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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Wednesday 26th of February 2020

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Macro Thoughts

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Economists War-Game Pandemic Threat to Global Growth @economics

The worrying prospect that the coronavirus outbreak could become the
first truly disruptive pandemic of the globalization era is renewing
doubts over the stability of the world economy.
With the death toll approaching 3,000, over 80,000 cases officially
recorded and an outbreak in Italy now shutting down the richest chunk
of its economy, some economists are beginning to war game what an
untethered outbreak could mean for global growth.
Oxford Economics Ltd. reckons an international health crisis could be
enough to wipe more than $1 trillion from global gross domestic
That would be the economic price tag for a spike in workplace
absenteeism, lower productivity, sliding travel, disrupted supply
chains and reduced trade and investment.
While the International Monetary Fund currently reckons the virus will
only force it to knock 0.1 percentage point off its 3.3% global growth
forecast for 2020, IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said in a Yahoo
Finance interview that a pandemic declaration would risk “really
downside, dire scenarios.”
The head of the World Health Organization called the new cases “deeply
concerning,” but said the outbreak isn’t yet a pandemic.
Still, the protracted shutdown of Chinese factories that were supposed
to be back online and the spread of the virus to South Korea, Iran and
Italy’s northern industrial heartland raise the specter of much
greater death and disruption.
The virus risks tipping Italy into a recession that could hurt the
rest of Europe too.
South Korea’s economy is being buffeted, with consumer confidence
plunging the most in five years.
UBS Group AG Chairman Axel Weber is already far more pessimistic than
the IMF and warned global growth will experience a massive drop from
3.5% to 0.5% and China will shrink in the first quarter.
“The much larger downside risk is that this continues to be a
problem,” the former Bundesbank president told Bloomberg Television in
Riyadh, where Group of 20 finance chiefs hinted at collective worries
at the dangers of the virus.
How to assess the risk is complicated by doubt over how far the
coronavirus will travel.
In an analysis that predates the current outbreak, the World Bank
reckons a destructive pandemic could result in millions of deaths, and
points to how even conservative estimates suggest such an experience
might destroy as much as 1% of global GDP.
A disastrous health crisis akin to the 1918 Spanish flu, which may
have killed as many as 50 million people, could cost 5% of global GDP,
the Washington-based lender said in a 2015 report.
A March 2016 paper co-authored by former U.S. Treasury Secretary
Lawrence Summers likened the annual financial impact of a pandemic flu
to the long-term yearly cost of global warming.
It calculated that if pandemic deaths were to exceed 700,000 per year,
the combined cost to the world economy of premature lives lost and
illness, along with lost income, would total 0.7% of global income.
Oxford Economics’s tally of the impact from a global pandemic stemming
from the current outbreak suggests a cost of $1.1 trillion to global
GDP, with both the U.S. and euro zone economies suffering recessions
in the first half of 2020.
It describes such a scenario as a “short but very sharp shock on the
world economy.”
Aside from containment of the disease, one mitigating factor -- and a
major unknown for economists modeling the outcome -- will be the
actions of central banks and governments to cushion the effects.
“When we entered the year we certainly didn’t think that central banks
would be as eager to cut interest rates and to become even more
supportive,” said Credit Suisse Group AG’s Nannette
“Now, the answer is going to be quite dependent on how the coronavirus
spreading is going to continue.”
Yet for Drew Matus, chief market strategist at MetLife Investment
Management, monetary policy alone would probably be insufficient.
''My guess would be you actually can’t solve it with interest rates,”
he told Bloomberg Television.
“People are worried about their families, worried about their health
-- 25 basis points doesn’t do it, in terms of encouraging people to go
out there and spend.”

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I know, I know, I sound alarmist, but literally no one can price the tail risk on this virus event. It is a true Black Swan @RaoulGMI

I know, I know, I sound alarmist, but literally no one can price the
tail risk on this virus event. It is a true Black Swan. Maybe it is
seasonal and we are ok, maybe it isn't. It could shut down Europe.
Maybe it doesn't. The markets will not be able to deal with this

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I am reading The Years with Laura Diaz Carlos Fuentes

His new novel paints a sweeping portrait of Mexico’s past century as
seen through the life of Laura Diaz, a wife and mother who by chance
and acts of will becomes a committed artist. Boldly written and
robustly readable, it stands as Fuentes’ highest achievement yet, one
that should rekindle his appeal to female readers.
The novel opens in 1999, when a Mexican man visits Detroit to
photograph the famous mural Henry Ford commissioned from Diego Rivera.
Amid the painting’s swirl of faces and images, he fixates upon the
mysterious visage of a woman who turns out to be Laura Diaz, his
great-grandmother and a friend and muse to the communist artist.
The story of Laura’s life unfolds, from her modest, provincial
upbringing in the Veracruz home of a Mexican banker and his German
mail-order bride, to her early married years in Mexico City.
Stubborn, bright yet unsure of her true destiny, Laura embarks on a
series of picaresque adventures. She marries a union leader because
she is overwhelmed by his public figure; later she discovers that his
strong exterior hides a coward’s heart.
After several years of domestic boredom during which she bears two
children, Laura “drops her rings” and flees into cafe society. She
romances beautiful men, watches Garbo and Gable movies, and befriends
Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo. She learns how to think
without boundaries and begins to wonder if she is an artist.

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The Passage into the Tomb Chamber c1637 Jahangir's Tomb, Lahore @DalrympleWill

This was Shah Jahan's contribution to Nur Jahan's memorial project for
her husband. It overlaps with the beginning of the Taj & is the
richest part of what is otherwise, by Mughal standards, an economy

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it certainly feels like a decade of "semiotic arousal" when everything, it seemed, was a sign, a harbinger of some future radical disjuncture or cataclysmic upheaval.



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14th century brass heads from an ile-ife royal burial lesser known court figures under King Obalufon Alayemore's reign in the 13th century @rhaplord

-Museum of Antiquities and Contemporary African Art, nigeria
these are likely depicting lesser known court figures under King
Obalufon Alayemore's reign in the 13th century -a key patron of ife

Political Reflections

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Blood and Soil in @narendramodi's India @NewYorker A
Law & Politics

 The police and soldiers were using small-gauge shotguns—called pellet
guns by the locals—and some of the victims had been blinded. “Go to
the ophthalmology ward,” the doctor said.

Among the lower-caste recruits was an eight-year-old named Narendra
Modi, from Vadnagar, a town in the state of Gujarat. Modi belonged to
the low-ranking Ghanchi caste, whose members traditionally sell
vegetable oil; Modi’s father ran a small tea shop near the train
station, where his young son helped. When Modi was thirteen, his
parents arranged for him to marry a local girl, but they cohabited
only briefly, and he did not publicly acknowledge the relationship for
many years. Modi soon left the marriage entirely and dedicated himself
to the R.S.S. As a pracharak—the group’s term for its young, chaste
foot soldiers—Modi started by cleaning the living quarters of senior
members, but he rose quickly. In 1987, he moved to the R.S.S.’s
political branch, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. When Modi
joined, the Party had only two seats in parliament. It needed an issue
to attract sympathizers, and it found one in an obscure religious
dispute. In the northern city of Ayodhya was a mosque, called Babri
Masjid, built by the Mughal emperor Babur in 1528. After independence,
locals placed Hindu idols inside the mosque and became convinced that
it had been built on the former site of a Hindu temple. A legend grew
that the god Ram—an avatar of Vishnu, often depicted with blue
skin—had been born there. In September, 1990, a senior B.J.P. member
named L. K. Advani began calling for Babri Masjid to be destroyed and
for a Hindu temple to take its place. To build support for the idea,
he undertook a two-month pilgrimage, called the Ram Rath Yatra, across
the Indian heartland. Travelling aboard a Nissan jeep refitted to look
like a chariot, he sometimes gave several speeches a day, inflaming
crowds about what he saw as the government’s favoritism toward
Muslims; sectarian riots followed in his wake, leaving hundreds dead.
Advani was arrested before he reached Ayodhya, but other B.J.P.
members carried on, gathering supporters and donations along the way.
On December 6, 1992, a crowd led by R.S.S. partisans swarmed Babri
Masjid and, using axes and hammers, began tearing the building down.
By nightfall, it had been completely razed. The destruction of the
mosque incited Hindu-Muslim riots across the country, with the biggest
and bloodiest of them in Mumbai. At first, Ayyub’s family felt safe;
they were surrounded by friends. But, after several days of mayhem, a
Sikh friend, whom the family called Uncle Bagga, came to tell Waquif
that a group of neighborhood men were coming for his daughters. Waquif
was frightened; Rana, who was then nine years old, had been stricken
by polio and, though she was largely recovered, the illness had
weakened the left side of her body. That night, she and her older
sister Iffat fled with Bagga. They stayed with some relatives of his
for three months, before the family reunited in Deonar, a Muslim
ghetto a few miles away. “I felt helpless,” Rana told me. “We were
like toys, moved from one place to another by someone else.” Deonar is
an impoverished neighborhood of fetid sewers and tin shacks. The
Ayyubs, accustomed to a middle-class existence, found their lives
transformed. “We were living in a very small place, very dirty, on a
very crowded and dirty street,” Rana said. Mumbai had been
transformed, too. When she enrolled in a predominantly Hindu school
nearby, her classmates called her landya, an anti-Muslim slur. “That
is the first time I ever really thought about my identity,” she said.
“Our entire neighborhood—our friends—were going to kill us.”

