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Party on, Sanna Marin, and ignore the critics

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There are countries that are relaxed about their leaders having a little bit of fun in their tension-filled lives. In France, admitting to a child from a woman not one’s wife is met only by the merest twitch of an eyebrow, while in Britain, the fact that Boris Johnson was a bit less abstemious in sexual matters than the average Catholic priest was no hindrance to his becoming the most popular politician in the UK, a distinction that he still holds despite his somewhat freewheeling ways. Such behaviour has drawn the ire of Rishi Sunak, who although a believer in Sanatan Dharma, appears to have as Calvinist a view of such habits as his father-in-law, the celebrated Narayana Murthy does. Unlike the Bobby Jindals, Rishi has not run away from the faith of his ancestors, nor shown the lack of courage to own up to such beliefs in public. Between him and Liz Truss, there is no doubt in any other than those besotted by the admittedly attractive Liz that Rishi has the superior brainpower, and would run the country far more effectively than the candidate favoured by Johnson would. A suspicious mind may say that the reason why Boris wants Liz elected over Rishi is that she would soon show herself to be incompetent at the job, thereby opening the door to the re-entry into 10 Downing Street of the Johnsons. Next month will show whether Boris has his way and gets his Foreign Secretary elected by the Tory faithful. He might be, given the support that he enjoys within the Conservative Party. As far as India is concerned, whether it be Truss or Sunak, UK relations with India, the country that has the largest English-speaking population in the world, will remain as strong as they were when Johnson was in charge. The Conservatives have been quite sensible where the management of Covid-19 is concerned, especially now that the mild Omicron variant is the dominant infection. Even unvaccinated visitors from India can breeze through Immigration Control in London without a pause, with hardly anyone being asked to produce the RT-PCR test report taken before the date of departure. In India, similar commonsense has been put in place by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Like Britain, India has neither had a lockdown since 2020 nor ever a vaccine mandate, much to the disapproval of the world’s best salesman of two branded vaccines, Anthony Fauci. Even in the US, President Joe Biden with his vanishing public support has been unable to implement the tough measures that he had initially put in place for eliminating Covid-19, only to have the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s most known product rage across the US unabated, nowadays in tandem with monkeypox, an affliction that is usually as mild as it is unsightly. Although the WHO and in particular Dr Tedros tried for a while to generate the same panic about monkeypox that he and the PRC authorities succeeded in doing on a worldwide scale with Covid-19, this time around few have taken Xi’s favourite international health expert seriously. Certainly, Finland could not be in the depleted list of countries that continue to allow the fear of getting infected with Covid-19 to constrain their freedoms and affect their livelihoods, most visibly in the field of tourism. Apart from China, where Xi Jinping is engaged in a battle against the virus his own scientists together with collaborators from the US gifted to humanity, very few countries are allowing the fear that once was ubiquitous around the world to remain. Particularly in a world where the virus seems to be most active in the countries that are resorting to desperate measures to stamp it out, Japan and China being the obvious examples.
Nearly two decades ago, the Ambassador of Finland to India, a very capable and very charming lady, reached out to this columnist to get his views on the politics of the day. Over elaborate multi-course lunches that unfortunately are the staple of diplomatic fare, perspectives were exchanged with the Ambassador, who showed an open and non-judgmental mind, so different from that of too many officious and preachy Anglo-Saxon diplomats. Those meetings, together with knowledge of the indomitable fight that the Finns under Marshal Mannerheim put up against the Soviet army in the early stages of the 1939-45 war have caused a feeling for that country that is not unmixed with admiration. That emotion was reinforced after reading about rants against Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland, who in their view performed a most disgusting and salacious act. This was to dance at a party with friends, and worse, have someone in their midst who exposed the images on social media for the world to see. Judging by some of the commentary about this supposedly unpardonable act of hers, Prime Minister Marin has shamed Finland and besmirched the glorious civilisation of Europe, a continent that in the past was involved in other continents in much the same manner as Fuehrer Adolf Hitler treated people in the countries that were overrun by the Wehrmacht, beginning with Czechoslovakia in 1938. All that needs to be said to such critics is that those who have never danced in their lives ought to throw the first stone, and even this would be unjustified. Those who attack her include those who do much more than dance in a private setting, while publicly behaving in the manner of a celibate. Given the challenges of her job, Sanna Marin has the right to occasionally have a bit of fun in whatever manner she chooses, as long as it is not criminal. And when last enquired into, dancing with friends at a party was not a criminal offence in Finland. Just dancing would not pick up enough interest within even the straitlaced sections of the reading public, so a bit of spice was added by claiming that she danced topless, which was far from true. Even if she had, it was a private party in a continent where nudity is not seen as a crime against humanity the way it is in some other locations, such as in North Africa. There are reports that Prime Minister Marin has apologised for her conduct. If true, this would be a shame, for there is nothing that she did that warrants any kind of apology. Party on, Sanna, and let those who object wallow in their faked sense of shock.

