Friday, October 31, 2008

A Threat to India

Raj Thackeray has done everything that can be done to destroy the Indian Union. His violent 'protests' against 'outsiders,' or people from UP and Bihar, has already created havoc in Mumbai and Maharashtra, with the repercussions of it being felt all the way in Bihar, Lucknow and New Delhi.

For too long has this man been allowed to violate the law and escape justice, surviving with threats to create a state of lawlessness (which is already in place anyway). Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's fears/apprehensions/inability to arrest this pseudo-terrorist has also aggravated the situation.

The state Government has to act fast: arresting Raj will be the first step, using, if necessary, harsh force to contain the assured violence will be the second. Undoubtedly the Congress will lose the next election if it does this: but that is a risk it will have to take, for it is a matter of National integration and goes way beyond politics.

The Union Government is also obliged to do something, since the Centre is supposed to maintain National unity as per the Constitution. The letter written by the PM to the CM is a good step: more needs to be done.

This is an emergency: Raj Thackeray has threatened to agitate (read, create an environment of lawlessness and havoc) is 'outsiders' are included in the voters' list. This is the last straw: he cannot overrule the Constitution no matter who he is fighting for. This man is a terrorist, a danger to the Union and a disease that must be destroyed before it destroys everything else.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bang! Bang! Diwali's Over!

This happens year after year: some people, with too much money and too much time, go on bursting crackers well after Diwali is over! Good God, there is a reason we celebrate Diwali and it's not bursting crackers. It appals me that children and adults alike forget the real reason behind the festival and make it an annual cycle of sound and lights, like some reality show!

It's become all too common to hear loud bangs in the middle of the night (some leftover 'hydrogen bombs', no doubt) or even the day. Interestingly, the perpetrators seems to disappear with the smoke.

If any of you out there indulge in this, STOP NOW! Bursting crackers on Diwali is called celebrating, doing it after Diwali is called disturbing the peace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Sentiments Exactly

This cartoon from today's edition of The Hindu sums up my view on Mehbooba Mufti and her U-turn on elections in Jammu and Kashmir. First, the secessionist-in-nationalist's-guise opposes elections so that she can keep the message of hate going, then she launches her manifesto and says that her party (the PDP) will contest every seat!

Not that it's of much use, but I would be quite happy if the National Conference won the elections this time around. The Congress has virtually no chance of winning, although the same can't be said for the BJP.

Good luck, memsahib Mufti! May your clique reap as they sow...

(PIC: The Hindu > October 29, 2008 > Editorial)

Too Much of a Good Thing

Special Economic Zones (SEZs)

SEZs have been making waves for all the right and wrong reasons since 2005, some of them economic and others political. According to the SEZ Act, 2005, sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, a special economic zone is an area withing India that does not follow conventional laws, such as taxes and labour laws. SEZs are envisioned to be pockets of high-quality infrastructure and industrial units where nascent and not-so-nascent sectors can get a boost.

Initially, SEZs were created to promote exports. They have done that to some extent, but presumably, the Government went out of control.

The number of SEZs in India today stands at about 260 (according to the Ministry's related website) under the SEZ Act, 2005. Some of them have been successful in bringing India to the forefront of trade, particularly software exports, with impressive exports of over $18 bn last year helping to cover the trade deficit. However, some SEZs have not taken off and are, for all practical purposes, lying vacant.

Land Acquisition
The process of acquiring land for SEZs generates the most political fervour in India. From politicians to social activists to corporates, everyone has a say on the issue. But the truth is that SEZs, though an excellent instrument for growth and employment, have mushroomed too fast and in too ill-planned a way to meet their goals. Irresponsible clearing of SEZs will not only cost the exchequer but will also indicate that the Government is out to, literally, sell India!

The best way for SEZs to take effect is to have a limited number (and with new SEZs being approved every month under the UPA, that condition has not been met) and give them a lot of time to create jobs and infrastructure. By creating too many SEZs, the Government has just created more competition for industries that were supposed to need help to face competition in the first place!

However, some trade-based SEZs are a good step forward (such as the Mudra Port & SEZ). More efficient ports would ensure better trade and that would help every layer of society.

So while some SEZs have been runaway successes, others have been flop shows. Whether the electorate agrees is something we will know in 2009.

General Performance: Average

(This article is the first in a series on Infrastructure Development in India.)

Anand Retains World Chess C'ship

CNN-IBN and NDTV report that Indian Chess Titan Vishwanathan Anand has drawn his 11th match against Russia's Vladimir Kramnik to retian the World Chess Championship in Bonne, France. 

This his his third world title so far. The 11th match lasted 24-moves and saw the Indian winning the title again. 

According to a pre-match agreement, both players will share the EUR 1.5 million prize equally, although only Anand will walk away with the title. He will be returning to India shortly to celebrate with his family and the nation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Palindromic Moment

Wasn't I lucky, view the blog just in time to see 40,000 being broken in less than two years?
40004: that's a palindrome.
But our real achievemnt will be hitting 50,000, and then 60,000 by June, 2010. Can we do it? Watch this space to find out!

IOTY08: Opening Video

Coming on 2009 on OTFS

Hyderabad Celebrates Diwali

Ameerpet/Panjagutta, Hyderabad, Oct. 28, 2008
Late evening

As the entire country celebrates Diwali, the Festival of Lights, I decided to look around Hyderabad and see how people were taking in the festive atmosphere.

The festival truly lived up to its name, with every other building being lit up with lights, both electric and non-electric. Strangely, Dr. Reddy's was not awash with festivities: maybe the effects of a slowing economy are showing. Then again, the buildings around it were decorated with lights that made up for the Pharma giant's lack of enthusiasm.

The sky was a riot of colours with patakas taking wings. Hyderabadis have always loved doing things big, and the sky seems to be the limit to that! Then again, how can one celebrate Diwali without the classic 1000-bomb (or even 10000-bomb) patakas? They make a lot of noise - but that's a good thing. 