For the R.S.S., the initiative in Ayodhya paid off spectacularly.
Membership soared, and by 1996 the B.J.P. had become the largest party
in parliament. During the dispute over Babri Masjid, Ashis Nandy, a
prominent Indian intellectual, began a series of interviews with
R.S.S. members. A trained psychologist, he wanted to study the
mentality of the rising Hindu nationalists. One of those he met was
Narendra Modi, who was then a little-known B.J.P. functionary. Nandy
interviewed Modi for several hours, and came away shaken. His subject,
Nandy told me, exhibited all the traits of an authoritarian
personality: puritanical rigidity, a constricted emotional life, fear
of his own passions, and an enormous ego that protected a gnawing
insecurity. During the interview, Modi elaborated a fantastical theory
of how India was the target of a global conspiracy, in which every
Muslim in the country was likely complicit. “Modi was a fascist in
every sense,” Nandy said. “I don’t mean this as a term of abuse. It’s
a diagnostic category.” On February 27, 2002, a passenger train
stopped in Godhra, a city in Gujarat. It was coming from Ayodhya,
where many of the passengers had gone to visit the site where Babri
Masjid was destroyed, ten years earlier, and to advocate for building
a temple there. Most of them belonged to the religious wing of the
R.S.S., called the V.H.P. While the train sat at the station, Hindu
travellers and Muslims on the platform began to heckle one another. As
the train pulled away, it stalled, and the taunting escalated. At some
point, someone—possibly a Muslim vender with a stove—threw something
on fire into one of the cars. The flame spread, and the passengers
were trapped inside; when the door was finally pushed open, the rush
of oxygen sparked a fireball. Some fifty-eight people suffocated or
burned to death. As word of the disaster spread, the state government
allowed members of the V.H.P. to parade the burned corpses through
Ahmedabad, the state’s largest city. Hindus, enraged by the display,
began rampaging and attacking Muslims across the state. Mobs of Hindus
prowled the streets, yelling, “Take revenge and slaughter the
Muslims!” According to eyewitnesses, rioters cut open the bellies of
pregnant women and killed their babies; others gang-raped women and
girls. In at least one instance, a Muslim boy was forced to drink
kerosene and swallow a lighted match. Ehsan Jafri, an elderly Congress
Party politician, was paraded naked and then dismembered and burned.
The most sinister aspect of the riots was that they appeared to have
been largely planned and directed by the R.S.S. Teams of men, armed
with clubs, guns, and swords, fanned out across the state’s Muslim
enclaves, often carrying voter rolls and other official documents that
led them to Muslim homes and shops. The Chief Minister of the Gujarati
government was Narendra Modi, who had been appointed to the position
five months before. As the riots accelerated, Modi became invisible;
he summoned the Indian Army but held the soldiers in their barracks as
the violence spun out of control. In many areas of Gujarat, the police
not only stood by but, according to numerous human-rights groups, even
took part. When the riots began, Rahul Sharma was the senior police
officer in charge of Bhavnagar, a district with a Muslim population of
more than seventy thousand. In sworn testimony, Sharma later said that
he received no direction from his superiors about how to control the
riots. On the fourth day, a crowd of thousands gathered around the
Akwada Madrassa, a Muslim school, which had about four hundred
children inside. The vigilantes were brandishing swords and torches.
“They were acting in an organized way,” Sharma said. “They were going
to kill the children.” Sharma ordered his men to use lethal force to
prevent an attack; when warning shots had no effect, they fired,
killing two men and injuring several more. The crowd scattered, and
Sharma escorted the children to safety. In nearly every other
district, though, the violence carried on unchecked. Sharma, instead
of being celebrated as a hero, was transferred out of the district to
a make-work desk job. L. K. Advani—the advocate of destroying the
mosque in Ayodhya, who had risen to be India’s Home Minister—called
Sharma and suggested that he had let too many Hindus die. The riots
dragged on for nearly three months; when they were over, as many as
two thousand people were dead and nearly a hundred and fifty thousand
had been driven from their homes. The ethnic geography of Gujarat was
transformed, with most of its Muslims crowded into slums. One slum
formed inside the Ahmedabad dump, a vast landscape of trash and sewage
that towered hundreds of feet in the air. (That ghetto, dubbed
Citizens’ Village by its inhabitants, is still home to a thousand
people, who live in shacks and breathe the noxious air; when the
monsoons come, filth from the dump floods the streets and shanties.)
As the riots festered, Ayyub, who was then nineteen, decided to help.
After telling her mother that she was going trekking with a friend in
the Himalayas, she put herself on a train to the Gujarati city of
Vadodara. Because the unrest was still flaring, she disguised herself
with a bright-red bindi—the dot of paint that Hindu women wear on
their forehead. She spent three weeks in relief camps, helping rape
victims file police reports. The camps were surrounded by open-pit
latrines, and the smell of sewage was overpowering; children lay
around with flies on them. At times, mobs armed with swords and
Molotov cocktails came looking for Muslims. During one incursion,
Ayyub hid in a house and peered out as a crowd of some sixty men
jostled outside. “I was palpitating,” she said. “Gujarat made me
realize that what happened in Mumbai was not an aberration.” After the
riots, Modi’s government did almost nothing to provide for the tens of
thousands of Muslims forced from their homes; aid was supplied almost
entirely by volunteers. Asked about this, Modi said, “Relief camps are
actually child-making factories. Those who keep on multiplying the
population should be taught a lesson.” Although some Hindu rioters
were arrested, just a few dozen were ultimately convicted. Mayaben
Kodnani, a B.J.P. minister, was the only official to be punished
significantly; she was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and
conspiracy. When Modi’s government later came to power in Delhi, she
was cleared of all charges. In the following months, there were
indications of substantial government complicity. According to
independent investigations, the Hindu mobs had moved decisively,
following leaders who appeared to have received explicit instructions.
“These instructions were blatantly disseminated by the government, and
in most cases, barring a few sterling exceptions, methodically carried
out by the police and Indian Administrative Service,” concluded a
citizen-led inquiry that included former Supreme Court justices and a
former senior police official. During the violence, a senior federal
official named Harsh Mander travelled to Gujarat and was stunned by
the official negligence. Seeing that many of his colleagues were
colluding in the bloodbath, he retired early from his job to work in
the makeshift camps where Muslim refugees were gathering. He has
dedicated much of the rest of his life to reminding the public what
happened and who was responsible. “No sectarian riot ever happens in
India unless the government wants it to,” Mander told me. “This was a
state-sponsored massacre.” A few officials claimed that the decision
to encourage the riots came from Modi himself. Haren Pandya, a Modi
rival and Cabinet minister, gave sworn testimony about the riots, and
also spoke to the newsweekly Outlook. He said that, on the night the
unrest began, he had attended a meeting at Modi’s bungalow, at which
Modi ordered senior police officials to allow “people to vent their
frustration and not come in the way of the Hindu backlash.” A police
official named Sanjiv Bhatt recalled that, at another meeting that
night, Modi had expressed his hope that “the Muslims be taught a
lesson to ensure that such incidents do not recur.” But there was not
much political will to pursue the evidence against Modi, and his
accusers did not stay in the public eye for long. After Bhatt made his
accusation, he was charged in the death of a suspect in police
custody—a case that had sat dormant for more than two decades—and
sentenced to life in prison. In 2003, the Cabinet minister Haren
Pandya was found dead in his car in Ahmedabad. His wife left little
doubt about who she believed was behind it. “My husband’s
assassination was a political murder,” she said.

For Modi, the riots had a remarkable effect. The U.S. and the United
Kingdom banned him for nearly a decade, and he was shunned by senior
leaders of his party. (In 2004, the B.J.P. Prime Minister, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, was voted out. He blamed Modi for the loss.) In Gujarat,
though, his prestige grew. Rather than seeking reconciliation, Modi
led a defiant Hindu-pride march across the state, which was met with
an outpouring of support. Modi often spoke in barely coded language
that signalled to his followers that he shared their bigotry. In one
speech, during the march, he suggested that the state’s Muslims were a
hindrance to be overcome. “If we raise the self-respect and morale of
fifty million Gujaratis,” he said, “the schemes of Alis, Malis, and
Jamalis will not be able to do us any harm.” The crowd let out a
cheer. That December, after a campaign in which he made several
incendiary anti-Muslim speeches, he led the B.J.P. to a huge electoral
victory in Gujarat. Elsewhere in India, the B.J.P.’s fortunes were
sinking; as a result, Modi’s hard-line faction was able to seize the
Party leadership. He also began to build a national reputation as a
pro-business leader who presided over rapid economic development. “The
B.J.P. was a dead party,” Ayyub told me. “The only chance they had to
power was Modi, because he had all these followers—all these big
businessmen—and so the riots were all forgotten.” Eventually, a
Supreme Court investigative team declared that there was not enough
evidence to charge Modi in the riots—a finding that human-rights
groups dismissed as politically motivated. A few persistent advocates
tried to keep the issue alive.

In 2007, when Modi appeared on the Indian network CNN-IBN, the
journalist Karan Thapar asked him, “Why can’t you say that you regret
the killings?”
“What I have to say I have said at that time,” Modi replied, his face
hardening. As Thapar kept pressing, Modi grew agitated. “I have to
rest,” he said. “I need some water.” Then he removed his microphone
and walked away.
In 2013, when another reporter asked if he felt sorry about the deaths
of so many Muslims, he suggested that he had been a helpless
bystander. “If someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting
behind—even then, if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be
painful?” Modi said. “Of course it is.”

To many observers, Modi’s success stemmed from his willingness to play
on profound resentments, which for decades had been considered
offensive to voice in polite society. Even though India’s Muslims were
typically poorer than their fellow-citizens, many Hindus felt that
they had been unjustly favored by the central government. In private,
Hindus sniped that the Muslims had too many children and that they
supported terrorism. The Gandhi-Nehru experiment had made Muslims feel
unusually secure in India, and partly as a result there has been very
little radicalization, outside Kashmir; still, many Hindus considered
them a constant threat. “Modi became a hero for all the Hindus of
India,” Nirjhari Sinha, a scientist in Gujarat who investigated the
riots, told me. “That is what people tell me, at parties, at dinners.
People genuinely feel that Muslims are terrorists—and it is because of
Modi that Muslims are finally under control.” In 1993, Ayyub’s father
wrote a book about the riots in Mumbai. He titled it “I Am Alive”—his
habitual response to friends who wrote to him during the unrest to see
how he was. When Rana Ayyub began considering a career in journalism,
she showed some of the same pugnacious self-assertion. “In my
childhood, everybody said, ‘She’s a weak child,’ ” she told me. “It’s
like you have to prove a point to everybody that, no, I’m not a weak
child.” At first, she wanted to effect change by joining the civil
service. But, she said, “people told me, ‘There’s no way you will be
able to do anything as a police officer, because you still have to be
answerable to cops and corrupt politicians.’ ” After graduating from
Sophia College in Mumbai with a degree in English literature, Ayyub
bounced around from Web sites to a television station before landing
at a magazine called Tehelka. Published in English, Tehelka had a
small circulation but an outsized reputation for tough investigations.
Ayyub took to the work, producing pieces on killings by the police and
a smuggling racket run by officials in Mumbai. “I was trying to help
people,” she told me. “I was trying to figure out what was happening,
and it made me feel better about myself.”

In 2010, in a series of cover stories for Tehelka, Ayyub tied Modi’s
closest adviser, Amit Shah, to a sensational crime. The scion of a
high-caste family, Shah had trained as a biochemist but excelled as a
political tactician. A onetime president of the Gujarat Chess
Association, he had twice helped engineer Modi’s election as the top
official in Gujarat; afterward, he was made the Minister of State for
Home Affairs. Ayyub was investigating a case that had begun five years
before, when police in Gujarat announced that they had fatally shot a
suspected terrorist dispatched by Pakistan to assassinate Modi. In
political and journalistic circles, the announcement inspired
skepticism; rumors had been circulating that the police killed
criminals and then pretended that they were Muslim assassins,
heroically thwarted just before they could get to Modi. Wised-up
Indians derided the police claims as “fake encounters,” but, among
Gujaratis who were alarmed by the riots, they helped boost Modi’s
reputation as a defender of Hindus. It turned out that the alleged
assassin, a local extortionist named Sohrabuddin Sheikh, had no
history of Islamist militancy. Before long, federal investigators
established that he had been murdered by the police. There were
witnesses, including Sheikh’s wife and a criminal associate of his.
But, a couple of days after the killing, his wife was murdered and her
body burned; the associate was killed in police custody a year later.
Ayyub didn’t believe that the ultimate responsibility lay with the
police. “I never looked at the arrests that were made, the people who
shoot,” she told me. “I looked for the kingpins.” One source, a police
officer, suggested that Amit Shah had been involved. Ayyub first met
the officer at a secluded house in the countryside. “He could see that
my hands were shaking,” she told me. “He said, ‘If you’re going to do
this story, then you have to stop shaking.’ ” The next time they
met—in a graveyard, at 3 a.m., with Ayyub disguised in a burqa—he gave
her a CD, hidden in a bouquet of flowers. It contained six years of
Shah’s telephone records, including the times and locations of his
calls. Using the records, Ayyub showed that Shah and the three
officers suspected of murdering Sheikh’s associate had been in
extensive contact, before and after the killing. Her reporting also
offered an explanation of Shah’s motive: a police official told her
that the murdered criminals “knew something that could have been
damning for the minister.” Ayyub was not the first journalist to
expose official misconduct in the case, but the evidence around Shah
was explosive. Federal agents asked her for a copy of Shah’s phone
records, and she obliged. Within weeks, Shah was arrested on charges
of murder and extortion; he had allegedly been involved in the same
illicit business as Sheikh. (A spokesman for Shah denied his
complicity, saying, “Shah was implicated in the said criminal offence
purely on political considerations.”) Federal police eventually
charged thirty-eight other people, including Gujarat’s top police
official, the former Home Minister for the state of Rajasthan, and
more than twenty officers suspected of being involved in the murders.
The morning of Shah’s arrest, Ayyub awoke to find that her reporting
was the top of the news. A popular television anchor read the entirety
of one of her pieces on the air. “I was just a twenty-six-year-old
Muslim girl,” she said. “I felt people would finally see what I can
do.” Her stories, along with others, set off a series of official
investigations into the Gujarati police, who were suspected of killing
more than twenty people in “fake encounters.” But, she thought, even
Shah was not the ultimate kingpin. Her source had told her that the
police were under intense pressure to stall the investigation and to
hide records from federal investigators—suggesting that someone
powerful was trying to squelch the case. The headline of one of her
stories was “so why is narendra modi protecting amit shah?” Despite
the evidence piling up around Modi, he only grew stronger.
Increasingly, he was mentioned as a candidate for national office. In
2007, while running for reëlection as Chief Minister, Modi taunted
members of the Congress Party to come after him. “Congress people say
that Modi is indulging in ‘encounters’—saying that Modi killed
Sohrabuddin,” he told a crowd of supporters. “You tell me—what should
I do with Sohrabuddin?” he asked.
“Kill him!” the crowd roared. “Kill him!”

