Listicles: The Latest Trend In Articles

Listicles is the oxymoronic proper internet slang for list-based articles which are so fly these days that the web is all but drowning in them. In the spirit of human adventure, the natural question after “Do they have oil reserves?” is “Why is it so?” and it has been answered, by a horde of couch-psychologists and the odd writer with a piercing wit.

Despite the unfortunate name newly afforded to them, which make them sound like a recreation of Titanic in a cave, listing information has been around for a while. Although its present form is slightly worrying, because of the widening definition of ‘information’ writers of such articles are increasingly ascribing to.

It is easy to understand why we like them so much. It gives a concrete promise of how much information is being provided up-front, so the reader doesn’t have the fear of opening up a book with a three-syllable name like Iliad, and witnessing a cavalcade of flowery prose shower mercilessly upon him.

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It has also been researched that people like catchy meaningless headlines that provide no actual pointers as to what the article is about, although the same could have been extrapolated by observing the sales figures of any frivolous magazine.

Listicle headlines provide a beautiful balance of alluring readers with some data that appeals aesthetically, but has no real meaning whatsoever. “N things you may not know about X” just begs to be read through, even, and especially if you know anything about X in the first place.

The issue arises when such articles become the primary staple of the information diet being consumed by a person. The more pedestrian of these articles are little more than click bait, and since they provide a false sense of accomplishment once the reader gets to the end of the list, following-up on the article by reading something slightly more real and meatier becomes the road less taken.

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This is a bit scary, because it fosters people with a false sense of knowledge on a topic they have a scarce understanding of. It leads to opinions that would shatter if the opinionated would choose to look just a little further than skin-deep. Listicles are often pre-digested nuggets of information, and when blindly believed, it looks as if the modern world is littered with would-be pied pipers.

It is laughable to suggest that people should swear off listicles to avoid such dire endings. Rather, it is more prudent to suggest a building-up of the nature to question. To follow-up on any intriguing listicle one may come across, read more on it, and form opinions, whatever they may be. At least they won’t be someone else’s, and that is what the intrepid human spirit is all about.

Beyond The Known: A New World

Time: 10:00 am

Location: Dakshin Gangotri Research Station (70.7500° S, 11.5833° E), Antarctica, Earth

Harish Ramakrishnan

A biting wind pierced through my chest as if it was trying to penetrate through my heart. No amount of training back in India would have prepared me for such conditions. Stepping out of the research station without my North Face Himalayan Parka was a bad idea. As I entered the research station, I saw my two colleagues Dmitri Sergeyevich and Liang Wu. It has been 17 days since we landed here for a collaborative research initiative but as of yet, none of us have had any major breakthroughs. NASA had sent Dmitri to conduct research on Microbial Dark Matter. He was a seemingly quiet man mostly kept to himself. Liang was researching the reversal of geomagnetism and he refused to talk about anything other than his research.

And I am sent by NCAOR to conduct Geological research for the Indian Scientific Expeditions to Antarctica (InSEA). We have three other assistants helping us in our research, but they are new recruits and are often-homesick.

Hence, most of the time we were by ourselves. My thoughts were the only things keeping me company. The sun never set here, so the days felt longer than ever. We would each take a few hours to sleep but I wasn’t able to as loneliness overwhelmed me as I thought of my vibrant and loud home in India, where I was surrounded with love. In every direction there was a vast canvas of white with some barren rock along the way. The silence seemed to be louder than ever.  

 

Dmitri Sergeyevich

Going to Antarctica, for me, came with mixed feelings. I remember reading about the massive, ice-covered continent as a child. I was extremely intrigued by the idea of going there. Growing up in Northern Russia, you learned to weather the cold, but you grew to hate it. My deep passion for Physics, and later Quantum Mechanics helped me land a job with NASA. I finally had the opportunity to leave the biting cold behind. My line of work, however, demanded me to look for dark matter in exciting locations. One particular site of interest was Antarctica. NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) detected cosmic rays from the ice sheets of the continent. High-energy neutrinos whizzing around in a loop that goes within the ice, and back out again. These rays are the cause of widespread perplexion, as they threaten to rewrite the Standard Model of Particle Physics. These rays might change our understanding of the universe.

I am stationed at ‘Dakshin Gangotri’, India’s research station on Antarctica. NASA and the Government of India signed a resource-sharing agreement to further research ties between the two countries. As a result, ANITA is stationed here. I have on my team three timid junior researchers, helpful but aloof. My colleagues are reserved, and I prefer it that way. Solitude and quiet help me focus on my work. I’m somewhat acquainted with Dr Harish Ramakrishnan, a geologist from India. My other colleague, Dr Liang Wu, hasn’t spoken to me about anything apart from the weather. I hear from Harish that he is here to study the reversal of the geomagnetism of the Earth. Vague, but none of my concern. 

This morning, the three of us had to reach locations not too far away from each other, so we decided to pool the snow-mobile. Liang was originally reluctant to join, but he eventually saw our point. Driving the snow-mobile was a challenge. The ice provided no grip, and you felt like you could just glide off the continent. Vast, flat expanses of ice made it that much easier to lose your way. Five minutes into our slow uneventful ride, we passed through a long tunnel. This tunnel, carved out of the thick ice around 30 years ago, stood as a testament to the spirit of exploration. Although in awe of the sheer scale of the tunnel, I felt oddly nervous this morning. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t realise when I let go of the wheel and the vehicle swerved into a wall of ice.

 

Liang Wu

My two colleagues and I had been on our way to our respective research locations, in that dainty looking snow-mobile, for the past three hours. Dmitri and Harish had insisted for some reason that all of us travel together since our destinations were close enough. The Russian insisted on driving, very conveniently so, even after we had to stop because of a loud noise that came from somewhere inside the snow-mobile.

When I was first assigned the project to research the reversal of geomagnetism of Earth in Antarctica, I was unamused, to say the least. It has been a year and a half since I started writing investigatory reports on this phenomenon for the Polar Research Institute of China, but without any massive breakthroughs. The loss of the intensity of the geomagnetic field of the planet in the last 3,000 years has been the cause of much concern for scientists across the globe. For the said reversal of polarity to occur, the magnetic field would be required to weaken by at least 90% to the threshold level before rising again. When the field decays and recovers its strength, it puts us at risk at large; it may or may not lead to the malfunctioning of electronic devices throughout—so basically back to the stone age.

