After Paytm, Now We Have Tez

Everyone seems to be capitalising on the after effect of the gaffe made by the Indian government last year. If it isn’t clear, the gaffe in question is demonetisation, where the Indian government banned the 1000 and 500 rupee notes, forcing a large chunk of the country’s population to steer away towards digital payments. As a result of this preference for digitised payments, Paytm, the most popular online payments app soared to new heights of popularity and recorded massive profits which allowed its owner to buy an expensive house, while the rest of the profits went to Alibaba, the Chinese company that owns the larger part of Paytm.

Looking to enter this profitable playing field and make a cut of the massive profits themselves, Google has launched their own payment app in India, named Tez (Hindi for fast). Tez, a United Payments Interface (UPI)-based digital app, goes a step beyond Android Pay, by allowing users to link payment apps from Indian banks. Tez also allows bank-to-bank payments and is comfortably protected by Tez Shield, Google’s own data security platform with the ability to detect fraud and protect user identity. Conveniently, Tez has a contact list that will give transaction history organised, somewhat like a chat app. According to Google, the app also allows small businesses to accept payments directly into their bank accounts.

“Send money home to your family, split a dinner bill with friends, or pay the neighbourhood chaiwala. Make all payments big or small, directly from your bank account with Tez, Google’s new digital payment app for India,” is Google’s official statement regarding their newest venture on its information portal.

But what makes Tez special, particularly in India, is that it uses Audio QR. This basically means that the app does not use user payment information but instead transfers money based on sounds. Twi devices can pair using these ultrasonic sounds, eliminating the need for payee and payer personal information. This will also make the process more rapid and frictionless and also bypasses the need for an NFC chip, since phones with NFC are still relatively rare and expensive.

The app will be available on both Android and iOS and Google is planning to release it in other emerging countries.

Sources: The Verge, TechCrunch 

Nepal conducts the last phase of crucial elections

Polls opened on September 18, 2017 in Mandesi-dominated region of Nepal which is close to the border of India for the final phase of the nation’s first local level election in twenty years. With this step Nepal has inched ahead to cement democracy while dealing with a political turmoil.

For this day’s election, voters from 136 local units of eight districts of Province 2 will elect 6627 representatives. According to India Today, authorities say that there 37,236 candidates competing for the elections.

More than 60,000 personnel have been deployed to make sure there are no security issues. As per PTI reports, the Election Commission said border points with India have been closed to avoid any challenges regarding security.

The government announced on February 20, 2017 that it plans to hold local polls on May 14, 2017. The Madhes-centric parties opposed this saying that the Constitution needs to be amended prior to the polls. After considering this argument, the election body then conducted the local elections in two phases in all provinces except for Province 2.

Elections in other provinces took place in May and June. The local elections are part of the final step of a peace deal which ended the decade long civil war in 2006 and paved a way for provincial as well as the general elections of this year.

Sources: India Today, Business Standard

The Sardar Sarovar Dam: Engineering Miracle or Failure?

Narendra Modi inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is the world’s second largest dam on his 67th birthday, on September 17, 2017. He claimed that no other project in the world had faced so many obstacles and that the initiative had overcome numerous hurdles to finally be made. Present at Dabhoi, Gujarat, he dedicated the dam – which he called an “engineering miracle” – to the nation. The dam is supposed to provide power and water to 9,000 villages to the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

At the same time, miles away in a village in Madhya Pradesh, thousands carried out a ‘Jal Satyagraha’ – a protest sitting barefoot in water. The reason for this protest? They believed that the water from the dam will displace 40,000 families because their homes will be submerged. The protesters are led by activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan founder Medha Patkar. The protest had begun on Friday on the banks of Narmada at Chota Barda village in Dhar, about 300 km from Bhopal. The water level has been rising there constantly and has already submerged Nisarpur and Rajghat.

The highest embankment on a river in the country is built on the Narmada river and is expected to change the fortunes of Gujarat. However, since the foundation stone of this project was laid in 1961 by Jawaharlal Nehru, it has wrapped up in myriad controversies.

In September 1988, many environmentalists, social workers and scientists sent a memorandum to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asking him to reconsider environmental clearance granted to the project. Activists have since been demanding that the filling of water in the dam be stopped and the games opened so that the water level reduces.

Patkar, who had visited the areas expected to be submerged by the river project in 1985, submitted her critique of the project, saying that the people who were to be displaced had not been rehabilitated or informed properly about the issues. She also demanded that the water filling be stopped till rehabilitation is undertaken and compensation paid to the families, which however has not happened despite a Supreme Court order. She also took her case to the World Bank, which stoped funding the project in 1994. Modi himself has talked about the opposition to the construction of the dam from the World Bank. When the financial institution stopped giving money to the project, the temples of Gujarat donated money to it.

Narmada Bachao Andolan had approached the apex court over the environmental issues posed by the dam and received a stay in 1996, although eventually in 2000, work was allowed to resume with some restrictions in October 2000. When her efforts failed, she led the NBA and undertook several fasts for weeks along with Baba Amte, another veteran activist.

