Prime Minster Narendra Modi reached out to the opposition on the eve of the Monsoon session of Parliament in a bid to carry through important legislations, notably the Goods and Services Tax (GST), onto the statute book. The response was encouraging. A broad spectrum of Opposition MPs felt that it was time to move forward in the national interest and not permit inter-party bickering to impede parliamentary business. While a general hurrah would at this stage be premature, there are hopes that Parliament would be able to function in the way it was designed to do so. Party positions should be presented with vigour and clarity, consistent with the dignity of the House and its proceedings. (Hindu, Times of India July 18)
The lunatic fringe of the Sangh Parivar humiliated the BJP mainstream in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh when cow-protectionist vigilantes went on the rampage attacking Dalits believed to be beefeaters. The party’s Vice President Dayashankar Singh launched a scurrilous attack on Mayawati, UP’s Dalit leader, and was roundly condemned by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Stung by the ferocious all-party backlash in Parliament, the BJP expelled the erring Singh from its ranks. Mayawati thanked Jaitley for his words of support for her cause. (Telegraph, Hindu, July 21)
Vietnam envoy lauds India
Vietnam’s Ambassador to India, Ton Sinh Than, made special reference to the dignity of India’s response to the International Tribunal’s decision in the Hague, in 2014, in favour of Bangladesh in its maritime dispute with India. Both parties had sought the Court’s arbitration and India chose to abide by its verdict. He said: ‘We appreciate the position of India. It is quite clear and positive’ and worthy of emulation by China. (Mint July 19)
ONGC Videsh Ltd, India’s principal oil and gas company, has two offshore blocks in the South China Sea allotted by Vietnam and does not perceive any threat to its production. It would continue exploration after Vietnam’s reaffirmation of its sovereignty in this area. (Mint July 18)
Construction sector in strong growth
Construction and earthmoving equipment – traditional bellwethers of economic activity – are on a high, having registered 42 per cent growth in the first half of this calendar year. The fall in growth commencing 2011 signalled declining economic growth across the board. This negative cycle ended in 2015, making industry buoyantly optimistic about the sustainability of high growth.
Reasons for optimism
‘People won’t buy machines unless they are expecting to work soon,’ said Vipin Sondhi, CEO of JCB India. ‘This involves large capital investments. The actual digging of earth is a sign of business activity and not just project announcements.’ (Hindu July 17)
Indian merchandise exports grew in the first quarter of the current fiscal (April to June) reversing the negative trend that started in December 2014. The return to growth of India’s exports could herald higher economic growth for the fiscal ending March 2017. Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said: ‘We have had extensive consultations with every export sector and not once have I heard anybody tell me that exports are suffering because of our policies.’
Domestic macro economic performance has been improving steadily over the past two years, led by improvement in consumption expenditure and foreign direct investment inflows, according to a Morgan Stanley report. Since the quarter ended March 2016, incoming macro indicators are showing a broadening out in recovery, led by consumption expenditure. The rise of consumption expenditure is of particular significance as it has been weak since mid-2012, says Morgan Stanley. (Mint July 20)
RIL profit climbs
Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has posted an impressive profit of 18 per cent for the first quarter fiscal (April-June), as the company’s Jamnagar oil refinery – the world’s largest – earned more revenue through increased production. Meanwhile, Reliance revenue from organized retail grew 45.6 per cent. (Hindu, Mint July 16)
India-Russia trade ties set for growth
‘It’s huge,’ said India’s Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who had led her country’s delegation to Russia’s trade fair at Sverdlovsk. She said: ‘In Andhra Pradesh, six new nuclear centres are going to be created, totalling thousands of megawatts of electricity in capacity. Of course, Andhra Pradesh will have both the American and the Russians participating in nuclear energy generation, but the Russians will be the first to Make in India in Andhra Pradesh,’ said the Minister. As nuclear power has met with considerable opposition in Gujarat and West Bengal, the nuclear power station planned for the two states will be switched to Andhra Pradesh, confirmed Dr Sekhar Basu, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India. (Hindu July 21)
Fadnavis for more trade with Russia
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis along with the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu were in the Sverdlovsk region of the Russian Federation, where an international economic exhibition was held in which India has been designated ‘the Partner Country’. Fadnavis dwelt on the importance of Mumbai and Maharashtra as India’s financial and industrial hubs, and spoke of the new deals signed with Russian companies, notably for development of the Mumbai metro.
