Why India Has Frequent and Horrific Train Accidents

The worst recorded railway accident in India occurred in 1981 when an overcrowded passenger train was blown off the tracks and into a river during a cyclone in Bihar state, killing at least 800 people. This weekend another horrific accident involving three trains in the state of Odisha left nearly 300 people dead and 900 injured.

In the worst-ever railway accident in 1981, it was a terrible cyclone that had blown off the train, which plunged into a river. But last weekend’s accident was caused by a derailment. One long-distance passenger train overshot the tracks and smashed into another, and, going by initial reports, eventually, the collision carried on into a standing freight train.

The number of major railway accidents, to be fair, has reduced in the past 50 years. The railways have taken many measures to increase safety of operation, track upgrades, and technology to manage train movement. Yet, of the 10 train accidents that took place between 2018 and 2021, seven were because of derailments.

Train derailments mostly happen because rail tracks fracture or crack because of expansion and contraction on account of ambient temperature changes—extreme heat in summer followed by cold winters. The phenomenon of fractured tracks is the biggest challenge for the Indian Railways, which oversees a network that spans 128,305 km of track length, 102,831 km of running track length and 68,043 km of route length.

Derailments usually take place as a result of a combination of factors: mechanical glitches, signaling failures, and track construction faults. Railways often complain about lack of funds for maintenance and modernization of the track network. A Comptroller and Auditor General report showed that shortage of funds and underutilization of resources were to blame for at least a quarter of railway derailments. Many believe the pace of introducing new and faster trains is faster than the pace of implementing safety and infrastructure measures. Coach overloading and stress on tracks are also factors that  can contribute to derailments.

Spending more on railway infrastructure and track safety could be one of the steps in the way ahead. In February this year, India allocated a capital outlay of Rs 2.4 lakh crore for the railways. This is the highest ever allocation to the Indian railways. Even this could be inadequate for the required infrastructure needs of the network.

The other problem is overloading and overcapacity in the system. Some experts believe that utilization capacity should be reduced to 60-70% in order to have the system work at the best levels.

14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India

 Indian cities continue to dominate the list of most polluted places in the world. Fourteen of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. New Delhi, Greater Noida, Faridabad, and Ghaziabad, together comprising most of India’s National Capital Region, all feature on the list compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO uses the concentration of PM2.5 (suspended particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in a given volume of air) as an indicator of air pollution. For purposes of ranking, WHO has considered the average value of the indicator during 2022. Delhi with an average of 92.6 is the fourth most polluted city in the world. Ahead of Delhi are Lahore in Pakistan 97.4, Hotan in China 94.3, and Bhiwadi in India 92.7.

As India’s population has outpaced China, its number of most-polluted cities has also overtaken China’s. The hazards of living in an environment of poor air quality cannot be overemphasized. It is the biggest cause of premature death globally after high blood pressure, inadequate diet and smoking. According to the Health Effects Institute, an independent, US-based non-profit corporation specializing in research on the health effects of air pollution, 6.7 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2019. In addition, the global health-related cost of air pollution related diseases is estimated to be around US$8.1 trillion.

In Indian cities such as Delhi and its satellite urban centres, the focus on reducing pollution spikes when the air quality levels reach catastrophic (and not just hazardous) levels. Usually this is in winters when smog and concentrated particulate matter increases and the effects are most palpable. Once it gets warmer and things improve (read: get back to normally hazardous levels) the furore dies down. What India needs is continuous efforts to reduce air pollution, including emissions from industries, crop stubble burning, vehicular emissions, and so on. Meanwhile, the country continues to remain high on the ignoble list of the world’s most polluted cities.

Is India just an assembler of iPhones, not a manufacturer?

In 2022-23, official estimates suggest that India achieved a record $10 billion (Rs 82,000 crore) worth of smartphone exports. This was touted to be the outcome of the Production Linked Incentive, or PLI, scheme of the government. PLI is a form of performance-linked incentive to give companies incentives on incremental sales from products manufactured in domestic units and is aimed at boosting the manufacturing sector and to reduce imports.

But shortly after those figures were released there was a dampener. Early last week, in a social media post, the former Reserve Bank of India governor, Raghuram Rajan, a noted critic of India’s economic policies in recent years, stated that the sharp rise in mobile phone exports out of India was fuelled largely assembly of devices in India using imported components rather than full-scale manufacturing of the phones.

In a column published on LinkedIn, Rajan, who is now a professor at the Chicago University, has explained that the growth in cellphone exports may be more on account of assembly of phones in India rather than genuine manufacturing. This, Rajan explains, is because the PLI scheme accords incentives based on the finished phone rather than on the value added by manufacturing in India. Much of the cellphone exports are that of cellphones assembled from imported components. Once the imports are offset against the value of the exports of the assembled phones, the value of manufacturing them in India is not nearly as what may be reflected by the total or gross export values.

According to Rajan, “We certainly cannot claim the rise in exports of finished cell phones is evidence of India’s prowess in manufacturing. Manufacturers are likely engaging in only assembly…”

The PLI scheme was introduced in 2020 to spur local production of mobile phones and offers companies an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales of goods that are manufactured in India. The incentive is available for five years. If Indian companies are importing much of the cellphone components, including the processors or chips (which are the most high technology components of cellphones), the real value addition by manufacture in India is not the same as the total export value. Rajan has called for a review of the PLI scheme to make it really work as a booster for manufacture in India.

The spectre of jobless growth

India’s economy has been growing at a fast pace in recent years. It is estimated that the Indian economy will grow at a world leading rate of 6.5% for the fiscal year ending in 2024. Yet, jobs are not being created. India is still grappling with high unemployment rate. Overall, in the economy, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), India’s unemployment rate has been hovering around 7% or 8%, up from about 5% five years ago.

In urban India, the situation could be worse. During the COVID pandemic, urban unemployment was estimated to have touched nearly 21% and wages declined. While the rate of unemployment has declined since, there is a lack of fulltime jobs. Many young job seekers are either opting for lower paid jobs or on self-employment options, which are not adequately remunerative.

The reasons for the paradox—relatively high growth rates but low job generation– are complex and multifaceted. One reason is that India’s economy is still heavily dependent on agriculture, which employs a large percentage of the population but is not very productive. Another reason is that many of the jobs being created are in low-paying sectors such as retail and hospitality. Additionally, there is a mismatch between the skills that workers have and the skills that employers are looking for.

There are also structural issues with India’s labour market. For example, many workers are employed in the informal sector, which means they do not have access to benefits such as health insurance or retirement plans. Furthermore, labour laws in India can be complex and restrictive, which can discourage employers from hiring more workers.

Tackling the challenge of breaking out of the jobless growth syndrome is all the more crucial in a country that has already become the world’s most populous and where the number of people between the age of 15 and 64 is nearly 945 million.