There has been a prominent and rapid drop in the intensity of the field in the South Atlantic region. This is now popularly coming to be known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, which is spreading fast. So well, here I am, stationed at Dakshin Gangotri, in what is said to be the most harshly hibernal climate, away from a place I am supposed to call home. These two seem to be the sociable kind, but I’ve never been good with small talk; having been preoccupied with my research from earlier than I can recall. It’s all that comes to me.

After what seemed like an eternity, we seemed to have finally reached our destination. It had taken us a full hour to figure out where we were. The GPS showed that we had reached our location but there was no sign of a base or station. So, we’d driven on. When I entered the research base, it was 13:07 by my watch, I noticed a silence that was uncalled for. Ironically, it seemed completely unorganized and highly chaotic. It was a mess to look at. I walked up to a roll-top desk, which was covered scantily by papers. I picked the one right at the edge, it read in bold font: 

A protracted flip is hoped to occur within the next three months. The quantitative effect on the SAA extent area due to a constant dipole or quadrupole will be approximately the same with a reduction of the area around 50% smaller than the original one for the total temporal window. 

For a good minute, I couldn’t believe what I had just read. I’ve been working on this for so long, and yet, I’d not been able to accurately predict the reduction ratio of the SAA. And today, I step into this place for the first time, and miraculously we have a definitive report? This is absurd. I tried to look for someone I could talk to about this. Who had written this report? Where did they get the data? How did they quantify the results? I had so many questions on my mind, but no one who could answer them. I flipped through the pages in my hand, and at the end of it, there was one thing enough to have left me speechless.

Submitted by Dr Liang Wu to the Polar Research Institute of China

Surely this was a mistake, but there was no way I could confirm. I called up Dmitri and Harish, to see if they could help me look for the other researchers at the base, they said there was no one at their stations either. We decided to meet up at the location where we had parked our vehicle.

As I reached the location, I saw they looked surprised looking down at their wrists for some odd reason. I checked the time, it was 12:59. I glanced at their faces with surprise, I think I had just seen the second hand ticking back.

 

Dmitri-

The accident on the snow-mobile left us all in shock for a minute there. However, none of us were hurt, and so we carried on to our respective destinations. On reaching NASA’s ANITA monitoring station, I was taken aback by surprise. There was nobody there. I was supposed to meet with Dr Harold Cheung, head of the ANITA project to discuss some breakthroughs we made. I expected a certain satisfaction and elation from the people at the station, but today, there was nobody in sight. Odd, I thought to myself. 

Some five minutes later, a young researcher came up to me and asked me who I was. I introduced myself but he didn’t seem to register what I said. Terms like cosmic rays, dark matter or even quantum physics baffled him. On asking him what his team is studying, he replied “Gravity. We’re trying to find out why things fall when you drop them”. I was shocked. Had the cold gotten to them? Is this how cabin fever manifests itself in scientists? Gravity had been expounded upon by Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th Century! We’ve made such long strides since then that soon enough, the properties of gravity itself might change. I originally dismissed all this as a prank, but when I saw these researchers working with a feather and a 1kg weight, I felt a lump in my throat. Where on earth am I? What is happening?

My satellite phone rang. It was Dr Liang Wu. He sounded concerned, and he asked if there were any researchers at the base. Since nobody from my project was here, I replied in the negative. Harish also corroborated a similar finding. We agreed to meet at the same location from which we parted. I glanced at my watch. 12:58. How can this be? We left Dakshin Gangotri at noon, and it had easily been three hours since. My mind raced to find an explanation for all this. We decided to ride the snow-mobile back to the Indian base, and the three-hour ride back was mind-numbingly tense. All my research was coming back to me. There was only one possible explanation to all of this—We were (or still are) in a parallel universe. 

I told this to Harish, and he was shocked, to say the least. Liang enquired about what we were talking about, and I told him. He wasn’t as surprised as Harish, maybe owing to his reserved nature. I didn’t give it much thought, and we proceeded to enter the base. The three of us sat down; we were finding it difficult to process all that we had just seen. I looked at the clock on my laptop, 11:20. This presented a gutting realisation about this universe—all my progress is reversing itself. Harish asked me how we ended up here, and how to get back. A simple question that merited the most complicated of answers. There was evidence of such a parallel universe, courtesy ANITA, but we never thought too much of it as the cosmic rays could have been indicators to literally anything. The theory wasn’t as developed as I’d have liked it to be.

However, with whatever understanding I had of this phenomenon, I tried explaining to my colleagues what was happening. The cosmic rays were basically high-energy neutrinos zipping around in a loop—into the ice, out of it, around the Earth, and back again. We had never observed such high energy particles simply passing through objects, and hence, a parallel universe was speculated. The direction of the movement of these rays tells us how time flows in this universe; backwards. 

 

Liang

All of us looked at each other, baffled. There was a sense of alienating silence; naturally, all three of us were confused. I was standing at a careful distance from the other two, and I noticed Dmitri talking in a hushed tone to Harish. His eyes opened wide, as if in a state of unfamiliar horror. Normally, I would have minded my own business, but today I felt the need to know what was going on. So, hesitantly, I asked Dmitri what they were conversing about. At first, I couldn’t register much of what he was talking about, some cosmic rays zipping around in a loop, the existence of a parallel universe? I refused to believe this. All three of us are men of science, we should know better than imagining our lives in a Sci-Fi novel.

The Indian seemed curious and asked several questions, to which Dmitri gave answers, which started seeming rational after I gave them a thought. I started connecting the dots, how the time had been moving backwards, how my report seemed to have been completed. We could be in a parallel universe. What followed next, was a thought that might seem foolish, but was a genuine concern of mine—I did not want to go back. The very thought of being away from the people in my circle, to the fact that here I seemed to have accomplished something in my career, struck me altogether at once. I generally keep to myself; my “home” is not somewhere I wish to go back to. Even back in China, I would spend nights together at the campus, in the labs, trying to evade the idea of home.

What my colleagues talked about next was how we could go back, and the feeling of restlessness grew within me. Call me irrational, call me dumb, I was determined to suppress whatever ideas they had. In a moment of impulse, I start contradicting all the ideas Dmitri proposed, all the theories he kept forth. I based it off my own research, I told them how the Earth’s magnetic field is responsible for shielding it against Cosmic Radiation. And since it is weakening with time, so as to cause a protracted flip of the polarity, we cannot rely on cosmic rays as an indicator of movement. I know it’s not going to be easy to orchestrate a change of the universe. It’ll take months if not years, to come up with an effective plan. Perhaps, they will have a change of mind by then.

