Five Things That Happened Last Week

Five Things That Happened Last Week (And what to make of them)

In Ukraine, the war continues as does the propaganda

For a moment imagine that you have a time machine at your disposal. A contraption that can take you forward or, in this case, behind in time, at your whim and at any time. Let’s use it to go back to August 2, 1990. Where were you on that day? Ah, yes, many of you probably did not exist yet then and an equally large number of you were too young to remember. For the rest of us dinosaurs, if memory still serves us right we will be able to remember that date as the beginning of the Gulf War.

To quickly recap, it was a war waged by a coalition force of 34 nations led by the United States against Iraq to counter Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait. The war, which, towards the end, was codenamed Operation Desert Storm, lasted for around seven months, roughly as long as Russia has been waging its ongoing offensive against Ukraine right now.

The point of bringing up the Gulf War is, however, not about the reasons for that war or the controversy that surrounded it and later led to further turmoil and tension in the Middle East. The point was about how much we got to know about that war in real time and with reasonable levels of accuracy. One of the most distinctive factors about the Gulf War was the live reporting from the war zone. Most significantly, many will recall CNN’s 24×7 live reporting with images and videos from a Baghdad hotel. Millions of people across the world were able to access that reporting. In India, cable TV was taking baby steps then but in larger cities there were many venues where viewings were organised for the cognoscenti to watch what was happening in the Gulf.

Thirty-two years later, media technology has taken quantum jumps. Theoretically, international media groups today have access to technology and devices that can help them produce accurate, real-time reportage with much greater ease than the challenges CNN and other media organisations had to overcome back in 1990. And yet, reportage on the war in Ukraine is disputed and so pockmarked by propaganda from both sides that it is difficult to get a handle on the real facts. Russia, which has been waging the war now for seven months, insists that it now controls increasing parts of Ukraine. One the other hand, Ukraine claims that it has countered the Russian forces by weakening them and winning back lost territory. Nobody knows who to believe.

Recent reports suggested that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has ordered conscription of 300,000 able-bodied male citizens to join the Russian military offensive. Thousands of people protested against the decision and faced a crackdown by the authorities. Meanwhile, Russia has also commenced holding referendums in what it considers Russia-occupied regions of Ukraine– Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The referendums will seek people’s votes on whether these regions should be annexed by Russia. Ukraine and the NATO-aligned West believe that the referendums will be rigged and that the exercise is a sham. Meanwhile, the exodus of Russians to neighbouring countries continues with long lines of vehicles at Russia’s borders with two neighbouring countries, Finland and Georgia.

But as both sides continue to make claims and counterclaims over what is happening in Ukraine, the only fact that is real is that no one knows for sure what is really happening. And that is quite a deplorable comment on the credibility of contemporary media.

Is Moonlighting Here to Stay?

Wipro, the leading Indian IT company, recently decided to terminate the jobs of 300 employees when the company found that they were secretly working for other firms, including Wipro’s rivals, in violation of the terms of their employment contracts. The practice of working for another company while being employed in one company is known as moonlighting, thus named because typically it is work that is done secretly and at night.

Moonlighting is not new in the work arena. It is a common practice followed by many in industries and businesses where the individual employee doesn’t really need capital goods or a team of others to produce output. Take journalism or creative copywriting or even legal or financial advisory services. Even if employed by a firm exclusively, secretly an employee can do similar work, usually anonymously, for someone else and earn additional remuneration, which in many cases is untaxed or unaccounted for.

Wipro, which sacked 300 employees, responded in a predictable way. It found out that 300 of its employees were working illegally for rival firms and decided to terminate their services. Most companies, if they found that their employees were doing something like that, would follow Wipro’s example.

But what “work” really means has been rapidly changing. Especially in the past couple of years in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Remote working or Work from Home (WFH) has become an accepted norm, not only in industries where individuals work without needing machines or factories but also in a limited manner in highly capital-intensive industries. In such a scenario conceivably working hours have become flexible and employees are able to enjoy far more autonomy and independence than they did before when they had to be in their workplaces or offices at fixed hours.

The new scenario is what is often referred to as the “gig economy” where instead of choosing one “job”, individuals can opt for a few different employers and allocate time and effort to work for each of them. Of course, there is the aspect of legality. If an employee insists on exclusivity (as most employers continue to do) then an individual would be violating their contractual obligation if they secretly worked for others.

But is it not time for employers to change the way they formulate contractual agreements with their employees? Or at least offer their employees contracts that are flexible enough for them to decide whether they can work on two, three or more “jobs” at a time? In some industries, the time may have come to go for that systemic shift.

Worrying Trends of Communal Tensions

What happened recently in the British city of Leicester can be compared to what often happens in many Indian cities and towns when an incident sparks communal tension, particularly between Hindus and Muslims. In Leicester, the incident happened to be a cricket match between India and Pakistan in Dubai on August 28. Mobs of Muslims and Hindus clashed for a number of days after India beat Pakistan in the match.

Although the cricket match is cited widely as being the trigger for the violence and the clashes, many believe that social media posts may have aggravated the incidents. Some believe that tensions have been simmering between the two communities among the immigrants from the sub-continent. As for the British authorities, they fear that unless reined in, such incidents could spread to other parts of Britain.

Inter-communal tension has been ratcheting up in India in recent years. After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, anti-Muslim sentiment has been rising. Many believe that incidents such as what happened in Leicester recently could be influenced by the widening chasm between the communities in India.

RSS’s New Overtures

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist organisation to which India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is affiliated. The RSS has a hardline against minorities such as Muslims in India and its stance has clearly been majoritarian.

So when the chief of the organisation, Mohan Bhagwat, 72, reached out to Muslim leaders recently, it was news.

Last week, Bhagwat met Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, the chief of the All India Imam Organisation at a closed-door meeting in a New Delhi mosque. Not much is known about what transpired but RSS sources said that the meeting was a part of Bhagwat’s efforts to meet people from “all walks of life”.

But observers believe that the outreach to Muslims–Bhagwat also visited a Madrassa and met other Muslim intellectuals–could be a part of the move to soften the public perception of the right-wing organisation whose image is not exactly describable as tolerance or secular.

Cinema Halls Open in Kashmir

For the people in violence-torn Kashmir, there was a bit of good news last week as movie theatres opened after being closed for three decades. The theatres were shut when armed rebellion erupted in the state and public places such as cinema halls were targeted with violence.