Indians dominate American spelling contest

Last weekend, a 14-year-old boy won an annual spelling competition after successfully spelling the word “psammophile”. The word, psammophile, if you’re curious, describes an organism that lives or thrives in sandy areas. Dev Shah, an Indian origin boy from Largo, Florida, won the Scripps national Spelling Bee competition for 2023 and received $50,000 in cash for his achievement.

The spelling bee competition has become almost a domain of young people from the Indian community in the US. The bee began in 1925 and is open to students through the eighth grade. What is significant is that since 1985 when Balu Natarajn won the Scripps bee, Indian-origin students have been dominating the contest as winners through the years.


IITIIMShadi Ad Campaign Features Bhagyashree

IITIIMShaadi.com, an exclusive platform dedicated to forging matrimonial alliances among the alumni of premier educational institutions, has roped in noted film actor Bhagyashree & Parvez Kazi (LookALike Salman Khan) for a new digital campaign.

IITIIMShaadi.com is a matrimonial portal exclusively for highly educated and accomplished individuals seeking mental compatibility with their life partners. The platform invites alumni of the top 10-15 institutions from various fields such as IITs, IIMs and other top colleges, to register and discover their ideal matches within this elite community.

Beyond catering to a niche segment, IITIIMShaadi.com has a strong differentiating factor – every profile undergoes a rigorous authentication process, validating the individual’s degree, institute ID card, mark sheets and more. With a presence spanning over 50 countries, it brings together highly educated Indians looking for the perfect match.

“We cater to the highly educated community when it comes to finding matrimonial matches. Recognising the niche we are serving, Bhagyashree is the perfect face to promote our brand. She is someone who won everyone’s hearts with her endearing portrayal of Suman in Maine Pyar Kiya. She continues to strike the right chords with the audience with her excellent performances, and we are thrilled to have her onboard for this digital campaign,” said Taksh Gupta, Founder & CEO of IITIIMShaadi.com.

Commenting on the association, Bhagyashree said, “I am delighted to be part of IITIIMShaadi.com, a brand that is the pioneer of a completely new concept in India. This platform serves as a reliable friend, guiding you in the search for a highly accomplished and ideal life partner who shares a similar background and mental compatibility. With a stringent screening process to authenticate members and remove any fake profiles, IITIIMShaadi.com has achieved a great deal of success with its unmatched and exclusive matchmaking services.”

IITIIMShaadi.com launched a new ad campaign, featuring Bhagyashree & Parvez Kazi (LookALike Salman Khan), on Saturday. The ad emphasises the importance of a good friend in one’s life to help filter out good from bad and finding a partner with the same mental wavelength. The platform will release a series of digital campaigns starring the popular actor across platforms in the coming months to build on its growing popularity.

This campaign went viral all across social media just after the posting of Bhagyashree on her Instagram Account.

Find Your Perfect Match –

(Disclaimer: The above press release has been provided by PNN. ANI will not be responsible in any way for the content of the same)

Read More: lokmarg.com

Desecration of Dancing Girl

The Desecration of an Ancient Dancing Girl

The desecration Mohenjo Daro dancing girl

My introduction to the Indus Valley civilisation happened in history class in school, of course, but also at home. My father was a history buff and among the many replicas of historical artifacts displayed in our small living room’s glass-fronted cabinet, was a tiny one of the famous Mohenjo-Daro Dancing Girl. 

Highly regarded as a work of art, the Dancing Girl is a bronze statuette created by “lost wax casting” over 4,500 years ago, circa 2300–1750 BCE, and is a rare and unique masterpiece. It was found in the ancient Mohenjo-Daro site in 1926. The statue is a cultural artifact reflecting the aesthetics of a female body as conceptualized during that pre-historical period. The figurine, which is nude, shows vigour, variety, and ingenuity. The right arm of the dancing girl rests on the hip and the left arm is heavily bangled.

The significance of the Dancing Girl statue lies in its artistic value and its reflection of the aesthetics of the female body during that period. It also signifies that there was knowledge of blended metal casting in that era and that dancing may have been a part of the cultural activity then. The Dancing Girl statuette, 10.5 centimetres in height, is an iconic representation of art and culture during prehistoric times in the Indus Valley civilisation.

Well, now, with some contribution from the ruling regime in India, that icon has been desecrated. On May 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the International Museum Expo 2023 by unveiling a life-size mascot for the event. The mascot is supposedly a “contemporised” version of the Dancing Girl. 

The original statuette was dark in colour and was a nude depiction of the girl. In the so-called contemporised version, the five-foot replica shows the statuette with a pink skin tone and clad in bright pink and yellow clothing. This has led to a controversy in social media and public discourse. 

In recent years, particularly after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India, fiddling with history has become commonplace. A pink, clothed replica of the iconic Dancing Girl is another instance of the attempts to distort India’s history–and in this case, pre-history. The controversy over changing history textbooks by tweaking or blanking out events and facts that pertain to eras and periods in India’s History that don’t sit well with the ruling regime’s perceptions and beliefs about “Hinduism” are rife. What this achieves besides distortion of history is difficult to comprehend. 

The outrage over the desecration of one of Indian history’s most iconic artifacts has been limited. To be sure, the mainstream media in India, generally lemming-like in their behaviour, has reported about the controversy but has gone no further. There has been no campaign against what is yet another attempt to banalise and vulgarise historical facts–in this case, an important artifact. The net outcome: India’s rising breed of self-proclaimed moralists have scored another shameful victory.

Making sense of the Manipur violence

When it comes to the north-eastern part of India, which comprises eight states—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura (commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”), and the “brother”, Sikkim, India’s media coverage is scant and often superficial. Many of these states are socially and demographically complex with different tribes and ethnic diversities that are not adequately understood. In recent weeks violence has erupted in one of India’s north-eastern states, Manipur, and it has led to nearly 60 deaths, thousands left wounded, and 25,000 displacements. 

The violence has been between ethnic groups and has led to buildings being set ablaze and charred vehicles strewn across roads. The violence has also led to thousands of people fleeing their homes. The situation in Manipur is complex and has been fueled by a number of factors, including ethnic tensions, political instability, and economic inequality. The violence has also led to calls for a separate state in India.

The ethnic divisions in the Manipur violence are not simple and have been fueled by a number of factors. The valley area in Manipur is largely inhabited by Meiteis, while the hill areas are dominated by tribals – mainly Kukis. Small fractions of people from both communities live in areas dominated by the other, and these were the people caught in the crossfire first when the violence began. The Meiteis are the predominant ethnic group in the state and the majority of them are Hindus, while the Kukis, a hill tribe, are predominantly Christian. 