 

Harish

 A parallel universe?! My ears were ringing. It felt as if I was trapped in a really unfortunate dream. I started to panic. I was here to conduct Geological research and now all our knowledge about space and time has lost all meaning. Time is moving backwards? We’re somehow in the past yet in the future at the same time? Nothing seems to make sense.

Dmitri has some ideas about this but for some reason, the Chinese keeps contradicting almost as if he doesn’t want to leave. I miss my home more than ever now and I cannot imagine the possibility of not being able to see them forever. I was determined to go back.

 

Dmitri stated that if we fire a beam of subatomic particles down a long tunnel, and it passes through a powerful magnet and hit an impenetrable wall, with a neutron detector behind it, particles will transform into mirror images of themselves, allowing them to burrow right through the impenetrable wall. This would prove that the visible universe was only an infinitesimal fraction of what is out there and would lead to new doors of possible universes. But this was just in theory and would not be feasible in the current situation.

We have hit a dead end. No, I would not let this happen. After a brief minute of silence, I asked them if we could just retrace our steps and go back the way we came in. Even though it seemed like a very long shot, it was the only option we had.

So we all sat back in our snowmobile and looked at our compass to find our way back but the compass needle was just spinning out of control. We decided to trace our steps by trusting our memories. 

We had been travelling for what felt like an eternity when suddenly a flash of light blinded us. We squint to see what lay ahead of us. Nothing but a barren desert of snow.

I looked at my watch.

12:30

12:31

And it remained.

 

Written by Avaneesh Jai Damaraju, Radhika Taneja,and Sanjana Bharadwaj for MTTN

Edited by Alankriti Singh 

Featured image by Tirthik Saha for MTTN

India-China Relations: A Watershed Moment

The conflict that occurred on the night of June 15th at Galwan Valley in Ladakh has been a shocking turn of events, amidst the recent build-up of troops on either side of the Line Of Actual Control (LAC). The loss of 20 Indian Army soldiers during the de-escalation process has plunged the entire nation into sadness. Initial reports claimed three casualties – Col Santosh Babu – Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar Regiment, Hav K Palani and, Sep Ojha who belonged to the same unit. The nation expressed its heartfelt condolences to the families of the soldiers and their respective units for making the ultimate sacrifice while staying committed to their duty of protecting the sovereignty and integrity of the nation under the harshest possible conditions. The country is praying for the speedy recovery of the soldiers injured.

The Night at Galwan Valley

As more details of the clash come out, it becomes more apparent that this was, by no means, an accidental move by the PLA or People’s Liberation Army. Instead, this was an ambush, and a backstab in the agreement of June 6th, which called for force disengagement and restoration of April Status quo. The patrol party of Colonel Santosh Babu from 16 Bihar Regiment was waiting to ensure the compliance of the agreement at patrolling point 14 or PP14. As per the disengagement agreement the PLA was to fall back to Post 1 — which is about 5 km to the east. By dusk, a group of PLA soldiers unexpectedly turned around and attacked Colonel Babu and the other two jawans with iron rods and stones, injuring the trio. The Indian side immediately retaliated, and a serious fight broke out which went on for hours till midnight, after which the troops disengaged and dispersed. Post this incident, Major-General level talks took place at the clash site to defuse the tension.

This clash has been the bloodiest one in the last 45 years or so, resulting in rising tensions not seen since the Doklam standoff. The Chinese troops vastly outnumbered the Indians. While most sources on Internet claim it was 55 Indian soldiers against 300 Chinese soldiers, the number of personnel involved in the clash has not been revealed as of yet. The Chinese media have claimed that five deaths had taken place on their side with 11 injured, but as more reports come out, especially from the US intelligence, the number seems to be at 35 and counting. It is improbable that we will hear the official number of Chinese casualties. Revealing the exact count will raise many questions in Beijing and would shatter the carefully crafted image the PLA has built over the years as an invincible Army.

While one can debate the numbers involved in this clash, the reality of serving at high altitude deployment is freezing water of Galwan, sub-zero temperatures and the altitude exceeding 15000 feet. Without expert medical attention, it is a fatal combination. The challenge is not only to fight the enemy but the harsh weather as well. Despite these extreme conditions, our soldiers didn’t shy away from the fight. They fought not only to protect India’s border integrity but also upheld the “Naam, Namak, Nishan” of their respective regiments.

Differing Perceptions

Since the beginning of this tense standoff, many words like “Galwan Valley”, “Pangong Tso”, “Finger 4”, “Finger 8″ have been casually thrown around in the media reports with incomplete information and context. Unlike the Line Of Control or LoC, the Line of Actual Control isn’t a precisely fixed-line. It is a series of overlapping claims and perception problems, with some issues since the 1950s and ’60s. There is no formal agreement per se, and the Chinese refuse to show maps of their claims.

The result of these differing claims is a grey or smaller zone, where the patrol parties of both sides meet. Occasional clashes occur when both parties appear face-to-face. However, the events post-May 5th, wherein an alleged video had surfaced showing stone-pelting, indicate that this is not normal. Recent upgradation of infrastructure and induction of better equipment has resulted in increased patrolling by the Indian side. Hence, both the sides have been running into each other more frequently. The bone of contention has been mainly in three points along the border: Pangong Tso, Galwan River Valley and the ‘Hot Springs” near the Kongka Pass.

 

 

 

Many have questioned the legitimacy of the information from the Chinese concerning these key three regions. This, along with opposing claims from both countries and no clear official statements have caused confusion regarding the situation on the ground. As the days pass, this confusion only increases. Social media has only added to the disorder, thanks to the botched analysis conducted by military enthusiasts. To say that the intruders have crossed into our territory is a rather vague statement.

Galwan Valley, in particular, is an exception, as there is a clear demarcation of the border, so the possibility of Chinese intruding and staying put is wrong. Furthermore, the actual number of troops is challenging to figure out, given the vast range of possible answers (1200-10,000 soldiers). A massive build-up of forces along the river banks, however, is correct as recent satellite images have shown evidence for the same.

