Souza depiction of Christ’s burial fetches 80 times 1998 price 

LONDON: Sotheby’s yesterday dispelled some of the gloom and uncertainty emanating from a poor Christie’s $3.8m auction of South Asian art in New York last month when its annual London auction yielded sales totalling £4.02m – $4.90m at the depleted pound’s current post-Brexit level.

souza-win-bid-2-img_6540The top lot was a memorable depiction of Christ’s burial by Francis Newton Souza titled The Deposition that sold for a hammer price (left) of £1.30m – £1.57m ($1.92m, Rs12.78 core) including buyer’s premium. The hammer price was just over two to three times a surprisingly low estimate of £400,000-£600,000 for the 54in x 67in oil on canvas

The tragic but colourful painting – of Christ’s body being moved by his followers (below) – was last sold in 1998 for £12,000 by London’s Grosvenor Gallery. In a demonstration of the surge in top prices since then, its value has risen 80 times in the intervening 18 years (after adjusting for inflation). 

Souza was one of India’s leading 20th century artists and he died in 2002. Many of his works show the tortured legacy of a strict Roman Catholic upbringing under Portuguese colonial rule in the Indian state of Goa, before he left to live in London and New York.


The successful sale of this and other paintings in the Sotheby’s and other recent auctions underlines one of the key points about the current uncertain state of the South Asian modern art market, which is being swamped by a surfeit of auctions: works generally do best if they have a strong provenance and are new to the market. 

Even The Deposition might have stuck at around £700,000, when early bidders dropped out, if two potential buyers represented in the auction room by Yamini Mehta, Sotheby’s department head, and Conor Macklin of the Grosvenor Gallery, had not fought it out. They raised the price by some £600,000 and Mehta won – for what Sotheby’s describe as a “European Trade buyer” and not for Kiran Nadar, India’s most prolific collector, who had seemed a likely candidate.

vsgaitonde-untitled-sothebys-lndn-oct-16The next highest sale was achieved for a brightly coloured untitled 60in x 39in oil on canvas by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (left) that went to a private Indian buyer.

Estimated at more than twice the Souza price, it sold for far less – an £800,000 hammer price that was under the £900,000 low estimate. The total figure of £965,000 ($1.18m, Rs7.88 crore) including buyer’s premium was however more than twice the $507,000 it sold for in September 2013 at Christie’s in New York, so it bucked the trend.

By contrast, the most prominent failure at the Christie’s New York sale last month was a rather dark and gloomy similar-sized Gaitonde (below) that was estimated at what proved to be an unrealistically high $1.8m-$2.2m. 

Gaitonde has been doing well in recent years and he currently holds the record for the highest auction price achieved by an Indian modern artist.

vsgaitonde-christies-ny-sept-16It could be that the number of potential Gaitonde buyers with over a million dollars to spend is fading out, though another of his works sold successfully, albeit only just above its low estimate, for Rs 10.12 crore ($1.53m) at a live auction staged in New Delhi on September 8 by Mumbai-based Saffronart.

With sales at that auction totalling Rs68.55 core ($10.39m) including buyer’s’ premium, Saffronart, whose main business is on-line auctions, did amazing well overall in striking contrast to Christie’s $3.8m – but none of my art market sources have been able to explain why that was. 

It was the top end of the Christie’s sale that was worst hit. Below that, many works sold well including an acrylic on canvas by Syed Haider Raza, who died a few months ago, going for a hammer price of $245,000. That was well above the $100,000-150,000 estimate, while one of his early works failed to reach the low estimate of $1m and did not sell..


Saffronart’s top work was a remarkable large 52in x 144in plastic emulsion on canvasGreek Landscape,(above)  by Akbar Padamsee that had not been in the market since 1960. It sold for Rs19.19 crores ($2.91m), more than double the high estimate.


Reproduction pictures of this work do not do it justice, say people who saw it hanging in the New Delhi home of the veteran artist Krishen Khanna. He bought it in 1960, the year it was painted. Khanna was originally a banker, and the reverse side of the work is inscribed “owned by K Khanna / National & Grindlays Bank Ltd / Kanpur UP’. 

Commenting on yesterday’s Sotheby’s auction, Yamini Mehta underlined the point that it included a large number of works that were “new to market”, and said that she had intentionally aimed at works in lower prices ranges that would attract new and younger buyers.

The auction started with 21 works from the estate of Dolf Amacker, a Swiss air-conditioning engineer who amassed a collection when he was working in India between 1947 and 1961.

husain-family-42500-img_6546These were the years when now famous Indian moderns were beginning to attract attention and the works have not been seen on the market for 60 or more years.

Yesterday Amacker’s collection fetched prices mostly between £5,000 and just over £40,000 (including buyer’s premium). They  included colourful early M.F.Husains (above and right), originally bought direct from the artist, that fetched up to £42,500. A Ganesh Pyne went for £77,500.

There are four or five South Asian art auctions in the next few months, but the main test of the market will come on December 18 when Christie’s holds its annual India Sale in Mumbai. This is its prestige event for this market, so it is determined not to repeat the New York experience.

Posted by: John Elliott | October 11, 2016

Happy Dussehra!

img_6485It’s the festival of Dussehra and I’ve just watched an effigy of Ravana going up in flames in the park in front of my Golf Links flat in New Delhi – here are some pictures.

This is the start of a festive season that  leads on to Diwali, the festival of lights, which this year is on October 30. 

Tonight, there have been fireworks displays, ending with a ceremonial burning of effigies celebrating img_6493Ravana’s defeat by King Rama.

Ravana was a rival king, who had abducted Rama’s wife Sita to what is now Sri Lanka – signifying victory over hubris and ego, as I explained  in a post a few years ago for some foreign visitors to Delhi when this blog appeared on the Fortune magazine website.


Another terror attack today by militants at government institute

A 12-year old boy died on Saturday in the Kashmir state capital of Srinagar after being hit in the head by pellets fired by para-military forces at crowds of youngsters protesting against the Indian government. Junaid Ahmad’s death sparked clashes during his funeral later in the day, with thousands of protesters chanting “Go India, go back” and “We want freedom”, as they marched to the city’s “martyr’s graveyard” with the boy’s body.

The security forces claim Junaid was playing an active part in the protests, throwing stones, but his parents and friends said he was hit in the garden outside his home.