The Lieutenant-Governor of Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, who inaugurated a new multiplex in the state, said, “The opening is a reflection of a new dawn of hope, dreams, confidence and aspirations of people” The theatre he inaugurated held a special screening of Lal Singh Chaddha, the Bollywood remake of Forrest Gump, starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor.

After the split of Jammu and Kashmir and the latter being brought under more direct governance of New Delhi, there have been sporadic protests by local leaders and a demand for democratised elections in the state, which are scheduled to be held in the near future.

Many believe that the opening of cinema theatres could be one more step towards normalcy in Kashmir.

Animal Lovers Call For Rally In Delhi Against Killing of Stray Dogs

Remember Bruno? The pet dog whose legs were tied and was beaten to death with iron rods and sticks by humans on a beachside in Kerala.

There are thousands of dogs like Bruno. Without a name. Without a home. They brave the heat and cold, lack of food and water but worst of all, wanton human cruelty. Their only fault- they are born on the street. Thousands of dogs like Bruno, have been subjected to severe atrocities in the recent past all over India and more specifically in the State of Kerala- the state with the highest literacy rate. What are we teaching?

We therefore asks all animal lovers to unite and demand justice for helpless strays. This is a call for responsible citizens to participate in a rally on September 24 at 2 pm near Jantar Mantar and demand a dignified life for stray animals.

Despite the matter being sub-judicebefore the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, and despite issuance of protective orders in favour of the street dogs to protect them from any harm and danger as also relocation from their respective territories, recently, thousands of innocent street dogs have been mercilessly killed, harmed and relocated from their territory in the following ghastly manner:

Kerala: Over 1000 street dogs (including pet dogs) have been poisoned, beaten to death with iron rods and sticks, hung by the neck, burned and buried alive.

Bellary, Karnataka: Over 100 street dogs whose mouths and legs were tied with metal wires were thrown into the forest.

Nipani, Belgaum, Karnataka: Over 60 street dogs beaten up, bound and thrown outside the municipal limits.

Bijapur, Karnataka: Over 25 dogs and pups were beaten and taken away by the Patil Medical College.

Dogs have been domesticated and been the companions of humans since centuries. Dogs are an integral part of the Army and Police and have proven to be the best therapy animals for the blind, autistic children and people in need. With the onset of several natural calamities including widespread flash floods, incessant rainfall, spread of epidemics and dangerous diseases, is it not time we learn and understand to CO-EXIST and respect nature and her creations.

Animal Cruelty is scientifically known to be perpetrated by humans who often harm children, abuse women and engage in heinous crimes. It is light of the recent hostility and rise of cruelty against street dogs, we the Citizens of India seek to call attention to the need for compassion for all living beings and to discharge our constitutional duty under Article 51 (g) & (h) of the Constitution of India. Our Citizens Rally stands up for dogs, man’s best friend who down the ages have given us their unconditional love, loyalty and service. It is appealed to all citizens of India, to join this Citizens Rally and speak up for those who cannot speak.

We call for immediate implementation of the following:

Nationwide implementation of Animal Birth Control Rules, 2001 to sterilize and immunize street dogs, advertised and promoted to encourage public participation.

Appropriate sensitivity training for municipal and panchayat staff as well as for police and law enforcement agencies.

Inclusion of animal welfare as a subject in schools.

Promotion of PM Modi’s initiative to adopt Indian Dogs, preventing illegal breeding and sale of dogs.

The immediate adoption of the amended Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960 with increased punishment for crimes against animals.

Five Things that happened last week

Five Things That Happened Last Week (And what to make of them)

Making sense of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Views on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Eurasian political, economic and security organisation, which just held its recent summit in Uzbekistan, are sharply polarised. The West views the bloc as an effort to forge a new multinational cooperation that would compete against the West and act as a foil against US-led multinational mechanisms. On the other hand, China, which initiated the creation of SCO’s predecessor, The Shanghai Five Group in 1996, views it more as a multilateral economic zone.

The Shanghai Five comprised, besides China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Today, in its evolved form, the SCO has nine members. India and Pakistan were inducted a few years ago; and most recently, Iran became a permanent member. In addition, there are three observer countries (Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia); and nine dialogue partners (prominent among them are Turkey and Saudi Arabia).

In this context, the western critique has been that beyond China’s proclamation that the SCO is mainly an economic zone, the presence of Russia, Turkey and some other nations really means it is more of a security-focussed response to the West. Recently, the Jerusalem Post, which is considered to have a political right stance in Israel, observed in an article that “with the exception of India, the countries that attend the SCO are generally authoritarian regimes,” a quite unambiguous description of what many western observers feel.

India’s membership of SCO and its role in the organisation has had mixed reactions. But first, a bit about the significance of this year’s summit. This year’s meeting in the historic city of Samarkand (in Uzbekistan) is the first in-person summit since the pandemic broke out more than two years ago. Second, it was attended by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin at a time when his armed forces have invaded and been at war in Ukraine for more than half a year. And, third, it witnessed the induction of Iran as a permanent member of the organisation. The induction of Iran is viewed by western analysts as further bolstering what they perceive as Russia and China’s motive of working towards destabilising the role that the US plays in the world.

Taking into account that background, it was interesting to observe India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interactions at the SCO. While India closely cooperates with Russia on trade and defence requirements, and is keen on expanding its oil purchases from Russia, Modi, for the first time, criticised Putin about the war in Ukraine. “I know that today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” he told Putin in a televised interaction. Putin, in response, assured Modi that his country was doing what it could to end the conflict. An “assurance” many would like to take with large amounts of salt.

The fact is that Russia, alienated as it is from the western world, has no option but to look to the east for support. For Putin, therefore, the SCO’s importance couldn’t be more necessary than it is now. But what of India? How significant is the SCO for the country’s future?

The significance of SCO for India has to be viewed in the context of the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). While the reasons why SAARC failed are many, India led a boycott of SAARC after the terrorist attack in Uri in Kashmir in 2016 alleging that Pakistan aided the attack and this led to the eventual collapse of SAARC. In the wake of that, SCO is the only platform for India to interact with a growing range of regional players, including powerful ones such as China and Russia, as well as smaller ones.

It is easy to criticise India’s international policy for its non-committal nature: it hasn’t officially aligned with the West to criticise Russia; it continues efforts to enhance relations with the US as it does with China; and it is often seen as a fence-sitter when other nations take sides on major international developments. But this stance, which one Indian newspaper recently termed as “all alignment” may, at least for now, provide the nation the flexibility and a range of options related to trade, defence and security, which few other nations enjoy.

