India: More Than 50 Dead As Train Mows Down Crowd During Hindu Festival

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Amritsar: Scores dead as train mows down crowd

Media caption Crowds celebrate Hindu festival near Amritsar

More than 50 people have been killed and 200 hurt after a train ran into a crowd near Amritsar in India’s northern Punjab state, police told the BBC.

The victims were standing on the railway tracks watching celebrations for the Hindu festival of Dusshera, eyewitnesses told BBC Punjabi.

They did not hear the train approach as they watched a firecracker-filled effigy of the demon king Ravana burn.

Officials said the priority now was to take the injured to local hospitals.

Footage posted to social media showed the fast-travelling train hitting the crowd.

The incident happened at about 18:30 local time (13:00 GMT), said local journalist Ravinder Singh Robin.

Just moments before, crowds watching the firecrackers show were asked by organizers to move back – towards the railway tracks, reports say.

The train that hit the crowds was travelling from Jalandhar to Amritsar.

Crowds celebrating the Hindu festival near Amritsar, India. Photo: 19 October 2019Image copyright BBC/RAVINDER SINGH ROBIN
Image caption The incident happened as crowds were celebrating a Hindu festival

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh described the incident as “absolutely tragic”, and wrote in a tweet that local authorities were being “mobilized”.

“We will do everything possible to assist the injured,” he said, adding: “[I] have directed the district administration to leave no stone unturned to ensure the best possible treatment for them.”

Mourning relatives near Amritsar, India. Photo: 19 October 2018Image copyright EPA
Image caption Relatives of the victims and witnesses were visibly distressed following the incident

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the incident as “heart-wrenching”.

There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

Train accidents are fairly common in India, where much of the railway equipment is out of date.

Presentational white space

Dusshera festival

An effigy of demon king Ravana is set on fire in Delhi, India. Photo: 19 October 2018Image copyright EPA
  • Celebrates the triumph of the Hindu god Rama over the 10-headed demon king Ravana
  • Marks the victory of good over evil
  • In large parts of India it is celebrated with Ramlila – a dramatic folk re-enactment of the 10-day battle
  • Staged annually – often over 10 or more successive nights
  • Festival culminates with devotees burning effigies of Ravana which are lit with firecrackers in open grounds
  • In 2005, UNESCO recognized the tradition of Ramlila as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”
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India set to sign S-400 missile deal during Vladimir Putin’s visit next week

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Amid US sanctions, India set to sign S-400 missile deal during Vladimir Putin’s visit next week

India will sign the S-400 missile system deal with Russia during the annual summit between PM Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin next week, hoping for a US sanction waiver, and to prevent Russia from directly selling weapon systems to Pakistan if India says no to the deal.

INDIA Updated: Sep 30, 2018 09:15 IST

Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India,Russia,Narendra Modi
Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defense systems during the Victory Day parade, at Red Square in Moscow.(Reuters/File Photo)

India will sign the S-400 missile system deal with Russia during the annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin next week, hoping that it has done enough business with the US to secure a waiver from sanctions, and to prevent Russia from directly selling weapon systems to Pakistan if India says no to the deal.

Hindustan Times had first reported in April that the deal would be signed during the October summit and, in May, that New Delhi would go ahead with the purchase despite US sanctions against countries buying arms from Russia.

South Block officials said that the deal is also in line with India’s efforts to maintain strategic autonomy and not be dependent on any one nation for its military hardware imports.

The South Block officials told Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity that while the purchase of five units of the S-400 missile system was cleared this week by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the deal to build four stealth frigates in collaboration with Russia is stuck on technical aspects.

Even though India has apprised US of its intentions to purchase the S-400 system and has requested a presidential waiver of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), the Modi government has had to tread a fine balance between a new partner and an old ally which could cut off hardware spares in case the missile system acquisition is either delayed or shelved.

More than 60% of Indian military equipment, including fighters, tanks and missiles, come from Russia and without the spares, the armed forces’ fighting capability will be significantly emasculated. For instance, the Indian Air Force Sukhois and Indian Army T series of tanks and Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier Vikramaditya are all from Russia.

The other reason why the Modi government is keen to push the deal through is because it is worried, the officials added, that an upset Russia may directly sell arms to Pakistan just as it is doing so to China, skewing the military balance in the region.

Diplomatically too, deferring or shelving the S-400 deal will sour the close relationship shared by Prime Minister Modi and President Putin. PM Modi has personally invested a lot in building close ties with Putin, the officials said, although this has not come at the cost of India’s relationship with the US.

According to the officials, while Russian hardware may not be top of the line as compared to the US platforms in terms of technology, it is much cheaper initially and comes without additional conditionals on the buyer. While the tussle between the US on one side and Russia/China on the other have made a fit case for Indian state-owned defense manufacturers to step up to manufacture indigenous weapons at a rapid rate, the fact is that most have been found wanting.

