Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account was hacked Sunday with a message declaring his country had adopted bitcoin as legal tender and was distributing the cryptocurrency to citizens.
Modi is a prolific tweeter and is the world’s most popular incumbent politician on the platform, with more than 73 million followers on his main account.
A swiftly deleted tweet from his main @narendramodi handle said the Indian government had officially bought 500 bitcoin and was “and distributing them to all residents of the country”, along with a scam link.
His office tweeted that the account was “very briefly compromised” and that Twitter had since restored control.
It was the second time one of Modi’s Twitter accounts was hacked, after another was taken over last year to send out a tweet urging the public to donate to a fake coronavirus relief fund.
Sunday’s hack ironically comes as India prepares to clamp down on a flourishing cryptocurrency trade with a new law likely to be introduced in parliament this month.
Details of the legislation remain unclear but the government has flagged a broad ban on private digital currencies.
The local crypto market has boomed since the Indian Supreme Court overturned a previous ban last year, with Bollywood actors and cricket stars fronting ad campaigns for local exchanges.
Modi himself said last month that cryptocurrencies could “spoil our youth” and the central bank has repeatedly warned they could pose “serious concerns on macroeconomic and financial stability”.
Twelve Indian ministers including the health chief resigned Wednesday following a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases earlier this year.
The resignations form part of a major cabinet expansion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of seven state elections in 2022.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, 66, came in for particular criticism during the spike in infections in April and May.
The health service was under severe pressure in many areas with hospitals running out of beds, medical oxygen and drugs.
The Covid-19 explosion was blamed on new virus variants and the government having allowed mass religious and political gatherings to take place from January.
Modi had declared victory over the virus in January and critics say his government failed to use the time to prepare the historically underfunded health system for another wave.
India’s official death toll has exploded from around 160,000 at the end of March to more than 400,000 now, the third-highest in the world.
But many experts suspect the figures are an undercount and the real number of dead could be several times higher.
– Elections -Three dozen new faces have been inducted into the new Modi cabinet, taking the number of ministers to 77, up from 52.
More than a dozen ministers are from poll-bound states such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, representing different castes and regional communities, a dominant factor in India’s electoral politics.
Four members from southern Karnataka state were also added, including millionaire media mogul Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and Shobha Karandlaje, a sectarian rabble-rouser politician.
Karandlaje has several police cases filed against her over her anti-Muslim remarks.
Six other women ministers also found a place in the new cabinet.
But the expansion has witnessed the shock exit of two key members from the Modi cabinet, including Ravi Shankar Prasad — minister for law and justice and information technology — and Prakash Javadekar, minister for information and broadcasting, environment and climate change.
Both Prasad, 66, and Javadekar, 70, were seen as faces of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government, with some press reports suggesting they would handle party work ahead of the key state elections.
Seven Indian states are due to hold elections next year, six of them currently ruled by the BJP. They include Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, Gujarat and Punjab.
Earlier this year the BJP suffered a major setback when it failed to wrest power in the important eastern state of West Bengal from a high-profile Modi critic.
Some commentators said this was a reflection of Modi’s falling popularity because of his handling of the pandemic. The BJP did however retain Assam in the northeast.
Prasad’s exit from the cabinet has been particularly surprising as he was locked in a bitter dispute with foreign social media companies over a new law.
He authored a controversial law that required social media firms to remove and identify the “first originator” of posts deemed to undermine India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.
Social media companies and privacy activists fear the vagueness of the rules means they could be forced to identify the authors of posts critical of the government.
WhatsApp is challenging the rules in court over user privacy violations.
But the war of words has been sharpest with Twitter, with the microblogging site failing to appoint a permanent compliance officer based in India.
Prasad has several times publicly slammed Twitter for not following the new rules, and undermining Indian laws.
His ministry recently told a court that the social media platform does not enjoy an intermediatory status in India, making the company criminally liable for content posted on the platform.
This follows police visits to Twitter’s India office in May after the firm labelled tweets by the BJP’s national spokesman as “manipulated media”.
Twitter responded by accusing the government of “intimidation tactics”.
