New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern set to serve second term as PM after landslide victory

News Network
October 17, 2020

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New Delhi, Oct 17: Marking a landslide victory in the New Zealand General Elections, incumbent Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to return for her second term as the head of the country. PM Jacinda Ardern, representing New Zealand's liberal labout party, is acing ahead to form for the first time a single party majority government in the country in decades. During her first term in the office, Ardern was in power with the support of the nationalist party.

Ardern’s liberal Labour Party had nearly double the support of its main challenger, the conservative National Party.

Labour was on the cusp of winning an outright majority in Parliament, something that hasn’t happened since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago. Typically, parties must form alliances to govern, but this time Ardern and Labour may be able to go it alone.

"It's a landslide that looks like our vote is the best it has been since the 1940s," said Labour Minister David Parker. "It's a tremendous accolade first and foremost to the prime minister, but also to the wider Labour team and the Labour movement."

A record number of voters cast early ballots in the two weeks leading up to the election.

On the campaign trail, Ardern was greeted like a rock star by people who crammed into malls and spilled onto streets to cheer her on and get selfies with her.

Her popularity soared earlier this year after she led a successful effort to stamp out the coronavirus. There is currently no community spread of the virus in the nation of 5 million and people are no longer required to wear masks or social distance.

Ardern, 40, won the top job after the 2017 election when Labour formed an alliance with two other parties. The following year, she became only the second world leader to give birth while in office.

She became a role model for working mothers around the world, many of whom saw her as a counterpoint to President Donald Trump. And she was praised for her handling of last year’s attack on two Christchurch mosques, when a white supremacist gunned down 51 Muslim worshippers. She moved quickly to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.

In late March this year, when only about 100 people had tested positive for COVID-19, Ardern and her health officials put New Zealand into a strict lockdown with a motto of “Go hard and go early.” She shut the borders and outlined an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus entirely rather than just trying to control its spread.

With New Zealand having the advantage of being an isolated island nation, the strategy worked. The country eliminated community transmission for 102 days before a new cluster was discovered in August in Auckland. Ardern swiftly imposed a second lockdown in Auckland and the new outbreak faded away. The only new cases found recently have been among returning travelers, who are in quarantine.

The Auckland outbreak also prompted Ardern to postpone the election by a month and helped increase the early voter turnout.

The National Party’s leader, Judith Collins, is a former lawyer. She served as a minister when National was in power and prides herself on a blunt, no-nonsense approach, a contrast to Ardern’s empathetic style. Collins, 61, was promising sweeping tax cuts in response to the economic downturn caused by the virus.

In the election, voters also had a say on two contentious social issues — whether to legalize marijuana and euthanasia. Polls taken before the election indicated the euthanasia referendum was likely to pass while the marijuana vote remained uncertain. The results of both referendums will be announced Oct. 30.

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News Network
October 14,2020

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The social media is buzzing after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that Bangladesh will overtake India in per capita GDP for 2020.

As India's growth falls, amongst the most in the world, India is on track to fall below Bangladesh in terms of the per capita GDP. India will grow smartly next year, as per IMF.

As per the World Economic Outlook report of IMF released on Tuesday, India's per capita GDP is set to plunge by 10.5 percent to $1,877 this fiscal year ending March 31, 2021. This will make India the third poorest country in South Asia with only Pakistan and Nepal behind.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives now have more per capita GDP than India.

Bangladesh's per capita GDP in dollar terms is expected to grow 4 per cent in 2020 to $1,888, overtaking India.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP government on this count. "Solid achievement of 6 years of BJP's hate-filled cultural nationalism: Bangladesh set to overtake India".

Stock market expert and Director Enam Holdings, Manish Chokhani tweeted, "Today's special. Both our neighbours marching ahead. We wish them well and hope our achievements meet our own aspirations!".

Chokhani added a clipping of Bangladesh overtaking India and China's booming economy and stock markets. The tweet was tagged to business and stock market leaders Samir Arora, Nilesh Shah, Anand Mahindra, Harsh Goenka and Harsh Mariwala.

