Since its inception, the Indian National Congress party had a stronghold in almost every nook and corner of India. This has been the case till the turn of the century, when Atal Bihari Bajpayee led the NDF to power. That however, did not last long and Congress was once again back in power with Manmohan Singh in the lead as the Prime Minister. Since the 2014 elections, the Congress is on a rapid downslide, and is fast losing its power in major states of India.
After heavy defeat at 2014 parliamentary elections, Congress made a comeback in 2018 in some states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka. Just when it was looking like Congress may get a slight edge over BJP, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections showed a one-sided election game with BJP retaining all major BJP-led states, and gaining foothold in areas where it had few followers. Bengal and Odisha were two states, where the BJP made significant presence within a matter of days. Punjab and Kerala were the only places where the INC showed some presence. Since then, it has only fared worse, losing even the states where there is no sign of BJP. The Left-Front retained power in Kerala while the recent Punjab elections saw Congress reduced to a mere regional party with insignificant presence in front of AAP. Neither Congress could stop BJP to snatch power in Goa where it performed the best, yet far below the expectations.
BJP has left its presence all across India, not only in the larger states, but also several smaller states. Major parts of north-east India are now BJP-controlled, with several local parties backing the BJP Government against Congress. Manipur, previously a stronghold of Congress, could not stop the massive success of BJP with the support of local parties like Naga People’s Front (NPF) and National People’s Front (NPP). BJP with 32 seats fared better than the majority, and with NPF and NPP backing with 5 and 7 seats respectively. Congress got 11 seats out of 40 in Goa, and with all other smaller parties backing, might have an outside chance of forming the Government, like how BJP came to power in 2017 Goa elections. But with MGP backing the BJP, history repeated as BJP retained power in Goa.
Punjab saw a new party rising in the midst of ashes left by Congress. The rise of AAP to an overwhelming majority in Punjab means the Congress has probably lost its last base in Punjab. But the worst for the Congress was in UP, where it was reduced to a mere 2 seats out of 403 seats. There is hardly any chance that Congress will come back in UP, with the rise of Samajwadi Party (SP) as the principal opposition to BJP. Despite the SP playing better than ever, BJP is way ahead of it by a huge margin. Uttarakhand, however, did not witness a opposition to counter the BJP, and Congress alone couldn’t make much of an impact.
Congress itself cannot pose a threat to BJP in the upcoming 2024 Parliamentary election. It is the rise of local parties like SP, AAP, Shiv Sena, BJD, RJD and TMC in various states of India which will make the BJP play its decisive strategy. Again, for those who oppose the current BJP regime, the recent elections have proved that BJP is not going anywhere. It has far more support and possesses far stronger leadership than most other political parties imagine.
Importance of Viewer Discretion to cope up with prevailing media bias
You switch on the news channel and see a person shouting at the highest of his lungs trying his best to make you think that the establishment is ‘always’ right. You flip the channel and are welcomed by a man who barely resembles Imran Khan, mimicking the Pakistani PM. Yet one more channel flip and comes a person on your TV screen, taking sarcastic digs at the screaming anchor while propagating his agenda.
News media in today’s context holds a particularly complex place. While there is no denying that in a democratic country, journalism and news act as power balancers and checkers. The commercialisation of news that has come up to be the truth as a consequence of competition and TRP races, has caused sensationalisation of stories. So something like PM visiting his mother is given more coverage than a crucial subject. Not just this but the increasing competition has also led to journalism counting on political parties for funds, thus biased news presentation.
For a short time, social media sites were considered the perfect successor. Since social media didn’t believe TRP’s, it had been assumed that bias wouldn’t seep in there. But social media comes with its perils. In some other context, the ‘personalised content’ trait of Social Media would be appreciated but within the context of stories, personalised content causes you to sleep in a bubble. You’ll be shown the content, you engage the foremost with. So if you follow leftist accounts, your opinion will progress from what’s shown as facts on those accounts. Which entirely kills the motive of stories within the first place. News should only present events as they’re happening. What to form of it should dwell in the hands of the audience, which, unfortunately, isn’t the case, right now. Social Media has also caused a faster spread of lies. Independent journalism, that became a fad with youngsters like Dhruv Rathee and Pratik Sinha could have brought change but even then the importance of viewer discretion can’t be neglected.