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Tesla eyes India market as Elon Musk makes bold AI prediction

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In a recent X Spaces session with Nicolai Tangen, CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, Tesla CEO Elon Musk emphasized the importance of electric vehicles (EVs) in India, stating that it’s a natural progression for every country to embrace them. Musk highlighted India’s status as the most populous country globally and stressed that electric cars should be accessible to Indian consumers like they are in other parts of the world.

Musk’s comments coincide with Tesla’s intensified efforts to expand its presence in the Indian market. Sources reveal that the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat have extended enticing land offers to Tesla for the establishment of a cutting-edge EV manufacturing plant. The proposed investment for this venture ranges between USD 2 billion to USD 3 billion, demonstrating Tesla’s commitment to both domestic and international markets.

This move aligns with India’s new EV policy, which aims to attract investments from global EV manufacturers and promote the adoption of advanced EV technology among Indian consumers. The policy emphasizes the importance of domestic value addition (DVA) and sets specific localization targets for manufacturers establishing operations in India.

To incentivize investment, the government has introduced measures such as customs duty exemptions and import quotas for EVs based on the level of investment made by manufacturers. These initiatives aim to position India as a preferred destination for EV manufacturing and contribute to the country’s Make in India initiative.

In anticipation of these developments, Tesla plans to dispatch a team of experts to explore suitable locations across India for the proposed manufacturing facility. Musk’s previous statement about visiting India in 2024 further underscores the company’s eagerness to enter the Indian market and collaborate with local stakeholders.

Tesla’s expansion into India represents a significant step forward in the global EV landscape and underscores the company’s commitment to sustainable transportation solutions. With India poised to become a key market for electric vehicles, Tesla’s entry is expected to drive innovation and accelerate the adoption of EVs in the country.

As the electric vehicle market continues to evolve, Tesla’s entry into India holds the potential to reshape the automotive industry and contribute to India’s transition towards a greener and more sustainable future.

Tesla’s entry into the Indian market not only signifies a pivotal moment for the country’s automotive industry but also presents an opportunity for Tesla to capitalize on India’s growing demand for electric vehicles. With the Indian government’s focus on promoting clean energy initiatives and reducing carbon emissions, Tesla’s electric vehicles align perfectly with India’s sustainable development goals.

Moreover, Tesla’s presence in India is expected to stimulate job creation and economic growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The establishment of a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant will not only provide employment opportunities for local residents but also foster the development of ancillary industries and supply chains.

In addition to manufacturing, Tesla’s entry into India is poised to catalyze advancements in EV infrastructure and technology. As Tesla vehicles become more accessible to Indian consumers, there will be a corresponding need for charging infrastructure and support services. This presents opportunities for collaboration with local businesses and government agencies to build a robust EV ecosystem.

Furthermore, Tesla’s entry into India could spur competition and innovation in the domestic automotive market, encouraging other manufacturers to invest in electric vehicle technology. This competition could lead to advancements in battery technology, vehicle performance, and affordability, ultimately benefiting consumers.

