BBC News – How PM Modi destroyed rivals in India’s Uttar Pradesh

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 11 March 2017. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decisive win in elections in India’s politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, it sends 80 MPs to the lower house of parliament, has produced nine prime ministers, and is located next door to the capital, Delhi, is clearly being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi was the face of the campaign in the absence of any clear chief ministerial candidates.

Mixing rhetoric with promises of development, he campaigned hard against what looked like formidable opposition, a coalition of the ruling regional Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress, headed by the young satrap Akhilesh Yadav, and the powerful Bahujan Samaj Party, (BSP) led by Dalit leader Mayawati.

So what does this victory mean for his party?

For one, the balance of power in India has now decisively swung in favour of the BJP, and reinforces the party’s position as the central pole in India’s politics.

The win in Uttar Pradesh, and in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, means the BJP now rules more than a dozen of India’s 29 state legislatures.

Also, the party appears to have successfully forged a coalition of upper, middle-ranking and lower castes to be able to manipulate the social arithmetic of Indian elections. It has also avoided being seen as doling out reckless patronage to a caste or group, the bane of Mr Yadav’s defeated party in Uttar Pradesh.

“He has managed to go beyond the caste arithmetic. On the ground, the BJP is not perceived as a casteist party,” Bhanu Joshi, of the Centre of Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, told me.

Second, Mr Modi’s party appears to have famously survived the jitters over his controversial currency ban, which inconvenienced many people and hurt the poor and small businesses.

Political scientist Milan Vaishnav believes the vote actually “represents a referendum on demonetisation”.

“Whether voters were bothered by the implementation of the policy or not, they clearly have decided that the PM is a man of action. As the old saying goes, “you can’t beat something with nothing”, he told me.

Thirdly, midway through his first term, Mr Modi becomes the front-runner in the 2019 general elections for a second term in power.

This despite what critics say is a lukewarm economic record, the jury is out on whether he’s an economic reformer or a believer in big state, and rising social tensions.

One reason is the state of opposition. The main opposition Congress party, despite its apparent win in Punjab, remains in a limbo, run by the dynastic Gandhi family, which holds the party together but is unable to win votes. “No state in India will now vote for a Gandhi,” says political analyst Shekhar Gupta.

The defeats in Punjab and Goa are also a big setback for the national ambitions of the promising anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party, which holds power in its Delhi borough.

Fourthly, the win will mean a huge boost to Mr Modi’s party in the upper house of parliament, and help it to push through key laws.

And finally, Mr Modi’s connection with the masses remains undiminished.

“Modi is the single most popular politician in India today, bar none. His charisma, perceived personal incorruptibility, and credibility are unmatched right now in Indian politics,” says Dr Vaishnav.

“As the opposition keeps railing against him, with very little to show for itself in the way of an affirmative vision, he will continue to gain strength.”

That probably is the biggest problem with India’s jaded and uninspiring opposition: their inability to take on Mr Modi with a new narrative of hope.

Many like Yogendra Yadav, founder of the Swaraj India party, believe that jolted by the defeat in Uttar Pradesh, the opposition will be pushed to cobble together a “grand anti-Modi alliance” to take on his party in 2019.

“This could be suicidal,” says Mr Yadav, “as purely anti-Modi politics may not work.”

But politics is also about the unforeseen and the unpredictable. Nobody predicted that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the BJP’s most charismatic leaders, would lose the 2004 elections to a subdued Congress party-led coalition.

But in the summer of 2017, Mr Modi’s ratings remain high.

BBC News – Afghanistan: IS gunmen dressed as medics kill 30 at Kabul military hospital

Kabul, 8 March 2017. More than 30 people have been killed after attackers dressed as doctors stormed the largest military hospital in Kabul, Afghan officials say.

Militants armed with guns and grenades gained entry after one detonated explosives at a hospital gate and then opened fire on staff and patients.

Commandos who landed on the Sardar Daud hospital roof killed all four attackers after several hours of fighting.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has claimed the attack.

The Taliban has denied any involvement.

