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Sc. & Tech.

Rhino horns created in laboratory will help conservation reducing poaching

Chandan Kumar Duarah : – Scientists are going to produce artificial rhino horns of made of exactly same components and make it available in the black market.  Actually realistic fake rhino horns made from horse hair in an attempt to reduce illegal poaching. High price of rhino horn leaves bloody trail across the globe. While a number of ways have been proposed to address the problem of poaching and to reduce the demand in international market some scientists firmly believe the artificial horns made of same componets will reduce the poaching. From stigmatising the use of rhino horn to legalising domestic trade, experts say there is another option: swamp the market with fakes, means artificial.

In India, people driven by superstitions believe in  rhino horn as a protector of evils and misfortune. They use a piece of horn with purpose of ornamental as well as astrological. In South-east Asian countries powder if rhino horn is used in traditional medicine. Rhino horn is believed to have many benefits in Chinese medicine, including working as an aphrodisiac.  So horn is in demand for a range of uses, from traditional Chinese medicine to ornamental carvings, and the illegal international trade is thriving.

In South Africa alone, 769 rhinos were poached in 2018, and there have also been attempts to steal rhino horns from museums in Europe. In Assam, rhino poaching or deaths have not been stopped and many death cases has been kept under cover. A total of 239 one-horned rhinos have been killed by poachers in Assam from 2001 to 2016, and despite high security, most were from Kaziranga National Park, which accounted for 161, the state assembly was told by the department of forest of Assam. So cientists plan to flood black market with fake rhino horn to reduce its commercial uses and it will help poaching in India(Assam) as well as in Africa.

According to the scientists from the University of Oxford and Fudan University, Shanghai, this will be done by demonstrating a way to a vastly cheaper copy that can be used to infiltrate the market. “The economists seem to think that if you flood the market with substitutes, the price will drop,” said Prof Fritz Vollrath, the co-author of the research at the University of Oxford. “If the price drops and the penalty of having rhino horn is still very high, then the value proposition changes for the trader” he said. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Now scientists say they have made a convincing fake rhino horn by gluing together the hair of a horse’s tail, stripped of its outer layer. It is exactly same with horn of rhino unlike horns of other animals like cow, buffalos, deers, goats etc. The team say they chose horse hair because the animal is a close cousin to the rhinoceros, while the hairs have similar dimensions to the keratin filaments – or hair – that the team say make up rhino horn. The team uses “glue” which is a silk-based substance they say emulates the materials that fulfil the role in real rhino horn. They used cellulose also in the artificial mix to resemble the plant material that is incorporated when the animal sharpens its horn.

It is surprising that this material developd artificially shows similar chemical properties like rhino horns. The resulting material, said Vollrath, can easily be moulded into a rhino horn shape, dried under vacuum in a hot oven and polished. The upshot is a material that shows similar mechanical properties to the real deal, feels similar and even looks similar under a microscope. Analytical studies demonstrated similarities in composition and properties between natural and faux horns.

“It appears from our investigation that it is rather easy, as well as cheap, to make a bio-inspired horn-like material that mimics the rhino’s extravagantly expensive tuft of nose hair,” the authors write. According to the researchers, it is important that plausible copies should be simple to produce while being very similar in both structure and chemical composition.

Co-author Ruixin Mi, from the Department of Macromolecular Science at Fudan University, says their study demonstrates that materials science can contribute to fundamental issues in biology and conservation. “The fundamental structure of the rhino horn is a highly evolved and tough fibre reinforced bio-composite and we hope that our attempts to copy it will not only undermine the trade in rhino horn but might also find uses as a novel bio-inspired material” he said.

The team believe the development could lead to the rhino horn market being swamped with faux horns, thereby sowing confusion and causing a price crash – making it less profitable for poachers to source the real thing. “[The idea is] any punter who wants to spend 1,000 quid on a couple of grams says, ‘Wait a minute, what is my probability that my stuff is real or that it is just horse hair?’” said Vollrath. “It is just rattling the market.” However, the team say it will be up to others to develop their idea.

The latest study is not the first to look at the possibility of producing fake horns. Among those working on the idea is the start-up Pembient, which is attempting to bioengineer fake horns that are genetically identical to the real thing. The first are reportedly expected to go on sale in 2022.

Dr Richard Thomas from the wildlife organisation Traffic said that while the latest study had good intentions, it posed considerable risks. “Pushing a synthetic alternative could help to reinforce the perception that rhino horn is a desirable commodity, thus perpetuating existing demand, while presenting consumers with a synthetic alternative may actually stimulate demand for the real thing, thus exacerbating the existing situation,” he said.  Thomas added that another problem was that unlabelled fake horn might bring legal and enforcement challenges. Fake horns may help smmuglers to tranportalthough Vollrath said experts would be able to spot the fake.

“This initiative to flood market with artificial horns, I doubt, would do more harm than any good. It would only reaffirm the faith of the users on the so called curative properties of the horn and could be a setback to the existing conservation strategies’  Mubina Akhtar, an environmentalist from Assam, India said.

