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    South Asia
     Dec 22, 2007
India still reeling over US deal
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Given more than a decade and a half of coalition governments, both the national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have learned that so-called allies are a bigger headache than the opposition. Unfortunately, they learned it the hard way.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have spent some time assuaging partners in left parties, especially over the unresolved Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and



economic reforms. The BJP made similar assurances earlier with the mercurial Jayalalitha from the south.

It does appear now that the coalitions will remain as they stand after the general elections that are scheduled for 2009, but could come sooner.

In terms of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the stalled pact would never have occupied so much political space had Manmohan not treated it like his own baby.

Maybe then the left parties, too, would not have made such a big song and dance about it. The Indo-US nuclear deal does, however, does have an important aspect: the arrival of the US as India's most important business, strategic, defense and diplomatic ally for the years head.

The role and socialist influence of Cold War ally Russia has receded. For the first time, an American warship forms part of India's defense arsenal, with transport planes and more to follow. If the civilian nuclear power deal goes through, America will have significant stakes here too.

American cultural and capitalist icons are part of Indian society: Domino's, McDonald's, Google, Yahoo, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Harley Davidson will soon motor into the Indian market and one of India's main Bollywood actresses, Aishwaria Rai, has chose Oprah Winfrey to promote a movie.

Ones to watch
Narender Modi and Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi's son, will occupy some of India's political space in the future.

The Gandhi scion has been slowly nudged up the ladder by mother Sonia, who cautiously plots his progress. Rahul has been appointed to a top party post, campaigned (unsuccessfully, so far) for state elections, and accompanies Manmohan on foreign trips as part his coming-of-age training. He is generally seen as a sensible young man, much like his father Rajiv.

While the Sonia and Manmohan will continue to be the main party standard bearers for 2009, it could be Rahul in the not-so-distant future.

If there is a challenge to his position, it is from within his own family: his sister Priyanka, who seems a bit ahead on the charisma quotient. Given the emotionally fragile Indian voter and its love-hate relationship with the Gandhi name. Considering, the late Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, this can count considerably.

In a nation with deeply rooted beliefs about re-incarnation and good Karma, many believe Priyanka resembles her grandmother Indira. So far, Sonia's daughter has remained at the periphery of active politics, but in the future one never knows.

Modi, of course, has understood the emotional side of the Indian voter better than most and has emerged as the most marketable leader of the BJP. After L K Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he appears to have the best ability to garner votes.

Modi's tenure as chief minister of Gujarat has seen the state make remarkable economic progress. Gujarat has also remained generally peaceful following the disastrous anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002.

However, Modi has bared his fangs again - with a distorted belief that all Indian Muslims are Pakistanis and could be terrorists - in the heat of events leading to the recent provincial elections.

Modi is likely going be chief minister again, and if Gujarat continues to prosper under him, he could make the jump to national politics. That is, if he manages to limit his controversial rhetoric to a few words before elections.

Modi's biggest enemy, apart from himself, is his party. In the past they've been keen to shut him out due to his stature, arrogance and belief that "any electoral victory is due to him and defeat due to the BJP.''

In any case, Modi's fortunes will be closely watched.

The billionaire list
A few years back, a chief executive officer fortunate enough to earn as much as US$250,000 per year would be newsworthy. Today, the head of a successful multinational or Indian company, even if in his or her 30s, could make as much, including stock options.

The benchmarks for salaries have moved up exponentially. Indians are obsessed with these numbers, especially the rising number of national billionaires, and surging salaries experiencing roughly 10 % growth each year. The fascination made spark optimism for their own prospects. After all, everyone wants to be a millionaire.

Business barons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani of the Relaince Group are often spoken about. Indians feel equally elated when steel magnate Lakhsmi Mittal makes it big elsewhere.

Business model that works
The Public-Private-Participation (PPP) program is one business mantra that has worked.

The PPP model is being successfully implemented in roads, ports, airports, and public transport networks such as railways. Unlike China, India's growth is driven by the private sector. In the past, this portion of the economy has not involved in crucial infrastructure projects which have been managed inefficiently by a lethargic bureaucracy.

For example, Indian roads continue to be potholed and railway stations remain public defecation sites.

But, this is changing courtesy the new dynamism of private enterprises keen to invest in and oversee such public projects, as well as similar interest from foreign firms. Such business sectors as coal mining, public utilities, telecommunications and banking have been thrown wide open.

On a lighter note
Shahrukh Khan, referred to as the Badshah (King Khan) of Bollywood, lords over India's massive Hindi movie industry.

He has starred in the two biggest hits of 2007, Chak de India and Om Shanti Om (OSO). Women flocked to the movie halls just to see him take off his shirt in OSO, and the fervor has led to box office records.

Shahrukh's OSO co-star Deepika Padukone is now rated as the most-searched Indian actress on the Internet.

What makes the Shahrukh phenomena even more potent, and his profit more significant, is his recent transition from leading actor to top producer. His first film was OSO and more are on the horizon.

Many before him, including India's former top male star, Amitabh Bachchan, have failed in similar endeavors.

Meanwhile, the Indian sub-continent's most passionate sport, cricket, has a new look called 20-20 cricket. The game has been fitted into a shorter timeframe and includes some American-style razzmatazz such as dancing, cheerleaders, fireworks and more.

Twenty-Twenty cricket is the quick-paced, shortened and energized version of the traditional sport. It's a far cry from the slam-bang, daylong, 50-overs-a-side or the five-day Test matches.

The change is in keeping with dwindling spectator attention spans spawned by some Indians' fast-paced corporate lives. Twenty-Twenty gives that adrenalin rush that only sports can provide.

Earlier this year, the first 20-20 world championship proved its skeptics wrong and was a resounding success. The highlight was a closely fought India-Pakistan grand finale played in South Africa that India won.

New heroes emerged in cricketers M S Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, who now look to overtake icons Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly. Looking ahead, 20-20 cricket will continue to thrill.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


Hand over the keys, the Indians are here (Dec 21, '07)


 

 
 



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