Top News: Politics, sex, money, power and greed. The continuing saga of the hyper-commercial Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament has all this and more.
Some say the IPL, an emerging symbol of new India, is only short on one essential ingredient: cricket. The IPL, now in its third season and projected to outrival big sporting brands like the NBA and the NFL within a few years, lured big cricket stars to India with massive salaries, to play for teams owned by big Indian corporations, glamorous movie stars and an assortment of wannabes.
Backed by a colossal fan base, IPL is a money-minting machine currently valued at $4 billion. But shades of political interference, shadowy ownership and tax evasion came to light recently, after a row over a recent auction where two new IPL teams were sold for $703 million. India’s junior minister for external affairs Shashi Tharoor lost his job, and the flamboyant and dynamic IPL administrator Lalit Modi is now in danger of losing his.
Tharoor, a former undersecretary at the United Nations, is said to have acquired a five percent stake in the recently-auctioned Kochi team on behalf of his girlfriend Sunanda Pushkar, a Dubai-based spa owner, as “sweat equity” for mentoring the team during the bidding process. He also reportedly asked Modi not to reveal the bidders’ names. Now the government is saying it is investigating all aspects of IPL, including sources of auction funding, clandestine game-betting and tax evasion.
The IPL also faced a threat of a more lethal nature last week, when three crude bombs exploded outside a Bangalore stadium during a popular and crowded league cricket match.
Eighteen months after the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai that targeted several hotels, a hospital, a café and a train station, killing close to 170 people, there are warnings of fresh terror strikes in India. Police said they were taking seriously a U.S. warning of possible terror attacks on shopping centers in New Delhi, a possibility that adds to the travails of a city struggling to get ready in time to host the Commonwealth Games in October.
Meanwhile, Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis star Sania Mirza hurdled through a series of challenges to finally wed last week.
First, there were allegations that Malik was attempting to marry Mirza without divorcing his first wife, who like Mirza hails from Hyderabad. Malik first denied the charge, but was then forced to grant the lady a divorce as per Islamic tradition. The couple next faced criticism over the impropriety of Malik staying at Mirza’s home before the nuptials. The controversy forced the two to wed hurriedly.
But it appears their troubles were not over. As the newlyweds arrived in Pakistan to a rousing welcome, a Muslim organization in India filed a petition in court, complaining that Malik and Mirza had hurt the sentiments of Muslims on the subject of marriage and divorce.
It has been a bad run recently for an assortment of Indian holy men, also known as "god men." Most of the ill luck appears to have landed on Swami Nithyananda, a self-styled god man with an ashram near Bangalore and a following of millions.
A secretly-recorded video, which was aired on several national television channels, reportedly shows Nithyananda performing explicit sexual acts with an attractive disciple, an actor. There are allegations of several more such tapes. Some of the guru’s enraged followers attacked the ashram, and the police filed a criminal case against the god man.
Nithyananda did a disappearing act, announcing from hiding that he was resigning from the ashram and going in search of “spiritual seclusion.” But the police caught up with him in a remote village in the mountainous northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The charges against the guru include rape, extortion, cheating and criminal intimidation.
Money: Strong sales in India were a driving force behind a five-fold increase in first quarter net profit for South Korean car maker Hyundai Motor Company. In India, Hyundai posted sales revenue of 1.32 trillion won ($1.2 billion), a 22 percent improvement over the first quarter of 2009. The automaker sold 162,000 cars during the period, 33 percent more than in the same quarter last year.
A McKinsey & Company study found India ranks below poorer countries such as Ivory Coast and Sri Lanka in terms of the quality of its infrastructure, and will need to spend $2.2 trillion by 2030 to improve housing, transportation and office spaces in its cities, in order to accelerate economic growth.
According to the report, “India’s Urban Awakening,” India's government may jeopardize growth in the world’s second fastest-growing economy (after China), unless it increases spending dramatically. India has a lot of catching up to do, since per capita spending on urban development is now just $17 per year, only 15 percent of the rate in neighboring China. By 2030, India will have six mega cities with a population of over ten million, and another 13 cities will a population of over four million.
India is finally set to pass a law to take on the growing menace of electronic waste (e-waste) dumping. The law will regulate trade in e-waste and monitor illegal imports. According to one report, illegal importers bring e-waste into the country in shipments mislabeled as “re-usable electronics” or “second-hand computers,” making it virtually impossible to regulate.
Radio-active material was recently found dumped in scrap piles in New Delhi, and seven people were hospitalized following exposure to the waste. Indian officials said the material came from abroad.
Elsewhere: A full eighteen months after terrorists whizzed through their lobbies hurling grenades and firing automatic weapons, badly-damaged Mumbai luxury hotels Taj and Oberoi are offering newly refurbished $7,000 hotel suites to lure well-off Western tourists back to India’s financial capital.
The Oberoi has just re-opened after a $45 million makeover, while the Taj is still renovating portions of its luxury wing. Meanwhile, the Oberoi’s suites offer panoramic views, butler services and, equally importantly, heightened security measures and shatterproof glass in its lobbies.