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JNUSU elections: Will Red Walls go Saffron again?

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by Sagar Sethi

Almost everything in JNU takes a backseat as reading party manifestos and hearing names of those who contest become a part of daily life. The candidates contesting this year’s JNUSU election are routinely campaigning in classes, while their parchas do the same for them in JNU’s hostels.

Amidst this politically nuanced ambiance, a press conference was held on September 3 at the Teflas Building where the student parties contesting this year released their press statements. Let’s hear what they have to say!

ABVP’s Presidential candidate Gaurav Kumar Jha asserts, “Virodh Nahi Vikaas (Progress Not Protest).” Aiming to ‘Lead the Change…’, he promises, the focus this year would be on ‘better infrastructure’, ‘women-friendly campus,’ ‘enhanced placement cell,’ the much needed amelioration of ‘health-hygiene facilities,’ among other campus issues.

In its press release, ABVP claims to recognize the ‘uncertainty…and genuine frustration’ among students who are deprived of hostel accommodation; and holds AISA led JNUSU responsible for it.
As Gaurav Kumar Jha tells us “Ninety crores of unutilized funds have been sent back to the government, by AISA. Why?” Regarding this as a gross mismanagement of University affairs, he suggests, the prime focus would be on immediate campus issues.

Shehla and Vijay Kumar AISA

Although this agenda seems to strike chords with the student community, fear regarding its gender-sexuality model looms large; so what does ABVP’s women-friendly campus really mean?
Seeing the rise of ABVP as a threat to gender empowerment, the Democratic Students Federation’s (DSF) Presidential candidate K. Fayaz Ahmad tell us “it’s unfortunate that today AISA’s zero-performance union, unable to resolve basic student accommodation and sanitation issues, is the reason behind saffron’s uprising in our campus.”

DSF’s press statement reads, “ABVP has been conducting a vicious campaign implementing moral policing and surveillance.” This year DSF promises to struggle against the ‘neo-liberal and saffron authoritarian’ forces and alongside, tackle campus issues involving hygiene and sanitation. As far as these issues go DSF’s Fayaz says, ‘ABVP kabhi bhi AISA ka replacement nahi ban sakta.’ There is a need to contemplate, he further says, what all is in stock with ABVP if it comes to power.

Split from SFI’s JNU unit, DSF was formed out of the conviction that Left politics among students must be autonomous. Founding member of DSF Roshan Kishore tells us “the watershed was 2007 Singur Nandigram, and for anybody with a Left worldview it became difficult to justify the violence on CPI (M)’s behalf.”

Gaurav Kumar Jha ABVP

Interestingly, this year rivals DSF and SFI attempted to form an electoral alliance. The endeavor failed as both parties could not resolve their differences on the Presidential candidate’s post.
Running for the post of Vice President, AISA’s Shehla Rashid condemns DSF for its opportunist politics. AISA’s Presidential candidate Vijay Kumar does well to highlight the pro-student policy level changes that the outgoing AISA led JNUSU has made last year.

Among the promises made by AISA this year a few include, ‘raising means cum merit scholarships’ for the students, pushing for the ‘effective functioning of the Translation Cell,’ to further its struggle against Lyngdoh, along with improving Wi-Fi, transport and hostel facilities.

Despite workers not having any say in JNU’s electoral politics, AISA emphasizes on their rights including mandatory wages. On the other hand, AISA fails to establish a fully functional placement cell for JNU’s students.

All Parties' Presidential Candidates
All Parties’ Presidential Candidates

“AISA’s President Ashutosh Kumar personally threw all job opportunities from Exxon-mobile out of the placement cell,” says ABVP’s Gaurav Kumar Jha. While worker’s rights are a sensitive issue, unemployment among JNU pass-outs is a reality today. Perhaps the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) may resolve this.

SFI’s Presidential candidate Paritosh Nath feels that “our country is going through undeclared emergency…where all voices of dissent against BJP or RSS are being actively suppressed.”
SFI’s press release promises to intrinsically relate its campus struggles ‘to the larger struggle against the Modi government’s agenda of saffronisation, privatization and commercialization of education.’

“We always have to relate macro policies to the micro picture,” says SFI’s Paritosh Nath. Owing to AISA’s failures to curb the rise of ABVP, he further says, SFI struggles this year to revive the fighting legacy of JNU’s student movement. Will the Students’ Federation of India own up to the cause or will its rivalry with DSF come in their way? This September 11 the students of JNU will decide.