Above all , it is important to reduce demand for rhino horn and scientists thik so.  Scientists believe this can be achieved through long-term consumer behavioural change interventions coupled with strong enforcement measures to deter would-be and existing consumers of rhino horn.

 

Sc. & Tech.

IBM and Google disagree on quantum computing achievement

  • Google has a new paper in Nature that shows the results of a quantum computing experiment.
  • One practical application of the technology could be a decade away, Google CEO Sundar Pichai says.

Image Google CEO Sundar Pichai stands with a quantum computer a Google laboratory in Santa Barbara, CaliforniaGoogle

Alphabet subsidiary Google on Wednesday touted a breakthrough in computing research that’s documented in the latest issue of the journal Nature. The paper was actually released online by accident last month by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which contributed on the research alongside Google, and was quickly removed. Now the full paper is live.

There’s just one problem: IBM thinks Google has overstated its achievement.

The controversy is the latest example of major technology companies trying to one-up each other in quantum computing, a futuristic realm with no clear winner yet. Microsoft and Intel have also been working actively in the area.

Quantum computing is utterly unlike today’s computing. Our existing PCs and mobile devices express information that ultimately gets boiled down to ones and zeros. Quantum computers work in quantum bits, or qubits, which is more nuanced — information can be a one and a zero at the same time.

This technology has promise. It could come in handy to solve problems that modern computers aren’t so good at. It could improve the computing of artificial intelligence models, and it could help with materials science and chemistry work. It could even be used to break encryption one day, and Google is aware of that possibility.

Google’s Nature paper talks about an experiment that researchers conducted with a custom 54-qubit processor called Sycamore. The goal for Google was attaining quantum supremacy — essentially doing something with a quantum computer that would take an impractically long time with normal computers. Google has been focused on the challenge of quantum supremacy — a concept that dates to 2012 — for some time.

“Our Sycamore processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of a quantum circuit a million times — our benchmarks currently indicate that the equivalent task for a state-of-the-art classical supercomputer would take approximately 10,000 years,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

“This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm.”

Google tapped its own computing infrastructure as well as Summit, currently the world’s most powerful supercomputer, to simulate the quantum work and then extrapolate.

IBM took issue with the 10,000-year calculation.

“We argue that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity,” IBM’s Edwin Pednault, John Gunnels and Jay Gambetta wrote in a blog post. They said quantum supremacy in the strictest terms had not in fact been accomplished.

Applications in drug discovery, climate change

Leaving aside IBM’s skepticism about how long it would take a classical computer to do what Google’s chip did, the question now becomes what Google, IBM and other companies will eventually be able to do with their quantum systems.

“We are only one creative algorithm away from valuable near-term applications,” the researchers wrote in the Nature paper.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai was asked about this in an interview with MIT Technology Review. The answer suggests that the company at least has some clues about the possibilities.

“The real excitement about quantum is that the universe fundamentally works in a quantum way, so you will be able to understand nature better. It’s early days, but where quantum mechanics shines is the ability to simulate molecules, molecular processes, and I think that is where it will be the strongest. Drug discovery is a great example. Or fertilizers — the Haber process produces 2% of carbon [emissions] in the world. In nature the same process gets done more efficiently.”

Evolving the Haber process, he said, could be a decade away.

The IBMers also recognized that much more work lies ahead.

“For quantum to positively impact society, the task ahead is to continue to build and make widely accessible ever more powerful programmable quantum computing systems that can implement, reproducibly and reliably, a broad array of quantum demonstrations, algorithms and programs. This is the only path forward for practical solutions to be realized in quantum computers,” they wrote.

Politics

Ayodhya case: five SC lawyers refute reports of Muslim parties willing to give up claim over land

They say the Supreme Court-appointed mediation committee or Nirvana Akhara could be behind ‘leak’

Five Supreme Court lawyers issued a joint statement on Friday, refuting media reports that the Muslim parties were willing to relinquish their claim over the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land and said the Supreme Court-appointed mediation committee or Nirvana Akhara could be behind the “leak”.

The statement was issued by the advocates for the various Muslim parties, including the U.P. Sunni Central Waqf Board. The advocates are Ejaz Maqbool, Shakil Ahmed Syed, M.R. Shamshad, Irshad Ahmad and Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi.

On Wednesday, parties engaged in the mediation told the media that a settlement had been filed in the Supreme Court. They claimed that a consensus had been struck among certain Hindus and Muslim parties, in which the Sunni Waqf Board was said to have raised no objection to the acquisition of the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site by the government. The development came on the last day of the Supreme Court hearing of the Ayodhya appeals.

This was followed by news reports attributing to Shahid Rizvi, advocate on record, that the waqf board was willing to withdraw the claim on site of the Babri Masjid.

The lawyers’ statement contend that the “recent attempts before the mediation committee were not representative”.

The statement said only a “limited” number of persons attended the mediation — “Dharma Das of Nirvani Akhara, Zufar Faruqui of Sunni Central Waqf Board and Chakrapani of Hindu Maha Sabha. We are also made to understand that the two other persons interested may attended the mediation”.