This year, the shops were not very busy as people preferred bursting crackers to shopping. The flower pots and charkas were all there, as were the diyas. Continuing the tradition that's been going on for thousands of years, people used earthen diyas to light up their porch, although the modern earthen diya often comes with wax instead of ghee.

Every store, from RS Bros. to Hyderabad Central, were awash with lights, as enterprising owners tried to lure customers with special offers. 

There was also a sad side to the celebrations: the sight of mongrels being frightened out of their wits was common as one walked down the road. Diwali is a difficult time for our co-earthlings. Speaking of walking down the road, even that was difficult because of the continuous fear of stepping on a pataka. But a reporter must do his duty!

But the festivities haven't ended yet: crackers will be going off all night (nobody ever listens to the police on such occasions) and the sky will continue to be a riot of colours. And I shall send a prayer that this display of unity lasts at a time when India needs it the most.


Announcing IOTY08

Last year, we celebrated a nation.
This year, we celebrate a superpower.

Opinions 24x7 Presents
 The 2008 OTFS Indian of the Year
Coming in 2009

UPA: An Orkut Straw Poll

The picture above is a straw poll conducted on orkut (link) asking users for their opnion on the performance of some UPA Ministers and the Government as a whole. It is clear from the results that the UPA will have to work very hard to convince the electorate next year.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Into the Future


The MoST has been one of the best-performing ministries of the UPA Government. It's biggest achievement is the setting up of the Tsunami Warning System after the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Former lawyer and Congress stalwart Kapil Sibal, who heads what is often described as 'the boring ministry,' was instrumental in India joining the Tsunami Warning System. he rightly noticed that science and technology could prepare India for another major disaster such as the Tsunami. Following the setting up of the system, India now has the ability of detect the early formation of a Tsunami and can take measures to avoid a humanitarian disaster.

But the achievements of the Ministry don't stop there. Under Kapil Sibal, the Ministry has extended full support to ISRO, which has seen the talented scientists at the organisation launching satellite after satellite successfully, topping it with Chandrayaan-1, a mission so great that it has caught the imagination of youngsters in India and around the world. The Ministry's determination to get cabinet approval for ISRO's missions, never letting money come in the way of scientific development, deserves high praise.

Under the Ministry, India also set up another base station in Antarctica. This further adds to our scientific prowess. Another significant feat was the Science Express, a joint venture between the Ministry, the Science Ministry of Germany and the Max Planck Institute. The Science Express brought the miracles of science to every child and has been hailed as a great success by the likes of eminent personalities such as former President Dr. Kalam. The efficiency and success of the Express has also prompted other countries to try to do something similar.

Love for Science and Technology has been an inherent trait of Indians (we invented zero, after all). And it is only appropriate that the MoST should take this ancient legacy forward. The sanctioning of Chandrayaan-2 for 2011-12 is the right step forward.

The Ministry of Science and Technology
General Performance: Excellent

And we thought India had it bad...

Many in India feel we have too many political parties. Well, after hearing the news of the collapse of another government in Israel due to failure in forming a coalition, I decided to find out a little bit about Israeli politics.

Like India, Israel has a Parliament (the Knesset, pictured above) which consists of 120 members in a single house. The leader of the largest party, or the leading party of the largest coalition, becomes the Prime Minister and allots cabinet posts to her co-workers. There is also a President, who acts as a ceremonial head of state, although real powers lie with the PM and the deputy PM.

Now, getting to the parties. Until recently, the ruling coalition was led by a party called Kadima (Hebrew for forward). The party controlled 29 seats, about 24%. With its allies, it had more than 50%. But there are many other parties in the Knesset. The Labour Party, the Jewish National Front and the Greens are well known. There is also United Torah Judaism, which uses religion as its poll plank. Finally, the other major parties include Kadima, Likud and Meretz.

Of the above, the Labour Party controls (or controlled) 19 seats, Likud had 12 and Hadash had just 3. With such a fragmented spectrum of parties, it's no wonder that coalitions have become the order of the day in Israel.

There are a number of smaller parties, many of which failed to secure a single seat last time. So my friends, next time you decry the coalition politics in India and wonder if other countries also face this 'menace,' just look at our Israeli friends and know that we are suffering together.

PS: In case you haven't guessed already, I love Israel and want to visit it in the future.

The Final Week

This week marks the last week of campaigning before the Nov. 4 elections. The last week is always crucial because any major upset will leave no time to make amends. So what is the position of the candidates as they enter the final lap of the race?

If you were to believe the opinion polls, Barack Obama has won it. There is no major survey that puts him behind John McCain. In fact, one of them even gives him a 12-point lead. Speaking on Meet the Press, John McCain virtually dismissed the polls, but his own campaign team probably knows that they've just about lost this one.

Then again, Democrats have the bad habit of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory: remember Al Gore? If Obama is not able to convince his electorate to get up and vote (and most of his followers are young, which means they don't like getting up and going to vote), he could still lose this. But with the current state of the economy, it seems unlikely that people would not be desperate enough to bring in some change.

Then there is Sarah Palin. Now, she's either an utter mistake or the greatest VP candidate ever. But you can't avoid her. You can hate her, but you will still try to listen to her speeches. She hasn't been doing a lot of good for McCain though. Of late, she's taken to criticising George Bush, who is often linked to McCain by Obama. That could prove costly. Joe Biden is also touring the nation, but he doesn't have the kind of presence Palin commands.

In short, the final week will be the acid test for the candidates. Obama must keep the momentum going, he cannot lose this race after coming so close. And he doesn't have to do much: just talk about the economy and he will win! McCain, on the other hand, needs a miracle. He needs to gather his conservative voter-base and prove (somehow) that he can change things. Of course, he could use the old issue of race, but in today's world, most people don't care as much about colour as they do about keeping their home.

The elections will be held on Nov. 4 and the voters will be all members of the electoral college. Catch the results live in CNN.

DC to be Sold?

NDTV Sports reports that the Hyderabad IPL franchise, Deccan Chargers, could be sold off to a rich NRI industrialist, making it the first IPL Franchise to change hands.