Need of the hour is that the ‘spectator’ becomes the ‘questioner’.
The circumstances that we live in mandates every citizen to actively pursue true news. To become what they call, “active citizens”. To understand everything about everything and keep an open mind with well-formed opinions. As a citizen of a democratic country like India, it’s our responsibility to not just receive news but actively engage with it. We can not stop watching the news altogether since it’s only when we hear differing opinions that we get to introspect and see if we truly believe in what we are saying. The trick is to seek out a balance between the consumption of news and it’s analysis.
It is now crystal clear that the Assembly election in West Bengal in 2021 is going to be one of the toughest tussles in the political history of India. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strongly determined to replace the ruling party, All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) in West Bengal. On the other side, AITMC is also equally ready to shield their 10 years’ reign.
But why Narendra Modi and Amit Shah only targeting West Bengal?
‘ Mamata Banerjee is the only regional leader who is a formidable rival for the BJP and West Bengal is a frontier that BJP wants to conquer. This is why Amit Shah and other party leaders have visited the state so many times ‘-said Sekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of The Print.
Religion plays a vital role here. It is not only a fight between two political parties but also a contest between the aggressive Hindutva craze of BJP and AITMC which is popular as close to Muslim Communal politics.
India is a well-known secular country. Moreover, in West Bengal Hindus and Muslims live together in harmony. The biggest issue of BJP would be their aggressive Hinduism agenda in West Bengal.
On the other side, after the Singur-Nandigram case, Mamata Banerjee has created an image of development. There are many schemes such as Kanyashree or distribution of cycle to the students, distribution of rice at a lower price, etc. have been launched by AITMC. Although there are several ideological conversion took place in AITMC, Mamata Banerjee has established herself as an image of secularism.
In contrast, Suvendu Adhikari, a heavyweight candidate from AITMC recently joined BJP. It can assume that this incident will have a strong impact on the 2021 election. If we look back, in 2011 BJP was capable to gain seats in the state. The party contested 289 of the 294 votes but ended up with a vote share of 4.06 percent. In 2016, BJP contested 291 out of 294 seats, and in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the party was able to capture 18 seats of 42 in the state.
“The BJP has worked doggedly over the last ten years and increased its vote share by ten times.’ Said Sekhar Gupta.
In 2011, AITMC displaced Left Front which had been in power for 34 years. However, the question remains whether it will change again the ruling party once again in 2021.
In the end, we can say whatever the result will be, the government should keep an eye on the election center so that there is violence over the vote. State and Central both are interlinked. So, the clash between state and central ruling party should not affect the state-central connection even after the declaration of result.
Just the day before our 73rd Independence Day on 14th August 2020, a report by Newley Purnell and Jeff Horwitz was published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) “exposing” the links of Facebook with the ruling party in India (Union), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The report stated that the Facebook’s regional chief (Director) of public policy to have turned a blind-eye to posts by politicians from the ruling party in India, resulting in hate-speech continuing to exist on its platform despite violating their own community guidelines, with no or very minute action taken against their propagators.
monthly active users (in millions)
Facebook has its biggest user base in India with its string of social media applications.
The WSJ Report
The report starts with the mention of BJP MLA from Telangana, the notorious T. Raja Singh. The report bears the testimony of present and former employees of Facebook who’ve said that Facebook has violated their own community guidelines and have let content, which comprises of “hate-speech” and violent rhetoric, continued to exist on its platform.
The report has made firm statements about Ms. Ankhi Das, who is at the epicenter of this controversy. Ms. Das, who joined Facebook in 2011 as its public-policy head for India, South and Central Asia, oversees a team that “decides what content is allowed on the platform”, as said by an employee.
Her job profile includes lobbying to India’s government on Facebook’s behalf, has as the report states as said by employees, both former and present, “told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.
Singh has broken such guidelines on several occasions be it threatening to create a “Dadri-like situation” after students of Osmania University in Hyderabad made plans to organize a beef festival on campus (December 2015) when he called for the “beheading of those who oppose the Ram temple”, leading to tension in the state (2017).