Modi is right when he says that the project has progressed despite problems. In 2000, the SC allowed the government to increase the height of the dam to 90-metres, which kept increasing till it reached its current and final height of 138.68 metres.

The dam thus holds in its stead both expectations of development as well as the fear of displacement and the lack of compensation for the people of India. It also sits high as a symbol of the failure of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. While Patkar’s Jal Satyagraha movement carries on, so does some iota of rehabilitation and compensation, albeit slowly.

Sources: NDTV, India Today

DU Elections Herald the Winds of Change

For students of Delhi University, it is common sight to see the winning candidates in any year’s student elections being fielded by the ABVP, the RSS-affiliated right wing student organisation that has till now commanded the majority support. But not anymore. If the recently concluded DUSU elections send a message, it is that ABVP is not the most popular party anymore. The stunning defeat of the ABVP, only to give over its stronghold to the Congress backed NSUI shows that BJP is losing its hold over campuses.

It is true that the ABVP was not totally decimated in the elections. NSUI won only the President and Vice-Presidential positions, while the other two of General Secretary and Joint Secretary were retained by ABVP. It is also true that statistically, the best performer in the election was still the ABVP candidate for secretary, Mahamedhaa Nagar who defeated her NSUI rival by 2624 votes to win the post of secretary. Her win was still the biggest margin. However, what counts more is that NSUI has made a comeback and a stunning one at that. For the last five years, ABVP has dominated the student politics scene in Delhi, leaving no leeway for other parties to set foot. Since 2012, NSUI has never held an important position in DUSU and while this may be a half-triumph, it is still a triumph.

ABVP’s shocking loss should sound the alarm bells for the BJP and the Modi-brigade which has thus far captured the imagination of the youth across campuses. Students across the world do not like being dictated to and Indian students are no different. With the Modi brigade dictating terms on cow vigilantism, coupled with the lack of tolerance and the alarming rise of Hindutva across the country, it should be of no surprise that the students have swung to the age old challenger of the BJP, the Congress and chosen to put their faith in them. This is certainly a reaction to the brand of hyper nationalism propagated by the centre, which has backfired against them. Moreover, the ABVP has been on a rampage of violence and disruption, with the Rohith Vemula suicide last year, the upheaval in JNU and the Ramjas incident early this year. On every one of these occasions, the ABVP was the muscular aggressor and on the receiving end of much criticism from left-wing liberals.

And NSUI’s win in DU is not a one-off incident. This is simply a follow up of the impressive performances by the outfit in the recent polls in Guwahati, Rajasthan and Punjab Universities. This is the concert result of the educated and urban youth taking up arms against the divisive and polarising politics wielded by the ABVP in every election it participates in. This is a wake-up call to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Ironically, the latter had termed ABVP’s victory in DUSU polls last year as the triumph of nationalism. The DUSU election is definitely a reflection of the current mood among the youngsters, who are witnessing a polarising of the country under the current government.

However, it is not all hunky-dory for the NSUI. This year’s election also saw a huge jump in NOTA votes, from less than 10% last year to 16.5% this year. This can only portray a certain disillusionment with the student wings of mainstream political parties and should be a cause of worry for both the Congress and the BJP. It is also to be noted that more students availed of the NOTA option in the DUSU elections than the JNSUSU elections. Nonetheless, the DUDU results should be doing much to boost the sagging morale of the Congress, which sadly, does not remain a key player at the centre politics any longer.

Sources: The Quint, Hindustan Times

No Reason for Fear, the Left is Still There

Left wing student associations, just a few days ago, led their parties to a thumping win in the recently concluded Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) elections, raising spirits of left-leaning student campuses everywhere. The united-Left alliance – which is a coalition of AISA, SFI and DSF – retained all four seats in the JNU students union election, defeating the RSS-backed ABVP by a considerable margin. The main players in this election were the United Left alliance, RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and the Birsa-Ambedkar-Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA).

United Left candidate Geeta Kumari won the president’s post by defeating Nidhi Tripathi of ABVP by 464 votes. AISA’s Simone Zoya Khan, who was contesting for the vice-presidents post, got 1,876 votes out of total 4,620 votes, defeating Durgesh Kumar of ABVP (1028 votes). The other important posts of General Secretary and Joint Secretary also went to Left candidates, who all beat their respective right-wing candidates by considerable margins. Last year, the Left alliance was between AISA and SFI, which was fortified this year by extending the alliance to bring DSF on board. While JNU has always been a Left bastion, there were concerns this year regarding the Left’s win because of the rise of identity based politics, represented by BAPSA. The fear was that the rise of BAPSA would take away votes from the left, leading to an ABVP win.

Not surprisingly, BAPSA candidates finished second in all the posts. More importantly, this year marked BAPSA’s entry into the school of sciences which till date has been an ABVP stronghold. The party’s thundering performance in the elections shows how the wave is moving towards identity-based politics, while also changing the political discourse from the choice between a left and a right to a voice between left, right and BAPSA. Both ABVP and the left-wing should be concerned with the meteoric rise of this party, which certainly shows a growing base within the university.