The deal could be signed in 2-3 days and involves $250 million for an 80% stake. KPMG will be the fecilitator. 

Now, this leaves you wondering as to why Deccan Chronicle (DC) wants to sell off its beloved baby. Maybe it's because of the team's disastrous performace at the IPL Series of 2008, where the Chargers won just two of their fourteen matches, ending up at the bottom of the table.

Maybe the internal politics of the team got too much. One wonders why VVS Laxman has been kicked off as the Captain, in spit of the noises around him as the 'hometown hero.'

But of course, the Champions Trophy is soon to begin, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed to see Rajasthan Royals win another series!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Avoid Mistakes with your Money

The great stock market crash of 2008, which saw the Sensex fall from 21,000 to 8,000 in a year, has left many worried about their losses and their financial future. At this juncture, it is necessary for you to know some important tips and facts.

1. Money you NEED goes in the bank
Never make the mistake of investing crucial money in the stock market. If you have money that you require to buy basic necessities (food, fuel etc.), do not put that in the stock market. If however, you come across some extra money (in the form of a bonus or a gift), you can put that in stocks. The stock market is not a charity: it can drag you down with a vengeance. Be very careful while putting your money in it.

2. Your house is never safe
Don't think that by storing all the money you have in your house, you can avoid every financial theory every thought of. If you keep all your money at home, you are still losing money. That's because of inflation. Inflation basically means the rate at which the value of your money is depreciating, or in other words, the rate at which things are become costlier. 

There's an old joke: inflation can your money in half without touching the paper. By keeping your money at home, it becomes static and loses its value. You must invest your money (in a bank, in stocks, bonds, gold etc.) to make sure that, at the very least, its value rises by a rate equal to the general rate of inflation. Otherwise, you are making a net loss year after year.

3. Check your age
As you grow older, you do not want to put more of your money in stocks (also called equities). This is because if the market falls sharply, you do not have the time to wait for it to recover. Say you invested Rs. 10 lakhs in stocks. Now, lets say that value became Rs. 2 lakhs in a year. If you are young, you have the option of keeping that money in the market for several decades more, but if you are fairly old, you might need the money at any time (for medical bills or dietary supplements). In such a case, you cannot wait for a few decades: time is not on your side.

In general, and there can be exceptions to this, the proportion of your money invested in equities should decrease as you grow older. At an older age, look at fixed-income securities, such as bonds issued by a stable government. 

4. PF and Life Insurance
It is highly recommended that you open a Provident Fund Account (PF), preferably one that is matched by your employer. What does that mean? It means that your employer takes a percentage of your salary each month and puts it in your PF Account, which can be used after retirement, and adds an equal amount to it. If such a provision does not exist where you work, open your own account and save some money each month.

For younger employees, Life Insurance is important. LI is a sort of security: anything could happen to you and your family needs some protection against a major tragedy. Whether you are a man or woman, you must have Life Insurance for the good of your own family. Plus, PF and LI are tax exempt (up to a certain limit).

5. Pay off your debts
If you have accumulated some debt (credit cards, car loans, home loans etc.) your top priority must be to pay it off. Don't take a loan that you cannot possibly pay off: be aware of your financial situation and take only as much debt as you can pay off. Avoid any credit card debt, the interest will kill you. For other sorts of loans, be prepared to face higher EMIs in case of a financial downturn. Again, don't borrow more that you can pay off in time.

6. Read
There is a lot of information out there that you need to know. Visit websites, read magazines and newspapers, read a book: you need to find out about the world you live in. For instance, do you know what makes a bank really "safe"? Do you know why tomatoes cost a lot more all of a sudden? You need to learn about all these things. Knowledge is the key.

7. Lastly, budget
Always try to prepare a budget of your monthly expenses. Include essential items and necessary payments (such as EMIs, schools fees etc.) but don't try to add any luxuries in the list. If you are lucky enough to have money left after you've bought your monthly supplies, try to save as much of it as you can, in a bank, mutual fund or any appropriate investment. You can take some of that money for luxuries: maybe take the family out for a movie a few times, eat out once or twice a month. If you've put enough money in your savings and paid off your bills, you are entitled to some fun!

Be optimistic, be patient and act smart. That's my advice for all of you.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are my own and are meant for general reading. They are not universal in nature. Please consult an able professional before making any decision regarding your money.

The Moral Inspector


The I&B Ministry is perhaps the leading indicator of the overall performance of the UPA Government. Historically, the Congress has tried to control the free media through various legislation, the Emergency being the very zenith of this. This trend was repeated under PR Das Munshi, who christened himself the "moral Inspector" after banning FTV and AXN for 'immoral' programming.

But the most disastrous act of the Ministry was undoubtedly the bureaucratisation of state-run Doordarshan. Today, DD is controlled by the choicest bureaucrats, none of whom have the skill or experience to run one of Asia's largest broadcasters. Doordarshan continues to be shunned by the urban masses and even the rural populace is losing interest in it. DD has not been able to achieve the quality and reliability of the private media and does not cater to the younger audience - unless you count the educational channel, Gyan Darshan.

The controversial move by the Ministry of trying to give bureaucrats the power to virtually take over any media house deserves criticism. The Ministry has repeatedly tried to tell the media what to do, banning those whom it considers 'immoral.' If not for the resilience of these media corporations and their determination to staying Independent pillars of democracy, the free media would most certainly have been gagged.

Amazingly, the Minister himself appears to be very camera shy, giving only a few interviews and participating in no debates at all! That, compared to his predecessor Sushma Swaraj (BJP), is a bad sign. 

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
General Performance: Bad

The Festival of Lights

Diwali is an important festival in the Hindu calendar. It marks the return of Lord Rama from exile after vanquishing the demon Ravan of Lanka and spending fourteen years in exile. Symbolically, the festival marks the defeat of evil at the hand of good, the triumph of justice and liberty. The diya, which symbolises light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of sorrow, is lit all over India to mark this great festival.

OTFS wishes all its readers a safe and happy Diwali.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'll Die for These

A short list of some of my favourite things to eat, in descending order.

