Monday, September 24, 2007

The American Suburb comes to India

Ever heard how almost every American suburb looks the same, cookie cutter homes assembled neatly along linear roads leading to the premier housing at the cul-de-sac. Well, it seems India is destined for such homogeneity too with several town ships being built outside city centers.

Chennai based Shriram properties is partnering with U.S. real estate private-equity firms Walton Street Capital and Starwood Capital Group to develop a $1.25 billion township outside of Kolkata. (Source: Forbes - Market Scan)

While the size of the investment is garnering more attention than usual, there are already other American real estate equity firms investing in the booming real estate market. Although the townships might rob India of its unique building style and character it will provide for more attractive housing for the middle class and new rich.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Professionalism escapes “60 Minutes” Ahmadinejad Interview

“60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley spoke with Ahmadinejad on Thursday in the garden outside his office in Tehran. The interview aired on CBS on September 23rd. (“60 Minutes” is a highly regarded investigative television news magazine on United States television, which has run on CBS News since 1968)

Even though Ahmadinejad is definitely no favorite of mine, Scott Pelley’s interrogation style questioning came across as being arrogant and disrespectful. As a reporter you would expect him to hide his bias or hostility, but it came blaring through loud and clear.

While a lot of questions carried serious validity, at the hands of Mr.Pelley, the interview lost some of its credibility. Mike Wallace could teach him a thing or two. (He had interviewed the President a few years ago)

Ahmadinejad might be no saint and his country might be one of Bush’s “Axes of Evil”, but as a head of a state, Mr. Pelley needed to realize the boundaries the office demands. For all the demonic qualities the President is said to possess, in comparison to Mr. Pelley, he came across as a dignified and composed gentleman. Imagine that!

In response to Mr.Pelly’s badgering, the Iranian premier said:
"This is not Guantanamo Bay. This is not a Baghdad prison. Please, this is not a secret prison in Europe. This is not Abu Ghraib, this is Iran. I'm the president of this country!"

Read a transcript of the interview at "60 minutes"

Indian actors make a scene on US Television

The new season for US television shows begins this week, and finally we can boast of a significant contingent of Indian actors.
Unlike in the UK, Indian culture is still largely foreign to the average American. American television references to Indians are often limited to the dotted forehead, the Sikh turban, spicy food and bad accents. Indians are also a rarity on the small screen considering the enormity of the immigrant group. Only recently have Indian actors begun playing roles that preserve their ethnicity and break the stereotypes. Until now most roles for Indians were comical roles designed to exaggerate the said stereotypes or as middle-eastern individuals with dangerous designs. Indian actors seem to have more roles written for them that more adequately represent the average Indian-American. Hit shows such as “Heroes” and “ER” have central characters that play intelligent Indians, while “The Daily Show” and “Notes from the underbelly” have Indians in comical roles where the comedy is not in them being Indian.
(For the record, “Lost” my personal favorite, has Naveen Andrews playing an ex-Iraqi soldier)

So in light of the new season of televisions here are the three lists of interest:

Actors of Indian descent in recurring roles on US TV Shows

Producers/Directors of US TV shows of Indian origin

Past TV shows with episodes with Indian themes or Indian locales

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Indian Governance at 58%

The World Bank defines Governance as the set of traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. Earlier this year it released the paper “Governance Matters VI: Governance Indicators for 1996-2006”. The paper is the 6th in a series that evaluates Governance in 212 countries based on 6 dimensions: Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, Government Effectiveness; Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law and Control of Corruption. The data for the indicators are gathered from a number of survey institutes, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations.

There is increasing attention to the quality of governance in developing countries by foreign investors, aid donors, domestic and international enterprises. Good numbers improve the perceptions of the country and might facilitate more activity from the aforementioned entities within the country.

Among the aggregates higher values indicate better governance ratings with a 100 being the best (percentiles). India has shown improvement since 1996 in all but the "Rule of Law" indicator. India had 4 of the indicators in the 50-60 percentile, and 1 (political stability) in the 20-30 percentile for 2006. On the whole it did mostly better than China.