The ongoing unrest began when Kuki tribes organised a protest march that led to a clash with the Meitei community. The Meiteis form nearly 50% of the 4-million population of the state. The genesis of the violence was the Kuki (the community is classified as a Scheduled Tribe) protest against Meiteis also being classified as a Scheduled Tribe. The Scheduled Tribe classification is an affirmative action policy that is aimed at ensuring that minority tribes in India get reservations with regard to education and government jobs.

The Kukis believe that the Meitei demand for being classified as a Scheduled Tribe is not fair because as the dominant ethnic group they already enjoy advantages that minority groups don’t. The fissures between Manipur’s ethnic groups have a long history and violence between different groups has flared several times over the past decades.

India’s Opposition boycotts inauguration of new Parliament House

Several opposition parties in India have decided to boycott the inauguration ceremony of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 28. The decision came after several Opposition parties demanded that President Draupadi Murmu should inaugurate the new building in Delhi instead of Modi because Parliament is a non-partisan institution. The opposition parties have cited various reasons for their decision to boycott the event, including the sidelining of the President and the violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Union Minister Anurag Thakur has criticised the Opposition for its decision to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building, saying it was an insult. Ex-bureaucrats and veterans have also condemned the Opposition for boycotting recent ‘non-partisan’ events of Parliament.

Modi, as most Indians are aware, has a penchant for inaugurating things–it could be a new train, an educational institution, an exhibition, metro lines, expressways, or even less. There is a comical aspect too to the pomp and drama that usually accompanies these inaugurations… but, hush now,  he also has a low threshold of tolerance for criticism. 

Modi’s Australian extravaganza

Prime Minister Modi likes acronyms and alliterations. Last week, when he received what the media called “a rock star” welcome by the Indian diaspora in Australia–an audience of 20,000 thronged a venue where the public meeting was organised, Modi said: “There are three Cs that defined our relationship with Australia: the commonwealth, cricket, and curry. But now it is three Ds: democracy, diaspora, dosti (which in Hindi means friendship),” he began. “Now there are also three Es that define the relationship: energy, economy, and education.”

The crowd, mainly comprising Indian diaspora, lapped it up. Indians abroad are always in awe of Modi. In the US, UK, and in Europe, Indians living abroad are drawn by the thousands to Modi’s events when they happen and their cheers and applause are always overwhelming. 

Even the Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, appeared to be in awe of Modi. He was quoted as saying: “The last time I saw someone on this stage was Bruce Springsteen and he did not get the welcome that prime minister Modi has got. Prime minister Modi is the boss.”

No one did speak about the suppression in Kashmir, the insecurity of India’s Minority communities, the violence in the northeastern part of India, the ill-conceived introduction of 2000-rupee notes followed by their recent withdrawal, or the state of the mainstream media that cower like sheep when a wolf approaches their pen. Amen. 

Meanwhile, in Russia’s Ukraine war…

Last week, Russia’s attack on Ukraine entered its 15th month and it shows no signs of relenting. The war in Ukraine has seen major developments since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. Ukrainian troops have made lightning gains in the east of the country, inflicting one of Russia’s worst military setbacks. But cities including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odesa have been hit by Russian missiles. 

Here are more recent updates: Power at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was lost for several hours. Heavy fighting continued around Bakhmut in the east of the country. Front lines in the south around Kherson were largely stable. Ukraine has also accused Russia of coercion in ‘sham’ referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions. Russia and Ukraine have held their first direct negotiations since March over grain exports, but without any immediate signs of a breakthrough, and missile strikes across Ukraine continue to be reported. The war continues.

Read More: lokmarg.com

Nitish Kumar’

Nitish Kumar’s ‘One Against One’ Strategy is Quite Silly

Nitish Kumar’s “one against one” strategy is quite silly

No offence intended but the proposal, attributed in the media to the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, to have a single united opposition candidate to contest against the Bharatiya Janata Party in around 500 Lok Sabha constituencies, is a bit silly. According to media reports, Kumar, a wily and opportunistic politician who has frequently switched sides in order to achieve his political ambitions, has proposed a “one against one” strategy to defeat the BJP in the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

According to the Kumar formula (if we want to call it that), opposition parties should bury their differences and together field a single strong candidate in each constituency to defeat the BJP. In other words, what Kumar is suggesting is the formation of a new coalition. Only, he is doing it in a different way. He wants all parties opposed to the BJP to come together and have a convenor and a chairperson with the assumption that the convenor will be projected as the prime ministerial candidate. No prizes for guessing whose name Kumar, who will turn 73 before the elections, will likely suggest as the convenor.

Here’s why his proposal is a bit silly. First, it requires a buy in from the Congress party and several other oppositions parties—both at the national level as well as at the regional levels—with many of them agreeing to play second, third, or even fourth fiddle in Kumar’s grand plan. Second, in many constituencies, veteran politicians from opposition parties would have to agree not to contest and step back in favour of another party’s candidate who is considered to be stronger. Try making that work when you have politicians who consider their constituencies as personal fiefs. Also, try getting a senior Congress leader and former candidate to canvass and campaign for someone from, say, the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Trinamool Congress, or someone else, and vice versa.

Third, and most important, is the fact that for the majority of Indians (we are not talking about politicians or the lemmings in media) the single vote that they have the power to exercise represents a lot. The poorer the voter the more important that single vote is to him or her. The media often deploy the rather inelegant word “anti-incumbency” to describe the phenomenon where a ruling party is unseated by the electorate when it votes and elects a party that is opposed to it. In reality, it is a voter who is disappointed with the ruling regime and wants and hopes it would get better governance from another party or alliance. The majority of voters vote in the hope “for” something not “against” something.

Kumar’s “one against one” strategy is probably the veteran politician’s attempt to get a shy at the top office in Delhi. That’s understandable for an ambitious politician in his twilight years. It, however, also reeks of desperation and a detachment from reality. If India needs an alternative to the BJP, it will have to be a robust one: not a rag-tag ensemble conjured up to fuel one man’s ambition.

How to measure a nation’s true power

The measure of a nation’s true power is a combination of several things. It includes a country’s economic strength (measured by GDP and more relevantly, per capita GDP), its military might, its productivity, and its population. There could be several other factors as well, including softer ones related to a nation’s influence on culture, lifestyle, and so on.

In a recent feature on China, the Economist delved into the concept of measuring a nation’s power by looking at how China measures what is known as Comprehensive National Power (CNP).

While China has attempted to measure its own CNP in various ways, worldwide there are scores of different ways of doing it. According to the Economist, there were 69 different versions of measuring a country’s powerfulness. And, of course, the Economist added its own measure. In its version, there are “three essential ingredients of national power: economic heft, productive efficiency and military might”. Its “hard-power index” takes into account GDP per person as a measure of efficiency; defence expenditure as a measure of might; and non-military GDP as a measure of economic heft. To arrive at the index these are multiplied together.

How do countries fare according to the Economist’s hard-power index. The top eight countries on the basis of their 2021 hard-power index were in this order: US, China, Russia, India, Germany, Japan, Britain, and France.

