Bus patronage in Britain predictably plummeted in the early days of 2021 after strengthened movement restrictions were introduced. But it has not plumbed the depths seen in the earlier stages of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures released by the Department for Transport (DfT).Outside London, on the year’s first working day – Monday 4 January – buses carried 29% of the passenger volume recorded in the third week of January 2020, which DfT uses as a reference. That figure dropped to 24% by Wednesday 6 January. It rallied slightly to 26% on Monday 11 January, the most recent day for which data is available.Weekend ridership is at similar levels. Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 January saw 25% and 31% respectively, declining to 23% and 25% respectively seven days later. In London, usage figures have hovered in the mid- to low-30% area, bottoming out thus far for 2021 on Friday 8 January with 31%.Outside the capital, the last full working week of December saw patronage peak at 58% on Tuesday 15 December 2020. That return has been bettered on only 10 days since 18 March 2020.Bus patronage in London for the early part of January 2020 was ahead of that in the remainder of Britain, but it is still much lower than late 2020January’s decline in bus patronage has undone most of the good work done by operators during the second half of 2020.But the figures for early 2021 thus far are stronger than those seen during the first period of movement restrictions in the early months of that year.Outside London during that period, bus use was at 20% or below for 81 of 82 consecutive days from 24 March to 13 June 2020. No data was recorded on 8 May 2020. Patronage bottomed out at 10% on four of those days.Despite the low figures in the early days of 2021, bus patronage both within and outside London as a percentage of previous figures is ahead of other public transport modes. Neither national rail nor London Underground services have exceeded usage of 20% since 29 December 2020, although differing methodology is used in both those instances. In the former case, some returns are provisional.
European Union documents about relations with India are full of ritual invocations of the values the two sides supposedly share, starting with the fact that India is the world’s largest democracy. But on many questions of the day India has sided with the dictators rather than the world’s democratic caucus, much to the frustration of Western diplomats. In recent months, this frustration has been boiling over as India – currently at the mid-point of its two-year turn on the United Nations Security Council, and hoping one day to join the Council as a permanent member – has sided with Russia in blocking any condemnation of Syria’s regime for its vicious crackdown on protesters. “This has created a poisonous atmosphere within the Security Council,” says Richard Gowan, associate director of the Center for International Co-operation at New York University. The motivations behind such behaviour are complex. Unlike Russia, India has no particular sympathy for or ideological affinity with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and no major economic interests in the country. But India has a deep-seated aversion to what it sees as Western moralising and double standards. It is still reeling from the experience of UN backing for the protection of civilians in Libya, which in its view (shared by Russia and China) was subsequently misused by the Western powers to engineer regime change in Tripoli. India is deeply sceptical of ‘humanitarian interventions’ on principle and has a deep attachment to a fairly absolute notion of state sovereignty and non-interference. Action by coalitions of the willing outside the UN – such as the French and British-led attack on Libya (later transferred to NATO) – is anathema; and as a country facing numerous local insurgencies, India is not a friend of insurgents abroad. Leading arms-buyer India’s location in one of the world’s most volatileregions, meanwhile, has turned it into the world’s leading arms-buyer in the five years to 2011, according to SIPRI, a think-tank based in Stockholm. Russia provided more than 80% of India’s arms imports during that time, and is expected to deliver military supplies worth €6 billion this year alone – more than 60% of Russian arms sales. Recent deals with the United States show that there is nothing ideological about the way India buys in its arms; the US now appears set to join Russia and Israel as India’s top arms suppliers. And on Tuesday (31 January), India became the first foreign buyer of France’s Rafale fighter jet, in India’s single biggest arms deal to date, worth €8.4 billion for 126 planes. For India, unlike the EU, issues of hard security are at the core of its foreign policy. Instinctively, therefore, its positions are closer to the non-Western powers on the Security Council – China and Russia – than to the EU’s liberal worldview. India has been a difficult partner to a European Union seeking to use its ‘soft power’ to affect the behaviour of foreign governments. In general, Indian diplomacy is driven by three overarching goals: to contain its neighbour and arch-enemy, Pakistan, especially in the divided province of Kashmir; to join the UN Security Council as a permanent member; and to secure India’s commercial interests, especially its energy supply, which in recent years has often put it in direct competition with China. In none of these is the EU a crucial or even relevant actor. In some, it is distinctly unhelpful. India worries that the rush by NATO’s allies to leave Afghanistan will give Pakistan even more influence in that country, allowing all manner of Islamist radicals to operate from there. “Have the Europeans done any calculations as to what pulling out of Afghanistan means for India and Iran? I don’t think they have,” says Gowan. “Most Europeans just want out of Afghanistan, and that’s going to leave India with a huge mess.” This has other implications for India. “From an Indian perspective, weakening Iran risks compounding the mess on their north-western border,” Gowan says. As a result, the best that the EU can hope for as it imposes an oil embargo against Iran is that India will not snatch up the surplus production. Even that minimal co-operation, however, appears doubtful. Pakistan Relations between Pakistan and India are less tense than during most of the two countries’ existence as independent (and separate) states; plans for joint energy projects suggest that the two governments recognise the potential of strategic co-operation (see box, above). But Pakistan’s volatility reduces the scope of any rapprochement; improved relations could be undone at once if there were regime change in Islamabad. Much of India’s attachment to countries in the ‘global south’, democracies and dictatorships alike, which are resisting Western preponderance in international institutions has to do with its colonial past – its domination by Britain, which ended 65 years ago. But this attachment has weakened in recent decades; India is no longer so sure that its future really lies in leading the non-aligned movement. It is now simultaneously pursuing, together with Brazil and South Africa, a reform of the Security Council that would allow it to join the big league of world powers. The EU is split on the issue, with Germany – as a direct beneficiary of future UN reform – in favour, and Italy and Spain leading a group against. A recent spat pitted India, which is seeking higher reimbursement rates for its UN peacekeepers – one of the largest contingents – against the Europeans, led by the UK, which have come to view everything that happens at the UN through the prism of the budget. Turkmen gas India and Pakistan are negotiating an agreement to build a 1,700 kilometre pipeline through Afghanistan to import gas from Turkmenistan’s Yolotan-Osman gas field. Asim Hussain, Pakistan’s energy minister, said on 25 January that the two sides were drafting a joint strategy and preparing to discuss transit fees with Afghanistan. The pipeline is projected to bring up to 33 billion cubic metres per year to Pakistan and India. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, was in Turkmenistan in January for talks on the pipeline project with Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, his Turkmen counterpart. Foreign Aid Traditionally a recipient of development aid, India has in recent years increased the aid it gives to other countries. According to annual reports by the foreign ministry, India’s aid and loan programme provided $488 million (€370m) in the fiscal year 2009-10, down from $610m (€465m) the previous year. Most of this aid goes to countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan is a special case, with Indian pledges of $2 billion (€1.5bn) in a bid to counter Pakistan’s influence. Aid to Bangladesh has a similar geopolitical dimension, with India extending a $1bn (€760m) credit line two years ago in the context of counter-terrorism co-operation. However, India also has plans to increase its aid to Africa, and last year set up a foreign aid agency that is supposed to disburse $11.3bn (€8.6bn) in the coming five to seven years, including $5bn (€3.8bn) for Africa. India had pledged a similar amount in 2008 for infrastructure development in Africa, where it competes with China for business opportunities. Fact File