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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Sunday, 18 December 2011

" A Good, Warm, Indian Story"

This review by the Afternoon Despatch and Courier follows a trend in many other reviews of quoting verbatim from my book and presenting the facts exactly the way I did. I guess that's a compliment!

The writer called the book "A good, warm, Indian story."

Anecdotally, Crossword bookshop Pune reports that they keep selling out of "Sonia Gandhi" as the book is doing well and they have to keep ordering in new stock. I am glad certain Pune-ites like the work.

Through the reviews I am discovering a plethora of outlets in India; it seems that there the media world does not stop growing. May it power on even as its western counterparts bemoan shrinkage and cutbacks in their recessionary spheres.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Free Press Journal; Indian review

A review published December 11, 2011 written by M.V.Kamath demonstrates more understanding of the book than many of Mr Kamath's compatriots show. He appears to have read it with fewer preconceived notions than many, though he raises a point made by some, not me, about certain "options" Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi may have been considering during India's internal Emergency years imposed by the Prime Minister Gandhi from 1975 to 1977.

The reviewer has picked out some pertinent quotes from the book and it is heartening to note that he observed the details I wrote about Indira Gandhi's prayer room; the Sanyo cassette player sitting on the window sill with Hindu devotional music all ready to play, and the icons from different religions preserved there.

It's nice to come across those who show some measure of respect for the work undertaken by writers as opposed to the supercilious who just like to demonstrate their own pseudo cleverness with sarcasm and a pithy turn of phrase. I know that the different kinds of detail I put in the book are of interest, since journalists I spoke to told me they just don't get information on the kinds of things I have discussed; yes, that even includes what my subject eats and drinks and what exercise she takes.

The distinguished Mr Kamath is a prolific author and veteran journalist of repute. I do not know him personally, and have never met him, but he has written in his review,

"By and large Rani Singh has got it all right."

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Asian Age interview

This interview appeared first in the Asian Age's Kolkota version I believe. I have a special relationship with Calcutta, as I like to call it, as my mother Parsan was educated there in an Urdu-speaking school. She still makes Bengali speakers smile as she grew up in that town and also speaks fluent Bengali. I haven't been back there since I was a child- my parents took me out of public school in England, Haberdashers' Aske's, for an extended tour of India to visit friends and relations around the country and I recall a lovely long stay with the Bala family in Calcutta.

While I am grateful for all the newspaper space being afforded me, I am highly intrigued by the way in which my answers are subbed.

My original answer to the Asian Age's first question ran;

1. how did u come to the decision on writing a biography on sonia gandhi. was the idea brewing in your mind since a long time or a particular incident provided you the impetus to write sonia gandhi's biography?

I had been covering Indian politics and quite a few Indian elections. In 2009 I provided the political analysis for Sky News for television and online for the Indian general election. Sonia Gandhi had featured in my work. Palgrave Macmillan in New York City had already decided that they wanted to produce a book on the life of Sonia Gandhi, and they were searching for a suitable writer. They had been reading my work. One day I found an email from them in my Googlemail asking me if I would be interested in writing this challenging book. I was and so I did. It was actually their idea, not mine.
Subbed to
Like many foreign reporters looking for newsworthy plots in the heat and dust of India, London- based author Rani Singh’s journalistic pursuits would often bring her to the subcontinent. The 2009 Indian election coverage proved pivotal, as it was during this particular assignment, she managed to have a closer look at Sonia Gandhi, yet little did Rani know that her trail would eventually pave the way for her to write one of the most talked about book on the iconic Gandhi bahu. Talking about how the idea for the book unfolded, the author says, “In 2009, I provided the political analysis for Sky News television for the Indian general election. Sonia Gandhi had featured in my work. Palgrave Macmillan in New York City were keen to publish a book on her life and they were searching for a suitable writer. My work caught their attention and one fine day I received an email enquiring about my views on writing this challenging book. Of course my answer was an instant yes.”

Spot the differences?

I am so grateful to journalists from newspapers and journals who read the book and take the time to construct lengthy interviews for me to answer on email.

Palgrave in New York City has just given me an update on current sales figures which they are monitoring; sales in India alone have already topped 15,000. Buyers would be from among the English non-fiction literature buying public, I am assuming, which is, after all, a fraction of the overall population.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

December 2011, still in the IANS Books Non-Fiction Top Ten, and I adore "Seal Team Six"

Thank you so much buying public, in India, the book is still in the IANS top ten non-fiction list for the week of December 1st 2011. I see that the books move around the list somewhat but to stay up in this reputed lists of bestsellers is a real honour. Clearly many are finding the book of interest!

I would love to get time to read all the other books in the top ten. How long does it take you to read a book?

I am absolutely rivetted at the moment by "Seal Team Six, Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper" authored by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin.

The level of detail in the book in itself is fascinating; the kind of guns and equipment used, where the Navy Seals place them on their bodies, what face camouflage is used and when, how the helicopters need to compensate or risk danger when they are letting the Seals drop down by rope, these matters and many more make up the bread and meat of an incredible narrative. Wasdin turns out to be a Seal par excellence, not only because of his strength and physical abilities, but because of something he learnt at a young age due to a brutal stepfather who belted him at the drop of a hat-sometimes for no fathomable reason at all.

Wesdin says quite frankly that he learnt as a child to control his feelings to the extent that he could block out the pain of excessive beatings, which were so severe that they marked his body for lengthy periods. It gave him the ability to withstand the various training stages he went through in the US navy as he climbed higher in the elite forces to eventually reach his zenith. He could stand having his body drop to near freezing temperatures for a long time, he could manage sleep deprivation, hunger and complex procedures deep underwater with his hands tied behind his back because none of it, he says, compared to being woken up in the middle of the night when he was fast asleep and being beaten without logic or explanation.

He also writes of being taught in the Seals to only exercise the level of violence that was strictly required on the ground; unneccesary killing is not encouraged. And on one operation, he describes vividly about when he fed 14 captured starving enemy soldiers his own rations, and how he learnt to see the humanity in those he was fighting.

I would love to know what you think of "Seal Team Six" or if you have any similar recommendations.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Forbes India; The world's Most Powerful People

This special issue loudly proclaims on the front, along with a raised fist; "Exclusive" "Decoding Sonia" which is a great title given by the editors for an article I wrote for them in a couple of days and which is now available in the magazine on Indian news stands and online.

I was beautifully briefed down the phone from Mumbai by Executive Editor Charles Assisi and the Editor for Special Features and Social Media, Peter Griffin before I started writing - I really relish the human touch with editors as a rule, to listen to what questions they want answered - then I do my best to meet the brief. I enjoyed talking to Charles and Peter who were patient, sensitive and gentle during our brainstorming session.

This edition is packed with power players, not just Sonia, and makes for very interesting reading. Economists like Larry Summers have been asked to list out their own choices separately, giving their reasons. Forbes is a great brand and Forbes India seems to have a good editorial team in place. Editor Indrajit Gupta handled the final copy and gave some excellent suggestions. The intake people were all kind and efficient too. I like the way I was given a chance to review the final text after a rewrite before it went to print. That doesn't always happen and demonstrates a high level of respect for writers.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Hindu chooses "Sonia Gandhi" for its "Print Pick"

For the week of November 27, 2011, The Hindu places Sonia Gandhi in a list of ten books, titled "Print Pick," in its popular Life and Style section.

Is this the first time the work has appeared on this list?

Still in the IANS Books Non-Fiction Top Ten

It's been a great run of quite a few weeks now, nearly the end of November 2011 and the book is still hanging in there!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Washington Independent Review of Books

This esteemed website has some distinguished reviewers writing for it. Since America is the home market for my book, though it is also aimed at international readers, the response is gratifying as the US is "getting" Sonia Gandhi, so to speak. Amy Schapiro is a biographer par excellence
and, along with Kitty Kelly, is a member of the Biographers International Organization. Amy has a really interesting website for her biography about New Jersey Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick with a link to America's set of Presidential Libraries - does any country have more of these than the US?

It's funny - the majority of the Indian critics do little more than scribble a few hundred words about Sonia Gandhi and it is hard to find one who has even written a book -biography or any other genre-let alone one about Sonia Gandhi.

The Americans seem to be much more careful about who they ask to review the book - it has to be someone of high literary standing in their own right - hence the more measured responses which show a much better understanding and grasp of what has been written.

Monday, 21 November 2011

"Inside Story" on Al Jazeera English for the trial of the biggest ever corruption scandal in India

Over to Knightsbridge again recently for a half hour discussion show on the start of the trial of the Telecom scandal. My two panellists were in India, one on Skype (her connection broke early on so she couldn't participate until she reconnected) and the anchor in Doha was Englishman James Bays.

I enjoyed the long-form nature of the show and it was, everyone remarked, unusual to have three women on the panel. I like the Inside Story format and also the way in which Bays doggedly pursued the question of "how much does corruption affect every day life in India?" when it wasn't answered the first time around.

Really nice of the producer to make sure the book title was mentioned when James introduced me and my colleague Tarique Ghaffur is always happy when his company is identified.