The statement by the lawyers reasoned that it was hard to accept that mediation would have worked, as certain stakeholders across the religious divide had openly resisted attempts to make amends and settle the decades-old feud over the ownership of the disputed land.

“The leak to the press may have been inspired by either the mediation committee directly or those who participated in the said mediation proceedings or participants. It needs emphasis that such a leak was in total violation of the orders of the Supreme Court that had directed that such proceedings should remain confidential,” the statement said.

“The timing of the leak to the press and its confirmation by Mr. Rizvi on October 17, 2019, on the very date when the hearing closed seem to have been well thought out,” the statement said.

“Accordingly, we must make it absolutely clear that we, the appellants before Supreme Court, do not accept the proposal made, which has been leaked to the press, nor the procedure by which the mediation has taken place, nor the manner in which a withdrawal of the claim has been suggested as a compromise,” the statement said.  (The Hindu)

Sc. & Tech.

China, Russia, France share satellite data on Assam floods

Flood in Assam could be minimised with the help and application of early warning system, says Chandan Kumar Duarah,  a science journalist and conservation activist in Assam. Satellite data has been playing a crucial role  which was ignored during Assam flood.  Several countries including China, Russia and France collaborated with India on sharing satellite images of the scale of inundation. As signatories to the The International Charter Space and Major Disasters, any of the 32 member countries can send a ‘request’ to activate the Charter. This would immediately trigger a request by the coordinators to space agencies of other countries whose satellites have the best eyes on the site of the disaster.

Based on an activation request by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on July 17, France’s National Centre for Space Studies, China National Space Administration and ROSCOSMOS of Russia shared satellite images of the flood situation in the districts of Dhubri, Marigaon, Barpeta, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur in Assam with ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre. ISRO’s CARTOSAT satellites too got the Indian space agency its own images.

‘Standard practice’

Ravish Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said in response to a query from The Hindu that combining earth observation assets from different space agencies allows resources and expertise to be coordinated for rapid response. This was a “standard practice” and in the past ISRO too had provided information to other space agencies in response to similar requests. In August 2014, for instance, ISRO’s CARTOSAT shared images after an activation request from China after an earthquake struck Yunan province and killed 398.

Since 2000, when the Charter came into operation there have been about 600 activations and data from 61 satellites have helped with disaster operations in 125 countries.

Politics

Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?

BY AATISH TASEER MAY 9, 2019

Of the great democracies to fall to populism, India was the first.

In 2014, Narendra Modi, then the longtime chief minister of the western state of Gujarat and leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was elected to power by the greatest mandate the country had seen in 30 years. India until then had been ruled primarily by one party–the Congress, the party of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru–for 54 of the 67 years that the country had been free.

Now, India is voting to determine if Modi and the BJP will continue to control its destiny. It is a massive seven-phase exercise spread over 5½ weeks in which the largest electorate on earth–some 900 million–goes to the polls. To understand the deeper promptings of this enormous expression of franchise–not just the politics, but the underlying cultural fissures–we need to go back to the first season of the Modi story. It is only then that we can see why the advent of Modi is at once an inevitability and a calamity for India. The country offers a unique glimpse into both the validity and the fantasy of populism. It forces us to reckon with how in India, as well as in societies as far apart as Turkey and Brazil, Britain and the U.S., populism has given voice to a sense of grievance among majorities that is too widespread to be ignored, while at the same time bringing into being a world that is neither more just, nor more appealing.

Illustration by Nigel Buchanan for TIME

The story starts at independence. In 1947, British India was split in two. Pakistan was founded as a homeland for Indian Muslims. But India, under the leadership of its Cambridge-educated Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, chose not to be symmetrically Hindu. The country had a substantial Muslim population (then around 35 million, now more than 172 million), and the ideology Nehru bequeathed to the newly independent nation was secularism. This secularism was more than merely a separation between religion and state; in India, it means the equal treatment of all religions by the state, although to many of its critics, that could translate into Orwell’s maxim of some being more equal than others. Indian Muslims were allowed to keep Shari’a-based family law, while Hindus were subject to the law of the land. Arcane practices–such as the man’s right to divorce a woman by repudiating her three times and paying a minuscule compensation–were allowed for Indian Muslims, while Hindus were bound by reformed family law and often found their places of worship taken over by the Indian state. (Modi made the so-called Triple Talaq instant divorce a punishable offense through an executive order in 2018.)

Nehru’s political heirs, who ruled India for the great majority of those post-independence years, established a feudal dynasty, while outwardly proclaiming democratic norms and principles. India, under their rule, was clubbish, anglicized and fearful of the rabble at the gates. In May 2014 those gates were breached when the BJP, under Modi, won 282 of the 543 available seats in Parliament, reducing the Congress to 44 seats, a number so small that India’s oldest party no longer even had the right to lead the opposition.

Populists come in two stripes: those who are of the people they represent (Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil), and those who are merely exploiting the passions of those they are not actually part of (the champagne neo-fascists: the Brexiteers, Donald Trump, Imran Khan in Pakistan). Narendra Modi belongs very firmly to the first camp. He is the son of a tea seller, and his election was nothing short of a class revolt at the ballot box. It exposed what American historian Anne Applebaum has described as “unresolvable divisions between people who had previously not known that they disagreed with one another.” There had, of course, been political differences before, but what Modi’s election revealed was a cultural chasm. It was no longer about left, or right, but something more fundamental.

