1. FESTIVALS: Sarvapitri Amavasya or Mahalay Amavasya which falls on Bhadrapad / Ashwin Amavasya (September 23 this year) is the last day of Pitru Paksha when people pay ceremonial homage to their ancestors especially through food offerings.
The Indian prime minister had been due to visit Japan in July, soon after taking office in late May, as a reciprocal gesture following Mr Abe’s visit to India in January and a rare visit by Emperor Akihito late in 2013. It was put off, say diplomats, so that they could work out some eye-catching deals to announce as a sign of their friendship. Japan, formerly a big donor to China, now counts India as its largest aid recipient and will probably pledge some funds for Indian cities. It will also urge its car and electronics firms to invest more in India, a fillip to Mr Modi’s plans to boost manufacturing at home.
Another possible deal, which would be highly significant if it comes off, is the sale of 15 Japanese amphibious US-2 aircraft to India for its navy to use for long-range surveillance, rescue and support. Mr Modi wants joint production of the US-2 in India by local, private and Japanese firms. That would boost manufacturing and serve as a high-profile boost to the defence industry after India said, in July, that foreigners would be allowed to own up to 49% of local ventures. A Japanese official, however, warns that unless India rules out sales to third parties of dual-use civilian-military products, the deal could fail.
Still, the timing for stronger ties between India and Japan is auspicious. Mr Abe looks eager to bind India into broader security co-operation between Asian “middling powers” that are anxious about the military rise of China but doubt that America can be trusted to guarantee their security. Like the Japanese leader, “Mr Modi’s outlook in Asia is more expansive”, argues Bharat Karnad, a hawkish analyst at the Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank in Delhi. With two assertive men in office, he expects fewer worries than under previous regimes about provoking China’s ire.
Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, fits a similar nationalist mould. Shortly after Mr Modi returns from Japan he is due in Delhi, also to talk nuclear. A deal is ready to be signed, allowing Australian uranium exports to India, seven years after John Howard, a predecessor, first tried to lift a ban. That matters for security, as imported uranium can be used for power generation, leaving India’s smaller domestic stocks for military use.
Relations with Australia have also grown warmer of late. The first joint naval exercises are due to be staged next year. Rory Medcalf of the Lowy Institute, a think-tank in Sydney, calls new ties between Australia, India and others in the region a “ballet of hedging and balancing” against China. Mr Modi is due to visit Australia in November.
In that context the visit of China’s Xi Jinping to India, in mid-September, could prove uncomfortable, even if it is likely to focus on Chinese investment and trade ties. Before Mr Modi came to office, some observers speculated that he could try to strike an early deal with China to settle the countries’ long-disputed border in the Himalayas. In fact, rather than accommodating, Mr Modi looks cautiously assertive. In May he welcomed the elected leader of Tibetans in exile, Lobsang Sangay, to his inauguration—though the spiritual Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, was not invited.
Another potential annoyance for China this week was Mr Modi’s dispatch of his foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, on a tour of Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam. India’s president, Pranab Mukherjee, will next go to Vietnam, more or less at the same time as Mr Xi is in India. Partly with China in mind, India is strengthening its security ties with South-East Asia. It recently sent warships to visit the Philippines. This month the Indian navy conducted joint exercises in Vietnam off Haiphong in the far north, close to China. Its co-operation with Vietnam has also included training submariners, repairing military aircraft and selling patrol boats. India’s state-run oil company, ONGC, this month saw its rights renewed for two oil blocks off Vietnam’s coast in an area of the South China Sea that is contested with China. India has long spoken of developing a “Look East” policy, but has lagged behind China in forging ties with emerging economies in South-East Asia. In Vietnam though, which is deeply sceptical of China’s ambitions, Mr Modi finds an open door. A Vietnamese diplomat said recently that Vietnam saw India as an “all-weather friend”, a reference to how China describes its close links to Pakistan. Mr Modi might like such language, but he will be careful not to push too far: he does not want to infuriate China. There is little public appetite in India for conflict between the Asian giants.
Next month Mr Modi will travel to the United States for the UN General Assembly and a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington to repair ties that turned frosty under his predecessor, Manmohan Singh. One area of co-operation the two leaders might discuss is joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. After so many state visits, Mr Modi’s head is likely to be left in a yoga-like spin. (The Economist, August 30, 2014) -Top