More than 50 people were also wounded, the defence ministry said.

President Ashraf Ghani said the attack at the 400-bed hospital “trampled all human values”.

“In all religions, a hospital is regarded as an immune site and attacking it is attacking the whole of Afghanistan,” he said.

The attack began at 09:00 local time (04:30 GMT). One hospital staff member who was able to get out saw an attacker “wearing a white coat holding a Kalashnikov and opening fire on everyone, including the guards, patients and doctors”.

One employee wrote on Facebook: “Attackers are inside the hospital. Pray for us.”

Change of tactic: Analysis by Inayatulhaq Yasini, BBC Afghan

The hospital attack marks a change in approach by so-called Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, it’s the first time they have engaged directly with security forces in the capital.

Previously they have targeted civilian gatherings, mainly of Shia Muslims, as well as causing carnage at the Supreme Court last month.

But at the hospital they used an approach more commonly associated with the Taliban, blowing the gates open to allow gunmen to enter. This suggests they now have the resources and the military training to expand their attacks.

If that’s the case, the security forces could face more such assaults in the coming months.

In the two years since it announced its presence in Afghanistan, IS has mainly engaged with Afghan forces and more powerful, rival Taliban fighters in the east, near the Pakistan border. It has failed so far to widen its base in the country, one reason, observers suggest, it may now be mounting more headline-grabbing attacks.

The government claims it has rooted out IS militants from a number of bases in the east, but has yet to dislodge them from mountainous areas they control.

BBC News – Firms urged to publish ethnic breakdown

John Moylan Industry correspondent

London-UK, 28 February 2017. A government-backed review has called for many firms to publish a breakdown of their workforce by race and pay.

The report by Baroness McGregor-Smith said the economy could receive a £24bn annual boost if businesses stamped out ethnic inequality.

It found that people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds were still often disadvantaged at work.

But the government has ruled out legislation on such a breakdown, opting for a voluntary approach instead.

“The time for talk on race in the workplace is over, it’s time to act”, said Baroness McGregor-Smith, whose report was commissioned by the former business secretary Sajid Javid.

Her year-long review found that employment rates amongst people from BME backgrounds were 12% lower than for white counterparts.

They were more likely to work in lower paid and lower skilled jobs despite being more likely to have a degree, and just 6% reached top-level management positions, the report found.

Baroness McGregor-Smith said the UK had a structural, historical bias that favoured certain individuals.

“We spoke to a lot of junior people in organisations. They don’t think that this agenda is changing”, she said.

‘Economic damage’

One of her main recommendations was legislation to make firms with more than 50 workers publish a breakdown of their workforce by race and by how much they are paid.

“If we don’t see a surge of people taking that up because they have too many other priorities well then fine, we’ll legislate,” she said. “That’s my recommendation”.

Firms should draw up five-year diversity targets and nominate a board member to deliver them, she said.

She also wants to see diversity as part of public procurement guidelines.

And her report claims that tackling barriers to progression could boost GDP by 1.3%.

“The consequences of continuing to do nothing will be damaging to the economy and to the aspirations of so many,” she said.

‘Discrimination won’t disappear’

Baroness McGregor-Smith was one of the first Asian women to lead a FTSE 250 company. She ran the outsourcing group Mitie for nearly 10 years until she stepped down as chief executive in 2016.

She said that overt racism does still occur in workplaces, but she highlighted unconscious bias as being more pervasive and potentially more insidious.

Only 74 FTSE 100 companies replied to her call for data for the report. She said that she was shocked that only half of those were able to share any meaningful information.

Last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that the life chances for young minority ethnic people were “the most challenging for generations”.

A study by the TUC also found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers were a third more likely than white workers to be underemployed.

Responding to the McGregor review, the TUC’s general secretary Francis O Grady said that “without government action, racist discrimination at work won’t simply disappear”.

“Ministers must act on the report’s recommendations, including requiring companies with over 50 employees to publish data on race and pay.”

Voluntary approach

Business minister Margot James said: “Outdated attitudes or lack of awareness about ethnicity in the workplace must be challenged.”

