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This is with reference to News As A Goebbelsian Tweet (March 26). This cover headline hits the nail on its head. Going by the way the various IT cells of political parties have been working overtime to create social media ‘trends’, it can be said with some confidence that today, news has indeed been reduced to mere propaganda. Every player is playing the social media game. But the BJP takes the cake for being the most organised and coordinated player. Thanks to actor-turned-BJP MP Paresh Rawal’s slippery fingertips, a BJP IT cell document found its way to Twitter. The document is a clear example of how political parties are using social media for vicious attacks on rivals. But, why blame social media alone? Just switch on TV news and you will get a taste of both the trolling and the baseless opinions that form the bedrock of fake news. The hashtags will not leave you there either. It suffices to say that in these post-truth times, fake news is just news.
Avinash Bhatia, New Delhi
Trolls have become a big part of our digital ecosystem, thanks to the way social media is designed. Well, as per freedom of expression, one is entitled to one’s opinion, even, indeed, one’s rage, and thus, we need to realise that social media will always come with an amount of trolling. But the reality of it is rather scary. Trolling has reached crazy proportions, with vicious attacks launched for character assassination as well as harassment of all kinds.
George Jacob, Kochi
According to the research quoted in your cover story Malice As #News, “fake news travels faster on Twitter and perhaps even faster on Facebook”. It is said that around 63 per cent of all tweets on Twitter are merely copy-pasted. This can disseminate falsehood significantly farther, faster and deeper than the truth in all categories of information. Interestingly, the effects of false political news are far more pronounced than the effects of false news about other things. Since political parties are bound to gain electoral dividends by spreading misinformation, no one holds back. Social media has become a battlefield-cum-cesspool of falsehood and it is almost impossible to control or regulate it. There is no way to know which piece of information on social media is factual. I don’t think that genuine news-seekers go to Twitter, Facebook, and online news websites for their daily dose of news. Within seconds of any development, thousands of posts flood Twitter and Facebook, but except social media fanatics, who goes through all that trash and trolling? I don’t.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Since right-wing commentators are often blind and paid bhakts, these ‘patriotic’ cyber soldiers—Facebook warriors and Twitter terrorists—cannot indulge in any serious debate and discussion. Therefore, they resort to trolling. Now, when the abuse by some of these trolls has started backfiring, thanks to the law of diminishing returns, like their promise of achhe din (good days), the desperadoes have resorted to another time-tested weapon—fake news. In fake news land, any current issue can be twisted beyond the laws of physics. People can suddenly be quoted on things no one remembers they said. Take, for instance, the rumour that the death of Nobel laureate and physicist Stephen Hawking sparked. None other than a union minister claimed that Hawking, on his 2001 visit to India, had said that cosmic knowledge in the Vedas had falsified Albert Einstein’s famous equation of relativity; E=MC2. Hawking, obviously, had made no such claim!
Another fake news item was found floating on the virtual waters right after the Araria byelection in Bihar, where the BJP lost the seat to the RJD candidate. The electoral loss must have sent bhakts into quite a tizzy, as they were seen circulating the news that Muslim supporters of the RJD candidate who won the Araria seat were shouting anti-India slogans. A random video was posted and reposted several times on Facebook for this purpose.
Thanks to new media sites like Alt News, shows like Viral Sach—broadcast by ABP News—and magazines like Outlook, people can see through some of these vicious lies. But, the question is: How can this menace be effectively controlled? It is very difficult to set things right once the seeds of doubt are sown. And today, we have a whole culture where trolls are working overtime to sow the seeds of lies by spreading fake news in order to destroy India’s plural and composite culture.
Rakesh Agrawal, Dehradun
Trolls are the vermin of the internet, spreading the contagious virus of lies and slander.
