Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Video of the day

Everyone’s talking about Malayalam actor Parvathy kicking ass in a superstar roundtable discussion. At the table were Deepika Padukone, Manoj Bajpayee, Alia Bhatt, Ayushmann Khurrana and—most importantly—Vijay Devarakonda, the Telugu actor and hero of the ghastly ‘Arjun Reddy’ which was remade into the ghastly ‘Kabir Singh’. Parvathy took direct aim at the movie’s misogyny, not pulling any punches and landing many. Watch the shorter clip here. The full-length version is here.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A new government in Maharashtra… finally!

The wild political rollercoaster in the state finally ended in a giant thud that brought the BJP back to earth. The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance won the day, and Uddhav Thackeray will be sworn in as Chief Minister on Thursday. All thanks to the Supreme Court which finally rendered its delayed judgement.

A very brief recap: The court was poised to rule on a petition filed by the three parties challenging the governor’s hurried decision to swear in BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister—and NCP’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy CM. Their claim: BJP simply doesn’t have the numbers, and has to prove its strength in a floor test, i.e. a show of votes on the Assembly floor. (Our Monday explainer has all the deets). 

The Supreme Court speaks: The court sided with the three-party alliance and called for an immediate floor test, emphasizing the need to “uphold the democratic values and foster constitutional morality.” It also stipulated that the floor test should be telecast live on TV and—importantly—that the votes cannot be cast in a secret ballot. The consequences were immediate.

Devendra quits: Ajit Pawar resigned as Deputy CM. And soon after Fadnavis stepped down from the CM post, and withdrew his claim to form the government. The reason: “After the Supreme Court order calling for a trust motion tomorrow, Pawar met me and said he cannot continue due to some reasons. He cited personal reasons for resigning. Since he has resigned, we don’t have a majority. Since the beginning, we have said we will not indulge in horse trading. I will go and tender my resignation to the Governor.”

Ajit returns to the fold: After meeting a number of his party’s leaders, Ajit met with his uncle and NCP party chief Sharad Pawar last night. But indications are that his failed rebellion may have done long-term damage to his prospects within the party.

Uddhav steps up: The three parties held a joint meeting and chose the Sena chief as the head of their alliance—which they have dubbed ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’. Most notably, Thackeray pointedly thanked Sonia Gandhi: “I want to thank Soniaji also. Parties with different ideologies have come together... I feel regret and surprise about one thing—the people with whom we had allied for 30 years didn’t trust me, but the people against whom we fought for 30 years showed trust in my leadership. I have learnt today what I gained and what I lost.”

The bigger fallout: for the various parties involved are as follows:

  • The audacious—and now unconstitutional—attempt to install Fadnavis as CM has dented Amit Shah’s personal brand as an invincible modern-day Chanakya. The fatal error of judgement: assuming that the Shiv Sena will buckle under relentless BJP pressure and return to its arms. Also: Ajit Pawar will be able to deliver.

  • The long term damage: If the so-called Aghadi alliance does fall apart, the BJP cannot claim any moral ground in a resulting election—having wooed the NCP which Modi has long dubbed the Naturally Corrupt Party.

  • Uddhav will become the first member of the Thackeray family to become CM. But given the wildly different ideologies of the threesome he leads, his position remains precarious. Also this: a senior BJP leader told Indian Express, “But it’s not the end of the story. We should wait and see.” 

  • The biggest winner is Sharad Pawar whose party was seriously weakened by defections to the BJP ahead of the election. Pawar and the NCP are now kingmakers—while Congress has been demoted to a supporting role. 

The bottomline: This is the second such BJP gamble that has failed to deliver over the space of 18 months. In Karnataka, BS Yedyiurappa had to resign within three days—again because of a SC ruling that forced a floor test that he could not win. Of course, BJP ultimately won the war after luring Congress leaders to defect—which brought down the JD(S)-Congress government. And history may well repeat itself in Maharashtra. But here’s the most important difference: this Maharashtra gambit required the participation of both PM Modi and President Kovind. And that certainly has tarnished their offices—and perhaps their personal reputations.


Learn more: Indian Express has the best behind-the-scenes reporting on the BJP defeat, and an in-depth piece on Sharad Pawar’s path to victory. Also worth revisiting—now that Uddhav is CM—this column on his efforts to remake the Sena, and how it may play out within the alliance. The Print charts the bleak future facing Ajit Pawar. Hindustan Times explains how he was outmaneuvered by his uncle.

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borrowing your BFF’s jumpsuit for free

A travesty of a transgender bill: was passed by the Rajya Sabha yesterday—despite outraged opposition from the LGBTQi community. And they are mad for very good reasons. The worst part of the proposed law is that a trans person will have to be 'certified' by the district magistrate. And if they want to change their preferred gender—say from male to female—they will have to offer proof of surgery. Also: punishment for any kind of violence against a trans person is limited to a maximum of two years. Point to note: sexual violence against women carrries a seven-year jail term. For a comprehensive and quick overview of this appalling bill, check out Feminism in India’s Twitter threadThe News Minute explains why to trans activists this is “an empty white paper.”

