Thursday, July 4, 2019

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The resignation of Rahul Gandhi

No resignation is official until you put it in writing. So Rahul Gandhi tweeted his resignation letter out to the world. Is this the end of an era or the latest episode in the ongoing Congress party soap opera?


What happened? Rahul Gandhi tweeted out a long resignation letter (full text here), saying that he owes “the country and my organisation a debt of tremendous gratitude and love.” Here are the highlights:

  • He took responsibility for the party’s defeat—citing it as the reason for his resignation. But Gandhi also pointedly wrote, “Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019.”

  • He will not nominate his successor. He has asked the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to appoint a search committee to find a replacement.

  • He underlined the BJP and RSS’ “capture of power” and of critical institutions—like the judiciary, election commission and the media. He warned, “There is a real danger that from now on, elections will go from being a determinant of India’s future to a mere ritual.”

  • He vowed to continue to fight against these forces, but also pointed out that during the election, “I personally fought the PM, the RSS and the institutions they have captured with all my being… At times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it.”


So this is it, right? Maybe so. The CWC will meet to either accept or reject his resignation. They could refuse, but given his insistence, it is unlikely. More importantly, there will be no member of the Gandhi family at this meeting—including Sonia who heads the CWC and Priyanka who is General Secretary. Rahul and Sonia are slated to leave the country in a few days for her health checkup. Priyanka is already in the United States along with Robert Vadra—who is undergoing surgery for a “small tumour.” So the timing is hardly an accident.


So what’s next? As per the party’s constitution, the CWC should appoint an interim president—typically one of the senior leaders. The interim president will then set into motion the process to hold elections for the post of president. Or the CWC could appoint a group of leaders to lead the party. The last option: setting up a committee to decide on the way forward. No one really knows. Most Congress leaders aren’t saying much. They’ve all expressed disappointment, urged Rahul to reconsider etc.


But then again… There’s already speculation that this is an elaborate plan to force the party’s senior leadership to resign. The ‘evidence’ is this bit of the letter: "It is a habit in India that the powerful cling to power, no one sacrifices power. But we will not defeat our opponents without sacrificing the desire for power and fighting a deeper ideological battle.” 


What’s this plan? Congress “sources” have told Quint that Rahul’s strategy is similar to the Kamaraj Plan of 1963—when 12 key leaders resigned in order to allow PM Nehru to overhaul the party. According to this unnamed party secretary, “The present restructuring isn’t possible unless top party functionaries quit. Rahul Gandhi had to resign in order to make others quit as well.” 


So what will happen? Who knows. The party’s had brief spells without a Gandhi at its helm. But Lal Bahadur Shastri had already been groomed by Nehru as his successor. Narasimha Rao headed a Congress-led coalition government after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. In both instances, the party was politically strong and in power. Moreover, in this case, both Rahul and Sonia are still members of Parliament and will be very much part of Indian politics. In other words, the past offers few clues for the future. 


The bottomline: If Rahul Gandhi’s exit is indeed final—and neither Sonia nor Priyanka will step in to fill the vacuum—then it is an end of an era both for Congress and India. The country has always had a Gandhi/Nehru if not in power, at least available and waiting in the wings. Look, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. 

Learn more: India Today outlines the next steps in Congress party procedure. Quint offers a contrarian reading of Rahul’s resignation and explains the Kamaraj Plan, analysing whether it will work today. Indian Express earlier reported on the young-old faultline within Congress. And we’re re-upping The Hindu’s excellent analysis on why no one is stepping up to claim Rahul’s mantle.

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flaunting your Bata chappals at that chi-chi bar

Pakistan cracks down on terrorists: The government filed 23 charges of terror financing and facilitation against Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, as well as five banned outfits operating as charity organisations. (Indian Express)


Indian airlines have a pilot problem: A Spicejet plane skidded off the runway in the midst of the Mumbai rains. The incident prompted a notice from aviation authorities who warned against pilots adopting an “unstabilised approach” while landing. This is the fifth such incident in the past 72 hours. Four involved Spicejet, and Air India planes accounted for the other two. The underlying problem is not weather, as The Print points out, but dangerously inadequate pilot training.