The nation’s most basic norms, such as the character of the Indian state, its founding fathers, the place of minorities and its institutions, from universities to corporate houses to the media, were shown to be severely distrusted. The cherished achievements of independent India–secularism, liberalism, a free press–came to be seen in the eyes of many as part of a grand conspiracy in which a deracinated Hindu elite, in cahoots with minorities from the monotheistic faiths, such as Christianity and Islam, maintained its dominion over India’s Hindu majority.

Modi’s victory was an expression of that distrust. He attacked once unassailable founding fathers, such as Nehru, then sacred state ideologies, such as Nehruvian secularism and socialism; he spoke of a “Congress-free” India; he demonstrated no desire to foster brotherly feeling between Hindus and Muslims. Most of all, his ascension showed that beneath the surface of what the elite had believed was a liberal syncretic culture, India was indeed a cauldron of religious nationalism, anti-Muslim sentiment and deep-seated caste bigotry. The country had a long history of politically instigated sectarian riots, most notably the killing of at least 2,733 Sikhs in the streets of Delhi after the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Congress leadership, though hardly blameless, was able, even through the selective profession of secular ideals, to separate itself from the actions of the mob. Modi, by his deafening silences after more recent atrocities, such as the killing of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, proved himself a friend of the mob. He made one yearn for the hypocrisies of the past, for, as Aldous Huxley writes, at least “the political hypocrite admits the existence of values higher than those of immediate national, party or economic interest.” Modi, without offering an alternative moral compass, rubbished the standards India had, and made all moral judgment seem subject to conditions of class and culture warfare. The high ideals of the past have come under his reign to seem like nothing but the hollow affectations of an entrenched power elite. When, in 2019, Modi tweets, “You know what is my crime for them? That a person born to a poor family is challenging their Sultunate [sic],” he is trying to resurrect the spirit of 2014, which was the spirit of revolution. Them is India’s English-speaking elite, as represented by the Congress party; sultanate is a dog whistle to suggest that all the heirs of foreign rule in India–the country had centuries of Muslim rule before the British took over in 1858–are working in tandem to prevent the rise of a proud Hindu nation.

An Ikea customer in Hyderabad

An Ikea customer in Hyderabad Atul Loke—The New York Times/Redux

In 2014, Modi converted cultural anger into economic promise. He spoke of jobs and development. Taking a swipe at the socialist state, he famously said, “Government has no business being in business.” That election, though it is hard to believe now, was an election of hope. When the Delhi press tried to bait the Modi voter with questions about building a temple in Ayodhya, a place where Hindu nationalist mobs in 1992 had destroyed a 16th century mosque, said to stand at the birthplace of the Hindu epic hero Ram, they stoutly responded with: “Why are you talking to us of temples, when we are telling you that we’re voting for him because we want development.” Sabka saath, sabka vikas–“Together with all, development for all”–was Modi’s slogan in 2014.

As India votes this month, the irony of those words is not lost on anyone. Not only has Modi’s economic miracle failed to materialize, he has also helped create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism in India. One of his young party men, Tejasvi Surya, put it baldly in a speech in March 2019, “If you are with Modi, you are with India. If you are not with Modi, then you are strengthening anti-India forces.” India’s Muslims, who make up some 14% of the population, have been subjected to episode after violent episode, in which Hindu mobs, often with what seems to be the state’s tacit support, have carried out a series of public lynchings in the name of the holy cow, that ready symbol of Hindu piety. Hardly a month goes by without the nation watching agog on their smartphones as yet another enraged Hindu mob falls upon a defenseless Muslim. The most enduring image of Modi’s tenure is the sight of Mohammad Naeem in a blood-soaked undershirt in 2017, eyes white and enlarged, begging the mob for his life before he is beaten to death. The response of leadership in every instance is the same: virtual silence. Basic norms and civility have been so completely vitiated that Modi can no longer control the direction of the violence. Once hatred has been sanctioned, it is not always easy to isolate its target, and what the BJP has discovered to its dismay is that the same people who are willing to attack Muslims are only too willing to attack lower-caste Hindus as well. The party cannot afford to lose the lower-caste vote, but one of the ugliest incidents occurred in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, in July 2016, when upper-caste men stripped four lower-caste tanners, paraded them in the streets and beat them with iron rods for allegedly skinning a cow.

Modi’s record on women’s issues is spotty. On the one hand, he made opportunity for women and their safety a key election issue (a 2018 report ranked the country the most dangerous place on earth for women); on the other hand, his attitude and that of his party men feels paternalistic. He caused outrage in 2015 when he said Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, had a good record on terrorism, “despite being a woman”; Modi’s deputy, Amit Shah, speaks of women as having the status of deities, ever the refuge of the religious chauvinist who is only too happy to revere women into silence. Yet Modi also appointed a woman Defense Minister.

