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The Indian Express, founded in 1931 is the great rival of one of the country's other English-language dailies, the Times of India. Renowned for its political and financial investigations, The Indian Express has received several journalism and press photo awards. In 1991, the Indian Express Group was split between family members, resulting in southern editions being rebranded The New Indian Express.
Hundreds of people celebrated the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, UK

The Latest: Iran’s New Leader, Live Olympic Fans, Vaccine Gum

Welcome to Monday, where Iran's new leader has tough words for Joe Biden, Olympics athletes will get a live audience after all and Russia is developing a chewing gum form of its Sputnik vaccine. Italian news magazine Internazionale also reports on the harrowing living conditions for migrants in the country's pre-deportation facilities.

• Iran's new hardliner president says he won't negotiate with Biden: In his first comments since being elected Saturday as Iran's new president, conservative former judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi said today he is not willing to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden nor negotiate over Iran's nuclear program.

• Ethiopian elections go ahead despite international concern: Amid ethnic conflict and famine in its Tigray region, Ethiopia will still hold elections today for its next Prime Minister. Current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, slated to remain in power, has assured that the election will be democratic even as international observers voice concern about its legitimacy, noting that constituencies in conflict zones will have their votes delayed due to security concerns.

• Swedish Prime Minister ousted: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a vote of no-confidence this morning triggered by nationalist party, the Sweden Democrats. The Prime Minister now has one week to decide whether to resign or to call a snap election.

• Japan to allow domestic spectators at Olympics: Athletes will be able to benefit from a live audience, despite previous recommendations that holding the event without fans would help diminish the spread of COVID-19. Up to 10,000 viewers, or 50% capacity of most stadiums, will be allowed per venue.

• After missing for months, Dubai Princess appears in photo: Images of Sheikha Latifa appearing alive and presumably on holiday in Spain were posted to Instagram, Reuters reports. Latifa, the focus of concern for rights organizations, had been assumed to be detained against her will after attempting to escape the country in 2018. A video in February was released of the princess pleading for help.

• Apple Daily may shut down in days: The Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, may soon be shut down after seeing its office raided and assets frozen, and its founder Jimmy Lai arrested. The newspaper's Board will decide Friday whether to continue operations.

• Russia hopes to develop COVID vaccine in chewing gum form: The Russian military is currently working to be able to administer "Sputnik V" as chewable tablets and pastilles, in addition to its current usage as an intravenous injection.

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Winner Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses trophy after the final match of the French Open

The Latest: Bye Bye Bibi, Novavax Vaccine, Record-Breaking Houseplant

Welcome to Monday, where Israel gets a new Prime Minister after Netanyahu's 12-year tenure, more good news from another COVID-19 vaccine and a houseplant breaks a record in New Zealand. Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg also explains what's at stake for Ukraine as Joe Biden meets with Vladimir Putin in Geneva later this week.

• Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year run as Israel prime minister ends: On Sunday, the Israeli parliament approved a new government led by nationalist Naftali Bennett. The change, brought out by a narrow 60-59 vote, marks an end of an era.

• Erdogan and Biden to have a NATO meeting: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he and U.S. President Joe Biden must use their bilateral meeting to discuss past troubles, such as Ankara's purchase of Russian missiles. Erdogan has reportedly been frustrated by the more critical approach from the new U.S. Administration.

• COVID update: In its 29,960-person trial, small U.S. company Novavax found that a two-shot inoculation demonstrated an overall efficacy of 90.4 percent. Despite these impressive results, the vaccine's future in the U.S. is uncertain and might be needed more in other countries. Meanwhile, India has recorded 70,421 new daily COVID-19 cases, the lowest since the end of March. The country, one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, also saw 3,936 deaths in the same period.

• Five more opposition figures detained in Nicaragua: Several of President Daniel Ortega's former allies were arrested on Sunday, accused of inciting foreign interference in Nicaragua's affairs. About 12 opposition figures have been arrested in recent days.