The boy’s death sparked little apparent interest or concern in New Delhi, where politicians are engrossed in point scoring following the government announcing on September 29 that it had conducted “surgical strikes” against alleged terrorist “launching pads” in Pakistan  across Kashmir’s disputed Line of Control (LoC) border.

Despite the “surgical strikes”, terror attacks are continuing. This morning militants stormed the Jammu & Kashmir state government’s Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) at Pampore near Srinagar and engaged in a gunfight with security forces. There was a three-day battle with militants in the same building in February after a militant attack, but the authorities had not strengthened the security – tenders for bunkers were only floated last week.


Junaid Ahmad’s funeral procession – HT photo

September 29 was the first time for many years that India has publicly announced such strikes, and it presented them as evidence of the strong approach of Narendra Modi, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party prime minister, against alleged Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. BJP politicians have been boasting politically about the strikes (even though Modi has said they shouldn’t), and Congress politicians have tried to recover ground by revealing that their government  conducted similar strikes secretly in earlier years.

Meanwhile in Islamabad, Pakistan government spokesman described Junaid’s death as the “worst example of state terrorism” and said the incident was part of “continued Indian atrocities” in Kashmir. And in Washington, Pakistan government emissaries continued to lobby the US government and other politicians about India’s alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir and the rightness of the Pakistan cause, but were reportedly given little time and were told to stop encouraging terrorist activities in India.

Such is the seemingly never-ending often deadly international theatre over Kashmir that basically stems from the Pakistan army and government failing to accept the inevitability of the Line of Control being recognised one day as the permanent border. Instead, Pakistan encourages and facilitates militants’ terror attacks in Kashmir, and sometimes also elsewhere in India. That leads to heightened tensions in Kashmir, which it also encourages.

For most of the time, the political leaders and military involved are content to let the overall situation simmer, providing Pakistan’s terror attacks are not too outrageous and successful, and providing unrest in the Kashmir valley does not get out of hand. 


Tear gas shells being fired at Junaid’s funeral procession – photo Waseem Andrabi/HT

Since early summer however, the situation has become more volatile than Delhi wants. There was unrest earlier in the year, and Junaid’s death was the latest tragedy in three months of large-scale violent protests and clashes that began on July 8 after a prominent Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani, was killed by Indian forces. 

Life in Srinagar and the surrounding Kashmir valley has been crippled with curfews, bandhs (political strikes), and confrontations between demonstrators and the police and paramilitary forces. At least 90 people, most of them young protesters, have been killed and more than 12,000 injured in the clashes. Reports suggest that as many as 7,000 people have been arrested, nearly 450 in a crack-down during the past week.

Indian governments rarely take a pro-active interest in Kashmir, even when their own party is also in power in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as is the case now with the BJP being a partner in the state administration. On this occasion however it reacted and sent Rajnath Singh, the home minister (below), and other politicians to Srinagar a month ago to try to talk to local leaders, including separatist groups, and calm the protests. That failed, so New Delhi now sees the situation as one that needs to be quelled by force.

While the domestic situation has got out of hand in Kashmir, so has cross-border terrorism. Pakistan-based militants have capitalised on India’s appallingly poor defence security by attacking a military air base last January near the border at Pathankot, south of Kashmir in Punjab, and then last month entering an army camp at Uri in Kashmir and killing 18 soldiers.

rajnath-singh-kashmir-photo-waseem-andrabihtEmbarrassed by not defending its bases, Modi ordered the publicly-declared army paratrooper strikes against the terror “launching pads”. He has also effectively isolated Pakistan internationally, even getting all neighbouring South Asian countries for the first time to condemn the terrorism.

Although this is never formally admitted, there is virtually no chance of a permanent solution in the foreseeable future. As Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary, put it during an NDTV television discussion last night, “we have to recognise that India Pakistan relations are essentially adversarial relations, and are likely to remain adversarial for a considerable period of time”.

Although Saran did not spell it out, an Indian government cannot come to a settlement with disgruntled Kashmiris without Pakistan making peace over the disputed border, and that will not happen for two reasons. First, Pakistan’s army, which dominates the country’s politics, needs a disputed border to keep itself in business. Secondly, its main ally China wants India’s western border to be destabilised, providing that does not get out of hand and lead to war between the two nuclear neighbours. Nothing can be permanently settled without China’s agreement, and there is no sign of that happening.

Saran added  that India’s policy objective therefore had to be to “manage the adversarial relationship in a manner that it does not lead to the escalation of conflict”. He also said, significantly, that India could not become a global power unless it learned to manage relationships in its own region, as it has now begun to do.

For India that means strengthening its military bases’ notoriously weak defences, and those at other sensitive sites like the Pampore institute that was attacked this morning. There were reports last week that another such attack had been thwarted.

It also means guarding against a major terror attack elsewhere in India because attacks on high profile targets, and those causing fatalities, are more likely to lead to an escalation in conflict between the two countries. It also means spotting terror “launch pads” across the LoC and dealing with them, sometimes announcing what has been done, plus maintaining the diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.

India also needs for the first time to take a pro-active role in the economic development of Kashmir, hard though that may be to achieve in the present mood. Modi said on August 9 that Kashmir’s young people, who should have laptops, cricket bats or books in their hands, “were being given stones” (to throw).

Two months have now elapsed. I wonder what has done since then to deliver the economic and educational development that he symbolised with laptops, bats and books. Probably nothing, and that is the tragedy of India’s rule in Kashmir.  

Narendra Modi plans measures to isolate and hurt Pakistan 

India has launched a series of moves against Pakistan in the past few days that culminated this morning in an announcement that the Indian army conducted “surgical strikes” last night against alleged terrorist locations across the disputed Line of Control (LoC) border in Kashmir.

This is the first time that India has publicly declared such military action inside Pakistan for many years. Previous governments have followed what is called “strategic restraint” and rejected such a response to terror attacks, or kept those that did happen secret (like these in 2011), because of the risks of escalating military retaliation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The attacks were based on “very specific and credible information” that “some terrorist teams” had positioned themselves to infiltrate into India, the director general of military operations, Lt. Gen Ranbir Singh (below) said today. “Significant casualties have been caused to the terrorists and those who were trying to support them”. No further details have been released, but media reports suggest that the attacks involved ground troops operating one to two kilometres inside Pakistan territory in up to seven locations where “launch pads” were located.

