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In Focus by The Hindu

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A podcast from The Hindu that delves deep into current developments with subject experts, and brings in context, history, perspective and analysis.


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A podcast from The Hindu that delves deep into current developments with subject experts, and brings in context, history, perspective and analysis.



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What does the RSS ban on government employees being lifted mean? | In Focus podcast

The BJP-led coalition government has lifted the ban on government employees taking part in activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, an organisation which has been banned three times since India attained independence. The RSS was banned days after Gandhiji’s assassination by Nathuram Godse in 1948, during the Emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and under civil society pressure after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. Interestingly, the restriction on central government employees associating with the RSS remained in force during the first two terms of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and under Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his 1998-2004 terms. So, the question that arises is: why now? Is Modi trying to appease the RSS after facing an electoral setback? Didn’t RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat indirectly poke fun at Modi saying he wasn’t biological during the recent election campaign? Does this decision have anything to do with what appear to be efforts to remove Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh? Guest: Nilanjan Mukhopadyay, independent journalist, columnist and author. Host: Amit Baruah, Senior Associate Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Paris Olympics: Preview of India’s medal prospects

The Olympics are back in Paris, exactly 100 years after the city last hosted it. The opening ceremony will take place on July 26, but competitions will begin two days earlier, from July 24, and go on till August 11. About 10,500 athletes from more than 200 countries will be participating. India, which came back with its best ever haul of one gold, two silver and four bronze medals in the Tokyo Olympics, will be looking to do even better this time. We are sending 117 athletes, with a massive support staff numbering 140. In this preview, we take a close look at the Indian contingent, what to expect in various disciplines, and our best medal prospects. Guest: YB Sarangi from The Hindu’s Sports Bureau. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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Trump at the RNC: How has the assassination attempt impacted the US Presidential race?

The assassination attempt on Republican nominee Donald Trump has queered the American Presidential race, and in a manner that wouldn’t please the Democrats. In his speech at the Republican National Convention that got over yesterday, Trump struck a new note by stressing on unity, though not at the expense of his white nativist platform. He also announced that Ohio Senator J.D. Vance would be his running mate as vice presidential candidate. If two broad themes stood out at the Republican Convention, they were unity, and the deification of Trump. Was the assassination attempt a factor in this? Would all his former primary rivals endorsed him so robustly otherwise? With reports speculating that Biden might withdraw, what are the options for the Democrats? Guest: Varghese K George, The Hindu’s Resident Editor in New Delhi, who recently travelled through the ‘swing states’ on the campaign trail. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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From Indira Rasois to Amma Unavagams: Why does urban India need government canteens? | In Focus podcast

The institution that immediately comes to mind when we speak of food security is the public distribution system (PDS), the nation-wide network of ration shops that provide subsidised food grains. But over the past decade, another initiative, at the level of state governments, has made an impact – government canteens. The Indira Rasois of Rajasthan, the Amma Unavagams of Tamil Nadu and the India canteens of Karnataka, to name a few, have become popular, especially among migrant workers in our cities. A new survey of these canteens, conducted last year, documents their efficacy and draws some lessons regarding social policy interventions. It raises, and answers, some interesting questions: Why do we need government canteens when we already have PDS? Who frequents these canteens? How much do state governments actually spend on them? And are canteens something that should be scaled up and expanded to states that don’t have them at present? Guest: Reetika Khera, Narendra and Chandra Singhi Chair Professor (Economics) at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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What does PM Modi’s visit to Russia really mean for India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Russia was keenly watched across the world, after all, it was Mr. Modi's first bilateral visit since winning a third straight term. For India, the summit is a chance to engage with one of the country's oldest allies. Mr. Modi's and Russian President Putin's meeting was a chance to talk about ways to strengthen trade and investment, increase connectivity, science, technology, and deepen military ties. However, India's Western allies weren't too keen on the visit, given the Russia-Ukraine war. In fact, the U.S. State Department and Ukraine were openly critical of Mr. Modi’s visit. The visit concentrated more on bettering the economic and trade relationship -- increasing bilateral trade to $30 billion, promoting the use of national currencies in trade, develop connectivity by expediting work on the Chennai-Vladivostok (Eastern Maritime) Corridor and the International North-South Transport Corridor and increasing cooperation in space and energy sectors. The two sides also discussed several ways to deepen military and military-technical cooperation by focusing on joint research and development, co-development and joint production of advanced defence technology and systems. The two sides also agreed to encourage joint manufacturing of spare parts, components and other products in India. In this episode of the In Focus podcast, we talk to Swaran Singh about Mr. Modi's comments on bringing peace to the region, the challenges to increasing trade between the two countries, the changing dynamics between the two countries and India's focus on strategic autonomy. Guest: Swaran Singh, Professor, International Relations, JNU. Host: Nivedita V Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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Why is India not exercising enough?

