Tuesday 16th April 2019 16:17 EDT

The most divisive, abusive general election campaign in living memory ended its first phase merciful on April 10, with voting beginning the following day. The campaign resumed and descended at times to the pits; the BJP, on one occasion, described Congress as a pro-Pakistan and pro-terrorist party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ego Amit Shah, the BJP President, kept up a sustained barrage of insults at their Congress opponents; Congress President Rahul Gandhi replied in kind, when it would have been in his and his party’s  best interest to rely on elucidations of policies as the government in waiting – the tactic of a responsible opposition in most mature democracies.

It was left to the 91 year-old BJP veteran L.K. Advani to reprove those indulgent of smear tactics against their opponents.  According to Mr Advani, ‘The essence of Indian democracy is respect for diversity and freedom of expression. BJP has never regarded those who disagree with us as our enemies, but only as our adversaries. Similarly, we have never regarded those who disagree with us as anti-national…The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at personal as well as political level.’

Mr Modi responded thus: ‘Advaniji perfectly sums up the essence of BJP, most notably the guiding Mantra of Nation First, Party Next, Self Last.’ (Times of India April 5). 

Rahul, Mamata at loggerheads

Congress President Rahul Gandhi attacked Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, who responded with the imbecilic riposte targeting his alleged links with the RSS, widely seen as the power generator of the country’s Hindutva ideology. There are clearly no limits to political insanity. The Times of India’s opinion poll -– the last permitted by the Election Commission before voting commenced on April 11 – gave the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance 275 seats to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance of around 164 seats in the new Lok Sabha. Polling ends on May 23.

Voting begins

The first day of voting was brisk, reminiscent of the 2014 general election, said some observers. The first phase of the elections in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar and Alipurduar; 80.85 per cent of the electorate cast their ballots in Cooch Behar, while in Alipurduar 80.58 per cent did likewise. Voting was largely peaceful, with scattered instances of violence, which were quickly brought under control. (Statesman April 12).

Asian investors in India big time

The epicentre of foreign investment in Indian startups is moving from North America (and perhaps Europe) to Asia, according to US-based venture capital firms such as Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital, Although still dominant, US firms are giving way to Asian heavyweights Softbank, Been-exit, Alibaba and Tencent.  Data from research Venture Intelligence reveal that deals involving Chinese investors rose from 1 in 2013 to 27 in 2018, while deals backed by Japanese investors rose from 3 to 54 over the same period. Supporting data from EY India point to the emergence of Singapore as a significant player with its India participation rising from 3 to 24 deals across the same timeline. 

Stated reasons

‘Not only is the Indian startup ecosystem the third-largest after the United States and China, it also has the third-highest number of unicorns. So it’s no surprise that that global investors are lining up to join the party,’ said Vivek Soni, partner and zonal leader for PE Services EY India. 

Digitizing economy

According to a recent Mckinsey Global Institute study, the Indian economy’s digitization has the potential to boost core sectors like IT, digital communication, and online retail, it   also has a transformative potential in other areas of the economy such as financial services, agriculture, logistics and education. India has 560 million internet users. ‘The opportunity for leapfrogging is available to the poorest sections of society, as the lowest income states have seen the the biggest jump in mobile internet subscribers. So now education, healthcare  and livelihood opportunities can be delivered to them which won’t have been possible in the PC driven internet age,’ said Alok Kshirsagar and Anu Madgavkar, co-authors of the McKinsey report. ‘This is not just about startups but also includes incumbents who are able to use technology to drive 30 to 40 per cent change in business outcomes.’ (Times of India March 31).

