| Minefield: Lakshmi Mittal
Will Mittal become the new McDonald’s'
Is Lakshmi Mittal going to become the unacceptable face of western capitalism' I ask because last week’s Sunday Times story — “UK’s Richest Man in Slave Labour Row” — said that “coal miners working in Mittal’s Kazakh mines claim his firm is endangering their lives by using dangerous, outdated equipment and by cutting corners”.
It reported that “more than 90 have died in the mines since 2004”. “Miners claim that conditions are worse than in Soviet times and say they would rather work in Siberian mines,” added the report, which has been widely picked up in India and elsewhere.
“We are being treated by Mittal’s people as little more than slave labour,” said “Sergei”, a Lenina miner whose surname is not given although one must assume he exists. “Conditions are far worse than they were in Soviet times.”
If my former best friend is not careful, his company — and ArcelorMittal is seen increasingly as Mittal’s baby although that is technically not the case — is in danger of becoming the new McDonald’s (I ought to mention that Prince Charles, who is keen on healthy eating, has called for a ban on McDonald’s restaurants and Big Macs).
Once upon a time, McDonald’s and its fast food culture were seen as representing all that was best about the West. Today, although McDonald’s will deny this, the company symbolises all that is unattractive about western capitalism.
Mittal, with his alleged fast profit culture, appears to be making a similar Darth Vader-type journey to the dark side. Of course, it does not help that he has been a generous donor to the Labour Party, which might well be the reason for the opprobrium being heaped upon him.
“He is one of Labour’s biggest financial backers,” the Sunday Times pointed out, although it was not immediately clear what this had to do with Kazakh mine safety. “After he donated £125,000 to Labour in 2002, Tony Blair wrote a letter to the Romanian Prime Minister endorsing Mittal’s bid to buy a state-owned steel company. Mittal donated a further £2m to Labour in July 2005 and another £2m in January this year.”
The Sunday Times report isn’t strictly a news story in that there have been no fatalities this year (according to ArcelorMittal) — perhaps the article should have been written last September when “a gas explosion killed 41 in the Lenina mine” or even two years earlier when “an explosion in the neighbouring Shakhtinskaya mine claimed the lives of 13”.
This is not to say mine safety isn’t a legitimate cause for concern. The timing of the report and making it the page one lead are curious. But all’s fair in love, war and in the run up to a British general election.
One thing is for sure: next year, as happened this year, Mittal will again be number one on the Sunday Times Rich List.
After Yorkshire, where next for IIFA'
Sabbas Joseph, one of the three directors who run Wizcraft, the company that manages IIFA, will neither encourage nor discourage speculation that Shanghai is being considered.
Those of us who are fond of Chinese vegetables — broccoli, for example — will approve of China.
The possible choice of China would also be appropriate for a number of other reasons. China, from what I have seen at Cannes and the Asian Film Festival in Deauville in France, is the rising power in world cinema. Choosing Shanghai also fits in with the gradual thaw in Indo-Chinese relations.
Two years ago, I happened to be staying at the Taj Palace in Delhi when the whole hotel was taken over by a fraternal Chinese presidential delegation.
“Breakfast, lunch and dinner they are taking in our Chinese restaurant,” was a snippet I picked up.
I knew that The Tea House of the August Moon, the Chinese restaurant in the Taj Palace, was good but I hadn’t realised it was that good.
Since that visit political relations have progressed. And now cinema diplomacy can take us further.
I spoke to Kamal Nath, commerce and industry minister, the day after he returned from trade talks in China.
“So are we friends'” I asked.
His response betrayed just a trace of irritation.
“It’s not India versus China,” he corrected me. “It’s India and China.”
| THE BRIT CONNECTION: Sachin and Anjali Tendulkar
There are so many Indians in the UK (at least 1.5 million) that for our cricketers playing here will seem almost like being at home. Some like Sachin Tendulkar, whose wife is part British, have family connections. Others — Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan, for example — have played domestic cricket here.
I am glad Sourav has been included because English conditions have suited him in the past. He will be a box office draw as will Tendulkar. During the recent IIFA awards, several speakers mentioned he had played as an 18-year-old for Yorkshire, the first overseas player to do so for the county. Because of his modesty and good manners, he has long been a favourite with the British media which, in marked contrast, has always had it in for “Lord Snooty”, its nickname for Sourav.
The difficult case is that of Virender Sehwag. Now that he has been dropped from the Test side and the early one-dayers, half of me wishes he was coming. But had he been picked, it would have been on past performance. But maybe he should be sent as reserve for the one-dayers against England.
One last wish is for friends in India to email a slightly better class of joke — “Mrs Gandhi is responsible for India’s ouster from the World Cup because she created Bangladesh” — than those inspired by the Caribbean.
Chandu Borde, the team manager, may be 72, but he will be fine so long as players ensure he is tucked in early every night with a warm mug of Ovaltine.
|LOOKING GOOD: Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia
Businessman Ness Wadia impressed with his eloquence and sincerity when speaking as a “young Indian” at the recent IIFA “Global Conference” in Leeds.
Afterwards, when I met him, his mind was not on economic issues but on a much more important matter — “Preity Zinta, who is my girlfriend”.
Apparently, her picture had not been used in a report I had done on the business of Bollywood.
Ness’s loyalty is touching but I assured him since Preity was a Cannes regular, she had been far from neglected.
Later, when Ness and Preity appeared on the green carpet for the IIFA awards, the couple certainly made a pretty picture. Preity always looks good in black but prettier in yellow. I just hope Ness will resist any temptation to wear her Chopard diamond studs in his ears, a fashion beloved of some Bollywood stars but which is so year before last.
|TOUGH TURF: Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De India
At the time of writing, we are being asked to make choices: either Shah Rukh Khan on Saturday evening at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair or Amitabh Bachchan at precisely the same time at Bafta, a stone’s throw away in Piccadilly'
I think I will have to summon these two sixth-formers into my study.