In January this year, Singh reiterated his threat to kill the “Owaisi brothers” — AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin Owaisi — and bring an end to all those who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Facebook is said, under the guidance of Ms. Das, that Singh has been allowed to persist on the social media platform with some of his posts removed after the WSJ approached Facebook.
The report further states “That team took no action after BJP politicians posted content accusing Muslims of intentionally spreading the coronavirus, plotting against the nation and waging a ‘love jihad’ campaign by seeking to marry Hindu women, that former employee said. Ms. Das has provided the BJP with favorable treatment on election-related issues, current, and former employees said”.
It goes on “In April of last year, days before voting began in India’s general election, Facebook announced it had taken down inauthentic pages tied to Pakistan’s military and the Congress Party, the BJP’s main rival party. But it didn’t disclose it also removed pages with false news tied to the BJP, because Ms. Das intervened, according to former Facebook employees
The report also mentions that Ms. Das’ essay found its mention on the website as well as the mobile application of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who heads the BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre. There’s also a tempting attempt to establish the personal conviction of Das with the saffron outfits as she’s found to share posts with anti-Muslim rhetoric on her social accounts.
Further, there’s mention of Kapil Mishra, whose video is considered to have incited the deadly Delhi Riots earlier this year and Anantkumar Hegde, who has posted essays and cartoons to his Facebook page alleging that Muslims are spreading Covid-19 in the country in a conspiracy to wage “Corona Jihad.”
Facebook’s Quid-Pro-Quo & Past Miscreants
It is not the first time such a controversy had taken place. Just about two months ago, when the Black Lives Matter #BLM movement started with the death of George Floyd, Facebook has been stated to have supported and ignored its own community guidelines and have let hate-speech and violence triggering tinged content left to subsist on its platform.
The WSJ, New York Times, and Washington Post were swift to report after finding out valid sources and drafting such reports and have linked Facebook’s electoral contribution in the U.S to such politicians.
During the protests, when Trump threatened to issue the Insurrection Act (1857) after protesters marched to the White House the previous evening and burned the church nearby, popularly known as “church of the Presidents”, Facebook and Instagram were found out to help the Federal authorities to trace and track data of the protesters from their devices and steal their personal data and hack their way into their lives.
It was only after the advertisement pushover and boycott over its (favorable) treatment for Trump that Facebook founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would start labeling contents and it deterred from doing so, so as to let people know “what’s in the case“.
The report also states such behavior of Facebook “Facebook sometimes adapts its policies to meet political realities in key markets. Facebook agreed to abide by stricter hate-speech rules in Germany, than in the U.S. or elsewhere.
In Singapore, where its Asia operations are based, it has agreed to append a “correction notice” to news stories deemed false by the government. And in Vietnam, it agreed to restrict access to dissident political content deemed illegal in exchange for the government ending its practice of disrupting Facebook’s local servers, which had slowed the platform to a crawl”
Das’ alleged decision in Singh’s case bears a striking similarity to global reports from earlier this month, where Facebook’s vice-president of global public policy, Joel Kaplan is reported to have intervened to “remove strikes” against conservative pages in the United States.
Just as the report reached India, the whole activism world bloated like a cannon.
Soon after the report in The Wall Street Journal, Saket Gokhale, a Right to Information (RTI) activist, tweeted about Ankhi Das’s links to BJP-affiliated groups.
Gokhale claimed on Saturday that Ankhi Das “attends sessions” of the World Organization of Students & Youth (WOSY), a youth group that is led by her sister, Rashmi Das.
Gokhale claimed WOSY’s office was located in the same building as an RSS outfit in Delhi. Rashmi Das was also an office-bearer of the ABVP (BJP’s student-wing) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
With leaders from the opposition demanding a fair probe with the Parliamentary Committee of Information Technology, headed by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, even Saket Gokhale tweeted that the Modi government will soon derail the whole issue and so it’s better to appeal the head of the committee.
Opposition parties like Congress have also written to the government and Facebook for a probe and to clear their stand, respectively.
