Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yahoo! Mail Now in Hindi

Yahoo! India has announced Yahoo! Mail in Hindi.

The new mail offers a complete Hindi interface with users getting an option to read and write email in Hindi. Yahoo! Mail in Hindi includes all information similar to the one in English, except that it offers a distinct local flavor.
John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo! Mail, said that the product and engineering teams in India have played a crucial role in this localization.

Yahoo! India has also announced a Web-based version of its instant messaging service, Yahoo! Messenger, named "Yahoo! Messenger for the Web" at http://in.webmessenger.yahoo.com.

"Yahoo! Messenger for the Web" does not require any downloads, and gives people the freedom to instant message from anywhere from an Internet-enabled computer.

And the big attraction is it allows users to chat in up to 9 Indian languages, including Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayali, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, and Gujarati. Users can also switch between languages seamlessly.

Globally, Yahoo! is today launching a new version of Yahoo! Messenger, i.e. Yahoo! Messenger 9.0.

Yahoo! Messenger 9.0 has a redesigned interface with new 'skin' background designs, and new emoticons for expressions like 'thumbs up', 'thumbs down', and 'rock on'.

Yahoo! Messenger 9.0 has more apparent communication features. With this version, users can forward offline IM's to mobile devices as also forward incoming phone calls to phone numbers. Videos can be sent from YouTube, Yahoo! Video, etc, and contacts can watch synchronized video through a sharing window. Similarly for photographs from Flickr or users' desktops.

A $100 Laptop; or is it?

$100 laptop no more!

Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child Foundation (OLPC) has begun selling its famed $100 (XO) laptops for no less than $200 a piece.

The laptops are being made available in quantities of 10,000 and more via the OLPC Web site at: http://laptopfoundation.org/participate/givemany.shtml).

So far, the one constant in the journey of the $100 laptop has been the steady rise in prices: from the original $100 to the interim $150 to the recent $188.

What is surprising though is that the laptops being offered via the OLPC Web site are part of a donor program, wherein donors who purchase them will get to decide where they are to be sent, etc. So why are they priced so high?

Further, the XO laptops are slated to go into production in China next month, which is behind original schedule. Same with the quantities to be produced, which are way behind earlier projections.

And, the software required to run the laptops is not expected to be ready before December 7th. Which means customers have a long wait ahead before they can get their hands on the laptops.

The so-called $100 laptop comes with: a keyboard that switches languages, a video camera, wireless connectivity, an Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) microprocessor, and Linux software.

While the laptop uses Linux software, Microsoft is trying to make its Windows XP software work on the machine.

The laptop's display switches from color to Black and White for viewing in direct sunlight. The machine needs just 2 watts of power as compared to a typical laptop that needs up to 30 to 40 watts of power.

The laptop has no hard drive, and uses flash memory and four USB ports to add memory and other devices.

'Why The India Story Looks So Good'

The PM talked about the inevitability of reforms, benefits of liberalisation and globalisation and also about how 'India has never reneged on its international commitments'. No, he didn't bring in the nuke deal, but wonder if it would still make the Left see red

Prime Minister’s remarks at the Fortune Global Forum.
I am delighted to be here today in the presence of such an august gathering. You represent the best and brightest in global enterprise and creativity. I welcome you to a country which has itself embarked on a journey of enterprise and creativity. I hope you not only enjoy your stay here but also get a feel for the momentous changes that are taking place across the length and breadth of this vast nation. India is a nation on the move. The elephant, which has long been commented upon as being slow and sleepy, is not just wide awake but moving forward rapidly. So rapidly that it has become imperative for the global community to notice and acknowledge its emergence on the global stage as an economy that counts.

You are all distinguished and experienced CEOs of important global companies. I am sure you have done your homework on the quantitative dimensions of India’s resurgence. Your presence here in such numbers is an indication of the dynamism that exists in our country.
I would not like to go through the numbers. These are well known to you. However, it is undeniable that India is on a new growth trajectory. A trajectory where sustained economic growth of 9-10% per annum--growth rates which were considered impossible even five years ago--seems possible for many years to come. This acceleration of economic growth over the past two decades has been driven by rising investment and savings rates and by rising domestic consumption. I believe this can be sustained into the foreseeable future for two important reasons.

