30 Nov 2008

"We had people who died being shot through bulletproof vests"

Ratan Tata, one of India's most successful businessmen and chairman of the Tata group, which owns the Taj Palace hotel in Mumbai, said in his interview to CNN:
"We were getting the cooperation that they could give us, but the infrastructure was woefully poor". 
As an example, Tata said it took three hours for firefighters to get water to the Taj after a blaze broke out in the oldest part of the building. 
Tata said that not even the army or commandoes who ultimately took over the offensive were prepared for the level of organization and execution that the attackers seemed to have put into their plan. 
"We had people who died being shot through bulletproof vests," he added.

Disgusting, but completely unsurprising. 

In addition to this general lack of safety and response measures, as the Jerusalem Post reports,
"In hostage situations, the first thing the forces are supposed to do is assemble at the scene and begin collecting intelligence," said a former official in the Shin Bet's security unit. "In this case, it appears that the forces showed up at the scene and immediately began exchanging fire with the terrorists instead of first taking control of the area."
This was clearly not the case. The area was never brought under control, not just leaving those in the vicinity in danger, but allowing drunk, bigoted men to openly molest Sara Sidner, a CNN reporter. (If video link below is not working, click here)

It is disgusting that even in the face of what was probably the worst terrorist attack in recent times, that it is considered acceptable for men to harass women on a daily basis and as can be seen in this video, that onlookers are clearly not bothered.

23 Nov 2008

Europe in 2012

It has been a surprising year of sorts. Today’s resolution of creating a new pan-Eurasian free trade area is an important and key step that will shape the future for years to come. It is not, however, the significance of the single largest free trade area ever created, it is in fact, the agreement between the EU and several Asian countries, of creating and sharing resource and knowledge pools. This will enable, for the first time in history, largely free movement of highly skilled workers between China on the East, and Great Britain to the west. Today’s agreement not only enables smooth merchandise trade between India, China, the Baltic countries and the EU, but also is the first concrete step taken by such a large group of countries to address talent shortage in several knowledge-intensive industries.

That Russia is not a formal signatory of this agreement is unimportant as it already has FTA’s in place with both China and India and therefore presents only a small administrative hurdle to overall integration. It is clear that Putin is aiming at further re-election of his party by feeding on the renewed nationalist movement in Russia this week after further acerbic criticism directed at Poland for allowing the United States to install missile defence positions.

With the establishment of this cooperation zone, members of the WTO are also probably breathing a sigh of relief as the long drawn argument between Europe, the US and developing countries on the issue of agricultural subsidies is finally drawing to a close. With Europe agreeing to reduce agricultural subsidies to 20% of their current level by 2020 and with Brazil, India and Egypt agreeing to open up their markets to agricultural imports the pressure has now shifted to the US, which is under pressure from the world community to follow suit.

The increasing rift between the US and the rest of the world does not show signs of abating in the near future. With European-led UN peacekeeping forces expected soon in Iraq, anti-American opinion is expected to further rise as more evidence of American mismanagement comes to light.

What does all this, however, mean for Europe? We are now in 2012, a year when Germany is overshadowed by China as the largest exporter in the world, but when Ukraine and Turkey have been given conditional approval to join the EU. When Poland’s agricultural industry is facing the prospect of a shutdown but when the Bank of England is in talks with the ECB to discuss Britain’s accession to the Euro zone. Conflicting signals, but hopefully there exists a common cure and Europe perhaps, has already taken that first crucial step.

The path that Europe takes over the next few years, will be the key driver to how it utilizes this new cooperation area and achieves its vision of the Lisbon Agenda of 2005. That vision, a surprising foresight for the leaders of that time, established clearly that Europe’s future lies in niche services, high value brands and increased knowledge management. Leveraging this low volume-high variety service offering with Asia’s mass production and service industries, is expected to add 1% to each countries’ annual GDP growth – an immense figure considering France only grew 0.8% last year.

The free movement of high skilled labour, is going to address the demographic issue partly, but it is intended more so, as a policy targeting the sudden slowdown of several service industries in Europe because of a lack of suitable talent. It is no wonder that the financial centres of Shanghai and Singapore have grown 30% year on year when London is facing the prospect of a decline.

The future then, seems bright and clear, for a stronger Europe that is more integrated with Asia, the biggest driver of global growth today. Coupled with the ongoing process of further internal European integration and the new members, it seems that Europe has finally awoken out of its slumber and is ready to challenge other developed parts of the world into doing the same.

This is an imaginative article (and in my mind, quite an impossible scenario) I wrote earlier this year during the Cass MBA (yes, I've just graduated).

22 Nov 2008

A "politically correct" map of India

So, I was wondering, without being Indian right-wing, that there is surely a need for a map of India that depicts its boundaries as Indians see it. Of course, this belief differs from the ground reality in that Pakistan controls a large part of Kashmir, China occupies Aksai Chin and also lays claim to Arunachal Pradeshparts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

There is a need for an 'Indian' version of India's map though. There have been times when I have presented to an Indian audience and I have been forced to use the only map available on Wikimedia Commons. So I thought I should sit down and create an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) map of India with the 'politically correct' borders. Hopefully this will help many of us who require a map of India that does not offend Indian sensibilities.

Here is a link to the full scale PNG version (can be opened in most image editors) and also an SVG version for the more technically minded. These maps are released in the public domain and may be used for any purpose, edited and redistributed.

To my knowledge this is the only version of the 'Indian' map in these formats. If you know of other versions please let me know and I'll link back to those sites as well.

Thumbnail image of my map below.

Note that this is an edit of the version on Wikimedia that depicts disputed and occupied areas on the map as well. That version remains the one I support as it depicts ground realities and for that reason I am not endeavoring for this map to replace that version.

Here's how my version of the map (left) compares with the one currently on Wikimedia (right).

The Long India Drive

So I guess it would be interesting to begin with a trip map for what I call the Long India Drive, that I took with a British friend in 2003. Over a period of 3 weeks, we drove from Delhi, up on to the edge of Ladakh, then down south through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala

View Larger Map

Since my friend ran out of time, we decided to make a quick return to Bangalore from where he took the train back to Delhi and a flight back to London. I continued however and traveled to various places in South India, so much so, that by the time the first edition of '52 weekend breaks from Bangalore' was published, I'd already covered most potential 'weekend' destinations.

Anyway, driving is fun, and more so in India. The landscapes you cross, the different people you see, and things you stumble upon, are just too varied and too exciting to miss. There has not been a single day when I have driven through any part of India and not seen something totally strange and thought to myself, wtf!

I've seen a man walk a bear on a leash, had the most wonderful chilli pakoras on what I consider an inspiring stretch of road, seen two synchronized cyclists balance a room sized piece of plywood on their heads, seen a truck so full of hay it covered the entire road, but most of all, I've seen the India I always wanted to see. Not the poor India, or the rich India, but the quiet, peaceful and dramatic India.