As the Karnataka election drew to a close, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah intensified their campaigning, looking to rev up the party machinery and sway voters. In contrast, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hardly addressed a rally or held a roadshow, choosing instead interactions with gig workers. The utility of such meetings at a time when parties look to maximise contact with voters is debatable. The main campaigners are expected to hit the road with chats with small sections of the public better suited for ‘peace time’ engagements. If the idea was to show the leader’s common connect then the public attendance and response to Modi’s rallies and roadshows overshadowed such efforts. In Gujarat, Rahul had skipped electioneering and his Bharat Jodo Yatra had given the state a miss. His participation in Congress’ campaign in Karnataka has been limited, too. This does raise the question whether this is due to concerns over low attendance and a lukewarm audience. The lack of discussion about the leader in grassroots conversations might mean such fears are well-founded.
Chinese GDP Vs Us Dollar
Banker Uday Kotak’s remarks about the disproportionate power of the US dollar as reserve currency (he dialled down his initial remarks calling the dollar a financial terrorist) renewed a debate that has caught the attention of policymakers and political leaders for some time now. However, the dollar being replaced is not seen as likely in the near term. Apart from other factors, the size of the next biggest economy remains subject to scepticism and dispute. China’s GDP is supposed to be close to $18 trillion, still some way behind the US economy at $25 trillion. But even more problematic is the concern that China’s GDP is overstated. A detailed examination of data, such as tax receipts, night lighting, cargo movement and merchandise exports by four leading economists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Chicago first published in 2019 and recently updated as a Brookings working paper shows that China’s GDP might be considerably less than what is claimed by its National Bureau of Statistics. Salvatore Babones, a US academic recently in the news for describing India’s intellectual class as “anti-India”, writes that China has pockets of prosperity approaching East Asian Tiger economy levels but much of the country remains poor. All this adds up to a realisation that, tempting as it might be to break from the dollar’s grip on international trade, its lustre remains largely intact.
The King and the Captive
Newly crowned King Charles III is known to back issues close to his heart like the environment. He has other, less-known interests, such as the situation in Myanmar. He recently met Australian academic Sean Turnell, an economic advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held in Yangon’s Insein prison, and later in a camp reminiscent of the film The Bridge on the River Kwai before his release after 21 months in captivity. The king met Turnell and his wife Ha Vu, also an economist, at Windsor Castle. The monarch said he sought regular updates on Turnell and other political prisoners. Turnell conveyed a message from fellow prisoners still behind bars.
Bhutto’s Goa Break
The domestic commentary in Pakistan prior to Minister of Foreign Affairs Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s visit to Goa for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers made it fairly evident that he was going to make a reference to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Article 370. Anticipating his comments, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar swiftly responded, making it clear that Pakistan should now stop thinking about Article 370 and reconcile itself to the end of any lingering ambiguity about J&K being a part of the Indian Union. The message was all the more pertinent as the current government in Pakistan hardly commands any credibility while the army-ISI complex continues to direct terrorist operations in J&K despite the country’s deepening economic crisis. It was then left to the usual suspects, self-styled activists and commentators, to try and whip up some discussion over the “need for peace”, but without success. There is a considered view that India could try to improve ties with Pakistan at a time when relations with China remain icy. But the argument has failed to gain traction; nor has the peacenik brigade been able to make a point. The 2024 General Election is approaching fast and it is highly unlikely that the government will change tack from its view that support to terrorism is the central issue with Pakistan and the neighbour must show credible action on this front.
Yogi’s Triple Engine
Putting up candidates under the party symbol for local-body elections, particularly panchayats, is always a challenge. In a large state like Uttar Pradesh, finding candidates is quite a task in itself. In the last round of panchayat elections, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had pushed for participation under the party symbol to the maximum extent possible. He was not very bothered by analysts pointing to a low strike rate in the thousands of seats that went to polls. He was quite clear that the local-body elections must be treated as a test for the party organisation and it was important to ensure party leaders and workers at every level. The bid to invigorate the party’s grassroots and keep the organisation on its toes paid off in the 2022 state election. This time round, the chief minister called for a “triple engine” sarkar in the panchayat polls that ended on May 11, to emphasise BJP’s dominance in the state’s politics in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The new rules thrusting duties on chartered accountants, company secretaries, and cost accountants under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) served to recall Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) in 2017 when he pointed to the near-absence of disciplinary action against rogue CAs. Thereafter, the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) came into being and has of late passed orders suspending the practice of CAs and auditing firms found to have failed in their due diligence. Modi had pointed out that the signature of a CA carried immense value and accountants must be careful that they did not facilitate tax evasion. The speech did not go down well at the time and it coincided with the launch of GST which was being opposed by sections of the business community—more precisely, entities that depended on CAs to negotiate their way past tax assessments. This time round, ICAI has promised to work with the government to ensure liabilities and responsibilities are properly understood and rules implemented in the manner intended.