Nov 1, 2008

Business - Speculation about Yahoo-Google deal rampant

Elise Ackerman

Mercury News

Article Launched: 10/30/2008 06:25:39 PM PDT

As talks between Google, Yahoo and the U.S. Department of Justice drag on, investors are betting that the two Internet companies will walk away from a deal to jointly sell advertising on Yahoo's Web sites, and that Yahoo will end up selling its search business to Microsoft.

Investors bid up Yahoo's stock nearly 7 percent during regular trading Thursday after a flurry of conflicting news reports predicted Yahoo would soon announce another move, such as combining its search business with either Microsoft or AOL.

Representatives for Google and Yahoo issued statements saying they were continuing to talk to the Justice Department. Both companies declined to say when the talks might conclude.

"As we have said, we believe strongly that this agreement will strengthen Yahoo's competitive position in online advertising and will help to drive a more robust, higher-quality Yahoo marketplace for our advertisers, publishers and users," Yahoo spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in an e-mail.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported that the companies could abandon the partnership as early as the middle of next week if differences with regulators are not resolved.

Yahoo announced in June that it had agreed to display Google advertisements on its Web sites in the United States and Canada in response to certain search queries. At the time, the companies said they would delay implementation for regulatory review.

This month the companies announced they had agreed to another delay. Meanwhile, the Justice Department brought in Sandy Litvack, former head of the antitrust division, to consult on the deal, indicating that they were considering filing suit to stop it.

India - Northeast;Spreading fires

Sunil Sethi

Of all of India’s far-flung geographical outposts, the northeast has long been the most vulnerable and inflammable. Thursday’s blasts in Assam—harsher in intensity, synchronised in their spread and with higher casualties—were the result of decades of pent-up, simmering resentments waiting to boil over. The region may have the smallest electorate (less than 4 per cent of the country’s population) but it also shares the shortest border with the rest of the country (only 21 km). Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh flank the boundaries of the Seven Sisters, some of it thick, impenetrable rain forest or precipitous passes or the broad, unruly swathe of the Brahmaputra.

The biggest continuing grievance in Assam has been the steady percolation of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the unchecked swell becoming so great that the state’s demography has changed dramatically. By current estimates 35 to 40 per cent of Assam’s population is Muslim, mainly recent settlers. Other estimates claim that seven of Assam’s 23 districts are now dominated by Bangladeshis, thereby changing the entire demography of lower Assam. Ten years ago the governor Lt Gen S K Sinha reported that the “continued silent demographic invasion (of the Northeast) posed a great threat both to the identity of the Assamese people and our national security.”

Yet most political parties, regional or national, including the BJP which rode the anti-foreigner plank at election time, have turned a blind eye to the Illegal Migrants Determination Act—part of the 25-year-old Assam Accord—and some want it scrapped. Bangladeshi settlers have become important vote-banks and some of them hotbeds of jihadi activity. Protests broke out not long ago when a Guwahati High Court judgement ordered the deportation of 50 illegal immigrants. As evidence it cited the state administration’s—the police as well the regional passport office—complicity in helping the migrants register as voters and even acquire passports after furnishing false documents. Justice B K Sharma noted that the lapses in the system were used by a Pakistani national, who had sneaked into Assam via Dhaka, to contest elections. “The day is not far off when the indigenous people of Assam, both Hindus and Muslims and other religious groups, will be reduced to minorities in their own land,” said the judge.

Indigenous Assamese Muslims are among the most well-integrated section of the minority community anywhere in India. Inter-faith marriages are common in a tradition of harmonious relations. Yet as sections of the immigrant population turns radical, fuelled by outlawed secessionist and militant groups, the communal divide has intensified.

Decades of tribal conflict and insurgency have lead to rampant unemployment and lack of infrastructure elsewhere in the Northeast that no number of special economic packages and battalions of soldiers sent by New Delhi have helped assuage. In a recent essay, “The Lost Generation of Manipur,” the writer Siddhatha Deb portrays the bleak, broken-down and threatening towns of Manipur and Nagaland graphically: “The periodic infusions of cash from Delhi seemed to remain in the pockets of local politicians and bureaucrats…harsh authoritarianism…gave security forces the right to arrest and kill without having to answer to the local administration…as if this mix of violence, poverty, and corruption isn’t enough Manipur has, since the 1980s, been flooded by heroin and amphetamines.”

The free flow of drugs from Burma has led to one of the largest populations of drug addicts who, through shared syringes, constitute a major pool of Indians afflicted by HIV AIDS. His descriptions of unemployed young men and women, trapped between shooting up or taking up the militants’ guns, driven to drug use and prostitution is a sobering portrait of India marooned.

These miseries, says Deb, seem to take place offstage, in an invisible corner of India that seems to have received nothing from modernity. Drugs, guns and unchecked immigrants from porous borders—can the fires of militancy and terrorist strikes in the northeast be doused easily?

World - Towards Asian Power equilibrium

Brahma Chellaney

Last week’s Indo-Japanese security accord is momentous, with Tokyo concluding such an agreement with only one other country, Australia. Its significance actually parallels the 2005 Indo-U.S. defence framework accord. But while the latter seeks to mould India into America’s junior partner, the former is between equals to help contribute to Asian power stability.

The India-Japan security agreement signed last week marks a significant milestone in building Asian power equilibrium. A constellation of Asian states linked by strategic cooperation and sharing common interests is becoming critical to instituting power stability at a time when major shifts in economic and political power are accentuating Asia’s security challenges.

What Tokyo and New Delhi have signed is a framework agreement, to be followed up with “an action plan with specific measures to advance security cooperation” in particular areas, ranging from sea-lane safety and defence collaboration to disaster management and counterterrorism. How momentous this accord is can be seen from the fact that Japan has such a security agreement with only one other country — Australia.

Tokyo, of course, has been tied to the United States militarily since 1951 through a treaty that was designed to meet American demands that U.S. troops remain stationed in Japan even after the end of the American occupation of Japan. Today, that treaty — revised in 1960 — is the linchpin of the American forward-military deployment strategy in the Asian theatre.

The Indo-Japanese security agreement, signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit, is actually modelled on the March 2007 Japan-Australia defence accord. Both are in the form of a joint declaration on security cooperation. And both, while recognising a common commitment to democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, obligate the two sides to work together to build not just bilateral defence cooperation but also security in the Asia-Pacific.

But unlike distant Australia with its relatively benign security environment, India and Japan are China’s next-door neighbours and worry that Beijing’s accumulating power could fashion a Sino-centric Asia. Canberra, quite the opposite, wishes to balance its relations with Tokyo and Beijing, and loves to cite the new reality that, for the first time, Australia’s largest trading partner (China) is no longer the same as its main security anchor (the U.S.).

But there is nothing unique about this situation. It is a testament to Beijing’s rising global economic clout that China is also Japan’s largest trade partner now and is poised to similarly become India’s in a couple of years. On the other hand, two of India’s most-important bilateral relationships — with Russia and Japan — suffer from hideously low trade volumes.

Trade in today’s market-driven world is not constrained by political differences — unless political barriers have been erected, as the U.S. has done against Cuba and Burma, for example. In fact, as world history testifies, booming trade is not a guarantee of moderation and restraint between states. The new global fault lines show that that it was a mistake to believe that greater economic interdependence by itself would improve international geopolitics. Better politics is as important as better economics.

Canberra has consciously sought to downplay its defence accord with Tokyo to the extent that, nearly a year after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took office, a visitor seeking to access the text of that agreement on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website is greeted by this message: “Sorry, the page you asked for has been temporarily removed from the site — Following the recent Australian federal election, the content of this page is under review until further notice.” Indeed, Mr. Rudd’s Labour Party, while in opposition ranks, had openly cast doubt on the diplomatic utility of that agreement.

In that light, it is no surprise that beyond their similarly structured format, including the mirrored requirement for a follow-up action plan, the Japanese-Australian and Indo-Japanese agreements carry different strategic import. The one between Tokyo and New Delhi is plainly designed to contribute to building Asian power equilibrium. The Indo-Japanese partnership, as the two Prime Ministers said in their separate joint statement, forms an “essential pillar for the future architecture” of security in the Asia-Pacific.

By contrast, the Australian-Japanese agreement carries little potential to become an abiding element of a future Asian-Pacific security architecture, given the two parties’ contrasting strategic motivations and Canberra’s attempts from the outset to package it as a functional arrangement devoid of geopolitical aims. Tellingly, the push for that accord had come from the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the architect of the Quadrilateral Initiative. And it was Mr. Rudd who this year pulled the plug on that initiative, founded on the concept of democratic peace.

The significance of the Indo-Japanese agreement truly parallels the 2005 Indo-U.S. defence framework accord, which signalled a major transformation of the once-estranged relationship between the world’s most populous and most powerful democracies. Both those agreements focus on counterterrorism, disaster response, safety of sea-lanes of communications, non-proliferation, bilateral and multilateral military exercises, peace operations, and defence dialogue and cooperation. But the former has not only been signed at a higher level — prime ministerial — but also comes with a key element: “policy coordination on regional affairs in the Asia-Pacific region and on long-term strategic and global issues.”

This is an agreement between equals on enhancing mutual security. By contrast, the U.S.-India defence agreement, with its emphasis on U.S. arms sales, force interoperability and intelligence sharing, aims to build India as a new junior partner (or spoke) in a web of interlocking bilateral arrangements meshing with America’s hub-and-spoke alliance system, designed to undergird U.S. interests.

It is, however, doubtful that the U.S., despite the defence accord and the subsequent nuclear deal, would succeed in roping in India as a new ally in a patron-client framework. In a fast-changing world characterised by a qualitative reordering of power — with even Tokyo and Berlin seeking to discreetly reclaim their foreign policy autonomy — U.S. policymakers are unlikely to be able to mould India into a new Japan or Germany to America, notwithstanding the help from Indian neocons.