How to be a billionaire, Patagonia style

Last week, Yvon Chouinard gave away his company. Chouinard, if you haven’t heard of him, is the 83-year-old eccentric founder of the outdoor clothing and accessories maker, Patagonia. And Patagonia, valued at $3 billion, is a company that he and his family (his wife and two adult children) have run successfully and profitably since 1973. In 2022, estimated revenues are $1.5 billion.

Patagonia has also always been an active protagonist in the war against climate change. Chouinard’s latest move is to transfer the ownership of the company to a specially designed trust and non-profit organisation that will use all of its annual profits (some $100 million a year) in the fight against climate change. While the details of the plan are available to read online in various published forms, the significant thing is the nature of the giveaway.

The clear and completely altruistic nature of Chouinard and his family’s decision is quite unprecedented. Chouinard has always been a reluctant capitalist. He has been a rock climber and has always had a spin on capitalism that can put every other billionaire in the world to shame. Take the recent decision to give away all of the family’s shares. While most rich tycoons dabble in philanthropy partly motivated by the tax breaks that they get out of it, the Chouinards will actually pay millions of dollars in tax because they are donating. And they are fine with that.

But then Chouinard is not your common garden variety tycoon. He wears worn clothes, drives an old Subaru, has modest homes, and does not own a cell-phone or a computer. Before he started Patagonia in the early 1970s, he lived in his car and often subsisted on tins of discount cat food. Even to this day his company discourages customers from replacing their Patagonia brand clothing and gear by buying new ones, instead offering to repair them.

They don’t make billionaires like that any more.

But they do make them like this…

In August, Indian newspapers reported that Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of the ₹792,756-crore Reliance group, had bought a luxury home in Dubai for ₹640 crore. The tycoon, among India’s richest, had ostensibly bought the villa for his youngest son, Anant, 27.

Several years ago, when Ambani built his Mumbai residence named Antilia, it sparked quite a bit of controversy even in India’s characteristically benign mainstream media. Antilia, named after a mythical island, is a skyscraper with 27 stories, and is 173 metres (568 ft) tall, with a space of over 37,000 square metres (400,000 sqft). It has three helipads, a 168-car garage, a ballroom, nine high speed elevators, a 50-seat theatre, terrace gardens, swimming pool, spa, health centre, a temple, and a snow-room that spits out snowflakes from the walls!

In 2014, Antilia was believed to be the most expensive private residence for which the Ambanis are estimated to have paid more than $2 billion (nearly ₹800 crore). It takes ostentation to a stratospheric level.

It is, of course, also true that the Ambanis, like many rich Indian business tycoons, are also philanthropists. At least they dabble in that as well. There are some figures that you can peruse to see how generous Indian billionaires are. In 2021, The Economic Times published a report that listed India’s biggest philanthropists among industrialists.

The chairman of Wipro topped that list. He donated ₹9,713 crore. HCL’s founder Shiv Nadar came second on that list by donating ₹1,263 crore. Oh, and Mukesh Ambani was third–he donated ₹577 crore.

No comment. You be the judge. But here’s a suggestion, you could read this excellent story on Chouinard (remember, the guy who gave away his company?), here.

Crisis is now routine in the Congress

Goa is not a big state. It is tiny, really. But in India political developments even in the smallest regions can have much bigger repercussions. After last February’s elections for the 40-seat assembly in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA had 20 seats; the Congress-led UPA had 12; and the rest were with smaller parties. The NDA formed the government although it didn’t have a simple majority on its own.

Things have just changed. Eight of the 11 MLAs from the Congress party have jumped ship and joined the BJP. So, immediately the NDA now has 28 seats (in an assembly with 40 MLAs that is a strong majority) and the Congress is reduced to a wisp. 

For the party, which considers itself the main opposition party at the national level, such debacles have now become routine. Many important leaders have left the party in recent months and years, disappointed and unhappy with the party’s leadership, which continues to be in the hands of the Gandhi family, which is fast losing its ability to hold the Congress together. The Goa exodus will likely be a forerunner of many other exits in other parts of the country.

King Charles III and his eye-popping wealth

Quick question: Who owns the Oval, the storied cricket ground in London? If you said King Charles III, you are right. Yes, even before he became King of England and was the Prince of Wales, Charles developed his private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall, by investing and expanding what he inherited to grow his wealth to dizzying proportions.

The Duchy today owns the Oval, huge farmlands, beach resorts, several office spaces in London, and retail supermarkets. The total acreage of real estate that the Duchy (read King Charles) owns is estimated to be 130,000 acres, which brings in millions of pounds in rental income each year. The value of the Duchy’s holdings is estimated to be £1.2 billion. That is nothing compared with the British royal family’s total fortune, which is estimated to be £24 billion. And this does not take into account their personal fortunes that are not made public.

But back to King Charles. Now, he will inherit his mother’s assets and other investments, estimated at £822 million and also inherit his share of her fortune that is not known to the public. Oh, and another little fact: unlike the general public the royal family does not have to pay inheritance tax. So neither King Charles or his eldest offspring, William (who is the new Prince of Wales), will pay taxes on the wealth they inherit. God save the ordinary Briton!

Karachi: The Crime Capital of Pakistan, Hotbed of Lawlessness

Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and the premier industrial and financial centre is a hotbed of lawlessness.

For over three decades, Karachi has been an epicentre of target killings for reasons ranging from ethno-political to sectarian disputes and from land mafia rivalries to personal vendetta and political outrage, reported Asian Lite International.

During the last couple of years, Karachi has seen frequent outbreaks of violence which have claimed hundreds of lives of innocent people. Over 56,500 cases of street crime have been reported in Karachi, the financial hub of Pakistan, during the current year.

Over 19,000 mobile phones were snatched from citizens, while 104 cars were forcefully taken and 1,383 bikes were stolen. Around 35,000 citizens were deprived of their motorbikes during various incidents in the city, reported Asian Lite International.

Moreover, due to such lawlessness, at least 56 people have lost their lives while resisting street criminals and 269 were injured as a result. Around 303 cases of house robberies have been reported in Karachi.

Interestingly, according to Sindh Police’s Crime Statistics of 2022, there have been 54 cases of murder; 98 cases of rioting; 59 cases of assault on police; 221 cases of kidnapping/abduction; 173 cases of burglary in Karachi.

