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India: Mumbai on high alert with right-wing leader Bal Thackeray in critical condition

Mumbai is poised for possible violence, as Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray remains in critical condition
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The Mumbai and Maharashtra authorities are preparing for the worst as the far right Shiv Sena party's longtime boss languishes in critical condition.

Officials fear an eruption of violence in the event that the 86-year-old demagogue dies. Thackeray, who made his political career fighting for Marathi speakers as waves of migrants from South India and later Bihar came to Mumbai seeking their fortunes, built the Shiv Sena into a party known for street violence.

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India: Failed 2G spectrum auction doesn't mean govt was right to allot licenses

India's auction of 2G telecom licenses that were cancelled due to corruption allegations may have failed to generate much cash, but that has no bearing on the graft charges, argues FirstPost.in
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The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's effort to erase its past failures with the auction of 2G telecom spectrum licenses that were cancelled by the Supreme Court due to allegations of corruption in the allotment process has turned out to be a flop. But its failure to spark a bidding war between industry giants should not be confused with proof that there was nothing wrong with the first-come, first-served system used in 2008, argues FirstPost.in's R. Jagannathan.

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India: Aung San Suu Kyi's lesson in Realpolitik

If the Nobel winner is "disappointed" in India, human rights campaigners are losing faith in her, too.
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Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi had some backpedaling to do this week during her first visit to India in 40 years. But the world's most famous dissident failed to extricate foot from mouth in recasting her "disappointment" in India for its soft stance on Myanmar's military dictatorship as sadness.

As FirstPost.in's Venky Vembu reports Thursday, both India and Suu Kyi have tumbled off their pedestals. India has discovered Realpolitik as its rising status in world affairs made it so other people actually care what New Delhi thinks and does. And Suu Kyi has discovered the merits of dealing with the devil, rather than simply railing against it, after Myanmar's junta let her out of house arrest to become an opposition politician.

"Suu Kyi has in the past given voice to her sense of 'sadness' that India had in recent years fallen off the pedestal on which she herself – and a lot of other freedom-loving people around the world – had placed it," Vembu writes. "India had, she felt, silenced its moral voice, and begun to strike dirty deals with dictators and military rulers."

"In particular, the fact that the Indian government had openly embraced Myanmar’s military junta, which had robbed her of her election victory in 1990 and jailed her, rankled with her. India, she observed last year, 'is not as concerned' about the fate of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar 'as we would like them to be.'"

“I think rather than disappointment, sad is the word I would use because I have a personal attachment to India through my friends as well as because of the friendship that existed between my father and Jawaharlal Nehru, because of the closeness that existed between the countries. So rather than disappointed, I was sad that it had to be like that,” the Myanmar opposition leader said in an interview with the Hindu before this week's visit.

As Reuters reports, Suu Kyi urged India on Wednesday to push for full-fledged democracy in Myanmar, on her first trip to India since it dropped its support for her democracy movement two decades ago in order to gain the support of the ruling junta in fighting an insurgency along the India-Myanmar border.

“We have not yet achieved the goal of democracy, we are still trying, and we hope that in this last, I hope, and most difficult phase the people of India will stand by us and walk by us,” the news agency quoted Suu Kyi as saying in a memorial lecture for Nehru.

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India accounts for a quarter of world's child pneumonia deaths

Some 370,000 Indian children die of pneumonia each year
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India accounts for one out of four child deaths from pneumonia across the world, where the disease claims 1.4 million children under five years of age each year.

Meanwhile, pneumonia is the cause of one out of five deaths worldwide in the same age group, according to the Times of India.

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India: Will new tax save India from budget crisis?

Proposed value-added tax touted as "single most important initiative in the fiscal history of India"
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India is edging closer to pushing through a value-added tax or goods and services tax (GST), as it is known here, that some are touting as "the single most important initiative in the fiscal history of India."

But edging closer doesn't necessarily mean actually passing legislation, suggests Bloomberg. After all, this is India.

"The implementation of the new system has been held up on many fronts: disputes over its precise shape, resistance on the part of some state governments because they fear a loss of revenue from the levy of state taxes, the need to amend the Constitution (which has a different view of taxation powers divided between the central government and the state than the one the GST envisages), and the absence of any concerted pressure from the citizenry," writes Chandrahas Choudhury.

And none of those problems has really disappeared -- which is perhaps why last week's Business Standard reported that "the Parliamentary Standing on Committee on Finance may not be able to submit its report on the Good and Services Tax (GST) during the forthcoming Winter Session."

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India: Bidders reluctant in tainted 2G spectrum auction

Hoping for $3.3 billion, India gets no bids for 800 Mhz band
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Former telecom minister A. Raja arrives at Parliament in New Delhi on May 16, 2012. A day after he walked out of Tihar Jail after securing bail in the 2G spectrum scam, A Raja went to Parliament. The former telecom minister was in jail for over 15 months after being arrested in February last year for his role in the 2G scam. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

India's ballyhooed auction of 2G telecom spectrum -- designed to undo the theoretical damage of a decision to allot licenses on a first-come, first served basis -- appears to be turning out a major disappointment for the government.