While the Economist’s feature was on China, it is interesting to note that India ranked number 4 on its list of top eight hard-power countries in 2021.

One more episode in India’s endless corruption saga

Instances of the Indian police and other authorities trying to extort money from the affluent are not uncommon. In fact, we still marvel when a person in authority turns out to be doing his duty honestly, something that is expected to be normal practice. In October 2021, a few young people, including the Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son, Aryan Khan, then 22, were arrested on charges of consumption and possession of drugs while aboard a cruise ship bound for Goa from Mumbai.

To be sure, last year, Khan was cleared of the charges. However, there is now a new twist to the tale. One of the officers of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on Khan’s case, Sameer Wankhede, has now been charged by India’s apex investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of trying to extort Rs 25 crore from the actor Shah Rukh Khan to in exchange for “diluting” the case against his son. It has also been found that Wankhede has accumulated disproportionate assets, including several flats in Mumbai, and has spent on many personal trips abroad that are not commensurate with his income. In other words, Wankhede has been accused of several instances of corruption. Sad but not surprising.

US report is scathing on religious freedom in India

The US State Department’s Religious Freedom Report, 2022, has called out several countries including India, China, Russia, and Iran for targeting adherents of certain religious communities. India has been ranked eighth among 162 countries of the highest risk of mass killing.

India’s Constitution declares the nation to be secular. In fact, although 80% of 1.4 billion Indians, according to the 2011 census, are Hindus, 14% is Muslim and 2% is Christian. The report has called out India on several grounds including the fact that religious conversions are banned in some states; attacks against minority communities have been spreading; and  instances of cow vigilantism, which often results in killings and lynching, have been increasing.

India’s official reaction to the report has been predictable. The ministry of external affairs has said that “such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding”. The fact is that since 2014 when the current BJP-led regime came to power, Hindu nationalism has been on the rise. And while the government would like to sweep allegations such as those made by the Religious Freedom report under the carpet, minority communities have never been more insecure in India than they are now.

Can AI get as clever as humans? Or cleverer?

Even as the debate about the threats and risks that Artificial Intelligence (AI) may pose to humanity, a new debate about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) has already begun. AGI is a theoretical form of AI where a machine would have an intelligence equal to humans; it would have a self-aware consciousness that has the ability to solve problems, learn, and plan for the future. AGI is different from traditional weak AI, which is restricted to specific tasks or areas.

In theory, therefore, AGI could rival humans and use its abilities to act independently and autonomously, and, in the hands of the wrong sort of people, it could wreak havoc. The good news is that we could be still far away from the emergence of AGI. Some experts believe that we could be several decades away from the emergence of AGI; others believe it could take centuries to evolve.

What if those experts are wrong? After all, few expected AI to reach the levels it has so quickly. What if the road to AGI is traversed at an exponential field? Ponder that.

Read More: lokmarg.com

Make in India

China Could Help Make the ‘Make in India’ Dream Come True

China could help the ‘Make in India’ dream come true

It is easy to slam the Indian government’s policies and initiatives, particularly those related to the economy and development. The Modi government’s “Make in India” initiative is one that has been the target of several brickbats. Make in India was launched by the Indian government in September 2014, barely four months after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power and Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister, and it was among the earliest of the major economic policies announced by his government.

Make in India aims at encouraging companies to manufacture their products in India. The initiative is based on four pillars that have been identified to give a boost to entrepreneurship in India, not only in manufacturing but also other sectors: new processes, new infrastructure, new sectors, and a new mindset. The idea was to offer India as a base for manufacturing to both, foreign and domestic enterprises, by simplifying procedures, incentivising investments, and easing regulations.

To be fair, the Make in India model has been successful in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). If you exclude the extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic period, FDI inflow has increased by 23% post-Covid (during March 2020 to March 2022 it was reported at $171.84 billion) in comparison to FDI inflow reported pre-Covid (during February, 2018 to February, 2020 it was $141.10 billion).

Yet, it doesn’t take Indian manufacturing to anywhere near the world’s largest factory, In 2022 alone, FDI flows to China reached around $189.1 billion. There is, however, a silver lining for India in what is happening in China.

China is still the world’s largest manufacturer of a wide range of products, both consumer as well as industrial. Its surge to the top began in 2001 when its economy opened up and it joined the World Trade Organisation and multinationals made a beeline to invest in the country. But of late, things are changing and companies are looking at alternative bases for their manufacture. First, as China’s economy grows, labour costs have been rising. Second, there has been pressure from the Chinese government, which controls and regulates almost everything in the economy, to seek technology transfers to Chinese companies so that they could compete with Western MNCs. Third, there have been consequences of the Trump regime’s sanctions against China and the Covid-related lockdowns in the country. And, fourth, there has been significant decline in China’s relations with the West.

Now, Western foreign direct investors are trying to find alternative bases for their manufacturing activities. And, among other destinations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Mexico, India is also increasingly finding favour.

Apple, the maker of the iconic iPhone, recently announced that it would significantly increase its production in India, including manufacture of its latest models. Other companies are intending to do the same.

There are still hurdles to cross. In comparison to China, India’s global supply chain linkages are still underdeveloped; infrastructure is still hobbled with bottlenecks: and regulations, although simplified, can still be overwhelming for investors.

By all indications, though, the Indian government is working on these. Investments in new ports and airports, railroads, and power generation are underway and efforts are on to simplify the red tape hurdles that investors often encounter.

Apple could also herald a change for the better. Foreign investors often display lemming-like behaviour. So, if Apple expands its manufacturing base in India, it could set an example for others to follow. At least the Indian government hopes that it would.

Congress dashes BJP’s southern dreams

The Congress party, which has had a poor track record of winning state elections in nearly a decade, roughly after the BJP came to power in 2014, pulled off a victory in the southern state of Karnataka, unseating the incumbent BJP-led government and securing an overwhelming majority.

Before winning Karnataka, the Congress ruled in only three– Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan—out of India’s 28 states. Now Karnataka adds to that tally.

While the Congress has called its victory a triumph over the “divisive politics” of the BJP, its win has several implications.

First, the BJP’s hopes of making an inroad into the southern states where its influence and sway is marginal have now suffered a setback. Second, the Congress’ victory could signal that it could still pose a challenge for the BJP in the coming parliamentary elections scheduled for 2024. Third, it implies that the Modi magic may be wearing thin—the BJP campaigned in Karnataka mainly by peddling Modi’s persona and image (he himself addressed nine rallies in the state). And fourth, it shows that money, power, and organisational strength, all attributes in which the BJP tops the Congress, may not be enough when it comes to winning the favour of the electorate.

Shinde (and confusion) continue in Maharashtra

If you are a bit confused about what’s going on in Maharashtra, I can assure you that you will stay confused after reading the following paragraphs.

