Iran has a worrying new leader
The country’s new president is an ultra-conservative hardliner—who will now be the second to only the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and may be his heir. Apart from his extremist views, Ebrahim Raisi was part of a so-called "death committee" and oversaw secret death sentences for about 5,000 prisoners. Point to note:
“Many Iranians saw this latest election as having been engineered for Mr Raisi to win, and shunned the poll. Official figures showed voter turnout was the lowest ever for a presidential election, at 48.8%, compared to more than 70% for the previous vote in 2017.”
The great pandemic: a quick update
- First, the numbers: India added 53,256 new cases and 1,422 deaths on Sunday.
- 90% of 650 districts report a ‘steady decline’ in the number of new cases. And only 70 witnessed a rise. Moreover, only 70 districts saw a rise in the number of active cases—with 27 districts reporting a spike in excess of 100 and 18 districts with a rise in single digits.
- Experts predict a third wave in 3-4 months—or even earlier if we continue to behave like Covidiots and/or breed new variants.
- Dubai has relaxed its travel restrictions for passengers from India. Indian Express has the new rules.
- You can’t attend Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway concert if you received the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield). The reason: It has not yet been approved by US authorities. (The Guardian)
- In other AstraZeneca-related news: The top vaccine expert says the government’s decision to extend the gap between two doses to 12-16 weeks is the right one—and will not affect its efficacy. (Times of India)
- A related good read: The Intercept has a very important piece on how Indian vaccine makers put profit ahead of public good.
A political reachout on Kashmir
- The government has invited 14 leaders—former CMs, Deputy CMs and heads of mainstream parties—to come to Delhi and meet the Prime Minister.
- This is the first move toward holding Assembly elections in the state—and perhaps reopening a process that may lead to restoring Kashmir’s statehood.
- This is significant since many of these leaders are part of the ‘Gupkar alliance’ which opposes the decision to revoke Article 370, and demands its restoration.
- Home Minister Amit Shah once referred to them as the “Gupkar gang,” an “unholy global gathbandhan” that wants “foreign forces to intervene in J&K.”
- According to The Telegraph, “The Valley parties see the offer as an admission on the Centre’s part of its failure to provide a political alternative in Kashmir, or even to restore a semblance of normalcy.”
- Most parties are likely to agree to talks—but Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti remains the most wary.
UN report flags new digital media rules
A new report criticised the new guidelines (explained here) as undemocratic: “We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights.” And it encouraged the government to “take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders.”
The government in response wrote a letter insisting the rules were A-okay, and that “concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT rules will entail is highly misplaced.”
Speaking of those new rules: According to Entrackr, even WhatsApp has not properly complied with its requirements—which insist that social media companies must appoint a grievance officer who is a company employee. WhatsApp has appointed an external lawyer instead—which is exactly what got Twitter in trouble with the government.
Also annoying the government: The Canadian school syllabus. The Indian consulate in Toronto wrote a strongly worded letter to protest “hateful and factually incorrect material” being used to teach students about the farmer protests in India. Also this:
“The Consulate General would further like to state that it considers this incident to be extremely serious and views it as a conspiracy to sabotage the goodwill and warm friendly relations between India and Canada by inimical entities to further their own nefarious agenda."
CBC has more on this story.
A big Saudi deal for Reliance?
Mukesh Ambani is in talks with Saudi Aramco—the government owned petrol & gas company—to sell off a 20% stake in Reliance’s oil and petrochemical companies. Now there are rumours that Saudi Aramco chairman and Governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, will be inducted into RIL’s board. The announcement is expected during the company’s Annual General Meeting. (Business Standard)
In memory of Milkha Singh
The track legend passed away due to Covid at the age of 91 on Friday. Here’s a quick roundup of the best tribute pieces in the media:
- The Hindu looks back at his storied career and gritty rise from the post-Partition refugee camps.
- Scroll looks back at the missed Olympic medal—and the mythic place both that race and the athlete occupy in the Indian heart.
- Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq was dubbed the Flying Bird of Asia by Pandit Nehru—and was Milkha Singh’s arch rival. His son paid a moving tribute to Singh, and revisited the Khaliq-Singh history.
- Indian Express looks at how Singh mentored the athletes who came after him.
- The Hindu also put together a lovely photo gallery in memoriam of Singh.
- Last not least, be sure to check out this wonderful, wonderful photo of Singh and his wife Nirmal.
A renewed row over Enid Blyton
English Heritage is a charity that manages historic monuments in the UK. It recently updated its profile of the children’s book author to reflect her now well-known racist views—and racist content in those beloved novels. The online bio noted: “Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit.” It led to a huge Twitter debate over whether it was right to cancel Blyton—with many such as cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote defending his affection for her work. The charity clarified that it has no intention of canceling Blyton—or removing the Blue Plaque that commemorates her contribution. But it also insisted: “We'll continue to update our website so that the story behind each plaque—and each person—is told in full.” Fair enough. A related good read: Sandip Roy in Times of India explains why Indians love Enid Blyton so very much.
Three extraordinary sights
One: A baby born five months early—and who weighed just under one pound at birth—has survived, and celebrated his first birthday. He was given a 0% chance of survival by doctors—but has now set the Guinness World Record for the most premature baby to survive. Below is a pic taken at birth:
Two: Scientists have discovered the fossils of a new species of the extinct giant rhino, Paraceratherium linxiaense. The remains were sufficient for the team to build a digital 3D model of the largest land mammal to walk the earth—standing 23 feet tall and weighing over 24 tonnes. But sadly, they did not have any horns—and don’t really look anything like a rhino. CNN has the details. See reconstructed pic below:
Three: Ok, so ‘extraordinary’ may not be the right adjective, but this monkey riding the Delhi metro is quite a sight, especially given how well-behaved he is compared to most human passengers.
In our gratitude jar…
Our gratitude to the early support of the first cohort of our founding members—some of whom were our family and friends and many others were perfect strangers. Thank you again for helping us get started: Rajyasree Sen, Gopal Srinivasan, Shubhra Chadda, Kirti Srivastava, Arun George, Adrija Bose, Sandip Roy, Alan K, Ishaan Singh and Vaneesha Jain