Overall, Tesla’s decision to establish a manufacturing presence in India reflects the country’s growing importance in the global automotive industry and underscores India’s potential as a key market for electric vehicles. As Tesla’s footprint expands across the country, its impact on India’s economy, environment, and technological landscape is expected to be profound.

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Air India, BIAL Partner to Create South India’s Top Aviation Hub

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Air India and Tata Group airlines will partner with BIAL to improve airport services and connectivity at Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport, including setting up an exclusive lounge for premium passengers.

Air India and Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) have entered into an agreement aimed at bolstering Bengaluru’s status as a premier aviation hub for southern India. The collaboration seeks to enhance air travel connectivity to and from India over the next five years.

Under the agreement, Air India, along with other Tata Group airlines such as AIX and Vistara, will work closely with BIAL to improve international connectivity, operational efficiency, and passenger experience at Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru (KIAB or BLR airport). This includes plans to strengthen the group’s presence at the airport and establish a dedicated domestic lounge for premium and frequent travelers of Tata Group airlines.

Furthermore, Air India has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government of Karnataka to develop maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facilities at the Bengaluru airport. This partnership aims to stimulate the MRO ecosystem and create over 1,200 new job opportunities in the state.

Campbell Wilson, CEO and MD of Air India, emphasized the importance of airline-airport synergy in enhancing customer experience and operational efficiency. He expressed enthusiasm for strengthening Air India’s relationship with BIAL and expanding its presence at the airport, as well as establishing a major MRO center.

Hari Marar, MD and CEO of Bangalore International Airport Limited, highlighted the BLR airport’s commitment to becoming the international gateway in Southern and Central India. He stated that the collaboration with Air India aligns with the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s vision of developing Indian airports as hubs and aims to enhance the passenger experience. Marar also expressed ambitions to capture a significant share of long-haul routes from Bengaluru Airport over the next five years.

In related news, Air India announced the appointment of Jayaraj Shanmugam as its Head of Global Airport Operations, effective April 15. Shanmugam, who previously served as the chief operating officer (COO) at BIAL, brings extensive experience to his new role.

The collaboration between Air India and BIAL represents a significant milestone in the transformation of Bengaluru into a key aviation hub in the region. By leveraging each other’s strengths and resources, the partnership aims to not only enhance air connectivity but also contribute to the economic growth of Karnataka by generating job opportunities through the establishment of MRO facilities.

Jayaraj Shanmugam’s appointment as the Head of Global Airport Operations further solidifies Air India’s commitment to optimizing its airport operations and providing a seamless travel experience for passengers. His extensive experience in airport management, coupled with his previous role at BIAL, positions him well to drive operational excellence and efficiency within the airline.

As the aviation industry continues to evolve, alliances between airlines and airports are becoming increasingly vital to meet the growing demands of travelers and enhance overall competitiveness. The strategic collaboration between Air India and BIAL sets a precedent for future partnerships in the aviation sector, emphasizing the importance of cooperation and synergy to achieve common goals.

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March sees strong growth in Indian pharma market, up by 9.5%

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The Indian pharmaceutical market (IPM) experienced a notable 9.5 percent increase in sales in March, reflecting robust value growth across various therapy segments, except for respiratory. According to data from research firm Pharmarack, all therapies demonstrated positive value growth, contributing to the overall expansion of the market.

Sheetal Sapale, Vice President-Commercial at Pharmarack, noted that while many pharmaceutical companies showed double-digit value growth, unit growth remained a challenge. The growth in sales during March was primarily driven by value growth and new introductions, particularly in the anti-diabetic segment.

Several factors contributed to the uptick in sales, including new product introductions and patent expiries. For instance, there were multiple launches in the hematinic market following the loss of exclusivity rights for iron supplement Orofer FCM in October 2023. Additionally, patent expiries for drugs like Linagliptin and Dulaglutide further fueled competition in the anti-diabetic segment.

In March, Alkem emerged as one of the few companies reporting positive unit and value growth, with a 15.1 percent increase in value and an 11.3 percent increase in units sold. Other key players such as Cadilla, Fourrts, and Natco Pharma also witnessed double-digit value and unit growth during the month.

