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October 2019

 

Media coverage in India this month focused on the second summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the recently held state elections and the second annual India leadership summit focusing on US-India relations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping Meet for the Second Informal Summit

During their recent summit Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi held one-on-one talks, followed by delegation discussions on issues including trade-related matters, India’s trade deficit and the threat posed by radicalisation and terrorism.  Various media publications have weighed in on what the summit means for Sino-Indian relations today and over the coming years.

The Hindustan Times opined that the summit has provided strategic tramlines that can help both countries rebalance their ties and get down to addressing the more contentious matters. “It would, however, have been unrealistic to expect that this meeting would lead to the removal of all the irritants that have plagued the relationship in recent months, principal among them being the manner in which China had backed Pakistan’s efforts to take the Kashmir issue to various bodies of the United Nations… Too much should not be read into a reference in the Indian statement, issued after the meeting, about joint efforts to counter the training, financing and support for terror groups, at least not until China shows it is willing to ask its all-weather ally Pakistan to tackle this issue decisively. Mr Xi’s call for developing military-to-military relations to enhance trust and an invitation to the Indian defence minister to visit China, however, are significant… The biggest take-away from the meeting was the creation of the economic and trade dialogue mechanism as it will allow the two sides to tackle a range of issues of concern, from India’s ballooning trade deficit to the tricky negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement.”

A column in The Hindu detailed out how the two countries could work together to face challenges of radicalisation and terrorism in the region. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday evening deliberated upon areas of investment that the two countries could encourage. They shared the view that they would work together to ensure that “radicalisation and terrorism” did not affect the fabric of “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies” of their countries… The discussions also covered historical and trade links between Tamil Nadu under Pallava and Chola dynasties, and the eastern coast city of Quanzhou in Fujiyan Province, where Tamil inscriptions and fragments of architecture, reflecting a possible temple built by Tamil traders in the 12th Century CE, were recently discovered. Mr. Xi and Mr. Modi deliberated upon the possibility of enhancing knowledge in this area.”

An op-ed in Livemint stated why India should initially put aside serious points of disagreements and focus on building the foundation of  a strong relationship with China over the coming years.  “Indeed, while this does provide a nice distraction, there is a larger take-away and this was conveyed by Xi Jinping.  Immediately after he departed India, Xi Jinping put out an interesting statement reported by Xinhua, the official news agency of China.  While dwelling on the positives, the Chinese President remarked rather cryptically, “We should carefully handle issues concerning each other’s core interests.  We should properly manage and control problems that cannot be solved for the time being.” Shorn of diplomatic speak, Xi Jinping is simply saying that both countries should agree to disagree on matters that are a bone of contention. … Earlier the binary contours defined around the Cold War era precluded such a nuance.  Even with the United States, which was the single biggest shift Indian diplomacy undertook under the leadership of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and continued first by Manmohan Singh and in the last six years by Modi, the recalibration happened in stages… In the India-China context, something similar seems to be playing out.  Though the two instances can’t be compared—the US has never militarily attacked India, though it sided Pakistan in a bilateral conflict—there are sufficient parallels suggesting that the relationship can transition from one of lack of trust to a transactional one.  That is exactly why an informal setting such as Mamallapuram provides the perfect platform to explore such nuances in the relationship.”

 

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Emerges as the Single Largest Party in Maharashtra and Haryana State Elections

Recent assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra saw the BJP led NDA return to power in both states.  Media publications weighed in on the implications of the election results for both the NDA as well as the opposition, through a series of op-eds.

An op-ed in The Hindustan Times outlined why the results demonstrated that there is still political space for a new party or alliance to create a strong opposition, both at a local and national level.  “There are several takeaways. One, Indian democracy is alive and kicking.  After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the key question was to do with the nature and identity of opposition to the BJP… Two, the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are invincible at the national level, but at the local level, neither the party, nor its local leaders are.  The party can be beaten — as proved by by-elections, and assembly elections, ahead of the national elections. And the party can be beaten — as the NCP, the Congress (in Haryana) and the JJP have proved — even at a time when the Opposition’s morale is at its lowest… Three, local leaders matter.  The Congress had none in Maharashtra and it now faces the ignominy of being the fourth party in the state (in terms of seats won). The NCP was led by Sharad Pawar, 79, who, despite his indifferent health, campaigned tirelessly and led from the front.  And in Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, 72, who was finally given a free hand by the Congress only as recently as a few weeks ago, helped the party expand considerably.”

