After expressing its outrage over the visit of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to the US by flying dozens of military aircraft into the contested sea zones, China has not commented much on the island, and its aggressive patrolling seems to have been eased, if not paused. Observers in India point out that China’s sensitivity on Taiwan can never be underestimated or second-guessed. Traditional calculations that China will not want to up the ante when its ‘partner’ Russia was enmeshed in the Ukraine war may make some sense, but such assessments cannot be overly relied on. The fact is that as Chinese leader Xi Jinping continues to rule the roost and enjoy unprecedented power, the temptation to underscore China’s claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea cannot be ruled out. China’s calculations have a strong bearing on Indian interests as prioritising Taiwan could mean relatively less attention on the Himalayan borders with India even though heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait bring their own set of problems for New Delhi.
Nitish’s New Friends
The Bihar government’s move to facilitate the release of convicted politician Anand Mohan Singh marks a revealing turn of events. After having been a member of the Samata Party of Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, the controversial politician was a member of RJD when he was physically marshalled out of Lok Sabha on the directions of then-Speaker GMC Balayogi in July 1998. It was quite a scene, as the MP created a rumpus and resisted being moved out of the House, smashing a few glass panes on the way out. Known for his rough ways, the politician was always under the close watch of Lok Sabha staff, and his eviction needed four to five wardens. Later, Nitish Kumar, then a well-regarded minister in the Vajpayee government, remarked about how thankful he was that Anand Mohan Singh was no longer in his party. What a shame it would have been, he told journalists in his Parliament office. A little more than two decades later, he has moved in the opposite direction. His renewed alliance with RJD did mean that Kumar would no longer be squeamish about his company, but still, not many expected him to go so far as to allow Anand Mohan Singh to walk out of jail.
Talks between opposition leaders about ‘unity’ ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls seem to have lost momentum. This is partly because of Maratha strongman and NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s curious statements on the viability of a united platform despite his subsequent clarifications. But the mounting pressure of corruption cases involving some parties is leading them to be more preoccupied with their own businesses. So, despite recent meetings involving Congress, AAP, the Left parties, RJD, Trinamool Congress, BRS and JD(U), nothing much seems to have happened. Some opposition leaders like BJD’s Naveen Patnaik and YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy continue to maintain their distance from such political activity. Apart from being sceptical about the utility of targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they share a healthy distaste for chaotic third-front formations and have chosen to concentrate on their own turfs.
As he did last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke and heard Budget-related feedback at 12 webinars, which are intended to quicken the implementation of financial proposals and sectoral policies. The webinars have become a regular feature as Modi felt that the decision to advance the Budget to February 1 must be followed by a rollout of initiatives. For too long, it was often only in the second half of the year that Budget proposals translated into actual traction on the ground. The energetic post-Budget activity is believed to be why the Centre achieved much higher capital expenditure (capex). With a current capex target pegged at a massive ₹10 lakh crore, or 3.3 per cent of GDP, the pressure to get things going is intense. The relative moderation in inflation and success of policies that avoided profligate stimulus have made the government confident at a time when the next election is exactly a year away.
From A Distance
As the battle of narratives peaks in the election season, developments in Pakistan have fallen off the radar and have barely held the attention of Delhi’s intellectual circles which have often made India-Pakistan relations their primary occupation. The Modi government’s near silence and the conspicuous absence of any gesture to help the neighbour in the midst of a severe economic crisis might have, in the past, activated the Florence Nightingales in Delhi’s ‘beltway’. But there has hardly been a plea to offer any assistance even as India energetically sent aid and personnel to Türkiye for earthquake relief. The reason for the government’s caution was all too evident as there has been no cessation of attempts to infiltrate terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. The recent deadly attack on an Army truck is evidently an attempt to create fear and tension ahead of a G20 meeting in Srinagar. Yet, despite its success in staging such outrages, Pakistan had to reckon with evidence of development and improved investments in the Union territory. The G20 meeting will take place later in May and is expected to be well-attended. Pakistan’s inability to change its ways even when its population was reeling under hyperinflation had robbed it of any vestigial sympathy in India, where memories of a time when invitations to kebabs and dinner at the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi were much sought after.
There is silence over a recent EAC-PM (Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister) report that shows the Modi government’s welfare schemes have been remarkably inclusive, benefitting the less well-off, including minorities like Muslims. The report goes against the grain of arguments advanced by critics who accuse the government of being majoritarian, a charge regularly echoed by leading Western media houses who have inserted themselves into India’s political debates. The discovery that a large number of beneficiaries are from the socially disadvantaged sections is no surprise. The socio-economic metrics of Muslims, for example, self-select the community for schemes like Ujjwala (cooking gas connections). Also, largely uncommented, the number of scholarships and assistance to Muslim girls and women has increased sharply, making schemes like Nai Udaan (new flight) for skill development a success. The government has countered accusations of bias by insisting that its schemes do not in any way exclude minorities or other socially weaker sections. The data is now proof of the pudding.