Till five years back, India's per capita GDP was 40 per cent higher than Bangladesh.  In the last five years, Bangladesh has grown three times the rate of India, at 9.1 per cent compared to 3.2 per cent for India, a much larger economy.

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News Network
October 19,2020

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Houston, Oct 19: A 14-year-old Indian-American girl has won a USD 25,000 young scientist challenge for a discovery that could provide a potential treatment for Covid-19.

Anika Chebrolu, an eighth-grader from Frisco in Texas, won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, regarded as the US' premier middle school science competition, for her work using in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find a molecule that can selectively bind to the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus in an attempt to find a cure for the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 3M Challenge website.

3M is an American manufacturing company based in Minnesota.

Chebrolu decided to take part in the Young Scientist Challenge after she battled a severe influenza infection last year. She wanted to find a cure for influenza. However, that all changed after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the website said.

“I was drawn towards finding effective cures for influenza disease after a severe bout of the infection last year,” Chebrolu said.

“I would like to learn more from 3M scientists to pursue my drug development and with their help, would like to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo testing of my lead drug candidate,” she said.

Chebrolu was one of the 10 finalists in this year’s 3M Young Scientist Challenge. In addition to the prize money, she was also awarded an exclusive 3M Mentorship.

As a finalist, she worked with 3M Corporate Scientist Dr Mahfuza Ali, who mentored Chebrolu one-on-one throughout the summer. Together, they transformed her idea from concept to reality.

Dr Ali helped Chebrolu perfect her innovation through the scientific method, and she presented her project to a judging panel of scientists and leaders. Each finalist was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed innovation.

"I am extremely humbled at being selected America's Top Young Scientist as all of the finalists had amazing projects and were extremely well-rounded individuals," Chebrolu said.

"Science is the basis of life and the entire universe and we have a long way to go understand it fully," said Chebrolu, who wants to become a medical researcher and professor.

Talking to CNN, Chebrolu said, "The last two days, I saw that there is a lot of media hype about my project since it involves the SARS-CoV-2 virus and it reflects our collective hopes to end this pandemic as I, like everyone else, wish that we go back to our normal lives soon."

Chebrolu said she was inspired to find potential cures to viruses after learning about the 1918 flu pandemic and finding out how many people die every year in the US despite annual vaccinations and anti-influenza drugs on the market.

"Chebrolu has an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for Covid-19," Dr Cindy Moss, a judge for the competition, told CNN.

"Her work was comprehensive and examined numerous databases. She also developed an understanding of the innovation process and is a masterful communicator. Her willingness to use her time and talent to help make the world a better place gives us all hope," Moss said.

Chebrolu said that winning the prize and title of top young scientist is an honour, but her work isn't done.

Her next goal, she says, is to work alongside scientists and researchers who are fighting to "control the morbidity and mortality" of the pandemic by developing her findings into an actual cure for the virus.

"My effort to find a lead compound to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer may appear to be a drop in the ocean, but still adds to all these efforts," she told CNN.

"How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts," she said.

Denise Rutherford, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at 3M in his congratulatory message said that amidst the challenges of a global pandemic, quality STEM education for all has become an even more urgent need.

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Ram Puniyani
October 15,2020

A Year ago, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat had stated (October 10, 2019) that Indian Muslims are happiest in the World due to Hindus. Now he goes on to say that most content Muslims are only in India. Not content with that he went on to state that “if there is any example world over wherein a foreign religion that ruled over the people of a country still exists there”, it is here in India. And further “"Our Constitution did not say that only Hindus can stay here; hereafter only Hindus will be heard here; if you want to stay here, then you have to accept the superiority of Hindus. We created a space for them. This is the nature of our nation, and that inherent nature is called Hindu". Wearing the hat of a historian he stated that many a Muslims fought for Rana Pratap against Akbar, exemplifying that people of all faiths stood together whenever there was an attack on India’s culture.  He labeled Ram Temple is a symbol of national values and character.