Hard News Review

A fairly balanced review from India's Hard News magazine that doesn't hold back from saying what the critic would have liked to see in my book. As I have said in several interviews, there was so much material I gathered that the editors and I had to make stringent decisions about what to leave in and what to leave out. The material that is left in drives the narrative forward and any background history is there to provide some hinterland to the action. Also, given that the book was written for the American market in the first instance, it could not afford to go into the kind of detail that Indian critics may wish for -though as I have also stated, I can't see why certain armchair reviewers don't write their own biographies of Mrs Sonia Gandhi rather than the 1,000 words or so they are paid to scribble after receiving their free copy.

I was also keen to only put in what could be substantiated or had been told to me by a primary source - rumour and inuendo just would not wash in a book which has to stand the test of time and which is already appearing in libraries round the world.

As for the quality of my interviewees, and whether they are "people who matter," the people who mattered to me were those who have been and are up close and personal with my subject -who have interacted or worked with her and who are qualified to make intimate observations. That was the only criteria in my choice of interviewee. Many of my interviewees had not spoken at all on my subject before so I am pleased that they did.

I haven't revealed who spoke to me off the record so no-one will ever know which important names are in that part of my extensive audio archive on Sonia Gandhi -that information remains between those anonymous people and myself.

And the book is still in the top ten list of IANS non-fiction titles this week!

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Irish So Get It

When I went on Pat Kenny's RTE radio show for an extended interview I was really impressed with his level of knowledge and research. (He mentioned the names of an Irish crew waiting to film Indira Gandhi being interviewed by Peter Ustinov the day of her assassination in October 1984). I also liked the way he walked the listener through Sonia Gandhi's life asking me questions along the way, ending with "What is the reaction to Sonia Gandhi in India?"

Following the broadcast Kenny's producer received a lengthy email from the same Irish film director whom Pat had mentioned live on air, with a written account of his own of that fateful day, October 31st. It was fascinating and I intend to write to him.

And now, with all the hullabaloo of the Indian print and TV publicity around our ears, with critics endlessly pontificating and telling it like they think it should have been, seizing on one mistranslation as though it were a hanging offence (though I take full responsibility for it) here comes another Irishman who gets the book, Peter Hegarty, writing in the Irish Catholic. Is there something about the Irish?

Anyhow, despite my misdemeanour of the mistranslation I was very pleased to see "Sonia Gandhi" at number two for two weeks running in the reputed Indian IANS non-fiction best selling books list, just behind Mark Tully the first week and Steve Jobs the second. Not bad role models to be runner up to!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Back to Al Jazeera English to talk about the biggest military aviation deal in the world

It was nice to get a call from Doha to go back into the Al Jazeera English London studio in Knightsbridge to talk about the Indian aviation deal that broke Washington's heart back in April this year, 2011. I couldn't do any studio visits earlier on because of the intensity of the book workload and it is a good broadcast test to see if I can get my act together and be in a studio in under two hours -whatever I am doing and wherever I am!

India has been planning to upgrade its defence capability for some time now, given the volatile nature of the immediate neighbourhood.
The country has been shopping for 126 fighter jets and in April the US, Russia and Sweden fell out of the race to sell. After Obama's visit to India in 2010, his country had been very hopeful of securing the deal.

Left in the running now are the Eurofighter Typhoon Consortium and France's Dassault, the maker of Rafale aircraft. The previous offer of $11bn has been revised up to $20bn making it the largest defence deal by a single country anywhere in the world - which is why it is making headlines. India claims that the earlier figure was based on 2007 calculations, which begs the question, why was it so?

Oh, and hello Claudio! One of my favourite newsroom editors is now on an AJE posting to Rome! I miss you in London!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Asian Voice Celebratory lunch for "Sonia Gandhi" went really well

Read the write up in this issue of the Asian Voice, and check out the photos. Asian Business Publications Ltd, courtesy of Publisher/Editor CB Patel and Associate Editor Rupanjana Dutta, had pulled out all the stops for ABPL's very first literary lunch. By the way, the Indian High Commission's Press Attache, Sanjay Bihani, found the book "very detailed!" He liked it, he told me.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Former CNN consultant and President Indian Journalists Association Ashis Ray confirmed for panel to discuss "Sonia Gandhi"

It is getting close now and most of my guests have confirmed for the Asian Voice lunch and panel discussion Thursday November 3rd 2011. Lord Dholakia, member of the Privy Council, has been in Australia for the Queen's visit there but is back in the UK tomorrow Wednesday one day before the event and Ashis Ray, top journalist and broadcaster who feared that he might be needed to go to Cannes for the G20 summit, can now join the panel. He has personal experience of the Nehru- Gandhi family so will reveal his observations exclusively for us. My associates who are interested and may be involved in other events down the line are joining us in the audience. I look forward to this unique occasion- CB Patel and the Asian Voice host such events rarely, according to Asian Voice Associate Editor Rupanjana Dutta - so I am honoured and humbled.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Health and Fitness; Matthew Fox rocks with his "Thug Workout" and "Body Blitz" classes

When I joined my gym the first class I did for the trial day was Matthew Fox's cardio session.

His cardio workouts were nice and tough; one of his USPs was that he loves House music and always tended to have a dance while he was yelling at us to "Drive through them legs," and "pump them arms!" As we got into the working minutes Matthew had a habit of loudly commenting "EASY!" which it most certainly wasn't and I told him so. (I often said "No!" to some of his more challenging instructions; he just gave me a look and ignored my protest).

All my instructors are ambitious and Matthew devised, along with a colleague of his, a lethal Body Blitz 45-minute class. It is a fast-moving workout; a hardcore attack on each area using our own bodyweight; the sessions varied each week. My legs ached so much after my first sessions -for four days no less- that I adopted Matthew's suggested remedy of sitting in a cool bath with my lower body submerged for four minutes after each session until I got used to the leg exercises after a few weeks. Body Blitz is as near to a military workout as I can imagine. To get us to do 40-50 reps or more for each exercise, we worked in pairs opposite each other on mats and swapped places after every 10 or 20. He also had us sometimes ourselves count the reps in turn which was a neat interactive tactic that maybe helped to take our minds off the difficulty of what we were doing.

Matthew is developing his own brand of classes. He is in demand at Gymbox and teaches in all of their London venues. Along with his colleague, he has developed the Thug Workout which is what he teaches at Gymbox; it is a calisthenics-based bodyweight class using outdoor frames, like bars for pullups, inside.

Matthew also does Body Blitz type sessions in Notting Hill Gate at BodyWorksWest and it is in that part of London, popular with some of the arty clique of the capital (though Ealing has a high percentage of media workers too) that he does personal training. Matthew is definitely heading in the direction of being at the top of the next generation of celebrity trainers. We will all miss him.

Frank Gardner's "Blood and Sand"

My son Sukh gave me the paperback of this book a few years ago but I only started reading it recently as I had other things on my mind over the last year and a half.

It is a great introduction to certain areas of the Middle East that Frank has travelled to through his student years and in his twin careers of banking and the BBC. Through his own passion for the region, he unfolds the language, culture and the political scenario of each country.

After years of freelancing and paying for his own travel, he eventually lands a contract job with the BBC (the corporation loves folk to freelance and send stuff in from abroad or at home completely at their own cost - a tried and tested way for people to get longer contracts) Frank became Security Correspondent and was immensely valuable due to his knowledge of Arabic and the Middle East.

On 6 June 2004, he and his very experienced cameraman Simon Cumbers were ambushed in a carefully planned attack by Islamist gunmen in Riyadh. Simon was killed immediately. Frank was hit in the shoulder and the leg. As he lay on his stomach in agony, pleading for his life in Arabic, four more bullets were pumped into his body at point-blank range by an unknown killer.

The chapter dealing with the detail of Frank's injuries and treatment was so graphic it made me feel physically nauseous (the first time I've ever had that reaction to a piece of written text), and the episodes describing coming to terms with his paraplegia were extremely moving. I could sense him willing himself to carry on and pick up his life despite what had happened. An unforgettable book.

Book Talk followed by Lunch at the Asian Voice Group

I was so thrilled when C.B.Patel told me over a lunch in parliament earlier this year that he planned to hold a launch for the book "Sonia Gandhi."

He kept his word. Before I knew it, he and his associate editor had organised the lovely event taking place Thursday November 3rd 2011 at the Asian Voice offices in Hoxton Market, in the city. Lord Navnit Dholakia, a great friend and supporter, has agreed to chair. Lord Dholakia is not only Deputy Leader of Liberal Democrat party and one of the highest ranking Indian politicians in the West, he is also a member of the Privy Council, the group of advisers for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.

Ashis Ray, President of the Indian Journalists Asssociation, will also be on the panel.

CB Patel is an amazing pillar of the community. Always elegantly dressed in a suit, slim and happy-looking, CB gets up at 4am every day to practise yoga and follows a strict diet. He looks much less than his 75 years and is every bit as alert and sharp as when I first knew him some 20 years ago. His group of newspapers in English and Gujarati is very popular and the magazines and special issues the conglomerate produces are must-haves for every South Asian household in the UK and abroad.

This event is by invitation and we are expecting an interesting set of people in the audience; some old friends, some new acquaintances. There will be a delicious vegetarian lunch after the talk which will give guests a chance to network and mingle.