If these contradictions are part of the unevenness of a society assimilating Western freedoms, it must be said that under Modi minorities of every stripe–from liberals and lower castes to Muslims and Christians–have come under assault. Far from his promise of development for all, he has achieved a state in which Indians are increasingly obsessed with their differences. If in 2014 he was able to exploit difference in order to create a climate of hope, in 2019 he is asking people to stave off their desperation by living for their differences alone. The incumbent may win again–the opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, an unteachable mediocrity and a descendant of Nehru, is in disarray–but Modi will never again represent the myriad dreams and aspirations of 2014. Then he was a messiah, ushering in a future too bright to behold, one part Hindu renaissance, one part South Korea’s economic program. Now he is merely a politician who has failed to deliver, seeking re-election. Whatever else might be said about the election, hope is off the menu.

I covered the 2014 election from the holy city of Varanasi, which Modi had chosen as his constituency, repurposing its power over the Hindu imagination, akin to that of Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca, to fit his politics of revival. That election split me in two: on the one hand, I knew, as someone of Muslim parentage (my father was a Pakistani Muslim) and a member of India’s English-speaking elite, that the country Modi would bring into being would have no place for me; on the other hand, I was in sympathy with Modi’s cultural diagnosis of what power looked and felt like in India. In the West, the charge that liberalism, or leftism, corresponds to the power of an entitled elite is relatively new and still contestable. In India, for decades to be left-wing or liberal was to belong to a monstrously privileged minority. Until recently, there was no equivalent group on the right, no New England Republicans, no old-fashioned Tories. It was easy to feel that being left-wing was the province of a privileged few who had gone to university abroad, where they had picked up the latest political and intellectual fashions.

Sardar Singh Jatav recovers after an attack by higher-caste Hindu men in September 2018

Sardar Singh Jatav recovers after an attack by higher-caste Hindu men in September 2018 Atul Loke—The New York Times/Redux

Modi in 2014 was able to make the cultural isolation of the Indian elite seem political–part of a foreign-led conspiracy to undermine the “real” India. He revealed that a powerful segment of the country was living in a bubble. It was an effective political tactic, but it also obscured the fact that “real” India was living in a bubble of its own. Nehru had always been clear: India was not going to become a modern country by being more authentically itself. It needed the West; it needed science and technology; it needed, above all, to embrace “the scientific temper” and to eschew the obscurantism and magic that was at the heart of its traditional life. Modi, inadvertently or deliberately, has created a bewildering mental atmosphere in which India now believes that the road to becoming South Korea runs through the glories of ancient India. In 2014 Modi suggested at a gathering of doctors and medical professionals in Mumbai that ancient Indians knew the secrets of genetic science and plastic surgery. “We worship Lord Ganesha,” he said of the Hindu deity. “There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

He has in every field, from politics and economics to Indology itself, privileged authenticity over ability, leading India down the road to a profound anti-intellectualism. He appointed Swaminathan Gurumurthy, Hindu nationalist ideologue, to the board of the Reserve Bank of India–a man of whom the renowned Columbia economist Jagdish Bhagwati said, “If he’s an economist, I’m a Bharatanatyam dancer.” It was Gurumurthy who, in a quest to deal with the menace of “black money,” is thought to have advised Modi to put 86% of India’s banknotes out of commission overnight in 2016, causing huge economic havoc from which the country is yet to recover. Modi now finds himself seeking to hold power in a climate of febrile nationalism, with a platform whose themes have much more to do with national security and profiting from recent tensions between India and Pakistan than with economic growth.

In 2017, after winning state elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which happens also to have its largest Muslim population, the BJP appointed a hate-mongering priest in robes of saffron, the color of Hindu nationalism, to run that state. Yogi Adityanath had not been the face of the campaign. If he was known at all, it was for vile rhetoric, here imploring crowds to kill a hundred Muslims for every Hindu killed, there sharing the stage with a man who wanted to dig up the bodies of Muslim women and rape them. Modi has presided over a continuous assault on the grove of academe, where the unqualified and semiliterate have been encouraged to build their shanties. Academia in India was dogmatically left-wing, but rather than change its politics, Modi attacked the idea of qualification itself. From the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which produced a roll call of politicians and intellectuals, India’s places of learning have been hollowed out, the administration and professors chosen for their political ideology rather than basic levels of proficiency.

Modi is right to criticize an India in which modernity came to be synonymous with Westernization, so that all those ideas and principles that might have had universal valence became the preserve of those who were exposed to European and American culture. What Modi cannot–or will not–do is tell India the hard truth that if she wishes to be a great power, and not a Hindu theocracy, the medieval Indian past, mired in superstition and magic, must go under. It is not enough to be more truly oneself. “In India, as in Europe,” wrote the great Sri Lankan historian A.K. Coomaraswamy, “the vestiges of ancient civilization must be renounced: we are called from the past and must make our home in the future. But to understand, to endorse with passionate conviction, and to love what we have left behind us is the only possible foundation for power.” The desperation that underlies Modi’s India is that of people clinging to the past, ill-equipped for the modern world, people in whom the zealous love of country stands in for real confidence.

