US assassination plot: The latest update
The context: An explosive indictment filed by the Justice Department accuses an unnamed Indian official of orchestrating a plot to kill a prominent Khalistani supporter—Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. This official allegedly recruited a criminal Nikhil Gupta—who hired a hitman to do the job. Sadly for Gupta, the hitman turned out to be an undercover agent. Most importantly, the charges link this plot to the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar—and suggest that there were a number of such targets not just Pannun. Our Big Story has all the details.
What happened now: The External Affairs ministry offered this response: “[The case] is a matter of concern. We have said, and let me reiterate, that this is also contrary to government policy.” At the same time, the government tried to spin this as a case indicting “the nexus between organised crime, trafficking, gun running and extremists at an international level”—not New Delhi itself.
As for Canada: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unsurprisingly said the equivalent of ‘I told you so’—since the indictment clearly links the Nijjar killing to the plot against Pannun:
“Soon after, on or about June 19, Gupta spoke with the undercover officer by audio call, and Gupta told the undercover officer that Nijjar ‘was also the target’ but that Nijjar was ‘#4, #3’ on the list, and ‘not to worry (because) we have so many targets, we have so many targets. But the good news is this, the good news is this: now no need to wait,” the indictment said.
But the government has not ceded an inch—again accusing Ottawa of harbouring terrorists and interfering in “internal matters.” (Indian Express)
The ‘whodunit’ question: The New York Times tackled the “burning question”—how far up did this go? One theory is that it could be a “rogue element”—trying to score points with the bosses:
The U.S. reaction to the plot so far, in which officials have taken their concerns to India privately, suggests it may be just a wrinkle in the relationship. That measured response, according to some diplomats in New Delhi, is a sign that U.S. officials could have information to suggest that the plot did not go far up the chain in India.
Others say that New Delhi routinely carries out such extrajudicial killings in its neighbours—and may have been tempted to stray further afield. Or the operation could have been intended as an election year stunt—damn the diplomatic consequences. New York Times (splainer gift link) has all the speculation you need.
Israel-Palestine War: The latest update
For more context on the Israel-Palestine war, check out our Big Stories on: The motive for the Hamas attack; the effect of civilian casualties on Gaza’s post-war fate; and the deal for a four-day truce.
Truce extended: The six-day truce was extended by an extra day while Hamas and Israel negotiate future hostage swaps. Things became a little heated after a Jerusalem shooting linked to Hamas. Both sides, however, insist they are ready to go back to war. (Associated Press)
What Israel knew: New York Times reports that Israeli officials obtained Hamas’s battle plan for the attack more than a year before it was carried out—“But Israeli military and intelligence officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, considering it too difficult for Hamas to carry out.” The reporting is based on a confidential internal document titled ‘Jericho Wall’.
Exile for Hamas? Wall Street Journal (paywall) has an exclusive on the internal debate over how to dismantle Hamas:
[S]ome Israeli and U.S. officials are discussing the idea of expelling thousands of lower-level militants from the Palestinian enclave as a way to shorten the war. The idea is reminiscent of the U.S.-brokered deal that allowed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and thousands of fighters to flee Beirut during Israel’s 1982 siege of the Lebanese capital.
Israel has also proposed “Hamas-free safe zones” ruled by “a new Gaza authority backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” But it’s very unlikely that either will want to be saddled with a Gaza devastated by Israeli bombing—and be viewed as guilty by association.
A landmark marriage in Nepal
Nepal became the first South Asian country to register a same-sex marriage—between transwoman Maya Gurung and Surendra Pandey who identifies as gay. The reason this is a same-sex union: Gurung has not officially changed her gender. Their union was made possible by a Supreme Court order in June—which ordered the government to make necessary arrangements for registering same-sex marriages. (BBC News)
A new death count for air pollution
A new and significant study shows outdoor air pollution causes 8.3 million deaths worldwide. This doesn’t include indoor air pollution caused by open fires or inefficient stoves fuelled by kerosene, wood, animal dung or coal. Of this total, 61%—or 5.1 million—are caused by the use of fossil fuels. That is far higher than the WHO’s 2019 estimate of 4.2 million. Don’t miss: Our Big Story on how the UAE is using the climate summit in Dubai to cut oil and gas deals. (The Guardian)
New wrinkle in Windsor race scandal
The context: Meghan Markle infamously told Oprah Winfrey that a member of the royal family had raised “concerns and conversations about how dark” the skin of their child would be—when she was pregnant with their first baby, Archie. At the time, the Sussexes ruled out Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh—leaving the identity of the real offenders a hotly debated secret.
On November 28, British journalist Omid Scobie published a book called ‘End Game’—which is highly sympathetic to Harry & Meghan. It claimed to reveal new details about the rift between the couple and the Windsor family—especially around the issue of race.
What happened now: On his streaming talk show, Piers Morgan revealed that the Dutch translation of Scobie’s book contains the names of the alleged culprit—King Charles—along with an indirect reference implicating Kate Middleton. Here is the English translation of the bit about Charles—which seems rather vague:
Scobie himself is blaming the furore on a “translation” error—likely because he doesn’t want to run into trouble with strict libel laws in Britain. The Dutch publisher has pulled copies of the book. BBC News offers a long analysis of what may have happened. Watch the controversial segment of the Morgan show. New York Times has lots more detail.
