It was nothing less than a bomb shell, and it left V.K. Sasikala’s hope of becoming Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister in fragments. Her tears on hearing the Supreme Court of India’s devastating judgment on her massive corruption said it all. She was sentenced to a four-year term in prison and barred from standing for public office for ten years. The ruling AIADMK, shattered by the verdict, may be heading for a split despite a frenetic salvage operation to rescue the remnants of Sasikala’s faction.
A Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy set aside the acquittal of the Karnataka High Court in a short and decisive hearing, ‘restored in toto,’ the first trial court judge in Bangalore, Michael D’Cunha’s convictions, pronounced on 27 September 2014 - against Jayalalithaa, sentenced then to a four-year prison term, and Sasikala, V.N. Sudhakaran [Sasikla’s nephew] and J.Ilavarasi [Sasikala’s sister-in-law].
The three afore mentioned were close associates of the late Jayalalithaa, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo, who died on 5 December 2016. The accused had assembled at the house of the living Jayalalithaa ‘pursuant to the… conspiracy… to hold [Jayalithaa’s] assets,’ said Justice Ghose. Justice Roy was equally damning: ‘Attendant facts demonstrate a…conspiratorial design to amass vast assets …and hold [them] through shell entities to cover up the … trail of such illicit acquisitions and deceive… the process of law.’
Jayalalithaa’s death may have ‘abated’ the criminal case against her but her properties and her bank accounts will not escape confiscation and forfeiture to realize the Rs 100 crore fine imposed on her by the trial court. Properties in the name of six front companies will also be confiscated.
Palaniswami Chief Minister
Sasikala’s last throw of the dice was to expel the interim Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu O. Panneeselvam and his faction from the party. She sent her man Friday, K.Palaniswami, to meet the State Governor Vidyasagar Rao, who installed him as the new Chief Minister, Mr Palaniswami having proved at the weekend that he had the overwhelmi8ng support of AIADM K legislators in a vote of confidence the floor of the House. Mr Panneerselvam cut a forlorn figure, flattering to deceive in his bid for power.
DMK sitting pretty
Meanwhile the DMK, the parent body from which the AIADM K split decades ago under the charismatic M.G. Ramachandran, is watching the present shenanigans with keen interest. The party appears to be biding its time. Its patriarch M.Karunanidhi has made way for his heir apparent M.G. Stalin. With a name like that, he must be the Tamil man of steel, with infinite patience, coupled with the intuition to strike at the right hour for power (Hindu, Times of India, Mint February 15)
Spectacular Space launch
While domestic television viewers were forced to endure the marathon reporting and analyses of Tamil Nadu politics – anchors and field reporters as repetitive as road drills, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) touched the skies with glory with its launch of 104 satellites from a single PSLV rocket, thereby creating a world record previously held by Russia’s 37 satellites with a single shot. The record-breaking mission was one for the history books, a stellar achievent in 50 years of space endeavour on a shoe-shine budget compared with that of America’s NASA. (Times of India, Hindu, Telegraph et al February 16) See page 3 for further comment
Interceptor missile test
India’s interceptor missile, designed to destroy an incoming ballistic missile, has been successfully tested off the Bay of Bengal. As part of the test, a target missile mimicking an enemy ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km was launched from an Indian naval vessel stationed in the Bay of Bengal. It was engaged and destroyed at a height of over 50 km. The interceptor missile is being developed by the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO). Only the US, Russia and Israel possess such missiles. In a message, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists and engineers for the test, which is a giant step forward to its operational capability (Hindu, Times of India February 12)
Showcasing Aero India
The Bangalore Air show is arguably the largest in Asia. The world’s largest companies are represented in force, as India is among the foremost global markets with its military modernization operating in high gear. US big hitters, include Lockheed Martin and Boeing, manufacturers of the F-16 and F-18 Super Hornet respectively, mill around with people from Sweden’s Saab, producer of the Grippen, all hoping to sell their frontline warplane to the Indian Air Force. (Hindu, Mint February 15)
MiG ready to deal
Meanwhile JSC Russian Aircraft Corporation, MiG, the maker of the MiG 21, long the mainstay of the Indian Air Force, is a high profile presence at Aero India. Company CEO Ilya Tareshenko, in an answer to an Indian reporter, said: ‘We have been partners with India for several decades …the legendary MiG-21 fighters are still operate with the IAF and their life cycle has been extended till 2025…we successfully completed a contract with the Indian Navy for the supply of 45 MiG 29/KUB which, as you know, took an active role in [Russia’s] Syrian conflict.’
