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Friday, September 21, 2012

Bharat Bundh - FDI in retail and Manmohan's visit to Pakistan

Bharat Bundh evoked mixed response – ‘customary way of life (maamool vazhkkai] was not affected’ and similar clichés would be heard… the fact remains that the Bundh called by the opposition on 20th Sept 2012 has not served the purpose – whether you term it a success or a failure, depending on whom you support or oppose. It did make strange bed partners but Govt was unfazed

In fact, the otherwise toddling Cong Govt boldly announced their decision to go ahead with FDI.  The boldness is significant also because it seems to underline the irrelevance of Mamata and naysayers.  Congress circles are already agog with the expectation that improved coffers may help Chidambaram unwrap a mega-populist package in the budget. Speculation is focused on the food security law.

There have been very many occasions when the Centre had succumbed to Trinamool, DMK and some other fringe parties even.  This time on, it is a different story; one that is defined by decisiveness.  No roll back on diesel and FDI  on multi-brand retail segment and overseas airlines into the aviation sector, already notified.  The FDI notifications formally clearing the way for the entry of global supermarket chains come along with the likely decision not to curb FDI in pharmaceuticals, although it was not clear whether the government was ready to dust off the long-pending proposal to raise the cap on FDI in insurance and open up the pension business.

The notification came on the day of a countrywide shutdown jointly organized by Congress's own allies, BJP, Left and regional parties and on the eve of Trinamool's formal pullout from the UPA.  But what the political parties failed to deliver to Manmohan was perhaps dealt by the Army Chief. That was bigger perhaps.  Any hope Pakistan may have nurtured that a visit by Prime MinisterManmohan Singh could open the door for a "deal" on Siachen has been dashed, with Army chief Gen Bikram Singh being as opposed to the idea as all his predecessors before him.

In his maiden interaction with the press, Gen Singh clearly stated the ground rules on a border agreement. And they don't include any troop withdrawal from the Siachen heights. "There is no change in our view at all. We must continue to hold that area...We have lost lot of lives and shed a lot of blood there. The positions are of strategic importance to us. We have conveyed our concerns to the government,'' he said. It will be difficult for the Indian government to accept anything less.

Pakistan is hopeful of Singh's visit before it goes to the polls. Singh himself is keen to visit Pakistan, and has not shied away from making his interest known. With this in mind, Islamabad has pushed New Delhi hard this year to do a deal on Siachen. Pakistan has even delayed talks on the Sir Creek issue in order to mount pressure on India for a Siachen pact.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pak twice in his 5 years despite Kargil and Parliament attack but Manmohan could not……  it is not only that the terrorism has changed but the drifting is more than ever before.  Officials said India's position on Siachen had neither hardened nor softened for years. But Pakistani Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani had said twice in a month (May) that Pakistan wants the Siachen issue to be solved and India had "toughened" its stand asking for a demarcation, which was seen here as a pressure tactic. Ideally, a Siachen agreement should be part of a broad agreement of the border, but Pakistan is yet to agree to that.

The core of the difference between the two sides is this: India wants Pakistan to authenticate positions on the Actual Ground Position Line [AGPL] before any talk of demilitarization or withdrawal. Pakistan is pushing a four-point plan that includes demilitarization, withdrawal of troops, delineation and authentication. India is unwilling to do this.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
Largely reproduced from Times of India today. 21st Sept. 2012

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