Of all the US presidents he has interacted with, Prime Minister Narendra Modi might find himself most at ease with Joe Biden. Despite media commentary on similarities between Donald Trump and Modi—“strongmen” and “right wingers”—the comparison is superficial and shallow. For one, Modi’s social media engagement is never over the top and his public speeches are not intemperate. Trump was not an easy person to deal with although a strong convergence of India-US interests marked his term. Barack Obama and Modi wrote joint opeds but did not always agree and the former liked to take the odd swipe at “religious freedom” in India. Biden has been far less ‘ideological’ than many other US presidents and sees a genuine need to build common ground with India. He has an ear for Modi’s views and thoughts, too. The 2021 Quad summit hosted by Biden at the White House saw a discussion on the Indo-Pacific during which Modi is understood to have pointed to the need to build an “institutional” response to China, keeping in mind long-term scenarios other than the more immediate disputes. The view found a resonance in the meeting and over time led to more specific initiatives that built the India-US relationship and should, over time, improve India’s technological and military capabilities. Among the various agreements, the Indian acquisition of US high-altitude military drones is a very important development that adds a significant punch to the capabilities of the armed forces. The US-India joint statement describing the relationship as one that stretches from the “seas to the stars” is not such an exaggeration. Days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese and Russian leaders declared that “there were no limits to Sino-Russian cooperation and no forbidden zones.” The Indian-American joint statement has broken more than a few limits, something that will not be missed by either Moscow or Beijing.
Cutting Red Tape
The government’s efforts to clear backlogs in appointments and promotions are making headway after undoing some knotty red tape. When Minister of State (MoS) for Personnel Jitendra Singh began to review cases, some stuck for long periods of time, he was struck by the frequent references to matters being “sub-judice” being a reason for things being put on hold. On inquiring whether there was indeed a specific direction from a court not to proceed in a case, it more often than not turned out that there was no such injunction. Disputes of an intra-departmental nature must be resolved and decisions arrived at, officials were told. This led to a depletion of pending cases as the government took the view that an officer should be informed whether he was fit for a certain role or not.
The buzz at Rail Bhawan is that the tragic accident in Odisha that killed 292 people might be a case of human error and negligence. The report of the commissioner of rail safety, understood to be ready, apparently mirrors the initial suspicions of senior officials who visited the accident site near Balasore. The possible cause is neglect in following protocol in order to adopt shortcuts to clear the passage of trains quickly. The mistake was the “point level” where trains are diverted from one track to another. The “interference” with the points and crossings system, a key element of railway infrastructure, led to the crash when the Coromandel Express travelling at high speed slammed into the stationary freight train carrying heavy iron ore. The CBI inquiry is continuing and will examine not just culpability but any likely wilful tampering or criminal neglect that might have led to the crash. It does appear that more measures are needed to supervise and reinforce the training of maintenance staff so crucial to ensuring rail safety on a network used by thousands of trains daily.
The word from Lucknow is that BSP leader Mayawati is not keeping as low a profile as has been the case for a while. While keeping her distance from the opposition’s ‘unity’ moves—a wise decision in view of the differences between AAP and Congress at the first such meeting and NCP’s splintering thereafter—she is assessing options before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Congress could be ready to ally with SP but the seats it wants are far in excess of current ground realities. Meanwhile, ‘Behenji’ might be willing to consider Congress an ally too, calculating that this could consolidate Muslim votes which, along with her loyal Jatav voters, can pose a challenge to BJP. This might serve her purpose as BSP could be back in the reckoning while SP leader Akhilesh Yadav would find himself cornered between BJP and BSP. But much of this, commentators admit, is speculation; except the possibility of SP and BSP joining hands, which is pretty much ruled out. In the previous two General Elections, traditional caste and community counts simply did not work as BJP was able to cut across such distinctions to a considerable extent powered by a Modi wave. As things stand, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath seems to have further solidified BJP’s dominance going by the recent panchayat poll results.
Grand GST Success
The continued buoyancy in GST collection has led to increased confidence about the revenue receipts of both the Centre and the states. For some time now, demands that the compensatory regime of five years for states be extended have not been voiced. For one, the Centre made it clear that the scheme will not be extended and then the size of the revenue cake has increased. Veterans in the finance ministry recall the bitter political deadlock that preceded the passage of the GST Bill and Congress’ decision to boycott the launch of the new one nation, one tax that ended multiple state and Central impositions. Both the states and the Centre gave up some autonomy in tax matters for mutual gain. The functioning of the GST Council has also, despite the heated politics of the day, reflected a rare consensus and true federal spirit. On the completion of six years of GST, it can be said to be an unadulterated success.
The ED chargesheet in the railway jobs for land scam names Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav along with his parents Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, and has set in motion the next round of political exchanges in the state that have a bearing on the Lok Sabha polls. The Modi government is determined to give investigative agencies a free hand in pursuing high-profile cases, making the “fight against corruption” a key part of its agenda. The Yadav clan’s problems are in turn more trouble for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who once prided himself for his adherence to “clean” politics—a major point of distinction with Lalu Prasad’s brand of public life. But having burnt his bridges with BJP for good, Nitish has no option but to join the unconvincing chorus claiming that his allies are victims of “vindictive politics”.