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New Delhi: The current mellow, accommodative outlook of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in striking contrast to the provocative anti-minority postures of the 1990s, is the result of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s wisdom and sobriety.
On his 91st birth anniversary on December 25, it is necessary to remember that he single-handedly extricated the party from its potentially doomed predilection with majoritarianism, which is in sync with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) concept of a Hindu Rashtra, where the minorities will be second class citizens.
But Vajpayee was a lone ranger who opposed this form of fascism and theocracy – not overtly or vociferously, for that was not his style – but unobtrusively and behind-the-scenes while making it clear to all and sundry that he could not be counted among Guru Golwalkar’s loyal disciples although he maintained that he was essentially a pracharak (preacher).
It was because of the palpable distance between Vajpayee and the core ideas of the RSS/BJP that he came to be known as the right man in the wrong party while the fiery Sadhvi Rithambara, who once called for one big khoon-kharaba (communal outbreak) between Hindus and Muslims, described him as “half a Congressman”.
“Why half,” Vajpayee had asked jocularly when he heard of the Sadhvi’s appellation for him. There was no sign of irritation or bitterness in his riposte just as he had told an interlocutor when informed about the Bajrang Dal’s antics – “pagal hai” (they are mad) – half in jest and half with a sense of resignation.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 were, however, the real test of his statesmanship. As he told the state’s chief minister of the time, Narendra Modi, who was known in that period as an uncompromising hardliner, that it was the bounden duty of the government to follow “raj dharma” or the ideals of a ruler which make no distinction between one category of citizens and another.
More than two decades later, Modi is now following this sage counsel because of his and his party’s – though not of the RSS – realization that strict neutrality in the running of the administration is the only way to keep the multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic country together.
Since Vajpayee knew this cardinal reality instinctively and reflected it in his personal life, he was able to achieve what no other leader has been able to do before or after him – run a 24-party coalition at the centre. Only a true proponent of raj dharma could have scaled such heights in accommodative politics.
It was the Gujarat riots which led to the unravelling of the coalition and ultimately to the BJP’s defeat in 2004 – for which Vajpayee held the 2002 outbreak responsible.
Had the riots not taken place, there is little doubt that his coalition would have remained intact and that he would have won another term in office.
Although Vajpayee has now bowed out of public life, the standards he had set in the matter of communal amity have brought about a seminal change in the BJP’s outlook. Not surprisingly, the first major sign of the change occurred in Gujarat where Modi organized his sadbhavna or goodwill missions soon after his victory in the 2007 assembly elections. Since then, as his description of the constitution as the country’s one and only holy book shows, Modi has imbibed what Vajpayee said sitting by his side during a press conference in Ahmedabad in 2002.
Notwithstanding Modi’s personal transformation from a hardliner to a moderate, not everyone in the BJP has unreservedly accepted Vajpayee’s advice. There are still MPs and ordinary members who are Golwalkar’s followers rather than Vajpayee’s although Modi has been trying to rein them in.
It will obviously take time for everyone in the BJP to live up to Vajpayee’s lofty examples in the matter of harmonious living in a country of 12 religions and 22 languages, as Modi recently told parliament.
Unless the party follows the former prime minister’s ideals, it will not have much of a future in a pluralistic society which instinctively shuns extremism.
To students of contemporary politics, the question will remain whether Vajpayee should have tried harder to inculcate his conciliatory message in the saffron brotherhood comprising the RSS, BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and others during his days in power (1998-2004).
If anyone in the Sangh Parivar could have done so, it was him because of his high stature and unassailable prestige. But such an endeavour would have meant taking on the hawks in a frontal confrontation to turn them away from their fascistic, anti-minority weltanschauung which they have followed since the 1920s.
Vajpayee was temperamentally not ready for such a battle. In the 1990s, it was enough for him to have lifted the BJP by the bootstraps to bring it to the centre-stage of politics from the margins, where it had languished for decades. This feat was something which only Vajpayee could have accomplished because of his wide acceptability across the political spectrum. For him to have battled the RSS, too, would have been too much.
But it is a task which someone in the BJP would have to take up sooner or later if the party wants to be a long-distance runner in Indian politics.(Amulya Ganguli, IANS)
By Nikhila Natarajan
In a continuing study on the effects of machine learning (ML) on public conversation, Twitter has confirmed that its algorithms amplify right-leaning political content. "In six out of seven countries - all but Germany - tweets posted by accounts from the political right receive more algorithmic amplification than the political left when studied as a group," Twitter blogged.
"Right-leaning news outlets, as defined by the independent organisations, see greater algorithmic amplification on Twitter compared to left-leaning news outlets." Since 2016, Twitter users are able to choose between viewing algorithmically ordered tweets first in their home timeline or viewing the most recent tweets in reverse chronological order.
"An algorithmic home timeline displays a stream of tweets from accounts we have chosen to follow on Twitter, as well as recommendations of other content Twitter thinks we might be interested in based on accounts we interact with frequently, tweets we engage with, and more. "As a result, what we see on our timeline is a function of how we interact with Twitter's algorithmic system, as well as how the system is designed."