The recent history of violence in Karachi underlines one point clearly: the city is quickly falling victim to the temptations of ‘power and influence’ on the part of political players, reported Asian Lite International.

Besides, the ethnic factor is deeply entrenched in the ongoing criminal and political violence in the city. Pashtuns, who are estimated to constitute 20-25 per cent of Karachi’s population have been politically marginalized in the city, but now they are asserting themselves and accordingly rearrangements in the political spectrum are causing violent episodes.

Furthermore, the flocking of suspected terrorists from tribal areas due to the ongoing military operations in the tribal regions further complicates the situation, reported Asian Lite International.

The political rioting and killings are to be blamed on violence, largely powered by antagonism between the local chapters of three political parties – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the mostly Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).

Organised crime and gang wars have grown in Karachi over the past 35 years and now assume a major economic and political role in the city. Resultantly, narco crime is also a commonplace activity in the city.

The impact of the Afghan drug trade was multi-faceted. As Karachi became a transit point in the international drug trade, local crime groups became connected to the international drug trade.

Sectarian violence is also ruining the city from within, divided into Shia-Sunni zones. The varied mix of the population has caused not only rampant violence but also fierce sectarian rioting and disruptions. Shia-dominated areas of Rizvia Society, Malir, Numaish, Ancholi and Jafar-e-Tayyar Society are the areas from where law enforcers expect a vehement response if and when a Shia is killed anywhere in the city. Sunni sectarian groups have strongholds in areas such as Patel Para, Banaras, Nagan Chowrangi, Tawheed Chowk and Quaidabad, reported Asian Lite International. (ANI)

Renaming of Rajpath, Brithsh Monarchy, Rahul Gandhi's T-Shirt, Road Safety

Five Things That Happened Last Week (And what to make of them)

What’s in a name? Apparently, a lot

Rajpath, now renamed Kartavya Path, is one of New Delhi’s best-known landmarks. The 3.2-kilometre ceremonial boulevard runs from Rashtrapati Bhavan on Raisina Hill through Vijay Chowk and India Gate, and the National War Memorial to Delhi’s National Stadium. The broad, tree-lined avenue is the venue of the Republic Day parade, a ceremony held on January 26 every year on the anniversary of the day India became a republic in 1950. It is also symbolic of India’s government–at one area, it is flanked by the North and South Blocks of the central secretariat, buildings that house the offices of the highest positions in government, including the Prime Minister’s office.

After the British Imperial Government decided to move the capital of British Imperial India from Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1911, Rajpath was designed as part of the administrative complex by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who conceived Rajpath (then known as Kingsway) as an axis around which the imperial city was built.

This year, on the occasion of Independence Day, the government announced that Rajpath was to be renamed Kartavya Path (roughly translated, it means “the road of duty”).The Prime Minister also unveiled a statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose at India Gate on the same day.

The renaming of the iconic road and the installation of the statue are part of Modi’s endeavour to remove any trace of a colonial mind-set from the Indian ethos. “Raj”, it is argued, harks back to the colonial raj of British rule that India was under for centuries before Independence.

Name changes of public places are not uncommon. They happen everywhere. In India, cities such as Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Bengaluru (Bangalore), Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) and several others have undergone name changes–often to reflect linguistic usage and sometimes to remove Anglicization. Street name changes aren’t uncommon either. Kolkata’s Dalhousie Square, named after a British Governor General of India, and an area that houses the state’s seat of power, was renamed Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh after Independence to commemorate three young Indian independence activists. Ironically, though, most people call it “BBD Bagh”, which hardly pays any tribute to the three.

The interesting thing about Rajpath is that it is crossed by Janpath, a street whose name means the road of the people or the public. So the intersection of Rajpath (the road of rule or power) and Janpath could be interpreted as an interesting symbolism. But that is now history. The confluence of Kartavya Path and Janpath doesn’t really evoke a sense that is similar.

Questions in the wake of a monarch’s passing

Queen Elizabeth II reigned in Britain for nearly 70 years. After her death last week and the ascension of her son Charles, 73, as the new King of Britain, the question of the relevance of the monarchy has come back into public discourse. Is having a monarchy of the kind that Britain has anything more than mere symbolism? After all, the British monarch does reign but does not rule.

The question is sharply polarising –particularly so in Britain. The UK’s republican movement that wants to abolish the monarchy has been rising and many among the younger generation see no relevance in having a monarchy. The Queen, whose reign witnessed historic events, had 15 prime ministers serving during her reign. Significantly too, her reign saw tumultuous events take place in the House of Windsor, the reigning royal house in Britain. But although scandals and unseemly incidents marked her tenure, she herself was beloved by the majority of the citizens.

That could change now. The respect and admiration that many had for monarchy when the Queen was alive could now fade. Last winter, an opinion poll run by the market research group, Ipsos, found that only 60% of Britons favoured monarchy, down from 76% five years prior to that. In the 30 years that the poll has been conducted, this was the lowest percentage in favour of continuing with the monarchy.

Another poll, conducted in June by YouGov, showed that while more than 60% of Britons were pro-monarchy, the majority of the support came from those who were 65+. Only 33% of those aged 18-24 favoured monarchy. This could be interpreted as a possible increase in the trend to not prefer a monarchy in Britain.

Another aspect is that with the ascension of King Charles, the reigning monarch in Britain might not enjoy the love and respect that his mother had found from citizens. Charles has been a controversial figure ever since his marriage with the late Lady Diana broke up and his affair with his current wife, Camilla. His younger son, Harry, and his wife also stepped back from the duties of the royal family, and have alleged discrimination against them by senior members of the family. This has added to the controversy that surrounds the British monarchy.

The main movement against the monarchy is vanguarded by the Republic campaign, a lobby that thinks monarchy has no relevance in modern society because it costs the public exchequer millions of pounds annually, which is taxpayers’ money. Others feel the monarchy is a symbol of imperialism and colonialism and should be abolished. Many feel that in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death, we cannot rule out a major upheaval in Britain’s system of monarchy.

Petty politics over a T-shirt

When Rahul Gandhi sported a Burberry T-shirt while on a march entitled Bharat Jodo Yatra, aimed at unifying the nation, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to point out in a social media blitz that the T-shirt in question cost ₹41,000 and that it did not befit a political leader, who purportedly represented the masses.