In the overall averages China scored 4.8% , US 83.7% and India 58%.
Denmark topped the list with a 100% and Myanmar (Burma) took bottom slot with 0%.

Graphic Source: Time

Indian Credit history to be scored

The average Indian who has long loathed credit is now in favor of credit for its convenience in shopping and financing housing, automobiles and consumer durables. As the stigma attached to debt subsides, the Indian credit industry has boomed. Until now lenders in India have not had a single tool to evaluate the potential risk posed by lending money to consumers so as to mitigate losses due to bad debt.

Enter the "Credit Score"

The "Credit score" is a three digit number assigned to an individual and is an indicator of his credit worthiness. The Credit Information Bureau (India) Limited established by the government of India will assign and maintain the scores. The scores are based on previous loan history including the debt-income ratios and default history.Lenders will use the scores to determine interest rates and could even reject applications if scores are too low. Indian's have been used to receiving a uniform interest on loans but now that is about to change. In the US the three digit score is ubiquitous and financial gurus like Suze Orman even go so far as to insist that the score is something partners must agree to share before marriage.

Considering how competitive and ambitious most of us Indians are I don't think its too much of a stretch to see the credit score as becoming a symbol of pedigree even in matrimonial columns.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dollar Mata more powerful than a US visa officer?

The Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams offered prayers to 'Dollar Mata', a revered deity in Jhulasan Village in the Gujarat State of India. The deity "Dola Mata" was rechristened "Dollar Mata" following a spate of successful US visa and Green Card applications. Times of India reports that 1700 people have immigrated to the US following prayers and offerings to the deity. The temple was also the site of a three day prayer service for the safe return of Sunita from outer space.

An eye for the record books!

Lifting weights never looked this painful! Lakshmikanth dangles an idol of Hindu God Ganesha from his eyelid. He adds this stunt to several others that have a place in the India Limca Book of Records.

Eyelid lift


Nelson Mandela survives Bush's pronouncement of his death

President Bush once again managed to sound more comical than knowledgeable when attempting to make a statement of some profoundness. In hoping to convey that Saddam Hussein had effectively killed all the present and future "Mandelas" of the world, he instead pronounced the former South African leader Nelson Mandela dead. Metaphorical references are not his thing evidently.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The "Outcastes" and how they try to make it out of the caste system

Recently, The Wall Street Journal ran an article (In India Dalits convert to Christianity and face extra bias - Yaroslav Trofimov) rightfully critical of the caste system but also calling the absence of extended protection to Christian Dalit converts as a double bias against them. In that I found my inspiration for this article.

are finding Christianity and Islam especially attractive. They are converting in droves to escape their branding as Dalits.

But Christian and Islam Dalit converts stand to lose not just their name tags but any benefit they received while they were legally Dalits. As such many Dalits shroud their conversion in secrecy. Recently there have been increasing calls from non-Hindu and social advocacy groups for the government to continue affirmative action for Dalit converts.

But by bringing an extended family of Dalits and ex-Dalits under the umbrella of special protection are we diluting the efficacy on those that need it the most, Dalits who remain Dalits?

To read more on what the defines the Caste System, the Dalits, affirmative action in their favor and how religious conversion is playing a major role in their lives, click here - The Outcastes

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No Bleeding on San Francisco buses!

KOLKATA: A 44-year-old man and a young couple were the latest to fall victim to rogue bus staff on Tuesday, just a day after a conductor kicked a blind man out of a bus. (Times of India)

On a much less severe note a man was refused a ride on a San Francisco bus (MUNI) for being a possible cleanliness hazard.

