Russia-Pakistan military exercises, a reason to worry for India?

While India focuses its attention on launching a diplomatic assault on Pakistan for being the perpetrator of the Uri attack, a significant development is taking place across the border. Russia, a long-time defence partner of India has sent its soldiers to Pakistan, its Cold War enemy, for their first ever joint military exercises, something which it does regularly with India.

This development signals a shift in India’s strategic ties with the United States of America and Russia, especially after India signed theLogistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the USA which allows the militaries of both countries to use the others bases for refuelling and refurbishment purposes. The LEMOA comes in the wake of multiple defence deals between the two countries to replace India’s ageing Soviet-era military infrastructure. Deals have been signed for transport aircraft, attach helicopters and howitzers, deals which were earlier usually given to the Russians. The United States have now replaced Russia and India’s primary defence partner.

While India has slowly tilted towards the USA, a reciprocal shift is occurring across the border, with Pakistan getting closer to Russia which was evident when the two countries signed a bilateral defence cooperation pact in 2014, while at the same time courting Chinese help after the United States deciding to shift its attention to the needs of India.

While they signify a shift in relations, such developments are hardly likely to interfere in Indo-Russian relations as the two countries have a history of socio-cultural and strategic connections. Bilateral trade between the two countries is pegged at $10 billion and is projected to rise to $30 billion by 2025. Russia and India are still involved in big-ticket defence deals like the joint development of the PAK-FA 5th generation fighter aircraft and the aircraft carrier deal. India need not worry about Russia- Pak relations and exercises until Russia maybe starts selling its top of the line Sukhoi’s to Pakistan.

Rooney-less Manchester United thrash champions Leicester city

The Red Devils broke their three game losing streak in style with an emphatic victory over the Foxes, whose title defence seems to be unravelling after suffering their third loss this season. Stand-in skipper Chris Smalling opened the scoring in the 22nd with a header from a corner which led to a 20 minute attacking blitzkrieg by Manchester United where they scored three more goals.

The absence of captain Wayne Rooney seemed to have unshackled the Manchester United attack which operated with fluency and intent with Juan Mata in the primary playmakers role in place of Rooney. Mata scored the second goal after beautiful combination play with Jesse Lingard to double United’s lead in the 37th minute.

Marcus Rashford scored his third goal in as many games after some smart play by Daley Blind and Juan Mata from a corner kick in the 40th minute. The youngster cannot seem to put a foot wrong at the moment and is going one of those golden patches that all strikers seem to go through. The teenager has shown signs characteristics of Wayne Rooney in his prime; tireless running, chasing down lost causes, and the confidence and fearlessness to pull of the extraordinary, even if it fails the first time.

Paul Pogba looked imperious throughout the first half with a performance complete with deft dribbles, delicate chips, powerful runs through midfield and crucial tackles; looking very much like the all-action midfielder Manchester United broke the world transfer record for. The Frenchman capped of his fine performance with his first goal on his return to the club. The goal which was a powerful header from a corner signified all that Pogba stands for; brute power and impeccable technique.

Leicester City manager hooked stars Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez off at half-time to tighten his defence which had leaked four goals, three of them from corners. Leicester City won the title last year due to their solid defence which conceded only 36 goals in 38 games, losing only three games in the entire season. This season however, Leicester have conceded four goals in a game twice already while also becoming the first defending champions to concede four goals before half-time. Their defence is in shambles with Claudio Ranieri having some work to do.

Leicester City’s title defence seems to be over already while it was an important recovery from Manchester United after losing three on the trot within a week’s time. Wayne Rooney would be worried for his Manchester United place after watching them comprehensively outplay the Champions without his presence on the pitch. While United seem to be getting on well without Rooney, it is now up to the captain force himself back into the squad with a revival in his performances.

