 8 per cent has slipped to a little over 5 per cent in the first half of this year and in July industrial output had almost flattened.

With its fiscal deficit bulging because of subsidies, and inflation edging up towards 8 per cent and requiring punitive interest rates from the central bank, India has been facing the humiliation of a big downgrade in its credit rating to junk status.

Three years after its re-election in 2009, the Congress Party-led coalition government of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has lost all credibility gained from the strong economic performance of its previous five years in office.

Opposition parties and trade unions called for shopkeepers, traders and labourers in India to block railway lines and close markets to protest against reforms. Photo: AFP

It has lurched from scandal to scandal, the latest being the so-called ''Coalgate'' affair, after the Indian auditor-general calculated that over-generous terms of coal mining concessions would lose the government about $36 billion in future revenue. This came after a similar estimated giveaway in mobile phone licences.

Singh has looked a helpless figure throughout all of this. The former finance secretary and central bank governor has immense prestige as the father of India's opening from his time as finance minister in 1991-96, but has more recently been a figurehead for Congress.

The most powerful figure in the party has been Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of the assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who is nurturing the career of their son, Rahul, currently the party secretary and a backbench MP. Her instincts are populist, amplified by the clutch of regional and lower-caste parties giving the coalition its majority.

After a weak performance earlier this year in elections in Uttar Pradesh, India's biggest state, at which Rahul failed to show the expected voter attraction of the Gandhi dynasty, the government had been in what its Minister for Heavy Industries, Praful Patel, admitted to be ''policy paralysis''.

It has clearly got to Singh. A preliminary sign was the removal of the former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee by getting him kicked upstairs to the presidency, and his replacement by Palaniappan Chidambaram, who had been Singh's partner as commerce minister during the 1990s reforms.

In the past week they have announced a series of big new changes in fiscal and investment policies designed to get economic growth quickly up to an average 8.2 per cent for the next five years, hitting 9 per cent a year by 2017.

First off was a 14 per cent rise in the administered price of diesel fuel and a rise in the price of bottled gas for household use as part of an effort to bring subsidies, currently 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product, below 2 per cent.

Then came a lifting of barriers to foreign investment in two attractive sectors. Foreign multibrand retailers such as Carrefour and Walmart, previously excluded from India, will be allowed to set up local operations with 51 per cent ownership.

Single-brand retailers, such as the big multinational sportswear and electronics chains, will no longer have to source at least 30 per cent of their products from local small and medium-sized enterprises.

Foreign investors will be allowed to take up to 49 per cent of Indian airlines, opening the possibility of foreign partnership in the national carrier Air India to lift it out of its bureaucratic mindset, and fresh investment in the fast-growing private-sector carriers that have been struggling as the sinking rupee raises debt-servicing and fuel costs.

Similar foreign equity levels will be allowed in electricity-trading exchanges, and four big state-owned corporations - Hindustan Copper, National Aluminium, Mines and Minerals
Trading Corp and Oil India - will be floated in the sharemarket.

The aim is to encourage a burst of capital inflow to lessen the need for foreign borrowing and thereby support India's credit rating. Whether it will succeed depends on the politics now. Singh tried to lift the barrier to foreign retail chains at the end of last year, only to be forced into policy reversal a week later by a revolt in his coalition.

This week, one of the bigger coalition parties, the Trinamool Congress, led by the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, walked out after demanding the reversal of all the new measures. That brought Singh's numbers in the lower house of parliament down from 273 to 254, 18 below the bare majority of 272.

Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders have been trying to rope in the two lower-caste parties strongest in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, whose Australian-educated Akhilav Yadav is the state's Chief Minister, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, whose leader is his predecessor, Mayawati Kumar.

Their numbers in the national parliament would give the coalition a healthy majority. Both these parties have constituencies reliant on subsidies for their tractor, water pump and domestic fuel. No doubt Gandhi is also working on Singh to see if the subsidy cuts could be wound back a bit.

Singh's best counter to win over their recruits is to point out that unless investment inflows and growth can be revived, the 2014 elections could see a return of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu-nationalist group seen by them as trying to perpetuate the old caste hierarchy.