In keeping with its long-standing preference for strategic independence, India is likely to retain the option to forge different partnerships with varied players to pursue a variety of interests in diverse settings. That means that from being nonaligned, India is likely to become multialigned. The security agreement with Japan — still the world’s second largest economic powerhouse after the U.S. — jibes well with India’s desire to pursue omnidirectional cooperation for mutual benefit with key players.

Japan and India indeed are natural allies, with no negative historical legacy and no conflict of strategic interest. Rather, they share common goals to build stability and institutionalised cooperation in Asia and to make the 20th century international institutions and rules more suitable for the 21st century world. They are establishing a “strategic and global partnership” that is driven, as their new agreement states, “by converging long-term political, economic and strategic interests, aspirations and concerns.”

Such is the fast-developing nature of this relationship that the two, besides holding a yearly summit meeting, have instituted multiple strategic dialogues involving their Foreign and Defence Ministers and national security advisers, as well as “service-to-service exchanges including bilateral and multilateral exercises.” After all, the balance of power in Asia will be determined by events as much in the Indian Ocean rim as in East Asia. The Indian and Japanese space agencies are also to cooperate as part of capacity-building efforts in disaster management.

It will be simplistic to see such cooperation one-dimensionally, as aimed at countervailing China’s growing might. Beijing itself is pursuing a range of bilateral and multilateral initiatives in Asia to underpin its strategic objectives and help shape Asian security trends — from weapon sales to countries stretching from Iran to Indonesia and port building projects in the Indian Ocean rim, to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and north-south strategic corridors through Pakistan and Burma.

Given China’s territorial size, population (a fifth of the human race) and economic dynamism, few can question or grudge its right to be a world power. In fact, such is its sense of where it wishes to go that China cannot be dissuaded from the notion that it is destined to emerge, in the words of the then President Jiang Zemin, as “a world power second to none.”

Against that background, why begrudge the efforts of Asia’s two largest and most established democracies to work together to avert an Asian power disequilibrium? Never before in history have China, India and Japan been all strong at the same time. Today, they need to find ways to reconcile their interests in Asia so that they can peacefully coexist and prosper. But there can be no denying that these three leading Asian powers and the U.S. have different playbooks: the U.S. wants a unipolar world but a multipolar Asia; China seeks a multipolar world but a unipolar Asia; and India and Japan desire a multipolar Asia and multipolar world.

(Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, is the author, most recently, of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.)

India - Why money is scarce

T N Ninan

The overnight call money market is back to where it was a fortnight ago, with interest rates in the sky-high, 14-21 per cent range. The 1 percentage point cut in the repo rate announced at the beginning of last week had a temporary effect, because call rates crashed, but the underlying shortage of money has once again manifested itself; so the repo rate cut announced 12 days ago looks now like doing you-know-what in the wind. In other words, the clamour for lower interest rates may be missing the point. High interest rates are only symptoms of the real problem, which is the shortage of money.

The numbers tell the story. Foreign exchange reserves dipped by $15 billion this past week, were flat the week before, and dipped by about $10 billion the week before that. In both weeks when the rates in the call money market went through the roof, RBI was busy selling dollars and sucking rupees out of the system—ie, tightening liquidity. In October as a whole, RBI sold $33 billion, almost certainly the largest monthly sale figure ever. In the previous four months of 2008 (after RBI reserves peaked in May), the total decline in RBI reserves was only $24 billion.

RBI must have good reason for selling dollars and sucking rupees out of the market. There would have been substantial pressure in terms of dollar outflows, which could send the rupee on a nose-dive if RBI did not intervene; and there are few (if any) people who would want that. But the price of protecting the rupee’s exchange value is being paid by domestic borrowers, as rupees become scarce in the market.

Don’t blame foreign institutional investors for the dollar outflows; they sold less than $4 billion worth of stock in all of October. There are other, much larger forces at work—like the drying of international trade credit, forcing Indian firms trading internationally to borrow from Indian banks instead. The big Indian companies have also been busy financing their overseas acquisitions with Indian money, because overseas money is not available—that’s more rupees taken out of circulation. And Indian banks with liquidity-strapped international operations have been supporting them with money sent from here—yet another way in which rupees have been sucked out. All three are manifestations of the global liquidity problem forcing domestic entities to look to domestic money, so that demand for rupees has shot up precisely when it is scarce. But there is a purely domestic issue as well: people have been pulling money out of mutual funds and putting them in banks; but close to a third of bank money is immediately impounded—for holding as cash, or investing in government securities. As people take mutual fund money and put it in banks, they are helping to reduce the amount of money available to the non-government sector.

With all these forces combining to suck out money, RBI’s primary task has to be to put money back in circulation. The best and easiest way to do that is to halve the cash reserve ratio to the statutory minimum of 3 per cent. That might sound like drastic action, but it will immediately release about Rs 1,23,000 crore into the market. If nothing else, that will neutralise the domestic monetary impact of RBI’s actions in October, when it sold dollars equivalent to Rs 1,65,000 crore. That kind of injection of liquidity will make a difference to the money market, banks will suddenly have money that they will hopefully lend (after all, they have cut the borrowing limits for many of their corporate clients), and the over-all credit situation will ease. And, for good measure, interest rates will come down

Business - India;Q&A A.Raja;Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology


Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology A. Raja says he is seeking to ensure a level playing field in the telecommunications sector while taking care of the interests of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), the public sector entities. In an interview to The Hindu in New Delhi, he attributes the controversies generated by his Ministry’s decisions to his efforts to break the cartel of established telecom operators. There has been no departure from the National Telecom Policy 1999 in the grant of Unified Access Service Licence or allocation of spectrum to new operators, he says.

Your Ministry allocated spectrum to new operators. There seems to be a fair amount of controversy surrounding this decision…

If the spectrum were shared with the existing operators, there would have been no controversy. I tried to break the cartel. I am the first Minister who has tried to break the cartel.

Even though the Cabinet had specified that operators can be given only 6.2 MHz, they [private mobile operators] were given more than this — till I assumed office. But this was not made out to be a controversy. It would have been smart of me to follow the existing system. The existing system involved giving spectrum to the existing players once they fulfilled some conditions. The Ministry withheld spectrum [allocation] and waited for the existing operators to fulfil the conditions. Is this the way to treat a scarce resource like the spectrum? The loss on account of this would run to several thousand crores [of rupees]. Imagine how much revenue the Government of India would have got if more operators were allowed in earlier.

There is a feeling that you are against the existing operators…

I am not against anyone. The existing operators do not want competition. There are four or five operators in all circles. I added another four or five. This will only mean more people will benefit. The reach will be much larger. The new operators will go to the rural and semi-urban areas. I have allowed telecom companies to share towers. Wait and watch rural teledensity grow in the next few years. Then you will say that my actions were right. I am presiding over a silent revolution in the telecom sector.

We are using subscriber base as a criterion to ensure spectrum efficiency and optimum usage. When I made a presentation on this at a conference in Malaysia, there was all-round appreciation. Many who spoke there said that India’s model should be adopted. Because many of the countries there were not able to force their operators to go to the rural areas.

The charge is also that once the new operators were given the UAS Licence and allotted spectrum, they offloaded a major part of their stake and made huge profits. And that the Ministry did nothing to stop this…

You have to look at my mandate. My Ministry needs to look at the [application] papers, see when the money was paid, make sure if the applicant has fulfilled all the obligations listed. You have to realise that for 2G spectrum we have followed the first-come first- served policy as per the National Telecom Policy 1999. NTP 99 recommended the first-come first-served policy because of the failure of the spectrum auction [exercise] in 1994.

All the new operators who have been given licence and allocated spectrum have fulfilled each of these conditions. The conditions stipulate that they have to complete their roll-out within a specified period of time. If they do not complete, then I can take action. The other criterion is that they cannot sell off within a period of five years.

But if they find an investor willing to pick up a stake, there is nothing much I can do. It is for the Finance Ministry to look into this. What I find strange is that some people are talking about loss to the government based on stock market fluctuations. Am I responsible for stocks rising or falling? It is true that some companies have made a windfall. I have been talking to Mr. Chidambaram [Union Finance Minister] on this. I will again meet him next week for a discussion. I have told him that from my end I am willing to impose any conditions to ensure that companies do not make undue profits.

How much spectrum did you allot since July 2007? How much had been allotted earlier? And who were given this?

All circles combined, I have allocated 463.8 MHz from July 2007. Before the UPA Government came to power, 525.6 MHz was allotted. From June 2004 to July 2007, 172.6 MHz was allotted.

I have followed all procedures while allotting spectrum for 2G services. I have not allotted over the Cabinet-prescribed limit of 6.2 MHz to a single operator apart from BSNL and MTNL, which are state-owned entities. Any private operator who is holding more spectrum than he can hold as per the Cabinet decision, was allotted the spectrum before my time.

The other question that needs clarification is the allocation of 2G spectrum on first-come first-served basis. You have explained that this is because auctions failed in 1994. Was there any loss in revenue because you allocated 2G instead of auctioning it?

This is the other point I want to clarify. I am of the firm view that the allocation route is superior to the auction route in the case of 2G for three reasons. One, the revenue is steady and increasing exponentially each year. Two, there is a social obligation component in 2G and this can be best served only if the government does not do an outright sale of the spectrum. The world over, 2G is used as a means by governments to improve teledensity. If I auction, I cannot have any control over it. Three, as per NTP 99 we should not auction: it spoke of improving rural teledensity at affordable cost.

I talked about revenue growth. Let me explain. The total amount collected in 2004-05 by way of licence fee and spectrum charges from all operators was Rs.7,953.13 crore. In 2006-07, this grew to Rs.10,747.42 crore. The next financial year, 2007-08, this more than doubled and stood at Rs.24,381.88 crore. In the first quarter of this year, we have received Rs.4,083.05 crore. In all, from 2004-05 to now — the first quarter of 2008-09 included — we have received a revenue of Rs.55,055.15 crore.

