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Congress sounds war cry, wins 3 to BJP’s 2 in semi-finals

Dec. 9th, 2008 | 02:16 pm

 Varghese K George      New Delhi  08/12/ 2008           india24x7

India wants strong, accessible leaders, and it wants a better quality of life. That’s the message emerging from election results in five states in which more than 60 per cent of the electorate — higher than last time — cast its vote. These elections are being seen as the semi-finals to the general elections next year.

Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami on Monday said the Lok Sabha elections are likely in April-May.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempt to build a national campaign around the issues of terrorism, inflation, and a deepening agriculture crisis as a prelude to the Lok Sabha elections worked, at best, only partially. Local issues of governance won the day.

Visible and assertive leadership worked across states for both the Congress and its principal rival. The Congress and the BJP won two each of the four states where they fought each other. The Congress won a third, Mizoram, defeating the regional Mizo National Front. Elections in J&K are still underway.

While Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh anchored BJP victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively, Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot did it for the Congress in Delhi and Rajasthan.

Inversely, weak, confusing or arrogant leadership brought failure for both the parties. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje’s style of functioning became a liability for the BJP, while in Madhya Pradesh Suresh Pachauri’s style harmed the Congress. “He failed us. After the first list, he did not even bother to consult us on the selection of candidates,” said a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named. In the tiny remote state of Mizoram, Lalthanhawla, given a free hand by the high command, delivered a victory for the Congress after 10 years.

The election results came as a relief for the party, which is reeling under a barrage of criticism over recurring terrorist attacks, inflation and a crisis in agriculture in the run-up to the general elections.

Delhi, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh elect 72 of 542 members of the Lok Sabha, while Mizoram elects one. The BJP has 57 and the Congress 15 MPs in the current Lok Sabha from these states.

Congress’s refusal to decisively project a leader has worked against it and BJP used this to its advantage – for instance, in Chhattisgarh. “We raised the question whether Ajit Jogi was speaking for the Congress. The next day, Motilala Vora said Jogi was not the Congress leader,” said Ravishankar Prasad, BJP general secretary in charge of the party’s campaign in the state. “We asked the Congress to explain who was their leader.”

Winning Delhi was Congress’s best moment. “Winning Delhi is winning India,” said Congress leader Veerappa Moily. The state’s results are taken as indicative of urban middle class sentiment, and the Congress hopes the trend will continue across India. The number of urban parliament constituencies has increased to 100 from 70, following the redrawing of their boundaries.

Both parties have now set their eyes on the Lok Sabha elections. “BJP has reasons to worry. They are losing ground in the regions that they won in 2004” said Digvijay Singh, Congress general secretary. Arun Jaitely, BJP general secretary, does not agree. “If one translates the current assembly results in terms of Lok Sabha seats, we would be ahead.”

So, when will the next general elections take place? There is nothing that suggests that the Congress would advance the polls. Congress hopes inflation will dip sharply from March 2009 onwards and by April-May the party will be in comfortable position. See graphics

The party also expects to deliver on the issue of security by then, with a new home minister already in place. The electoral verdict that an incumbent government can retain power reassures the Congress, while the BJP says its campaign on terrorism and inflation will continue. “These issues will remain and will have stronger resonance in a national campaign,” said Jaitely.

(Inputs from Chetan Chauhan)

Photo: Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit

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India improves on hunger list, but still worse than Nepal, Pak

Dec. 9th, 2008 | 01:58 pm

Press Trust of India         first published  14 Oct 2008, 1112 hrs IST, PTI                           india24x7

NEW DELHI: India appears to have made some progress in tackling the hunger and malnutrition issue, but the situation remains "alarming" in the country on this front, according to the Global Hunger Index released on Tuesday.

India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries, a report released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said.

According to the 2008 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India's hunger rate fell to 23.7 points, from 32.5 points in 1990, while Congo showed highest hunger rate of 42.7 points at 88th place.

"The major threat of hunger is in 33 countries including India," the report said adding that rising food prices pose serious threats for malnourished people in these regions.

Other countries like Bangladesh scored 25.2 points (70th place), Pakistan 21.7 points (61th), Nepal 20.6 points (57th), Sri Lanka 15 points (39th), Thailand 9.9 points (23rd), China 7.1 points (15th) and Mauritius 5 points (1st), it said.

The report noted that countries that have scored between 20-30 points are in an alarming condition. The index ranked countries on a 100-point scale, with zero being the best score having no hunger and 100 being the worst.

"Hunger is closely tied to poverty and countries with high levels of hunger are overwhelmingly low or low-middle income countries," the report said, adding that hunger rate in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa remain highest since 1990.

