India

The recent Sri Lankan presidential election was remarkable for several reasons.

First, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the over-confident incumbent, lost the vote, despite a booming economy. Second, Mr Rajapaksa – who was often accused of authoritarian and dynastic tendencies – seems to have accepted the voters’ verdict without a fight. His best riposte to those who accused him of not being a democrat may turn out to be the way in which he accepted unfavourable election results, and allowed his rival, Maithripala Sinisena, to assume power. The change of government in Sri Lanka also has a wider geopolitical significance. Read more

Most people have something they do to mark the end of the year: make a resolution, go to a party, tidy the attic. My annual ritual is to make a list of the five most significant events of the past year in global politics. This year is an odd one, in that it seems to me that there are only two events that stand head-and-shoulders above the others. The first is the breakdown in relations between Russia and the west, caused by the Ukraine crisis. The second is America’s return to war in the Middle East. So let’s deal with those two first and then move on to the other contenders.

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By Victor Mallet

Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister, has relaunched his country’s controversial claims to some of the world’s greatest scientific achievements with his suggestion that ancient India was adept at genetics and plastic surgery, including the grafting of the elephant’s head onto the god Ganesh.

His remarks – ironically made at the opening of a high-tech hospital in Mumbai – have revived a political debate about the growing influence of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the Organisation of National Volunteers) over the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party.

Hindu fundamentalists are delighted by Mr Modi’s words, left-wingers are appalled or mocking and many foreigners are simply bemused that India’s real cultural, scientific and medical achievements are being overshadowed by simplistic references to the mythological past. Read more

I suspect that many people’s first reactions to the news that Malala Yousafzai has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize will have been similar to mine: joy that Malala had got the award, but slight puzzlement that it has been given to her jointly with Kailash Satyarthi, a much less-famous Indian campaigner. Read more

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  • Gideon Rachman thinks Narendra Modi is the jolt that India needs, but in his risposte Edward Luce argues that the risk is not worth taking.
  • China is poised to pass the US as the world’s leading economic power this year. This moment has come sooner than expected: FT economics editor Chris Giles explains the working out.
  • David Gardner thinks Bashar al-Assad is more vulnerable than he looks.
  • The recent freeze in east-west relations has revived interest in Moscow’s Cold War museum.

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• Putin is proving his skills as Russia’s great propagandist, with his use of Soviet-era symbolism alarming those fearful for the country’s democracy.

• The Ukraine stand-off offers Beijing a broader role on the global stage.

• The FT’s series on the Fragile Middle continues, with a look at how India‘s petty entrepreneurs face an uncertain future.

• About to take over a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce? Look no further the Vatican under Pope Francis for a case-study in how it should be done.

• As forests of empty new housing towers fill the horizon in Chinese cities, yet more state sanctioned construction would amount to yin zhen zhi ke – “drinking poison to quench one’s thirst”.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker accused of fraud and one of the Kazakh president’s main political opponents, says the UK is being manipulated by a kleptocratic dictator after London decided to revoke his asylum status. Read more

  • An efficiency push in Spain may mean the end of siestas and midnight dinners.
  • A crucial pillar of India’s democratic edifice – the right to free expression – is being rapidly eroded, with ominous implications.
  • German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt is in talk with six claimants seeking artworks stolen from their families by the Nazis.
  • North Korea could be using some ominous-looking chest packs to threaten radiological war.
  • Immigration in Scotland: the issue worries Scots less than other Britons, but that could change

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By Toby Luckhurst

  • The USA can no longer rely on Egypt as a bulwark of stability in the Middle East, as jihadists return to the country to fight the military authorities.
  • Oligarchs in eastern Ukraine are abandoning President Yanukovich’s regime.
  • Iranian hardliners blocked the broadcast of a live interview with President Rouhani, exposing the political battle developing in the Islamic Republic.
  • Critics question whether Narendra Modi can do for India what he has done for Gujarat if he wins the upcoming general election.
  • Hugh Roberts in the London Review of Books questions the orthodox view of Hosni Mubarak’s deposition as a revolution.

