Calcutta Notebook


In the night clubs of Gurgaon, sales representatives, software developers and call centre employees dance giddily. At every restaurant there are at least half a dozen strongmen or ‘bouncers’, who watch from the edges for any signs of trouble. Outside the row of night clubs, wall plaques read ‘‘drugs and ammunition strictly prohibited’’. Women in tight dresses agree to dance with a club’s mostly male patrons for Rs 500 (or about $ 8). The bouncers are all of a single physical type, with strong chests and biceps. A large number share a family name, Tanwar. When the night clubs close, many will return to the same nearby village. The village women walk down dusty lanes, with their faces obscured by a cloth, balancing stacks of dried cow dung on their heads, like their ancestors three centuries ago. The musclemen from the village of Fatehpur Beri, on the other edges of Delhi, are the descendents of the original inhabitants of the city. The genetic line defended their village against waves of invaders. Croplands surround the sons and grandsons of cow and goat headers, born in outpost Fatehpur Beri. The spartan strongmen continued to train in traditional wrestling, in a circle of mud, even as Fatehpur Beri was swallowed by the expanding city. The village had its first gym, about a decade ago. The security business sprung up since 1996, led by Vijay Tanwar Pahalwan (Wrestler) and restaurateurs looking for ‘‘strong boys’’ to stand at the doors of restaurant-cum-bars.

The wrestling students are on ultra high protein vegetarian diet, consisting of dried fruit, clarified butter and gallons of fresh milk. Scenes at the bars were particularly shocking for the ‘‘bouncers’’, from villages like Fatehpur Beri and neighbouring Asola, places so conservative that adult women do not leave the house, without permission from their husband or mother-in-law. The ‘‘bouncers’’ are famous for their discipline, and do not drink nor smoke. Open fields in the villages were snapped up for luxury residential compounds and shopping malls. Land prices sky rocketed in value, with Delhi’s encroachment bringing a rush of money and some change. Nearly all of Gurgaon’s violent crime some change. Nearly all of Gurgaon’s violent crime is related to property disputes. Vijay Tanwar, the bouncer entrepreneur is now supplying a contingent of around 50 village strongmen with restaurants, hotels, hospitals and politicians running for elections.

China’s Finance Bodies
Last year China launched a new financial institution that could become a rival to the World Bank. Britain is a founder member of the $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, making it the first G7 country to join a new China-led financial institution. Beijing has long been suspicious about US influence over the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. USA and Japan have too much control over the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. China is the driving force behind the creation last year of the Brics Development Bank. The White House has accused the United Kingdom of a ‘‘constant accommodation’’ of China, after the British government’s decision to join the China-led AIIB, that could become a rival to the World Bank. Britain has a falling defence spending, which could soon dip below NATO’s target of 2% of gross domestic product. USA is concerned over China’s efforts to establish a new generation of International Development Banks that could challenge Washington-based institutions. While Britain believes it should be at the start of the bank to ensure it operates transparently, the USA fears the AIIB could become on instrument of Chinese foreign policy, if Beijing has veto power of decisions.

Implemented from 15 March 2015, new rules drafted by the China Banking Regulator Commission and China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology forces Bank’s IT suppliers to conduct research and development in China, and also to file source codes with the CRBC. Within four years, 75% of IT products in commercial banks, including cash machines, point-of-sales terminals and cash counters, are to qualify as ‘‘secure and terminal’’.

Crisis in Venezuela
Venezuela earns about 95% of its foreign earnings from oil exports. That money is funnelled back into welfare projects to help the poor, who are the mainstay of the socialist government’s support. President Nicolas Maduro has called the oil slump an ‘‘economic war’’ being waged by the United States. Maduro has secured a $20 million (£13 billion) pledge from China, which is also helping out the cash strapped leftist government in Argentina, and sanctions-hit Russia. There are promises of several billion dollars from banks in Qatar, a fellow member of the OPEC oil-producing cartel. Loans to Venezuela are partially giving cover to the fall in oil prices. The country is struggling with inflation at 63%. OPEC has not agreed to reduce oil output, which would lead to higher prices.

At tensions grow over rising prices, worsening shortages and a looming economic meltdown triggered by the slump in global oil prices, Venezuela has introduced strict rationing in state subsidised shops. Venezuelans have to queue for hours every day to buy basics such as milk and flour, from stores, which the government runs for the country’s poor. Fearing unrest from angry shoppers, security forces have been deployed outside the stores. Police are checking ID cards, and only allow shoppers to visit state-subsidised grocery shops twice a week. Amid rampant smuggling of cheap goods into neighbouring countries, immigration officers are stationed outside shops to ensure that only Venezuela residents buy food. The thriving black market is also running short of supplies.

Vol. 47, No. 45, May 17 - 23, 2015