Retail sector policy is also tailored to appeal to the rural communities. The minimum investment is $US100 million ($95.4 million) and half of that has to be in ''back end'' local procurement and logistics chains in farming areas. Linfox is one Australian company that has already been investing in preparations for this opening.

''On more than one occasion during the last two years, the government has taken decisions only to withdraw them under pressure from allies,'' says Amitendu Palit of Singapore's Institute of South Asian Studies.

''If something similar happens this time too, then not only will the government be stripped of whatever credibility it has, but policy paralysis will be there to stay for the foreseeable future.''

This article was found at:


Indian prime minister defends economic reforms


By Simon Denyer and Rama Lakshmi, Published: September 21

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mounted a spirited defense of recent economic reforms in a nationally televised address Friday, arguing that they were necessary to revive investor confidence in a slowing economy and prevent a fiscal crisis.
Political analysts said it was a welcome, if belated, attempt to make the case for reforms, from a man who has frequently been castigated for being a poor communicator and presiding over a paralyzed administration.

But they said Singh continued to sidestep some of the fundamental issues that have plagued his government, including the corruption and lack of transparency in decision-making that business leaders say is holding back investment and growth.

“I promise you that I will do everything necessary to put our country back on the path of high and inclusive growth, but I need your support,” Singh said, hours after one of his coalition partners formally withdrew from the government to protest last week’s decision to allow in foreign supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart and Tesco and reduce subsidies on diesel.

“We have much to do to protect the interests of our nation, and we must do it now,” Singh said. “The time has come for tough decisions.”

On Thursday, many of the nation’s small shopkeepers closed their stores and thousands took to the streets, arguing that the arrival of foreign retailers would put them out of business.

But Singh said those fears were “completely baseless.” Other sectors of the economy, from information technology to steel and the auto industry, have thrived when exposed to foreign competition and investment, and he said retail trade would, too.

With growth slowing, government borrowing rising and investor confidence slipping away, officials say India’s government was compelled to act last week to ward off the possibility of a downgrade in its debt rating to junk bond status, with potentially disastrous implications for the rupee and borrowing costs.

Business leaders said last week’s policy announcements, which included allowing limited foreign investment in the airline industry, were welcomed as a step in the right direction — a mood-changer but not yet a game-changer — in a country where red tape, corruption, woeful
power supplies and problems in acquiring land act as powerful deterrents to investment.

“He didn’t talk about any of the things that have been consuming the country in the past few months,” said Manisha Priyam, associate professor of politics at Delhi University and a research scholar at the London School of Economics. “He didn’t address issues of transparency, allocation of national resources or any of the domestic reforms that everybody is demanding. Does he not have anything to say on that?”

Nevertheless, the decision to open up the retail market, something the U.S. government has long lobbied for, was a significant political risk for Singh. The government had already backed down from that decision after similar opposition last year.

‘Where is the big picture?’

This time around, Singh’s Congress party says it has enough support from other smaller, regional- and caste-based parties to shore up its coalition and comfortably win any confidence vote in Parliament.

But party insiders say they are aware that these smaller parties, widely seen as corrupt and opportunistic, cannot be depended on indefinitely, and they say they are preparing for the strong possibility of elections next year, rather than in 2014.

That may limit the government’s room to maneuver in terms of further reforms, analysts said.
“I don’t know how much more we can expect — they don’t have the political capital or the numbers to have greater reforms after this,” said columnist Ashok Malik, arguing that the speech lacked a broader sense of direction.

“He explained we have to tighten our belts, but where is the vision, where is the big picture, where is the dream?”

In his taped address, Singh defended his decision to cut subsidies for diesel by saying that “money does not grow on trees,” and warning that India could not afford a collapse in investor confidence suffered by some European countries.

He also pointedly reminded India of the reforms he unleashed as finance minister in 1991, when the country faced a much deeper foreign exchange crisis and he put into place far-reaching measures to liberalize the economy, setting it up for two decades of unprecedented growth.

But Singh’s reputation has fallen sharply in the past two years as the economy has slowed and his government has been mired in a series of corruption scandals, with the prime minister apparently watching impotently from the sidelines.

Difficulty in ‘resolute steps’

To some extent, the recent burst of reforms, coupled with Friday’s speech, seemed like an attempt from Singh to reclaim his legacy, just five days before his 80th birthday.

