Thursday, August 22, 2019

Number of the day: 10,000

Parle Products, India’s largest biscuit manufacturer, is planning to lay off up to 10,000 of its employees—which is 10% of its workforce. The reason: a crippling GST rate of 18% which is driving down sales of its cheapest Rs 5 packets. Hardest hit is demand from lower-income consumers in rural India, which contributes more than half of Parle’s revenue.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The arrest of P Chidambaram

After 24 hours of high drama, the CBI scaled the walls of the former Finance Minister’s home to arrest him—leaving all of us wondering who is next. 


The background: As we explained at length yesterday, Chidambaram is being investigated on charges of corruption and money laundering. The primary allegation is that he and his son Karti conspired to protect INX Media—Indrani and Peter Mukherjea’s company which grossly violated foreign investment regulations (See our explainer here).


The recap: When we last left Chidambaram, he was in hiding after the Delhi High Court revoked his anticipatory bail. And his lawyers were scrambling to get an urgent hearing with the Supreme Court on Wednesday—hoping it will step in to keep him out of jail.  


Ok, what happened then? His lawyers spent most of their day getting the runaround from Supreme Court justices. First, they were told that Chief Justice Gogoi was unavailable to hear their plea—and were directed to a judicial bench led by Justice Ramana instead. However, when they asked the bench for an urgent hearing, the judges referred the matter back to Justice Gogoi. Then they said there were some defects in the petition. When the defects were “cured,” the bench finally agreed to hear the case… on Friday! (Are you thinking what we are thinking?)


Where was Chidambaram? He stayed out of sight until all hope of a court-directed reprieve was lost. And then he unexpectedly showed up at the Congress headquarters where he held an impromptu presser. Chidambaram emphasised that the FIR does not mention his name: “In the INX Media case, I have not been accused of any offence. Nor has anyone else, including any member of my family, been accused of any offence. In fact, there is no chargesheet by either the CBI or the ED filed before a competent court.” And then he went on to denounce the “lies spread by pathological liars.” (Watch his remarks here)


Phir? Chidambaram went back to his residence in Jor Bagh—which was almost immediately besieged by a large group of unwelcome guests, i.e. CBI and ED officials. In plain sight of a giant media scrum, they banged on the front gate a couple of times and then jumped over the walls to enter the residence (the insane clip here). And they led Chidambaram away to the CBI headquarters to face a “long night of questioning.” Also, since you really, really need to know, one official told The Telegraph that “Chidambaram would be served food of his choice but would not say whether he would get a separate room, soft bed, pillow or mattress.” (Moral of this story: always answer the doorbell)


So what happens now? Since Chidambaram is a Rajya Sabha member, he has to be produced in court. His lawyers will once again petition for bail. If that is denied, they can first move the High Court and then go back to the Supreme Court. A criminal lawyer told Mint, “The chances of getting bail once arrested are higher than getting an anticipatory bail. The opposing party for the bail needs to provide strong evidence to show that the accused person...will not cooperate."


Point to note: This is just the beginning of Chidambaram’s woes. The government plans to widen the probe into foreign investment clearances during his tenure. Also under the scanner: allowances made to other companies such as Diageo Scotland Ltd, Katara Holdings, Essar Steel Ltd and Elforge Ltd.  According to the Enforcement Directorate, the Chidambarams collectively took Rs 305 crores in bribes. There’s even talk of bringing in Karti so father and son can be questioned together.


The bottomline: Decisive action against corruption is always welcome. And the UPA government was notorious for its scandal-tainted ministers. But any moral crusade loses some of its credibility when it is only aimed at political rivals (See: NDTV coming up next). After all, the BJP spent the last couple of months scheming to topple the Karnataka government—only to install that titan of probity, BS Yediyurappa, in power again. 


Learn more: Mint outlines Chidambaram’s legal options, while India Today lays out the Chidambarams’ likely defense. Mint also has an interesting analysis of why this arrest ticks a key box in the BJP manifesto. Times of India reports in detail on further allegations—including a shell company which received funds from the Virgin Islands. The Telegraph has details on the messy arrest and CBI’s rationale for it. Also worth a look: NDTV on the High Court judge who triggered the arrest by revoking Chidambaram’s anticipatory bail. 


In corruption crusade-related news: The CBI has filed a fresh case against NDTV owners Prannoy and Radhika Roy and former CEO Vikramaditya Chandra. The allegations are as follows:

  • Between 2004 and 2010, NDTV “floated” around 32 subsidiary firms in tax havens such as Holland, UK, Dubai, Malaysia, and Mauritius. 

  • These firms had “no business transactions” and were essentially shell companies.

  • More specifically, this was an elaborate money-laundering scheme for “unknown public servants” who invested their “proceeds of corruption” in NDTV’s foreign subsidiaries which “later laundered [the funds] back to India through multiple layers of complex transactions and shell companies.”

  • Toward this end, NDTV received Finance Ministry approvals to bring in foreign investments which violated regulations. 