With all sources contradicting each other, what does the ordinary citizen make out of this situation? Journalists publish what they want us to hear. While the truth is buried out there somewhere, we never listen to it, because of the selectivity on the journalist’s part and pushing the narrative that best suits them.

In all totality, it is unlikely that the Chinese have occupied any part of Indian land and have most likely set up base camps in the grey zone. Although this doesn’t seem much of a threat, it could be very much a push by the Chinese counterpart to alter status quo in the highly contested region, meaning that New Delhi will have to look at this situation a lot more seriously. While talks about disengagement in the past have yielded some result in earlier standoffs, going by the current scenario, it seems like any further talk at any ranks of the Army is likely to produce a result in the immediate future. Simply said, peace can’t be achieved without parity.

What’s Next?

An army convoy moves along Srinagar-Leh highway
Source: Rediff News

We are not a pushover when it comes to military might, and we have proved that with the 2015 surgical strike in Myanmar, 2016 surgical strike in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the Balakot strike last year. Whatever the response will be for the heinous attack on our troops at Galwan, it has to be a carefully calibrated one. We must not rush in for a counterattack, as it would risk more damage to ourselves in the end. The Indian Armed forces are more than capable of taking on any class of advisory, should the need arise. The Government of India has been mature when it comes to diplomacy and has shown moral courage when issuing official statements. We should stand behind the Government and our Armed Forces, in these difficult times.

While security meetings are being held in Raisina Hill and the next course of action is being plotted, the final frontier of warfare lies with us — the citizens. In the upcoming days, it will be necessary as the Chinese have a doctrine called the “Three Warfare”. The “Three Warfare” consists mainly of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare. Beijing looks at how they can use the systems of other countries to their advantage without even firing a single bullet. The first of the three warfare’s attempts to reshape the way we interpret information for the public, both domestically and internationally. The second one focuses on how policymakers will approach any given scenario involving China and may influence their decision making. The third focuses on how best to defend China and build up a legal response for actions taken by the CCP. All these three modes of warfare are used as political warfare. We can expect Beijing to exploit every one of these methods to gain traction in the post-COVID-19 world.

As the days go by, more posts that are either pro-Government or anti-Government are popping up on social media. The diversity of opinions that exist in India is enough to divide us without a single bullet being fired. If we look at social media, right after the news of the incident was announced, it was ablaze with opinions. Worse still, if we look at the statement issued by the Foreign Minister of China, it was portrayed as if India was the aggressor and that we have been violating the end-user agreement of the talks held at the military and diplomatic levels. The Chinese are the master at propaganda, and a simple look at the recent ramp-up of the articles by Global Times, known for having links with the CCP, is enough proof of the Dragon’s intention of being denial while continuing to be the aggressor.

These are testing times. We face a significant hit in our diplomacy. Even a country like Nepal, with whom we have had excellent relations in the past is making decisions that can lead to fractured ties. India is at a crucial junction, and any decision we make today will have an everlasting effect in the future. And we as citizens of this nation must put aside our differences and stand united behind Armed Forces and show them that we support them unconditionally.

Lastly, India-China relations aren’t going to be the same, especially after this incident. We must put every sort of effort to show that politically, militarily and diplomatically, we are no pushover nation. If push comes to shove, we can and will deliver action required to protect our sovereignty and integrity of our country.

As the war cry of the Ladakh Scouts goes:

Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo!

Written by Vaibhav Aatreya for MTTN

Edited by Siri Rajanahally

Featured Image by Ritwika Sarkar 

Sources: OutLook India

Social Media as a news source

In today’s day and age, social media is becoming an imperative and rather unavoidable aspect of our lives. The internet, today, has greater outreach than ever before. It has emerged to be a continual source of news, information, and entertainment for people around the world for over the past decade; it has evolved to be defined by its interactivity and user-generated content.

With more than 2.4 billion internet users, social media has become the main source of news online. According to a Forbes article, 64.5% of internet users receive their news from Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat and Instagram rather than traditional news sources.

It has also been found that there has been a 57% increase in traffic to news sites referred from social media.  Domains such as Twitter have become a valuable way to retrieve fast and real-time news, which is raw and unaffected by traditional media bias. The fact that social networking sites are faster in terms of the spread of news and make news more accessible, has led to this lateral shift from a traditional linear news cycle towards a more complex information cycle.

An essential characteristic of news presented on the platform of social media is that these social networking sites have control over what news and information we are able to view. This can be attributed to the fact that news can be distributed and picked up by the audience in an incidental way. This implies that articles appear in the content flow without any deliberate actions being taken by the user. Articles that appear on the social media feeds of users are suggested automatically by the networks through algorithms based on previous use, based on previous “likes” and “follows” of the user and activity of the people that the user follows.

While social media has risen to be a great tool for journalists to market themselves, their stories and connect with readers, there is still much conjecture about the degree of reliability and accountability these social platforms have to offer.

News organisations such as The Guardian, the Hindu, the Times of India, and more have a base on social media. These news organisations ensure that they provide accurate and unbiased information to their readers and viewers. However, social media allows people a platform to express their own opinion and share certain forms of media. This can lead to chaos- people can share false news and biased videos. And with the invention of retweets and likes, this news can reach millions of people and provide inaccurate information to them.

Further on, “breaking” news happens almost instantaneously on social media. Social media as a news source is characterised by immediacy and more frequency. However, this concept of urgency is inadvertently leading to the spreading of factually incorrect news. In order to break the internet, or break the news, the information rendered is often unverified. “Journalism is becoming less about transferring knowledge and more about crafting the most persuasive interruption.” As a result of this, we end up with far more words being written, far more time spent reading, and far less clarity, context and understanding.

 

Is social media reliable?

The reason the question of ‘is social media reliable’ arises today is because of the mass access to social media. Ten years ago, social media was a completely new platform that was barely trusted or used by anybody. But now with everyone, from children to corporate brands being on social media, nothing can be taken at word value. One can never be sure if the news they are receiving through a tweet is true or not, but they can always look at the social media pages of actual news organisations for news written with journalistic integrity.

One major problem stems from the dubious reliability of information engendered by the networks themselves. Each social networking website targets a particular audience and hence the opinions and articles they present are heavily biased by the interests of that specific section of readers. For example, in 2012, according to a survey conducted by a startup called Buzz Referral, 80% of the users on Pinterest were women. Hence surveys conducted on such platforms may lack balance.