CB makes really personal, kind speeches which cut straight to the quick and stop me in my tracks as they are direct and, when aimed at me, deeply affectionate. He will speak on Thursday and already I anticipate I will be moved by what he will say. He is not afraid of anyone and speaks his mind. Yet he is respected all over the world and if he invites a government representative, British or Indian, to his events, it is unlikely that that person would ever dare refuse. When CB calls, people will jump through hoops to do his bidding.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

DSC Closing Gala; Reuniting with Friends

The closing event of the DSC South Asia Literature Festival at the Globe Theatre in London, home to Shakespeare's plays, brought me into contact with some gifted people I had not see for years. Tabla maestro Talvin Singh was mesmeric as always, very much at the top of his game.

Romesh Gunesekera, whose new book, The Prisoner of Paradise, is being published February 2012, looked no older than when he came in for a writers'event I organised for Radio 4 executives in 1997 when I was producing and presenting over there. (He was shortlisted for the Booker Prize with Reef.)

On my father's side,we are from the Chowdhry clan originally located near Rawal Pindi in Pakistan and my nephew ( a couple of times removed) Paul Chowdhry was on sober form as host for the evening. I am really glad that Paul now has a regular spot on Channel 4's Stand Up for the Week; he is certainly the best and most dangerous British Asian comic in the country.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

October 18, 2011; Launch Day for "Sonia Gandhi" in India!

September 2011 was the US release, and last week saw the UK launch. Pan and Palgrave Macmillan told me the interest in the book was so high in India that the release date was brought forward from late November to today. So I am doing print interviews back to back as well as television news.

The questions are really good and tough and testing. I am needing to think on my feet, which is always a good thing.

Pan Macmillan Delhi called this morning to discuss my schedule, I then did my cardio class and raced home from the gym, finished one interview, had lunch and dressed for the TV crew, now on with the next ones!

Can I keep to my gym commitments and other daily tasks while all this is going on?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Health and Fitness; Paul Stribling and Eivissa

As I wrote earlier, I need to attend my gym, the privately owned Eden Fitness, pretty often to get my fitness level back to what it was 11 months ago when my writing started to become become more intense and needed all my energy.

I regularly have cardio classes with Paul Stribling and they are a real treat. Paul is gentle, always asks me how I am before we start, and always has a ready smile for me. The cardio classes operate on the principle of interval training, so we do one minute of hard work followed by one minute which is less intense. We rotate through six machines for a total of 45 mins.

One of Paul's Unique Selling Points is that he monitors everyone and will go to each of us, check our numbers and give us something he thinks we can strive for.
He will change my goals if I am struggling and would rather I reach a lower target at the right speed than go slower and fall way below.

Paul's manners are impeccable and he always makes time for me. He'll stop and check my stance on the gym floor, and is generous - he happily explains things in simple terms.

Each of my instructors has something different to offer. Paul loves Ibiza, and has set up a company, Eivissa mind, body and soul with his mother Maria, an experienced yoga teacher. Together they offer packages on the island.

A qualified football coach who has taught at Queens Park Rangers, Paul plays tennis and has attained Level 3 Status on the Register of Exercise Professionals having completed a Diploma in Advanced Personal Training.

He has a great energy about him - calm and quiet, and his sessions always contain an element of humour. Here is Paul's website.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Talking about "Sonia Gandhi" brings in interesting nuggets of gold

Appearing on "Today with Pat Kenny" yesterday a listener with a special interest wrote into the show. It was the producer who had led the film crew that was supposed to interview Indira Gandhi, Sonia's mother in law, the day she got assassinated. This is what he wrote, and it is a really good eye witness account. He saw a momentous event in Indian history.

"Lovely piece on new book About Sonia Gandhi this morning. For the record, Seamus Deasy, although he always was my favourite cameraman, was not there when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The programme ‘Peter Ustinov’s People’ was produced by me with Rory O’Farrell directing that episode. Here is an excerpt from original manuscript of my book , OFF SCREEN – A Memoir’:

Early in 1984 I met my old friend Peter Ustinov in London. I proposed making a series of television programmes, “Peter Ustinov’s People”. Peter was enthusiastic. Over lunch we came up with a list of names which included Indian Premier, Indira Ghandi.

I approached Indira Ghandi through Kiran Doshi the Indian Ambassador to Ireland. Within a few days he confirmed that Mrs Gandhi would be delighted to participate in the programme. Three weeks later having negotiated a deal with controller of programmes, Muiris MacConghail that RTE would substantially finance the project, I acquired a German co-producer. We set out for New Delhi. I would produce the programme; Rory O’Farrell my business partner at the time would direct. Our German co-producer engaged a local Indian film crew.

I met Mrs. Gandhi before at the New Delhi Film Festival. She was then an opposition politician. I was impressed by her. She was very attractive, smaller than I had imagined. Then in her mid 60’s, dressed in a colourful sari she looked younger. Certainly a person who would make a charming and interesting dinner companion. She talked of Indian and world affairs. She told of a meeting with the Irish harpist, Grainne Yeats and how she loved classical music. She mentioned that because of the presence of grandchildren in her home, the only music she ever heard there was that of Michael Jackson!

On this occasion she was in fine health and ebullient spirits as she prepared to seek a fifth term as prime minister of the world’s most populous democracy. Mrs. Gandhi invited us to travel with her on her pre-election visit to the state of Orissa where she would hold a series of political meetings. These public meetings always followed the same pattern. The Prime Minister would emerge from her helicopter to orchestrated shouts of “Zindabad Gandhi” (Long live Gandhi). She would then stand in the front of a jeep and be driven slowly round the inner perimeter of the meeting ground, waving and being showered with flowers. Then she would mount a small concrete grandstand. She made her speeches in Hindi and spoke in a weak unresonant voice, completely devoid of oratorical tricks. The average attendance at these rural meetings was 100,000.

Mrs. Gandhi told us with evident satisfaction that these were small meetings compared to most. She seemed to be a microcosm of India, as capable of calmly ruthless decisions - like the storming of the Sikh Temple at Amritsar- as she was of most engaging and even humorous banter. Five months earlier, she had sent the army into Punjab and into the most sacred of all Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple, which Sikh extremists had turned into a sort of holy fortress. At least 600 people were killed in the ensuing battle.

The main interview with Peter Ustinov would take place in the garden of the prime minister’s residence at 9 a.m. on the morning after our return from her political tour. This had included the laying of the foundation stone for a new ordinance factory in Saintala, a helicopter ride from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa which was our base during the trip. On the return journey to New Delhi in the Prime Minister‘s private aircraft, Indira Gandhi told me about her son, Rajiv, a former airline pilot who had reluctantly given up that career to become a politician and his mother’s heir apparent. After the death of her younger son, Sanjay, four years earlier, she had been grooming Rajiv for leadership of the party. He was currently conducting similar campaign meetings in West Bengal and would not return to the capital until after our departure. However, as I proposed returning to India later in the year, she said that we would have an opportunity to meet then. Little did she or I know that within twenty-four hours of this conversation, Indira Gandhi would be dead and her son, Rajiv would be sworn in as Prime Minister of India.

On the evening of our return to New Delhi, I received a ’phone call from the Prime Minister herself to ask me what she should wear for her interview the next day. Over the previous few days, we had seen a wide array of saris, so I suggested one which was predominately orange coloured. She agreed with this.

We arrived at the official residence at 8.30.a.m. the next morning. Our camera was set up on a large lawn in the extensive garden. This was no ordinary suburban garden but rather a small park. At the appointed time, the Prime Minister’s press secretary went to fetch her. I followed a little behind in order to meet her as she entered the garden from the living area. I carried a gift-wrapped present, an Irish linen tablecloth. As I approached the high fence which divided the garden from the residence three shots rang out. Behind me in the interview area, the Indian cameraman explained to the other members of the crew. “Firecrackers” he said. “They are quite usual in these parts”. Then came a burst from an automatic weapon. Clearly not fireworks. I briefly glimpsed the figure dressed in the blood-stained orange sari lying on the pathway surrounded by security guards. Shocked, I slowly walked back to the film crew. Peter Ustinov later described me as “looking white and shaken”. I told them that the Prime Minister had been shot. The whole situation seemed unreal. The early morning birdsong in the garden which had ceased momentarily when the shooting started created an eerie silence. One recalls film and television footage of public assassinations in other countries which take place in public with the attendant panic, shouting and general confusion. In India it was different. Indiria Ghandi’s assassination took place in her garden, in silence as had been in the case of her distinguished predecessor, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India many years earlier.

Indira Gandhi had been shot by two of her Sikh bodyguards who then calmly dropped their guns and were seized by other security guards. A fight broke out and both of the assassins were shot dead. The day before her death, Indira Gandhi had told a large enthusiastic crowd in Orissa’s capital city, Bhubaneswar “I am not interested in a long life. I am not afraid of these things. I don’t mind if my life goes in the service of this nation. If I die to-day, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation”. These words are now displayed in a shrine erected in the garden of the Prime Minister’s residence along with other memorabilia including Indira Ghandi’s diary. The page open for the last day of her life includes two appointment entries, one for the early morning and one for the afternoon with “Sheamus Smith and Irish television crew”.

As ever


Thursday, 13 October 2011

As "Sonia Gandhi" launches in the UK, "Today" with Pat Kenny for RTE

I really liked being interviewed by Pat Kenny for RTE, a great current affairs programme which an awesome reputation. He had read the book closely and came up with some interesting information of his own from 31st October 1984.

It was nice the way he gently led me through Sonia's life to date and it felt like a real conversation because he had many ideas of his own.

