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A memo from Modi

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is feeling more confident than ever. Despite bungling the initial COVID response, his Hindu nationalist BJP-led government is firmly entrenched in parliament, and India’s role in the global economy is growing stronger. But out on the streets — and in mosques and churches and newsrooms — a revisionist, sometimes violent Hindu majoritarianism, backed by a complicit government, threatens minorities and civil society.

In short, Indian democracy is backsliding, as the country’s famously secular 72-year-old constitution is threatened by its non-secular 72-year-old hardline PM. With organized attacks against Muslims morphing into a wider, jingoist campaign against Christians, dissenters, journalists and others, we uncover a top-secret (and, OK, maybe fictional) draft press release from Modi's office that helps us see what's really on his mind for 2022.

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What We're Watching: Kashmir gerrymandering

India (further) dividing Kashmir. You've probably heard about Democrats and Republicans tweaking US congressional districts to ensure easy wins, yet make the electoral map overall less competitive. Now India is doing something similar to favor Hindus over Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, a region long disputed with Pakistan. Majority-Muslim Kashmir — besides being the title of Led Zeppelin’s third greatest song — is bigger, has more natural resources, and has been the center of much of the decades-old insurgency against Delhi. But smaller Jammu has a slim Hindu majority, which PM Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government wants to give more parliamentary power than their official population merits by redrawing electoral maps. This has triggered a new communal divide in a historically tense area, which two years ago was stripped of its autonomy by Modi. Since then Kashmir has “welcomed” over half a million Indian troops and imprisoned more politicians than ever before, but gerrymandering could be a step too far. Even Kashmiri officials who have historically sided with Delhi are speaking against the measures, warning of further unrest if such divisive policies are implemented.

What We're Watching: Omicron sparks fear and restrictions, Honduras' elections, Modi plays politics with farmers, EU calls for migrant pact with UK, Kyiv on alert

The omicron wars: Can we really afford to lock down again? In response to the new omicron variant first discovered by South African scientists, many countries have reintroduced pandemic travel restrictions that we thought were long behind us. Israel and Morocco have banned all foreign visitors, while tougher rules on quarantining and travel have also been enforced in the UK, Australia, Singapore and parts of Europe. Meanwhile, travelers from southern African countries have been banned from entering almost everywhere. Scientists say that it is still too early to say how infectious the new variant is, or how resistant it might be to vaccines. This disruption comes just as many economies were starting to reopen after more than 20-months of pandemic closures and chaos. The new restrictions are already triggering a fierce debate: some say that we are now in the endemic stage of the pandemic and that it is both unsustainable – and economically and psychologically harmful – to keep locking down every time a new variant surfaces. Others, like Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, say we are in the throes of a new "state of emergency," and that we can't afford to take any chances. What do you think?

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What We're Watching: Modi plays politics with farmers

Modi plays politics with farmers. The Indian government's recent climbdown on three agricultural laws was a rare concession from Modi, a popular, strong-willed nationalist who came to power in 2014 and has refused to back down on contentious and oft-criticized policy issues – like decimating India's cash money supply, revoking Kashmir's autonomous status, or amending the country's citizenship laws to effectively exclude Muslims. Now, farmers unions seem to smell blood in the water. While many are indeed thrilled that Modi has done away with the farming reforms, which would no longer have guaranteed minimum prices for crops, giving more power to big business, many see this concession as a shrewd political move. Early next year elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and an agricultural stronghold which traditionally backs Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. But the BJP has lost support there in recent months because of the agricultural laws. Still, Modi hasn't won over farmers just yet: farm unions want the government to write certain "minimum support prices" into law, and to expand the number of crops that are given these government price protections. But a law like that won't be popular with powerful agriculture corporations. Will Modi do it anyway?

What We're Watching: G-20 split on climate

G-20 members split on climate ahead of COP26: Just before the COP26 climate summit kicks off in Glasgow on October 31, the leaders of the world's top 20 economies will meet in Rome to discuss climate change, soaring energy prices, and post-pandemic recovery. But the G-20 remains divided between Western countries – like the US and the EU – demanding firm commitments from all member countries on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, and top polluters like China, India, and Russia who say that ask is unreasonable given that many Western nations have benefited from fossil fuel use for decades. Of these three outspoken nations, only India's PM Narendra Modi will travel to Rome, which makes it unlikely that any meaningful progress will be made ahead of the landmark summit in the UK. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is in a tough spot: ahead of a trip to Europe this week, he was hoping to have secured billions of dollars in new climate funding from Congress, but his ambitious plans remain stuck due to divisions within his own party. More broadly, if no consensus is reached in Rome, it'll raise the stakes even more for Glasgow — and the planet can't wait any longer for politicians to make up their minds.

What We’re Watching: German coalition talks, India’s power woes, Oz closes PNG migrant facility

German kingmakers make their pick: Despite fears of a drawn-out process that could take months like in 2017, the Greens and the pro-business FDP have taken less than two weeks to decide whom they want to team up with in a three-way coalition government. The two parties are now talking to the left-of-center SPD, which narrowly won the September 26 federal election. Good news for those hoping to have a new government in place before Christmas, since it'll be easier for the SPD to agree on stuff with its two junior partners than for the Greens and the FDP to find common ground themselves. Bad news for the conservative CSU/CDU, which has governed Germany for 16 years under Chancellor Angela Merkel but is likely headed to the opposition after achieving its worst election result ever.

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What We’re Watching: Thais protest against PM, Taliban government, India (again) shutters Kashmir, Suga out

Thai PM under pressure: Thousands of Thais took to the streets of Bangkok on Thursday to call for the resignation of embattled PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, who faces a no-confidence vote — his third in 18 months — on Saturday. For over a year, the retired general and 2014 coup leader — who's popular among older Thais, cozy with the business elite, and ultra-loyal to the king — has stared down a youth-led movement demanding broad democratic reforms, including, for the first time ever, curbing the powers of the monarchy. Now, the protesters want Prayuth out because Thailand has been badly hit by COVID while barely 11 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — perhaps because the government is relying heavily on domestic jab production by a company owned by the royal family that has no previous experience in manufacturing vaccines. Prayuth will survive because he has enough votes in parliament, but the pressure on him from Thailand's emboldened youth won't go away.

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What We’re Watching: Modi reshuffles cabinet, Iran enriches uranium metal, Ortega jails Nicaraguan opposition

Modi's makeover: After weathering months of criticism over his disastrous (mis)handling of the pandemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday undertook the biggest government reshuffle since he came to power seven years ago. At least a dozen cabinet ministers are out, including Harsh Vardhan, the health minister widely criticized for the devastating second wave of COVID infections that tore through the country earlier this year while India — the world's largest producer of vaccines — was unable to roll out jabs for its own people fast enough. The ministers of environment, education, and IT are also gone, and the new cabinet nearly triples the number of female ministers to 11. The move is a rare course correction for Modi, whose otherwise buoyant approval rating had plummeted nearly 15 points (to 63 percent) between January and June. India's economy is expected to roar back with 12.5 percent growth this year, but still barely 5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

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