Richa Gupta, New Delhi
With reference to Playing With Pride In Polls (March 26), the Karnataka CM’s decision to accord a separate religious minority tag to the Lingayat community, overruling all objections, is nothing more than an attempt to consolidate Lingayat votes, which are expected to be critical to the outcome in nearly 100 seats in the upcoming election. Siddaramaiah’s masterstroke is certain to blow up in the face of the Congress due to the Veerashaiva–Lingayat issue, and will also cause instability nationwide as more groups start demanding minority status. With the country already facing problems on many fronts, political parties adding new ones to the mix for the sake of electoral gain defies all logic. The government should withdraw the notification for the sake of the greater interests of the nation.
K.R. Srinivasan, On E-Mail
Looking at the ‘Red Sea’ of farmers that was flowing from Nashik to Mumbai in the first week of March, one could say that the fading red flag is still fluttering in the farmlands of Maharashtra (An Army On Its Stomach, March 26). It’s unfortunate and unbelievable that even after 70 years of Independence, several five-year plans, loan melas and loan waivers, our farmers’ lives continue to be uncertain and they remain largely marginalised. As usual, the Maharashtra government promised them the moon on seeing their blistered feet—and thus the moon is where they have now fixed their gaze, hoping against hope. Did the government inquire as to how the tired souls returned to their villages after the 180 km marathon march to meet their masters in Mumbai? I am sure it didn’t.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
Apropos of your editorial comment We Said It (March 26), the previous issue’s cover with Mayawati’s elephant riding Akhilesh’s bicycle said it all. Discerning readers appreciate news magazines for an analytical perspective on the news, essays on current topics and glimpses of contemporary times; the Outlook menu is a good fit for them. The electorate is, by and large, fed up with the BJP’s misgovernance. Their abuse of the justice system to persecute opponents and minorities continues unabated, while electronic media have been groomed to propagate fake news and tilt public opinion in favour of non-secular forces. It is high time that the opposition put in place practical strategies to expose the BJP for what it is. The country faces the twin dangers of internal polarisation caused by communal projects such as the construction of the Ram Mandir—which may well ensure a second term for Modi come next year’s elections—and the beating of the drums of war; the India-Pakistan border is volatile as never before, and it is possible to ignite a full-fledged war at any time. This is the last refuge of political opportunists, giving them temporary glory in exchange for the country’s permanent ruin.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
This is about the article that takes into view the note of contemplation in the BJP camp after their losses in the UP bypolls (The Unease Under Those Lotus Crowns, Mar 26). It doesn’t take rocket science to say that the BJP’s 0-3 loss has set alarm bells ringing. The result establishes the power of alliances between strong parties. The RJD and the JD(U) proved this in Bihar before they went their separate ways, which also highlights the problems with such ties. The results also prove that the worry about rigged EVMs are exaggerated and that the Indian democratic process is fairly strong. And it hints that the 2019 parliamentary polls might not be a cakewalk for the BJP.
K.S. Padmanabhan, On E-Mail
The series of articles Outlook ran about the bypolls in UP and Bihar showed an analytical bent that was consistently biased against the BJP. It’s not that the party is in a really bad way, as is being portrayed by many. In fact, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is crushing opponents more aggressively. In UP, the SP and BSP are fighting for their survival. After the debacles of 2014 and 2017, they have realised that if the BJP does a repeat in 2019, that will spell the end of their existence and their hold on votebanks. The writers have played up this victory of symbiotic and opportunistic alliance between the opposition parties.
Indu S. Dube, Varanasi
Sacking Haseeb Drabu as finance minister before he could even give a clarification about his ‘Kashmir is not a political issue’ remark highlights the fissures in the Jammu &Kashmir ruling alliance between the PDP and the BJP (Too Good To Play Number 2, Mar 26). Drabu was echoing a sentiment more in line with the BJP’s position on Kashmir. Rather than working on areas of convergence, the allies have allowed their differences to play out publicly. Only last month, the BJP opposed the J&K government’s decision to probe the death of civilians in army fire. Unless a genuine attempt is made to live up to the mandate of 2015, the alliance will end up sharpening the dividing lines instead of bridging them.
