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Monday, November 25, 2019
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EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT...

The biggest news story today, explained.

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The ghazab rajneeti of Maharashtra

Indian politics is the stuff of high drama on screen, but plays out as pure farce IRL—as  Maharashtra’s wild and wacky tamasha proved once again.


First, a very brief recap: In the state elections, two jodis went into battle against one another: BJP/Shiv Sena and NCP/Congress. However, soon after the results were announced, Sena dumped the BJP to join an unprecedented and unholy threesome with NCP/Congress—and looked set to claim the gaddi. Then this happened. (We have more details in our previous explainer)


Then some electoral math: Here are the numbers to keep in mind. Majority required to form the government: 145. BJP’s tally: 105. Shiv Sena: 56. NCP: 54. Congress: 44


Next, a quick timeline: of the madness that unfolded over the weekend:

  • Friday, 7:30 pm: Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress hold a meeting and signal their intent to stake their claim to form the government on Saturday morning.

  • Friday, 9:30 pm: BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis submits a letter to the governor indicating he has the support needed to form the government.

  • Saturday, 12:30 am: NCP leader Ajit Pawar submits a letter showing that his party’s MLAs support the BJP. The Governor immediately shoots off a letter to the President and PM, advocating the lifting of President’s rule—which was imposed earlier because no party could prove it had the required 145 seats. 

  • Saturday, 5:47 am: President rule is revoked and published (!) in the government’s official gazette.

  • Saturday, 8:00 am: Fadnavis is sworn in as Chief Minister, with Pawar as his deputy. 

  • Saturday, 1:30 pm: NCP party chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray hold a press conference. Sharad insists that Ajit has gone rogue, and the NCP MLAs are still with him—including some who were present at Ajit’s swearing in. All three parties file an urgent petition in the Supreme Court, claiming that Fadnavis’ appointment is “unconstitutional, arbitrary, illegal and void.”


Wait, how did it happen so fast? Apparently, Prime Minister Modi used something called Rule 12 that allows him to act without Cabinet approval. So he okayed the request to lift President’ rule—and President Kovind was on hand to approve the same (in the middle of the night 😳). That then brings us to the Supreme Court hearing on Sunday.


What happened in the Supreme Court? At an urgent hearing convened on Sunday morning, the court ruled as follows:

  • The judges rejected the Union government’s claim that the governor’s actions are not subject to any kind of judicial review.

  • They set aside the NCP/ Sena/ Congress request to invite the three of them to form the government. And they declined the demand for an immediate ‘floor test’—where the BJP will have to show it has the required majority in an Assembly vote.

  • The court instead directed the Union government to present: a) the governor’s letter inviting Fadnavis to form the government; and b) the letters of support that Ajit Pawar submitted to the governor. 

  • The deadline: Today, 10:30 am. 

  • Point to note: None of these letters are in the public domain. And no one from the Maharashtra BJP showed up in court—and therefore could not be questioned.


So ab kya hoga? It depends on who is bluffing. The BJP claims it has the support of 170 MLAs (including NCP rebels led by Ajit plus independents). The other side says it will submit affidavits of 154 MLAs in the Supreme Court today to bolster their case. That’s all of Sena and Congress MLAs plus 46 NCP MLAs—which is a tacit admission that they have lost seven to Ajit Pawar. Today’s hearing will at least clarify who has the weight of evidence on their side. 


Meanwhile, the tamasha goes on: The BJP has launched their signature Operation Lotus—i.e. peeling off opposition MLAs with promises of ministerial posts and other such goodies. And the Sena, NCP and Congress have corralled their MLAs in various hotels in Mumbai to protect their ‘assets’. 


The bottomline: Sooner or later, Devendra Fadnavis will have to face a ‘floor test’ and prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly. But what BJP wants is to buy time—time to poach opposition MLAs, as it has done with great success in Karnataka, Goa etc. It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court will play Santa Claus. 


Learn more: There are many bizarre and complex aspects to the Maha mess. Here are some angles you may want to explore:


  • Mumbai Mirror outlines the key issues involved in a floor test—including the most important aspect: the Assembly doesn’t have a Speaker who can preside over it!

  • The Telegraph offers a lively read on the ‘hotel politics’ at play, and the mad scramble to protect MLAs from BJP wiles.

  • This Indian Express column looks at Shiv Sena’s attempts to move away from Hindutva—and position itself as the party of development.

  • Also in Indian Express, Sonia Gandhi’s unenviable position. She ceded to pressure from her state leaders and sided with the Sena—only to face possible defeat and perhaps betrayal from its ally NCP.

  • Mint profiles the rise of Devendra Fadnavis.

  • Economic Times analyses Ajit Pawar’s gamble and why he took it.