But as results started trickling in, they showed Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) party on course for a third term.
Thousands of TMC supporters took to the streets, despite a virus-related ban on celebrations.
In a victory speech later Sunday, 66-year-old Banerjee said West Bengal’s “immediate challenge is to combat the Covid-19 and we are confident that we will win”.
“This victory has saved the humanity, the people of India. It’s the victory of India,” Banerjee, a fierce critic of Modi, added.
Modi tweeted his congratulations but added that his party had grown its support in the state “from a negligible presence earlier”.
Banerjee however lost her seat in Nandigram to a former confidant who defected to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
She vowed to challenge the loss in court. She can still be sworn back in as chief Minister, but has to be elected in another constituency within six months.
Earlier, polling for two constituencies was postponed after two candidates died of Covid-19.
Despite the defeat in West Bengal, there was a silver lining for the BJP “in the sense that it has now established itself as the principal opposition to the TMC,” political strategist Amitabh Tiwari told AFP.
But it was also a setback since the party’s top leadership put “a lot of political capital into the state, they did a lot of rallies… it was perceived to be a close contest and some of the opinion polls were saying that the BJP could win there.”
The BJP retained the northeastern state of Assam.
In Puducherry — a small former French colony previously known as Pondicherry — the BJP was expected to come to power through an alliance amid efforts to increase its presence in the country’s south, where it has been traditionally weak.
And in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, M.K. Stalin returned his DMK party to power after a decade by defeating an incumbent coalition that has the BJP as its national partner.
In Kerala in the south, where the BJP until now has played only a bit part, a left-wing alliance retained power with a comfortable victory over a Congress-led coalition.
It was the first time a government in the state had been re-elected since 1977.
US President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday held his first talks since his victory with the prime ministers of Israel and India, allies of Donald Trump who has not conceded defeat.
Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had a notoriously rocky relationship with the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, that he was determined “to ensure that the US-Israel relationship is strengthened and enjoys strong bipartisan support.”
Biden “reiterated his steadfast support for Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state,” the president-elect’s office said in a statement.
The office of Netanyahu, who had vigorously challenged the 2009-2017 Obama-Biden administration over its diplomacy with Iran and push for Palestinian rights, said he had a “warm” conversation with the president-elect.
Biden also spoke to President Reuven Rivlin, whose position is largely ceremonial.
“I said that as an old friend of Israel he knows our friendship is based on values beyond partisan politics,” Rivlin wrote on Twitter.
Biden separately voiced optimism about working with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had heaped praise on Trump in two giant joint rallies in Texas and Gujarat.
India enjoys support across party lines in Washington but Democratic lawmakers have increasingly voiced concern about human rights under the Hindu nationalist Modi, including his championing of a controversial citizenship law and revocation of autonomy in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Biden said he hoped to cooperate with Modi on common challenges including the Covid pandemic, regional security, climate change and, in a delicate choice of words, on “strengthening democracy at home and abroad.”
The Indian foreign ministry said Modi for his part called for cooperation on promoting access to affordable vaccines and also conveyed greetings to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, whose mother was born in India.
Trump has refused to concede defeat two weeks after the election but the leaders of virtually all countries have congratulated Biden except Russia, Mexico, Brazil, North Korea, and Slovenia.
Biden’s first calls took place with US allies who had tense ties with Trump including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm Wednesday after Delhi’s worst sectarian violence in decades left at least 20 people dead and calls for a military curfew.
This week’s battles between Hindus and Muslims have seen mobs armed with swords, guns and acid raze a northeastern district of the Indian capital.
The clashes, which also left almost 200 injured, were triggered by protests against a citizenship law seen by many critics as anti-Muslim and part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda.
They exploded into brutal violence on Monday and Tuesday, with residents forced to flee their homes after seeing their homes destroyed and a mosque attacked.
“I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important… calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest,” Modi tweeted on Wednesday.
Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, a political opponent, called for the army to be deployed and for a curfew to be imposed over the flashpoint areas.
“Police, despite all its efforts, (are) unable to control situation and instil confidence,” Kejriwal tweeted.
