Monday, May 26, 2014

Narendra Modi when six-year-old sold tea at Vadnagar station, says a new book

When he was six years old, the man who could be India's prime minister helped his father sell tea to passengers whenever an odd train came into the small Vadnagar station in Gujarat, says a recently released book titled "The anatomy of Narendra Modi - the man and his politics" authored by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

Narendra Modi was an ordinary boy from a middle class family, the third of four children, and life was literally dark when he was young. The family house was poorly lit and had little natural light; the kerosene lamp added to the smoke and grime.

There was nothing remarkable about Modi's childhood except that he got attracted to the RSS - which later helped him grow politically. At 18, he decided to wander in the Himalayas, leaving behind his family and an unconsummated marriage.

According to Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who has authored a gripping biography of the Gujarat chief minister, the years from 1967 to 1971 "are somewhat mysterious" in Modi's life. He would disappear at times for months at a stretch. The trait remained with him. In 1995-96, Modi went to the Gir forest on his own and slept in an old temple. "I actually enjoy loneliness."

It was after the 1971 war with Pakistan that Modi formally joined the RSS and moved into the Hedgewar Bhawan. His early responsibilities included making tea, breakfast and evening snacks for senior colleagues. He also swept and cleaned the building, which then had eight-ten rooms.

Modi proved his mettle while doing risky underground work during the 1975-77 Emergency, often travelling in disguise and on a motorcycle. (Soon after, he completed M.A. as an external student from Gujarat University.) Seniors in RSS soon realized his excellent organisational skills and analytical mind.

Modi's rise in the RSS was rapid - in part because "he was also equally adept at picking his mentors and making use of them for furthering his career". He was among the first two Pracharaks who began working full-time in the BJP.

His role in helping the party win the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation election in 1986 raised appreciative eyebrows. Within two years, he was the organising secretary of the Gujarat BJP. Modi learnt the ropes of party politics by attending BJP public meetings - quietly sitting in the back and listening to speeches.

He also built an extensive network across the state - a move that later helped him to checkmate all his rivals and take control of the BJP in Gujarat.

L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra was Modi's first national-level political assignment. But it was Murli Manohar Joshi's Ekta Yatra to Srinagar where he had a more major role to play. Not everyone in the Gujarat BJP liked him though; Keshubhai Patel, Shankersinh Vaghela and Kanshiram Rana resented Modi's lateral entry into the BJP's top echelons.

But "over time, Modi used the contradictions and rivalries among these leaders to his own benefit by using one against the other." When Keshubhai Patel was the chief minister, Modi was known as "super CM". It caused him problems. But after some isolation, he bounced back, in part with Advani's blessings.

In 2001, the boy who once sold tea to train passengers became its chief minister - and then presided over one of India's worst communal frenzy.

The Godhra killings gave Modi a distinct identity - "a label which he has displayed brazenly ever since". According to Mukhopadhyay, Modi strongly believes that if minorities wish to feel safe in the state he governs, they will have to abide by the value systems of the Hindu community. It is this Hindutva politics Modi represents as he prepares to lead the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle.

Modi - the book says - is one of the trendiest male politicians in India. He was among the first to possess a digital diary. He is always well groomed. He goes for made-to-order Modi kurta with hand-tailored button holes. He is at home in Western attire too. He has a weakness for designer fountain pens - Montblanc.

A workaholic, he also never forgives anyone who has wronged him. Those who have known Modi tell the author that he is an authoritarian who won't allow anyone to grow beyond a point. He is ruthless -- with ruthless efficiency.

Mukhpadhyay is not a fan of the Gujarat success story; he explains why with statistics. This book, on Modi, is political journalism at its best. You have to read it if you want to know why Modi is what he is today.

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'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Climbs to $302 Million Worldwide

'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Climbs to $302 Million Worldwide
X-Men: Days of Future Past will gross $111 million by the end of the four-day holiday weekend, according to studio estimates distributed early Monday.  Factoring in overseas grosses, Bryan Singer's film has topped $300 million worldwide in its first few days.
That is the biggest opening of any movie in the X-Menfranchise, and it kicks off what should be a stellar summer for its distributor, Fox.The studio already scored two hits in April — Rio 2 and The Other Woman. While the former has grossed just $122 million in the United States, it has surpassed $400 million worldwide thanks to its massive popularity overseas.
The Other Woman, a romantic comedy that received middling reviews, has been a big hit thanks to a dearth of movies that appeal to women. With $4.5 million in projected grosses this weekend, the $40 million movie has banked $78 million in the United States – and $164 million worldwide.