A recent study published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, brought out a staggering figure – almost half of all Indians are not sufficiently physically active. Between 2000 and 2022, the number of adults who engaged in insufficient physical activity increased from a little over 22% to 49.4%. Women were found to be more physically inactive than men. Across the world, South Asia was ranked second highest in the number of adults being insufficiently active, after the high-income Asia-Pacific region, which came first. World over, about 1/3 of all adults, 31.3% were not sufficiently physically active, and if this trend continues, researchers said, the target of reducing physical inactivity by 15% globally by 2030, will not be met. An adequate amount of exercise has for long been known to help prevent multiple non-communicable diseases including hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, and is known to promote mental well being. India holds the dubious rank of being one of the top countries in the world when it comes to obesity and diabetes and a high burden of heart and yet the amount of physical activity Indians do, is decreasing. Why are Indians not exercising enough? What amounts to an adequate amount of physical activity for an adult per week? How is the lack of exercise going to affect the massive burden of non-communicable diseases in India? And what can be done to encourage physical activity at schools, communities and in offices? Guest: Dr K Srinath Reddy, distinguished professor of public health, Public Health Foundation of India Host: Zubeda Hamid Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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Can Iran’s reformist President-elect deliver on his promises? | In Focus podcast

Iran held early Presidential elections following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. In the Presidential run-off held last week, reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian won with 53.7% of the votes. During his campaign, he promised to work towards easing social restrictions, especially with regard to the mandatory headscarf and internet freedom. On the economic front, he has pledged to ease hardships by working to bring Iran out of the sanctions regime, which is only possible through sustained engagement with the West on its nuclear programme. But given that the final veto on any departure in policy or law rests with the Supreme Leader, what changes can Iranians realistically expect from the Pezeshkian presidency? Though a reformist, how will he get his appointments and legislations passed in a conservative-dominated Parliament? And what does the change in Presidency mean for Iran’s foreign policy? Guest: Stanly Johny, The Hindu’s International Affairs editor. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Will Operation Azm-i-Istehkam curb terrorism in Pakistan? | In Focus podcast

Pakistan is all set to launch yet another military operation against terrorists on its soil, whom it claims are coming across the border from Afghanistan. Political and army clearance for Operation Azm-i-Istehkam, or Resolve for Stability, came in the last week of June, but it is still in the works. Several operations have been launched since 2007 by the Pakistani military to rid the country from terror, but the country's own history in backing terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir has ensured that there has been no lasting solution to the problem. The country has also seen a parallel wave of fundamentalism and intolerance. So, will Azm-i-Istehkam make a difference? To answer this all-important question, I am joined by Ramanathan Kumar, former Special Secretary in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), who is an expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Guest: Ramanathan Kumar, former Special Secretary in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), who is an expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Host: Amit Baruah, Senior Associate Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Sri Lanka Presidential elections: Will they deliver on the political expectations of the 2022 protesters? | In Focus podcast

