India and Australia: Ties that bind – 2014

Australia and India have always been comfortable in each other’s presence. We share a democratic heritage, the same language and have stood side by side through the global conflicts of the last century. Surprisingly, despite the deep ties that bind, we are not as close as we should be. My visit to India reflects Australia’s desire for India to be in the first rank of Australia’s relations.

India is a democratic superpower and we are bound together by strongly convergent interests. We are both countries situated in the most dynamic region on the planet, where the centre of economic and strategic gravity is shifting to the Indo-Pacific.

India is at the heart of this extraordinary change. I first visited India as a 23-year-old and spent time travelling around this amazing country: through Mumbai, Rajasthan, Delhi, Kashmir and then Bihar.

The nation I saw then has been transformed.

India has lifted hundreds of millions into the middle class, creating new opportunities, better lives and expanding horizons for countless people. This is an inspiration to the world.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a powerful mandate this year to build on this record of achievement. At its core is a focus on economic growth, jobs and skills.

I know what he means because this is my focus for Australia. That is why I say “Australia is open for business” and Prime Minister Modi says, “Come. Make in India.”

As Chair of the G20 this year, I have made economic growth and growth creation the key themes of our deliberations and efforts.

International trade and investment enriches our people and helps build our nations. Australia and India have seen this across almost every field of economic endeavour.

Australian resources like coal, LNG and uranium will help provide India’s energy security for decades to come. I welcome our conclusion of a bilateral Civil Nuclear Agreement which will support India’s energy needs.

Our resources are fuelling India’s prosperity, just as India buying our resources and investing in our resources sector is supporting Australian growth and jobs. This is why I was particularly pleased by my government’s recent approval of the Adani Group’s development of the Carmichael coal deposit in Queensland. This mine will be one of the largest in the world.

Providing high-quality education

One of the highest priorities of any government is to provide accessible and quality education. Australia and India have decades of cooperation in supporting stronger education for our people. Half of Australia’s universities have a presence in India. Last year, 36,000 Indian students came to study in Australia, with a 15 per cent rise in applications this year.

Our skills providers are active in India, working to help meet Prime Minister Modi’s focus on vocational skills training for hundreds of millions of young Indians. I am committed to strengthening this positive trajectory.

We cannot forget that many Indian and Australian livelihoods remain in farming, and that food security remains a pressing concern for India. Australia’s world-class agricultural sector can support India all the way from better crop and herd productivity to storage and transport, cold chain supply, food-processing and retail.

Improving infrastructure

Mr. Modi and I both refer to ourselves as Prime Ministers for infrastructure. My government will spend tens of billions to expand Australia’s economic horizons. Similar spending is to occur in India.

From construction companies to city and system design, green technologies and financing, this presents our companies with significant opportunities in each other’s countries. With the third largest funds under management in the world, Australia can become a financing powerhouse for India.

Opportunities also exist in health, Information Technology, biotechnology and other sectors. It has never been a better time for bilateral trade and investment. India is already Australia’s fifth largest export market. I aim to improve this, for both sides.

As we are all aware, the shift of economic weight to the Indo-Pacific region is accompanied by strategic change. Here too, on strategic and security matters, Australian and Indian interests are converging as never before, namely, to protect and promote the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.

I pay tribute to India’s leadership in this in the Indian Ocean, and to India’s strengthening “Look East” policy as was evident in Prime Minister Modi’s successful visit to Japan.

In this endeavour, we are not alone. Australia and India have shared interests in continued U.S. engagement in the region, just as we both do in China which makes a positive contribution to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

As our partnership grows because of this new strategic dynamic, so will our security and defence cooperation — which is why I am pleased by our agreement for regular navy-to-navy exercises, given the growing importance of the maritime sphere.

Ultimately, what all relationships amount to is how our people interact with one another. Over 4,00,000 people of Indian heritage now live in Australia and India is our largest source of migrants. Last year nearly 2,00,000 Indians visited Australia and a similar number of Australians went to India. We welcome tens of thousands of Indian students and will send more Australians your way.

It is the bonds of our people that will bring us closer than ever and it is these bonds that I will celebrate and encourage during my visit.

(Tony Abbott is on a two-day visit to India.)

Alessandro Del Piero to sign for Indian Super League side Delhi Dynamos

From the A-League to the ISL: Alessandro Del Piero.

