India’s Ailing Manufacturing Sector & Unions

The WSJ has a sobering article on the state of the manufacturing & labor relations in India –

COIMBATORE, India — This ancient city has turned itself in recent years into a manufacturing dynamo emblematic of India’s economic rebirth. But a homicide case playing out in an auto-parts factory here is raising concerns about whether the Indian industrial miracle is hitting a wall of industrial unrest.

We can’t be a capitalist country that has socialist labor lawsPricol Ltd., which makes instrument panels for the likes of Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co., was rocked in late September when workers burst into the office of Roy George, its 46-year-old human-resources boss. Angry over a wage freeze, they carried iron rods, witnesses say, and left Mr. George in a pool of blood. Police arrested 50 union members in connection with his death, their lawyer says. Charges haven’t been filed.

The underlying question raised by this story is the size, shape & importance of the manufacturing sector for India’s long term economic development…

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1992: What Everyone Already Knew

There has been somewhat of an uproar in Indian politics this week, after the release of an extensive government report on the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid, the “Liberhan” report. According to news coverage in the Indian media, the main findings of the report are 1) the destruction of the Masjid was a planned, rather than spontaneous event, and 2) the leaders of the BJP at the time were involved in the planning of the event. One of the controversial elements in the publishing of the report at this time came from the fact that it was leaked to the press before being officially published, leading the government to “table” the report in Parliament sooner than it ordinarily might have done.

The full report is here, for anyone who has an interest in reading it. (I would be curious to hear any comments from readers who’ve looked at some of it closely.)

Meanwhile, The Hindu has an editorial focusing on the leak, and how in effect it is a good thing for Indian democracy that this report finally sees the light of day:

But then the leak occurred because the government sat on the findings of an exercise that took more than 16 years to discover and establish “the sequence of events leading, and all facts and circumstances relating” to the demolition of the Babri Masjid by communal vandals on December 6, 1992. The habit of withholding from Parliament and the public the findings of expensive Commissions of Inquiry, which lack teeth in any case, until ‘action taken’ reports are readied by a slow-moving bureaucracy is indefensible. It devalues the whole exercise, aggravates the already indefensible delays, and serves up plenty of opportunity for motivated campaigns, speculation, and leaks. The news media in the present case, The Indian Express and NDTV 24×7, certainly cannot be faulted for doing their best to penetrate the veil of secrecy and get the essential findings out. This role is demonstrably in the cause of truth-discovery, and serious journalists and editors are not going to be deterred by sanctimonious cries of ‘breach of parliamentary privilege.’link)

In effect, the report is what everyone already knew. One can still argue, as the The Hindu does, that it’s important to have a formal recognition of the history, so people can finally begin to move on. The question isn’t why this report was leaked to the press now; the question is, why wasn’t it prepared and released 10 years ago or more? Continue reading

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“Currying” favor with Manmohan and India

I cannot claim credit for the eye-rollingly bad title. It appears that this is the media’s favorite play on words for this occasion. They really get a [spicy] kick out of their cleverness. The Beltway is all atwitter today in preparation for the state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit. Many have quipped, and I agree, that it looks like a big Indian wedding tent has been built on the White House lawn. Like out of Monsoon Wedding:


The Chef: Marcus Samuelsson of NYC’s Aquavit

The Menu: Top Secret…for now. Samuelsson reportedly did not create the menu, he is just cooking it. Manmohan is vegetarian though so expect there to be several vegetarian offerings. You can follow the latest on the menu @ObamaFoodorama

The Guest List: ~400 titans of the Beltway and Hollywood, including Oprah, AR Rahman, Bobby Jindal, Nancy Pelosi, HRC sans WJC, and…Deepak Chopra. Thus far no sign of Rajan Zed on the invite list. God I hope not. And what about Padma Lakshmi. Who, if not her, will opine on the quality of the food? Er, as long as there are no hamburgers on the menu, I mean.

So what is a state dinner all about anyways? Ken Adelman at WaPo explains:

State dinners are less “symbolic signaling” than “political greasing.” Sure, they indicate who is important – those invited are on the A-List of Washington’s socialite “plum book” – and what is important – cellist Pablo Casals for the Kennedys and Country & Western music for the Bushes. Beyond that, however, relationships are heightened and debts are deepened by State Dinner invitations. That’s more critical, since personal relationships are central to achieving results in politics, as in most endeavors of life. House Speaker Sam Rayburn once quipped that anyone who couldn’t size up another person in five minutes “doesn’t belong in my profession.” That clueless fellow probably doesn’t belong in many other professions, either. [link] has a convenient live feed set up for those that want to follow. Continue reading

Which of Obama’s old roommates posted this?