If we had auctioned the 2G spectrum, we would have received a one-time payment. But with this method, we have created a goose that lays golden eggs.

As the number of subscribers grows, we will have even better revenue from 2G operators. We [all the telecom companies] are adding 3 lakh subscribers each day. AGR [Adjusted Gross Revenue] is being collected on the basis of the number of subscribers. This has happened with a low rural teledensity. The number of subscribers now is 300 million. By 2012, the NTP says that the number of subscribers would have grown to 600 million. Every year, we are going to collect about Rs.25,000 crore because of the revenue sharing model we have adopted.

In that case, why cannot you follow the same in the case of 3G spectrum allocations?

As I told you earlier, 2G has a social component. 3G does not have [that]. In very simple terms, 3G is for very quick data transfer and high-end applications. It is not meant for the poor man. It is a value-added service. Also, in most countries, while 2G has been allocated, 3G has been auctioned. That is why the Government of India also wants to use the same methods here. There is a small check, though. This is that 3G cannot stand alone. This has to go with 2G… Of course, 3G will stimulate the economy. It is essential for the economic betterment of the country.

Is there any re-think on the dates for the 3G auction given the current depressed market sentiment?

No. As on date we are going on with the process as scheduled and hope to complete it by January. We do not have a re-think. So far there has been no directions from the Finance Ministry or the Cabinet.

Entertainment - Germany's first gay channel starts this week

BERLIN: Germany's first television station for gay men will go on air this week offering entertainment and news with homosexual themes via satellite
and cable, the new TIMM channel said on Friday.

The line-up will include popular series such as "Queer as Folk," "The L-Word" and "Absolutely Fabulous" dubbed into German as well as documentaries on gay stars or celebrities who are big in the gay community such as Rupert Everett, Susan Sarandon and Liza Minnelli, the station said in a statement.

With the slogan "We love men," TIMM said it was aimed at the estimated 3.6 million gay men who live in Germany, and also hoped to draw their family and friends, lesbians and a few "metrosexuals".

"TIMM enriches the existing television landscape with programming from and by the target group -- simply for everyone who loves men," it said.

"The highly positive feedback from the target group in the last 12 months has shown us how high the demand is for tailored information, entertainment and service."

The channel also promises to tackle hard-hitting issues such as the discrimination faced by Muslim gays and the persecution of homosexuals under Adolf Hitler.

TIMM, produced by German production company Deutsche Fernsehwerke, noted it targeted a demographic popular with advertisers: men with relatively high disposable income.

The channel will be viewable in about 15 million German households via digital television every night from 6:00 pm until midnight and later on weekends.

Entertainment - India;Star Pravah to launch on 24 november

MUMBAI: Star India is launching its Marathi general entertainment channel (GEC) Star Pravah on 24 November.

Star Pravah will launch with original programming between 7-10.30 pm in the prime time band.

Star Entertainment Media EVP and GM - regional channels JC Giri says, "After the successful launch of our Bengali GEC Star Jalsha, this is our next offering for Marathi audience. We will launch the channel on 24 November." Star also runs Tamil GEC Star Vijay.

The channel will bank on two of its driver shows Raja Shivchhatrapati and Agnihotra. Also in line are 24-episode drama Goshta Eka Lagnachi, comic-thriller J3 Junction, daily soaps Jyvlaga and Kulswamini, comedy sitcom Kukuchku, fiction-talk show Ase Ka Ghadle and celebrity talk show Star Durbar.

Star will kickstart a 360 degree marketing campaign from 10 November throughout Maharashtra. The focus will be mainly on four cities - Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik. The new channel will be promoted on TV, radio, print and outdoors and through on-ground activities. The channel has booked spots on Star's own network as well as other networks.

Star India EVP marketing and communication Prem Kamat adds, "We will start our promotion from 10 November. It will be backed by PR events, mass media as well as on-ground activities. On TV, we are in talks with news, regional and kids channels as well. The main focus will be on Raja Shivchatrapati and Agnihotra."

Star Pravah will be an encrypted pay-channel and will be distributed by Star Den.

The channel's main driver show Raja Shivchhatrapati will be aired Monday-Wednesday at 8.30 pm. The show will also be backed by a talk-show Shiv Dhanush every Sunday, where historians will throw light on the life of Shivaji and history of the Maratha dynasty.

Agnihotra, Jyvalaga, and Kulaswamini will be aired six days a week from Monday-Saturday. Ase Ka Ghadle, and Goshta Eka Lagnachi will be aired four days a week while J3 Junction and Kukuchku will be aired three days a week. Additionally, the celebrity talk-show Star Darbar will be aired on Sundays.

Nitin Chandrakant Desai will be making Raja Shivchatrapati while BAG Network is producing Star Darbar. Indian Magic Eye is doing Agnihotra, which is supported by big star cast including Mohan Agashe, Vikram Gokhle, Vinay Apte and others. Smita Talwarkar's Asmita Chitra is producing Goshta Eka Lagnachi and Smita Thackray's Rahul Productions is making Kulaswamini. J3 Junction is being produced by Siddhivanayak Creations and Ase Ka Ghadle is by Madhvi Mutatkar. Rakesh Sarang's Cams Club is producing Kukuchku whereas Shashank Solanki's Seventhsense Media is doing Jyvalaga.

Entertainment - India;Farhan Akhtar to host TV show

If you happen to switch on the TV anytime of the day or night, chances are bright that, you will be treated with is some sort of a 'reality' show, wherein all that the judges do is fighting and quarrelling much for the TRPs! Well, in such a television scenario, NDTV Imagine has come up with a show called 'Oye... It's Friday', which truly promises to be one of its kind.

The show will consist of one hour of sheer cutting edge humour, dazzling performances; news making guests etc... And to host the show, the channel has roped in none other than the 'Rocking' Director cum actor Farhan Akhtar, who, about his association with the show, said, "This show is something I want to watch... it has no rules and no boundaries... and its only aim is to entertain. I've done a lot of different things in my life and career and the reason I want to be a part of 'Oye... Its Friday' is because it is so excitingly unconventional.

There will be other celebrities hosts too who will switch and swap over the course of the series! If the pre-show hysteria is anything to go by, then, it only becomes needles to say that Fridays will just not be the same again! What say Farhan!

Lifestyle - Where the math doesn't add up for women

Shobha Narayan

Why are there no female Indian architects? Recently, I was invited to watch a documentary on Balkrishna Doshi, one of India’s premier architects. Although it could have been edited a shade more tightly, the 2-hour-long piece offered a wonderful glimpse into the minds of famous Indian architects such as Charles Correa and of course, the protagonist, Doshi. Since documentaries are largely free of commercial constraints, they are able to be more edgy; the creative voice comes through more honestly since it is not trying to please all sides of the theatrical aisle.
I am at a stage in life when I enjoy documentaries; just as I enjoy non-fiction more than fiction. Good movies, like great fiction, can be transporting—they take you away to another place and time. They make you forget the banality of your own life. But documentaries, like non-fiction books, are inspiring. They make you examine your own life and make changes. Doshi, the documentary, did both. It was thought-provoking and inspiring and addressed a great many things that I too happen to be thinking about.

The fact that the documentary was about an architect was the reason I went to see it in the first place. I like architecture, and architects. To me, the field is a perfect meld of science and art; practicality and idealism; form and functionality; beauty and reality. That said, pretty much every architect who was interviewed in the documentary was male. There was Charles Correa, Sen Kapadia, Graham Morrison, Jignesh Patel, and many more men. From viewing the documentary, it appeared that Doshi had neither taught nor mentored any female architect of any standing, which was strange for a man who was surrounded by women. In the documentary, Doshi mentions his mother-in-law as a source of great influence. He speaks lovingly of his wife, Kamala, after whom their house is named. His three daughters (and granddaughters) appear in the documentary and speak of how clued in their father was—and is—to their lives and hopes.
But not a single female architect made an appearance. All of which led me straightaway to the question: Where are the great female Indian architects?
Admittedly, architecture is a famously male-dominated field. For women, being an architect (and being a chef, I might add) is to survive a brutally hard field that thrives on testosterone. Women have made strides in other areas that ride roughshod over the female sensibility—investment banking for instance, it could be argued, is as brutal as it gets. But there are women i-bankers, and corporate CEOs (including our own Indra Nooyi). But architecture, at least in India, seems to be the province of the male.
This will change as a growing number of women enrol in architecture schools. The reason why I consider Zaha Hadid a “rock star” (to use a tired but eminently suitable cliché) is because she has taken on the men at their own game, and won the Pritzker Prize in the bargain.
But she is a lone ranger (to use another cliché, sorry). Lindy Roy and Jeanne Gang are moving up the ranks, but they too are a minority. I am particularly excited about Jeanne Gang, who heads a Chicago architectural firm and is building a series of apartment blocks in Hyderabad for Tishman Speyer. But even in the West, women architects are a minority. Deborah Burke, who designed the 48 Bond Street building in Manhattan, thinks it is because "developers don't like to work with women".
In India, women architects exist in almost every city and do good work. Chitra Vishwanath in Bangalore is noted for her eco-friendly, sustainable buildings. She designed Our Native Village, a resort outside Bangalore that bills itself as “India’s first 100% eco-resort”, with a swimming pool that is cleaned and maintained sans chlorine or other chemicals. Similarly, Renu Mistry designs beautiful homes with quirky ethnic touches—her firm Mistry Architects built Ranga Shankara, a theatre that we Bangaloreans are justly proud of. Mumbai and Delhi, too, have their female architects and also a famous non-practising architect, Arundhati Roy.