On my way home yesterday I joined another commuter waiting at bus stop. He had tissue paper stuffed up one nostril with apparent blood stains on either end of it. He had made no attempt to conceal either the tissue paper or the blood. The blood stained paper stuck out of his nose like an extra appendage. I would have asked him if he was OK but from his demeanor it almost felt like I would be intruding on his otherwise uneventful day. He seemed completely oblivious of his peculiar appearance as he rifled through his shopping bag or perused the flyers and advertisements posted around the bus stop. When the bus did finally arrive, about 10 minutes later, he boarded before me. As I payed my ticket fee, the bus driver called out to him and asked him to de-board. His actual words were " You have to wait for the bleeding to stop before you get on the bus or you are going to bleed all over the bus". The man attempted to inform the driver that he was not going to cause a bloody mess or that he was not bleeding. But the driver refused to move until he got off the bus. The man eventually grudgingly got off the bus muttering under his breath. The bus pulled away from the stop soon as the driver felt safe about the cleanliness of his bus.

The lack of sensitivity on the part of the driver was appalling and surprising. In most cases one would expect the driver of any US Public transport vehicle to offer assistance either personally or by calling in medical personnel.

IIMs not eyed by US Recruiters - or are they?

While the IIM's have a great reputation at home, it seems they are yet to make a lasting impression on recruiters here in the US. The Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive Business School Year 5 Survey released this week is based on the opinions and behaviors of 3,267 M.B.A. recruiters who hire full-time business-school graduates No Indian Business school figured on their (recruiter's) preferred International list.
But a closer look reveals how "International" this list really is. It seems IIM's never had a chance. This is yet another ranking list that ignores Asian Business schools. Only schools from Europe, North America and Central America were considered. "US News" only considers European and Canadian schools in its International B school rankings.

Recruiter's Top International Business Schools (WSJ)
  1. IMD
  2. ESADE
  3. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
  4. IPADE
  5. London Business School
  6. Ivey, Western Ontario
  7. Thunderbird
  8. Mass. Institute of Technology
  10. INCAE
THES- QS rankings of International Schools lists IIT Delhi as 57th on their list on International Universities.

Monday, September 17, 2007

India makes it to the "Majors"

The United States has included India in the 'Majors List' of countries producing and smuggling narcotics, due to "large scale diversion of licit opium production into the illicit market".

Here's what Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said during an On-The-Record Briefing for the Release of the 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report in March 2007.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) South Asia also and the money-laundering and also in the drug trafficking report. How serious is this problem, especially in India and those countries -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Afghanistan? How serious is it in India as far as money-laundering and the drug trafficking?

PATTERSON: India, of course, is the only legal producer of opium and we've worked closely with the Indian Government. They -- India has a good record, frankly, on counternarcotics. We work very closely with them to prevent diversion from that. The Indian Government is very committed to that. They also have a methamphetamine and precursor problem. They're -- but they have a very large, legitimate pharmaceutical industry. The Indian Government has a good record on this, but it's a huge -- it's also a huge -- it's a huge country with a very large industry, so to prevent diversion from the legitimate pharmaceutical industry is a challenge.

Indian Companies Crowd Forbes "ASIAN FAB 50"

12 of the companies on FORBES third annual Fabulous 50 - The Best of Asia-Pacific's biggest listed companies are from India. The other countries with a good number of companies making the list included China, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. Below are the 12 Indian companies in the order in which they appeared on the list.

  1. Bharat Heavy Electricals
  2. Bharti Airtel
  3. Grasim Industries
  4. HDFC Bank
  5. ICICI Bank
  6. Infosys Technologies
  7. Larsen & Toubro
  8. Reliance Industries
  9. Satyam Computer Services
  10. Tata Consultancy Services
  11. Tata Steel
  12. Wipro
See the entire list at The Asian Fab 50

Does American Culture Influence India's?

Do you believe that American culture has an influence on India's culture?
Share your opinion on our poll.

