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A guide to the dynamic economics, politics, and culture of the world's most populous region.

India: What Hitler and McDonalds have in common

Why do cheap publicity stunts always work?
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Two Indian flags adorn a sign at a local McDonalds chain restaurant in New Delhi. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Chances are the only stories you read out of India yesterday, or perhaps this week, were these two items:

1. An idiot in Gujarat named a clothing store after Hitler, then relented and changed the name after he'd milked enough publicity out it to bring Israel into the debate. And, of course...

2. An idiot at McDonald's hit upon the brilliant idea of opening vegetarian-only outlets near two Indian pilgrimage sites -- the Hindu shrine of Vaishno Devi and the Sikh religion's Golden Temple in Amritsar -- a site I happen to have visited this week.

As far as I can tell, practically every major newspaper and magazine in the world carried one or both of these stories, and, of course, I'm doing it now in a backhanded way. But what's noteworthy here?

In the Hitler story, we can rehash old information about Indians' surprising and disturbing admiration for the guy responsible for the Holocaust. (A friend once recounted an awkward scene at a local literary festival, when an old codger kept standing up and questioning a Jewish author about what old Adolph must have been doing right, to be so successful).


India: Feds file charges against 5 coal companies as corruption stir paralyzes parliament

India's Central Bureau of Investigation filed cases against 5 firms associated with the alleged "Coalgate" scam that has paralyzed parliament.
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Eight parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the Left parties, have joined hands to protest the continued disruption of Parliament and are demanding a probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge into the coal block allocation scam. (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

India's Central Burea of Investigation filed charges against five companies and unknown government officials associated with the alleged improper allocation of coal mining assets, a corruption scandal that has paralyzed parliament this session.

Clearly, even if the opposition can't or won't force early polls, the corruption allegations plaguing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government show little signs of fading away before the scheduled elections in 2014. On the contrary, if India's legal system proceeds at its usual lightning speed, they will still be working their way through the courts long after all of us have retired.

According to a CBI spokesperson, five first information reports (FIRs) have been filed against five companies and unknown government officials for alleged cheating, the Times of India reported Tuesday.

CBI investigators were also conducting searches at 30 places in ten cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, Hyderabad, Dhanbad and Nagpur, the spokesperson said.

The agency has already questioned senior bureaucrats who were overseeing allocation of coal blocks during 2005-09, the paper quoted unnamed sources as saying.

According to those sources, the questioning of the coal secretaries, who also chair the screening committee, was done to understand the issues involved in the allocation of coal blocks during the period and so far the agency has not found any irregularities on their part, TOI reported.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and other Congress Party leaders rebuffed the Bharatiya Janata Party's demand that the government rescind coal blocks that were allocated during the disputed period, India's DNA newspaper reported.

The BJP had demanded the cancellation of the allocation of 142 coals blocks and a judicial inquiry into alleged irregularities in the allotment process.

Earlier, India's Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) claimed in an official report that the government had cost the treasury as much as $30 billion by allotting the coal blocks to companies without holding a transparent auction. However, as economist Surjit Bhalla and others have pointed out, that number seems at least as arbitrary as the allotment process.


Forecasts bleak as India's growth continues to slow

After growth dipped to 5.5% last quarter, Morgan Stanley slashed its forecast to 5.1% for the current year.
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An Indian couple shelter under a umbrella as they enjoy heavy rain showers in Mumbai on September 3, 2012. The monsoon rains, a key to India's economy, covered the entire country on July 11 but it was 23 percent below average, officials said amid worries of its impact on two cereal-producing states. (PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

Okay, Okay, everybody else would be happy with 5 percent growth. But in India, where economists reckon we need 10 percent just to keep creating enough jobs for the rapidly growing workforce, that number looks awfully bleak.  

India's economy grew just 5.5 percent in the quarter ended June 30, a serious climbdown from last year's 8 percent and only a modest bump up from the 5.3 percent recorded in the previous quarter, according to the Associated Press.