  • Asian Age rolled out a brilliant front page.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

finding a reason to stan Coldplay again

The China Cables reveal manual for detention: An international consortium of journalists have published a secret government manual for its vast network of detention camps. This is the first piece of hard evidence that proves the existence of internment camps for Uighur Muslims and exactly how they function. Why do these documents matter: “Together they provide insights into the construction and operation of a comprehensive government campaign that has led to the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since the second world war.” (The Guardian)


A renewed #MeToo debate: In October 2018, Mahima Kukreja accused Utsav Chakraborty of sending her “unsolicited d*** pics” at the height of the #MeToo moment in India. She went on to share allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour made by other women. The resulting outrage ended Chakraborty’s career in comedy, and led eventually to the collapse of AIB. Then this happened over the weekend:


  • Two audio clips surfaced on YouTube. The first involves Kukerja’s sister, Mansi, who calls Chakraborty and threatens him with legal action if he shares unspecified screenshots that relate to Mahima—and which he says prove his innocence. In the second clip, Mahima appears to have joined the call, and you can hear both sisters repeat the warning. What ensues is a painful, messy and heated argument over the context in which that ‘d*** pic’ was sent. (We recommend you listen to them yourself)

  • Chakraborty then went on Twitter to confront a number of his other accusers—and shared screenshots as evidence that all sexting exchanges were consensual. Read his Twitter threads here and here (warning: content of some the chats shared is explicit). One of them has since apologised and deleted her account. Two others, Kanika Kaul and Mahima Kukreja, have stuck to their claims.

  • The audio calls have since triggered a raging debate, with some leading #MeToo feminists calling for a self-examination and a greater sense of responsibility within the movement. For example: Asmita Ghosh and Sandhya Menon who also argues that it shows the need for fair and effective due process—to protect both accusers and the accused.


Nithyananda has done a runner: Self-styled swami-ji was recently charged with child abuse and kidnapping when three minors were rescued from his Gujarat asharam. Latest reports indicate that he may be somewhere in South America. Odd detail: his passport expired in September, 2018—and the police have no clue if he fled before or after that date. Need a Nithyananda refresher? Times of India profiles the man best known for a sex tape, rape allegations and special software that can make cows and tigers talk. The News Minute has more on the mystery of his whereabouts.


The insect apocalypse is here: According to a new study, light pollution may drive 40% of insect species to extinction within decades. The reason: “Light is the source of all life on this planet, a fundamental part of the perceptive ability of most animal taxa [groups], and an environmental cue of time of day and year that has been constant throughout all of evolutionary history.” And artificial light at night disrupts and disorients activities that are a key part of their life cycle. The knock-on effect of their declining numbers: the loss of around 3 billion birds that feed on bugs in the US and Canada since 1970.  


In other enviro-related news: The Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year is ‘climate emergency’—which it defines as: “A situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.” Also: last year’s word was ‘toxic’. In other words, things are not looking up. 


In happier ecological news from Coldplay: The band will not be going on a global tour to promote their latest album Everyday Life. Lead singer Chris Martin says, "We're taking time over the next year or two to work out how our tour can not only be sustainable [but] how it can be actively beneficial. The hardest thing is the flying side of things. But, for example, our dream is to have a show with no single-use plastic, to have it largely solar-powered. We've done a lot of big tours at this point. How do we turn it around so it's no so much taking as giving?" (BBC News)


Time to FASTag your car! All vehicles must have FASTags on their windshield starting December 1. These tags let you speed through toll plazas where a scanner will automatically deduct the toll from the bank account or e-wallet connected to your FASTag. You can activate it on a ‘My FASTag’ app or go to a designated bank. Economic Times has all the details.


A chicken-sized idea to fight internet addiction: A city in Indonesia is giving schoolkids baby chicks and chili seeds—as incentives to get off the goddamn phone! The government hopes that kids will spend time nurturing them than staring at screens. Our fave line in this article: “One fifth grade student said he hoped to breed chickens, while a seventh-grader said he hoped to care for his chick until it was big enough to cook.” 😂 (CNN)


Elon Musk makes news for the wrong reasons, again! The Tesla founder just can’t seem to get it right. Musk blooper #1: he messed up the reveal of his new vehicle—the very cool-looking Cybertruck—by literally smashing its windows. Watch the train truck wreck here. BuzzFeed offers more context to this PR disaster. Musk blooper #2: he pissed off astronomers around the world. The reason: his swarm of Starlink satellites literally blocked their view. OTOH, the Cybertruck is “monstrous, sleek, futuristic, brutalist… and absolutely original.”


New peril for Indian students in America: The Trump White House is taking aim at their ability to stay back and work in the country after completing their degree. Right now, international students on ‘F’ (educational) or M (vocational) visas can work for a year as Optional Practical Training (OPT)—and extend that for another two years if they have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degree. New immigration rules may shorten that period or more strictly define what constitutes practical training in one’s field. (Times of India)


A strange archaeological find in Ecuador: Skeletons of two babies were found wearing other children's skulls as ‘bone helmets’ at a 2,100-year old grave site. One was around 18 months old at time of death, while the other was between 6-9 months old. Their ‘helmets’ belonged to children between the ages of 2 to 12: “The modified cranium of a second juvenile was placed in a helmet-like fashion around the head of the first, such that the primary individual’s face looked through and out of the cranial vault of the second.” 🤢 It is the first discovery of its kind. (Smithsonian Magazine)


Weekend reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • This haunting and engrossing piece by New York Times’ Ellen Barry who cracks the mystery of an eccentric royal family that lived in extreme seclusion in the very heart of Delhi. 

