Researched by: Rachel John, Anannya Parekh & Aarthi Ramnath
US thwarts Indian assassination plot
A Financial Times exclusive links India to a conspiracy to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. He is the lead counsel for Sikhs for Justice, an organisation that supports the demand for Khalistan—and an American-Canadian citizen. We don’t know the details of the plot—or why it was never carried out. However, the US National Security Council has confirmed that Washington issued a warning to India. President Biden also raised the matter with PM Modi during the G20 summit in Delhi in September. When confronted, India expressed “surprise and concern” and said that “activity of this nature was not their policy.”
Why this matters: In September, Canada alleged that New Delhi was involved in a plot to kill another separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. PM Trudeau’s accusation sparked a massive diplomatic row—with India expressing outrage, sending back diplomats etc. But the US seems to have promptly confirmed Ottawa’s claims:
Washington shared details of the Pannun case with a wider group of allies after Trudeau went public with details of the Vancouver killing, the combination of which sparked concern among allies about a possible pattern of behaviour.
Umm, that’s not good at all.
The Indian response: The External Affairs Ministry is trying to style it out, saying, “[T]he US side shared some inputs pertaining to [the] nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others.” But the National Security Council says the US views this case with “utmost seriousness”—and “we have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable.” Coming up: the trial of at least one suspect—which may result in more embarrassing revelations.
The OpenAI tamasha: The latest update
The context: Open AI CEO Sam Altman was fired by the board, making it one of the biggest stories in tech. Soon after, Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft has hired Atlman to head its AI division—which was interesting since the company is the biggest investor in OpenAI. (This saga is so complicated, you will have to read our Big Story ICYMI. We can’t summarise the twists and turns for you.)
What happened now: After all that drame-baazi Altman has been reinstated as OpenAI’s CEO. The old board—which fired him—will be sacked instead. And a new board—more pleasing to Altman and Nadella—will be put in charge. Members will include former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Bret Taylor, former CEO of Salesforce. There will be an internal investigation into the circumstances that led to Altman’s firing. OTOH, Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg News argues that this rejig will do little to resolve the existential conflict between OpenAI’s for-profit and nonprofit arms. (New York Times, paywall, The Verge)
In other OpenAI news: The company was hit by another copyright violation lawsuit—for using content of nonfiction books to train its chatbot ChatGPT. This is the first case to name Microsoft as a defendant. (Reuters)
Also related: Nvidia—which makes the chips that power AI models—continues its dream run. The company earned $18.1 million in revenue in the third quarter—a 206% year-on-year increase. (CNBC)
A crazy-high GST bill for Swiggy/Zomato
Tax authorities have sent two top food delivery companies GST bills for the total amount of Rs 7.5 billion (750 crore)—that’s Rs 4 billion (400 crore) for Zomato and Rs 3.5 billion (350 crore) for Swiggy. They claim that delivery is a service and therefore the companies owe GST on the fees charged to the customer. OTOH, this is how the companies see it:
On the other hand, industry is of a view that “both Zomato & Swiggy are platforms, and they hire gig workers on a per delivery basis and Swiggy and Zomato are just collecting these fees as a total amount which gets paid to the gig worker. These gig workers are providing the service thus, it is on them to pay GST. But, since each gig worker is below the Rs 20 Lakh threshold they are exempt from GST.”
Right now, they only pay GST on the food ordered. This is a real shocker for both companies—given that Zomato’s net profit in the latest was Rs 360 million (36 crore). CNBCTV18 has lots more on the debate within the industry over the government’s GST policy.
Pakistan’s shocking extortion racket
The context: On November 1, the Pakistan government expelled millions of undocumented Afghans—many of whom are children born in the country. Most of these refugees were not allowed to bring their belongings—and were allowed to carry only 50,000 Pakistani rupees—which is less than $200—out of the country. You can read more about it in our Big Story.
What happened now: The Guardian has discovered that the government is charging $830 per person as “exit fees”—from the very people they are displacing. This exit permit fee has to be paid by credit card—which most Afghans do not have. Despite concerns expressed by UN agencies, Islamabad isn’t budging:
These individuals have been here for the last two years and they are not refugees but immigrants with overstay in their visas and lack of documents. But we expect the concerned countries would expedite the visa and approval process so that they can leave for their destination as early as possible.
The Guardian has more on this story.
