Indian Students in Ukraine Incensed By MEA’s Urgent Advisory After Inaction; When Saints in Saffron Sold 5-Year Plans
India slides again on V-Dem, UPA’s fund for Indians in distress overseas diverted to yoga and publicity, crude and edible oil prices soar, India-Russia payments stalled, Mukesh seeks to buy Chelsea FC
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
March 3, 2022
India’s standing has deteriorated in V-Dem Institute’s new report for 2022. Classified as an ‘electoral autocracy’ last year, it is now in the bottom 50%, ranked after Hungary and Guinea-Bissau, on the Liberal Democracy Index. There are significant drops in the Electoral Democracy Index and Deliberative Component Index. India is among “the Major Autocratizers” and the report maintains that “anti-pluralist parties drive autocratization in at least six of the top 10 autocratizers – Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland, Serbia, and Turkey.”
The Russian readout of talks between PM Modi and President Putin last night says that Indian students have been “taken hostage by Ukrainian security forces” who are using them “as human shields” and preventing them “from leaving for Russian territory”. The Russian side is “trying to organise an urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from Kharkiv,” it added. The Indian government said earlier today that “We have not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding any student.” For contrast, see this:
The situation in Ukraine is grim for Indian students. Where are the four Ministers who were despatched? The Ministry of External Affairs has issued an advisory with CAPS LOCK ON, causing anger among hundreds of Indian students and professionals in Kharkiv after the advisory. “If the situation was this bad, why did the government not ask us to leave before? We repeatedly asked the government to take some action… but nothing happened. And now students have been asked to leave at such a short notice,” Bhanvi Bhatia told The Hindu. US-based NRI Dr Swaiman Singh, who provided medical help to the farmers during their year-long stir, is now going to Ukraine with a team of doctors to support Indian students.
Students find that the doors of trains passing through Kharkiv railway station are closed, and they cannot reach the border. Ashutosh Chauhan, a resident of Bhopal stranded at Kharkiv's railway station, told IANS, “All the students here are leaving by themselves. There are about 1,500 students stranded in Kharkiv.”
Soumya Thomas, 22, another student in Kharkiv, told the BBC on Tuesday night that they stayed in a bunker, hoping that the “Indian government would act soon” and rescue them. “But then my friend died. And I thought to myself: no one is coming to save us.” Twelve hours and three missed trains later, she worried that their meagre rations ― eight boiled eggs, one loaf of bread and two packs of biscuits ― would not last them through the 15-hour journey ahead, if she managed to get a train. Her group was barred from boarding because, she alleges, they are not Ukrainians. Thousands of Indian students are believed to be still stranded in Kharkiv.
Back home, the BJP is desperate to turn the conversation in UP away from unemployment, the economy and quality of life. Modi is trying to turn Putin’s invasion into an election issue in UP. It’s, like ― Ukraine Pradesh. In the real world, meanwhile, some heart-warming tales are also being reported, like UP-ites Faisal and Kamal’s friendship.
An Indian Community Welfare Fund created for Indians in distress abroad by UPA2 is being (mis)used. In 2017, the Modi government changed the guidelines. Now, the money is also being diverted for Yoga Day, the Modi govt’s publicity and paying RSS workers as art and yoga teachers.
India, the world’s biggest importer of edible oils, has sought more palm oil from Indonesia, the largest producer, Reuters reports, to offset the loss of sunflower oil supplies from the Black Sea region. Crude palm oil hit $2,075 a tonne in India in March, doubling from a year ago. The Black Sea region accounts for 76% of global sunflower oil exports, and the Ukraine crisis has pushed global vegetable oil prices to record highs. India imports more than two-thirds of its edible oil needs, and palm oil accounts for more than 60%. Soyabean oil prices have surged 29% this year.
“With state elections getting over next week, we expect daily fuel price hikes to restart… We estimate that at spot Brent ($105/bbl) and diesel prices, the oil marketing companies are losing Rs 5.7/ltr versus normalised margins of Rs 2.5/ltr,” JP Morgan has said. To recover, retail prices must rise by Rs 9 a litre, or 10%. The basket of crude oil India buys rose above $102 per barrel on March 1, the highest since August 2014, according to the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) of the Oil Ministry.
The latest Economic Survey for FY22 projected economic growth at 8-8.5%, assuming crude oil prices at $70-$75 per barrel. The Economic Survey FY18 had estimated that every $10 per barrel increase reduces economic growth by 0.2-0.3 percentage points, increases wholesale inflation by 1.7 percentage points and widens the current account deficit by $9-10 billion.
The Wall Street Journal reports: “If the conflict drags on or spills further into Europe and oil prices rise further, India will have to make some hard choices. If the government lets high fuel prices percolate… it would have to deal with public angst… [or] bear a huge fiscal cost.”
Denis Alipov, Russia’s ambassador-designate to India, has said that Moscow “doesn’t foresee any obstacles” in the S-400 deal, and that sanctions can be bypassed. He also underlined Moscow’s gratitude to Delhi for its “balanced position” on the Russian invasion. But Western leaders are reportedly upset with Modi.
"I am not able to prejudge the decisions of the president or the secretary on the waiver issue or on the sanction issue, or whether Russia's invasion of Ukraine will bear on that decision," Donald Lu, Assistant US secretary of State for South Asian affairs, told a US senate subcommittee when asked about US sanctions on countries buying major Russian weapon systems. "What I can say is that India is a really important security partner of ours now, and that we value that partnership. Moving forward, I hope that part of what happens with the extreme criticism that Russia has faced is that India will find it is now time to further distance itself from Russia."
India-Russia transactions are halted with Russia cut off from the SWIFT system. Indian banks have stopped remitting funds to firms for their exports, even as Russian companies put pressure on the lenders. Most payments due to Russian companies are for defence items.
Russia has asked India to use the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) across Central Asia, via the Chabahar port in Iran, to transport emergency supplies of grain. Moscow has sent at least three container vessels to India with urea and petroleum derivatives, and one has reached Colombo. Since the return leg via the Suez Canal and the Black Sea has become difficult, talks are on to use Chabahar, where India operates two container terminals.
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani is said to be looking to buy Chelsea football club after it was reported that Roman Abramovich is open to selling. Ambani previously tried to buy Liverpool FC in 2016.
The two-wheeler market shows no signs of recovery, as the cumulative sales of top-five manufacturers dropped by a fourth in February, year on year. Companies curtailed dispatches on low demand. An impending hike in petrol prices could delay recovery in the world’s largest market for two-wheelers, ICRA said.
FMCG sales fell 2.6% in the December quarter from a year earlier, with inflation pinching rural demand after five quarters of growth, finds NielsenIQ. The rural slowdown of 4.8% is more “accentuated”. Rural markets drove demand for FMCGs early in the pandemic, but now they prefer small pack sizes to cope with inflation.
Predictably, the government has refuted, without evidence, a Lancet paper which found that 19 lakh Indian children lost a primary caregiver to Covid-19, calling it “sophisticated trickery” to create panic. It said that according to field data being compiled under the Supreme Court’s directions, the number for India is about 1.53 lakh. The loss of a parent could have been due to Covid-19 or any other cause, the statement said.
Biophysicist Gautam Menon has critiqued a paper by mathematicians at IIT Kanpur which had statistically predicted a fourth wave in India starting on June 22. He declared it unscientific: “Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”
The Rajasthan High Court has ruled that titles like Raja, Nawab and Rajkumar can’t be used in courts or public offices “as they are in violation of Articles 14, 18 & 363A of the Constitution”.
Bihar Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav’s speech in the House in Patna yesterday has gone viral. Here is a glimpse.