Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Number of the day: 98%

Indians are getting richer at an exponential pace, faster than residents of any other major economy. Private wealth grew 98% between 2008 and 2018, and will grow even faster in the coming decade. According to a new market research report, in ten years, Indians will be wealthier than the Brits and Germans combined. Of course, most of this wealth is and will likely continue to be held by a very small minority.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Fears over the safety of voting machines

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have long been a source of anxiety among parties and activists. Those fears were fuelled by reports of alleged rigging yesterday.


EVMs explained: Electronic voting machines have been used in India since 1999, when they replaced the old paper ballot. In recent years, their safety has been augmented by the introduction of the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) -- basically a paper receipt that confirms who you’ve voted for. However, opposition leaders have raised concerns about discrepancies between the vote tally recorded by the EVM and those shown by the VVPAT.


Ok, so what happened now? Yesterday, Twitter was in uproar over photos and videos of “suspicious movements of vehicles full of EVMs” in various states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The worry was that legitimate EVMs stored in ‘strong rooms’ were being secretly substituted with machines preloaded with votes for the BJP. There were fierce confrontations between the police and opposition leaders across constituencies. The stories received more credence as both Priyanka Gandhi and former President Pranab Mukherjee jumped into the fray.


What did they do? Priyanka sent out an audio message which said, “Afwaho aur exit polls se himmat mat haariye. Strongrooms aur counting centres mein datey rahiye aur chaukanne rahiye ... Yakeen hai ki aapki mehnat rang layegi.” (Don’t lose hope over rumours and exit polls. Be vigilant outside counting centres and strongrooms… I’m sure your efforts will pay off)


And what about Pranab Mukherjee? He put out a statement that read: “I am concerned over reports of alleged tampering of voters’ verdict. Safety and security of EVMs is Election Commission’s responsibility. There can be no room for speculations that challenge the very basis of our democracy.”


What did the Election Commission say? It released a detailed statement explaining the many security measures in place to ensure the integrity of the machines. The allegations were dismissed as “frivolous” and “baseless.” Authorities claim that the EVMs in the photos are ‘reserve’ machines being transported. That said, the EC has now set up a control room to deal with EVM complaints.


So what’s going on here? There isn’t sufficient evidence to make any strong claim of tampering. There have been damning videos of all kinds of wrongdoing during this election, but none have proved to be more than isolated incidents. Given that all parties—including the BJP in Bengal—are on high alert, it is unlikely that any widespread rigging will go undetected. That said, Indian elections have been subject to dirty tricks like booth-capturing long before EVMs came along -- and smartphones became ubiquitous.


Learn more: Telegraph takes a closer look at four cases of alleged EVM tampering which have sparked protests. The Print reports on an extraordinary method developed by the Congress party to prevent EVM rigging. Indian Express outlines the strict system in place to protect the integrity of EVMs as they move between the polling booth and the ‘strong room’.


In related election news: Here are some interesting reads you may have missed:


  • When the exit poll results were released, Swaraj Party leader Yogendra Yadav responded, “Congress must die.” In this Indian Express op-ed, he explains why.

  • The Hindu takes a different angle on the results, pointing out a) a clear North-South divide over Modi; and b) a significant anti-incumbency bias against Modi wherever BJP faces regional parties—but there is none when it goes head-to-head with Rahul/Congress.

  • There’s more on the now infamous cave where the PM took a meditation break. According to Scroll, it can be rented for Rs 990/day, and includes electricity and “morning tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner at prescribed timing which can be changed upon request.”

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spending your hard-earned savings on a plane ticket

Dutee Chand’s brave moment turns ugly: Earlier this week, the star athlete became the first gay Indian sports star to reveal her sexual orientation. But since her announcement, Chand’s family has publicly opposed her relationship. Her sister claimed, “She’s been pressurised and blackmailed into marriage by that girl and her family. All of this has been done to grab the property and wealth of Dutee.” Chand has now responded with a counter-allegation: “My own sister is blackmailing me, she asked me for Rs 25 lakh. She had once beaten me, I’d reported to the police. Since she was blackmailing me, I was forced to come out about my relationship.”


May faces Brexit backfire, again: The UK PM put out a “new deal” ahead of the next big Brexit vote, and it was rejected by all sides. Her concessions to ‘Remainers’ were dismissed as insufficient. And the Brexiteers in her party are furious because she promised to allow MPs to vote on a ‘confirmatory referendum’ to seal any deal that passes Parliament. The next Brexit deadline is October 31. (The Guardian)


Blame protectionism for sky high plane fares? Ticket prices are anywhere between 10-60% higher than last summer because of the collapse of Jet Airways. Domestic airlines have been unable to make up the shortfall. Meanwhile, a number of foreign airlines—including Emirates, FlyDubai, and Qatar Airways—have asked for more seats on high volume routes such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru on a temporary basis. But they have been rebuffed by Indian officials who insist, “These rights are earmarked for Indian carriers as per our bilateral agreements with various countries.”


