Fallen tycoon Vijaya Mallya left India early this month for the pastoral bliss of his sumptuous abode in a Hertfordshire hamlet, some 30 miles north of London. His business empire in India, including the defunct King Fisher airline, is in a shambles. its pilots adrift with almost a year’s salary in arrears.. Curiously, the departing millionaire left the country with a rich pay packet of $75 million or more, as part of a deal with his creditors. How could a man such as he with failing businesses and a mountain of unpaid debt keeping huge loans from public sector banks with little or no collateral? The unsavory truth appears to be political clout. Parliament and the media have been convulsed. There is clearly something diabolically rotten in the state of Denmark for such malfeasance to go unchecked. There is one law for the super rich and a another for the rest, so what happens to governance and the rule of law?
As if this wasn’t bad enough, a sting operation by a media online portal, Narada by name, produced a video of a sting operation in which a number of Trinamool Congress MPs were seen accepting substantial sums of cash from a vendor for undefined services. The West Bengal political scene is in turmoil from this revelation, with standard Trinamool Congress statement claiming that the whole thing was a Communist-Congress-BJP ‘conspiracy’ to defame the Trinamool government of West Bengal.
The abracadabra of ‘conspiracy’ is the well worn defence of Indian politicians or political parties with difficult questions to answer. Be that as it may, truth will out. Parliament’s Ethics Committee, under the chairmanship of L.K. Advani, is to examine the evidence and make hnown its findings when, hopefully, truth will out and the matter laid to rest (Telegraph, Hindu, Business Line, Times of India (March 11.12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)
Takehiko Nakao, President of the Asian Development Bank, in an extensive newspaper interview, stated, apropos of the Indian economy, ‘Some people say [Indian economic] reforms are not implemented as much as expected, but if we look at the track record of the government, macroeconomic stability has been achieved; also there are many reforms, including raising the threshold for foreign direct investment in some areas…deregulation of procedure… doing business in India has improved , foreign direct investment is now increasing ….Perception about India is now changing.
Prime Minister Modi has given another impetus to reforms and competitiveness…and we are supporting ‘Make in India, Clean India and Smart Cities and solar initiatives,’ he said (Mint March 14)
Modi approval rating 74 per cent
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval rating remains consistently high at a rock-solid 74 per cent. The poll conducted by InstaVaanni. The poll has been conducted since he came to power in 2014 and shows no sign of falling away, despite the political ruckus, from time to time, and all manner of controversies that break out in the public space. He has no discernable rivals from his own BJP ranks or from the wide array of opposition leaders. He has held on to a broad mid-70s percentage niche in poll ratings, a noteworthy achievement in a fractious political environment (Mint March 12)
Navigation satellite in orbit
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chalked up yet another triumph with the launch of the navigation satellite – IRNSS –1E, from Sriharikota from the work horse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The satellite is designed to to provide accurate information service to users in India and the region beyond the boders up to 1,500 kilometres. The satellite carries two payloads – the navigation payload and ranging payload.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists and engineers on their feat (Hindu March 11)
Naval indigenization moves apace
The Indian Navy’s Vice Chief P. Murugesan said that the paradigm shift from buyer to self-reliant manufacturer is proceeding apace in all three areas of the service – float, move and fight. ‘We have come a long way in move and fight. In the float category, we are able meet the demands of war shipbuilding almost to 90 per cent domestically.’ In the other two sectors there is more distance to cover to bring indigenization up to the required speed. (Business Line March 12)
IAF distress call
The Indian Air Force has issued yet another distress call on its declining numbers of frontline aircraft with the retirement old planes from service. India’s stated war doctrine envisages a two-front war against Pakistan and China, and the present 33 squadrons in service, against the 42 sanctioned, warned Air Marshal B.S. Dhanoa. Pakistan’s acquisition of American F 16s, emphasized the need to bolster India’s force level in the air. India has been in marathon negotiations with France over the IAF’s need for Rafale aircraft with no end yet in sight
Iron Fist exercise
The IAF is to hold its ‘Iron Fist’ exercise displaying the full range of its capabilities, from electronic warfare systems, advanced radar, to the full panoply of its missiles. President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Modi will be present (Times of India, Hindu March 11)
Why, one must ask, is the government so passive in face of French stalling tactics? Are the Rafales so indispensable? If so, why are they in service with only two or three major powers? According to the German magazine Focus, Russia’s latest fourth-generation with some fifth-generation features, the Sukhoi 35, no less, which performed devastating over Syria, much to the consternation of Nato chiefs, not in contention for an IAF contract?
Indian Army officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, have complained of the government’s ‘timidity’ in responding to China’s rapidly modernizing border infrastructure. The Indian Air Force has been modernizing old air bases as frontline enabling platforms in Arunachal bases for heavy lift Globemasters and other modern aircraft. The Army officers have welcomed these moves, but are dissatisfied at the incremental changes preferred by the authorities in Delhi. The plan to field an advanced corps with offensive capabilities has apparently been put on hold (Hindu March 14)
Electronics industry gets boost
India has taken the first step towards self-reliance in electronics manufacturing with a venture capital firm all set to invest Rs 700 crore in a chip manufacturing facility in the country. Mumbai-based Next Orbit Ventures will be investing in one of the two consortiums interested in such facilities. ‘We intend to invest in the first digital fabrication unit in Gujarat for a local project costing $5.6 billion and the first analog fabrication unit for a total cost of $1 billion,’ said Ajay Jalan, Managing Partner at Next Orbit Ventures. The cost of developing analog semiconductors is lower than that for digital semiconductors. The formal signing of the contract is scheduled for the end of March (Business Line (March 16)
India’s E-commerce surge
‘Every second three more Indians experience the internet for the first time. By 2030 more than 1 billion of them will be online. In June last year one in four mobiles used in India was a smartphone, up from one in five just six months earlier. Add in two more facts – India boasts the world’s fastest-growing large economy, and the planet’s biggest population of millennials – and you can see why the likes of Facebook, Uber and Google are falling over themselves to establish footholds there,’ explained The Economist (March 5). No battle for the online future of India more intense than the one now being waged in e-commerce. The country is the fastest-growing e-commerce market in the world and is much prized by America’s and China’s internet titans.
Trump compliments Indian students
Republican presidential contender, Donald Trump, made a complimentary reference to Indian students in America during a television interview, when he fielded a question on immigration, with Fox News. ‘Whether we like that or not, they pay… but we educate a lot of people, very smart people. We need those people in the country. You know they go to Harvard, they are first in their class and they’re from India they go back to India and they set up companies and they make a fortune and they employ lots of people and all of that,’ he said.
Allowed to stay
Continued Trump: ‘Many people want to stay in this country…I think somebody who goes through years of college in this country, we shouldn’t kick them out the day they graduate, which we do.’ IT professionals from India and major Indian companies are the principal beneficiaries of the H-1B, a non-immigration visa hat allows US employers to give temporary employment to foreign workers in specialty occupations (Business Li8ne March 16)
India, Iran for Chabahar deal
India and Iran are set to sign a contract for the development of the Chabahar port in northern Iran that would link it to a rail network to Herat in western Afghanistan. In the second phase, Chabahar will be linked to the rail transport system designed to take Indian goods to the Caspian region, Armenia, thence to the Russian Federation and Belarus and to the rest of the rest of the Russian-led Eurasian market (Business Line March 16)