For instance, the officials pointed out, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) cannot keep up with the requirements of the Indian Air Force for light combat aircraft (LCA). Nevertheless, the government is clear that the only way out of this imbroglio is to manufacture indigenous systems and platforms rather than be dependent on anyone, the officials admitted.

Meanwhile, the Modi government has deepened its military ties with the Pentagon by placing over $5 billion worth of orders with US defense contractors for strike platforms. India has placed orders for one more C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft (it already has 10), four additional P8I Neptune anti-submarine warfare aircraft, six additional Apache attack helicopters for the army, 24 Sikorsky helicopters for the navy, and M-777 lightweight howitzers. US F-18 and F-35 fighters are also in contention for the additional fighter order the Indian Air Force is evaluating.

First Published: Sep 30, 2018 06:59 IST

India, China to explore ways to avoid Doklam-like standoffs

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

India, China to explore ways to avoid Doklam-like standoffs

The Chinese defence minister met Modi during which the PM said both the countries are handling their differences with “sensitivity and maturity” by not allowing them to become disputes.

INDIA Updated: Aug 21, 2018 23:37 IST

India-China ties,Doklam,Nirmala Sitharaman
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with defence minister of China, General Wei Fenghe during a meeting in New Delhi on August 21.(PTI Photo)

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe will hold extensive talks on Thursday, focus of which will be to remove distrust and boost coordination between the armies of the two neighbours guarding their disputed border, official sources said.

Wei arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday on a four-day visit, nearly three-and-half months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that strategic communication between the two armies should be enhanced to avoid Doklam-like standoffs.

The Chinese defence minister met Modi during which the PM said both the countries are handling their differences with “sensitivity and maturity” by not allowing them to become disputes.

Sources said the primary objective of Wei’s visit is to deliberate with Indian defence establishment on implementation of decisions taken by Modi and Xi during the informal summit in Wuhan in April.

In the delegation level talks, the Indian side is likely to raise the issue of presence of sizeable number of Chinese troops in North Doklam.

Doklam, in the Sikkim sector, is a strategically important area which is claimed by Bhutan. India has been acting as security guarantor to the tiny country in the sensitive region.

The two sides are likely to deliberate on a mechanism under which troops from both sides will inform each other before carrying out any patrolling on the disputed areas along the nearly 4,000-km border.

The sources said both sides will also attempt to resolve differences in setting up of a hotline between the armies of the two countries.

After the Wuhan summit, both sides revived the long-pending proposal to set up the hotline so as to avoid flare-ups along the disputed border. But, the initiative hit roadblocks over differences on issues relating to protocol and technical aspect of the hotline.

The Indian Army has been maintaining that the hotline should be between its Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs) and his equivalent official in Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). However, Beijing proposed that the deputy commander of its Chengdu-based Western Theatre Command would engage with the Indian DGMO.

The Indian Army is opposed to the Chinese proposal, insisting that an officer equivalent to Indian DGMO at PLA’s headquarters should be deputed for the communication through the hotline.

Currently, India and Pakistan have a hotline between their DGMOs.The hotline between India and China was first mooted by the two countries in 2013.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 22:23 IST

India unlikely to accept foreign financial assistance for flood-relief operations in Kerala

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

India unlikely to accept foreign financial assistance for flood-relief operations in Kerala

Government has taken a considered decision to rely solely on domestic efforts to tide over the situation, an official source said.

INDIA Updated: Aug 21, 2018 23:45 IST

Kerala floods,Flood-relief operations,Kerala natural disaster
Flood victims unload food and relief material from an Indian Air force helicopter at Nelliyampathy Village, in Kerala, on Tuesday. (REUTERS)

The government is unlikely to accept any foreign financial assistance for flood-relief operations in Kerala, official sources said.

They said government has taken a considered decision to rely solely on domestic efforts to tide over the situation.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has offered $100 million (around Rs 700 crore) as financial assistance for flood relief operation in Kerala.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, called up Prime Minister Modi and made the offer for assistance, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in Thiruvananthapuram.

Around three million Indians live and work in the UAE out of which 80% are from Kerala.

The government of Maldives has also decided to donate $50,000 (Rs 35 lakh) for flood affected people in Kerala.

It is understood that the UN is also offering some assistance for Kerala.

However, sources said India is unlikely to accept the assistance.

