Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Going Personal for HuffPo

Thinking about Swat and how beautiful it used to be, a Himalayan paradise, I was drawn to note some resonancies arising out of the current conflict for Huffington Post...

Things have moved on a bit since I wrote this, but the sentiment remains.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Not So Many Geriatrics in New Delhi Now

Researching this post - election analysis piece for Sky News.com, I am struck by the younger faces around politics in New Delhi.

Of course many of them are from political dynasties; Pilot, Abdullah, Gandhi, so politics is in their DNA, but still, no-one forces them to stand for election and in many cases they are are setting records. Omar Abdullah, 38, son of former CM Farookh, is the youngest ever Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

Sachin Pilot, a graduate of the Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania, became the youngest ever MP in New Delhi when he was sworn in aged 26.

The newer, younger breed of politician will bring its own dynamic to Delhi. I don't think it will be business as usual when it comes round to the next Indian elections in 2014.

What this election has shown us is that we can take nothing for granted in Indian politics. The voter still has a capacity to surprise and confound.

And with the Congress coaliton winning so many seats, it is in an strong position as far as choosing a coalition partner is concerned. This makes things simpler and easier for analysts. It is also reassuring for the West, which needs India very badly right now.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Indian Election Analysis on Huffington Post; Extra

As I wrote my detailed analysis for Huffington yesterday, describing how Congress came to win so many seats and what happens next, memories flooded back.

As with politics and broadcast journalism in any country, the same figures emerge over the years and working on a territory for a long time means that some memories go back a long way.

Watching Farookh Abdullah, Chief of the Regional National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir talking about the election results (He is still powerful and a former Chief Minister of the State, a post now held by his son Omar) I was reminded about some time I spent with him when he was CM.

One 15th August I watched him give an Independence Day speech in a sports stadium in Indian Kashmir, empty save for uniformed and ununiformed personnel. I walked alongside as he stood in his open jeep, talking to him.

The next day I was invited to his office for an interview, and after telling him I also wanted some lifestyle material (he is famous for his taste in Delhi designers) he invited me to his residence for breakfast the following day.

The breakfast was delicious, just the CM and me, with discreet staff serving the courses Raj - style. Asking him about his taste in clothes, he showed me his extensive wardrobe and art work. While I was in the private quarters, I heard his telephone ring and when he answered, he was clearly having to remonstrate with an anxious staff member who was trying to convince the CM that I was an agent.

Farookh has known me for a long time and dismissed the call. He went on to proudly show me his games rooms and designer golf clubs and answer all my remaining questions, even posing for a photo.

I had been accompanied to the residence by a Kashmiri local who told me that while he was alone, waiting for me, he had a seriously uncomfortable encounter with security staff. To the extent that he felt subliminally threatened and got scared. He was shaking as we walked back to the car.

In beautiful Kashmir, we may have been having a quiet, tasty breakfast in a wooden mansion in an alpine forest, but the sense of being in a war zone never disappears.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Panel with Ian Berry for Press TV

Sometimes it can be great fun meeting people in studio for panel talks. Last night I was invited into Press TV for a half-hour discussion on the news stories of the day alongside photo-journalist Ian Berry of Magnum. This leading photo agency was founded by Henri Cartier Bresson.

It was interesting to hear Ian's perspective on why, for instance, photos of Pope Benedict at the Wall were cropped in a certain way. In his opinion, it boiled down to purely practical reasons.

We also discussed Somalia, Pakistan, and of course, the Indian elections, with an emphasis on the swing state of Tamil Nadu.

Broadcasters like me are used to, well, broadcasting, but it's rare to hear a renowned photo-journalist talk. I love to listen.

Karachi Violence in Pakistan for Huffington Post

I have a love-hate relationship with Karachi; on the one hand, it is home to exciting creativity; cutting - edge music, fashion, design, journalism, etc. It has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and is always fascinating.

On the other hand, as in many big cities, there are ethnic tensions, car-jackings, drugs, gun-running, mafia murders and kidnappings, which means that danger lurks in dark corners.

