Today’s series of articles come from “The Australian”, “The Guardian”, “The Independent” & “The Diplomat”. They cover a variety of topics:
Indian cabinet reshuffle fails to ignite
- by: Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent
- From: The Australian
- October 30, 2012 12:00AM
THE last major reshuffle of the Indian government's moribund and ageing cabinet before the 2014 election has elevated a Muslim minister to the sensitive foreign affairs portfolio in one of the most significant changes to its senior ministerial line-up.
But the shake-up, which has promoted younger faces amid 17 new ministers, seems to have otherwise failed to excite an electorate in the mood for change after a series of corruption scandals.
The appointment to the external affairs ministry of Salman Kurshid, former law minister and grandson of former Indian president Zakir Hussain, was welcomed in Pakistan, though it raised some eyebrows in India where the 59-year-old's reputation for hard work has been tainted by accusations of corruption in an NGO he oversees.
Oxford-educated Mr Kurshid will be India's first Muslim external affairs minister in 16 years, and most pressing on his agenda will be the country's ongoing troubled relationship with Pakistan.
The nuclear-powered neighbours have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and only last year resumed the peace process that collapsed after 10 Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people during a three-day siege of Mumbai in November 2008.
With the Congress-led government desperate to show a younger, cleaner face ahead of the scheduled 2014 elections, octogenarian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his new cabinet as a "combination of youth and experience".
"The road ahead is full of challenges but this is a team which I hope will be able to meet those challenges," he said. But the reshuffle has again failed to deliver the Holy Grail for Congress party true believers - the elevation of Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, to a ministerial post.
The 41-year-old grandson of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi and great grandson of Indian independence leader and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru continues to resist a formal ministerial post, preferring to push generational party change as party general secretary.
Indian media yesterday credited the more youthful faces in the government - there are now five Indian ministers aged 45 or under -to Mr Gandhi's backroom influence. The changes bring the average age of India's famously elderly cabinet down to 64.3 years and government ministers to 58.2.
The reshuffle has received only a lukewarm response from political analysts, who criticised the risk-averse Congress leadership for failing to take bolder steps.
"It (the reshuffle) is for narrow electoral politics rather than for a radical image makeover," Centre for Policy Research president Pratap Bhanu Mehta said.
"It's hard to say if it will yield any image makeover for the government. A baby step towards that objective would have been the removal of controversial ministers."
The reshuffle has also relieved the dynamic Jairam Ramesh of the drinking water and sanitation ministry and he has been shifted to the rural development portfolio. Mr Ramesh brought much-needed attention to the often-overlooked issue of sanitation by appealing to rural families to insist on a "no toilet, no bride" policy when considering a suitable groom, and for his observation that India needed more "toilets than temples".
Copyright 2011 News Limited. All times AEST (GMT +10).
India's first Starbucks branches draw long queues
Starbucks cafes offering paneer wraps alongside blueberry muffins reflect India's increasingly international high streets
India's first branch of Starbucks, which opened this month in Mumbai. Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images
During the past 10 days, sweaty queues of up to 50 people have formed outside an old colonial building in downtown Mumbai, while a security guard operates a one-in-one-out policy. These hopefuls are not trying to get into an edgy new nightclub or shake hands with a visiting politician. They are waiting for up to an hour to go to Starbucks. "There's excitement among everyone," said Akhil Somani, a 27-year-old financial adviser, as he stood in line last weekend. "We have our own coffee brands but this one has had a lot of hype."
Starbucks, the world's largest coffee-shop chain, opened its first branch in India on 19 October. Two more branches – including one in Mumbai's famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which has likewise seen dozens of people queuing for a frappuccino – opened last week. With more than 17,600 branches in 61 countries, it is perhaps surprising that the Seattle-based company has only just arrived in India. It entered China in 1999 and has around 600 outlets there.
India is the home of chai, sugary and milky tea ladled into tumblers at street stalls for around five rupees. However, as Indians' disposable incomes rise, cafes are cropping up in large cities. The country's cafe sector is worth $230m (£143m), up from $40m five years ago, according to a report by Technopak, an Indian consultancy. Cafe Coffee Day, a no-frills homegrown chain, dominates the market. The UK's Costa Coffee and the US's The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf also have a small presence.
The appearance of Starbucks, whose Mumbai branches offer paneer wraps as well as blueberry muffins, also reflects India's increasingly international malls and high streets. More western chains are expected to open branches here in the near future, after constraints on foreign investment were loosened this autumn.
