Exit poll exercises are still India’s infant industry. The preferences of media barons remain an impediment in the search for reality. There is no sign, as yet, that these futile exercises will give way to realistic projections. The true consolation is that truth will out. It was – with a resounding bang. Far from heading for the political wilderness, Bengal’s feisty Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress made a triumphant return to power with an enhanced majority in the 295 seat Assembly, the Congress party came second with 44 seats, the former governing Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM limped home a poor third with 29 seats, while the ruling BJP at the centre in Delhi , despite its thunder limped in with 3 seats.
Assam’s first BJP regime
In Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha’s AIDMK romped home with a clear, if slightly reduced majority; in Assam the BJP’s victory was little short of thunderous, while in Kerala, the UDF, Left Front coalition crushed the incumbent Congress party, with Pinayravi Vijayan the new Chief Minister. BJP may have won a solitary seat, but its vote share was an impressive 15 per cent. Assam was a different story. By winning 95 seats to the incumbent Congress party’s meagre 25, made this the first BJP government in the State. Prime Minister Modi attended the swearing-in of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonawal. The BJP hopes to make a breakthrough in the North East. In the Union Territory of Puducherry in Tamil Nadu, Congress won 17 seats in a Legislative Assembly of 30 seats, thus forming the next administration.
Congress decline terminal
Kerala and West Bengal are not BJP country, but the party’s share of the vote registered a marked increase. Its future in either State may not be as bleak as the figures reveal. Where there is life there must be hope. The Congress leasership trotted out rancid clichés about the need for patience, resolution, and much else, in the face of adversity. The contrarian electorate has ‘puckishly put an ass’s head on the poor party at the bottom of the heap.’
The scale of Mamata Banerjee’s triumph was something of a surprise, given that the print media and privately-owned TV channels were consistently hostile, at times hysterically so. This has proved counter-productive. Voters were clearly swayed by their experiences on the ground, less by jaundiced media scribes. Hence development took pride of place. There has been significant rural uplift: new asphalted roads replacing dirt tracks, healthcare centres, improved power, more schools etc. There was urban uplift too. Trinamool Congress won each and every seat in Kolkata, a metropolis that was once perceived as the 20th century’s ultimate urban disaster, thanks to decades of calculated neglect by the previous Communist-led Left Front government bent on destroying the Bengali middle class. Mockingly, a new Kolkata is emerging from the debris of the old. For all that, and her verbal enticements, industry has not returned in the desired numbers to invest in West Bengal. There is too much unrest, volatility and policy inconsistencies to inspire confidence in would-be investors.
That said, Mamata Banerjee’s election campaign and its aftermath were characterized by levels of violence rarely seen before. It has prompted the West Bengal Governor to intervene with a call to the Chief Minister to control the situation. Ms Banerjee, ever the street fighter, finds it difficult to jettison the habits of a lifetime. Her carefully choreographed coronation on February 27, which brought normal life in Kolkata to a standstill, was an egotistical display of pomp, but the sequel, a question-and-answer session with the media was relaxed and positive. Meanwhile, the Chief Ministers of the other States were content with quieter, more dignified swearing-in ceremonies. (Hindu, Times of India, Telegraph, Business Line, May 20-28)
Amidst the political hurly burly, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scored a signal triumph with the successful launch of the winged Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLS) from the Sriharikota Spaceport on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. This was a technology demonstrator and its success means ISRO will be able to offer launch rates significantly cheaper than before. The eventual goal of the mission was to take Indian astronauts into space, said ISRO Chairman Kiran Kumar. ISRO tested key technologies pertaining to navigation, guidance, control systems etc. The next challenge will be to construct air breathing machine that can absorb oxygen from the air and so replace onboard oxygen cylinders As many as 600 engineers from ISRO centres, National Aerospace Laboratories, IITs, and Indian Institute of Science were involved in the RLV exercise over eight years. Indian space science and engineering have emerged as world -class products, ensuring more successes in the years to come (Hindu, Business Line, Times of India May 24, 25)
Tejas fit for purpose
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, once a fighter pilot himself, took the controls of India’s indigenously designed and manufactured warplane Tejas and passed it ‘fit for induction,’ thus boosting the morale of the team associated with the aircraft. After years of snubs and sneers, Tejas has finally made it, said a relieved Kota Harinarayan, the plane’s designer. He said, ‘The Air Chief’s words will go a long way in boosting the team’s morale and work towards induction and raising squadrons will now happen with renewed energy. These are good times.’ (Times of India May 18)
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters that the price of one French Rafel warplane equalled the combined cost of a Sukhoi 30MKI and a Tejas. Is this a message to the powers that be?
India, Russia deal on FGFA
The long awaited contract between India and Russia for the development of the second and final stage of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) , now under negotiation, is likely to be signed during in the coming months, according to the Chandigarh-based Tribune newspaper, quoting a reliable source in the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi. The plane is to be based on the T-50 aircraft designed by Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau. India’s share of the work will be 40 per cent (up from the initial 13 per cent) India plans to buy 200 of these top-of-the-line aircraft.
India has placed 40 requests for its needs to be serviced. These include the induction of the latest Russian engines, an airborne radar system with all-round visibility, and reduced radar visibility compared with the one in the prototype (Lenta May 13)
India opts for Israeli Spiders
The Indian Army has opted for the short range Surface-to-Air (SAM)) Spider missile system on grounds of their greater agility in battle field conditions which require quick reaction to enemy air attacks. India’s Akash system, already in service , operates from from static platforms. The Spider system is mobile, hence can move with battle. India plans to equip its forces on the eastern and western borders with two regiments of Spiders (1,800 missiles). Israel’s Rafel company is the manufacturer of the Spider systems (Economic Times May 25)
Diageo hub in Bangalore
Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company is to set up a back offices services unit in Bangalore that will create 1,100 new jobs. Diageo will build what could be its largest tech centre in a bid to derive cost benefits and increase growth. The new centre, registered as Diageo Services India has purchased its site in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and is preparing to piggyback on Indian software prowess (Times o9f India May 25)
New additions to Smart City list
The new list of Smart Cities announced by the Government of India includes Lucknow,, Faridabad,Bhagalpur, Ranchi, Chandigarh, Panaji, Port Blair, Imphal, Agartala and New Town, on the outskirts of Kolkata. As its name signifies New Town is a spanking, newly constructed conurbation, and its Smart City status will bring Central government funds for its transport infrastructure (Telegraph May 25)
PM’s rating remains high
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval rating across the country remains high at 74 per cent two years after taking office, according to rating agency instaVaani. The standing of the government, however, whilst also high, is lower than that of the prime minister (Mint May 23).The Times of India poll ((May 26)gave the PM a lower percentage rating at 62 per cent, but it was still high enough to keep him well ahead of the pack
Prime Minister Modi’s conciliatory words at the swearing-in ceremony of Assam Chief Minister was a welcome change. As prime minister, his voice must be the nation’s not simply that of his party. He made a generous reference to past governments in New Delhi who, he admitted, had also worked for the common good and done much to create the present platform of progress and development from his government was attempting to take the country forward (Hindu May 25)
President Mukherjee’s ongoing visit to China to be covered next week