Monday 14 February 2022

President Biden, don’t confuse friends with foes (The Sunday Guardian)


The Atlantic is once more the primary focus of attention by the White House, no longer the Indo-Pacific.

There ought not to have been any surprise in the White House that the Heads of Government of Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the latest US “major non-NATO ally”) chose to ignore President Joe Biden’s call for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics and be present besides Presidents Putin and Xi at the opening ceremony. The very capable Royal Family of Qatar, risking its own safety, remains the only GCC power that still backs the Wahhabi International. Perhaps this is why those close to the White House have spared it the criticisms that have been levelled against Al Sisi in Egypt and Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in particular. Military transfers have been blocked to Egypt and Indonesia, both countries that are seeking to hold at bay extremist groups from entering into positions of responsibility. The UAE cannot therefore be faulted for hedging its bets by joining others in the pilgrimage to Beijing to watch the Winter Olympics taking place in that sprawling city. Given the spasms of disapproval directed at long-term allies of the US, and after the US handover of Afghanistan back to the Taliban in August 2021, relying on Washington’s support in a crisis seems to be too risky a policy to follow. Biden has retrogressed to the past, seeking to return the US to the past, when Cold War 1.0 between Washington and Moscow was ongoing. The Atlantic is once more the primary focus of attention by the White House, no longer the Indo-Pacific. The threat from China? The real enemy is Russia, and remains so within the Biden administration three decades after the demise of the USSR. This when large parts of the former USSR broke off and became independent, with some even getting admitted into NATO, and more eager to. The residual power, Russia, wanted to be an integral part of Europe, despite the bulk of its territory being located within Asia. Other European powers were reluctant to admit Russia into their fold, wary that they would be eclipsed by it. France and Germany had worked out an alliance of convenience between themselves that enabled them to be the most influential force in Europe. Such a bonding was assisted by memories of the fact that during 1940-44, almost until the final months of the war, the co-existence of the German occupiers and the Vichy regime had been a pleasant enough experience, at least for the German side. Besides the Jews and Communists, the rest of French society was treated with friendly condescension by their occupiers. If the German occupation of parts of the USSR had followed the French example, the ferocious resistance by Russian “Partisans” to the barbarous occupation of their land by German forces may not have been as incandescent as it turned out to be. The most important war to the Nazis was that waged against the Jewish community. The atrocities Hitler committed failed to generate enough revulsion among the generals and colonels in Germany. It was the shock and disgrace of looming defeat and occupation by a foreign force that resulted in some of the Wehrmacht officer corps seeking in 1944 to make an end of the Nazi regime. The Japanese military remained obedient to its superior officers to the end of the 1937-45 war.
During wartime Germany, rising privation and imminent defeat failed to spark a popular revolt against Hitler. The reason in the minds of several was fear. Fear of the regime and the cruelties it was capable of inflicting on them. Elsewhere, whether it was Stalin or Saddam Hussein later, the Russian and Iraqi people did not pose an existential challenge to such a duo’s brutal rule, in large part because fear of the regime had become an inseparable companion in the lives of the population. Had it been Hafez rather than Bashar Assad who ran Syria in 2011, it is doubtful that so many citizens of that country would have joined in the NATO-GCC effort to remove him from power. Bashar did not carry with him the penumbra of fear that his father had, although to everyone’s surprise, the Syrian leader showed remarkable spine and staying power during 2013-16, years when it seemed certain that his regime would go the way Muammar Gaddafi’s had in Libya. President Bashar Assad remained in power, and with help from Tehran and Moscow recovered much of the territory that had earlier been lost to fighters backed by the GCC and NATO. In China, the CCP leadership believed that it was not accidental that the dissolution of the USSR gathered irresistible force only after Mikhail Gorbachev sought to fashion a kinder, softer CPSU and a Gandhian version of the Warsaw Pact. Non-violence was the rule in the Russian army, even when there were mass manifestations within Warsaw Pact countries geared towards regime change. Had Viktor Yanukovich been the despot he was depicted as being by the US and allies eager to drive out of office the Russia-leaning President of Ukraine, he may have retained power rather than having to flee his own country. Xi Jinping displays the same ruthlessness against his opponents as Deng Xiaoping did at Tiananmen in 1989. Vladimir Putin, who has seen several US Presidents come and go during his tenure at the Kremlin, has serially imprisoned potential challengers, whether these be in politics or business. As with Xi, Putin would like to deal with past, present and likely future foes in a manner that is devoid of ambiguity, and the opinion of self-professed defenders of democracy be damned. In such a world, friends are carefully kept separate from foes. And within the former, the most consequential get the most attention, a lesson that President Biden still has to learn. President Abdul Al Sisi has sought to keep Egypt secular in the manner intended by a predecessor who too was in the military, Anwar Sadat. In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo has even shown the courage to set up a Holocaust Museum commemorating the massacre of the Jewish people by Adolf Hitler, the first Muslim-majority country to do so. And it would have been a friendly nod from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman that encouraged some of the Middle Eastern countries to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, yet he faces negative attention both in the US Congress and the Biden administration. After Biden took office, the world has yet to see another Middle Eastern country establish formal ties with Israel. When, as seems the case with the US, a country does distinguish its friends from its foes and conciliates the latter while chastising the former, it is heading for trouble at the hands of its foes, once it has forfeited the support of its friends through clumsy diplomacy.

