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India’s New Leader Accuses Pakistan Of Terrorism

By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

MUMBAI — India’s new leader slammed Pakistan on Tuesday, accusing it of terrorism and saying its U.S.-backed military is too weak to fight a conventional war.

The comments by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his first visit to the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir were his harshest yet against Pakistan and set back hopes that an upcoming summit could bolster peace efforts between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

“The neighboring country has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism,” Modi told soldiers in the town of Leh, according to a statement on his official website.

Modi’s words reflect the deep-seated animosity between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since each gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party has said it would “deal with cross-border terrorism with a firm hand,” a reference to attacks by militant groups that India accuses Pakistan of supporting. The groups include Lashkar-e-Taiba, which allegedly carried out a 2008 assault in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, that left 164 dead.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi in May, briefly raising hopes of detente. Later this month, diplomats from the two countries are due to meet in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, in a bid to jump-start peace efforts.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in New Delhi did not respond to a request for comment.

Modi’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, a rugged Himalayan border region, was the first by an Indian leader in 15 years and was seen as highly symbolic, coming three days before the country commemorates its independence.

The territory is divided between India and Pakistan, although both claim it in full. Each has positioned several thousand troops along a 450-mile de facto border in often deadly alpine conditions.

Pakistan, which has received $28 billion in U.S. military and economic aid since 2002 due to its support for U.S. counterterrorism efforts, denies supporting militant groups.

Both India and Pakistan regularly accuse the other of violating a cease-fire along the border, known as the Line of Control. On Monday, Pakistan summoned a senior Indian diplomat to lodge a protest against what it claimed was a cross-border firing incident by Indian soldiers that left a Pakistani civilian dead.

AFP Photo/Rouf Bhat

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Hagel In India To Boost Defense Ties, Trade

By Abhaya Srivastava

New Delhi (AFP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met India’s prime minister in Delhi on Friday, seeking to boost weapons sales to a new government eager to modernize its military.

India is the world’s biggest arms importer and military trade is high on the agenda for the three-day trip, which comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first official visit to Washington next month.

“The U.S. wants to be a partner in India’s military modernization, and recognizes India’s need to strengthen their defense-industrial base,” Hagel said on his official Twitter account.

Indian officials say they are close to finalizing a $1.4 billion deal to buy at least 22 U.S. Apache and 15 Chinook helicopters.

The United States is also keen to secure greater military cooperation with India as its seeks to counter growing Chinese firepower in Asia.

During the meeting Modi and Hagel also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Kabul to try to resolve disputed elections that have raised fears of civil war.

India has voiced concern about instability in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to withdraw its troops.

Modi told Hagel that a smooth transition of power in Afghanistan was essential for sustaining progress towards peace and stability, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

– New defence push –

Hagel, who is also due to meet his Indian counterpart Arun Jaitley on Friday, is in Delhi ahead of Modi’s first official visit to Washington in September.

The United States has been racing to make up for lost time in building ties with Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader who was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 over allegations he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots as leader of the state of Gujarat.

On Wednesday, the Indian cabinet agreed to increase the limit on foreign direct investment in defence to 49 percent from 26 percent, in a move to attract international capital.

“India has made progress on its direct investment framework on percentage ownership, outside ownership in companies … And we’ll talk about that,” Hagel said.

New Delhi and Washington have rapidly expanded military ties in recent years despite disagreeing over issues such as the nuclear liability law.

The law says nuclear firms planning to build plants in India must pay large sums in the event of an accident.

But U.S. nuclear energy companies want exemption from the liability, leading to a deadlock since the two countries signed a 2008 agreement on nuclear cooperation.

Hagel conceded that the potential of the nuclear deal had not been realised as yet, but stressed the need to “be patient with the realities of internal governments and their people”.

During his trip, Hagel will also seek to renew a 10-year defence framework agreement with India that is due to expire next year.

“The point of my trip here is to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with a new Indian government,” he said ahead of his arrival in Delhi.

“We have a number of things, specific projects that we will discuss. One is the renewal of the 10-year defense framework agreement.”

AFP Photo/Raveendran

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Emotional Modi Pledges To Serve India Ahead Of Swearing-In

New Delhi (AFP) – India’s prime minister-elect Narendra Modi choked back tears Tuesday and promised to try to live up to expectations as he made his first visit to parliament since his sweeping election victory.

The 63-year-old leader bowed and kissed the steps of the building as he entered for a meeting of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, later announcing that he would take the oath as prime minister on May 26th.

Speaking in the central hall of parliament, Modi was briefly overcome in a rare public display of emotion by the hardliner known to his supporters as the “Lion of Gujarat.”

Other BJP figures could be seen weeping.

“I said this earlier and I say it again: that 125 crore (1.25 billion) Indians’ hopes and aspirations are embedded in this temple of democracy,” he said, later recalling his humble origins as the son of a tea seller.

He said “the common man has got renewed self-confidence and faith in democracy” after the victory last Friday by the BJP, which won the first majority by a single party since 1984.

“For rural areas, farmers, dalits (low castes), weak and the pained, this government is for them. To meet their aspirations and hopes, this is our responsibility because our weakest, poorest have sent us here,” he said.

Modi broke down, having to pause and ask for a glass of water, while referring to his former mentor L.K. Advani and promising to serve the BJP and India as his “mother.”

“I will try to fulfill all your expectations, I won’t let you down,” he said after being voted as the leader in parliament of the right-wing National Democratic Alliance which includes the BJP and allies.

Modi, chief minister of the western state of Gujarat since 2001, has been locked in talks since Sunday about the composition of his cabinet, which will be sworn in by President Pranab Mukherjee next Monday.

