Social media used to engineer psychological manipulation of public opinion

As a war wages over cyberspace activities of parties, a key Parliamentary panel has expressed concern over social media being used to engineer “psychological manipulation” of public opinion on crucial issues affecting countries.

The comments by the Committee on Estimates led by veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi comes amid worldwide condemnation of data analytics firm ‘Cambridge Analytica’ for “misusing” Facebook users data to influence voters in US Presidential elections and Brexit campaign.

In a section on cyber crimes in its report ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges: Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the committee acknowledged that social networking has emerged as a key tool used around the world to promote and aid communication.

“However, this type of technology might be doing more harm than good. Of late, use of social media has been seen as a key tool for engineering psychological manipulation of public and its opinion on issues that affect the nation and society,” the report said.

The Committee expressed its fear that the “potential for interference by one state with the affairs of another state” through the use of social media is “higher than ever”. It said, “clearly, lines have blurred between freedom of expression, privacy, law and order

Though the report does not mention any specific incidents, it appears that the Committee has in mind the allegations in the United States that Donald Trump’s election was aided by Russians. Last week, it also emerged that Cambridge Analytica, which aided Trump’s campaign, illegally harvested user data.

The Cambridge Analytica episode has also raised the political mercury in India with Congress and BJP locking horns over their suspected links to the firm. Another controversy erupted following allegations that there was data leak from Prime Minister Narendra Modi (NaMo) App. Congress is also in the eye of a storm over its now deleted App being launched from a server based in Singapore.

Like in the West, Modi had used social media vigorously in the 2014 campaign to emerge victorious. He has also asked MPs to reach out to the people through social media, especially Facebook.

In its report, the Committee said the “cocktail of social media, 24-hour television and NGOS create virtual reality, which soon has effects in the real world.” It said the probability of disruption has grown apace with the rise in number of cyber users.

These are not just law and order problems, and they are not amenable to the traditional responses that the states are accustomed to. These are serious internal security issues. We have seen technology place increasingly lethal power in the hands of non-state actors. The effects can range from the benign to the dangerous, though technology itself is value neutral,” it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 27, 2018)

Karat links Basu’s Press meet, UP bypoll to stonewall relations with Cong

Citing a 25-year-old press conference by late Jyoti Basu and Uttar Pradesh bypoll results, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat has once again upped the ante over the electoral tactics to take on the BJP.

Karat has used the latest editorial in the party mouthpiece ‘Peoples Democracy’, which he edits, to argue that Congress has “no credibility” to lead an all-India alliance, as parties like BJD, TDP and TRS are not be ready to be a partner in an alliance under its leadership.

The editorial written by Karat analysing the victory of Samajwadi Party in the bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur has said the lesson learnt from the results is that the “effective way” to take on the BJP is “not by forging an all-India alliance or front” of opposition parties.

Congress hopes to build an extended UPA-style alliance to counter the BJP. However, this will not succeed. The Congress has no credibility to lead such an alliance in terms of an alternative programme,” it predicted.

Amid questions how a strident anti-Congress could help in defeating BJP, Karat has interestingly invoked the late Marxist veteran from Bengal and his campaigning in 1993 the UP Assembly polls held after Babri Masjid demolition. Basu had in a press conference in Varanasi then given a call to vote for candidates who can defeat BJP.

This was in essence calling for the pooling of votes of all the anti-BJP forces,” the editorial said adding the SP-BSP combine formed government defeating incumbent BJP.

The reference to Basu assumes significance as the Bengal unit is opposed to Karat’s line of excluding Congress, which they vociferously raised in the recently concluded State Conference. Reference to Basu is seen as an attempt by Karat to address cadres in Bengal, who argue for General Secretary Sitaram Yechury’s line of keeping the electoral doors open.

While the editorial argues that Congress is unacceptable to other parties, it also referred to party’s “general campaign” to defeat BJP in 1993 elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where Congress was its main opponent.

Karat’s opponents find this argument “contradictory” and said at one point he is saying that Congress cannot be made part of any efforts to counter BJP but at the same time talk about general campaign to defeat BJP that helps Congress.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 23, 2018)

Alarm over radicalised youth returning from Syria

With Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub Continent “have started” posing “new challenges” to the existing security environment, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has raised an alarm over the activities of radicalised people returning from conflict areas like IS-dominated Syria.