From the A-League to the ISL: Alessandro Del Piero. Photo: Getty Images

From the A-League to the ISL: Alessandro Del Piero. Photo: Getty Images
Italian World Cup winner and former Sydney FC player Alessandro Del Piero was set to be unveiled as the Indian Super League’s (ISL) latest marquee signing on Thursday as organisers spoke of sparking a football revolution in the cricket-mad country.
Reports said the 39-year-old had agreed to play for the Delhi Dynamos in the 10-week tournament which begins in October and has been modelled along the lines of cricket’s cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL).

Del Piero’s signing was expected to be confirmed later on Thursday by ISL organisers, who have already persuaded former French star David Trezeguet and ex-England goalkeeper David James to sign up.

Eight city-based teams are due to take part in the tournament from October 12 to December 20. Several franchises have tie-ups with European football giants such as La Liga champions Atletico Madrid who are the co-owners of Atletico Kolkata.

While India are only 150th in the world rankings, football draws big crowds in some parts of the country – particularly the east – and has been dubbed the game’s sleeping giant by world governing body FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

The English Premier League draws big TV audiences and team owners are hoping to replicate the success of the IPL.
Organised by the All India Football Federation, the ISL is being backed by India’s Reliance Industries, which is controlled by the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, and by sports management giant IMG.

“The Indian Super League is an initiative that aims to revolutionise football in this country,” Mukesh Ambani’s wife Nita, who chairs the organising committee, told The Times of India.

“We are a nation of billion-plus but, today, most Indian fans – including my own two sons – only talk of EPL, La Liga or the Arsenals of the world. We are hoping to build a system to nurture talent and make our own national football heroes.
“We all are very excited. However, I must say that these are initial years and we are taking baby steps. The road ahead is long before we take football to its deserving place in Indian sport.”

Retired cricket greats, including Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, are among celebrities promoting the tournament while several Bollywood stars are also fronting franchises.

While most attention is on ageing foreign stars, at least five of each team’s starting line-up must be Indian.
Although some top Indian players have agreed to ISL deals, national captain Sunil Chhetri is among several internationals who have so far declined to join the league.

Although the eight-month I-League has suspended matches during the ISL, several owners are opposed to the new tournament, saying it risks undermining grassroots football.

A long throw from Indian talent show to US baseball

The new film Million Dollar Arm is a dramatisation of one of the most unlikely stories in the history of professional sport. On the hunt for the next baseball star, a maverick agent turned his back on American talent – the traditional pipeline for the Major League – and devised a TV contest to unearth a star pitcher in India, a country famously obsessed with cricket.

Acting on a hunch that a fast bowler could be turned into a fast pitcher, JB Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm in the film, ended up unearthing two talents – neither of whom had ever heard of baseball – and won them both contracts with the Major League team the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the first time Indian men had been signed by a professional sports side in the US.

The son of a successful toy industry executive from Huntington, Long Island, Jeff Bernstein is an adman-turned-sports marketing agent. Over a high-octane career he has built up a roster of elite clients, many of whom he has made rich via endorsements, personal appearances and merchandise sales. His most famous client, until now, was the baseball star Barry Bonds, who hit a record-breaking 762 home runs but had his reputation tarnished by a doping scandal in 2003.

Disillusioned with his job after a fruitless two-year courtship of a college football player (who told Bernstein he would sign a contract only if the agent gave him $1 million in a duffel bag) he found himself watching the basketball player Yao Ming on television one night.
Yao, the first Chinese athlete to enjoy major success with an American professional sports team, had an enormous fan base in his native country and was making around $50 million a year. He had also made his agent extremely wealthy. “Could I replicate the same success?” wondered Bernstein.

Later that night, the sports channel ESPN aired a cricket match in India. According to the statistics on screen, some of the bowlers were delivering balls at 93mph and, as Bernstein, 46, puts it in a memoir published to coincide with the release of the film, “a lightbulb went off”.

“What if I could tap into the undiscovered talent in India, import it to this country and translate it into a great baseball pitcher?” he asked himself. The next question was how to unearth this talent, but Bernstein thought he had the answer: an American Idol-style television show aimed at finding the contestant with the strongest throwing arm in India.

Within a few days, he had discussed his idea with two Californian venture capitalists and, six months later, they had a format for the show and a title (Bernstein had also, in the meantime, learnt conversational Hindi). The programme would offer $1 million to anyone who could throw three consecutive balls at more than 90mph. It would be called Million Dollar Arm.