After a split in 2022 created two factions of the Shiv Sena party in Maharashtra, a crisis followed when the Election Commission awarded the use of the title Shiv Sena and its recognisable election symbol of the bow and arrow to the faction led by the party’s rebel leader and current Maharashtra chief minister, Eknath Shinde, who had assumed office after Uddhav Thackeray, the son of the founder of the party, the late Bal Thackeray, had resigned. The controversy was about whether the state’s governor should have invited the BJP (in alliance with the Shinde faction) to form a government.

This was contested and last week the Supreme Court ruled that it could not order the restoration of the Thackeray government after he had resigned as chief minister of the state because he had done so without facing a floor test. The court, however, strongly criticised the then Maharashtra governor, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, for deciding to help the Shinde faction and in concluding that Thackeray had lost the support of the majority of his party’s MPs.

So, Shinde, who became chief minister because the governor had erred, remains chief minister: Thackeray gets some sort of moral win (although nothing material that would change things for him and his faction), and the status quo continues.

As promised, surely you are still as confused as you were before reading this item.

The mess in Pakistan gets messier

Pakistan’s former prime minister, the celebrity cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, 70, was arrested last week on corruption charges. The allegations were that he had benefited from receiving land as a bribe for political favours when he was prime minister during 2018-2022 and that he had also illegally sold official gifts that he had received when he travelled abroad on official trips. Then, after a couple of days, on an appeal to the courts, he was released on bail. The charges still stand although he cannot be rearrested on the same charges for two weeks, according to the bail order.

Meanwhile, as political crisis grows in Pakistan, the country hurtling into severe economic crises. Economic growth has been sputtering, and inflation has soared. Excessive external borrowings by the country over the years has raised the spectre of default, causing the currency to fall and making imports more expensive in relative terms.

million over the past year. There are fears that Pakistan could default on debt.

Mass shootings in the US: please do the math

Gun rights in the United States refer to the legal protections and privileges afforded to individuals regarding the possession, use, and ownership of firearms. These rights are primarily derived from the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

A judicial interpretation of that right that prevails states that “is that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess firearms for self-defence within their home”.

What it means is that in the US, which considers itself as one of the most developed and forward-looking nation (disclaimer: it is their view, not mine), it is easier for an individual to get guns and keep them than it is in most other places in the world.

Now for some statistics: In the less than five months of 2023 that have elapsed, there have been 185 incidents of mass shootings in which 254 people have been killed, and 708 injured. Most of these have been unprovoked attacks aimed at innocent humans.

Please do the math: in less than 140 days, there have been 185 shootings and more than 250 innocent people have been killed. You won’t be at fault if you think the American Dream is really a nightmare.

Read More: lokmarg.com

Angarag Papon Mahanta

Singer Papon Hospitalized, Fans Express Concern

Singer Angarag Papon Mahanta who due to health issues got admitted to a hospital on Friday shared an emotional and precious moment of his life.

Taking to Instagram, ‘Barfi’ singer got emotional after seeing his son Puhor as a night attendant at the hospital.

In the picture, Papon can be seen on the hospital bed and his son sitting next to him.

The note read, “We all fight these small battles alone. I don’t personally like posting these incidents on social media. But last night was different. It was for the first time, my little boy who is all of 13 opted to be the night attendant at the hospital! It’s a emotional moment and I wanted to share with my friends and well wishers :)”

He added, “I remember all those times I used to do this for my parents. I wish they were around to witness their grandson Puhor taking his turn already ! Blessed I feel and thank you all for all the blessings and good wishes! I am feeling much better now!”

This is what the father and son bond is all about.

As soon as the news of him being unwell was posted, the singer’s fans and industry friends chimed in the comment section.

Actor Adil Hussain wrote, “Haaare.. Ki hol bhai…”

Shaan Mukherji wrote, “Ironic but in the sweetest way .. you feel so good .. though not so well .. I can totally connect with this .. GetWell Soon Bro.”

One of the users wrote, “Take care Papon da.. Get well soon.”

He sang in several other languages, including Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, and Marathi. Films including ‘Madras Cafe’, ‘Barfi’, ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’, and others. (ANI)

Read More: lokmarg.com

Ileana D'Cruz

Ileana D’Cruz Flaunts Baby Bump, Pregnancy Glow

Excited mom-to-be Ileana D’Cruz dropped a series of pictures flaunting her baby bump and pregnancy glow in a stunning black outfit.

Ileana who is quite active on social media and keeps on sharing a glimpse of the pregnancy phase on Friday took to Instagram and treated fans with pictures of her baby bump.

In the pictures, Ileana flaunted her baby bump in a beautiful black slit dress. The actor cutely looks at her baby bump while she poses for the camera. She captioned the post, “Bump alert !![?]””

As soon as pictures were posted, the actor” fans flooded the comment section.

Shibani Akhtar wrote, “love you girl so happy for you.”

Athiya Shetty dropped a heart emoji.

Tamannaah Bhatia and Nargis Fakhri reacted with smile with red heart eye emoji.

Ileana made a big announcement that she is now expecting her first child.

Ileana took to Insta and dropped a couple of pictures which she captioned,

“Coming soon. Can’t wait to meet you my little darling.”

She, however, did not reveal the name of her partner.

Soon after she broke the news, fans swamped the comment section with red heart emoticons and congratulatory messages.

From the very beginning, Ileana has been extremely tight-lipped about her personal life.

Earlier several reports suggested that Ileana is dating Katrina Kaif’s brother Sebastian Laurent Michel. The duo’s relationship rumours surfaced after the two were spotted vacationing with Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif in the Maldives.

Although the couple has still not made their relationship official.

Ileana was earlier in a relationship with photographer Andrew Kneebone for quite a few years.

Meanwhile, on the work front, Ileana was last seen in The Big Bull, co-starring Abhishek Bachchan. The film was directed by filmmaker Kookie Gulati and it was produced by Ajay Devgn. She will be next seen in ‘Unfair And Lovely’ with Randeep Hooda. (ANI)

Is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation a Meaningless Gabfest?

Is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation a meaningless gabfest?

The members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which organized a foreign ministers’ summit in Goa last week, like to believe that the organization whose prominent members include China, Russia, and India, is a sort of parallel United Nations (UN) but for a region that straddles Eurasia. Last week the SCO held its foreign ministers’ summit in the laidback erstwhile hippie resort (now a target tourist destination for almost everybody) of Goa in India. But although the assemblage of foreign ministers was impressive and could potentially generate news—after all, there were emissaries from China, Russia, Pakistan, and India, all countries that have at least some beef with each other over some issue or the other—to misquote T.S. Eliot, the two-day meeting ended not with a bang but a whimper.