India's prime minister-elect Narendra Modi has been compared to Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Shinzo Abe, Tayyip Erdogan and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Commentators have variously described him as assertive, dynamic, authoritarian and nationalist.
Many believe he's a genuine economic reformer. Others worry about his - and his BJP's - hard-line Hindu credentials and wonder whether it poses a threat to the idea of a pluralist India.
Mr Modi campaigned in the recent election on his record of making Gujarat one of India's fastest growing and business friendly states, and his on own reputation as a tough administrator and staunch Hindu nationalist. In return, voters rewarded him and his BJP with an unprecedented landslide win.
'Change agent'
Mr Modi's supporters believe he is the right man to pull India out of the quagmire of low growth, high inflation, joblessness and slack governance. One commentator believes that Mr Modi may well have "inaugurated India's second republic" as his record in governance makes him an "economic change-agent, not an economic waster".
Mr Modi inherits a sluggish economy. Growth has slowed to under 5%. Retail inflation, driven by food prices, continues to be high at over 8%. Manufacturing is subdued and exports are flat. Jobs have dried up in a country which needs to create 12 million a year to keep pace with its burgeoning population.
On other fronts, however, things appear to have improved.
The rupee has firmed to 58 per dollar, its highest in nearly a year. Reining in gold imports and a modest pick-up in exports have helped tame the current account deficit - likely to narrow to 2.3% this fiscal year, down from a high of 4.9%. Foreign exchange reserves - at over $300bn (£179bn) - are reasonably healthy.
But such improvements hide deeper structural deficiencies.
Analysts say India urgently needs to build more roads and ports, boost its electricity supply, slash wasteful subsidies, reform archaic labour laws and clean up debt-saddled banks. Since its convoluted land acquisition law makes it difficult for industry to buy land, the government needs to free up vast tracts of idle land locked up in ailing state-owned enterprises for industry. It needs to cut red tape and regulations that scare away investment: India ranks a miserable 134 among 185 nations in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business survey.

The BJP's 42-page manifesto has Mr Modi's unmistakable stamp. It is packed with promises which echo Mr Modi's obsession with infrastructure building: bullet trains, smart cities, linking rivers, more engineering and medicine schools, low cost homes, cleaning up filthy rivers.
More contentious commitments which reflect Mr Modi and his party's concession to the hard-line Hindu constituency - building a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya and ending a personal law given to different religions and supporting a common civil code for all Indians - appear in a few lines on page 41.
Mr Modi is certainly pro-business. But is he pro-free market at heart? Will he be able to, as political scientist Ashutosh Varshney wonders, "stabilise economic development as a master narrative of India's politics, displacing religion and caste"?
On the stump, Mr Modi repeatedly spoke about "maximum governance and minimum government", without providing much detail about what he meant. To be sure, it is easier said than done: diminishing government and making it more accountable will require considerable institutional reform in the gargantuan and stubborn Indian bureaucracy, which has been described as the "worst in Asia".
What Mr Modi can - and will possibly do - his aides suggest is to pick "low hanging fruit" and rev up investment.
One of the main things on his agenda, they say, will be to kick-start some of the 250 stalled infrastructure projects - mainly in coal, steel, electricity, petroleum and roads - involving an investment of a mammoth $217bn (£129bn).
"The main challenge before the new government," BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who is close to Mr Modi, told me during the campaign, would be to "work towards redeveloping confidence in Indian economy". The "low hanging fruit" he mentioned included boosting infrastructure, real estate, tourism, skills development and low-cost manufacturing.
Federal constraints
Economist Vivek Dehejia believes that some administrative reforms coupled with a "few headline-grabbing infrastructure projects, should signal to corporate houses and investors - both domestic and foreign - that India is open for business again".
Mr Modi's "comparison to Margaret Thatcher, for example, is a bit overblown," Mr Dehejia told me. "However, it is always possible that the strength of the mandate, and the presence of pro-market advisers close to Mr Modi could tip the balance towards a stronger economic reform agenda, rather than a more ideologically 'neutral' emphasis on good governance."
Commentator Ashok Malik, who has written extensively on Mr Modi, says he will be "as rightwing as possible for a mainstream electable political leader". That means, he says, Mr Modi will strive to make India's bloated and lumbering state more "transparent and efficient" and make it more of a facilitator rather than an impediment. What it also means is he cannot massively reduce or radically overhaul India's big welfare schemes, which, having improved lives in the poorest regions, are also shot with corruption.

