Friday, December 13, 2019

Flower of the day

The lotus has found its way into the Indian passport. In the latest version, the flower is printed inside a rectangle—right below the passport officer’s signature and seal (see it here). Yesterday, there was a brouhaha in Parliament over its appearance in unexpected places. The government’s defence: “This symbol is our national flower and is part of the enhanced security features to identify fake passports.” Also: it will be used in rotation with other such national symbols. As Modi-ji once said: Chup chaap, kamal chaap.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The shocking exit polls prediction in the UK election

The nation has voted, and the exit polls are out. And they predict a dramatic landslide victory for Tory PM Boris Johnson. The Labour party faces total humiliation, Scotland is talking independence, and Brexit is now signed, sealed and soon-to-be delivered.

The exit poll numbers: are as follows. Conservatives: 368 (up 51). Labour: 191 (down 71). Scottish National Party: 55 (up 20). Liberal Democrats: 13 (up 1). The numbers in brackets indicate gains or losses compared to the previous election in 2017. 

How big an upset is this? If the prediction holds true, this will be the biggest Conservative victory since 1987, and Labour's worst performance since 1935.

Wow, so what does it mean? To understand that, we have to look at what each party ran on, and therefore, what the voters endorsed/rejected.

The Conservative appeal: Johnson ran as a die-hard Brexiteer, determined to get the UK out of the European Union at any cost—as he proved when he replaced Theresa May this year. But his main election mantra was the less rah-rah ‘Get Brexit Done’. Translation: let’s just end this three-year stalemate, once and for all. (This explainer has everything you need to know about the great Brexit tamasha.)

So this is a vote for Brexit? Yes, but not really. As the New York Times notes: “What is most bizarre, perhaps, is that a majority of Britons now think it would be better to remain in the European Union. But most Britons, according to the same polls, also believe that the results of the Brexit referendum must be respected. Having spoken once, three and a half years ago, they want politicians to respect their vote, even if they now believe it was mistaken.” Or to put it more simply: “People say, ‘We voted, so it has to happen, no matter the consequences.’”

The Labour waffle: For starters, the party was saddled with a leader who is vastly unpopular. A pre-election poll showed that only 16% of voters were satisfied with Jeremy Corbyn's performance, while 76% were dissatisfied. The party itself was torn apart by charges of anti-semitism within the leadership ranks—and split between Remain and Leave voters. 

So voters rejected Corbyn? Yes, and his muddled solution to the Brexit mess: renegotiate the Brexit deal, and present it to voters in a second referendum. A position that made all sides of his party equally mad—and made Corbyn look indecisive compared to Johnson. What Corbyn was not vague about: a left-leaning agenda to renationalise British utilities and trains, increase taxes, cap all wages, and force large companies to transfer 10% of their equity to their employees. When Labour chief Michael Foot ran on a similar platform against Margaret Thatcher in 1983,  a party leader described it as the the “longest suicide note in history.” Corbyn appears to have achieved a similar feat.

The Lib Dem #fail: The party staked its fortunes on an avowedly Remain campaign. Despite an early surge, it failed to move the needle in a two-man race. For voters, the choice was always between Corbyn and Johnson.

The rise of the Scots: The Scottish National Party (SNP) on one central promise: we will hold a second referendum on Scotland’s independence. Back in 2014, the Scots voted against separating themselves from Britain. But those were sunnier pre-Brexit days. Every poll shows that the Scots are firmly against leaving the EU. And the exit poll confirms that they voted for SNP in vast numbers in order to block Brexit. With Johnson in office, a second referendum could throw up very different results.

Wait, Scotland could leave Britain? Yes, if the pro-independence SNP has its way. But Johnson has no intention of allowing Scotland to hold a second referendum. Whether he can actually stop it remains open to a bitter constitutional debate. As one SNP leader told the BBC, this is the fourth general election in a row which the SNP has “won” on a manifesto calling for independence: “Standing in the way, saying you can’t decide your own future, is for the birds.”

Also, Northern Ireland: A big reason for the Brexit stalemate is that it raises the prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and Ireland (which is part of the EU). Such a border would break the terms of the 1998 Irish peace accord. Polls shows that Northern Ireland opposes Brexit. More importantly, a majority support leaving the UK and joining a “united Ireland.” 

The bottomline: Mama always said, be careful what you wish for. That warning holds truer than ever for Boris Johnson and the Brits who voted for him. 

Learn more: The best analysis will emerge once the final results are declared later today. For now, here are some good reads:

  • The Guardian offers a couple of quick takes here and here

  • Want to know more about Boris Johnson? Read our explainer or Vox’s profile. 

  • Or revisit this New York Times op-ed titled ‘Boris Johnson Is How Britain Ends’. 

  • Worth your time: This stunning New York Times photo gallery that captures the mood of the nation.

  • Also: check out The Balance which offers a broader analysis—plus excellent charts—of how Brexit will play out for everyone, including the EU and the US. 

  • NBC News reported on old Irish wounds reopened by this “toxic” election. 

