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Home >News >India >The march of 2020 in 10 key long reads

NEW DELHI : Dear reader, what a long, strange trip it’s been. It has been quite a journey to report and analyse the impact of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, given the lockdown, WFH, health and travel concerns. Compelling long stories—of migrants who’d gotten back to their villages after a long march, of companies and policy makers trying to adapt, of desperate job seekers, of science and hope—have kept us going in 2020.

Of course, the following list of popular stories is not just about the pandemic. It is also not based on any one or a set of metrics, but covers the gamut of the year that was. Thank you for the feedback. Keep reading #MintLongStory in 2021.

Growing fatigue with work from home

Infosys Ltd, India’s second-largest IT exporter, has over 95% of its workers working remotely at the moment. Depending on when the covid-19 caseloads ebb, the firm plans to get employees back to offices in a phased manner. Richard Lobo, executive vice president at Infosys, said that in any work, there are individual components and places where employees need to collaborate. The social capital is compromised when working from home over a long period. He added employees are keen to rejoin offices.

Lobo’s point is backed by new findings. One such is a study released in July by JLL, a professional services firm, which stated that 82% of office employees in India have missed working from office and cited a lack of personal interaction as the primary factor. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Bharat’s lockdown diet is boiled rice, salt

The sights and sounds of Kherwa village in Naraini tehsil of Banda seemed straight out of a surreal film. The word bhookh, vernacular for hunger, was scribbled with bright red paint all over—on a giant concrete pipe at the entrance to the village, on the walls of mud huts, and each and every brick-and-mortar toilet built with government grants.

For over two months, ever since a stringent lockdown was enforced on 25 March, the residents have been knocking on all doors for food relief and demanded that all excluded households be enrolled under the food subsidy scheme. But local officials dropped some grains as a one-time relief and disappeared. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Crouching tiger upsets hidden dragon

China has been India’s fastest-growing source of FDI in the past five years. The Middle Kingdom has poured money into e-commerce, tech, retail, automotive and manufacturing sectors. No wonder the revised policy went viral on social media between the small network of Sino-Indian dealmakers—executives, lawyers, consultants and techies—who board flights nearly every month to the metropolises on both sides of the world’s two largest online marketplaces.

Some of them go on multimillion-dollar shopping sprees for Indian e-commerce startups. They then market these small firms with great promise to hopeful venture capitalists in Shanghai or Beijing who may, “in the blink of an eye", as one Indian frequent flyer from Delhi put it, decide to buy it up themselves.

This ecosystem is now clearly in a state of suspended animation. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Inside Reliance Jio’s game plan for 5G

Interviews with 5G researchers, telecom engineers, industry analysts and a review of public statements by Jio officials suggest it is unlikely that the telco is building a network from scratch with 100% indigenous technology. “Jio is not going to be ‘making in India’," said Shiv Putcha, founder of Mandala Insights, an analyst firm focused on networking technologies. “Jio has made acquisitions and investments that will help them build the network, but they are not getting into manufacturing per se," he said.

Instead, Jio is integrating different components of the telecom network, building some on its own, procuring the rest—a strategy made possible by a global push towards open standards and softwarization of telecom networks. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Why 1918 matters in India’s corona war

In the last 120 years of recorded economic history in India, 1918 was the worst. Recorded growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) was the lowest (-10.5%) while inflation was near all-time highs, a cocktail much worse than any other tragedy that has hit India—including the world wars or the Bengal famine.

“Typically, when GDP slumps, prices also fall. But nobody was going to work in 1918 (because of the virus) and there was a supply-side shock. It was a truly unique year in India’s macroeconomic history," said Chimay Tumbe, an economic historian at IIM-A.

“We should be gearing up for something similar," he warned. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Inside the secret world of India’s content mods

When the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) first began in India in December 2019, moderators at Bigo Live were asked to “reduce visibility" of videos involving protest. Bigo Live is a Chinese social media platform that allows people to share live videos. It has over 200 million users in the country. Eventually, the platform told its moderators to ban all content around the protests altogether.

It instantly changed what 200 million Indians could see or perceive. And a handful of Indians affected that change—Bigo’s content moderators, many of whom sit inside the company’s Gurugram office. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

And now, Paytm faces its moment of truth

Paytm has spent nearly 14,500 crore to convince Indians to substitute digital payments for cash. For a few months after demonetization in November 2016, it seemed like the company was on the cusp of victory.

But now, Paytm is in danger of having its lunch eaten by newer payment apps, even as cash remains the preferred choice of payments for most Indians. This has major implications for Paytm, which at $16 billion is India’s most valuable internet startup by far, ahead of the $10 billion valued Oyo. Investors are raising doubts about Paytm’s soaring valuation and its business model. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

The lion inside the sedition circus

It has been two-years-and-six-months since Gauri Lankesh, activist and editor of a Kannada weekly, was killed. In the eyes of her assassins, she was a symbol of dissent who frequently crossed the line for two decades.

If her death had really struck fear into the hearts of liberals, there should have been an eerie quiet. The slogans in the air must have permanently died down. However, Karnataka has instead emerged as one of the many Ground Zeros of the nationwide anti-CAA protests and the site of a slew of sedition charges in recent weeks. Curiously, the lawyer intricately entangled in each of these sedition cases is Lankesh’s former lawyer, Bubberjung Trisuli Venkatesh, a senior advocate and former state public prosecutor. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Inside the house that Rana Kapoor built

Yes Bank Ltd’s tagline proclaims, “India bole Yes". Its hoardings can still be seen across cricket fields and large corporate events. For some time now, the private sector lender’s co-founder, former MD and CEO Rana Kapoor has stopped hosting lavish parties at his South Mumbai apartment on the 27th floor of Samudra Mahal (he is a tenant of politician Jyotiraditya Scindia).

A familiar Page-3 fixture in mainline dailies, Kapoor used to reward his bank’s top performers with so-called “Golden Pin awards" and host parties for them at home. “We could not stop Rana from pumping in crores into publicity. He would only say—if you don’t invest big, you don’t grow big," said a senior person at Yes Bank on condition of anonymity. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

Fear and loathing in India’s small factories

Coimbatore is an interesting case study as to how broad-based the economic slowdown is. The city supplies a bulk of the spare parts used by auto manufacturers hosted in cities like Chennai; and has a high densities of textile units.

The crippling consumption slowdown has left a broad footprint: customers are forgoing not just the purchase of new cars, but also clothes, wet grinders, and pump sets. For small manufacturing enterprise owners, the fallout has been devastating. (To Read Full Story Click Here)

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