(This poll is now closed)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Prakash Singh feels his own "Sting"

In 2001 Tehelka; an internet news site, made "sting" an often used word in the Indian media and viewer's vernacular. The website taped secret video footage of senior politicians, bureaucrats and army officers taking money in connection with a fake defence deal.The scandal forced the resignation of the president of BJP while Tehelka's readership and popularity soared. With news channels and outlets crowding the airwaves reporters are burdened with immense pressure to deliver the goods and up the other on "sting" operations.

Fake sting: TV reporter sent to judicial custody

So when Prakash Singh staged an elaborate set up framing a high school teacher (Uma Khurana) of pimping her own students, he had hoped to hit it big time. He probably assumed the outcry would be so loud his lies would be easily drowned. Except that it wasn't. A few days after the teacher alleged in his story was assaulted and fired from her job the truth surfaced. Mr. Singh now sits in jail and story unfurls outside his confines. Today one of the actors claims she was blackmailed into playing the role of a student. Mr. Singh himself might have been contracted not by his news agency but by a business man with a personal vendetta against the teacher.

Who said Indian TV isn't interesting?

"Teach for America" might teach in India

"Teach for America (TFA)" receives many requests from countries to help them develop the Teach For America model in their countries. Currently the organization is advising one undisclosed group in India, according to Eva Boster (Communications Coordinator for TFA). This novel approach to alleviate the ailing education systems could have a very great impact in India. It could not only help the teaching sector but would also open a huge avenue for those wanting to vent their desire to be of social service in India. The challenges and workability of the program in a country like India are hard to predict. Either way it would a step in the right direction.


Todays stories from around the globe and India

  • At Least 88 Killed as Plane Crashes in Thailand (New York Times) A low-fare jet carrying many foreign tourists crashed in heavy rain on the resort island of Phuket and broke apart on Sunday afternoon.
  • Bush Set on Attorney General Pick (Wall Street Journal) Bush is expected to nominate ex-judge Michael Mukasey for attorney general, a move that could avoid a fight with Congress but anger conservatives
  • US firm offers India thorium reactors (IANS via Yahoo! India News) Bangalore: While India is still debating how to make the Indo-US nuclear deal work, an American company, anxious to enter the Indian market, has offered to build commercial nuclear power reactors in the country.
  • 14 undertrials escape from Goa prison (Times of India) Panaji: At least 14 undertrials on Sunday escaped from a Goa jail on the pretext of offering 'prasad' to guards on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturti.
  • Militants attack security convoys (The Hindu) Srinagar: Militants ambushed security convoys at two places and made an abortive bid to blow up a CRPF picket on Sunday, official sources said.

"Teach for America"- There's more teaching to be done!

A social service group in India is consulting with TFA to develop a similar model for India. The challenges and workability of the program in a country like India are hard to predict. An analysis of TFA's working here in the US itself reveals that it has its share of critics.

Wendy Kopp started "Teach for America" in 1990 with a noble mandate to eliminate educational inequality. Today it has become America's largest provider of teachers for low-income urban and rural communities. The organization recruits recent college graduates of all academic majors who can commit to two years of teaching. Those who are accepted to the program attend an intensive 5-week summer preparation institute and are placed in one of the 26 urban and rural areas. Corps members are paid directly by the school districts where they work and receive the same salaries and health benefits as other beginner teachers. After they begin teaching, most recruits are required by state law to pass subject-area tests and take courses during the year. Many recruits receive their teacher certification after their two years.

While a lot of graduating seniors are driven by their earnest desire to do community service there is a fair share of those who are looking to TFA as a great resume filler..........

Read the whole essay at "India Indeed: Indepth"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ram Sethu - Congress Attempts to Build Bridges

In my recent post "Ram Sethu- Bridging Science with Faith" I had hoped that the controversy would encourage intelligent discussion on how science and faith could be amalgamated to solve the issue.
Unfortunately my hope that India's secular view on the Ram Sethu was a "sign of the times" and "a maturing India" were quickly washed away when India's culture Minister Ambika Soni offered to resign and the government put on hold the canal project. Rather than engaging in a meaningful debate, the Congress government has buckled under political pressure and an eagerness to appease the voters. It is not surprising though and I had indicated in my post that a "volt-face" from the government was highly likely.
Considering the theatrics that are usually involved in any such issue, all this is bound to get more interesting as political parties try to reap as much mileage off it as they can.

