News Wrap


India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic peace deal with Nagaland insurgents, announced on 03 August 2015, rests on a breakthrough formula which does not involve redrawing Nagaland’s state boundaries. The pact involves creating a mechanism, which would create institutions allowing autonomy to Naga tribes, living across the border in Manipur. A mechanism is being set up, to discuss decommissioning of arms now held by the NSCN(IM), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s Thuingaleng Muviah and Isak Chisu Swi-led faction, the largest of the Naga insurgent groups. The group has argued that it needed to retain its weapons to ward off attacks, from rival NSCN factions led by Myanmar-based S S Khaplang and Khole Konyak. The linguistic traditions of the Nagas will be promoted. Muivah signed the peace agreement, on behalf of NSCN(IM). In spite of India’s ceasefire with the NCSN(IM) since 1997, the NSCN(IM) leadership, made up of Thangkul Nagas from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, have been insisting that the area be included in a wider Naga entity called Nagalim. Northeast’s insurgent groups are enriched by income from extortion. The diasporic Northeast’s identity across India, is concerned for equity in the giant Indian nation. They are less worried over ethnic-regional agendas, that affected political activism of their previous generations.

Temple Tourism
After bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the AP state has retained its famous pilgrimage destinations of Balaji Temple of Tirumala (Tirupati), Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple at Srisailam and Kalahasthi Temple (Chittoor). The Yodagirigutta Temple in Telengana, is dedicated to Lakshmi Narasimha. The Yadagirigutta Temple Development Authority overseas construction of a pilgrimage complex, over nearly 2000 acres at the Yadagiri foothills, and eight other hillocks that dot the countryside. Yadagirigutta is around 50 km from Hyderabad, and well connected by rail and road. The Telengana government has sanctioned Rs 200 crore for the Yadagiri Temple Project, and Rs 100 crore every year in the budget for the next three years. The footfall at Yadagiri Temple touches 50,000 on some days, while about one lac pilgrims visit Tirumala, per day. The Yadagiri Temple revenue has risen from Rs 66.58 crore (2013-14) to Rs 73.31 crore (2014-15). The state government of Telengana continues to build places of worship, in spite of India’s constitution declaring secularism.

Suez Canal Expansion
Beginning August 2015, Egypt inaugurated a major expansion of the Suez Canal, finished in a third of the originally estimated time. The $8 billion expansion project adds an additional lane along part of the shipping channel, which will shorten waiting times. It includes 21 miles of new channels cut through the desert, and a further 22 miles where existing bodies of water were dredged to accommodate larger ships. The Egyptian government hired six firms, including companies based in USA, Belgium and the Netherlands, to dig and dredge, working day and night, on six separate sections. Egyptian officials predict and increase in canal revenue from $53 billion presently to $13.2 billion by 2023. Expansion of the canal will aid Egypt’s economy. Firms linked to the armed forces make up a significant portion of Egypt’s economy.

USA and Cuba
Decades of enmity between the cold war foes, USA and Cuba, ended on 20 July 2015, and embassies reopened in their respective capitals. Washington acknowledged that its policy of isolation and trade restrictions on tightly controlled communist Cuba had failed. The two countries are still a long way away from the resumption of normal diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, Cuba has expanded access to the internet, by introducing about three dozen Wi-Fi hot spots, around the island, and reducing the sleep fees that Cubans pay to spend time online. Cuba’s poor internet access has been a grievance increasingly shared across political lines, by entrepreneurs and computer programmers, as well as journalists and ordinary citizens, who want to communicate with relatives overseas. The lack of internet access was holding back the economy. Over the past two years the Cuban government has opened dozens of cyber cafes, and introduced e-mail service for the island’s million or so cell phone users. American technology companies are showing growing interest in making their services available, and helping get more Cubans on-line.

US tourism related companies, including hotels and cruise lines, have their Cuba plans ready, which includes helping travellers find private rooms in Cuba. For the first time in a long while, Americans are free to import a small number of goods from Cuba, made by Cuban entrepreneurs. However, myriad laws and regulations, most important the United States trade embargo against Cuba, continue to restrict commerce between the two countries. Cuba’s convoluted legal, tax and commerce systems are stuck in another era, and a different ideology all together. While the US government now allows American banks to open accounts in Cuba, the Cuban government has not authorised US bank credit cards, and liability concerns abound. Cuba continues to be banned from using American dollars, for international transactions. Genuine normalcy between the two countries is still out of reach, as the US embargo exists, and an American naval base sits at Guantanamo Bay, without Cuba’s consent.

Vol. 48, No. 12, Sep 27 - Oct 3, 2015