First, we have witnessed an unleashing of Indian enterprise in this past decade. Big corporates have gone global. Small and medium enterprises have become more competitive. A new generation of local enterprise has burst forth onto the business stage. These “children of reform”, who have benefited from our ongoing liberalisation and reform programme, are our vanguard to a new India--an India that is prosperous, equitable and just. At the same time, our growth process is based on a widening and deepening of our own domestic market. As the Indian market grows, it is creating new opportunities for businesses across the world.

Second, a demographic transition is underway in India. We are increasingly a country of young people. For many decades to come, India will be one of the important contributors to the available global workforce. However, to benefit from this greening of India, we need to invest in our people, in their education and skill building. This is an important part of our government’s development agenda. We have been able to ensure a massive increase in public funding of education, including vocational education. We hope to unleash a new revolution in modern education.

Simultaneously, we have increased public investment in agriculture, rural development and infrastructure. We are working to remove regional disparities in development; to improve the productivity of our agriculture; and, to increase employment opportunities outside agriculture. We have facilitated greater private sector participation in infrastructure through public-private partnerships. Our needs are immense. In the next five years, we need more than US$ 450 billion as investment in infrastructure alone. We see this coming from both domestic sources and from foreign investors.

Let me say with a sense of satisfaction that the numbers on economic growth are good. I compliment our economic management team consisting of the Finance Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission for managing the economy so efficiently.
However, I must say that we can do even better. I believe that India must do better if it has to meet its developmental aspirations and equity goals. We have to ease up the bottlenecks constraining growth. We have ambitious plans to expand and modernise our infrastructure sectors such as roads, railways, civil aviation, sea ports, energy and telecommunications. We have to ensure that the growth process is socially inclusive and generates adequate employment. We cannot rest on what we have achieved so far. We need two more decades of sustained effort and work if we are to get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease which have afflicted millions of our countrymen for centuries.

As India grows, it seeks a wider engagement with the outside world, as an open market and an open society. As a nation of young people, we view the world as a planet of opportunities. We are aware of the risks associated with globalization. However, we have the confidence to utilise the opportunities being created. I believe that is the mood in India today.

We do want to be more integrated with the global economy. This is the best way to expand our development possibilities. A prosperous, stable and democratic India is good for the world. At the same time, we seek a more equitable world order. India must regain its due and rightful place in the globalised world, taking on the obligations and responsibilities that come with it, and making use of the opportunities.

Let me say without hesitation that we are committed to the successful functioning of a rule based multilateral trading system. India remains committed to the successful conclusion of the Doha Round at an early date. We do hope that the round keeps in mind the development dimension and also addresses the concerns of millions of our subsistence farmers. Trade liberalisation has contributed immensely to our economic growth and to the growth of the world economy. Lowering trade barriers both at home and abroad has helped us. Our enterprises have become more globally competitive.

More importantly, new business activities have grown in response to global opportunities. The successes of our IT, automobile and pharmaceutical sectors is living testimony to the benefits that liberalisation and globalisation have brought us. Sometimes, we do worry that at a time when we are becoming more open, protectionist voices are being heard in developed economies. The lesson we must all draw from the experience of the past century is that no country can reverse the dynamics of social, economic and technological change. Rather we must learn to cope and adapt with change.

This is precisely why India chose to join the World Trade Organization. You will recognise the fact that we have adhered to all our Uruguay Round commitments. In fact, our firms have benefited from these commitments. While we remain committed to these obligations, we must also explore ways in which developing countries can catch up in the race to modernization.

We have affirmed our commitment to the protection of intellectual property rights. However, the global community cannot afford the complete privatisation of research, of knowledge generation, especially in fields like medicine. We need to evolve mechanisms that protect intellectual property and at the same time, address the needs of the poor. With the increasing privatisation of R&D in science and technology, modern societies require new approaches to the sharing of knowledge where such knowledge is of benefit to all humankind.

What the world needs today is a new concord between private enterprise and public welfare. How do we maintain the required incentive mechanisms that encourage private initiative and enterprise, while at the same time ensure that public welfare is enhanced? This dilemma poses itself most obviously in health care.
The policies we require to incentivise new R&D must be balanced against the need to ensure availability of affordable medicines.

There are similar trade-offs we need to reflect on when we consider the problem of climate change, global warming, ecological degradation and environment policies. The developing world will continue to see per capita consumption rising in the foreseeable future. This will exert pressure on global resources. How do we balance the aspirations of the world’s poor against our shared concern about the sustainability of the growth process?