Indian Gen Z is going global with their playlist: Spotify released its list of most discovered new artists by listeners between the ages of 18-24 years. And their new finds are not the usual suspects, i.e. Bollywood, rock or hip hop. The topmost discovered categories were EDM, KPop, and sleep and meditation music. The top three artists on the list: Normani, CHVRCHES and Cigarettes After Sex. (Indian Express has a cheat sheet for the olds)


Rebirth of Bateshwar: This is not a news article, but a post on someone’s travel blog. It’s a story about the restoration of an astonishing archaeological site in Madhya Pradesh which houses 200 temples dating back to 750-800 AD—all stacked within 25 acres. The effort required the undaunted efforts of K.K. Muhammad, the Archaeology Society of India’s regional superintendent. Also: the assistance of one of the most feared dacoits in the Chambal region, Nirbhal Singh Gujjar. You’ll have to read the rest for yourself… Also, the photos, so many lovely photos. (Kevin Standage Photography)


Manatees are irresistible: This video has something to do with orphaned manatees being released into the wild. We didn’t pay any attention because we were distracted by their insane level of cuteness. Yes, we’re shallow like that.


Netflix may be killing your phone battery: The streaming app is draining upto 20% of battery power on some Android phones when they are charging at night. That’s even if the app is not open, and the phone is left asleep. Happily, the fix is simple: just make sure you’ve updated to the very latest version of the app. (Independent)


The great Himalayan viagra battle: Two Uttarakhand villages have literally come to blows over who has the right to harvest ‘keeda jadi’ aka ‘Himalayan viagra’ from nearby meadows. Naturally intrigued, we googled this stuff, and found this fascinating piece in Scroll. Here’s what we learned: keeda jadi is a type of caterpillar fungus highly prized as an aphrodisiac, and sells at Rs 10 lakh a kilo in the black market. Villagers now rely entirely on this ‘gold mine’ for their improved quality of life, and it is destroying the habitat and endangering the poor caterpillar.


Some happy news out of Ayodhya: Shri Sita Ram temple hosted iftar for the city’s residents, and its video went viral. The temple priest said, “This is the third time we have organised an Iftar party. I will continue to do the same in the future as well. We should celebrate every festival with great zeal.” While the iftar may not be new, it is now sadly notable in a highly communalised Uttar Pradesh under CM Yogi Adityanath. (Indian Express)


A shocking expose of Tony Robbins: The mega-star motivational speaker with a multibillion-dollar business has been accused of making inappropriate sexual advances to his employees. That many powerful men sexually harass their employees is no longer surprising in this #MeToo era. We were shocked at how he treated victims of rape and domestic violence who came to him for help. Do listen to some of the audio in this Buzzfeed investigation. (Buzzfeed)


The most sexist sports trophy ever: What do you give women squash players when they win a tournament? If you’re an appallingly sexist Spanish club, the obvious answer is: a vibrator, an electric foot file and two body hair removal kits. Yes, this really happened. The club has apologised while still claiming there was “no sexist intent” behind the gifts. (Daily Mail)


The best royal baby ever: That distinction belongs to Prince George who was asked by daddy to rate his mum’s garden out of 10. Georgie’s response: 20. Yes, this tho thweet moment was captured on video. (People)


The world’s most expensive champagne cooler: is made by Rolls Royce and costs a paltry $47,000. But, hey, they throw in four glasses and cotton napkins for free. Cotton? Better be 1200-thread count Egyptian. (Bloomberg)

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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Falling out of love with Tinder

When we first discover dating apps, it’s like new love: anything seems possible. But for this writer, after years of swiping, the app began to resemble a tired habit—more routine than pleasure. “Like most breakups, it’s no one’s fault and everyone’s fault. It changed, I changed, the world changed,” she writes in this wistful tribute to her failed love affair:

Read: My (Mutual) Breakup with Online Dating | Medium

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When Celebs stop with the PDA and get real

The relentless deluge of lovey-dovey celeb insta moments is enough to turn even Cupid into a scrooge. So it is lovely when some stars break the PR code and are upfront about their relationships—especially their IRL sex lives. We enjoyed this collection of quotes, some painfully honest, others goofy and sweet—and still others that made us cringe. No, Jenny, we don’t need to know about your husband’s “beautiful penis.”

Check out: 15 Times Celebrity Couples Got Real About Their Sex Lives l Huffington Post

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