The top-selling medicine brands in March included Glaxo Smith Kline’s Augmentin and USV’s Glycomet GP, with Augmentin achieving sales of Rs 73 crore. Despite facing challenges in unit growth, Augmentin reported a 10 percent increase in value sales. Mankind’s Manforce condom brand retained its position as the third top-selling brand, despite negative unit and value growth.

Cipla’s Foracort inhaler maintained its fourth position in the respiratory segment, with sales totaling Rs 50 crore. Abbott’s Type 2 diabetes/weight management drug Rybelsus demonstrated remarkable growth, with a double-digit value growth rate of 7 percent and a staggering 75 percent increase in units sold in March.

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McDonald’s buys all Israeli franchise restaurants amid boycotts

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Aljazeera said that McDonald’s announced it will purchase its 30-year-old Israel franchise from Alonyal Ltd., taking back control of 225 outlets that employ more than 5,000 people. After US fast-food business Alonyal announced that it would be giving free meals to the Israeli soldiers in response to the October 7 bombing by Palestinian group Hamas, there were protests and boycotts. While McDonald’s is a global corporation, its franchises are typically locally owned and operate independently. Its CEO, Chris Kempczinski, said previously that the company had seen “meaningful business impact” in several markets in the Middle East and some outside the region due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, as per Aljazeera.

“For more than 30 years, Alonyal Limited has been proud to bring the Golden Arches to Israel and serve our communities,” Omri Padan, CEO and owner of Alonyal, said in a statement on Thursday. According to Aljazeera, McDonald’s added that it “remains committed to the Israeli market and to ensuring a positive employee and customer experience in the market going forward.” Following the transaction’s completion in the coming months, McDonald’s will assume ownership of Alonyal’s outlets and operations, maintaining its current workforce. However, the terms of the transaction were not disclosed by the companies involved. In February, Kempczinski said that the war had had a “disheartening” effect on sales in Middle Eastern countries and other Muslim-majority nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia. “So long as this conflict, this war, is going on, we’re not expecting to see any significant improvement in this,” Kempczinski said in a conference call. “It’s a human tragedy, what’s going on, and I think that does weigh on brands like ours.”

During October–December, sales growth for the fast-food chain’s Middle East, China, and India division was only 0.7 percent, significantly lower than market projections of 5.5 percent. This decline follows calls for a McDonald’s boycott by customers in Muslim countries, prompted by Alonyal’s announcement. Consequently, franchisees in nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia distanced themselves from the donations, collectively pledging millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

While Chicago-based McDonald’s is known as one of the United States’ most iconic brands, most of its restaurants worldwide are locally owned and operated. Another prominent Western fast-food chain, Starbucks, has also faced boycott campaigns due to its perceived pro-Israeli stance and alleged financial ties to Israel. CEO Laxman Narasimhan told journalists in February that Starbucks saw a “significant impact on traffic and sales” in the Middle East but also in the US, where protesters campaigned against the Seattle-based company, calling for it to take a stand against Israel.

Domino’s, a US-based pizza maker with franchises around the world, also faced blowback after posts on social media claimed without evidence that it had also given free food to Israeli soldiers. The brand’s same-store sales dipped by 8.9 percent in Asia in the second half of 2023, mainly because consumers in Malaysia associated it with the US, an Israeli ally, a company official said.

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Disney CEO targets password-sharing, following Netflix

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Disney CEO Bob Iger has revealed plans to tackle password-sharing on the company’s streaming platform, set to commence in June. Iger stressed in a CNBC interview the importance of consolidating the streaming industry, with the initiative aimed at boosting subscriber growth and improving profitability. He articulated aspirations for achieving double-digit margins for the business.

This move mirrors actions taken by streaming giant Netflix, which experienced a substantial surge in subscribers after cracking down on password-sharing, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations by adding nearly 22 million subscribers in the latter half of last year.