Fried, but delicious! The first time I tasted B
hakarwadi was in Mumbai, and I've been hooked ever since. Sadly, Hyderabad isn't really a place where you can find freshly-made Bhakarwadi, so I make due with the "mini Bhakarwadi" marketed by that fabulous company, Haldirams. It's not as good as the original version, but it still tastes great. 

Pav Bhaji
The King of Chat (Pani Puri is the queen). Who doesn't enjoy a serving of pav bhaji, complete with a garnishing of onions and lemon juice? This snack (correction - meal) is so popular that you can find it anywhere. Plus, the magic of innovation has created new varieties of the iconic dish: you can now choose pav bhaji with masala pav, or a low-fat version or, if you are really health-conscious, raw banana pav bhaji!

This wonderful snack from the great state of Gujarat is a must-have for any bakery. I have no idea how they give it that texture but I love the way it rolls around in your mouth. For someone like me, the best way to have Khandvi is with a generous helping of green chillies: yes, you read it right! A little green chili rolled into a bit of Khandi and eaten in one bite: now that will set your taste buds on fire!

Yep, I, still mamma's boy! :-) The one thing I look forward to at home is a plate of rajma and rice. That's the best way to satisfy a starved stomach.

Hello Stranger!

One of the most common, and also most embarrassing, situations that I get into is meeting someone who acts like he or she is my best friend but whose identity remains unknown to me.

Just today, while walking back home, someone on a bike waved to me and called out my name. I smiled and waved back and he left. And the only question I had in my mind was: who was that guy? I don't remember meeting him before. Was he one the many juniors from Bhavan's, who know me because of the powerful position I once held there? Or was he one of my peers, whom I should be knowing?

Well, I have no idea and probably never will. It's not new though: I regularly forget people whom I meet everyday, and remembering every body's names in class is out of the question! Phone numbers, birthdays, addresses, dates... cross them all out too!

Good heavens, am I to become the youngest Alzheimer's patient in history?! Probably not: I still know more about the International financial system and the stock markets than any of my friends, and I did manage to learn Say This City Has Ten Million Souls, that fantastic poem about the plight of Jews. 

So maybe I can't remember the important things in life. But wait, who ever said Nuclear Non-Proliferation wasn't important?

Pakistan turns to IMF

Faced with an unstable economy on the brink of collapse and inflation at above 25%, the Government of Pakistan has approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid to avoid defaulting on bonds due next year.

Economists say Pakistan needs $5 bn to avoid defaulting on its loans, but the actual price tag may well be $8-10 bn. 

Pakistan also has a severe monetary problem: the Pakistani rupee continues to slide against the dollar, making imports more expensive, while the Central Bank's forex reserves stood at around $8bn, a small amount that will not be able to meet the needs of the country in a few more months.

Turning to the IMF is often seen as a last resort for developing countries, as IMF loans often come with strings attached, such as cutting down on spending on education and poverty-reduction and decreasing the size of government. Nonetheless, Pakistan has had to approach the body several times after Independence from Britain. 

A group of countries called 'Friends of Pakistan' is also debating on how to secure a $10 bn package to help the country. Pakistan's stability is seen as crucial because of its role in the US-led War on Terror.

[With inputs from CNN and the NYT]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CYG2008: India all the way

The 3rd Commonwealth Youth Games is a youth-version of the biggest sporting event ever to be held in India: The 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. Now, how can you still be stuck to your computer?

Chandrayaan-1 Launches Successfully

India's first mission to the moon Chandrayaan-1 successfuly completed its first stage this morning at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh with the launch of PSLV-C11 carrying the satellite.

ISRO scientists were enthused with the result of the launch, which proved yet again just how reliable the indigenous PSLV technology was. The Chairman of ISRO expressed confidence that the second stage would also be successful.

Stage 1 involves setting Chandrayaan-1 into an orbit around the earth. After two revolutions, necessary to pick up sufficient momentum, a set of rockets on the satellite would sent it towards the moon, after which a slow process of realignment would put the satellite in a close orbit around the moon. This should be completed in the next two weeks and will require constant monitoring.

Chandrayaan-1 puts India into a league of six nations that have had lunar mission.s PM Manmohan Singh saluted the team of scientists at ISRO for making the nation proud, while the International media spoke of a growing 'space race' in Asia between the largest economies in the region: Japan, China and now, India.

The cost of the mission was Rs. 386 crores or about $80 million, which might seem high but is actually the cheapest lunar mission undertaken by any country, which is another example of how Indian scientists can combine good economics with innovative design.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Freedom from Mindless Nonsense

CNN-IBN reports that India's longest-running soap, Kyunki Saan Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, could be going off air soon, along with its twin Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii. The two shows represent India's longest-running soaps, with an audience across India, Afghanistan and Iran.

Shares of Balaji Telefilms Ltd. (BLJ) tumbled after the company informed the BSE that its content provider for a popular soap was terminating its contract as of Nov. 10, 2008.

The soaps priduced by Balaji Telefilms, run by TV-queen Ekta Kapoor, have often been criticised for their mindless content and endless dialogues and quotes from religious texts. However, many Indian homes thrive on such programming and the shows account for massive revenues for Star Plus, run by Rupert Murdoch's Star Network (he also owns the world's largest media conglomerate, News Corporation (NWS)).

However, it has also been learned that some 'fresh' programming is being worked out to replace the (iconic?) soaps.

Aiming for the Moon

Oct. 22 will be a historic day for India, when ISRO's first mission to the moon - Chandrayaan-1 (Hindi for 'moon craft 1') -will take off on a two-year mission. Chandrayaan-1 will map the moon and create a detailed map of it (amazingly, there still isn't a detailed map!). Apart from that, it will also sent a probe into the moon to test the region just above the moon's surface.

The craft has eleven instruments in its payload: six from other countries and five from India. This International collaboration will be one of the most advanced of its kind in history. NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency are involved in the mission. 