– Fear, anger –
Sunil Kumar, the director of the hospital where many of the wounded were taken, told AFP on Wednesday that almost 60 had gunshot injuries.
On Wednesday morning residents cleaned out the blackened interior of a trashed mosque, including a charred Koran, burned out during the violence in the Ashok Nagar area.
A video circulated on social media and verified by AFP showed men ripping off the muezzin’s loudspeaker on top of the mosque’s minaret and installing a Hindu religious flag.
Locals accused the police of doing nothing to help — or worse.
“We tried to make many calls to the police… that people are entering our neighbourhoods chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’,” said Naeem Malik, referring to a popular Hindu chant.
“But police did not help us at all. We tried to save the women at the protest site but instead policemen started beating us up,” Malik said, showing wounds on his leg and hands.
Elsewhere a fire engine tried to put out blazes from the previous night, the air thick with smoke from still-smouldering cars, motorbikes, shops and homes.
“They say we are not Indians but we are Indians by blood,” Farhat, 22, a student in Islamic studies, said in her father’s shop as police looked on.
“We are afraid, we left our homes. There is no police in the streets at night, just during the day.”
The area is home to mostly poorer economic migrants living in many shanty neighbourhoods, and some fled on Wednesday ahead of more expected clashes.
“It is better to leave than to stick around here. Why would we want to die here?,” a tailor told AFP, adding that he was returning home to his village in northern India.
– ‘Politics of hate’ –
The unrest comes amid growing concerns at home and abroad about the direction of India and the future of its 200 million Muslims since Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP swept to a second term last year.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, on Wednesday accused BJP figures of giving “inflammatory speeches spreading an atmosphere of hatred and fear”, including in Delhi city elections this month.
Congress “appeals to the people to reject the politics of hate,” Gandhi said, calling Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi’s close ally, “responsible” for the riots.
Since winning a second term, Modi’s government has revoked the partial autonomy of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and said it wants to conduct a nationwide citizens’ register to weed out “infiltrators”.
Together with the citizenship law, which fast-tracks claims for persecuted non-Muslim religious immigrants, this has stoked fears that Modi’s master plan is to remould India as a Hindu nation, something he denies.
The citizenship law has sparked months of nationwide protests as well as clashes that killed more than 25 people in December.
In recent weeks sit-ins, mostly by women, have sprung up.
The flare-up in violence occurred as US President Donald Trump visited India and held talks with Modi in Delhi on Tuesday. But Trump left as scheduled on Tuesday and his visit was not visibly interrupted by the violence.
US President Donald Trump got a rapturous and romantic welcome to India on Monday, addressing a huge rally and holding hands with his wife at the Taj Mahal, in a maiden official visit big on photo opportunities but short on concrete results.
Casting a cloud over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s welcome, however, a policeman and at least three civilians were killed in clashes in New Delhi over a contentious citizenship law hours before the US president was due in the Indian capital.
At the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India, Trump heaped praise on the Indian right-winger as an “exceptional leader, a great champion of India”, before a crowd of around 100,000.
“America loves India. America respects India, and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump told the ecstatic crowd, many in Trump-emblazoned baseball caps.
Name-checking Bollywood films and Indian cricketers, Trump — with an eye on elections in November — paid tribute to the four-million-strong Indian-American diaspora as “truly special people”.
“President Trump’s visit opens a new chapter in our relationship — a chapter that will document the progress and prosperity of the people of America and India,” Modi said.
“The whole world knows what President Trump has done to fulfil the dreams of America.”
Excited spectators had queued from 4:00 am for the “Namaste Trump” rally, reciprocating a “Howdy Modi” event in Houston last year where Trump likened Modi to Elvis.
Workers rushed to finish the stadium and erect a wall along the route that locals said was to hide a slum. Stray dogs, cows and monkeys were also kept away.
“Events like these will galvanise people to start to cooperate in new initiatives,” said Pramit Maakoday, an Indian-American in the stadium.
Before the speech, Trump and First Lady Melania visited independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, where Modi gave him a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” three wise monkeys statue.