India: More sentences handed down in Gujarat riots case

Leaders from BJP, Bajrang Dal awarded stiff jail terms for role in massacre where 97 people were killed.
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Family members of a convicted man react in the special court compound in Ahmedabad on August 31, 2012. Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader, Babu Bajrangi are among the 32 people convicted by a special court in the Naroda Patiya riots case and the pronouncement of the quantum of punishment is likely later in the day. Some 97 Muslims were burnt alive in Naroda Patiya area of Ahmedabad in 2002 after the Godhra Train carnage. (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

A leader from Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the far-right Bajrang Dal were among 32 convicts awarded stiff sentences by a Gujarat court Friday for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre -- which took place during the Gujarat riots of 2002.


India's Sahara ordered to return $3 billion to "small investors"

Supreme Court orders company to give funds to government if investors cannot be identified
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Managing Worker and Chairman of Sahara India Pariwar Subrata Roy Sahara addresses a press conference in New Delhi on February 23, 2009. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

India's Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Sahara group to refund more than $3 billion it allegedly collected from millions of small investors, dealing a serious blow to a mysterious tycoon once ranked among India's most powerful businessmen -- who agreed to buy New York's storied Plaza Hotel in April.


India's big stimulus: Welfare boosts rural spending

Rural spending topped urban consumption for the first time in 25 years, thanks in large part to a controversial government welfare scheme.
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Indian villagers carry firewood on the outskirts of Siliguri on April 19, 2012. (DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)

This is how you work an economic stimulus: Give money to people that will spend it.

Say what you want about tax breaks, bailouts and land concessions for big business. But as my grandfather (a seed corn salesman) used to say, nothing happens until somebody sells something. And nothing drives sales better than putting money in the hands of people who don't have any. 

Take some recent figures from India as a case in point. 


Made in India: Alcopal, a drug to beat breathalyzer

Sorry, Lindsay, it's already banned in the US. But look on the bright side: Sometimes you shoot movies in the UK.
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Made in India: Alcopal, a drug that beats the breathalyzer. (AFP/Getty Images)

India's pharma companies are best known for the cheap generics that have helped Africa fight HIV. But that ain't all they do.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, cops in the UK -- or "Bobbies," as they supposedly call them over there -- are a wee bit annoyed about a pesky drug being manufactured in India.

Called "Alcopal," it purportedly allows users to beat the breathalyzer, even when they're lashed (outdoorsy teetotaler Bear Grylls' favorite word for drunk).

"Supplier Arthur Kibble claims a motorist who has had alcohol above the legal limit can reduce the booze reading to almost zero," the paper said. "If his claims are correct, it could mean a driver who had five pints of beer can still be found to be under the limit."

In a bit of bad news for Lindsay Lohan, it's already banned in the US. But retailers in the UK are selling it online.


India: A new mission for Amazon -- e-readers for kids

Amazon hopes to use the Kindle as the thin end of the wedge in its bid to tap the Indian market. But it could gain a lot of goodwill, and a huge market, if it pushed e-readers out to India's library-starved schools.
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Amazon officially entered India this month, aiming to use the Kindle Store as the thin end of the wedge. The company could earn a lot of goodwill, and a huge market, by pushing e-readers out to India's library-deprived schools. (AFP/Getty Images)

Following its "quiet entry" through offshoot Junglee.com in February, Amazon launched its Kindle store in India last week, hoping that its e-reader could be the thin-end of the wedge in its bid to tap India's huge retail potential. But if the company really wants to be big in India, it should be looking to push cheap e-readers out to India's library-starved schools.


How to fix India: 5 solutions to India's biggest problems

Stop trying to be a superpower, and get on with becoming a great nation, writes the chief of the Strategic Foresight Group
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Greenpeace activists dressed as coal miners lie on the ground during a protest near Parliament in New Delhi on August 21, 2012 against alleged corruption in the allotment of coal mining blocks. A recent survey revealed that most Indians think corruption is the biggest problem facing the country, but it's not an election issue because they also think all parties are equally corrupt. (AFP/Getty Images)

India should stop obsessing about how to become one of the world's great powers and focus on solving its biggest problems to become a great nation, Sundeep Wasleka, the president of Strategic Foresight Group, writes in this month's Forbes India.


India: Govt says missing children don't point to trafficking

More than 19,000 children disappeared from Delhi alone since 2009 -- and some 3,000 remain untraced.
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Indian children shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi on December 12, 2008 on the Global Day against Child Trafficking. (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 19,000 children have been lost from India's capital alone since 2009, pointing to a widespread problem with human trafficking -- though the government says most of the missing kids run away from home to escape "cruel parents."