I am a feminist. But I also feel that the male and female brains perform differently. Men are better at some fields than women. Although he got a lot of flak for his “gaffe” about women not being good at math, I happen to agree with Larry Summers. There are exceptions—Sujata Ramadorai being one—but in general, women somehow don’t do so well in math. None of the Fields Medal winners so far has been a women. Part of the reason why women don’t excel in certain fields could be that they don’t “grab” us. Engineering, for instance, is a male-dominated field perhaps because it doesn’t engage the female mind as much as say, photography or design.
Other fields, like working in a restaurant kitchen, are hard for women to excel in because they are not conducive for raising children or maintaining a family. To be a world class chef like Clare Smyth, head chef of the Michelin three-starred Gordon Ramsey restaurant in London; or Anne Sophie Pic, whose family restaurant La Maison Pic in Valence, France, was awarded three Michelin stars, requires a level of commitment that excludes pretty much every other pursuit. And women, unlike men, either choose not to or cannot afford the reclusive celibacy that fields such as math demand. We are daughters, sisters, mothers and also professionals. Most women I know enjoy the gamut of roles that we are born to play.
Architecture is a wild card. It doesn’t demand one-dimensional celibacy. Then why are there no great female architects?

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;The fat cat bankers had it coming

I was contrasting the public reaction to the news that Jet Airways and Kingfisher were to lay off hundreds of employees to the stony indifference (at best) that greeted the news of the sackings in the financial sector. When people heard about the dismissed airline employees, saw photos of young girls in tears, there was a general outpouring of sympathy. Editors commissioned sympathetic pieces on the air hostess training schools that have sprung up all over the country and the newspapers asked, “What will become of these poor girls now? Their dream has died”. Eventually, the uproar forced Naresh Goyal to take back the Jet employees.
In contrast, nobody seemed to care too much about the sacked investment bankers or their dreams. You could argue that some of the apathy was due to geography: Pictures of unemployed Wall Street bankers do not have the same power as footage of the children of the new India, denied the life that we told them could be theirs.
But it went deeper than that. Many people I know actually gloated at the sight of bankers filing out of the Lehman Brothers office, cardboard boxes in hand. And though the media did the obvious follow-up stories—“When will the sackings begin in India?”—there was little sympathy in their tone. Rather, the stories were edged with breathless anticipation, as though the journos were getting ready for the next big collapse.
Nor was the indifference (if not perverse delight) restricted to lefties and those who were, in any case, opposed to the capitalist system. Ordinary middle-class professionals seemed actually pleased by the prospect of havoc in the investment banking sector. There was a sense of “they had it coming” or “they were ready for a fall”.
Some went further. They recalled how investment bankers would lecture bureaucrats and economists on how India should liberalize further. What were we so scared of, they would ask. Globalization was a good thing. We should open up our economy. We should trade in more adventurous instruments. We should make credit much more readily available. And so on.
Well, say the bureaucrats and economists now, what happened to the collective wisdom of Wall Street? If they were so sure of what was good for the Indian economy then how come they couldn’t work out what was good for themselves? “Thank God we didn’t listen to these jokers,” I’ve heard it said. “Otherwise we would be in the same mess as the US.”

The hostility to the financial sector and the utter lack of sympathy for the human beings caught up in the centre of the financial turmoil is not an exclusively Indian phenomenon. I have friends in England who are gloating over the prospect of mayhem in the City. And in the US, the anger towards the financial sector has become an important component of public policy. “Why should ordinary Americans bail out Wall Street fat cats who are in this mess because of their own greed?” is pretty much a constant refrain this election year.
And yet, on most objective criteria, we should be sympathizing more with the financially troubled bankers than with the young air hostesses. The sacked airline employees were all probationers in their early 20s. Many live at home, few have responsibilities, and most can switch careers quite easily at this young age. The bankers, on the other hand, have wives, children, school fees, loans and many other responsibilities. They are not young enough to start all over again. Their lives have been truly destroyed by the financial turmoil. And their school and college-going children are the ones who will suffer the most.
Yet few of us see it that way. Our view is that (a) the bankers had it too good for too long, (b) that they were all overpaid anyway and (c) they are the architects of their own downfall (and possibly the downfall of the air hostesses and everybody else who will suffer because of the global economic crisis).
At the root of the hostility or indifference is our ambivalence towards the financial sector. All over the world—and now, even in India—we celebrate great capitalist success stories. There may have been questions about Dhirubhai Ambani’s methods but he remains a public hero because he came out of nowhere to create wealth. Even his son Anil regularly wins youth icon polls. We admire the founders of Infosys, celebrate the achievements of the software billionaires and laud someone like Sunil Mittal.

But we have no heroes from the financial sector. Our problem is that nobody on the outside (which I suppose excludes readers of Mint) understands what investment bankers do. As far as we can see, they create nothing. They don’t produce even a safety pin, they have no factories and they do not visibly add to India’s wealth. Rather they shuffle bits of papers around, advise wealth creators, live a parasitic existence off genuine industrialists and make vast sums of money merely by manipulating figures, and employing no workers at all. Worse still, they are then arrogant, self-satisfied and vastly overpaid.
So why should we shed any tears for them when they are discovered to be leveraging their money by a factor of 30 to 1? Obviously this caricature cannot represent the whole truth. But, sadly for the financial sector, this is its global image. It may come from envy (at salaries) or ignorance (because we don’t understand finance) but this crisis should serve as a wake-up call for everybody in that sector.
How hated do you have to be by society that hardly anybody sheds any tears for you in your darkest hour? When people actually delight in your misfortune?
Obviously this crisis will end one day and the financial sector will get back on its feet. But when it does, it should be wary of repeating the mistakes of the last decade—mistakes that have left it friendless and alone.

Entertainment - India;Meet Television's new A-Team (G.Read)

Priya Ramani

By now it’s clear that Colors CEO Rajesh Kamat’s disruptive programming strategy has paid off. Pit actor Akshay Kumar, his stubble and a gaggle of glamorous women (without make-up) performing scary stunts against the collective shrieks of all those dark-lipstick-wearing mothers- and daughters-in-law. Introduce action in family drama viewing time. Disrupt and get noticed—by male and female viewers. Then gather the perfect mix of imperfect people to ensure that the buzz around your next big show, Bigg Boss, makes front-page news. Don’t underestimate the popularity of family drama. Or religious soaps. Depend on your killer team. Even as Kamat’s former colleagues Sameer Nair and Peter Mukherjea struggle to manage their new general entertainment channels (NDTV Imagine and 9X, respectively), dark horse Colors snagged the No. 2 spot. Analysts say the channel was probably the catalyst for Kyunki’s demise next week. We met the team that got the formula right

Head, advertising sales
“GEC is my passion,” says Simran Hoon, who loves the dynamism of a “bigger picture” general entertainment channel. “One show can take you up and down.” Hoon, who joined Sony Entertainment Television three days before it was launched in 1995, enjoys being part of successful start-up teams. “To build a brand right from scratch, to help set up systems, to figure out what is saleable and what is not is a big high,” she says. Hoon joined Zee TV as head of sales in 2005, the year the channel zipped past Sony to the No. 2 slot. She has also worked with Star India and ‘The Times of India’. If she wasn’t in sales, Hoon says, she would be a horse riding instructor (now I know where Lakshminarayan got the idea). Whenever she can, she escapes to a riding school a couple of hours out of town for the weekend. In fact, escaping has always been a passion. Her father was in the Army and Hoon grew up across India. She still travels a lot and favourite destinations include Barcelona, Majorca, Paris and Cape Town.
Favourite TV programme: ‘Friends’. “I can keep watching it over and over.”
Stressbuster: Camping, travelling, horse riding.

Head, business planning and strategy
“The unity factor is playing a huge role,” says Karthik Lakshminarayan of the Colors leadership team. “We’re together every living moment.” Lakshminarayan’s the business guy—he handles budgets, manages the profit and loss account and finalizes the telecast log. After eight years as COO of Madison Media Infinity, a place where, Lakshminarayan jokes, “at some point people thought I was part of the furniture”, the move to broadcast gave him something new to look forward to. Previous career highs have included snagging the Procter and Gamble account at Leo Burnett and winning an award in Cannes in 2006 for an innovative cellphone campaign for Cadbury’s. He’s an insomniac who loves hockey, cricket and every other sport. “I want to learn horse riding now,” he says.
Favourite TV programme: News and sports. He’s even watched the World Dartboard Championships on Ten Sports.
Stressbuster: Playing badminton for an hour daily and for two-and-a-half hours on weekends.

Advertisers have gone from 10 on the first day to 129 currently. Financial goals have already been updated to keep pace with the robust ratings. Rajesh Kamat, who graduated in biomedical engineering with a specialization in medical instrumentation before he got an MBA, is happy and stressed: “Sustaining is pressure. You could drop.” Both ‘Bigg Boss’ and ‘Fear Factor’ are from the Endemol stable, where Kamat was managing director for two years. Before that, he was part of Sameer Nair’s crack team at Star India. Nair, he says, taught him about “playing the game at a certain scale” and about having “mental strength in times of adversity”. The best compliment Kamat received recently was an SMS from a friend who said that in a world where stocks were falling and jobs were being cut, the only thing that was going up week on week was Colors’ ratings. Kamat says his team’s biggest strength is their passion. “It makes a difference to them if there is a point drop (in ratings). It hurts.”
Favourite TV programme: Currently, ‘Moment of Truth’ on Star World.
Stressbuster: His two-year-old daughter Riddhima.