The new research is based on tweets of elected officials of House of Commons members in Canada, the French National Assembly, the German Bundestag, House of Representatives in Japan, Congress of Deputies of Spain, House of Commons in the UK, and official and personal accounts of House of Representatives and Senate members in the US, as well as news outlets, from April 1 to August 15, 2020.
Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. | Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash
The study was conducted by Ferenc Huszar (Twitter, University of Cambridge), Sofia Ira Ktena (now at DeepMind Technologies), Conor O'Brien (Twitter), Luca Belli (Twitter), Andrew Schlaikjer (Twitter), and Moritz Hardt (UC Berkeley).
The questions probed were:
How much algorithmic amplification does political content from elected officials receive in Twitter's algorithmically ranked Home timeline versus in the reverse chronological timeline? Does this amplification vary across political parties or within a political party?
Are some types of political groups algorithmically amplified more than others? Are these trends consistent across countries?
Are some news outlets amplified more by algorithms than others? Does news media algorithmic amplification favour one side of the political spectrum more than the other?
Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: algorithmically, timeline, algorithmic, tweets, political, survey
Even as India celebrates reaching a milestone of 100 crore Covid vaccine doses, Snapdeal co-founder and COO Rohit Bansal on Friday lauded a man who facilitated 64 registrations for the vaccine on the CoWin portal. In a video shared on his Facebook and Twitter page, Bansal hailed Sonu Kumar as a "citizen celebrity".
Bansal said that Kumar not only helped "just co-workers and family but complete strangers too. With patience, empathy and uncanny jugaad". He added that Kumar joined him "many moons ago" and completed his open school from a parking lot.
"Education has helped this wonderful man enable others to get India back on track. Bravo! The CoWin portal on Thursday mentioned that a total of 100 crore vaccine doses has been administered so far to the eligible population under the vaccination drive in India, nine months after the nationwide inoculation programme was started to protect the people against Covid-19.
"It's a cause of significant celebration and happiness," Bansal said in the video. He said that while people just help a few around them, Kumar "bridged the digital gap" for 64 people, who were finding it difficult to register themselves online on the vaccine portal. Kumar said he doesn't feel that he has contributed much towards the 100 crore vaccine dose count. "I have been able to help only 64 people, if I was able to help more I would have been happier." (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: cowin, covid, india, people, Rohit bansal, Sonu kumar, vaccine
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Uganda has kickstarted a trial for the injectable HIV drugs cabotegravir and rilpivirine. Researchers and those living with HIV say the trial will likely end pill fatigue, fight stigma, improve adherence and ensure patients get the right dosage.
The two drugs have been in use as tablets. The World Health Organization last year licensed their use as injectables.
While the two injectables already went through trials in Europe and North America, this will be the first time they are tested in an African population for efficacy and safety in an African health care system.
Uganda is one of three African countries, along with Kenya and South Africa, which got approval from the WHO to carry out the trials. However, Kenya and South Africa have yet to acquire approvals to start their trials, expected by the end of the year.
Uganda and Kenya will both have three trial sites and there will be two in South Africa, with a total of 512 participants -- 202 from Uganda, 160 from Kenya and 150 from South Africa.
Dr. Ivan Mambule, the lead project researcher at the Joint Clinical Research Center, says participants will need one injection every two months.
"We are going to choose participants who are already on ART [anti-retroviral treatment] and are stable on ART. And we will randomize them to either continue on their normal treatment, which is the pill that they've been taking, or to switch them to this injectable. The injection is on the buttock," he expressed.
In this photo taken in Nov. 15, 2012 a patient, right, is attended to, at the US sponsored Themba Lethu, HIV/AIDS Clinic at the Helen Joseph hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa Image credit: VOA
Uganda has 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Barbara Kemigisa who is living with HIV and founded the Pill Power Foundation working with rural women, says the injectable drugs will increase adherence to treatment and ensure people get the right dosage.
"One of the things that affects adherence is the fact that people have to hide medicine. In the village, people are hiding medicine in the kitchen roof, in trees, in bushes, in a baby's shoe…If someone is wrapping the medicine in like five plastic bags and digs a hole in the garden and keeps the medicine there, by the time someone is taking that medicine, it's no longer medicine, it's poison," Kemigisa points out.
Nicholas Niwagaba, who has worked with young people living with HIV welcomes the trial, saying it will reduce the pill burden and fight stigma.
"Young people feel like, this is a lot of pills to take. Those who are on the first line, they will have to take one tablet a day. There are those who are on second line and they have to take more than one pill and they have to take it in the morning and in the evening. And of course, this requires you to have actually a balanced diet which is really a challenge for most of young people especially those from vulnerable communities," he says.
According to the WHO, there are 25.7 million people living with HIV in Africa. With only the pill currently available to manage the scourge, this injectable may come as a relief for people living with HIV/AIDS. (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally by Halima Athumani)
Keywords: HIV, WHO, Africa, Research, Uganda