Within a few weeks of Shah’s arrest, Ayyub hit on an idea for a new
article: “If I can go after Shah, why not Modi?” She told her editors
at Tehelka that she suspected Modi of far graver crimes than
previously reported. If she went undercover, she argued, she could
insinuate herself into his inner circle and learn the truth. In the
United States, it is a cardinal rule of journalism that reporters
shouldn’t lie about their identity; undercover operations tend to be
confined to the industry’s yellower margins. In India, the practice is
more common, if still controversial. In 2000, Tehelka sent a former
cricket player, wearing a hidden camera, to expose widespread
match-fixing and bribery in the sport. Later that year, two reporters
posing as representatives of a fake company offered to sell infrared
cameras to the Ministry of Defense. Thirty-six officials agreed to
take bribes; the Minister of Defense resigned.
Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka’s editor, told me that he authorized stings only
when there appeared to be no other way to get the story. In this case,
he said, “Modi and Shah were untouchable. The truth would never come
out.” He told Ayyub to go forward. As she began reporting, Ayyub
created an elaborate disguise, designed to appeal to the vanities of
Gujarat’s political establishment. “Indians have a weakness for being
recognized in America,” she said. “The idea that they would be famous
in the United States—it was irresistible to them.” She became Maithili
Tyagi, an Indian-American student at the American Film Institute
Conservatory in Los Angeles, visiting India to make a documentary. She
invented a story about her family, saying that her father was a
professor of Sanskrit and a devotee of Hindu-nationalist ideas. Ayyub,
who has distinctive curly hair, straightened it and tucked it into a
bun. She rehearsed an American accent, and, for added verisimilitude,
hired a French assistant, whom she called Mike. Only her parents knew
what she was doing; she stayed in touch on a separate phone. In the
fall of 2010, Ayyub rented a tiny room in Ahmedabad. For eight months,
she flattered her way into the local élite, claiming that her film
would focus on Gujaratis who were prospering under Modi’s tenure.
“Modi’s biggest support comes from Gujarati-Americans,” she told me.
“I said, I want to meet the most influential people who can tell me
the Gujarat story—who will tell me the secret sauce of what Mr. Modi
has done in the past fifteen years.” At first, Ayyub and Mike appeared
only at apolitical social events, to get locals used to seeing them
around. As she moved in closer, she began wearing hidden cameras and
microphones—in her watch, in her kurta, in her phone. (When she bought
the minicams, at a Spy Shop in New Delhi, she told the salesman that
she was trying to catch an adulterous husband.) Ayyub was welcomed
nearly everywhere. She made revealing recordings of senior Gujarati
officials, some of whom directly accused Modi and Shah of wrongdoing.
Even Modi agreed to see her for a brief chat in his office, where his
staff offered her biographies of him to read. Modi showed her copies
of Barack Obama’s books. “He said, ‘Maithili, look at this. I want to
be like him someday,’ ” she recalled. She was struck by his canniness.
“I thought Modi was either going to be Prime Minister or he was going
to jail.” Ayyub took her findings back to her editors. But, after
reviewing transcripts, Tejpal decided against publishing a story. The
conversations were mostly of officials implicating others—often Modi
and Shah. Tejpal told me that he needed people admitting their own
crimes. “The fundamental ethics of the sting is that a sting is no
good if a person doesn’t indict oneself,” he said. “If you come to me
and say, ‘I had a conversation with someone, and he told me that Tom,
Dick, and Harry are fuckers, and he knows that Tom is taking money
from So-and-So, and Harry really fucked So-and-So,’ it means nothing.
That’s just cheap gossip.” Ayyub was convinced that Tejpal had
succumbed to pressure from the B.J.P. “He caved in,” she told me. “I
was inside Modi’s and Shah’s inner circle, as close as you could get.”
(Tejpal denied this, and other editors spoke in support of him.)
Determined to get her story out, Ayyub wrote a draft of a book and
shopped it to English-language newspapers, magazines, and publishing
houses. All rejected her pitch. Some said that the book was too
partisan; most argued that her methods could expose them to lawsuits.
Several editors told me privately that they thought Ayyub’s work was
revelatory—but that it was impossible to publish. “We wanted to
excerpt the book on the cover of our magazine, but word got around,
and phone calls started coming in,” Krishna Prasad, who was then the
editor of Outlook, told me. “We simply couldn’t do it.”

By 2012, Modi had become the most recognizable B.J.P. leader in India,
and seemed likely to run for Prime Minister. “Everyone saw the writing
on the wall,” Ayyub said. “Modi was going to win, and no one wanted to
alienate him.” Ayyub kept trying to find a publisher, but nothing came
through. She told me that she fell into a profound funk, relying on
antidepressants for the next four years. In 2013, Tejpal, her editor
at Tehelka, was accused of sexual assault and spent seven months in
prison before being released on bail. (He maintains his innocence, and
the case is ongoing.) The magazine all but collapsed. “I thought that
was the end,” she said. As Modi began his run for Prime Minister, in
the fall of 2013, he sold himself not as a crusading nationalist but
as a master manager, the visionary who had presided over an economic
boom in Gujarat. His campaign’s slogan was “The good days are coming.”
A close look at the data showed that Gujarat’s economy had grown no
faster under his administration than under previous ones—the
accelerated growth was “a fantastically crafted fiction,” according to
Prasad, the former editor. Even so, many of India’s largest businesses
flooded his campaign with contributions. Modi was helped by an
overwhelming public perception that the Congress Party, which had been
in power for most of the past half century, had grown arrogant and
corrupt. Its complacency was personified by the Gandhi family, whose
members dominated the Party but appeared diffident and out of touch.
Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Party (and Nehru’s great-grandson), was
dubbed the “reluctant prince” by the Indian media. By contrast, Modi
and his team were disciplined, focussed, and responsive. “The Gandhis
would keep chief ministers, who had travelled across the country to
see them, waiting for days—they didn’t care,” an Indian political
commentator who has met the Gandhis as well as Modi told me. “With
Modi’s people, you got right in.” While the Congress leaders often
behaved as if they were entitled to rule, the B.J.P.’s leaders
presented themselves as ascetic, committed, and incorruptible. Modi,
who is said to do several hours of yoga every day, typically wore
simple kurtas, and members of his immediate family worked in modest
jobs and were conspicuously absent from senior government positions;
whatever other allegations floated around him, he could not be accused
of material greed. The B.J.P. won a plurality of the popular vote,
placing Modi at the head of a governing coalition. As Prime Minister,
he surprised many Indians by challenging people to confront problems
that had gone unaddressed. One was public defecation, a major cause of
disease throughout India. At an early speech in Delhi, he announced a
nationwide program to build public toilets in every school—a prosaic
improvement that gratified many Indians, even those who could afford
indoor plumbing. Modi also addressed a series of widely publicized
gang rapes by speaking in bracingly modern terms. “Parents ask their
daughters hundreds of questions,” he said. “But have any dared to ask
their sons where they are going?” The address set the tone for Modi’s
premiership, or at least for part of it. As a young pracharak, he had
taken a vow of celibacy, and he gave no public sign of breaking it.
Unburdened by family commitments, he worked constantly. People who saw
him said he exuded a vitality that seemed to compensate for his
otherwise solitary existence. “When you have that kind of power, that
kind of adoration, you don’t need romance,” the Indian political
commentator told me. In Gujarat, Modi had focussed on big-ticket
projects, wooing car manufacturers and bringing electricity to
villages; as Prime Minister, he introduced a sweeping reform of
bankruptcy laws and embarked on a multibillion-dollar campaign of road