Cows are sacred to Hindus. Cow-protection mobs have killed at least 46 people since 2015. Most targets were Muslim

Cows are sacred to Hindus. Cow-protection mobs have killed at least 46 people since 2015. Most targets were Muslim Atul Loke—Panos/Redux

The question of what is hers, and what has come from the outside, is a constant source of anxiety in India. The same process that made the Indian elite “foreigners in their own land”–in Mahatma Gandhi’s phrasing–is repeating, albeit unevenly, throughout the country across classes and groups never exposed to Western norms and culture in the past. “Our culture is being decimated,” one young member of the ABVP–the most powerful Hindu nationalist youth organization in the country–told me in Varanasi. “Many in my family have received degrees in commerce; but I chose to be nearer my culture. A great civilization, like ours, cannot be subdued without the complicity of men on the inside, working against us. Someone–I cannot say who–is controlling us, and there is but the difference of a syllable between vikas [development] and vinasha [ruin].”

This young Hindu nationalist is part of a new generation of Indians, untouched by colonization, but not spared globalization. They live with a profound sense of being trifled with. They feel their culture and religion has been demeaned; they entertain fantasies of “Hinduphobia” and speak with contempt of “sickluars,” “libtards” and the “New Yuck Times.” One has the feeling they are converting their sense of cultural loss into a political ideology. It produces in them a rage for the Other–Muslims, lower castes, the Indian elite–“the men on the inside,” who have more generations of Westernization behind them. Last month, Amit Shah compared Muslim immigrants to “termites,” and the BJP’s official Twitter handle no longer bothers with dog whistles: “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha [sic], Hindus and Sikhs.” If this wasn’t bad enough, the BJP’s candidate for the central Indian city of Bhopal, with its rich Muslim history and a Muslim population of over 25%, is a saffron-clad female saint, who stands accused of masterminding a terrorist attack in which six people were killed near a mosque. Currently out on bail, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur’s candidacy marks that all-too-familiar turn when the specter of extreme nationalism and criminality become inseparable.

Modi’s India feels like a place where the existing order of things has passed away, without any credible new order having come into being. Modi has won–and may yet win again–but to what end? His brand of populism has certainly served as a convincing critique of Indian society, of which there could be no better symbol than the Congress Party. They have little to offer other than the dynastic principle, yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. India’s oldest party has no more political imagination than to send Priyanka Gandhi–Rahul’s sister–to join her brother’s side. It would be the equivalent of the Democrat’s fielding Hillary Clinton again in 2020, with the added enticement of Chelsea as VP.

Modi is lucky to be blessed with so weak an opposition–a ragtag coalition of parties, led by the Congress, with no agenda other than to defeat him. Even so, doubts assail him, for he must know he has not delivered on the promise of 2014. It is why he has resorted to looking for enemies within. Like other populists, he sits in his white house tweeting out his resentment against the sultanate of “them.” And, as India gets ready to give this willful provincial, so emblematic of her own limitations, a second term, one cannot help but tremble at what he might yet do to punish the world for his own failures.

Taseer, a novelist and journalist, is the author, most recently, of The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the May 20, 2019 issue of TIME.

Politics

Elections 2019: BJP Could Lose 40 Seats in Uttar Pradesh

Deepankar Basu and Debarshi Das——-

The BJP’s spectacular victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections relied on stunning victories in the ten states of the Hindi heartland – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The BJP won 190 of the 225 Lok Sabha seats in these states, virtually ensuring the success of its bid for power at the Centre.

Its fortunes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections rest crucially on its performance in these states, but more so in Uttar Pradesh. This is not only because it provides the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, but also because of its oversize impact on the rest of the Hindi heartland.

This article attempts to predict the BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections using past voting trends – both from the assembly election in 2017 and the previous Lok Sabha elections. Our interest in this exercise is motivated primarily from understanding the possible impact of the electoral alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). This alliance has been formed with an explicit anti-BJP focus and is, by all accounts, likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This article attempts to quantify the impact.

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav. Credit: PTI

Methodology

To predict the electoral outcome in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in UP, we used the actual voting pattern in the 2017 assembly elections and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We used the Election Commission’s voting data and supplemented it with data from the website pollniti.com.

We started by identifying the parliamentary constituency to which each assembly constituency belonged. Then we computed the total number of votes that each of the major political parties received at the parliamentary constituency – the BJP, BSP, INC, RLD and SP. We arrived at this number by adding up the votes that each party won in the assembly constituencies that make up a parliamentary constituency.

Dividing the number of votes of each party by the total number of votes cast in the parliamentary constituency – itself the sum of total votes cast in each of the assembly constituencies that make up the parliamentary constituency – gave us the vote share of each party at the parliamentary constituency level.

We used this number to predict the vote share for each party at the parliamentary constituency level in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. We added up the vote shares of SP, BSP and RLD to arrive at their predicted combined vote share. Finally, we declared the party or alliance with the maximum vote share as the winner.