The MHA has given a note to the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates, which is part of the report tabled in Parliament earlier this week, in which it also flagged possible threats from lone-wolf attacks inspired by radicalised outfits.

In the note that forms part of the report on ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges — Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the MHA raised concern over the terrorists using secure internet pathways to reach out to youths.

“Radicalisation of youth by terror outfits through the misuse of internet and social media, has emerged as a big challenge in recent times. The problem is further accentuated by the fact that the terror groups have started using secure social media platforms and proxy serversetc to avoid detection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the note said.

The security establishment is also worried about the activities of radicalised people coming back from conflict-ridden areas. While acknowledging it as a challenge, the MHA note also said lone-wolf attacks, which were witnessed abroad, cannot be ruled out.

“The IS and Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub Continent have started posing new challenges to the existing security environment,” the report said quoting the MHA. It said the IS is using various platforms to propagate its ideology and to attract recruits from across the world and the security agencies are keeping a close watch on those “persons/preachers” misguiding the youth.

The MHA note, part of which appears in a section ‘Global Challenges for Internal Security’, also refers to the fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

It talked about receiving indications on revival of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which is not active as it was earlier. The JeM has renewed efforts to “cause harm to India,” the note to the panel headed by veteran BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 22, 2018)

Nine in every ten Maoist incidents happen in 35 districts

Nine in every ten Maoist incidents happen in 35 districts of the country where naxals have an upper hand.

The latest figures provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday showed that 804 of the 908 incidents reported in 2017 took place in these districts.

Sukma, which is in Chhattisgarh, reported the highest number of incidents at 102 among the 35 districts declared the most naxal affected. On March 13, a mine-protected vehicle had come under naxal ambush killing at least nine CRPF personnel in Sukma.

However, two districts — Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Khammam in Telangana — reported not a single incident last year.

Gadchiroli in Maharashtra had the second highest incident at 68 followed by Chattisgarh’s Bijapur (60), Jharkhand’s Latehar (59) and Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur (58).

According to the written reply in Lok Sabha, the 35 most affected districts accounted for 88.5% of naxal related violent incidents. Just 20 districts accounted for 80% of the violence. Naxal violence were reported from only 58 districts across the country in 2017.

“There is no plan to involve the Army in the fight against Left Wing Extremism except for the ongoing training assistance. Helicopters made available for LWE affected States are used only for logistic purposes,” Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said.

While the naxal violence is on the wane, the MHA recently told Committee on Estimates that the naxals are now “targeting new states and are trying to carve out the base at the tri-junction of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu”.

In a document prepared by the MHA last year, it had said that the Maoists were trying to deflect the attention of forces away from Dandakaranya region, the naxal hotbed, by stepping up activities at the Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra tri-junction.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 21, 2018)

Par panel cautions govt against excessive deployment of paramilitary forces

The excessive deployment of paramilitary forces in states for law and order duties will adversely affect its core areas of anti-insurgency and border guarding operations, a Parliamentary panel warned the government on Monday.

The Committee on Estimates led by veteran BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi told the government that the “tendency” of states to look towards the Centre “even for day to day” law and order issues “need to be reversed.

In its report ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges — Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the Committee said it was concerned to note the “heavy dependence” of states on paramilitary personnel. The number of deployment of paramilitary battalions has increased from 91 in 2012-13 to 119 in 2016-17.

It noted the central forces are “sometimes detained even after the task is over and are deployed continuously” in some of the states for holding elections. The panel said it indicated that a “gradual trend” of substituting state police with paramilitary forces.

“What is disturbing more is the situation whereby over deployment is likely to affect the anti-insurgency and border guarding operations, besides curtailing the training needs of these forces. Not only that, continuous deployment leaves little time for recuperation/rest thereby creating stress among the paramilitary personnel,” the report tabled in Parliament said.

The panel suggested that the states must develop their own systems and upgrade as well as augment their own police forces by providing adequate training and equipping them with state of the art weapons, and enable them to fight militancy and insurgency besides handling law and order.

