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Hanzala Aman

The case of ABP News and the press freedom at large

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Only in the recent past, we have seen relentless attacks on NDTV and The Wire – two news agencies who have consistently taken the critical stance on the government. The latest addition comes with the resignation of ABP News’ managing director Milind Khandekar and anchor Punya Prasoon Bajpai. Bajpai was associated with ABP News’ flagship programme Masterstroke in which he had rebutted many of the government’s claim (and propaganda). Before, the resignation many people had reported the black-outs and glitches on the Network during the time Masterstroke aired. According to Tata Sky, Airtel DTH and a report by The Wire, the problem was in fact from the end of the channel it was deliberately done by the channel administrators. In the same report of The Wire, another journalist, Abhisar Sharma was ostensibly asked not to go against Modi and when he nevertheless went against this guideline, was asked to take 14 days to leave. The incident shows the amount of pressure the channel must have had. Other journalists who have spoken against the government such as Ravish Kumar and Rana Ayyub have been openly and repeatedly threatened with life. In Ayyub’s case, even the United Nation expressed concerns and asked the government to provide security to her. At the same time, many media organizations are pandering to the government’s agenda and often broadcast the programmes which are either praiseworthy of the government or those without any real agenda. It isn’t the surprise that India was ranked 138 on The World Press Freedom Index 2018, a deplorable ranking for a nation known as World’s largest Democracy.

We must, however, pay attention to two other phenomena related to press freedom. Firstly that attacks on press freedom in recent times is not limited to India and it must have been in the global context. Secondly, there is a direct relation in attacks on press to the unprecedented growth in the fake news.

With the rise of conservative right around the globe, a decreasing trend of press freedom can be evidently observed. Since the failed 2016 coup in Turkey, thousands of journalists have been jailed without (and in some cases with arbitrary) trials. After the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) won the parliamentary elections in Poland, the government has been using legislative, political, and economic means to get media submissive to its agenda and to limit its freedom. Much the same way as in India, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczyński has responded to the criticism of his government with the assertion that “most of our media are in German hands”. With the matter of Israeli government’s policies and its actions, even the progressive media, including The New York Times, have refrained from condemnation or have tried to shift blames on Palestinians. Last year, Saudi Arabia and UAE had blocked the Al Jazeera and it continues to do so. When it comes to Pakistan, it was, in fact, the Military establishment which had made tremendous pressures on the press, particularly The Dawn, to censor the News. Particularly intriguing is the case of the United States, a nation which swears on its first amendment which enshrines the freedom of speech in the constitution. Since the media in the US is too powerful to succumb to the pressure by the government; President Donald Trump has not only maintained the safe distance from the “liberal” media but has also verbally attacked and mocked it. In a recent tweet he called on media to be unpatriotic, “When the media-driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic!”. Two experts from the UN even expressed the apprehension that President Trump’s attacks on the media may trigger violence against journalists. And that it is happening in the world’s most powerful nation is the most alarming reason to be afraid of.

Looking back at the sudden rise of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany, we notice the tremendous power of Print media and radio. After the Second World War, democratic nations actively promoted the progressive media to counter its negative implications. But in the wake of social media on which the information flow unchecked and freely, conservative forces have acquired tremendous power. The information which is mostly inaccurate tends to mostly favour the illiberal ideas in a way that a person doesn’t have any hard time proving them. According to a recently concluded study, fake news and false rumours reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories. As the fear of minority or aliens is intrinsic to the psychology of humans, people automatically incline towards the information- which fuels their biases- that might principally be untrue. The immensity of fake news can be fathomed by the spate of lynchings across the nation and how it has chiefly helped the conservative right (read government) in consolidating their voters’ support. This might be the reason that many people in the powerful positions support the peddlers of the fake news by either following them on the social media or by vocally supporting them. Social media helps the unrestricted flow of the information like no other form of media. It is the power of social media that emboldens the Conservative Right enough to freely attack the mainstream media.

At the World Economic Forum summit in Davos this year, the fake news was rightly treated as an urgent matter of global human rights. Lately, Facebook and Twitter have deleted millions of fake accounts, and have pledged to step up the fight against the fake news. Facebook, which also owns Whats App – a great source of misinformation, is planning to put in new strategies to counter fake news in association with Google. If the plans work out, mainstream “Liberal” media around the world, particularly under the conservative governments, should expect the increased attacks. And in case mainstream media has to go long way, it must stand with the weakest among them.