Sources: Deccan Herald, Tribune

What Delhi High court’s Whatsapp ruling implies for data privacy

In the wake of Whatsapp being bought by Facebook and the subsequent changes to its privacy policy, a PIL was filed  against WhatsApp and Facebook on by petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi over privacy concerns in the Delhi HIgh Court.
In its verdict earlier today,the Delhi High Court permitted WhatsApp to share data with Facebook albeit with limitations on data sharing with parent company Facebook.
The ruling implied that Whatsapp was not allowed to share data collected before September 25 with Facebook to ensure that users who signed up for the service based on the older privacy policy continue to be affected only by the older policy. Those users who are not okay with the new privacy rules may delete their accounts and opt out of service, following which Whatsapp will not be allowed to share data with Facebook.
Whatsapp will not be allowed to share data gathered before September 2015 under any circumstance. This is also applicable to those users who do not delete their accounts and opt out of the service. Even for those users who accept the new terms and conditions, Whatsapp cannot share data collected over the previous years.
The messaging app has been allowed to to retain some kind of messages and use them for data analysis purposes. The ruling states that Whatsapp is allowed use certain messages in ways that will assist users in utilising the service. While the exact implications of this statement are unclear at the moment, it is evident that the messages will not be shared publicly. The messages stored on the servers are not read by whatsapp but multimedia messages like videos and photos may be used in a selcetive manner to improve services for users. Such a selective approach signifies that Whatsapp may in some way be processing contents of messages.
The widely used messaging service has been allowed to use an extensive range of data apart from messages to enable it carry out targeted advertising. The data which may be analysed includes groups that users belong to, profile pictures, contacts and links exchanged on the platform. Facebook can also use and analyse last seen timings, statuses and the texts and calls received and made via Whatsapp.
Another significant outcome of the verdict is the decision to ask the Telecom Regulatory Authourity of India to regulate instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp and the newly launched Google Allo by introducing a regulatory framework for such platforms. In what is expected to be a long drawn out process, a consultation paper will be issued to seek feedback on the guidelines from stakeholders. Their opinions will be taken into account and incorporated into a regulatory framework for all such applications.

Forbes reveals India’s 100 richest

The much awaited 2016 Forbes India rich list saw the net worth of India’s 100 richest people rise to $381 billion from $345 billion in 2015, a significant 10% rise from the previous year. The list, which mostly comprises of those whose companies have outperformed the stock market in the past financial year. The entry figure for the 100 club also rose from $1.1 billion last year to 1.25 billion this year due to accelerated economic growth.

Mukesh Ambani, whose Reliance empire ranges from media houses to oil and now telecom, kept his place as India’s richest man for the ninth year running. His net worth rose to $22.7 billion from $18.9 billion in the last year on the back of a 21% rise in the share prices of Reliance Industries following the much publicised launch of its 4G service, Jio.

Dilip Sanghvi, the owner of Sun Pharmaceuticals is India’s second richest man inspite of seeing his value dip by $1.1 billion to $16.9 billion after a fall in the share prices of Sun Pharma. Sun Pharma recently acquired the rights for 14 drugs from Japan based firm Novartis for $293 million and is expected to have a positive effect on its share prices.

The Hinduja brothers, who recently commissioned a 1040 mega-watt power plant in Vishakhapatnam were third in the list with a combined worth of $15.2 billion between the four brothers who control the Hinduja Group which has business interests ranging from trucks to cable television.

The Forbes rich list, as is usually the case, threw up a few curious cases. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, of Biocon, which is Asia’s largest insulin producer is India’s richest and only self-made woman billionaire amongst the four female billionaires on the list with $1.83 billion in her kitty. Acharya Balkrishna, who owns a 97% stake in Patanjali Ayurved along with Baba Ramdev was a debutant on the list with $2.5 billion.

Acharya Balkrishna is one of six newcomers on the list. Other new comers includes India’s newest billionaires, Bhavin and Divyank Turakhia who sold their ad tech firm to a consortium of Chinese investors for $900 million in August. Hero MotoCorp’s Pawan Munjal takes his father’s spot on the rich list after the passing of his father, Brijmohan Lal Munjal, the founder of the group. The company has sold 65 million bike units to date, selling 6.6 million in the previous financial year. There were also a few notable dropouts including textile Balkrishna Goenka and Flipkart co-founders Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal.

A sizeable 10% of the rich list is dominated by members of the Gujarati community, who already have reputation of being entrepreneurs in the country. The Ambani brothers, Gautam Adani, Dilip Sanghvi, Uday Kotak are all part of a Gujarati community which has more than ten members in the list.