President Biden, don’t confuse friends with foes 

Sunday 13 February 2022

Roots of the Ukrainian problem (The Sunday Guardian)

 The media may be freer in the US or across the Atlantic than in the PRC, but that does not stop uniformity of reportage of disputatious issues in a monochromal manner. There seems very little daylight between the expressed views of 10 Downing Street or the White House and the position taken by the major newspapers and television channels in the UK or the US on Ukraine. There are quite possibly nearly a hundred thousand troops on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, but they have been there in that number for years. The objective has from the start been to serve as a deterrent to possible efforts by the Russophobic Ukrainian military to impose their own control over those parts of Ukraine that are Russian-speaking, and which in effect have been treated as alien enclaves by Kyiv. Although they are citizens of Ukraine, governments in Kyiv have denuded them of the assistance that gets extended to the almost fully Ukrainian-speaking parts of the country. There have been credible reports that President Volodymyr Zelensky would like to re-establish the control that the central government had over the Russian-speaking eastern parts of Ukraine before Vladimir Putin intervened to prevent such an expansion of authority by Kyiv. It is obvious that both MI6 and CIA would be aware of this Russian objective, and that the only trigger for another invasion from the east of Ukraine would be the marching of Ukrainian troops into the towns and villages of the Russian-speaking regions, or indications that such an advance was likely to commence. The purpose of the diplomacy of the US, UK and France is to somehow browbeat Putin into promising not to interfere, should Ukrainian forces enter territories where local populations are terrified of such an occupation. The discrimination shown by Kyiv to the Russian-speaking regions has resulted in their having much lower levels of development than other parts of Ukraine. The condition of the population is getting so desperate that the majority of the population may welcome military intervention by Russia. The limited supply of offensive weaponry gifted to Kyiv by many countries in the Atlantic Alliance cannot close the gap between Russian and Ukrainian military capabilities, especially considering that the Ukrainian military would have to fight Russian soldiers in territory that is hostile to those in Ukrainian military uniforms, bringing back in them memories of the discrimination that the Russian-speaking segment of the Ukrainian population has endured since the breakup of the USSR that formally took place in 1991 and continued on the ground into the next year. Just as the unceasing barrage of false information about Saddam Hussein having WMD stockpiles was accepted and amplified by US media in the period prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the portrayal of Putin as a war monger continues even as supplies of petroleum products from the US head towards Europe in the expectation that President Biden will succeed in so twisting the hands of Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany that he will shut down Nord Stream I, not to mention decline to operationalise Nord Stream II, thereby destroying the political future of his party. President Biden has in effect promised to reduce South, Southeast and East Asia’s supply of petroleum products from the Middle East by 40% in order to divert supplies to Europe. An unlikely, indeed fanciful, prospect except apparently to the White House. After having witnessed serial trashing by the Atlanticist powers of agreements entered into by the US and its NATO allies, it is no surprise that President Emmanuel Macron of France had little success in efforts at ensuring that President Putin refuse to intervene in the “internal affairs of Ukraine”, including if the Ukrainian military marches into the Donbas and other eastern territories that are being protected by Russia from such an intervention. Even were he ready to obey Biden’s diktat and surrender the benefits of the Nord Stream pipelines, it is unlikely that the German Chancellor will succeed in persuading Putin to accept conditions that would place him in the same bracket as his predecessors Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who made concessions to the US and its allies that was reciprocated only by more concessions being demanded. Just as the Falklands intervention gave Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a boost or the taking out of Saddam Hussein made President George W. Bush additional votes, Biden may be calculating that forcing Russia to accept the condition of non-intervention no matter what the Ukrainian military does within its own country may ensure that the Democrats take back the Senate and retain control of the House in the 2022 Congressional races. The good news for him is that President Zelensky seems to have prevailed over the hotheads who sought military assisted central control of the eastern regions up to the borders of Russia, and as long as this is the case, there will not be a war. Unless Putin decides that he has had enough of pinpricks, and marches into the Ukraine to create independent enclaves on the Georgia model. Neither Russian roulette or playing a game of chicken makes sense, yet this seems to be the strategy of those who seek a return to Cold War 1.0 despite Cold War 2.0 already in full swing.MDN