Hanzala Aman

What to do after Pulwama?

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Jaish pulwama

When the world was celebrating Valentines on February 14th, India was shaken by deadly terrorist attacks in Pulwama. The attack which martyred 44 CRPF personnel was claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammad – a Pakistan based terror group. Condemnation from different countries followed except from Pakistan. It was a rather meek response from the government, which tried to absolve itself from the attack, instead of a straight out condemnation, “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to State of Pakistan without investigations.”

It must be noted that ISI had a great role in the foundation of Jaish, after India was ransomed to free three terrorists during the Kandahar hijack. After sometime Jaish was founded by Maulana Masood Azhar – one of the three terrorists- who united several waning terror groups. Analysts believe that Pakistan’s army and ISI have supported Jaish and other terror groups with money and trainings, which is the reason why these groups freely use Pakistan’s soil for their terrorist acts, despite being outlawed in 2002. Masood Mazhar is infact guarded by the ISI 24/7. During the last two decades, Jaish and Lashkar-e- Taiba, have used the Pakistani soil with full impunity. Imran Khan prior to getting elected as Prime Minister, reiterated (and continues to) about holding dialogues with the “good Taliban”. This led him to win supports from Islamists, supposedly including Jaish too. This explains why there has been silence from the Pakistani government.

India has long tried to put Jaish in the designated terror list, which has repeatedly been blocked by China. Even the last Indian attempt was again thwarted by it. It won’t be silly to assume that China and Pakistan are trading silences on Jaish and Uyghurs in the exchange.

Whether an all out war with Pakistan would be helpful is a matter for Security advisors to decide. But there are certainly some things beyond war that must be looked into.

Pakistani government, firstly, should be made to accept that there is no such thing as a good terrorist and it is mostly in Pakistan’s favor to realize that. Since it is going through severe economic crisis, no foreign investment can be expected in a state like that. Also, it cannot expect to boost tourist industry, with the terror activities happening in the country or across border in India. Secondly, since China is investing heavily in Pakistan, its silence on terror groups is not going to help either. If a state like China expects return from Pakistan, it becomes imperative to seek an end to terror activities.

Latest inputs suggest that there were some carelessness from Indian government’s side too. According to a report, J&K police had even cautioned about a possible use of IED, and had suggested the completing sanitization of areas from which convoys should pass. It is therefore important to boost the intelligence and security measures in the region.

Most importantly, it is very important to try hard at restoring stability in the region. Unlike before many new entrants into militancy are hailing from socially and economically well-off backgrounds. Series of mishandled situations, lack of dialogue with civilians, extreme unemployment in the region, and recently imposed presidential rule are only exacerbating the situation. This is a fertile ground for Islamist organizations to recruit the youth from Kashmir. Matter is going to be worse since United States is looking for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Indian government must engage with civil groups and ordinary Kashmiris to show the futility of violence.

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Hanzala Aman

Venezuelan Crisis: Another Iraq?

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Venezuela

Indian media has almost wholly neglected a great ongoing crisis in Venezuela. After early Presidential elections on 20 May 2018, which saw the lowest voter turnout in country’s history, Nicolás Maduro got around 2/3rd of votes. Results were objected by several NGOs, critics, as well as opposition; and there was even a call to reelection without Maduro. Thus, the United Nations, Organization Of American States, Australia, United States, European Union, and other American Nations rejected the result. Countries like Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Cuba along with several others recognized the election. On January 10th, 2019, however, Maduro was re-inaugurated as President, which pushed for the current crisis.