DGMO Ranbir Singh briefs media

Pakistan has however played down the significance and denied heavy casualties, apparently to avoid the need for immediate escalation. Its army denied that there had been “surgical strikes”, and said there had only been heavy Indian firing.

A stronger line was taken yesterday by Pakistan’s defence minister, Khawaja Muhammad. He warned that, if attacked, Pakistan  would respond with nuclear weapons “to annihilate India”. That was interpreted in India not so much as a real threat, but as an attempt to ratchet up international concerns about a nuclear war so that the US and other countries increased pressure on Modi not to escalate anti-Pakistan initiatives.

India’s action was a direct response to an attack on an army base at Uri in Kashmir on September 18 that killed 18 Indian soldiers and led to intense media and public pressure for retaliation. Pakistan has denied responsibility and accused India of organising the attack for internal reasons and

This afternoon, the government has briefed opposition politicians and international diplomats about the situation, including an escalation of tension on the border where villagers have been evacuated. Its line is that it is targetting terrorist preparing to attack India, not the country of Pakistan, and that it will do so again if and when it finds terrorists gathering in “launch pads” close to the LoC.

Isolating Pakistan

Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has also taken other initiatives in the past few days that over-turn decades of India’s regional diplomatic policy, and could change the alignment of countries in South Asia.“We will leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world,” he said last weekend, responding to public demand that has been fuelled by intense media coverage for some form of retaliation..

His mostly co-operative approach to Pakistan since he was elected in April 2014, and especially personal approaches to the prime minister Nawaz Sharif,  have failed to stop the attacks. He has been widely criticised for lacking focus and consistency. The aim now, which fits with his hard-line image, is to weaken Pakistan to such an extent that it stops the militancy, say well-informed diplomatic observers.

Declaring that “blood and water cannot flow together,” the prime minister held a meeting on September 26 with senior officials of the water resources and external affairs ministries to discuss limiting the flow of rivers from India under a 1960 India-Pakistan Indus Waters Treaty. It was decided at this stage only to increase India’s take-off from rivers flowing through Jammu & Kashmir to the maximum allowed under the World Bank-brokered agreement. That would reduce what is available to Pakistan without breaching the treaty.

India has also pulled out of a big South Asia co-operation (SAARC) summit that was due to be held in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad in November. Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan have also withdrawn (Oct 2 insert: now  joined by Sri Lanka and the Maldives), citing terrorist activity. This unanimity is significant because it shows an unusual alliance with India over Pakistan. Next week these and other countries belonging to a regional grouping called BIMSTEC, which excludes Pakistan, will be meeting in India to push trade and other ties that have been largely stymied by Pakistan since SAARC was set up in 1985.

Today Modi was to have considered taking action over Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status that India gave to Pakistan in 1996. India could possibly cancel the status on the grounds that it has not been matched by Pakistan, but this would only have a limited effect because indirect informal trade via countries such as the UAE far exceed some $2.6bn annual formal trade. Discussion on this was deferred, maybe to next week, because of Modi’s preoccupation with the army strikes.

Balochistan stir

India has also opened up a new pressure point with Pakistan over the country’s south-western province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Sea. In response to Pakistan alleging Indian army human rights violations in Kashmir, Modi has publicly lined up with Balochistan separatists to accuse Islamabad of atrocities in the impoverished province that has been crippled by tribal wars as well as an independence movement for decades. Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, told the UN General Assembly on September 26 that Pakistan’s action in Balochistan was the “worst, form of state oppression”.

India has for many years been accused by Pakistan of fomenting trouble in the province, and it is widely believed that its RAW secret service is active there. Now the area is specially sensitive because of disruption to China’s planned Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), which runs from the two countries border at the northern end of the Karakoram Highway in the Himalayas down through Balochistan to the port of Gwadar that it is building.

China’s reaction to last night’s attack will be significant. While it backs its close ally Pakistan causing disruption on the LoC, it has never wanted that to escalate into a border war. There were reports today that it is appealing to both countries to tone down the confrontation. Last week officials said it was concerned about the risks of an economic spin-off from the Uri attack. It has its own separate differences with India over their Himalayan border and also over other issues including the South China Sea.

Modi’s new aggressive stance ends the pattern under previous governments where a terrorist attack would lead to a heightening of border tension and empty Indian threats against Pakistan that would be replaced with US-encouraged bids for fresh co-operation after a few months or a year or so. Modi criticised such an approach before he became prime minister and has now taken the tough military line he promised. Internationally there will be critics of such a line but domestically Modi will have widespread support. How Pakistan responds has yet to be seen.

Posted by: John Elliott | September 23, 2016

India places $8.6bn jet order amid a trail of failed defences

Uri army camp attack shows India’s vulnerable and weak security 

At the end of a week when India agonised about how to deal with the aftermath of a deadly attack on an army camp near the Pakistan border in Kashmir that should never have been allowed to happen, the government on September 23 signed a $8.66bn deal with Dassault of France for 36 fighter jets that will have only a limited effect on the under-equipped Indian Air Force’s lack of readiness.

The link between the two events is that they both underline the deplorable state of India’s military defences, and demonstrate how inadequately it tries to improve them, despite tough talk by successive governments and especially by prime minister Narendra Modi before he was elected, and despite his promise to make the country work more efficiently.


Smoke rising from the Uri camp during the attack –

Eighteen Indian soldiers were killed in the army camp attack that was carried out at Uri on September 18 by four men – dubbed “militants” by the international media but “terrorists” in Indian reports.

It has led to outrage in India against Pakistan, whose army or ISI secret service is blamed for instigating the attack allegedly by Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based group named by the US as a terrorist organisation.

Yet the real horror of the event is not that Pakistan dare do such a thing, but that India is so lackadaisical and inefficient at maintaining security that the four men were able to cut a boundary fence, move 150 yards inside the base and set fire to tents before they were detected. Unprotected soldiers were having early morning showers in a camp whose operational troops were patrolling on the disputed “line of control”  (LoC) border with Pakistan just 10kms away.

If no Indian soldiers had been killed, the outrage against Pakistan would have been far less and Delhi could have congratulated itself on the excellence of its defences. Yet there is scarcely any public outcry against the government and defence ministry for failing to secure its bases and protect the lives of its soldiers.

