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India, the ‘New Asia’ and the American presidential elections September 26, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Any American presidential election reverberates around global policy corners but, for India, the 2012 contest carries unusual significance. With its economy slowing, national government under severe pressure, and competition with China over ‘new Asian power’ status sharpening, India has a strong stake in the November result. Superficially, India could be contented. A late 2011 Congressional Research Service report shows two-way trade totalling approximately $US50 billion.

The US is India’s largest direct investment partner at over $16 billion, and one of its largest trading partners. As India’s economic growth flourished, American interest and investment soared. The highpoint was America’s 2008-9 agreement on nuclear development and trade – as for Australia a few years later, that was the cost of doing business with India.

Obama met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009 in what was seen as a further sign of a strong emerging relationship between the two countries. EPA/Shawn Thew

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India struggling January 31, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

First published here on 28 January 2012

India’s test cricket defeat in Adelaide was arguably the very worst of the eight they have now lost in a row while playing away from home.  Melbourne was a poor effort, Sydney worse then Perth was always going to be hard.  Adelaide, though, is a batting track as the Australians demonstrated and as the Indians might have been expected to show.  They capitulated, though.  Their bowling attack was always going to struggle, and that was added to by the reluctance to bring in more spin.  The batsmen were woeful, even if in a terrible showing Sachin Tendulkar had a reasonable enough series given everyone else’s performance.

Predictably, the Indian media is now in full cry with former players of all types (and varying success rates themselves) calling for wholesale change.  As cricket writer and historian Boria Majumdar said in Melbourne before the series started, India takes this very seriously, and a 4-0 humbling will bring national wrath upon the team.  That is because the dominance of cricket has been a sort of avatar for India’s increasing awareness of its rising place more generally in the world.  Every country has used sport like this: New Zealand and rugby, Australia and cricket, Brazil and football are just some obvious examples.  It is always difficult to pin down the nexus between sport and national profile, but there is a sussurus of sentiment that gives people pride in a victory, sadness running to anger in a defeat, especially in a streak of the kind Indian cricket is now in.

There is a curiously stronger than normal analogy between the cricketers and India more generally that is worth contemplation.

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Telangana – the UPA’s next trial? October 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

With next week being Diwali the beleaguered UPA is fast approaching another self-imposed deadline, and there is every likelihood that soon after the festival Manmohan Singh and his colleagues will announce the creation of Telangana.  That will dismember Andhra Pradesh, India’s first linguistically-based state, and strike hard at the concept of states being based around language that has driven policy ever since 1953.

The present crisis began late in 2009 with Home Minister Chidambaram’s apparently accidental comment that the Centre would, indeed, countenance the creation of Telangana.  Celebrations and recriminations were about mixed, and the issue has dogged the government ever since.  It sent in Justice Krishna to write a report on the issue.  He raised several options but made no recommendations, and had one chapter sealed which alarmed many in both the “for” and “against” camps.  More recently Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister and troubleshooter was placed in charge of Andhra Pradesh and called for more talks, a recommendation dismissed immediately by all sides.  The Government looks like it has let matters drift to this point so that the decision to create Telangana is now treated almost as a given, even though it would contain several problems for the Centre.

The districts subject to the Telangana claim, which includes the city of Hyderabad

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Sports, politics, prestige and power: the struggle over the new bill September 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

While Suresh Kalamadi and colleagues sit it out in Tihar jail, awaiting results of their post-Commonwealth Games charges, Sports Minister Ajay Maken is struggling to gain acceptance for his Bill that would reform India’s sports management and administration, one measure against many to counter both the suggestions of corruption and international criticism. This is no simple matter. An earlier attempt, before the full catastrophe of the Games emerged, was roundly defeated as several Government Ministers including Kalmadi and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (better known as the Chair of the International Cricket Council and former President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)).

One of the central issues this time round is that Maken – a Delhi man with a trades union background – wants all sports bodies in India to be subject to the Right To Information (RTI legislation). This is being fought bitterly by many if not most of the sports bodies, and principally by the now extremely cashed up BCCI. Automatically, that leads many to think that the opposition emerges from the need not to have all or certain information emerge to full public scrutiny. The push for the RTI angle comes obviously in the Games’ aftermath amidst the revelations of alleged kickbacks, preferential tendering, bogus tenders and invoices, tampered bids and all the rest, but why the ferocious attempts to prevent the measure.

A good deal of this comes from the complex and intertwined social, financial, business and political roles played by leading sports administrators, as the cricket case reveals.

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Reddy and able: Congress problems in Andhra August 29, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

As the UPA struggles through the Anna Hazare uproar and the continuing fallout from the Commonwealth Games as well as the 2 G matters, all of which have an impact on the government’s composition and fortunes, its potential political nightmare in Andhra Pradesh is taking clearer form. A few days ago a serious number of MLAs resigned from the state parliament, among them 24 Congress members who also indicated to Delhi that they would also leave the party. Given that the strong Congress cohort from Andhra has been central to the UPA’s power, this is potentially devastating.

The ostensible reason may be even more so. The recusants say that they have been moved primarily by the Delhi moves, via the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), to investigate what are said to be financial irregularities in the vast array of companies created by former Chief Minister the late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and now inherited by his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan has already resigned from Congress to lead the newly formed YSR Congress in frustration at not having been made Chief Minister to succeed his father. In the polite parlance of some of the commentary, it is suggested that the considerable wealth inherent in these companies sprang from “donations” by other companies seeking preferential treatment in development project tenders put up by the YSR government. In less polite terms, of course, the suggestion is that corruption helped YSR and his family build up a massive fortune.