“The last time we faced this problem was in 1991,” he said, an Indian flag and a bust of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi behind him. “We came out of that crisis by taking strong, resolute steps. You can see the positive results of those steps. We are not in that situation today, but we must act before people lose confidence in our economy.”

The fact that Singh had to make a national address to defend a relatively modest package of reforms underlines how little political support exists for economic liberalization, even today.

That he harked back to the 1991 crisis underlines how deep the malaise has become in the past year.

The problem, columnist and author Shankkar Aiyar said, is that successive Indian governments make bold decisions only in the midst of a crisis. That makes for haphazard policymaking, and limited follow-through.
In essence, India’s path toward becoming a more open, prosperous global power is unlikely to ever be smooth.

“In India, things must get worse before they get better — and sometimes even that doesn’t happen,” said Aiyar, whose forthcoming book, “Accidental India,” explores this dynamic.
“But when the crisis fades, you say goodbye to reforms.”

© The Washington Post Company




Wal-Mart to open retail outlets in India within 18 months after gov’t allows in foreign firms


By Associated Press, Published: September 21

MUMBAI, India — Wal-Mart plans to open retail outlets in India in the next 12 to 18 months, the company said Friday, making it the first multinational to jump on the government’s decision to open the country’s huge retail market to foreign players.

Raj Jain, the managing director of Bharti Wal-Mart, a joint venture that operates 17 outlets that cater to small businesses in India, confirmed by email that Wal-Mart plans to open stores that serve consumers over the next 18 months, but declined to say how many.

India announced last week that it would allow foreign firms to take a majority stake in multi-brand stores for the first time. The surprise decision cheered investors but cost the ruling Congress Party an important coalition ally.

New Delhi first tried to enact the measure last year, but backed down in the face of resistance from coalition partners, badly damaging its credibility with global investors. Prior to the reversal, foreign retailers like Wal-Mart could only operate wholesale outlets.

Opponents say the move will cost Indians jobs and decimate millions of mom-and-pop shops. Advocates say welcoming players like Wal-Mart is necessary to attract the investment needed for India to modernize its food supply chains, reduce waste and bring down spiraling food prices.

While India’s retail infrastructure, such as cold storage areas and warehouses, is “desperately lacking,” Wal-Mart can bring its own systems, said Michael Moriarty, a partner in the retail practice of management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

The new rules mandate that foreign retailers spend half their investment on building supply chain infrastructure and source 30 percent of manufactured goods from local small- and medium-sized companies. Foreign retailers are also restricted to India’s 53 cities with populations exceeding 1 million.

Individual states will have the right to decide whether to let the retailers operate from their territory. Only 10 of India’s 35 states and territories which are controlled by the ruling Congress Party are likely to welcome foreign retailers initially, according to Eurasia Group analyst David Sloan.

India’s rules are more restrictive than those of China, Thailand, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia, all of which allow foreign investors 100 percent ownership in retail, according to Goldman Sachs.

Wal-Mart opened its first wholesale outlet in its partnership with Bharti in May 2009 in Amritsar in Punjab state. British-based Tesco PLC and French retailer Carrefour have also expressed interest in expanding in India.

“There is enormous opportunity in India,” Moriarty said, adding that the country is “underserved” by retailers and that consumers there increasingly have more spending money.

AP Retail Writer Anne D’Innocenzio contributed to this report in New York.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© The Washington Post Company

Friday, September 21, 2012

Women in the Indian military

An article about women in the military that I found on “The Daily Mail” website:

WHIPLASH: Why ignore our Jhansi ki Ranis?

PUBLISHED: 21:08 GMT, 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:08 GMT, 20 September 2012

Clearly, women are second class citizens. Why else would the Army’s statement that women cannot be granted permanent commission in the force be forgotten in a blink?

The reason: the Army’s Junior Commissioned Officers from rural India are not yet ready to accept a woman as their combat leader. How is that for equality? It’s the same state in the Navy and Air Force.

To add insult to this, defence minister AK Antony says with pride that there are 2,595 women officers in the three branches, forgetting to mention the total strength — 11,29,900.

Apparently the experience with Short Service Commission women officers has not been encouraging. When women and child development minister Krishna Tirath stressed the need for “empowerment of women”, she forgot about our defence forces.

