(1) Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh
Ten security personnel and a civilian driver were killed when Maoists blew up their vehicle in Chhattisgarh on Wednesday.
The Naxals had tunnelled under the road and planted an Improvised Explosive Device. They detonated nearly 60 kg of explosives in the IED when the vehicle with the jawans passed over it. The explosion was strong enough to leave a 10 metre deep crater on the road, destroy the vehicle and kill all passengers on the spot.
This was the biggest Naxal strike on the security forces in the State in the last two years. In 2021, around 22 jawans were killed in an encounter with the Maoists in Sukma, Chhattisgarh. The incident has again spotlit the menace of left wing extremism.
The number of left wing extremism incidents and deaths have come down across India. In 2010, 96 districts were labelled ‘Most affected by Left Wing Extremism’. In 2021, the figure was 25. The number of incidents and deaths reduced across most States.
In Chattisgarh, too, the pattern holds. The number of incidents has come down from 529 in 2009 to 279 last year. Similarly, deaths have fallen from 290 in 2009 to 56 last year. However, Chhattisgarh accounted for over 60% of all deaths (91) last year.
The remote locations, dense forests and weak mobile phone connectivity are major hurdles for the forces and government agencies that are operating in Chhattisgarh. Foolproof technology to detect IEDs is absent.
Expanding welfare programmes and building infrastructure in remote parts of the State would weaken the Maoist insurgency by discouraging the poor tribal population from joining the group.
Also read | Tackling the Maoists: On Left Wing Extremism
(2) U.S. GDP first advance estimate
The U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased at a 1.1% annualised rate last quarter, the government said in its advance estimate of first-quarter GDP growth.
The Federal Reserve Bank hiking interest rates, tightening credit from banks, and business cutting their spending on equipment are all reasons for the economy’s slower growth rate in this year’s first quarter.
The Fed Reserve’s interest rates were hiked to a 17-year high in March. Soon after, the financial system took a hit after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse. This led to tightening credit conditions, which makes it harder for companies to borrow and expand.
Even though the U.S. has staved off recession for now, many economists expect a recession as soon as the current April-June quarter or soon thereafter. One reason for this is the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes. Coupled with high inflation, it would make consumers and businesses sped less and invest less.
(3) Joe Biden announces re-election bid
U.S. president Joe Biden announced his re-election bid for the 2024 presidential elections through a video, asking more time to “finish the job” on Tuesday. While Democrat opposition is not very strong as of now, some issues stand in the way of a second victory.
His track record so far is a mixed bag. On the pandemic front, he boosted vaccination amidst an anti-vaccine movement. However, he faced backlash for declaring the pandemic over too early. On the economy front, job growth was the fastest since the 1960s, but rising inflation was a dampener.
On foreign affairs, Biden has successfully rallied the world against Russia after conflict broke out with Ukraine. On the other hand, America’s ties with China and Saudi Arabia weakened over disagreement on OPEC+ oil output cuts.
With regards to manufacturing and industry, Biden announced big federal spending packages to boost domestic manufacturing. One example is the CHIPS act aimed at semiconductors. However, while it targeted domestic trade by forcing manufacturers to make their products within the U.S., it also upset trading allies such as the European Union and Mexico.
(4) Growth in India’s core sectors’ output hit a five-month low of 3.6% in March
Growth in India’s eight core sectors’ output fell to a five-month low of 3.6% in March, from 7.2% in February, with electricity and cement production slipping from a year ago, and crude oil output falling for the tenth successive month.
Coal production jumped 12.2% in March, while fertilizers and steel output grew 9.7% and 8.8% respectively — relatively slower than recent months — as per data released by the Commerce and Industry Ministry on Friday.
In March, growth in natural gas production was down to 2.8%, the lowest in three months, while refinery products grew at a four-month low pace of 1.5%.
For the full financial year 2022-23, core sectors recorded a 7.6% growth compared to 10.4% in 2021-22, with all sectors reporting higher production except crude oil, which shrank 1.7% during the year.
With most available high frequency indicators weakening in March 2023 on a year-on-year basis, relative to February 2023, Aditi Nayar, chief economist at rating firm ICRA, expects growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) to slow to around 3% to 4% in the month from 5.6% in February. The eight core sectors constitute a little over 40% of the IIP.
(5) Kenya cult death toll reaches 90
The latest death toll in Kenya’s cult investigation has risen to 95 as the government announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the ranch owned by a pastor who is accused of ordering his followers to fast to death.
Journalists and human rights activists on Wednesday were barred from accessing the 800-acre (320-hectare) ranch, which has been declared a “disturbed area and an operation zone.”
Police say they took 22 people into custody during Wednesday’s search and rescue operation. Authorities have rescued 34 people from the property, which is near the town of Malindi, since police raided the ranch earlier this month. The Kenya Red Cross Society said that 314 is the latest missing persons figure.
Pastor Paul Makenzi, who was arrested for allegedly directing his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus, remains in police custody until at least May 2. He heads the Good News International Church.
The pastor has been arrested twice before, in 2019 and in March of this year, in relation to the deaths of children. Each time, he was released on bond, and both cases are still proceeding through the court.
Local politicians have urged the court not to release him this time, decrying the spread of cults in the Malindi area. Cults are common in Kenya, which has a largely religious society.