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India, U.S. now ‘Comprehensive Global Strategic Partners’, ink deals on energy

Warm welcome: U.S. President Donald Trump inspecting the guard of honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Sandeep Saxena

India and the United States on Tuesday strengthened their partnership with agreements on healthcare and energy, and issued a joint statement that designated the two countries as “Comprehensive Global Strategic partners”.

The statement followed bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump, during which the latter renewed his offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and discussed the issue of “religious freedom”.

The discussions took place at Hyderabad House even as communally-charged mob violence in several parts of the city left homes and shops burning.

Addressing a press conference later in the evening, Mr. Trump, however, said he had not discussed the specifics of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, that sparked the violence as he raised issues of “religious liberty” of “Muslims and Christians in India” with Mr. Modi.

“We did talk about religious freedom, and Prime Minister Modi told me very strongly that he wants religious freedom in India, and that they have worked very hard for it here,” he said.

Mr. Trump also said he had discussed the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with Mr. Modi. Renewing his offer of mediating between India and Pakistan, which India has consistently rejected, he said the issue of Kashmir had “two sides”.

The Bihar Assembly on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution not to implement the National Register of Citizens. It also said the National Population Register will be implemented in the 2010 format.

“With this, Bihar has become the first NDA-ruled State to pass a resolution against NRC,” said Leader of the Opposition and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav. Mr. Yadav had moved an adjournment motion against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the NRC and the NPR in the very first session of the Assembly earlier in the day.

Opposition demand

The RJD, Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxists-Leninist) MLAs have led protests over these issues both inside and outside the House. The CPI-ML leaders led a massive rally to the State Assembly protesting against the CAA, NPR and proposed NRC.

Moving the motion and terming the CAA a kaala kanoon (black law), Mr. Yadav said, “When the government has already issued a gazette notification to begin the process of NPR in the State from May 15 to June 28 as Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi had tweeted, the Chief Minister [Nitish Kumar] should now clarify how he has been saying NPR should be implemented in its 2010 format.”

Replying to Mr. Yadav, Mr. Kumar said there should be “no confusion” regarding how the NPR exercise would be carried out in the State and asserted that nobody would be asked to furnish information like their parents’ birthplace. He said the State government has sent a letter to the Centre seeking omission of contentious clauses from the NPR forms.

‘India is 5th most polluted country’

India was the fifth most polluted country in 2019 with Ghaziabad in the National Capital Region ranking as the most polluted city in the world, according to a global compilation of PM2.5 particulate pollution data by a company that primarily works on air filtration.

On the whole, air pollution in India decreased in 2019 from 2018 though about half of the 50 most polluted cities were in India, the report by IQAir noted.

India launched a ‘National Clean Air Programme’ (NCAP) in 2019 that commits to reduce air pollution in 102 most polluted cities by a maximum of 30% by 2024. The report, however, noted that the reduction in pollution in 2019 couldn’t be attributed to the NCAP but rather due to “slowing of the market place.” The economic growth rate in India is expected to slow down to 5% in 2019-20 from 6.1% in 2018-19 and 7% in 2017-18, according to the Economic Survey in January.

“Whilst cities in India, on average, exceed the World Health Organisation target for annual PM2.5 exposure by 500%, national air pollution decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2019, with 98% of cities experiencing improvements,” the report said.

Joint statement at the end of President Trump’s visit underscores Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, including security cooperation

Guest of honour: Donald and Melania Trump with President Ram Nath Kovind and his wife, Savita, at a banquet at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday. PTIPTI

India and the U.S. on Tuesday resolved to upgrade their bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership that will include issues such as defence, security cooperation and revitalisation of the Indo-Pacific quadrilateral dialogue.

Both sides also called upon Pakistan to rein in cross-border terror threats and sought justice for the victims of 26/11 attack and the Pathankot terror attack of 2016.

“They called for concerted action against all terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network, TTP, D Company, and all their affiliates,” said a joint statement issued at the end of President Donald Trump’s visit late on Tuesday evening.

South China Sea

Both sides also took note of the efforts of the ASEAN region to create a code of conduct in the South China Sea region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Trump also agreed to undertake development activities in third countries and intensify cooperation in the space domain

The statement said both sides had resolved to maintain the Internet as a free and secure arena. “India and the United States recognised the need for an innovative digital ecosystem that is secure and reliable, and facilitates the flow of information and data,” the statement said.

Earlier in the evening, Mr. Trump said the U.S. was working with Pakistan to defeat terrorism.

Addressing journalists at Hyderabad House, he said the Indo-Pacific region should be free and open for navigation and the 5G technology should be used for spread of freedom and not for suppression of people.

Mr. Modi observed that defence had a major role in the relationship between India and the U.S.

“In the last few years, there has been unprecedented growth in interoperability between our militaries,” he said, adding the Indian military undertook the maximum number of exercises with the U.S. military.

Mr. Trump also said the U.S. and India were working to revitalise the quadrilateral initiative consisting of Japan, the U.S., India and Australia. Both countries were also working on cybersecurity and counter-terrorism issues.

He assured industry leaders of reduced regulations for ease of doing business

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday invited Indian industry leaders to invest “billions” in America and promised reduced regulations to enhance the ease of doing business in the country.

“Congratulations on your success. We hope you all come to the United States and invest more billions,” he said at an interaction with the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of some of the top Indian companies.

“I view it as jobs. We have great people,” the U.S. President remarked, adding that regulations “will only get better” for investment in America.

Notice period

Prominent among the Indian industry leaders who attended the interaction were Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra, Tata Sons Chairman N. Chandrasekaran, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and the Chairman and CEO of Arcelor Mittal, Lakshmi Mittal.

Responding to a question from B.V.R. Mohan Reddy of Cyient on the regulatory challenges faced by companies investing in the U.S., Mr. Trump said his administration was working on cutting regulations but that they had to adhere to a notice period to do so.

“Some of the regulations you have to go through are statutory process... We are going to cut a lot more regulations but we have to give a notice... A lot of them will be cut and you will see a big difference and it will only get better,” he said.

‘Ease regulations’

Mr. Chandrasekaran of Tata Sons sought tax cuts as well as a reduction in regulatory interventions in the U.S.

Mr. Ambani, for his part, informed the U.S. President of the work that his company was doing, including in the telecommunications sector.

“We are the only [telecom] network in the world that doesn’t have a single Chinese component,” Mr. Ambani asserted, adding that Mr. Trump’s policies had also had a rub-off effect on India. Specifically, he mentioned the reduction in tax rates as an example.

Mr. Trump asserted that as per the current trends it was likely that he would win re-election , adding that the U.S. economy had “never been better”.

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