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Country can’t function when a duly enacted law is not obeyed, Modi says on CAA

Putting up a strong defence of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in both Houses of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday cautioned that the ongoing protests might lead to a situation of anarchy and asked what would happen if people in the Opposition-ruled States refused to obey laws enacted by their own Assemblies.

Replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on the motion of thanks to the President for his address to Parliament, he accused the Opposition of instigating people and sought to assure the members that no Indian citizen would be impacted by the CAA.

He contended that the Congress was creating a kalpanik vai (an imagined fear), something, he said, Pakistan had been doing to mislead Indian Muslims.

‘Routine exercise’

In the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Modi said the National Population Register (NPR) had been introduced by the UPA government in 2010 and argued that the Congress was now misleading people despite its being a ‘routine administrative exercise’ that was used to identify the beneficiaries of government schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Opposing the NPR was similar to “opposing the poor beneficiaries”, he said.

“This path will create problems for you [the Congress] as well as the country. I am issuing this warning because we should all be concerned about the country. If the Rajasthan Assembly passes a law but none in Rajasthan is ready to obey it, take out processions and resort to violence... your government [the Congress] is there...What will be the situation? In Madhya Pradesh, you are there. If the M.P. Assembly takes a decision and the people of the State go against it... Can the country run like this? Should we go on the path to anarchy?” Mr. Modi asked in the Lok Sabha.

In a scathing attack in the Lower House on the Congress’s style of functioning, the Prime Minister said India would never have been able to abrogate Article 370, solve the Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute or ban triple talaq if he had followed the same path as the Congress governments.

‘A fallout’

He also hit out at Jammu and Kashmir politicians, such as Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah, contending that their detention was a fallout of the fact that they had tried to instigate the people to rebel, while his government had faith in the Kashmiris.

Describing Kashmir as India’s “crown jewel”, he said J&K had seen a massive push in development work.

Mr. Modi, who spoke for 1 hour 38 minutes, mostly targeted the Congress, holding it responsible for the Partition, the imposition of the Emergency in 1975 and the anti-Sikh riots. “For someone’s aspiration to become the Prime Minister of India, a line was drawn on the map and India was divided into two. After the Partition, the way how Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities were persecuted is unimaginable,” the Prime Minister said, without naming Jawaharlal Nehru.

Repo rate kept unchanged at 5.15%

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) decided at a meeting on Thursday to keep the interest rates unchanged in the wake of a rise in inflation, but emphasised that there would be space for rate reduction.

This is the second straight policy review meeting where the rates have been kept unchanged. The RBI reduced the rates by 135 bps between February and October 2019 before pressing the pause button in the December policy review.

Thursday’s decision was unanimous among all six members of the MPC.

RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das acknowledged that the market had factored in status quo. “While this decision may be on expected lines, and perhaps widely discounted, it’s important not to discount the RBI,” he said. “It has to be kept in mind that the central bank has several instruments that can be deployed to address the challenges that the economy faces in terms of the sluggishness in the growth momentum.”

The central bank took two measures that could ease lending rates further. One, it opened a window to extend ₹1 lakh crore to the commercial banks at the repo rate, which is 5.15%. Second, banks have been exempted from maintaining the cash reserve ratio — which is 4% of the net demand and time liabilities now — for home, auto and MSME loans that are extended from January 31 to July 31.

U.S. President Donald Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives, was acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday, bringing to a close a bitter process that lasted close to five months.

Senators voted 52 to 48 to acquit Mr. Trump of the abuse of office charge, with Republican Mitt Romney voting alongside all 47 Democrats.

They voted 53-47 as per party lines to acquit the President of the charge of obstruction of Congress.

“The President is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” Mr. Romney said before the vote.

Mr. Romney is the first senator in the U.S. history to vote to convict a President from his own party.

Mr. Trump was impeached by the House for conditioning $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine and a crucial White House meeting with its President Volodymyr Zelensky on the Ukrainians publicly announcing investigations into Mr. Trump’s rival and former Vice-President Joseph Biden and his son Hunter.

Lucknow Declaration urges need for stronger international partnership

Strong ties: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh speaking during the first India-Africa Defence Ministers' Conclave. PTI-

India and several African countries on Thursday pledged to deepen cooperation to combat the growing threat of terrorism and preserve maritime security by sharing information, intelligence and surveillance, in a joint deceleration adopted at the first India-Africa Defence Ministers conclave at the ongoing Defexpo.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said India was geared to provide a range of military hardware to Africa.

“We condemn, in the strongest terms, the growing threat of terrorism and acknowledge that it constitutes a major threat to peace and security in the region. We urge all countries to take resolute action in rooting out terrorism in all forms and manifestations, terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and eliminating financing channels and halting cross-border movement of terrorists. We understand the need for all countries to ensure that all territory under their control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries in any manner,” the Lucknow Declaration said, emphasising the need for stronger international partnership in countering terrorism, including through sharing of intelligence.

The Declaration also called for strengthening the UN Counter-Terrorism mechanisms and to ensure strict compliance with the UN Security Council sanctions regime on terrorism.

Jaishankar says it’s required to expedite transport of goods

Trade talks: Minister S. Jaishankar during the India Central Asia Business Forum in New Delhi on Thursday.PTI

Apart from developing trade via the Chabahar port in Iran, India would like to explore setting up “air corridors” with five Central Asian nations, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Thursday. The air corridors — similar to what India established with Afghanistan in 2018 — would include regular cargo flights with special clearing and customs facilities to expedite the movement of goods, especially fresh fruit and other agricultural produce, and are currently being discussed by the External Affairs Ministry.

“While flying time from Delhi to most of the Central Asian destinations is two hours, it may take two months for containers sent overland from India to reach these places,” Mr. Jaishankar said at the inaugural of the “India Central Asia Business Council”, which brought together Indian businessmen and diplomats from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

“Availability of air corridors can boost trade in perishable goods, agricultural and food products,” he said. The Minister observed that it was a “matter of concern” that a lack of “overland connectivity” — a veiled reference to barriers to transit trade through Pakistan — had kept the total trade between India and Central Asia quite low at approximately $2 billion a year. India, Mr. Jaishankar said, remains committed to the Chabahar port project in Iran.

Chabahar route

“India proposes to overcome this challenge through the Chabahar route. India, Iran and Afghanistan believe that Chabahar will become the fulcrum of connectivity for Indian goods to reach Afghanistan and further north to Central Asian states, and for the landlocked Central Asia to find access to ocean through this port,” he said, referring to the ₹100-crore investment the recent Budget has proposed to develop the Iranian port.

Businessmen and diplomats present however remained sceptical of the viability of Chabahar without considerable progress on infrastructure.

At present, most of the trade between Central Asia goes via Bandar Abbas in Iran, northern Europe or China. In recent years, the government has been seeking to develop more direct routes from Chabahar, a trilateral arrangement with Iran and Afghanistan, the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and becoming a part the Ashgabat Agreement.

However, the rail-link between Chabahar and the crossover into Afghanistan is yet to be developed. At present, $1.5 billion of the $2 billion trade with Central Asia is with Kazakhstan, and more than $1 billion of that comes from crude oil exports to India.

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