The second method was more straightforward. We used the parliamentary constituency-level vote share of each party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the predicted value of vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Moreover, just like in the first method, we added up the vote shares of SP, BSP and RLD to arrive at the predicted vote share of the combine. Once again, we declared the party or alliance with the maximum vote share in a parliamentary constituency as the winner of that seat. The results of our prediction exercise are summarised in the table.

Table 1: Outcomes in Lok Sabha Elections in Uttar Pradesh
Actual Outcome in 2014Predicted outcome in 2019
Basis of Prediction: 2017 Assembly ElectionsBasis of Prediction: 2014 Parliamentary Elections
Vote Share (%)
BJP42.339.542.3
BSP19.622.219.6
INC7.56.27.5
SP22.221.922.2
SP-BSP-RLD45.942.5
Seats
BJP712730
BSP0
INC206
SP5
SP-BSP-RLD5344

Results

What do the results show and how does the BJP’s performance compare to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls? Its vote share will not change significantly. The first method shows that the BJP’s vote share will drop from 42.3% in 2014 to 39.5%. The second method keeps the BJP’s vote share unchanged.

But the number of seats that the BJP can win will be impacted significantly. Using the first method that relies on the 2017 assembly election patterns, its seats will drop from 71 to 27 in 2019, a deficit of 44.

If we use the second method that relies on the 2014 parliamentary election patterns, the BJP’s seats will drop from 71 to 30 in 2019, a deficit of 41. Both methods point in the same direction: a massive decline in the number of seats that the BJP can win. Whether the party will be able to make up the 40-plus seat deficit in UP from other states is a critical question. The party swept most of the north and west India in 2014. This means that there is likely to be deficits from those parts of India as well. East and South India do not hold promises of significant increment either. All in all, the significant seat deficit in UP might mean serious trouble for the BJP’s ambition to form the next Central government.

The reasons for this significant change in the BJP’s electoral fortunes between 2014 and 2019 is almost wholly governed by the logic of electoral arithmetic. The SP and BSP have had significant electoral presence in UP for the past several decades. The BJP has been able to gain electoral victories primarily because of triangular or quadrilateral contests. The RLD’s presence is limited to western UP, but it wields sufficient electoral prowess to deal a strong blow to the BJP.

In the current conjuncture, neither the SP nor BSP, and least of all RLD, has the electoral heft to defeat the BJP on its own. This is evident from the vote share data of the previous two elections. But it is interesting that the BJP has not been able to erode their vote shares significantly. For instance, between 2014 and 2017, both the SP and BSP increased their vote shares. Moreover, taken together, these two parties have consistently maintained a vote share that is close to or larger than what the BJP managed to get in 2014 – its most stunning performance so far.

Thus, the SP-BSP alliance will be able to significantly reduce the seats won by the BJP, unless there is a drastic change in voting patterns. The Congress may go without any seats if the prediction from the first method comes true. This is not surprising. The combined might of three parties can obliterate small parties in the first-past-the-post system.

Congress Leader Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi. Credit: PTI

The Congress may go without any seats if the prediction from the first method comes true. Credit: PTI

Caveats and conclusion

Using the past to predict the future is always a risky venture, especially so in the case of electoral outcomes. After all, the situation in the economy and polity change between elections. Political parties intervene to shape the outcomes in their favour.

Hence, it is possible that the voting patterns in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in the 2017 assembly elections are poor predictors of the voting pattern for the current elections. If that is the case, then the predictions of this article would be incorrect. But there are reasons, both electoral and political, to believe that the patterns are more durable.

Let us start with the electoral reasons. First, the Mahagathbandhan parties may not transfer votes to each other. After all, the BSP and SP has had an acrimonious relation till very recently. Their voters rely on caste loyalties, which are not readily mutable. While this remains a valid concern about our methodology and predictions, it is also important to note that the alliance has had quite a few successful dry runs – in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana.

The recent joint rally of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav bolsters the chances of a successful replication of those experiments at the state level. Second, Muslim and secular votes which were with other parties (the Congress, for example) may shift towards the Mahagathbandhan once it emerges as the only serious contender against the BJP. While the first factor would improve the BJP’s performance, the second would undermine it, and it is possible that these contradictory tendencies will balance each other out.

Turning to political reasons, we should note that the BJP came to power in 2014 because it could project an image of a party that would address the economic problems of the vast majority – the rising unemployment of the youth, the distress in the agricultural sector, the precarious lives of the informal sector workers. This the BJP could do easily by drawing attention to and contrasting itself with the “corrupt, and ineffectual Congress”.

But now the same problems plague the BJP. The promise of generating jobs remains unfulfilled. The deepening distress in the agricultural sector has hardly been addressed – other than by window dressing measures. On top of that were the misadventures of demonetisation and the hurriedly implemented GST, both of which inflicted enormous costs on the ordinary citizen.

The BJP did well in the 2017 UP vidhan sabha elections because demonetisation was successfully marketed as a pious nationalistic act. The fragmented state of the opposition also helped. But reality soon caught up. In 2018, vidhan sabha results in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh signaled the shifting mood of the electorate.