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In the press conference announcing he will retire next year, Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, predicted that “history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media”. That is the kind of thing that disappointed and embittered politicians often say. But, in Singh’s case, I think it is undoubtedly true. In fact, Singh is likely to go down as a man who, more than any other politician, helped to transform modern India. Read more

♦ In Turkey, Gulenists have burnt their bridges with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, while Mr Erdogan makes no bones about his desire to purge the bureacracy of his former allies. It is, according to one of Turkey’s old secular elite, “like Alien vs Predator.
♦ Edward Luce points out that the Indian politicians expressing outrage over the strip search of diplomat Devyani Khobragade are suffering from a hypocrisy problem: “So far, no Indian leader has expressed a scintilla of concern about the rights of the Indian domestic servant whom Ms Khobragade had allegedly mistreated.”
♦ Ben Bernanke announced the taper, but minimised market discomfort.
♦ David Pilling considers which events shook Asia in 2013.
♦ James Carroll, a former priest, looks back at the first year of a radical pope.
♦ B.R. Myers, an expert on north Korea, explains exactly what happened to Kim Jong Un’s uncle and why Kim doesn’t look smart taking his wife around with him. Read more

♦ The success of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party at India’s recent state elections is a sign that voters are determined to reshape the political order.
♦ Oligarchs hold the key to Viktor Yanukovich‘s grip on power in Ukraine.
♦ The west is losing faith in its own future, says the FT’s Gideon Rachman.
♦ American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life to conduct surveillance, fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly. Read more

♦ Indian women are showing a new confidence and combativeness – a sign of India’s first genuinely popular feminist awakening.
♦ World Child Cancer helps bring birthday hopes to a young girl with cancer in Ghana – the FT’s Xan Rice tells her story and looks at how the work of the organisation.
♦ Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell explains how his mid-size family firm, which makes wooden pencils, stays globally competitive against threats from sophisticated Chinese competitors, the stagnant euro zone economy and shifts in technology.
♦ Independent news website Mada Masr looks back at the life of dissident Egyptian poet Ahmad Fouad Negm who died yesterday: ” He seemed to never stop loving life and hating dictators and making jokes through the darkest of conditions.” Read more

♦ The FT’s Neil Buckley interviews Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most famous prisoner – a former oligarch who dared to cross Vladimir Putin.
♦ Trade has broken from a 30-year trend of growing at twice the speed of the global economy, pushing economists to wonder whether there has been a fundamental shift in world business.
♦ The Palestinians have called on countries to tell companies linked to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to withdraw immediately because the settlements violate international law.
♦ Mark Carney says the Bank of England is open for business and the days when the Old Lady preached the perils of “moral hazard” without due regard to financial pressures are well and truly over.
♦ The allegation by the German government that the NSA monitored Angela Merkel’s mobile phone has set off recriminations behind the scenes in the US.
♦ The NYT looks at the friction point between the Philiippines and China in the South China Sea, reporting from a ship at the dividing line.
♦ Formula 1 is considered entertainment, not a sport, by the Indian government, while chess is considered to be a sporting event.
♦ There is some disbelief over Al-Sisi mania.
♦ Tony Blair in the the Balkans to deliver some “deliverology”.
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♦ The FT’s Martin Wolf asks whether the US is a functioning democracy.
♦ Charles Pierce at Esquire is already convinced that this was to be expected from “the worst Congress in the history of the Republic”.
♦ Russia is spending $755m on bolstering its military as part of Vladimir Putin’s plan to rebuild the country’s status as a credible diplomatic and military force.
♦ Silvio Berlusconi’s antics now do little to shock the bond markets – an indication that the eurozone crisis has moved decisively into a less aggressive phase, argues the FT’s Ralph Atkins.
♦ India’s Hindu temples are resisting requests from the central bank to declare their gold holdings amid mistrust of authorities trying to cut a hefty import bill.
♦ A new book on the birth of Bangladesh and the White House diplomacy of the time unearths conversations between Nixon and Kissinger that reveal their hateful attitudes towards IndiansRead more

By David Gallerano
♦ “We cannot rebuild this economy on this same pile of sand”, President Obama said in April 2009. Robin Harding analyses the rebalancing process of the American economy and draws an alarming conclusion: the United States is building again on the same foundations of sand.
♦ The notorious gang rape of December 2012 in New Delhi is changing the way Indian women react to sexual abuses and violence.
♦ Triton Foundation gets $24m in insurance while a farcical trial goes on in Romania: the brand new episodes of the incredible saga of the paintings stolen from the Kunstahl Museum in Rotterdam.
♦ The New York Times illustrates in detail the long process that led Vladimir Putin to make his proposal on Assad’s chemical weapons.
♦ Meanwhile, satirical news site the Onion reports on how the US arms industry reacted to John Kerry’s declaration: “our Secretary of State had to run his big fat mouth about options for averting war, and now we’re out hundreds of billions of dollars”. But Lockheed’s CEO Marilyn Hewson is reassuring: “He will probably say something idiotic in the near future that would lead to another lucrative international conflict”. Read more

