Tuesday 24th January 2017 18:49 EST

A suspected Pakistani intelligence hand is believed responsible for two recent rail crashes near Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, last November, resulting in 151 deaths and 200 injuries to innocent passengers; this was the backdrop to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech calling on Pakistan to cease its encouragement of jihadi terror groups, trained and armed in the country and sent across the border into India to cause death and destruction. Until Islamabad did so, he said, no talks with Pakistan would be possible. 

According to Bihar police sources, the involvement of Pakistan’s notorious Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) was revealed, following the arrests of three criminals named Umashankar Prasad, Motilal Paswan and Mukesh Yadav, from Motihari on the India-Nepal border. While the three planted and detonated the bombs, the mastermind and handler was an ISI agent, said Superintendent Jitendra Rana, briefing the media. In his testimony Motilal Paswan claimed that one Braj Kishore Giri, recently arrested in Nepal, had given Rs 300,000 to Dipak Ram and Arun of Adapur village to plant an IED on a railway track in Ghorashan. ‘When they failed to trigger the explosion, Giri killed them in the jungles of Nepal,’ said Paswan.

The conspirators worked in the Gulf kingdoms of the UAE, Pakistan and Nepal. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been monitoring the situation with the Bihar police; if required the NIA may take over the investigation when proof of the ISI link is firmly established. Meanwhile the Railways has asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for help in the ongoing investigation as its complexities unfold. Subsequent reports state that Nepal has asked Dubai for the extradition of a Nepalese citizen, Shamshul Huda, who is said to be the ISI mastermind behind the rail bomb blasts (Times of India, Hindu January 18, 19).

Modi’s conditions for dialogue

In a speech inaugurating the Ministry of External Affairs Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, Mr Modi said that India spoke with one voice when he was elected to office with a mandate for change. ‘India alone cannot walk the path of peace. It has to be Pakistan’s journey to make. Pakistan must walk away from terror if it wants to walk towards dialogue with India,’ he told an audience which included former Australian and Canadian prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Stephen Harper, and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Also present was Nepal’s Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, who acknowledged Mr Modi’s reference to India as the ‘credible first responder’ to Nepal’s times of crisis such as the devastating earthquake that had laid the country low.

On China

Prime Minister Modi referred to Sino-Indian differences, saying that he and President Xi Jinping had discussed the ‘unprecedented business and commercial opportunities’ between their countries.’ Nevertheless, he alluded sharply to the obstacles to a closer Sino-Indian relationship. ‘Rising ambition and festering rivalries (in Asia) are generating visible stress points,’ the Prime Minister’s clear reference to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and China’s Pakistan economic corridor which traverses part of Kashmir, to which India had just claim.

Russia, US, Japan

In contrast, Prime Minister Modi made warm reference to India’s privileged strategic partnerships with Russia, and to its close ties with the United States and Japan. He said he had spoken with US President-elect Donald Trump on building on the Indo-US relationship, and had had ‘long conversations’ with President Putin on challenges confronting the world (Hindu January 18).

India, Vietnam ties irk China

On the eve of his visit to Beijing, Vietnam’s senior leader Nguyen Phu Trong, the Chinese fired a broadside at the prospect of Indian missile sales to Hanoi, in accordance with a list supplied to India by the Vietnamese government. Targeting India, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, Global Times, fumed: ‘If the Indian government makes its enhancement of military relations with Vietnam as a strategic arrangement or even revenge against Beijing…China will hardly sit back with its arms crossed.’ Continuing the rant, Global Times said: ‘Due to geopolitical factors, some nations [read Russia and America] have been cosying up to India…which to a large extent led to India’s fruitful development. New Delhi understands that India’s best strategy is to collaborate with all parties, instead of picking a side.’

Advice to India

Global Times quoted an academic satrap, Zhuang Guotu, Dean of the School of Southeast Asian Studies at Xianmen University who, with the lofty disdain of the traditional mandarin addressing a kowtowing tributary, pronounced: ‘India has a dream to grow into a great power. But under today’s international circumstances, it will be extraordinarily hard to achieve the goal on its own [read without China’s help]. What India needs is more pragmatic cooperation with other countries.’ (Times of India January 12).

