Modi's COVID apocalypse

India's COVID apocalypse puts Modi in the hot seat

First it was Europe. Then the US. And later Brazil. Right now, India is the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

India is breaking world records for daily COVID infections (and the real number could be much higher). Hard-hit cities like New Delhi are running out of hospital beds, while the black-market prices of oxygen and (often fake) drug remedies are skyrocketing. Since crematoriums are full, many Indians must burn their dead on the street or in mass pyres.

The country of 1.4 billion, once lauded for its better-than-expected pandemic response, is now losing the battle against a virus that has quickly overwhelmed its fragile health system. Whatever happens next, the crisis is already a major test for India's immensely popular leader.

How did we get here? Just two months ago, India's fatality rates per capita were still lower and recovery rates per infection higher than those of other COVID hotspots. New cases had started to decline by late February, weeks after the government had kicked off its ambitious vaccination drive. But that's when the trajectory changed abruptly: infections and deaths began spiraling out of control, largely as a result of a deadlier new local variant, and less adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing. Government decisions also contributed directly.

Politics first. Opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi say he jumped the gun by declaring early victory over the pandemic. Emboldened by his initial success in keeping (reported) deaths low, Modi allowed huge crowds to gather for state election campaign rallies and mass religious festivals like Kumbh Mela, which became super-spreader events.

But somewhat surprisingly for the PM, who took COVID seriously from the start, this time he chose to score political points instead of heeding public health warnings. First, his ruling BJP party has a shot at winning for the first time in West Bengal, currently governed by a prominent Modi critic. Second, Modi — a staunch Hindu nationalist — didn't want to take the heat from his base by cancelling Kumbh Mela, considered the world's largest religious gathering, which occurs every 12 years and entails millions of devout Hindus bathing together in the Ganges to purify their souls.

Vaccine nationalism vs vaccine diplomacy. As the virus rages, Modi is also under growing pressure to accelerate India's sluggish vaccination campaign. Despite being one of the world's top vaccine makers, barely 1.5 percent of Indians have been fully inoculated so far.

Interestingly, the slow pace has been blamed in part on dwindling supplies in Maharashtra state, home to both the worst of the current outbreak and to the Serum Institute of India, which is producing tens of millions of doses of jabs for domestic consumption... and until recently for other countries. The government suspended exports a month ago to contain the current COVID surge, but many Indians are now asking why the PM didn't prioritize his own people earlier.

The US assistance conundrum. Over the weekend, a host of foreign powers offered to help India in this time of need. One of them was the US, where the Biden administration will temporarily lift export restrictions on raw materials to make vaccines so India can ramp up its domestic production.

For Modi, the US assistance is both good and bad news. On the one hand, the Serum Institute welcomes the raw materials needed to get more shots in the arms of Indians. On the other hand, what India really wants is for the Americans and others to temporarily waive intellectual property rights so that it can manufacture as much vaccine as it wants without worrying about patents.

So, how will this all affect Modi? There are no recent polls yet to determine whether the current wave of disease and death has hurt Modi's popularity. But he is worried enough about social media backlash against his handling of the crisis that the government has demanded Twitter block critical posts.

Modi has shown an uncanny immunity to political challenges since he took power in 2014. Botching currency reform in 2016 had little effect on his support, which also survived mass protests over a controversial anti-Muslim citizenship law right before the pandemic, and more recently huge rallies led by farmers. But with over 2,000 people dying daily and no end in sight, will Modi be able to defy political gravity much longer?

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power — following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars — in a bid to exert its superpower bonafides.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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GZERO World Podcast


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