It’s INDIA Versus NDA. Can a United Opposition Defeat Modi?
Last Wednesday, 26 Indian opposition parties announced a pre-election coalition, which will contest the next parliamentary elections due in May 2024. The 26 parties, which together won 134 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections, forged the alliance following the initiative of Nitish Kumar, 72, the veteran Bihar politician and chief minister of the state.
The coalition is called INDIA, a clever acronym that expands to “Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance”. The 26-party coalition includes the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the DMK, the AAP, the JD(U) (of which Kumar is the leader), the RJD, the JMM, the NCP and the Shiv Sena.
When Kumar proposed the idea as the convenor of the opposition alliance, the plan was (and perhaps still is) to together field one strong candidate regardless of which constituent of the alliance they belonged to contest the candidate nominated by BJP or its alliance, the NDA.
Already the rhetoric has been flying thick and fast. Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s chief minister and head of the Trinamool Congress, was quoted as saying: “Let us challenge the NDA. The NDA cannot challenge INDIA. Is there anyone who can challenge INDIA?”
The bigger question, however, is whether the mish-mash of politicians of different stripes will be able to work together. Many of the constituents of “INDIA” have been arch rivals of each other, with a long history of bitter sparring between them. Whether they will be able to bury their differences and fight as one against the NDA remains to be seen.
Some people think that the coalition has a chance to challenge the BJP’s dominance and popularity, especially if they can present a united front and a common agenda to the voters. Others doubt the coalition’s viability and stability, given the ideological differences and regional rivalries among some of the parties. Ultimately, it will depend on how the coalition performs in the upcoming state elections and how it manages to mobilize public support for its cause.
Meanwhile, critics of the new alliance have been quick with their rhetoric as well. The chief minister of the northeastern state of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, jibed at the coalition’s acronym name and said the British had named the country “India” and the fight should be to free the nation from “colonial legacies”.
How India’s Ban on Rice Exports Can Fuel Global Food Inflation
Last Thursday, India ordered a ban on exports of white rice, its largest category of rice exports. India is the world’s largest exporter of rice and this move, it is feared could set off fears of a further rise in food inflation around the world, particularly in markets that are already reeling from high rise in price of food.
According to India, the ban on exports (the ban is on non-basmati white rice) follows a rise in price of rice in the domestic market because of the late and heavy monsoon, which has caused widespread damage to crops.
India accounts for more than 40% of global rice exports. The ban, coupled with low inventories of the grain with other exporters could further fuel food price inflation. Already, after the Russian offensive against Ukraine, which is a major food grains exporter, food prices have shot up globally. Days before India banned the exports of rice, Russia disallowed the Black Sea Grain Deal that allowed exports of foodgrains (mainly wheat) from Ukraine.
India’s food ministry noted a 11.5% increase in retail food prices over the past year and reasoned that the ban on exports was aimed at ensuring enough rice was available in the domestic market.
Last year, India exported 22 million tonnes of rice of which non-basmati white accounted for 10 million tonnes. Last week’s ban, however, does not cover parboiled rice (rice that is partly boiled in the husk) nor does it cover broken rice. These accounted for nearly 8 million tonnes last year.
High food inflation is a politically-sensitive matter in India too. Next year, India heads to its next parliamentary elections and the ruling regime headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Narendra Modi would be keen to keep inflation under check in its bid to win a third term at the Centre. India has also limited sugar exports after sugarcane yields declined. Rising sugar prices can also be a trigger for food inflation, which the Modi regime wants to keep in check.
Nearly 3.5 billion people in the world consume rice as a staple food grain and most of it is produced in Asian countries. Rice price inflation has been growing steadily over the past decade and, according to estimates, they are hovering around their highest levels in the last decade.
Can Cricket Hit a Sixer in America?
The names of the teams are as curious as they are in the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament: Atlanta Fire; Chicago Lions; Dallas Stars; Los Angeles Galaxy; and New York Bravehearts, to name a few. Last week, the Major League Cricket (MLC) tournament kicked off in the US, in a high-powered attempt to make the sport a popular money spinner in that country.
For decades there have been attempts to popularise the sport, which is played only in a few countries–mainly in the UK and its erstwhile colonies, including India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Those efforts had mixed outcomes.
Now, however, the MLC is powered with resources. Last week, the tournament began in a converted baseball stadium in Texas. With big multinational corporations as sponsors and Indian-origin tech heavyweights such as Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella (himself a big cricket buff) as patrons, already close to $50 million has been splurged on the tournament, which could see a further outlay of $130 million.
MLC is a professional Twenty20 cricket league and is operated by American Cricket Enterprises (ACE) and sanctioned by USA Cricket. It began play on July 13, 2023, with six teams representing major U.S. cities under a single-entity model. The first season is taking place over three weeks at Grand Prairie Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, and Church Street Park in Morrisville, North Carolina, concluding on July 30, 2023.
Besides Microsoft, sponsors include Uber, Coca Cola, Nike, Slazenger, and Amazon. The organisers are hoping that the money backing the tournament and the growing influence of the South Asian diaspora, much of it comprising cricket fanatics, will make cricket work in the US, finally.
Shock and Shame in Manipur
More than two months ago, a gruesome and shocking incident took place in Manipur where ethnic clashes and violence have been continuing since the beginning of the year. In that incident, a video recording of which has been spreading virally, two women were paraded naked through the streets by a violent mob of men. It led to global outrage over the incident.
Police have arrested four men alleged to be involved in the act and charged them with gang rape. The question, however, is why did it take the police so long to act? A police complaint was believed to have been lodged soon after the incident and in the video the perpetrators are clearly identifiable.
What is more, according to the BBC, “a damning detail that has emerged from the written complaint – the BBC has seen a copy of it – filed by a relative of one of the women, is that the mob allegedly took the survivors from police custody. And two of the survivors have even accused the police of being present, but not doing anything to help them”.
Many in India are anguished and angry about this and other incidents in Manipur and many believe the government is not doing enough to stem the violence or to bring to book perpetrators such as those involved in heinous acts such as these. The current ruling party in Manipur is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which formed the government after the 2017 state assembly elections.
The Internet Phenomenon of ‘Barbenheimer’
Barbenheimer is an Internet meme that became viral before the release of two blockbuster films on the same day last Friday in many major global markets. The name is a portmanteau of the titles of the two films, Barbie and Oppenheimer, which couldn’t be more dissimilar in style and content.
Barbie is a lighthearted fantasy comedy by Greta Gerwig about the fashion doll Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, who finds herself in the real world and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Oppenheimer is a dark, gritty epic biographical thriller by Christopher Nolan about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, who was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapons during World War II.
The contrast between the two films provoked a comedic response from Internet users, who created memes, posters, trailers and fan art that humorously combined the contrasting aesthetics and themes of both films³. Some examples include: Barbie smiling in the foreground of a mushroom cloud; Oppenheimer holding a pink suitcase with the Barbie logo; Barbie saying “C’mon Oppie, let’s go testify before the US government; and so on.
Many were exhorted to watch both the movies on the opening day as a double bill. According to trade estimates, both films did well on the opening weekend: Barbie grossing $120 million and Oppenheimer grossing $150 million.