Wednesday, April 3, 2019

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The Great Congress Manifesto

Rahul Gandhi released a crowd-pleasing election manifesto which promised a little something for pretty much everyone—and made liberals very happy.


The election manifesto: is called “Congress will deliver” in English, and titled “Hum Nibhayenge” in Hindi. Unveiling the document, Gandhi said, “In the last five years, the BJP government has spread hate and divisiveness. Congress will work towards uniting India, bringing people together.” 


What’s in it? A whole lot of stuff guaranteed to please a whole lot of people:

  • The unemployed: A new Ministry of Industry, Services and Employment which links economic growth to job creation. Also: a promise to fill 4 lakh government job vacancies by 2020.

  • Farmers: will get their very own ‘kisan budget’ every year. Defaulting on a loan will no longer be a criminal offence. And a series of new policies will move farmers away from ‘karz maafi’ to ‘karz mukti’—i.e. free them of debt.

  • The poor: The previously announced minimum income program, Nyay, which will transfer Rs. 72,000 a year (on average) to the poorest 20% of Indian households.

  • Women: Pass the Women’s Reservation Bill in the very first session of the Lok Sabha. It reserves 33% of all Lok Sabha and state assembly seats for women. Also: 33% reservation quota for all posts/vacancies in the central government.

  • GST haters: Radically simplify the various tax bases and replace them with a single moderate rate.

  • Civil liberties advocates: The party will repeal the sedition law which has been used by successive governments to target their critics. Also to be axed: current defamation laws that place the burden of proof on the accused.

  • Human rights advocates: “Review” of the AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act which have been used to violate human rights in places like Kashmir and the North East: “Suitable changes will be made in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights.”

  • Privacy advocates: Linking of Aadhar—as currently required for PAN card etc.—will no longer be mandatory to avail of government services or benefits.


Okaaay, is there more? Actually yes. Congress promises to double the current amount allocated to education to 6% of GDP by 2023-24. The manifesto also declared “air pollution” to be a national public health emergency, promising to “significantly strengthen the National Clean Air Programme and “set up an independent, empowered and transparent Environment Protection Authority.”


The bottomline: Manifestos don’t win elections. After all, how many people remember what the Congress promised in 2014? That said, poll promises do indicate the broader philosophy of a political party. So the 2019 manifesto is best understood as Congress’ unabashed return to welfare politics—which is guaranteed to annoy free marketeers. What’s new? Its embrace of civil rights and liberties. That’s a significant pivot for a party which has arrested human rights activists, tried to defang its own Right to Information Act, and rejected all recommendations to amend or repeal the AFSPA act.

Learn more: Indian Express has a summary of the manifesto and explains the key laws on sedition, defamation and AFSPA. India Today has Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s response to the manifesto—he called it “positively dangerous.” Inc42 has more on the Aadhar angle. Quint reads the manifesto as Gandhi defining himself as the polar opposite of Modi. Times of India reads it as a decisive move to the left, abandoning its previous centrist politics.

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praying your naani never discovers rap

NASA is mad at India: The US space agency chief Jim Bridenstine says the satellite destroyed by the ASAT test created 400 pieces of orbital debris and could pose a threat to the International Space Station: “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station.” There was no official Indian response, but an unnamed source at the DRDO claims the debris will burn up and disappear in 45 days. (Hindustan Times)


Here’s why Modi may win the election: A thought-provoking Washington Post op-ed by Milan Vaishnav argues, “Despite the government’s many foibles, from the inability to address the rising tide of rural distress to the disastrous consequences of demonetization, there is a simple truth animating public opinion: All told, most voters like Modi. A lot.” And they’re looking for an excuse to vote for him. Confirming Vaishnav’s thesis is Firstpost’s ground report which finds even unemployed Biharis willing to give Modi a pass on his failures. Bihar’s unemployment rate is 10.9%, far above the national average of 6.8%.


Why do very rich Indians suck at philanthropy? Azim Premji, the Nilekanis and others—who have given away great chunks of their wealth—are the exceptions not the rule in India. Why? The answer may lie in the difference between charity and philanthropy. (BBC)


Your summer vacay is going to be more expensive: due to Jet Airways. The company will take at least another month to become operational again. Travel experts predict airfares to be higher by 10-15% in April and May. (Quartz)


Say hello to the impossible food: America is all excited about Burger King’s meatless ‘Impossible Whopper’ that impossibly tastes exactly like meat. Twitter is far less excited by this impossible-to-eat burger made of camembert. Definitely not exciting: celeb chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s impossible idlimade of bread… yes, bread. Trust us: it’s a travesty.


Airbnb hearts Ola: The home-sharing company is investing a rumoured $150-200 million in the Indian hotel chain. The move will help strengthen Airbnb’s presence in India and expand Oyo’s international presence. No news on whether it will do anything to improve Oyo’s crap customer ratings. (Mint)



The difference between lawyers and liars: Former Supreme Court Judge Ruma Pal offers a stinging rebuke of the misconduct of Indian lawyers, especially in victim compensation cases where attorneys often swindle their own clients. (The Hindu)


Winston Churchill’s crimes against humanity: A new study finds that the 1943 Bengal famine was the only famine in modern Indian history not caused by drought but by “policy failure.” That’s the polite word for exporting rice out of India while starving more than 3 million Indians to death. (CNN)


Meet Madhur Jaffrey, Rap Naani: The New York Times has the story her newest incarnation as “a gangster granny.” YouTube has the music video. We will say no more.


Trump’s celeb ratings are dismal: His popularity as a president has always been weak—except with his fanatically devoted base. But a new marketing survey shows he’s not doing well as a celebrity either. According to a significant market research survey, 48% of Americans rate Trump as “aggressive,” while 38% find him “mean.” He is also seen by a majority as “insincere” and “creepy.” Sadly for the Donald, between zero and four percent find him “sexy,” “handsome,” and “physically fit.” (Newsweek)

Mick Jagger may not be immortal: The 75-year old recently cancelled a Rolling Stones concert tour. The reason: Jagger is undergoing surgery to replace a heart valve. It's the end of an era. (CNN)

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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What’s the point of marriage, anyway? 

There are those of us who have the privilege not to get married—and in our society, it is indeed a privilege, especially for women. Then there are those of us who—having done the deed—wonder at times why we ever bothered. This essay by a married writer asks, “Is marriage obsolete?” Her answer is clear-eyed, unsentimental and yet deeply moving.

Read: Is Marriage Obsolete? | The Cut

Sex, Love etc 2

Masturbation clubs for men are a thing

Jacking off together is the sort of strange thing horny teenage boys do together… or so we think. But masturbation clubs in America are becoming a space for an increasingly gender-fluid generation of men to explore their sexuality. It may sound a little icky, but the article is, in fact, a serious look at masculinity, and how it may be changing.

Read: Why Straight Men Are Joining Masturbation Clubs | GQ

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