Currency jitters in India and emerging markets
India was once seen as a rising superpower and one of the world’s most dynamic economies, but now its rupee is plunging and the economy is stalling. What’s more, this seems to be part of a broader problem in emerging markets, as Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa and Brazil all experience currency jitters. Gideon Rachman is joined by Victor Mallet, New Delhi bureau chief and Ralph Atkins, capital markets editor, to discuss what’s going on and how deep the problems are.

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The signing of a contract between the Somali government and UK oil and gas exploration company Soma to collect data on onshore and offshore oil has been called non-transparent, and raised concerns about whether oil politics could destabilise the country’s fragile recovery.
♦ Prague’s CorruptTour agency is selling out bookings for their Crony Safari that brings tourists to a sites connected with the most famous corruption scandals – from an address registered by 600 companies to a school where cash can buy a degree.
♦ The monetary tightening by India’s central bank could close credit arteries and make it difficult for the country’s banks to cover a mass of rapidly souring loans, writes Reuters’ Andy Mukherjee, as short term funding costs have increased during a time where the economy has slowed and the stock market is slumping.
♦ The drive by policy makers to put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of business doesn’t make any sense, writes Joe Nocera, as they are no longer bullies, are making the government money, and are necessary to uphold the core of American housing finance.
♦ The sit-ins being held around Egypt by those in favour of reinstating President Mohamed Morsi will likely not work, according to an analysis by Foreign Policy’s Erica Chenoweth, as studies show that nonviolent campaigns must follow a strategy of carefully sequenced moves, or they can end in catastrophe. Read more

♦ The Egyptian military reasserted its privileged political position by removing Mohamed Morsi from power. Troops surrounded the state broadcasting headquarters and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief of staff, delivered a televised speech announcing the takeover. Morsi’s authoritarian governing style exacerbated the huge challenges Egypt already faced – including a moribund economy and intense political polarisation, reports the FT’s Borzou Daragahi. David Gardner says that Morsi’s government, the liberals and Mubarak’s “deep state” are just as much to blame for Egypt’s stormy state of affairs as the generals.

♦ The Indian newspaper Patrika has achieved success through itsreputation for credibility – it doesn’t take political bribes, which is increasingly common among other Indian newspapers – and for public interest advocacy – it focuses on hyperlocal coverage.

♦ Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, has backed a deal to break up the Russian export monopoly that supplies gas to Lithuania by anchoring a ship off of a small nearby island to process deliveries of liquefied natural gas for homes and businesses.

♦ Le Monde reports that France has a “big brother” similar to the American Prism system that systematically gathers huge amounts of information on internet and phone activity.

♦ The FT’s Chris Giles argues that Carney’s “forward guidance” plan for the BoE may be too risky, even though it is based on a strategy used by other central banks including the US Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan. Read more

♦ All change in Europe? French labour market reforms start to bear fruit, with signs of movement in industrial relations and eurozone austerity might be on its way out.
♦ India’s economy grew at the slowest rate in a decadehampered by electricity shortages and poor infrastructure.
♦ Mexico’s highest-grossing film is still filling multiplexes 10 weeks after its release. The NYT looks at whether audiences just want to see rich people humiliated, or whether they are actually looking for a form of middle class catharsis.
♦ Neal Ascherson reports on the state of German politics: “They are pissed off with Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, but reluctant to let go of Mutti’s hand. In short, the public are in one of those sullen, unreasonable moods which make politicians despair.
♦ Ethnic strife in Xinjiang, northeast China, is worsening with the growth of immigrant-dominated settlements – Uighurs are resentful of such powerful entities dominating the region and employing so few of their own ethnic group.
♦ And here’s something to chew on this weekend. When you’re having your morning pastry spare a thought for New Yorkers who have been lining up at 6am, or paying as much as $40, for a delectable new pastry – the cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid. It seems the bakery has a scaling problem, which is driving cronut-craving customers to the black market. Read more