The floods in Kerala, worst in a century, have claimed lives of 231 people besides rendering over 14 lakh people homeless.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 23:21 IST

India: Kerala floods: death toll rises above 324 as rescue effort intensifies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS AGENCY)

 

Kerala floods: death toll rises above 324 as rescue effort intensifies

220,000 people left homeless in southern Indian state after unusually heavy rain

Play Video
1:35
 ‘Please pray for us’: Kerala experiences worst monsoon in nearly a century – video report

More than 324 people have died in the worst flooding in nearly a century in the south Indian state of Kerala.

Roads are damaged, mobile phone networks are down, an international airport has been closed and more than 220,000 people have been left homeless after unusually heavy rain in the past nine days.

Officials repeatedly revised the death toll upwards from 86 people on Friday morning to more than 300 by the evening as a massive rescue operation reached more flood-hit regions. “Around 100 people died in the last 36 hours alone,” a state official said.

Casualty numbers are expected to increase further, with thousands more people still stranded and less intense though still heavy rain forecast for at least the next 24 hours. Many have died from being buried in hundreds of landslides set off by the flooding.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2018/08/kerala_floods/giv-3902lxSDbOfGLgX2/

The Kerala chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said the state was experiencing an “extremely grave” crisis, with the highest flood warning in place in 12 of its 14 regions.

“We’re witnessing something that has never happened before in the history of Kerala,” he told reporters.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, was on his way to Kerala on Friday evening “to take stock of the flood situation in the state”, he said.

Kerala, famed for its tea plantations, beaches and tranquil backwaters, is frequently saturated during the annual monsoon. But this year’s deluge has swamped at least 20,000 homes and forced people into more than 1,500 relief camps.

People are airlifted to safety in Kerala floods, India.
Pinterest
 People are airlifted to safety. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters

The toll in Kerala contributed to more than 900 deaths recorded by the Indian home ministry this monsoon season from landslides, flooding and rain.

Rescue workers and members of India’s armed forces have been deployed across the state with fleets of ships and aircraft brought in to save the thousands of people still stranded, many sheltering on their roofs signalling to helicopters for help.

Play Video
0:23
 Aerial view shows scale of monsoon flooding in Kerala, India – video

Officials estimated about 6,000 miles (10,000km) of roads had been submerged or buried by landslides and a major international airport in Cochin has been shut until 26 August. Communications networks were also faltering, officials said, making rescue efforts harder to coordinate.

Residents of the state used social media to post desperate appeals for help, sometimes including their GPS coordinates to help guide rescuers.

“My family and neighbouring families are in trouble with flood in Pandanad nakkada area in Alappuzha,” Ajo Varghese said in a viral Facebook post. “No water and food. Not able to communicate from afternoon. Mobile phones are not reachable and switch off. Please help … No rescue is available.”

Another man in the central town of Chengannur posted a video of himself neck-deep in water in his home. “It looks like water is rising to the second floor,” he says. “I hope you can see this. Please pray for us.”

Play Video
0:39
 Kerala floods: man, neck-deep in water, appeals for help from inside his house – video

The fate of the man was still unclear on Friday. The state finance minister, Thomas Isaac, tweeted in the afternoon that the last road to Chengannur had washed away before his eyes and the town was cut off.

The water has claimed parts of Cochin, the state’s commercial capital, and was still rising in some areas of the city on Friday, with residents urged to evacuate and guide ropes strung across roads inundated by fast-moving currents.

Soldiers evacuate local residents in Ernakulam.
Pinterest
 Soldiers evacuate local residents in Ernakulam. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images

Meteorologists said Kerala had received an average 37.5% more rainfall than usual. The hardest-hit districts such as Idukki in the north received 83.5% excess rain. More than 80 dams across the state had opened their gates to try to ease the crisis, the chief minister said.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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India, Seychelles agree to work on Assumption Island naval base project

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

India, Seychelles agree to work on Assumption Island naval base project

India also announced a $100-million credit to Seychelles for augmenting its defence capabilities

INDIA Updated: Jun 25, 2018 22:17 IST

Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo with model of Dornier aircraft which will be gifted to Seychelles President Danny Antoine Rollen Faure after their meeting at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Monday, June 25, 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo with model of Dornier aircraft which will be gifted to Seychelles President Danny Antoine Rollen Faure after their meeting at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Monday, June 25, 2018. (PTI Photo)

India and Seychelles said on Monday they would work together on developing a naval base on Assumption Island while keeping “each other’s interests” in mind, days after reports suggested the Indian Ocean archipelago had scrapped an agreement on the project.

Following talks in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Seychelles President Danny Faure said both sides will continue working on the Assumption Island project.

Modi announced a $100-million line of credit that Seychelles can use to acquire Indian defence equipment to boost its maritime capacity. He also said India will provide a second Dornier aircraft for the Seychelles military.