“The economic benefits of harnessing untapped talent is huge and I urge employers to implement these recommendations to ensure everyone can reach the top of their career – whatever their background.”

But the minister ruled out new laws on firms.

“We believe … the best method is a business-led, voluntary approach and not legislation as a way of bringing about lasting change,” she said.

You can follow John Moylan at

BBC News – Pakistan hit by deadly suicide attacks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017. At least seven people have been killed and several more injured in two separate suicide attacks in north-western Pakistan.

In the first, six people died when two suicide bombers targeted a government compound in the Mohmand tribal region.

Three of the dead belonged to a tribal police force, two were civilians and one a paramilitary soldier.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, said it was behind the bloodshed.

In the second attack on Wednesday, a bomber on a motorbike rammed a government van carrying four judges in the city of Peshawar.

The driver was killed, and the four judges were injured. They have been transferred to a nearby hospital.

Peshawar police chief Tahir Khan told media at the scene that the judges appeared to be the bomber’s target.

Pakistan has seen an upswing in militant attacks of late, after a period of relative calm.

On Monday, a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 100, most of whom are still being treated in hospitals.

The blast occurred when owners of medical shops were demonstrating against amendments to a law governing drug sales in Punjab province.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said it had carried out the attack, as well as two gun assaults in Karachi on 12 February.

BBC News – The Indian tribesmen catching giant snakes in Florida

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 6 February 2017. Every morning, two Indian tribesmen in T-shirts and long trousers, leave their dwellings in southern Florida and head into the Everglades to hunt for some of the world’s biggest snakes.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, members of the once-nomadic Irula tribe, are armed with crowbars and machetes. Wearing fleece jackets and baseball caps, they slash and wade their way through the largest subtropical wilderness in the world to hunt down Burmese pythons.

The non-native snakes, which escaped into the wild in Florida or were released as pets, pose the biggest threat to the small mammal population of the national park. They also eat birds, alligators and deer. In 2005, a Burmese python tried to swallow an alligator and exploded in the park, leaving both the predators dead.

Ever since the pythons were spotted in the wild more than two decades ago, authorities have tried everything to catch the elusive snakes in the marshes, but with limited success.

They have used pythons (called Judas snakes) to find other pythons during the mating season, asked people to turn in their pet snakes, poisoned prey, and even encouraged people to hunt them for a cash prize.

Last year, some 1,000 hunters participated in a competitive month-long Burmese python hunt to rid the wetland of the invasive species, and caught 106 snakes.

By comparison, in the past four weeks, the two 50-something tribesmen from India have caught 27 pythons, including a 16ft-long (5m) female in an abandoned missile base in Key Largo. Pythons that are caught are later put down.

“Masi and Vadivel are doing an incredible job. They excel at determining if pythons are present at a site, locating them if they are, and then catching them when located,” Frank Mazzotti, a biologist at the University of Florida who heads a team of researchers investigating pythons, told me.

“They can see pythons even when they are covered by grass. All they need is a glint of snake and they pounce. The rest of us are usually wondering where the snake is. Next thing we see they are holding it.”

The Miami Herald marvelled at the snake-hunting skills of the Irulas, whom herpetologist Rom Whitaker describes as the “best snake catchers” in the world. The newspaper reported that the Irulas appeared to have “mysterious” tracking techniques.

“They move slowly and rather than focus on roads and levees where snakes have typically been found basking, they head straight for thick brush. The Irulas believe the boulders and high grasses that line the levees are more lucrative hunting grounds.

“And when the going gets slow, everyone must stop to squat for a quick song of prayer – usually an ancient invocation mixed with an ad lib about pythons or the weather, accompanied by a beedi cigarette.”

Writer and filmmaker Janaki Lenin, who is accompanying the tribesmen, has provided a gripping account of the female python they recovered in Key Largo. The two men cut the roots that blocked the entrance to the bunker, pried open a door, went inside, poked the snake, broke through a concrete shaft and hauled out the 75kg (165lb) reptile.