Let me assure you that we in India are deeply and sincerely committed to the protection of our environment. The Indian approach to climate change and global warming derives from the ancient Hindu saying--vasudhaiva kutumbakam--“the universe is one family”

As I had said at the G8 Summit in Germany, India accepts its global responsibilities. We are willing to accept the obligation that our per capita emissions will never exceed the per capita emissions of developed countries. If developed countries succeed in reducing their per capita emissions, this would exert pressure on us as well.

Whether it is on trade policy or on climate change, or indeed on any international obligation, India has always worked with the global community. Moreover, India has never reneged on its international commitments. India has been a reliable partner, a responsible global citizen. India respects the rule of law. India is, therefore, a predictable partner. This is what makes India an attractive destination for investors like you.

I know very well that investment is an act of faith. It is shaped by perceptions, by expectations and by all the uncertainties of life. I invite you to have faith in India. I assure you that your faith will not be misplaced.

I do sincerely believe that the success of the Indian experiment--the experiment of a developing economy seeking its salvation within the framework of an open society and an open economy, committed to the protection of fundamental human rights and the rule of law, as a plural, secular democracy--has a global relevance. Its success has a global significance. India’s success and the success of this experiment can alter the course of history in the 21st century.

The record of the 21st century has been a mixed one as far as democracy is concerned. While people across the world have rejected fascism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, the record of democratic societies in pulling people out of poverty has not been as convincing as we would have liked it. Let us show that this is indeed possible.

All those who invest in India, who invest in its future, who invest in India’s prosperity, who invest in the capabilities of the Indian people will be investing in the future of democracy.

The beauty of Indian democracy is its vitality; its ability to periodically rejuvenate itself; its ability to reform itself. We will continue to do so. Our systems may be slow, but they are steady. We will continue to reform our systems and our institutions, so that our economy becomes more efficient and our society more equitable.

I must draw your attention to the fact that the road to such reform over the past two decades has been a one-way street. Different political parties of different ideological hues have been in office over the past two decades. Yet, no policy reform has ever been reversed. The Indian economy, and its globalisation, has moved in only one direction--towards greater and greater freedom for individual creativity, initiative and enterprise. And towards increased integration with the world economy.

That is why the India Story looks so good.This was what we dreamt of in 1991. I doubt whether Fortune would have considered hosting such an event in India even a decade ago. The fact that you are all here today is proof of your faith in the abilities of our people. Be it FDI flows, investments in our stock markets, investments in our knowledge economy, the signals are all positive. We will work to keep these positive. I hope you will remain engaged and committed to India. I wish you well.

An Organ For A Dime

A Chennai doc's arrest shows the kidney trade continues to flourish in the city

Doctor Kingpin

* Conducted 471 kidney transplants in two Chennai hospitals in the last six years
* Charges Rs 15-Rs 20 lakh per operation. Is said to be worth Rs 100 crore. Owns three bungalows and three farmhouses in and around the city.
* Donors, most of them poor, gullible women, were lured by lakhs but paid only a few thousands

Chennai cops now admit that it is but a fraction of a well-organised racket involving a network of brokers, sub-brokers, and doctors, with gullible donors hoping to better their lot.

"They spoke so well," says a poor woman donor. "And they were doctors, after all. We trusted them."

Many believed the kidney racket flourished—and faded out—in Chennai in the '90s. Till the Mumbai Police arrested Dr Palani Ravichandran on October 16, and discovered that the trade was thriving. With his tally of 471 transplants in six years—most of them at Chennai's
Bharati Raja and St Thomas Mount hospitals—Ravichandran is believed to be the mastermind behind a racket which is worth several hundred crores.

Charging between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 25 lakh per surgery and paying donors only in the region of Rs 25,000-Rs 60,000, Dr Ravichandran's personal assets are worth Rs 100 crore. He reportedly owns three bungalows and three farmhouses in and around the city. Income tax raids at his residence in Mugalivakkam and clinic at St Thomas Mount yielded incriminating documents. The Mumbai crime branch has also seized documents that will throw light on the kidney transplants conducted by doctors at two Chennai hospitals.

Dr. Dread: Ravichandran, the brain behind the racket
The Mumbai police got wind of Ravichandran's antics after Jeetu Borkar, an unemployed youth from Chembur, suburban Mumbai, who donated a kidney, complained of being shortchanged. He was promised Rs 4 lakh but paid only Rs 25,000. The trail of investigation led the police to Dr Ravichandran, who was arrested along with four touts in the city. Investigations revealed that while the doctor was based in Chennai, he also facilitated and performed transplant surgeries in Mumbai.

