Tuesday October 23, 2018
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BJP Offers Christians a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Is Religious Pilgrimage A New Playground For The Political Parties?

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community

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In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
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  • The political parties (BJP and Congress ) are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage in the coming local elections of the eastern states of India
  • The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively
  • After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022

The Campaign promises during the elections times are quite bizarre nowadays, from “I’ll cut your taxes,” to “vote for me, and I’ll set you free.”

In the coming local elections in the Christian- majority state of Nagaland in India the agenda by the rival BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Congress parties are unique: “Vote for us and get either a free or a heavily subsidized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Yes, you read it right. The political parties are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage. The offer has been put up by the Prime Minister Modi- led BJP for the upcoming elections. Even the local partners of the Congress party are treading up the same path.

Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons
Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons

The BJP has not made it clear yet if it is offering the scheme to all of India’s Christians, or only to Christians in the northeast, or only to Christians in Nagaland. The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively. Nagaland is one of smallest states of India, with the population of just under two million people.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

As per the Tourism Ministry figures, around 58,000 Indian tourists came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015.

The elections are scheduled for the February 27 in three northeastern states – Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura – later this month.

The AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also tweeted on the double standard of the government and lashed out at the government for its discriminatory decision, ending Haj subsidy but allowing subsidies to continue for Hindu pilgrimages like the Mansarovar Yatra.

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community. But recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. The government cited the reason for the subsidy withdrawal as they wanted to utilise the funds saved from withdrawing the subsidy for the education of minorities, particularly girls. After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022.

Also Read: Government ends Haj subsidy as part of a new policy

The scheme is a clear cut example of hypocrisy and opportunism, especially considering the cancellation of Haj subsidies. It seems quite contrary, on the one hand, the government is cutting down the benefit scheme for one section of the society and on the other hand, some other community is been offered the same thing. Such moves bring out the double standards of the political parties just for the sake of vote bank. In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented.

In 2011, Nigeria also did something same as that of India. For many years, their government financed a trip to Mecca for Muslims, leading to some 42,000 Nigerians visiting the country. But with the change in the government, subsidies have been cut considerably and now a 12-day pilgrimage costs around 2000 dollars. The change in stance has resulted in 78% decrease from 2011.

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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)