Researched by: Rachel John, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
North vs South India: A YouTube explainer
We recently launched exclusive video explainers on YouTube, hosted by our editor Lakshmi Chaudhry. Our latest looks at the so-called North-South divide in voting behaviour—and how it may play out for the BJP.
Check it out below. Stay tuned for more such explainers on the big fat election coming soon, and be sure to hit the notification button. PS: This is also a great way to share splainer with your friends and family—especially anyone who is kinda text-averse :)
A controversial covert operation in the West Bank
Israeli soldiers entered the Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank in disguise—and executed three militants:
CCTV footage from the hospital showed a group of about 10 people, dressed variously in civilian clothes and medical garb and including three in headscarves and women's clothing, pacing through a corridor, armed with assault rifles and moving into the hospital…"They executed the three men as they slept in the room," [hospital director Dr. Naji Nazzal] told Reuters. "They executed them in cold blood by firing bullets directly into their heads in the room where they were being treated."
One was a member of Hamas while the other two were affiliated with the Islamic Jihad. This is the first time a “well-planned, targeted assassination operation” has been carried out inside a civilian hospital in the West Bank. FYI: According to the Geneva Convention, it is a war crime to attack people in civilian hospitals. OTOH, the IDF claims the men belonged to a “terrorist cell” planning an imminent attack on Israel. Reminder: This is the occupied West Bank not Gaza. Watch the CCTV footage below. (Al Jazeera)
Imran Khan sentenced to 10 years in jail
The context: Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been facing trial for a laundry list of charges since he was arrested in May 2023. In August last year, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of corruption—and has been in jail ever since. Our Big Story has lots more on Khan’s arrest and the politics behind them.
What happened now: Khan was once again sentenced to prison—this time on charges of leaking state secrets:
The so-called cipher case revolves around the alleged leaking of secret diplomatic correspondence sent by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington to Islamabad when Khan was prime minister… [A]t a rally in March 2022… Imran Khan appeared on stage, waving a piece of paper that he says showed a foreign conspiracy against him.
He received ten years in prison—the harshest punishment to date. That said, the prosecution also accused him of damaging diplomatic relations—which carries life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
Why this matters: His sentencing comes right before the general elections scheduled for February 8—which have been declared a sham by critics:
The campaign has already been marred by accusations of pre-poll rigging and attempts to undermine and obstruct Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which remains highly popular among voters. Khan’s convictions mean he is barred from running, while the PTI has faced a months-long crackdown by the government and military that has prevented it from being able to freely campaign.
The military has already picked its favourite—three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif—who is slated to win. (BBC News)
Meanwhile in Chandigarh: The mayoral poll in the city was touted as the first real face-off between BJP and the opposition alliance INDIA. The results sparked a great furore on social media. A video of the proceedings suggests the presiding officer (a BJP councillor) may have secretly scratched eight ballot papers—in order to declare them invalid. Coincidentally, all of them were in favour of the AAP-Congress combine. As a result, the BJP swept the polls—even though it received fewer votes. See the controversial vid below. This Twitter thread has a frame-by-frame breakdown. (Indian Express)
Elon Musk’s brain implant breakthrough
The context: Elon Musk’s company Neuralink is one of a number of startups working on a computer-brain interface—which promises to allow humans to do stuff just by, well, thinking it. The first step is to help people who are immobilised by some form of paralysis. Neuralink has had its share of controversies—including allegations of severe animal cruelty which we explained in this Big Story. The company received clearance for its first human clinical trial last May.
What happened now: Musk announced that his company has successfully implanted a chip into the brain of a human candidate for the very first time. He says the participant is recovering well and shows promising results.
Here’s how the chip called Telepathy works:
Placed in the part of the brain that plans movements, the device is designed to interpret a person’s neural activity, so they can control external devices such as a smartphone or computer with their thoughts.
And this is why it is more controversial than other similar brain implants:
Neuralink’s approach is more invasive and high bandwidth than some of its competitors; its aim is to transfer data from the brain to the computer more rapidly. The device is sewn into the surface of the brain during a surgery conducted by a robot.
The aim right now is to help patients with quadriplegia due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or a spinal cord injury. But Musk sees the chip as a first step on a path to “symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”
Point to note: Musk’s company is not the first to conduct human trials. Last year, Swiss company École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne (EPFL) successfully helped a paralysed man walk just by thinking. Precision Neuroscience also implanted its device in a human for the first time last year. (Washington Post, paywall, BBC News)
How much time do we waste in traffic?
Answer: a lot. According to a new study, the average Indian spends a whopping 59 minutes on a 20-km one-way commute to work. To put it differently “Indian employees spent 8% of their time (almost two hours) travelling to and fro on days when they worked from the office.” And we’re spending 15% more time on the road compared to the pre-pandemic years. As for individual cities, Delhi has dire stats: A one-way commute is 25 km—which takes 64 minutes. Bangalore has a mean commute of 17 km—covered in 54 minutes. Translation: it’s high time companies embraced work-from-home—at least some of the time. (Economic Times)
But, but, but: Despite the terrible traffic, car sales are booming. Toyota retained its crown as the top-selling brand in 2023—selling a record 11.2 million vehicles last year. Volkswagen came in second with 9.2 million. (Reuters)
Worrying news about hermit crabs
According to a new study, the vast percentage of terrestrial hermit crabs worldwide have used trash as shells. Of these, 85% were using plastic caps and the remainder repurposed metal and glass. As to why this is happening:
The authors posited that hermit crabs may be choosing plastic homes because they make for better camouflage in a polluted environment, or that there may be more pieces of trash than fitting seashells available on some coasts.
More weirdly: A previous study found that hermit crabs are attracted to a chemical emitted by plastic. As a result, males may be using plastic shells to better attract a mate. Why this is a calamity: Millions of hermit crabs get stuck inside items such as bottles, and die. You can see a crab using a plastic scoop below. (Washington Post)
Three things to see
One: Madame Tussauds Museum unveiled a wax statue of Baba Ramdev in New Delhi—in the presence of the great man himself. The work of art (ahem) will eventually be displayed at its museum on Times Square in New York—alongside Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan and, well, Mahatma Gandhi (ouch!). Ramdev said: "With world's top 200 icons, Madame Tussauds has given a saint this honour. I am very thankful and consider this honour as a pride moment for 'Sanatan' culture’.” Yes, he called himself a saint. (Economic Times)
Two: Scientists have managed to film a newborn great white shark in the wild—a truly landmark achievement: “No one has ever been able to pinpoint where they are born, nor has anyone seen a newborn baby shark alive. There have been dead white sharks found inside deceased pregnant mothers. But nothing like this.” You can see the shark pup below. (CNN)
Three: This one’s for all the Ghostheads. The trailer of ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ just dropped—with the OG cast from the iconic 1984 film: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts! The movie also stars Paul Rudd and Finn Wolfhard. It will premiere in theatres on March 22. (Variety)