India's coalition government, led by the Congress party, in September relaxed rules on local sourcing for foreign "single-brand retailers" – shops that sell items belonging to one brand. Last November, it scrapped rules stating that such retailers needed to partner with a local company. Following these reforms, Ikea this month applied to open around 25 outlets. Starbucks has entered India through an $80m joint venture with Tata, one of the country's biggest conglomerates, having worked on this deal before the rules changed.
"[The new rules] should be seen as a signal to foreign investors that we are still welcoming them," said Anubhuti Sahay, a senior economist at Standard Chartered. "Two and a half months ago, there was nothing coming from the government but now there's more hope." However, Sahay added that the economy would not benefit for some months, as any new businesses would have to deal with India's vast amounts of red tape before opening outlets.
Opposition parties and independent shopkeepers have held protests in response to the retail reforms. Yet many customers hope foreign brands will result in more choice and better quality, as local businesses will have to fight to retain clients. "More competition is good for the customer," said Somani as he finally managed to enter Starbucks, only to join another queue for the counter.
Some punters are also excited about having famous brands in their city. "We've seen [Starbucks] in films and on TV," said Ritika Nurthy, a 23-year-old software engineer on her first trip to the chain. She cited The Devil Wears Prada, a film in which Meryl Streep plays a tyrannical magazine editor whose assistant brings her coffee every morning. "You get curious and wonder 'what is that?'"
- © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
Sign of the times: what is to become of India's hand-painted signs?
India's sign-writing tradition is under threat from technology. So how do you preserve these beautiful hand-painted creations?
Sunday 28 October 2012
By his own admission, Kafeel Ahmed Ansari is a man whose skills belong to an earlier age. The combination of paints he uses for his striking signboards takes time to mix, the designs require imagination. It can take two days for him to complete a hand-painted hoarding for a barber's shop. Much quicker – and much cheaper – to opt for a computer-generated design printed on flexboard.
There were once countless thousands of such painters across India, working by hand to complete unique, vibrant designs for everything from juice stands to tailor's shops and butcher's stalls. Nowadays, thanks to computers, they are a threatened species.
But a project launched by an aficionado of traditional painters, yet using modern technology, has raised the prospect of recording the hand-painted fonts – typefaces – and ensuring the designs are preserved for the future.
Hanif Kureshi's aim is to collecting fonts from traditional painters and make them available for digital download online while giving half the proceeds to the painters. Mr Kureshi, who works in a Delhi advertising agency, says he has already collected 50 styles. "My aim is to get at least 100, including some in local languages," he said.
Mr Ansari, 55, usually known simply as Painter Kafeel, is among those who have already contributed several fonts to Mr Kureshi's project, located online at www.handpaintedtype.com.
Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Mr Ansari moved to Delhi in 1980 and sought out customers by cycling around different neighbourhoods with his brushes and paints. Today, he operates out of a tiny, two-room apartment, located in an ally close to the celebrated Karim's restaurant in the jostling, crunched old city of Delhi.
"Gradually, I started getting jobs, painting for Rasna juices, Thums Up [a brand of cola] and even Pepsi," said Mr Ansari, sitting alongside some of his glimmering hoardings. "I always focused on being accurate, it's very important. I have practised a lot."
A father of six, he said he can paint in English, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Arabic and Sanskrit. Delhi's old walled city, made up of twisting alleyways and decaying buildings, has for centuries represented a melting pot of different cultures and is one of the few places where a demand remains for such a collection of scripts.
As desktop publishing became more popular, Mr Ansari found himself getting less work and was obliged to buy a computer.
But even now, he still does some work by hand, and will produce signs for tourists who want a unique souvenir. The computer, he says, cannot do what he does. "My heart connects with my mind," he said.
Sunil Kumar, who uses the name Painter Umang, is another whose fonts have been collected by Mr Kureshi. Working from an outdoor workshop, located next to a large fig tree in whose branches had been placed painted statues of Hindu deities, the 44-year-old said he paints signs for shops and small businesses, and even the number plates of cars and motorbikes.
Mr Kumar, who has painted on a nearby wall a large portrait of BR Ambedkar, creator of India's constitution and hero of its lower castes, said he never used flexboard or computers. "Flexboard came and people used it because it saved time," he said. "But, in the long run, everybody returns to this because it is longer-lasting."
Mr Kumar, who lives in the Malviya Nagar neighbourhood of south Delhi, said the number of painters had fallen, but he was not as pessimistic as Mr Ansari. He said he had helped train several painters and watched them set up business of their own.
"Computer work is quicker but it is not as clean. If you paint something with your own hand, it is more delicate," he said, explaining people's enduring preference for hand-painted work.