If successful, the mission would go a long way in inter-planetary missions for future Indian scientists and would also enhance our knowledge of the Universe. 

It's times like these that it feels good to be Indian.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dividing the Union


The Issue
Over the past five years, demands for separate states have intensified across India. From the North to the South, East to West, the UPA Government has constantly been either criticised for inaction or praised for keeping the Union united. The following is an assessment on some specific issues.

The issue of granting statehood to the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, which was discussed in Part 1, has gained a lot of political backing of late. However, the UPA quietly said that the ultimate decision was up to AICC Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who seems o prefer a status quo. Meanwhile, YSR Reddy, the CM of Andhra Pradesh, has done quite a lot to show that he is against any division.

While many people in Telangana feel that a separate state would uplift them, they are certainly quite wrong. New states carved out in the North East prove that small states need not be successful. YSR Reddy's policy of bringing some, albeit too little, development to the region seems to have worked in the last by-elections, and one hopes his strategy is long-term.

Trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh
UP CM Mayawati is perhaps the only CM in India who openly advocates division of her state in three parts. I wonder whether the reason for this is legitimate concern for the people of one of India's most backward states, or simply to control three, rather than one, state. After all, Mayawati's political greed is legendary. 

In my opinion, trifurcation of UP will by no means end the plight of its people. The problem in the state is not lack of resources, but corruption and bureaucracy. Hardly any of the money meant for development ever reaches the people it's meant for. Until someone does something about that, dividing the state into a hundred pieces will do nothing.

Saurashtra is small region in Gujarat that took some time to integrate with the Union of India after Independence from the British Empire. Separatists in the state claim that they have been denied a 'fair share' in Gujarat's prosperity for decades. The issue comes up now and again but has largely been ignored by the UPA. In my opinion, there is no need for a separate state. Reconciliation will do.

The drought-ravaged region of Vidarbha in Maharashtra is perhaps the only region that deserves statehood. Over the years, neglect by political circles and the harsh climate have forced many debt-ridden farmers here to commit suicide. Vidarbha is perhaps the only region whose demand for a separate state are legitimate. The disastrous Monopoly Procurement Scheme destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and the state boards constituted hence have proved much worse than the scheme.

The solution to Vidarbha farmers' plight lies in a separate state. However, the UPA did not take this this for whatever reason (Maharashtra is also ruled by the Congress in a coalition). The PM's package for relieving the farmers here has also failed, as did the Farm Loan Waiver of 2008.

Finally, the issue of Gorkhaland is one that caused a law and order crisis in West Bengal, even prompting the Government of Sikkim to approach the Supreme Court. The GJM, the main political outfit fighting for the cause, has wreaked havoc upon the region. Through indefinite bandhs and economic blockades, they brought the region to a running halt. However, WB CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his party have been outright in their stand that West Bengal will not be divided.

The Gorkhaland movement is dangerous as it is a separatist battle for a prosperous region, which houses the Eastern Tourism hotspot of Darjeeling. TheUPA Governmnet's refusal to create a separate state and the Left Parties' stand against it are commendable. Gorkhaland will have to remain a part of West Bengal, a separate state would mean nothing.

Other Movements
Smaller movements have arisen from time-to-time over the last five years, the demand for a separate state for Nepalese in India being prominent. However, these got nothing more than a newspaper headline. Such demands are made by greedy politicians who will do anything to gain power. The UPA's refusal to all such demands is a mark of its achievement in keeping the Union United. The demand for a seprate nation of Kashmir is another story altogether.

Factor: Granting Statehood
UPA Government's Performance: Very Good

Modern Life

The short version: Birth > Studies > Death
Disclaimer: I have nothing against the citizens of Andhra Pradesh, including myself, This picture is simply in the spirit of humour.

PS: Facebook people, if you ever wondered why I study so much, that's the answer.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Your World Today?

Obama is the Best Choice

After clashing in three Presidential debates, John McCain and Barack Obama have made their policies and opinions on almost all issues clear, clear enough at least. And the best candidate, in my opinion, is Barack Obama.

Obama's healthcare plan makes a lot of sense: he will allow employers to continue paying for their employees' health insurance. He will make it necessary for those not covered by insurance to do so: he will provide the necessary tax incentives for that. He also proposes to exempt small businesses from providing insurance to their employees. He doesn't believe in blind tax cuts that will do more harm than good. On foreign policy, he is willing to breathe some fresh air into America's troubled relation with the world.

John McCain is exactly the opposite. His healthcare plan will end up destroying the employees' healthcare system forever. He wants to give multi billion dollar tax cuts to multi billion dollar corporations! He wants to fight in Iraq for a hundred years and will not commit to ending the terrorist hub that Pakistan's FATA has become. In short, he is a recipe for another deadly four, maybe eight, years!

Obama is the best choice. In November, we will find out if the American people agree.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Timings to be Changed: Sources


Sri Chaitanya IIT Academy, SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Oct. 14: With the revision schedule set to kick in soon, some good news has arrived for the students of S1/ISB. According to sources, the timings will be cut down by an hour and a half, with the working day extending from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM, a long-standing demand from S1.

It seems the college authorities did learn a lesson from last year, when they forced the students of the then S1 to study in college till 7:00 PM, even though IITJEE was close. That is seen as a major reason so many of them failed to qualify in spite of having the academic prowess. However, it seems the college wants to avoid the same mistake this year.

The new timings could take effect from Oct. 20 or Nov. 1. During classes, each subject will get three hours for studying, although these rules might have to be bent for Chemistry for a month or so.

Students interested in FIITJEE Talent Support Exam (FTSE) can learn about the test from the website. Hurry, the last date is Thrusday, Oct. 16.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman wins Nobel Prize

US Economist and leading economic critic of the Bush Administration, Paul Krigman has been awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics. Krugman is a celebrated New York Times columnist, whose articles are read around the world.

Krugman was the lone winner of the prize, somehing that is fairly rare. The citation said that his theory on trade and globalization helped him bag the honour.

