India Newsletter

17 Nov 2020



Nitish Kumar was sworn in as Bihar chief minister for a fourth straight term

on Monday at a ceremony in Patna in presence of Union Home minister Amit

Shah and BJP chief Jagat Prakash Nadda even as RJD decided to boycott the

event. Replacing Sushil Modi, who had been Kumar's deputy for 15 years, BJP

leaders Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi took oath as the Deputy Chief

Ministers of Bihar.

Kumar, along with a 14-member council of ministers, was administered the

oath of office at Raj Bhavan by Governor Phagu Chauhan.

After taking oath, Nitish said, "Based on the public's decision, NDA has

once again formed the government in the state. We will work together and

serve the people". On Sushil Modi not returning as his deputy, Kumar told

ANI, "It is the decision of the BJP to not field Sushil Modi as the Deputy

Chief Minister. They should be asked about this."

There was no official word from the BJP, though sources said Sushil Modi

might be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha in the seat that has fallen vacant

with Ram Vilas Paswan's death, and made a minister at the Centre, or named

the Governor of a state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "Congratulations to Nitish Kumar on

taking oath as Bihar's CM. I also congratulate all those who took oath as

Ministers in Bihar Government. NDA family will work together for progress of

Bihar. I assure all possible support from Centre for the welfare of Bihar."

Congratulating Nitish Kumar on being "nominated" as CM, RJD leader Tejashwi

Yadav said, "I hope that instead of his desire for the chair, he will focus

on the aspirations of Bihar's people, and make the NDA's promises of 19 lakh

jobs, providing education opportunities, health and irrigation facilities

his priority."

Earlier in the day, RJD had put out a statement on its twitter handle

announcing that they would boycott the ceremony as "the public gave the

mandate to change which is against the NDA."

Chirag Paswan, whose party LJP left the NDA just ahead of the elections

owing to "ideological differences" with JD(U), said: "Congratulations to

Nitish Kumar on becoming the chief minister again. I hope the government

completes its term and you continue to remain an NDA chief minister," Paswan

tweeted. "Once again I congratulate you on becoming chief minister and the

BJP on making you one."





A day after the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was

signed by 15 nations - without India - foreign minister S Jaishankar mounted

a spirited defence of the government's decision to stay away from trading

arrangements that could end up de-industrialising India.

Addressing the Deccan Dialogue at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad,

Jaishankar said the external world was not all free and fair trade, but full

of "nontariff barriers and state capitalism". "The effect of past trade

agreements has been to de-industrialise some sectors. The consequences of

future ones would lock us into global commitments, many of them not to our

advantage. Those who argue stressing openness and efficiency do not present

the full picture," he said.

It was a direct hit at China, whose policy of subsidies to its state-owned

enterprises led to Chinese products deeply undercutting those from other

countries, and hitting their manufacturing capabilities. China came in for

additional indirect criticism as well. Jaishankar reminded his audience that

it was India that had called out China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and

shaped the international discourse on connectivity projects, that they

should be transparent, environment friendly and respectful of sovereignty.

"In the name of openness, we have allowed subsidised products and unfair

production advantages from abroad to prevail. And all the while, this was

justified by the mantra of an open and globalised economy," he added.





Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal's criticism of the state of affairs in

the Congress in the wake of the party's poor show in the Bihar polls and

Assembly bye-elections, in an interview to The Indian Express, triggered a

war of words in the grand old party on Monday bringing focus back on the

leadership question.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot hit out at Sibal for airing his views

in public, while some leaders like Vivek Tankha and Karti Chidambaram

reiterated what Sibal said.

Hitting out at Sibal, Gehlot tweeted, "There was no need for Mr Kapil Sibal

to (have) mentioned our internal issue in the media. This has hurt the

sentiments of party workers across the country. Congress has seen various

crises including 1969, 1977, 1989 and later in 1996 - but every-time we came

out stronger due to our ideology, programmes, policies and firm belief in

party leadership." He said the Congress has "improved with each and every

crisis and also formed the UPA government in 2004 under the able leadership

of Soniaji. We shall overcome this time too.".

Tankha, a Rajya Sabha MP and the head of the Congress's legal department,

supported Sibal's stand. Speaking to The Indian Express, he said, "We can't

see the party sliding. We are not able to see it sliding. Others may not

speak because they have their own issues. I and Kapil have no other issues.

Our issue is the revival of the Congress. And if people like us don't come

forward and speak about it, history will not forgive us."

Youth Congress president Srinivas B V also attacked Sibal, tweeting, "When

the Congress party wins elections, the credit is never given to Rahulji. And

when the Congress loses elections somewhere, then Rahul Gandhi is made

responsible. Whosoever is raising questions today, I want to ask them what

contribution you have made for strengthening the organisation?" Delhi

Congress chief Anil Chaudhary invited Sibal, who has represented Chandni

Chowk in Lok Sabha, to come forward to fight against Modi and Delhi CM

Arvind Kejriwal. "I urge you to spend some time every day in the DPCC. In

whatever post or department you want to work. it will be our pleasure," he






The Supreme Court on Monday refused to debar tainted politicians from

contesting polls, saying it was for Parliament to take a call on such


A Bench headed by Justice LN Rao also refused to declare as null and void

the elections of MLAs and MPs charge-sheeted for over a year for offences

punishable with a minimum five-year imprisonment.