Then there are the constraints of India's federal polity.
Mr Modi will need to depend on a heavy dose of bipartisanship to push through key laws in a parliament which his party has been accused of stalling in the past - top of the list has to be the uniform goods and services tax which could fetch India nearly $500bn (£298bn) in revenues and is more than three years behind schedule.
The BJP commands the lower house of parliament but it holds only 26% of the seats in the upper house, which could make it more difficult to push legislation through. Much power also lies with India's states. "Prime Minister Modi will expose a paradoxical tension between his mandate and mission," says economist Arvind Subramanium. "His electoral appeal is based on his ability to wield power, ruthlessly if necessary. His success in governing the economy will depend on coming to grips with, and making the best of, highly circumscribed power."
Nobody quite knows Mr Modi's mind on reforms. What we do know is that he's fascinated with Asia's tiger economies.
"I try to understand Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea - and also China and Japan. I consider that China has great strength in its manufacturing - and so I have strengthened our manufacturing strength," he told his biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay when he was chief minister of Gujarat.
But when Andy Marino, Mr Modi's other biographer, asked him about what would happen to India's soul if it rushed ahead economically, he replied: "Modernisation without Westernisation. It certainly sounds better than Westernisation without modernisation, of which India already has a surfeit. But what does it really mean?" What, indeed? Only time will tell whether Mr Modi will reform or perish.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Worlds most expensive divorce costs Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev £2.7bn

Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev has been ordered to pay about £2.7bn to his ex-wife in what could become the biggest divorce settlement in history.In papers delivered on Monday to both parties, a court in Switzerland said Mr Rybolovlev, 47, one of the owners of French soccer club AS Monaco, must pay more than 4bn Swiss francs to Elena Rybolovleva, also 47.The judgment also granted his ex-wife property in the ski resort of Gstaad worth 130.5m francs (£86m) and two other buildings in the wealthy Cologny area of Geneva, where the couple once lived together. It confirmed her custody of their 13-year-old daughter, Anna. The couple also has an adult daughter, Ekaterina.Ms Rybolovleva’s lawyer Marc Bonnant called it “the most expensive divorce in history”, an unheard-of amount for Switzerland.

(Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased Donald Trump's Maison de l'Amitie in Palm Beach for $100million)

But Mr Rybolovlev's lawyer, Tetiana Bersheda, said that the judgment's cash order was likely to be whittled down during the appeal process. “There will definitely be a new appellate review and therefore this judgment is not final given the existence of two levels of appeal in Switzerland,” she said.

(Elena Rybolovleva alleged that her husband purchased this three bedroom plantation style property in Kauai in Hawaii from Will Smith for $20 million)

A statement by Mr Bonnant and two other lawyers in the case said the record judgment was “a complete victory” for their client and that under Swiss law she was entitled to half the fortune he made during their marriage. Most of that fortune was transferred to Cyprus-based trusts in 2005.The three lawyers said Monday's ruling demonstrated that “no one — not even a Russian tycoon who put his fabulous fortune into legal structures such as trusts and offshore companies — is above the law”.
(Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the Greek island of Skorpios from the Onassis dynasty last year for a reported £100 million, again for his daughter, a socialite show jumper.)
But Mr Rybolovlev's lawyer suggested the opposite, praising the judgment for “confirming both the validity of the trusts created by Mr Rybolovlev and the validity of the asset transfer to them that occurred long before his wife initiated divorce proceedings”.His ex-wife had demanded about £3.5bn from the man known as the “fertilizer king”, whose fortune from potash mining once made him the world's 79th richest person. He is now ranked 147th on the Forbes list of billionaires, with an estimated fortune of £5.2bn.
The couple met as university students in Perm, Russia, and married there in 1987. Divorce proceedings began in 2008.Mr Rybolovlev and his daughter Ekaterina used money from the trusts to buy some of the most expensive properties in the US, including a penthouse apartment at Central Park West in New York and a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.