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A guide to the dynamic economics, politics, and culture of the world's most populous region.

Britain's Diageo bails out Mallya, buys 53% stake in Kingfisher's United Spirits

Owner of Johnnie Walker pays $2 billion for red carpet into India's huge whiskey market

Staff at near-bankrupt Kingfisher Airlines have something to smile about, finally, as the UK's Diageo pulled the trigger to buy a 53 percent stake in Vijay Mallya's flagship United Spirits unit on Friday, providing the flambuoyant tycoon a much-needed $2 billion with which he'll seek to keep his airline from crashing. (And, hopefully, issue some salary checks).

As GlobalPost reported last month, Mallya -- known for apeing Richard Branson, gold chains and shirts unbuttoned to his navel -- has been pilloried as "India's worst businessman" since the high profile failure of his airline. His employees have taken him to court to try to squeeze some cash out of him. And there was a pretty decent chance that shareholders might have made an attempt to force him to cede control of the family business built by his father in the heyday of the Bangalore booze boom.

Mallya, who said Friday that he has not sold the family jewels, though there is every appearance he has put them in hock, now looks to have averted the worst.

Diageo will acquire a 27.4 percent stake in United Spirits at 1440 rupees ($26.32) a share, or 660 million pounds ($1.05 billion), and make a tender offer for another 26 percent, the Associated Press reported. 

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Nepal's Prachanda wants India in on development of Buddha's birthplace

"Nepal, China and India should come together and form a strategic partnership" through $3 billion tourism initiative, says Maoist leader.

Days after reviving a controversial project to develop Buddha's birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal, with the aid of a China-backed non-profit organization, the former leader of Nepal's Maoist rebellion has invited India, too, to join in creating what some have derided as "Disneyland for Buddhists."

"Nepal, China and India should come together and form a strategic partnership through this Lumbini project for peace, stability and development in the region and Asia," said Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, according to India's Saturday Hindustan Times.

He also mentioned discussions with top Chinese and Indian leaders on the project but didn't give any information on how Indian government or companies could get involved, the paper reported.

As GlobalPost reported earlier this week, Prachanda, who is now the chairman of Nepal's Unified Communist Party, has reportedly inked a deal with the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation that will bring in $3 billion to develop Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini into a "world-class city attracting tourists and pilgrims from across the world."

According to the Indian Express, the agreement was signed by Linus Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the APEC Foundation and Prachanda in his capacity as chairman of Nepal's steering committee. But members of Nepal's other political parties challenged his right to sign the deal unilaterally.

“The issue was not discussed in the committee, and it has not authorised Prachanda to sign it in the manner he did,” the Express quoted Minendra Rizal, former Minister for Culture and a Nepali Congress leader, as saying.

“This project has enormous potential and will benefit Nepal, India and China and I have spoken to Indian authorities and they are positive about the project,” Prachanda said during the signing ceremony, according to the report. He did not disclose the details of the project, its total cost, or the time needed to complete it, however.

As GlobalPost reported in January, some see China's enthusiasm for Lumbini as part of a larger "battle for Buddha," pitting Beijing versus New Delhi in the quest to expand "soft power," or cultural influence, within the region.

In this struggle, India seeks to use its common cultural heritage to overcome China's ethnic ties to the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, and China seeks to limit the damage from its repression of religious freedom in Tibet and its incessant sparring with the Dalai Lama.

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India: Anti-corruption activist outs Swiss bank holders

Anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal claimed to have details on 700 Indians with Swiss bank accounts, including Reliance Industries' Mukesh Ambani

In case you're laboring under the misconception that India's corruption problem has been solved, due to my waning interest in the topic, here's an update:

Anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal alleged Friday that he has information on some 700 prominent Indians who hold Swiss bank accounts, suggesting that the accounts are used for so-called "black money," laundering, round-tripping investments and other illegal activities that plague India's economy.

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India, Afghanistan to sign mining, other business pacts during Karzai visit

Karzai expected to ink pacts involving mining leases and explore a greater role for India in training of Afghan troops during visit that begins Friday

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to sign four pacts involving mining leases and other business cooperations during a visit to India that begins in Mumbai on Friday.

The Afghan leader is also expected to discuss a possible larger role for India in the training of Afghan security forces, according to the Press Trust of India.

In general, India's role in security operations in Afghanistan has been limited, due to opposition by Pakistan. But New Delhi is keen to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a fiefdom of its oldest adversary--which it accuses of fostering terrorist groups to wage a "proxy war." And Karzai has increasingly been seen as attempting to hedge his bets when it comes to reliance on Islamabad.

Karzai, who will begin his tour from Mumbai, will interact with the business community there and seek greater investment in his country in various sectors, Zee reported. Briefing the reporters on the Presidential visit, Afghan Ambassador Shaida Mohammad Abdali said that Karzai was coming to India at "a critical time" as international combat troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, the news agency said.

Four MoUs will be signed between the two countries in areas of mines, youth affairs, small development projects and fertilizers, PTI reported Abdali as saying. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Karzai will also discuss the regional security situation and safety of Indian nationals and Indian projects on November 12 in New Delhi.

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Nepal's Prachanda inks Lumbini deal with Chinese NGO: Report

Maoist leader Prachanda signs $3 billion deal to develop Buddha's birthplace with China's Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the former military commander of rebel Maoist forces in Nepal and now the chairman of the Unified Communist Party, has reportedly inked a deal with the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation that will bring in $3 billion to develop Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini into a "world-class city attracting tourists and pilgrims from across the world."