Here is the 20 mins.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Talking about "Sonia Gandhi" on BBC World's "The Hub" with Nik Gowing

I first met Nik Gowing more than a decade ago when I took a group of South Asian journalists into Television Centre for a high level meeting with BBC World TV. I'm not sure that Nik remembered that event last evening, as he breezed onto the couch near his set and said "I haven't got much time now" before telling me in one minute flat what he wanted to talk about. Having said that, anchors tend to avoid talking about meeting up outside the newsroom close to or during transmission time as they are so "in the zone," their heads full of notes and what the gallery has been saying to them. The best time to talk is when they finish their shifts -then they relax.

Nik wanted to look at the current situation rather than the past and was on top of the story but -and I guess it is only to be expected these days with cutbacks etc- his researcher or whoever had briefed him had clearly been in a hurry. He announced that Sonia Gandhi was an unelected member of government (not true, she is an elected MP from the constituency of Rae Bareli) and he was also given the wrong figure for the amount of time she was out of India for surgery this Summer.

He was quick to press me on a couple of things I said and and as it was the first interview I had done on TV for the book, it was a little surreal to have my own words quoted to me - but nice, on reflection, and showed that he had read the text carefully. All in all, interviewing for the biggest TV audience in the world is stupendous and I experienced a real feeling of nostalgia being back in the newsroom where I cut my broadcast journalistic teeth and felt, over many years, the elation of compiling reports which went out to millions of listeners.

I love that newsroom. It has always been my favourite place to be on a Saturday night - or any night of the week for that matter.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Lady Olga Maitland hosts Literary Dinner for my "Sonia Gandhi" biography at the Defence and Security Forum

Lady Olga Maitland, President of the Defence and Security Forum, hosted a wonderful Black Tie literary dinner last night- with a sumptuous three-course meal and candles to a packed room - for what was the very first official outing of my biography of Sonia Gandhi published by Palgrave Macmillan in America on September 13, 2011.

I was in distinguished company because Lady Olga knows everyone- from British cabinet members and prime ministers to foreign heads of state. Previous speakers at the Defence and Security Forum include Sandy Berger, Adviser to President Clinton, HRH Prince Michael of Kent,and author Frederick Forsyth.

She had read a proof copy prior to last night as the book has only just been published and finished copies are only now available. She was so complimentary and enthusiastic I was quite overwhelmed. Lady Olga had placed a wonderful collection of people on our table,and after my 23-minute talk some great, piercing questions were asked- all under Chatham House rules. While her aristocratic ancestors smiled down at us from their large gold -framed portraits on the walls, the conversation flowed and there was clearly a lot of interest.

It is wonderful to see the first responses to the book after a year and a half of hard labour on this challenging project.

The upcoming speakers for the Defence and Security Forum include His Excellency Sir Mark Lyall Grant, KCM UK, who is the British Permanent Representative to the U.N., and General Sir David Richards, GCB, CBE, DSO, British Chief of Defence Staff.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

British armour steel deal inked with Tata Steel and Ministry of Defence


The UK now has its own onshore supply of high-performance armour steel, thanks to a UK invention and a new manufacturing agreement.

Known as super bainite, the new armour steel has been developed to have outstanding ballistics properties and, in tests, it has performed better than ‘normal’ steel armour.

The Ministry of Defence has signed a licensing agreement with Tata Steel to manufacture the steel in the UK.

Showcased at Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) today, the material was invented and developed in the UK, with production ear-marked to take place in Port Talbot, South Wales. Under the agreement the steel will be turned into seven different items, including perforated armour plates that could be used on future frontline armoured vehicles.

Visiting the UK Capability Showcase at DSEi, Minister for Defence, Equipment Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said:

“This cutting-edge UK invention and the manufacturing agreement mean that the UK now has its own onshore supply of high-performance armour steel. Super bainite has both military and civilian applications providing Tata Steel with important export opportunities.

”The application of new, battle-winning technologies is what gives our troops the edge. This demonstrates, once again, that investing in research and development, in partnership with industry, means that our troops can have the latest innovations in frontline equipment.”

Super bainite was invented by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) Professor Peter Brown, Professor Harry Bhadeshia, Tata Steel Professor of Metallurgy at Cambridge University and Dr Carlos Garcia-Mateo, previously at Cambridge University and currently at the National Centre for Metallurgical Research, Madrid.

The outstanding protection properties of super bainite are down to unique production processes. Traditionally, steel is covered with water to get it to room temperature quickly before structural weaknesses can form. But with super bainite, a whole variety of cooling methods, using air or even molten salt, are used throughout production. Combining drilling and hole-punching during the cooling process results in ultra high-hardness perforated plate.

Dstl’s Professor Brown said:

“The ballistic performance of perforated super bainite steel armour is at least twice that of conventional rolled homogenous steel armour. This is because the introduction of perforations creates a large number of edges which disrupt the path of incoming projectiles, significantly reducing their potency.”

Dstl owns the patents relating to the chemical composition and processing of super bainite. The licence agreement was signed between Ploughshare Innovations and Tata Steel. It allows Tata Steel to manufacture and process super bainite in the UK and in Europe and to export it globally.

Dr. Paul Davies of Tata Steel hoped defence equipment manufacturers, especially armour systems specialists, will recognise the steel’s potential for appliqué up-armouring applications. He said:

“Tata Steel has spent significant effort developing this unique product and we are delighted with its performance. We have outlined our market strategy. Tata Steel is well positioned to support the market, both in the UK and across the remainder of European markets by exercising existing infrastructure to produce and process the material for future customers.”

Monday, 12 September 2011

British Foreign Secretary talks about Britain's new diplomatic thrust

Thursday September 8, Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined Britain's new foreign policy outlook in a speech at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London. I have picked out the most interesting points from his talk; strikingly, the admission of Britain's waning influence across the world.

"We are significantly increasing our diplomatic presence in India and China, the world’s two emerging superpowers by increasing the number of frontline staff in each country by 30 and 50 positions respectively, and focussing on their fastest growing cities and regions in each country, some of which have GDPs larger than whole European countries.

We are substantially expanding our diplomatic strength in Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, South Korea, North Korea, Mongolia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Angola, Botswana, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines and our presence in Taiwan, maintaining the strength of our delegations to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, NATO and the European Union and keeping our network of Consulates General across the United States.

We have made a firm pledge that this Government will not close any of the existing 140 UK Sovereign Posts overseas - which means Embassies or High Commissions - during the lifetime of this Parliament; and we will open six new Embassies and up to seven new Consulates General in the emerging economies, including one in Recife in Brazil.

Our new Embassies are in South Sudan, where we opened our new Embassy the day that new state came into being;

In Kyrgyzstan, where our new Embassy will open later this year;

In Côte D’Ivoire, where I announced this week that we will re-open the Embassy that was closed in 2005;

In El Salvador and Madagascar where we are also reopening posts closed by the previous government;

And in due course, we hope to open a new Embassy in Somalia. It is not possible now because of the security situation, but we will be ready as soon as we judge that circumstances permit, and in the meantime we will set up an Embassy for Somalia in Nairobi.

This effort is aimed at preventing what I call the strategic shrinkage of Britain’s influence in the world.

In the countries where Embassies had closed that we are now re-opening, we are sending a signal that Britain is back in the business of serious diplomacy with them. Where we are increasing the numbers of FCO staff and consulates, we are able to build deeper diplomatic relationships and do more for British business and British citizens."

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The first time ever on British television; the Life of The Prophet

Three one hour television documentaries for a series called “The Life of Muhammad” were on BBC Two recently. It was the first time that British television had shown a biography on the Prophet, whose message forms the religious base for one and half billion people round the world.

Filmed on location in Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, Turkey, the USA, the UK and Jordan, all the drama, tragedy and triumph of the epic narrative of the life and teachings of one of the most important religious figures of all time was laid out for the viewer. One of the biggest names on the subject was part of the production team; author, scholar and broadcaster Ziauddin Sardar wrote the whole series.

The documentaries traveled to the place of the Prophet’s birth, and re-traced his actual footsteps from his early years in Mecca, his struggles with accepting his Prophetic role, his flight to Medina, the founding of the first Islamic constitution, his successes and failures, militarily and politically, through to his death and his legacy.

Mr Sardar, who agreed to be interviewed by email, said that non-Muslims could “learn a lot …and get a thrilling story as a bonus” –while Muslim viewers might discover things from the series that they did not know before. He said, “We based the film on classical biographies –particularly Ibn Ishaq’s Life of the Prophet, regarded by all Muslims as the first and most authentic biography.” The program makers interviewed with, among others, John L. Esposito, professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, H.R.H. Princess Badiya El Hassan of the Jordanian Royal family, author Karen Armstrong and Sajjad Rizvi, associate professor of Islamic intellectual history, Exeter university.

Mr Sardar explained that he wanted to show that the details of the life of the Prophet are alive and vivid for Muslims today, so image sometimes contrasted with narrative. “We often used contemporary scenes and related them back to the time of the Prophet.”

The first episode, which got 1.8million viewers, was acclaimed for its sensitivity and intelligence in dealing with the visual challenge of finding ways of talking about the Prophet without depicting him. (Depictions of the Prophet are not allowed in Islam).