Head, marketing
Rameet Singh Arora doesn’t know he’s the youngest member of the Colors team. This is Arora’s first television job—he’s previously worked with brands such as Airtel, Complan, Hitachi and McDonald’s. General entertainment, he says, is the FMCG of television. “I can’t think of any other category in any industry in India where people are fighting for market share as we are in television,” he says. And, since 70-80% of us are single-television families, “everyone is chasing the same remote control”. That’s where Kamat’s disruption and differentiation strategy comes handy, says Arora, who wanted to become an economist at 19, but then switched tracks. So, does he have a favourite economist? “Given the way the economy is right now, everyone should be taking only one name and that is Keynes,” he says. It’s difficult to keep Arora away from food; the most unusual food he’s eaten recently was oxtail after a bullfight in Spain. “It was horrible,” he says.
Favourite TV programme: Friends
Stressbuster: Eating, sleeping, walking

Head, programming

Ashvini Yardi spends most of her time thinking of new concepts and show formats, and then worries about whether they’re good enough. She’s probably the one who headed the team responsible for putting together the inhabitants of ‘Bigg Boss’. “It takes a lot of guts to be on the show. It’s a huge learning in terms of human psychology,” she says. Yardi was responsible for getting ‘Balika Vadhu’, the channel’s top-rated show about child marriage, on air. She has known its writer Purnendu Shekhar for 14 years and when Shekhar said he had a film script, Vardi told him it was perfect for TV. Earlier, they had worked together on Zee’s popular ‘Saat Phere’, which was based on her son Vivan’s dark-skinned maid. That was the show that propelled Zee past Sony to the No. 2 spot, says Yardi. The best part about the Colors team, she says, is that “each one has their own area of expertise and the others respect that. We understand each other’s needs and we have the space to do our own thing.” When she’s not working, she spends her time cleaning her house or catching up with friends.
Favourite TV programme: ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Seinfeld’.
Stressbuster: Four-year-old Vivan.

India -Q&A Pranab Mukherjee

Vinod Sharma

Q) Are Bangladesh-based groups with Pakistani linkages behind the Guwahati serial blasts? Is Pakistan using Bangladeshi territory to launch terror attacks on India?

A) We have had this type of information and we have been sharing it with the Pakistani authorities. Umpteen times, we have brought to Dhaka's notice the presence of camps and insurgent groups operating from Bangladesh to India. When Khaleda Zia was Prime Minister, I personally mentioned to her the number of places and number of cases (of terrorist activities). But all along, Bangladesh's attitude has been of flat denials. I am not quite sure. But there are reports that certain agencies and elements of Pakistan might be involved with terrorists and insurgent groups that have the tendency of building linkages with terrorist groups operating in other parts of the world. Terrorism has no respect for boundaries.

Q) Have you drawn your Bangladeshi counterpart's attention to the Guwahati blasts?
A) Information is shared on a regular basis through institutional mechanisms such as meetings at the level of foreign and home secretaries.

Q) Amid frequent terrorist attacks, economic slowdown, loss of jobs and chauvinistic, parochial sentiments are at their ugliest. One gets a feeling that there is no government at the Centre or in states.
A) India cannot be insulated from major international crisis in the area of money and finance. Similarly, terrorism and insurgency have a long history in India. I told the UN Secretary General that we are, as a country, the worst sufferers of cross-border terrorism. Unfortunately, various terrorist groups have attacked in a short span of time this year. As for the performance of various state governments, it's substantially due to the body politic that has degenerated. You cannot expect better result if politics is based on caste, religion and communalism. You may blame the government of the day. But if the rot starts from the stem and is manifested at the top, you have to go at the root to have the redress. (The answer is) is secular politics that does not compromise with terrorism. The BJP from the top of the house is shouting for a strong law but one has to be convinced as to how a strong law will help.

Could POTA prevent the attack on Parliament or the J&K Assembly? The point I'm making is that terrorist incidents occurred when there was a strong law and they are occurring when-- as per the allegations of the principal Opposition party--- there is no strong law. But it's not factually correct to say there is no strong law. All the hard elements of POTA or TADA have been incorporated in the regular Indian Penal Code. The fact is that you cannot rule merely by law. There is a famous saying of political philosopher Thomas Hill Green. When he was asked what the basis of State is, he said "Will, not force, is the basis of State." This aspect has to be kept in mind.

Q) But the will isn't coming across very clearly.
A) You shouldn't expect it to come merely from the government of the day. It has to come from the body politic, from the people. The political parties that are coming up today are propagating hatred. What is happening in Maharashtra, Orissa or Karnataka?

Q) How is Vilasrao Deshmukh any different from Naveen Patnaik? One backed the chauvinistic Raj Thackeray and the other the communal Bajrang Dal.
A) I am not discussing individual parties. The point I'm making is that it becomes difficult to handle the situation if the entire body politic is vitiated.

Q) How can the CM of national party like the Congress be sitting on his hands to let Raj Thackeray's goons hold the State to ransom?
A) I am not going to make any comment (on Vilasrao's conduct). Only the party spokesman can explain it. I am on the symptoms. For instances, the Guwahati blasts were followed by television images of street urchins who were inciting, throwing stone. They could be seen taking out things from the boots of the waiting cars. Who were they?

Q) You mean there was a political force behind the post-blasts mob-frenzy?
A) I don't know which force. Or who are they? The investigating agencies will be able to identify them after going through the footage. Perhaps it was in Ganeshpuri or somewhere.

Q) The onus for forging a national response to such threats is primarily on the party in power that in the instant case is the Congress-led UPA.
A) This is over-simplification of the problem. Just a couple of weeks back we had a meeting of the National Integration Council marked by the absence of the Leader of Opposition L K Advani. His party president Rajnath Singh was present and he made a comment that Advani was not invited.

Q) Advani was invited as an eminent person.
A) If he does not come then what can be done. The NIC was held in the context of what is happening. Good words were said (at the meeting). But what's important is the implementation of what is stated.

Q) It's alleged the Congress' political priorities in Maharashtra are coming in the way of tough action against Raj's MNS.
A) The question isn't of tough or soft action. This is not a new phenomenon. The Shiv Sena had declared at the Villa Parle by-election that it did not want Muslim votes. That election was cancelled long before they came to power in Maharashtra. Even after that they were given respectability (by the BJP) by sharing power at the Centre and in the State. If you allow these things to go on, parties based on caste, religion and communities will grow, leaving an adverse effect on the system. Each one of us should remember that when we raise an accusing finger at others, we have two pointing towards us.

Q) The BJP is known for its exclusive politics, but in Maharashtra where the Congress is in power….
A) I am sorry I cannot comment on Maharashtra. You may be obsessed with Maharashtra or Assam. But you did not see this obsession when Christians were burnt alive and nuns were raped in Kandhamal and churches were burnt in Karnataka. Please don't be exclusive in your objectivity.

Q) The same tough questions were asked of Naveen Patnaik.
A) It's not about Patnaik, Vilasrao Deshmukh or Tarun Gogoi. We are talking about the state of play at the national level, the Centre, where the politics of consensus has been destroyed by the BJP from day one. Look at their performance in Parliament. The Ministers accountable to the 14th Lok Sabha were prevented from being introduced in the House. There hasn't been a single session of Parliament that was not disturbed at least for a few days. You cannot destroy one institution after another and yet expect that every thing will go on as usual.

Q) Even the PM hasn't kept his promise of reverting to Parliament after finalising the nuclear deal with the US.
A) When the PM said it on July 22, after that the voting took place and the trust motion was carried. Before that, the deal was discussed as many as seven times on the floor of the House. The PM was not allowed to read his speech before the vote. You will demand a statement from the PM but not allow him to make it in the House.

Q) You mean to say the trust vote was good enough.
A) Of course. That was the crucial test. Go through the entire debate and (find out) what it was except the nuclear deal. Are we naïve or are we children? The speeches, whether for or against the motion, were on the nuclear deal. But when the PM was to reply, the minimum, elementary courtesy (of listening to him) was not extended. That is the worst crime they (the BJP) have committed against the parliamentary system. Before raising their accusing finger, they should stand before the mirror and see what they have done to this country.

Columnists - Rajdeep Sardesai;You've lost the plot (G.Read)

My dear Raj,

My apologies for having to communicate through the editorial pages of a newspaper, but frankly I am left with little choice since you seem to have decided to stay away from the so-called ‘national’ non-Marathi media. At the very outset, let me say that I am impressed with the manner in which you have carved a niche in Maharashtra’s political landscape. I remember meeting you after the Mumbai municipal corporation elections in February last year. It wasn’t the best of times for you: your party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena was marginalised, while your cousin Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena had captured power in the city. With many of your supporters deserting you, you appeared down, if not quite out. Twenty months later, I see you’ve bounced back: local and national dailies have you on the front page, you are the subject of TV debates and your politics has even united Bihar’s warring netas.

And yet, my friend, there is a thin line between fame and notoriety, more so in the fickle world of politics. Bashing north Indian students may grab the headlines, getting arrested may even get you sympathy and strident rhetoric will always have a constituency, but will they be enough to secure your ultimate dream of succeeding your uncle Bal Thackeray as the flagbearer of Marathi asmita (pride)?

If Balasaheb in the 1960s rose to prominence by targeting the south Indian “lungiwala”, you have made the north Indian “bhaiyya” the new ‘enemy’. In the 1960s, the Maharashtrian middle-class in Mumbai was feeling the pressure of competition for white-collar clerical jobs. Today, it seems that there is a similar sense of frustration at losing out economically and culturally to other social groups in Mumbai’s endless battle for scarce resources. With the Congress and the NCP having become the real estate agents of the state’s rural-urban bourgeoisie and the Shiv Sena a pale shadow of its original avatar, the space has been created for a charismatic leader to emerge as a rabble-rouser espousing the sons of the soil platform.

But Raj, I must remind you that electoral politics is very different from street agitations. Sure, the round-the-clock coverage of taxis being stoned and buses burnt will get you instant recognition. Yes, your name may inspire fear like your uncle’s once did. And perhaps there will always be a core group of lumpen youth who will be ready to do your bidding. But how much of this will translate into votes? Identity politics based on hatred and violence is subject to the law of diminishing returns, especially in a city like Mumbai, the ultimate melting pot of commerce. Your cousin Uddhav tried a ‘Mee Mumbaikar’ campaign a few years ago. It was far more inclusive, but yet was interpreted as being anti-migrant. The result was that the Shiv Sena lost the 2004 elections — Lok Sabha and assembly — in its original citadel of Mumbai. Some statistics suggest that one in every four Mumbaikars is now a migrant from UP or Bihar. Can any political party afford to alienate such a large constituency in highly competitive elections?