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The ghost of games past August 17, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

There must now surely be moments when senior political figures like Manmohan Singh and Sheila Diksit wish they had never heard of let alone promoted the Commonwealth Games.  Suresh Kalmadi, the disgraced politician and former supremo of the Organising Committee for the Delhi Games would be among the lamenters as he languishes in Tihar jail awaiting trial on corruption charges, and dealing with what might well be dementia.

The arrests roll on.  The latest include two principals of the Indian subcontracting company associated with Swiss Timing, the alleged beneficiary of one of the flawed tender processes in which Kalmadi is said to have been corrupt.  Another issue already out in the open concerns the award of two media contracts in India, the inference being that bribes were involved.  A further report, by a television journalist who “broke” the story about the London relay scam, has officials under Kalmadi’s direction being amazed by media interest in relatively small sums of money (in their view) going missing when much bigger sums were involved elsewhere in the organisation.

Several other possible embarrassments lie in wait.  They include five contracts awarded to Events Knowledge Services (EKS), privatised off from the International Olympic Committee and run by Craig McClatchey, former Secretary General of the Australian Olympic Committee.  EKS was brought in late in the piece when it seemed things were so bad that Delhi might even lose the Games.  The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report suggests that three of the contracts were awarded by direct nomination rather than by tender, with the other two won under terms of reference biased towards EKS.  Those done by direct nomination were said to be by Kalmadi under the influence of the Commonwealth Games Federation with which EKS has been closely associated. (more…)

Mining the politics of corruption July 29, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Retired Supreme Court Justice and now Karnataka Ombudsman (Lokayukta) Santosh Hegde has just lobbed a political bomb on the desks of that state’s Governor and Chief Secretary.  The bomb takes the form of a 25, 288 page report (943 pages of findings plus annexures) into illegal iron ore mining that, among other things, involved the arbitrary shifting of state boundary pegs between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in order to privilege some miners.

The most spectacular finding is that Hegde has recommended charges be laid against the current BJP  Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa on the grounds that his family received kickbacks from the illegal miners to the tune of Rs 30 crore (approximately $US 6.7 million).  Another former Chief Minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy, son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is also set to have charges laid against him – Kumaraswamy formed the breakaway Janata Dal (Secular) backed by the BJP to take power briefly in 2006-7.  There is no rapport between Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy, the latter earlier this year describing his successor as a drunkard and a stray dog with lots of bark and no bite.  The mining issue has really eaten into the substance of state politics. (more…)

Telangana redux July 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

It is now approaching two years since Home Minister P. Chidambaram, clumsily, at least seemed to offer up the idea that the Union Government would sanction formal recognition of Telangana and carve it out of Andhra Pradesh, India’s first specifically linguistic-based state. All round uproar surrounded the announcement: Telangana supporters wanted immediate action, the Rayalaseema region inside Andhra Pradesh reprised its case; the all-Andhra groups protested. From the Manmohan Singh government’s viewpoint there was immediate political fallout because Andhra Pradesh provided a key electoral base for its very existence, and now several of those members were compromised by this development.

The immediate response was to hive the issue off to the inevitable inquiry, this one headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna who had earlier led investigations into the Mumbai riots and the Madras High Court riots. While his committee worked away, on the ground demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and the full range of oppositional political activities developed.

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The games go on May 2, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

A few short months ago Suresh Kalmadi reigned supreme as the Commonwealth Games went off successfully in Delhi, even if the lead-in was troubled.  He was seen to have delivered on a showcase that set India towards hosting a future Olympics and demonstrated the “new” India’s capability for doing almost anything.

How times are now changed as he awaits the next steps in a prison cell, having been charged on several counts in connection with the letting of the CWG contracts for the Queen’s Baton Relay and with several other charges pending.  Among the latter, it is speculated, are included his alleged forged signing of official documents relating to a contract for Events Knowledge Services (EKS), the Swiss-based group brought in to “save” the Games.  His two chief aides are awaiting trial.  He has been stripped of his post as President of the Indian Olympic Association.

While several inquiries were initiated in wake of the Games and its alleged business and financial irregularities, the present rush has emerged from the proceedings of the V.K. Shunglu inquiry ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office.  A series of reports began issuing about two months ago, and the findings have been spectacular if contested.  The broadcast and telecast rights for the Games, for example, were found to have been issued at inflated bid levels and against much advice.  The Director-General of Doordarshan was stood down.  The issuing  agency was found to have connections to the winning bidders .  As a result of dubious practice, there may have been losses to the Organising Committee’s coffers of up to Rs 135 crore. (more…)

Pankaj Oswal and India-Australia business March 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

When Pankaj Oswal arrived in Perth early in the new millennium, along with wife Radhika, the pair was immediately the focus of speculation, curiosity, envy and suspicion in about equal measure.  They were young, obvious, ambitious and daring – he was aiming to create a $1 billion ammonia fertiliser factory on the Burrup Peninsular in the northwest next to Western Australia’s massive natural gas reserves.  The gas would provide the considerable energy needed to create the product.  Oswal swept aside the problem that his site just happened to be home to one of the world’s prime rock art concentrations, while Radhika moved towards creating a worldwide vegetarian restaurant chain.  Together, they became famous for their parties and the general lifestyle of the rich and famous.

It was not all straightforward, though.  There were immediate questions about how a twenty something had the $300 million that allowed him to leverage the huge loans needed to get his enterprise going.  Diligent journalists in both Australia and India lit on the information that he was the grandson of one of the great Ludhiana textile magnates but, even more significantly, the son of Abhey Oswal who had moved from textiles to fertilisers.  Suspicious minds thought the son’s stash might just have emanated from the father’s labyrinthine commercial deals from which some investors emerged much the poorer financially.  Pankaj Oswal, however, consistently denied that source, instead usually citing rich investors/friends. (more…)