“Another challenge was to get the balance right, and ensure that the diversity of Islam, and all the different views – from the orthodox to the liberal, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, as well as western critics, and the voices of women –are all represented…we had a Shia consultant, an established scholar in the field, who advised us and made sure we took his views into account. Yet another challenge was to explore how Muslims today use the Prophet as a model, how close or [how]far they are to the spirit of his life. It was like walking a tightrope”

In keeping with Mr Sardar’s back catalogue of books and television programs, authenticity and respect were hallmarks of the series. “We took particular care to be respectful to the Prophet. As Muslims we could not do otherwise.”

Mr Sardar wrote all of the presenter’s links, including the introduction, in which the narrator said “Peace be upon him” after the name of the Prophet. It set the tone of the films.

“But we also had to deal with the controversial aspects of his life fairly and objectively. So we took particular care both to be deeply respectful and honest in our treatment of difficult subjects.” Using excellent sources and referring to them constantly gave the series an authoritative platform.

The writer’s role in this series cannot be overstated, for it is through the words and stunning images that programs about the past can work best. “The Life of Muhammad” is the first biographical documentary that not only features no visual images of its subject; it also has no dramatic reconstructions of the subject’s life. Strong landscapes, art and architecture accompanied by atmospheric music work well with the powerful narrative and set a benchmark which led one Guardian reviewer to write; “Visually at least, many television directors should consider converting to Islam.”

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Rani's physical health - I love my gym!

I've been a gym member for over a decade and in 2010 when I wanted to find a new one I did a thorough survey of all the good gyms in West London. Some of the prices were astronomical.

The one I settled on is part of a set owned by Charlie Bourne, called "Eden Fitness" in Ealing.

The main reason I joined was because this gym offers a class I haven't found anywhere else; Total Cardio, which is 45 mins of interval training on three separate machines- the treadmill, the crosstrainer, and the cycle. Sometimes we play the Fish Game on the rower. It is such a simple concept and so many gyms have dedicated cardio sections I am really surprised not to find it anywhere else.

The second thing about Eden is the amazingly high level of hygiene- the facilities and cloakrooms are always clean and the pool area has a special "saunarium" -ideal for relaxing.

But I think what is really adding to the quality of my life is the standard of the staff. Reception people are chatty and friendly.

I adore all my instructors in the cardio teaching team; Carlos Newton,Paul Stribling, Matt Fox, Steve Perkins, Roz Gerber, Darren Carroll and Gavin Mehta. It has taken me quite a long time to appreciate how prodigiously talented my instructors are as they don't do any hard selling on special trainer sessions -I just found out they are good by talking with them and having classes with them. Each of them has a different technique -so the blend of working out with them all over a fortnight is a perfect, heady cocktail. They all keep an eye on me when I am on the gym floor -proactively checking
my posture etc as opposed to some instructors in other West London gyms who practically ignore members.

Gavin has been introducing me to kickboxing over the last few weeks and since he is a martial arts specialist I am hoping to get some self defence training from him further down the line. After returning from India last year and seeing how the Special Protection Group, in common with other international military units, study Krav Maga, I approached Gavin. He has devised his own form of self defence suitable for someone like me- using techniques from many established styles, including Krav Maga.

Lastly, I love my yoga teacher -Shanti Gill -who teaches a special class of Chiyoga- a blend of Tai Chi and yoga- as well as the more intense forms the rest of the week. If I concentrate, I can feel my mind going into a meditative state during Chiyoga.

During the English riots last week, Charlie Bourne, his wife and around eight others spent the night on the couches of the reception area to protect the premises in case of attack so we didn't lose access to the gym though the hours were shortened on the worst days.

I lost some fitness toward the end of 2010 and during the first six months of this year while I was writing intensively so I will need to work hard over the next few weeks to return to form.

Eating right will be my biggest challenge!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee meets UK Minister George Osborne

Last month journalists had quite a day with the Indian finance minister and his delegation to the UK.

On the 25th of July 2011, there was a morning press conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the two gentleman, their heights in inverse proportion to their numbers of years in government, when they expressed deep satisfaction with trade relations between their two countries.

They proudly stated that India is now the third largest investor in the UK, and the UK is the fourth largest investor in India.

They announced that billions of dollars' worth of trade deals had been signed, and pointed to a recent BP/Reliance deal which represented the single largest foreign investment ever in India.

They both sidestepped my question to them about which country had greater need for the other, replying that each had a healthy respect and need for the other, refusing to be drawn on the precise balance of power.

The press conference finished before 12.0pm. Some of the Indian journalists were going to wait around for another briefing with Mukherjee at India House, the Indian High Commission, at 5.0pm that day. One of them said, "It's going to be a very long lunch."

Sunday, 31 July 2011

A little bit of Thailand in West London

Walking home from my yoga class taught by Shanti this morning, I was distracted by the sound of Thai music and the sight of different nationalities queueing up in an orderly fashion to buy tickets for the Thai festival on Ealing Common. Huge security guards in shades and dark blue T - shirts contrasted with the diminutive orientals by the entrance to this event, now in its second year, organized by Nikie Chumai.

Mr Chumai is a restaurant owner who spends nine months of the year in Thailand, three in the UK, and aims to develop closer cultural ties between the two countries; one of his plans is to organize a British event in Thailand with the help of the British embassy in Bangkok.

The festival covered two days, and was opened by a member of the Thai royal family accompanied by the Thai ambassador to the UK.

Large carved statues of Buddha reclining or sitting smiling benignly inside the barriers appeared alongside intricately carved vegetables and pastel colored soap bars. There was delicious food and drink served by Thai restaurant owners who were making sure that everyone paid -cash, and no freebies.

At a small stage, exquisite dancers and musicians performed for an interested public relaxing on the grass in the sunshine. The festival can be compared with the mega Asian melas running up and down the UK over the Summer- this one is much more sedate, with between 3-6,000 visitors each day.

The Thai population in the UK is estimated at 30,000.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Interviewing Queen Noor in London

The Global Zero summit in London in June gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to some very interesting people, like Queen Noor of Jordan who gave me an exclusive for Al Arabiya English.

http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/06/24/154672.html. She was frank and expansive, confident and friendly, though I had been warned that she would not be too comfortable commenting directly on the Arab Spring.

Surprisingly, I was practically the only broadcaster/journalist to sit through the summit sessions -most just turned up for specific interviews or the official press conference.

Global Zero has a team of big hitters and their US based PR includes Trevor Fitzgerald, who worked on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Tea and biscuits with the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Indian National Congress party

Dr Karan Singh, from the former royal family of Jammu and Kashmir,met with a small number of Indian journalists in London Friday May 13 2011 for tea and a chat in the Nehru Centre, belonging to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (the arts wing of the Indian government). He was frank, honest and jovial, and broke into Urdu poetry occasionally. India's former ambassador to Unesco, member of the Indian parliament's upper house, was candid on the results of state elections today ("I'm very happy with the result") and his heartbreak over young people killed in Jammu and Kashmir in 2010 ("perhaps the police could use rubber bullets or some kind of gas")Indian foreign policy, the death of Bin Laden and corruption. He was charming all the way through, answered all questions, and after finding out how many Indian journos there were in London, remarked that there were only two in Paris compared to 100 Chinese.

He has revived the concept of cultural diplomacy through Festivals of India started by Indira Gandhi. There have over the last few years been Festivals with Japan, Russia, China and France.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Britain developing stronger international ties- has the empire really vanished?

Today we learn that the Foreign and Commonwealth office is increasing its diplomatic representation in specific countries.

"This means increasing the FCO’s presence in the major emerging powers such as China and India. We will have 80 more staff in the biggest and fastest growing cities and regions of these countries. There will be a substantial expansion of our diplomatic strengthen in Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia as well as additional diplomatic staff in a host of other countries."

The FCO will open five new Embassies in El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, South Sudan and, when local conditions permit, in Madagascar and Somalia. Right now the FCO has 140 Embassies and High Commissions around the world.

The Foreign Secretary said:

“We will embark on a substantial reinvigoration of the diplomatic network to make it ready for the 21st century; to expand our connections with the emerging powers of the world, and to signal that where Britain was retreating it is now advancing.

“The only way to increase our national prosperity and secure our growth for our economy is through trade, and our Embassies play a vital role in supporting British business.

“Our decisions mean that our reach when British companies need assistance or British nationals are in danger goes further and is stronger.”

The FCO says that it will withdraw some diplomatic staff from "European subordinate posts"

For the above, read, "we need to rethink ways of making money in the new world order, we no longer have our empire, we now need to do serious business fast and bigtime with the power players to retain legitimacy."

British Royal Navy begins exercise around Cyprus

Seven Royal Navy warships with Royal Marines and helicopters, will converge on waters off the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus this week for a series of long-planned naval exercises designed to demonstrate the versatile capabilities and high readiness of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG).

Exercise Cypriot Lion combines air defence exercises and live firings out at sea with amphibious exercises in coastal waters involving Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade.

It will be the first major exercise of the complete RFTG in the Cougar 11 deployment.

Three ships, HMS Albion, HMS Sutherland and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Cardigan Bay, left the UK with elements of the commando force at the beginning of April and were in Cyprus last month for a series of amphibious exercises. For Exercise Cypriot Lion, they will be joined by a second group of ships – the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, landing ship RFA Mounts Bay, fast fleet tanker RFA Wave Knight and supply ship RFA Fort Rosalie.

