Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Number of the day: 20

That’s the rank of Khan Market on the list of the world’s most expensive retail space. The rent per square foot: $243. That’s still dirt-cheap compared to the most expensive location to set up shop: Causeway Bay in Hong Kong which goes for $2745/sq ft. Next in line is New York's Upper 5th Avenue ($2,250), followed by London's New Bond Street ($1,714) and Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris ($1,478). What we’re wondering: How come no one complains about the Champs Elysees gang?

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The ongoing maha tamasha in Maharashtra

Another day, and another delay. The much-anticipated Supreme Court decision was pushed back by 24 hours. We look ahead to what’s next to help you make sense of the fresh insanity that will unfold today.

Super brief recap: First, Shiv Sena broke with the BJP to join forces with Congress and NCP. Then, NCP leader Ajit Pawar broke with his uncle and party chief Sharad Pawar to join forces with the BJP—claiming he has the support of all 54 NCP MLAs. The result: the governor swore in BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis as CM, and Ajit as his deputy. All hell broke loose. The three opposition parties filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging constitutional fraud. (Read yesterday’s detailed explainer here)

The Supreme Court update: The court held an urgent hearing on Sunday and gave the Union government a day to produce: a) the governor’s letter inviting Fadnavis to form the government; and b) the letter that Ajit Pawar submitted to the governor showing NCP support for the BJP. This is what happened on Monday:

  • Ajit Pawar’s so-called letter of support turned out to be a bit of a fraud. While it was signed by all 54 NCP MLAs, it made no mention of supporting the BJP or any other party. 

  • It most likely is an older letter affirming support for Ajit as the party’s legislative leader—which he then tried to spin in this fashion: “I am the NCP. The letter I gave is factually correct… I was authorised as a legislative party leader by 54 MLAs of my party to take a decision on their behalf on government formation, on the day I gave that letter.”

  • All sides—including the court—agreed that the matter has to be settled in a floor test—i.e. a show of strength on the floor of the Assembly.

  • But the government insisted that the court has no right to say when: “A floor test is imperative, but can the court say whether the floor test should be held not after 10 days but 5 days, not 5 days but 4 days, not 4 days but 3 days?”

  • So the judges today will decide if and when the floor test will happen.

  • Point to note: The governor has given Fadnavis two weeks to prove his majority.

What’s this all about? It’s pretty simple. BJP wants to buy as much time as possible to poach MLAs from the other three parties. It has repeatedly used vast sums of money and ministerial posts to shore up its numbers. BTW, this is standard practice in Indian politics, but the BJP has been a lot better at it. And that’s why the other three parties are in a mad hurry to form the government before they lose their MLAs. See: Congress’ debacle in Karnataka.

Do the Sena et al have the numbers? So far, yes. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, “paraded” what he claimed were 162 MLAs for a photo-op at a Mumbai hotel (note: there was no official head count). The number required for a majority: 145. But appearances in politics are often deceptive. And that tally can change overnight. 

Tell me about this floor test: The governor will appoint a temporary 'pro tem' Speaker, an MLA who will direct proceedings. The Supreme Court typically puts in place a number of safeguards to ensure a fair vote. In the past, it has ordered that the proceedings be televised, asked the local police to offer protection to the MLAs etc. Then the MLAs vote either by voice or in writing or by a show of hands. 

The bottomline: Democracy requires that the ruling party must prove its majority in the legislature—either alone or with the support of others. And the sooner the better. When there are two minutes left on the clock, there is no good reason for the referee to suddenly award extra time to the losing team. 


Learn more: The Telegraph offers more details on the court proceedings, and the Shiv Sena’s bizarre show of strength at a five star hotel. Indian Express has a detailed explainer on the floor test. Firstpost highlights the irrigation scam inquiry targeting Ajit Pawar—which was shut down the moment he joined the BJP.