The remarks by both leaders assume significance as Faure had said earlier this month his government had scrapped an agreement with India for setting up a naval base on Assumption. He had also said the project “will not move forward” and the issue wouldn’t be discussed with Modi during his visit.

Two days before the president began his visit, secretary of state for foreign affairs Barry Faure, who is Faure’s brother, told Reuters the government wouldn’t present the agreement on Assumption Island to the National Assembly for “approval because opposition members (who are the majority) have already said they will not ratify it”.

During a joint media interaction with Faure, Modi said: “In the context of the Assumption Island project, we are agreed on working together in each other’s interests.” He did not give details.

Faure added, “In the context of maritime security, Assumption Island was discussed. We are equally engaged and will continue to work together, bearing each other’s interests in mind.”

The first agreement on the project was signed during Modi’s visit to Seychelles in March 2015. Following public protests in Seychelles, the two sides signed a revised agreement in January to build military facilities on the remote island. Under the revised pact valid for 20 years, India was to build an airstrip and a jetty for its navy on Assumption.

Faure is expected to face an uphill task in getting the project ratified by Parliament that is dominated by the opposition, which has been opposing any Indian military presence on Assumption.

India has been working overtime to bolster its naval presence in regional waters to counter China, which last year inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, near one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Defence and security issues were a key part of the discussions between the two leaders and Modi said both countries have a “geo-strategic vision for peace, security and stability in the Indian Ocean” and have to contend with various traditional and non-traditional threats.

While working together to derive benefits from a “blue economy”, Modi said the two sides will also have to jointly confront challenges such as piracy, drugs, human trafficking and trans-national crimes.

He added that India will help Seychelles to build a new police headquarters, a new office for the attorney general and a new government house, and that Indian experts will be sent on deputation to the archipelago.

Faure described India as “one of our closest and reliable partners” and said Seychelles will benefit from the line of credit to aid the military and defence forces. He said he and Modi had “expressed our strong desire to elevate our bilateral relations to a more comprehensive partnership of a greater strategic importance”.

The two sides signed six agreements on issues such as infrastructure development in Seychelles, cyber-security, sharing of white shipping information that will enable them to exchange data on the identity and movement of non-military commercial vessels.

Bollywood superstar Sridevi drowned in bathtub after heart attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Bollywood superstar Sridevi, one of the Indian film industry’s most popular actresses, drowned after passing out in her hotel bathtub in Dubai, police said Monday.

The actress, who died on Saturday at the age of 54, was attending a family wedding in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“Following the completion of post-mortem analysis, #DubaiPolice today stated that the death of Indian actress #Sridevi occurred due to drowning in her hotel apartment’s bathtub following loss of consciousness,” Dubai police tweeted.
Police added that the case had been transferred to Dubai’s public prosecution office.

Sridevi, right, with daughters Jhanvi, center, and Khushi in 2012 at the premiere of "English Vinglish."

Bollywood greats and Indian political elites flooded social media with tributes to the actress whose work spanned five decades and included some of the country’s most beloved films.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the many who expressed shock at Sridevi’s death, with a tweet early Sunday extending his condolences to her family.

‘One of India’s first female superstars’

Born August 13, 1963, Sridevi made her film debut as a child actor at the age of four in “Thunaivan,” a Tamil Hindu drama directed by M.A. Thirumugham.
Her first leading Bollywood role came in the 1979 Hindi film “Solva Sawan.” Four years later, Sridevi broke through to the list of Bollywood’s most highly sought-after actresses with the action comedy “Himmatwala.”
Sridevi’s credits include some of the most watched films of the ’80s and ’90s, including “Mawaali” (1983), “Tohfa” (1984), “Nagina” (1986), “Mr. India” (1987), “Chandni” (1989), “Lamhe” (1991) and “Gumrah” (1993).
“I think she really was one of India’s first female superstars,” Bollywood critic Rajeev Masand told CNN. “It didn’t matter who the male actors where, the movies were shouldered by Sridevi.”
Sridevi took a break from the limelight to raise two children with her husband, producer Boney Kapoor, before returning to star in the 1997 film “Judaai.” In the film, she plays an ambitious housewife who inadvertently marries a man who can’t afford the lavish life she aspires to lead.
“Judaai” was a box office hit, but it was Sridevi’s performance in Gauri Shinde’s 2012 hit, “English Vinglish,” that solidified her comeback and confirmed her as one of Bollywood’s most treasured and enduring talents.

A picture of Bollywood actress Sridevi Kapoor is seen put up outside her residence in Mumbai on February 26, 2018, following her death.