Among the most celebrated painters whose work is featured by the project is Charan Chavan. Now in his 60s, Mr Chavan has two sons who have followed him in his business.
According to a recent report in Open magazine, Mr Chavan is credited with developing the so-called "Fruit Juice" style of painting that flourished across north India – large colourful lettering that originally featured on posters for Bollywood films.
"His work became a rage," said Mr Kureshi, "Other fruit juice stall painters emulated him. And soon, all fruit juice stalls in Delhi began to look exactly the same."
Mr Kureshi, who started collecting fonts at the end of 2010, became interested in traditional painting as a boy growing up in the town of Talaja, in the state of Gujarat. Near to where he lived was a painter called Mehta. Sometimes he would let the teenager pick up the brush and try his hand. "You would have nothing to do so you would go and sit. The more often you went, the more he would give you to do," recalled Mr Kureshi.
To help his collection develop, he has asked friends from different parts of the country to send him fonts and has been able to collect designs from Bangalore to Mumbai and Ladakh, in the far north of India. For anyone wishing to contribute a design, he requests that people send an entire alphabet and numerals. There is a great variety among the fonts, he said, and some noticeable regional characteristics. Designs from the south of India, for instance, are more likely to use fluorescent paint. "You are more likely to get bolder colours in Chennai," he said.
So far, two of the fonts on the website are available for digital download and a third will be ready soon. One, named after a now retired painter, Umesh Baldaniya, is available free of charge and has been downloaded at least 3,000 times. The other, one of Mr Ansari's designs, costs $50 and has reportedly been downloaded by eight people. That design, simulating the depth and complexity from the nine separate layers of enamel paint that Mr Ansari uses, took Mr Kureshi one month to produce.
Yet for all his effort, Mr Kureshi said he realised his undertaking had its limitations. "The project is not designed to save the painters," he said. "It's to preserve their styles and to learn from the masters, so that the next generation can learn and use those ideas in its own way."
By Sanjay Kumar
October 29, 2012
If politics is the art of the possible, timing is equally important.
Timing was indeed behind Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s massive cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, which brought on board 17 new ministers. Battered by corruption charges, facing a severe credibility crisis and a dimming economic outlook, The reorganization ousted some of the more tainted ministers in his cabinet and replaced them with young faces that gave his team a fresh new look.
Among the incoming cabinet members is Oxford-educated Salman Khurshid, who will take over as Foreign Minister, replacing the lackluster and elderly S M Krishna.
Some of the young leaders— including Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Manish Tiwari, a dynamic spokesperson of the ruling Congress Party—were given portfolios with independent charges.
Many were surprised that Singh welcomed Shashi Tharoor back into government after the former high profile UN official was forced out of government two years ago after an alleged cricket scandal. A highly prolific writer and good communicator, Tharoor reinforces the government’s modern composition and pro-reform agenda.
The reshuffle is widely believed to be the Congress Party’s attempt to shed its negative image and reassert itself before crucial national elections in early 2014.
"It is a combination of youth, experience and relevance to the portfolios that have been entrusted to the ministers. The road ahead is full of challenges. But this is a team, which I hope will be able to meet those challenges,” noted the Prime Minister. Singh also said this would probably be the last reshuffle of the council of ministers before the 2014 general elections.
Political analysts say that if the cabinet reorganization revives the PM’s pro-reform reputation, it also bears the imprint of Rahul Gandhi, Congress’s rising star, who is widely believed to be positioning himself for a larger role in the party ahead of the general elections. The induction of new faces and the elevation of some of the young ministers is an attempt to prepare a future team for the party which is expected to fight the next elections under Gandhi’s leadership.
Political circles in New Delhi are also abuzz with speculation that the ruling party is preparing itself to overhaul its organizational structure in the coming weeks in order to give Rahul Gandhi a major role in the party, some believe as its working President.
These changes come at a time when the main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on the ropes following reports that its President, Nitin Gadkari, was involved in shady financial dealings, thereby undercutting the party’s efforts to paint itself as an alternative to the corruption-ridden Congress Party.
Nonetheless, skeptics argue that the change in the cabinet has come too late as the government and party’s image is already tainted. They say that had it come a year earlier the reshuffle might have brought some political dividends. At this point, however, the ruling party’s standing has declined too sharply.
But the relaxed body language of Congress leaders during the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday signaled that they are not willing to concede defeat. Political commentators say that with a number of state elections scheduled over the next twelve months, the party cannot appear to be lackluster and demoralized. Many believe that a good showing in the regional elections will serve as a morale booster for the party before the crucial national elections in 2014.
Image credit: Office of India's Prime Minister