As behind-the-scenes lobbying continued for berths in his administration, Modi urged colleagues to show discipline and commit themselves to work hard for the good of the nation.

“This joy, celebration will continue but this marks the beginning of the era of responsibility,” he said.

After a brief meeting with Mukherjee, Modi is expected to travel on Tuesday to Gujarat where he will resign after 13 years in power as state leader.

The BJP, elected on promises to revive the economy, is expected to steer India sharply to the right after a decade in power by the left-leaning Congress party, which has dominated India since independence in 1947.

No party other than Congress has ever before had a majority in India.

The Indian Express newspaper reported Tuesday that Modi’s office had already written to senior bureaucrats asking them to prepare presentations to explain their work and any problems they had encountered.

The new government is expected to focus initially on trying to remove bottlenecks that have seen many industrial and infrastructure projects stalled for lack of clearances.

The make-up of the new cabinet remains shrouded in secrecy, but reports suggest lawyer and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley is the frontrunner for the finance portfolio, while BJP president Rajnath Singh could get the home ministry.

“Any individual, if he has dedicated his life to the country, it is but natural for him to become emotional,” senior BJP figure Smriti Irani told AFP after Modi’s speech.

“I have seen his softer side before so I was not surprised,” she added.

While Modi prepared for government, the defeated Congress party held a meeting late Monday to rake over its electoral humiliation.

Leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi offered to resign but party colleagues refused to accept their departures, saying they still had faith in the political family that has provided three of India’s prime ministers.

Sonia, the 67-year-old Congress president, entrusted election campaigning for the first time to her son and party vice president Rahul. But his lackluster performance failed to impress voters.

Congress slumped to its worst-ever result, winning just 44 seats — about a quarter of its tally at the 2009 election when it secured a second term.

©afp.com / Raveendran

Modi Eyes Decisive Majority After Indian Exit Polls

New Delhi (AFP) – India’s triumphant right-wing opposition said Tuesday it was headed for a decisive majority in the world’s biggest election after exit polls showed its hard line leader Narendra Modi closing in on victory.

Stock markets surged to record highs on hopes of a business-friendly government under Modi after a decade of rule by a left-leaning coalition, while U.S. President Barack Obama said he looked forward to working with the new administration in New Delhi.

“Modi at Delhi Gate” said a headline in the Mail Today, while the Hindustan Times read simply “Exit Polls: Enter Modi” after a flurry of surveys released after voting ended Monday pointed to a big win.

All forecasts showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies trouncing the Congress party which has been in power for a decade, and most indicated they would seal a narrow majority.

Results are due on Friday, with some still cautioning against over-confidence in a BJP victory given notorious forecasting errors at the last two general elections.

Modi was keeping a low profile, but senior BJP figures struck a bullish note by predicting the opposition would win more than 300 of the 543 seats in parliament although it was willing to work with additional partners.

“These elections have been fought on a hope that the country will get a good, stable government,” V. K. Singh, a former army chief of staff who is now a senior BJP leader, told reporters at party headquarters.

“After May 16, we will be open to working with any, all entities that wish to work with us for the country’s well being and development.”

Asked about the exit polls predicting a majority for the BJP-led alliance, Singh replied: “We may perform even better than this.”

Party spokesman Prakash Javadekar predicted that the BJP-led alliance would get more than 300, echoing Modi’s chief lieutenant Amit Shah.

“My personal view is that we will get around 300 seats,” Shah said.

“We will still be open to support and collaboration from any party that wants to work with a government that is committed to work for the nation,” he told the Headlines Today network.

Reacting to the end of five weeks of voting that saw a record turnout of 551 million people, Obama said India had “set an example for the world”.

“We look forward to the formation of a new government once election results are announced and to working closely with India’s next administration to make the coming years equally transformative,” he added.

Modi’s election would present a headache for the U.S., which refused to deal with him for years in the aftermath of religious riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002 shortly after he became its chief minister.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the violence, which critics say Modi did little to stop, even though a court-appointed investigation team cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Washington only ended its boycott of Modi in February when Nancy Powell, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to India, met him for talks in Gujarat.

European countries also refused to deal with him for years in the wake of the 2002 riots, for which Modi has refused to apologize.

Foreign and domestic investors have few misgivings about his past, however, and appeared in no mood to heed the warnings about unreliable pollsters.

“The expectation is that (the BJP alliance) will get to form the government comfortably and even if they need more allies they will not present a stumbling block for reforms,” Harendra Kumar, head of Mumbai-based brokerage Elara capital, told AFP.

The Bombay Stock Exchange index, also known as the Sensex, showed gains of nearly two percent at one stage, hitting a new record high before dipping slightly in early afternoon trade.

The Sensex has now gained around 22 percent since the BJP chose Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in September.

New data on Monday showed that industrial production shrank in March for the fifth time in sixth months, underlining the scale of the challenge for the next government in reviving growth.

Modi has largely steered clear of Hindu nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail, promising to concentrate on development by rolling out the red carpet to companies and restore badly battered business confidence.

While a sweep by the BJP had been expected, the predicted scale of defeat for Congress was still striking, with exit polls showing support for the party, which has ruled India for most of the post-independence era, at an historic low.

Party leaders have dismissed the surveys and remain defiant in public, insisting that Friday’s results will surprise the pollsters and hand the Congress-led alliance a third term in power.

They have begun rallying around Rahul Gandhi, the latest generation of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, who has led his first national election campaign — widely panned as lacklustre and uninspiring.

Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said party president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul’s mother, as well as local Congress leaders had fought the election together and shared the responsibility for the outcome.

“It is all collective,” he said.

©afp.com / Diptendu Dutta