Friday, July 25, 2014

BJD pinpricks 'social justice' plank vis-a-vis Growth

They have been trying to be friends often. But Trinamul, Biju Janata Dal differences on economic issues come to the fore in Lok Sabha and that too quite clearly when BJD member virtually pin-pricked Saugata Roy's rhetoric on 'social growth' plank.
While they took the budget debate to a newer heights with key members from both parties waxing  
eloquent on the same they clearly had diametrically opposite views on key issues.

While Mr Saugata Roy articulated TMC's views on growth and social justice, BJD member Jay Panda
lauded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's maiden budget for trying to address the "fiscal deficit".

"I compliment the Finance Minister for starting his Budget with a very bold initiative in committing to the
inherited fiscal deficit, which is the lynchpin of the economic health of this country," Mr Panda, MP from
Kendrapara in Odhisa, said.

Participating in the debate on the Finance Bill, Trinamul member, Saugata Roy earlier said, "We are
not against growth, but we believe in growth with social justice. Pursuing growth alone will lead to
millions of poor people unfed".

Mr Roy, also a former minister in the UPA-2, charged the Modi regime with siding with the corporate.
"I always say that the philosophy of the present government seems to be inclined towards the so-called
growth and inclined towards the corporate which I do not appreciate," he said.

The vocal TMC member alleged that among other lacuna, the budget does not pronounce any step to address black money related issues. He also said that the government has neglected "progressive property tax reforms".
He said BJP member Mr Nishikant Dubey, who also spoke in the debate, almost sounded like a
spokesman of the corporate, a charge, of course was denied by the ruling party MP.

But the BJD member, Mr Panda maintained the government is on the right track while focusing on achieving growth and cautioned that those who support more subsidies and even "higher fiscal deficit" do not understand the adverse impact of such a situation. Almost countering TMC member's 'social justice' argument, Mr Panda said, "people who criticize and say that perhaps more money should have been spent and the fiscal deficit could have been higher. These people do not understand that a higher fiscal deficit leads to many other ills such as devaluation of our currency and higher inflation".

Referring to a famous statement made by legendary socialist leader Biju Patnaik in 1990s, Mr Panda said,
"states should be given fiscal independence" and allowed to augment own resources to meet the expenditures".

Friday, July 18, 2014

Narendra Modi's : First multi-nation visit: Success or Failure

Of all the things said by politicians and experts, some self-proclaimed and some genuine, in last two months, one statement that needs real dissection is Shashi Tharoor’s eloquent remarks. “An ambitious man, Narendra Modi appears to realize that ….. he wants to make a success of his government,” wrote Tharoor in his now famous blog for The Huffington Post. Undoubtedly this principle guides Indian Prime Minister both on home front and when he is overseas shaking hands with world leaders. A section of media in India has already hailed Modi’s latest diplomatic sojourn for BRICS summit and his one-on-one interactions with a few world leaders including the illustrious Vladimir Putin
It is simply too early to judge Narendra Modi vis-à-vis the canvas of the comity of nations. But it is also true, the real assessment of his engagements with these leaders would be worth a study in recent international studies.
Both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself and his critics or admirers either way would do well to curb the impatience and leave the answer to that query to the womb of time.

But the fact that Narendra Modi, armed with a huge mandate in a fiercely contested most democratic elections in the world, was available at the world stage for the first time. Although, Modi had visited Bhutan last month, in all practical sense his trip to Brazil and stopover at Berlin in Germany was the first brush with hardcore diplomacy. Thus, there is nothing wrong in analyzing his performance as the Prime Minister of world’s largest democracy.

In lay man’s language, it went off well. But in depth scrutiny of Modi’s interactions, the developments in BRICS Summit and his meetings with a galaxy of leaders like Putin and a ‘missed’ dinner with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel reveal that Modi has left a distinct mark with his unique aplomb. 

One single most achievement was perhaps an attempt has been made by the ‘chief executive’ of world’s largest democracy to change a global perception that its foreign policy is generally non-committal, passive and mostly guided by short term and emotive agendas. Modi has able to punctuate the crucial tactical visions in Indian foreign policy. 
But those who expected giant leap from Modi’s maiden overseas travel are apt to be disappointed.
Well, one could sound a bit skeptical but cannot help remarking that if a country which does not look at its past and present to draw a foreign policy is actually on a flawed roadmap. Modi seems to have done his home work prior to all key meetings.
And as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had a humble origin of being a son of a tea vendor, wrapped up his first major multilateral visit having separately met China President Xi Jinping, Russia President Vladimir Putin, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and South African President Jacob Zuma, there is a strong feeling that an opportune use of the occasion has been made. 

Feedback from intelligence agencies suggest even among the mandarins from other countries; the occasion was ‘exploited’ well as a good opportunity for India to assume a greater role for itself as a future global player. “We have the aspirations and when opportunities come, the new Prime Minister took two steps forward when the expectation was only one step,” says one insider in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Others say, his handshakes were ‘firm’ as if he had rehearsed the events pretty well and typical to his characteristic took note of minutest things like German Chancellor Merkel’s birthday and thus when he spoke to her over phone, he did extend the birthday greetings.
Modi talking to German Chancellor over phone

The aptitude to do proper homework about each leader and countries came in handy for Modi when the actually meetings took place. Thus, his carefully tailored oneliners with each leaders at every bilateral meetings went off well.

Modi apparently floored his foreign counterparts with his carefully tailored comments at every bilateral meeting. With a robust Putin, Modi mirrored an image of a confident man.

Similarly, with China, he did not seen to be bogged down by any bitterness of the past. Although Shanghai has been selected as the venue for BRICS Bank, the fact that first presidentship for the New Development Bank for India came with the backing of Brazil and South Africa is also significant.