Soon, however, the controversy spilled over into a “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” sort of thing. The Congress reminded the BJP about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sartorial extravagances. A few years back he was seen wearing a gold embroidered suit (the embroidery was of his name) that was finally auctioned at an estimated price of around ₹4 crore. Modi is a dapper dresser and is known to pay attention to what he wears and his accessories. The thing, however, is that this sort of bickering and targeting between political rivals is juvenile. Both parties need to learn to grow up.

A focus on road safety and traffic rules

When industrialist Cyrus Mistry, 54, died in a road accident–his car hit a road divider on a highway–it brought the focus back on safety on Indian roads. Minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, said that the government would be issuing new rules that made it compulsory for passengers in the rear seats of vehicles to wear safety belts. Currently, only the driver and his co-front seat passenger are mandatorily supposed to wear them.

It is a welcome decision to make everyone in a car wear a belt. However, is it easily implementable? The rule on seat belts, even as it stands now, is violated with impunity. In many older cars, the seat belts are so badly designed that they are of no more than ornamental use. And while the traffic police can enforce the rule in the cities, in smaller towns and rural areas (including the highways), there is very little checking to ensure that people are obeying rules.

In 2021, more than 4,03,000 road accident cases were reported in India, marking a 16.8% increase from the previous year. And road accidents killed more than 1,55,000 people on India’s roads. The majority of these fatalities might not be of people dying or getting injured inside cars but the numbers are alarmingly high. What is needed is a combination of actions. First, strict monitoring of how people travel in and drive cars with hefty fines and other punishment; but also, aggressive campaigns that show how risky it can be while people are on the road. Violating traffic rules is commonplace in India. But that cannot go on forever.

(Mis)tweeted identity!

Last week, a woman on Twitter named Liz Trussell had her 15 minutes of fame when her account @liztruss was mistaken for the new British prime minister’s account. Ms. Trussell, apparently got the handle before the real Liz Truss (who tweets from @trussliz).

Many, including some foreign dignitaries, mistook Trussell’s account and sent her congratulatory messages when Liz Truss became the prime minister. Of course, most of them corrected their tweets after realising their mistake. But for a while Ms. Trussell responded to messages with tongue-in-cheek humour and a bit of hilarity. Good fun!

Gandhis, INS Vikrant and Pakistan floods

Five Things That Happened Last Week (And what to make of them)

Step 1 for the Congress today is for the Gandhis to step aside

In 1969, when the Indian National Congress party split after the late Indira Gandhi was expelled from the party and she formed her own party, then known as Congress (R), the “R” standing for Requisitionists, her new party’s electoral symbol was a cow with a suckling calf. With that symbol, Ms. Gandhi won a landslide victory in 1971. Her long stints as Prime Minister of India (1966-77; and then again from 1980-84) were marked by historic events of both, of the favourable and adverse types. All that is part of history.

As is that symbol of her party, a suckling calf and a cow. The story about why that symbol was dropped and, instead, the open palm (which is still the Congress party’s electoral symbol) was adopted is probably apocryphal but like many such tales it is one that is amusing. The story goes that in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency, the calf and cow symbol became the butt of jokes with Ms. Gandhi being compared to the cow and her son Sanjay, whose notoriety during the Emergency period is well known, to the calf.

Nearly half a century later, the Indian National Congress party’s president is Indira’s daughter-in-law and the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. And her son, Rahul, is the next most important leader in the party. And going by the current turmoil in the party and the perception that the mother and son duo are a sort of autocratic power centre family in the Congress, the calf and cow symbol could be an apt symbol for it.

The most recent notable departure of a leader from the Congress has been that of the former Union minister and former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad. Azad has unambiguously highlighted the autocracy in the party, particularly pointing to Rahul Gandhi and his manner of leadership. He has not been the only one to do so. Several leaders, including relatively younger ones (in the Congress that can mean anyone under 60; Rahul himself is 52 and still referred to as being a young leader), have left the party in recent years and months and while few have been as articulate about their disenchantment with the Gandhi family’s leadership style as Azad, the reasons for their departure are probably not dissimilar.

Much has been written about Rahul Gandhi’s inability to lead his party; organise and revamp it; or win elections. So much so that except for die-hard Gandhi family loyalists–a breed that is rapidly going extinct–to everyone it is quite evident that Rahul is not up for the job of leading, reviving, or running his party with any outcome of meaningful consequence. It may be a bit unfair to slam the “young” leader, though. After all, these sort of things happen. The son of Bollywood’s greatest superstar actor followed his father into acting and was a notable failure; another son of one of India’s best-known opening batsmen in cricket followed his father into playing cricket but flopped and no one really knows or cares about what he is doing.

Such examples abound in almost every field. So it is in politics. Rahul is the scion of an illustrious Indian political family–his father, grandmother, and great grandfather were all prime ministers of India. His great great grandfather was the president of the Congress party in pre-Independence India. But since he himself embarked on a career in Indian politics 18 years ago, his achievements have been unremarkable.

Some Congress leaders absurdly talk about how Gandhi, a middle-aged man, is still evolving and needs more time. The fact is that under him and his mother Sonia, who will turn 76 this year, the Congress has all but collapsed. The party has fared abysmally poorly in parliamentary elections; and has continued to lose its base and power in regions, including states that were once its bastion.

An addict, whether he is addicted to alcohol, drugs or even sex, can only rehabilitate himself if he acknowledges his problem. An addict in denial cannot be cured no matter how expensive or exclusive the rehab facility is to which you send him. Congress’s main problem is its leadership (read: the Gandhis). And the only way to revive it (or prevent its absolute and total collapse) is if the party recognises that and excises the Gandhis from it. Is that likely to happen? Because the party is all about the Gandhis, it can happen if, like the archetypal confessional alcoholic, the Gandhis decide that they are the problem and not anyone else. Step one for the Congress today is for the Gandhis to step aside.

Did India miss the chance to be a good neighbour?

The Biblical phrase “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” is from the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament about the ethic of reciprocity known as the Golden Rule or the Great Commandment. And while reference to a Biblical phrase can be a bit out of place in the atmosphere that prevails in public discourse–both in the social media as well as in mainstream discussions–it is is worth heeding that phrase, “love thy neighbour”, particularly in the aftermath of one of the most tragic and devastating floods to have hit India’s neighbour, Pakistan.

It is a climate disaster of an unprecedented kind. “A monsoon on steroids” is how the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres described the natural calamity that has affected millions of Pakistanis and taken the lives of thousands.