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India: What recovery? Data says industrial output down, trade deficit up

India's factory output fell 0.4 percent in September, against expectations, while the trade deficit rose to $21 billion
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Indian labourers work at a steel factory in the outskirts of Agartala, India's northeastern state of Tripura, on November 1, 2012. India's prime minister on November 1 urged his re-shuffled administration to focus all its efforts on reviving the flagging economy, and said pushing through infrastructure projects would be prioritized. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

India's factory output shrank 0.4 percent in Septemer compared with a year earlier, frustrating hopes for an increase of 2 percent or more, while the trade deficit rose to $21 billion in October from $18 billion a month earlier, according to the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.

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India likely to be drawn further into Afghan conflict: Former CIA officer

India may be drawn deeper into Afghan conflict during Obama's second term, warns former CIA officer Bruce Riedel
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Indian Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi (L) talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in New Delhi on November 11,2012. The Afgan President is on a five day state visit to India till November 13. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

India is likely to be drawn further into the Afghan conflict during President Barack Obama's second term, career CIA officer Bruce Riedel warns.

"Obama's re-election ensures that fighting terrorism will remain the top priority of American foreign policy," Riedel writes for India Today. "Obama will continue the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, and perhaps take on new battlefields in North Africa. Pakistan will remain the most difficult bilateral relationship Obama must manage; he will probably move more toward containment. US-India relations will become closer with greater cooperation on Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, the evolving US-Pakistan relationship and the transition from NATO to Afghan leadership in 2014 could have big implications for India.

"If Pakistan encourages the Taliban to step up the pressure on the Kabul government and they recover territory hard won by NATO forces in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, it will be a sign that Pakistan is determined to push America out of South Asia," Riedel argues. And that will sour US-Pakistan relations even further.

In any case, "India is likely to be drawn deeper into the Afghan conflict," Riedel argues.

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India: Endangered vulture population increases for first time in 20 years

Nearly driven to extinction by a drug used for sick cattle, India's endangered vulture population may finally be making a comeback.
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Founder of the Asha Foundation animal shelter and hospital Harmesh Bhatt plays with Maya, an Indian vulture, at Hathijan village, some 20 kms from Ahmedabad, on January 16, 2010. (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

India's endangered vulture population has increased for the first time in 20 years, following the death of 99 percent of the scavengers over the years. The decline had prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to put India's vultures on its list of critically endangered species.

A research paper by scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BHNS) shows that the number of vultures, once found across the country, increased marginally between 2011 and 2012, the Times of India reports.

Vital to the ecosystem and beloved by India's small community of Parsis -- who rely on the carrion eaters to dispose of their dead -- India's vulture population was nearly wiped out before researchers discovered what was killing them: a drug called diclofenac that farmers use widely to treat cattle for various ailments. A palliative for cattle (and humans), diclofenac causes kidney failure in vultures when they eat the carcasses of cows that have been treated with the drug, scientists eventually discovered.

According to the TOI, a ban on the use of diclofenac across South Asia in 2006 led to a drop-off, between 2007 and 2011, in the numbers of birds being killed. Ornithologists said the vulture population had stabilized by 2011, when the numbers remained roughly the same as the previous year.

"Between 2011 and 2012, there has been a slight increase in the population," the paper quoted Vibhu Prakash, deputy director of Bombay Natural History Society and lead researcher of a recent study on the subject, as saying.

Prakash said population estimates are difficult, but the numbers are slightly higher than in 2011, when there were only 1,000 slender-billed vultures (Gyps tenuirostris), 11,000 white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) and 44,000 Long-billed vultures (Gyps indicus) remaining in the country, according to the paper.

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India: Tainted 2G spectrum auction begins today

Alleged irregularities in the allotment of 2G telecom spectrum started India's anti-corruption movement
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Former telecom minister A. Raja arrives at Parliament in New Delhi on May 16, 2012. A day after he walked out of Tihar Jail after securing bail in the 2G spectrum scam, A Raja went to Parliament. The former telecom minister was in jail for over 15 months after being arrested in February last year for his role in the 2G scam. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

India's reboot auction of 2G telecom spectrum licenses begins today, in an effort to undo some of the damage from the scandal that started an ongoing anti-corruption drive that has hammered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party and raise some $7.5 billion to shore up the budget deficit.

The government will auction the 2G spectrum freed from cancellation of 122 telecom licences by the Supreme Court in February starting 9 am on Monday, India Today reports.

A total of 11 blocks of airwave frequencies in each telecom circle, barring Delhi and Mumbai, where there are only eight blocks, will be up for bidding, the magazine said. At the end of the auction, telecom companies will have the option to pay full amount of 33 percent of final price by December 25.

The final price will then determine the amount that government will get from a one-time levy on spectrum held by existing operators beyond 4.4 MHz.

As GlobalPost reported (many times), the so-called "2G telecom spectrum scam" started a massive backlash against Singh's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2011, when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) alleged that then-Telecom Minister A. Raja had cost the treasury as much as $33 billion by allotting licenses on a first-come, first-served basis instead of through a transparent auction.

In a case that has gone through several iterations since then, Raja has been accused of receiving kickbacks through a Byzantine web of shell companies and middlemen in exchange for doling out spectrum to favored companies.

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