P.L. Singh, On E-Mail
I write in response to the article on the CPI(M) leadership mulling an alliance with the Congress after their defeat in Tripura (Sunset In The East, Mar 19). There is no stopping the saffron spread, which has now reached the Red bastion. For long considered their ideological opponents, this CPI(M) defeat will echo across India. The success in Tripura and other Northeast states is a result of the BJP’s successful strategy of taking disgruntled Congressmen along and forging alliances with regional forces and local groups. It lends weight to the BJP’s claim that they have transcended their tag of being an exclusively Hindu party.
L.J.S. Panesar, On E-Mail
After the crushing defeat in Tripura, it is obvious that the CPI(M) learned nothing from its defeat in West Bengal in the past. (Sunset in the East, March 19). The Congress used to be the CPI(M)’s only challenger in Tripura, but this time, the BJP came out of nowhere to give the Reds a rude shock. It appears that the CPI(M) has lost direction. It has certainly failed to introspect, what with no dedicated and devoted leaders around. The remaining ones have anyway become overconfident and complacent. The CM’s honesty and integrity alone cannot fulfil people’s aspirations. Development has to be accorded top priority in today’s world, with a focus on healthcare, education and employment for the poor. Moreover, at the same time, the middle class also have to be kept happy. It is time for the CPI(M) to do an immediate course correction if it intends to survive in the coming years.
M.Y. Shariff, Chennai
This is with reference to Ahead Of A Conquest (March 19). Telangana CM K. Chandrashekhar Rao has no track record of getting involved with national politics, yet he has proclaimed himself a national leader even before other parties have talked about allying with him for a possible third front. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, KCR, as he is popularly called, has no timbre to be an inspiring national leader. He is a superstitious man who would not even enter his own state’s secretariat building until the whole ‘vaastu’ of the structure was changed. His only sure-shot ally as of now is Asaduddin Owaisi’s MIM, for which KCR has promised a 12 per cent reservation to Telangana’s Muslims. The state legislature is full of defectors, many of whom are former Congress members. Also, there are no women in his cabinet. Today, under Modiraj, it is the defectors who call the shots. The Centre looks out for them in an effort to take over the state government. Thus, KCR hardly lives up to the image he has been trying to project in recent times.
Ganesh Raj, Hyderabad
I went through the article A Forest Warbler’s Tale with interest (March 19). It read like an article written in earnest but it had a few inaccuracies. I happen to be a friend and IFS batchmate of the deceased officer. Every time a forester walks into the jungles, she knowingly undertakes a risk. In most cases, the animals move away sensing human presence before we become aware of their proximity. Despite every possible precaution, when all the unlucky stars align, on extremely rare occasions, disaster strikes and we lose dedicated foresters like Mr Manikandan.
Rajesh Kallaje, Bangalore
Reading Arrogant Aadmi Party, the cover story on AAP’s recent blunders in Delhi (March 12), made me think of the origins—the movement that sparked it all in 2011. It was Anna Hazare’s movement that destroyed the credibility of the then incumbent government of India, led by the Congress, and helped Narendra Modi become prime minister. Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were the by products of this movement. Once the new political orders were established—the BJP’s pan-Indian victory in 2014 and AAP’s Delhi win in 2015—the demands of the India Against Corruption movement were conveniently forgotten. Anna ditched his proposed ‘Jail-bharo’ (fill the prisons) plan for realising the demand for a Jan Lokpal and conveniently went home.
Now, Kejriwal, very much Anna’s protégé in 2011-12, is faltering in power. The party won several seats in Punjab last year by taking a stand on drug trafficking. Kejriwal has now given an apology to Majithia, the person he was accusing all this while of colluding with drug traffickers. It’s high time Anna called out the bluffs of his protégé.
Hem Raj Jain, Bangalore