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Home / News / India /  In focus this week: Election results, Ukraine updates

Every Monday, Mint’s Plain Facts section features key data releases and events to look for in the coming week. The world will keep an eye on military and diplomatic developments in Ukraine this week. A number of Indian students stuck in the war zone are still waiting for a safe passage. At home, the counting of polled votes in the five states will be keenly watched. On Tuesday, International Women’s Day will be celebrated across the world. The things to look out for are:

 

1. Ukraine updates

The Ukraine war shows no sign of a quick end. Even as Kyiv is still in Ukraine’s control, adjacent regions have seen a rise in the presence of Russian forces. Over a thousand civilians have been killed or injured, and over a million were forced to flee Ukraine.

The third round of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, after first two fruitless ones, is due today. While the Western allies have refused to engage militarily, they are in talks to send further assistance in other ways. The West has already exhausted its package of drastic actions against Moscow, leaving two major steps left in the armoury: choking Russian oil imports (which would hurt the West, too), and enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine (which the West is reluctant to do). 

The economic costs of the conflict could become “all the more devastating" should it escalate further, and soaring crude oil prices and the sanctions could have a significant impact on the global economy and financial markets, the IMF has warned.

 

2. Election results

Votes cast in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur will be counted on Thursday. The results hold significance not just for these states, but also for the larger national political trends.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is incumbent in four of these states. The verdict in UP could decide the political trajectory of BJP hardliner Yogi Adityanath. Many pollsters believe 2022 will not be as easy as 2017 for the BJP owing to rising joblessness and the disenchantment of farmers. The Congress hopes to retain Punjab, one of its last bastions, and to return to power in Goa. It is also fighting the BJP in Uttarakhand.

In Punjab, the spotlight is on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which hopes to expand beyond Delhi. Interestingly, despite the charged campaigning in the state, voter turnout was lower than 2017. Goa, where BJP is strong, also saw a lower turnout.

 

3. Women’s Day

Since the recognition by the United Nations (UN) in 1977, International Women’s Day (8 March) has attained an official status. In India, as everywhere else across the globe, events on this day will mark hope and change, and will also highlight the harsh realities that women face. India is still far behind most other countries on gender equality, ranking 123 among 162 countries on the UN’s gender inequality index in 2019. Women’s education and reproductive health issues have gained focus in the last few decades but representation of women in politics and the workforce remains dismal. Not only is the female labour force participation rate in 2019 very low at 21%, it has also regressed from 32% in 2005. A 2021 report by the World Economic Forum showed that gender inequities widened more in India than the global average between 2020 and 2021, largely due to a fall on the political empowerment subindex.

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4. ECB decision

With inflation showing no sign of retreat in the euro area, people have been hoping for the European Central Bank (ECB) to shift from its current stance. However, the path to any imminent tightening of loose policy has been further complicated and delayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even as inflation reached 5.1% in January.

ECB president Christine Lagarde recently acknowledged that risks to inflation were on the upside. However, unlike the US, inflation is a secondary risk compared with growth for the ECB. The war in Ukraine could derail growth in the euro area. This crisis will also have a bearing on inflation-boosting energy costs.

Analysts will keep a close eye on ECB’s decision on Thursday to get cues on the bank’s plan for policy tightening in the new context. The central bank was largely expected to end the bond-buying stimulus programme this month, but that also looks uncertain now.

 

 

5. US inflation

Retail inflation in the US soared to 7.5% year-on-year in January, the steepest since February 1982. It has steadily risen since September last year, fuelled by factors such as rising input costs, robust consumer spending, and low interest rates. Increase in labour cost and an ongoing material shortage have also led to input costs going up.

Prices may not ease anytime soon. However, demand continues to be strong despite the soaring prices and over the next few months firms will continue passing on input cost increases to consumers, observed the US Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report released last week. To control inflation, the Fed has said that it will begin raising interest rates from March. It expects inflation to peak and start to decline this year. It is also open to an aggressive hike in federal rates if the desired effect is not achieved through other means. Inflation figures for February will be released on Thursday. 

 

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