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India: Unarmed man goes berserk on Mumbai-Delhi flight

After passengers overpower an unarmed man who slapped a flight attendant and attempted to storm the cockpit, India ponders a crucial question: How do you say "Let's roll" in Hindi?

An unarmed man went berserk on an Air Indigo flight from Mumbai to Delhi on Wednesday, slapping a flight attendant and making a break for the cockpit before he was subdued by crew and passengers. 

Though early reports do not suggest the incident was a planned terrorist attack, 40-year-old Mursalin Sheikh, a bearded man in a pathani suit, according to NDTV, allegedly threatened to bring the plane down. The Times of India reported that Sheikh allegedly shouted "Islamic slogans" during the altercation. 

In case you're planning a quick trip, please note that the mid-air scare follows another close shave on Tuesday, when four aircraft nearly collided above New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport when one of them misheard instructions from air traffic controllers.

As for Wednesday's dust up:

"This unruly passenger started screaming and also physically assaulted a crew member. The passenger also got violent with co-passengers, and tried to access the forward of the aircraft. IndiGo crew made appropriate announcements and deployed security measures to block access to the front of the aircraft and the front galley," NDTV cites a statement from IndiGo as saying.

Meanwhile, the TOI reports "Male passengers and the crew together pinned Shaikh down" -- which begs the question: How do you say "Let's roll" in Hindi?

Twitter survey says:

"Chalo, ho jaye" - @saltandpepper

"Dhoom machale" - @chai09

"Chalo shuru kare" - @charuhas11

"Aage badho" - @Oberoi_R_US

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Nepal: 'Serial killer' leopard may just crave salty snacks

Once wild animals get the taste of salty human blood, they do not like other animals like deer, says Nepal wildlife official

A leopard "serial killer" is stalking Nepal -- where it is believed to have killed and eaten 15 people over the past 15 months.

But according to this report from MSNBC, it's not so bad. It just craves salty snacks.

"Since human blood has more salt than animal blood, once wild animals get the taste of salty blood, they do not like other animals like deer," the report quotes Maheshwor Dhakal of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Kathmandu as saying to CNN.

So, does that mean you should cut down on the Fritos? Go get your cholesterol checked? Dhakal's keeping mum.

Other experts, however, suggest our salty goodness is a lesser factor in falling prey to animal attacks than our pesky tendency to build villages and towns in their territory.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, has told Discovery News that wild animals are often reported as being in urban areas 'possibly because humans are encroaching more and more into areas previously reserved for wildlife, resulting in the destruction of their habitat,'" CNN reports.

Insert cheesey TV kicker here.  (My personal favorite: "Cute chicken.")

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Pakistan's Imran Khan pledges to bring 26/11 attackers to justice

Hawkish on US, Khan makes pleasant noises in India but waffles on Lashkar's Hafiz Saeed

He hasn't made any friends in Washington with his dogged opposition to the US drone attacks in Pakistani territory. But former cricketer Imran Khan--a darkhorse candidate for Pakistan's prime minister as head of the Tereek-e-Insaaf party--made some of the right noises in a freewheeling interview with India's Mail Today newspaper this week.

In town to attend the World Economic Forum being held in Gurgaon, Khan made a measured promise to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai to justice, saying, "India must understand the legal process takes time, but I will bring the Mumbai perpetrators to justice."

"We have to follow the rule of law."

That said, Pakistan has long delayed action with the argument that it lacks sufficient evidence to convict the alleged planners of the attacks--which India and the US have both alleged includes members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, as well as Lashkar-e-Toiba's Hafiz Saeed. And Khan reportedly waffled when confronted with a pointed question about how he'd handle a potential prosecution of Saeed if he were elected.

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India's Dalal St wanted Obama, while Wall St rooted for Romney

Indian analysts cautious about US future due to impending "fiscal cliff"

Traders on India's Dalal Street were pulling for the re-election of US President Barack Obama, despite Wall Street's liking for challenger Mitt Romney, according to FirstPost.in. But now that the race has been called for the Democrats, analysts in the US are worried about the impending "fiscal cliff" -- pending legislation that will trigger tax increases and spending cuts to balance the US budget deficit.

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India: FinMin says no new taxes on the anvil despite need for cash

Finance Minister Chidambaram "not likely to bring in any kind of additional burden for companies in the form of any kind of tax in the next budget," says official.

India's government has set itself a difficult task in vowing to keep the fiscal deficit at 5.3% in the current fiscal year and bring it down to 4.8% by 2014 and 3.0% by 2016-17. But Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is "not likely to bring in any kind of additional burden for companies in the form of any kind of tax in the next budget," according to an unnamed official in the finance ministry.

Government sources said the minister is betting on disinvestment in public sector companies and auction of spectrum for telecom firms to raise government revenue, the Hindustan Times reported Wednesday.

“This [deficit to GDP ratio] is a steep target considering the situation on hand, but the government is not likely to bring in any kind of additional burden for companies in the form of any kind of tax in the next Budget,” the paper quoted a finance ministry official as saying, on condition of anonymity.

In recent months, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has increased prices for petrol and diesel fuel to reduce the subsidy the government pays to oil companies, in a bid to move closer to balancing the budget. And a move to institute a Goods and Services Tax (or VAT) is also afoot to try to boost collections and simplify the business environment.

At the same time, however, Singh's Congress Party continues to bank on costly programs like a national employment guarantee scheme and an expansion of food subsidies for the poor to deliver votes in the next election, scheduled for 2014.

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