More horrifying

Even more horrifying is that the camp was so unprotected despite a similar incident last January at an air base, near the Pakistan border at Pathankot in the Punjab, that had no defences against a terror attack. Border patrols and thermal imaging were inadequate, and the initial police responses were confused and slow. Floodlights were not working in some areas and buildings were located against perimeter walls, making access easy.

Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary, has warned that “India will remain vulnerable unless it does a better job of managing and securing its long land and maritime borders”. He lists numerous defence failings and warns, “Unless we turn the searchlight on our own failings….we will remain at the receiving end of terrorism”.

And as Omar Abdullah, a former Kashmir chief minister has tweeted, “While we work out who is to blame for Uri, and what an appropriate response will be, do we not owe our troops flame retardant tents & huts?”   

manohar-parrikar_647_092116070823Manohar Parrikar, India’s defence minister, admitted that “something must have gone wrong” at Uri, adding that “we will definitely find out what went wrong and take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again”. He was speaking on September 21 at a management conference (above) and said he believed in “zero errors”, a term his audience would use in their own companies but must have heard with incredulity in this context.

“Air defence units field antiquated Soviet-era guns and missiles that should have been retired long ago,” said an editorial in the Business Standard, the next day. Talking about “serious deficiencies “ in India’s radar network, fighters squadrons and ground defence units, it continued: “The mechanised forces, too, rely on Soviet-era air defence systems from the 1980s, which are ineffective, given the advanced electronic warfare equipment in modern fighters….Obsolescent radars with inadequate coverage ranges leave gaps along the border that enemy aircraft can exploit”.

None of this is new. Senior armed forces officers have been complaining about the lack of readiness for combat for years – which makes the signing of the Rafale order inadequate. In 2012, India decided to order 126 Rafale jets from Dassault of France, but negotiations became deadlocked, and Modi suddenly substituted an order for just 36 of the planes in “fly-away condition” when he was on an official visit to Paris in April 2015.

Red tape

That was seen at the time as an astute move by Modi, cutting through the red tape and ordering the urgently-needed jets for quick delivery, even though this would undermine his Make in India manufacturing campaign. The decision was taken by the prime minister’s office without Parrikar being privy to the discussions, as Ajai Shukla, a leading defence journalist, has explained in the Business Standard.

Parrikar was instructed by Modi to speak in favour of the new deal, which he did, saying that the planes would be in service within two years of April 2015, yet they will not now begin to arrive till 2018 or 2019. The negotiations became bogged down in detail, partly because India insisted that Dassault agree “offsets” for 50% of the Rs58,000 crore (Euros 7.8bn, $8.66bn) deal. That will be done by Dassault spending in India 30% of the total on aero research programmes and 20% on components, though it is not yet known how that will be done.

RafaleThe main point here however is that the jets (right) will do little to solve the air force’s overall shortage of fighters, despite their superior capability and advanced missiles, because they will add only two squadrons to the current total of 32 when 42 are needed. The Rafales will also complicate maintenance and support services because there will be seven different types of aircraft from various countries. The air force’s concerns have been spelt out in the Shukla article, including worries that the Rafales cost twice as much as Russian Sukhoi jets that are already in service.

Now India must decide what to do about the 90 aircraft that are needed following the unexplained reduction from 126 to 36. Two more aircraft types – the US’s F16 and the Swedish Gripen – are reportedly being considered. 

India’s defence orders are awash with corruption allegations and, significantly, Shukla notes that Indian MoD officials, fearing graft allegations over deals, draw some “comfort” in US deals because of the country’s foreign corrupt practices legislation.

Such is the muddle with which India runs its defences, both in terms of its internal security and its ability to strike at its neighbouring and hostile nuclear neighbours, China and its client state, Pakistan.

The focus has been on how India should fight back against Pakistan following the Uri attack, which the prime minister has said “will not let go unpunished”. Diplomacy has so far been the main weapon, at the United Nations and elsewhere. Other possibilities aired and debated have included selected strikes across the border, cyber warfare, cutting off river waters that flow from India to Pakistan, and cancelling trade pacts.

It would however be much more effective to strengthen India’s domestic security because, as Shyam Saran says, India will otherwise “remain at the receiving end of terrorism”.

Posted by: John Elliott | August 31, 2016

India warily edges closer to the US with defence logistics deal

China warns India could become a “centre of geopolitical rivalries”

New Delhi doesn’t really trust Washington and many US policy experts regard India as a tiresome non-performer, but both countries need each other because of China’s increasing adventurism and aggression, and this is leading to a flurry of activity before President Obama’s time in office finishes at the end of this year.

A historic defence deal called LEMOA, or Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement to give it its full name, was signed in Washington on Monday (Aug 29) between the two countries’ defence ministers, Ashton Carter and Manohar Parrikar (below). After tortuous negotiations lasting some 14 years, it provides for both countries making their naval, air force and army bases available to each other for servicing and repairs on a case by case basis. 

At the same time, America’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, was arriving in Delhi for the second India-US strategic and commercial dialogue that includes India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, and both countries’ commerce ministers. Their agenda has ranged from climate change and clean energy to cyber co-operation and arbitration arrangements.

Obama, who has a built a constructive relationship with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, may be in the closing months of his presidency, but there is a continuing momentum in the country’s overall strategic links. These began in 2004, though India is intensely wary, and both sides have let progress slip at various times. 

Carter Parrikar LEMOA Sept '16The US see India primarily as a buffer against China and would like to build a closer relationship as allies, but India is prepared to go no further than being a partner on various fronts while pursuing its own independent interests. In the past that has included refusing to join US-led boycotts of Iran and Myanmar.

The US has emerged as a major supplier of defence equipment with orders totalling some $4.4bn in just the past three years, and has taken part in several joint military exercises. Russia however remains India’s most consistent defence supplier and partner and, significantly, the US failed to make the short-list on a key multi-billion jet fighter deal that it coveted.

The defence logistics agreement is historic because it shows what can eventually be achieved, while also illustrating India’s concerns. The signing owes much to the sensitivity and persistence of Ashton Carter, America’s secretary for defence and India’s most prominent supporter in the Obama administration. He said after the signing that he had spent more time with Parrikar since taking on his job than with any other defence minister anywhere in the world.