In addition to 40 Commando Royal Marines and elements of 3 Cdo Brigade Headquarters, the Task Group also includes marines from the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, with whom the UK has a long standing association. Both countries have a history of cooperation in the field of amphibious warfare that dates back to the siege of Gibraltar in 1704 and was cemented through the creation of a joint UK-Netherlands-Landing Force in 1973.

Commodore John Kingwell, Commander UK Task Force (COMUKTG) said:

“The Response Force Task Group enables the Royal Navy to respond at short notice to unforeseen events in an unpredictable and fast moving world”

“Naval forces are ideally placed to respond to a range of missions central to UK defence and security. The involvement of marines from the Netherlands underlines the role that the RFTG can play alongside our international partners in support of wider maritime security and regional stability.”

Colonel Haydn White, Deputy Commander, 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, added:

“For the second time in the Cougar 11 deployment, the support of British Forces Cyprus has been invaluable in providing realistic and innovative training scenarios, whether at sea, along the shore, in the harbour and on land”.

“Cypriot Lion is the ideal opportunity for Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade to exercise their core amphibious skills”.

Are the British becoming conscious about the American Navy Seals grabbing all the attention recently?

Monday, 9 May 2011

New British High Commissioner to India announced

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has announced that Mr James Bevan KMG will replace Sir Richard Stagg KCMG in Delhi in November 2011.

He has been the Chief Operating Officer and Director General for Corporate Affairs at the FCO since 2007, and before that he was a visiting fellow at the centre for international affairs at Harvard University.
He has been a secretary in Paris, Washington and in Brussels, where he was with the UK delegation to NATO.

At the FCO, he headed up departments for Africa, the Balkans, and the European Union.
He goes to Delhi at a time when the former imperial masters have more to gain, arguably, from the ex-colony than the other way around.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Check out Anna Hazare

If you haven't already clocked the fast-unto-death of Indian Anna Hazare, the social activist famed for transforming his village and those around it into models of prosperity and clean living, note that he is attracting international and national support from Indians for his plea for an anti-corruption bill to be put in place, one of the few methods -perhaps the only one - which is causing the government to react.

Hazare is using a peaceful, Gandhian technique. The United Progressive Alliance government cannot afford for him to sacrifice his life in the name of one of India's biggest diseases.

Thousands have gathered at the site in Delhi of Anna's fast, and as he wants no politicians around, any who visit to express support are shooed away.

A team of volunteer doctors is checking his condition round the clock, ensuring there are free medicines on tap. 150 others have joined Hazare's fast. Newspapers are publishing updates on his blood pressure and other vital statistics,
TV anchors have now arrived at the site and are linking from there, while reporters provide latest news.

Spokesmen are negotiating with the government on Hazare's behalf, and Hazare is holding out for terms on agreement.
Bollywood and sports stars are publicly declaiming support.

British RAF Eye in the Sky Hits 20,000 hours over Afghanistan

Reaper, the RAF’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft has reached a landmark 20,000 operational flying hours over Afghanistan, the MOD announced today. The 39 Squadron aircraft have proven themselves as the eyes in the sky for front line troops.

Reaper was introduced in October 2007 and with its array of high tech sensors and precision guided weapons, it can carry out a wide range of missions to support forces in Afghanistan. It can gather pre-raid intelligence on target compounds, assist in countering IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and provide surveillance for routine patrols and supply convoys.

Reaper can use its sensors day and night to spy on insurgent activity for hours at a time and at a range where they are undetected from the ground. The images are complemented by radar, mounted in the nose of the aircraft, gathering another dimension of detailed imagery that is analysed by a team of highly trained intelligence specialists in military bases around the world.

If necessary, Reaper can also strike at insurgents with a range of precision guided weapons.

Reflecting on the achievement, Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, Air Vice Marshal Philip Osborn, said:

“The RAF’s Reaper force has proven itself time and again in combat and is an essential element of the RAF’s combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability. The real time, day and night video coverage of the battle space combined with the extensive use of onboard radar provides a unique, cost effective and sustained capability that enhances the safety of troops on the ground.

“This cutting-edge remotely piloted aircraft provides an impressive range of capabilities that are saving lives and making a real difference to the troops in Afghanistan.

“The aircraft is only as good as the individuals operating it though and I am most grateful for and must praise the dedication and operational focus of all the members of 39 Squadron, who are drawn from across all three Services, in achieving this milestone.”

A Reaper pilot from 39 Squadron, spoke of his experience after a recent tour in Afghanistan:

“When you're assisting troops on the ground and insurgents are trying to take shots at them we can be called to use the Reaper’s precision weapons. As with fast jets, you're still speaking to the troops on the ground and feel immersed in the operational environment.

“In many ways, you actually feel better connected to the situation on the ground than you do in a fast jet - the detailed computer systems that we've got with Reaper make it easier to get better intelligence pictures.”

Saturday, 12 March 2011

I give in; only one subject dominates in South Asia now

Seeing as everyone I know wants to watch the cricket, (even one of the BJP leaders, Arun Jaitley, has been lending a comment to radio) I have little option but to post this from M.J.Akbar for cricket fans everywhere

Stars and Style
M.J. Akbar

Style is the yeast of leadership. The league rounds of this World Cup Cricket are not designed to offer much by way of excitement since it would require too much stupidity on the part of the Biggies not to qualify for the knockout stage, which is when the mercury will start rising. England, possibly in honour of its long sporting tradition, is trying very hard to fail, but I suspect that it might very well fail to fail. I hope Bangladesh marches into the quarter-finals, precisely because it is the very opposite of England: its spirit is greater than its ability, unlike England, which brought along quality to the Cup but mislaid its spirit somewhere on the flight to the subcontinent.

The one fascinating aspect of this tournament so far is the difference in the management style of its captains. The test of a captain lies, obviously, in adversity, and Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan is blessed with the courage of self-belief. He could have fallen into that worst of all traps, sulking self-pity, when angry fans broke his windowpanes after his team’s pathetic loss to the West Indies. Instead, he picked himself and the team up, and led them to a famous victory against England. It does not actually matter now whether he goes into the next round. He has restored his nation’s pride. Bengali fans are right. They do not expect Bangladesh to win the Cup, but they will not tolerate a team that betrays its honour.

The surprise is Shahid Afridi, who could easily join Pakistan’s Foreign Service after this swansong. The man who has tweaked a ball or two in his time, has flowered into a diplomat. He soothed ruffled feathers after defeat against New Zealand through a brilliant strategic pincer movement: he invited the huge Pakistani media contingent for dinner with the players. Mollifying the messenger is the best treatment for the ache of bad news. Afridi is clearly aware that contemporary Pakistan has only two powerful institutions, the Army and the media. The Army has only cursory interest in cricket during wartime, so an alliance with the media is sufficient for crisis control. Pakistan remains the contrarian’s favourite; and if Afridi can handle his temperamental eleven with the kind of aplomb he has shown off the field, then watch out for the Greens. Predictably Pakistan’s erratic, slippery-fingers wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal has induced the best joke so far: “What is Akmal’s favourite pick-up line? Can I drop you anywhere?”

In contrast, Mahendra Dhoni is so laidback he could have been training in a sauna. Dhoni is proponent of the Yawn School of Business. When asked why India had made such heavy weather of defeating less-than-ordinary sides like Holland, he replied with a verbal shrug. India was winning, wasn’t it, and that was good enough for him. Well, he might lose when there is no second chance left. It may not be much of a problem for him personally, since the advertisement deals are done, cheques are in the bank, and he probably thinks that the Great Indian Public is fickle in its affections anyway. Somebody should tell him that the symbol of India is the elephant, and while the elephant treads with a light step, it also has a long memory.

The captain who really knew how to lie on his back was the incomparable Viv Richards, but he had a few advantages over Dhoni. He was a genius with the bat. He was fearless [he disdained a helmet, trusting his eye and instinct instead]. And he had a set of bowlers who could break your hand when you were looking and crack your head when you took your eye off the ball. Dhoni has fashioned half a team for this tournament, just a set of brilliant batsmen, on the assumption that opponents will get themselves out. We shall see what we shall see.

The finest gentleman ever to captain England was surely Colin Cowdrey. In his last match as captain Cowdrey walked to the pitch for the toss, dressed in immaculate whites. And waited. Richards sauntered up twenty minutes late, wearing a T shirt and bandana in more colours than a rainbow would dare to advertise. The coin was tossed. Richards won. Richards looked at the prim and proper Cowdrey and asked the Englishman what he wanted to do, rather than exercising his right of decision. Once Cowdrey had recovered, he said England would like to bat. Okay maan, said Richards, you bat.

The West Indies won that Test match by ten wickets. That is why it was Cowdrey’s last match. And that is why few lovers of cricket can remember Cowdrey, and no one has forgotten Vivian Richards.

Style is an art, particularly if it can be complemented with swagger. But style is not a substitute for substance.

Friday, 11 March 2011

P.Sainath- again. He has been covering poverty for 30 years.

His latest piece for The Hindu, called Gates, Buffet and the Art of Giving

The latest Forbes billionaires list is out. A mere 10 per cent return on the wealth of Indians in it would cover Health, Higher Education, MGNREGS and Handloom budgets for years and years.