It was critical of the state governments for not doing enough to contain internal disturbances and that they are heavily dependent on the Centre by frequently asking for paramilitary forces.

The panel noted that paramilitary personnel were working under constant pressure and difficult conditions. “Non-availability of state-of-the-art equipment and facilities like winter clothes to paramilitary personnel not only out them at disadvantageous position against the insurgents and terrorists but also compromise the security of the country,” the panel said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 20, 2018)

UP bypoll results and the Left

The impressive victories in the bypolls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have once again reignited hope in the Left parties to tackle the naysayers among them to go for a broad unity among opposition parties to take on the BJP.

While the Tripura results dampened the Left’s spirits, the BJP’s defeat in its stronghold of Gorakhpur and Samajwadi Party regaining Phulpur from the saffron camp have given a new hope to CPI(M) and CPI. The RJD spectacularly retaining Araria against the combined might of BJP and JD(U) has also enthused these parties.

In Gorakhpur and Phulpur, BSP did the “unthinkable” by announcing support to the arch-rival Samajwadi Party while Congress fought “feebly”. A section in the opposition claimed that Congress did a tactical fight and it favoured the SP and the support to BSP candidate in Rajya Sabha polls showed that there was no division within them.

The preliminary analysis of the results, the Left parties feel, showed that the “discontentment and disillusionment” against the BJP is fast creeping into people and they cite the Samajwadi Party victory in Gorakhpur, the stronghold of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, as pointer. The RJD win also is viewed within the Left Front as a slap on the face of JD(U).

One of the senior Left leaders also pointed out to tweets suggesting that BJP is getting defeated where they are in power while they may be winning new pastures.

“The results clearly shows that the BJP is on a down-slide. It also shows that if there is no division of opposition votes, we can win and decisively defeat BJP,” CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury told DH. On Bihar victory, he said, JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar’s betrayal of Grand Alliance has been rejected by the electorate and Sharad Yadav who refused to toe that line and had to lose his RS seat in the bargain has been politically vindicated.

The Left defeat in Tripura and the united opposition’s bypoll victories is expected to help the anti-Congress camp in the CPI(M) to soften its stand on the Grand Old Party.

CPI National Secretary D Raja said BJP’s UP defeat comes after the loss in the local body polls in Rajasthan where the saffron party is ruling. “In Gujarat also, it was not a spectacular win. People have rejected BJP’s manipulative, unethical politics. These results will have an impact on the future electoral strategy,” he said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 16, 2018)

Defeat in UP bypolls: BJP sinks to silence

The BJP sank into silence on Wednesday as the bypoll results, especially the defeat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, took the sheen out of its victorious run in Tripura trampling the formidable Left Front.

If the north-east victories brought a new vigour to the saffron camp ahead of Karnataka polls, the BJP scoring a ‘zero’ in the bypolls to three Lok Sabha seats — the two seats in UP and Araria in Bihar — has brought back broad smiles in the Opposition camp.

The defeat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur — vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya after the UP Assembly polls last year — has brought a rude shock to the BJP with a senior BJP MP from the state mincing no words to describe it a “big referendum”.

While the leaders do not want to give much importance to the Opposition victories, the victory of the Samajwadi Party-BSP combine in both the seats has given them reasons to worry.

At least two senior leaders said if the SP-BSP combine continue to stick together and Congress joining it at a later stage would give BJP a strong fight in Uttar Pradesh in the next elections. One of them cited the Bihar experience where RJD and JD(U) were part of a Grand Alliance.

For BJP, a senior leader said, the UP was a saturation point in the last election as it had won 71 out of 80 seats. A united opposition would mean trouble for the party as one saw in the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls, he admitted.

Sources said the defeat in UP is more damaging as both the seats were held by the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister. While Phulpur was first one by BJP in the last polls, Gorakhpur has been represented by Adityanath.

However, one section argues that the choice of Upendra Dutt Shukla, a Brahmin, was faulty and it was foisted on the seat by the central BJP leadership – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah – against the wishes of Adityanath.

The loss to RJD in Araria Lok Sabha bypolls despite support from JD(U) also has rattled the party. The result also comes as a setback for JD(U), which came out of an alliance with RJD and Congress to join hands with BJP.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 15, 2018)

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