Over the weekend Gawker drew attention to this Craigslist posting:

I’m working on a memoir, set in 1983, when I lived with Obama for a year.

The memoir is about my life and about what New York was like in 1983, and how we lived then, but Barack is obviously a player in the story. This is not a tell-all, it’s a friendly, gentle and literate book.

I work full time in a highly visible career and would like to work with a research assistant to help me stay focused.

This is you:

You live in Manhattan and can visit the Village frequently.
Your living situation is stable, as is your personal life.
Your income is stable.
You can work with a six month window. (ok, maybe a year. it depends.)
You are a fantastic and empathetic listener.
You’re creative and imaginative and a fine writer. You can shape material.
You don’t drink or use drugs. No psychological disorders I have to deal with.
You are in a graduate writing program at NYU or Columbia.
You want an opportunity to work on a visible book.
You are dependable, timely, punctual and highly motivated to succeed.

This is an internship, not a paid position.

I have already begun, finally, this week, after thinking about it for a the last year. Now is the time. My agent is waiting on the first 100 pages. Let’s go. [Link]

When I saw this post my first thought was, “is it Sohale Siddiqi?” How interesting would that book be? More importantly, would it be a better seller than “Going Rogue?” Anyone else have any guesses based on the time-frame in the ad and what you’ve read in Obama’s autobiographies? Even if this turns out not to be Siddiqi, I think at least one of his former desi roommates should write a book!

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Jehangir Mehta: The Next Iron Chef?

A couple of weeks ago, I tuned in to the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef to find a sophisticated, soft spoken, skinny desi chef cooking up a storm. His name is Jehangir Mehta and his delicate dishes in every episode and challenge have been distinguished by their creative use of fresh herbs, fruit, and spices and their aesthetic presentation.

Mehta is the owner and executive chef of Graffiti, a Lower East Side NYC restaurant that serves “international small plates that feature his trademark affinity for bold flavors and spices such as chillies, sambhar, turmeric, and star anise.” In cook off after cook off, Mehta–who trained as a pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America, but who hails from a Parsi family in Bombay — has been impressing the judges with unusual and original dishes such as pickled ginger scallops, bitter melon fritters, and apple and soy caramel skewers. His preparations are like miniature paintings; each one a carefully choreographed mouthful of flavor.

Tonight at 9 PM EST is the season finale where Mehta will battle against the Philadelphia-based Chef Jose Garces. Two very qualified chefs from two ethnic backgrounds with rich culinary traditions; it’s bound to be a close match.

Below the fold is a brief Q&A with Chef Mehta, including his thoughts about reality TV, his take on a South Asian Thanksgiving, and his recipe for his favorite comfort food.

Will Mehta be the next Iron Chef? We’ll soon find out. Continue reading

Guernica Fiction Continued, With Preeta Samarasan

As promised, here’s the second half of our Guernica/fiction discussion! You can read the first post, about Hasanthika Sirisena, as well as a little background about the Guernica issue here.

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Our second interviewee is Preeta Samarasan, writer (and sometime SM commenter). Her story, “A Rightful Share,” was also in the Guernica issue. It begins,

“I want to tell you about my friend Kandan. Full name Kandan A/L Palanivel. Twenty years old. Handsome bastard. Of course we men don’t stare at each other and think who’s handsome, who’s ugly, of course not. I’m just saying only. If you had seen him, you also would have said the same thing. We all–me and Kandan and one whole group of fellers–used to lepak at one bhaiyyi coffee shop near KL Sentral there, and even the stylish college girls, the ones from rich-rich families, talking with hell of an American slang and all, used to come and sit with us on Saturday afternoons. Giggling, blinking their big eyes at him like he was God. Even if I strip naked also nobody will look at me like that, I tell you. Fooyoh, terror lah that feller, six feet tall, big shoulders, hair like a TV model, and dunno from where he got brown eyes, almost like mat salleh like that. Next to him Hrithik Roshan also will lose. But he was just a simple boy from Rawang, laborer’s son, never gone anywhere. Cannot even speak English properly.” [keep reading A Rightful Share]

I liked the distinctive voice and unreliable narrator of this story, and how deftly Preeta showed me ways around him; I also appreciated the complicated detail of political setting. I joined Sepia Mutiny as a regular contributor after guest blogging during a trip to Malaysia (with Preston Merchant; Malaysia- and Preeta-related links at the bottom of this post), and reading Preeta’s writing after seeing some of the places she has written about also brings me back to my own affection for them. Continue reading

When History Fell In India

While on the topic of why India didn’t liberalize sooner, an article posted to the SM’s News column points at one important factor. In his “Letter from India” column in the NYT, Akash Kapur reflects on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall the impact it had on India -

Most of the media coverage has, quite understandably, focused on Europe. But the tremors from Communism’s collapse were felt far beyond the immediate battlegrounds of the Cold War. The breakup of the Soviet Union had a profound impact on India. In many ways, it paved the way for a reinvention of the country

Akash Kapur

While an important socio-political milestone, Kapur notes the equally important intellectual milestone – an event Francis Fukuyama memorably christened The End of History. History in this sense didn’t mean an “end to events” but rather, the (potential) end of a type of dialectical debate about political systems. Continue reading

Rock Music In India: Breaking Through At Last?