The rise in the least amount required to be in the top 100 shows an increase in the wealth of the super-rich in the country. This trend is expected to continue with the pro-business Narendra Modi government at the Centre. The business friendly practices of the government have already benefitted corporates, especially with the boost for infrastructure and housing. The trend of increasing wealth is set to continue with the government entering into multiple contracts with private parties to boost the nation’s infrastructure, defence and commerce capabilities.

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From the truthfulness of liars to the detection of pseudo profound bullshit, the Ig Nobles

The Ig Nobles recognise those researchers whose curiosity towards absurd yet intriguing questions of science which make you laugh and then make you think. Noble laureates gather in hallowed grounds of Harvard University every year to give out the Ig Nobles to honour dedicated research in eccentric fields of science.

The quest for the Ig Noble often leads to researchers doing things and going to places few others would dare to. One of the Ig Nobles in last year’s ceremony went to a study charting the most painful insect stings and where they hurt most. Entomologist Justin Schmidt spent 38 days pressing 83 different bees and insects on different locations on his body until they stung him, five times a day, at 25 different locations concluding that stings hurt the most on the nostril, the upper lip and not surprisingly, the penis. The pain was rated from 1-10 in the Schmidt Sting Pain Index with 10 going to the warrior wasp, whose sting was described as being chained to an active volcano. The point being that the Ig Nobles are not a mockery of science but recognise contributions towards seemingly silly questions. They make science fun and analyse everyday things which have relevant research questions few people bother to answer.

In tune with the quirkiness and satirical tone of the awards the 2016 edition featured a $10 trillion Zimbabwean dollar note presented to the winners. Each winner is given exactly 60 seconds for his acceptance speech, which if exceeded prompts a specially appointed, formidable eight year old to get on stage and plead,” “Please stop, I am bored”, while the audience throw paper planes on the stage.

In 25 years of their existence, the Ig Nobles have awarded strange but intriguing research like chemists who unboiled an egg, scientists who overcame gravity and floated a frog in mid-air using magnetism and the mathematics behind the disappearance rates of beer froth.

Keeping with this trend, this year’s Ig Noble in psychology went to an international coalition of researchers who studied the truthfulness of liars by asking 1000 liars to rate how often and how well they have lied throughout their lifetime, concluding that the results of the study could have been flawed as the liars might have been all along.

The peace prize went to philosophers from the United States and Canada who published a paper titled “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”, written on the hypothesis that there is little question that bullshit is a real and consequential phenomenon. Their aim was to study if people are able to detect bullshit and who was most likely to fall prey to it. The results of which stated that those most receptive to bullshit were less receptive with lower cognitive abilities and a tendency to hold religious and paranormal beliefs (says a lot about the current state of our country).

A pair of German scientists won the Ig Noble for medicine when they revealed that a left sided itch on your face could be relieved by looking into the mirror and scratching the right side, a revelation which raises further questions for biologists trying to figure out the science behind itching while the award fir literature went to Swedish author Fredrik Sjoberg who wrote a trilogy on collecting flies. The award for Biology was taken by British scientist Tom Thwaites for building prosthetics which help a person live like a goat, something which Tom did in the Swiss Alps for three days, complete with bleating and eating nothing but grass and shrubbery.

In a sarcastic satirical twist, the award for chemistry was awarded to the Volkswagen Group which violated United States emission laws and falsified data about its vehicle emissions. They were presented with a 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollar bill for their efforts in “solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electro-mechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested”.

The Ig Nobles are more than just a satirical take on the science world. The Ig Nobles dispel the notion that science is limited to theorems and laboratories while being an inspiration to aspiring scientists to feel free to follow their crazy and absurd ideas via scientific methods to realise their ideas.

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What Jose Mourinho needs to do to stem the rot at Manchester United

Manchester United continued their streak of breaking unwanted records with a 3-1 loss to Watford on Sunday in the Premier League. The embarrassing defeat was the first time the Hornets had beaten the Red Devils in the Premier League era apart from it being their first win over them in 30 years. A team which was supposed to dominate the Premier League with Jose Mourinho at helm now looks to be falling apart, suffering three straight losses in a week, a first for the manager and the club.

The truth is that Jose Mourinho’s expensively team of superstars is looking more like a disjointed group of individuals who cannot seem to play to save their own skin. With exception of the teenage Marcus Rashford, recently demoted to the England U-21s none of the players on the pitch on Sunday really looked up to the task of beating Watford, a team who finished in the lower mid- table last season.