  • Quartz summed up the ‘misinformation election’ that witnessed unprecedented levels of lying and manipulation.

  • Need cheering up? Here is a photo collection of adorable dogs, all dressed up at the voting booths. 

  • Need more? How about this remix of a Hindi soap opera that hilariously warns South Asian Brits against voting for the Tories.
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wondering which state will lose its internet next

Protests rage across the Northeast: The president gave the Citizenship Amendment Bill his seal of approval—turning it into the law of the land. But several parts of the country are unlikely to be as amenable.

  • Protests escalated in Assam as violent mobs torched buildings and clashed with the police, who retaliated with bullets and tear gas. Their demand: the state should be granted a full exemption from CAB. The death toll so far: two. The Telegraph has more details.

  • Not just Assam: The protests have spread to Meghalaya and Tripura, as they too have not been granted a full exemption. A curfew has been imposed and internet services have been suspended in Meghalaya, as well.

  • The reason for the protests: CAB grants citizenship to all non-Muslim migrants who entered the country before December, 2014. The cut-off date in the Assam Accord was 1971. Moving up the date by 43 years will grant citizenship to lakhs of Bangladeshi Hindus. This long read in Mint explains why CAB has reopened old wounds and created new faultlines in the North East. 

  • According to Indian Express, sources within the government have been taken by surprise by “this scale of violent response.” One source says, “There could have been an error of judgment (about the responses). We must have made a mistake in assessing the situation. Or there could be a communication gap.”

  • Meanwhile, three CMs—Mamata in Bengal, Amarinder Singh in Punjab and Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala—have flatly refused to implement CAB in their states.

  • Bangladesh foreign minister M K Abdul Momen has canceled his upcoming visit to New Delhi. Also cancelled: Bangladesh’s home minister Asaduzzaman Khan's visit to Shillong. The official reason is “domestic issues.” But sources say that Dhaka is unhappy about Amit Shah talking up the persecution of Hindus within its borders.

  • Plus: Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CAB. I want to assure them—no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture.” Indian Twitter’s comeback: er, Sir-ji, all internet services have been suspended in Assam.

India on the edge of ‘junk bond’ status: Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings has warned of severe consequences if our economy doesn’t pull its socks up: “If this [expected] recovery does not materialize, and it becomes clear that India’s structural growth has significantly deteriorated, we could lower the rating." Why this matters: S&P already has India at ‘BBB-’—which is the lowest investment-grade rating. Any downgrade would put India in the so-called junk-grade category. (Mint)

Indian billionaires are dwindling in numbers: There are now 80 business tycoons with a net worth of a billion dollars or more—that’s compared to 91 in March, 2018. The reason: falling share prices has decreased the value of their holdings by 22% on average. But the ten richest fat cats are, well, fatter than ever. Least surprisingly, Mukesh Ambani is at the top of the pile. And his family’s stake in Reliance Industries is up by 47% and is worth $68 billion. Next up: Gautam Adani who is up 24%. The biggest losers: The other Ambani (Anil), Subhash Chandra (Zee Entertainment), and Sameer Gehlaut (Indiabulls). (Business Standard)

A cleaning robot to the rescue: European scientists are sending a self-destructing robot into space on “the world's first space cleanup mission.” The four-armed robot called Chaser will wrap itself around a targeted piece of space debris—and make a suicidal dive back to the surface. The result: both the robot and the trash will burn up in the atmosphere. The pressing reason for a clean up: there are 170 million pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth. Also: “[S]ome pieces are moving faster than a bullet. Because they move so fast, even the tiniest piece of cosmic junk poses an enormous threat to other satellites and spacecraft." (CNN)

Netflix is gonna get cheaper: The streaming service is testing longer and cheaper subscription plans in India to attract more users. New subscribers may soon get up to 50% in discounts for choosing three, six or 12-month plans. In other words, commitment shall be rewarded. (Indian Express)

Priyanka and Nick are coming to Amazon Prime: The permanently starry-eyed couple are planning to recapture the magic of their own wedding in a reality TV-meets-dance off show. The description: “Each episode of this documentary style series will follow an engaged couple along with their wedding party, family and friends in the days leading up to their wedding. While each side prepares for the wedding day they will also need to rehearse for their performance that will wow everyone at the rehearsal dinner.” Translation: an IRL (and likely less interesting) version of ‘Made in Heaven’. Check out PC’s Insta announcement. Or read Hollywood Reporter’s round-up of the gushing PR quotes. Or sign up to be part of the show.

Google’s year in search: According to Google’s annual report, Indians spent most of their time searching for the ICC Cricket World Cup, followed by the Lok Sabha elections and Chandrayaan-2. Coming in fourth: Kabir Singh (really?). More interesting: Mashable’s round up of the top ‘what is’ searches in the US—which includes ‘What is a boomer?’ 😂.

