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Quartz Weekend Brief—Asia edition—Modi’s first year, Iraq’s Shias, Texas bikers, pollinator plans

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“India has won,” Narendra Modi tweeted after becoming prime minister by a landslide last May. ”The good days are coming.” A year later, India isn’t quite convinced.

Modi has had his successes. After a decade of the scandal-ridden Congress Party’s rule, he has, so far, delivered a corruption-free administration. Aided by a sharp drop in oil prices, he’s been able to rein in India’s once intractable inflation. He’s brought some order to the country’s critical coal sector and speedily auctioned dozens of coal mines. Interest rates have come down, the Indian rupee has stabilized, and a massive financial inclusion programme has been launched. Abroad, Modi has transformed himself into India’s salesman-in-chief, traveling widely, winning promises of massive investments, holding big public receptions—and even finding time to click selfies with staid Communist leaders.

Some question whether this will lead to actual gains—monetary or strategic—for a country fenced in by unstable neighbours. But Modi’s bigger challenge lies at home. GDP growth estimates may have jumped to 8% for 2016, but that’s thanks to statistical wizardry that some experts consider a “bad joke.” The all-important infrastructure sector is still stuck in a rutmanufacturing and services are still showing signs of weakness; and the stock markets, which rallied after Modi’s arrival, are falling. India Inc. wants more reforms, and it wants them now.

More importantly, India’s rural economy—with its 800 million people—is hurting. Unseasonal rains have damaged crops, rural wage growth has slowed, and demand from households in the hinterland, already reeling after a sustained period of high inflation, is plummeting. And a lackluster monsoon is likely, which could spell more trouble for the 65% of Indian farmers who depend on the rains.

Modi, though, seems unperturbed. He has a five-year-plan, he told Time magazine earlier this month, and everything is going according to it. Let’s see what he says this time next year.—Devjyot Ghoshal

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The growing danger of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias. They were supposed to help a weak Iraqi army beat back the Islamic State (ISIL), then melt away. That’s not going to happen, says Peter Schwartzstein, who visited Baghdad and Basra not long before ISIL recaptured Ramadi last weekend—a setback that will make Iraq even more dependent on the militias and their caprices.

Xi and Modi have failed the global leader test. This week Malaysia and Indonesia belatedly gave refuge to thousands of starving Rohingya boat people. On Quartz India, Heather Timmons argues that China and India, which were quick to help Nepal after its earthquake, should be doing a lot more for the Rohingya, given their clout with Myanmar and their aspirations as global powers.

Americans should be talking about quality of death. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases are creating an ever-growing demand for death with dignity, yet that’s still a discussion most of the US is unwilling to have. Lauren Brown highlights some recent accounts that contrast the terrible fact of dying with “the act of death, small and prosaic.”

Barack Obama’s plans for pollinators. Jenni Avins explains the White House’s proposed tactic of using a highway, I-35, as a corridor to help endangered Monarch butterflies migrate between the US and Mexico, while Gwynn Guilford analyzes the new strategy to save collapsing bee colonies, and points out its shortcomings.

Video: Watch a viral Muslim cartoonist at work. Jacob Templin produced this interview with Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese cartoonist whose reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre went viral. He says the drawing, which depicted the quandary of ordinary Muslims caught between Islamist extremists and anti-Muslim bigots, got a lot of praise from non-Muslims. “We seem to be learning from our mistakes,” he says.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The crazed biker gangs of Texas. The New York Times’s in-depth look at last weekend’s deadly gang shootout in Waco, Texas is full of surprising details (paywall)—for instance, police arrested so many people they had to hold them at the Waco Convention Center. And Texas Monthly republished a 2007 profile of the Bandidos gang, from its bloody history to its members’ surprisingly intimate form of greeting.

Is Iraq headed toward partition? Nick Pelham visits Baghdad for the New York Review of Books and depicts a country that feels increasingly like two. As ISIL consolidates its reign of terror in Sunni areas, the Shia-dominated south is beginning to lose hope of getting them back, but is also undergoing a kind of cultural revival, and perhaps starting to wonder why it needs the rest of Iraq at all.

A cultural history of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Trigger warnings” on books or films that might upset people who’ve suffered trauma are a big thing in the US, and sometimes derided as a new kind of political correctness. Jeet Heer at the New Republic argues for seeing them as part of the way Americans forge political identity these days around wars, terrorist attacks, criminal violence, and abuse scandals.

Does the world need a doomsday seed bank? The Svalbard global seed vault on a remote archipelago in the Arctic ocean is entrusted with the safekeeping of half the world’s plant species.  If disaster strikes and there’s widespread crop failure, the theory goes, Svalbard’s seeds would enable us to start anew. But, as the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg writes, more and more experts believe it’s all a monumental waste, and they’re fighting a rearguard action to keep more varieties growing in the field.

The stain of slavery in Africa. “Black Americans do not feel shame about slavery… Slavery is our history, but it is not who we are. In Senegal, the stigma of being a descendant of a slave still holds strong.” Pam Weintraub writes for Aeon about her journey through Senegal to probe the tensions of a caste system that still persists more than a century after slavery there ended.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, bee colonies, and intimate forms of greeting to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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