Some suggestions for Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who plan to visit India and encourage philanthropy amongst India's super-rich.

Dear Bill & Warren,

Delighted to learn that you plan to tour India, among other countries, to inspire and ‘grow' the practice of ‘giving' among our super-rich. Indeed, to have them follow in your charitable footsteps and part with vast sums of their wealth as you have, for a good cause. This does get to be a bit of a problem with those for whom charity begins at home and stays there. And for a corporate world which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concedes, (much like your own corporate world) suffers from a perceived ‘ethical deficit.' On the bright side, Dr. Singh's government also generously concedes billions of dollars in freebies each year to the ethically-challenged, doubtless to bridge that deficit. Close to $20 billion in corporate income tax write-offs in this year's budget alone. This offers your campaign a vantage point, surely. No need to ‘give-till-it-hurts' here. All that's been done with public revenue. Now they can give without hurting.

Moreover, your pal Steve Forbes has just brought out his new list which, taken together with our budget, lends powerful ammo to your proselytisation project. Stevie's list tells us India's billionaires have done us proud again. There are now 55 of them. That's more than last year despite a few unfortunate dropouts — Shahid Balwa of DB Realty among them — who have plunged into the misery of barren multi-millionairehood. And while China may have posted a list of 115 billionaires, theirs are mainly Little Leaguers, with an average net asset worth of no more than $2.5 billion. Way below our own $4.5 billion average. (It was over $6 billion in 2008, till those twits on Wall Street blew it). That places us above — and China below — the $3.7 billion global average net asset worth of these super-rich. And there is also our obvious moral superiority over the Russians who keep sending their billionaires (101 of them) to prison. We send ours to Parliament. And while China and Russia might have sneaked ahead of us on the numbers, we've knocked those Germans off their perch (52).

I'm eager to help with the planning of your trip. Let's start with the pre-visit homework. There are now 1,210 dollar billionaires on the planet, the Forbes list tells us. We don't believe this for a moment, though we agree it's a fun exercise to undertake each year. Our own number has to be much higher. But concealed income in India is so huge that it, firstly, denies a number of our billionaires due global recognition. Secondly, it leads to their being grossly undervalued. Anyway, 14 of those Indians whose wealth can be established in the 10-digit range occupy slots within the top 15 per cent of those 1,210 super-rich. The top seven of these make it within the first 100 of the Forbes list. And two — Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal — make it to the list of the 10 richest men in the world. True, unlike both of you, swanking around at ranks two and three, they languish lower down at ranks six and nine. But we do have the policy structures in place to remedy that in a while.

The net asset worth of our boys (and three girls) is around $246.5 billion (Rs. 11,13,750 crore). This, of course, does not include unaccounted income, or stuff stashed away from public gaze. But even on this modest sum of wealth, let's assume they earn an equally modest annual return of 10 per cent. (Now we know that for the super-rich, anything less than 30 per cent's a joke, but let's just assume 10? At least as the part they will be persuaded to give away, by both of you.) Then you might want to glance at these humble calculations before you make it here to inspire ‘giving' among the Indian super-rich.

A return of 10 per cent on the declared wealth of Indian billionaires comes to over $24 billion (Rs. 1,11,375 crore). Let's recall for a moment that 836 million Indians live on a daily expenditure of less than 50 cents (Rs.20 or even much less). We might have clocked in fourth on the billionaire stakes, but in the share of poor people, those in hunger, those getting the lowest number of calories, fastest rising food prices — we're up there at the top of the world.

Well, the modest interest amount of $24 billion would easily cover the annual consumption expenditure of 150 million poor Indians. If the return on wealth was actually 20-30 per cent, then the numbers whose consumption could be taken care of each year would be twice or thrice as many.

Take our health budget — now around $6 billion (Rs.26, 897 crore) after Finance Minister Pranabda hiked it by 20 per cent over last year. That 10 per cent return on the wealth of the dollar billionaires — let's call them DB for short, a now familiar acronym that's almost a household word here — would cover that budget for four years at least. Or the health and higher education ($4.8 billion) budgets together for two years. On a return of just 10 per cent, that's a bargain. The more so when you consider that health and higher education budgets together are just a little more than half the nearly $20 billion (Rs. 88,263 crore) Pranabda is writing off in corporate income tax, apart from other freebies for struggling billionaires.

Now that $20 billion would run our Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme at present levels ($ 8.8 billion) for at least two years. But Pranabda probably realised, shrewdly, that a 10 per cent return on the wealth of the richest would provide over $24 billion — and provide that each year. Which means all three — health, higher education and rural employment programmes — could be run for many, many years (assuming the banks stay afloat). And there would a bit left over for covering budget allocations for sectors like Handlooms. Somewhere between five and ten million families with perhaps the finest weaving skills in the world, have to depend on a fraction of the $95 million (Rs. 431.61 crore) given to the handlooms sector in the present budget. Who knows we might even be able to cover the whole central Textile budget, a piffling $1.2 billion or Rs. 5,855.75 crore. (Come to think of it, the total value of our Flying Fifty Five at $246.5 billion is just a little short of the total expenditure proposed in our Central budget at $278 billion. But let's not go there just now).

Pranabda also probably knew that the two of you were coming down to persuade our guys to part with a fraction of their wealth for noble purposes. He's a wise man, our Finance Minister. I think he's also figured that if he could get 10 per cent of the interest on the funds the Indian super-rich have stashed away overseas, we could probably bridge our deficit as well. So he's thinking of offering them an amnesty on their little fiddles. That way we could access those funds painlessly. I can't help thinking you ought to meet Pranabda too, when you visit. Like both of you, he believes in persuasion and his skills in that direction are unique. He's working hard to ensure that the men you will persuade to ‘give,' accumulate more each year and thus have more to give. After all, more giving leads to more giving. He's also thoughtfully creating more hungry people they can help.

Looking forward to your visit and a year of giving.


Saturday, 5 March 2011

M.J.Akbar's comments on the week past

One of Akbar's stronger recent pieces, but at the end of the day, what difference does it make? Who takes notice or cares? Rani

Byline for 6th March 2011

I regret to inform you...

M.J. Akbar

Friday the Fourth of March should be declared the International Day of Regret by the United Nations. Regrets flooded Saturday's newspapers, in stories from east to west; it came in many forms, from eyes-lowered-acknowledgment to muted-murmured-sorry to the antithetical no-regret accompanied by a brash to-hell-with-you.

The most creative instance was surely that of Bangladesh cricket fans: they did not quite rue stoning the West Indies team bus after their side was hammered into oblivion; they merely regretted the fact that they had got the wrong bus. What they wanted was to throw some accurately-aimed stones at their own players. They atoned for their mistake by breaking window panes of their captain Shakib al Hasan's home. That should put Hasan in a good frame of mind for the next match. To be fair, Bengalis don't mind defeat; they just can't take humiliation, whether in Dhaka or at Kolkata's Eden Gardens.

The most ingenious example was from the London School of Economics, which had, in its infinite wisdom, awarded a doctorate to surely the most intellectual thug of the 21st century, Saif al-Islam, the second son of Muammar Gaddafi, in 2008. Saif's supervisors detected neither irony nor plagiarism in the Saif thesis on "The role of civil society in the democratisation of global governance institutions: from 'soft power' to collective decision-making?" Don't miss the deliciously academic question mark at the end. The director of LSE, Howard Davies, has resigned, but can probably expect to head the Saif Conglomerate of Universities for Economics and Mercenary Operations just as soon as Saif has reconquered Libya. It was, but naturally, a complete accident that LSE got a 1.5 million pound donation from Saif's dad soon after the doctorate, since British institutions can never be accused of corruption. London must be full of people nostalgic for the old days: this was exactly how it happened during those good old days of the Raj, when the British gave a gong to natives and took the jewels in return. The natives, however, have got cleverer. Saif actually gave only 300,000 pounds of the promised 1.5 million. He must have learnt something about economics at LSE. Regret, though, is not in his DNA; his father Muammar has at various times imagined himself as either the Queen of England or the Prime Minister of India, but is really a French Bourbons who, famously, learnt nothing and forgot nothing.

But the real market for regrets has surely opened in India. There is explicit or implicit regret wherever you look. The disgraced Chief Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas must be seething with them; if he had quit in the first week of December he would have lost his job but not his grace. That is not a bad trade-off. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh still has the quality to dignify regret, which is why his acknowledgement of responsibility for Thomas' appointment received such a civil response from the BJP leader of the Lok Sabha Opposition, Ms Sushma Swaraj. But Dr Singh has not revealed what he truly regrets: that his leadership is under question today because he has been misled by his own side. He signed off on the decision, but the choice was not his. He would not have dismissed Ms Swaraj's objections as politics if his own civil servants had briefed him better.

Two points arise. First, is regret sufficient? In the case of Thomas, yes, since the CVC has not done anything to besmirch the CVC's office. The real problem before the Prime Minister is that the list of things he should regret during the tenure of the UPA2 government is slicing off its credibility, day by day, both in sequence and consequence. What he should truly regret is that a man like Hasan Ali Khan, fingered by Indian police for stashing away 8 billion dollars in Swiss and other banks on behalf of an elite bunch of crooks, is still breathing free air. Khan has the mysterious ability to fall ill whenever the police want to question him; and the police have the even more mysterious desire to accept Khan's word for it. Khan used this excuse again about an hour of his latest meeting with the Enforcement Directorate, and the very solicitous police officers agreed. There is something deeply rotten in the system.