Another time, a eight-foot-long python, according to Ms Lenin, “struggled and emptied its bowels” on Masi, who held the tail. “After the Irula bagged the python, the grinning but impressed Americans held their noses with their fingers, miming how stinky the snake faeces were,” she recounted.

Masi said he was not bothered. “Only if you are covered in it, can you catch snakes.”

For the past month, the two men, who have travelled around the world to catch snakes, have been living in the home of Joe Wasilewski, a well-known herpetologist. Their two months of work is funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

After an oatmeal breakfast, they are driven to work. Sometimes they go out after dark. In the early days, they survived on Trinidadian Indian food, but since then they have tried hotdogs and burgers and watched an NFL game.

“All that they say so far is that they like being in America and want to catch lots of pythons,” Ms Lenin said.

Masi and Vadivel, members of an ancient tribe, have become unlikely globe-trotting snake-catchers. Last July, they went to Thailand to help researchers implant radio transmitters for their study, and ended up catching two king cobras.

Back home, the men are part of a thriving 35-year-old co-operative of community members, who catch snakes and extract and sell their venom for a living. India is home to 50 species of venomous snake and bites kill some 46,000 people a year, accounting for nearly half the snakebite deaths in the world.

The Irulas poached snake and lizard for their skins until the trade was outlawed in 1972. A decade later, they formed a co-operative near the southern city of Chennai and switched to catching poisonous snakes, mainly cobras, kraits and vipers, to extract and sell venom.

The venom is now sold to seven laboratories, who manufacture most of India’s anti-snake venom serum.

Last year, the co-operative’s 370-members, including 122 women, sold snake venom worth 30 million rupees ($446,500; £357,900), up from a mere 6,000 rupees in 1982.

They have a government licence to catch 8,300 snakes every year, each snake is released in the wild after four extractions in a month, but demand they are allowed to catch three times as many.

After all, a gram of cobra venom sells at 23,000 rupees today, nearly eight times as much as the price in 1983. An Irula snake-catcher earns some 8,000 rupees every month, apart from other health and pension benefits.

“We are illiterate and poor. We don’t own land. Snakes have saved our lives,” says K Ravi, an Irula. But most of them say their children want to move to the big cities and get a “company job”. The daughter of an Irula couple is the first collegiate in the co-operative, and is training to become a nurse.

It is not clear whether this will be the last generation of these snake-catchers, a community of 116,000 tribespeople. For many, that would mark the passing away of a traditional hunting skill.

“They are better at the above than any other snake catchers that I have known,” Mr Mazzotti says.

“Think of [the game of] cricket. What is the difference between really good amateurs and professionals? The Irulas are professionals.”

BBC News – Why has India’s Punjab fallen into the grip of drug abuse?

The northern Indian state of Punjab votes on Saturday for a new government. But the biggest issue confronting voters is not jobs or corruption, but a drugs epidemic that is sweeping the state.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder travelled there to find out why one of India’s most prosperous states is in danger of losing an entire generation to drug abuse.

Panjab, 2 February 2017. “This is him when he was in his first grade. He had just won a school competition.”

Mukhtiar Singh smiles wistfully as he shows me a faded picture of his son Manjit, from a family album.

“In my wildest dreams I could not imagine what was to happen to him.”

Manjit, 28, died in June last year because of a drug overdose. His father, a worker in the government’s power department, marched through the streets of his village carrying his son’s body, and then addressed a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I told the prime minister he needed to step in to save Punjab’s youth from drugs. Our children are dying and nothing is being done.”

Seven months later, Mr Singh is battling to highlight Punjab’s alarming drugs problem.

A recent government study suggests that more than 860,000 young men in the state, between the ages of 15-35, take some form of drugs.

Heroin is the most preferred, used by 53% of all addicts. But opium and synthetic drugs such as crystal methamphetamine are also common.

“My mission is to save Punjab’s youth,” Mr Singh tells me as we sit on the roof of his modest two-room home. “I have carried my son’s body on my shoulders. It’s something I don’t want any other parent to experience.”