Sridevi took the starring role of Shashi, an Indian housewife who only speaks Hindi but is thrust onto the streets of New York to help arrange her niece’s wedding. After a series of humiliations, Shashi decides she needs to learn English and enrolls in a four-week crash course.
“The way the character has been crafted by Shinde, and interpreted by Sridevi, is gloriously feminine, and uniquely Indian,” a review in the Hollywood Reporter said at the time.
Sridevi is credited with inspiring a new generation of Indian actresses by portraying strength with beauty and grace with comedic charm.
“Sridevi is one of the last great heroines of Hindi cinema who could hold her own against any hero,” said Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at the SOAS University of London.
“A great beauty, a talented actress, a brilliant dancer, a delightful comedienne, she is a true legend.”

Indian Bollywood actors Akshaye Khanna (L) and Sridevi attend a promotional event for the film "Mom in Mumbai" on June 20, 2017.

Sridevi’s credits span Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada language films. She had broad appeal and was lauded for her captivating screen presence and versatility, even though she was quiet and reserved off-screen.

Stars pay tribute to Sridevi

Some of the country’s most prominent stars took to Twitter to express shock at her death.
Singer Adnan Sami tweeted that he was lost for words at the loss of “India’s sweetheart.”
Actress Kareena Kapoor called Sridevi’s passing “heartbreaking.”
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi offered their condolences.
Sridevi’s impact was felt far beyond India, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan also paying tribute to the actress, whom he met last December.
Sridevi is survived by her husband, Boney, and daughters Jhanvi and Khushi Kapoor.

In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In weaving India and Israel together, challenges loom

Officials see plenty of potential for closer ties both in trade and on the strategic front, but getting there may be more complex than Netanyahu’s whirlwind tour of India suggests

Joshua Davidovich

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, uses a spinning wheel as his wife Sara Netanyahu, center, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on during a visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. AFP/SAM PANTHAKY)

MUMBAI, India — Mumbai’s Gateway of India, a hulking structure looking out over the city’s harbor, was built to commemorate the landing of British King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

The royal couple never actually got to see the structure, which was only finished in 1924, but it remains to this day as a reminder of the city’s colonial past and as a testament to the grandeur with which rulers were once greeted.

Over 100 years later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a quick whirl around the site just before heading to the airport after five days in India during which he was afforded a welcome seen by some as almost as impressive as the building of the massive gate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are greeted by Indian dancers at the airport in Mumbai, India, on January 17, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Unlike the gateway, remnants of Netanyahu’s visit — the Israeli flags the kids waved, and the giant billboards of the Israeli leader gracing every city he visited — will quickly fade. What’s more important, though, is whether the relationship spotlighted by the carefully choreographed displays can withstand the many external pressures bearing on it.

As it stands, the Israel-India trade relationship is estimated to be less than $5 billion and most of the commerce is in diamonds and arms, with official Indian figures putting the number at just under $3 billion, making Israel its 39th-largest trading partner. By contrast, India trades over $7.2 billion annually with Iran. But what officials on both sides see is potential, both for more trade and a closer strategic relationship, and the rub may be getting both to work together.

The stated goal of the trip Netanyahu and over a hundred businesspeople took to India was to diversify and expand business ties and highlight what is seen as an already growing diplomatic relationship. “The sky is the limit,” Netanyahu said on more than one occasion, a sentiment echoed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who accompanied Netanyahu on several legs of the visit, including to his home state of Gujarat.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center and his wife Sara arriving in Ahmadebad, India on January 17, 2018. GPO)

At event after event, officials played up the closeness of the Indian-Israel relationship, the kinship between the countries and the fact that “both of us are surrounded by enemies.” The amalgamation of Israeli tech and Indian creativity was another theme voiced repeatedly during the visit, as Netanyahu met with officials, business leaders, young entrepreneurs and farmers helped by Israeli aid.

But while optimism was omnipresent, there were also signs that the countries did not see eye-to-eye on everything relating to both trade and any strategic/security relationship.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

As the country with the second-largest Muslim population in the world, and with a long-trained relationship with Israel and continuing strong trade ties with Iran, India’s supposed love affair with Israel is more complex than the Netanyahu-Modi bromance on display would indicate.

At a joint statement following an official sit-down, neither premier mentioned the Palestinians, with Modi even saying that the land Indian soldiers helped liberate in World War I was “Israel.” (It may have been a slip of the tongue, but Netanyahu followed his lead, saying they had liberated “Israel, the land of Israel.”)

But on Thursday morning, just hours after Modi paid his last farewell to Netanyahu, news leaked out of the Indian leader’s plans to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a matter of weeks.

Just weeks before Netanyahu’s trip, India backed a UN resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though both countries insisted that the vote would not affect ties.