It was evident on Sunday that wholesome changes would be required if the club are to be title challengers this season instead of being pretenders to the throne. Jose Mourinho has to get his highly paid stars firing. World record summer transfer Paul Pogba has not looked the part yet, fading in and out of games with no real contribution apart from the occasional shot into Row Z. He has yet to register a goal or assist on his return to the club. Mourinho has to get his star man firing as his performances are crucial to United’s fortunes.

Pogba has become part of the very midfield problem he was bought to solve at Old Trafford. He looks to be struggling to fit into Mourinho’s double pivot system at the club, being more accustomed to a left sided role in a three man midfield at Juventus. In such a situation, the absence of Michael Carrick is puzzling as he can sit in front of the defence and dictate play, something which United have struggled to do with Marouane Fellaini as defensive midfielder.

Club captain Wayne Rooney’s performances have been on a downward spiral for a while now with a steady decline in output since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at the club. His performances this season continue to be abysmal and looks to be holding on to his place in the side on the basis of being the club captain. If such performances continue, he will have to be dropped to make way for more like Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Mourinho has been brought in to make the difficult decisions with the ruthlessness he has previously shown at Chelsea and Real Madrid where club stalwarts like John Terry and Iker Casillas were dropped from the side due to their sub-par performances. The Portuguese has chopped and changed his line-up looking unsure of his best XI. He needs to settle on a team soon and start making the difficult decisions he has been brought in to make.

Jose Mourinho at Manchester United looked to be a perfect fit at the start of the season with the Red Devils flying out of the blocks. The team has floundered since and it is essential to correct the slide before it turns into a full blown crises. The club’s fans are expecting success with Jose Mourinho after the twin failures of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and with the team in this state, a lot needs to be done to meet their expectations.

Sources: The Guardian,


The aftermath of the Uri attack; what are India’s options against Pakistan backed terror

In the hours after the Uri military camp attack, the Prime Minister assured the nation that the perpetrators of the tragedy would not go unpunished, a promise which in the case of India and Pakistan sponsored terrorism has hardly ever been accomplished after the multiple terror attacks that India has suffered.

The military camp attack resulted in the death of 18 soldiers, a significantly large number in a day during peacetime. It was also the second attack on an armed forces base in recent times following the Pathankot incident where again Pakistan sponsored terrorists carried out the attacks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high level meet after the attacks to determine what action India could take against Pakistan and its policy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts.

After discounting the possibility of war, India is left with a number of realistic diplomatic and military options. The first course of action should be to secure the borders. The Pathankot attack and now the Uri attack, both of which were caused by terrorists crossing the border have led to a major embarrassment in the defence establishment. With winter approaching, the Army will have to be alert to infiltration attempts aimed at pumping terrorists into Kashmir before snow sets in.

The convenient retaliatory military option would be to initiate cross border strikes against terrorist camps across the border but this does not look viable although the Indian Army has already demonstrated its capability to carry out such raids in Myanmar. Pakistan is hardly likely to be as cooperative as Myanmar in allowing Indian forces on its soil while limited but punitive strikes against  PoK based terrorist camps is an option which may amount to an act of war.

Military action, if initiated is unlikely to be taken during the UN General Assembly sessions where Pakistan is likely to bring up the Kashmir issue. Modi, in his high level meet which included National Security advisor Ajit Doval, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh has apparently approved effective retaliation, the time and place of which will be decided by the NSA and the three service chiefs.

At the diplomatic level, India could use the UN General Assembly session to internationally isolate Pakistan, defining it as a terrorist state. This move has already worked with Russia and France naming Pakistan in their statements in reaction to the attacks. Another option would be to move the International Monetary Fund to pass sanctions against Pakistan after establishing it as a facilitator of terror. The United States of America also cannot step in due to the presence of China and the various geopolitical compulsions in the region.

Because cross- border military action is a difficult prospect due to the threat of war, the military response is likely to be toned down and limited to artillery shelling on Pakistani posts but is necessary because diplomacy has not proved effective in the past. Combining strong diplomacy with measured military action would be an ideal response to the relentless terrorist activities being carried out by Pakistan.