Maybe, you are not even looking at winning seats at the moment, but staking claim to the Sena legacy in a post-Bal Thackeray scenario. Perhaps, that’s exactly what the ruling Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra wants: like a market leader who gets competing brands to crush each other, the Congress-NCP leadership seems to be practising divide and rule politics once again. They did it with Balasaheb and the communists in the 1960s, with Bhindranwale and the Akalis in the 1980s, even with the Kashmir Valley politicians in the 1990s. A larger-than-life Raj Thackeray suits the ruling arrangement in the state because it could erode its principal rival, the Shiv Sena’s support base. It’s a dangerous game, but often when politicians run out of ideas, they prefer to play with fire. It’s a fire that could leave Mumbai scarred for life.

Now, before you see my writings as the outpourings of an anglicised non-resident Maharashtrian, let me just say that like you, I too am proud of my roots. I too, would like to see the cultural identity of Maharashtrians preserved and the economic well-being of the community assured. Where we differ is that I am a citizen of the Republic of India first, a proud Goan-Maharashtrian later. Fourteen years ago, I left Mumbai for Delhi to seek professional growth and was fortunate to be embraced by the Capital. Like millions of Indians, I too am a migrant and a beneficiary of a nation whose borders don’t stop at state checkpoints.

Moreover, I cannot accept that ‘goondaism’ is the way forward for forging a robust Maharashtrian identity. By vandalising a shop or stoning a taxi, what kind of mindless regional chauvinism are we promoting? Taking away the livelihood of a poor taxi driver or beating up some defenceless Bihari students reflects a fake machismo that is no answer to what ails Maharashtrian society today. The Maharashtra we are all proud off was inspired by the progressive ideals of the Bhakti movement, by a Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar legacy of social reform. Are we going to dismantle that legacy under the weight of hate politics?

When you started the MNS a few years ago, it had been pitched as a party committed to a ‘modern’ Maharashtra. If that vision still stands, why don’t you take it forward in real terms? Why don’t you, for example, set up vocational courses and technical institutes for young Maharashtrians to make them competitive in the job market? If cultural identity is such a concern, why not launch a statewide campaign to promote Marathi art, theatre and cinema by financially supporting such ventures?

If Mumbai’s collapsing infrastructure worries you, then target the politician-builder nexus first. And isn’t it also time we realised that Mumbai is not Maharashtra, that the long suffering Vidarbha and Marathwada farmer needs urgent attention? Why not use your political and financial muscle to start projects in rural Maharashtra instead of focusing your energies on Mumbai’s bright lights alone? An employment generation scheme in a Jalna or a Gadchiroli may not make the front pages, but it will have far greater value for securing Maharashtra’s future.

Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra!

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN Network

World Gulf citizens beg for bailout after stock rout

Abdullah Hajeri led a march on the Emir's palace in Kuwait this week, demanding the oil-rich nation's ruler stop stocks from plunging. Adnan Mohammed Saleh, down the Persian Gulf coast in Dubai, said he wants more government protection from the global financial crisis.

“Every day the market is crashing,” said Saleh, a 42-year-old trader, staring dumbfounded last Tuesday as company names scrolled across the Dubai Stock Exchange's outdoor ticker in red.

The region's rulers are under pressure from citizens to shore up investors, not just banks, as they try to fend off what may be the worst economic crisis since December 1998, when oil at $10.35 a barrel forced them to slash spending. Crude prices have fallen 50 per cent from a record $147.27 in July, and stock indexes in Dubai and Saudi Arabia are down by as much this year.

Gulf economies are more susceptible to financial turmoil than in the past because of their greater dependency on international expertise, investment and tourists to diversify away from oil. While Dubai, home to the world's tallest building and the man-made Palm Island, is considered most at risk, no part of the Persian Gulf will go untouched.

“There is no way you can say that any trouble in Dubai is going to be isolated,” Georges Makhoul, Morgan Stanley's president for the West Asia and North Africa, said in an interview in London. “The biggest threat is going to be local confidence in the local economy, whether it's in Dubai or Abu Dhabi or anywhere else.”

No Investors Left: There aren't many international investors left in the region, he added.

Regional competition to attract investors and tourists from around the world led to a surge in record-breaking projects.

Dubai is racing against Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's investment company to build the world's first kilometer-tall tower. Saudi Arabia has turned a spot on its Red Sea coast into the biggest property development in the West Asia. Now little more than sand and construction cranes, the $120 billion King Abdullah Economic City is meant to create 1 million jobs and be home to 2 million residents.

Projects risk going unfinished or becoming white elephants if economies around the world go into recession, keeping international investors and tourists closer to home.

Dubai's plans, including the Disneyland-style “Dubailand” that will be three times the size of Manhattan, are predicated on doubling the number of tourists annually to reach 15 million visitors by 2015.

“Many of the projects being marketed in the Gulf today will get shelved,” Kamel Lazaar, chairman of Riyadh-based financial advisory firm Swicorp, said October 7. “The price of land has been inflated. It will have to correct.”

‘Better Suited’: Kuwait on Wednesday became the third Gulf state to prop up its banking system. It did so after losses on currency derivatives at Gulf Bank KSC, the country's second-largest lender by assets, sparked a surge in customer withdrawals from the bank.

The United Arab Emirates said October 12 it would guarantee deposits of all local lenders and large foreign banks. It also set up a $19 billion facility to help banks make loans. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, put $2.7 billion into a government-run bank in Riyadh to provide no-fee loans to low- income citizens.

“We are going to be impacted, but we are better suited than anyone else to deal with the problems,” Hareb Al-Darmaki, executive director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, said October 28 at a London conference for companies from the United Arab Emirates' richest member. “We have the ammunition.”

Societal Setback: The emirate has almost 8 per cent of the world's oil reserves and a sovereign wealth fund with assets between $250 billion and $875 billion, according to a range of estimates compiled by the International Monetary Fund. Even with its decline, oil still averages $110 a barrel for the year.

Residents of the region are used to government intervention. All Gulf countries are run by unelected rulers who maintain political power through tribal allegiances and marriages. Generous state welfare programs have traditionally damped demands for more political participation.

How the region's rulers cope with the turmoil may define relations with their people in the future, as they try to wean their subjects off state handouts and encourage them to find jobs and embrace market capitalism.

“There's no question that it sets back the move from socialist, paternalistic societies toward more modern capitalist states,” said Gabriel Stein, a director at London's Lombard Street Research, which provides economic analysis to investors and companies. “It is a trend that we have seen all over the world. The immediate reaction is that you told us to do this, so now things are going wrong it's up to you to help us out.”

Market ‘Destruction’: On October 27, Hajeri, an independent equity trader, and 20 peers marched from the Kuwait Stock Exchange's trading floor to the emir's office to demand that the government close the exchange. Rebuffed, Hajeri said it meant “destruction to the market and the Kuwait people.”

All capital markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have declined and interest rates have increased since Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc sought bankruptcy protection on September 15.

Foreign investors were net sellers of more than 5 billion dirhams ($1.4 billion) of shares on the Dubai Stock Exchange since the beginning of August, more than 1 per cent of its current market value, according to bourse data.

‘More Integrated’: “The US financial crisis has ramifications for all countries, including the Gulf,” US Deputy Secretary of Treasury Robert Kimmitt said this week during a speech in Dubai, where he met representatives of sovereign wealth funds. ''Our capital markets are more integrated than ever before, allowing opportunities, but also financial difficulties, to spread rapidly across borders.''

Of the Gulf states, Dubai may be hardest hit by a global economic slowdown because it has borrowed more to finance its transformation from a Persian Gulf trading post to a financial and tourist hub, and has only 4 billion barrels of oil reserves.

Government-controlled companies owe at least $47 billion, more than Dubai's gross domestic product, and they will continue to accumulate debt faster than the economy grows, Moody's Investors Service estimated in an Oct. 13 report. It concluded that Dubai may need financing help from Abu Dhabi.

Dubai-based Emaar Properties PJSC has shed more than 26 percent since Sept. 15 as investors lost confidence in the ability of the Middle East's biggest publicly traded real-estate developer to finance projects by borrowing through local and international banks.

Real Estate Bust?

Dubai property prices will likely remain unchanged through 2010 after quadrupling in the past five years, Colliers CRE Plc said Oct. 5.

''There is a liquidity and credit crunch and now oil prices have fallen from $140 to $70,'' said Nouriel Roubini, a professor at New York University. ''I see the risk of a real-estate bust throughout the Gulf, but specifically in Dubai, and there's a huge amount of excess capacity being built.''

That's not keeping investors from betting on pain across the region. The cost of protecting debt from default has jumped more than fivefold since July for Abu Dhabi and Dubai, according to trading in credit default swaps. The cost of insuring Saudi Arabian government debt has risen 51 percent since Sept. 18.

The price of oil may determine whether governments can maintain government spending and support economic growth.

''If prices drop by $15 a barrel from the $60 to $70 mark, then they will probably not break even in terms of their budgets,'' said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Saudi British Bank in Riyadh

Business - India;Travel agents refuse to levy transaction fee

Seema Sindhu & Anirban Chowdhury

Most travel agents in India have refused to levy the transaction fees of Rs 350-10,000 on air passengers. The transaction fee was recently proposed to them by Indian carriers, in lieu of the 5 per cent commission that will be stopped from November 1.

“We have refused to go ahead with the transaction fees. This will put an unnecessary burden on the customer, thus decreasing demand for travel even more. The modalities under which the transaction fees are to be charged make it very vague for us to understand whether the transaction fees will actually come to us,” said Ajay Prakash, general secretary, Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI).

On Wednesday, Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines had given a proposal to the travel agents saying that in lieu of the 5 per cent commission that an airline pays to the agent, the agent should now levy a transaction fee between Rs 350 and Rs 10,000 per ticket on passengers. Sources said that until December 2009, the airlines had agreed that the transaction fees would be simultaneously levied by airlines and travel agents and would be thus part of the overall base fare of the ticket, so that the customer sees it as just a normal price increase.