Easily available

It is astonishing how widespread the problem is. One estimate says that more than two-thirds of Punjab’s households have at least one addict in the family.

Across the state, from villages in the lush green countryside to bustling towns and cities, young men huddle together in cemeteries, abandoned buildings or plain fields, smoking, snorting or shooting up.

Tarn Taran, a district located along the border with Pakistan is one of the worst affected.

In the main town’s civil hospital, which also serves as a centre to fight addiction, young men with glazed eyes hang around.

In the space of 20 minutes, I see a number of transactions unfold in full public view. They are approached by peddlers, money swiftly exchanges hands before a little packet is handed over.

The men then slink away behind a wall.

Beyond it is a derelict building, surrounded by rubbish and reeking of urine. Strewn all around are used syringes and broken bottles of prescription medicines.

“It’s ridiculously easily available,” Jasprit Singh tells me.

Jasprit, who is from Tarn Taran, used to be an addict, but says that he has been clean for the past four years.

“Heroin, synthetic drugs, you name it, I’ve done it all. When I scored for the first time, I felt as if I was experiencing something wonderful,” he says.

“I felt like something had been missing from my life until then.”

He now works at the same rehab centre where he underwent his recovery programme, counselling drug addicts.

“I tell them that if I can give up drugs, anyone can.”

The Hermitage rehab centre is housed in an impressive two-storey building set amid lush green lawns. Inmates, called students not patients, receive counselling, psychiatric and medical treatment here.

It’s one of hundreds of rehab centres that have sprung up across the state in the past few years.

The inmates come from a variety of backgrounds. They include judges, police officials, pop musicians, students and quite a few women.

“The women are the most difficult to treat,” the institute’s director, J P S Bhatia, says.

“Many of them are abandoned by their families. Most have been sexually molested when they try and seek help, by unscrupulous counsellors and doctors, even the police.”

Punjab’s proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with which it shares a border, has meant that it’s a major transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade. That’s one reason why heroin is so readily available.

But why are its youth so susceptible? Drug consumption in Punjab is three times the national average.

Agriculture, which brought the state its wealth, is stagnating and with little industrialisation there is high unemployment.

And in the 1980s, Punjab was in the grip of a violent separatist militancy which has now ebbed but has left its scars.

“We got rid of terrorism only for it to be replaced with narcotics-terrorism,” says Dr Bhatia.

“And we just have not been prepared to deal with it or even come to terms with the problems faced by our youth.”

BBC News – Man in court over Derby Sikh temple [Gurdwara] murder

Derby, 31 January 2017. An elderly man found dead near a Sikh temple [Gurdwara] had been beaten so badly police believed he had been hit by a car, a court heard.

Sukhraj Singh Atwal has gone on trial for the murder of Satnam Singh, 74, the father of his mother’s ex-husband, in Derby in July 2015.

The prosecution at Nottingham Crown Court alleged he repeatedly stamped and jumped on Mr Singh.

The 29-year-old, of Pear Tree Crescent, Derby, denies murder.

Mr Singh had been walking to the temple where he volunteered in the early hours of 23 July when he was attacked on the corner of Coronation Street.

He was found with 41 fractures to his ribs, lacerations to his heart and blunt force injuries to his head and face.

Mr Atwal’s car appeared several times on local CCTV at the time of the attack.

The beating itself was not caught on camera but the vehicle was seen entering the spot where Mr Singh died immediately before the attack and leaving four minutes later.

Disposed of trousers

Footage from a garage forecourt showed Mr Atwal appearing to inspect his light-coloured trousers.

He also returned to the scene several times “to observe what was happening”, the prosecution alleged, wearing different trousers.

Mr Atwal was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving four days later, giving no comment at interview, save that police should “check the forensics” on his car.

He was arrested in April 2016 on suspicion of murder after tests determined Mr Singh had not been hit by a car.

Examination of Mr Atwal’s phone revealed he had travelled to a remote location near Carsington Water, near the Peak District, later that day where the prosecution alleges he disposed of his trousers.