Even when data is freely accessible it has already been filtered by those managing the network to suit the interests of the target audience. Another factor contributing to this dilemma is when the huge number of bots and spammers which come off as ordinary users of the internet become sources of serious errors. For instance, while studies focusing on politically active users on Twitter claim that political affiliation can be predicted from tweets with 90% accuracy, when all Twitter users are included this success rate falls to 65%.

While this form of mass media has evidently become an indispensable form of propagation of news, its mishandling has emerged to be a source of disinformation. For example, social media has been extensively used to spread fake news and propaganda, especially in the political domain. A report from the university of oxford showed that Facebook, among other social networking sites, is one of the most common platforms that governments and political parties use to spread disinformation in order to discredit political opponents and drown out opposing views. 

An example of fake news on social media can be seen through the global pandemic caused due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Misinformation, such as “turmeric and garlic can cure COVID-19 symptoms” started spreading as soon as news of rising infections skyrocketed. Another common myth that might create delusion among people is that the virus cannot propagate in tropical climates. While it is true, that COVID-19 has spread the most prominently in temperate and cold climates, the fact that countries with warmer temperatures are also being affected cannot be ignored. Misinformation such as this can be extremely deadly, especially in times of emergency. 

It thus becomes the responsibility of news outlets to debunk fake news.

Another example of this is Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP)  social media campaign to drum up support for the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)  which raised eyebrows as Twitter users pointed out random tweets promoting the toll-free number with promises of free data, sex and Netflix. This number was actually launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on which people can register their support in favour of pro-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) campaign by giving a missed call. Social media, thus, may mislead people.

 

However, the volatility of news spread on social media is also an essential characteristic in today’s political environment because social media serves to be an important protest tool. This feature is rather unique to this form of mass media. It has played a large role in political uprisings since it teaches users a new way to create groups, spread information all over the globe and voice their opinion unanimously. Social media helps its users view every aspect of a situation and put forth their political views. The strength of every political protest that has taken place in the past few years gravitates back to the attention it receives on platforms of the internet. It makes people, especially students, more aware of the situation around them.  An example of this are the protests at Jamia Milia Islamia relating to the CAA, that received the amount of attention they did because of the extensive social network of social media. Social media, hence, presents multiple facets of a sensitive situation.

 

Spiral of silence

Social media relates to a spiral of silence. News presented on a platform such as social media does not initiate conversation.  Social media does not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues. Further, if people think their friends and followers on social media disagree with them, they are less likely to state their views online. This implies that the broad awareness social media users have of their networks might make them more hesitant to speak up because they are especially tuned into the opinions of those around them.

In a world with an increasing need to fact check news sources, the advent of social media as a news source has its pros and cons. The need of the hour is to ensure that only credible information is spread online.

 

Reliable news sources

In times such as these, where a global pandemic is threatening life at large, it becomes vital for people to be adequately informed and not blindly believe what they see on social media. Following are links to a few reliable news sources, in general and with respect to updates on the virus:

  1. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
  2. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/?from=mdr
  3. https://www.deccanherald.com/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/international
  5. https://www.mygov.in/covid-19/
  6. https://mea.gov.in/covid-19-updates.htm
  7. https://www.mohfw.gov.in/

 

Written by Tanya Jain and Radhika Taneja for MTTN

Featured image by Ashitha for MTTN

 

The Cognizant Citizen: Chernobyl Forest Fires

The Chernobyl disaster: thirty-four years ago, on 26th April 1986, the second-most severe nuclear catastrophe took place at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine.

The explosion of the Number Four RMBK reactor occurred during testing at low power. Due to lack of safety measures, the explosion and fire caused the demolishing of the reactor building—fuel containing uranium overheated and melted the barricades allowing untreated chemicals to escape. Extremely unstable radioactive elements including iodine-131, caesium-137, strontium-90, and plutonium-241 scattered into the atmosphere.

Data received from IAEA said that the initial explosion caused the death of two working men at the site and 52 people were hospitalised. Within 36 hours of the blast, the entire population of 49,630 people of Pripyat (three kilometres from the plant) was evacuated. In three months of the incident, a total of almost 200,000 people were relocated from neighbouring areas which were contaminated with the hazardous chemicals.

Just as humanity evacuated from the nearby towns, all trees, animals and other living creatures died soon after due to the chemicals in the air. However, over the years, vegetation and fauna regained its place in the deserted land. Trees continue to grow in the soil rich in arson and caesium, and animals continue to breathe the air that records an ionisation radiation level of 5.6 roentgen per second.

Since the nuclear disaster, forest fires have been a common sight in Chernobyl. Springs and summers tend to experience most of these fires. In 2016 leading Chernobyl researcher Dr Timothy Mousseau said that it is a great potential for another catastrophe to occur in the forests in the Exclusion Zone. This, he claimed was due to the high levels of contamination in the woods.

The past fires have been relatively small; hence, did the negligible effect on the environment. RFERL quoted Mousseau saying, “this dead organic matter on the surface of the soil is highly radioactive.” He added, “when it dries out, it becomes a big fire hazard and this fuel load is what generates catastrophic forest fires.”

In 2018, then presiding Ukrainian Prime Minister said in a speech that there is “no threat” to the Chernobyl land. “The radiation levels are safe and we don’t need to worry about it,” Hroysman said in response to the worried nuclear-safety experts.

 

Image Source: Daily Sabah News

 

 

The Current Situation

On April 4th, 2020, a major fire broke out near the isolated village of Vladimirovka, located in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

The forest fire, which has been raging on for more than a week now, has spread to within a kilometre of the Chernobyl power plant. Despite firefighters struggling to extinguish the several fires burning inside the 18-mile ‘Exclusion Zone’, the forest fires show no sign of reduction.

The fires are the largest ever to hit the area according to locals. Another possible reason is the early spring this year. The climatic temperature of the place has been higher than usual, acting as a catalyst to increase the intensity of the fire.

Earlier, on 5th April, the acting head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, Yegor Firsov said in a Facebook post that “there is bad news—in the centre of the fire, radiation is above normal.” Using a Geiger counter, the readings of the device showed 2.3 when the reasonable condition is usually 0.14. This reading was taken only in the area of the spiking fires. A lot of tension was created as the radiation being sixteen times more than usual may severely cause damage to the living people around the area. But later, Government officials denied his observation and said the levels in the area were “within normal limits,” and Mr Firsov immediately withdrew his statements.