Canadian Comedy Show does Bollywood!

I saw this video many months ago, but it never grows old! They say white guys can't dance, maybe Bollywood is their niche.

News Indeed

Today's stories from across the globe and India
  • Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan on October 18th ending her self-imposed exile.
  • Alan Greenspan, ex- chairman of the Federal Reserve in the United States criticises US President George W Bush saying he pays too little attention to financial discipline.
  • Georgia will cut its troop deployment in Iraq from 2,000 soldiers to 300 in 2008 making the Coalition more even more American than International.
  • The government stands ground on its nuclear deal with the US, it will send a team of negotiators to the IAEA setting up a major showdown with the Left.
  • A train struck and killed 14 Hindu pilgrims crossing a narrow railway bridge in Gonda, about 90 miles southeast of the state capital Lucknow in northern India, sparking angry protests.
  • The Government approved opening up the lucrative Gulf route to private carrier Jet Airways, promoted by Naresh Goyal.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ram Sethu - Bridging Science with Faith

Adam's Bridge, also called Rama's Bridge (Ram Sethu) is a chain of limestone shoals, between the islands of Mannar, near northwestern Sri Lanka, and Rameswaram, off the southeastern coast of India. The bridge is 30 miles (48 km) long and separates the Gulf of Mannar (southwest) from the Palk Strait (northeast).

The Ramayana describes the bridge as being built by Ram's (the protaganist of the epic) devotee "Hanuman" and his other loyal monkey devotees. Eventually Ram crosses over the bridge to save his abducted wife Sita. The Indian government's 560-million dollar Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project project would destroy this bridge while creating a shorter more navigable shipping route for the region.

The power of prayer and virtuous morals are probably where the parallels with Hinduism and the other world religions ends. It takes a strong belief in polytheism, mystical creatures and fantastic anecdotes with magical happenings such as the building of the Ram Sethu to truly ascribe to the faith. Most Hindus do not come close to questioning the validity or historical proof of all that they base their values, morals, teachings, celebrations and lifestyles upon. In a country where blasphemy and sacrilege are commonly alleged and prosecuted.............

Read the whole essay at "India Indeed: In-depth"


Today's stories from across the globe and India

  • In the second major attack on the Pakistan army this month, at least 15 soldiers are killed in a bombing at an army building.
  • Search continues for the 63-year-old millionaire and aviation record-setter Steve Fossett who disappeared after setting off in a plane on Monday roughly 80 miles (130 km) southeast of Reno, Nevada.


  • Facing a saffron onslaught, govt decided to withdraw affidavit's 'objectionable' paras questioning Lord Rama's existence (Indian express)
  • The Board of Control for Cricket in India has announced plans for a new Twenty20 tournament in October 2008 which will feature two teams from India, competing against two each from England, Australia and South Africa.
  • Sensex opens to near all-time high.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Smoking gets another kick in the butt!

As if smoking wasn't bad enough for you already, the September issue of "Neurology" published the results of a study stating that smoking may accelerate cognitive decline in non-demented elderly individuals. The study was a multi-center prospective cohort with an analytical sample of 9,209 persons of 65 years and over examined over an average period of 2.3 years.

The higher rates of decline are contrary to early case controlled studies that suggested smoking protects against Alzheimer disease.

The study was supported by Erasmus Medical Center and several governmental health organizations in the Netherlands.