A new, more urgent and alarming UN report: As we all know by now, 1.5 degrees celsius is the magic number in climate change. If the earth heats up by more than 1.5 degrees, all sorts of bad things will happen. And until now, all the discussions have centred around how to prevent humanity from hitting the 2 degree mark. But this latest report breaches new territory, warning that we are on track to hit 3.4-3.9 degrees by 2100! The reason: the massive buildup of greenhouse gas emissions. The only way out is a dramatic and immediate action to reduce emissions by 7.5% each year for the next decade. Also, this bit of heartbreaking irony: “If the world had taken stronger climate action in 2010, by contrast, countries would have only had to cut emissions 0.7% a year to meet the 2-degree target and 3.3% to hit the 1.5-degree goal.” (BuzzFeed News)

A shocking Sabarimala-related attack: Bindu Ammini was emerging from an appointment with the Police Commissioner’s office. She was there to seek police protection for her planned visit to the temple—which is still her right as per current law. Just as she stepped outside, Bindu was viciously attacked with pepper spray by a member of a Hindu rightwing organisation. Watch the attack here. (The News Minute)

WhatsApp is changing! Its latest iOS update includes call waiting notifications, a new chat design and a more braille-friendly interface. Also: the company is experimenting with a feature that will allow your messages to disappear after a preset period.

Facebook’s fake numbers problem: A Financial Times investigation reveals that the company has a very large number of fake accounts—with estimates ranging from 20% to even 50%! Just last week, the company itself admitted that it had shut down an extraordinary 5.4 billion fake accounts in the first nine months of this year alone—more than double the number of actual users. Why this matters: FB’s entire business model is built on its gargantuan user base, which it claims is close to one-third of the global population. And it also impacts its claims about user growth. But it doesn’t allow any independent verification of these numbers. As FT concludes: Until Facebook opens up its data to scrutiny, “suspicions will deepen that the company’s share price and advertising rate card depend, in part, on bad data.” (Financial Times paywall)

India wins nada at the International Emmys: We are sad to report that none of the Indian nominees—be it 'Sacred Games', 'Lust Stories' and its lead Radhika Apte or 'The Remix'—won in their categories. The upside: we now have a global list of awesome viewing to check out on the weekend. First up: ‘The Last Hangover’ on Netflix. The premise: the apostles wake up after the Last Supper to find Jesus missing. Yes, it’s a biblical spoof of 'Hangover'. We’re stoked! (NDTV)

The greatest jewellery heist: Two people simply walked into Dresden’s Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) museum, and walked out with 100 pieces of royal jewelry that have been described as literally “priceless”—i.e. so valuable that their price cannot be estimated. NBC has the CCTV footage. BBC has stunning photos of the stolen jewels.

Does it hurt to have a woman on your board? The answer: no. An exhaustive study of US companies shows that adding female directors has literally zero impact on profitability. It also found that investors penalized companies for adding diversity to its board. They witness a decline in their market value for two years following the appointment of a woman to the board. The reason: any kind of diversity hire is seen as the firm prioritizing social inclusion over maximising shareholder value. This is a fascinating must-read on unconscious gender bias for all of us. (Harvard Business Review)

An Airbnb for fashion: We all know about services that let you rent clothes and accessories. But would you pay to ‘borrow’ someone else’s Gucci dress? That’s the new trend in the UK, and this fashion editor decided to give it a shot. (Vogue)

Unexpected consequences of the jobs crisis: Consequence #1: a 32% decline in companies visiting IIT-Madras for recruitment. Many of the big firms that offer hefty pay packages have simply refused the invitation. Consequence #2: The Andhra Pradesh government plans to introduce English-medium education in its schools from Class 1-6. The government’s reason: the vast class and caste disparity in who gets to study in English—the language of aspiration and opportunity. The unspoken reason: With even less affluent parents choosing to send their kids to private schools to learn English, government-run school are in grave danger, as are the jobs they provide. The fear is that if “jobs evaporate in an already volatile environment, then the backlash on sitting governments would be huge.”

An AIIMS education just got very, very expensive: The government has directed the country’s top medical college to radically hike its fees. They will likely shoot up from Rs 6,000 per year to Rs 50,000-70,000 per year for an MBBS degree. Both the AIIMS Resident Doctors Association and the students union fiercely oppose the plan. Also set to steeply rise: patient fees. (The Wire)

The worst shoes for your feet: are not stilettos or platforms, but plain old, super flat ballet shoes. (Who What Wear)

Justin-Jessica dream jodi in trouble? Timberlake was seen getting a bit cosy with his co-star Alisha Wainwright. And now all of social media be like: What will Jessica bhabhi say? Point to note: both parties have issued fervent denials. But, hey, the photos are still fun. (The Sun)

Your quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • The Solicitor General giving Justice Reddy gyaan about the ‘dark web’.

  • Question: How much damage can a Great Dane wreak in a small bathroom? The answer.

  • Watching presidential candidate Kamala Harris make masala dosas with Mindy Kaling.

  • This Twitter thread that tells the story of a stolen laptop, CCTV footage, a police-set trap—and ends with an unexpected twist. Only in Goa.

  • This must-watch eyelash curling tutorial and the story of its creator whose account was shut down by Tik Tok.

  • This lesson in integrity delivered by a man who polishes shoes.

  • This short-ish but excellent Twitter thread of paintings of women with cats.

  • This hapless lion being chased by… a vicious horde of adorable cubs.
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Everything we don't know about human desire

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The pursuit of the perfect vulva

In this first-person essay, Margot Harris writes of her lifelong shame about the appearance of her “deviant labia,” her decision to go in for a labiaplasty—and reconcile self-loathing with her feminism. No, this story doesn’t have a pat happy ending—unlike plastic surgery stories on many women’s websites. But the pain is instantly recognizable, relatable and moving.

Read: Under the Knife | Longreads

Sex, Love etc 2

A brief and hilarious history of ex-stalking

When it comes to a former beau, it’s always complicated—and has been since the beginning of time. Here is a delightful cartoon strip that takes you on a historical tour of a woman’s greatest romantic travail. Example: “1346, Your ex gets the bubonic plague, confirming your suspicions that he was cheating on you.” 

Read: Dating Material: Stalking Your Ex Throughout History | The New Yorker

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