Of course, there was enough for the news-starved Indian media to work themselves up into a frenzy about the “body language” between the Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart,  Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (they didn’t shake hands when they met at the summit); or the attempts by China and Russia to take the upper hand at the meeting and its sessions (Really?!!); and how India unenviably had to balance its stance even as its relations with China have soured and the latter has grown visibly closer to Russia with which India’s ties, particularly trade-related ones are stronger (what was that again? The friend of my enemy is my…?).

In the end, nothing of consequence really happened. Journalists make a huge deal during such summits of what they call meetings or interactions on the “sidelines”, a reference to dialogues or unscheduled discussions that take place outside of the official agenda. So, the media, in the absence of anything of consequence to report, made a big deal about how the Indian foreign minister met his Russian and Chinese counterparts on the sidelines of the Goa summit. And what happened? You are right. Nothing.

After his meeting with the Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, Jaishankar tweeted profoundly: “Focus remains on resolving outstanding issues and ensuring peace and tranquility in the border areas.” Wow! What a breakthrough! And, after his meeting with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Jaishankar said the two had done a “comprehensive review of bilateral, global and multilateral cooperation”. How enlightening!

Oh, and there was the usual proforma tirade between India and Pakistan, both accusing each other of heinousness of varying degrees. For the record, Jaishankar said Bhutto Zardari was a “promoter, justifier and a spokesperson” of the terror industry. Zardari, at a press conference in Islamabad after the summit said Jaishankar’s comments were a “joke”. He said: “This country knows me, have I once even in my political history accidentally sat down with a terrorist?” Bhutto Zardari said. “They don’t see that even in our country we  (his party, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party) perform a role in the first ranks against appeasing terrorists,” he added.

So, what was it that we were saying about the SCO? For China and Russia, it is an anti-West platform. For smaller nations such as the Central Asian states, and Mongolia, Armenia, and Turkey, it offers an organization to belong to—an organization that is led by the heft of larger nations such as China, Russia, and India. However, the significance of SCO for India is not really clear. India has been tightrope walking in regard to its relations with Russia and China. At the SCO, it is a sort of big fish but one that is quite confoundingly odd. Its border dispute with China continues to brew; its stance on Russia and the war in Ukraine is conditioned heavily by the dependence on trade with Russia (from whom India buys large supplies of oil and weapons); and it really gets no support, from either China or Russia, on the threats of terrorism via Pakistan that continue to wreak havoc in its territory. Sadly, India’s is a bit of a pitiable state in the SCO.

Will India get a bigger bite of Apple?

Apple, the iconic maker of iPhones and iEverything, has an interesting relationship with China. In fact, as the Financial Times observed recently in an article by a portfolio manager, Apple may be more Chinese than American. Here’s why?

China is where (still) Apple gets most of its products made. In 2016, Apple is believed to have signed a pact to invest US$275 billion in China. That is a huge investment for a single company to commit to one country. Besides, almost 20% of Apple’s revenues come from China (just for comparison, India accounts for around a per cent of the US corporation’s revenues, which were around US$400 billion in 2022). Last year, operating profits for Apple from Greater China (the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) accounted for US$31.2 billion (its total operating profits that year were US$ 113.96 billion).

Apple also bends over backwards to comply with China and its all-powerful Communist Party. It turns over data accrued from consumers of its products; it blocks apps that irk the Chinese authorities; and it restricts file sharing in the region.

In short, Apple does everything to protect its business relationship, which not long ago, CEO Tim Cook described as “symbiotic”. As much as 46% of Apple’s suppliers are based in mainland China and it is estimated that for some products as much as 95% of the volume is manufactured in China.

However, things could change. Of late, China has been cracking down on foreign companies with more surveillance as well as controls. Besides, labour and manufacturing costs in China have been going up. In the long run, it is sensible for Apple to think of alternative manufacturing strategies. It has been eyeing opportunities in other countries, including India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Ireland. IPhone manufacture has been increasing in India where three of Apple’s suppliers have facilities, all of them in south India. Apple has been shifting production away from China after the country’s strict COVID-related restrictions disrupted the manufacturing of many of its products, including the iPhone.

So how big a slice of the Apple pie will India get. As of now, India accounts for just 5-7% of the total number of iPhones manufactured by Apple; but the US giant wants to take that level up to 25%. So, soon India could get a bigger bite of Apple.

The godfather of AI fears for humanity

Geoffrey Hinton, 75, is a prominent figure in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning. He is often referred to as the “Godfather of Deep Learning” due to his significant contributions to the development and advancement of neural networks. Recently, Hinton quit Google where he was the main architect of the firm’s research and development in AI and Machine Learning.

Hinton said he left his position at Google to speak out about the “dangers” of the technology he helped to develop. Hinton fears that the tech industry’s drive to develop AI products could result in dangerous consequences—from misinformation to job loss, and even a threat to humanity. In particular, Hinton felt that the in future AI systems could learn unexpected behavior from gleaning vast amounts of data and that such behavior could put at risk humanity.

Hinton isn’t the only voice against the spread and rise of AI systems. Recently, the billionaire and Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, had stated in an interview that “AI is more dangerous than, say, mismanaged aircraft design or production maintenance or bad car production, in the sense that it is, it has the potential–however small one may regard that probability, but it is non-trivial–it has the potential of civilization destruction.” And Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli public intellectual, historian and professor, has observed that AI may have “hacked the operating system of human civilization”.

The risks that AI could pose have come to the attention of governments. Last week,  Big Tech company bosses were called to the White House andtold that they need to protect the public from the dangers of AI. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and OpenAI’s Sam Altman were reminded of their “moral” duty to protect society.

The good news is that many of Big Tech’s CEOs and executives are of the same opinion and some of the latest advances in AI and Machine Learning are being made with caution and regulation.

It is official: Sourav Ganguly doesn’t know much

Spinelessness is a recurring syndrome among people who benefit from patronage. Last week, we witnessed how a leading Indian athlete (now a Member of Parliament where she was nominated by the ruling regime) criticized the protests by Indian wrestlers and many others against charges of sexual harassment and more levelled at the powerful boss of India’s wrestling federation, Brij Bhushan. Now, it is the turn of Sourav Ganguly, former Indian cricket captain and currently chairman of the ICC Men’s Cricket Committee.

Known less for his intellect than his talent as a cricketer, Ganguly was quoted last week as saying that he did not know much about the ongoing protest of the wrestlers but hoped that the issue will be resolved soon. Ganguly either cannot read (no shame in that: many people cannot) or he is scared of coming out with a stronger statement in favour of his peers in the world of Indian sport. Most likely it is the latter.

The Indian news agency Press Trust of India tweeted a video and quoted Ganguly as saying: “Let them fight their battle. I don’t know what’s happening there, I just read in the newspapers. In the sports world, I realised one thing that you don’t talk about things you don’t have complete knowledge of.” Wimp.