Today's Stories from across the globe and India
  • Putin shakes up government in effort to "help nation prepare for elections"
  • An Earthquake measuring 8.4 in magnitude hit the Indonesian Island of Sumatra
  • Center files an affidavit in Supreme court stating that there is no historical proof of Ramayan as its defence for the Sethusamudram project
  • Ms.Khurana who was accused of running a prostitution ring out of her school, was cleared of charges and the school ordered to reinstate her when it was revealed the TV sting operation was fabricated. Hours after the broadcast accusing her, a mob attacked the school at which she worked, dragged her out and assaulted her.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Today's stories from across the Globe and India

  • The Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has confirmed an outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever, in the province of Kasai Occidental.
  • Shinzo Abe resigns as Japanese prime minister after a bruising election in July and poor poll ratings.
  • Hindu groups have called for a nation-wide road blockade to protest the government refusal to stop the 560-million dollar Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project project, saying it will demolish a bridge linking India and Sri Lanka, believed to have been built by Lord Ram.
  • India's ruling Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly, which has acknowledged Mahatma Gandhi's birthday as International Day of Non-Violence
  • Every man in Boraj village was made to strip to his underwear and inspected by village leaders investigating the rape and murder of a woman to see if anyone had signs of a violent struggle.

Is Aziz Premji Muslim Enough?

In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Sept 11, 2007 "How a Muslim Billionaire Thrives in Hindu India", the author Yaroslav Trofimov discusses how Mr.Premji's secular principles are at odds with the general Indian Muslim population.
Trofimov says that in a country where Muslims often fair worse than Dalits in some economic and social measures Aziz Premji, CEO of Wipro Inc, is a huge anomaly.
The question posed is should he embrace his heritage at least as far as promoting development and education to the under privileged Muslim masses. He is secular to the extent of rarely mentioning his Muslim ethnicity, not observing Islamic holidays at his work places and in not particularly favoring Muslims (or any religious group) in his private philanthropy or hiring practices. He claims he is an India first rather than a Muslim or Hindu. But with an estimated net worth of $17 billion is there a motive behind his lack of religious identity, charity or support. Is he being socially irresponsible when he could make a huge difference in uplifting Muslims and helping them be better prepared for a modern India? Or does he feel that by embracing globalization, capitalization and modernism he clashes to severely with the conservative Muslim ideology to be able to help or have his help accepted readily. Care to venture?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nawaz Sharif Enters Pak - but only in transit!

A very defiant Nawaz Sharif's return to Pakistan turned into a quick stop-over on a long international flight. The exiled ex-Prime Minister was arrested at the airport and flown back to Saudi Arabia. During his short stay at the airport he was not allowed any contact with the outside world and had a brief confrontation with the authorities when he refused to hand over his passport.

Pakistani politics has taken an interesting and very bold turn. Musharraf has seen increasingly brazen revolts to his dictatorship like rule. The country's Supreme court has shown great courage and dignity by ruling against him recently. Citizens have braved the military might and protested openly on the streets. Previous exiled and persecuted leaders are inspiring and instigating the people of Pakistan to voice their opinions as they attempt to return to active politics.

Democracy is making a slow comeback in the most unlikely of circumstances. Musharraf has had to watch his back even more closely. More so I think this time in history will go down as one of its most significant for Pakistan since its independence and partition from India.

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa & Fashion faux pas

Every year Indian cloth designers showcase their creations at “India Fashion Week” to hopefully lure customers and distributors alike. This year India’s premier fashion event grew in size and attracted even more international buyers and interests.

In its honor I have donned the role of fashion critic and decided to be especially caustic towards a couple of “Magical Mentors” on Zee TV’s top rated music talent show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2007.

I recently added Zee TV to my cable channel line up and finally had a chance to view the show that is raking in the moolah for Zee.