• Huge gas explosion in central China kills at least 12: The blast took place at about 6:30 a.m. local time in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

• Djokovic and Krejčíková win French Open: World no.1 Novak Djokovic from Serbia beat Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas to win his 19th Slam title in a five-set thriller at Roland Garros. The Czech Republic's Barbora Krejčíková became the first woman in 21 years to win both the singles and doubles title.

• D-Day watch starts working again after 77 years: American veteran Raymond Geddes' watch was broken during D-Day operations on June 6, 1944. It was on display in the Dead Man's Corner Museum and started ticking again on June 10.

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India's 'chicken's neck'
Alaric Moras

The Chinese Dragon Breathing Down India's Chicken Neck

Geopolitical and historical intrigue could lead to war-mongering along the Indian-Chinese border, but an open conflict is highly unlikely.

Just a passing glance at a map of Asia, and you can't miss the contours of the more than 4,000-kilometer-long border between India and China, the world's two most populous countries. But it may require a closer look at that same map to see what is commonly dubbed: the "Chicken's Neck" of India.

This narrow stretch of land (less than 27-km-wide at one point) is formally known as the Siliguri Corridor, and lies in the state of West Bengal, connecting India's northeastern states to the rest of the country. It was created in 1947 after the partition of Bengal between India and Pakistan, and today is surrounded by the countries of Nepal and Bangladesh, and the tiny kingdom of Bhutan.

But today the Chicken Neck is back in the headlines because of China. This most vulnerable point in India's geography appears to have pushed Delhi's unusually aggressive move in Dok La, a region comprising Bhutan and China's disputed land border: On June 16th, Indian soldiers formed a human chain in the area, preventing Chinese incursion into the territory for road construction.

Soldiers of both armies have now pitched tents opposite each other, effectively creating a military standoff, as India and China face their deepest conflict since their month-long war in 1962.

The Chicken Neck (Siliguri Corridor) in red — Wikipedia

Asian geopolitics are never simple to understand: in this case, border tensions between Bhutan and China have led to a face-off between China and India. Authorities in Delhi claim to be acting in Bhutan's best interests, and with its consent, but there is more to the standoff than meets the eye. The presence of Chinese troops in the Dok La region would make it easy for China to take control of the corridor, and as a consequence isolate all of northeast India from the rest of the country.

But the more relevant question may be: Why now? Beyond the factors on the ground are the men in charge. The countries' current leaders, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, have each made it clear that they want to exert their influence beyond their respective borders. Xi has been busy flexing his muscles in the South China Sea, across the straits, and now, even in Africa.

Meanwhile, Modi, unlike his predecessors, has taken more hawkish stance with countries such as Pakistan and Nepal — most often to his detriment.

While previous leaders for the two countries have avoided open conflict for more than 40 years, the current territorial skirmishes, coupled with the leaders' global ambitions, begs the question of how much longer this peace will last.

Siliguri, India — Photo: Sayantani

Still, even as both sides declare their preparedness for war, it remains a highly unlikely outcome. Even as Bhutan remains sandwiched between the two countries, with China constantly threatening to make it a vassal state, it is hard to imagine the two continental powers going to war over a border conflict in the tiny Asian kingdom.

Though the two sides are currently showing no signs of backing down, neither Beijing nor Delhi are likely to let the situation degenerate to that point. The reason is simple: even more than global muscle-flexing, both China and India will do everything in their power in the pursuit of economic growth.

In Latur, Maharashtra, India
Alaric Moras

Dire States: Does India Have A Hidden Debt Bubble?

The western state of Maharashtra, home of Mumbai and the biggest regional economy of India, announced this month that it will waive farmer loans worth 1,140 billion rupees, or nearly $18 billion.

The June 12 measure will leave only 800 billion rupees, or about $12 billion, in the state's coffers until the end of the fiscal year, the Indian Expressreported. The state government said it would cover its expenses by borrowing.