Later Trump and Melania — in an off-white jumpsuit and sash alongside her husband in a buttercup-yellow tie — flew to the Taj Mahal for a pre-sunset tour.
Then they headed to Delhi ahead of the main talks on Tuesday.
Parts of the Taj Mahal, the marble monument to love that UNESCO calls a “jewel of Muslim art”, were given a mud-pack facial to remove stains, while efforts were made to lessen the stench of the adjacent river.
Behind the platitudes and blossoming bromance between the two leaders lies a fraught relationship as Trump’s “America First” drive collides with Modi’s “Make in India” mantra.
Trump has imposed tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium and suspended duty-free access for certain goods, prompting India to raise duties on the US to produce such as almonds.
The US leader has called India the “tariff king”, and said before his visit that Asia’s third-largest economy had been “hitting us very, very hard for many, many years”.
Rather than a wide-ranging trade deal, reports said Trump and Modi may instead sign smaller agreements covering products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and US dairy products.
“We are in the early stages of discussions for an incredible trade agreement,” Trump told the rally, calling Modi a “very tough negotiator”.
“I am in no rush,” he told reporters later.
With the US and India sharing concerns about China, the two men were expected to sign a number of defence deals during the visit and to discuss the supply of six nuclear reactors.
Russia, however, remains India’s biggest supplier in arms, with India having agreed to buy Moscow’s $5.4-billion S-400 missile defence system despite the threat of US sanctions.
The US has pressured India to stop buying Iranian oil, while US businesses have raised concerns over New Delhi’s plans to force foreign firms to store Indian consumers’ personal data inside the country.
India has bristled at Trump’s offer to mediate in the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan which a year ago again brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours close to war.
In Washington, India has faced criticism over its clampdown in restive Kashmir, and the recently passed citizenship law that has led to protests across the nation, including in New Delhi on Monday.
A senior US administration official told reporters Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, “which is extremely important to this administration”.
Trump ridiculed Modi last year for “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan”.
“That’s like five hours of what we spend,” Trump said.
Followers of an upstart Indian political party danced in the streets Tuesday after inflicting a crushing defeat on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing party in a key election in the capital.
The poll was the first electoral test for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party after it passed a controversial nationality law which opponents say is anti-Muslim.
Aam Aadmi Party supporters cavorted to bhangra music and set off fireworks as the vote count showed they had crossed the 36 seats needed to secure a majority in the 70-seat regional assembly.
Hindu-nationalist Modi, whose party swept to power in national elections last year, congratulated AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, the incumbent Delhi chief minister.
“Wishing them the very best in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Delhi,” Modi tweeted.
The BJP had launched an aggressive campaign to win the city of nearly 20 million people from the AAP, using the election to rally support for the law easing citizenship rules for religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excluding Muslims.
At least 25 people have been killed in protests over the legislation so far.
But the AAP, which swept to power in 2015 after it was launched three years earlier by former tax officer Kejriwal, retained control in an impressive showing.
The defeat in Delhi is the latest in a string of setbacks for the BJP at regional elections over the past two years.
Kejriwal, 51, fought the election on local issues such as subsidised water and electricity, as well as the safety of women.
“This win has given birth to a new type of politics — the politics of work,” he told cheering supporters at party headquarters.
“This is the type of politics that will take the country forward in the 21st century.”
Yogendra Yadav, an academic who was a member of the AAP executive until 2015 and now has his own party, said the result was a clear rejection of Modi and his party’s angry campaign.
“The BJP indulged in one of the most vitriolic, communal hate-mongering campaigns as a desperate electoral gamble,” he told AFP.
“If this succeeded, it would have become a template for everyone else to follow.
Congress, led by the storied Gandhi-Nehru dynasty and the main opposition at the national level, was set to draw a blank in another low for a party that ruled Delhi for 15 years before AAP took over.
Final results from the Election Commission of India were not expected until late Tuesday.
“Muslims who are sons of the soil and whose ancestors are the children of mother India need not to worry” about the law and his plans to carry out a national register of citizens, Modi told the crowd of thousands.