The saddest non-regret is surely from those leaders of Pakistan who have chosen silence as their response to the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in the Cabinet, killed for his views on the blasphemy laws. According to Ahmed Rashid, the doyen of Pakistani commentators, army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani refused to condemn the killing of Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab, for similar reasons, because there were too many soldiers under his command who sympathised with the assassins.

That is the transition of regret to fear; how long before fear mutates into dread?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

BBC News Channel; the assassination of Pakistan's only Christian minister

The carefully planned assassination of Pakistan's cabinet minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, by three gunmen waiting for him as he left his mother's house yesterday managed to find a place in the news bulletins despite events in Libya. The Pakistani Taliban left leaflets at the site of the murder. I was able to squeeze in a studio appearance during an evening's break in my current major project and turn my attention to the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan which has ramifications for the region.

MP Sherry Rahman, the only other politician to publicly back reform of the draconian blasphemy laws and call for the death penalty to be removed has now gone into hiding. She has stated that she is receiving death threats every half hour.

One of my excellent former interviewees, human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, whom I last spoke with a week or so ago, courageously continues her work. What will happen to the liberal, moderate voice of intellectual Pakistan in the face of the rise of the hard right religious extremists?

Monday, 21 February 2011

British Petroleum places largest Foreign Direct Investment in India

Mukesh Ambani for Reliance Industries and BP CEO Robert Dudley have announced the biggest ever largest single foreign direct investment in India in a deal between BP and Reliance Industries worth $9 bn.

The partnership will be for the sourcing and marketing of natural gas in India.

Friday, 28 January 2011

P.Sainath's latest (one of my favourite columnists)

P.Sainath's latest column from The Hindu newspaper

With 2G, Radia, illicit funds, and a stubborn CVC, the UPA government's scams are multiplying faster than Lemmings, the little rodents that live mostly in and around the Arctic.

One of the most enduring of media-created myths is that of mass suicide amongst Lemmings, the little rodents that live mostly in and around the Arctic. A 1958 Disney documentary film staged scenes of large numbers of Lemmings marching mindlessly off a cliff to their doom in the waters below. Actually, Lemmings can swim. The rodents see major migrations when they multiply rapidly and their population grows. And when this dispersal finds big numbers crossing large bodies of water, some of them drown by accident, not by intent. However, the Disney film — where they were actually forced off a cliff — and earlier articles, created a false notion that still holds: that Lemmings commit mass suicide by leaping off cliffs and drowning in the waters below. This is also the origin of the political slang: ‘Lemming-like behaviour,' to describe a suicidal course of action.

Political scientists in India 2011 can now be forgiven a rethink on the whole fraud. You begin to wonder if there was some truth in it, after all. The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) seems determined to prove that this instinct of the little creatures was no myth. The race off the cliff is real, with Congress Lemmings leading the charge of the light-footed brigade. The massive hike in petrol prices at a time of raging food inflation was merely one among such efforts. In just seven months, the price of petrol has gone up by over Rs. 10. The new hike came even as the government announced that it was taking the price rise seriously and has formed yet more panels and Groups of Ministers to study the problem.( Another Group of Ministers was to have met in December 2010 to decide on whether to hike diesel and LPG prices as well. Yet another was to take a call on raising APL foodgrain prices.) Lemmings, after all, mostly act in large groups.

Now that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic, the impression of a collective rush to mass drowning only grows. Handing the rural development portfolio to a man just trashed by the Supreme Court for protecting moneylenders in Vidharbha while he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra, has a Kamikaze-like courage about it. Not only did the Court admonish Vilasrao Deshmukh in scathing terms, it also enhanced the fine levied by the Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench on the government of Maharashtra in the same case from Rs.25,000 to Rs.10 lakh. Now in normal and non-Lemming circles, this would have led to his unaccompanied exit off the Cabinet Cliff.

Justice A. K. Ganguly in his judgment on the case involving Mr. Deshmukh says, among other things: “The message conveyed in this case is extremely shocking and it shocks the conscience of this Court about the manner in which the Constitutional functionaries behaved in the State of Maharashtra.” The judgment goes on to say “it is clear that the Chief Minister was aware of various complaints being filed against the said family [the moneylenders: PS]. Even then he passed an order for a special treatment in favour of the said family which is unknown to law.”

The judgment notes the debt-induced plight of farmers in that very region and also says of Mr. Deshmukh's action: “This amounts to bestowing special favour to some chosen few at the cost of the vast number of poor people who as farmers have taken loans and who have come to the authorities of law and order to register their complaints against torture and atrocities by the moneylenders.”

Obviously, in Dr. Singh's view, the perfect candidate to preside over the destiny of rural India and its development. A man during whose eight years as Chief Minister of Maharashtra, well over 30,000 farmers took their own lives in the State — a feat unrivalled anywhere in the country. Mr. Deshmukh's most famous remark on the farmers: “Committing suicide is an offence under the Indian Penal Code. But did we book any farmer for this offence? Have you reported that?” (The Hindustan Times, October 31, 2007). Just after the terror attacks of 26/11, he went to the Taj hotel, with his actor son and Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma in tow. This provoked outrage in a public which saw them as disaster tourists checking out the rich cinematic promise thrown up by the tragic events. Sacked from his post, Mr. Deshmukh spent some months in cold storage before being elevated to the Union Cabinet.

His successor lost his job over the Adarsh episode and also earned notoriety over the ‘paid news' scandal. On the latter, Ashok Chavan faces a case in the Election Commission and might run into yet more trouble. His successor, imported from New Delhi, gives non-entity a bad name. The NCP, once a declining force, gets a new wind with his arrival. And that party gets more aggressive towards the Congress at the Centre as well, sensing the mess it is in. In Andhra Pradesh, two successive Chief Ministers have spent over a year fighting their own party in a State that contributed 33 MPs to the Congress at the Centre. In West Bengal, the Congress has written itself, with almost Lemming-like fatalism, into a distant third place.

If you watch your Animal Planet you'd expect that, like in other social hierarchies, there are alpha male Lemmings. It requires rare qualities of leadership to guide a bunch of sharp front-toothed mammals off a cliff. Heading the charge means there are lots of large gnawing incisors just behind you. This is no role for the faint-hearted, as Kapil Sibal demonstrated in his stinging attack on the CAG. This was also what happened in the Bofors case, a blistering attack on the then CAG (among other things). The results of that strategy included a government drowning. But history is not the Lemming's long suit. Mr. Sibal might yet learn that the CAG is not a cowering witness in a court room, but the drowning will probably have begun by then. Meanwhile, with 2G, Raja, Radia, illicit funds, and a stubborn CVC, the UPA government's scams are multiplying faster than Lemmings.

Pranab Mukherjee, meanwhile, has made it clear — wagging a finger while doing so — that the government is not about to reveal the names of any tax evaders. Mr. Mukherjee, who heads more Groups of Ministers than have ever been Empowered, suggests there might be one more group soon. That is, to work out Amnesty schemes for tax evaders and those who have illegally siphoned funds out of the country to secret offshore accounts. No one can be named till they are prosecuted, says he. In other words, we will never know the names of those the government chooses not to prosecute.

A Global Financial Integrity Report (The Hindu, Nov. 17, 2010) estimates that India has lost almost half a trillion dollars in illegal capital flight since Independence. As much as $125 billion, or more than a fourth of the total, vanished between just 2000 and 2008. The government plans amnesty for such offenders and arrests for those protesting high prices.

The line has also been laid down on food security: forget about it. There will be neither a universal PDS nor even an enhanced one. Feeding a hungry corporate world takes all the resources we have. Things are about to get much tougher for the whole team. India's premier Lemmings are simply too busy to pay any attention to their day jobs. Even as the onion season winds down, the World Cup Cricket and IPL seasons are about to begin. This means, of course, that we will still see no Agriculture Minister for a further two months. (Unless someone provokes him with a comment on Lavasa.)

Back in 2008, as global food prices soared, Mr. Pawar revealed to the daily, DNA (Page 1, April 2), that the real reason why wheat prices were soaring was that south Indians were eating too many chapathis. In this, he echoed the view of noted nutritionist George W (then also working part-time as President of the United States). Mr. Bush declared that the world food prices were soaring because millions of Indians and Chinese were eating so much more. (Global prices fell sharply just months later. Were millions of Indians and Chinese suddenly starving? Or were big-time speculators giving prices a yo-yo ride?).

Dr. Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have also bought into the Bush Food Doctrine: the huge price rise in food items suggests that the poor are doing better, eating more. The cliff runway is free and the Lemmings have been cleared for takeoff.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Security breach at Rahul Gandhi's vehicle

Rahul Gandhi, from India's Nehru-Gandhi family, was on his way to his ancestral home when opposition youth party members waved black flags at his vehicle and managed to get right up close. It appears he had just one car of security men with him and the footage of the protest, up at www.pressbrief.in, shows the clash quite dramatically. It is part of a political game being played by the state's ruling party, which should provide adequate protection to Gandhi when he is there. It often does not, and the incident shows just how close to danger Rahul sometimes is. A couple of Special Protection group guys hanging off Rahul's jeep were the only thing preventing the protestors from climbing on the vehicle.