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Analysis

Year that saw tectonic shift in UP’s political landscape – 2018 In Retrospect

Another significant churn in politics this year was caused by the floating of his own party by independent MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh, aka Raja Bhaiyya.

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Samajwadi and BSP Uttar Pradesh

A year is a long time in politics. In Uttar Pradesh, the change of the calendar from 2017 to 2018 saw a tectonic shift in the political landscape, one that left the ruling BJP and its cadres shocked to the core. Mayawati, the Dalit powerhouse who was daggers drawn with arch rival, the Samajwadi Party (SP), since June 2, 1995, after a murderous attack on her at a guest house by its supporters, decided to bury the hatchet and join ranks with the party.

This was by far the biggest development in UP this year as Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the SP were sworn enemies for decades — using their stints in power to make flyovers next to the residences of each other, downgrade the other’s security cover, get political leaders bashed up by the police and what not. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been benefitting from the divide and would often gleefully boast that as the “twain shall never meet” it would give the saffron camp increased seats, election after election.

Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are now glued to each other in their hatred for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and haunted by the spectre of his again returning to power in 2019. Political observers here say that this was the “only option before the regional satraps as they fought for survival and not success anymore”. And, as the Modi juggernaut rolled on, the BSP scored a duck in 2014 and the SP managed to win only four of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. The SP got under 50 seats and was booted out of power in the 2017 state assembly polls, while the BSP was reduced to 19.

The new understanding between the two seemed to have found favour with the voters who threw their lot behind the duo after which SP candidates romped home winners in the Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana parliamentary by-polls. Having tasted blood, the two parties now have more or less cemented a seat-sharing agreement for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Tackling a whimsical Behenji, Akhilesh Yadav knows, is not an easy task — but he, unlike his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, is ready to bend backwards to see the alliance through.

Even BJP chief Amit Shah has conceded that the coming together of the SP and BSP would cost the party dearly in UP. The mandarins in the BJP camp, however, are now working the wires to ensure that this does not become a reality and a nightmare for them.

“From the ED (Enforcement Directorate) to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) to other factors, all are at work — but we are determined to decimate the BJP this time,” said an informed source in the SP who is privy to the seat-sharing talks. And so, while the hostility between the Jatavs (the BSP vote bank) and Yadavs (SP’s electoral backbone) continues to simmer, hopes of the alliance arithmetic percolating down to the grassroots is not lost on both the parties.

The other significant change in the opposition camp this year was the parting of ways of Shivpal Singh Yadav from his political alma mater, the SP. A man credited with grooming the SP from scratch to three times in power finally threw in the towel after being completely sidelined by his estranged nephew and party chief Akhilesh Yadav. As a first step to breaking ranks with his party of 26 years, he formed a front but finally took the plunge and floated his own political party named Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSP).

While his elder brother, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been swinging like a pendulum between both the factions, sometimes making a guest appearance at SP events and also turning up at a PSP rally, party veterans seem to be siding with Shivpal Singh Yadav, who is extremely popular with workers and middle-rung leaders. Deepak Mishra, the spokesman of the PSP, told IANS that, in a short span of time, it is “ready with its organisational structure and is upbeat about contesting all 80 LS seats in UP”.

He also termed as opportunistic the SP-BSP alliance. “We have the old guard, the real socialists, with us who have been fighting the communal forces for years,” he claimed, adding that any party or formation will not be able to take on the BJP without the PSP’s support.

Another significant churn in politics this year was caused by the floating of his own party by independent MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh, aka Raja Bhaiyya.

The Kunda legislator, for the last 25 years, has been the favourite pick and essential part of almost all governments, barring Mayawati’s. This time has decided to form his own party and contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats. Having christened his party Jansatta, he said his aim was transfer power to the people. In his initial public outings after declaring his party, Raja Bhaiyya has been wooing the upper castes by drumming up the fear of the SC/ST Atrocities Act and has openly declared the legislation was potentially a big threat to the “savarns” (upper castes).

With all political parties in the state tilting towards the OBC and Dalits, Raja Bhaiyya hopes to corner the upper caste votes from the Congress and the BJP. Insiders said his electoral foray is backed by the BJP, which feels that certain upper castes — Brahmins and Thakurs — could go to the Congress because of the Act. In such a grim scenario, they would prefer to shift the vote to Jansatta rather than the Congress.

Raja Bhaiyya’s ideological proximity to the saffron camp is well known. He has been thrice minister in BJP governments in UP.

As the year draws to a close, a lot of political activity has happened in the state, enough to make 2019 an interesting year as the race for the Delhi Durbar hots up.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted 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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