"We agree that what you are saying is correct. But we cannot pass such

orders. This is under the domain of the Parliament," the Bench told SN

Shukla, a retired civil servant, who represented petitioner Lok Prahari. The

petitioner NGO wanted the top court to debar politicians against whom

charges have been framed to be disqualified from contesting polls.

On behalf of the NGO, its office-bearer Shukla submitted that such a law

will never be passed by Parliament. Criminals were getting into the

legislatures and they had already crossed the 33% mark.









There's promising news from a second Covid-19 vaccine candidate: Moderna

said Monday its shots provide strong protection, a dash of hope against the

grim backdrop of coronavirus surges in the US and around the world.

Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5 per cent effective, according to

preliminary data from the company's still ongoing study.

A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own Covid-19 vaccine

appeared similarly effective - news that puts both companies on track to

seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the US.

A vaccine can't come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the US

over the weekend - 1 million of them recorded in just the past week. The

pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, more than

245,000 of them in the US.

Still, if the US FDA allows emergency use of Moderna's or Pfizer's

candidates, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the

year. Both require people to get two shots, several weeks apart. Moderna

expects to have about 20 million doses, earmarked for the US, by the end of

2020. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech expect to have about 50 million

doses globally by year's end.

Moderna's vaccine, created with the National Institutes of Health, is being

studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real vaccination or a

dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board broke the code to

examine 95 infections that were recorded starting two weeks after

volunteers' second dose - and discovered all but five illnesses occurred in

participants who got the placebo.

The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might

change as more Covid-19 infections are detected and added to the

calculations. Also, it's too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both

cautions apply to Pfizer's vaccine as well.

But Moderna's independent monitors reported some additional, promising

tidbits: All 11 severe coronavirus cases were among placebo recipients, and

there were no significant safety concerns.

The main side effects were fatigue, muscle aches and injection-site pain

after the vaccine's second dose, at rates more common than with flu shots

but on par with others such as shingles vaccine.

Moderna's vaccine is stable for up to six months at a temperature of minus

20 degrees Celsius, about home freezer levels, when shipped and stored. The

company said it expects the vaccine to be stable when kept at standard

refrigerator temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for 30 days, up from an

initial projection of 7 days. The vaccine will be distributed in 10-dose

vials and can be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours after thawing.

By comparison, Pfizer's vaccine can be transported and stored for up to 6

months at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F). It can be stored at standard

refrigerator temperatures for up to five days.





US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said

on Monday he will ensure a professional transition to the team led by

Democrat Joe Biden if Biden is deemed the winner of the 2020 presidential

election and "obviously things look like that now."

Speaking to the Global Security Forum, O'Brien said while he hoped Trump

would turn out to have won a second four-year term, he would work with a new

administration headed by Biden and his vice presidential running mate,

Kamala Harris.

States face a December 8 "safe harbor" deadline to certify their elections

and choose electors who will officially select the new president on Dec 14.









Former US President Barack Obama's memoirs have "huge praise for Manmohan

Singh" but Prime Minister Narendra Modi "is not mentioned by name at all",

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor says in a series of tweets. Mr Tharoor wrote

that he had an advance copy of the first of Obama's two-part memoir "A

Promised Land", releasing Tuesday and had read every bit on India flagged in

the index.

"Big news: There isn't much. Bigger news: in 902 pages, Narendra Modi is not

mentioned by name at all," tweeted the Congress MP and former union


"Huge praise for Dr ManMohan Singh who is warmly described as "wise,

thoughtful, &scrupulously honest", "a man of uncommon wisdom& decency" with

whom he enjoyed "a warm & productive relationship" though MMS was "cautious

in foreign policy". His regard & respect shine through."

President Obama "worries about impulses of violence, greed, corruption,

nationalism, racism and religious intolerance," wrote Mr Tharoor as he

quoted from the book: "They seemed to lie in wait everywhere, ready to

resurface whenever growth rates stalled or demographics changed or a

charismatic leader chose to ride the wave of people's fears and resentments.

And as much as I might have wished otherwise, there was no Mahatma Gandhi


In India, the book caused a flutter last week a less-than-flattering

description of Rahul Gandhi drawing comments from delighted BJP leaders.

Some Congress leaders have flagged longer excerpts from the book on a dinner

that President Obama had with the former Prime Minister, Congress president

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi is described as a person of

"shrewd and forceful intelligence" who "listened more than she spoke" and

deferred to Dr Singh when policy matters came up. Rahul Gandhi, Obama

writes, "seemed smart and earnest".

The former US President also recalls wondering after the dinner what would

happen when he (Manmohan Singh) left office, "Would the baton be

successfully passed to Rahul, fulfilling the destiny laid out by his mother

and preserving the Congress Party's dominance over the divisive nationalism

touted by the BJP?"