A text message on his phone said he had not hit Mr Singh “with my car” and he even taunted police in a letter from custody saying they “couldn’t even get the cause of death right”.

BBC News – Pakistan student: ‘I was tortured by hardline Islamists’

Lahore, 18 January 2017. A Pakistani student has said he was abducted and badly beaten by hardline Islamist students after posting tweets in support of five liberal bloggers who have gone missing.

The student said he needed hospital treatment after he was blindfolded for several hours and tortured.

No-one at Punjab University responded to his cries for help, he said.

The five bloggers disappeared after they condemned extremism and the role of the military in Pakistan.

The university authorities say they are investigating the latest incident.

The Pakistan Herald Tribune said that Suhail Ahmad was abducted by more than 14 members of the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami group who forced their way into his Lahore hostel room on Monday evening.

The student told the newspaper that a blanket was put over his head throughout his ordeal and that no security guards responded to his pleas for help.

He said he was only released when senior Jamaat-e-Islami members intervened on his behalf.

Last week hundreds of people held protests across the country to demand the authorities trace the activists, who disappeared earlier in January.

No group has said it is holding them.

Pakistan’s parliament has expressed grave concern over their fates.

The government says it is investigating the case of one of the four, Salman Haider, who has campaigned against enforced disappearances in Balochistan.

Supporters of the men accuse the security services of having secretly arrested them.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that the disappearances have alarmed liberals in Pakistan, where the military has long promoted a hardline Islamist narrative as a bulwark to protect its financial and security interests.

Salman Haider, a well-known poet and university professor, was last seen in Islamabad on Friday, two days after bloggers Waqas Goraya and his cousin Asim Saeed went missing in Lahore.

Two other bloggers, one named as polio sufferer Ahmed Raza Naseer, are also reported to have disappeared in or near Lahore.

Pakistan is one of the the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters and human rights activists, and critics of the powerful military have been detained, beaten or killed.

BBC News – Trafficked babies, black money and India’s values

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent

New Delhi, 9 December 2016. We all know that the price of something doesn’t always indicate its true value, but prices can still be very revealing.

Two very different sets of prices demonstrate that in India this week.

One lays bare with ice-cold precision the profound prejudices that still exist here, the other is powerful evidence that the government’s dramatic attempt to root out tax evasion by cancelling the nation’s cash will not work.

Let’s take the most shocking first, the price of babies.

Last week I travelled to Kolkata (Calcutta) to report on a child-trafficking ring the police in West Bengal have just cracked.

The illegal adoption racket included doctors, nurses and charity workers.

The gang would persuade young women with unwanted pregnancies to sell them their babies. They would then sell them on to childless couples.

Allegedly they also stole babies. We met one of a number of couples that say they gave birth to seemingly healthy children, only to be told later that their children had died.

Ananya Chakraborti, of the West Bengal Commission for Child Rights, the state body charged with child protection, is working with the police on the investigation.

She says the scam could have been running for as long as 20 years and may have involved as many as 2,000 babies.

But in amongst all the horrific details of the case, the prices the traffickers charged stood out, so eloquent are they of the deep prejudices that still exist in some parts of Indian society.

The full picture of what happened is still emerging and estimates of prices vary wildly, but what is clear is that there was a hierarchy.

Fair-skinned boys were most expensive.

Prospective parents might pay as much as Rs 700,000 (£8,200), according to the police.

Meanwhile, a boy with a dark complexion would fetch maybe half that.

Press reports suggest that the gang would charge about Rs 150,000 (£1,760) for a fair-skinned girl.

The price of a baby girl with a dark complexion was reportedly up to Rs 100,000 (£1,170).

However, in a room above a small mental hospital in a scruffy Kolkata suburb, police found 10 infants aged between one month and 10 months.

Many had bedsores and terrible coughs. Most were malnourished.

All of them were dark-skinned and female.

“Those were the babies they couldn’t sell,” says Ananya Chakraborti.

The second price has less unpleasant implications, but carries an important message too: it is the price of money.

A month ago, the Indian prime minister gave four hours’ notice that he was cancelling 86% of the country’s cash.