How long will the combined forces of the government and defence take to wake up to change?

Forever, I should think. Instead of becoming an equal opportunity employer, they intend to play the benches. Therein lies the problem.

Armies of Israel, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Australia permit women in combat roles. Women have flown combat missions as fighter pilots for Britain, Pakistan and the US.

Scandinavian countries that allow women in combat positions also have difficult climactic conditions and terrains.

Canadian women serve as soldiers in Afghanistan. According to a research by Live Science, women are capable of performing admirably on the front lines, just like men can be. But no one is asking or even checking. Maybe it’s time to do some research.

Rani Lakshmibai, the queen of Jhansi, and Captain Lakshmi Sahgal are not figments of our collective imagination. They did exist and they did well.

FDI protests in India

There were a series of strikes & protests yesterday throughout India all about FDI – Foreign Direct Investment (ie: allowing the likes of “Walmart” & “Tesco” into India).


Here’s a collection of articles about it from “The Telegraph” (UK) & “The Independent”:


India: An outraged nation of shopkeepers

Long protected from competition, small businesses fear an invasion of foreign supermarkets

It is early evening in south Delhi and in his small, family-run shop, Harjot Singh is delivering a performance worthy of an acrobat or a juggler without breaking a sweat. As he reaches to take the money from a woman bearing two paper bags of sugar, another customer slams two loaves of bread on to the counter.

A woman standing outside the shop calls out: "I need a nine volt battery – how much is that?" As he twists to give her an answer, his eyes are on yet another woman who has walked in with a plastic bag of milk, dropped 20 rupees on to the counter and left.

Another man is impatient to pay for his fruit juice and lemonade and be on his way, and Mr Singh stabs at an oversized calculator, working out the bill. Just then the phone starts ringing; it is another customer with an order for delivery. Mr Singh cradles the phone under one ear and hurriedly begins scribbling down items.

This is what shopping is like for the vast majority of people across India, but for how much longer? After the government announced last week that it was relaxing the rules on foreign investment in India's £250bn retail market, the country has been convulsed by a debate about whether the likes of Walmart and Tesco should be allowed operate here.

Supporters of the move say big retailers will help develop better infrastructure and create decent jobs, but opponents say the estimated 50 million or more small shopkeepers, such as Mr Singh, who constitute more than 90 per cent of the trade, will be forced from business.

Yesterday, in scenes that underscored the level of concern felt by certain groups, parts of India ground to a halt as trade unions and opposition parties held a one-day general strike. While the big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai were largely unaffected, elsewhere schools were shut and trains and haulage services stopped.

Mr Singh, whose shop in a scruffy-looking market in the Malviya Nagar neighbourhood has been open since 1977, was not among yesterday's demonstrators, but he was with them in spirit. "I think it will affect us small businesses. We want to stop them coming," he said.

It is easy to understand the threat. Barely five miles away, in a spic-and-span shopping mall with plenty of parking spaces, Anjali Chaudhry was heading home from the Big Bazaar supermarket – run by the Indian-owned Future Group – with carrier-bags full of rice and pulses. Ms Chaudhry, 30, a consultant with a media company, lives just a few hundred yards from Mr Singh's store, but twice a month she likes to come to the supermarket for a "big shop".

"I will come here for a big buy because there's more variety and better prices. And everything is in one place – you don't have to jump around from shop to shop," she said. "But during the week, I will just go to the local shop."

Life as small shopkeeper is not easy. Kumal Kumar, who runs a store next to Mr Singh's, is open 11 and a half hours a day, seven days a week. He almost never takes a holiday.

His one-room business somehow carries a range of merchandise that would shame a small supermarket in Europe, and he employs seven staff, who earn monthly salaries of about 6,000 rupees (£70) and whose main job is sorting stock and making deliveries by bicycle.

Mr Kumar's bespoke service – he will deliver a single packet of laundry powder at 8pm to a customer for no additional charge – is something the small shopkeepers are counting on to defend them against larger, foreign stores. But he believes they too will adapt to the Indian market and start similar deliveries. "We will die, but not suddenly," he said.

"Then, after about ten years when we are finished, these large companies may have a monopoly."