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making a mental note to never catch a movie in Birmingham

A victory for democracy in Hong Kong: Pro-Beijing candidates were roundly defeated in the district elections held over the weekend. Why does this matter? The months of protests have damaged Hong Kong’s economy, disrupted daily lives and resulted in violence. And many wondered if the protesters had lost popular support. The vote instead was “a powerful show of solidarity with the city’s protest movement and rebuke to the government over its handling of the crisis.” (The Guardian)


Russia faces global sports ban: A key committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency has recommended a four-year ban on Russian athletes for severe violations—including tampering with data and falsifying test results. If the agency votes in favour of the recommendation, Russian athletes and teams will be barred from next year’s Tokyo Olympics, major events like the football World Cup and the world championships for archery, wrestling and other sports. (New York Times)

A seriously creepy flaw in Android phones: allows rogue apps to access your camera and mic and upload the recordings to an attacker-controlled server—without you giving it permission to do so. Google has fixed the problem in its Pixel phones, as has Samsung. But other phones remain vulnerable. To be clear: an ordinary person is unlikely to be the target of such a sophisticated attack. But it reveals how vulnerable our overly smart phones can be. (Ars Technica)

The astonishing price of private healthcare in India: Everyone knows private hospitals cost way more than government hospitals. But the actual price difference revealed by a government study still comes as a shock. Did you know that a private hospital charges seven times as much as the sarkaari kind? They charge four times more for cancer treatment, and eight times more for treating heart disease. Also: unlike government hospitals—where medicines drive up costs—hospital services account for the biggest part of private bills. (Times of India)

Paytm hits a cash bonanza: The company has raised $1 billion (Rs 7,167 crore) from new and existing investors—including SoftBank, China’s Ant Financial and T Rowe Price. The aim is to fend off the likes of Google Pay and PhonePe which are beating it in the digital payments game. But it will also invest Rs 10,000 crore over the next three years on ‘financial inclusion’—i.e. cheap mobile-enabled financial services for rural India. (Mint)

A movie theatre brawl with machetes: Five teenagers—including a 13-year-old girl—were arrested, at a violent brawl in a theatre during a screening of ‘Blue Story’. A number of them were wielding machetes!! As a result, theatres are pulling the movie from their screens. Where did this happen? Birmingham, UK. (BBC)

Say hello to the ‘spelfie’: Yup, you read that right. ‘Spelfie’ as in a selfie taken from space. No, it won’t capture your pretty face, but it will photograph a significant event involving a group of people. For example: “A group of activists campaigning against plastic pollution on the island of Bali in Asia spelled out ‘ACT NOW’ on a polluted beach in a movement called Bye Bye Plastic Bags.” It’s like a selfie, minus the narcissism or need for Insta filters. (Daily Mail)

The most excellent airline in the world: is New Zealand airlines, followed by Singapore. Yes, it has among the swankiest airline lounges, finest first class cabins and most exciting in-flight entertainment. But the truly heart-warming reason: "In the past 10 years the airline has reduced its fuel burn and thus carbon emissions by almost 22%, ahead of the industry average.” (CNN)

Louis Vuitton has bought itself a Tiffany: for the low, low price of $16 billion. LVMH’s acquisition of the jewellery company is the largest luxury goods deal to date. (BBC News)

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • Taapsee Pannu deftly refusing to speak in Hindi when pressured by a member of the audience.

  • This genius 6-year old girl from Chennai who solved the Rubik’s cube in 2 minutes and 7 seconds—while blindfolded and reciting a poem. 

  • This breathtaking photo of a construction worker atop the antenna of the Sears Tower while it was under construction. He is untethered and 1485 feet in the air. 

  • Dal makhani cappuccino. Enuf said.

  • The brilliant news that an Indian academic has built a global database of pre-Independence magazines and journals—capturing key intellectual debates that shaped our nation.

  • The astonishing news that Apple+ has renewed M Night Shyamalan’s upcoming series ‘Servant’ for second season—even before a single episode has aired!

  • The amusing news that the men’s cardigan is making a fashion comeback. Dada-ji would be proud!

  • This lovely list of ‘five things I love about my mother’ shared by an Indian journo. The best thing about a child’s love is that it is both unconditional and highly entertaining.
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Fashion Meets Tradition’ Edition

Fashion is always reinventing the old into something new. The results are sometimes delightful, other times offensive—and many times, just plain kooky. But it’s almost never boring.

The long storied history of the turban

Designers borrow traditions and styles from around the world in the name of ‘inspiration’—often triggering accusations of cultural appropriation. But much like food, apparel also has a shared history, morphing and changing as it spreads across the globe. This is a fascinating history of the turban—from its origins in Mesopotamia to the silver screen in Hollywood and the runways in Paris.

Read: Turbans | Quartz Obsession

Sex, Love etc 2

Ayurvedic fashion is here!

Can a sari make you feel better? Help you sleep and reduce stress? Ayurvedic clothing claims it can do just that. What’s that, you ask? Saris, tunics and shorts made of organic cotton treated with herbs and oils. And it is the hottest trend in high-priced apparel.

Read: Would you wear an Ayurvedic sari? | Livemint

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