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Today's Hot Stories - January 03, 2013

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Cold kills 15 more in Uttar Pradesh
(2) Foreign tourists can't work as journalists: Govt
(3) Afghan warlord brands Britain's Prince Harry as 'jackal'
(4) Sahara moves SC for stay on direction to pay
(5) Urjit Patel appointed as RBI deputy governor
(6) US stocks surge on fiscal deal
(7) Azarenka enters Brisbane semifinals
(8) Fans dismayed by Cape Town collapse
(9) Shaun hands Chelsea title setback
(10) A garlic a day is a must for good health

5 Stories for Today

(1) Trinamool dance show shames West Bengal
(2) Iran echoes India over fillip to 'opportunistic' terrorism in Afghanistan
(3) ArcelorMittal to sell stake in iron ore company
(4) Lexus defers India debut to beyond 2013
(5) Employment at India’s major ports drops: Assocham

(1) Trinamool dance show shames West Bengal

On the foundation day of the party, chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee was greeted with vulgar video clippings of her partymen dancing with skimpily clad women and showering wads of currency notes on them at an event here on the city's eastern fringes.

The footage has gone viral since Tuesday midnight, forcing the party leadership to issue apologies, but local Trinamool leader Arabul Islam — infamous for allegedly throwing a jug at a lady teacher in a college — continued to defend the event, wondering why there was a hue and cry over a "small dance show".

The vulgar show at a Trinamool event has triggered widespread criticism of the ruling party, with intellectuals voicing fears of a cultural decadence.

Local news channels started airing the footage around 11.15pm on Tuesday, and by morning it was all over national TV. It shows four to five girls in short skirts and shorts dancing away to a Tollywood chartbuster with a gaudy, mis-spelt Trinamool poster in the background. Such dances are not common in soirees in Bengal, and certainly not at a political event. Just when Kolkatans were rubbing their eyes in disbelief, an elderly man in a monkey cap climbs on stage, swaying with the girls and showering money on them as if it were a dance bar.

The show would have gone on past midnight but police stepped out of the Bhangar post right next door — apparently on the order of a senior Trinamool leader— and stopped it. The official reason was that the organizers had not taken police permission. The dance had been on for over four hours, but police swung into action only after news channels started airing the footage.

It was not until 12 hours later that party MP Derek O' Brien came out with a statement condemning the vulgar show. And it was only after 4pm on Wednesday that Mamata Banerjee ordered the suspension of South 24-Parganas zilla parishad member Meer Taheer Ali, who was featured over and over in the video footage, showering money on the dancing girls. Taheer is also the secretary of a local girls' school.

The CM aired her stance through O' Brien, who told TOI: "I spoke to the chief minister. She said two words: 'zero tolerance'. Pending inquiry, the partymen have been suspended. Expulsion is not ruled out. I must emphasise that 99.99% of the Trinamool Congress foundation-day events were true to our spirit, which had blood-donation and book-donation camps."

Later, party general secretary Mukul Roy apologized to the people. "I feel ashamed. Our party leadership has strongly criticized it and steps have already been taken against the guilty persons," he said.

The embarrassment for the Trinamool — and the state — has come at a time when candlelight rallies are being held in Kolkata for Nirbhaya. What makes the Bhangar incident even more shocking is that the dance was organized by one faction to outdo the other. "The party leaders in South 24-Parganas are always trying to belittle each other, either by picking street-fights or organizing 'cultural events'. That's how they ended up getting nautch girls for open-air shows," a local leader said on condition of anonymity.

"This is shocking. This is not the true culture of Bengal. When the girl has just died, you don't expect such things from any political party. I have never seen such a thing in my life. One feels very sad," thespian Usha Ganguly said.

Her emotion was lost on a large section of the 4,000 strong Trinamool crowd that had gathered for the show. Among them was Amol Naskar of the nearby Sutulia village, who said on Wednesday: "What is wrong if the Trinamool organises such cultural events to entertain villagers?" Asadul Khan of Khargachi, a Class IX student, gushed: "We enjoyed it all right... I guess one is not used to watching such things in the open."

Taheer's colleague in the zilla parishad, Md Abu Tahir, sermonised: "Much more vulgar shows are organised in Kolkata and other metros." Trinamool's former MLA Arabul Islam sounded impatient: "It was only a small dance show. Why, this hue and cry?"

CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said: "It's dangerous, the way the ruling party has exposed its 'cultural' leanings. This programme would put the biggest Trinamool loyalist to shame. The partymen were so pleased with what they saw that they threw money in sheer gratification. It's shameful."

(2) Iran echoes India over fillip to 'opportunistic' terrorism in Afghanistan

As Afghanistan — pushed by the US and the UK — peddles a peace process roadmap which seeks to bring the Taliban into government, it is not just India that is raising red flags. Iran's national security adviser (NSA) Saeed Jalili, said it was a matter of concern that in over a decade of foreign military presence, there was no respite in terrorism in war-torn Afghanistan.

In India for talks with his counterpart, Shivshankar Menon, Jalili told a think-tank audience in a typically roundabout Iranian fashion that this was a consequence of " opportunistic" definitions of terrorism. "A former Pakistani head of state said terrorism was planned by America, executed by Pakistan and funded by the Arabs," he said.

This was a thinly-veiled reference to the US support to the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Pakistan's support. Reading between the lines, Jalili implied a similar fate awaited Afghanistan now. Whatever differences India may have with Iran over its nuclear programme, on this, New Delhi and Tehran will be on the same page.

India has been angry over the peace process roadmap announced by Afghanistan's High Peace Council earlier this month, which appeared to go back to the old system of collaborating with Pakistan and trying to incentivize the Taliban to be a part of the new government in Kabul in the post-2014 setup. Indian officials reckon this roadmap is less of Afghanistan's making and more "inspired" by the US and the UK. Washington is trying to declare victory and get out, as the countdown draws near. Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been fairly realistic in his private assessments of Pakistan's role and how the process might pan out. But publicly, he has been toeing the US line on Pakistan and Indians find this frustrating.

Jalili spelt out Iran's bottom line on its forthcoming nuclear negotiations. "We will not accept fewer rights or more responsibilities than other signatories of the NPT," he said, adding Iran had given a set of proposals to the P5+1 (to Russia, in fact). He said they were still waiting for a response from the West. In recent weeks, there have been signs that both sides might get back to the negotiating table. At the highest level, India has been using its good offices to help the process along, but it is not clear exactly what New Delhi's role is. Jalili railed against what he said was a "selective approach to the nuclear rights of nations".

There are questions about Iran's Parchin reactor and IAEA's access to that reactor. Iran has desisted thus far. However, with a new set of sanctions kicking in this week, Tehran is hurting. This is added to a number of internal political wrangling, sacking of the only woman cabinet minister, death of a blogger, while war games and the ever-present prospect of an increased conflict in Syria have added to the tensions all around.

Iran treats the Syrian conflict as a repeat of the Afghanistan exercise. "This is a new plot taking place in another part of the world," he said, adding terrorists were moving into the Syrian conflict. He said Iran called for democracy as the only solution to the Syrian conflict. "That cannot be brought about by weapons or violence," he said. But taking the argument further, Jalili said the same solution should be applicable in Bahrain as well. A tiny Sunni ruling class in Bahrain has got help from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, even Pakistan, to crush protests by a Shia majority populace. Iran's solution is not likely to win her any friends among the Gulf Arabs, who now openly count Tehran as a regional threat.

(3) ArcelorMittal to sell stake in iron ore company

ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, will sell a $1.1 billion stake in a Canadian iron ore mine operator to a consortium that includes South Korean steelmaker Posco and Taiwan-listed China Steel Corp, China Steel said in a statement.

ArcelorMittal, formed in 2006 when India-born Lakshmi Mittal's steel business bought European peer Arcelor for $33 billion, is battling sluggish steel demand and is looking to offload assets to cut debt. The sale of a 15 percent stake in Canada's Labrador Trough iron ore mining and infrastructure asset is part of that process. Posco, China Steel and ArcelorMittal Mines Canada will own Labrador Trough through a joint venture and will enter into long-term iron ore supply agreements, China Steel said in the statement on its Website.

The transaction is subject to approval from the Taiwanese government, and is expected to close in two instalments in the first and second quarters of 2013, the statement said.

(4) Lexus defers India debut to beyond 2013

It may be the slowdown blues, or just the wrong timing. But whatever it is, Lexus — the luxury brand of Japanese auto giant Toyota — has decided to defer its India entry. Against its earlier plan to enter the Indian market by 2013, the brand has decided to put off its India debut.

Sandeep Singh, deputy MD of Toyota's Indian subsidiary Toyota Kirloskar Motors, confirmed that the luxury brand will not be making a debut anytime soon.

"It will not be in 2013," Singh said, blaming a variety of negative factors behind the decision. The Toyota official said that import duty on fully-built cars is very steep in India, especially after it was raised further in the Union Budget last year.

"This is a major hurdle as far as getting in Lexus is concerned as we have plans only to import the vehicles and not make them here." A sharp depreciation of the rupee is another factor that has given cold feet to company officials. "The fall in rupee has also emerged as a major challenge, and just does not make it right to import the cars."

The slowdown in the Indian economy and uncertainty over its turnaround timing can also be one of the reasons behind the company's decision to go slow.

While the initial success of brands like BMW and Mercedes could have prompted Toyota to look at the Indian luxury market, the tough times they are facing now would have prompted the company to be cautious.

Mercedes saw its sales fall for the first time since 2009 last year and BMW has also been facing a big pressure in staying positive.

Toyota's plans to get Lexus to India were announced by a senior company official on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show in late 2011. The company had plans to have separate dealerships for the brand, as is the case in most markets where Toyota and Lexus are retailed.

The Lexus brand came into being in 1989 and competes with cars from BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi, apart from other luxury brands. Lexus cars are pre-dominantly made at four plants in Japan, and also at a facility in Canada in North America.

(5) Employment at India’s major ports drops: Assocham

The number of employees at India's major ports has declined at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of about five per cent between 2001-2010, apex industry body Assocham said today.

The number of employees in different cadre has reduced from over 83,700 to just over 55,400 at 12 major ports in India according to a sector specific analysis titled 'Employment Scenario at Major, Minor and Intermediate Ports in India' released by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) said.

In its analysis, Assocham had analysed employment scenario at major ports of Chennai, Cochin (including Dock Labour Board employees), Ennore, JL Nehru, Kandla, Kolkata (including Haldia Docks Complex), Murmugao, Mumbai (including Dock Labour Board employees), New Manglore, Paradip, Tuticorin (including workers of cargo handling labour pool) and Visakhapatnam.

Ennore port is the only port where the number of employees perked up from about 15 to over 86 during the aforesaid period thereby registering an upward spiraling CAGR of about 19 per cent.

The employment at the Mumbai port declined at the highest CAGR of about six per cent as the number of employees reduced from about 23,800 in 2001 to just over 14,000 in 2010, according to the Assocham analysis.

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