Krugman, along with Tom Friedman, has always been one of my favourite columnists. What I like about his writing is his clarity and simplicity, his style that cuts out all the clutter an economics column is susceptible to. Moreover, his honesty is unquestionable. Whenever he enters the realm of politics, he plays it with a clear face. 

Whether it was his praise for Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan over Obama's (that, at a time when the American media was ready to declare Obama President of the Universe) or his criticism of the Republican Party for its absolute denial and overt and uncontrolled love for tax cuts, Krugman has discussed them all. He definitely deserves the Nobel Prize and I certainly hopes he keeps writing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vacation Reading

Yes, I know ON@CC release ages ago, but ever since its movie-version, Hello, released, interest over the story seems to have increased. That prompted me to read the original story, because movies are infamous for changing the plot altogether. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who: a) thinks he or she represents the youth; b) wants to understand the youth; c) hates call centres; and d) is an American.

The book is excellent and provides some good reading and some moral lessons as well. Do take some time and find a copy for yourself. You can watch the movie, but from what my friends tell me, it isn't worth it. I recommend the book.

Chetan Bhagat's other books are Five Point Someone and The Three Mistakes of My Life.

Don't Panic, ICICI Bank is in Great Shape

This SMS was sent a few days back to all ICICI Bank (IBN) customers. In it, the bank has simply stated the basic facts: its UK arm lost some money to subprime loans, but that amount is insignificant. Besides, its Indian arm has no such toxic debt from the US (all Indian banks have toxic debt in the form is farmer loans though).

Now, the Reserve Bank of India has come out with more data: ICICI Bank has more capital adequacy that any public sector bank. According to its report for 2007-08, ICICI Bank has a Capital to Risk Weighted Assets Ratio (CRAR) of 13.97%, well above the industry average and that of SBI (SBI) (12.64%) and HDFC (HDFC) (13.60%). CRAR reflects the ability of a bank to manage your money in case it faces loan defaults. The higher the CRAR, the more chances you have of getting your deposits back in case something goes wrong with the bank.

Overall, the CRAR of private banks stood at 14.30%, compared to 12.10% for nationalised banks and 13.10% for foreign banks. What does that mean? It means you MUST NOT PANIC! Nothing can happen to your money as long as it is in an Indian bank. For more safety, and most of you probably don't know this, the government guarantees Rs. 1 lakh worth of deposits in any bank, private or public.

If you have money in ICICI or any other private bank, leave it there! It is perfectly safe. If you have an investment that is nearing maturity, consider investing in bonds or gold. But don't take away your money and hide it in your almari (cupboard) or under the mattress. Inflation will cut in it half anyway. Read the papers, think rationally and don't do anything rash. Just because American and European banks are going under, that does not mean Indian banks are in danger.

And lastly, don't blindly rush to public sector banks. Yes, I know those who belong to Indira Gandhi's era will look upon public sector banks as infallible financial houses. That is not true. Go by the facts, check the Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) of the bank, surf some reliable websites for understanding what makes a bank good. Private banks are not as dangerous as you might think. Some of them are more reliable than nationalised banks. And lastly, avoid Co-operative banks at all costs.

ICICI Bank has filed a complaint with the police against a borker/sub-broker in Mumbai, who spread incorrect rumours that the bank had filed for insolvency. Read more.

[Data from NDTV Profit]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Volte Face in Desperate Times

Telugu Desam supremo N Chandrababu Naidu's sudden shift on the issue of statehood for Telangana smacks of political opportunism. After 25 years of striving for a united Andhra Pradesh, he has finally torn apart NTR's last legacy: unity.

This is not surprising though. Over the last few years, the former Chief Minister of AP has been making several U-turns of key issues. None greater that abandoning free market capitalism, of which he was the torchbearer. That explains how the man who called himself the 'CEO of Andhra Pradesh' and tried to squander Rs. 1 crore to build an F1 track, could mingle with poor farmers and communists, blasting the YSR Reddy government for so-called negligence. 

The truth is out there for the citizenry to see: with a slew of desertions (most notably that of Devendra Goud), a government that is not facing much anti-incumbency and has kept most of its promises, a one-day-wonder of a UNPA and an acute lack of allies, the TDP was pushed to the wall, facing the daunting chances of humiliating defeat in 2009. And that's what prompted the politburo to reverse its historic stand, not 'the people's sentiments, especially those of the Telanagan region' as Naidu said.

While the YSR Reddy government deserves applaud for its approach to development, and also criticism for a host of issues, the truth is that, except in Hyderabad, the TDP did nothing great for the rest of AP. Dividing it would be the final nail in the coffin.

A note of caution to the TRS, NTPP and other like-minded parties: Naidu is not someone you can trust. If he comes to power, there is a very good chance that he will backtrack on his decision. If you really want a separate state, you will have to forge alliances at the Centre, not the state. And the Congress and BJP are the only options as of now. No, Mr. KCR, Mayawati cannot do it for you.

(This is the first in a two-part series looking into dividing the Union further: whether it creates more unity or erects more walls. Kep reading the IN09 label to find out more. Also, be prepared for elections in Andhra Pradesh, also scheduled for 2009.)

Ending Nuclear Apartheid


In 2005, US President George W Bush visited India and signed a landmark agreement for cooperation with India in the field of civilian nuclear energy, marking a historic shift in US policy towards India. And from that July of 2005, the defining tale of the UPA Government began.

The Agreement met with mixed reactions in both countries. In the US, non-proliferationists attacked the agreement, saying that it permanently damages the NPT, while those for the deal argued that this would send a signal that democratic countries would find a friend in the US. In India, the Left, former allies of the UPA, broke way from the coalition. They say it was because the deal severely undermines India's nuclear capabilities, while the government says they did it because of ideological opposition to the US. The UPA government, and the PM in particular, supported the agreement as it would provide India with much-needed electricity.

Whatever might be the real answer, and there might be none altogether, the 123 Agreement signifies the coming-of-age of India. No other foreign policy issue has ever brought so many voices together. The Trust Vote, caused by the exit of the Left, gave us a deep insight into how knowledgeable, or otherwise, parliamentarians can be.