“But the airlines also told us that the transaction fees that we were collecting would have to be deposited with them and they would reimburse it to us at a later date,” said P Sampat of TAFI.

“Also, after December 31, 2009, the airlines might stop levying the transaction fee when the customer buys its from their offices or online. But we would still levy it. The customer would then notice the difference in rates when he buys from an agent and from the airline. He would then stop buying from us,” he added.

Also, even if airlines levy the transaction fees in the current scenario, agents fear whether the amount will be the same. Moreover airlines will incentivise the deals on their website. They fear the system to go the US way where it was implemented few years back and agents were forced to keep higher fee and airlines have lower fares on their own websites.

“On an immediate note, I would say that transaction fee will make our business healthier in terms of revenue, the long-term impact will be clear in a month or so,” says Noel Swain, VP, marketing, Cleartrip.

Online travel business, which is worth $20 billion, might also get hit in long run. As more and more passengers book their tickets online, they will notice the difference in fares between the online travel websites and the airline websites and will prefer the latter which might not charge transaction fees.

In the last quarter, travel industry has seen a slowdown of 15-17 per cent in business. Dhruv Shringi, CEO, Yatra, says: “Though October being a festival month has been normal, there is growing concern post-October season (rising air fares, Jet-Kingfisher alliance).”

Corporate travel has been hit very badly. Aseem Sadana, COO, Isango, says: “Business class travel has been hit badly. Out of MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and events) category, sales incentive based travel has been least affected. Companies are still keeping their incentive commitments to dealers, as in times of slowdown sales force becomes more important. But in extreme cases, international tours are being turned into domestic tours.”

Incentive based travel comprise 80 per cent of the overall corporate travel. To offset air booking dip, companies will need to look beyond ticket booking to other streams like experiential travel (tours, activities and adventures). The commission on this vertical is more lucrative, 5-10 per cent depending on the volume.

To add to the woes, the Jet-Kingfisher alliance has put agents under more pressure. Travel agents say it will lead to lesser choice for them as well as passengers and the the volume will go down and thus the business.

Bruce Hanna, president and CEO, InterGlobe Technology Quotient, the official distributor of Galileo (a link between travel suppliers and travel agents) in India, says: "While common flier will be left with lesser choice, frequent fliers will get an advantage. Frequent flier points earned from Jet will be applicable to Kingfisher and vice versa. Travel agents will also be under pressure to give additional value on the booking, like hotel, restaurant booking etc.”

Business - India;Govt withdraws 15% export duty on steel

The government today withdrew the 15 per cent export duty on pig iron, iron and steel ingots, bars and rods, angles and sections. It also replaced the 15 per cent ad valorem export duty on iron ore fines. The export duty on scrap and iron ore lump remains unchanged.

The export duties on steel products and iron ore were imposed in May and June this year, respectively, to discourage exports and rein in the rise in domestic prices. The government, in a statement, said this was done after the steep fall in global steel and iron ore prices in order to make exports remunerative and save jobs in the sector.

Steel exporters hope these steps would bring some relief for them, though international prices are currently low and there is little incentive to export.

“We are the largest exporter of billets from the country but international prices are very low. However, this is a good message from the government,” said Neeraj Singal, managing director, Bhushan Steel.

Apart from direct exports, the move would also benefit players which send semi-finished products to their own finishing mills outside India.

Ankit Miglani, director (commercial) of Uttam Galva Steels, said the move was extremely positive because it showed that the government was concerned and was willing to help the industry. He, however, felt that while it (the decision) would not push up prices, it would help check prices from collapsing.

Since September, steel prices had slumped about 10 per cent and some of the large producers expect prices to fall further.

However, the specific duty of Rs 200 per tonne on iron ore fines versus an ad valorem duty was unlikely to benefit the steel industry. Miglani said iron ore prices had dropped so much that an ad valorem duty would probably have worked out better for the steel industry than the specific duty. Prices of iron ore fines with more than 63 per cent iron content was now available for $50 a tonne as compared with $155 this April.

R K Sharma, secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries, said there was no buyer for Indian iron ore and the duty should have been withdrawn. The steel industry was hoping that there would be more support from the government over the next few days. The industry was expecting an import duty of 5-10 per cent on hot rolled, cold rolled and galvanised steel products.

World - West Africa slavery still widespread

Sold into slavery at the age of 12, Hadijatou Mani says she was forced to labour for her master and his family for 10 years.
She quickly became one of several sexual slaves, or "sadakas" and was made to bear her master's children. She was subjected to regular beatings.

Now the former slave from Niger has won a landmark case against her government, which a regional West African court found had failed to protect her.

The court has ordered the government to pay her 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750) in compensation.

"I will be able to build a house, raise animals and farm land to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed as a slave," Ms Mani said afterwards.

The ruling could have broad implications for countries nearby where slavery is still practised, including Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to observers.

Human rights organisations say more than 40,000 people are still in slavery in Niger, though the government says this figure is exaggerated.

Most live in conditions little changed over centuries, forced to look after animals or domestic work such as cooking and cleaning without pay.

Born into an established slave caste, they inherit a status from their mothers that it is almost impossible to shake off.

Romana Cacchioli, Africa Programme Coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, says this form of slavery began centuries ago when North African Berbers and Arabs raided the settlements of black Africans to the south and enslaved them.


Hadijatou Mani's case was different - she was sold by her Berber, Tuareg family to a master from the Hausa community.

She says he bought her for the equivalent of about $500 (£315).

"My master has four wives. We, the slaves, were doing all the housework like cooking, fetching water and firewood and working on farms," she told the BBC.

I wanted the court to vindicate me, to give my rights
Hadijatou Mani

"I was beaten so many times I would run to my family. Then, after a day or two, I would be brought back."

But one day she heard that Niger had banned slavery, a decision that was announced in 2003.

"One of the anti-slavery activists from the Timidria association went to see the local chief who summoned my master.

"He was told that slavery had now been abolished, that he had to free his seven slaves, but he denied having seven slaves - he said he had only three, including myself.

"They told him if he loved us and we agreed, he could marry us. Otherwise he should just let us go. When he came back home he didn't tell us what happened, he just took us to another location so that we could not hear the news.

"After a while we came back, and that was when I heard that slavery no longer exists. I decided not to go back to my master but he kept going to the court saying that I am his wife."

According to Anti-Slavery International, which helped Ms Mani bring the case, she was finally freed by her master and given her "liberation certificate" in 2005.

A court initially blocked his attempt to prevent her marrying another man, but this was later overruled and Ms Mani was convicted of bigamy and sent to prison for six months.

"I was wrongly jailed, not because of anything I did but because of slavery, and today there is no more slavery so I wanted the court to vindicate me, to give my rights which I was denied some four years ago, to compensate me," she said.


Ilguilas Weila, head of the local human rights group Timidria, said the situation in Niger had barely changed since the country announced that it was banning slavery.

"There has been a lack of political will," he said. "The law was only passed for Westerners. It was a charm-offensive aimed at those who were asking why slavery had not been made illegal."

Slaves are kept in humiliating and degrading conditions, he said. They can be beaten, sold, or given away as wedding presents.

"They wake up before their masters, and they are the last to go to sleep. During the day, the men look after the animals, the women collect water feed the family and gather wood."

"Almost the whole of the slave's day is spent working for their master."

Mr Weila said his group had estimated that in 2002 about 8% of the population in six of Niger's eight regions were living in slavery.

Ms Cacchioli says Anti-Slavery International has helped free about 80 women in Niger over the past five years.

She says that leaving their master is more difficult for women, as this also means abandoning any children she has had with him.

And the deeply-rooted practice has persisted in some neighbouring countries.

Ms Cacchioli says there are no reliable figures for the number of slaves in Mali.

Mauritania has also officially abolished slavery, but Anti-Slavery International says 18% of the population are estimated to be slaves.

The government there strongly disputes these figures.

Officials and some ordinary Mauritanians argue that it is difficult to define who is a slave - few records are kept, unlike during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

They point out that abolishing slavery - and its scars - is not straightforward.

The practise is most widespread in remote, rural areas. Few have been to school and so they not be aware that slavery has been abolished.

And if they do manage to leave their masters, without training and land, they could just add to the ranks of the unemployed in the cities

World - US;Obama pushes for McCain territory

Democrat Barack Obama is extending his campaign advertising into traditionally Republican territory, as polls there show him closing on rival John McCain.

Mr Obama is to run ads in Arizona, his rival's home state, as well as Georgia and North Dakota, with only three days to go before the presidential election.

On Friday Mr Obama's campaign took him from the state of Iowa to Indiana.

Meanwhile, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave Mr McCain strong backing in the swing state of Ohio.

In a rousing speech, the former Hollywood film star said the Republican candidate was the real action hero.

Arnold Schwarzenegger attacks Obama's spending

"John McCain has served this country longer in a [prisoner of war] camp than his opponent has served in the United States Senate," said the star of The Terminator, Predator and Conan the Barbarian.

Halloween warning

Speaking to big crowds at a rally in Iowa and Indiana, Mr Obama warned Mr McCain's campaign was likely to escalate into a final crescendo of attacks on him.

Voters would see "more of the slash-and-burn, say-anything, do-anything politics that's calculated to divide and distract, to tear us apart, rather than bring us together", he said in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Illinois senator then made a brief stop in his home city of Chicago to see his two young daughters at Halloween before moving on to Indiana, where he addressed more than 40,000 supporters in Highland, Indiana.

Meanwhile, former Vice-President Al Gore campaigned for Mr Obama in Florida, another important swing state.

He referred to his own defeat there in 2000, saying "it's been a long eight years" - and urged Florida's voters to "make good" on the challenge of electing Mr Obama as president.

Polls tightening

The Obama campaign plans to run two adverts in North Dakota and Georgia, both states which have usually voted Republican.