However, the global poverty rate has fallen by almost one fifth, to 15.2 points in 2008 GHI from 18.7 points in 1990 GHI, due to progress in children's nutrition, the report said.

Third year in a row, IFPRI has compiled the hunger index along with Germany-based Welthungerlife and Concern Worldwide.
Source: The Times of India

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Close to 1 billion go hungry; food prices still high: UN

Dec. 9th, 2008 | 01:52 pm

Reuters/ Times of India 9 Dec 2008, 1635 hrs IST,                               india24x7

MILAN: High food prices helped to push another 40 million people into hunger this year, raising the total number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, the United Nations' food agency said on Tuesday.

"For millions of people in developing countries, eating the minimum amount of food every day to live an active and healthy life is a distant dream," said Hafez Ghanem, assistant director-general of UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality," Ghanem said in a statement accompanying FAO's report "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008".

Prices of major cereals have fallen more than 50% from their peaks earlier this year but they remain high compared with previous years. Prices for seeds, fertilizers and other inputs more than doubled since 2006 preventing poor farmers from boosting their output, FAO said.

"If lower prices and the credit crunch associated with the economic crisis force farmers to plant less food, another round of dramatic food prices could be unleashed next year," Ghanem said.

Some 907 million of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, according to FAO's data for 2007. Nearly two-thirds of the world's hungry live in Asia, while in sub-Saharan Africa one person in three is chronically hungry.

Source: The Times of India

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After bungled response to attacks, India to increase security

Dec. 3rd, 2008 | 03:49 pm

 By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ, Associated Press              india24x7

NEW DELHI – India's defense minister summoned the army, navy and air force chiefs Wednesday to warn them to be prepared for terror attacks from the air and the sea in the wake of growing criticism about slack security, missed warnings, and a bungled response to the Mumbai attacks.
In a stunning new example of botched security, police on Wednesday found explosives hidden in a bag in Mumbai's main train station, which they said were left over from last week's attacks.
The bomb squad defused the two four-kilogram (8-pound) bombs, said Assistant Commissioner of Police Bapu Domre, but it was not immediately clear why the bombs hadn't been found earlier.
The suspected militants sprayed Chhatrapati Shivaji train station with gunfire last Wednesday night, but authorities reopened it and declared it safe Thursday morning. The crowds of commuters quickly returned the station, one of the country's busiest, and it has been serving millions of passengers in the days since.
The discovery came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited New Delhi and called for full cooperation from Pakistan in a bid to ease tensions in the region after the Mumbai attacks, which left at least 171 dead. Indian and U.S. officials have blamed the three-day assault on Pakistani militants.
Defense Minister A.K. Antony told his military chiefs that they needed to improve intelligence coordination so that security forces can act on all credible threats, according to a ministry statement.
The statement said Antony discussed beefing up maritime security and "reviewed in detail the preparedness against any possible terror threats from air."
Defense Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said the moves were a precaution and not based on concrete intelligence.
"We saw how they came through the sea routes," Kar said. "We are not ruling out any threats. It's a preventive measure."
Authorities believe the gunmen responsible for last week's attacks reached Mumbai by boat after launching from Karachi, Pakistan.
Indian and U.S. officials have blamed Pakistani-based groups for the attacks and have pressured Islamabad to cooperate in the investigation.
"I have said that Pakistan needs to act with resolve and urgency, and cooperate fully and transparently," Rice said during a press conference in New Delhi. "I know too this is a time when cooperation of all parties who have any information is really required."
Rice said it was too early to say who was responsible for the attack, but: "Whether there is a direct al-Qaida hand or not, this is clearly the kind of terror in which al-Qaida participates."
Rice was meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders in the Indian capital.
She said that the U.S. was "already actively engaged in information sharing" with Indian authorities, and she made clear that Islamabad would also have to cooperate with the investigation.
"President Zardari has told me that he will follow the leads wherever they go," she said.
India has called on Pakistan to turn over 20 people who are "fugitives of Indian law" and wanted for questioning, but Zardari said the suspects would be tried in Pakistan if there is evidence of wrongdoing.
"At the moment, these are just names of individuals — no proof and no investigation," he said Tuesday in an interview with CNN's Larry King. "If we had the proof, we would try them in our courts and we would try them in our land and we would sentence them."
A week after the attacks, more details of intelligence failures began to emerge, drawing further criticism to authorities already blamed for moving slowly and ineptly during the 60-hour siege carried out by 10 gunmen.
Navy chief Sureesh Mehta earlier called India's failure to act on multiple warnings "a systemic failure."
India had received a warning from the United States that militants were plotting a waterborne assault on Mumbai, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of intelligence information.
India's foreign intelligence agency also had warnings as recently as September that Pakistan-based terrorists were plotting attacks on Mumbai, according to a government intelligence official familiar with the matter.
The information, intercepted from telephone conversations apparently coming out of Pakistan, indicated that hotels might be targeted but did not specify which ones, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the details.
Authorities said Tuesday that ex-Pakistani army officers trained the gunmen behind the attacks — some for up to 18 months.
India has stepped up the pressure on its neighbor after interrogating the only surviving attacker, who told police that he and the other nine gunmen had trained for months in camps in Pakistan operated by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Qasab told police his group trained for about six months in Lashkar camps in Pakistan, learning close-combat techniques, hostage-taking, handling of explosives, satellite navigation.
The training was "meticulous and rigorous," said a security official who spoke on the customary condition of anonymity.
The official said the gunmen sailed from Karachi in a Lashkar vessel that brought them to the waters near an Indian vessel they hijacked, the MV Kuber.
They killed three crew members and dumped their bodies in high seas, but kept the captain alive so that he could guide them into Mumbai.
The captain was killed some three nautical miles off Mumbai's coast, the official said.
Police were questioning the owner of the MV Kuber, from which investigators recovered a global positioning system that belonged to the attackers.
American officials said there is reason to suspect that the terror attacks were the work of a group at least partly based in Pakistan, although they've stopped short of mentioning Lashkar by name.
U.S. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said Tuesday the same group that carried out last week's attack is believed to be behind the Mumbai train bombings that killed more than 200 people two years ago.
While he didn't identify the group, the Indian government has attributed the 2006 attack to Lashkar and the Students Islamic Movement of India.
Last week's attacks against hotels, a restaurant and other sites across this sprawling city killed 171 people, including 26 foreigners, officials said Wednesday. The death toll was revised down from 172 after authorities realized they had counted a victim twice.
"More bodies being found is ruled out," Maharashtra state government spokesman Bhushan Gagrani said.
Photo: Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, only back seen, waits for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to arrive to address a joint press conference in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008. Rice called for full cooperation from Pakistan in a bid to ease tensions in the region after the attacks in MUmbai, which left at least 171 dead.(AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