  • Example one: The London subsidiary received total FDI worth $163.43 million. Example two: NDTV International Holding BV was incorporated solely to raise $150 million from a subsidiary of General Electric. This investment was then routed to NDTV’s subsidiaries in India via Mauritius and UK.

NDTV released a statement which described the case as an “attempt to silence free and fair reportage through malicious and fabricated charges.” The company also said that all transactions flagged by the CBI have been declared both in India and the United States. Indian Express has a lot more detail if you need it. And here’s the original CBI complaint.

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counting the days to the return of Neo

The Amazon is burning: There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year, and more than half of them in the Amazon region. That's an 80% increase compared to the same period last year. The skies over the nation’s capital, São Paulo, are pitch black with smoke. According to experts, an area equivalent to 1½ football fields of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed every minute of every day. Why is this happening? Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro has aggressively encouraged mining, cattle ranching, and logging. Activists say that farmers may be setting the forests on fire to clear land. Bolsonaro insists all is well, blaming the fires on NGOs intent on defaming his government. Point to note: the Amazon provides 20% of the planet’s oxygen. CNN has the story. Daily Mail has eerie photos of Sao Paulo. And here is a must-see video report on the fire.

Trump explains Kashmir: The Donald generously explained the situation in the state and his relationship between his quarrelling besties to reporters. We leave it to you to assess its merits. Watch the clip here.

Trump is super-mad at Denmark: for refusing to even consider selling Greenland to him. The result: he’s cancelled a planned state visit to Denmark. Trump told reporters: “I thought that the prime minister's statement that it was absurd, that it was an absurd idea was nasty.” The Danes are surprised and angry. We are surprised that anyone is still surprised at Trump. (BBC)

Re-enter the Matrix! Yes, it’s official! Get ready for Matrix 4—and with its original stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, no less! (The Verge)

Spidey exits the Marvel Universe: Back in 2015, Disney (which owns Marvel) and Sony announced a deal to share the film rights to ‘Spider-Man’. The result: awesome standalone movies like ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’—but also starring roles for the character in big-ticket Avengers films. But now Disney wants a 50-50 split of the profits, and won’t lend its star Marvel producer to make future films in the franchise. Hence, the divorce. The kids aka fans are devastated. (Variety)

Meghan, Harry and climate change hypocrisy: The royal couple is now being slammed for their royal ‘flight privileges’—more precisely, taking four flights on private jets in 11 days. According to experts, just two of those flights produced six times more emissions a year than the average Briton. This after Meghan posted on Instagram, “With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference." But don’t feel sorry for M&H. They’ve been fiercely defended by everyone from Elton John to Ellen DeGeneres—with some even suggesting the criticism is racially motivated. Recommended read: Forbes on how elite hypocrisy works.

10,000 hours of nada: Remember when Malcolm Gladwell claimed that doing any one thing for 10,000 hours would make you an expert in anything—and this is especially true for playing the violin. Well, it’s all a bunch of baloney. Practice, as it turns out, does not make you perfect. (The Guardian)

Crazy, foolish Indians: One of the great hazards to a human’s health is his/her phone camera. Behold the grief it has brought this man trying to get up close to an injured leopard. No wonder, we are the killfie capital of the world.

An ecstatic cure for alcoholism: Hey, if ketamine can cure depression, is it all that surprising that a new study finds that MDMA (source of ecstasy) can beat alcoholism? (Big Think)

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This brilliant visual metaphor of the Indian economy. Saamne se scooter…

  • The brilliant news that Nepal has banned the use of single-use plastics on and around Mt Everest.

  • This excellent video spoof of Brexit for Monty Python fans.

  • This awesome animal version of ‘what do you see’ gif that rivals that white & gold dress thing. 

  • These brilliant portraits of primates which totally kick the ass of the human kind.

An excellent project requires your participation: Broadsheet subscriber, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, emailed us about her project which is putting together “photographs of the 2.5 million Indian soldiers who fought in World War 2 but are not remembered in our collective national memory.” She is creating an artwork to tell their story and to make sure that they will be remembered. Please submit your photographs to her at Want to know more about Annu? Her impressive bio and website is right here. You can also get a glimpse of her project and video installation in this video.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Parenting Wellness’ Edition

We all do our best to make sound parenting decisions—and that includes deciding whether or not to have kids. Here are two pieces that offer a guide to making better choices.

How many children do you have?

Or more accurately, the question ought to be: How many children should you have? For educated Indians, the answer is a no-brainer: ek ya do, bas. And that’s a good thing, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Read: What Number of Kids Makes Parents Happiest? | The Atlantic

Sex, Love etc 2

The best scientific gyaan a parent needs

We found this nifty guide to the latest science on parenting to be very useful—including how pediatricians might treat a girl’s pain, the effects of putting a kid in a grade above his age, and (always useful) the risks attached to marijuana in breastmilk.

Read: 8 Scientific Studies That Could Change the Way You're Raising Your Kid | Parents

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