Two years after an economic crisis sparked mass protests and a major political upheaval, Sri Lanka is getting set for Presidential elections. While the actual date is yet to be finalised, we know that it would be between September 17th and October 16th. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been saying that the country has gotten over the worst of the economic crisis, thanks to his able leadership, and that politics can return to normal. But is the economic crisis really over? The ‘Aragalaya’ protesters in 2022 had deemed the entire political elite unfit to govern, and wanted a different politics. Will they get that in the election to come? Among the three main contenders - Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP), Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and Sajith Premadasa of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, is any one likely to emerge as a clear frontrunner? Most critically, is any politician offering an economic vision for the country that does not necessarily have the fingerprints of the IMF? Guest: Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu’s correspondent in Colombo. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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How will concerns over Biden’s ‘cognitive decline’ impact the US Presidential race? | In Focus podcast

There have been doubts over President Joe Biden’s mental acuity for quite some time. But his performance in the recent Presidential debate seems to have come as a shock to many, and especially to Biden’s support base. Almost the entire American liberal establishment, has called on Biden to step back and allow someone else get the Presidential ticket. Is he likely to stay the course, or will he make way for someone else? With the Democratic National Convention coming up next month, what are the options for the Democrats? Can they convince donors and voters that a President well past his cognitive prime is a good idea? And if Biden does step back, which are the names that have a good chance of winning against Donald Trump? Guest: Sanjay Ruparelia, Associate Professor of Politics and Public Administration, who holds the Jarislowsky Democracy Chair at Toronto Metropolitan University. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs editor, The Hindu Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Why India's millions of domestic workers have no legal protections in the country and abroad

A few weeks ago, the richest family in Britain, the Hinduja family, was convicted in a Swiss court and four of its members were given a prison sentence for exploiting their domestic workers, brought from India to a villa in Geneva. They were accused of paying the workers a pittance, making them work long hours and not allowing them to leave the premises. The family has said it will appeal the verdict, but the case throws a spotlight upon an issue that has long been neglected in India – the rampant exploitation of domestic help in the country and abroad. India has not ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 which advocates for their rights nor the ILO’s Forced Labour Protocol which would make it mandatory for countries to safeguard the interests of workers. India is estimated to have about 50 million domestic workers, largely women, primarily drawn from the five states of Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, with hundreds of thousands migrating within the State, to other States and abroad, but a law to protect their rights – which would cover their wages, working hours, holidays and other rights – has been pending with the Central government for some years now. So what is the legal situation of domestic workers in the country? Why is the government dragging its feet on bringing about a national legislation to protect them? Are the many recruitment agencies that have mushroomed across the country, subject to regulation? What happens when our workers go abroad? How do other countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines protect their workers? Guest: Sonia George, national vice president, of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Asian executive member, International Domestic Workers Federation Host: Zubeda Hamid Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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What lies ahead for Britain under Starmer? | In Focus podcast

The Labour Party has scored an emphatic victory in the July 4 British general elections and Keir Starmer is all set to be the new Prime Minister replacing Rishi Sunak. Ending 14 years of Conservative rule, Labour look all set to win about 410 of a total of 650 seats, with Sunak's party way behind at 144, BBC reported. Nigel Farage's anti-immigration Reform Party won a paltry number of seats but picked up 14 per cent of the vote. Farage won a seat in Parliament on his 8th attempt. The Liberal Democrats are expected to win 58 seats. Labour's vote percentage only increased by about four percentage points over 2019, adding up to a little over 36 per cent of the votes cast. On their part, the Conservatives lost as much as 20 per cent of their vote from 2019. So, what lies ahead for Britain under Starmer? Guest: Andrew Whitehead, historian, lecturer and journalist. Former Editor of the BBC World Service. Host: Amit Baruah, Senior Associate Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Will the T20 World Cup win trigger a phase of Indian domination in world cricket? | In Focus podcast