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Modi’s effort to transform his image succeeded in the West, as well.
In the United States, newspaper columnists welcomed his emphasis on
markets and efficiency. In addition, Modi called on a vast network of
Indian-Americans, who cheered his success at putting India on the
world stage. The Obama Administration quietly dropped the visa ban.
When Modi met Obama, not long after taking office, the two visited the
memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man Modi claimed to admire.
During his stay, Modi had a dinner meeting with Obama, but he
presented White House chefs with a dilemma: he was fasting for
Navaratri, a Hindu festival. At the meeting, he consumed only water.
The Indian political commentator, who met with Modi during his first
term, told me that in person he was intense and inquisitive but not
restless; he joked about the monkeys that were marauding his garden,
and happily discussed the arcana of projects that were occupying his
attention. The main one was water: India’s groundwater reserves were
declining quickly (they’ve gone down by sixty-one per cent in the past
decade), and Modi was trying to prepare for a future in which the
country could run dry. During the meeting, he also displayed a
detailed list of nations that were in need of various
professionals—lawyers, engineers, doctors—of the very kind that India,
with its huge population of graduates, could provide. “He is smart,
extremely focussed,” the commentator said. “And, yes, a bit
puritanical.” Not long after Modi took power, the Sohrabuddin Sheikh
case, in which his old friend Amit Shah was implicated, ground to a
halt. By 2014, Shah had essentially stopped showing up for hearings.
When the judge ordered Shah to appear, the case was taken away from
him, in defiance of the Supreme Court. The new judge, Brijgopal Loya,
also complained about Shah’s failure to show up in court. He told his
family and friends that he was under “great pressure” to dismiss the
case, and that the chief justice of the Bombay High Court had offered
him sixteen million dollars to scuttle it. (The chief justice could
not be reached for comment.) Loya died not long after, in mysterious
circumstances. The coroner’s report said that he had suffered a heart
attack, but, according to The Caravan, a leading Indian news magazine,
details in the report appeared to have been falsified. The
arrangements for Loya’s body to be returned to his family were made
not by government officials but by a member of the R.S.S.; it arrived
spattered in blood. Loya’s family asked for an official investigation
into his death but has not received one. Shah’s case was given to a
third judge, M. B. Gosavi, who after less than a month dismissed all
charges, saying that he found “no sufficient ground to proceed.”
Subsequent efforts to hold anyone accountable for Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s
death came to nothing. As the trial of the remaining defendants
approached, ninety-two witnesses turned against the prosecution, with
some saying they feared for their lives; the defendants were
acquitted. Rajnish Rai, the officer tasked with investigating Shah,
was transferred off the case. When he applied for early retirement, he
was suspended. By the time the charges were dropped, Modi had
installed Shah as president of the B.J.P. and chairman of the
governing coalition—effectively making him the country’s second most
powerful man. In 2016, after four years of trying to find a publisher
for her book, Ayyub decided to publish it herself. To pay for it, she
sold the gold jewelry that her mother had been saving for her wedding.
“I wasn’t getting married anytime soon anyway,” she told me, laughing.
She found a printer willing to reproduce the manuscript without
reading it first, and cut a deal with a book distributor to share any
profits. She persuaded an artist friend to design an appropriately
ominous cover. Ayyub was protected by the fact that, as an
English-language book, it would be read only by India’s élite, too
small a group to concern the B.J.P. That May, the book went on sale on
Amazon and in bookstores around the country. She called it “Gujarat
Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.” “Gujarat Files” relates the highlights
of the discussions Ayyub had with senior officials as she tried to
figure out what happened during Modi’s and Shah’s time presiding over
the state. It is not a polished work; it reads like a pamphlet for
political insiders, rushed into publication by someone with no time to
check punctuation or spell out abbreviations or delve into the
historical background of the cases discussed. “I didn’t have the
resources to think about all that,” Ayyub told me. “I just wanted to
get the story out.” The virtue of the book is that it feels like being
present at a cocktail party of Hindu nationalists, speaking frankly
about long-suppressed secrets. “Here is the thing,” Ayyub said.
“Everybody has heard the truth—but you can’t be sure. With my book,
you can hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
Among those whom Ayyub “stung” was Ashok Narayan, who had been
Gujarat’s Home Secretary during the riots. According to Ayyub, Narayan
said that Modi had decided to allow the Hindu nationalists to parade
the bodies of the victims of the train attack. Narayan said that he
had warned Modi, “Things will go out of hand,” but to no avail. When
he resisted, Modi went around him. “Bringing the bodies to Ahmedabad
flared up the whole thing, but he is the one who took the decision,”
he said. Narayan added that the V.H.P.—the religious arm of the
R.S.S.—had made preparations for large-scale attacks on the Muslim
community and was merely looking for a pretext. “It was all planned by
the V.H.P.—it was gruesome,” Narayan said, adding that he believed
Modi was in on the plan from the beginning. “He knew everything.” G.
C. Raigar, a senior police official, told Ayyub that the initial plan
was to allow the Hindus to take limited revenge for the attack. But,
he said, the violence spread so quickly that Modi’s government could
no longer stop it: “They didn’t want to use force against the
rioters—which is why things went out of control.” Raigar, among
others, told Ayyub that the decision to allow reprisals against
Muslims was communicated outside the normal chain of command, from
officials around Modi to police officers who were thought to harbor
sectarian animosities. “They would tell it to people they had obliged
in the past,” Raigar said of the officials. “They would know who would
help them.” Some of the officials spoke of the killings in a
remarkably casual way, as if the Muslims had deserved to be murdered.
“There were riots in ’85, ’87, ’89, ’92, and most of the times the
Hindus got a beating—and the Muslims got an upper hand,” P. C. Pande,
Ahmedabad’s former police commissioner, said. “So this time, in 2002,
it had to happen, it was the retaliation of Hindus.” Pande guided
Ayyub through his rationale: “Here is a group of Muslims going and
setting fire on a train—so what will be your reaction?” “You hit them
back?” she said. “Yes, you hit them back,” Pande said. “Here is the
chance, give it back to them. . . . Why should anybody mind?”
Conversations like that, Ayyubwrote, convinced her that the riots had
happened because people in power wanted them to: “It was as if the
missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were beginning to emerge.” Several
officers also said that Shah had presided over extrajudicial
killings—including those of the alleged assassin Sohrabuddin Sheikh
and the witnesses to his murder. The conversations about Shah
strengthened Ayyub’s conviction that many more criminal suspects had
been eliminated in a similar way. “It was clear that the encounters
were only the tip of the iceberg,” she wrote. Initially, the reaction
to Ayyub’s book was muted. There was a reception in New Delhi,
attended by most of the country’s major political writers and
editors—but Ayyub couldn’t find a word about it in any paper the next
day. Newspapers were slow to review the book. But it took off on its
own, especially on Amazon, helped by Ayyub’s reputation as a
journalist. The release of a Hindi edition, in 2017, opened up a huge
potential audience. To date, Ayyub says, “Gujarat Files” has sold six
hundred thousand copies and been translated into thirteen languages.
Ayyub has been invited to speak at the United Nations and at
journalism conferences around the world. “What makes it compelling is
knowing that these are the biggest players in what happened,” Hartosh
Singh Bal, the political editor of The Caravan, told me. “They are
speaking in unguarded moments, and they are confirming and adding to
the knowledge of what we have already from every other source so far.
But never from this much on the inside. And suddenly we put a speaker
right in the heart of the room with the people who know everything.”
Perhaps the main factor that made “Gujarat Files” a sensation was the
climate in which it appeared. By 2016, two years into Modi’s first
term, he was in the midst of a campaign to crush any voice that
challenged the new order. In April, 2018, Ayyub was sitting with a
friend in a Delhi restaurant when a source alerted her to a video that
was appearing in online chat groups maintained by B.J.P. supporters.
He sent her the clip, and she pressed Play. What appeared on her
screen was a pornographic video purporting to show Ayyubengaging in
various sex acts. “I burst into tears and threw up,” she said. The
clip went viral, making its way from WhatsApp to Facebook to Twitter,
retweeted and shared countless times. Ayyub was inundated with angry
messages, often with the video attached. “Hello bitch,” a man named
Himanshu Verma wrote in a direct message on Facebook. “Plz suck my
penis too.” The video was the crudest salvo in a media campaign that
started soon after the publication of Ayyub’s book. A tweet with a
fake quote from her, asking for leniency for Muslims who had raped
children, went viral. Other falsified tweets followed, including one
in which she declared her hatred of India. In response, someone named
Vijay Singh Chauhan wrote, “Don’t ever let me see you, or we’ll tell
the whole world what we do to whores like you. Pack your bag and go to
back to Pakistan.” India’s female journalists are often subjected to
an especially ugly form of abuse. The threats that Ayyub received were
nearly identical to those sent to Gauri Lankesh, a journalist and book
publisher from the southern state of Karnataka. Like Ayyub, Lankesh
had reported aggressively on Hindu nationalism and on violence against
women and lower-caste people. She had also published Ayyub’s book in
Kannada, the predominant language in the state. “We were like
sisters,” Ayyub told me. In September, 2017, after Lankesh endured a
prolonged campaign of online attacks, two men shot her dead outside
her home and fled on a motorbike. Neha Dixit, who has done
groundbreaking reporting on the B.J.P., told me that she receives
death threats and sexual insults constantly: “Every day, I get three
hundred notifications, with dick pics, and with conversations about
how they should rape me with a steel rod or a rose thornbush or
something like that.” For Dixit and other targets of these campaigns,
it is especially galling that the abuse is apparently endorsed by
prominent Modi allies. Ayyub showed me a tweet about the porn video
from Vaibhav Aggarwal, a media personality who often speaks on behalf
of the B.J.P. It read, “U want to dance in the Rain, get all wet & not
want to then have pneumonia”—a suggestion that she deserved whatever
abuse she got. In June, the fake Ayyub quote about child rape was
retweeted by a prominent B.J.P. member named Ashoke Pandit. The quote,
which originated in English, was translated into Hindi on a Facebook
page for the so-called Army of Yogi Adityanath—admirers of the
B.J.P.’s Chief Minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Pratik Sinha, a
former software engineer and the founder of Alt News, which tracks
online disinformation, described a nimble social-media operation that
works on behalf of the B.J.P. In 2017, his group made a typical
discovery, when a pro-B.J.P. Web site called Hindutva.info released a
video of a gruesome stabbing, which was passed around on social media
as evidence that Muslims were killing Hindus in Kerala. Puneet Sharma,
an R.S.S. apparatchik whom Modi follows on Twitter, promoted the
video, saying that it should make Hindus’ “blood boil.” But, when Alt
News tracked the video to its source, it turned out to depict a gang
killing in Mexico. Sinha told me he believes that some of the most
aggressive social-media posts are instigated by an unofficial “I.T.
cell,” staffed and funded by B.J.P. loyalists. He said that people
affiliated with the B.J.P. maintain Web sites that push pro-Modi
propaganda and attack his enemies. “They are organized and quick,” he
said. “They got their act down a long time ago, in Gujarat.” As Modi
consolidated his hold on the government, he used its power to silence
mainstream outlets. In 2016, his administration began moving to crush
the television news network NDTV. Since it went on the air, in 1988,
the station has been one of the liveliest and most credible news
channels; this spring, as votes were tallied in the general election,
its Web site received 16.5 billion hits in a single day. According to
two people familiar with the situation, Modi’s administration has
pulled nearly all government advertising from the network—one of its
primary sources of revenue—and members of his Cabinet have pressured
private companies to stop buying ads. NDTV recently laid off some four
hundred employees, a quarter of its staff. The journalists who remain
say that they don’t know how long they can persist. “These are dark
times,” one told me. That year, Karan Thapar, the journalist who had
asked Modi whether he wanted to express remorse for the Gujarat riots,
found that no one from the B.J.P. would appear on his nightly show any
longer. Thapar, perhaps the country’s most prominent television
journalist, was suddenly unable to meaningfully cover politics. Then
he discovered that Modi’s Cabinet members were pushing his bosses to
take him off the air. “They make you toxic,” Thapar told me. “These
are not things that are put in writing. They’re conversations—‘We
think it’s not a good idea to have him around.’ ” (His network, India
Today, denies being influenced by “external pressures.”) In 2017, his
employers expressed reluctance to renew his contract, so he left the
network. Modi’s government has targeted enterprising editors as well.
Last year, Bobby Ghosh, the editor of the Hindustan Times, one of the
country’s most respected newspapers, ran a series tracking violence
against Muslims. Modi met privately with the Times’ owner, and the
next day Ghosh was asked to leave. In 2016, Outlook ran a disturbing
investigation by Neha Dixit, revealing that the R.S.S. had offered
schooling to dozens of disadvantaged children in the state of Assam,
and then sent them to be indoctrinated in Hindu-nationalist camps on
the other side of the country. According to a person with knowledge of
the situation, Outlook’s owners—one of India’s wealthiest families,
whose businesses depended on government approvals—came under pressure
from Modi’s administration. “They were going to ruin their empire,”
the person said. Not long after, Krishna Prasad, Outlook’s longtime
editor, resigned. Both Ayyub and Dixit said that no mainstream
publication would sponsor their work. “So many of the really good
reporters in India are freelance,” Ayyub told me. “There’s nowhere to
go.” Even news that ought to cause scandal has little effect. In June,
the Business Standard reported that Modi’s government had been
inflating G.D.P.-growth figures by a factor of nearly two. The report
prompted a public outcry, but Modi did not apologize, and no official
was forced to resign. Only a few small outfits regularly offer
aggressive coverage. The most prominent of them, The Caravan and a
news site called the Wire, employ a total of about seventy
journalists—barely enough to cover a large city, let alone a country
of more than a billion people. In 2017, after the Wire ran a story
examining questionable business dealings by Amit Shah’s son, Modi’s
ministers began pressuring donors who sustain the site to stop
providing funding. Shah’s son, who denied the allegations, also filed
a lawsuit, which has been costly to defend. Siddharth Varadarajan, the
site’s founding editor, told me that he is battling not only the
government but also the compliant media. “We reckon that people in
this country very much value their freedoms and democracy—and that
they will realize when their freedoms are being eroded,” he said. “But
a huge section of the media is busy telling them something entirely
different.” Modi’s supporters often get their news from Republic TV,
which features shouting matches, public shamings, and scathing insults
of all but the most slavish Modi partisans; next to it, Fox News
resembles the BBC’s “Newshour.” Founded in 2017 with B.J.P. support,
Republic TV stars Arnab Goswami, a floppy-haired Oxford graduate who
acts as a kind of public scourge for opponents of Modi’s initiatives.
In a typical program, from 2017, Goswami mentioned a law mandating
that movie theatres play the national anthem, and asked whether people
should be required to stand; his guest Waris Pathan, a Muslim
assemblyman, argued that it should be a matter of choice. “Why can’t
you stand up?” Goswami shouted at Pathan. Before Pathan could get out
an answer, he yelled again, “Why can’t you stand up? What’s your
problem with it?” Pathan kept trying, but Goswami, his hair flying,
shouted over him. “I’ll tell you why, because—I’ll tell you why. I’ll
tell you. I’ll tell you why. Can I tell you? Then why don’t you stop,
and I’ll tell you why? Don’t be an anti-national! Don’t be an
anti-national! Don’t be an anti-national!” The lack of journalistic
scrutiny has given Modi immense freedom to control the narrative.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the months leading up to his
reëlection, in 2019. Backed by his allies in business, Modi ran a
campaign that was said to cost some five billion dollars. (Its exact
cost is unknown, owing to weak campaign-finance laws.)