The show boasts of over the top sets, corny themes along and some very talented singers. The singers are both coached and critiqued by a set of music industry aficionados, the so called “Magical Mentors’

The singers are often dressed up in very unflattering costumes and jewelry as the singing contest morphs into a test of acting as much as singing. But the real show is at the mentor’s desk. Two of them attempt to exhibit their fashion sense each episode only to lower their style quotients below previously unsurpassed depths. Himesh Reshammiya tries hard to look “cool” but the harder he tries the more looking cool evades him. His head is perpetually partially hidden by some form of headgear of varying color and often with oversized lettering. His undersized clothing hugs dearly to his body and the deep necklines will make J-lo blush in a hurry. His chest isn’t the only thing he isn’t shy to show off, he often breaks into melody in his trademark high-pitched nasal voice during his analysis of contestants. Powdered face, glossed up lips, tinted glasses and perfectly set hair only make up a part of the flamboyant ensemble that is Bappi Lahiri. A gaudy over coat or shirt is usually overlaid with several pieces of shiny jewelry. As he rises to proclaim a score of “10 marks!” (a frequent score for him) he reveals more of his dazzling outfit that is sure to transfix you with its intricacies. As quirky as his dressing might be, it is unique and very original among any Indian celebrity. He deserves kudos on that aspect.

Despite their failing fashion sense, both of them are accomplished in their own genres and command an immense amount of respect in the music industry (Bappi more so than Himesh). For those that are musically challenged, like me, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa offers an entertaining sideshow.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

An illicit affair? : India-Iran-US relations

Walking a tightrope on the Iran nuclear issue India reiterated its stance that “Iran has the right to develop peaceful use of nuclear energy while fulfilling all its international commitments and obligations”. India finds itself in an enviable position. A non-signatory of the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) with an active and known military nuclear program, it has recently received support from the Whitehouse for a new nuclear cooperation agreement. Iran on the other hand, a signatory to the NPT, has had to go shopping for support of its uranium enrichment. Iran has been threatened with sanctions, if not actual violence although there is no clear evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Many regard India’s response towards Iran supposed threat as “tepid”, unsubstantial or even supportive.
It is easy to demonize Iran based on its past actions and unsubstantiated chemical and nuclear threat. But the present Iraq debacle must require the world to tread carefully and with some hesitation when it comes to responding to a country that spouts more rhetoric than true harm.
Either India truly considers Iran’s intentions to be benign or it considers maintaining positive ties with Iran too important to its strategic political and energy needs. The leftist parties supporting the government will see ostracizing Iran as strong alignment with the US and a weakening of India’s sovereignty in its foreign policy. They have already been vociferous in their opposition to India’s vote against Iran at the UN. India and Iran also have cooperated to secure their interests in Afghanistan as both see the Islamic extremism growing out of the country as a threat to their own. India-Iran commercial relations are dominated by Indian imports of Iranian crude oil, accounting for roughly 85% of Indian imports from Iran each year. There is also the proposed construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan to meet India’s growing energy needs.

By maintaining and strengthening ties with Iran the Indian government has made an attempt to secure both its political future and the country’s energy and security demands. But by voting against Iran to bring its nuclear program before the UN Security council, it has also exhibited its intent to reprimand Iran if it veers from international laws it has signed on to. Under pressure both from within its borders and from the US, India has chosen a responsible non-confrontational path that regardless of its motivation is consistent with its emergence as a global powerhouse.

References: Commentary by Harsh V Pant (for ISN Security Watch (May 30, 2007), India, Iran and US Nuclear Hypocrisy by David Krieger (National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006), India's Tough Choice on Iran By Sadanand Dhume (Special to's Think Tank Town, August 11, 2007), India-Iran Relations and U.S. Interests by Alan Kronstadt & Kenneth Katzman Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division (CRS Report)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Barack Obama in San Francisco

Barack Obama addressed "Women for Obama" rally in San Francisco on September 07, 2007.

So I am not completely sold on Obama's candidacy but there is no denying his charisma and ability to electrify an impatient crowd. His speech was very relevant and peppered with sterling sound bytes.

Below are some excerpts of what you will hear on the videos I recorded at the rally.

"We have seen a disastrous war in Iraq that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged.....a war that has to come to an end."

