The swearing-in of the 57 senior and junior ministers - with Arun Jaitley standing down as Finance Minister on grounds of continuing ill health - by President Ram Nath Kovind was a glittering affair, a pageant if you will, but one that was truly worthy of the occasion. The result may not have pleased many across the country, but many more – much, much, more – were delighted by the outcome.
The campaign was bruising, even ugly; no quarter was given, none asked for. The Election Commission held the ring with admirable coolness on the whole, the entire spectacle gripping at the end. Apart for one or two contrarians, Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, the most notable, there was hardly a discordant voice on the genuineness of the peoples’ verdict. India had spoken, and spoken decisively. It was above all, a triumph for Narendra Modi, the visionary, and his strategist and tactician Amit Shah. The country was spared the demeaning sight of a horse traded coalition hanging on the whims of horse thieves. There is much work to be done, and an elected government by such numbers has been empowered to do what it takes.
The Prime Minister had the last word: pollsters, for the most part, relied on cold arithmetic, he had the human chemistry, and this won the day. He struck a welcome conciliatory note, saying that his government would act for all sections of society including those that voted against the ruling BJP.
With former President Pranab Mukherjee
The Prime Minister visited former President Pranab Mukherjee, a lifelong Congressman, for whom he has had deep respect and affection. Mr Modi Tweeted that it was always a unique experience meeting and talking with ‘Pranab Da’ [affectionate elder brother] and share his insights. (Print media, TV channels, May 25-28).
News from the economic front made sombre reading. The 5.8 per cent growth in the fourth quarter of the fiscal ended March 31, was the slowest in five years, the unemployment figure the highest ever. The consoling statistics were the low inflation, and the fulfilment of the targeted fiscal deficit. Another notable fact worthy of consideration is that of farmers’ distress, the paradox being that the BJP rural vote had markedly increased. Distress there certainly was, but its size was clearly exaggerated (Times of India, June 2; Hindu, Business Line, May 31).
Senior columnist Sunanda Datta Ray launched a scathing attack on the Modi government, referring to the abominable case of lynching of a Muslim in Haryana as a foretaste of things to come. There was no mention of the arrest of the suspects - par for the liberal establishment course. Witness for the prosecution, none called for the defence. Elections are fair only when the preferred party or individual wins. Which is what prompts US regime change adventures across the globe.
Shah Bano case
Datta Ray made much of Madhya Pradesh Congress Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s dismissal of the BJP victory as Hindutva demagogy, was allegedly a ploy to polarise the country on religion. This apparent amnesia apropos of the Shah Bano case is worth recall. The 70 year-old divorcee was left a Rs 70 monthly alimony by her lawyer husband, as required by Muslim P:ersonal Law. The Supreme Court, on appeal, forced the husband to increase the sum appropriately. Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, persuaded by Islamic radical Shahabuddin, amended the relevant article of India’s constitution, thanks to the two-third Congress majority in Parliament. The Supreme Court judgement was quashed and the original Rs 70 alimony restored. There was anger across the nation at Rajiv’s unscrupulous, ill-judged manoeuvre. In the general election that followed, the BJP’s two MPs had swelled to 119; it was the breakthrough the party had for long hoped for: there was no looking back thereafter.
Datta Ray’s sneers at Mukesh Ambani and Adani did him little credit. Their crime apparently was being Gujarati. As entrepreneurs, they have placed India on global map – which is more than can be said of Bengal’s TMC mobs. (Telegraph June 1).
US scholar’s corrective
Walter Anderson, Senior Adjunct Professor of South Asia Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of books on the RSS including ‘The Brotherhood in Saffron’ and ‘ RSS: A View To The Inside’ sharing his views on the 2019 Indian general election results and possible implications for the country’s future, said: ‘I am not among the people who consider this mandate as a dramatic inflexion point for the country, and while there will be Hindu-centric assertions in certain matters, it is not the end of secularism in India as some people fear. India is too complex and diverse for such a dramatic change, and this is also its strength...The big challenge before the government is job creation for which Foreign Direct Investment may be pushed despite reservations [by RSS affiliate] Swadeshi Jagran Manch. In any case the RSS under Mohan Bhagwat is more cautious and pragmatic than it was under his predecessor Sudarshan, said Professor Walter Anderson (Hindu June 2).
Congratulations, then tariffs
US President Donald Trump was among the first heads of state to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his General Election victory, saying he was looking forward to working closely with ‘US ally, India.’ A week later, he announced the imposition of US tariffs on Indian goods entering the country, because India not sufficient access to its market for US products. The decision – to come into effect on June 5 - made front-page headlines on India’s major English-language broadsheets.
The Modi government’s response, thus far, has been muted; the decision though ‘unfortunate’ would hopefully be resolved through talk talks to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.
The Generalized System Preference (GSP) programme is the largestand oldest designed promote economic development in developing countries by permitting duty-free entry into developed countries including the US on a wide range of products. President Trump declared: ‘I have determined that that India has not assured the US that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets.’ (Statesman, Times of India, Hindu, Business Line, June 2).
The threat to impose US sanctions unless India ceased or greatly reduced its military acquisitions from Russia is infinitely more serious, impinging on India’s sovereign right to determine its relationship with a third country., This is a red line for India. See Page 3 for second Comment.
GST collections keep growing
India’s Goods & Services Tax (GST) collections grew 6.7 per cent to reach Rs 1 lakh crore in May, as compared to Rs 94,016 crore for the same period last year. This is the third straight year that the GST has registered over Rs 1 lakh crore growth (Statesman June 2).
BEL turnover up 17 per cent
Defence company Bharat Electricals Ltd (BEL) acquired orders exceeding Rs 23,43o crore during fiscal 2018-19 ended March 31. Of this, the overall value as of April 1 was Rs 51000 crore. The company as per orders, designed and manufactured air command and control systems , weapon locating radar, ground based mobile electronics systems, low intensity conflict electronic warfare systems etc. Likewise, the company received orders for long range surface-to-air missiles, smart city business, integrated perimeter warning system fot the LAE Kerala Optic network etc. The company plans to focus on space electronics, solar homeland security, telecom, railways, civil aviation and much else (Statesman June 2).
Sonia Gandhi back on top
Congress Party matriarch, Sonia Gandhi has been elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party.
Addressing Congress MPs, With 52 MPs, the post of leader of the Opposition continues to elude the party, once India’s Grand Old Party, reduced to a virtual rump, stuck in its ways and clearly going nowhere. The next general election in 2024 seems lost already. Indian democracy needs a robust, dynamic Congress (Hindu, June 2).