Business and Bollywood vote in India’s election

Business and Bollywood vote in India’s election
Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries, his wife Nita Ambani and their son Akash Ambani arrive to cast their votes at a polling station during the fifth phase of India’s general election, in Mumbai, India, May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 May 2024
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Business and Bollywood vote in India’s election

Business and Bollywood vote in India’s election
  • Big conglomerates have bestowed upon Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a campaign war chest that dwarfs its rivals
  • Bollywood stars have backed its ideological commitment to more closely align with the country’s majority religion and politics

MUMBAI: A parade of India’s business and entertainment elite — many of them supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — went to the polls Monday as the financial capital Mumbai voted in the latest round of the country’s six-week election.

Modi, 73, is widely expected to win a third term when the election concludes early next month, thanks in large part to his aggressive championing of India’s majority Hindu faith.

“My vote is for the BJP and Modi,” said Deepak MaHajjan, 42, who works in banking. “There is no other choice if you care about the future of the economy and business. I have always voted this way.”

Big conglomerates have bestowed upon Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a campaign war chest that dwarfs its rivals, while Bollywood stars have backed its ideological commitment to more closely align with the country’s majority religion and its politics.




Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan (R) with daughter Suhana Khan (L) arrives to cast his ballot to vote at a polling station in Mumbai on May 20, 2024, during the fifth phase of voting of India's general election. (AFP)

Latest data shows that the BJP was by far the single biggest beneficiary of electoral bonds, a contentious political donation tool since ruled illegal by India’s top court.

Leading companies and wealthy businesspeople gave the party $730 million, accounting for just under half of all donations made under the scheme in the past five years.

Conglomerate owners support Modi’s government because it caters to the needs of India’s “existing oligarchic business elite,” Deepanshu Mohan of OP Jindal Global University told AFP.

Lower corporate tax rates, less red tape and a reduction in “municipal regulatory corruption” have also helped Modi win the affection of corporate titans, he said.

N. Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Tata Sons, a sprawling Indian conglomerate with interests ranging from cars and software to salt and tea, cast his ballot at a polling station in an upper-class Mumbai neighborhood.




Natarajan Chandrasekaran (C) Chairman of the Board at Tata Sons with his wife Lalitha Chandrasekaran (L) shows his inked finger after casting his ballot to vote outside a polling booth in Mumbai on May 20, 2024, during the fifth phase of voting of India's general election. (AFP)

“It’s a great privilege to have the opportunity to vote,” he told reporters.

Asia’s richest man, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, also voted at the same polling station, accompanied by his wife, son, and a media scrum, posing to show his ink-stained finger.

Anand Mahindra, chairman of the eponymous automaker, told news agency PTI after voting: “If you look at the world around us, there is so much uncertainty, there is such instability, there’s terror, there’s war.

“And we are in the middle of a stable democracy where we get a chance to vote peacefully, to decide what kind of government we want. It’s a blessing.”

Modi’s cultivated image as a champion of the Hindu faith is the foundation of his enduring popularity, rather than an economy still characterised by widespread unemployment and income inequality.




A Sadhu or a Hindu holy man shows his ink-marked finger after voting, outside a polling station during the fifth phase of India's general election, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, May 20, 2024. (Reuters)

This year he presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram, built on the grounds of a centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya razed by Hindu zealots in 1992.

Construction of the temple fulfilled a longstanding demand of Hindu activists and was widely celebrated across the country with back-to-back television coverage and street parties.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of eminent Indians including Ambani, whose family donated $300,000 to the temple’s trust.

Also present were cricket star and Mumbai native Sachin Tendulkar along with actor Amitabh Bachchan — the single most famous product of Bollywood, as the financial hub’s film industry is known.




Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan casts his ballot to vote at a polling station in Mumbai on May 20, 2024, during the fifth phase of voting in India's general election. (AFP)

Numerous screen stars have established themselves as vocal champions of Modi’s administration since he was swept to office a decade ago.

Former soap actor Smriti Irani is one of the government’s most recognized ministers and beat India’s most prominent opposition leader Rahul Gandhi in the contest for her current parliamentary seat in 2019.

Filmmakers have also produced several provocative and ideologically charged films to match the ruling party’s sectarian messaging, which critics say deliberately maligns India’s 200-million-plus Muslim minority.

Last year’s “Kerala Story” was heavily promoted by the BJP but condemned elsewhere for falsely claiming thousands of Hindu women had been brainwashed by Muslims to join the Daesh group.

But some in Mumbai, like delivery driver Sunil Kirti voted for the opposition Congress party.

“In the past year I am earning less, but prices of basic essentials... food and vegetables have gone up,” said Kirti, 29. “Who is to blame for that?“




Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (R) shows her inked finger after casting her ballot to vote at a polling station in Mumbai on May 20, 2024, during the fifth phase of voting in India's general election. (AFP)

India’s election is conducted in seven phases over six weeks to ease the immense logistical burden of staging the democratic exercise in the world’s most populous country, with more than 968 million eligible voters.

The fifth round is taking place as parts of India endure their second heatwave in three weeks.

Scientific research shows climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

Turnout is down several percentage points from the last national poll in 2019, with analysts blaming widespread expectations of a Modi victory as well as the heat.

Temperatures reached 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, one of the states where tens of millions of people voted on Monday.