Roots of the Ukrainian problem 

Sunday 6 February 2022

Young India can surpass Middle Income status (The Sunday Guardian)


In the Xi-Putin joint statement, much was made of any country’s moves towards security not impinging on those of other countries. This when every day the security interests of India and several members of ASEAN are under threat by the actions of Beijing.


New Delhi: Recent actions of the Atlantic Alliance, which construct has once again become the centrepiece of US policy and been embraced by President Biden after effectively downgrading the Indo-Pacific Alliance, have given two choices to President Vladimir Putin. The first is to go the way of his predecessors, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, who made concession after unilateral concession to demands public and secret from the United States and its European partners. The other is to prevent terminal damage to the Russian economy by further cementing ties with China. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping is (apparently unlike President Joe Biden) clear about his objectives and what steps are needed stage by stage to achieve them, Xi has eagerly grasped the opportunity to ensure that any US-EU sanctions would in effect have a limited effect on Russia and which would finally bite back the EU and the US in not just economic but in broader geopolitical terms. More US-EU sanctions would further drive Moscow closer to Beijing. Beyond a point, they may present the risk that Putin would believe that there is no longer any point in waiting for better sense to dawn in Washington, London and other European capitals, and go ahead with military measures designed to remove any threat that a Ukraine that joins NATO would pose. The taking back of the Crimea from Ukraine was only the first step. Others would include the securing of de facto independence by those parts of Ukraine that directly impinge on Russian security interests. In their obsession to make kinetically helpless (at least in the conventional sense) Russia, Bill Clinton and his successors in the White House carried out policies that were demonstrably hostile to the overall Russian interest, especially in matters of global influence and security. Barack Obama found out how potent a threatened Russia could be, when the Kremlin sent aircraft and spetsnaz forces to Syria to ensure that GCC and NATO-backed groups were driven back from taking over the country as they earlier had in Libya. A fortunate outcome for NATO, that it lost the game to Russia and Iran, for only in the regions still kept free by NATO of control by the Kurds and the Assad regime do terrorists breed. It was not accidental that the ISIS chief taken out under President Joe Biden lived in that “free zone”, as it is called by the US and the EU. It is indeed a “free zone”, free for Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists, that is. Or earlier, when overreach on the part of a Georgian President confident of substantive rather than just verbal US-EU backing led to substantial chunks of its territory being torn away from its control by Russia. Given the present trajectory of global events, it may be that in the next decade at most, Kosovo may be at risk of takeover by a joint Serbian-Russian military operation, on the lines of Crimea. Such an outcome would be contrary to the calculations of the same “experts” who have led Biden into the Sino-Wahhabi trap of shifting US focus back to Russia from China. Such a reversal has consequences for Australia, India and Japan, and when Antony Blinken meets his counterparts from these Quad members soon, perhaps they may be straightforward enough to warn him against Biden’s return to the past.