Those who support foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail say the large chains will invest in vitally needed infrastructure such as cold storage and supply chain management. At the moment, it is estimated that anywhere up to a third of all farm produce rots before getting to market. The Indian Staffing Federation, an industry body, has suggested FDI could create 10 million jobs over the next decade.

Raj Jain, the president of Walmart India, said: "We are willing and able to invest in back-end infrastructure that will help reduce wastage of farm produce, improve the livelihood of farmers, lower prices of products and ease supply-side inflation."

The US-based Walmart owns the Asda chain in Britain.

Tesco, meanwhile, is lined up to operate a joint venture with India's Tata group. A statement from Tesco said: "Tesco welcomes this positive development but we await further detail."

Many farmers believe they will not get a better deal from the likes of Walmart and Tesco, because the large chains will buy from middle-men, rather than individual producers.

"We would rather they bought directly from the farmers," said Ajay Jakhar, chairman of the Bharat Krishak Samaj, an organisation of 100,000 farmers across India. "It might not be easy, but if you are going to make a profit you also have a social obligation."

The row over FDI has left the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fighting for its political life. A key coalition ally headed by West Bengal's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, is due to formally pull out of the government today.

In an interview, the information minister, Ambika Soni, said the FDI reforms would provide additional revenue for development and investment in health and education. She denied claims from the opposition that the government had bowed to foreign pressure.

"In very simple terms, this will give a boost to the manufacturing sector and bring new opportunities for employment," she said. "It will ease the financial situation."



Indian cities brought to standstill by petrol and supermarket protests


Cities across India were brought to a standstill by angry demonstrations against cuts in diesel subsidies and the government's decision to allow Tesco and other Western supermarkets to open stores in the country.

Indian women activists of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans and hold a cooking gas cylinder during a protest against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over an increase in the diesel prices in the Bhopal, India Photo: EPA
5:45PM BST 20 Sep 2012

The scale and intensity of the demonstrations increased the pressure on India's Congress-led coalition government after one of its key allies, announced it was withdrawing its support in protest over the diesel price increases and entry of foreign supermarket chains.

Manmohan Singh's government was already struggling under a series of corruption inquiries and complaints that it had failed to tackle graft.

The government may now need to make fresh concessions to other political parties to retain a working majority in parliament.

Thursday's demonstrations brought the country's hi-tech capital Bangalore to a close, while supporters of the main Hindu nationalist opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party burned tyres on the main Agra to Gwalior highway. Trains were halted in Lucknow, Allahabad, Agra and Varanassi in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, while Calcutta was also paralysed by demonstrations led by the Trinamool Congress, which will formally resign from the government on Friday, and West Bengal's Communist Party of India (Marxist). Protesters burned effigies of the prime minister and chanted: "Go back Walmart."

According to the Confederation of Indian Industry, the bandh or national strike caused severe disruption to business and said more than £1.5 billion had been lost in trade.

But despite the angry scenes shown on television channels, the protests did not spread into areas where the ruling Congress Party and its coalition allies hold sway. Support was patchy in the capital New Delhi and sparse in Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai.

The protesters' two key demands – that the government rolls back its five rupee per litre increase in the price of diesel and its decision to allow foreign supermarkets – are backed by very different constituencies. Anger over the potential entry of Tesco and Walmart is mainly shared by the country's army of small shopkeepers who fear their businesses will suffer, while opposition to the cut in government fuel subsidies is strong among the poor who will pay for it with higher food prices.

One of the parties leading the protests in Delhi and throughout Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, has strongly criticised the government's handling of the reforms but is expected to use the government's problems to negotiate a deal for its continuing support. The party, which controls the state government in Uttar Pradesh and has more than 20 MPs in the national parliament, supports the Congress-led government "from the outside" but does not have any cabinet ministers.

One of its senior figures yesterday told The Telegraph a deal could be struck on Friday.

"It is all politics. Everything will be smoothed out Friday. The government will increase subsidised gas canisters to nine per family per year and maybe reduce the fuel increase by two rupees per litre [two pence]," he said.

The government however appeared unmoved by the protests and claimed to be confident it had enough support in parliament to survive. Finance minister P. Chidambaram said: "We have enough friends today, we had enough friends yesterday ... so I don't see any reason why you should doubt our stability."


Weblink with video: