Obama in the land of Gandhi

US President Barack Obama (2nd R) shakes hands with Indian President Pratibha Patil (2nd L) as US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and Indian President's husband Devisingh Patil (L) look on during a meeting in New Delhi on November 8, 2010. US President Barack Obama November 8 backed India's quest for a permanent UN Security Council seat, inviting the world's largest democracy to take its 'rightful' place at the summit of global power.
Prakash SINGH

Top News: President Barack Obama’s Air Force One is expected to touch down in Mumbai on Nov. 6, the night of Diwali, India’s colorful festival of lights. Political topics like Afghanistan and Pakistan and even terrorism are likely to take a back seat to economics in the discussions during the three-day presidential visit. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said India is not expecting any "big bang" outcomes from the visit, though White House officials have stressed that the Obama will discuss opening up India’s market to American businesses. The more Indians buying American products and services, the more the pay off for the U.S. economy in terms of jobs, they said.

Another topic expected to figure in the talks is the recently signed India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement.  Despite U.S. pressure, India is unlikely to alter an accident liability clause that its parliament recently enacted. The liability clause is making global nuclear equipment makers and suppliers nervous despite the juicy prospect of entering a $125 billion nuclear energy market in India. Another key area of interest is likely to be the opening up of India’s retail sector to overseas retailers such as Walmart waiting impatiently to enter the market. 

Perhaps to mark the turn in the relationship between the two countries, the Obamas will be entertained by Bollywood’s evergreen ode to friendship from the blockbuster cult classic Sholay. The song "Yeh Dosti Hum Nahin Todenge” ("We Will Not Break This Friendship") will be performed by the Shillong Chamber Choir at the presidential banquet on Nov. 8.

India’s ruling Congress Party was rocked by yet another corruption scandal, this time in Mumbai. Apartments in the city’s posh Colaba neighborhood, among the world’s most expensive real estate, were meant for war widows and veterans. But the Adarsh Housing Society soared to 31 floors flouting regulations, and then the flats were sold at throwaway prices to a bunch of top politicians, their relatives and retired generals. India’s defense and finance ministries are investigating. Among the alleged benefactors of the largesse is the mother-in-law of Ashok Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra state of which Mumbai is the capital. Chavan, the official host to the Obama couple in Mumbai, has offered to quit.

From one corruption scandal to another. Hundreds of tax inspectors raided dozens of offices across India to probe allegations of corruption linked to New Delhi Commonwealth Games that concluded in mid-October. Companies contracted to provide training equipment, landscaping and sports surfaces were among those raided in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore. The Games were fouled up by corruption, organizational hiccups, shoddy work and an inflated budget of over $6 billion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under pressure to act amidst public outrage, set up a panel to investigate charges of financial irregularities. Other government agencies are running parallel probes.

Money: Despite rising national security concerns, India withdrew its threat to ban Blackberry services. The country has over 1.5 million Blackberry users. India’s Home ministry said the Canada-based Blackberry-maker Research in Motion has agreed to an interim arrangement for lawful interception of Blackberry messenger services. A more permanent solution will come after January next year. India and a few other countries had threatened to ban corporate email and messenger services if RIM did not allow government monitoring of these services. Besides RIM, India is insisting that all companies that provided encrypted communications, such as Google and Skype, install servers in the country to provide easy government access to users’ data. 

An Indian family of five is set to move into the world’s most expensive home, towering 27 floors above the Arabian Sea in Mumbai and valued at $2 billion. Antilia is the new home of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, the head of the Reliance industrial conglomerate, his wife Nita and their three children. The building has parking for 160 cars, several floors of dwellings for 600-member domestic staff, health clubs, dance studios, a ball room and a 50-seater cinema. There is even a garden with enough ceiling space to fit in small trees. The roof has three helipads. 

India’s largest public offering, a record $3.5 billion, attracted investors by the million. The IPO of Coal India attracted bids for more than 15 times the shares on offer, as investors bought into the country’s top coal supplier in an economy that heavily relies on coal-fired energy. At its offer price alone, Coal India is worth $35 billion, taking it to the top 10 of India’s listed companies.

Elsewhere: Stray animals and Indian streets go hand in hand. Drivers not only have to battle unruly motorist and pedestrians darting across the streets, but they also have to contend with stray cattle, dog, pigs, and even sheep and goats. Elephants and camels are sighted too, on occasion. Now New Delhi’s police are employing monkey catchers and building 30-foot towers around Obama’s hotel to protect him not just from terrorist attacks but also monkey attacks. The president will stay at the top-end ITC Maurya Hotel, which abuts Ridge Forest. Herds of monkeys from these jungles terrorize the capital’s citizens.