Accusing the main opposition Congress party of condoning the recent violence by not condemning it, Modi said opponents were “spreading rumours that all Muslims will be sent to detention camps.”
“There are no detention centres. All these stories about detention centres are lies, lies and lies,” he said.
The demonstrations have been largely peaceful but protesters have also hurled rocks and torched vehicles, while heavy-handed police tactics including the storming of a Delhi university a week ago have fuelled anger.
Tens of thousands of protests gathered late Saturday in the southern city of Hyderabad, while other protests were held elsewhere. Yet more took place or were scheduled on Sunday, including in Delhi and Kolkata.
The law gives religious minority members — Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from three neighbouring Islamic countries an easier path to citizenship, but not if they are Muslim.
Islamic groups, the opposition, and others at home and abroad fear this forms part of Modi’s aim to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims and remould the country as a Hindu nation, something he denies.
Authorities have imposed emergency laws, blocked internet access — a common tactic in India — and shut down shops in sensitive areas across the country in an attempt to contain the unrest.
More than 7,500 people have either been detained under emergency laws or arrested for rioting, according to state officials, with 5,000 in Uttar Pradesh state alone where 17 people have been killed.
Some 500 people have also been injured in Uttar Pradesh including 263 police, while two people were shot dead in the southern state of Karnataka and six died in Assam in the northeast last week.
In Assam, opponents of the legislation fear it will enable large numbers of Bengali-speaking immigrants, many of whom are Hindu, to settle there.
But elsewhere, opponents say the law has made religion a test for citizenship ahead of a nationwide register that Modi wants to carry out by 2024 to remove all “infiltrators”.
The US State Department this week urged New Delhi to “protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s constitution and democratic values”.
Modi’s government, re-elected in May, has defended the law saying it is meant to help “persecuted” minorites from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
India’s space programme suffered a huge setback Saturday after losing contact with an unmanned spacecraft moments before it was due to make a historic soft landing on the Moon.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to comfort glum scientists and a stunned nation from mission control in Bangalore, saying India was still “proud” and clasping the visibly emotional space agency head in a lengthy hug.
Blasting off in July, the emerging Asian giant had hoped to become just the fourth country after the United States, Russia and regional rival China to make a successful Moon landing, and the first on the lunar South Pole.
But in the early hours of Saturday local time, as Modi looked on and millions watched nationwide with bated breath, Vikram — named after the father of India’s space programme — went silent just 2.1 kilometres (1.3 miles) above the lunar surface.
“The Vikram lander descent was (going) as planned and normal performance was observed,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.
“Subsequently the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost,” he said after initial applause turned to bewilderment at the operations room. “The data is being analysed.”
The Chandrayaan-2 (“Moon Vehicle 2”) orbiter, which will circle and study the Moon remotely for a year, is however “healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the lunar orbit”, the ISRO said.
Freshly re-elected Modi had hoped to bask in the glory of a successful mission, but on Saturday he deftly turned consoler-in-chief in a speech at mission control broadcast live on television and to his 50 million Twitter followers.
“Sisters and brothers of India, resilience and tenacity are central to India’s ethos. In our glorious history of thousands of years, we have faced moments that may have slowed us, but they have never crushed our spirit,” he said.
“We have bounced back again,” he added. “When it comes to our space programme, the best is yet to come.”
Other Indians also took to Twitter to offer words of encouragement. “The important thing is we took off and had the Hope and Belief we can,” said Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.
Indian media offered succour by quoting a NASA factsheet that said out of 109 lunar missions in the past six decades, 48 have failed.
Chandrayaan-2 took off on July 22 carrying an orbiter, lander and rover almost entirely designed and made in India — the mission cost a relatively modest $140 million — a week after an initial launch was halted just before blast-off.
ISRO had acknowledged before the soft landing that it was a complex manoeuvre, which Sivan called “15 minutes of terror”.
It was carrying rover Pragyan — “wisdom” in Sanskrit — which was due to emerge several hours after touchdown to scour the Moon’s surface, including for water.