On the day of the breakout, Ukrainian authorities stated that the fire covered an area of 20 hectares, but the NGO Greenpeace cites satellite images showing the coverage area to be around 12,000 hectares. Since then the fire has just spread through the 30 km exclusion zone set up around the site of the Chernobyl power plant.

Greenpeace also stated that according to satellite images taken on Monday, the area of the most massive fire has reached 34,400 hectares and that a second fire, that is currently spread across 12,600 hectares is just one kilometre away from the worst nuclear disaster in history.

 

Image Source: RTE News

 

 

Rashid Alimov, head of energy projects at Greenpeace Russia, stated that fires, fanned by the wind, could disperse radionuclides, atoms that emit radiation, in the surrounding areas. “A fire approaching a nuclear or hazardous radiation facility is always a risk.” he quoted.

BBC News reported that over 400 firemen and 100 fire engines were deployed to the site to contain the fire using numerous helicopters. However, the acting head of the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management told the Associated Press that though they “have been working all night, digging firebreaks around the plant to protect it from fire, we cannot say the fire is contained.”

The smoke from the fire had been blowing towards Russia and Belarus for most of the week, but now it has shifted towards Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Due to the global pandemic of coronavirus, Ukraine has been on lockdown. “We are lucky to have quarantine measures in place now,” an expert from the environmental group Ecodiya, Olena Muskin told The New York Times. Winds can raise hot particles in the air along with ash and billow towards populated areas. “People stay at home, walk less and wear masks,” she added, saying it is an unexpected blessing to one and all.

On 14th April, the storming blazes were extinguished by early morning rains in the Exclusion Zone. The Guardian confirms that the state emergency service reported: “there are no open flames, there was a slight smouldering of the forest floor.”

 

—Written by Tanya Jain and Vaishnavi Karkare for MTTN 
—Featured image by Apurva Bandyopadhyay for MTTN

The Digital Economy of Advertising

The first link on a Google search, the start of a YouTube video, the next story on Instagram, What do they all have in common? – Advertisements.

Bitcoin may be the digital currency, but advertisements make the digital economy. Major companies that appear to provide their products free of cost. However, they too work on an advertisement-based business model. Even in our daily lives, most of the services that we use, such as social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), music streaming services (Spotify, Gaana, Saavn), and YouTube, depend on ads to generate revenue.

There was a time when ads on the internet were all but simple banners on a webpage; something your eyes got accustomed to ignoring over time. The clicks per ad view for these banner ads thus dropped to below 0.17%, which caused companies working on an advertisement based business model to face huge losses. Hence, they developed new advertisement techniques to make these ads more effective.

For instance, over time, Google has made YouTube’s advertisements go from completely skippable to ‘skip after 5 seconds’, and at present, even non-skippable ads.

How do Advertisements Work?

Advertising can work in many ways. An advertiser may choose to pay search engines and websites to display links and banners online. They then pay them for each click or each view, depending on the model followed.

Streaming services like Spotify and YouTube may play ads between songs and videos. For YouTube, the frequency of advertisements is decided by the content creator. In the case of streaming services, a part of the revenue generated per ad view is given to the content creators, which finances the creators and allows the content to remain free to watch.

Spotify is also known to self advertise wherein it may play ads that advertise its own ad-free premium service instead of third-party ads.

Machine learning and neural networks also play a significant part in deciding what to advertise to a user. These curate ads to a specific individual by using cookies and data collected from partner company websites and services. They also decide how often ads should be played to maintain a balance between content and advertisements so that the users do not feel pestered by excessive advertisements.

Machine learning also helps in predicting and boosting ad performance by optimising content for variables like geolocation, time of day, device, targeted audience, among others. It can provide suggestions based on the performance of previous advertising campaigns.

ML can only get better with time  as the number of user interactions increases, so does the reliability of the algorithm.  Machine Learning has the ability to learn from and predict the user’s taste profile. This means that ML can use the users’ online behaviour as a basis for decision making in future scenarios.

Advertisement Blocking

The first question that might pop up in your mind is: Is it advertisement blocking legal?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. While blocking elements of a webpage or service that appear on the screen is entirely legal, interfering or modifying with advertisement playing element’s code is illegal.

For example, adblocker extensions of web browsers block banners on webpages from displaying content, which is entirely legal. On the other hand, some apps like Adaway can be used on rooted devices to modify app packages, delete and modify system files. These programs block in-app ads by changing publisher code and are thus illegal as they violate the terms and conditions of use. YouTube Vanced, another application available online, is an app for android devices and is, basically, YouTube without advertisements. Since it modifies the app’s code while rendering videos to skip ads, it also falls under the realm of illegality.

The alternative to blocking ads on social media and streaming services is to buy their premium subscriptions which automatically remove ads and also provides other useful features.

Ad blockers, in one way or another, can block almost all forms of advertisement except native advertising.

 

What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising, in simple terms, is advertisement camouflaging. It is currently the most effective form of advertising and is the advertising industry’s response to adblockers. The advertised product or service is integrated into the plot point of an article or web series, which makes it difficult to block these types of advertisements. Before you know it, you have been advertised.

Have you ever watched a web series in which the actors suddenly start talking about an app that helps in car rentals, furniture renting or cab booking?

Alternatively, when you are watching your favourite Youtubers or browsing a celebrity’s Instagram, they might advertise certain products. These are examples of native advertising.

The fastest form of advertising is memes, which is a tried and tested way of advertising; The basic formula is to take a meme format that is currently trending, link it to your company’s product or service and use the appropriate hashtags to spread it on social media.

Netflix is known to use this format. For example, when new seasons of Narcos and Orange Is the New Black were about to be released, Netflix sponsored various news articles in US newspapers about drug cartels and female prisons, respectively. Even though the articles and reports were well researched, the advertisement had been snuck into them, killing their authentic vibe.

Will advertising creep completely into our daily life or will people end up paying a premium for an advertisement free experience? Only time will tell.

 

Written by Harshaj Sood for MTTN

Edited by Naintara Singh and Rahul Alvares

Featured Image and graphics by Vishwas Dave

Rogue Goat? Say What?

In January 2009, two racketeers armed with machetes were trying to rob a car in Nigeria. They were noticed by police officers who were on patrol at the time. The hooligans successfully escaped like thirty per cent of all suspects do, but what is surprising is that one of them turned into a black and white goat. It is even more surprising that the officers arrested the goat, wholeheartedly believing that the animal was one of the two racketeers.