India is Pakistan’s big neighbour. The two countries share a 3,323-kilometre border. India has a population of 1.4 billion compared to Pakistan’s 220 million (for perspective, Uttar Pradesh has a population of 234 million). India’s GDP is expected to reach US$3000 billion this year, while Pakistan’s is expected to be only US$292 billion.

But India and Pakistan are also in conflict. The two have been fighting several wars since Independence and the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The main dispute is over Kashmir where India and Pakistan are conflicted over who has sovereignty over how much of the area. India also alleges that Pakistan offers safe passage to separatists and terrorists who operate in Kashmir.

When the floods wreaked havoc across the border, it took some time before India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out with a statement about it. In a tweet last week, Modi said: “Saddened to see the devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, the injured and all those affected by this natural calamity and hope for an early restoration of normalcy,” But did Modi or the Indian government offer any help to Pakistan? No. 

As a neighbour and more resourceful nation, the Indian government could have offered help in the form of medical assistance, food, help in evacuation of the thousands stranded and homeless because of the floods and so much more. Till now, there has been none of that.

It has been a missed opportunity for India. The disputes with Pakistan are long-standing and will probably continue for a long time to come. However, humanitarian assistance that is aimed at benefiting the common people who have been hit by a natural calamity such as the floods in Pakistan could have shown that India can rise above the disputes and conflicts with its neighbour and set an example of magnanimity in international relations.

An aircraft carrier is commissioned; politics ensues

Political bickering accompanies even notable achievements in India’s development. Recently, when the INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenously developed aircraft carrier, was commissioned by Prime Minister Modi to the Indian Navy, and marks the government’s efforts to attain self-reliant development for India, an effort popularised by the term Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Development of the aircraft carrier makes India one of the few countries in the world to attain the capability to build a warship of this proportion. As many as 26 MiG-29K fighter jets, 4 Kamov Ka-31 helicopters, 2 HAL Dhruv NUH utility helicopters and 4 MH-60R multi-role helicopters can operate from INS Vikrant. It is 262 metres long, with a top speed of 28 knots, and endurance of 7,500 nautical miles. INS Vikrant has 2,300 compartments and can accommodate a crew of 1700 seamen. 

The commissioning of the carrier was soured by comments from the opposition Congress party leaders who said the Prime Minister does not acknowledge continuity in development, a reference to the fact that the work on the aircraft carrier had begun at Cochin Shipyards in 2009, way before the present government had come to power. The protests seem to suggest that the Congress wanted the Prime Minister to give its earlier regime some credit for development of the warship. Petty politics. 

Whither respect for women in India?

Recently, a video surfaced showing the husband of a woman member of the legislative assembly (MLA) slapping her in public. The video shows Baljinder Kaur, MLA from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) being slapped by her husband, also an AAP leader in the state.

The video has gone viral and so have the reactions. Women activist organisations have said they will initiate suo motu action against Sukhraj Singh, the husband.

The bigger issue, however, is that in India, gender equality remains a pie-dream and women’s rights are in peril–no matter the status and social standing of individuals. It is a sad commentary on Indian society.

Elon Musk wants you to have more children

The billionaire investor and businessman Elon Musk whose statements and social media posts are often designed to shock and create sensation has said that people should have more children. “It’s important that people have enough babies to support civilization,” Musk, who himself has 10 children, has said. “If we don’t have enough kids, then we will die with a whimper in adult diapers. And that will be depressing.”

As the world’s population is set to touch 8 billion (it is estimated at 7.97 billion now) and other experts warn of a dramatic catastrophe, Musk’s latest exhortation comes across as being eccentrically contrarian. But then controversy and contrarianism are nothing new for Musk who is the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX; CEO, and Product Architect of Tesla, Inc. and has an estimated net worth of around US$266 billion, which makes him the richest man in the world.

Internet Breaks As UK Kids Named After Indian Dish ‘Pakora’, ‘Tikka’

How often have you heard that a person has named their child after a famous person or a place? We’re sure, quite many times!

But, how often have you heard that parents have named their kid after a dish or food item they liked? It is quite amusing, right? Well, the cherry on the cake is that the name of a baby in the UK has been kept after an Indian dish!

The Captain’s Table is a famous restaurant in Newtownabbey in Ireland. Recently, the restaurant took to social media to share rather heart-warming news on social media. They announced on Facebook that a couple who frequents their restaurant a lot has now named their newborn after a dish at their restaurant.

In case you’re wondering what dish it is, it’s nothing but ‘Pakora’. The same ‘Pakora’ we enjoy with tea during monsoons!

The restaurant shared the photo of the newborn and wrote, “Now this is a first…welcome to the world Pakora! We can’t wait to meet you! xx”

The restaurant also shared a photo of a bill receipt that had the names of some of the dishes that have ‘pakora’ in them! Check it out:

Many netizens took to the post’s comment section and extended warm congratulations while some even got involved in fun banter online and started writing funny comments. A user wrote, “This is my two teens – Chicken and tikka”.

Another user wrote, “My favourite things to eat during my two pregnancies were Banana Popsicles and Watermelon. Thank God I used the sense I was born with and didn’t name my kids after them”.

Another one shared a photo of his child and wrote, “This is my kid, his name is chicken ball”. (ANI)

Very Few Want To Get Married In World’s Most Populous Country

Marriages in China have dropped to record levels and are deepening the population crisis facing the second-largest economy in the world.

Marriage registrations were recorded at 6.1 per cent to 7.6 million in China last year amid warnings that the economic consequences of an ageing population are beginning to emerge.

China registered 7.643 million new marriages in 2021, the first year since 2003 that the number has fallen below 8 million, Caixin Global reported citing the latest official data.

“The figure, an update to the 7.636 million released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in March, was made public as Beijing struggles to boost a falling birthrate to avert a looming demographic crisis. Officials and experts have warned that fewer marriages will lead to fewer births and further threaten economic growth,” the report added.

Joanna Davies, head of China economics at Fathom Consulting, said China’s “demographic dividend is over”, warning population shifts “will soon act as a constraint on, rather than a driver of, its growth”, Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported.

She said China’s deteriorating demographics can be explained by the one-child policy, some of the highest childcare costs in the world and net outward migration.

“There are challenges with pensions and funding care for the older population as the number of workers shrinks. And China’s demographic decline will make a difference to its global standing. It’s a huge market that companies and governments want to court,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics.

