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Analysis

Now comes the hard part for the Congress

The Congress and its president will have to realise that such generalities no longer pay political dividends. The voters, especially the youth, are interested in specifics, including the spelling out of targets.

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Winning, although narrowly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, was the easy part for the Congress.

The favourable signals were there from the party’s earlier by-election victories in the two states. But despite the Congress’s latest success, what must be worrying for the party is that it missed losing by a hair’s breadth, given how close the voting percentages were for the two contenders – 39.3 per cent for the Congress in Rajasthan against 38.8 for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 40.9 per cent in Madhya Pradesh for the Congress against the BJP’s 41.

What this means for the Congress is that it doesn’t have a moment to lose to show that it can provide better governance than its predecessor. There is no time for the party to bask in the glory of having risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of the 2014 drubbing. It has to hit the ground running, as the phrase goes.

It will not do for the Congress to bank only on populist measure like loan waivers for farmers which are frowned upon by economists as sops which ultimately help neither the farmers nor the agricultural economy. The loan waivers are in line with Sonia Gandhi’s favourite rural employment scheme of the Manmohan Singh government which was of no help to the party in 2014.

Nor will the pursuit of a “soft” Hindutva line to project the Congress as a BJP minus the gau rakshaks be of any help. Instead, the party will have to take definitive steps to demonstrate that it means business in dealing with agrarian distress and unemployment – the two main factors which brought about the BJP’s downfall.

Neither of the two steps will be easy for a state government, especially when there is an unfriendly regime at the centre, waiting to see how it fumbles. But an emphasis on irrigation and on groundwater and surface water management can underline the state government’s serious intent.

An expansion of the formal credit facilities can also reduce the dependence of the farmers on rapacious money-lenders, as can efforts to ensure that the routine subsidies are not misappropriated by the richer farmers.

Similarly, joblessness can be partly alleviated by helping in the growth of small and medium businesses in states which haven’t yet been able to shed the damaging BIMARU tag of being “sick” where the social and economic indicators are concerned.

But, in addition to such initiatives which are within the capabilities of the state governments, it is time that the Congress at the national level outlines its broad economic vision, which has been hazy so far as was evident from Rahul Gandhi’s reluctance to specify what he means when he talks of supporting farmers, creating jobs and extending health care, as he did at the London School of Economics last summer.

The Congress and its president will have to realise that such generalities no longer pay political dividends. The voters, especially the youth, are interested in specifics, including the spelling out of targets.

Since the problem with the Congress is that it has been unable to make up its mind between populist and pro-market policies, it appears to be suspended in midair where economics is concerned with no one knowing what to expect from a Congress government – a return to Manmohan Singh’s economic reforms or to Sonia Gandhi’s focus on freebees.

So far, the Congress governments in Punjab and Karnataka have been run-of-the-mill ones with little to show them as result-oriented, especially in the matter of bolstering the economy.

But, now that three more states have come under the party’s aegis, there has to be greater focus in its policies instead of a recourse to homilies.

For Rahul Gandhi, the unambiguous projection of an economic direction in the run-up to the next general election will be a bigger test than containing the Congress’ age-old malady of internal factionalism dating to the Tilak-Gokhale split of 1907.

If Narendra Modi is perceived to be faltering, it is because he tried to tackle the country’s economic ills with patchwork repairs like opening myriad bank accounts, providing direct cash transfers for cooking gas cylinders, extending rural electrification and undertaking faster highway construction. But he failed in carrying out what are called “big bang” reforms to rejuvenate the economy, which was the expectation behind his 2014 success.

If Rahul Gandhi, too, is found to be following in the BJP’s footsteps not only in pursuing “soft” Hindutva, but also in the economic field, the unforgiving people of India, who are increasingly becoming impatient for quick results, will have no hesitation in dumping the Congress.

The Congress president’s problem is that he will have carry with him his allies in the mahagathbandhan – if and when the grand alliance is formed – and so he cannot make unilateral announcements on key issues.

But he must remember that the eagerness with which many of them court foreign investors shows that the earlier aversion of the average politician to capitalism is dying out.

Rahul Gandhi will have to state whether he shares their views or still considers himself to be a foot soldier of the Niyamgiri tribals of Odisha who ensured the eviction of investors from their sacred hills.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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