Among the scores of women who parted with a kidney to buy a better life is Uma Devi, 26. Promised Rs 3 lakh by a broker and a "Dr" Ramesh of Arun Polyclinic in Vadapalani, she donated her kidney so her husband could have plastic surgery to fix the damage an acid attack caused to his face and chest nearly three years ago. But the doc reneged on the deal and she ended up with just Rs 63,000, a sari and a gold bracelet. She used the money to pay off her debts and later filed a police complaint saying she had been cheated.

Cheated is how every kidney donor (more women as there is always a risk of men having damaged their kidney due to drinking) is feeling, whether they parted with one of their organs a few years ago or in the recent past. It's also a reflection of how the law (the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1995, which makes donating your kidney for financial considerations or under pressure illegal) has been unable to stem the racket. In fact, the trade—and money to be earned thereof—has only grown in scale.

Uma Devi's case is quite instructive of the ingenious means the racketeers had devised to circumvent the law. Before she could offer herself as a donor, Uma was sent to Sri Lanka under an assumed identity—Govindamma—and a false Indian passport in April 2005. She returned a month later as Uma, on a Sri Lankan passport, and shown as a relative of Maheshwaran, a Lankan, who was undergoing dialysis at the Madras Medical Mission hospital. The idea was to show that Uma was her kidney recipient's relative in the medical report.

Unrelated kidney donors have to go through several screeings before they are cleared by the state government's organ authorisation committee.

Extreme circumstances compelled most donors to donate their kidneys, but all of them say they had no inkling that they would be conned. "They spoke to us so well," says Uma. "And they were doctors, after all. So, we trusted them." "I saw my neighbour go for blood and other tests," says Rajambal, another donor from Uma's neighbourhood. "She told me that a broker was going to give her money for her kidney. Since I had a daughter of marriageable age and no economic means to get her married, I decided to donate my kidney. I now feel I sold a part of my body rather cheaply."

The loot: Income tax men raid Ravichandran's Chennai house

How did things come to this pass? Scott Carney, a freelance journalist who has investigated the kidney racket in the state extensively, says a member of the TN Transplant Authorisation Committee had told him this: "We do everything in accordance with the letter of the law on paper, but we know that almost all of the documents we see are false. It is an open secret. It is either approve a transplant with forged documents, or a patient is going to die."

"The Directorate of Medical Services should investigate hospitals and the organ authorisation committee of the state health department," says superintendent of police K. Bhavaneswari of the Chennai crime branch. "We can book the accused only under sections of the ipc pertaining to forgery and cheating." The police have already sent a letter to the authorisation committee. "We have sent them a letter," says Abhay Shastri, senior inspector of the Mumbai crime branch who is investigating the case, "and are awaiting their reply. If they have given the permission, they will have some explaining to do."

Ravichandran apparently said he had "committed a mistake" during interrogation and that he was innocent. But Shastri refuses to believe this. "The entire nephrology department was under him," says he, "and he had hired an entire floor for the transplants." However, C. Natesan, managing director of the Bharathi Raja hospitals, has denied his hospital's involvement. "Dr Ravichandran," he says, "used to hire our operation theatre for surgeries and used to move his patients within a day or two. All consultations, tests and diagnoses were conducted at St Thomas Hospital with which he is associated."

But that, says eminent neurologist Dr G. Arjundas, "is like saying I rented out my house but I did not know bombs were being made in the kitchen. I am very, very angry. In our time, we let our work speak for us, but today some doctors think getting a BMW is what medicine is all about." The Hippocratic Oath? It went out with the 4th century BC.

Monday, October 29, 2007

In Modi’s best interests

On the face of it, the latest sting operation by Tehelka, also being telecast on TV, appears to expose those responsible for the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in February 2002. But, in fact, to any perceptible mind, the telecast could be aimed at helping Narendra Modi, who is currently fighting a tough battle within the Sangh parivar. The sting has helped revive the communal agenda, which was so pronounced during the state assembly polls in December 2002. And if riots break out again in Gujarat, it will be difficult for both those who carried out the sting and those airing it to absolve themselves of the responsibility.