Williams was quoted as saying by SMH that the demographic shift will also have an impact on its property market which generates a fifth of GDP and is in crisis after problems emerged at its indebted developers.

He warned the property market is facing “substantial falls in demand over the next decade in part because there are fewer young people looking to buy houses”, a major reason why many of the developers “are in trouble”.

According to Davies, the abundance of Chinese labour has been key to its emergence as a global manufacturing powerhouse. “Birth rates are declining in most major economies, but the fall is particularly striking in China. How much of this is due to the one-child policy is unclear, as the trend appears to have begun sometime before the policy was introduced.” (ANI)

Five Things That Happened Last Week (And what to make of them)

Release of 11 gang-rapists is as dastardly as their crime

Fifteen years after they were convicted for the brutal and horrific rape of a pregnant woman during the Gujarat riots of 2002, 11 men who were sentenced to life imprisonment, walked out of a prison in Godhra recently. Their release, ordered by the state government under an old remission policy dating back to1992, set off ripples of shock across India. But when the men, accused and found guilty of the heinous crime, walked out, they were welcomed by a bunch of people with garlands and sweets.

The incident sharpens the focus on two issues. First, it is how the authorities (read government) can brazenly use old laws and archaic provisions to serve purposes that are either politically motivated or communally discriminated against. And second, how the schism of divisiveness in Indian society has been constantly widening. 

There has been widespread outrage against the release of the 11 men who were charged and accused of raping a young pregnant Muslim woman during the communal riots that rocked Gujarat in 2002, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of that state and his close aide and current Union home minister Amit Shah was the his home minister in the state. 

The irony of the entire affair– the gang rape, the conviction of the accused and the more recent release of them from prison– is the fact that the woman who was the target of the 11 men who raped her has been constantly named in media reports and official accounts of the case. Everyone, including so-called liberal activists, have been repeating her name everywhere. Does anyone know the names of any of her accused and convicted rapists?

The other aspect of the release of the criminals is the provision of remission. Remission is an act of discretion that an executive authority such as a government of a state or the Centre can exercise. The problem is in the discretionary nature of that power. Discretion is something that has to be used with care. In this case, the state government that ordered the release of the men convicted of a dastardly crime has been used in wantonly.

Congress party should ditch the Gandhis

The only time the Congress party makes news is when negative things happen to it. When it loses elections in state after state it is news. When it fails to muster the requisite number of seats in the Lok Sabha to give it the status of being principal opposition party, it is news. When its dynastic leaders–the Gandhi family–is embroiled in financial scandal (as they have been recently) it is news.

Ao when Ghulam Nabi Azad, 73, and a veteran leader of the party, recently resigned from every post that he had held and the primary membership of the party, it was news that was, unsurprisingly, negative.

In his lengthy resignation letter, Azad, who has held several portfolios in the Union cabinet and has been chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, has unambiguously charged Rahul Gandhi with “childish behaviour” and immaturity and of letting a “coterie of inexperienced sycophants” run the party.

Those charges are sharp but precise. But they are also too late. The Congress party has been in a state of collapse for a while. Run as a fief by the mother and son duo of Sonia and Rahul, the party and its saga have become a tragic comedy that has long back ceased to be even remotely funny.

While Azad’s departure marks the exit of a veteran leader, the Congress has been losing talented people in droves. The Gandhis clearly have little clue about how to fix the problem in their party. But then that is because they themselves are the problem.

Narendra Modi is a topper… again

Surveys and rankings are always exercises that are disputed. But they have always been popular as “click bait” news that people get drawn to. So, when Morning Consult, a global decision intelligence company, recently released a survey that put India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the top with a 75% approval rating, it caught all the eyeballs.

According to Morning Consult’s survey, Modi’s approval was higher than that of the US president Joe Biden who came fifth with a 41% approval rating and other leaders such as Canadian President Justin Trudeau at 39% and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at 38%. 

While Modi’s detractors will fume and fret over a survey such as this and, as is known, surveys depend on the size and quality of the samples, the fact remains that on the Indian firmament, Modi is head and shoulders above any other political leader of his time.

Adani emerges on the media scene

Globally as well as in India, mainstream media groups have been struggling for a while. Many of them are closely held and not obliged to publicly reveal their financial status. The shift to online consumption of news and other content, which was followed by the decline of print and broadcasting advertising revenues has been the main reason for their plight.

In India, mainstream media is more dependent on advertising revenues than in other markets because subscription revenues have been historically low. This has meant that newsrooms across the country have witnessed downsizing and closures. It has also meant sellouts. And frequently, the buyers have been large business houses with big media ambitions often fuelled by a desire to burnish their image or wield influence on the political system and authorities.

Last week, Gautam Adani, India’s fastest rising billionaire (whose links with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi are well known) took a step towards buying up NDTV, one of the country’s most reputed media houses best known for its television news channel with independent views. Many perceive NDTV as one of the few mainstream media groups that are free of government influence and unafraid to critique the authorities. In that context, Adani’s takeover of the company seems ironic. Does it mean another one will soon bite the dust?

Four Indian women and a Mexican enter a parking lot

In a small Texas town named Piano (population 285,000) a drama unfolded in a parking lot outside a restaurant. Four Indian women, ostensibly naturalised US citizens, who were leaving the restaurant were accosted by a slightly-built woman who hurled racial slurs at them, telling them that they should go back to India. The incident became news because one of the Indian women recorded it on her phone and the clip became viral.

The accuser happened to be a Mexican-American who claimed on camera that she was born in the US and not naturalised like the Indian women, implying that she was superior to them. 

Racism is rampant across the world and Indians often face the brunt of it. The problem often is one of assimilation and integration into cultures that are different. Economic strife, particularly in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, can sharpen the divisive animosity against immigrants. The video from Piano is perhaps just a small symptom of a more prevalent trend.

Five Things That Happened Last Week (and what to make of them)

At 75, India is still a young nation

The high point of the past week in India was the celebration on 15 August of the 75th anniversary of the nation’s Independence. While the highlight of the day was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation from Delhi’s historic Red Fort, equally notable was the success of the nationwide campaign, Har Ghar Tiranga, which urged all Indians to hoist the national flag as a symbol of patriotism. 

In his speech, Prime Minister Modi, touched upon various aspects of the nation’s journey since it struggled to fight off the shackles of colonialism. He spoke about the invaluable contributions of freedom fighters and revolutionaries. He urged Indians to shake off the hangover of colonialism by not seeking approval from foreign powers but by judging things in the light of India’s own heritage and traditions. He spoke about empowering women, emphasised the need for achieving self-reliance; and emerging as a developed nation.