India’s historic triumph at the T20 World Cup has laid many ghosts to rest for a generation of stalwarts, who have now passed on the baton. It has also earned Rohit Sharma a place in the pantheon of world-conquering captains, alongside the likes of Kapil Dev and M.S. Dhoni. Was there anything that set this team apart from the others in the past that came too close, only to miss, such as the one that lost the ODI World Cup final last year? What does the retirement of Kohli, Sharma and Ravindrea Jadeja from the T20 format mean for Indian cricket? What’s in store for Indian cricket fans, with the Women’s T20 World Cup scheduled for October? And will the victory in Barbados inaugurate a phase of Indian domination in world cricket, as is being suggested by many commentators? Guest: Amol Karhadkar from The Hindu’s Sports Bureau. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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What does India need to do to make its railways safer? | In Focus podcast

Earlier this month a train accident in West Bengal killed 10 people and injured over 40. This comes just a year after the devastating multi-train collision that killed 275 people in Odisha last year. Railway accidents have decreased significantly over the past decade -- only 0.03 accidents took place per million km in both 2020-21 and 2021-22. But this number loses meaning in light of the numbers of lives lost in rail accidents over the past couple of years. After a train accident, there’s almost always several things that happen – human error or signal malfunctions are blamed, there is talk about the deployment of Kavach, India’s own automatic train protection system, and there is talk about whether the government is spending enough on safety and maintenance of the railway system, even as big ticket railway projects are unveiled. The Indian Railways moves a staggering 24 million passengers a day. What are the safety challenges it is currently encountering? What is the status on the deployment of Kavach and why is it taking so long? Are lower-level staff disproportionately blamed for accidents while responsibility should rest elsewhere? What is India’s safety track record and what can be done to improve it? Guest: Sudhanshu Mani is Retired General Manager/Indian Railways, Leader of Train 18/Vande Bharat project and independent rail consultant Host: Zubeda Hamid Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Wimbledon 2024: Preview and analysis of the men’s and women’s draw | In Focus podcast

Wimbledon 2024 kicks off from July 1, promising some really exciting match-ups. This would also be the first time 22-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner will enter a Grand Slam as the world no. 1, 24-time Grand Slam champ Novak Djokovic is racing against time to get fit after a knee surgery, and with French Open champion Carlos Alcaraz, rounds out the Big Three of title contenders. Among the women, there is a lot of anticipation around the return to form of home favourite Emma Raducanu. World No 1 Iga Swiatek will once again hope for a breakthrough on grass – the one surface that she has not been able to adapt to so far. This Wimbledon will also be special for Indian fans as Sumit Nagal makes his main draw debut, and they can also cheer on Rohan Bopanna in the doubles. What does the draw look like? Who are the greats we might not see again at this venue? And how are the key contenders doing with regard to form and fitness? Guest: N Sudarshan from The Hindu’s Sports Bureau. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Can AI revolutionize the way we interact with phones? | In Focus podcast

It is safe to say that Artificial Intelligence isn't just a fantasy anymore, we are using AI more and more in our day to day life, be it on our phones or for work. This year, every smartphone manufacturer, be it Samsung, Apple, Google to Oppo, Nothing, are placing their bets on the technology. They have announced plans to integrate generative AI in phones to provide a personalised user experience. What does this mean? The thing is, we have been using AI in our phones for a while already. We use it in various ways, be it video stabilization, image enhancement, editing, as a personal assistant, for transcribing, in various apps etc. So, what's next? Host: Nivedita V Guest: Tarun Pathak, Research Director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.