The continuous screening of past events, and that too on the eve of the Gujarat polls, neither serves any journalistic purpose, nor does it help preserve communal harmony. Even as the state is trying to recover, the sting has revived ugly memories of incidents that are, in any case, being probed by the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission. The screening is bound to lead to a deepening of the communal divide, which may contribute to the improvement of Modi’s electoral prospects. The Gujarat CM must be amused by the fact that while he has consciously stuck to his development agenda, others are helping him out by bringing up an event that had helped the saffron brigade to retain power during the last polls.

While many may give Tehelka a clean chit for its latest exposé, the organisation has, inadvertently or deliberately, played into the hands of media spindoctors close to a section of the BJP, for whom Modi’s return to power is necessary to realise their own political ambitions. With the RSS having second thoughts on supporting Modi, many BJP leaders openly revolting against him and the VHP vowing not to help him, the Tehelka exposé has not only helped the CM, but also debunked organisations opposed to him at present by holding them responsible for the carnage.

One way of looking at the sting is that Modi is not being singularly blamed for the riots, since those opposed to him now are also shown accepting their guilt. Is this an attempt to unite the parivar? But the real question is why the Nanavati Commission is taking so long to reach its conclusions. The commission will find it difficult to ignore affidavits that were filed before the U.C. Banerjee Commission, appointed by the Railways Ministry to look into the Godhra train episode. The latter had concluded that there was no pre-planned attack on the kar sewaks travelling in the Sabarmati Express, and that the fire was, in all probability, an accident.

At present, a new direction is being given to the exposé. Some BJP leaders, part of the L.K. Advani coterie, are accusing the Congress of masterminding the exposé and have appealed to the Election Commission to ban its telecast. They seem keen to keep the issue alive. Gujarat has blacked out the particular channel screening the sting. The end result is that a desired controversy has been created and TRP ratings in the country are up. But on the ground level, polarisation may take place again.

It may be recalled that till the morning of the polling in Gujarat the last time, no one could say with certainty who would win. However, two prominent news channels had focused since that morning on Muslim areas where the turnout was large, juxtaposing the images with those of Modi commenting on Musharraf and his hate-based politics. There was a sudden change post-lunch and heavy voting followed in an already polarised society. The result was 127 seats to the BJP.

Even so, a careful analysis indicated that in as many as 28 seats, NCP candidates had polled more votes than the difference between the BJP and Congress candidates. In other words, if the NCP had been taken on board by the Congress, the result may have been different. But in politics, the winner takes all and Modi got the mandate of the people who, in three earlier polls before the Hindutva experiment was started in February 2002, had voted against the BJP. Thus, all secular forces must sink their differences to take on communal forces, as they did in the 2004 parliamentary polls.

This time, Modi has changed his tactics. While the CM is talking only of development, it’s his supporters who are raking up the Hindutva agenda aimed at polarising society. The timing also coincides with proposals being discussed by the RSS to bring about changes within the BJP. It is being speculated that the RSS may come out with a decision to curtail the powers of many BJP leaders. Indications of this came during RSS general secretary Mohan Bhagwat’s recent visit to Delhi, when he chose not to meet two top BJP leaders and later spoke to only one of them, Rajnath Singh. Things in Gujarat could also get murky for Modi when Uma Bharti visits the state early in November. The Congress, on its part, seems to be lost about its strategy, amidst unconfirmed reports of a prominent leader’s close understanding with Modi. In any case, admitting BJP rebels in the Congress will hurt the party. Its strategy should be to divide the BJP vote rather than include dissidents among its ranks. To counter Modi, who is popular in Gujarat, the Congress would do well to project a credible chief ministerial candidate.

The run-up to the Gujarat polls will witness many charges and counter-charges. But stings like the one being aired are only going to hurt the people, the state and the country. And no election is worth winning if it divides the people. Between us.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Eagle-Hotel California

Hotel california...lyrics

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night

There she stood in the doorway;
with the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year, you can find it here

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she
got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty
boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget

So I called up the Captain,
'Please bring me my wine'
He said, 'We haven't had that spirit
here since nineteen sixty nine'
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say...