This crisis was in the lineup with numerous others in past years. After the death of former president Hugo Chávez in March 2013, Maduro through a special election assumed the presidency. His time in the office also saw a severe decline in the socio-economic condition of the country with an increase in crime, inflation, poverty and hunger. Analysts attribute the reason to the economic policies of Chavez, Maduro, as well as fall in Oil Prices (aggravated more by several US sanctions). These led to protests in 2014 which saw almost 43 deaths, and loss in Maduro’s popularity resulting in 2015 election of National Assembly which majorly consisted of opposition. In 2016, there was even a call of recalling Maduro’s presidency, which nevertheless, did not culminate into reality, as he had the support of Supreme Court, Electoral Council, and the military. Crisis further escalated when the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, dissolved the National Assembly on March 29th, 2017, and took over the power. On April 1st, 2017 power was nonetheless reinstated to the Assembly. Public discontent with this stunt resulted in popular protests with as many as 153 deaths. Maduro was forced to call for rewriting the constitution. There was an election to form Constituent National Assembly which would have supreme legislative powers. The opposition boycotted the election calling it a way of power grab and in turn paving the way for pro-government leaders to be elected by default. An apprehension of the opposition resulted in reality as in August Constituent Assembly took over all the legislative powers by the National Assembly which was severely criticized by the opposition and many countries. On December 11th, 2017, Maduro banned main opposition parties – Justice First and Popular Will- from participating in the 2018 presidential election citing their boycott of the 2017 municipal elections.

There was a call for Maduro to resign from Presidency at the end of his term on January 10th this year due to the dispute in the elections. Notwithstanding, he was sworn in the same day by the Supreme Tribunal, which led to a chain of events. Condemnation from many quarters followed, and Organization Of American States declared Maduro as an illegitimate President and also called for fresh elections. In the follow-up, some states shut down their embassies in Venezuela in the protest, and The National Assembly declared the state of emergency. On 19th January, President of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó announced that all the military members and politicians, who defect from Maduro to the opposition would be granted amnesty after the transition of Presidency. With the backing of Washington and support of the unified opposition, National Assembly on 23rd January declared Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela. Within minutes, Trump announced that he was recognizing Guaidó as a legitimate authority in the country. Support to Guaidó was affirmed by Canada, other conservative American governments, France, UK as well as many other European countries. America’s intervention was condemned by Russia, China, Bolivia, Cuba, Turkey and Iran, among others and, support to Maduro government was affirmed. President Maduro then responded by cutting off diplomatic ties with the US and ordered American diplomats to leave Venezuela within 72 hours.

An Imminent War?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by saying that The United States continues its ties with Venezuela as the US did not recognize the Maduro regime. He further added, “The United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel, ” which of course meant Maduro is warned against sanctioning US diplomatic properties and officials, defying which would give Washington a license to “respond” militarily. Even in the November last year, national security adviser John Bolton had called Venezuela part of the Western Hemisphere’s “troika of tyranny.”

The current situation is indeed perilous, not only for Venezuela but for countries across the globe. Venezuelan military has affirmed its support to Maduro.  At the same time, Guaidó has also garnered support from parts of former officials hostile to Maduro, and a large section of the public. This is also a fact that a large part of the public had also voted for Maduro in 2018, although voter turnout was merely around 46%. Fear of foreign intervention in domestic affairs would certainly divide the public more. This can even lead to Maduro reacting in a harsh way to the opposition and US, and if that happens, a situation would escalate beyond control. Turkey, a vital part of NATO, supporting Maduro regime further makes the whole state of affairs more complex.

Is Military intervention by the US even worth?

The economic and political crisis has indeed been ravaging Venezuela since 2013. Hyperinflation and unemployment have induced hunger, shortage, and migration of at least 250,000 Venezuelans in recent years. Products that were affected by the shortages include milk, meat, chicken, coffee, rice, oil, precooked flour, butter prices, toilet paper, personal hygiene products and medicine, besides several others. Inflation was so severe that its rate reached 69%   in 2014, 181% in 2015, 800% in 2016, 4,000% in 2017 and 1,698,488% in 2018.

There are different reasons for the economic catastrophe in Venezuela. Policies both by Chavez and Maduro have proven unfruitful. It was assisted by several factors. In 2014 the cost of crude oil fell from $100 a barrel to $50 a barrel. Oil export accounts for almost 96% of the total export earnings of the country. This was in addition to the sanctioning of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, in 2011 by the US. Sanctions were further extended against Venezuelan officials in 2015 by Barack Obama. In 2017, Donald Trump’s administration imposed more sanctions on Venezuela although they were advised against it. Popular protests led by the opposition which led to many deaths in Venezuela since Maduro’s ascension to power worsened the economic situation.

Whether the United States is looking for more economic sanctions or military intervention, the decision is going to prove hazardous. Any attempt at furthering a regime change through external means is most probably going to blowback on the face of US. Sanctions would further paralyze the economy which is already struggling to breathe. More than the regime, it is going to affect the public.