But the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence has another interesting aspect to it. For the first time in decades, India’s most prominent politicians, regardless of their ideology, beliefs or party colours, are those who have been born after 1947 when India achieved Independence. Take Prime Minister Modi himself. He was born in 1950, three years after Independence. Or India’s newly-elected President, Droupadi Murmu. She was born even later in 1958, which makes her 64. 

Glance across the spectrum of India’s political parties, and you will come across leaders who are all younger than independent India. In Bihar, where he recently created a kerfuffle by exiting the National Democratic Alliance, chief minister Nitish Kumar is 71. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is 52 and was born 23 years after Independence. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party, though is probably among the few living Indian political leaders of consequence who is pre-Independence born. She was born in December 1946.

If you look elsewhere, Bahujan Samaj Party’s leader Mayawati, born in 1956, is 66; the feisty chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is even younger at 59; and Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is only 54. 

As we all know, India is a young nation and it  has the largest youth population in the world. Over half of India’s population of around 1.4 billion is under 30. And as the age of India’s politicians begins to reflect that aspect of the nation’s demography, the average age of India’s prominent leaders will, unsurprisingly, also decline.

Another young politician creates ripples

Speaking of young politicians, in 2019 when Finland’s Sanna Marin became prime minister of her country (population: a little over 5.5 million), she was 34. She will turn 37 this November. Marin has quite a few achievements to her credit. Prominent among these is her much-lauded efforts to lead her government’s efforts during the Corona pandemic, which broke shortly after she had taken charge. Finland’s efforts to control the spread of the pandemic and gear up its healthcare infrastructure to minimise fatalities has won plaudits from around the world.

However, Marin now finds herself in the eye of a curious controversy. Last week a privately recorded video was leaked on social media that showed the young prime minister at a party with revellers, dancing and living it up. In the video, Marin and “her friends”, which included some Finnish celebrities, were seen drinking, dancing and singing. This has created a controversy in the small Nordic nation with many people questioning the propriety of a nation’s leader to party like a teenager and what example it sets for the nation’s citizens. Marin defended herself by saying it was a private party where she had not indulged in any illegal activities but had drunk alcohol moderately and danced, none of which is socially considered to be taboo. 

Some observers pointed out that in the video, some people in the background were heard to refer to drugs such as cocaine. As a response, Marin has said she has never taken drugs and also stated that she had voluntarily taken a drug test after the controversy erupted last week.

The thing is that cultures differ. Not long ago, Marin was in yet another controversy when she had gone out clubbing with her husband and omitted to take her official cell phone with her. The cell phone in question had received messages about how she might have been exposed to people infected with the Coronavirus. Marin had then apologised and the controversy blew over. More recently, she was portrayed in social media posts, fashionably dressed and attending music festivals in Finland.

None of this, in Finnish culture, is anything that raises eyebrows. A public person’s private persona is respected and as long as there is nothing that can be considered as an illegal activity, no one really bothers about it. 

The problem, however, is that when you are the prime minister of a country, you have an international image and status. Finland is in the process of joining NATO. The country shares a 1340-km border with Russia, which is in the midst of a prolonged conflict in Ukraine. Domestically, Finland, as are many other countries, is battling with rising costs of living, inflation, and economic hurdles. In that context, does it behove the Finnish prime minister, however young she might be, to be seen in videos partying like a high-schooler?

Wait, are the Chinese watching? 

Yes, they probably are. Last week, the Indian authorities were concerned that a Chinese research and space-tracking vessel was docked in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port and this could be the beginning of a concerted move by China to regularly use Sri Lanka as a base for surveillance in the region. 

For all practical purposes, Hambantota is Chinese owned. It was built by China Merchants Port, a conglomerate headquartered in Hong Kong, and it owns 70% of the port’s equity capital. China has free access to the port. As is well known, China also has bases for “logistics” in the Cape of Horn in Africa, and easy access to the Karachi and Gwadar ports in Pakistan. China has a String of Pearls strategy, which is a network of military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines. Ostensibly, this is a strategy to protect its trade interests.

India, obviously, sees this as a concern. With China building more bases in the Indian Ocean region, strategically it could be in a position to threaten India. What has especially bothered India is that the Sri Lankan port is freely used by China, perhaps for surveillance and non-commercial purposes, even though India (and not China) has come to the aid of the island nation with finance and aid when it recently faced acute economic crises.

CBI targets Delhi’s deputy CM

Drama is a de rigueur when it comes to Indian politics. On the same day that the New York Times carried a prominent article on how the Delhi government, under Manish Sisodia, its deputy chief minister who also oversees the education ministry, has achieved remarkable improvement in government-run schools, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided Sisodia’s residence.

The raids were in connection with allegations that the city-state’s new liquor policy had violated rules and had irregularities. 

The Delhi government, run by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Union government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have always had a confrontational relationship. Even as the raids and charges flew, BJP leaders accused the Delhi government of planting favourable stories in the foreign media by using money spun from a corrupt liquor policy.

Nine months after Delhi allowed private players to sell liquor in the state, the government withdrew the policy and reinstated the old system where only government agencies could sell liquor at the retail level. The reason for backtracking was partly economic. The private players faced huge licensing fees and price-gouging. The BJP has alleged that in the process of introducing a new policy and then withdrawing it, the Delhi government has made huge financial gains. An allegation that is yet unproved. 

But what is most bizarre is the charge that the Delhi government has used these gains to enable planting favourable stories in international media! The drama goes on.

Japan wants people to drink more

One of the criticisms against the Delhi government’s ill-fated liquor policy was that it would encourage alcoholism because allowing private players would mean more competition and perhaps lower prices. In Indian culture, by and large, alcohol has a social stigma attached to it. 

Apparently, not so in Japan. The Japanese government is worried that young people are not drinking enough. For one, the impact of Covid has meant fewer people go to bars and other drinking establishments. Moreover, Japan is an ageing country demographically and this means there are more old people in Japanese society than there are young. And an old, retired population is unlikely to spend much on alcohol. This has affected the beleaguered Japanese economy’s tax revenues. 

So Japan has launched a campaign that has a competition inviting the public to suggest ways and means of making its citizens drink more alcohol. Different strokes, as they say, for different folks!