Iger’s announcement closely follows a proxy battle against Disney’s activist investors, including Nelson Peltz, who had criticized Disney’s performance in the streaming-television sector. Reflecting on the outcome of the proxy vote, Iger expressed satisfaction with the resounding endorsement of the board’s strategies, particularly concerning CEO succession. Moreover, Iger has also hinted at ongoing plans regarding partnerships for ESPN.

The victory in the proxy battle strengthens Iger’s position as Disney endeavors to revitalize its film and television franchises, achieve profitability in its streaming division, and establish partnerships for ESPN’s digital expansion.

Last year, Netflix expanded its crackdown on password-sharing to over 100 countries, extending beyond the United States. As part of its efforts to address market saturation and explore new revenue avenues, the platform implemented restrictions on password-sharing and introduced a subscription option supported by ads.

Emails were sent out to customers in 103 countries and territories, including key markets such as the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Mexico, and Brazil, in May 2023. These emails reiterated Netflix’s policy that accounts should only be used within a single household.

To ease the transition, Netflix provides paying customers with the option to add an extra member from outside their household for a supplementary monthly fee. In the United States, this fee amounts to $8 (Rs 660). Members are also given the ability to transfer a person’s profile to maintain their viewing history and personalized recommendations, ensuring a seamless experience.

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India’s Ayurveda market to reach Rs 1.2 trillion by FY28

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The Ayurveda product market in India is poised for substantial growth, with projections indicating a remarkable increase in market value to Rs 1,20,660 crore ($16.27 billion) by FY28 from the current Rs 57,450 crore ($7 billion), according to a study conducted by Ayurveda tech startup NirogStreet.

The surge in the Ayurveda product market can be attributed to several factors, including the escalating demand for natural and herbal remedies both domestically and internationally. Additionally, the rise in the number of Ayurvedic medical practitioners, coupled with government initiatives and the emergence of new entrepreneurs in the sector, has further fueled the market’s expansion.

NirogStreet’s survey revealed that the overall market for Ayurveda products and services is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15 percent from FY23 to FY28. Specifically, the product and service sectors are anticipated to witness growth rates of 16 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively, during this period.

The survey also shed light on the Ayurvedic manufacturing landscape in India, estimating its value at Rs 89,750 crore ($11 billion) in FY22. This figure encompasses the value of exports, amounting to around Rs 40,900 crore ($5 billion), with imports estimated at Rs 8,600 crore ($1 billion).

Participation in the survey was significant, with approximately 7,500 manufacturers from 10 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, and Kerala.

At a recent CII AYUSH Conclave, Padmashri Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary, Ministry of AYUSH, emphasized the importance of positioning AYUSH products in global markets and fostering innovation within the ecosystem. He highlighted that the AYUSH sector has witnessed remarkable growth, reaching $24 billion in a span of 10 years.

In light of this exponential growth trajectory, NirogStreet underscored the significant potential of the Ayurveda product market to become a key contributor to India’s economy.

The recent surge in the Ayurveda product market underscores a broader global trend towards holistic and natural wellness solutions. As consumers increasingly prioritize health and well-being, Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom and emphasis on holistic healing are gaining traction worldwide.

India’s rich heritage in Ayurveda positions it as a global leader in this burgeoning industry. The country’s vast array of medicinal herbs, traditional knowledge, and skilled practitioners serve as key assets in driving the growth of the Ayurveda sector. However, amidst the promising growth prospects, challenges persist, including the need for stringent quality control measures, standardization of products, and greater awareness about Ayurveda’s efficacy. Addressing these challenges will be crucial in ensuring the sustainable growth of the industry and maintaining consumer trust.

The endorsement of Ayurveda by government authorities and the proactive role of industry stakeholders in promoting innovation and research are essential steps towards realizing the full potential of the sector. In conclusion, the projected growth of India’s Ayurveda product market signifies a transformative shift towards holistic wellness and natural remedies. With concerted efforts from both public and private sectors, the Ayurveda industry is poised to emerge as a significant driver of economic growth while enriching lives with its time-tested principles of well-being.

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