Despite their tough talk of countermeasures and fresh sanctions, not to mention rushing troops to some  newer members, will the major powers in NATO take the unprecedented step of actually going to war with Russia ( assisted by its ally, the PRC) not just in Ukraine, but in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania ? Putin and Xi may decide otherwise. After all, in the 1930s, promises by Paris and London of an immediate and lethal response (including by invading Germany from the west) gave a false sense of security to Poland, giving Warsaw enough confidence to object to a security partnership between Russia, France and the UK that CPSU General Secretary Stalin had understood from the start was necessary to deter another war in Europe on the lines of 1914-19. Of course, such logic was beyond the capacity of the leaders of France and Russia to understand, although there were a few such as De Gaulle and Churchill who did. The people of Poland paid a very heavy price for such a miscalculation by their leaders, and those capitals that were once part of the USSR or the Warsaw Pact, but which are now in NATO, need to factor in the extent of willingness of some of their tough talking partners to actually risk a kinetic war on European soil with Russia, unless they themselves were invaded. And Beijing would want that such a conflict should end in humiliation for the Atlantic Alliance even at great cost to Russia. Such an outcome would be far more preferable to Beijing than any humiliation of Moscow, something that envoy after envoy landing in Moscow forgets while suggesting Gorbachev-Yeltsin models of concessions to the Kremlin.

Aware that the possibility of US-EU sanctions is close to zero, no matter how much Russia is helped by the PRC to stay in the contest, the CCP under Xi Jinping Thought has thrived by adopting policies that suit their interests, even those followed by countries that they regard as obstacles to the path to global primacy. Much of what Xi Jinping Thought carries out in practice (although not always in the words made public) by either the CCP General Secretary or his subordinates is almost identical to the path taken during the 20th century by the US to actualise the same objectives as China is seeking for itself in the 21st. “International rules of the game” were what Washington declared them to be, and in the case of any such restriction, the US exempted itself. This is precisely the course followed by Xi, a day ago in the joint statement that was released after the Xi-Putin meeting, who are the leaders of the two most powerful Eurasian powers, Russia and China. Much was made that any country’s moves towards security not impinging on those of other countries. This when every day, the security interests of India and several members of ASEAN are under threat by the actions of Beijing, while all the while, the claim gets made that “every action (including by the PLA) is intended only for China’s own security”. The CCP is in essence a Han party, which is why the founder of the PRC, Chairman Mao Zedong, backed away from any kinetic action other than token steps against Taiwan throughout his tenure. While Mao’s three immediate successors as CCP bosses continued with the policy of not giving emphasis to the Big Stick, focusing instead on winning over enough hearts and minds in Taiwan such that there would be a voluntary unification with China. Based on the success that Hong Kong was having under Deng’s “One Country Two Systems”, elements of a “One Country Three Systems” solution were being talked about. Soon after coming to power in 2012, Xi abandoned the policy of “One Country Two Systems for the next fifty years”, much to the shock of those in Hong Kong such as Jimmy Lai, who sought greater freedom from CCP modes of governance than had been the case since 1997. In Xi Jinping Thought, there is “One Country, One System”, thereby leaving no scope for anything other than kinetic methods in any effort at capturing Taiwan. This would be a battle of Han versus Han, given that the overwhelming majority of the Taiwanese population is Han, as is the case with the majority of the population of Singapore, both countries that are far ahead of China in per capita terms. Such a superiority in economic achievement goes contrary to Xi Jinping Thought, which holds that the only system of governance suited to the Han people  is that followed under his direction in China. As for “mutual respect and non-interference” in matters relating to foreign countries, the less said about actual practice the better.

