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Analysis

Early polls a KCR political masterstroke

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K Chandrasekhar Rao

Hyderabad, Sep 7 : Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao, better known as KCR, is known for taking decisions which surprise his political opponents but the dissolution of Telangana assembly is his political masterstroke.

With nearly nine months still left for the assembly to complete its term, he dissolved the House and the same day announced candidates of his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for almost all the 119 seats.

His move baffled all as there was no crisis or political instability in the state to have warranted such a move. There are hardly any takers for his argument that ‘political fragility’ and ‘unlimited idiocy’ of the opposition prompted him to go to the people’s court. Opposition parties making allegations of corruption against those in power is quite common in every state.

KCR choose to go for early assembly polls when the Lok Sabha elections are anyway scheduled in April-May next year. In 2014, simultaneous polls to assembly and Lok Sabha had paid rich dividends to the TRS, fresh from the success of movement for separate state.

A shrewd politician he is, KCR plans to achieve many objectives with his political gambit. Delinking the assembly and Lok Sabha polls will ensure that TRS’ prospects to retain power in the state are not marred by other factors in general elections.

KCR apparently feels that several welfare schemes implemented during last four years will be overshadowed in simultaneous elections.

KCR, who led the Telangana movement, has hinted that he will seek fresh mandate on the slogan of ‘self-respect’. He appealed people not to become slaves to Delhi, an obvious reference to Congress.

The dissolution was also to deny time to the opposition parties to regroup. Congress, the main opposition party, is trying to form a grand alliance with Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Left parties and Telangana Jana Samithi (TPS), a new party floated by Kodandaram, KCR’s friend-turned-foe.

KCR is so confident of retaining power that he wasted no time in announcing candidates for 105 seats. Psychologically, this will give him an upper hand over opposition.

In 2014 elections, the TRS had bagged 63 seats in 119-member assembly to form the first government in Telangana. Its tally swelled to 90 with legislators from Congress, TDP and other parties switching loyalties.

The Congress, which had secured 26 seats, remained KCR’s number one enemy in the state. The TDP, which had finished third with 15 seats, has weakened and is left with just two members in the dissolved assembly. The YSR Congress Party, which had three MLAs, is decimated.

The BJP, which had five seats in the dissolved Assembly, is trying to strengthen itself in the state but it is not likely to see any dramatic change of fortunes.

Confident that there is no anti-incumbency and opposition offering no strong alternative, KCR opted for early polls. This is expected to give him sufficient time to plan his strategy for the Lok Sabha elections.

For several months, TRS circles are abuzz with the talk of KCR’s plans to anoint his son K.T. Rama Rao as his successor. KTR, as the cabinet minister is widely known, is number two in both the government and the party and is seen by many as the de facto Chief Minister.

By going for early polls, KCR apparently wants to pave the way for KTR to take over. The TRS chief may contest Lok Sabha polls shift to national politics. There is also talk that those reluctant to accept KTR may be sent to the Lok Sabha.

KCR, in recent months, was seen warming up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As any understanding with the BJP may antagonise Muslim voters and his ally Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), KCR is going for early polls to Assembly. He is thus keeping the door open for a possible alliance with the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.

(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

Denigrating Nehru is like throwing pebbles at a mountain: Shashi Tharoor

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Shashi Tharoor

New Delhi, Nov 13: Alleging that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its followers lose no opportunity to denigrate Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has stated in a new edition of his 2003 book “Nehru: The Invention of India” — scheduled to be launched on Tuesday evening by Sonia Gandhi — that accusing Indias first Prime Minister of “every conceivable sin” is like “throwing pebbles at a mountain”.

“They cannot even begin to dent the scale of his contributions to India. The truth is that Jawaharlal Nehru’s extraordinary life and career is part of the inheritance of every Indian. His impact on India is too great not to be re-examined periodically. His legacy is ours, whether we agree with everything he stood for or not. What we are today, both for good and for ill, we owe in great measure to one man,” Tharoor writes.

He describes Nehru as “a moody, idealist intellectual who felt an almost mystical empathy with the toiling peasant masses; an aristocrat, accustomed to privilege, who had passionate socialist convictions; an Anglicised product of Harrow and Cambridge who spent over 10 years in British jails; an agnostic radical who became an unlikely protégé of the saintly Mahatma Gandhi” and contends that for the first 17 years of India’s independence, Jawaharlal Nehru’s stature was so great that India seemed inconceivable without him.