“Over the last two years, Carter and Parrikar have built up an unlikely rapport – the former a defence and security technocrat and academic; the latter a street-savvy politician, albeit with an Indian Institute of Technology degree,” says Ajai Shukla, an Indian defence journalist and analyst.

“Foundational pacts”

When the discussions on the logistics deal began in 2002, it was one of the four “foundational pacts” that the US had expected to push India into agreeing quite quickly, but Washington’s defence officials seriously under-estimated the time it would take to achieve just two of them.

An End User Verification Agreement, which was signed in 2009, paved the way for the US to become a major defence supplier by laying down restrictions on India passing technology on to other countries. But a Communications Interoperability & Security Memorandum of Agreement and a Basic Exchange & Cooperation Agreement on Geo-spatial Services have not been agreed and seem unlikely to make much progress in the near future.

This is because of concern both in India’s defence establishment and among opposition political parties that India is gradually moving into what could become a formal military alliance that would drag it into America’s international action in places such as Iran and Syria.

“We resisted this agreement for long because we didn’t want to give the perception that we are ganging up with Americans against somebody else, in particular China,” says Pallam Raju, a defence minister of state in the previous Congress-led government.

India’s defence ministry has tried to answer that point by stressing that the agreement neither created “any obligations” on either India or the US “to carry out any joint activity”, nor provided “for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements”. It would be used “exclusively during authorized port visits, joint exercises, joint training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.”


India’s powerful neighbour China is of course far from happy, as one of its official mouthpieces has made clear (reported above on Indian tv news). After praising India’s traditional international independence, the Global Times warned: “If India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan or even Russia. It may not make India feel safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia.”.

China is getting into the habit of warning other countries about what or what not to do as it becomes more aggressive internationally, though there is of course nothing new in it coercing others to follow its line. Some 25 years ago, when I was reporting for the Financial Times from Hong Kong, it was providing economic aid for small countries to persuade them not to recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country,

Now the stakes are far higher, as the Chinese ambassadors in both London and Delhi have shown in recent weeks with dire warnings to their host countries about failing to  fall in with Beijing’s wishes. One was over a China-backed nuclear power station project at Hinkley Point in Britain that the UK government is reconsidering.

The other was about India’s concern over China’s recent belligerent adventurism in the South China Sea, where the new agreement could become significant if India allows US ships patrolling in those waters to use its naval bases.

Perhaps India would have been less willing to sign up with the US if China had responded constructively to friendly moves initiated by Modi. Instead, it has blocked India’s entry into an international nuclear supplies body, has strengthened its ties with Pakistan, and has failed to make progress resolving differences on its disputed Himalayan border.

With Modi’s friendly overtures leading to that sort of negative response from Beijing, India seems to have had little to lose by doing the logistics deal while Obama and his friendly defence secretary are still in office.

Posted by: John Elliott | August 4, 2016

India at last takes a leap forward on tax reforms

New goods and services tax passed by Rajya Sabha

It has taken 16 years, which is sluggish even by India’s dreadfully slow approach to change, but finally it has happened – late last night the upper house of  India’s parliament passed a constitution (amendment) bill that paves the way for the introduction of an epoch-making tax reform known as the goods and service tax (GST).

The government optimistically hopes to introduce the tax at the start of the next financial year on April 1, merging myriad taxes into one value added measure that will straddle the whole country and abolish different tax regimes run by India’s individual 29 states. There will then be one national tax system for the manufacture, sale and consumption of goods and services, and India will in effect become a single common market.

This is being touted as the single biggest change since India’s major burst of economic reforms in 1991, and it probably is, given its potentially enormous benefits for business efficiency and tax collection. Arun Jaitley (below), the finance minister, says it will add 2% to gdp growth, which is currently just above 7%.

488002-355862-arun-jaitley-3-pti-edited-picmonkeyThe business welcome was well summed up by Chanda Kochhar, ceo of ICICI, a leading private sector bank. She has described it as the “most important reform in indirect taxation in India ever”, which would benefit all parts of the economy. “Consumers will see lower prices in the medium term, businesses will able to operate more efficiently and the government will see a broadening of its tax base along with ease of tax collection”.

One of the biggest benefits will be faster road transport times, which are more than double those of developed economies, partly because trucks have to pay taxes at each state border. Companies’ distribution and warehousing systems will also be simplified. It should also be possible for the government to restrict tax evasion.

Jaitley and Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party prime minister, claim this as great victory for the government, and proof that they are bent on economic reforms.

Such a claim is not wrong, but it is biased because both the BJP and the Congress Party deserve equal praise for backing the measure over the past 16 years – and both also need to be strongly condemned for blocking it when the other was in power.

It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee (below) who, as the then BJP prime minister, launched the first GST discussions in 2000 and set up a committee with states’ finance ministers to design the tax and the systems required.

Atal_Bihari_VajpayeeThe BJP however refused to support Manmohan Singh, the Congress prime minister from 2004, when he tried to push the measure with a 2010 target implementation date. It then changed tack when the Modi government was elected two years ago, but that was met by obstruction from Congress, which wanted to build up its credibility in opposition. The Modi style was arrogant, which made co-operation with other parliamentary parties, as well as Congress, virtually impossible

In the past few weeks however, the BJP has improved its political tactics. It won support from almost all regional political parties, which would have left Congress isolated had it not ended its opposition.

Consequently, the bill was unanimously passed last night after nearly eight hours of debate in the Rajya Sabha, where Congress has a majority of the seats. Opposition came only from Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK party MPs who walked out. The bill now needs to be cleared by the Lok Sabha (lower house), which is a certainty given that the BJP has a majority there.

States’ ratification needed

But the bill only paves the way for change. It needs first to be ratified by individual states, which then have to draw up their GST laws, and that will be a substantial task. At least 15 of the states must do this for the measure to be implemented. Most will fall into line, though states such as Tamil Nadu with strong manufacturing industries have reservations because they fear they will lose out, unless they are adequately compensated, by the benefit the value added tax brings to consumer-based states.

All the states, and individual businesses, need to prepare for what is in effect a totally new tax regime. That seems somewhat unlikely to be achieved by the government target date of April 1, even if the legislative process is completed with the central government setting the tax rates. Congress wants the tax capped at 18%.