Modi’s visit to Israel in July, the first ever by an Indian prime minister, did not include a visit to Ramallah. In somewhat similar fashion, Netanyahu’s visit, only the second by an Israeli prime minister after Ariel Sharon’s short and ill-fated jaunt in 2003 — he had to return home to deal with a terrorist attack — didn’t include a meeting with opposition leader Rahul Ghandi of the left-leaning Congress Party.

India’s opposition Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi, center, is presented with a garland, during a meeting in Ahmadabad, India, December 23, 2017. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

While Ghandi’s faction had for years blocked ties with Israel and led the anti-Israel bloc at the United Nations, it did maintain mostly positive ties with Israel in the government led by Manmohan Singh preceding Modi’s rise to power in 2014, making the omission all the stranger.

The lack of a Netanyahu-Gandhi meeting and the fact that the prime minister only visited states ruled by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, even avoiding business hub Bangalore despite the trade orientation of the trip, raised questions as to whether the positive ties forged between Israel and India under Modi would survive his eventual fall from power.

“Confining Netanyahu’s itinerary only to BJP-ruled states is a short-sighted move,” Jawaharlal Nehru University prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy wrote in The Indian Express daily. “Since relations were established by Congress Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, consensus building has been the hallmark of Indo-Israeli relations.”

Strategic relationships could also be hampered by a reluctance to take a stand against each others’ enemies. Despite Israel’s push to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, Tehran and Delhi maintain a close trading partnership, especially in oil, a relationship Delhi is unlikely to give up without more incentive than a few water purification plants.

A cartoon in the Hindustan Times on January 16, 2018. Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

On the other side, Israeli officials indicated they had no interest in trying to join India in pushing back against Pakistan and China. A cartoon in a popular newspaper during the visit showed Netanyahu and Modi piloting a drone as Pakistan and China cowered in fear, but Israeli officials insisted it was not representative of reality.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” one Israeli official said, regarding balancing ties with India and ties with China (Israel has no relations with Pakistan).

However, an Indian official noted that the relationship could be affected if Israel’s ties to China moved from the economic to the strategic, with India viewing China — with which it fought and lost a bitter border war in the 1960s — as a major threat.

Arun Singh, a former Indian ambassador to Israel, wrote during Netanyahu’s trip that Jerusalem’s willingness to keep a door open to forging ties with Pakistan and improving ties with China could put a damper on improving the India-Israel relationship.

“There are limits on convergence of interests, as is inevitable between any two countries, especially those with differing histories and dissimilarities in their geopolitical challenges,” he wrote on the Indian website The Print. “We should unhesitatingly consolidate our bilateral relationship with Israel, where it serves our national interest. But we should also remain mindful of limits of the convergences. Israel’s approach to China, Iran and Pakistan are indicative.”

Speaking to reporters during the trip, Netanyahu said he “understood sensitivities” surrounding building of ties with Delhi while both were unaligned on other geopolitical matters.

“Improving ties is not meant to be against any specific country,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara pose for a photograph at the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra on January 16, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / STR)

But trade and politics are often intertwined, as evidenced by the desire for a direct flight between Delhi and Tel Aviv over Saudi Arabia, which became a major theme of the trip.

Amid reports of talks over brokering such a route for Air India, Netanyahu at a business forum called for a “simple, direct flight.” Later that day, an Indian food exporter confirmed that the lack of such a flight was hurting business ties.

Politics also seeped into Israel’s bid to boost tourism by attracting a Bollywood film, highlighting the potential pitfalls of developing a larger business relationship in any sector. According to reports, a trio of top Muslim Bollywood stars, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan, known as “the Khans of Bollywood,” boycotted a gala event held in Mumbai Thursday night to protest Netanyahu. A fourth Bollywood Khan, Ajaz Khan, criticized director Karan Johar on Twitter for attending the event, and posted a tirade against it on YouTube.

Wonderful evening, a honour and a privilege, meeting an occupier of Palestinian land and killer of unarmed protesters including women and children in Occupied Territories.shame on u Karan https://twitter.com/karanjohar/status/954087461700775936 

At the event, keynote guest Amitabh Bachchan spoke of the allure of Bollywood films and their ability to bring people together. And the very next morning, Bollywood news was on the front page, but for the opposite reason. Riots were threatening to break out over the film “Padmaavat” after the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the controversial historical drama based on a 16th century poem about a queen.

The case was just another example that sweet words, like those uttered by Modi, Netanyahu and other officials from both sides about the great Indian-Israeli relationship, were sometimes more complicated than they were made out to be from the dais.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (unseen) at an Israeli-Indian Economic Conference in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Indian businesspeople at many of the events hosted by Netanyahu talked up the strength of the economic relationship, though when pressed, they admitted that Israel was only a blip on the map of potential business ties.