By and large all left parties fear the ‘DU-isation’ that comes along with RSS backed ABVP, if it comes to power. Despite internal disputes among AISA, DSF, SFI, their struggles are in unison against the saffronisation of JNU students’ politics.

Will a divided Left give way to ABVP’s flight this 9/11? The question looms large.

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Facebook Assigns A Task Force For The Elections in India in 2019

Facebook said that India was an important market for Facebook and that it was strengthening the team in India to understand the local forms of hate speech.

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Fake News, Facebook
This photo shows the logo for Facebook on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. VOA

 Facing the uphill task of tackling election-related interference on its platform as India gets ready for polls next year, Facebook on Saturday said it is establishing a task force comprising “hundreds of people” in the country to prevent bad actors from abusing its platform.

“With the 2019 elections coming, we are pulling together a group of specialists to work together with political parties,” Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Policy Solutions, told the media here.

Facebook has also set a goal of bringing a transparency feature for political ads — now available in the US and Brazil — to India by March next year, Allan informed.

With the new ad architecture in place, people would be able to see who paid for a particular political ad.

Facebook, India
This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

In May this year, Facebook announced that all election-related ads on Facebook and Instagram in the US must be clearly labelled — including a “Paid for by” disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad.

When users click on the label, they would be taken to an archive with more information such as the campaign budget associated with an individual ad and how many people saw it – including their age, location and gender, Facebook had said.

The social media giant later introduced the transparency feature in Brazil.

The introduction of the same feature in India would help users identify political propaganda easily.

“The task force for India will have security specialists and content specialists, among others, who will try to understand all the possible forms of election-related abuse in India,” added Allan during a workshop on Facebook’s “community standards” in the capital.

India
A gardener works on the lawns of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India. VOA

Allan explained that while the disinformation linked to real-world violence is checked by the team mandated to maintain Facebook’s community standards, other forms of disinformation are handled by a different team of fact checkers.

“The challenge for the task force in India would be to distinguish between real political news and political propaganda,” Allan noted, adding that the team would be very much based in the country and would consist of both existing human resources working on these issues within the company and new recruits.

Facebook came under intense scrutiny of policy makers in the US after allegations of Russia-linked accounts using the social networking platform to spread divisive messages during the 2016 presidential election surfaced.

Since then, it has stepped up efforts to check abuse of its platform by bringing in more transparency in the conduct of its businesses, including in advertisement policies.

India, BJP
Counting of Karnataka polls will be done on 15th May, VOA

Echoing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s earlier comments on elections across the world, Allan said the social media platform “wants to help countries around the world, including India, to conduct free and fair elections”.

In April, Zuckerberg said Facebook will ensure that its platform is not misused to influence elections in India and elsewhere.

“Our goals are to understand Facebook’s impact on upcoming elections — like Brazil, India, Mexico and the US midterms — and to inform our future product and policy decisions,” he told US lawmakers during a hearing.

Facebook uses a combination of technology, including Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and reports from its community to identify violating content on the platform.

The reports are reviewed by members of its “Community Operations” team who review content in over 50 languages in the world, including 12 from India.

Facebook, India
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at a Facebook developers conference in San Jose, California. VOA

“By the end of 2018, we will have 20,000 people working on these issues, double the number we had at the same time last year,” he said.

“We are also working to enhance the work we do to proactively detect violating content,” Allan said.

Speaking at the 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here later in the day, Allan said Facebook was cooperating fully with the investigating agency (Central Bureau of Investigation) in India with regard to the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal.

The British political consultancy firm was in the midst of a huge controversy for allegedly inappropriately harvesting data from about 87 million Facebook accounts.

Without giving details of the impact that the Cambridge Analytica scandal had on India, he said that the impact was probably limited and that most users in India need not worry that their data was stolen.

Also Read: Facebook Better Prepared to Defend Itself Against External Manipulation For The Elections

“Yes, we have a responsibility to keep data safe. We employ some of the best security engineers in the world. When we notice a breach, we let people know immediately,” Allan said at the summit.

“We are investing more and more in countries outside the US so that they can tell us how our services should be designed,” he said, adding that India was an important market for Facebook and that it was strengthening the team in India to understand the local forms of hate speech. (IANS)