The Business Standard, a leading Indian newspaper, has said this morning that almost 98% of Indian companies are not ready with the software infrastructure, accounting systems and human resources training that are needed to handle the tax. The indirect tax regime “would require all companies, their suppliers/vendors, retailers, dealers and even shopkeepers/entertainment centres/restaurants to install computers, which could access the centralised GST network so that tax credits can be logged into the system”, it said.

The GST will be collected at each stage of sale or purchase of goods or services and will provide funds for both the central and state governments. Nationally, it will subsume central excise duty, additional excise duty, service tax, countervailing duty, and special additional duty of customs. At the state level, it will absorb state value added tax/sales tax, entertainment tax, central sales tax, octroi (state border tax), purchase tax, luxury tax, and taxes on lottery, betting and gambling.

Government veto

It will be run by a council where the states will have two-thirds of the seats, but the national government will have a veto because, while it will have only a third representation, decisions will need a 75% vote in favour. This strengthens the central government’s overall powers because it will be able to control tax rates in the states, which goes against the general approach of encouraging the states to led development. This could lead to tensions and political clashes.

Critics have suggested that there are some inflationary risks and that states, which have always over-spent in order to improve the political credibility of their ruling parties, will feel even more free to spend recklessly and wait to be baled out by the council and central government.

So while there is much to celebrate today, now that the GST has crossed a major parliamentary hurdle, there is plenty of scope in the future for disagreements and lack of progress.

Successful implementation will test the government’s political leadership and skill in the coming months. That gives Modi an opportunity to prove that he can do what he was elected to do and change the way India is run.

Posted by: John Elliott | July 30, 2016

Theresa May dares to risk upsetting China

New Prime Minister delays Cameron government power project 

LONDON: At last Britain seems to have a prime minister in Theresa May (below) who means business, and is not primarily interested in playing to the gallery like her predecessor, David Cameron, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer henchman, George Osborne, did both at home and abroad.

A Financial Times columnist has reported that Whitehall officials are saying it feels like having a new government rather than just a change of prime minister.

theresa mayThis means that old assumptions about how the government will react and about who matters around town have to be re-calibrated.

People in India, and especially in Delhi (where I live), have been experiencing that with Narendra Modi’s government replacing the Gandhi dynasty two years ago. He has over-turned an established elite and governs on his own terms.

In Britain the change has been dramatically illustrated by May’s unexpected decision on the evening of July 28 to delay final confirmation of an £18bn ($26bn) nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset that would lead to China having direct involvement in Britain’s electricity supplies.

The plan is for state-owned China General Nuclear Power to provide about a  third of the finance in a joint venture with EDF, a French utility company with UK electric power interests. The UK government would buy electricity for £92.50 per megawatt hour – double the current wholesale price – for 35 years. The European Pressurised Reactor (EPF) technology involved is unproven because two projects in Finland and France have yet to be commissioned and are years behind schedule and far over budget.

China expects, as part of a deal struck by the Cameron-Osborne government, to follow this with its own Hualong technology for two more power projects at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.

That breathtakingly irrational gift of control over sizeable chunks of Britain’s electricity supplies (Hinkley would be a significant beginning at 7%) has been aptly dubbed by critics as the most extravagant of Osborne’s and Cameron’s “vanity projects”.


David Cameron (left) and George Osborne in the House of Commons

Another is HS2, a widely-criticised plan for a high speed railway link of dubious financial viability between London and Birmingham, for which Chinese investment has also been desperately sought despite cost estimates as high as £90bn, up from an official 2011 figure of around £50bn. (Other funding for this project has been offered by the controversial Gulf state of Qatar).

There has been extensive debate and concern internationally over the security risk of doing business with China in sensitive areas – most of its current $30bn investments in the UK  are not sensitive though it does have a stake in Thames Water.

The debate has focussed in the past mostly on telecom networks, especially as I noted on this blog in 2012, those made by Huawei for countries such as the US (which has banned it on government contracts), the UK (where BT and others use it extensively) and India where it is well entrenched.

It was argued then (by John Gapper, a leading Financial Times columnist) that it was too late to eliminate Huawei because “the time to declare telecoms a strategic, protected industry like defence, was 20 years ago”.

Well, the time to declare and make nuclear power a protected strategic industry is surely now. China has to be regarded as a potential future enemy by the west, as it already is by several of its Asian neighbours. Hinkley would be operating for around 50 years and no-one – not even Beijing’s leaders – can predict where and what fights China will begin over that timescale.

Currently China is challenging its neighbours in the South China Sea by asserting no-fly zones and by claiming sovereignty over islands and sea lanes and challenging international maritime rules, despite a recent international court ruling in the Hague rejecting its claims. This could lead to confrontations with countries in that area and with the US.

If Hinkley goes ahead with Chinese money, the UK would presumably have to remain a silent spectator instead of backing its allies in such a situation. Would a Cameron-Osborne government have even dared to vote against China at the United Nations?

The investments crystallised into a £30bn wish list when President Xi Jinping made a state visit to the UK last October. He was given a royal welcome and rode down the ceremonial Mall to Buckingham Palace in a gilded carriage with Queen Elizabeth. (Narendra Modi got invited to the palace for lunch a few weeks later but went by car).

Osborne rejected security concerns

Cameron – and Osborne, whom May sacked from the government immediately she became prime minister – had spent years courting Chinese investment. But May, formerly the former home secretary, raised security concerns with cabinet colleagues when the Hinkley decisions were being made.

Two ministers in the Cameron’s Conservative-LibDem coalition government (2010-15) have said that Osborne blocked attempts both to give the British government a “special share” that would restrict China’s ability to act at Hinkley against the UK’s interest and  to introduce security-oriented restrictions on Chinese business visitors’ visas.

May’s chief of staff warned that China would be able “to use their role to build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain’s energy production at will”. He also said China would be buying British silence on human rights abuses, which was proved right when Cameron and Osborne duly Kowtowed to Xi.

So it is not really surprising that May stepped in on Thursday evening and got her energy minister to announce a review of the project instead of the expected confirmation.

The timing however was curious – the EDF board had earlier that day voted to go ahead and officials from France and China as well as the UK were about to travel to the site for a celebration ceremony. Even more curious, Philip Hammond, May’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, had said during a visit to China for a G20 meeting a week earlier that “we must make sure the project goes ahead.”