Following is an extract from the new Introduction of the book where the author explains Nehru’s contribution in constructing India’s democracy:

It was by no means axiomatic that a country like India, riven by so many internal differences and diversities, beset by acute poverty and torn apart by Partition, would be or remain democratic. Many developing countries found themselves turning in the opposite direction soon after independence, arguing that a firm hand was necessary to promote national unity and guide development. Upon the Mahatma’s assassination in 1948, just five months after Independence, Nehru became the keeper of the national flame, the most visible embodiment of India’s struggle for freedom.

Gandhi’s death could have led Nehru to assume untrammelled power. Instead, he spent a lifetime trying to instill the habits of democracy in his people — a disdain for dictators, a respect for parliamentary procedures, an abiding faith in the constitutional system. He himself was such a convinced democrat, profoundly wary of the risks of autocracy, that, at the crest of his rise, he authored an anonymous article warning Indians of the dangers of giving dictatorial temptations to Jawaharlal Nehru. ‘He must be checked,’ he wrote of himself. ‘We want no Caesars.’ And indeed, his practice when challenged within his own party was to offer his resignation; he usually got his way, but it was hardly the instinct of a Caesar.

As Prime Minister, Nehru carefully nurtured the country’s infant democratic institutions. He paid deference to the country’s ceremonial presidency and even to its largely otiose vice-presidency; he never let the public forget that these notables outranked him in protocol terms. He wrote regular letters to the chief ministers of the states, explaining his policies and seeking their feedback. He subjected himself and his government to cross-examination in Parliament by the small, fractious but undoubtedly talented Opposition, allowing them an importance out of all proportion to their numerical strength, because he was convinced that a strong Opposition was essential for a healthy democracy. He took care not to interfere with the judicial system; on the one occasion that he publicly criticised a judge, he apologised the next day and wrote an abject letter to the Chief Justice, regretting having slighted the judiciary.

And Nehru never forgot that he derived his authority from the people of India; not only was he astonishingly accessible for a person in his position, but he started the practice of offering a daily darshan at home for an hour each morning to anyone coming in off the street without an appointment, a practice that continued until the dictates of security finally overcame the populism of his successors.

It was Nehru who, by his scrupulous regard for both the form and the substance of democracy, instilled democratic habits in our country. His respect for Parliament, his regard for the independence of the judiciary, his courtesy to those of different political convictions, his commitment to free elections and his deference to institutions over individuals, all left us a precious legacy of freedom.

Nehru’s opening remarks when he moved the motion at the newly established Constituent Assembly on 13 December, 1946, gives us a view of the immense pressure and responsibility he placed on himself to ensure that the embodiment of his democratic vision for the country responded fittingly to the situation and did justice to its enshrinement in the process of Constitution-making. He had to preserve the “past” idea of India and march towards the “future” idea of India…

The American editor Norman Cousins once asked Nehru what he hoped his legacy to India would be. “Four hundred million people capable of governing themselves,” Nehru replied. The numbers have grown, but the very fact that each day over a billion Indians govern themselves in a pluralist democracy is testimony to the deeds and words of this extraordinary man and the giants who accompanied him in the march to freedom.

(The new Introduction also looks at Nehru’s contribution towards secularism, socialism, foreign policy and his life as a writer. Excerpts published with Permission from Penguin Random House India)

IANS

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Analysis

US tech giants promise tougher action to fight fake news in India

Ahead of the 2019 general elections in India, Facebook was teaming up with global news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) to do fact checking, Khanduri said.

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Fake News

New Delhi, Nov 12 : Three US tech giants – Google, Facebook and Twitter – on Monday promised to do more to fight news in India, while refusing to provide any definite timeline for bringing tougher actions that could eliminate the menace of fake news from their platform.

Participating in a panel discussion hosted by BBC’s Matthew Amroliwala at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, the representatives of the three top technology companies outlined the actions they were taking to fight misinformation on its platform.

Fake news, the three executives said, were not in the interest of their business.

Manish Khanduri, Head of Facebook News Partnership in India, said the social networking giant would strengthen its partnerships with third party fact checkers to curb misinformation.

Ahead of the 2019 general elections in India, Facebook was teaming up with global news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) to do fact checking, Khanduri said.

“We are increasing the number of third-party fact checkers and we are also reaching out to various policy makers and law enforcement officers to ensure how best this platform could be used,” Khanduri said while responding to a question on what Facebook was doing to safeguard the 2019 India polls.

Facebook has also taken several measures to arrest the virality of misinformation on its platform, he said.