International rules of the game were in the past laid down by Washington. Today, they are being increasingly prescribed by Beijing. India refused to accept as a given the first set of rules, and will not accept the second. In the case of first the US and now China, rules that are meant to be followed only by others and never by themselves. Lessons have been learnt by PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar from the behaviour of  the PRC not only since 2017 but since the 1950s. This was the period when Aksai Chin was taken over. The failure of earlier governments to act resulted in great cost in territory and in other ways to India, a fate that the government is eager not to replicate.

Saturday 5 February 2022

White House may cost Democrats US Congress (The Sunday Guardian)


The only way out for the US President would be for him to show less caution and more conviction that he means what he says.

Whether welcome or not, Democratic Party candidates for the US House and Senate in the November midterms will be glued to the coattails of President J.R. Biden. Judging by the way in which voters are reacting to the increasing number of missteps by the 46th President on matters of policy, the Biden White House may result in a disaster similar to that witnessed by Barack Obama during his stint in the Oval Office. As with Obama, Biden has sought to reach out “across the aisle”, and in the process convinced many that he has no convictions save the desire to protect his job. Obama chose Wall Street favourites to man key slots connected with the Street, forgetting that he was elected to “be the change that would make the change”. Less progress was made in the matter of racial equity in the US under the two terms of Barack Obama than has taken place just in the first year of a Biden term. Of course, his political instincts being attuned to the fraternity rules of the US Senate than to the scrimmage that democratic politics is, clumsy tactics have been plentiful. That an African-American woman jurist will be his choice for the US Supreme Court is unexceptionable. There are more than a few such individuals, all of whom have gone unrepresented during the entire existence of the US Supreme Court, which has overwhelmingly been a club comprising of males of European extraction. Clarence Thomas may be superficially black, but his judicial pronouncements appear to reflect a mind that may have been in agreement with past Justices such as Chief Justice Robert Taney. This is unlike Thurgood Marshall, who understood lack of privilege and opportunity and reflected that in his judicial pronouncements. A better grasp of politics would have led Biden to check on women jurists of every hue before announcing his pick, which, surprise, surprise, would turn out exactly the way he had promised during the 2020 campaign. Donald Trump erred in choosing the (admittedly capable) Amy Comey Barrett over her Latino rival Barbara Lago. Choosing the latter would have helped him and his party substantially where Latino votes are concerned, as was pointed out in these columns even before the 45th President’s final choice was made public. By publicly declaring that he would choose from only African-American women jurists, Biden’s pick will unfairly have the taint of ethno-based advantage in a context where ethnicity has played a role in so many nominations, including those made by President Trump. Telegraphing his preferences early has resulted in a flurry of condemnation. Some of these have been politically unwise for those who made them, as well as for the Republican Party, such as the unsavoury comments made by Senator Ted Cruz, who has on many issues shown great courage and foresight, including in the matter of dealing with the activities of the Chinese Communist Party. Senator Cruz been a contrast to Senator McConnell, who has sought to give China a free pass by asking for harsh sanctions to be imposed with immediate effect on Russia, thereby fulfilling Beijing’s push to ensure that NATO’s focus remains on Moscow rather than shift to the Indo-Pacific. The Senate Minority Leader joins US President Joe Biden, who seems to have regressed in his geopolitical understanding back to Cold War 1.0 (USSR-US) from the ongoing Cold War 2.0 (PRC-US).
Indications of such a shift towards a CCP-friendly narrative had been present from the start, when he retained Dr Anthony Fauci (of Gain of Function renown) as his principal adviser on the pandemic when it would have been cheaper to taxpayers to have secured similar CCP-prepared conclusions from the WHO. It was forecast by WHO and Dr Fauci that a full lockdown lasting about two weeks would “break the chain” of transmissions of SARS-Cov-2. Such unprecedented measures certainly broke a considerable amount of crockery around the world as a consequence of adopting WHO-recommended measures in efforts to stop the spread of a pathogen that, at its worst, killed less than 3% of known patients. It may be added that SARS-Cov-2 is an affliction where most of the cases are asymptomatic, and hence remain undetected, so that the actual number of patients are much more than what gets recorded. Those (such as this columnist) who gave the initial benefit of the doubt to Biden where the approach to Cold War 2.0 was concerned, seem on track to having their expectations unfulfilled, at least by the present occupant of the White House. The worst losers will be office-holders from the Democratic Party, who would suffer at the polls as a consequence of the unpopularity of their 2020 standard-bearer. The only way out for them, as for the US President, would be for him to show less caution and more conviction that he means what he says, and is willing to work towards actualisation of measures that he promotes in the media. Terrified of the “negative” reaction of the public to FDR’s threat to “pack the court”, in 1937, Biden has been cold to the imperative of raising the strength of the Supreme Court from 9 to 15. Instead, if he were point out to voters the way in which the Roberts court has rewarded money and privilege over the disadvantaged, and ask for a Democratic majority in the midterms sufficient to overturn Republican obstruction to his reforms, his party may not be gasping for breath, as is the case now. In the case of Roosevelt, his tactics worked, and the US Supreme Court ceased from 1937 onwards to remain an obstacle to his New Deal. In contrast, the Roberts court, aware of the lack of interest in change of the White House, is multiplying its one-sided verdicts in a manner that shows that partisanship is strong within the minds of at least five of the nine justices. Apparently tone deaf to political reality, President Biden (and his party) seem unconcerned about the boost that the Islamophobia bill is giving to the Republican Party by the manner in which it deals with only a single faith rather than the spectrum of faiths in the US. Toxic comments against Islam are indeed obnoxious, but so are similar comments against Christians, Sikhs or Hindus. Nor has he understood the importance of the ongoing battle within the Muslim Ummah in favour of moderation, and against Wahhabi radicalism. Hence Biden’s moves, such as the censure directed by Biden appointees towards the reformist regimes in Riyadh and Cairo, both of them also being US allies of long standing. Courage is usually a more potent magnet for votes than an excess of caution, something President Biden needs to consider as he approaches his midterms test.