Spat over a “drone attack” on Kremlin

Last week, Russia alleged that Ukraine had attempted a drone attack on the Russian headquarters of Kremlin in Moscow with the aim of killing Russian president Vladimir Putin. It was the most dramatic allegations since the war began more than a year ago.

Putin, apparently, was not in the building when the attack happened and the drone caused no material damage. However, Russia called it a terrorist attack and warned of retaliation.

Ukraine, however, denied the attack and its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was quoted as saying: “We don’t attack Putin, or Moscow; we fight on our territory.”

I what Kremlin says is true, it raises questions about how protected Putin really is. And if Russia’s threats about retaliating are carried out, it could signify a further escalation in the war.

Devji Bhimji – A Gujarati Who Became Malayalam Media Mogul

Millions of Malayalis in Kerala and across the globe may not have much idea that printing and publishing in their language were pioneered by a businessman hailing from distant Gujarat, 2,300 kilometres away.

Nor for that matter, the people in Gujarat who, otherwise proud of their trading prowess wherever they have gone and settled, have set in motion the process of globalisation, long before the world began to talk about it.

The story of Devji Bhimji, the pioneer and his work needs re-telling after 146 years since it is also the account of the first clash between princely India and an entrepreneur who succeeded in establishing his right to print and publish – in sum, the freedom of expression. The Kerala Media Academy (KMA) records term it as “the Royal Wrath”.

“It fell to a Gujarathi’s lot to launch the first systematic ‘newspaper’ in Malayalam. Devji Bhimji started a printing press at Cochin in 1865 under the name of the Keralamitram Press. In running the press Devji Bhimji had to face heavy odds. There was the obvious disadvantage of embarking upon a hitherto uncharted course. But more discouraging was the unhelpful attitude of the authorities.

“In an unprovoked gesture, the police authorities slapped an order on Devji Bhimji requiring him to submit all matters meant for printing for the prior scrutiny and approval of the authorities. On his preferring an appeal seeking reconsideration of this blanket order the authorities retaliated by forcing the closure of the establishment.

“Devji Bhimji was not daunted. He approached the Divan on at least six occasions for a redressal of his grievances. But the Divan was averse to rescinding the censorship orders. In exasperation, Devji Bhimji now turned to the British Resident, Henry Neville, for justice. His perseverance paid at last after almost a year of forced closure of the press when the British resident prevailed upon the authorities to withdraw their orders.”

Sir Henry Neville directed the Diwan that his administration annul all restrictions, including the Press Regulation (Censorship) law, and unsealing of the printing press. This was in 1865.

Yet, history tells us that numerous more battles continued to be fought in British India. Among the more celebrated fighters, as recorded in these columns earlier, was a Briton, Benjamin Guy Horniman, who exposed the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab. The story of Devji Bhimji precedes that by 55 years.

There is no record of his family from Kutch moving to Mattancherry, a Cochin suburb, to set up businesses, including stationary and gold jewellery shops. What we know is that his family followed a long line of migration to Kerala that began way back in the fourth century. Settled along the coast, the Gujaratis traded in pepper, cardamom and other spices.

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Devji Bhimji pioneered the publishing business with an old printing press. Till then, Malayalam prose and literature were in cyclostyled sheets. Journals and periodicals in Malayalam were first started by missionaries, in most cases for propagating religion. Their contribution to the development of Malayalam prose and journalism, however, has been considerable, according to the KMA’s study.

“Reading matter was spread across the pages with neither columns nor cross-heads to break the monotony.” Among them was Rajyasamacharam by a German missionary, Herbert Gundart, a renowned scholar and grandfather of poet Herman Hesse.

Devji Bhimji took publishing beyond the religious literature that missionaries of all faith published till then. The success against the Cochin Travancore administration emboldened him to go for newspapers and journals and educational material.

His Kerala Mithram was the earliest Malayalam language newspaper, published in the first and third week of every month. The first editor-in-chief was a bright 24-year-old, Kandathil Varghese Mappillai, who went to found Malayala Manorama. The deputy was T.G. Paily.

Devji Bhimji also launched The Western Star in 1860, entrusting the editorship to a Briton, an absolute greenhorn with no prior experience. A weekly, it was the first English-language journal published in Kerala.  Its Malayalam edition was called Paschimatraka.

The KMA study records: “Ironically, the first of this genre to be published from Kerala was in the English language…..  Charles Lawson, who had left England after completing his studies, took over as the paper’s editor. This was Lawson’s maiden essay into journalism. The assignment obviously stood him in good stead when he migrated to Madras to launch the Madras Mail in later years.

The Western Star continued from Cochin for a long time. In due course, there were changes in ownership as well as the location of the paper. The publication base was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram. Thereafter its appearance was irregular.”

Devji Bhimji improved the printing machinery and by 1886, he was publishing in Sanskrit, English, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam. Hindi included Amarkosh, Kadambari and Padmasamhita. They had a wide readership in the north.

Kerala Kokil served Marathi readers everywhere, till sold to Krishnaji Athale, who took it to Bombay in 1898. References to Devji Bhimji’s contribution to Marathi literature and journalism are found in 1898 made by Mahadev Govind Ranade, one of Maharashtra’s tallest jurist-scholar and social activists. 

The port city where Devji Bhimji began his endeavour, still has 500-odd Gujarati families, while dwindling numbers are in Allapuzha, Changnacheri, Ponnani and other places in Kerala.

In a sense, Devji Bhimji sowed the seeds of Malayala Manorama. His experiences in the field of publishing “were happy for he was already toying with the idea of starting a paper on his own. This blossomed into reality with the launching, on New Year’s Day of 1881, of the Keralamitram. In a number of respects, the Keralamitram can be hailed as the first “newspaper” in the Malayalam language.

“The Keralamitram was fortunate in that it had as its first editor none other than Kandathil Varghese Mappilai who later founded the Malayala Manorama. With Kandathil Varghese Mappilai’s flair for journalism and Devji Bhimji’s acumen as an entrepreneur, it is no wonder that the new publication made a lasting impact on Malayalam journalism.”

Kerala’s success story as one of the most literate states is inseparable from that of this newspaper chain. First published as a weekly on 22 March 1888, it currently claims a readership of over 9 million (with a circulation base of over 1.9 million copies). According to the World Association of Newspapers, as of 2016, it was the 14th most circulated newspaper in the world.

The Gujarati merchant was way ahead of his time. What is left of his legacy is a crumbling building with the signboard: “Devaji Bhimji Trust, Cochin-2.”

The writer can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com

The Udan Pari, or Flying Fairy, of Indian Sports Has Feet of Clay

India’s Sprint Queen, PT Usha, has feet of clay

Last year, India’s most celebrated woman athlete, P.T. Usha was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. A veteran sprinter, Usha has to her credit four Asian gold medals and 7 silver medals and is often called the “Queen of Indian Track and Field”. Last week, Usha came out in defence of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, popularly known as Brij Bhushan. Bhushan, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and member of Parliament, is facing multiple accusations of sexual harassment and physical aggression.