Soon after the stunning victory for the Left, the relieved student organisation brought out a press release claiming that the JNUSU results would have an effect on the upcoming DUSU elections. “The mandate of the JNUSU elections is a strong message for the power-protected gang of hooligans that the minds and souls of students can’t be captured by the threat of violence. The students of DU will give a strong mandate for a university without violence, academics without fear and country without hate,” stated the release.

Geeta Kumari, now elected JNUSU president, said that she and her administration would be taking up the Najeeb Jung issue, as well as the reigning issues of JNU seat cuts and new hostels. This begs the realisation that this year’s student elections was fought on issues that have been plaguing the JNU community for a while now. Left unity against the ABVP politics’ has been a main slogan in the campus since the February 9, 2016 events that put JNU in the spotlight for many reasons.

Sources: Firstpost, NDTV

USA had a dream, but what of it now?

US President Donald Trump has made many changes to the administration and policy since his term began in January of this year. Many of them have not been well-received and have aroused both anger and hatred from many across the world. A determined pushback of policy by Trump has been directed towards the vast area of immigration. Overcoming the lengthy controversy and vitriol stirred up by his decision to ban immigration from a number of countries to the USA that was widely seen as a policy of racial and religious discrimination, Trump has done it again. This time again, it has left many wondering about their future in the US.

Trump came to power on the strength of promises that he made during his campaign, one of the biggest being that he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Mexico has repeatedly refused to pay for a wall and while this discussion has not progressed, Trump has taken a decision that will affect those already living in the USA, on a policy that is much lesser known and perhaps one that many do not fully understand.

In 2012, then president Barack Obama created a federal government programme that would protect from deportation those who arrived in the US as children and allow them to grow up in the country and find work in the US, legally. This was seen as a chance for these undocumented migrants to build themselves a life in the US, giving these children a right to temporarily residen, study and work in the US. This was known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and those protected by it were called the Dreamers. This programme was a compromise on the part of the Obama government on the DREAM act after Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act failed to pass. This bill had first been introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001 by United States Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch and reintroduced many times since, without ever being passed.

Beneficaries of the DACA Act had to  necessarily be under the age of 18 and undocumented when they arrived in the US, were vetted thoroughly for any criminal history, threats they posed to national security, and had to be students or have completed school or military service. They also had to be below the age of 31 on 15 June 2012, the official date on which the programme began and had to be living continuously in the US for the last five years, i.e., since 2007. While the Dream Act allowed the migrants a chance to become permanent residents of the US, the DACA could merely defer deportation by two years, with a chance of renewal and allows them basics such as a work permit, a driver’s license and a change to enrol in college. Approximately 7,87,580 people are beneficiaries of this programme till date. A large chunk of these numbers hail from Mexico, brought to the US by their parents as children.

While one of Trump’s many promises during his campaign was to rollback DACA, no such measure had been taken till now. But on September 5, Trump and his administration announced that they would be ending DACA in March 2018, with “an orderly, lawful wind down”, as well as “the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program”. As Barack Obama said, the decision was “self-defeating” and contrary to “basic decency” and that  “A shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again.” Trump’s reversal of Obama’s policy has cast the fate of almost 800,000 people into doubt.

So what happens to them? Since Obama created this programme as an executive policy decision, Trump was only able to reverse the policy and has given Congress a period of six months to come up with a legislative policy. Till then, no more applications to DACA will be entertained and as of March 2018, the privileges enjoyed by those in the programmme will begin expire. In short, the status the Dreamers hold will be snatched away from them, unless Congress brings out a legislation allowing for some other method of temporary or permanent legal immigration status. As they lose their status, they become vulnerable to deportation and could be sent back to countries that they were born in.

Trump has stated that law-abiding Daca recipients will not be acted against. This is small consolation, however, and fear has been rising in the US since the announcement was made. The Trump administration and the Congress holds in its hands the fate of the Dreamers, for now.

Snapdeal, Flipkart terminate merger talks

Online marketplaces Snapdeal and Flipkart have called off their talks regarding a possible merger, bringing an end to five months of deliberations and board meetings, Snapdeal confirmed on Monday, July 31. According to Business Standard, had it come to fruition, this would have been the biggest consolidation in the history of Indian e-commerce. Snapdeal will now go forward as an independent entity.

The beleaguered Snapdeal, based in Gurgaon, whose biggest stakeholder is the Japanese giant SoftBank Group, had shown reluctance in going through with the merger. An official statement released by it said that Snapdeal had decided to pursue an “independent path”. That Snapdeal founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal were not happy with the deal was evident when Flipkart’s initial offer for the struggling online portal was rejected. Snapdeal has now rejected Flipkart’s second offer of $850 million made on July 17, according to Economic Times.

According to sources, SoftBank may go ahead and invest in Flipkart on its own and may not continue its association with Snapdeal. The latter is all set to reveal Snapdeal 2.0, stripped down, rebooted version of the company, which will be an open marketplace set-up that is supposed to achieve gross profitability. The company is also gearing up to sell non-core assets and has already sold off its online wallet Freecharge to Axis Bank. The money from this as well as the existing resources will enable it to run for atleast four more years.

Sources: Economic Times, Business Standard