Tech tact: On India’s apps blocking spree

India’s decision on Tuesday to block another 43 Chinese mobile applications hardly comes as a surprise. Since June, following escalation of tensions with China at the border, India has blocked over 250 Chinese mobile apps, a bunch at a time, on the grounds that they have been engaging in activities “which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. The latest instance of app blocking has come at a time when the two sides, while still talking, are struggling to come up with an agreement for disengagement along the Line of Actual Control. With the immensely popular TikTok and PUBG already blocked, this time it was the turn of the likes of Alipay Cashier, Snack Video, Chinese Social, Adore App, and Alibaba Workbench to meet the same fate. China, not for the first time either, has charged India with using national security as an excuse to target Chinese apps. Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, has

A vial half full: On COVID-19 vaccine race

After a spate of successes in the vaccines being tested in human trials, there is now a blip: a manufacturing defect in some batches of the trial vaccine being tested and marketed by AstraZeneca, which has partnered with the Oxford University vaccine group to test and market the ChAdOx1 nCOV-19 vaccine. Some volunteers, who were supposed to get two doses of vaccine a month apart, got only half the required dose in one of the injections. Intriguingly, the data suggested that the efficacy was 90% in the half/dose-full dose sub-group than the 62% in the regular full dose group. The manufacturing snafu was disclosed by neither Oxford nor AstraZeneca, but came to light after the head of the United States vaccine programme disclosed it on Twitter. The company maintains that this was not a ‘mistake’ as the manufacturing discrepancy was discovered, and disclosed to the United Kingdom regulators. It was with their approval that the batches with the reduced doses were allowed to progress.

Storm warnings: On weather forecast

Cyclone Nivar raised fears of another epic disaster for millions of coastal residents in the south, but its passage overland near Puducherry early on November 26 was less destructive than anticipated. The reported loss of at least three lives is a relatively low toll for such a large-scale weather system, although property and agriculture have suffered considerable damage from the fierce winds and massive volume of rain it dumped in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Citizens and the government were fearful of a deluge that could be a repeat of the 2015 flood — which killed a few hundred people — and they overcame COVID-19 fatigue to prepare for the worst. There was also a welcome emphasis on periodic alerts and warnings. The IMD has been getting better at forecasting slow-moving, linear tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, and multiple satellites now provide cyclone data. The deployment of over two dozen NDRF teams and disaster management equipment along the coast reassured civic agencies.


Policing faith: On ‘love jihad’ laws

The proposed Uttar Pradesh ordinance seeking to prohibit “unlawful” religious conversions represents a regressive march towards unacceptable medievalism and a reprehensible zeal to police the private lives and beliefs of citizens. Cleared for promulgation by the Governor, it does not use the Islamophobic term that votaries of Hindutva have been bandying about to denote certain inter-faith marriages, but it is clearly targeted at the idea. It eschews the phrase “freedom of religion” that several other anti-conversion laws in other States have employed to title their laws. However, apparently inspired by similar legislation in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, it has sought to include “alluring into marriage” as an additional ground for declaring an instance of religious conversion as illegal, apart from the use of “force, coercion, undue influence and deceit”. The U.P. proposal envisages prison terms, from one to five years in general, three to five years for conversions involving women


Moment of reckoning: On Congress leadership

The Congress has set the ball rolling for organisational elections in a period of great uncertainty in the party. The Central Election Authority of the party hopes to have a session of the All India Congress Committee by February 2021 that will elect the Congress Working Committee and possibly a new president. The post of the president has been vacant after Rahul Gandhi resigned in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha election debacle in 2019. Sonia Gandhi filled in as interim president but the leadership vacuum has aggravated the morbidities of the party since then. In an extremely difficult political environment, the party has been drifting, aimless and rudderless. Its performance in the recent Bihar election was abysmal, made stark by the fact that Mr. Gandhi chose to go on a vacation in the midst of the campaign. Earlier it lost power in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and almost lost it in Rajasthan. The edifice that held the party together from 2004 to 2014 when it was in power at the

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