On balance, I would say that I love Karachi much more than I don't, and I have memories of some very special friends who live and work there and would not be anywhere else.

For Huffington Post I have written about the heady cocktail ingredients which constitute the Karachi Molotov.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Crime Doesn't Hurt if You're in Indian Politics (Allegedly); on Total Politics

For Total Politics I have written about the numbers of candidates facing criminal charges in the Indian elections.

It's a lot. But, comfortingly, and something that I haven't included in the Total Politics report is that the number of candidates facing criminal charges is 15.1% of the total, compared to the 2004 elections, when the figure was 24%.

However, as the Times of India points out, the number of candidates in 2004 was 5,435, and there has been an increase in the number of candidates by 48.5% in 2009.

'Overall, there are 8,070 candidates contesting elections across India.'

So has the actual numbers of candidates facing criminal charges really changed dramatically?

Take a look at the maths.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Shoe-Missiles in the Indian Elections for Total Politics

For Total Politics I am having some fun with the offbeat aspects of the Indian Elections, away from the more earnest and serious analysis.

The shoe-throwing phenomenon is really big now. It takes on a whole different meaning in India.

My editor here is the charming Ben Duckworth who chivalrously posts my pieces under the umbrella title of ' The Rani Report' and Total Politics belongs to the renowned publisher-commentator Iain Dale.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Exclusive; UK Labour MP on Protection Money Extorted from Minorities in Pakistan

Labour MP Virendra Sharma gave me an exclusive at Millbank studios Westminster yesterday concerning the worrisome situation for minorities in Pakistan.

Press and eye witness reports emerging indicate that the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province and surrounding areas of Pakistan are demanding protection money from minorities, as well as pressurising them to live an Islamic way of life.

According to the Pakistan Christian Post, jazia, a tax imposed on non-Muslims living under Sharia law, has to be paid in this region, even though jazia is neither enshrined in Pakistani law nor does it exist in the Constitution. In fact, in Pakistan, minorities are endorsed.

Those who have not paid the jazia have sometimes been kidnapped, tortured and had their homes seized by the Taliban. Christian schools have been bombed and many minority community members have fled the area on their own.

Virendra told me he has written to the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, asking him to speak to the Pakistani Government to stop the pressure on minorities in the NWFP. Virendra has asked for a meeting with Miliband and is mobilising other MPs to ‘Discuss how we are going to give support to these innocent people.’

Virendra continued, ‘This kind of practice where minorities are forced to live in fear and are terrorised is unacceptable in the twenty-first century and in any civilised nation. We all need to work together to create a society where everyone feels safe and secure. In any democratic and secular society, there’s no place for terrorism.

Former Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman, just back from a trip to Washington with President Asif Ali Zardari, condemned the Taliban extortion acts as ‘Criminal’, adding,

“This is dangerous nonsense and must be condemned and halted at all costs. Sikh, Christian, Hindu communities and other citizens belonging to any religious denomination have full rights to live in Pakistan as per our constitution.”

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Fatima Bhutto on Asif Zardari; 'Obama's Murderous Guest'

On Tina Brown's site 'The Daily Beast' you can find any number of articles on Pakistan amidst celebrity-authored notes, reviews and opinions on a whole range of subjects.

Here is something by Leslie H. Gelb and here an article by Reihan Salam.

We know that the Bhuttos don't always agree on matters and indeed some parts of the family have taken to supporting their own causes. But I haven't read anything as vitriolic as this piece by Fatima Bhutto, ever.

Monday, 4 May 2009

How the Common Man Votes in India; Sky News.com

With 65% of the Indian electorate living in the countryside, there are some interesting stories of how villagers get to remote polls such as the one in the Fastan village, high in the Himalayan mountains. Read the latest in my series for Sky News.com here . The hindi for common man is aam aadmi and he is referrred to a lot in these elections, by politicians, analysts and journalists.

I wonder if he has a word or phrase for the likes of us that I can print.