On its own, this news might not be so alarming. But taken together with recent state borrowing trends, it is cause for concern — and some have even warned of a looming debt "bubble."

Borrowing by state governments has risen consistently since 2007. Between 2015 and 2017, 18 of India's 31 states and territories exceeded the permitted gross fiscal deficit (limited by a 2003 national law to 3% of gross state domestic product).

And there is more to make an economist's hair stand on end. Around 70% of India's banking sector is in the hands of Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) banks, relics of the country's flirtation with socialism until 1991.

Between 2012 and 2015, 27 PSU banks wrote off the same amount of 1,140 billion rupees worth of bad debts, more than the total of write-offs in the previous nine years. Economic measures such as last year's demonetization, the prohibition of liquor in certain states (though liquor makes up a quarter of some states' income) and the banning of beef (which, as a recent paper suggests, could deduct 2% from the annual GDP growth) have not helped.

What is the debt financing?

A projected increase of foreign direct investment in India by $3.5 billion has allayed fears, but this is not likely to cushion the investment shortfall, warns Dr. V. Anantha-Nageswaran, of the foreign policy think tank Gateway House.

Many also look at the shrinking central debt under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and see cause for optimism. But interest payments already consume one-third of the Indian central government's tax revenue. And though Modi seems keen on meeting fiscal targets, he campaigned and won in the state of Uttar Pradesh on the promise of more loan waivers for farmers, which he duly kept.

This leads to the obvious question: while debt in itself is not a bad thing, one must ask what the debt is financing. Investment to improve productivity is critical. But waiving farmers' loans will simply lead to a repetition of the same situation years from now, unless agriculture reforms follow.

Populist promises like loan waivers lead to short-term relief but long-term strain on India's economy. And though the Reserve Bank of India was once a force to be reckoned with, it now produces no more than irritated noises. Thus, state and national politicians can carry on with their unabashed profligacy, which inevitably lead to inflation.

If the Modi government intends to actually improve India's economy, it must not stop with the Goods and Services Tax (a nationwide tax that will absorb central, state and lower-level indirect taxes) , or with meeting national fiscal targets. Improving India's credit rating (stuck just a notch above "junk" status) and improving India's Ease of Doing Business Index score (beyond hemming and hawing over World Bank reports) would actually get the country's gears moving. Debt bubble or not, the real economy is something that can ever be written off.

Irom Sharmila, in white.

The Indian Woman Who Has Been On A Hunger Strike For 15 Years

DELHI — On November 4, 2000, Irom Sharmila, an Indian civil rights activist, began what would become the longest recorded hunger strike ever, protesting against India's military following the killing of 10 civilians in her northeastern state of Manipur.

Fifteen years later, the now 43-year-old has never broken her fast, as The Indian Express reports Wednesday on the anniversary of the strike, noting the activist goes as far as cleaning her teeth with dried cotton so no water passes her lips.

What keeps her alive? Sharmila is force-fed three times per day through a nose-probe in a room at the Imphal Hospital, under police surveillance.

Under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, she has faced charges of attempted suicide, which, until December 2014, was illegal in the country. Sharmila, who has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has rejected these allegations on many occasions and repeated she was on a hunger strike for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which grants Indian forces special powers in what the act describes as "disturbed areas."

The incident that initially prompted the action took place on November 2, 2000 when the Assam Rifles, a government paramilitary force, responded to an attack by anti-government rebels by shooting dead 10 civilians at a bus stop in Imphal, the state capital of Manipur. Sharmila saw the pictures of the dead bodies in the newspaper the following day and started the protest that would earn her the nickname "Iron Lady of Manipur."

The activist's hunger strike is the longest in the world and her face appears as a revolutionary emblem for "Repeal AFSPA" on t-shirts across India. This, according to Indian website Catch News, is precisely what Sharmila didn't want to happen, insisting that she just wanted to lead a normal life while protesting like any ordinary person of good conscience would do.