Military intervention is a piece of ill-fated advice because of the several reasons. The military has continued its support to the regime, and any attempt at coup would pave the way of civil war. John Bolton who is national security adviser has a long history of miscalculations. He was one of the tallest cheerleaders of Iraq invasion in GW Bush’s regime. An episode of Iraq, which killed millions of citizens, still haunts the world in the form of terrorist activities. The US seems to be repeating mistakes of the past. United States Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, is too inexperienced in defence or policymaking. Continued government shutdown by Trump is making the situation much scarier. In recent years, Trump administration has also lashed out at NATO allies. All these, in addition, to support to Maduro regime by players like Russia, China, Iran and Turkey make the Venezuelan crisis frightening. Claims of the democratic restoration in Venezuela by the US and other NATO members certainly are hollow when they unabashedly support despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia and Israel. Is it really for democracy and human rights as per claims, or is it a new zone for War industry and Petroleum? This is what one is forced to wonder.

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Hanzala Aman

Understanding the Kisan march

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farmers

November in the National Capital ended with Farmers protesting against the government. Tens of thousands thronged the streets and rallied from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament demanding redress of their many issues. With the issues so genuine, marchers joined in from 24 different states of India. Unlike other protests which often culminate into violence, farmers peacefully carried out their march in discipline and did not unnecessarily disturb the traffic. The protests can be seen in the continuation of the Kisaan March carried out in Mumbai in March 2018, which itself was succeeded by many other small-scale protests in different states. Most important ones include that of Mandsaur in which six farmers were killed by Police Personnel, and Tamil Farmers protests in Delhi in which they shaved half their heads, drank their urine and took dead rats in their mouths. Sadly, large part of the corporate media houses chose to either ignore them or did not give them the deserved attention. The government also paid no heed. Farmers in the recent protest were disheartened that although their distress was nothing new, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Government’s response and its policies were far worse than the governments before.

Most popular demand was the waiver of Farmer’s loans and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendations which BJP had promised in its Manifesto before being voted to Power at the centre. While the government makes tall claims about giving higher MSPs for the crops, ground reality has turned far grimmer. MSP higher than 1.5 the cost as the government claims is not calculated according to C2 (comprehensive cost including imputed rent and interest on owned land and capital). Plus, there are still many crops not covered under MSP. After the implementation of e-NAM, in which farmers have to register their produce online before taking it to Mandis, crops aren’t sold according to the rate, and in case of insistence by the farmers, produce is rejected for not meeting the “quality”. In other cases, they are not even able to sell more than half of their crops.
And then there are middlemen who take up larger parts of the profits leaving farmers with not enough share. A data reveals that farmers get only around Rs. 10 for a kg of apple that is sold for Rs. 110 in retail and the milk that they sell for Rs18/litre is sold outside for at least Rs 40.
Hike in Petrol and Diesel prices have also affected their income as not only production costs have increased, but also the transportation costs. Fertilizer and seeds have become costlier, and subsidies been decreased.
Another demand is the timely and proper payment for the crops.
It becomes rather problematic when it comes to the waiver of loans. Although governments justly claim that waiving off the loan isn’t viable for the economy, farmers have another debate. While discussing with a young farmer, he said that farmers have been forced to ask for the loan waiver because of the inadequate and flawed agricultural policy of the government. He added that only 1% of the bad debt is from the Agriculture sector and that large proportion of this debt never really went to the farmers but the agriculture allied industries; if the government could waive off the loans for the corporates, why not the farmers?
Then comes the issue of crop insurance. Without being properly acquainted with the terms and conditions, money from their accounts are automatically deducted, and when farmers claim for the refund in case of crop failure, they have to run from office to office. Even the much-touted Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has proved to be a failure. It had largely benefited large insurance companies who have earned thousands of crores in just two years. A report by The Wire states that for last two seasons, farmers’ claims worth Rs 2,829 crore remain unpaid by these companies.
Demonetization done in November 2015, has also had an immense impact on farmers adding substantially to their distress. It continues to affect the agrarian economy.
Since 1995, more than 300000 farmers have committed suicide and it just shows the glimpse of the distress that farming community is going through. This community accounts for half of the working population and contributes merely to 18% of the country’s GDP. That they marched together leaving behind their caste, ethnicity and religion to demand for their rights shows that there is still room for issues that matter. Different political parties better take note that their futile debates and ignoring the important matters might cost them upcoming elections.
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