Since January this year, Indian wrestlers have been protesting against the 66-year-old Bhusan for his alleged misbehaviour and sexual harassment of women wrestlers. The protesters have demanded his arrest and ouster from his official position. To be sure,  over the years there have been several other allegations against Bhushan: he has confessed to a murder; he was involved in the demolitions of the Babri Masjid; he has been caught on camera slapping a wrestler; and he is believed to have had connections with the underworld and was charged in 1992 for helping the Dawood Ibrahim gang in organising a shoot at an Indian hospital.

When the latest controversy surrounding him erupted, and wrestlers and other sportspersons, including Olympians, organised morchas and assemblies in the capital, instead of coming out in support of those who were protesting, India’s Sprint Queen Usha chose to take a surprising line: she said that the agitations against him were “not good for the country’s image” and that those who were taking up the cause of women wrestlers were “indisciplined”. 

Patronage does that to some people. When the ruling regime rewards you with a position of prestige–in the 58-year-old Usha’s case, it was the trappings of a Rajya Sabha membership–it can create a sense of pathetic obeisance to your patron and lead to loss of sensibilities. Unfortunately, Usha, who is also the chief of the Indian Olympics Association, has fallen victim to that disgusting syndrome. 

To be sure, three months ago, India’s sports ministry constituted a committee, headed by boxing star Mary Kom, to examine the charges against Bhushan but till now the committee has not returned with any report or observations. Incidentally, Kom, 40, has also served as a Rajya Sabha MP from 2016 to 2022. She was also nominated to the upper house by the ruling regime. 

The politics of patronage is an odious thing. In India, it afflicts people from all walks of life. Every year before the run-up to the national Padma awards begins there is hectic lobbying that many resort to. As is the case when it comes to lobbying for the 12 nominations to the Rajya Sabha. With few exceptions, in most cases the nominees are decided by the ruling regime on political considerations and, also in most cases, those who accept the nominations appear to also compromise with their vertebrae: like Usha, they become spineless.

Meanwhile, even as a police case has been filed against Bhushan, the WFI chief is adamant and insists that he is innocent. He has said that he will cooperate but is not willing to face investigations as a criminal. The controversy surrounding him rages on.

As defence ministers meet, India’s border spat with China continues 

Last week, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh met with his Chinese counterpart General Li Shangfu and emphasised that China had violated the terms of existing agreements between the two countries in the border row in eastern Ladakh. China claims large tracts that India insists belong to it and recently a list of locations in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh that were renamed in Chinese by China were revealed. 

The Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have had 18 rounds of talks to ease tensions along LAC in the region but a resolution has remained elusive. The latest border row between the two countries has been on for three years.

Meanwhile, in response to India’s allegations of violations, China has stated that the situation along the Line of Actual Control, a notional demarcation line that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the Sino-Indian border dispute, remained “stable”. 

In lay terms, the talks between the two defence ministers have failed to unlock the stalemate over the border dispute.

Politicising the rescue of Indians stranded in Sudan 

When the nationals of a country are caught up and stranded in another country because of civil strife or war in that foreign location, it is the onus of their government to arrange means of repatriating them. India has done the same. When civil war erupted in the north-east African nation of Sudan with anti-government militia clashing with the Sudanese army, thousands of Indians were stranded there facing huge risks to their lives. Accordingly, the Indian government sprang into action and launched an operation, coordinated between the government and the Indian embassy, which rescued stranded Indians and repatriated them back to India.

The action was laudable and on point. However, it was named Operation Kaveri, a reference to the major river in southern India that flows through the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The naming of the rescue operation, believed to be done at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is of significance. 

Many of the stranded Indians in Sudan are originally from the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where the River Kaveri is revered and worshipped. In these states, it is a sacred river that is worshipped as the Goddess Kaveriamma (Mother Cauvery and is considered to be among the seven holy rivers of India. It is extensively used for agriculture in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Cut now to politics. On May 10, Karnataka will hold its assembly elections. Opposition parties have alleged that naming the Sudan operation after the sacred river is aimed at generating positive sentiment for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which wants to fare well in the polls in order to build an inroad into southern states where its clout and influence is poor. The Congress has called it a “low-blow tactic” by the BJP, while the latter has countered it by citing that the code name for the operation notes the sacredness of the river. When the government took action to repatriate Indians stranded in Ukraine, it called it Operation Ganga. 

Meanwhile, India has successfully moved approximately 1,700 to 2,000 Indian nationals out of the conflict zones in Sudan.

Another film; another controversy

The trailer of the film, Kerala Story, by film producer, Vipul Amrutlal Shah, has led to an eruption of controversy. The film, which is to be released on May 5, is believed to be about the story of how women from the Indian state of Kerala were duped and trafficked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the strife-ridden region of Syria. 

The film purportedly shows how “Love Jihad” was used to lure more than 30,000 women from Kerala by the ISIS. “Love Jihad” is a term that originated in India, referring to an alleged practice of Muslim men targeting non-Muslim women for conversion to Islam through seduction, love, and marriage. The term is not recognised as a legal or sociological concept in India, and the claims of its existence are considered controversial and contested.

The film’s teaser was released last November but in a complaint filed by a journalist based in Chennai, it has been alleged that the film depicts Kerala as a “terror-supporting state” and that it undermines India’s intelligence agencies. Different political parties have also waded into the controversy and fear that its release could spark communal tensions. Hindu hardliners, on the other hand, have taken to social media and other platforms in support of the film.

Not long ago, another film, The Kashmir Files, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, generated controversy and criticism, with some accusing it of being politically motivated and promoting a divisive narrative. One of the main criticisms of the film is that it portrays the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits as a result of Muslim fundamentalism and terrorism, while downplaying the role of the Indian government and security forces in the displacement. Critics argue that the film’s portrayal of the situation is one-sided and ignores the complex political and historical factors that led to the exodus.

Let them eat Chocolate?

Days before his formal coronation on May 6, a life-sized bust of King Charles has been made from more than 17 litres of melted chocolates. The bust weighs 23 kg and took four weeks to make. It will be on display in the town of Slough, bordering Greater London.

There is no information, though, about what will eventually happen to the chocolate bust made by Mars, the confectionery company. 

The idea of making Chocolate Charles, although not associated with the Palace or the monarch in any way, recalls the old story about the phrase “let them eat cake”, which is often attributed to Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France during the French Revolution. The story goes that when she was told that the people of France had no bread to eat, she callously responded, “Let them eat cake.”

With the British economy under stress–high inflation, shortages of food and energy in the aftermath of Brexit, and several unseemly political controversies–a bust of its king made out of chocolates could seem a tad ironic, or even darkly surreal.