Your water crisis update is here: Here are the best reads today:

  • Chennai: Villages on the outskirts are blocking water tankers. The reason: “Private tankers have fitted more than eight bore wells in our village and are indiscriminately extracting thousands of litres of water every day”—to feed a parched Chennai. Reuters looks at who pays the price when big cities run dry.

  • Mumbai: This simple but powerful Times of India infographic answers the question, ‘What If Mumbai Could Save All The Rainwater?”

  • Mint has the government’s urgent plan to conserve water over the next couple of months.

  • The reason for this new sense of urgency? The water crisis poses an immediate threat to an already slowing economy which may well “die of thirst.”


The #MeToo investigation into Vikas Bahl: This long reported piece reveals the inside story on how the director was hastily and conveniently cleared by Phantom Film’s internal committee. (Huffington Post)


Ambayati Rayadu says goodbye: Passed over twice for the World Cup team, he decided to hang up his cricket gloves. There are some humiliations one can never recover from—like being trolled by Iceland Cricket. (Indian Express)


Flip flops are here to stay: The most comfortable fashion trend in footwear is not going to disappear any time soon—not when even Anna Wintour approves. As do we! (Fashionista)


Keep your Ranveer, we’ve got RiRi: Lest we forget, India isn’t the only team to have superstars as fans. Here’s Rihanna in full cry as she watched the West Indies vs Sri Lanka match. Sadly, her team lost. In related World Cup news: This acrobatic streaker entertained the crowd in the England vs New Zealand match. (The Cut)


We can’t get enough of this baby dugong: We flagged this story when photos of a baby dugong being cared for by humans went viral in Thailand. But now they have video footage!! Can she be any more adorable? Yes! (The Guardian


This amazing arctic fox: travelled over 3,500 km (2,175 miles) from Norway to Canada in just 76 days. It is “one of the longest dispersal events—a movement from the birthplace to a potential breeding location—ever recorded for the species.” Scientists are stunned by both the distance covered and her speed. (CNN)


Akshay Kumar gets in on the bottle cap challenge: Except his version of plastic bottle decapitation is far more dramatic with sound effects and thoda sa over-acting—i.e. full Bollywood ishtyle.

Foreigners, Goa and violence: Put those three words together in the media, and it’s usually a story about international tourists being assaulted or raped. But according to police records, there are far more foreign criminals than victims in Goa. Since 2017, 262 foreign nationals have been arrested or booked on a variety of charges—but most of the criminal activity is drug-related. Now, there’s a special detention centre just for them. (Times of India)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Revisiting Childhood Classics’ Edition

We are accustomed to literary and cinematic reimaginings of our most loved classics. But what if a beloved book set in colonial India actually turned out to be about America? Or if the character whom you most identified with in a fairytale changed when you grew up? We greatly enjoyed both these essays. We hope you will too.

Am I Snow White or her wicked step-mother?

As a child, Julia Phillips learned one lesson well from her book of Grimm’s fairytales: “A girl can be either beautiful or clever… If she’s beautiful, she will be good, and she will be loved; if she’s not, she will be bad and she will be lonely, but she will also be smart, wild, active, and complicated.” She took one look in the mirror and made her choice: Team Wicked all the way! This is a brilliant first-person account of what happened on her way to adulthood.

Read: Beauty or Brains? A Simple Equation | The Paris Review

Sex, Love etc 2

The Jungle America Book

Did you know Rudyard Kipling wrote his most famous book when he was living in Vermont—married to his now-dead best friend’s sister. Were the Monkey People stand-ins for the dissolute native Indians in his colonial imagination? Or were they Americans with brash and disorderly manners and ideas? Also: Did you know ‘Kim’ became a bible for the CIA in the 1950s/60s?

Read: Rudyard Kipling in America | New Yorker

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