As the vote approached, though, Modi was losing momentum, hampered by
an underperforming economy. On February 14th, a suicide bomber crashed
a car laden with explosives into an Indian military convoy in Kashmir,
killing forty soldiers. The attack energized Modi: he gave a series of
bellicose speeches, insisting, “The blood of the people is boiling!”
He blamed the attack on Pakistan, India’s archrival, and sent
thousands of troops into Kashmir. The B.J.P.’s supporters launched a
social-media blitz, attacking Pakistan and hailing Modi as “a tiger.”
One viral social-media post contained a telephone recording of Modi
consoling a widow; it turned out that the recording had been made in
2013. On February 26th, Modi ordered air strikes against what he
claimed was a training camp for militants in the town of Balakot.
Sympathetic outlets described a momentous victory: they pumped out
images of a devastated landscape, and, citing official sources,
claimed that three hundred militants had been killed. But Western
reporters visiting the site found no evidence of any deaths; there
were only a handful of craters, a slightly damaged house, and some
fallen trees. Many of the pro-Modi posts turned out to be crude
fabrications. Pratik Sinha, of Alt News, pointed out that photos
claiming to depict dead Pakistani militants actually showed victims of
a heat wave; other images, ostensibly of the strikes, were cribbed
from a video game called Arma 2. But, in a country where hundreds of
millions of people are illiterate or nearly so, the big idea got
through. Modi rose in the polls and coasted to victory. The B.J.P. won
a majority in the lower house of parliament, making Modi the most
powerful Prime Minister in decades. Amit Shah, Modi’s deputy, told a
group of election workers that the Party’s social-media networks were
an unstoppable force. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” he said.
“We are capable of delivering any message we want to the
public—whether sweet or sour, true or fake. For many, Modi’s
reëlection suggested that he had uncovered a terrible secret at the
heart of Indian society: by deploying vicious sectarian rhetoric, the
country’s leader could persuade Hindus to give him nearly unchecked
power. In the following months, Modi’s government introduced a series
of extraordinary initiatives meant to solidify Hindu dominance. The
most notable of them, along with revoking the special status of
Kashmir, was a measure designed to strip citizenship from as many as
two million residents of the state of Assam, many of whom had crossed
the border from the Muslim nation of Bangladesh decades before. In
September, the government began constructing detention centers for
residents who had become illegal overnight. A feeling of despair has
settled in among many Indians who remain committed to the secular,
inclusive vision of the country’s founders. “Gandhi and Nehru were
great, historic figures, but I think they were an aberration,” Prasad,
the former Outlook editor, told me. “It’s very different now. The
institutions have crumbled—universities, investigative agencies, the
courts, the media, the administrative agencies, public services. And I
think there is no rational answer for what has happened, except that
we pretended to be what we were for fifty, sixty years. But we are now
reverting to what we always wanted to be, which is to pummel
minorities, to push them into a corner, to show them their places, to
conquer Kashmir, to ruin the media, and to make corporations servants
of the state. And all of this under a heavy resurgence of Hinduism.
India is becoming the country it has always wanted to be.”

On March 31, 2017, a Muslim dairy farmer named Pehlu Khan drove to the
city of Jaipur with several relatives, to buy a pair of cows for his
business. On the way home, a line of men blocked the road, surrounded
his truck, and accused him of planning to sell the cows for meat. Cows
are considered sacred by Hindus, and most Indian states forbid killing
them. But it is generally legal to eat beef from cows that have died
naturally, and to make leather from their hide—jobs often performed by
Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, leaving them open to false
accusations. The men pulled Khan and his relatives from the truck and
began beating them and shouting anti-Muslim epithets. “We showed them
our papers for the cow purchase, but it did not matter,” Ajmat, a
nephew, said. Khan was taken to a hospital, where he died soon
afterward. Khan’s relatives identified nine attackers. Most of them
were members of Bajrang Dal, a branch of the R.S.S. Ostensibly a youth
group, Bajrang Dal often provides muscle and security for B.J.P.
members. It has also been implicated in a rash of murders of Muslims
throughout the country. In Jaipur, I met Ashok Singh, the head of the
Rajasthan chapter of Bajrang Dal. Singh told me that he and his men
were duty-bound to defend cows from an epidemic of theft and killing.
For several minutes, he spoke about the holiness of the cow. Each
animal, he said, contains three hundred and sixty million gods, and
even its dung has elixirs beneficial to humans. “They cut them, they
kill them,” Singh said of Muslims. “It’s a conspiracy.” He admitted
that Bajrang Dal members had taken part in stopping Khan, but he
insisted that other people had committed the murder. “There was a
mob,” he said. “We didn’t have control of it.” The attackers
identified by Khan’s relatives were arrested and charged, but local
sentiment ran strongly in their favor. After the prosecutor declined
to introduce any eyewitness testimony or cell-phone videos into
evidence, all the attackers were acquitted. “The case was rigged,”
Kasim Khan, a lawyer for the family, told me. “The outcome was decided
before the trial.” According to FactChecker, an organization that
tracks communal violence by surveying media reports, there have been
almost three hundred hate crimes motivated by religion in the past
decade—almost all of them since Modi became Prime Minister. Hindu mobs
have killed dozens of Muslim men. The murders, which are often
instigated by Bajrang Dal members, have become known as “lynchings,”
evoking the terror that swept the American South after Reconstruction.
The lynchings take place against a backdrop of hysteria created by the
R.S.S. and its allies—a paranoid narrative of a vast majority, nearly
a billion strong, being victimized by a much smaller minority. When
Muslims are lynched, Modi typically says nothing, and, since he rarely
holds press conferences, he is almost never asked about them. But his
supporters often salute the killers. In June, 2017, a Muslim man named
Alimuddin Ansari, who was accused of cow trafficking, was beaten to
death in the village of Ramgarh. Eleven men, including a local leader
of the B.J.P., were convicted of murder, but last July they were
freed, pending appeal. On their release, eight of them were met by
Jayant Sinha, the B.J.P. Minister for Civil Aviation. Sinha, a Harvard
graduate and a former consultant for McKinsey & Company, draped the
men in marigold garlands and presented them with sweets. “All I am
doing is honoring the due process of law,” he said at the time. In
northern India, Hindu nationalists have whipped up panic around the
idea that Muslim men are engaging in a secret campaign to seduce Hindu
women into marriage and prostitution. As with the hysteria over cow
killings, the furor takes form mostly on social media and platforms
like WhatsApp, where rumors spread indiscriminately. The idea—known as
“love jihad”—is rooted in an image of the oversexed Muslim male,
fortified by beef and preying on desirable Hindu women. In many areas,
any Muslim man seen with a Hindu woman risks being attacked. Two years
ago, Yogi Adityanath, the B.J.P. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, set
up “anti-Romeo squads,” which harassed Muslim men believed to be
trying to seduce Hindu women. The squads were abandoned after the
gangs mistakenly beat up several Hindu men. In a village in Haryana, I
spoke with a young Hindu woman named Ayesha. A year before, she had
met a Muslim man named Omar, a purveyor of spiritual medicine who had
been visiting her home to treat her mother. They fell in love, and
decided that Ayesha would convert to Islam and they would get married.
Her family was horrified, she said. One night, Ayesha ran off with
Omar to his village, a few miles away, where they got married in a
mosque, and moved in with his relatives. For several months, Ayesha
said, her family tried to persuade her to get a divorce; at one point,
her father brought her a pistol and a suicide note to sign. “I was so
sad, I almost agreed,” she said. One night, as Omar rode his bicycle,
two men followed on scooters. One of them pulled out a gun and shot
Omar dead. Ayesha remained with Omar’s family, saying she will never
go back to her own. “I am one hundred per cent certain that my family
is responsible for my husband’s death,” she said. When Ayyub was a
child, a group of men gathered every morning for prayer and martial
arts in a field down the street from her home. The men formed a local
chapter of the R.S.S., and sometimes chanted slogans celebrating Hindu
supremacy: “Hail, Mother India.” The men were friendly, she
recalled—eager to recruit Muslims. But she had learned in school that
an R.S.S. acolyte had killed Gandhi, so she and her brother, Aref,
kept their distance. “We would watch with fascination,’’ she said.
“But I didn’t like being there.” Early one morning in Ahmedabad, on a
playground at Ellisbridge Municipal School No. 12, I looked on as a
dozen men raised the saffron flag of the R.S.S. They ranged in age
from eighteen to sixty-three, and were all trim and fit, many of them
wearing the group’s signature khaki shorts. They began with yoga poses
and calisthenics. Then they took out long wooden rods and began to
perform martial exercises. (An R.S.S. chief once said that the group’s
cadres could be assembled to fight more quickly than the Indian Army.)
The men moved together, stepping and striking in formation.
“One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four,” their leader cried. “Don’t
think you’re an expert—I’m seeing a lot of mistakes.” The men finished
in a semicircle on the ground, offering prayers to the Hindu sun god:
“O Surya, the shining one, the radiant one, dispeller of darkness,
source of life.” They ended by shouting, “Victory to India!”
Afterward, the men—who included an engineer, a lawyer, a garment
merchant, and a police officer—laughed and clapped one another on the
back. Together they made up the Paldi chapter of the R.S.S., one of
more than thirty thousand across India. Paldi is an overwhelmingly
Hindu neighborhood, but the nearest Muslim enclave, which came under
attack in 2002, is less than a mile away. On this morning, there
wasn’t much talk of politics. “I’m just here to stay fit,” Nehal
Burasin, a student, told me. For a fuller explanation of the R.S.S.’s
world view, I spoke to Sudhanshu Trivedi, a lifelong member who is now
the B.J.P.’s national spokesman. Over dinner at the Ambassador Hotel
in Delhi, Trivedi told me that the R.S.S. is dedicated to the
propagation of “Hindutva”: the idea that India is first and foremost a
nation for Hindus. It is, he said, by far the largest organization of
its kind in the world. In its ninety-four-year existence, the R.S.S.
has embedded itself in every aspect of Indian society. Between bites
of salad, Trivedi rattled off R.S.S. talking points. The organization
says that it runs some thirty thousand primary and secondary schools;
that it administers hospitals across India, especially in remote
areas; and that it maintains the second-largest network of trade
unions in the country, the largest network of farmers, the largest
social-welfare organization working in the slums. The B.J.P., India’s
dominant political party, came last in his litany. “So, you can see,
in the entire scheme of things, compared to what the R.S.S. is doing,
what the B.J.P. is doing is small,” he said. In fact, the R.S.S. was
rapidly becoming a state within a state—capturing India from within.
Over the summer, the organization announced that it was establishing a
school to train young people to become officers in the armed forces.
This year, more than a hundred and fifty former officers and enlisted
men signed a letter decrying the “completely unacceptable” use of the
military for political purposes. They referred to Modi’s taking credit
for the cross-border strikes in Pakistan, and to the boast by some
B.J.P. politicians that it was “Modi’s army.” The key to understanding
modern India, Trivedi told me, was accepting that “Hinduism is not
basically a religion—it is a way of life.” Anyone born in India is
part of Hinduism. Therefore, all the other religions found in India
thrive because of Hinduism, and are subordinate to it. “The culture of
Islam is preserved here because of Hindu civilization,” he said. As
part of the Hindutva project, B.J.P. leaders have been rewriting
school textbooks across the country, erasing much of its Islamic
history, including that of the Mughals, Muslim emperors who ruled
India for three centuries. The B.J.P. has changed Mughal place names
to ones that are Hindu-influenced. Last year, the Mughalsarai railway
station, built in central India a century and a half ago, was renamed
for Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, a right-wing Hindu-nationalist leader.
Allahabad, a city of more than a million people, is now called
Prayagraj, a Sanskrit word that denotes a place of sacrifice. In
November, the old story of Ayodhya was in the news again, when India’s
Supreme Court cleared the way for a Hindu temple to be constructed on
the former site of Babri Masjid. In a thousand-page decision, the
Court provided no evidence that a temple had been destroyed to build
the mosque, and acknowledged that the mosque had been torn down by an
angry mob. Nevertheless, it handed control of the land to a government
trust, effectively allowing the B.J.P. to proceed. Trivedi told me
that no one in the R.S.S. bore any animus toward Islam. But, he said,
it was important to understand just how far the faith had fallen. “In
India, the most educated community is the Parsis, which is a minority.
The second most educated is the Christians, which is a minority. The
most prosperous is the Jains, which is a minority. The most
entrepreneurial is Sikh, which is a minority. The first nuclear
scientist in India was a Parsi—a minority,” he said. “Then what is the
problem with Muslims? I will tell you. They have become captives of
the jihadi ideology.” When Ayyub and the photographer were detained at
the hospital in Srinagar, I found a hiding place across the street,
screened by a wall and a fruit vender; Ayyub would have faced serious
repercussions if she was found to have snuck in a foreigner. After
about an hour, they emerged. Ayyub said that an intelligence officer
had questioned them intently, then released them with an admonition:
“Don’t come back.” The next morning, we drove to the village of
Parigam, near the site of the suicide attack that prompted Modi’s air
strikes against Pakistan. We’d heard that Indian security forces had
swept through the town and detained several men. The insurgency has
broad support in the villages outside the capital, and the road to
Parigam was marked by the sandbags and razor wire of Indian Army
checkpoints. For most of the way, the roads were otherwise deserted.
In the village, Ayyub stopped the car to chat with locals. Within a
few minutes, she’d figured out whom we should talk to first: Shabbir
Ahmed, the proprietor of a local bakery. We found him sitting
cross-legged on his porch, shelling almonds into a huge pile. In
interviews, Ayyub slows down from her usual debate-team pace; she took
a spot on the porch as if she had dropped by for a visit. Ahmed, who
is fifty-five, told her that, during the sweeps, an armored vehicle
rumbled up to his home just past midnight one night. A dozen soldiers
from the Rashtriya Rifles, an élite counter-insurgency unit of the
Indian Army, rushed out and began smashing his windows. When Ahmed and
his two sons came outside, he said, the soldiers hauled the young men
into the street and began beating them. “I was screaming for help, but
nobody came out,” Ahmed said. “Everyone was too afraid.” Ahmed’s sons
joined us on the porch. One of them, Muzaffar, said that the soldiers
had been enraged by young people who throw rocks at their patrols.
They dragged Muzaffar down the street toward a mosque. “Throw stones
at the mosque like you throw stones at us,” one of the soldiers
commanded him. Muzaffar said that he and his brother, Ali, were taken
to a local base, where the soldiers shackled them to chairs and beat
them with bamboo rods. “They kept asking me, ‘Do you know any stone
throwers?’—and I kept saying I don’t know any, but they kept beating
me,” he said. When Muzaffar fainted, he said, a soldier attached
electrodes to his legs and stomach and jolted him with an electrical
current. Muzaffar rolled up his pants to reveal patches of burned skin
on the back of his leg. It went on like that for some time, he said:
he would pass out, and when he regained consciousness the beating
started again. “My body was going into spasms,” he said, and began to
cry. After Muzaffar and Ali were released, their father took them to
the local hospital. “They have broken my bones,” Muzaffar said. “I can
no longer prostrate myself before God.” It was impossible to verify
the brothers’ tale, but, as with many accounts that Ayyub and I heard
in the valley, the anguish was persuasive. “I am a slightly more
civilized version of these people,” Ayyub told me. “I see what’s
happening—with the propaganda, with the lies, what the government is
doing to people. Their issues are way more extensive—their lives. But
I have everything in common with these people. I feel their pain.” One
afternoon, Ayyub and I walked through Soura, a hardscrabble
neighborhood in Srinagar’s old city which has been the site of several
confrontations with security forces. By the time we got there, the
police and the Army had withdrawn, evidently deciding that the narrow
streets left their men too vulnerable. The locals told us that they
regarded Soura as liberated territory and vowed to attack anyone from
the government who tried to enter. Every wall seemed plastered with
graffiti. One bit of scrawl said, “Demographic change is not
acceptable!” The Kashmiris we met felt trapped, their voices stifled.
“The news that is true—they never show it,” Yunus, a shop owner, said
of the Indian media. Days before, his thirteen-year-old son, Ashiq,
had been arrested and beaten by security forces, just as he himself
had been thirty years before. “Nobody has ever asked the people of
Kashmir what they want—whether to stay with India or join Pakistan or
become independent,” he said. “We have heard so many promises. We have
lifted bodies with our hands, lifted heads that are separate, lifted
legs that are separate, and put them all together into graves.” Many
Kashmiris still refuse to accept Indian sovereignty, and some recall
the promise, made by the United Nations in 1948, that a plebiscite
would determine the future of the state. Kashmir was assigned special
status—enshrined in Article 370—and afforded significant powers of
self-rule. For the most part, those powers have never been realized.
Beginning in the late eighties, an armed insurgency, supported by
Pakistan, has turned the area into a battleground. The conflict in
Kashmir is largely a war of ambush and reprisal; the insurgents strike
the Indian security forces, and the security forces crack down. Groups
like Human Rights Watch have detailed abuses on both sides, but
especially by the Indian government.The R.S.S. and other Hindu
nationalists have claimed that the efforts to assuage the Kashmiris
created a self-defeating dynamic. The insurgency has stifled economic
development, they said; Article 370 was curtailing investment and
migration, dooming the place to backwardness. Modi’s decision to
revoke the article seemed the logical endpoint of the R.S.S. world
view: the Kashmiri deadlock would be broken by overwhelming Hindu
power. As Ayyub and I drove around Kashmir, it seemed unclear how the
Indian government intended to proceed. Economic activity had ground to
a halt. Schools were closed. Kashmiris were cut off from the outside
world and from one another. “We are overwhelmed by cases of
depression,” a physician in Srinagar told us. Many Kashmiris warned
that an explosion was likely the moment the security measures were
lifted. “Modi is doing what he did in Gujarat twenty years ago, when
he ran a tractor over the Muslims there,” a woman named Dushdaya said.
The newspaper columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote that, in Kashmir,
“Indian democracy is failing.” He suggested that the country’s
Muslims, who have largely resisted radicalization, would conclude that
they had nothing else to turn to. “The B.J.P. thinks it is going to
Indianise Kashmir,” he wrote. “Instead, what we will see is
potentially the Kashmirisation of India: The story of Indian democracy
written in blood and betrayal.” In Srinagar, Ayyub and I visited the
neighborhood of Mehju Nagar, which many young men have left to join
the militants. The talk on the street was of a couple named Nazeer and
Fehmeeda, whose son, Momin, had been taken away in the crackdown.
Armed men from the Central Reserve Police Force came to the door late
one night. A masked civilian—evidently an informer—pointed at Momin.
The soldiers took him away. We found Fehmeeda at her house, kneeling
on the floor of an unadorned main room. The morning after the raid,
she told us, she went to a C.R.P.F. base, where her son was being
held. He told her that he’d been beaten. “I begged them to give him
back to me, but they wouldn’t consider it,” she said. When Fehmeeda
returned the following day, the police told her that Momin had been
transferred to the city’s central jail. But guards there said that
he’d been transferred to a prison in Uttar Pradesh, on the other side
of the country. “There’s no use crying, Auntie,” they told her.
Fehmeeda said that she was not told what charges had been filed
against Momin; Indian antiterrorism law allows the security forces to
detain any Kashmiri for any reason, or no reason, for up to two years.
In the three decades that Kashmir has been in open rebellion, tens of
thousands of men have disappeared, and many have not returned. “I must
accept that I will not see him again,” she said. At Fehmeeda’s house,
her friends had gathered around her, while men from the neighborhood
stood outside open windows. Ayyub sat facing her, their knees
touching. As Fehmeeda spoke, some of the men talked over her, and each
time Ayyub told them to shut up: “Don’t scold her, Uncle, she has
problems of her own.” Fehmeeda had begun stoically, but gradually she
lost her composure. Ayyub gripped her hands and said, “Your son will
return to you. God is very big.” Fehmeeda was not consoled. Momin, a
construction worker, had paid for the entire family’s needs, including
her medicine for a kidney ailment. Fehmeeda’s thoughts began to tumble
out in fragments: “I told him, don’t throw stones, somebody took him,
somebody was paid—” Then she started to sob and heave. Ayyub began to
cry, too. “I can’t take any more,” she said. “This is too much.” Ayyub
said goodbye to Fehmeeda, promising to return with medicine for her
kidneys. (A few weeks later, she did.) We were both gripped by a sense
of foreboding, that we were witnessing the start of something that
would last many years. “I feel this as a Muslim,” Ayyub said. “It’s
happening everywhere in India.”