Nothing has changed significantly since the 2018 vidhan sabha elections for the unemployed youth, the distressed farmers, the precarious workers – other than BJP’s recent, frantic efforts to divert attention from these economic issues by stirring nationalist frenzy and religious bigotry.

Hence, it seems likely that the logic of electoral arithmetic that favours the SP-BSP-RLD alliance will be bolstered by these enduring failures of the BJP to hand it a crushing defeat on its own turf.

Deepankar Basu is associate professor in the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Debarshi Das is associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati.

Sc. & Tech.

‘A terrible thing’: India’s destruction of satellite threatens ISS, says Nasa

India’s destruction of one of its satellites has been labelled a “terrible thing” by the head of Nasa, who said the missile test created 400 pieces of orbital debris and posed a threat to astronauts onboard the International SpaceStation (ISS).

Jim Bridenstine was addressing employees five days after India shot down a low-orbiting satellite in a missile launch that it says elevated the country to the elite tier of space powers.

The satellite shattered into pieces, many of which are dangerously large but too small to track, Bridenstine said. “What we are tracking right now, objects big enough to track – we’re talking about 10cm (six inches) or bigger – about 60 pieces have been tracked.”

Space agency chief says shooting down of satellite has created 400 pieces of orbital debris

The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 180 miles (300km), well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit.

But 24 of the pieces were going above the ISS, said Bridenstine. “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” he said, adding: “That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.”

“It’s unacceptable and Nasa needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.”

The US military tracks objects in space to predict the collision risk for the ISS and for satellites. It is tracking 23,000 objects larger than 10cm. That includes about 10,000 pieces of space debris, of which nearly 3,000 were created by a single event: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, 530 miles above the surface.

As a result of the Indian test, the risk of collision with the ISS has increased by 44% over 10 days, Bridenstine said. But the risk will dissipate over time as much of the debris will burn up as it enters the atmosphere.

India’s ministry of external affairs said at the time of the launch the test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there was no space debris. “Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back on to the Earth within weeks,” it said.

The missile test was celebrated in India but also drew criticism because it was announced by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, while the government is supposed to be in caretaker mode before elections starting this month.

There are estimated to be about 900,000 pieces of debris larger than a marble in orbit around the Earth, according to statistical models cited by the European Space Agency. There are about 34,000 objects circulating that are larger than 10cm.

Even collisions with tiny objects can be catastrophic in space, largely due to the pace at which spacecraft are moving in orbit, a minimum of 7.8km per second.

Sc. & Tech.

US didn’t spy on India’s ASAT test: Pentagon:

  The Pentagon has strongly denied the reports that the US spied on India’s anti-satellite missile test by sending a reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to monitor the development. It, however, said the United States was aware about India’s first test-fire of an anti-satellite missile. “No US assets were spying on India. In fact, the US continues to expand its enduring partnership with India, resulting in enhanced interoperability and stronger economic ties,” US Defense Department spokesperson Lt Col David W Eastburn said. Aircraft Spots, which monitors military air movements, had said that a US Air Force’s reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia went “for a mission in the Bay of Bengal to monitor India’s anti-satellite missile test”. This was interpreted by many that the US spied on Indian ASAT test. “I don’t think that it implies coordination between India and the US,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell from the prestigious Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told PTI on the Aircraft Spots report. “This implies that the US intelligence community were aware of the test in advance because to some extent they’re spying on India,” he alleged. “Everybody spies on their friends as well as their enemies. That’s the way the world works these days. It would be surprising if the US were not detecting or observing the launch site and aware of activities preparing for the test. So one assumes that they knew it was coming,” he claimed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Wednesday announced that India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite missile by shooting down a live satellite, describing it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers. The test made India the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to acquire the strategic capability to shoot down enemy satellites. 
— PTI

Politics

BJP fields non-Mizo in LS seat, loses 17 leaders

Aizawl: The state’s BJP unit lost its spokesperon and 16 other leaders on Thursday evening because of the party’s choice of Lok Sabha election candidate, Nirupam Chakma.
“Lok Sabha members are representatives of the people. The BJP high command’s decision to field a non-Mizo in the Mizo-dominated state is an insult to the majority community,” Lalrozara, former spokesperson of the saffron party’s Mizoram unit, said. “While we appreciate the development work undertaken by the BJP-led government at the Centre, the party has failed to address the fears of the Christian community,” he added.

Mizoram has always been witness to a schism between the majority Mizo community and minority communities like Chakma and Bru. Last year, just before the Mizoram assembly election, the influential Young Mizo Association had led several other Mizo organizations in demanding that the Chakma Autonomous District Council be scrapped because Chakmas are “outsiders”.

BJP had banked on support from these minority communities to make inroads into the Christian-majority state where it had never won a seat in either the assembly or Lok Sabha election. The saffron party managed to win its first seat in the state, Tuichawng, by fielding former Congress leader from the Chakma community, Buddha Dhan Chakma.

This time, too, BJP hopes to gain ground in the Lok Sabha election with Nirupam, a former Congress leader and the state’s first Chakma minister. The veteran leader is now vice-president of BJP’s Mizoram unit. (TNN)