Understanding the message

No doubt this Chinese counsel was well meant, but India’s strategic partnership, alluded to by Mr Modi surely points to the sort of pragmatism that China has never quite achieved itself. After all, baiting India through Pakistan is neither wise nor fruitful. India might well supply Vietnam with its prized supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles, but this will require Russian assent, since the contract for its manufacture clearly states that neither partner can sell the product without the approval of the other. That Russia has waived this right and left its sale to India’s discretion surely carries an appropriate message, whose significance Global Times would do well to understand.

India now Associate member of CERN.

India, last week, became an Associate member of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The agreement, signed around mid-November by Dr Sekhar Basu, Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, and Fabiola Gianotti, CERN Director General, has taken effect a month later.

Indian goal

Becoming Associate member of CERN will enhance participation of young scientists and engineers in various CERN projects and bring back knowledge for deployment in domestic programmes. It will also provide opportunities to Indian industry to participate in CERN projects, said Dr Basu. India has been active in CERN projects for the past 50 years.

‘Indian physicists and engineers have made substantial contributions to the construction of the LHC accelerator and to the ALICE and CMS experiments, as well as accelerator Research & Development projects,’ said Dr Gianotti (Hindu January 18).

Women space scientists flying high

The defining picture of India’s successful space mission to Mars received extensive media coverage across continents; the photograph showed a group of women scientists celebrating the achievement at the mission control facility. The New York Times long in the tooth India baiting published a sneering cartoon referring to a ‘cow’ nation in space exploration. One expects no better.

Transcending male prejudice

‘Slapshots from Afar,’ Breakthrough’s short film, directed by Emily Driscoll, profiles three women scientists at India’s Space Reserch Organization (ISRO), Bangalore. They are Seetha Somasundaram , the Programme Director, Nandini Harinath , Project Manager, Mission Design and Deputy Operations Director, Mars Orbiter, and male associate Scientist Engineer Mrinal Rohit, Project Manager, Methane Sensor for Mars.

The three women have children and families, so their domestic responsibilities are shared with their professional duties as scientists in a highly exacting environment. Patience and discipline are their watchwords. (January 13).

Demonetization to hit India’s growth: IMF

The International Monetary Fund has stated the demonetization could reduce India’s economic growth in the current fiscal, ending March 31, 2017, by 1 percentage point to 6.6 per cent from the previous 7.6 per cent (Hindu January 17).

UN optimism

However, a United Nations report, it would appear, is more optimistic pegging India’s current fiscal growth at 7.7 per cent. Why so? Because, it says, ‘India has positioned itself as one of the most dynamic emerging economies…Investment demand is expected to pick up slightly, supported by monetary easing, government efforts towards infrastructure investments and public private partnerships and and domestic reforms.’ (Business Line January 18).

Modi-Trump duo to rev up FDI

John Chambers, Cisco Chairman and head of the United States India Business Council expects Foreign Direct Investment from the US after President-elect takes over formally as America’s 45th President. He firmly believed that India’s GDP growth will power the global economy as would India’s growing digitization. US companies were planning to invest $27 billion in India over the next two years. ‘Modi is among the three smartest people I have met,’ he said. (Times of India January 16).

Boris Johnson holds court in Kolkata

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, before breezing into Kolkata, where he was in his element as humourist, wit and raconteur. A photograph in a local broadsheet of Mamata Banerjee, the feisty Chief Minister of West Bengal laughing in his company said it all.

Bicentenary celebrations

Thereafter, Mr Johnson visited Presidency University for its bicentenary celebrations, spoke  in a debate, interacted with students, before moving to former Indian Test cricketer and commentator, Arun Lal’s cricket academy, where he briefly wielded the willow, much to the amused enjoyment of its youthful aspirants. He made time in his busy schedule to visit an NGO called Future Hope for street and slum kids. ‘What a lovely man Boris Johnson is! He is so engaging and clearly loved speaking to the children, who in turn were totally charmed by him,’ said Sujata Sen, the Chief Executive of Future Hope.  Mr Johnson is our shared blessing (Telegraph January 20).

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