We rode in silence for a while. I suggested that maybe it was time for
her to leave India—that Muslims didn’t have a future there. But Ayyub
was going through a notebook. “I’m not leaving,” she said. “I have to
stay. I’m going to write all this down and tell everyone what
happened.” ♦

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Nearly half of cases so far found outside of China have been reported in the past four days. @bopinion @johnauthers
Law & Politics

Fresh outbreaks in Italy and Iran, and a galloping rate of new
infections in South Korea and Japan, suggest that Covid-19 is skipping
past our quarantine cordons quite as easily as it jumps the body’s
“Those countries are canaries in the coalmine that the virus is quite
active — a sign that containment is reaching the end of its
applicability,” said Ian Mackay, an associate professor of virology at
the University of Queensland.
“There could be these sorts of spot fires burning everywhere with us
not knowing.”
These outbreaks may still be just the tip of the iceberg. About
two-thirds of coronavirus cases exported from China haven’t been
detected yet, according to a study last week by Imperial College
 “It’s too early to call it, but it’s on a knife’s edge,” Professor
Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the
University of New South Wales, said by e-mail.

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When paranoid, you can be wrong 1000 times & you will survive. If non-paranoid; wrong once, and you, your genes, & the rest of your group are done. @nntaleb
Law & Politics

It's a yuuuge mystery that academics who deal w/risk, "rationality",
subforecasting & superforecasting fail to get it.

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16-FEB-2020 :: #COVID19 #coronavirus #2019nCoV
Law & Politics

Let me tell you, world,
If a thousand challengers lie beneath your feet,
Count me as number thousand and one.

I don't believe the sky is blue;
I don't believe in thunder's echoes;
I don't believe that dreams are false;
I don't believe that death has no revenge.

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The Fall of Wuhan @EpsilonTheory #COVID19
Law & Politics