The most important facets of the agreement were the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the NSG, both of which were unique and historic. After the agreement, a third category as a semi-nuclear weapons state was created and so far, India is the only member of this category.

The credit for the agreement goes to the Congress leadership and, to a smaller extent, UPA components. Had Manmohan ingn not gambled his entire career and reputation on this agreement, it would have never happened. The 123 Agreement represents one of India's greatest achievements since Independence, and also George Bush's only foreign policy success.

Naysayers could say otherwise, but the agreement will play a great role in India's future. The only fault of UPA throughout the process of finalising the agreement was that it did not publicise the pros and cons of it: it remained a run of the mill treaty for most citizens and parliamentarians. Educating the masses about the huge benefits of the deal would have been a priority.

The Opposition stands exposed as far the 123 Agreement goes. The BJP, which really should be asking for the credit for the agreement, has opposed it purely for politics. The Left always opposes America in every possible way: their opposition surprised no one. Mayawati's opposition came as a slight surprise but then again, she is power-hungry and will stop at nothing to come to power.

But at the end, Pranab Mukherjee and Condoleezza Rice signed the agreement in Washington, closing a three-year saga. Manmohan Singh will be remembered for his courage and conviction and the UPA can proudly call the 123 Agreement one of its greatest achievements, and indeed one of India's greatest achievements in its Independent history.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Crisis seems to have hit India

The RBI today revised its 0.5% CRR cut to a 1.5% cut, injecting a net total of Rs. 600 billion into the Indian markets. This is a clear signal that the International financial crisis has reached India and perhaps even the rest of Asia.

In response, Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is en route to Washington, DC for a meeting of the IMF and the G-20, reiterated that Indian banks were in no danger, as their capital adequacy ratios were 10% or higher, above the 9% required by BASEL norms. In particular, he assured depositors that ICICI Bank (IBN) was not going to collapse and has no shortage of liquidity. In spite of that, the stock closed down 19% on the BSE.

In the rest of Asia, turmoil continued. The Nikkei-225 (.N225) in Tokyo collapsed further by 9%, below 9,000. According to a broker in Tokyo, fundamentals no longer matter and no one dares buy anything, although many stocks look attractive. All other Asian markets were down, with China's Shanghai Composite losing 5%. In even more disturbing news, India's growth rate has slowed down significantly in the past few months, according to new data. And, data shows that one of Asia's largest economies, Singapore, is now in recession. 

The only good news is on the commodities front. Oil (NYMEX, Nov. delivery) plunged to a 52-week low of $83/bbl and is expected to fall even further. India's inflation rate fell to 11.80% against last week's 11.99% and a 52-week high of about 12.42%. Gold (bullion, 10 gram) surged to a new high of above Rs. 14,000 in Mumbai ($932/ounce) as investors ran to gold, considered a hedge in times of crisis. 

A Day in Dhola Ri Dhani

Friday, Oct. 10, 2008
Dhola Ri Dhani, Hyderabad

What do you get when 18 friends, who haven't met each other for a good two years, come together for a day of fun and gay abandon? Well, if those friends are former members of 10D, you get a spectacular day at Dhola Ri Dhani, an ethnic Rajasthani village on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

The ride wasn't exactly smooth as the bus came a good hour late: blame it on Indian Standard Time! Nonetheless, we finally reached our destination. And it met our expectations, for sure!

When you walk in, you are greeted with a pretty display of a Rajasthani wedding, followed by a cool glass of jal jeera, a refreshing Indian (Rajasthani?) drink. Once in, you can explore the place by yourself, as it is not a guided tour. A puppet show (they spelled it 'papet show') follows this, which is essentially free and entertaining, although the owner of the stall does expect you to pay a small amount as a token of appreciation. 

After that, we saw a magic show, which was fun unless you are a member of PETA. But the real highlight was next to the magic show: a little game in which you try to destroy a pyramid of glasses and win prizes (cheap Chinese goods). It's fun, although the prizes are worthless, except maybe the slinky. 

After that, if you have time, you can have some fun the Laughing House, a room full of mirrors that take advantage of reflection to alter your features in a most-amusing way. Lunch follows this. Now, if you've never had Rajasthani food before and think you are prepared for it anyway, you are wrong.

Ghee (clarified butter) assumes a king-like position on the plate. The setting is traditional: you sit on the floor and eat with your plate on a stool. Apart from a mixture of curries (the paneer and dal were my favourites), you also have an all-you-can-eat supply of Bajra Mishri Roti (a roti made from a mixture of grains, primarily bajra), regular roti and some wonderful rice. You also get the traditional boti (a hard ball-like eatable typical of Rajasthan), gulab jamun (a round, Indian dessert), chaans (a yogurt-based drink), papad (a crispy Indian side-dish) and dahi vada (a form of chat). You will be so loaded with ghee, food and more ghee that you will take weeks to burn the calories.

Or, you could dance them away! And that's exactly what we did: dancing to some hit Bollywood tunes for an hour. Now, this was, I think, the first time I ever danced. Luckily, no one really knew what to do so we were all in on this together. Except a few, all of hit the dance floor in full view of a curious audience of tourists. We looked dumb, we didn't care! After all, we were here to have fun, and that's exactly what we did. 

However, an hour of dancing left us exhausted and in desperate need of water. Luckily, we found a wonderful little stall where we could quench our thirst. After that, we headed off to the park. A caveman, monkeys, a giraffe and several other plastic exhibits adorn the path which, thanks to the cruel sun, seemed like an oasis in the desert. So while some went off for a camel ride and others tried to take a boat ride, the sands of time flowed fast and we were out of time!

None of us, even in our wiped-out state, wanted to leave. But after failed attempts at a game of STD, we gave up and headed for the bus (parental pressure was also involved in this). A game of Antakshari, a few wise cracks and that was the end of the best day we've had in months, maybe years.

A few hugs and goodbyes later, I was back home. But the memories live on. Till next year friends, when our lives go back to 'normal'. Good luck, and good job. Till time do us part...