A shocking stat on ‘carbon inequality’
The phrase refers to the wide gap between the emissions produced by the wealthy and the rest of the planet’s citizens. According to a new report—prepared by Oxfam, The Guardian and others—the wealthiest 1% of people put out as much carbon pollution as the poorest 66%—which is around five billion people. This one percent includes anyone who earns more than $140,000 a year. Also this:
The amount of carbon dioxide emissions the top 1% was reported to have produced in 2019—5.9 billion tonnes—is enough to change global temperatures to lead to the deaths of an estimated 1.3 million people, the report says, citing a widely-used methodology known as "mortality cost of carbon."
The amount of carbon emitted by the super-rich is even more obnoxious. Twelve of the world's richest billionaires contributed nearly 17 million tonnes of emissions—which is more than 4 1/2 coal power plants over the course of a year. CBS News offers a good overview of the report. The Guardian has specific articles on billionaires and celebrities’ private jets.
Binance CEO steps down
Changpeng Zhao resigned as CEO of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange. He pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering as part of a settlement with the US Justice Department. He is specifically accused of violating sanctions against Iran:
Binance knew in 2018 that it had millions of U.S. users, but didn’t set up a program to detect money laundering or violations of sanctions laws, according to prosecutors. As a result, Binance processed trades between Americans and users believed to be in Iran valued at $899 million between January 2018 and May 2022, prosecutors said.
Also up to shady business: The Patanjali Group owned by the infamous Baba Ramdev. A Reporters’ Collective investigation shows that he employed “a web of dubious shell companies that funnelled money” to buy Aravalli forestland—which he then sold as real estate. Reporters’ Collective has lots more details.
ICC issues transgender ban for women’s cricket
The International Cricket Council (ICC) says trans women will no longer be eligible to play on a women’s team—as per its new “gender eligibility regulation.” The new criteria were apparently introduced to “protect the integrity of the women's game, safety, ING fairness and inclusion”. The immediate victim of this rule change: Canada's Danielle McGahey who became the first trans woman to play an international game—at the ICC T20 World Cup qualifying tournament in Los Angeles this year. Trans women can still play for men’s or mixed teams. Point to note: Chess issued similar rules earlier this year. (BBC Sport)
Susan Sarandon has been cancelled
Well, she’s been cancelled by Hollywood’s power talent agency UTA—who dropped the actor after she said this at a pro-Palestine rally: “There are a lot of people afraid of being Jewish at this time, and are getting a taste of what it feels like to be a Muslim in this country.” Though she also thanked “the Jewish community who’s come out to have our backs.” Also dropped: Melissa Barrera from ‘Scream VII’ for describing Israel’s military campaign as “genocide.” In fact, the top talent agencies have been on a firing spree since the October 7 attacks. Variety has a fascinating read on the divide within Hollywood—which starts out with Tom Cruise having to go to bat for his agent. (The Guardian)
A laser message from far, far away…
Earlier this month, NASA’s spacecraft Psyche beamed a test laser message back to earth. It was 16 million km away—on its way to investigate the asteroid Psyche—which is about three times further away from the Sun than the Earth. This is the farthest that a laser beam message has ever travelled. This deep space experiment could change how spacecraft communicate—using optical messages coded into lasers rather than radio waves. This means they can send lots more data and at a faster speed. (IFLScience)
Four things to see
One: Everyone thought this guy—hurling shocking racist abuse at a halal food vendor—was just another angry white man. Turns out he is Stuart Seldowitz—a former senior national security official who served the Obama administration. Before that, he was deputy director in a State Department section focusing on Palestine. Worse, people have now uncovered multiple instances of similar harassment of Muslim street vendors. This was Seldowitz’s hobby!
The good news is that he’s lost his current job—as foreign affairs chair for Gotham Government Relations—which is a government lobbying firm. And Seldowitz is now in custody for committing a hate crime. Warning: he says really appalling things. (Vice)
Two: We can’t get enough of Roger Federer—even though he retired from professional tennis back in 2022. On Monday, he turned up at an Andrea Bocelli concert in Zurich—and was invited onstage for his finale—the lovely Puccini aria ‘Nessun Dorma’. (Sports Illustrated)
Three: Waterspouts are kinda like tornadoes—formed not on land but over water. This one was spotted off the Amalfi coast in Italy on Monday. Happily, it did not cause any damage—and can be admired guilt-free. (BBC News)
Four: The latest drop for the upcoming SRK flick ‘Dunki’ is the song ‘Lutt Putt Gaya’. This is Shah Rukh in full romantic cry.