Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
US waves visa stick at Dhaka
The context: The ruling Awami League party won both 2014 and 2018 elections—which were marred by accusations of vote rigging and illegal targeting of opposition leaders. As a result, the 2014 polls were boycotted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
What happened now: With the 2024 elections round the corner, the US announced a new policy that will deny visas to Bangladeshi officials who undermine free elections at home. This includes members of political parties, law enforcement, judiciary and security services. Interestingly, the government hastily issued a statement promising to “take necessary measures to prevent and address any unlawful practices or interference.” Point to note: Uncle Sam’s interest in supporting democracy in its ally nations has been erratic—and subject to its most pressing national interest. See below. (Al Jazeera)
Staying in the subcontinent: Pakistan is witnessing an astonishing decline in democracy as the military cracks down on former prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters. Within the space of two weeks, two journalists who supported Khan have disappeared. The latest is a famous TV journalist Sami Abrahim. He was abducted by eight people in four vehicles—who intercepted his car on his way back home from work.
Point to remember: The government recently announced that Khan’s supporters—accused of inciting violence—will be tried in military courts. The national elections are scheduled for later this year—but there have been no grand announcements from Washington about free and fair elections. The likely reason: Khan insists he was ousted from power as part of a US-supported conspiracy. Have no clue what’s up in Pakistan? Check out our Big Story that sums up the political drama. (ABC News)
Amul wars spread to Tamil Nadu
The context: In the lead up to the recent elections, Karnataka’s dairy farmers were up in arms over Amul’s alleged attempts to elbow itself into their market. In December, Amit Shah unveiled plans for Amul to enter into a close collaboration with the Karnataka dairy co-operative Nandini—which set off alarm bells and heated rhetoric: “Shah has hatched a ploy to turn Kannadigas into slaves of Gujaratis.”
What happened now: Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin has written to Shah strongly objecting to Amul’s attempts to expand its operations in the state. Amul plans to install a processing plant and chilling centres in the state—and secure milk suppliers of the state dairy cooperative Aavin. Indian Express oddly has unnamed “industry sources” rubbishing Stalin’s claims on the dairy market in TN 🤔. FYI: the fight over who supplies the dahi or milk in a state isn’t trivial. We explained why in this Big Story.
Also becoming political: The golden sceptre aka sengol to be presented to PM Modi at the inauguration of the new parliament. Some historians are rubbishing the government’s account that claims it was given by Lord Mountbatten to Jawaharlal Nehru. The Hindu has that story. If you’re wondering what a ‘sengol’ is, check out our Big Story on the inauguration of the new parliament.
An astonishing story about implants
A motorcycle accident left Gert-Jan Oskam fully paralysed 12 years ago. In 2017, doctors inserted a spinal implant—which allowed him to take some clumsy steps. Then in 2021, he became part of a potentially revolutionary ‘proof of concept’ study—that relies on two kinds of implants to keep him mobile:
When Oskam thinks about moving his legs, the implant in his brain sends a signal to an external computer, which Oskam wears as a backpack. The computer then processes and relays that signal to a pacemaker in Oskam's abdomen, which in turn sends electrical pulses to the older implant that was already in his spinal cord. That prompts Oskam's legs to move.
Now he can climb stairs, move over ramps and switch from standing to walking. But, but, but, this isn’t a miracle cure. Oskam can only walk for 100-200 metres and stand unsupported for up to three minutes. Also this: the treatment will not work for patients who have never walked or stood up in their life. (NBC News)
Germany is officially in recession
Germany became the first European country to enter recession—defined as two successive quarters of negative growth rate. Its economy shrank by 0.3% in the first quarter this year—on the heels of a 0.5% contraction in the last quarter of 2022. The reason for Germany’s woes: high inflation which drove down household spending: “Under the weight of immense inflation, the German consumer has fallen to his knees, dragging the entire economy down with him.” Also a factor: Russia cutting off the supply of natural gas—which led to high energy prices.
Interesting to note: The International Monetary Fund had predicted only two European countries would enter recession—Germany and the UK. Then it changed its mind about the UK—which quite frankly looks like a bigger shitshow than Germany from the outside. See: Tomato rationing. (Reuters)
More cheetah tragedies at Kuno
Ugh! First, three adult cheetahs died in the space of 45 days. Now, three of four cubs born in March have also died—due to "sweltering heat and weakness.” Officials had been closely monitoring the cubs after one died—yet could not save the other two:
It is also worth noting here that the date 23.05.2023 was also the hottest day of this summer season. The day's maximum temperature was around 46-47°Celsius. Extremely hot winds and heat waves continued throughout the day. Seeing the unusual condition, the management and the team of wildlife doctors immediately decided to rescue the three cubs and do necessary treatment. Two cubs were not saved despite all medical efforts due to their critical condition.
The remaining cub has now been moved to a hospital to ensure its safety. Reminder: Twenty cheetahs were flown into the Madhya Pradesh sanctuary from South Africa and Namibia. The project has been criticised by many conservationists for reasons we explained in this Big Story. (The Hindu)
Aussie ban on Indian students
One of the most common types of immigration fraud involves getting a student visa—and then landing a job once you’re in the country. Australian universities have wisened up to the scam—and told education agents not to recruit students from certain states. Examples: Federation University has banned applications from Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Western Sydney University has blocked students from Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat. Four other institutions did the same earlier this year.
The main villains of this story are the agents—who make a big fat commission from the college for each student enrolment. They not only actively collude with families to get the kids into the country, a number of them also ‘double dip’:
And so the offshoring agent takes a commission from the student’s family to get them into the country, and then what often happens is that the cousin based in Melbourne as an onshore agent will then actually poach the same student off the university or the quality private provider and have them placed, for an additional commission, into another provider.
Close encounters of the kiwi kind
Kiwis (the people) are mostly an even-tempered sort—and it takes a lot to piss them off. Zoo Miami managed to do just that by ‘mistreating’ a kiwi (the bird) in their care. The zoo offered a close encounter with the bird for $25—allowing visitors to pet and stroke its head. A big no-no since kiwis are typically reclusive creatures—and the best practices manual clearly states they “must not be regularly taken out of their burrows just for the purposes of allowing people to see and touch them.” The clueless zoo tweeted a video of a handler doing just that—saying: “He loves being pet, he’s like a little dog and he loves his head being pet.”
Enraged New Zealanders started a petition titled ‘Help Save This Mistreated Kiwi’—even the prime minister got involved. Unsurprisingly, the zoo has shut down the service and issued an apology. Irony alert: the bird is called Pāora—after a Maori leader and conservationist. You can see her being ‘manhandled’ below. (Washington Post, paywall, The Guardian)
One ‘Amit Shah’ thing to see
Watch the home minister—and the BJP’s electoral genius—duck a pointed question about his party’s performance in South India lol! Yes, this too starts with the controversial ‘sengol’.