Most of these formulations are a ploy to deflect the criticism which RSS, as the patriarch of Hindu Communalism is facing currently, at home and also internationally. The plight of Muslims has been deteriorating at rapid pace during last few decades. Adding on to the violence against them in the wake of Rath yatras for Ram Temple, the mob lynching’s in the name of cow-beef, the social intimidations in the name of love jihad, ghar Wapasi have peaked during last few years. The cumulative intimidation of Muslim community did find its expression in the most democratic Shaheen bagh movement. The violence that took place in the aftermath saw the heavy loss of Muslim lives and great damage to their properties and holy places. The image of communalism as tormentor of weaker sections of society is going up, so probably Mr. Bhagwat is quoting Indian Constitution, which most leaders from his Parivar decry, criticize and call it as being unsuitable for India as it is based on foreign values. On the contrary Shaheen bagh movement showed the peak respect for the same when ‘Preamble of Indian Constitution’ formed its core slogan and ideology.

Undoubtedly, Indian Constitution wants a plural democratic India while RSS parivar wants a Hindu nation. For Indian Constitution religions are not foreign or native, they are universal and we have a full freedom to practice, preach and propagate our religion, we also have a freedom not to adhere to any religion.

The RSS Sarsanghchalak probably does not know that nationalism and religion were separate in the scheme of freedom movement of India where people from different religions and atheists participated with equal zest in fighting against the British rule. He may be unaware that in South East Asian countries the major religion is Buddhism, which originated in this land but is the major religion in those countries.

The communal view of History has been the mainstay of his organization, rather his Parivar’s politics. When he says that even Muslims participated in battle against Akbar, to save the Indian culture, he is taking the distortion of History to further level. In what way did Rana Pratap represent Indian culture? He was a King of Mewar. In what way the battle between Akbar and Rana Pratap was for Indian culture. Akbar, for that matter most of the Muslim kings, who ruled here, became the part of this land. Akbar in particular was for multi-faith society, that’s why he conceptualized Sulh-E-Kul (Harmony among religions). And as Muslim Hakim Khan Sur was part of Rana Pratap’s army (saving Indian culture!), so was Raja Mansingh leading the forces of Akbar! Quiet a garbled up exercise to project Rana Pratap as symbolizing Indian culture, forgetting Raja Mansing was leading forces from opposite side.

So far RSS history has been presenting Rana Pratap and Shivaji as heroes of Hindu nationalism, now probably they have learnt that both these warriors had Muslims in their army and similarly their rival Muslim Kings had Hindus also on their side. These battles have nothing to do as being for and against Indian culture. As such Indian culture flourished during this period leading Jawaharlal Nehru to call this as ‘Ganga Jamani Tehjeeb’ (Syncretism, pluralism at peak). The peak of this was Bhakti and Sufi traditions, which focused on humane aspects of life.

As far as Ram Temple being the symbol of national values and culture, we should recall Bhimrao Ambedkar’s ‘Riddles of Rama and Krishna’, where Ambedkar and later Periyar criticize the Lord for killing a Shudra Shambuk, when he was doing penance, killed Bali from behind and banished his pregnant wife Sita on mere suspicion. Symbol of Indian nationalism is freedom movement and Indian Constitution.

Indian Constitution gives equal citizenship rights to people of all religions, ethnicities, regions and languages. The problem is that communalism regards this as a Hindu nation and so Muslims and Christians are regarded as foreigners.  Accordingly earlier Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar in his book, ‘Bunch of thoughts’; calls them internal threat to the nation.

To call that Indian Muslims are happiest in the World due to Hindus or they are most content in the World, must a joke. In the light of the rising violence against them, the rising ghettoisation of the community and their declining political representation tells another tale. To cap it; now a section of media, which is part of the communal project, is coining words like Corona Jihad, Corona bomb and the last in the series is from Sudarshan Channel, which sees four odd percent successful Muslim candidates as Jamia Jihadis and others with them as a part of planned jihad to take over civil services!

Such statements like Indian Muslims are most content or happiest is like rubbing salt on the wounds of a besieged community, which is trying its best to live the values of Indian Constitution as witnessed during Shaheen bagh movement.

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