In August 2005, the city of New Orleans fell. New Orleans did not fall
because of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans fell because of the corrupt
political response to Hurricane Katrina.
In January 2020, the city of Wuhan fell. Wuhan did not fall because of
COVID-19. Wuhan fell because of the corrupt political response to
Wuhan is a heroic city, and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic
people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in
history. All regions and departments performed their duties actively
and conscientiously.
Xi the Commander (no, I am not making this up; this is how the Xinhua
news service describes him now … “Xi the Commander”)
A corrupt political response occurs when a political leader sacrifices
national interest for regime or bureaucratic interest … when a
constructed narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” is
maintained for the political benefit of the Leader at the expense of
the Led.
Oh, the Leader and his flunkies will convince themselves that the
narrative “is in the public interest” … that the narrative will “buy
them time” … that the narrative is necessary because “the other side”
would do the same or worse if given half a chance.
It’s all the excuses that all the Renfields to all the professional
politicians tell themselves as they slowly sell their souls. It’s what
every President and every Director-General and every Senator and every
CEO eventually comes to believe, that their personal interests are
identical to “their” people’s interests.
Corrupt political responses occur all the time. Literally every day,
all over the world. It’s not a left/right thing. It’s not a
Democrat/Republican thing. It’s not a Chinese thing or an American
thing or a Russian thing. It’s a power thing. It’s a high-functioning
sociopath thing.
Not only are corrupt political responses as common as rain, they’re
almost never big deals. It’s not treason. It’s not Benedict Arnold
selling a map of West Point. It’s petty stuff. It’s patronage
appointments. It’s log-rolling. It’s pork barrel politics. Who’s gonna
notice? Who’s hurt?
But every once in a very great while, an honest-to-god crisis reveals
the consequences of your petty everyday corruption, consequences that
are paid in the LIVES of those who trusted you to be better.
Every once in a very great while, an honest-to-god crisis reveals the
political self-interest and mendacity behind your carefully
constructed narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” .
Like the fall of New Orleans revealed George W. Bush.
Like the fall of Wuhan revealed Xi Jinping.
What we must prevent today is the NEXT city to fall.
We must prevent the fall of Daegu. We must prevent the fall of Qom. We
must prevent the fall of Milan. Looking ahead, we must prevent the
fall of Yokohama. We must prevent the fall of San Francisco.
Because containment has failed.
What we’re seeing in South Korea, Iran and Italy is what exponential
disease propagation looks like in the real world. Real world data is
spiky. Real world data is messy. Real world exponential growth looks
like nothing, nothing, nothing … then cluster, cluster, cluster … then
BOOM! My rule of thumb: when a country reports a death from a local
COVID-19 infection, then the disease is already endemic in that
country. Implementing extreme quarantine measures after that first
death – either within that country or by other governments to isolate
that country – is closing the barn door after the horse is out … it’s
too late. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it for disease minimization or
social distancing. But it does mean that a goal of containment is
What we’re seeing today in South Korea, Iran and Italy is the BOOM.
Other countries will follow. The United States will follow.
And so now we must fight.
A city falls when its healthcare system is overwhelmed. A city falls
when its national government fails to prepare and support its doctors
and nurses. A city falls when its government is more concerned with
maintaining some bullshit narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent
Control!” than in doing what is politically embarrassing but socially
That’s EXACTLY what happened in Wuhan. More than 30% of doctors and
nurses in Wuhan themselves fell victim to COVID-19, so that the
healthcare system stopped being a source of healing, but became a
source of infection.
At which point the Chinese government effectively abandoned the city,
shut it off from the rest of the country, placed more than 9 million
people under house arrest, and allowed the disease to essentially burn
itself out.
And so Wuhan fell.
The disaster that befell the citizens of Wuhan and so many other
cities throughout China is not primarily a virus. The disaster is
having a political regime that cares more about maintaining a
self-serving narrative of control than it cares about saving the lives
of its citizens.
And so we must call out the Director-General of the World Health
Organization for his corrupt political response to COVID-19, where by
continuing to toe the (literal) party line, he sacrifices WHO’s
authority and credibility on the altar of China “access”.
And so we must call out the President of the United States for his
corrupt political response to COVID-19, as well.
China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. It will
all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I
want to thank President Xi! President Donald Trump
Above all, that means calling out our leaders for their corrupt
political responses to date, and forcing them through our outcry to
adopt an effective virus-fighting policy for OUR benefit, not theirs.

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What we're seeing in South Korea, Iran and Italy is what exponential disease propagation looks like in the real world. Real world exponential growth looks like nothing, nothing, nothing... then cluster, cluster, cluster... then BOOM!
Law & Politics

What we’re seeing in South Korea, Iran and Italy is what exponential
disease propagation looks like in the real world. Real world data is
spiky. Real world data is messy. Real world exponential growth looks
like nothing, nothing, nothing … then cluster, cluster, cluster … then

International Markets

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.0871
Dollar Index 99.072
Japan Yen 110.38
Swiss Franc 0.9763
Pound 1.2978
Aussie 0.6575
India Rupee 71.764
South Korea Won 1217.11
Brazil Real 4.3883
Egypt Pound 15.59
South Africa Rand 15.23

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Crude Oil Chart INO [40.00 is not out of the question]

Emerging Markets

Frontier Markets

Sub Saharan Africa

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COVID-19 Expected to Cause Widespread Economic Disruption in Africa @StandardBankZA's Jeremy Stephens H/T @eolander

The novel coronavirus Covid-19 is a black swan event: highly unlikely,
and with potent potential consequences. Still, its swift initial
containment to some extent demonstrates China’s capacity for
fit-for-purpose strategic solutions in times of crisis.
 Near half of China’s cities and districts are currently classified as
low-risk, and a return to business as usual is apparently imminent.
Nevertheless, the situation in China and globally remains both fluid
and uncertain.
We are far less optimistic when it comes to the impact of this
outbreak on China’s economy. The current consensus, that growth will
slow to just 4.5% in Q1:20, followed by a robust rebound and then
stabilization, seems optimistic.
The immediate downturn is likely to be far more severe and acute.
Consider that vast swathes of GDP has been frozen for an extended
period: manufacturing (32%), retail trade (10%), real estate (7%),
transport (4%), automobiles (3%), retail hotel (2%), and so on.
Even now, after an incredibly rough few weeks, the Chinese economy is
probably running at about 50% capacity. Last week, provincial
governments started to publish “resumption rates” for businesses with
revenues above CNY20mn.
The variation is large: Sichuan 20%, Anhui 40%, Zhejiang 48%,
Guangdong 50%, Fujian 60%, Jiangsu 65%, Shanghai 68%, Shandong 71%.
Of course, plausibly gains could be clawed back in Q2:20, but the
policy impact is likely to be smaller than in the past.

Disruptions in China will crimp revenues for companies in sectors
affected by this coronavirus and divert attention of policy banks and
commercial banks – the scaffolding for China-Africa deals.
We also doubt that the impact here and globally will be transitory.
The comparison to the V-shaped recovery trajectory in the aftermath of
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) is fraught terrain.
SARS-CoV infected far fewer people; Covid-19 has infected 10 times
more people already, directly or indirectly, affecting millions of
SARS-CoV infections were concentrated in Guangdong Province and
Beijing. Infections of Covid-19 have affected every district and city
across the Mainland, surpassing 500 cases in eleven provinces, and
severely disrupting business operations throughout the country in
every sector.
Most notably, unlike in 2003, China does not have a favorable cyclical
and structure outlook. Then, nominal GDP growth was a juggernaut,
surging by near 20% each year in the subsequent five years up to the
global financial crisis.
Today, COVID-19 coincides with an economic transition toward
higher-quality growth. Consumption is under pressure, the
manufacturing sector is struggling, the various components of
investment seem in no position to rebound, and local governments are
grappling with falling tax revenues and rising outlays.
The financial system, which saw several episodes of liquidity stress
last year and is currently being used as a critical buffer to prevent
greater corporate disruption, will experience blowback. We expect
restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, takeovers and bankruptcies.

Impact on Africa

For Africa, the gradual adjustment of growth expectations in China
will hit sentiment and narrow anticipated interest rate differentials
with advanced economies, challenging the path of African currencies,
equities, and assets.
Already, after much hope for a global recovery in 2020 in the wake of
the U.S.-China Phase One trade deal, things have changed dramatically,
and sentiment towards emerging markets has soured.
Financial markets are now adjusting and re-pricing assets. Even before
survey data and macro data can confirm the hit to the global
manufacturing recovery, central banks in key emerging markets (Brazil,
Russia, India, Mexico) have started easing interest rates.
Central banks in Africa, like Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, have
also acknowledged the COVID-19 headwinds.
Much like in 2015, African countries are likely to see downward
revisions in the coming weeks, as expectations around China are
Borrowing Costs Expected to Rise
Worse still, African sovereign borrowing rates may move against them.
Indeed, since the global financial crisis of 2008/9 and during times
of low rates, African governments have now accumulated record levels
of debt.
Gross government debt across SSA has surged by an average of 20
percentage points (pps) of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2010,
nearing an average of 60% of GDP in 2019.
Countries like Zambia (+72pps), Mozambique (+65pps) and Angola
(+57pps) have led the way, but several regionally important economies
like Ghana and South Africa have also seen sizeable gains.
Whilst financial deepening and building out the yield curve obviously
has benefits – especially if the debt raised is used in ways that lay
the foundation for future economic activity and boosts productivity –
the speed of growth is worthy of pause.
Also, the debt is increasingly from commercial sources and,
increasingly, denominated in foreign currencies. African Eurobond
issuance alone has increased by near USD60bn in the past two years.

Economic Growth Expected to Slow

Should the Chinese economy expand by 4.5% in 2020 – down from 6.1% in
2019 and far lower than currently expected – the entire global economy
will struggle, expanding by just 2.5% in 2020.
The less favorable external environment could end up shaving-off at
least 1.2pps from SSA growth.
Indeed, the IMF has responded by lowering its GDP forecast for Nigeria
– SSA’s largest economy – from 2.5% to 2.0% due to a fall in oil
prices, which has already placed the currency under pressure.
Much like in 2015, African countries are likely to see downward
revisions in the coming weeks, as expectations around China are
As recently as 2015-16, adjusted expectations for China’s medium- to
long-term economic growth rate, demand for resources and volatility in
its financial market were felt across Africa.
Recall then, China first experienced a stock market boom and bust,
then a currency devaluation, which triggered capital outflows, panic
and the burning of USD1tr in FX reserves.
Also, entrenched factory-gate deflation had undermined profitability
and debt sustainability of many Chinese corporates. Nominal GDP growth
slumped to just 6.5% – a 17 year low – equaling the cyclical trough
experienced at the height of the GFC in June 2009.
Fastened to longstanding historical trends, a stumble by a major
commercial partner echoed into Africa. SSA GDP slumped from 5.1% in
2014 to 3.1% in 2015, and then to just 1.3% in 2016 – slower than
advanced economies for the first time since the aftermath of the Asian
financial crisis.

Time for Africa to Adapt to China’s Changing Economy

Even before Covid-19, we argued that Africa should take heed of
changes in China. Since 2016, Beijing has shown foresight and
fortitude, allowing the slowdown to play out without reverting to
traditional levers to support near-term growth, giving air to
rebalancing, emphasizing Belt and Road ahead of all other outward
Most tangibly though, the landscape has been altered by the de-risking
of the financial system, which has been the over-arching domestic
policy framework since 2016, focusing the domestic policy tilt on
ensuring that resources – land, labor, and capital – are allocated
towards productivity-enhancing ends.
China had signaled these changes for some time. Recall, after
ballooning every three years, China’s financing commitments to Africa
stayed flat at FOCAC in 2018, and a smaller share of the commitment
was comprised of pledges of aid, interest-free and preferential loans,
and export credit lines.
This shift in emphasis is correct. The heavy lifting by diplomats,
policy banks and Chinese SOEs has been completed, ushering in
thousands of entrepreneurs and private businesses.
Given the objective of FOCAC was always to strengthen China-African
commercial and economic cooperation, trade and investment, handing the
reigns over to business to focus on bidirectional commercial
opportunities is desirable and more sustainable.

China Importing Less From Africa

Evidence of China’s adjustment is also evident in Chinese imports of
Africa, which contracted by 4% and remain below 2013 peaks.
Recall that a one percentage point decrease in China’s domestic
investment growth is associated with an average 0.6 percentage point
decrease in Africa’s exports.
Indeed, China’s rebalancing translates into investment doing less
heavy lifting and expanding much more sluggishly.
Back in 2010, domestic investment was growing at 30% y/y but has
slowed steadily in each of the past 10 years, slipping to just 4% in
And 2020 is likely to be closer to zero. Meanwhile, African countries
have fallen in relative importance to China: South Africa, for
instance, slipped from China’s 12th-largest source of goods in 2013 to
outside the top 20 last year.
This year, a demand shock and price decline would be very difficult
for Africa. Even though tallying the impact of this coronavirus is not
yet possible, already expectations for oil consumption have been
reduced by 1.5mn barrels per day in Q1:20 and demand for copper is
forecast to fall by 300,000 metric tons in 2020.
Already, prices of key commodities, like copper, oil and thermal coal
have already fallen by 20% since mid-January, and a few reports are
emerging that Chinese buyers have postponed overseas orders, some
declaring force majeure.
Unfortunately, resource sales (and prices) play an oversized role in
fiscal revenue collection to help fund public expenditure.
Consider that resource exports account for 40% of total exports in
nearly half of SSA, and for eight the ratio is about 70% of exports.
Furthermore, the path of commodity prices has one other significance.
Making matters worse, around a quarter of China’s loans have been
backed by resource concessions. On this score, the more indebted –
often to China, backed by resources – are Angola and Zambia.

