Ring out the old year, ring in the new. Alas, not in Indian politics, where low comedy, it would appear, continues to be the flavour of the season, comer wind or high water. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, bit between the teeth, have begun an unruly campaign to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi from office, of which there isn’t a hell’s chance of success. Clearly on a fool’s errand, she let loose her goons on the streets of Kolkata displaying intimidating mob power with a premeditated onslaught on the BJP office, and a separate attack on the house of the local BJP MP and minister Babul Supriya.
What may the cause of such mayhem, traffic jams in the heart of the metropolis, you may well ask. It was her nationwide campaign to ‘roll back’ demonetization. The more she tries such methods, the worse it gets for her credibility as chief minister and politician. She has been assured of the support of Sonia Gandhi and her heir apparent Rahul, both of whom are political liabilities, a cross for the Congress party to bear.
Corruption of power
The historian Lord Acton pronounced memorably that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ It is more applicable to Ms Banherjee than it is to any other Indian politician. What has aroused her ire is yet another scam, following the previous two, Sarada and Naroda, in which TMC leaders were implicated. To these has been added the Rose Valley scam, which has led to the arrests by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of MPs Sudip Bandhopadhyay and Tapas Pal. There is little investment coming in to Bengal, and it promises to remain so until there is stable government and a more visible rule of law. Who would want to invest in a place where hooligans on the loose? (Telegraph, Times of India January 3, 4, 5)
UP’s dynastic war
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous State, and one not noted for its social progress. Government is largely a family enterprise called the Samajwadi Dal. Its patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has ruled the roost for as anyone in Lucknow can remember, making his son by his first wife, Akhilash Chief Minister. Having tasted power, the young man developed a love of it, wielding it with sufficient skill in distributing the loaves and fishes of office long enough to create an independent power base of his own, leaving the patriarch, his younger second wife and their politically ambitious daughter stranded. Akhilesh and Mulayam have held a series of marathon talks to heal the breach, and have failed. The king is not exactly dead but dying. Long live the king! (Times of India, Hindu January 4)
Sasikala star of Tamil Nadu
The third tale of a rising star in regional dominance is Sasikaala Natarajan, who appears ready to step into the late Jayalalithaa’s shoes as the supreme leader of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Having been confirmed leader of the party, the next step appears to be her coronation as chief minister. The swelling calls from within the party to take the reins of office, she will find impossible to refuse. We await the appointed hour. (Business Line December 30)
The Vibrant Gujarat meet, with its impressive presence of Nobel laureates and captains of industry, is set to attract business to the State in volumes, of which Mamata Banerjee in Bengal can only dream, will get star media billing. Started way back in 2003 as then chief minister Narendra Modi’s brainchild, it has spread its wings and brought in massive flows of investment into this business-friendly State. During the seven summits since then, 51,738 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) have been signed, of which 36,065 or 58 per cent have been commissioned and 4,014 are under implementation (Business Line December 27)
Agni V launch
To matters national, the awaited Agni V, India’s 5,000km intercontinental ballistic missile was test-launched successfully for the fourth time on Boxing Day, from a mobile vehicle on Abdul Kalam Island (formerly Wheeler Island) off the coast of Odisha over the Bay of Bengal. Agni V, designed and developed by the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO), is capable of carrying a 1.5 tonne nuclear warhead. Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, G. Sateesh Reddy, said: ‘The successful test establishes the long range capabilities and critical technologies that required for this class of missile.’ (Business Line, Hindu, Times of India December 27)
Agni IV test-launch ‘grand success’
The New Year began on a bright note for the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and DRDO, with what was described as the ‘grand success’ test-launch of the higher- end 4000km-range of the intermediate range ballistic missile, also from a mobile launch pad. Agni IV has already been inducted into the SFC, hence the test was one to assess its readiness for action, whenever required. Agni IV can carry a one tonne nuclear warhead. (Hindu January 3)
Cyber technology offer from Russia
Russian Quantum Center (RQC) is ready to collaborate with India through an offer of quantum technology designed to prevent hacking into banks accounts and Indian strategic assets across the board. ‘We are ready to work with Indian colleagues if the technology can’t be bought from the United States,’ said Ruslan Yunusov, CEO at RQF. Established by Russia’s largest technology hub, Skolkovo in 2010, RQC conducts scientific research in areas such as materials science that could lead to a new class of technologies, which include developing ‘unbreakable cryptography,’ based more on physics than mathematics. (Hindu December 26)
Israeli envoy hails India’s UN vote
Daniel Carmon, Israel’s Ambassador to India, in a newspaper interview said that India’s decision to cast an abstention vote at United Nations condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank had brought the two countries closer. ‘In the last two years we have seen some very ‘visible visits, more than a dozen ministerial exchanges ’ which have seen many important agreements being signed and implemented.’ He said the Modi-Netanyahu visits to Israel and India respectively would take place in 2017, although he was unable to give precise dates (Hindu January 1)
New service chiefs
General Bipin Rawat took over as Chief of the Army Staff from General Dalbir Singh, while Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa succeeds Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, as Air Chief Marshal and Chief of the Air Staff. The latter was received as a smooth transfer of authority; not so the former, which gave rise to a fever of half-baked media speculation about the true reasons behind the government decision to supersede Pravin Bakshi of Eastern Command and Lt General P.M Hariz of Southern Command, both senior to General Rawat.
Such decisions are rare but not unknown. Those superseded generally put in their papers of resignation. Lt General Bakshi chose not to do so, pledging full support and loyalty to General Rawat and appealing to media to end the controversy. Well said, General. The Indian media, generally, have little cause to throw stones at others when their own integrity for honest reporting is frequently called into question.
Central Asian leaders come calling
Two important Central Asian leaders, President Emomali Rahmov of Tajikistan and President Almazbek Atambaev of Kyrgyzstan – both former Soviet republics with close ties to Russia - came calling prior to Christmas were welcomed warmly with full honours by President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at gala receptions at Rashtrapati Bhavan. President Rahmov promised to work for stability in Afghanistan and cooperate closely with India on matters relating to jihadi terrorism, from money laundering to gun running and fake currency smuggling. President Rahmov said: ‘We will intensify our defence and counter-terrorism cooperation with India, and expressed full support for India’s membership of the UN Security Council. Prime Minister referred to Tajikistan as part of India’s extended neighbourhood and promised close engagement on all aspects of terrorism.
India and Kyrgzstan finalized plans for annual military exercises named Khanjur, starting in 2017, and appealed for a global convention on terrorism. The first Mughal Emperor Babur came from the city of Osh, hence the two countries shared a common heritage. Their joint statement referred to the IT support India had rendered to Kyrgyzstan including the establishment of three IT centres in the country. It also mentioned the high altitude Kyrgyz-Indian Mountain Training Centre, being built at the city of Balykchi, where Indian troops will train. They pledged to build transport networks covering Iran and Afghanistan to improve regional connectivity. Prime Minister Modi spoke of the critical Indian thrust in this direction (Hindu December 18, 21)
Media barons of other newspapers ignored both visits, clearly too busy recycling New York Times, Washington Post trash in syndicated columns or Obama angst in the dying days of a thoroughly discredited administration. January 20 is to be the day of its mercy killing.