May was presumably concerned primarily about the Chinese angle and also maybe about disagreements in the EDF, as well as about the unproven technology and risk of delays and cost over-runs. The EDF finance director resigned last March, fearing the project would ruin EDF financially, and another director resigned just before the board vote. After those two had gone, the board only approved the project on Thursday by ten votes to seven. One executive is reported to have said that the vote might have gone the other way if May’s intentions had been known.

modi-xi-swing1 - IndianExpressMay has risked upsetting both President Hollande of France and China’s Xi. They will no doubt both understand that, having been in office for just two weeks, May needs time to approve such a massive project for which she will now bear prime ministerial responsibility.

But they will be extremely annoyed if she were to cancel the deal, which could make Xi unwilling to help the UK negotiate a quick post-Brexit bilateral trade deal with China, while Hollande could cause problems in Europe.

Such political considerations however are surely less important than Britain putting its future in a Chinese noose, and on a project of unproven technology and uncertain financial viability. A compromise solution will probably be found – maybe restricting the Chinese involvement in some way.

Narendra Modi might learn something if May takes a tough line. He is split between his inclination to serenade Xi, as he did (above) when the Chinese president visited India in September 2014, and the reality that China blocks India’s advancement internationally, encourages neighbouring Pakistan to cause problems, and hassles India on their common border.

How, one might ask, could Cameron and Osborne ever have decided to trust China with the projects. Did they really think China would treat Britain differently from the rest of the world?

India has lost one of its greatest modern painters with the death yesterday of Syed Haidar Raza, who was 94. He was a leading member of the Bombay-based Progressives Artists’ Group of the late 1940s and 1950s that now dominates the top end of the Indian art market, and his passing marks the gradual closing of a chapter in the country’s post-independence art history.

Other famous members of the group such as V.S. Gaitonde, F.N.Souza, Tyeb Mehta and M.F. Husain have died in the past 15 years, most of them painting continuously till just before their deaths, as did Raza with his familiar canvas works of brightly coloured squares, triangles and circles. 

shraza-saurashtra-lot-224-christies-june-10In June 2010, his massive 79in x 79in acrylic on canvas, Saurashtra (right), painted in 1983, hit a record price for Indian works at a Christie’s London auction.

It was bought for £2.4m ($3.5m, Rs16.4 crore) by Kiran Nadar, a prominent collector for her Delhi museum. In 2014, his La Terre (below) reached Rs8.61 crore at a Saffronart auction in Delhi.

He will be most remembered for his frequent use of the bindu, Sanskrit for dot or point, which represents cosmic power in Hindu tantric philosophy. It also leads to the name bindi for the small mark worn by Hindu women in their forehead 

He once said that, when he was nine, his teacher drew a bindu on a white wall and made him stare at it to check his restlessness. “The bindu awakened a latent energy inside me,” Raza has said. “It is a source of energy a still centre and a point from which everything radiates”.

Raza group IMG_5008

S.H. Raza, Krishen Khanna (behind him) and Ashok Vajpeyi (right) at the January 2016 Vadehra exhibition

His last exhibition, at Delhi’s Vadehra gallery in January this year, was astonishing because it consisted of more than 20 large acrylic on canvas works, and several smaller ones, all of which he had painted and were dated in 2015 (left, and Bindu below).

He came to the opening, frail and in a wheel chair, and I asked him whether he painted every day. “Yes almost,” he replied

I arranged with his friend Ashok Vajpeyi to go to his studio and watch him at work, but he became ill and that sadly never happened. Two artist assistants helped him I was told, as assistants and students have often done for leading artists down the centuries.

They drew the shapes that Raza wanted, and held a palate for him to select the paints with a slightly wavering brush. Large canvases were raised and lowered so he could reach them. The works still had their appeal of dramatic colours, tying together in a theme, though with less sharpness than before.

“He has a particular ability to weave together a canvas with different chromatic sequences all clustered together without injuring each other,” Krishen Khanna, 91, one of the few surviving Progressives told me, standing in the gallery alongside his old friend. “Look at the strong red which doesn’t interfere with the rest of the work,” he said, pointing to a particularly striking painting.

Bindu 2016

Bindu in the Vadehra exhibition of 2015 works

The two men wrote letters to each other from the 1950s that were published in 2013 by the Vadehra and the Raza Foundation.

“We couldn’t just tear them up, it’s bad to destroy such things,” said Khanna. They tell of the struggles of their early years, but are less frequent when the Progressives became standard bearers in the auctions for the boom in Indian art that developed from the early 2000s.

“I feel very lonely now. One by one they have all gone Ara, Raza, Gaitonde, Tyeb,” Khanna said yesterday. “Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar are the only others of our group who are now alive. Death has to happen in the course of the time but it does not take away personal sorrow”.

When the boom faded about eight years ago and works by India’s more adventurous contemporary artists fell from popularity and peak prices, paintings by Raza and his Progressive colleagues like Souza, Mehta and Gaitonde have continued to flourish. Their mostly figurative and abstract studies have continued to hit new records for the best works, though there have been some flops, and Raza in particular has sometimes been hit by fakes reaching galleries and auction houses.


S.H.Raza in one of his studios – Art&Style photo

When they started, the Progressives were important because they challenged India’s artistic traditions while also recognising and adopting art styles they saw in Europe and the US, where some, including Souza, went to live.

“We were not allowed to meet students because it was said we were a foreign influence,” Husain told me in a 2009 interview. The critics “wanted us to paint like the Bengal school” instead of breaking from tradition into new styles

shraza-sfrnart-sept-14 La Terre

La Terre, sold at Saffronart in 2014

Raza was born in 1922 in a remote rural village in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, near what is now Kanha National Park. His father was a forest ranger. After school he studied art in Nagpur, the nearest large city, and then in Mumbai where he had his first show when he was 24 at the Bombay Art Salon.

A 1948 meeting with the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson when he was 26 changed Raza’s outlook towards art. He showed his paintings to Cartier-Bresson, who said the work lacked construction. “If I hadn’t met Bresson, I would have continued painting white crosses to symbolise resurrection and black crosses for crucifixion,” Raza had said in a 2006 interview with India Today, explaining how he switched to geometrical patterns.

He went to Paris in 1950 on a French government scholarship. There, artists such as Cezanne, Monet and Gauguin fascinated him.