Tharoor tweeted: "Difficult to imagine that the Sanghis who have been

rejoicing on social media about one sentence in the memoir will draw much

comfort from these reflections. They offer a foretaste of what Vol.2 is

likely to tell us about India in a post-Manmohan Singh era, when Obama






Ahead of the DDC elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP yesterday launched

a scathing attack on the Gupkar alliance, saying that its only agenda is to

bring back Article 370. Addressing a press conference, BJP spokesperson

Sambit Patra also asked Congress to make its stand clear over Article 370.

"This Gupkar Alliance wants exactly what Pakistan and anti-India countries

want... I would like to ask Sonia and Rahul Ji if they stand by the comments

made by leaders in the Gupkar Alliance," he asked. Patra also slammed Rahul

Gandhi quoting ally RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari's remark that "Rahul Gandhi

is NPPP - Non-Performing Picnic-ing President".

"Rahul Gandhi, when you were with cycle (SP), it was punctured, when you

came together with lantern (RJD), it was extinguished, now it is the turn of

'guptchar' alliance," he said.

The Congress is part of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD),

an umbrella alliance of state parties seeking restoration of Article 370.





Supreme Court judge U U Lalit on Monday recused himself from hearing pleas

seeking action against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy

for levelling allegations against the judiciary.

"I have difficulties. As a lawyer, I had represented one of the parties,"

Justice Lalit said.

A bench comprising justices Lalit, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat was to

hear three petitions seeking various reliefs against Reddy. The pleas

alleged that Reddy not only wrote a letter to Chief Justice of India

levelling allegations against the judiciary but also held a press conference

in which false statements were made.

In an unprecedented move, AP CM had written to CJI S A Bobde, alleging that

Justice N V Ramana - next in line to be the CJI - "has been influencing the

sittings of the (Andhra Pradesh) High Court including the roster of a few

Honourable Judges".

Meanwhile, the CBI has booked 16 individuals for allegedly posting

defamatory content against judges of the Supreme Court and the Andhra

Pradesh High Court on social media. The case was earlier being probed by the

Andhra Pradesh CID.





The I&B Ministry on Monday issued a public notice asking entities involved

in streaming of news and current affairs through digital media to comply

with the Centre's earlier order permitting 26 per cent foreign direct

investment under the government approval route to such entities.

The notice comes exactly a month after the Supreme Court issued a notice to

the Centre seeking its response on a PIL for regulating over-the-top (OTT)

platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime by an autonomous body.

Recently, the Centre brought OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video

besides other online news and current affairs content, under the ambit of

the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, giving it powers to regulate

policies and rules for the digital space.





Leading artistes who have been asked to vacate their government allotted

residences, including Padma Shri awardee Bharati Shivaji, on Monday said

they were feeling "harassed", "humiliated" and "pained" by the government's


In October this year, 27 eminent personalities, including artists, dancers

and musicians were sent notices from the Ministry of Housing and Urban

Affairs, to vacate their government allotted accommodations across Delhi by

December 31, "failing which eviction proceeding will be initiated."

Other major artistes who have been sent these notices are Jatin Das, Pt

Bhajan Sopori, Pt Birju Maharaj, Rita Ganguly, and Ustad F Wasifuddin Dagar.





The long-awaited privatisation process for Bharat Petroleum Corporation

(BPCL) is finally moving to its second stage with at least three to four

companies submitting expressions of interest. The government had to extend

the deadlines for submission of EoIs four times before setting the final

deadline on Monday.

The sale is crucial for the government in order to meet its disinvestment

target of Rs 2.1 trillion for the current fiscal year.

With this sale, the NDA government would be making its first privatisation

in the petroleum sector after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government sold IPCL

to Reliance Industries.





(The Indian markets were shut yesterday on account of Diwali Balipratipada)

Nasdaq 11,924 (+95) Dow 29,950 (+471), S&P 3,627 (+42)

US$-Rs. 74.35 GBP-Rs. 98.15, Euro-Rs. 88.06, UAE Dhm-Rs.20.23, Can$-Rs.

56.76, Aus$- Rs. 54.27

GBP 0.75 /US$, Euro 0.84 /US$, Jap.Yen 104.59 /US$, Aus$ 1.36 /US$, Sing

1.34 /US$, Bang Taka 83.21 /US$, Can$ 1.30 /US$, Mal Ring 4.11 /US$,

Pak Re 157.53 /US$, Phil Peso 48.15 /US$, Russian Rouble 76.69 /US$, NZ$

1.45 /US$, Thai Baht 30.15 /US$, Ukraine Hryvnia 27.92 /US$, Norway NOK 9.09


Bitcoin - USD 16,670

Dollar Index 92.47 Brent Crude 44.10 BDI 1,115

Gold world Spot Price USD/aoz 1,891 India (Rs. per gm 24k/22k) 5,075 / 4,975

Silver (Rs. Per KG) 63,610





The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile,

nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to

one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to

trust you with a friendship. - Ralph Waldo Emerson





A little girl became restless as the preacher's sermon dragged on and on.

Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, "Mommy, if we give him

the money now, will he let us go?"

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