A huge number of people have expressed their concern within and beyond borders and tweeted and mentioned the government and party leaders demanding a free and fair probe, with the AAP party’s Raghav Chadha led Delhi Assembly panel stating that they’d soon call upon Facebook officials for inquiry.
Meanwhile, Ms. Das has filed a complaint with the Delhi Police stating “threat on her life” due to the WSJ article and has named 5 other individuals in the FIR. “I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me,” Das had said in her police complaint.
According to a report on News laundry, Das named Himanshu Deshmukh, AwashTiwari, AnamikaSingh, TravisBikal, and the Twitter user @justanalysis as the accused. In the criminal complaint, only Awesh Tiwari is a journalist.
The Chandigarh Press Bureau, a journalist body has requested the withdrawal of the criminal complaint by Das.
Facebook did also respond, just in a different way. They fired the employee who provided WSJ for his testimony. This is also something the social media giant has done in the past.
On 12th June 2020, Facebook had fired employees who protested against inaction upon Trump’s provocative post during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that a handful of employees have written a letter asking Facebook to denounce “anti-Muslim bigotry” posts from BJP politicians that Ankhi Das protected and shared herself on the platform.
In a comment posted internally to employees, Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook in India, said the company was confident that the WSJ article’s claim about political affiliations influencing decision making in India is “inaccurate and without merit,” Reuters reported.
Facebook has yet to offer any evidence to dispute the claims made in the WSJ report — and has not disputed them at all in its statements to news outlets. In its public statements, Facebook has said it is making “progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits.”
The parliamentary panel on Information Technology has summoned Facebook officials and officials from the Ministry of Information Technology on September 2, 2020, for an inquiry into the claims.
To this Nishikant Dubey, a Member of Parliament of the BJP from Jharkhand has requested the Lok Sabha speaker, to remove Shashi Tharoor as the panel chairperson.
Without rules, we live among animals. There are community guidelines for the safety of users in the social platform, which can be taken for the rules, and from time and again, in lines with such guidelines, content on social media is scrutinized, censored and removed (if found violating the rules).
This is the responsibility of the platform to care for its users, and that’s why the “report” option exits if the content is perceived to be harmful or malicious. For such a huge presence, to deter community guidelines is very important for every single user to feel safe in their space.
This is a live example where a corporate is lobbying in a give-&-take manner, negotiates with the government so as to enhance its business. They don’t care for the people.
If we’re to blame the political outfits, we must also know that the political outfits could’ve done nothing if they were not provided the medium on a silver platter. This is corporate greed.
We must be aware and conscious that such corporations do more harm than good and choose the applications or websites wisely to propagate our thoughts and ideas in free will and rely on their servers with our data, and they’d point out and correct if any of our thoughts are in violation of others’ or a community’s.
With the BJP-led NDA Government winning up another landslide second term with no political, social or financial subsistence but simply strong-arm politics and the wave of saffron populism of polarisation in the Indian society, it has been easier than ever for the government to turn bills into laws even if it faces criticism. The fragile opposition seems to make their job easier. As the basic characteristic of any right-wing ideological political entity, the inherent ideals of conservativeness and nationalism, the reflection is remarkably clear in the bills introduced in the Parliament by their members and passed by their members and allies.
The drafting of National Educational Policy (which is also opaque in sections), The EIA, The much-feared UAPA, and several others. The Transgender Persons Act is also an element derived from the same title.
The trans community is a community that faces extreme and extensive amounts of social and cultural exclusion despite being a part of the same socio-cultural milieu for centuries and has served in the royal courts. Things were not always the same for them as from historical shreds of evidence it has been found that they have (had) been treated with great respect over three centuries ago. However, everything changed once the East India Company took the helm of India and paved the way for the British Parliament to rule India under subjugation. The imposition of British ideology (mostly orthodox Catholic sect of Christianity) led to the introduction of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 which declared that all of the trans community as “criminals” and also that they were “addicted” to crime. The act was repealed in the year of 1947 but the damage was already done and a deep-rooted stigma was planted in Indian society besides the enmity towards Pakistan by Indians and vice versa.