The show, which aired for the first time on the Indian cable and satellite channel Zee TV in 2007, was a huge success, attracting more than 38,000 contestants. Oddly, while almost every contestant was a cricketer, both the winner, Rinku Singh, 19, and the runner-up, Dinesh Patel, also 19, were javelin throwers. Neither was able to win the $1 million prize for throwing three balls at 90mph, but Singh got $100,000 for coming first and Patel got $5000 – significant sums for two young men from rural Uttar Pradesh. As part of their prize, they were invited to move to the US and try to break into professional baseball.

On arrival in Los Angeles, Bernstein moved Singh and Patel into his apartment and persuaded Tom House, a pitching guru at the University of Southern California, to take on the young men. House embraced the challenge. Most pitchers train for two to three hours a day; Singh and Patel worked for six to seven. House put them in motion-capture suits to assess their mechanics and set out a protein-intensive diet. “They went from eating 25g of protein a day to 300g,” Bernstein says. The effect was startling: Singh went from 6ft 2in and 180lb to 6ft 4in and 220lb.

By the time of their professional trials, both were pitching fast and, although they failed to impress scouts at the first time of asking, a second trial was a success. The Pittsburgh Pirates offered them both professional contracts, with a $10,000 signing-on bonus each.
Although Patel had a good first year in the minor leagues, he struggled in his second and was let go. He is now back in India studying to be a teacher. Singh has had more success. He is still on the Pirates’ books, but for the past two years has struggled with injury.

Bernstein is keeping the faith. “I think he’s got a great chance of breaking into the major leagues. He’s aching to get back on the mound. I still think Rinku is very likely to be the first Indian male to play a professional team sport in the US. His arm is still young and he has great desire.”

Hindu leader convicted on fraud and obstruction charges in US

WASHINGTON: A Hindu leader, who headed the now defunct Hindu Temple of Georgia, has been convicted on 34 felony counts following two weeks of jury trial in the US.

Sentencing of Annamalai Annamalai, also known as Commander Selvam or Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar, is now scheduled on November 13.

“This defendant traded on his perceived religious authority and spiritual powers to cheat the faithful who believed in him,” said US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.

“The jury saw through his deception, and he is being held accountable for his fraud,” he said.

“Annamalai Annamalai clearly took advantage of his religious standing in the community as well as the individuals who respected and revered him,” stated Veronica F Hyman- Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation.

“He used deceit and fraud, to circumvent the bankruptcy courts and to collect money for his own personal benefit,” the IRS official said.

According to US Attorney, the indictment and other information presented in court, Annamalai, 49, generated income through the Hindu Temple of Georgia by charging fees to his followers in exchange for providing spiritual or related services.

In a typical transaction, a follower agreed to purchase a particular service for a communicated price, and provided a credit card number by telephone to guarantee payment.

Annamalai caused the followers’ credit card numbers to be charged on multiple occasions, in excess of the agreed amount and without authorisation.

If the followers disputed the charges with their respective credit card companies, Annamalai submitted false documentation to the credit card companies in support of the unauthorized charges, which formed the basis for his conviction on bank fraud charges, the chargesheet alleged.

The income generated by the temple through these credit card charges was used to fund the lifestyle of Annamalai and his family, who owned or controlled numerous homes and real properties, luxury vehicles, and bank accounts in India.

Annamalai was convicted of willfully filing a false tax return for the 2007 year, for failing to disclose his financial interest in foreign bank accounts held in India.

He was convicted of bankruptcy fraud offenses in connection with the temple’s petition for bankruptcy protection in August 2009. He was also convicted on three counts of obstruction and false statements in connection with the grand jury probe and the bankruptcy proceeding.

At $300 per couple, NRI franchisee serves breakfast of champagnes on Wall Street

WASHINGTON: Conventional wisdom suggests breakfast is the most important meal of the day. No one has proposed that it be the most expensive. Certainly not at Denny’s — America’s “fast casual” pancake house whose 1600 outlets have catered to the country’s middle class for over half a century — with its headquarters in the aptly-named Spartanburg in South Carolina.

But an Indian family that came to America with $300 in its pocket has decided to turn conventional wisdom on its head. The Marwahs think $300 plus taxes (approximately Rs 20,000) is an affordable breakfast price for two in wealthy and weighty. In a sign that the roaring twenties may be getting ready to repeat themselves a century later, their first Denny’s in the Big Apple announced a “Grand Cru Slam” brunch special for its opening this past weekend.

Besides the regular Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast (which ordinary comes at $5.99 elsewhere in the country), the Grand Cru Slam comes with a bottle of 2003 Dom Perignon Premier Cru champagne (which alone costs $300 in some NYC restaurants) and a “bartender high-five,” which usually comes free.