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
They're livin' it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said 'We are all just
prisoners here, of our own device'
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
but you can never leave

Video Of the Day: Barbie Girl

Friday, October 19, 2007

‘Shining’ India Versus ‘Incredible’ India

WE MAY have to wait a few more weeks to be sure whether Mr Lalu Yadav and Mr Sharad Pawar will be able to check the US pressures and finally ward off an immediate mid-term poll. Until then the Congress will continue with its poll preparations. Fresh bouts of bonanza and concessions to different vote banks had begun six weeks back. A massive ‘Shining India’ style publicity package is the other ingredient of this campaign. Presentations have been impressive with charts and maps.

Initially, the strategic planners wanted to project the nuclear deal as a focal point and create a ‘development wave’. Even Mr Lalu Yadav had fell for the theme (‘those against the deal are against development’) and tried the ‘bijli for villages’ slogan in Bihar rallies. But the final blow came after Ms Sonia Gandhi’s Jhajjar rally. Even before this, the party’s tired campaign themes, mostly borrowed from Pramod Mahajan’s 2004 package, had failed to impress down-to-earth politicians like Mr Lalu Yadav and Mr Sharad Pawar. The NDA had realised at a heavy cost how ineffective has been the DAVP ad campaigns based on the listed achievements of the ministries.

True, the Congress can rightly boast of some of its social programmes like the NREP, Rural Health Mission, Bharat Nirman and the Right to Information Act. These were the ones looked down by the reformers as resource waste and populist profligacy. The reform lobby had resisted it when the common minimum programme was being discussed by the UPA parties. This has been the philosophy right from days of Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister in 1991-96. The UPA had approved them on Left’s insistence and as part of Ms Sonia Gandhi’s aam aadmi concept. If some of these schemes suffered from mismanagement and outright corruption, the blame must go to the respective state governments, not the Centre.

This apart, there are striking similarities between the NDA’s old ‘Shining India’ package and UPA’s hastily crafted ‘Incredible India’ programme. The latter lays emphasis more on India’s enhanced status under the UPA government as an emerging power. Incidentally, both ‘Shining’ India and ‘Incredible’ India rely heavily on economic showpieces like GDP rise, holding price line, rising stock market index, stronger rupee, ever shooting foreign exchange reserve and services like software and BPO boom. They form the mainstay of DAVP’s proposed Rs 250 crore advertisement campaign.

Before going in for a closer look at the UPA package, it is necessary to highlight certain basic factors that had given an edge to the NDA. Mr Vajpayee decided to advance the elections by six months to take full advantage of what was then considered as a pro-NDA wave. The BJP had done impressively in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Hence Mahajan thought the party could make a sweep in all BJP strongholds. As against this, mid-term elections are now being forced on an unwilling and unprepared UPA. While the former moved ahead with great elation, the UPA lacks the minimum self-confidence.

Second, if the NDA had gone triumphantly as a ruling party with majority, the UPA approaches the voters as a defeated caretaker government. Third, the ‘Shining India’ package came at a time when the economy was really on ascent and it had impressed the upwardly mobile middle classes. Now the GDP has reached its own plateau. Software, BPO and call centres were then growing on their own steam, giving great hopes to the educated middle class. Attrition was not known to call centres’ enthusiastic entrants. Now most of these avenues are facing gradual descent, if not outright stagnation, for reasons beyond the government’s control.

It is unfair to blame the PM or finance minister for the UPA’s dismal report card on economic front. If the NDA had been a beneficiary of a favourable global trend in early years of the decade, the UPA government has fallen victim to globalisation’s own ruthless dictums. Once you accept it, willingly or unwillingly, you have to undergo the rigors. Hereafter, domestic economies can no longer escape from the global karma. Take the SEBI index. The government may claim credit for crossing 18K. But even Mr Chidambaram now cautions the retail investors against its predatory character. Every one knows the spurt was due to the free play by the FIIs and the invisible hedge funds. Since September, a whopping Rs 18,000 crore have been pumped in by the predatory capital. US Fed cut and effects of subprime muddle have made India a temporary grazing field. Thus the sovereign India has lost powers to regulate its own market.

Efforts to check the inflation provides another instance of the new challenges being forced on domestic economies by globalisation. RBI tried all conventional methods to reduce liquidity. The steep hike in interest rate had some effect on inflation but it evoked clamour from sectors like construction and auto. The latter is under a threat of demand recession due to costly car loans. Apparently, the unchecked liquidity was due to massive borrowings abroad at cheaper rates by Indian corporates to raise capital. Finally the RBI curbs on foreign borrowings had some effect. But it is now being dubbed as violating the globalization rules.