When the world was recovering from the housing market crash, policemen in Nigeria clearly knew the true cause of everything that was going wrong — witchcraft. That night the policemen must have gone back home and bragged about the shape-shifting creature only they were brave enough to catch. They probably left out the details of them shivering at the prospect of getting it into the car. Meanwhile, the ‘shape-shifting creature’ — presently a goat — was behind bars in a police station.

Having to share the cell with a goat must have been weird for — well, humans. A place filled with murderers, arsonists, robbers; life in prison is hard enough as it is. You have to be the alpha or an accomplice of the alpha, otherwise, you’re dead meat. Then, one day, a goat is placed in a cell. Everyone is certain it’s a witch. Suddenly, the alpha isn’t the one to be afraid of, no; it is the goat. Even the alpha is afraid of it. Arguments arise, where people fight about the ingredients you need to master transfiguration. Someone screams that it is one drop of pegasus blood and two strands of a mermaid’s hair while someone else says that you actually need a dozen drops of werewolf blood (obviously) and a pinch of turmeric. Rumours start to circulate, that a person saw the goat transform into a human around midnight and then back into a goat at dawn. Someone else says that they saw the goat speak. This leaves everyone up at night, pondering what the goat is up to. But all it does is lie on its bed of straw, sleeping peacefully. Inside your heads, you know that it enjoys this chaos.

No matter how many news articles I look through, there is no news about whether the goat was released, which makes me imagine what could have happened to the poor creature. People had gathered outside the police station to catch just one glimpse of the celebrity-goat. If it were to be released, they would’ve had to do it without letting the crowd know. So I imagine a police officer carrying the goat at a time when everyone’s asleep and taking it to a vacant alley, and just placing it there. They must have checked the perimeter to see if anyone was around, before heading back to the police station. The goat probably just stood there, unable to comprehend what had happened in the last few days, after all,  it was a goat. Real-life is obviously not a fantasy or sci-fi film where witches exist — or is it?

 

~ Written by Kaavya Azad for MTTN

~ Edited by Chintan Gandhi

 

The Everyman’s Guide To Getting It Together

Plenty of time before the Yuletide cheers. Plenty of time to laze around thinking about what to do, while doing absolutely nothing. Vacations offer a lot of time. For a lot of people, this might be too much time without any signs of productivity. And that causes unnecessary worry. Why is it unnecessary? Because you didn’t plan it out.

Ever wondered, “What if each vacation came with a well-sorted catalogue of ideas and options to keep it together”? If you ever did,  we got you covered. And if you didn’t, here’s a list of things you can do that’ll make you wish you thought of it sooner.

 

For the Career Driven Mind

Pursuing academically relevant matter beyond the scope of your course plan can be quite problematic during the semester. It’s pretty easy to find yourself overwhelmed by how much you want to do, how much you need to do, and how much you can do. If only you had time to focus on a few things specifically without having to worry about too many things at once, right?

Enter holidays.

These free days can essentially be a boon for learning and researching. They can save your schedule during academic months from being too clogged up. If you’re looking for specific suggestions, read on.

Online Courses

Remember the Indian Youtubers saving you during your exams by explaining everything within only 20 minutes what you couldn’t comprehend for an entire semester? Now triple that effect. That is what proper online courses can offer for you. From Harvard’s EDx to Coursera, learners have a plethora of options to choose from. With specific courses for topics such as Computer Science, Business, Health, Language, and so much more, these online platforms can make your educational experience as wholesome as a home-cooked meal.

Competitions

Universities and Worldwide organisations are always on the lookout for innovation. One way of showcasing yours is through online competitions which are held throughout the year. Again, since you don’t have your academics to worry about right now, why not take up a competition to challenge yourself? It can prove to be a great exercise of your thinking and analytical skills. Keeping your senses sharp and staying on your toes can help gear you up for the new semester too.

Researching on Universities for Masters Courses

Vacation time can be great for taking a look at prospective Universities where one may want to pursue their Masters. Most Universities have various requirements besides academics that they look into. If you’re looking into admissions into European universities, chances are, you would have to learn their language. You might even have to work on several individual or collaborative projects. Holidays, fortunately, can very well help you to plan everything out and make sure your CV is enough for your dream university to roll out a carpet for you.  

Journals, Research Papers and Articles

Or maybe you’re more into research reading. Might be general interest or a newfound urge. Another way of going about productivity is by identifying one particular topic of interest and reading up on it. Experts in various fields intimate the world with their work through papers frequently. As an alternative, you could further challenge yourself by being an author to your own paper. Not only will it be an exquisite educational experience, but will also be a nice addition to that CV you need to work on.

 

For the Wannabe Carefree Mind

Amidst the hustle-bustle of the academic hubbub, what gets neglected the most is one’s self. Assignments, lectures, club meetings, seminars, etc. can occupy a lot in one’s mind. What takes a backseat is one’s emotional quotient, relaxation and introspection. Vacations are the perfect time to service your inner circuitry.

Working on Yourself

Stimulating one’s mind with the pleasant, tingling sensations through an array of activities and therapies not only calms one down for the moment but also helps one in the long run. There’s nothing as productive and yet as calming as mastering innate skills at our own pace. 

We have listed down several activities to help one soothe and heal their nerves.

 

Assisted Pet Activities

Think about coming back to your dog after a long hectic day. How does it feel? Soothing and relaxing, right? Imagine signing up for activities that would require you to interact with animals every day for some time. Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) are a group of activities which involve interacting with animals. Mostly dogs, cats and sometimes guinea pigs, horses and their trainers are a part of this.

So, people who need a break from their hectic schedule need to relax or who seek some warm company could go to the nearest dog park. In the metropolitan areas, several organisations provide service or therapy dogs and cats for the above mentioned. The growing trend of pet cafés caters to the needs of people. Look out for organisations providing such services in your neighbourhood and spend your vacation in the company of some wet noses, warm paws and soft fur.

 

Art is Therapy

Well, life isn’t all black and white. Nor it is grey. Life is Red, Blue, Pink, Magenta, Green, Purple, Mauve, Lilac, Yellow, Brown, Golden and every colour you can think of. Remember the time when the ‘toddler you’ would take a crayon, a sheet of paper, and forget what’s going on in the world? Well, returning to colours is never a bad idea. Through art, one can explore his or her own emotions, thoughts, feelings and state of mind. One need not be an artist or possess any artistic ability to be a part of this activity. This can be easily initiated by witnessing some illustrations or artworks by any third party; after all, everything is inspired by something.