The Marwahs are a byword for franchises in California and Texas, where they run 22 Denny’s and an assortment of Subways, 7-Elevens, and Popeye’s, employing more than a 1000 people. It is their first foray into New York City. Indeed, it is the first Denny’s in Manhattan, a borough so hip and famous that it lends its name to a drink.

The Wall Street bull with tourists around for pictures on Broadway, New York City. (Getty Images photo)

Hip is not a term you’d use to describe Denny’s, which started as a coffee and donut outlet in the 1950s and became famous as an all-night diner chain that never shut its doors (many Denny’s were built without lock even) at nights or on holidays, and serves greasy, inexpensive breakfast.

Gurbax Rai Marwah (originally from Faridkot, Punjab) came to the US in 1971 after having served in the Indian Army’s Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers followed by a stint in the Central Public Works Department in New Delhi. Working as a Greyhound bus driver, running a car wash, leasing a Texaco gas station, and refurbishing and turning over homes were just some of the things he did before he caught the desi franchising fever with a 7-Eleven in the mid-80s. He bought his first Denny’s in 1995, and there has been no looking back since.

But the upscale Denny’s on Wall Street is the brainchild of his MBA degree-holder son Rahul and law graduate daughter Ritu, who are taking over some of the responsibilities of the family firm DenCo. They spend months studying the Manhattan market, working with image consultants and interior designers, before coming up with a swish diner lined with flat screen TVs, leather booths, and a copper-stamped ceiling, near the financial district’s Spruce Street

(Getty Images photo)

“You’re not just in a Denny’s — you’re in a Manhattan Denny’s. I thought we would stick out like a sore thumb if we looked like the average Denny’s,” Rahul Marwah said of the spruced-up, souped-up diner as the moolah-sniffing media headlined the opening over the weekend. “Denny’s aimed at 1% opens in New York with $300 Grand Slam,” read the streamer on CNN Money. From Bloomberg to Wall Street Journal, the opening got wall-to-wall coverage.

Not everything on the Manhattan Denny’s menu is off the charts or wallets. Denny’s loyalists can still find their favourites such as pancakes and hash browns at the same reasonable prices. Besides, one can also feast on unlimited Prosecco at the bar for much less than the 2003 Dom Perignon. But it doesn’t come with the bartender’s high-five.

If enough people order the Dom Perignon, it will be the Marwahs who will be high-fiving each other.

NRI suspected of setting Pujari on Moranis, SRK

MUMBAI: Investigations into the recent firing at a film producer’s bungalow and alleged threats to several Bollywood personalities from a fugitive gangster appear to be pointing to a US-based NRI show producer identified as Bittu Singh.

The crime branch, which is probing the case, is issuing a Letter Rogatory (LR) through a local court for information on Singh. LR is a request of legal assistance from one court to the court of another country.

Sources said when gangster Ravi Pujari called the production company owned by Karim Morani recently, he threatened them to give Singh the rights for shows abroad by the cast of ‘Happy New Year’ to promote the movie. Last Saturday, a few shots were fired outside the Moranis’ bungalow in Juhu, apparently to scare them.

Now, the Moranis have told the police that a few weeks ago, Bittu Singh himself had called and asked for the overseas rights of the promotional shows. When the Moranis told him it was not in their hands, Pujari called up asking them to favour Singh.

Little is known about Bittu Singh, except that he is originally from Punjab and now a US citizen based in New Jersey with interest in Bollywood shows abroad. Calls TOI made to Singh’s purported US number went unanswered.

Since the calls started, the police have provided security to most of the stars of the new movie, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Boman Irani and Sonu Sood, among others. “As a precautionary step, almost all the actors of the movie have been provided security,” said an officer.

On Monday, a crime branch team along with Juhu police questioned a close relative of Singh in the city. “Irrespective of who Singh is, we are in the process of collecting evidence against him and making him an accused in the case. People using underworld pressure to get their work done will not be tolerated,” said the officer.

At least six to seven former associates of Pujari, who are now out on bail, are being questioned by the crime branch. Officials said despite several arrests, some people associated with Bollywood are still passing information to Pujari. “In the past, we have booked Khar Gymkhana member Ravi Punjabi and Chembur-based builder Rakesh Sharma for passing information of possible targets to Pujari. This time if we find anybody passing information, they will not be spared,” said a senior IPS officer.