The World Today for January 11, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

All My Rowdy Friends

In December, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in elections for the legislative assembly in his home state of Gujarat. But the rhetoric he employed raised concerns about his waning popularity and the fast-decaying standards of Indian politics.

“Money power” and “muscle power” – big spenders and criminal thugs – are now arguably the most important factors determining elections, Navin B. Chawla, a former chief election commissioner, wrote in the Hindustan Times.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 99 seats, compared with 77 for the opposition Congress Party, in the Gujarat elections, while the BJP won 44 out of 68 seats in a parallel election in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

But the outcome did not always look certain. The BJP’s 99 seats in Gujarat represented its lowest tally there since 1995, India’s Mint newspaper noted. And at one point, it looked as though Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi – the descendant of former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi – might finally escape the “Al Gore effect” that has dogged his political career.

To some, that’s where the trouble started. The prime minister went into full-fledged campaign mode, putting aside his role as head of state to rally his party, critics say.

Playing on tensions related to caste and creed, he accused a senior Congress pol of using a casteist slur by referring to him as “neech,” or “low,” the Hindustan Times reported. And he capitalized on another misstep to accuse Congress of promoting a political dynasty like that of the 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb – a habitual touchstone for Muslim-bashing.

But what raised eyebrows was a speech accusing former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of holding a secret meeting with Pakistani officials to rig the polls – a bold break from the traditional respect granted to holders of the country’s highest office.

“Modi’s Congress-Pakistan-Muslim rhetoric may win him votes but it undermines his office – and poisons India’s politics,” the Indian Express opined. And the bar could dip even lower this year in eight more state elections leading up to national parliamentary polls in 2019, the paper’s Ravish Tiwari pointed out.

India’s politicians are going low amid a seeming effort to take the high road. Following a Supreme Court directive, the central government recently announced plans to set up 12 special fast-track courts to try more than 1,500 politicians facing criminal cases. The idea is to swiftly determine whether members of parliament and state legislative assemblies who face criminal charges – who make up more than a third of the total – should be removed from office.

But the proceedings could have unexpected effects. For instance, a regular court delivered a surprise verdict last month that eroded one of Modi’s least offensive messages: the fight against corruption.

The case involved former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja – a millstone around the neck of the Congress Party since his arrest in India’s biggest – ever graft case in 2011. On Dec. 21, a court in New Delhi acquitted Raja and 18 others in what the political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay characterized as “a very awkward moment for Prime Minister Modi,” Bloomberg reported.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Ready to Talk

After South Korea’s president credited him for helping jumpstart peace talks with the North, US President Donald Trump said he, too, is open to talks with Pyongyang “under the right circumstances.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in this week said Trump made a “huge” contribution to bringing the North and South together, then discussed future steps with the US president in a telephone conversation on Wednesday, CNN reported.

“The two leaders underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Meanwhile, Washington is mulling a so-called “bloody nose strategy” that would involve a limited military strike on North Korea calibrated to damage the regime without igniting an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. But few at the Pentagon are keen on the risky plan, reported the Washington Examiner.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly believes diplomatic pressure on China and others can stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program by starving it of vital raw materials.

TUNISIA

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Tunisia’s economic woes sparked protests and clashes with police across more than 20 towns in the fledgling democracy after the government hiked prices of staple goods and introduced new taxes to try to rein in the deficit.

The demonstrations have grown over three days, Reuters reported. On Tuesday, protesters attacked police stations and government buildings and burned cars. Demonstrators also threw Molotov cocktails at a Jewish school on the southern tourist island of Djerba. About 50 policemen were wounded and 237 people have been arrested.

Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisia has seen nine democratic governments come and go – as nobody has been able to solve the country’s economic woes.

In exchange for financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tunisia agreed to slash spending. But cutting subsidies and hiking taxes is difficult due to youth unemployment of more than 25 percent and rising inflation, Bloomberg reported.

LATIN AMERICA

The Marrying Kind

A human rights court established by the Organization of American States (OAS) has ruled that Latin American and Caribbean signatories to its convention on human rights must legalize same-sex marriage.

The rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights apply to countries that have signed the American Convention on Human Rights, such as Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru – which at present do not recognize either same-sex marriage or same-sex civil unions, the BBC reported. A response to a case brought by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis two years ago, the decision applies to 20 countries in all, noted the Advocate.

The ruling comes as various countries across the strongly Catholic region, such as Chile and Ecuador, have changed or are debating changing laws governing same-sex unions. The court recommended that nations that do not yet have marriage equality enact it by decree while working out legislative changes, the Advocate said.

DISCOVERIES

Learning to Fall

“Learning to fall” is taking on a literal meaning in the Netherlands, where 18.5 percent of the population is now 65 or older.

In 2016, almost 4,000 Dutch seniors died as a result of a fall, a 38-percent increase from 2014, the New York Times reported.

“My main problem is I’m very afraid of falling,” said 85-year-old Hans Kuhn, who lives alone in her two-story house near Amsterdam.

To ease her fears, Kuhn has enrolled in a class for seniors that teaches them how to fall properly.

Virtually unheard of a decade ago, the courses have become so common throughout the country that they’re now government rated and partially covered by health insurance.

Monitored by trained physiotherapists, students spend weeks traversing obstacles and doing exercises to build strength and balance until they’re confident enough to practice falling on foam mats.

The courses also provide comic relief and a social setting for elderly students otherwise isolated in their homes, said Saskia Kloet, a program manager at VeiligeheidNL, an institution that offers falling courses.

“Naturally, they are not interested in courses on falling at first,” she said. “But once they see that they can do it, then it’s fun.”

Click here to see the seniors in action.

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