One seeks to link Mr McCain, 72, to President George W Bush, suggesting the Republican would continue the same economic policies.

The other relies on Mr Obama's message of "unity over division", highlighting his endorsement by such high-profile Republican figures as former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

If the polls hold, the American people will elect Barack Obama as their 44th president... And he would be a very bad choice
Peter Wehner Former deputy assistant to President Bush

Polls suggest Mr Obama is closing the gap on Mr McCain in Georgia, with a CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll giving the Republican a five-point lead among likely voters.

The same poll shows third-party candidate Bob Barr, a Libertarian and former Georgia congressman, with 4% support, which could affect the race.

By early Friday, some 31% of voters in Georgia had chosen to take advantage of early voting and cast their ballot in advance. Obama aides said the numbers were "highly encouraging".

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis dismissed the advance into Republican territory, saying he advised Mr Obama, 47, to focus his spending on states which Mr McCain intended to prise from him on 4 November.

Mr Davis also told reporters that the campaign was "jazzed up" about Mr McCain's prospects, saying that he was living up to his reputation as the underdog who fights back.

"We are witnessing, I believe, probably one of the greatest comebacks that you've seen since John McCain won the primary," he said.

Mr McCain told a crowd of several thousand in Steubenville, Ohio, that he felt his campaign had a new momentum in the state.

"You're going to be the battleground state again," he said. "You're going to be the one who decides. I need Ohio and I need you."

Earlier, he told a rally in Hanoverton that Mr Obama was "in the liberal left-lane of politics" and intended to raise their taxes.

Final stretch

Ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, campaigning for his former rival for the Republican nomination, said Mr McCain was the candidate sticking up for ordinary Americans.

"He's going to fight to see that your taxes are low and that the economy recovers," he said.

Mr McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, in Pennsylvania also focused on the economy, telling supporters that Mr Obama was "for bigger government and he's going to raise your taxes".

The McCain campaign's efforts come a day after the Arizona senator made a late plea for donations in an effort to pull off a surprise victory.

His appeal to supporters came less than a day after Mr Obama spent an estimated $5m (£3.1m) on a 30-minute primetime "infomercial" aired on US TV networks.

Mr McCain is spending two days campaigning in Ohio, which is seen as a must-win state if he is to have any chance of overall victory.

The latest national poll by CBS and the New York Times puts him 13% behind the Illinois senator.

Polls in battleground states suggest the differences in support between the two candidates are much slimmer.

World - Blind S Korea masseurs win case

A South Korean law which states that only the visually impaired can be licensed masseurs has been upheld in the country's Constitutional Court.

The licensed masseurs - who must be registered blind - have been protesting against moves to change the law.

They say it is a legal protection that provides many blind people with autonomy and an income.

Sighted masseurs said that the law infringed on free employment rights and criminalised them in their trade.

"The court decision is not only a verdict on our right to live but also a measure of South Korea's conscientiousness," said Lee Gyu-seong from the Korean Association of Masseurs.

Noisy protests

The group - which has about 7,100 visually impaired members - has led noisy protests over the court case, with some blind masseurs even jumping off bridges into the Han river which runs through Seoul.

The law goes back to 1912 when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. The US military government abolished the protection in 1946 but it was reinstated in 1963.

South Korea's estimated 200,000 unlicensed masseurs said the law denied them the right to practise their trade.

Unlicensed masseurs can face heavy fines and even prison sentences, but they say there is high demand for their skills.

Although they won a 2006 court decision to overturn the law, parliament has now agreed to continue the monopoly for the blind as licensed masseurs.

"Massage is in effect the only occupation available for the visually handicapped and there is little alternative to guarantee earnings for those persons," said the Constitutional Court in a statement.

Welfare experts say that although the law helps blind people to make a living, it makes employers in other fields less likely to hire the visually impaired, thus adding to workplace discrimination.

World - Indonesia;Aceh's rebels turn politicians

Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Banda Aceh

Balanced on the north-west tip of Indonesia, its nose pointing up across the Indian Ocean to India and the Middle East, is the slender province of Aceh, a place of religious passion and fierce identity.

It is the place where Islam is first thought to have reached Indonesia, and where, until a few years ago, separatist guerrillas fought the Indonesian army in a bloody war.

One of those guerrillas was Adi Sulaiman. Small and wiry, with a quiet authority, he fought side by side with his comrades from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam), in Aceh's jungles.

But since the peace deal signed between Gam and the Indonesian government three years ago Adi, like many of Aceh's former rebels, is fighting a different kind of battle - not for independence, but for parliament.

Parliamentary elections

Indonesia is due to hold parliamentary elections next April, and under the terms of the peace deal, Aceh has been given special autonomy, allowing local parties to contest the polls for the first time.

And of the six new local parties to have sprung from that agreement, the one that is tipped to do best in next year's polls is the one formed by Gam: called simply the Aceh Party.

Adi is one of the Aceh Party's young hopefuls.

He told me it was no big deal switching from fighter to politician; that Gam still holds the real power.

But when we met him in the Gam stronghold of Pidie, several hours' drive outside the provincial capital, he was looking harassed and was hard to pin down.

The peace deal hasn't been fully implemented. It's incomplete and the Indonesian government is cheating itself by betraying what it agreed to
Adi Sulaiman, Aceh Party

Gam security guards in red-and-white sashes stood around under plastic awning, set with rows of chairs, grizzled old fighters greeted each other with wrinkled smiles; and lines of civil police were being drilled on the road outside.

Adi was moving briskly between them all, giving orders, and smoking a lot of cigarettes.

Former rebel

He was preparing for a visit by Gam's founder and leader, Hasan di Tiro, who returned to Aceh this month after 30 years in exile.

But with the war Mr di Tiro waged for independence over, what is Adi's political fight about now?

"The peace deal hasn't been fully implemented," Adi told me. "It's incomplete. And the Indonesian government is cheating itself by betraying what it agreed to."

What the central government agreed to is to give Aceh broad, day-to-day control over its own affairs, while keeping authority over six key national areas, such as foreign policy and defence.

But much of the province's new autonomy has yet to be implemented, and there are tensions between Aceh and Jakarta over the detail of exactly what that autonomy means.

The Aceh Party wants to be seen as the guardian of that new autonomy.

And who better to make that point than the man who started the war, and then backed the peace? Mr di Tiro is a powerful brand here.

The Aceh party flags that trailed him during his visit told the story: "He's ours," they said.


Aceh Party officials have already complained about their rivals "provoking conflict" by claiming they too have links to GAM.

But those rival parties have their own complaints in turn: complaints that they have been threatened and intimidated when trying to campaign in certain areas; that some of their offices have been burned; that their representatives have been kidnapped.
No-one wants publicly to name names, and the culprits probably bear more than one political colour, but privately some in Aceh point the finger towards Gam's new politicians.

There are six new local parties contesting these elections - as well as the existing national ones.

The Aceh Party already has a few advantages: existing village networks, for example, and huge amounts of funding - reportedly more than their national party rivals.

They are expected to do very well in April's elections, sweeping district posts in the north and east, and perhaps even winning control of the provincial parliament.

The question is whether the Aceh Party's policies will deliver what the Aceh people want.

Most of those we talked to in Pidie's local coffee shop were, perhaps unsurprisingly, Aceh Party supporters.

But they were more interested in keeping the peace and making a bit of money than the minutiae of power relations with Jakarta.

That may change of course, as pressure gathers to roll out all of Aceh's new autonomy, but after three decades of war and a devastating tsunami, many people are simply glad for a bit of normality.

And whoever wins, this election will be a key test of Aceh's new stability.

As one politician put it: people think it's the end of the peace process here. Actually, it's the beginning.

Lifestyle - Chinese images win global prize

Nick Higham
BBC News

A Canadian photographer has won what is said to be the world's richest photographic prize, the Prix Pictet.

Benoit Aquin travelled to northern China to record an ecological disaster which is turning 400,000 square km of once-fertile farmland into desert.

The Prix Pictet - sponsored by a private Swiss bank - is worth 100,000 Swiss francs (£50,000; $90,000) and aims to foster environmental awareness.

It was presented in Paris by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

For the inaugural prize, awarded by Swiss bank Pictet et Cie, photographers were invited to submit pictures on the theme of water - though in fact the winner, Mr Aquin, took the absence of water as his subject.

His pictures show people struggling in arid streets and landscapes against the dust storms which blow almost constantly in the affected area.

Mr Aquin's photos are on show, with those of the other 17 photographers shortlisted from among almost 250 entries, in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo.

Dust and desolation

In one of Mr Aquin's photographs, two women, smartly dressed but swathed in scarves and sunglasses against the dust, stride across a street of ramshackle houses in Inner Mongolia.

Another shows a street in the town of Hongsibao in Ningxia Province, now overwhelmed by "ecological refugees" from the surrounding countryside whose livelihoods have disappeared.
A third shows a farmer standing in the cracked and dried out bed of what used to be a pond.

The crisis has been caused by over-grazing and by pumping too much water for irrigation from underground aquifers, which are now running dry.

The parched soil is blown away by the wind and creates dust storms which reach as far as Beijing, Korea, Japan and even North America.

Mr Aquin told the BBC he has made several visits to the region, and hopes to return.

The dust makes photography difficult - and in an age before digital cameras it would have made changing film well-nigh impossible.

Mr Aquin says his personal favourite among his pictures is an especially desolate shot of a motorcyclist, her face invisible beneath her scarves, riding along a road lined by sand-coloured poplars and through a cloud of thick smoke from a burning truck beside the road.

The chairman of the Prix Pictet judges, Frances Hodgson, head of the photographs department at Sotheby's, said the aim of the prize was to persuade decision-makers in business, politics and non-governmental organisations to take notice and to act.

The exhibition will later tour to other cities around the world, starting with Dubai, where it will coincide with a meeting of the World Economic Forum.

See it here