India has over half a million of people from this community (as of 2014) as Dr. Rajkumar of Chaudhari Devilal University stated in his paper Education of Transgenders in India: Status and Challenges “The community needs to be included in the mainstream development program of the country and be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation”.
The Trans community is addressed with the following terms in regard to identity (which are not names, as any normal person would think) kinner, hijra, aravasi, and jogta.
As the aim for the introduction of the Transgender Person Bill states to provide for the protection of transgender persons and their welfare and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto, the actual working of the provisions on a closer introspection would clarify that much like the party it is being drafted by, the bills are more or less the same – a paradoxical and tokenistic effort.
The government has stated that this Bill (which is now in drafting stage) when will be passed as an Act will be a powerful tool in the hands of the administration to safeguard the people and transgender community and their interests with regard to the social, cultural, economic, mental and emotional state. When in reality this bill does nothing for such measures but establishes the transgender community as the third gender and not for the purpose to protect or safeguard them. The realistic applications of the provisions seem vague and much like the guidelines prescribed by Arthashastra by Kautilya where the guidelines were merely guidelines for statecraft and the practical economic and political policies were much different.
The Bill lays great emphasis on the Identification section and the issuing of Certificate for Identity of people from the transgender community. The purpose can be considered very noble but can be subjected to potent polarisation by the populist outfits, anytime the waves would turn that way.
The identification of a transgender person is to be carried everywhere and can be asked for inspection from time to time and that would not make them feel protected but make them vulnerable in the public space. There’s no reasonable contradiction on the violence and atrocities the people of the transgender community faces and that’s extensive.
Also with respect to the Identity section, the requirement of a “clinical psychologist’s” report is very suspicious and un-called for. The Bill doesn’t clarify the purpose of this step to apply for an identification certificate but has made this a mandatory provision. The lack of clinical psychologists in the nation and whether most of them will be welcome towards them and fulfill their responsibility is very unclear and the drafters of this Bill seem not to lose any sleep over that.
The identification section also recognizes only those people Trans who go through inter-sex surgery and/or hormone therapy. The Trans Community is one the most economically weaker sections of Indian Society, and many can’t afford day to day meals, let alone hormone therapy which requires lakhs of rupees. Asking the poor trans to go through hormone therapy/inter-sex surgery, only to be provided with an identification certificate which in turn will allow people to discriminate and make public spaces unsafe for them, and not provide them with any kind of aid, is not only a tokenist move but a mockery of their existence.
No welfare measures are prescribed by the central government but simply the burden of that responsibility has been shifted on the local or state governments with the words “The appropriate Government”. This is very much like throwing the balls in others’ court and shrugging off the responsibility while the drafting is by the Union.
The establishments or entities are set by marked guidelines with respect to vigilance but let’s face the practical fact that no employee would report their employer on such actions (whether public or private) and thereby such guidelines make no sense at all.
The National Council for Transgender Person is very much like NITI Aayog, by which government would exercise and exert its propaganda with only 10 out of the total 34 member council being of members not from the government (state or central) but still nominated by the Central Government and only 5 out of 34 members are actually from the Transgender community. This formation of such a council has just made a mockery of representation of the Transgender community for their own rights. Also, for over half a million people only Rs 1,00,00,000 has been allotted.
When the Constitution of India states ‘equality for all’, when it comes to punitive measures they are not at all severe. Even the major offenses of sexual abuse can only be subjected to a maximum of six months to two years of imprisonment and fine. When for a normal person it is not less than twelve to eighteen years. All that of course, after a completely free and fair trial in the Indian Judicial system.
This Bill does no good for the people of the Transgender community except to subject them to uncertain provisions over their identity and in reality makes no effort for their welfare and social and cultural representation.
This community has the lowest life expectancy of not more than 30 years, where the average life expectancy in India is around 80 years. This is the same community that has just 46% literacy (average in India being 74%) and that too when it is just a little over half a million in population. This community has been exploited, abused (mentally, verbally, physically, and emotionally), killed, tortured, driven from their own homes, and their identity used as slurs. It’s is high time to call on our leaderships to make proper provisions for them and take a stand for their welfare.