To a question on the reason for the MiG-35 presenmce, Tarashenko replied: ‘For sure, the MiG-35 is an aircraft that the Indian Air Force is interested in, in terms of of the cost-efficiency,’ and because the present MiG on show came with the latest weapons systems and electronic warfare package. He had come prepared to negotiate supplies with ‘Make in India requirements in mind (Mint February 15, Business Line February 17)
FGFA deal ready for Cabinet approval
Meanwhile the Chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), S. Raju, informed a reporter that all technical and financial aspects of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft design and manufacture with Russia had been settled between the parties and been forwarded to the Cabinet Committee for Defence for approval (Economic Times February 15)
Larsen & Toubro, French tie-up
Indian engineering giant Larsen & Toubro has entered a joint venture with the French company MBDA for the development and production of missiles and missile systems for India’s armed forces. Larsen & Toubro will have a 51 per cent stake in the joint venture. MBDA is jointly owned by the French Airbus Group, BAE Systems and Leonardo and has considerable expertise and experience in this field (Mint February 14)
Chabahar ready for business
The strategic port of Chabahar on the northern tip of Iran abutting the Persian Gulf, will be ready for business in a month’s time, said the Afghan Consul General Mohammad Aman Amin. Chabahar, built with Indian expertise and funded largely Indian-funded, is linked to a rail network from western Afghanistan and Iran bypasses Pakistan, hence provides an alternative route for Indo-Afghan trade. Beyond this, Chabahar will be India’s commercial hub to Central Asia and the Russian Federation. Its rail link will extend to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, thence into the Russian heartland and markets farther afield (PTI, Times of India February 13)
Don’t demonize Trump: Jaishankar
Addressing a think tank in Mumbai, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar cautioned against demonizing US President Donald Trump. It was more desirable to reflect on why he came to power and understand the significance of his policies (Times of India February 15)
It was an apt warning, which sections of the Indian print media would do well to consider. Their dumb, daily syndication of the New York Times relentless diatribes against the US President appear to make them lobbyists for Hilary Clinton or her major funder, the financier George Soros, whose wealth is dispersed for anti-Trump activities across the world. What Indian interest is served by such poisonous partisanship? Could it also be black money? One has to ponder.
Japan offer to develop North-East
Japan has offered to develop the infrastructure of India’s strategic North-East region, said the Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu in New Delhi.
Buoyed by the recent ‘good’ meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump, Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu, speaking at a conference in New Delhi on the convergence of Indo-Japanese interests in the Indo-Pacific region, appealed for closer cooperation between India, Japan, the US and Australia. He pointed to the unprecedented expansion in India-Japan ties covering technology, defence etc. His remarks were endorsed by India’s Minister of State at the Home Ministry, Kiren Rijiju, who comes from Arunachal Pradesh, now claimed by China. (Mint February 14)
Memorial meeting for Russian envoy
A memorial meeting was held recently in New Delhi to condole the death of the popular Russian Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin. A former Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and a former Indian ambassador to Russia, Ajai Malhotra attended the meeting. A proposal was mooted by Indian friends to name a street in the Indian capital after him. Mr Kadkin’s family hope to set up an institute of Indology in Moscow in his name.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened by Ambassador Kadakin’s death, adding that he was ‘an admirable diplomat, a great friend of India and a fluent Hindi speaker who contributed tirelessly to India-Russia ties.’ His 30-year diplomatic career revolved round India. Russian President Vladimir Putin said: ‘Mr Kadakin was a firm and consistent in defending our country’s interests and made a particularly big personal contribution to developing Russia-India relations, which is one of our priorities. (Aniket Chakraborty, February 10)