After all the talk of Indian-Israeli business ties, the name “Israel” was not mentioned once in the 12-page business section of the Hindustan Times on Friday, the day Netanyahu left.

A close-up shot of the Tammuz missiles mounted on an armed personnel carrier (Photo credit: Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Free trade talks remain moribund, by all accounts, and the biggest business news to come out the trip was the reviving of a deal for India to buy Spike anti-tank missiles (known as Tammuz in Israel) from the Israeli firm Rafael. However, it seems it may be for less than the original $500 million price tag, to say nothing of the fact that it does nothing to diversify the business relationship or grow it, since Israel thought the deal was in the bag until recently anyway.

Still, ties between the countries are growing unmistakably closer. It’s impossible to overstate the length the Indians went to in order to welcome Netanyahu, with outlandish routines that sometimes seemed almost embarrassingly obsequious — a sign that to a large degree, Israel has a giant on its side, even if it is one that is still largely focused on raising up hundreds of millions of people out of dire poverty, and it is largely thanks to Netanyahu’s emphasis on expanding diplomatic ties around the world.

At the same time, it seems it’s easy to get sucked into exaggerating the importance of that relationship. While Netanyahu was sweet-talking the Indians, behind the scenes he was distracted with working on repairing another diplomatic relationship: with Jordan, which is one he and the rest of the country likely view as more strategic than ties with Delhi.

Indian children wave to a vehicle carrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they arrive at Sabarmati Ashram or Gandhi Ashram in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

In India, the cheering crowds and adulation were likely a welcome respite from home, where the prime minister is constantly dogged by political intrigue and criminal investigations that are casting a pall over his continued rule. Moments before taking off for Delhi over a week ago, he briefly spoke to reporters, looking dejected as he addressed his son Yair’s strip club tape scandal, which was roiling the country.

Landing back home almost a week later, he sat relaxing in his first class seat as staff, security and journalists disembarked, scrolling through his phone and looking carefree as ever.

Less than an hour before he landed, a major rainstorm had passed over the country, but as his plane touched down, the clouds over the airport cleared and for a brief moment, the sun was shining.

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Netanyahu arrives in India, is greeted by PM Modi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu arrives in India, is greeted on tarmac by PM Modi

Israeli leader says he greatly appreciates unplanned personal welcome; two men embrace warmly at start of week-long visit

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader's wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers after the Israeli leader arrived at the Air Force Station in New Delhi January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara Netanyahu on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara Netanyahu on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • The plane carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu arrives at the Air Force Station in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
    The plane carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu arrives at the Air Force Station in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, together with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, and the Israeli leader's wife Sara Netanyahu, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, together with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, and the Israeli leader’s wife Sara Netanyahu, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, seated, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, seated, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during the dedication of Haifa Chowk Square, Delhi, India, January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW DELHI, India — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touched down in this smog-filled city Sunday afternoon, warmly embracing his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in a surprise ceremony at the airport, and celebrating a close personal bond that the two are hoping to parlay into further cooperation between their two countries.

Netanyahu’s five-day trip to India will see him attempt to expand business ties with the subcontinent, though it comes amid a cloud of uncertainty after Delhi canceled a $500 million deal with Israeli arms maker Rafael late last year.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu had been expecting to be met by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and, arriving in Delhi, was apparently surprised to be greeted by Modi. The two leaders exchanged pleasantries and held their hands aloft for the press on the tarmac red carpet.

“I very much appreciate the gesture,” Netanyahu said through his office shortly after the two were whisked away from the brief arrival ceremony.

On his official Twitter account, Modi wrote in Hebrew, “Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu. Your visit is historic and special. This visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries.”

Responding in Hebrew on his own Twitter account, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for Modi’s personal welcome. “Thank you, my dear friend Modi, on the warm and personal welcome to India,” he wrote.

Accompanied by his wife, Sara, Netanyahu is leading a 130-strong trade delegation — the largest ever for an Israeli prime minister — to India meant to boost bilateral business ties, as well as diplomatic relations.

Over the course of the visit, Israel and India will sign a series of bilateral agreements.

Kicking off the heavily guarded trip, the two stopped at a large traffic circle in Delhi marked by a memorial to Indian soldiers who fought in Palestine in World War I, which they saw renamed from Teen Murti Chowk Square to Haifa Chowk Square in a small ceremony.

Laying a wreath on a statue listing places where the Indian Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore brigades fought — such as Haifa, Gaza, the Jordan Valley and Damascus — Modi, Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu stood at attention for several minutes as trumpets played.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, watches on their arrival at the Air Force Station in New Delhi, on January 14, 2018. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP)

Netanyahu’s visit is the first by an Israeli prime minister since 2003, when Ariel Sharon visited, but abruptly cut his trip short to return to Israel after a terrorist attack.

