Thursday, May 16, 2019

Number of the day: 220 million

The grocery delivery company Grofers has raised $220 million in its latest round of funding. The round was led by Softbank, and included Tiger Global, Sequoia and the South Korean investment firm KTB Ventures. Grofers plans to vastly expand its price-conscious private label line of products. Unlike many of its rivals, it will not be offering fresh produce or same-day deliveries. As CEO Albinder Dhindsa said, “We are clear about our target audience. It is going to be middle India that goes after planned purchases and low-priced offerings." Bonus read: Inc42 offers a quick bird’s-eye view of the online grocery landscape.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The destruction of a statue in Bengal

BJP chief Amit Shah held a ‘roadshow’ in Kolkata yesterday, and all hell broke loose. A beloved statue was destroyed, duelling video clips of the violence were released, and the Election Commission was forced to step in.


First, some background: Here’s the context you need to understand why things got out of hand yesterday:

  • One, nine constituencies in Bengal will go to polls on Sunday in the last phase of the elections. This is now a last-minute, do-or-die battle between Trinamool and the BJP.

  • Two, Bengal is a prized state for the BJP, which has been vying to fill the political vacuum created by the collapse of the Left. Any Lok Sabha seats wrested from Trinamool in this election will give it an important foothold in the next state election.

  • Three, Mamata Banerjee has ruled the state virtually unopposed. And she’s determined to keep it that way.


Ok, what happened? Amit Shah’s mega-rally was countered by Trinamool protesters. The confrontation quickly became violent, and Shah had to be escorted out by security personnel. The street battle soon spilt over into the campus of the nearby Vidyasagar College. What happened after that is a source of dispute between the two parties.


The duelling video clips: The BJP alleges that Trinamool protesters threw stones at its supporters from inside the college, and has footage to prove it. Trinamool shared two clips: one shows young men in saffron shirts and turbans storming the gates of the college. The other shows them destroying the bust of Bengal’s revered cultural icon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. Amit Shah claims that it is Trinamool who vandalised the statue. Both have complained to the Election Commission.


What does the EC say? Taking an unprecedented step, the commission cut short campaigning in the nine constituencies by 24 hours, citing an atmosphere of “fear and hatred.” As per the new deadline, parties cannot hold rallies or communicate any kind of election-related content from 10 pm today. The EC also sacked Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar who has been accused of interfering in the elections on behalf of Trinamool.


Why is Bengal getting this ugly? The state has a long and shameful tradition of political violence. It started with Congress and the Left in the 60s, and continued under Mamata and her cadre of Trinamool goons despite her promise of ‘poriborton’ (change). Given BJP’s reputation for bare-knuckled politicking, a clash between the two was bound to be nasty.


The bottomline: The stakes in Bengal are very high for both sides. BJP urgently needs seats in Bengal and Odisha to make up for any shortfall in Uttar Pradesh. Mamata needs an impressive tally if she’s going to play a decisive role in the mahagathbandhan and stake a claim to the PM gaddi. No wonder, all gloves are off—if they were ever on in the first place.


Learn more: An Indian Express investigation shows that both Trinamool and the BJP were fully prepared for violence before the roadshow took place. The Telegraph fact-checks Amit Shah’s claims against the released video clips. Times of India reports on the Election Commission’s crackdown on Trinamool efforts to influence voting. The Wire explains why desecrating Vidyasagar’s statue is no small matter in Bengal. Also read: Shekhar Gupta’s controversial take in The Print titled, ‘Modi-Shah’s poison has met its match in Mamata Banerjee’s poison’

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while wondering if you should switch to Telegram

Guess who else can hack WhatsApp? The IT cells of our political parties. A Reuters investigation found at least three different ways to do an end-run on its strict restrictions on bulk messaging and forwarding. One of the software hacks only costs Rs 1000—sasta, tikau aur illegal. A related read from Bloomberg: Why WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is a gimmick.