Narendra Modi announced that from midnight on 8 November the two biggest notes in the country, the Rs500 (£6) and the Rs1000 (£12), would be worthless.

He issued a new Rs500 and a Rs2000 (£24) note and gave the country 50 days to change their old money, warning if you deposit more than Rs250,000 (£3,000) in your account you should expect a visit from the tax authorities.

His target is what Indians call “black money” – cash on which no tax has been paid.

I’ve argued that it is a bold attempt to tackle tax evasion, but now I’m not so sure it is going to work.

There is little doubt Mr Modi has been winning the political battle.

Last week, a few thousand protestors turned out for what the opposition had initially billed as a “bandh” – a shutdown of the entire country.

Whether he will make a substantial dent in India’s stocks of black money is another matter.

According to most estimates, black money makes up about a fifth of the Indian economy.

The government has taken some Rs 14.7trillion (£170bn) out of circulation and at first estimated that as much as Rs 3trillion (£40bn) would not be returned.

That is now looking like a dramatic overestimate.

Which is where the price of money comes in.

The current cost of laundering black money to white is reckoned to be about Rs300 (£4) in every Rs1000 – 30% of face value.

It seems gangs have been recruiting people with “Jan Dhan” accounts – bank accounts designed for poor people – and getting them to change the cash.

The 30% charge represents a substantial “tax” on black money but implies that most people will find a way to launder their illegal cash.

And it suggests the bulk of the demonetised notes will be returned – as the country’s revenue secretary conceded this week.

That is a real problem for Mr Modi because if that happens it will be hard to claim that much black money has been wiped out – the key objective of what has been an incredibly disruptive policy.

These two different prices tell us very different things about India, but they both confirm that markets can often deliver uncomfortable truths.

BBC News – Myanmar says ‘no evidence’ of Rohingya genocide

Myamar, 4 January 2017. A commission set up by Myanmar’s government says it has so far found no evidence of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

In its interim report, the commission also said there was not enough evidence to support widespread rape allegations.

It did not mention claims that security forces had been killing people.

There have been repeated allegations of abuses of Rohingya people since a military counter-insurgency campaign was launched in Rakhine in October.

Some have even said the state’s actions amount to ethnic cleansing, and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has faced international criticism.

The commission, set up by the Myanmar government and led by a former general, Myint Swe, is due to make its final conclusions before the end of January.

But, in its interim findings, it dismissed allegations of genocide on the basis that there are still Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine and that Islamic religious buildings have not been destroyed.

It said it had so far found “insufficient evidence” that anyone had been raped by security forces, despite widespread claims. Accusations of arson, arbitrary arrest and torture are still being investigated.

Strangely, the commission made no mention of the most serious claim – that Burmese security forces have been killing civilians as collective punishment for attacks by Rohingya militants, the BBC’s Myanmar correspondent Jonah Fisher reports.

Three months since this crisis began, little progress appears to have been made to solve it, he notes. The report says hundreds of Rohingya have been arrested but armed militants are still moving around easily and that looted weapons have yet to be recovered.

Earlier in the week, several police were detained after a video surfaced appearing to show officers beating Rohingya Muslims during a security operation in November.

The admission that security forces may have carried out abuses is an unusual development, as leaders have previously insisted they are following the rule of law.

Rakhine state is closed to journalists and investigators, making it difficult to independently verify any allegations.

Who are the Rohingya?

The estimated one million Muslim Rohingya are seen by many in mainly Buddhist Myanmar as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship by the government despite tracing their ancestry back generations.

Communal violence in Rakhine state in 2012 left scores dead and displaced more than 100,000 people, with many Rohingya still remaining in decrepit camps.

They face widespread discrimination and mistreatment.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingya are estimated to live in Bangladesh, having fled Myanmar over decades.

Bangladesh says around 50,000 Rohingya have crossed its border over the past two months.

The situation has drawn global condemnation. Over a dozen Nobel laureates wrote to the UN Security Council demanding action to stop the “human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in northern Rakhine.