In contrast with prime ministerial visits to the US or Europe, Netanyahu’s trip, which will take him to three cities in India, will focus very little on Middle Eastern affairs such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. India recently backed a UN General Assembly motion condemning US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, throwing some cold water on hopes for a closer diplomatic relationship.

The confirmation earlier this month that India had canceled the $500 million deal for Spike anti-tank missiles from Israeli firm Rafael also cast a shadow over the trip. While wanting to foster a stronger relationship with Israel, India is also in the midst of trying to develop its own arms manufacturing industry, under the “Make in India” tagline. Last week, however, an Indian news agency reported that Delhi was considering the possibility of reviving the missile sale as a government-to-government deal.

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu pointed to close personal relationship between himself and Modi cemented during the Indian premier’s trip to Israel last year, his first since taking office.

“This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power. Indian Prime Minister Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit,” Netanyahu said Saturday night before leaving Israel.

Modi’s visit to Israel was also marked by a sharing of tweets and the two leaders accompanying each other nearly everywhere.

Netanyahu is set to have dinner with Modi Sunday night after meeting Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. On Monday the two will hold a series of meetings focused on expanding trade ties, and on Wednesday, they will travel to Modi’s home state of Gujarat before leaving for Mumbai, where Netanyahu will attend memorials for the 2008 terror attacks that took place there.

While there, he is also slated to meet with several Bollywood figures as part of Israel’s drive to expand tourism by attracting Indian films to shoot in Israel.

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India: PM Modi govt unveils Rs 9-trillion plan to boost economy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Modi govt unveils Rs 9-trillion plan to boost economy

The plan, unveiled by finance minister Arun Jaitley, includes spending Rs 2.11 trillion towards pumping capital into banks and another Rs 7 trillion on a roads and highways project.

BUSINESS Updated: Oct 25, 2017 07:03 IST

Moushumi Dasgupta and Alekh Archana
Moushumi Dasgupta and Alekh Archana
HindustanTimes, New Delhi
Finance minister Arun Jaitley during a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley during a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.(Arvind Yadav / HT )

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced it would invest over Rs 9 trillion to recapitalise state-owned banks and build new roads and highways on Tuesday, its biggest move yet to shore up an economy growing at its slowest in three years.

Plans include spending Rs 2.11 trillion towards infusing capital into banks over the next two years and another Rs 7 trillion over the next five years on the roads project, some of which will run through economic corridors as well as remote border and coastal areas.

The Rs 2.11 trillion is far higher than the Rs20,000 crore the government had previously planned to invest, in 2017-18 and 2018-19, in recapitalising banks.

Separately, the government also announced an increase in the price at which it procures wheat, pulses and oilseeds from farmers and waived the penalty on delayed filing of initial returns on the new Goods and Services Tax for August and September.

The Rs 9 trillion gambit could help improve credit flow to companies from banks weighed down by bad debt, and boost public investment.

The plan to build more than 83,000 km of roads and highways over the next five years will boost connectivity and create jobs.

Rajnish Kumar, the chairman of the country’s largest lender, the state-owned State Bank of India said the recapitalisation of banks would help channel more investments to sectors such as infrastructure. “The thrust to infrastructure will generate direct and indirect positive cascading effects for lot of related sectors and will create feel good factor for all stakeholders,” he added.

The spending push, anticipated by many after growth slowed to 5.7% in the June quarter, will also likely help the government blunt political criticism ahead of state polls over the next few months.

DK Srivastava, chief policy advisor at EY India said the measures announced will stimulate the economy. “The critical factor will be how much of the expenditure is front-loaded to be spent this year.”

Unveiling the plan at an unusually high-octane press conference complete with a power point presentation, finance minister Arun Jaitley said the economy was on a strong wicket and that temporary hiccups were not unusual when structural reforms were undertaken.

“When results of the GDP of the first quarter came out then I had said that we will be ready for the response,” said Jaitley, flanked by half a dozen senior officials of his ministry who gave presentations on the health of the economy.“We will report on the situation as they develop.”

But ramping up government spending, at a time when subdued tax collections and sluggish economic growth have strained federal revenues, could widen the fiscal deficit beyond the targeted 3.2% of GDP.

There were already signs that the government had little option but to spend its way out of trouble that was exacerbated, in part, by last year’s shock withdrawal of high-value banknotes as well as disruptions on account of the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.

Rejecting any pessimism over the economy, Jaitley said the government had held several internal meetings on the situation and that discussions were also held with Prime Minister Modi.

“India has been fastest growing major economy for the last three years,” he said.

“(Our) Attempt is to maintain high growth rate.”

(With input from Alekh Archana in Mumbai for Livemint)