Alabama passes a horrific abortion bill: The state senate—controlled by 27 Republicans, all of them men—have unanimously passed legislation that will make abortion illegal. The Republicans “defeated a Democratic amendment that would have allowed legal abortions for women and girls impregnated by rape and incest.” Yes, they worked together to block those most basic and humane exceptions. The law will inevitably be challenged in the courts. And that’s exactly the plan: to get it in front of the Supreme Court and hope it will overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. Whether that happens or not, the law reflects the extremism of a newly emboldened anti-abortion movement—and points to how vulnerable abortion rights are in America right now. (Reuters)


So what is the RSS thinking? The organisation has been uncharacteristically silent over the past couple of months. This Huffington Post report from its headquarters in Nagpur reveals its ambivalent view of the election and its likely outcome.


Aditya Pancholi vs Kangana Ranaut: Rangoli Chandel has filed a complaint with the Mumbai police claiming that her sister—Kangana—was exploited and abused by Pancholi over a decade ago. In response, Pancholi filed a counter-complaint claiming that Ranaut’s lawyer threatened to slap a rape case against him. Pancholi had earlier filed a defamation case against Kangana after she accused him of physically and sexually abusing her in a number of interviews. As per Pancholi, her lawyer’s threats were aimed at forcing him to drop the case. Do you understand what’s going on? We certainly don’t. (Hindustan Times)


‘Avengers: Endgame’ has a lesson for Bollywood: The movie had one of the top three biggest opening weekends of all time in India, behind 'Baahubali 2: The Conclusion' and Rajinikanth’s '2.0'. Yup, there isn’t a single Bollywood movie on that list. Mint looks at why Avengers was a wake-up call for Hindi cinema.


Do dark-skinned people need sunscreen? No. Or that’s what this provocative op-ed by a professor of internal medicine argues. (The Conversation)


It’s a Google adpocalypse: Brace yourself for a deluge of ads which will pop up on your Google maps, app, and image galleries in search results. But hey, that’s just because Google really, really cares about you, as its execs made clear: “The company wants to make it easier for users to discover and buy new products because they shop in spurts while watching TV or sitting in the bathroom.” See? They just don’t want us to waste our potty time. (Daily Mail)


A ‘migrant ship’ controversy at the Venice Biennale: The famous art exhibition has sparked outrage over one of its displays: the hull of the ship of a fishing vessel which sank on its trip from Libya to Italy killing at least 700 refugees. As one critic cuttingly put it: "The best one can say of [artist Christoph] Büchel's intervention is that it brings us face to face with death. Biennale visitors pause to take selfies in front of it." (BBC)


Here’s why Mani Shankar Aiyar needs to go: The Congress veteran needs to retire from the public eye, like, right now, Watch this clip of a press interaction which charmingly ends with a ‘f*** off’.


Mick is baaaack! Rolling Stone god, Mick Jagger, had to cancel a recent tour to undergo major heart surgery. Guess who’s back already dancing in the streets studio. (Sky News)

The very outré Notre Dame designs: Architects are upsetting traditionalists by submitting plans that are a little too, umm, modern. For example, one includes a cross-shaped rooftop pool watched over by the statues of the 12 apostles. Inquiring minds want to know: Will there be a bar? (The Guardian has the story, but the awesome images of the rooftop pool are here)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The 'Animal Rescue' Edition

We’ve all been made miserable with the relentless stories of extinction. So to give us all hope, here are two stories of rescue and redemption. It’s also reassurance that all living things—humans included—have a great and unexpected capacity for compassion.

Saving animals from war

Imagine being stranded in the midst of a war zone because the humans who cared for you are either dead or struggling to survive. This is the story of a vet, Amir Khalil, who swoops in to rescue zoo residents from places like Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. It is a story of human compassion in the midst of great violence and deprivation. (Bonus video: a moving BBC news report of how the residents of Aleppo, Syria, cared for their zoo animals until Khalil found a way to rescue them)

Watch: Rescuing Animals From War Zones | Great Big Story

Sex, Love etc 2

The plucky calf that got away

Sometimes animals just have to rescue themselves from us ravenous humans in search of the next delicious meal. This little ‘baby cow’ was being led away for slaughter when she ran as fast as she can… only to be adopted, first by a herd of deer, and then a sanctuary created by humans. Is there a better story of all creatures great and small coming together for a cause? We think not.

Read: Baby Cow Escapes Slaughterhouse and Is Raised by Deer Family in Snowy Forest | People

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