An article in Livemint covered how a weakened economy resulted in a surprisingly robust performance by the opposition in both the state elections. “Given the landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general elections held this summer, few could have been faulted for expecting big wins for India’s ruling party in the just-concluded state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.  The party’s popularity, many assumed, had only risen in the months since it vaulted past the 300-seat mark in the Lok Sabha.  But the results of the latest polls have been anything but by the BJP script…  While its principal rival, the Congress party, has made only modest gains, it remains the chief political beneficiary of the public disillusionment with the BJP.  This discontent may not be either widespread or strong, but there are enough signs to suggest it does exist.  Rural stress, in particular, is a weak spot for the ruling dispensation.  Various numbers have emerged in recent months that point to stagnant or declining incomes and consumption levels among farmers and low-paid workers… The broad lesson from the Maharashtra and Haryana results, then, is that the livelihood of people needs to be top priority. A major promise of the party had been the forging of a new path to prosperity.  It would serve the party well to pay greater attention to that.”

Finally, an op-ed in The Hindu stated that the results indicated why it is important for the BJP to focus on voter concerns over the economy and livelihood issues in the next few state elections.  “Results of by-elections in 51 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies across 18 States were also announced on Thursday. Drawing any political trend lines based on these outcomes would be premature, but certain pointers are noteworthy.  The BJP had front-loaded its campaign with nationalist topics such as the status of Kashmir and the National Register of Citizens… It is possible that the BJP and allies got what they got because of this campaign, but these issues did not evidently overwhelm other voter concerns such as unemployment and farm crisis.  The BJP and the Sena are winners but tamed and curtailed compared to the Assembly results of 2014 and the Lok Sabha election earlier this year.  The rout of many turncoats from other parties that the BJP had recruited recently is an evident expression of public disapproval of such tactics.  The results also indicate that the BJP’s current arsenal is more effective in national elections.”

 

Top Leaders from India, US Discuss Trade, Geopolitics at the Second Annual India Leadership Summit

Over 300 top leaders and corporate executives from India and the US gathered in New Delhi for a leadership conference on trade and geopolitics.  The summit also focused on the potential that the US-India relationship has in areas beyond trade including sustainability, security, energy access and innovation. Leaders from both countries gave their opinion on the future of India-US relations during the summit.

The Business Standard focused on former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s opinion that she expects a trade deal between US and India to be finalized over the coming months  “There is so much more we can do for our economies.  My advice to the trade negotiators is — get a deal soon,” Rice said during a conversation with USISPF (US-India Strategic Partnership Forum) board member Purna Saggurti at the second Annual India Leadership Summit here.  “Around the world, geopolitical perspective and shifting global order are driven by technology, oil and emerging markets,” she added…. Touching upon the current scenario of the world order, Rice highlighted the difference of governance styles in democratic and authoritarian regimes.  “One of the great advantages of democracies is that change in the governance and policy can be brought about peacefully through the voice of the people. Authoritarian regimes can make policy quickly but they can also make bad policy without oversight,” she said.”

Economic Times covered commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal’s opinion on the new bilateral agreement between India and the US during which he stated that India expects support from the US across technology, innovation, skills and quality education and that the two countries should look at a much larger agreement in the years ahead  “We have almost resolved the broad contours of what we are going to announce. I don’t see any great difficulty in closing the gap on the first announcement but both of us are very clear in our minds that given the strong relationship, both at our leaders’ level where PM Modi and President Trump have taken the Indo-US relationship to a new high.  We will come out with a first set of agreement soon,” Goyal said at USISPF’s India Leadership Summit here.… He also said that the two sides believe that India and the US should look at much larger engagement in the days ahead “possibly even leading to an announcement for a bilateral agreement which will go beyond the mere tinkering that we are doing at present”.”

Finally, a column in The Hindu detailed out why India’s energy trade with the US is expected to grow by 42% in the current financial year based on statements by Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan during the summit.  “Indian Ministers sought to highlight a strong relationship with the U.S., with Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday saying that India is likely to increase its oil and gas imports from the U.S. to $10 billion in the current year… “India has already increased its engagement with the U.S. on oil and gas,” Mr. Pradhan said. “Before 2014, we did not import any oil and gas from the U.S. By 2018-19, we started importing about $6 billion worth from the U.S., and this may go up to $10 billion in 2019-20.  This is due to the gas-based economy this government is setting up in India.”.  Mr. Pradhan further said that India planned to not only meet the ethanol blending target of 10%, but also double it to 20% soon. “Only less than 1% of ethanol blending was taking place in 2014-15,” Mr. Pradhan said.  “Today 6% blending is taking place just from ethanol from sugar sources.  Our target is not 10% blending, but 20%, by focussing on other raw materials beyond sugar such as corn, and rotten foodgrains.”