Even this had only a marginal effect on prices. But when the UPA leaders tell the voters the prices rise is only at 3-4 per cent, it will be a cruel joke on their aam aadmi. It is the consumer index – which is still in 8 per cent range – that reflects the common man’s burden. Ten days back the department of consumer affairs revealed that prices of essential household commodities had gone up by as much as 25 per cent this year. The rise was as high as 10.4 per cent, 31 per cent, 19 per cent, 11.8 per cent, 25 per cent and 155 per cent for rice, groundnut oil, mustard oil, milk, salt and onion respectively.

Weakening of the US dollar has introduced a far more deadly infection on domestic economy. Trade balance has widened. Exports sector reports massive retrenchment and closure. Since July, government provided sops worth Rs 3,000 crore to exporters. Last week it announced tax concessions worth Rs 1,500 crore. Despite this, Federation of Indian Export Organizations fears immediate lose of jobs to over 80 lakh workers. I-T firms, most of whom are poised to face further loss, have warned the government against withdrawing the tax cuts. They fear the foreign clients will move to Philippines and Mauritius. In 2004, NDA’s ‘feel-good’ package was more substantial in content and thus less assailable. Hence the charge against the ‘shining India’ was that it was elitist and it meant nothing for the aam aadmi. As against this, the UPA’s proposed fare is much more vulnerable to attack. Its only strong point is the CMP-sponsored rural programmes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

India: The State of States

In its annual ‘State of the States’ survey, India Today magazine – the South Asian equivalent to Time, right down to its red window cover – put Bihar at the bottom among large states in eight categories ranging from economic output to electricity consumption. This hardly comes as a surprise as Bihar has earned an ‘F’ each year since rankings were first published five years ago.

Based on statistics from central government sources, about 37.5 percent of Bihar’s population lives below the poverty line, versus a national average of 27 percent. (This is defined as the availability of at least 2,400 calories per capita per day for rural areas, and 2,100 for urban areas.) Per capita income is just over $150, a pittance considering the national average is close to $500.

Like peeling an onion, it gets more painful with each layer: Barely 14 percent of households in the state have an electricity connection; the literacy rate stands at 46 percent and only 37 percent of children over 10 years old have completed primary education; and for every 1,000 children delivered as many as 60 die at birth, largely due to the absence of medical assistance.

In key developmental areas such as agriculture, health and governance, the state scored less than one on a scale of 10. That other states not long ago on par with Bihar have surged ahead on all fronts compounds its woes. With its fertile terrain, the Bihar nonetheless has an average yield per hectare of 1,535 kg compared to 3,943 for Punjab, with overall agriculture production dropping each year. Although water is never in short supply (as annual floods show), only 60 percent of arable land is irrigated.

The gloom is not absolute, however. Among other upshots, Bihar is the only state in India to have 50 percent of municipal bodies reserved for women. The innovative state property tax system is a model of efficiency that has been copied in Sri Lanka and as far as Africa and praised by the United Nations. State courts have also processed more criminals than courts in any other Indian state in the past two years, though this is not entirely laudable given the preponderance of criminality in Bihar.

The India Today survey furthermore reveals that Bihar posted the third best poverty drop at 12.94 percent, after Assam (21 percent) and Himachal Pradesh (18.8 percent). Additionally, overall access to and quality of health care posted a slight improvement.

At a conference prior to the release of the survey, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram claimed India would be able to remove “abject poverty” within 20 years -- if economic growth continued at its brisk clip, which clocked in at 9.4 percent last year. He also said it was a “myth” that states don’t have enough money to deal with pressing internal problems, presumably a veiled reference to Bihar and other flood-affected states that have vied with little success for millions in extra funds from the central government to speed recovery.

Click here for more information about India's Backdoor War.

Posted by Jason Motlagh on October 01, 2007 at 02:42 PM in Indi

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Branding of Nations

What it takes to BRAND a nation. Branding India

India chak diya!!! - Indians triumph in the inaugural ICC Twenty20 Cricket world championship

India - Truth Alone Triumphs

Bihar plans handloom park, offers subsidy on looms

The Government of Bihar has decided to provide 50 per cent subsidy on purchase of modern looms for quality production of textiles.

This is part of the state government’s plan for phased development of handloom and textile industry in Bihar.

The state government, according to The Times of India report, is also working on plans to set up an Rs 2 crore handloom park.