According to Mathieu Weiss, a representative in India for France’s space agency CNES, this is vital to determining whether humans could spend extended periods on the Moon.
That would mean the Moon being used one day as a pitstop on the way to Mars — the next objective of governments and private spacefaring programmes such as Elon Musk’s Space X.
In March Modi hailed India as a “space superpower” after it shot down a low-orbiting satellite, a move prompting criticism for the amount of “space junk” created.
Asia’s third-largest economy also hopes to tap into the commercial possibilities of space.
China in January became the first to land a rover on the far side of the Moon. In April, Israel’s attempt failed at the last minute when its craft apparently crashed onto the lunar surface.
India is also preparing Gaganyaan, its first manned space mission, and wants to land a probe on Mars. In 2014, it became only the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet.
French President Emmanuel Macron will discuss tensions in the divided region of Kashmir with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two meet in Paris this week, a French official said on Tuesday.
The two leaders are set to sit down for a working dinner at the Chateau de Chantilly outside Paris on Thursday ahead of a G7 summit in France this weekend, to which Modi has been invited.
“Of course it (Kashmir) will be on the agenda,” the French diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “We have a strategic partnership with India, that means having confidence in each other. We are not going to be aggressive towards India, but we expect the Indian prime minister to explain how he sees things.”
On August 5, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government scrapped the autonomy of Indian-controlled Kashmir, a divided Muslim-majority region that has enjoyed special status in the Indian constitution since the country’s independence in 1947.
The move has enraged many Kashmiris and led to tensions with nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan, which also claims the region.
India resents any outside interference in Kashmir and its Western allies have historically avoided taking public positions on the dispute, despite allegations of human rights abuses there.
The French diplomat recalled France’s position that Pakistan and India should resolve their differences between themselves and that both sides should avoid raising tensions.
Modi has been invited to this weekend’s Group of Seven meetings of major economic powers in Biarritz and is seen by France as a crucial ally in the fight against climate change.
Macron is hoping the newly re-elected Indian leader will announce new pledges to curb Indian carbon emissions and will also sign up to a coalition of countries to tackle pollution from so-called HFC gases used in refrigerators and air-conditioning.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed on Wednesday Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “wonderful” re-election, vowing both sides will overcome a number of spats that have dogged relations under President Donald Trump.
“I am confident that we have the benefit of building on a strong foundation between two of the world’s great democracies. We saw this in the election, we saw this incredible democratic vigour lead to a wonderful outcome,” Pompeo said after meeting Modi in New Delhi.
As a democratic heavyweight in a region dominated by authoritarian China, India is a natural US bedfellow but Trump has irked New Delhi with measures aimed at reducing the trade imbalance under his “America First” mantra.
Washington, in turn, is unhappy at what it sees as India’s well-developed protectionism, often expressed through tariffs and red tape that makes life difficult for US firms competing in the huge market of more than a billion consumers.
With Trump calling India the “tariff king”, Washington has refused to exempt India from higher steel and aluminium tariffs and has ended India’s preferential trade status that allowed the Asian giant to send America $6 billion in goods duty-free every year.
India retaliated earlier this month with tariffs on 28 items imported from the US, including almonds, apples and walnuts — products close to the hearts of voters in Trump’s rural base.
But Pompeo — preparing the groundwork for talks between Modi and Trump at the G20 in Japan later this week, when the president’s myriad trade battles will loom large — suggested relations could be fixed.
“There are tariffs and counter-tariffs and we said we’re going to do our best to make sure that all the right people get in all the right places and work through these problems, so that we can get out of this and get on with the business of growing each of our two economies,” Pompeo told a news conference.
This was echoed by Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, who said he was “optimistic about where our economic relationship is going”.
But he appeared to stick to India’s guns that it intended to buy the S-400 missile defence system for $5.2 billion from Russia despite the threat of US sanctions slapped on countries buying Moscow-made military kit.
Russia has long been a major arms supplier to India, but New Delhi’s use of its hardware complicates US efforts to bolster regional security cooperation to counter China, as well as its push to pressure the Kremlin.