White House may cost Democrats US Congress 

Thursday 3 February 2022


 The 2022-23 Union Budget is among the most important components of the efforts at transformation being attempted by PM Modi, that too at a much brisker pace than was the case during Modi 1.0.

The 2022-23 Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman follows on from her earlier budget. This is by carrying forward several of the changes that have made Modi 2.0 significantly more innovative than was the case during Modi 1.0. Almost as soon as then Chief Minister Narendra Modi spoke of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”, a chorus of cries went up, some in writing penned even by those regarded as being his supporters. Big Government had been a part of life in India over centuries, and P.V. Narasimha Rao paid a heavy political price for seeking to reduce that during his years as PM. The foundation of this budget was the philosophy that the Indian citizen is not a child or a criminal, but can be trusted in the manner PM Modi did early in his tenure, when he did away with the need to get documents authenticated by a Gazetted Officer. The problem he faced was the resistance of those steeped in the status quo to accept any dilution of their authority or changes in their procedures. Even in 2015, warnings were given by some that those who opposed the transformation that the PM sought to do while in office were (mostly quietly) active in (a) creating a negative perception of Modi as a divider and not a unifier. Such perceptions (b) were disseminated not so much in India as outside, so as to smudge Brand India and prevent its geopolitical ascent. Efforts were also on to (c) create conditions for panic in the stock markets, on the lines of those that had been engineered during the periods in office of Narasimha Rao and A.B. Vajpayee. The many within the system who favoured a return to the status quo ante before 26 May 2014 portrayed such warnings as “conspiracy theorists”. They were able to retain substantial influence in the governance mechanism even after Modi took charge, and managed to slow change down in several fields where change was essential to progress. This, combined with the popularity of Narendra Modi to prevent such Modi-phobic plans from reaching takeoff speed. During much of his first term, only 20% of his team were (in deed and thought) “Modivian”. About 40% reflected the