Khanduri, however, did not divulge anything on what the company was doing to help trace the origin of fake news and rumours spread with the aim of harming people on popular instant messaging pltform WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook.

More than 30 lynching incidents in India have so far been linked to rumours on various social media platforms.

Irene Jay Liu, who leads Google News Lab in the Asia-Pacific region, said the company was focusing on training and upskilling people in India in a bid to help them spot fake news.

The tech giant in June announced the launch of the Google News Initiative Training Network in India in partnership with BoomLive, DataLeads and Internews.

This training network aims to support journalists from across India in their fight against misinformation, providing in-depth and hands-on verification training to 8,000 journalists across English and six other Indian languages over the next one year.

Vijaya Gadde, Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead at Twitter, said the micro-blogging platform was working to bring in more transparency to political advertisements on the platform.

Responding to a question, she also said that Twitter would also consider measures for making it easier for people to report fake news on its platform.

The event was held as part of BBC’s “Beyond Fake News” — a series across TV, radio and digital that aims to investigate how disinformation and fake news are affecting people around the world.

A research commissioned by the BBC World Service and published on Monday revealed that fake news was fast spreading in India owing to a “rising tide of nationalism”.

Earlier in the day, speaking at a town-hall at IIT Delhi, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that misinfomation itself was not a problem, but information intended to mislead people was.

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Analysis

Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Gen): Control your home better with smarter Alexa – Tech Review

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Amazon Echo Plus

New Delhi, Nov 12 : Smart home speakers are steadily gaining ground in India and Amazon’s Echo range has been appreciated the most so far, followed by Google Home.

Led by Amazon Echo, with 59 per cent market share, the smart speakers category in India grew 43 per cent in the second quarter (July-September) this year, according to an International Data Corporation (IDC) report.

Analysts see the nascent smartphone market in India growing beyond entertainment and Amazon, with its top-of-the-line voice-based Alexa platform, has brought the second iteration of its Echo smart home speaker to the country that is able to control connected devices around you and does not need third-party support.

The Indian smart home devices market which consists of connected lights, smart speakers, connected thermostats, smart TVs, home monitoring/security products and digital media adapters saw a healthy year-on-year growth of 107 per cent to hit 1.4 million shipments in the second quarter.

Let us see what the Rs 14,999 All-New Echo Plus (2nd Gen) with a smarter Alexa has to offer.

The top has four buttons — two to adjust volume, one to wake up Alexa and one mute button — along with seven ergonomically-placed microphones.

This time, the 780-gram device goes beyond reading daily news, playing music, announcing weather or ordering food.

The All-New Echo Plus comes with a built-in smart hub that helps you set up compatible Zigbee-enabled smart home devices directly, just using your voice.

Zigbee is a wireless technology developed to enable low-cost, low-power wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT (Internet of Things) networks.

Just ask Alexa to discover your devices and begin controlling compatible lights, plugs, locks, thermostats, sensors and in-wall switches.

For example, Echo Plus connected directly to Philips Hue light-bulbs.

Insert the bulb into a receptacle and tell Alexa to discover new devices. Within no time, she will throw up the name of the device (in this case, the light-bulb).

Start controlling the device, like “switch on the light Alexa”.

You can also control compatible lights and plugs from Syska, TP-Link and Oakter.

With seven microphones, beam-forming technology and noise cancellation, Echo Plus heard us from almost all directions.

Housing new speakers powered by Dolby and enhanced back volume, the bass felt stronger and the sound crisp and clear.

One feature that is worth mentioning is the equaliser (EQ) feature that allows users to personalise sounds by adjusting the bass, mid-range and treble.

Just ask Alexa to increase or decrease a specific band like “turn up the bass” or “decrease the treble” and she does it for you.

We could also made adjustments through the Alexa app.

The new Echo Plus also has a temperature sensor, making it possible for Alexa to tell the temperature in any room (it works with a compatible smart home thermostat).

With the device, call or message your friends and members in the family who also has an Echo device or the Alexa App.

Simply ask “Alexa, how do I set up calling?” and get started.

What doesn’t work?

Alexa is getting smarter by the day and we will soon have more local functionalities in it. At the moment, the device gives the best smart speaker experience.

Conclusion: From a tall, metal cylinder look in the first generation, Echo Plus has come a long distance in terms of look and feel. The second-generation Echo Plus with a far more intelligent Alexa is a real upgrade if you have experienced the first generation Echo.

(Nishant Arora can be contacted at [email protected])

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