Expect Fewer Chinese Deals in Africa

It is also plausible that the China-related deal pipeline will be
smaller than it otherwise would have been. Disruptions in China will
crimp revenues for companies in sectors affected by this coronavirus
and divert attention of policy banks and commercial banks – the
scaffolding for China-Africa deals.
That said, much of the rationale for China’s endeavors in Africa (or
Belt and Road, for that matter) are to leverage China’s competitive
advantage in infrastructure, offshore some overcapacity sectors, and
heavier industry, and tap into fast-growing consumer markets. All of
this remains.

Infrastructure Development Disruptions

Meanwhile, China’s infrastructure projects in Africa will face
disruptions as people flow is restricted.
Granted, most Chinese workers in Africa seem to have remained in
Africa over the Chinese New Year – an estimated 70% of the Chinese
workforce for Standard Bank clients – and more and more firms have
hired locally.
However, the biggest issue is that supply chains for key inputs are
very much broken down, making key inputs, components, equipment and
machinery harder to source, whilst transport hubs and ports in China
may be operational, but only at depressed levels, may create costly

Chinese Exports to Africa

China’s sales to Africa are likely to rise just a fraction in 2020
while China’s purchases will depend on commodity prices. Chinese goods
have penetrated markets deeply, increasing from 3% of Africa’s total
imports in 2001 to 19% in 2019.
Around two-thirds of African countries list China as their largest
source of goods. In contrast to China’s growing penetration, Africa’s
traditionally large trading partners have seen their market share
Last year, China’s exports to Africa expanded by 7.2% y/y, to USD113bn
in 2019. And now, COVID-19 has disrupted the path ahead.
Consider Yiwu in Zhejiang: as much as 7% of all of China’s exports to
Africa originate from Yiwu. But today, Yiwu is far from business as
usual. In terms of sourcing from China for domestic demand, South
Africa and Nigeria purchase the most from China, but the risk of
disruptions affecting cities in Africa is more a function of the
relative share of China’s production in overall supply.
In addition, overlaying loan data, it seems that Kenya, Tanzania,
Mozambique and Ghana are likely sourcing considerable quantities of
equipment and machinery from China.
For many, reducing reliance on the Mainland as a supplier seems even
more relevant to some now, supporting the rationale for industrial
hubs in South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and elsewhere.
Africa must, therefore, more forcefully and single-mindedly prioritize
tactics for further industrialization, job creation, and technology
transfer through Chinese investment in manufacturing, creating hubs in
Africa to serve as an engine for intra-Africa trade.

The Rainbow After the Storm

China’s economy is likely to slow more than originally anticipated in
2020, and this matters a great deal. In 2015, when China’s nominal GDP
growth slumped to just 6.5% – a 17-year low – equaling the cyclical
trough experienced at the height of the GFC in June 2009, SSA GDP
slumped from 5.1% in 2014 to 3.1% in 2015, and then to just 1.3% in
2016 – slower than advanced economies for the first time since the
aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. Once again, SSA growth will
feel the impact in a variety of direct and indirect ways, halting
three consecutive years of acceleration. That said, eventually,
structural forces will reassert themselves. China will likely see an
ongoing shift towards slower, but higher-quality, economic growth, one
less factor- and investment-driven, and buoyed by innovations from
globally-minded, competitive and ambitious corporates.
Africa is likely to see robust economic growth, favorable
demographics, rapid urbanization and industrialization, and rising
incomes as well as a growing middle class. This novel coronavirus is
therefore unlikely to alter the formidable underpinnings of the
structural, deep-rooted China-Africa commercial ties.

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2-SEP-2019 :: the China EM Frontier Feedback Loop Phenomenon. #COVID19

China EM Frontier Feedback Loop Phenomenon. This Phenomenon was
positive for the last two decades but has now undergone a Trend
The Fall-out is being experienced as far away as Germany Inc. The ZAR
is the purest proxy for this Phenomenon.
African Countries heavily dependent on China being the main Taker are
also at the bleeding edge of this Phenomenon.
This Pressure Point will not ease soon but will continue to intensify.

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14-OCT-2019 :: Xi Jinping "The End of Vanity" which I characterised at the time as a "a substantive linguistic recasting of China Africa by Xi Jinping"

I recall #FOCAC2018 and the famous photograph where all the Chinese
officials had a pen and paper and not one African official was taking
notes. Had they been taking notes they would have heard Xi Jinping
specifically speak of ‘’The End of Vanity’’ which I characterised at
the time as a ‘’a substantive linguistic recasting of China Africa by
Xi Jinping’’
I only recently discovered Ecclesiastes and clearly Xi was ahead of me
in this regard.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 2 Vanity[a] of vanities, says the Preacher 2 Vani-
ty[a] of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is
vanity. 11 There is no remembrance of former things,[c] nor will there
be any re- membrance of later things[d] yet to be among those who come

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Togo President @FEGnassingbe wins re-election in landslide - preliminary results @ReutersAfrica

Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe has won re-election with 72% of the
vote, according to preliminary results from the electoral commission
on Monday, extending his 15-year rule and a family dynasty that began
when his father took power in a 1967 coup.
Despite widespread disaffection and protests calling for him to step
down, a fractured opposition has struggled to launch a concerted
campaign to unseat Gnassingbe in the small West African country of 8
million people.
His closest rival, former Prime Minister Gabriel Messan Agbeyome
Kodjo, won 18% of the vote and longtime opposition leader Jean-Pierre
Fabre got 4%.
The final results are expected to be announced by the Supreme Court in
the coming days.
If confirmed, the result gives Gnassingbe five more years in power, a
blow for opposition protesters who have taken to the streets in recent
years, calling for him to step down.
In response to political pressure, Gnassingbe enacted a law last year
limiting presidents to two five-year terms.
However, it is not backdated to account for the three terms he has
already served, so he could stay in power until 2030.

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How Putin Got a New Best Friend Forever in Africa @business

Alpha Conde of Guinea had a favor to ask Vladimir Putin when the two
presidents met at the inaugural Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea
resort of Sochi in October.
“I would like, if possible, to spend most of our meeting in a
one-in-one format because I have things to say to you that are not
worth discussing in such a large group,” the 81-year-old West African
leader said.
“My pleasure,” Putin, 67, replied as aides began to herd the several
dozen officials and reporters in attendance out of the room, leaving
him and Conde alone with their respective translators.
Russia, on the other hand, is throwing its weight behind Conde’s
undeclared campaign. That makes Guinea, holder of the world’s largest
deposits of bauxite, a key raw material for making aluminum, the
latest focus in a renewed tug-of-war among global powers for influence
and profit across resource-rich Africa.
The U.S., western Europe and China have advantages over Russia in
other areas of the continent. But in Guinea, the Kremlin is leveraging
a mix of old Soviet ties, new capitalist might in the form of aluminum
giant United Co. Rusal and Putin’s popularity among other leaders.
Putin is widely viewed as a kind of “guru” in Africa, Viktor Boyarkin,
a former diplomat and ex-Rusal security chief who’s known Conde for a
decade, said in an interview in Moscow. “People come to him for
Initially hailed when he came to power for ushering in democratic
rule, Conde has cracked down in recent years as opposition has grown.
In August, the International Monetary Fund called the poor, mainly
Muslim nation of 13 million “a fragile country with heightened risks
of social and political instability.”
In a speech broadcast on state television, then-Ambassador Alexander
Bregadze called Conde “legendary” and argued that constitutions
shouldn’t be considered immutable works akin to “The Bible or Koran.”
Four months later, Rusal hired the ambassador as its country chief in
Guinea. Rusal, which was run by billionaire Oleg Deripaska until U.S.
sanctions imposed over his ties to Putin forced him to step down in
2018, sources about 40% of its bauxite from Guinean mines.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia isn’t involved in anything
to do with Guinea’s “internal affairs.”
Still, Russia’s embrace of Conde has put it at odds with the U.S. and
France, both of which have mounted public and private diplomatic
campaigns to get him to step down at the end of his term.
In August, during a tense exchange in southern France, French
President Emmanuel Macron told Conde he was concerned about the
tensions that a possible third term could cause in Guinea and warned
he’d be watching closely, according to two people familiar with the
Boyarkin blames the protests mainly on “outside forces” and has
nothing but praise for Conde. “I consider him a savior for Guinea.”
“Since the days of the Soviet Union, you have been alongside us,
protecting us,” he told Putin.

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.@JohnDeere taps tractor-hailing tech in bid to break ground in Africa @Reuters

The world’s leading farm equipment maker is outfitting its tractors
with startup Hello Tractor’s technology, which allows farmers to hail
the machines via an app, monitors the vehicles’ movements and
transmits usage information such as fuel levels.
The aim is to help the U.S. company boost sales of it famous green and
yellow John Deere tractors, a tough task in a continent with the
world’s highest poverty rate and the least mechanized agricultural
Deere is currently testing the technology - a small black box fitted
beneath dashboards - on around 400 tractors in Ghana and Kenya.
It told Reuters it plans to roll out the devices across Africa in the
second half of this year, offering it to all contractors who buy its
equipment on the continent.
Jacques Taylor, who heads John Deere’s sub-Saharan Africa business,
said that the continent badly needs more machinery to develop its
farming industry but most farmers don’t have the scale to justify a
large investment.
“We would like to see that every farmer has access to mechanization,”
he told Reuters. “The gap that we’ve identified is, how do we connect
small farmers with tractor owners?”

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Jumia Technologies AG (NYSE: JMIA) announced today its financial results for the fourth quarter and full-year ended December 31, 2019 @brandspur_ng

We initiated a rebalancing of our business mix towards higher consumer
lifetime value business, reducing promotional intensity on certain
product categories while driving the growth of the more affordable,
higher purchase frequency ones.
While this led to a softer GMV growth trajectory, it has supported
consumer acquisition and usage growth. Annual Active Consumers reached
a record of 6.1 million and Orders increased by 49% in the fourth
quarter of 2019 when compared with the fourth quarter of 2018.
This rebalancing, alongside gradual monetization, supported
profitability as Gross profit reached €24.8 million, up 64% compared
to the fourth quarter of 2018. Our Gross profit after Fulfillment
expense was positive at €1.0 million in the fourth quarter of 2019
compared to a loss of €2.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Annual Active Consumers reached a record of 6.1 million, a
year-over-year increase of 54%
GMV was €301mn, a y/y decrease of 3%.
$5.52 52 Week Range: 4.94 - 49.77
JumiaPay Transactions accelerate 110% in Q4 2019 year-over-year and
278% for the full year 2019


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Precision airstrike eliminated al-Shabaab leader associated with Manda Bay attack @USAfricaCommand

Post-strike assessments confirm the two terrorists killed in the Feb.
22 precision airstrikes were an individual associated with the attack
on Manda Bay and his wife, who was also a known al-Shabaab member.
The two terrorists were identified as a senior al-Shabaab leader, who
was in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations on the
Kenya border region, including the recent attack on Manda Bay, and his
wife, who also was a witting and active member of al-Shabaab
responsible for facilitating a wide range of terrorist activities.
“Since January 5, U.S. Africa Command and our partners have pursued
those responsible for the attack on U.S. and Kenyan forces at Manda
Bay,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa
“This strike demonstrates that we will continue to relentlessly pursue
those responsible for Manda Bay and those wishing to do harm to
Americans and our African partners.”

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13-JAN-2020 :: The Manda Bay attack is the first al-Shabab has carried out on a U.S.military installation inside Kenya

The Manda Bay attack is the first al-Shabab has carried out on a
U.S.military installation inside Kenya Among the aircraft destroyed at
the Manda Bay base were manned surveillance planes that collect data
across the border in Somalia, as well as over Kenya’s dense Boni
Also reportedly destroyed were aircraft operated by U.S. Special
Operations Command and modified Havilland Canada Dash-8 spy aircraft,
which carries the U.S. civil registration code N8200L.
This is a mind bending Jedi Level intrusion and asymmetric warfare
coup de grace.
The U.S. Africa Command has sent its crack East Africa Response Force
to secure the airfield and augment security. This is in fact a big

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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February 2020

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