The election season in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh has sent pollsters and political pundits into a tizzy. With the ruling Samajwadi Dal deep in the wars between party chief father Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in UP, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre in Delhi, the principal opposition party in UP, logic would suggest that the BJP stands to gaining traction from the Samajwadi Dal’s discord. However, with recent elections the world over having defied logic, the battle in UP will only be lost and won after the last ballots have been cast.
In Punjab, if trends are anything to go by, the ruling Akali Dal-BJP coalition appear to be on the back foot. The Congress party locally appears to making the running with a credible leader of standing in Captain Amarinder Singh contesting from Patiala, long regarded as his bailiwick. On this occasion, however, India’s former Army chief General Joginder Singh has thrown his hat into the ring in Patiala as the Akali candidate. Thus truly is joined with a captain and a general – once colleagues - drawn against each other. Another high profile figure is the former Indian cricket star and television personality Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has switched sides from BJP to Congress, is contesting a seat in Amritsar. The Punjab economy is not in good shape from all accounts, but more alarming is the rampant drug culture that taken hold in the State, especially among the youth. Narcotics have been smuggled into Punjab from Pakistan. The State government doesn’t appear to have coped with challenge too convincingly (Hindu, Times of India, Business Line January 9-14)
Rahul Gandhi misses bus
The locaquacious Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has made demonetization the prime target of his party’s election campaign but he might be missing the bus. The worst of the pain is clearly over and life, broadly, is getting back to normal. By the time UP and Punjab conduct their elections demonizing demonetization may no longer strike the desired chord with the public His high octane charge that demonetization ‘has ruined the nation’ is the sort of highperbole the electorate has come to except from him, which the bald facts on the ground scarcely justify. His latest broadside may well turn out to be blank. (January 12)
Cisco bets big on India
Cisco’s Executive Chairman John Chambers said the Indian economy was the only one on which he was willing to bet even as he accepted that demonetization was a ‘bump’ on the road. He explained: ‘There will be a few bumps along the way like demonetization …If I would be betting on any economy, it would be this economy. A year from now, India’s GDP will be stronger dramatically because of the changes… I know that innovation by definition is disruptive and uncomfortable and there are bumps. I think the country (India) is moving ahead remarkably fast and it’s moving with a strategy and vision. There will be a few bumps along the way like demonetization, but they are just that,’ he said, speaking in Jaipur. (Hindu January 10)
Cisco is a global US company and one of the largest foreign investors in India. A bump on the road is far from a motorway crash. Time will tell whether betting on the Cisco CEO or Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was the right thing to do.
Flying Dutchman says India, too
According to HSBC head of equity strategy for the Asia Pacific, Herald van der Linde, known to his peers as ‘The Flying Dutchman,’ India is the top bet among Asian and global emerging market equities. Speaking to reporters in Mumbai from Hong Kong, Linde said lower export dependence and reasonable valuations and a strong domestic story must be factored into any assessment of India’s economic prospects. He said: ‘India has a very large domestic component. It is not so export dependent as other markets. I think demonetization is pretty much now finished…India has an amazing ability to deal with difficult circumstances…If things don’t work, they always find a way around it.’
He rated the Modi government at an 8-10 on economic reforms deliveries thus far. ‘I would say, generally speaking, that the Narendra Modi government has been willing to take grave and bold decisions.’ The recent sharp correction driven by demonetization and a stronger dollar may have made India’s valuations attractive (Mint January 12)
World Bank forecast
The World Bank has forecast a dip in India’s GDP for the current fiscal, ending March 31, from the previous year’s 7.3 per cent to 7 per cent. Far from the predicted disaster of the community of doomsayers (Business Line January 11)
Pointers to consider
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is pole position for the lunatic fringe road race. Two Trinamool Congress presented India’s President Pranab Mukherjee with a petition calling on him to alleviate the pain of the poor caused allegedly by demonetization. She is in the wars, defending some of the the party’s top leaders’ alleged involvement in the Rose Valley scam, and in wone hopes is a temporary loss of mind, has appealed for national government at the Centre minus the elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. However the straws in the wind do not appear to be blowing her way.
National newspaper columnist Swapan Dasgupta in his latest piece writes that recent municipal polls in urban India have resulted in significant BJP victories. He cited those in Chandigarh, Faridabad and a string of mid-size towns across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Local issues may have prevailed but demonetization the all consuming topic of the past few weeks must have surely played a part in the voters’ choice (Telegraph January 12)
Industrial output up, retail inflation down
Industrial output increased by 5.7 per cent in November, reaching a 4-year high, while retail inflation declined to 3.41 per cent in December, the latter – a two-year low - ascribed by economists to demonetization. Electricity increased by 8.9 per cent. The industrial growth was by a surge in capital goods and also by consumer output. However, too much should not be made of these figures apropos of demonetization. Data for the next few months should reveal more on whether this upswing can be perceived as permanent or not (Hindu, Business Line, Telegraph January 13)
TCS profit up 11 per cent
Tata Consultancy Services has posted 11 per cent profit in the third quarter – October-December 2016 - of the current fiscal ending March 31, 2017. TCS Managing Director N.Chandrasekaran leaves his post in a blaze, having presided over TCS growth as India’s foremost software and overseen its emergence as a global player. He will be taking over the new Chairman of Tata Sons from February 21, 2017. (Business Line, Hindu, Telegraph, Mint January 13) See page 3 for profile.
Pakistan terror suspect charged
Bahdur Ali, a Pakistani national who had infiltrated the Line of Control in Kashmir and captured by Indian security forces before being interrogated by the National Intelligence Agency has been indicted before an Indian court of belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and planning terror acts across India (Hindu January 7)
Al Badr terrorist killed
Muzaffer Naikoo alias Muza Moulvi , who had long survived attempts to catch him was finally run to ground near Srinagar and shot dead in an exchange of fire with security forces. He had been working in tandem with Laskar-e-Taiba operatives under the command of Abdullah Uni. A police spokesman claimed that Naikoo had left Lashkar-e-Taiba and joined the Al Badr outfit. His funeral, attended by separatist leaders Mirwaiz Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani who hailed the dead man as a freedom fighter alleged that he had been tortured and killed well before the encounter with security forces (Hindu January 7)
Russian spares for Indian weapon systems
Russia has amended its laws to permit long-term contracts for spares and support for military equipment supplied to India. This is expected to address longstanding Indian concerns on the serviceability of Russian equipment. Negotiation will commence shortly on long-term contracts with Indian companies for their production in India. Talks on an agreed price catalogue should then proceed (Hindu January 7)
Republic Day Chief Guest UAE Crown Prince
India’s presence in the Gulf will take a significant step forward with UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Sayed Al Nabyan as Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi on January 26. The UAE Crown Prince will then hold defence and ant-terrorist security talks, which will include intelligence cooperation, with India’s Minister of State in the External Affairs Ministry, M.J.Akbar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval (Hindu January 10)
UAE diplomats die in Afghan bomb blasts
Five UAE diplomats were killed in the latest bomb blasts in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in which the total death toll was estimated at 11. The Taliban is believed to have been behind the blasts, which were carried out by a suicide bomber. With Pakistan the operating base of jihadi terror groups, India’s Gulf diplomacy is both timely and effective. (Times of India January 12).