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India’s Iraq problem

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

Iraq seems to be falling apart, with the rapid advance of the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatening to lead to the country’s division into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish entities, while blurring its border with its turbulent western neighbor. Moreover, the tumult is now threatening to spread to two more nearby countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which already are facing myriad internal challenges. For India, the message is clear: its national security interests are at risk.

After almost four decades of war, Afghanistan is, once again, teetering on the edge of a precipice. Just last week, following allegations of massive fraud during the country’s recent presidential election, thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace. Given that the aggrieved candidate’s constituency comprises mainly ethnic Tajiks, the events have revived Afghanistan’s deep-seated ethnic tensions.

Pakistan’s internal struggles — from inter-communal conflict to relentless terrorist activity — are well known. In fact, the country recently experienced a major terrorist attack, which not only led to more than 29 deaths, but also rendered Karachi’s international airport — the country’s largest — dysfunctional for nearly 12 hours. Just a couple of weeks later, gunmen fired at a Pakistan International Airlines plane as it was landing in the northern city of Peshawar, killing one passenger and injuring three crew members.

‎India Markets Weekahead: Correction could follow budget week

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Last week’s robust pre-budget rally belied expectations, with the Nifty closing up more than 3 percent at a record high of 7,751‎. Automobile sales, manufacturing PMI as well as services PMI showed an uptick. The Iraq turmoil seems to have taken a back seat with oil prices receding from a nine-month peak. A rally in world markets, with life highs for the DJIA and S&P 500, also aided sentiment.

India’s fiscal deficit in the first two months has already touched 45.6 percent of the full-year target. Though this would have been a negative indicator, the markets welcomed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s remarks about focusing on fiscal consolidation against “mindless populism“.

The crisis in Iraq and an Afghanistan prognosis

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has rampaged through western Iraq. A few thousand kilometres away in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is withdrawing, with Americans contemplating less than 10,000 troops on ground.

The Iraqi and Afghan landscapes have festering ethnic and sectarian divides in common. In Iraq, the ISIL has crafted one of the best success stories for radical Islamists in recent history. Is a similar manoeuvre on the cards in Afghanistan?

India Markets Weekahead: Wait for post-budget opportunities

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Markets were fairly volatile last week, reacting to tough measures taken by the Narendra Modi government to get India’s economy back on track amid worries over monsoon rains and the situation in Iraq.
cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da.jpgLong-term investors hailed the hike in railway freight and passenger fares as a step in the right direction to bring down indirect subsidies. However, the government rolled back the hikes on suburban fares to a large extent due to political considerations.

Monsoon rains have started on a weak note but if the rains pick up in July and the El Nino effect is tempered, it would have a direct impact on inflation and interest rates.

Higher tax revenue from higher growth

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The 2013-14 budget got completely out of hand because of a whopping shortfall in tax revenue. Development outlays had to be drastically cut to manage the fiscal deficit.

The key to the budget is revenue. The ratio of gross tax revenue to GDP reached a high of 11.9 percent when GDP growth was at its peak of more than 9 percent in 2007-08. Since then, both declined and the ratio has been in the narrow range of 10-10.7 percent. GDP growth is a painless way of raising revenue.

Currencies and the collapse of globalisation

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

We live in stirring times. The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, crossed the monetary policy Rubicon and cut one of the euro area’s key interest rates into negative territory. This is dramatic stuff, as even the most economically oblivious are likely to recognise that negative interest rates are a radical policy.A picture illustration of Euro banknotes and coins taken in central Bosnian town of Zenica

At the same time, the United States Federal Reserve is gracefully gliding out of its quantitative policy position – and by October that money printing process is likely to be effectively at an end. The question from most investors is therefore “what next for U.S. monetary policy?”.

Nehru’s last stand?

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Narendra Modi, in India’s general election last month has raised a crucial question about the country’s future. With the BJP sweeping to power on a platform of aggressive nationalism and business-friendly corporatism, has the socioeconomic consensus dating to India’s first prime minister, the democratic socialist Jawaharlal Nehru, come to an end?

India Markets Weekahead: Pre-budget rally may be muted

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A man looks at a screen across the road displaying the election results on the facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) building in Mumbai May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The Nifty touched a new high of 7,700 before cracking on Friday to slip about 0.5 percent for the week. This was primarily triggered by the unrest in Iraq and the subsequent rise in crude prices.

The markets were also overbought aided by a relentless rally since May 9‎, with the CNX Nifty climbing about 16 percent, S&P BSE Midcap Index rising 26 percent and the S&P BSE Small cap index jumping 35 percent. The last one-month saw 115 multi-baggers with 92 percent of traded stocks gaining during the period. The probability of picking a loser was minimal. It seemed making money had never been so easy.

Election 2014: Imbalanced participation of women

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The marginalization of women in electoral politics is deeply embedded in the party system and the imbalanced gender power relations in the main political dispensations in India. They continue to be discriminated against not only in terms of seat allotments to contest elections but also within the rank and file of major political parties.

The reasons for women being on the fringes are varied but the focal factor that excludes them from the process is the patriarchal and male-dominant party competition structure that continues to exist in the Indian subcontinent. This not only dissuades females from electoral politics but also acts as a barrier in their quest to share political power.

How to get India on the highway to high growth

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The president’s address to parliament this week lays out the new government’s roadmap to get India’s economy back to high growth. That will take time and is not easy either.

True, the BJP government led by Narendra Modi inherited a weak economy – growth was a mere 4.7 percent; industry was static; there was no employment generation; and inflation was at over 8 percent. The only comfort was that foreign exchange reserves exceeded $312 billion.

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