Jats are super-mad at 'Panipat': because of its depiction of Maharaja Surajmal. In the movie, the Jat ruler bails on the Maratha hero Sadashiv Rao when he asks for help in the battle against the Afghans. Producers have meekly agreed to edit out the offending scenes. (Quint)

Electric airplanes are here! The world's first fully-electric commercial flight took flight in Canada—and stayed in the air for seven minutes before touching back down. The companies who built it claim, "This historic flight signifies the start of the third era in aviation - the electric age." (BBC)

World’s oldest recorded story: is a 44,000-year old painting recently discovered in Indonesia. It depicts “a buffalo being hunted by part-human, part-animal creatures holding spears and possibly ropes”. (BBC News)

Medha Patkar loses her passport: The Regional Passport Office in Mumbai has impounded the prominent activist's passport. The reason: she did not disclose the pending criminal cases in her application. Patkar says: these cases were filed during “our absolutely non-violent, peaceful agitations” against dam projects. (Mumbai Mirror)

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This awesome mashup of Rajinikanth’s best moments, created in honour of his 70th birthday.

  • We discovered that there is a very aptly named creature called ‘penis fish’. And our eyes may never recover.

  • Miley Cyrus’ feminist version of the creepy Christmas classic, ‘Santa Baby’. 

  • This live-action recreation of the ‘Frozen 2’ trailer. Yes, this woman looks exactly like an animated Disney princess IRL. Learn more about her here.

  • The excellent news that Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 will be releasing on exactly the same day—making it ‘Keanu Day’!

  • Feeling exceptionally stressed today—or any other day? Bookmark this interactive feature that charts the deep sea. We found it delightfully relaxing.
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Stuff we buy, use or love.

A handy list of winter-ready body moisturisers
Winter is here, and we are all dutifully slathering moisturisers and serums on our face. But what about the rest of our bone-dry body? Our cracked heels and chapped lips? We and our ambassadors have a few suggestions to keep you moisturised from head to toe.
image blue sidebar The informer image blue sidebar

When your heels are raw and cracked...

Try kokum butter. Just heat a bit of the bar and rub it on the driest spots, be it feet, elbows or knees. We swear it works wonders. Want a trusted brand version? Chatura Padaki recommends Khadi’s Almond & Kokum Body Butter—which works as an intensive body lotion, as well.

Price: Rs 550 | Keynote Kokum Butter (500gm) | Amazon 

Price: Rs 600 | Almond and Kokum Body Butter (200gm) | Khadi Natural

The informer 2

When your lips need a bit of extra love…

Nayantara Srinivasan recommends DearPacker Plum Seed Sleeping Lip Mask. She says: “Be warned that the consistency is even thicker than Vaseline lip balm. But I use it every night and it’s been magical for me this winter. Important to note: I normally have dry lips to the point of bleeding.” Bonus recommendation from Preeti Khurana: Dr Belmeur lip balm. She calls it “brilliant stuff” that is not sticky and has zero fragrance. (A number of people including Rachna Kalra swear by little tins of Vaseline Lip Therapy, as well.)

Price: Rs 1097 | DearPacker Plum Seed Sleeping Lip Mask | Nykaa 

Price: Rs 560 | Dr Belmeur Daily Repair Moisturizing Lip Balm | Amazon


The informer 3

When your entire body is dry and flaky…

Pick up Nilgiri Aromas Shea Butter Moisturizer. This little-known brand was once only available in the South, but now you can buy it on Amazon. It’s super hydrating, and you only need to slap it on once a day. And it gets extra points for smelling great, and not feeling sticky at all. (We also love: Jergens Ultra Healing. It’s not a cool or new brand, but this one has kept our skin soft and supple for over a decade.)

Price: Rs 250 | Nilgiri Aromas Shea Butter Moisturizer | Amazon


PS: Need more options? Here’s a longer list from our Ambassadors:


  • Jyotsna Sharma recommends Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentre, which does triple duty as a primer, moisturiser and make up remover.
  • Ameya Nagarajan's pick for a body lotion: a 50-50 mix of jojoba oil and water, with a little essential oil of your choice. Pro tip: “It also works great to tame frizz and as a leave in conditioner.”
  • Dipika Kalra swears by the humble but always effective Charmis Cold Cream, calling it “light and sooooo creamy.” 
  • Ayesha Aleem loves Kronocare: “Their range of products are one of the best I’ve ever used.” 
  • Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan has a tip for “lazy moisturisers” like her: Put a pot of cream next to your laptop. “I see it several times a day, which means I use it several times a day too! My hands have never been so soft.” Her current fave: Body Shop’s Shea Body Butter
  • Ashwin Row Kavi loves cold pressed coconut oil: “My body wash has at least a teaspoon of grapeseed oil and a teaspoon of coconut oil. Works amazingly well to keep the dryness at bay.” A favourite for the face: Hyalugel Hyaluronic Acid Gel
  • Chatura Padaki’s surprising hack for keeping her lips soft: “Put just 1 or 2 drops of body oil in your navel every day. Any oil will do - coconut, almond, apricot. I swear it works for me. I haven’t used lip balm in years! This is a tip I learnt from a friend that I travelled with once ages ago.”

NOTE: These products are personally picked by the editors (or in this case trusted Ambassadors). We do not receive any revenue from the brands recommended.

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