However, insiders suggest Modi was particularly keen for having the Bank in India but apparently weak campaigning in last one year by the previous Manmohan Singh regime vis-à-vis Chinese campaign led to the set back that it went to Shanghai. 

The proposed bank is expected to cater for cross-border infrastructure delivery projects, says officials adding the bank would have a launching capital of US$50-billion. As per plans, resources are to be pooled from member partners to deliver on infrastructures, especially in Africa in initial stage.

However, insiders in the foreign policy making body in India also maintain that the BRICS should not be viewed merely in terms of concrete issues such as the development bank, but also as a collaboration on strategic political issues.
With an 
assertive Indian approach and body language of a time-tested ear-on-ground leader (Narendra Modi); there is broad feeling among other BRICS nations also about the growing failure of the west, especially on the economic front. 

Modi’s country-specific interaction with the world leaders also suggest that having claimed it well that SAARC is vital, at the next level, Modi left no ambiguity to underline that BRICS is equally vital if not more if the member nations have to make their presence felt. 

It was Indian side’s confident maneuver that the BRICS Declaration at Fortaleza clarified that China and Russia reiterated the importance they attach to Brazil, India and South Africa’s status and role everyone would play in international affairs and support their aspirations to play a greater role in the UN.
Many of Modi’s ideas, like the one on a BRICS University, found mention in the declaration. 
With Brazil President Dilma Rousseff 

Friday, July 11, 2014

North East India - Modi and Financial Management

A myopic bureaucratic and political class lacks the will to overcome north-east India’s institutional deficiencies, but now it is high time for northeastern states to wonder as to what they can really do for the country.

Development cannot be a mere destination. Rather it has to be a method of life. This is easier said especially in the context of northeast India, as in this development-starved region cradled amid hills and valleys generally we are used to phrases like non viability, collapse of road sector, financial crunch. And how they have derailed a host of developmental and infrastructure projects. The near 50-day Modi dispensation has tried to show the mirror about northeast India’s projects to the states in the region and perhaps also to itself. 
Firstly, the White Paper on National Highways Authority of India brought to light menaces like “undue importance” given to projects without considering project preparedness and viability factors. 

Thus, nationwide we have 189 projects in ‘dispute’ with the total amount of money at stake being Rs 27,209.56 crore. Out of these, 8 projects in north east India are in ‘dispute’ and the amount in question is Rs 608.52 crore.
In terms of national budget, this is definitely peanuts; but for the development-starved 7 or 8 sister states it comes to significant number of projects and also money.
Again during the presentation of the Railway Budget 2014-15, the Railway Minister D V Sadananda Gowda did some plain speaking and showed how various crucial projects and papers related to them were gathering dust.

"Railways have been suffering heavily because of time overrun and cost overrun due to poor project management," the Minister said adding there are as many as 23 railway projects underway in the northeast. Official sources point out that among them a few like, Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar Gauge Conversion in Cachar region in Assam is pending for about a decade now.
The project was decided and launched in 1996 with a 10-year deadline but the work progress is at snail pace and far from satisfactory. The Railway Minister proposed a quantum leap in fund allocation for these projects saying there will be near 54 per cent jump over allocations than previous year. With higher allocation and close monitoring of works, it is hoped, Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar Gauge conversion (Assam), Dudhnoi-Mendipathar (Assam-Meghalaya) new line, Harmuti-Murkongselek (to help connectivity in Arunachal) and Balipara-Bhalukpong sections will soon get commissioned.
The Northeast Frontier Railway has already ear-marked that the branch line from Balipara to Bhalukpong will be ready by January 2015. The 20 km Harmuty-Naharlagun was identified as crucial to national security owing to the presence of Chinese railway infrastructure on the state’s borders.
Then came in the Budget 2014-15 where in the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made a realistic assessment of things and according to none other than the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, presented a ‘ray of hope’.

Over the decades, Governance and Developments or the lack of these two aspects form the cardinal factors about providing an administration to the northeast. There need not be a shed of sentimentalism in the argument but it goes without saying that irrespective of inherent cynicism, true developments and upliftment of native people’s condition always seemed to give a moral brooding to local youths not to go haywire.

The absence of development is a catalyst for the younger lots and others towards age-old insurgency or anti-India movements in India. The taste of the cake is in its eating. 

It is more in the region as job-accountability is a fast eroding commodity these days. The Modi government’s maiden budget for 2014-15 lists out a few new and revamped projects for the northeast. The true test for the Modi government will be to ensure that these promises are implemented and the projects get commissioned at the earliest. 

The implementation is much with the state governments. Here, Congress party is in power in important states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Mizoram. No chief minister is known in these five states for delivering exceptionally well. Moreover, opposition-parties - Left in Tripura, NPF in Nagaland and SDF in Sikkim due to plethora of factors including a myopic bureaucratic and lack of a national vision. 
The Finance Minister also spoke about the need to generate ‘more resources’ to fuel the economy. Having said these, I come to the stage where, for instance, compatriots in a state like Nagaland in 1990s had opposed the imposition of income tax provisions on locals.
The plea that these states in northeast fall under Special Category states is also no healthy argument as the funding pattern to northeast was also changed by the 9th Finance Commission in 1991-92. Therefore, as Arun Jaitley moots bold steps to enhance economic activity and spur growth, it is high time northeastern states too wonder for themselves as to what they can really do for the country, mainstream India.

A far-sighted vision or the lack of it is what got the northeast where it is, only a neo-pragmatism and responsible economic management can now save the day and also take the region to newer heights.