“I think Secretary Pompeo knows, and I have explained to him in some detail, we have many relationships with many countries… We will do what is in our national interest,” Jaishankar said.
He also said Pompeo was “receptive” to Indian worries that any US-Iran conflict might interrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East and endanger the large Indian diaspora there.
Pompeo “understands that this is today the world’s fifth-largest economy, which imports 85 per cent of its energy, a large part of it from the Gulf… He gets what our interests are,” Jaishankar said.
“We all know that we need to keep that waterway open,” Pompeo said, referring to the Strait of Hormuz.
“And we also know that Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We know how Indian people have suffered from terror around the world.”
Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed an “inclusive” future for all Indians on Thursday after a landslide election victory that crushed the Gandhi dynasty’s comeback hopes once again.
“Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India. India wins yet again!,” Modi tweeted as delirious supporters of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrated nationwide.
“The faith placed in our alliance is humbling and gives us the strength to work even harder to fulfil people’s aspirations,” he said before arriving at BJP headquarters flashing victory signs with both hands and being showered in petals.
Although final results were yet to be published, a rolling vote count by the election commission showed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its majority with 302 out of 543 elected lower house seats.
The BJP’s main rivals Congress were on just 51 seats, with Rahul Gandhi — the great-grandson, grandson and son of three premiers — conceding defeat and congratulating Modi.
In an added personal humiliation Gandhi, 48, also admitted he had lost Amethi, a seat long held by his famous family, to a former television star running for the BJP.
The BJP’s headquarters in Delhi erupted in celebration with drummers, firecrackers, dancing and singing as hundreds of party faithful thronged the yard and nearby streets waiting for Modi.
“Modi will make India great again. Modi is the strongest prime minister India has ever had and will get. We need to support his policies to prosper,” said one supporter, Santosh Joshi.
At Congress headquarters, a handful of dejected supporters sat in groups under the shade of trees.
“We are sad but we will rise again. Modi won because of his lies and false promises. The country is in danger now,” Rajesh Tiwari, a Congress supporter, told AFP.
India’s main Sensex index breached the 40,000-point level for the first time as the count pointed to a Modi win, following strong gains since Monday.
The vast size of India — stretching from the Himalayas to the tropics, taking in polluted megacities, deserts and jungles — made the world’s biggest election a marathon six-week endeavour.
The campaign, estimated to have cost more than $7 billion, was awash with insults — Modi was likened to Hitler and a “gutter insect” — as well as fake news in Facebook and WhatsApp’s biggest markets.
Gandhi tried several lines of attack against Modi, in particular over a French defence deal and high unemployment and saying Modi was dividing the officially secular country.
Lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits for eating beef and slaughtering and trading in cattle have risen, with critics saying extremists have been emboldened by the BJP coming to power.
Several cities with names rooted in India’s Islamic Mughal past have been renamed, while some school textbooks have been changed to include references to Hindu right-wing ideology, culture and history.
But Modi, 68, managed to deftly turn the election into a referendum on his rule while depicting himself, often in the third person, as the only one able to defend India.
In this he was given a major boost when a suicide bombing, claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group, killed 40 Indian paratroopers in Indian-administered Kashmir on February 14.
Doubts abound about the efficacy of India’s subsequent air strikes on Pakistan, but the action enabled Modi to style himself the “chowkidar” (“watchman”).
“We have shown the world that India is a great country. We have shown Pakistan that they cannot mess with us,” said Vishal Sharma, a BJP supporter in Delhi.
“Congress sold the country for all these decades. Now is the time to rebuild the nation.”
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday congratulated Modi and said he looked forward to working for “peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia”.
His message came just hours after Pakistan’s military said it tested a surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads — a day after an Indian missile test.
But while Pakistanis consider Modi a hardliner, analysts say his victory could improve relations between the arch foes.
“The expectation in Pakistan is that there will be an incremental improvement in Pakistan-India relations as Modi’s attitude would be more relaxed,” retired Pakistani general Talat Masood told AFP.