hues of the Vajpayee era, and another 40% that of the Manmohan Singh era. Several of those prominent in both these administrations found keystone positions within the Union Government, another reason why in so much of the reform effort of the Prime Minister, the brake was applied much more often across the system than the accelerator. It was a shock to Modi-phobic elements when the BJP improved its majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and even wrested UP back from the Samajwadi Party in 2017 and installed Yogi Adityanath as CM, whose family lives as austere a life as does that of PM Modi. From that time, elements within the political and governance system that were opposed to the changes being attempted by Modi worked on overdrive, although not by enough to succeed in 2019. Their target is now the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, so expect more storms. At least the mountains of food grain that used to be fed to rats in previous times is now being used to give grain to hundreds of millions of citizens under PM Modi, a welcome change, as is the effort to build more storage space and route sale proceeds directly to farmers rather than through middlemen.

The 2022-23 Union Budget is among the most important components of the efforts at transformation being attempted by PM Modi, that too at a much brisker pace than was the case during Modi 1.0. Rather than just look at meeting the revenue targets for the financial year, as was the case with so many past budgets across the decades, it looks at what is needed to enable a glide path towards the status of a Middle Income economy by the close of this decade. The increasing takeover of the digital space over our lives and work has been acknowledged by the Finance Minister, rather than ignored in the manner that previous holders of her position did. More than anything else, it was the danger posed by corrupt elements in the bureaucracy that diminished compliance. The extension of time up to 2 years to ensure that I-T returns are correct is welcome, as are some of the tax concessions listed. Retirees, especially senior citizens, have less security than those still working, and this needs to get reflected in tax rates. Once again, I-T rates have been left untouched, even the surcharges. The rates were introduced during the 1996-97 Chidambaram budget, and inflation has made changes to the purchasing power of the rupee that ought to get better reflected, if not in rates, then in slabs. Perhaps a relook is needed at this. Efforts at assisting the informal sector are needed but in ways not designed to enforce “formality” at the point of a prosecution or penalty notice. Unlike so many budgets in the past that look in the rear-view mirror and not the windshield while fixing the route of travel, this is a budget that accepts that the world has changed, and that India needs to change. Rather than ban crypto currencies and exchanges, thereby driving the industry underground the way Prohibition has handed over the liquor trade to mafias, the proceeds are being taxed, although here as well, there ought to have been slabs based on income accrued, rather than a flat rate. Ease of compliance is half the battle in efforts at increasing the tax base, the other being rates that are not simply predictable, but which reflect purchasing power of rupee values at different points in time. While rates remain static, in other ways compliance is being sought to be eased, such that a time may come when the overwhelming majority of taxpayers do not need a lawyer or an accountant to comply with tax demands. Given the ease of detection through digital methods, a “saral” IT form needs to be the norm. What has been presented on 1 February 2022 is a step in the right direction and needs to go further during Modi 2.0. Too many innovations of PM Modi have been forgotten, such as his switching of the UK-oriented time for presenting the Indian budget rather than adopt a time for the presentation suited to the needs of India.

Whether it be the effort to rectify the inequality in educational access of the underprivileged, especially during the pandemic, or the spread of broadband, this is a budget that accepts the need to design the tax system in a way that reflects present-day conditions. Essential industries such as defence equipment ( now finally being exported in quantity) or semiconductors are being paid attention to. The East India Company complex that fears foreign competition needs to be replaced by steps that would make domestic companies go global, as Finance Minister Sitharaman, under the guidance of Prime Minister Modi, has done. There is finally light clearly visible at the end of the long, unlit tunnel of mass poverty that so many in India have traversed across centuries.