Scindia invited Russian defence companies to invest in Rajasthan for which they will be given every facility, while Chandrababu Naidu signed up deals with Russian companies for the development of Amravati, the State’s projected new capital, which he seeks to make the finest in the world. He quoted Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as saying that ‘Moscow is not Russia, Delhi is not India’. The mantra from here on will be trade and investment agreements between the different regions of the two countries. (Russia India Reports July 8, 12,13)
India, Russia in FGFA deal
India and Russia are close to finalizing their draft agreement on the last stage of their joint production of the long awaited Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Both sides are to contribute in equal measure to the project, with costs to be shared between the partners at $4 billion each. Also, the Sukhoi 30MKIs are to be upgraded to ‘Super Sukhois’ with advanced avionics and weapon systems.
The Indian Defence Ministry is currently working on the final Research & Development design contract, which it expects to sign with Russia this year. ‘Apart from resolving technical issues and cost issues, Russia has agreed to allow IAF test pilots to fly its prototype (Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA) now,’ revealed an Indian source. (Russia India Report July 11)
Meanwhile, there is little sign so far as to when the much-touted French Rafales will be delivered. In this century or the next? Shambolic!
Congress voice of sanity
Margaret Alva has long been one of the enlightened voices in the Congress party. Her recently published autobiography, ‘Courage and Commitment’ reflects a distinguished public life. Never afraid to voice an opinion, she regrets the shabby treatment meted out to Narasimha Rao at his death. ‘I had great respect for him, although like many others, I was upset with him on his handling of the Babri Masjid and some other issues…whatever may have been wrong, he was a Prime Minister, a Chief Minister. In death, one needs to respect the individual, whatever your differences, and I did feel that he had been wronged.’
Need for Uniform Civil Code
She told her interviewer, ‘I’m one who has always believed – and I’m a Christian and a minority – that I would also like to see a common law for marriage, a civil code brought in by the Portuguese. If it can be done there…Goa has a very successful civil code. If it can be done there, why can’t it be done in the rest of the country?’ Quite so. Why ever not?
Shah Bano case
She strongly opposed Rajiv Gandhi on the Shah Bano case. Her book tells of the warning by Fidel Castro, transmitted through her to Rajiv Gandhi, to beware of V.P. Singh. Rajiv pooh-poohed the warning. (Hindu July 16)
V P Singh’s betrayal
Prime Minister Chandrasekher (informed by the Indian intelligence services, no doubt) charged VP Singh of being a CIA associate. Having stabbed Rajiv in the back, Singh’s infamous Mandalisation programme brought national turmoil and discord. A jihadi insurgency was raging in Kashmir at the time, while the Khalistanis were amuck in Punjab, all of which was in Pakistan’s interest – and, presumably, in America’s too. An American War College paper in 2006 referred to a Sino-US plan (lasting 25 years) to contain India within the subcontinent with Pakistan as their surrogate - all hatched in the wake of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 and the liberation of Bangladesh, which Washington and Beijing vigorously opposed. Period.
BJP wrong-footed in Arunachal Pradesh
The vote of confidence in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly took an unexpected turn. BJP-backed ex-Congress rebel chief minister Kalikho Pul stood down voluntarily, to be replaced by Prema Khandu, and not the expected Nabam Tuki, the former Congress chief minister who held the reins until 30 Congress dissenters deserted the party. Khandu won the vote of confidence. Game, set and match to Congress.