  • This brilliant long read in The Guardian on how our addiction to home delivery has reshaped the world—in ways beyond generating enormous amounts of trash. Most incisive line: “In home delivery, the last mile has become the most expensive and difficult mile of all.” 

  • Smithsonian Magazine on the exciting discovery of a secret breeding ground of the world’s most endangered crocodile—the ghariyal. 

  • Scroll explains why Indian employers’ obsession with IIT and IIM graduates is coming back to bite them. 

  • Mumbai Mirror profiles the Indian woman who defeated the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos. 

  • Washington Post explains why millennials are mad about astrology which is like “psychotherapy plus magic”—as Indians have known for centuries. 

  • Artsy has an entertaining first-person account of the author’s IRL experience of a Sotheby’s art auction.

  • This beautifully written essay in Long Reads where the author wrestles with loving her Trump-supporting father—which is also a sensitive meditation on the Indian experience of racism in America. 

  • This Mumbai Mirror interview with the author of a new book on dance bars offers fresh take on their relationship to feminism and caste. 


Your daily quota of sunshine: includes the following:

  • Kangana Ranaut’s transformation into Jayalalithaa 

  • This photo that is sparking wild rumours that Greta Thunberg is a time traveller. 

  • This unbelievable visual trick that gives a whole new meaning to ‘sleight of hand’ 

  • Orcas that say hello 

  • This toddler dog may be the best dog toddler walker ever. 

  • Trump’s insane ‘quid pro quo’ notes set to music

  • This bobcat taking a belief-defying leap across a river.

  • Buzzfeed’s hilarious list of huuuuge dogs who think they can fit in your lap.
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YOU NEED TO KNOW

The best place for the best advice

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Everything about a miscarriage

Did you know that 32 percent of all pregnancies in India end in a miscarriage? Probably not, thanks to the shame of losing a pregnancy in a society that worships mothers. Here are some key facts and resources that help break the silence:


It’s very common: especially so in the first trimester. Up to 50% of miscarriages go undetected as they happen in the first month, and are often mistaken for a heavy or early period.


It’s also natural: as it is the way our body deals with fetuses with genetic flaws. Hence, 85% of women who have miscarriages go on to successfully have children. Read the best summary of its causes here.


The symptoms: depend on how early you lose your pregnancy, ranging from heavy bleeding to severe cramping and expelled fetal tissue. They can also go undetected in later stages until the sonogram reveals the absence of a heartbeat. Read a detailed description of exactly what happens during a first trimester miscarriage. Fortis has an excellent resource that outlines your medical options, and what to expect at the hospital.


Prevention: may not be possible or desirable as it’s often nature’s remedy for non-viable fetuses. Other than that, it’s really about a healthy lifestyle. Here’s a quick checklist from NHS UK.

 

Recurrent miscarriages: are caused by other immunological, uterine or hormonal causes. Read a summary of these here. Also check out what kinds of medical tests are available to detect the underlying cause. There is also new research that progesterone can help prevent such recurrences.

 

Yes, age matters: The risk of miscarriage rises as we grow older. There is a dramatic spike when you hit 40. By the age of 45, less than 20% of all recognized pregnancies are viable. Also: a man’s age matters, as well—especially if he too is 40-plus. The reason: miscarriages are typically caused by genetic abnormalities. A woman in her early 20s is likely to have chromosomal abnormalities in about 17% of her eggs. This percentage jumps to nearly 80% for a woman in her 40s. Similarly with men, chromosomal defects and mutations become common as they age.


It affects both body and mind: There is very little conversation around the physical and emotional effects of a miscarriage. Our bodies go through many changes during pregnancy. And they may persist for months after the miscarriage. These include weight gain, even lactation—if the miscarriage occurs at a late stage in the pregnancy. These manifestations can in turn exacerbate our grief—more so in a culture that teaches women to celebrate the changes in their pregnant body, but only if it results in a baby. The Guardian has a brilliant piece on the emotional toll of this silencing. Also: check out psychologist Jessica Zucker’s Instagram account ‘I Had A Miscarriage’.


Help and support is key: Women can suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress for weeks, months or even years. And receiving support from friends, family and colleagues is key. Know someone who suffered such a loss? The Conversation has a great guide on how to help them during this time of grief.


Yes, you can take time off: Whether you have a miscarriage or get an abortion, you are entitled to six weeks of paid leave, starting the very next day. You will need to turn in a doctor’s certificate to HR. You can also take an additional month off in case of medical complications.  Point to note: there is no limit on the number of times a woman can apply for leave due to a miscarriage. But she needs to have worked in the organisation for at least 80 days prior to claiming the benefit.

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