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Kashmir crisis rages. India wary of Chinese intentions in South Asia. Commonwealth Games threaten to take Delhi down. BlackBerry, Skype and Google could get reined in. Nuclear agreement goes through parliament. And, thali, anyone?
Top News: The continuing crisis and a political impasse in the northern territory of Kashmir has engaged the full attention of New Delhi, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with the country’s Cabinet Committee on Security to discuss the situation. Talks between Singh and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah are also in the works. The government is looking for ways to address the concerns of the Kashmiri people, who have taken to the streets recently and clashed with security forces. Several protestors have died as a result. Singh wants to use non-lethal force to quiet the streets.
China is intent on expanding its influence in South Asia at India’s expense, Singh said in rare, open criticism of its neighbor and rival. The two countries, which share a border and have fought a war over territory, are both trying to assert their economic and political clout in the region. Bilateral trade between India and China is growing rapidly and totals some $60 billion but the two countries keep troops on their common border. India has long believed that it has a leadership role in the South Asian region that includes Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Singh said a newly assertive China is trying to get a foothold in the region. India conveyed its concerns over the presence of the People’s Liberation Army in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. China is building roads and a high-speed railway in the area. The disputed Kashmir region is claimed both by India and Pakistan, and Chinese presence in the area is making India uncomfortable as it has long believed that China is a nuclear and military ally of Pakistan.
Chaotic planning, corrupt deals and poor quality of work have come to characterize the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. The mess is putting India’s reputation as a fledgling global power at risk. With less than 25 days to go before the Games begin, work continues at the venues and the security measures are being termed inadequate. Daily exposes reveal overwhelming corruption at every level of the Games coordination, from buying toilet paper to hiring treadmills. Newspaper headlines chronicle a litany of daily disasters such as “Less than a month to go, Tenders still being called” and “Games village flooded, Army called in.” To add to India’s woes, several of its track athletes, wrestlers and swimmers have failed the dope test. It’s unclear whether even a spectacular showing by athletes during the Games would help preserve the India brand at this point.
Money: India, the world’s fastest growing telecommunications market, has cast a wide security net and asked all multinational service companies providing encrypted communication to install servers in the country to enable the government to monitor users. The move started with the government asking BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion to either provide full access to user data or withdraw its service from India. Now, it appears that Google, Nokia and Skype will have to follow suit and provide access to Indian law enforcement agencies. BlackBerry earned itself a two-month reprieve from a ban in India after agreeing to provide security agencies “lawful access” to encrypted data. India has tightened security measures after the November 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai after investigations revealed that terrorists had coordinated the attacks through use of mobile phones, satellite phones and internet telephony. While governments fear that encrypted communication systems could be abused by terrorists, companies such as BlackBerry pride themselves on the data security they offer, especially to their corporate users.
India’s parliament put the final seal of approval on a vital piece of a long-delayed nuclear agreement that will give India a future energy source. The pact was initiated by the United States during the Bush years to further the relationship between the two countries. The end-result, however, may fall short of U.S. expectations as it makes nuclear suppliers potentially liable for accidents, against the global norm. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party supported the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill after the government brought in stronger terms against nuclear suppliers and power plant operators. The nuclear agreement comes in the wake of heightened public suspicion about foreign corporate interests after the final judgment of the 1984 Union Carbide industrial disaster. Many Indians feel the American multinational has been allowed to get away with grossly inadequate penalization and compensation payments. After India conducted a nuclear test in 1974 and refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the U.S. put a moratorium on nuclear trade with India. But the new agreement allows American and other global energy companies access into India’s market estimated at $150 billion. Whether the liability clause will deter equipment makers and plant operators remains to be seen.
Recession, what recession? Carmaker Maruti Suzuki says it will soon raise its India capacity by 46 percent on the back of roaring demand in Asia’s third largest car market. Demand for cars has grown over 30 percent this year and sales are expected to double to 3 million vehicles annually by 2015, according to data put out by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. Maruti, India’s largest carmaker, will be able to produce 1.75 million vehicles annually after constructing new factories just outside New Delhi, upping its current capacity of 1.2 million. Maruti said demand for his vehicles has grown “beyond expectations.” Other carmakers like Ford and Volkswagen are introducing a slew of new models.
Elsewhere: To eat like Indian commoners, go get a thali. A thali, meaning a dish, is anything but. It is actually a medley of several dishes served on a platter or a plantain leaf, and traditionally eaten using the right hand. (These days many places will provide utensils.) A typical thali in northern India will consist of piping hot Indian bread, lentils, several vegetable preparations, pickle, papad, chutneys and dessert. In the South, a thali generally comes with steaming hot rice, vegetable curries, lentils, rice, yogurt, papad and dessert. In New Delhi, the Saravana Bhavan in Connaught Place serves a delicious thali and so does Andhra Bhavan. Rajdhani is a restaurant chain ubiquitous in big Indian cities, from Bangalore to Mumbai, which dishes up delectable cuisine from Western Indian regions of Marwar, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Thalis are generally all-you-can-eat meals for extremely reasonable sums of money — starting from a dollar. Pricier versions are available at restaurants within fancy hotels and could cost up to $20.