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33% Indians live in less space than US prisoners

Nov. 24th, 2008 | 10:54 pm

Slum life in IndiaBy Atul Thakur,            25 Nov 2008  TNN                  india24x7                                            

NEW DELHI: One in every three urban Indians lives in homes too cramped to exceed even the minimum requirements of a prison cell in the US. If that sounds shocking, check this out: In the past 50 years, both the number and proportion of Indians living in homes with a per capita space of less than 100 square feet have gone up substantially. In fact, a majority of Indians have per capita space equivalent to or less than a 10 feet x 10 feet room for their living, sleeping, cooking, washing and toilet needs.
These startling statistics emerge from the recently released 63rd round survey of the National Sample Survey Organisation. The data shows 32% of urban houses are 258 sq ft or less in area. Given that urban households have an average size of 4.3 persons, this translates to 60 sq ft per person, the minimum specified for US prisons.
Similarly, 39% of rural houses are 312 sq ft or less. Given the average household strength of 4.8 persons, that works out to 65 sq ft per person — just a little more spacious than a cramped American jail.
What's the average size of an Indian house? It's 494 sq ft in rural areas — or 103 sq ft per person — and 504 sq ft in urban areas, or 117 sq ft per person.
In the past 50 years, both the number and proportion of Indians living in homes with a per capita space of less than 100 sq ft have gone up substantially.
The second planning commission report said 46% of urban and 38.5% of rural households had less than 100 sq ft per head of floor space in 1953-54.
In 2006-07, the year in which the 63rd round survey was conducted by NSSO, 55% of city dwellers and 56% of
villagers were living in homes with less than 100 square feet per person.
The data shows that the single largest chunk of houses is in the 322 to 581 sq ft range as 31% of city and 35.3% of rural houses are of that size.
With 807 sq ft as average covered area, urban areas of J&K have the biggest houses in India. Kerala, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Rajasthan have average house sizes ranging between 600-700 sq feet, while Tripura and Andhra Pradesh have the smallest urban houses with less than 400 sq ft of average area.
In rural India, people of Arunachal Pradesh have the biggest houses averaging over 1,000 sq feet while Chhattisgarh and J&K have average house size bigger than 800 sq feet.

Source: The Times of India

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