Canada welcomes Indian migrants 

Canada is set to offer hassle-free entry norms into the country to aspiring Indians - including those based in the US – with science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) qualifications to make the most of its  emerging job opportunities. According to available statistics provided by Canada’s Immigration Ministry, 41,000-odd such entrees in 2018 were Indian. ‘We are attracting some of the most highly skilled people of the world through our global skills strategy,’ said Ahmed Husain, Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in a budget statement to Parliament in Ottawa. This more a strategic than an immigration measure that companies were adopting to build more diverse and innovative teams, explained Vartika Manasvi, co-founder of Stackraft, a tech-talent platform that matches skilled individuals with potential employees (Times of India April 10).    

India’s new sniffer in the sky

A few days after striking down a low earth satellite, A-Sat - the fourth country with such capability after the US, Russia and China – India launched a satellite designed to protect its assets, including protection of its fighter jets and spacecraft through detection of radars on enemy territory. 

The Electro-Magnetic

Intelligence Satellite will intercept radar signals and the kind of radar involved plus their location. This project is a collaborative exercise by the Indian Space Research and Organization (ISRO) and the Defence Reseach and Development Organization (DRDO), whose Director General Satheesh Reddy, said was a major milestone after A-Sat. ‘We were able to to enhance our capabilityies with two successes in a short time.’ 

ISRO’s PSLV C45 undertook unique manoeuvres to three different circular orbits and inject 28 foreign satellites. It also has specific uses for India (Times of India April 2).

NASA chief’s criticism

Earlier, US space agency NASA Director issued a strong statement critical of  India’s successful A-Sat launch for scattering space debris endangering American satellites. This provoked an equally trenchant rebuttal strong from India’s former DRDO chief,  V.K. Saraswat, who denied the NASA facts and pointed to previous US disapprovals of Indian science and technological breakthroughs, most notably the Pokhran nuclear tests of May 1998. 

India’s Bofors ready for service

In an important step forward the Indian Army has received the from country’s Ordinance Factory Board the first six Dhanush 155 millimetre artillery guns for the Indian Army. This is part of an order for 114 guns manufactured at Jabalpur. Described as the Indian Bofors, developed from the blueprint supplied by the Swedish  Bofors company in the 1980s of its iconic  model artillery weapon, of which India had bought 400 pieces, which proved their worth in the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999. Now, the government’s Defence Acquisition Council has cleared the purchase of 414 Dhanush guns in tranches, so that the refining process of this formidable weapon could continue.  

Overall, the Army has 218 field artillery regiments equipped with Dhanush. Artillery is an integral component in modern warfare. It Was the Soviet Red Army’s most devastating weapon of choice against the forces of Nazi Germany, which were demolished along battlefronts along the route to Berlin, in the greatest war fought on earth (Business Standard April 9, with a contribution on Red Army by Asian Voice staff).       

IIT-Madras on top

The Indian Institute of Technology-Madras topped the list of excellence in India’s science institutions. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangasluru came second, followed by IITs-Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur, Kanpur, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, IIT-Roorkee, IIT-Guwahati, with Banaras Hindu University in tenth place (Business Line April 9). 

Jamia’s first woman Vice Chancellor

Professor Najma Akhtar has become the first woman Vice Chancellor  of the Jamia Millia Islamia in its four-decade history. According to her bio-data posted on the National Institute of Education and Administration (NIEPA) website, Professor Akhtar is a gold medalist Aligarh Muslim University, completing her PhD [Education] from Kurukshetra University, and has been a Commonwealth Fellow at the University of Warwickshire UK, and trained at the International Institute of Educational Planning, Paris (Times of India April 12).

Supreme Court rejects Rafale secrecy plea

The Supreme Court has rejected a secrecy plea on documents concerning the Rfale aircraft deal India signed with France. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who shared the lead judgement Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, upheld a newspaper’s right to publish details of the deal. ‘The press in India greatly contributed to the strengthening of democracy in India, ‘ they said (Hindu April 11).

UN awards for Mamata govt

Two West Bengal government projects for skill development and distribution of bicycles to students, have won the prestigious World Summit  on the Information Society United Nations awards. West Bengal’s TMC government is headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Hindu April 12).

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