PS: A special thanks to Sinjini and Rizwan for planning the event. They deserve all the credit!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wasting Public Money on Propaganda

UP Chief Minister Maywati's latest ad on TV, singing praises of her party's founder Kanshi Ram, is a shameful waste of public money in the name of politics and propaganda.

For ages, Mayawati has been spreading her brand of caste-based politics. She wants reservations for every Tom, Dick and Harry that can and will vote for her. Even the nation's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, was not spared as she kept demanding that her party's founder be given the honour. 

Many people think that she can be the next PM. Indeed, with the kind of politics she plays - dividing the masses on the basis of caste or religion and even terming International treaties as 'against the interest of a particular religion,' by whatever twisted logic - she could become the next PM. Such is the Indian voter: easily swayed by votebank politics and sheer emotional (and monetary) blackmail.

With a kitty of corruption cases against her, she could very well be the most disgraceful PM in history, even more than, say, HD Deve Gowda. If she ascends the political ladder to the highest level, then friends, Indians, countrymen, it is time we looked for another country. Because India, under her, would not be India: it would be Dalit-land, Upper Caste-territory, Special Muslim Zone etc. 

And if I am threatened, attacked, slandered or otherwise for writing this, you can also kiss the free media goodbye.

Bush signs Bill for 123 Agreement

In Washington, DC, US President George W Bush has signed the India-US Nuclear Cooperation and Non-Proliferation Enhancement Act, the guiding and enabling legislation for clearance of the 123 Agreement.

In a formal gathering at the White House, attended by the President, the Vice President, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Congressmen, Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen,  businessmen and prominent members of the Indian-American Community, Bush make a congratulatory speech and said that this would be a major step ahead for India-US ties, which are more vibrant today than ever before.

He pointed out that India and the US were natural partners in this hostile world. He said that the passage of the agreement would send a strong signal that democracies that respect the rule of law would find a friend in the US. 

The final stage left is for the Secretary of State to sign the agreement with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and that will edna a three-year saga.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nikkei crashes

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei-225 index declined sharply by over 9% to a 5-year low as fears of the credit crunch threatened to push the US and Europe into a deep recession. All Asian markets followed the Nikkei. 

The Hang Seng index plummeted by over 1,000 points to around 15,000. The BSE SENSEX, which is currently trading, was down over 500 points and broke the 11,000-level a few times during intra-day trading. The Jakarta Composite index fell by 10%, prompting regulators to halt trading.

Yesterday, the Dow Jones shed 500 points to close near the 9,000-mark. The S&P 500 is nearing the 1,000-level. In Europe, all major indices closed down with the FTSE 100 taking a big beating. This morning, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an $85 bn rescue package for Britain's eight largest and most troubled banks, including HBOS and RBS. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia slashed its key interest rate by 1%, the most in 16 years, in an attempt to ward off a credit shortage.

In India, the Finance Minister tried to assuage investors and reiterated that the Indian Economy was fundamentally strong. Indeed, most Asian banks have no exposure to subprime loans, which triggered this mess. He assured investors that any capital shortage would be taken care of by the Government and regulatory authorities. However, this did little to cool sentiments as the market was still a sea of red.

The Indian Rupee (INR) has gone below the 48-mark against the US Dollar (USD), negating some of the advantages that could have been gained by crude oil (NYMEX Nov. delivery) trading at around $87/bbl, against an all-time high of $147/bbl. There are signals that the RBI has tried to defend the 48 mark for the rupee, but the acute shortage of dollars sees demand pressure growing, raising the value of the dollar. This is the case all over the world. Crude oil's decline is linked to fears that a recession in the US and Europe could lead to a drastic fall in demand.

Asian markets have done the worst all over the world, mainly because of Asia's dependence on US consumers. Factories across China, Japan and South East Asia, and call centres across South Asia, are doing less business due to the changed scenario. PM Gordon Brown has called for a joint-meeting of heads and Finance Ministers of the G-7, G-20 and the IMF to come together and do something concrete. 

[All figures quoted are collected from news agencies]

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tata Picks Gujarat: The Politics that Follow

The Political Times is a comic section of OTFS designed to use satire and humour to reflect latest developments in India and beyond. More to come soon!

In the News: Oct 7, 2008

Tata Motors has decided to shift its Nano Car plant to Sanand, Gujarat. Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and Ratan Tata signed an MoU todayto that effect. The "people's car" will now find its home in India's most industrialised state after pulling out of Singur, West Bengal. Other states that were battling it out for the project were Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand, among others. Narendra Modi has guaranteed to the Tatas that bandhs and demonstartions will not affect the plant and has also offered tax concessions. [CNN-IBN]

The island-nation of Iceland has nationalised its largest bank amid fears that it could collapse under the credit crunch that has spread from America to Europe. Iceland's banking system is valued at nine times the country's GDP, with much of its holding in Europe and the US. Any Icelandic collapse could have a domino-effect on the rest of Europe. Iceland's central bank just has a few billion dollars and cannot save any of the large banks. There are reports that Iceland could have taken a substantial loan from Russia. [CNN Money]


Monday, October 6, 2008

Pak's Me-Too Policy

Hyderabad's Weather this October

The morning will be hot, with the sun shining so brightly that you will probably be rudely awakened long before it's time for you to get up. Around noon, the sun will unleash its full glory and humidity levels will rise. Close to 4:00 PM, dark clouds will start gathering overhead and there will be thunder. As the evening progresses, cold winds will star blowing and lighting and thunder will pick up. This will continue for several hours. Around midnight, the clouds will burst open and several millions of droplets of rain will pour down as the average Hyderabadi slumbers. This will go on for the rest of the night, inundating low-lying areas. However, a little before sunrise, the rain will stop and humidity levels will shoot up. Then, a little before it is time to wake up, the sun will rise and the temperature will also shoot up. And then, you will wake up. Early. On a Sunday.

And that's Hyderabad's weather forecast!

PS: Special thanks to Akshay for the Mausam-Awesome slogan.