He stayed in Europe for some 60 years, returning from Paris only in 2010, by which time he was the celebrity that India was eager to claim as its own – as has been demonstrated in the past day with tributes from top politicians and across social media.

State governors told not to meddle ‘in any political thicket’

A few hours after Friday night’s bloody military coup failed in Turkey, the failure of a peaceful and far less dramatic unconstitutional coup staged by India’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the state of Arunachal Pradesh was also confirmed.

Located high in the Himalayas, Arunachal is specially sensitive because it is on the border with China, which claims it as its territory, yet the BJP under prime minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah has been encouraging the destabilisation of its state assembly politics since the end of last year.

The army in India (unlike in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh) doesn’t do coups, but central governments do – mostly those run in the past by the Congress Party that staged them for decades in order to oust state-level administrations belonging to rivals.

In place of army officers, it is a state’s governor who controversially manages things by deciding that a state assembly is unstable, usually because its members are being tempted (often with substantial amounts of money) to switch parties. The governor then triggers either a change of government, or recommends suspension of democracy with Delhi taking charge under what is known as president’s rule.

map copy 2

Last week the supreme court blocked the BJP’s ambitions in Arunachal, paving the way yesterday for the restoration of a Congress majority of assembly members. Earlier this year the court blocked the BJP.s similar ambitions in Uttarakhand, which borders Nepal.

During a meeting in Delhi chaired by Modi, chief ministers of various states yesterday took up the lead give by the supreme court and attacked the government for its interference in state-level affairs. One of them criticised governors’ “adventurism”.

Nitesh Kumar, who runs a government of regional parties in Bihar, called for the governors’ role to be abolished.

The supreme court move was a boost for Congress, though the crises in both states might have been averted if Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president, had been less aloof and more active and sensitive to churns in the states’ politics.

More importantly, it is a blow for the prestige of the BJP and Narendra Modi, who wants his prime ministerial authority to be as absolute as possible. That was demonstrated earlier this month with a substantial central government reshuffle that promoted ministers who did his and the prime minister’s office direct bidding, and demoted those that did not and also those who had upset Amit Shah. The same applied to the internationally-regarded governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, who is departing.

The court’s rulings have also come at a sensitive time in relations with the judiciary because the government has been trying to gain a say in the appointment of judges in high courts and the supreme court, rather than leaving it basically to seniority.

Ceremonial but meddling

Constitutionally, a state’s governor has a largely ceremonial role that is broadly similar to India’s president and Britain’s monarch. Central governments usually fill these gubernatorial posts with political supporters, usually grateful pensioned-off politicians, bureaucrats and armed service chiefs. They live grand lives of pomp and ritual in a style directly inherited from the British Raj with a large (but frequently faded) “Raj Bhawan”, estates, and liveried servants. Frequently controversial, they meddle in a state’s politics even though they are not supposed to do so.

The most blatant and destructive current example is in Delhi. Here the lieutenant governor (who has more powers than other state governors) has for two years done what is presumed to be Modi’s bidding by undermining the work of the government run by the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, has unnecessarily riled the lieutenant governor, Najeeb Jung, a former bureaucrat, but an official in such a position should surely rise above such provocation.

Former Congress prime minister Indira Gandhi made most frequent use of governors’ coups, which have been staged more than 100 times since India’s independence in 1947. She was as ambitious as Modi to assert absolute control (though her motives partly stemmed from paranoia, which is not a Modi characteristic).


The sensitive Actual Line of Control, as the India-China border is known in  Arunachal, when Chinese troops intruded  more than 20km into Indian territory in 2013 – Indian Express photo

The first occasion I remember was in August 1984 when she tried and ultimately failed to eject the southern state of Andhra Pradesh’s colourful ex-film star chief minister N.T.Rama Rao, head of the regional Telegu Desam. Her action led to weeks of political unrest, Hindu-Muslim riots, and army flag-marches aimed at restoring peace. This hit world headlines because it echoed her State of Emergency actions in the mid-1970s.  A month earlier, she had got the governor of Jammu and Kashmir to replace the chief minister Farooq Abdullah, albeit with another (more pliable) politician from Abdullah’s state-level National Conference party.

The Arunachal story

President’s rule was imposed in Arunachal in January after two months of political machinations that began when Congress assembly members, encouraged by the BJP, rebelled against the Congress chief minister, Nabam Tuki. The state’s governor was deeply involved in the events. A month later, a state government was installed and proved its majority in the assembly. It was led by one of the Congress rebels and supported by BJP assembly members, who together formed a new People’s Party of Arunachal.


Prem Khandu yesterday handing over assembly members’  letters of support to the Arunachal Pradesh governor, Tathagata Roy – photo

Last week, on July 13, the supreme court ruled that the Arunachal governor had acted illegally and unconstitutionally when, under article 356 of the Indian constitution, he interfered in various ways in the state’s politics and successfully advised India’s president in January to dismiss the Congress state government led by Tuki, alleging it was unable to function effectively following the members’ rebellion.

For the first time ever, the court also ordered the reinstatement of Tuki’s dismissed state government. This went further than rulings in earlier decades that stopped president’s rules and sometimes ordered complaints to test their strength on the floor of the assembly.

Yesterday there was a new twist when Tuki resigned, handing over leadership of Congress to Prema Khandu, a colleague, who could pull the Congress’s warring groups together. Khandu, the son of a former chief minister, then took over 44 assembly members to the governor (above) to show that he commanded a majority of the 58-seat assembly, finally ending the coup saga. He is being sworn in today.

Governors’  ground rules

The supreme court also went further on July 13 and, for the first time, laid down ground rules for governors:

“It needs to be asserted as a constitutional determination, that it is not within the realm of the Governor to embroil himself in any political thicket. The Governor must remain aloof from any disagreement, discord, disharmony, discontent or dissension, within individual political parties.

“The activities within a political party, confirming turbulence, or unrest within its ranks, are beyond the concern of the Governor. The Governor must keep clear of any political horse-trading, and even unsavoury political manipulations, irrespective of the degree of their ethical repulsiveness. Who should or should not be a leader of a political party, is a political question, to be dealt with and resolved privately by the political party itself. The Governor cannot, make such issues, a matter of his concern.”

Quaint language there to be sure, but a significant warning shot to Modi, and to future prime ministers, to stop ordering pliant governors to organise coups.

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