The world’s most expensive city is…
Singapore… and Zurich! The cities are tied for the top spot. Singapore has made #1 nine times over the past 11 years. OTOH, Zurich is back in pole position after 2020 “because the Swiss franc has appreciated by more than 10% against the dollar over the past year.” In fact, west European cities—such as Copenhagen, Dublin and Vienna—account for half the top 20 spots. Also pretty pricey: US cities like New York (#3), Los Angeles (#6) and San Francisco (#10)—which made the top ten.
According to the Worldwide Cost of Living survey, the entire planet is far more expensive—average global prices have risen by 7.4% year on year for over 200 commonly used goods and services. That said, Asia is doing way better than the West. FYI: The cheapest city in the world is Damascus, Syria—and not for good reasons. (The Economist, paywall, Reuters)
Also making #1: Taylor Swift who is Spotify’s most streamed artist of 2023. The most streamed song: Miley Cyrus’ ‘Flowers’ with 1.6 billion listens. In India, Arijit Singh took top honours for the fourth consecutive time. What is notable: The most streamed podcast is Amit Wadhwa’s ‘Shrimad Bhagavad Gita’. Variety has the global lists while The Hindu has more on India. A good read: The Guardian has a fun piece on how Spotify Wrapped has become “almost like election night.”
Six planets in perfect sync
Astronomers have discovered a solar system where all six planets orbit their star in perfect resonance. What this means: “The time it takes for one planet to waltz around its host star might be the same amount of time it takes for a second planet to circle exactly twice, or exactly three times.”
This is fairly common for young star systems—but inevitably something knocks them out of sync—“a close encounter with another star, the formation of a massive planet like Jupiter, or a giant impact from space on one planet that causes a ripple effect in other orbits.” To find planets marching in tune, so to speak, is rarer than “one percent of one percent.” New York Times has all the nerdy details. We just included this one for the cool gif.
In other space-related news: The European Space Agency announced a mid-2024 launch date for its next-generation rocket, Ariane-6. Its launch has been delayed multiple times—seriously affecting Europe’s ability to launch rockets. (BBC News)
Henry Kissinger is dead
The former Secretary of State died at the ripe old age of 100. Infamous for policies that resulted in gross human rights violations, he was little mourned. But others credit him with developing a realpolitik doctrine that single-mindedly promoted US interests—for example, establishing diplomatic ties between the US and China in 1979. He also won the Nobel peace prize for negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam in 1973—a rare feat for a man many considered a war criminal.
Al Jazeera looks at his “blood-stained legacy.” Washington Post’s conservative editorial board offers a kinder look at the debate over his legacy. The Print has India’s not-so-fond memories of the man who supported Pakistan during the Bangladesh war. The Hindu looks at archival content that reveals Kissinger’s role.
Three things to see
One: Elon Musk did not do his company X/Twitter any favours by basically telling Disney CEO Bob Iger to f**k off—at the New York Times’ DealBook conference. The reason: he is furious at advertisers “blackmailing” him into cracking down on free speech. Reminder: Musk recently made a trip to Israel and is now a gung-ho supporter of the Gaza war—soon after advertisers abandoned him for endorsing an anti-semitic tweet. To which we say: pick a lane, Elon! Reminder: X is slated to lose up to $75 million in brand revenue by the end of the year. (The Verge)
Two: Also in a terrible mood: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman—who angrily demanded that all media folks at an official programme in Kerala turn their camera on. She accused them of deliberately censoring her remarks defending the government’s track record on welfare schemes. It is not what she said but how she said it—over and over again.
Three: On a much more upbeat note, two kiwi chicks were born in Wellington, New Zealand—for the first time in over 100 years. Why this is a big deal: “The fluffy and flightless kiwi is one of the most vulnerable birds in New Zealand and conservationists believe it has been absent from the capital for generations.” Wild kiwis were introduced to the capital city just a year ago—so that’s encouraging conservation news for everyone who cares. Also: the pēpē kiwi are super-cute. (The Guardian)
Attention Mumbai fam: Don’t miss ‘O Gaanewali’
Editor’s note: Avanti Patel reached out to us asking for help to promote this theatre concert performance that celebrates the great musical tradition of the tawaifs. It sounds fabulous! If you’re in Mumbai next week, we strongly recommend catching the show. See snippets and more info below. (FYI: This is not branded content or an ad. We’ll be sure to let you know when it is.)
O Gaanewali is a theatre concert piece written by Avanti Patel that celebrates women artists and Tawaifs who popularised the forms Thumri, Dadra and its allied forms, and Ghazal. The gaanewali and naachnewalis were celebrities in the late 1800s! Names like Gauhar Jaan, Janakibai, Raasoolan Bai, Begum Akhtar, were well known in almost every household.
Through beautiful renditions of thumri, dadra, hori, jhoola, chaiti, ghazal and so on, we will be tracing the evolution of this beautiful genre that gained popularity through the performance of Tawaifs and many other women performers after them. The show works through an interactive format where the audience is invited to participate and be a part of the mehfil.
Here are the details:
Date: December 7, Thursday
Time: 7:30 PM
Location: Royal Opera House, Mumbai
Tickets: are available on BookMyShow.