Above the fold: Top Stories of the day
1. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders rally in support of suspended party member Kirti Azad.
2. In what appears to be a mass surrender, 70 Maoists gave up arms in Sukma district in Bastar.
3. Five states tell the Centre to delay the Seventh Pay Commission hikes.

The Big Story: To Russia with love
On a Christmas visit to Moscow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a raft of nuclear and defence deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia is expected to manufacture Kamov-226 helicopters in this country, under the rubric of Modi's Make in India mission,  and build 12 atomic reactors with the involvement of Indian firms. Russia was now India's "most important defence partner", Modi said. Of course, doubts have been raised over the defence deal, with commentators asking whether India would have intellectual property rights and design control over products assembled here.  These questions will be hammered out in time. The more subtle significance of the visit lies elsewhere, in the geopolitical signalling of the Modi-Putin meet.

Though the two countries are old friends in the international arena, ties with Russia had taken a backseat as India single-mindedly pursued greater intimacy with the United States. The new bonhomie between Modi and Putin, both perceived as "strong" leaders in their domestic constituencies, has perhaps grown out of a natural sympathy as well as a calculated effort on India's part to cultivate other great powers and expand its sphere of influence. Modi's visit also addresses that elephant in the room: Pakistan. India had watched with alarm as Russia drew closer to Pakistan and the Taliban in a bid to counter the spread of the Islamic State. The defence deals between India and Russia could now help calm fears in Delhi.

While Modi's trip to Russia renews an old relationship and could yield strategic benefits for India, experts have pointed out that Delhi should be wary of allying itself only with one camp. In many contexts, such as the war in Syria and rivalries with Turkey, Russia has made itself unpopular with other powers. It is vital for India to strike a careful balance in its international ties.

Politicking and policying
1. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke of the need to protect some institutions, shield officers of the Intelligence Bureau and other security agencies from "false" and "politically motivated" charges.
2. An inquiry by the ministry of home affairs has reportedly revealed the actor Orlando Bloom flew into India even though he had been informed of that his application for an e-visa had been rejected.
3. The lynch mob at Dadri doused the victim's house with kerosene and warned the family against informing the police, says Mohammad Akhlaq's daughter.

1. In the Indian Express,  Pratap Bhanu Mehta on how we are happy to hollow out the public sector and regulate he private in harmful ways.
2. In the Hindu, G. Ananthakrishnan on how India must commit to a green growth trajectory post the Paris Agreement on climate change.
3. In the Business Standard, Claude Smadja on how the rise of the far right in Europe and America signal that moderate forces need to reinvent themselves.

Don't Miss...
Zeena Johar and Xue Ying Hwang on how both India and China lag behind on healthcare:
"India and China have adopted insurance as a tool to provide healthcare access and mitigate catastrophic expenditures. India has 20% penetration of insurance while China has managed over 95% penetration. Each nation has adopted an independent route towards achieving universal health coverage. Despite good intentions, both nations are struggling with the complexities of deploying insurance. China struggles with issues of limited health insurance benefits and high out-of-pocket expenditure. India on the other hand struggles with variability across a myriad of insurance schemes and limited engagement of the private sector."