The state’s Industry Department release further stated that under the plan, the handloom clusters would be formed and they would have water-softening plants, dyeing chambers and ETP.

Besides, the state industry department plans to rejuvenate the processing plants and cooperative spinning mills, the release said adding that training institutions imparting skills in handloom and textile production would be upgraded in the first phase of the plan.

The state government has also proposed the creation of a raw material bank with a provision of 50 per cent grant for it. The proposal is aimed at ensuring continued operation of the handloom industry, and the government has decided to sanction a grant of Rs 5 lakh as initial working capital for the bank.
—iGovernment Bureau

Bihar plans Rs 25 crore panchayat e-Gov project

The Government of Bihar has given its go ahead to implement an Rs 25.2 crore e-Governance project to cover all its 8,479 panchayats.

The proposal that was approved last week at a state cabinet meeting in Patna aims at setting up a panchayat information centres or panchayat portals called Vasudha Kendras that will enable villagers to connect with the outside world and provide affordable and easy access to information about the government and its policies.

These Vasudha Kendras would further be connected to all state departments through the Internet and the government will provide computers and Internet connections at the panchayat level centre. According to the plan, eight government departments, including the chief minister secretariat, will be linked to the State-wide Area Network (SWAN).

The project aims at establishing direct contact with villagers and making the functioning of the government more transparent.

According to reports, the project would be developed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) along with the Bihar State Electronics Development Corporation, a state-owned IT body, while Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) will monitor the implementation.

The state had provided top administrative officials and ministers with laptops as part of its e-Governance initiative only recently. Besides, it has also connected all its 38 district headquarters through video-conferencing link.
—iGovernment Bureau

Bihar 2.0

King of chess

After 14 days of hard work in Mexico City, chess maestro Viswanathan Anand is entitled to a certain satisfaction. He has been crowned world champion (and received the attached prize money, $390,000, or over Rs 1.5 crore). Across 121 years, only 17 men have won this title — of them, Anand is the only one born and bred outside Europe and the former USSR. In most of the 160-odd nations where this ancient game is played seriously, this achievement would confer automatic superstar status. Sadly, in his country of origin, where chess was invented, Anand’s achievement is overshadowed in the public consciousness by the performance of the national cricket team. In contrast to the cricketers, Anand won without fuss and bother. He entered Mexico as the top seed and duly dominated a field, which consisted of eight of the world’s best players, emerging the undefeated champion. Uniquely, the 37-year-old is the only one to have won the world title under two different formats, and he also holds the world rapid title.

To play tournament chess at any level requires natural talent, strong will, good nerves, physical fitness and the acquisition of a huge body of knowledge about the ways in which the pieces interact across the 64 squares. While the other qualities may be genetic, acquiring the theory requires hard work. The game is taught in schools across much of Western Europe and across all the former Soviet republics by top-class practitioners. It is an amazing act of self-pedagogy for somebody to consistently beat the best products off those assembly lines. It is roughly equivalent to learning a foreign language with enough fluency to write in it and win a Nobel.

Anand’s feats have inspired an entire generation of talented Indian players. The “Indian chess revolution”, if it may be so described, has produced a string of teenagers (Harikrishna, Humpy, Negi, Sachdeva) who compete and win at the highest levels. Sadly, most of this activity has taken place off the public radar and been driven by the efforts of a few dedicated souls.

Chess has many positive externalities. It helps practitioners learn the discipline and self-control required to calculate a mass of possibilities and make quick decisions against a ticking clock. It is a terrific training ground for visuo-spatial pattern recognition. Last but not least, some of the thorniest problems in mathematics and computer science revolve around the game and programming computers to play it well. Thus, it has obvious synergies with information technology and training — the fact that Anand is the NIIT brand ambassador is recognition of this.

It is a relatively inexpensive sport — the programmes and coaching expertise are not expensive to acquire. Hosting a tournament or a circuit of tournaments also costs less than in most major sports. And, online audiences for world titles and events like “Kasparov versus Deep Blue” run into the hundreds of millions. However, other sports where India possesses fewer achievers routinely attract many multiples more by way of sponsorship. The last time Anand won the world championships (2000), chess itself was in turmoil with split associations and rival claimants for the title. This time round, he is the undisputed champion of the world. His achievements have already inspired many young men and women to commit energies to this mind-sport. It would be wonderful if India Inc. took note and started putting a little money into the game.