IndiaRocks031.jpg As most SepiaMutiny readers know by now, I work for MTV Iggy. And I don’t mean to keep pimping that stuff over here, but whenever something that might interest you comes up, it seems a shame to not share it. A new special feature just went up on the rock music scene in India, with interviews, live performance footage, music videos, slideshows, and more. Arjun S. Ravi, the editor of a Mumbai-based site that tracks the Indian rock scene, contributed fascinating article on the highs and lows of being a rock music fan in India:

The easiest way to sneak alcohol into Rang Bhavan was to hide it under a girl’s jacket. The notoriously long queues of people waiting impatiently to enter Mumbai’s legendary open air theatre were predominantly male, which meant that the security guards at the gate would only frisk guys. A girl, depending on her stature and the size of the jacket, could slip in anywhere between four to eight cans of Kingfisher beer. Inebriation was as crucial to the Rang Bhavan experience as the Metallica-inspired, ’90s metal cover bands.


In India, rock is a much maligned genre, mostly because it is totally misunderstood. India’s Bollywood-loving masses generally accept and believe the particularly damaging stereotype that rock music is overrun by dudes with knee-length hair screaming into microphones and groaning like cats being tortured by pitchforks. And until the late ’90s, Indian rockers did very little to change that impression.

He goes on to trace the changes (fan attitudes, new kinds of venues, advent of the internet, bands stopped noodling around) that contribute to the fact that Indian rock bands were recently invited to the Glastonbury Festival in the UK, and SXSW in Austin, TX. It’s long(ish) but you can read it in full here. The full special feature is here.

An video introduction to some of the bands (Jalebee Cartel, Shor Bazaar, Them Clones, etc.) is after the jump. Continue reading

A Desi Woman’s Voice On The Hill

Kiran Ahuja.jpgRemember last month when I blogged about how President Obama signed the executive order to reinstate the Asian American and Pacific Islander Advisory Commission and White House Initiative? You know, when Penn Masala sang at the White House?

Well, Kiran Ahuja has just been named Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

This federal-wide effort was first established in June of 1999 by President Bill Clinton… The office will be housed in the U.S. Department of Education and include a Federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) co-chaired by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.

> Kiran has a rich history of leadership in government, public policy and AAPI communty advocacy. Most notably, she was the Founding Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). [[aapimomentum](] I first met Kiran when we were both sitting together on a panel after the 2004 elections. She was sincere and genuine, her personality reflecting a precision and knowledge reflecting a strategic firmness. I have no doubt that she will be the new voice of change needed to truly shift the political paradigm inside the beltway, with regards to how our AAPI communities are organized. > For almost twenty years, Kiran Ahuja has dedicated herself to improving the lives of women of color in the U.S. Well-known as a leader among national and grassroots Asian and Pacific Islander and women’s rights organizations, Kiran served as the founding Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum from 2003-2008….Kiran grew up in Savannah, Georgia, where her understanding of race, gender and ethnicity was formed as a young Indian immigrant. She attended Spelman College and worked for Georgia’s first African American Congresswoman since the Reconstruction.[[aapimomentum](]> Congratulations Kiran! We look forward to what you bring! Continue reading

What if India had Liberalized Sooner?

Historical “what-if’s” are notoriously difficult to prove but also notoriously delicious to discuss. Would WWII have happened if Hitler had been killed in the trenches of WWI? [W]ith earlier reform, 14.5 million more children would have survived, 261 million more Indians would have become literate, and 109 million more people would have risen above the poverty line.Would there have been a WWI if Franz Ferdinand survived the assassination attempt? What if Al Gore got his Florida recount? What would have become of Sonam Kapoor’s career if she skipped the flop that was Saawariya?

Arguably, while many of the most famous what-if’s focus on chance events in history, prominent Indian econ journalist Swaminathan Aiyar, writing for the Cato Institute, decided to take on a far more considered, deliberate economic policy “what-if”. He asks “what if India liberalized its economy 10 yrs earlier?” Put differently, what if 1970s India followed the economic path pursued by Korea, Japan, and Taiwan?

Until the 80s/90s rounds of liberalization, India followed a Soviet-inspired economic model resulting in stuff like this –

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