"Like my colleague Dick Durbin pointed out the other day, even Paris Hilton got some jail time" - in reference to Scooter Libby

"I think its time for us to engage with friends and enemies in a way that restores America's moral leadership securely in the world"

"George W Bush has been a great advertisement for the Democratic party"

"I have said there are no good options in Iraq, there are bad options and worse options, and we can be more careful getting out than we were careless getting in."

"We can end this war without George Bush, and if we don’t that will be the first thing I will do as President of the United States."

"... and as for the law “No child left behind” we are leaving money behind........which is why as president I will want a campaign to recruit an army of new teachers and we are going to pay them better, and were are going to give them more support and help them reach higher standards by working with them not working against them"

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Questioning your faith?

Recently some personal letters and memoirs of Mother Teresa were made public as the Vatican debates her sainthood. In an article for Newsweek, Christopher Hitchens a longtime critic of Mother Teresa's possible sainthood elaborates on his opposition. Here are two quotes from that article that were particularly poignant.

"So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them-because of blasphemy

If there be God-please forgive me
When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven-there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul,
I am told God loves me-and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.
Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?"

Mother Teresa, seems to question her faith

" is the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe in impossible things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate reason rebels"

Christopher Hitchens in "The Dogmatic Doubter", Newsweek Sep 10, 2007.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Obama on India

Recently "India Indeed" emailed the Obama campaign with a few questions for the US presidential hopeful and strong democratic contender Senator Barack Obama. I asked about the role he expects India would and does play in world politics, his support for the nuclear agreement and if he would visit India if here were to become President.

Although the response was a bit generic and rehearsed in parts, it was prompt and resonated with his support for strengthening ties with India. While I assume that the letter was not actually penned by the Senator but by an authorized spokesperson, he is the signatory on the letter and its contents must reflect his opinions and policies.

In his letter he draws parallels with the US on the value for the rule of law and cultural pluralism among other goals and interests. He says our commonalities in values and united fight against all forms of threat to its citizen's way of life make him support "joint initiatives in fields from military cooperation to public health to energy and technology", without a direct reference to the nuclear deal with India.

In light of India's 60th year of independence, he alludes to Mahatma Gandhi's freedom struggle as influential to young Americans and inspiring velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and the abolishing of apartheid.

He acknowledges the "strong contribution" of Indian Americans who have been "balancing love of the homeland with a strong commitment to America".

Gandhi's non-violent revolution seems to have deeply influenced his belief in "peaceful organizing to bring about popular rule ". This according to him is also India's enduring legacy and one of India's greatest gifts.

Do his glowing tributes indicate his intent to visit India in the future? With no answer to that question, I assume it's a "maybe"!

View full text of the letter from Senator Obama at "India Indeed In-depth"

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

India's hungry can be fed

With billions in reserves (In 2001 India had a national stockpile of around 60 million tons of rice and wheat) and a robust economy India still suffers from a malnourishment epidemic and persistent hunger among many of its people. The United Nations' World Food Program claims that "nearly 50 percent of the world's hungry live in India, a low-income, food-deficit country. Around 35 percent of India's population is considered food-insecure, consuming less than 80 percent of minimum energy requirements."

What causes the persistence of food deprivation in the country? Either the food production and/or availability are failing the people (Food Security) or the people that are hungry cannot afford to the buy the food that is available (Financial Security).

If it can be argued that these are the root causes of hunger then a society that ensures all its people minimal financial security along with steady food security through a well governed public distribution system, then hunger could possibly be eradicated.

Read more on how I think the present system in India can be fixed or changed to be able to feed India's hungry at "India Indeed - Indepth"

Monday, September 3, 2007

Poor Math!

In a previous post "Is India's boom trapped in the malls?", I referred to the Government of India's poverty figures and how their method of calculation is highly debatable. A blog I came across lists poverty figures quoted by various sources. The disparity just shows how the numbers are played around with to either suit someone's story or agenda.