US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
  • The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June
SEOUL: A nuclear-powered United States aircraft carrier arrived Saturday in South Korea for a three-way exercise stepping up their military training to cope with North Korean threats that escalated with its alignment with Russia.
The arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group in Busan came a day after South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest a pact reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week that pledges mutual defense assistance in the event of war. South Korea says the deal poses a threat to its security and warned that it could consider sending arms to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion as a response — a move that would surely ruin its relations with Moscow.
Following a meeting between their defense chiefs in Singapore earlier in June, the United States, South Korea and Japan announced Freedom Edge. The new multidomain exercise is aimed at sharpening the countries’ combined response in various areas of operation, including air, sea and cyberspace.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June. South Korea’s military didn’t immediately confirm specific details of the training.
South Korea’s navy said in a statement that the arrival of Theodore Roosevelt demonstrates the strong defense posture of the allies and “stern willingness to respond to advancing North Korean threats.” The carrier’s visit comes seven months after another US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, came to South Korea in a show of strength against the North.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group also participated in a three-way exercise with South Korean and Japanese naval forces in April in the disputed East China Sea, where worries about China’s territorial claims are rising.
In the face of growing North Korean threats, the United States, South Korea and Japan have expanded their combined training and boosted the visibility of strategic US military assets in the region, seeking to intimidate the North. The United States and South Korea have also been updating their nuclear deterrence strategies, with Seoul seeking stronger assurances that Washington would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to defend its ally from a North Korean nuclear attack.

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
Updated 22 June 2024
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Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
  • China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense ministry said Saturday it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, a day after Beijing said “diehard” advocates of Taiwan’s independence could face the death penalty.
China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
It has stepped up pressure on Taipei in recent years and held war games around the island following last month’s inauguration of new Taiwanese leader Lai Ching-te.
On Saturday, Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft and seven naval vessels operating around Taiwan during the 24-hour period leading up to 6:00 a.m. (2200 GMT).
“32 of the aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a line bisecting the 180-kilometer (110-mile) waterway that separates Taiwan from China.
The ministry added that it had “monitored the situation and responded accordingly.”
The latest incursion came after China published judicial guidelines Friday that included the death penalty for “particularly serious” cases of “diehard” supporters of Taiwanese independence, state media reported.
On May 25, Taiwan detected 62 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, the highest single-day total this year, as China staged military drills following the inauguration of Lai, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist.”


Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
Updated 22 June 2024
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Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
  • More than two years into the conflict, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday said Russia had launched a “massive” overnight attack on energy infrastructure in the country’s west and south.
“Equipment at (operator) Ukrenergo facilities in Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions was damaged,” the energy ministry said, adding that two employees were wounded and hospitalized in Zaporizhzhia.
It said this was “the eighth massive, combined attack on energy infrastructure facilities” in the past three months.
More than two years into the Russian invasion, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity and forced Kyiv to impose blackouts and import supplies from the European Union.
Ukrainian authorities on Thursday said energy infrastructure, including a power station, had been damaged in a major overnight attack which left seven employees wounded.
DTEK, the largest private energy company in Ukraine, said the strikes caused “serious damage” at one of its plants.
Russian attacks have destroyed half of Ukraine’s energy capacity, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky said this week that all hospitals and schools in Ukraine must be equipped with solar panels “as soon as possible.”
“We are doing everything to ensure that Russian attempts to blackmail us on heat and electricity fail,” he said Thursday.
DTEK chief executive Maxim Timchenko warned that Ukraine “faces a serious crisis this winter” if the country’s Western allies do not provide military aid to defend the energy network.
Zelensky has repeatedly urged Ukraine’s allies to send more air-defense systems to protect the country’s vital infrastructure.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Washington would prioritize deliveries of anti-air missiles to Kyiv, ahead of other countries that have placed orders.
Zelensky said in a message on X he was “deeply grateful” for the US move.
“These additional air defense capabilities will protect Ukrainian cities and civilians,” he wrote.


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
Updated 22 June 2024
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”


New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US
Updated 22 June 2024
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New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US
  • Nikhil Gupta was extradited to United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year
  • Gupta is accused by US of unsuccessfully plotting with Indian official to kill a US citizen

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is in touch with the family of an Indian man who is accused of plotting with an Indian government official to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States, the foreign ministry said on Friday in reaction to a Reuters report.
Nikhil Gupta, extradited to the United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year, has been accused by US federal prosecutors of unsuccessfully plotting with an Indian official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen.
Gupta, 52, pleaded not guilty on Monday to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in a court in Manhattan and a source close to his family told Reuters on Thursday that it wanted New Delhi’s help to “get justice.”
“We have so far not received any request for consular access from Gupta, but his family has got in touch with us,” Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told reporters. “We are in touch with the family members and we are looking at the matter as to what can be done on their request.”
The US government has said it thwarted the alleged plot to kill Pannun and warned India about concerns of its involvement.
India has designated Pannun an “individual terrorist” but has dissociated itself from the plot, saying it goes against government policy. Pannun advocates for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
The source, who declined to be named given the sensitive nature of a case that has diplomatic implications, had said Gupta’s family has not been able to establish direct contact with him since his extradition.
“Regardless of the allegations raised against him, he is an Indian citizen and a patriot who deserves the rights and protections granted by the government to its citizens.”
The source said the family believed Gupta “is a victim in this series of events” but that “he will get justice.”