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Decoding the geopolitical implications of the Russia-North Korea security pact

President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang earlier this month, his first visit to North Korea in 24 years. The two countries have signed a comprehensive co-operation agreement that includes a mutual defense pact – that is, if one country is attacked, the other will come to its defense militarily. It is also expected that Russia will help North Korea with technical assistance for its military, ballistic missile and satellite programs. This meeting and the security pact, coming close on the heels of a similar summit between Xi Jinping and Putin, is not likely to go down well with others in the region, especially South Korea and Japan. US officials have also said that it could create some friction between Russia and China, as it would undermine China’s more or less exclusive leverage over North Korea. But Russia-North Korea relations haven’t been great until recently. What has sparked this revival? Is there a deep ideological convergence between the two authoritarian leaders, or is it just a transactional relationship? How would China view this pact? And what would be the impact of this agreement in South Korea and Japan? Guest: Professor Sandip Kumar Mishra from the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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Is India equipped to deal with the rise in its elderly population?

Last week, on June 15, the world marked Elder Abuse Awareness Day. How well are senior citizens in India doing? A report that was released by the NGO HelpAge India reveals that a large majority of them are not doing very well – their study conducted across 20 cities in 10 States surveying over 5,000 elderly citizens found that nearly 65% reported that they were not financially secure. Over half of those surveyed suffered from two or more non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension and at least 7% admitted to being victims of abuse. India’s demography is changing – while senior citizens now constitute around 10% of the population – this number is expected to touch 20% by 2050. Family continues to play the role of primary caregiver, but also faces challenges, physically and financially. What happens if the family is from another city or country? While India has launched programmes such as the National Programme for the Healthcare of the Elderly and has enacted legislation like the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, implementation on the ground remains. Are the current social security nets sufficient to take care of senior citizens? Does the health infrastructure need to focus on geriatric care? How can their financial challenges be addressed? And how can the country work towards providing comprehensive care for our elderly population? Guest: Anupama Datta, Head, Policy Research and Advocacy, HelpAge India Host: Zubeda Hamid Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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How well can Gandhi Sagar sanctuary accommodate free-ranging cheetahs?

In September 2022, India launched an ambitious project to restart a self-sustaining, cheetah population in the country by importing African cheetahs. In all, about 20 adult cheetahs were translocated to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Of these 20, 13 have survived, and with another 13 cubs born, there are now 26 cheetahs at Kuno. Obviously, Kuno is not big enough to accommodate this many animals in the wild. So Gandhi Sagar wildlife sanctuary – much smaller in area than Kuno, also located in MP -- is being prepared to become the second home of the imported cheetahs. According to the government, the preparations are almost done, and plans for importing more cheetahs from Africa to Gandhi Sagar will be finalised after the monsoons. While the government has said that the Gandhi Sagar wildlife sanctuary is a perfect home for the cheetahs, there are concerns about prey density, space, and adaptability. What preparations have been made to make Gandhi Sagar a suitable home for the African cheetah? Are these preparations, including large-scale relocation of prey animals from elsewhere, sound from a conservation viewpoint? How will the authorities ensure that the cheetahs don’t stray into human habitations? Guest: Ravi Chellam, Bengaluru-based wildlife biologist and conservation scientist. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu Edited by Jude Francis Weston


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Why is the ad industry unhappy with MIB’s self-declaration mandate?

The Supreme Court, in May this year, directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to ensure that advertisers and ad agencies submit self-declarations for every ad they put out. In these self-declarations, the advertisers would have to certify that their ads contain no ‘misleading’ content and are in compliance with all applicable regulations. With the Ministry complying with the apex court directive, starting from June 18, no new ad campaigns can be released without this self-declaration. This mandate seems well-intentioned – the objective is to curb misleading ads and protect consumer interest. But it has not found favour with industry bodies. It is expected that for the next three weeks, there might even be a slowdown in the launch of new ads. So, what exactly triggered this new mandate? Why is the ad industry unhappy about it? And if this is not the best way to protect consumers from fake claims, what are the alternatives that India could explore? Guest: Gowree Gokhale, lawyer with Nishith Desai and Associates, who specialises in Technology, Advertising, Media and Entertainment, and Data Protection law. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu Edited by Jude Francis Weston