 A lot of people indulge in finger painting, colouring, making clay models which are a part of this therapeutic process, to relive their childhood again. So if you are looking forward to having fun in your process of self-repair, what are you waiting for?

The Power of Music

What can some good music not fix? Be it a stressful, hectic day at work or a bad heartbreak. Through music, one can channel out almost anything and everything. Music with strong rhythmic elements affects heart rate. Also, listening to a certain type of music leads to the release of endorphins and also reduces muscle tension which promotes relaxation. Music also brings out our repressed emotions or our thoughts in our subconscious mind, which help us to work with our behavioural issues. As a result, the music turns out to be quite the uplift we need.

 

Spending Some Quality Time

With all the time in hand, what can be a better time to catch up with that one friend whom you promised to be in touch with but never got time to, or to go on a coffee date with your best friend and spill some tea about what’s going on around. Maybe going on a long drive with your mum while telling her about your little college adventures. Or, to cook with your dad while he cracks some ‘dad jokes’. Help your brother with his assignments while secretly trying to get words about his love life out. Planning a day out with the cousin gang, who have always been your partners in crime, perhaps? Our hectic schedules drift us apart physically from our loved ones every single day.

Vacations are the best time to trace the dotted line back that joins our heart and rekindle the love between us. Being around our loved ones improves our social attributes. Also, it calms down our nerves and helps us relax. Being present around the people who matter, sharing our thoughts and feelings with them, reliving the beautiful memories with them in itself is a therapy. Not only interacting with our beloved makes us feel good at the moment but also gives us the strength to live the post-vacation life. So what are you waiting for? Call them up and start making plans already.

 

Keeping a tab on the ‘on spot mental eeries’

Christmas means the time to party. For a lot of people, the doorbell to a party can be a siren for their crippling anxiety. And the Christmas lights? The red caution signs for their inner mental turmoil. While some of us get bewitched by all the glitter and sparkle around, some barely keep hanging in there. Here’s a small list for those who put in too much effort to sail through the festivals, to help them keep a tab on their mental health amidst all the jingles.

  • Talk to someone about anything that makes you uncomfortable about attending any social gathering 
  • Remember, it’s okay to talk. Any time you feel uncomfortable, seek the help of the person around whom you feel comfortable or whom you can trust.
  • Have a calming contingency plan. Before the social gathering plan, yourselves small breaks within certain intervals. Like going on to the terrace for 5 minutes or soaking in some fresh air now then. It can always help in making such gatherings easier to enjoy.
  • Put yourself first and be kind to yourself. If you think any plan is too much for you, it’s okay to bail out of it. It’s okay to say no to a plan. It’s okay to leave a gathering in between if you don’t feel comfortable.

 

So, what are you gonna be up to this winter?

Investing in yourself is the best way to ensure that you make the most of everything. Vacations are the perfect time to grow intellectually, socially as well as emotionally. So go on! Grab a suggestion or two, and get cracking. Utilize your time to the fullest. Sing. Draw. Dance. Paint a rainbow. Join some foreign universities for any crash course. Write a poem, read a novel. Explore your innate abilities and discover the wonders you are capable of. But at the end of the day, remember, vacations are for relaxation as well. 

Happy Holidays!

-Written by Rithik Talwar and Swikruti Kar

-Edited by Salekha Reddy

-Image credits: Lavanya Karinje and Tushar Machavolu

1984, The Aftermath: The Rise of Rampant Rajiv

The 1984 Indian General Elections were unforeseen and unfortunate. Indira Gandhi’s term was to be officially ending in the first week of 1985. However, in an incredulous turn of events, she was assassinated by her bodyguards, who fired 28 bullets at her.

With her politically active and younger son Sanjay Gandhi dead in a plane crash in 1980, the eyes of the Congress leadership turned towards the elder, apolitical son, Rajiv;  a commercial pilot for Air India at the time. In the controversial book ‘Ballot: Ten Elections that Changed in India’, it is said that Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s wife, pleaded Rajiv not to consent to the party’s demands, but he believed it was his duty to do so.

Rajiv was sworn in as interim Prime Minister the same night. The politically naive scion of the Gandhi family called for an election at the earliest possible dates. His strategy relied on the public belief that the sympathy wave for a son whose mother was brutally killed for keeping the nation united could be short-lived. Thus, India was set for elections on 24th, 27th and 28th December 1984. The sympathy-vote strategy hit the jackpot for Rajiv Gandhi, with Congress winning 414 seats out of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, a record which still stands today.

Rajiv Gandhi being sworn in as Prime Minister after his historic win in 1984 by President Giani Zail Singh. Image Source: India Today

1984 was a tumultuous time for the nation. The assassination resulted in the anti-Sikh sentiments taking a violent turn. The equation with the Sikh community was already fragile with the Khalistan issue. Indira’s murder by her Sikh bodyguards was the final nail in the coffin. Within days, law and order had tumbled down as Sikhs were flogged, burnt, and mercilessly killed.

Such a chaotic situation worked well for Congress, as there were stints of deinstitutionalisation, reminiscent of that during the Indian Emergency of 1975. The Election Commission of India, albeit a fiercely autonomous body with a dedicated workforce, failed to exercise control over Congress’s campaigning for the election as the establishment struggled to maintain peace in the country.

There were three occasions where Congress crossed the line of laws and ethics to turn the tables in their favour. First, Rajiv Gandhi, in his 50,000 kilometres of campaigning and travel, used his official PM’s helicopter for travelling. Second, Congress went ahead with an illegal campaigning advertisement which projected anti-Sikh sentiments to the public. Lastly, the Commission was also persuaded to call for elections in state prematurely in March or April 1985, leaving the opposition in disarray, to allocate the necessary amount of funds for the respective polls.

The Congress Party was accused of using the state machinery for campaigning, here Rajiv Gandhi is seen landing in Bihar. Image Source: Getty Images

The Congress heavily exercised control over broadcast media for the elections, foreseeing the effectiveness of the medium. State-run television and radio channels heavily broadcasted programmes about the life of the deceased Prime Minister. But while these may still be seen as petty quibbles to the unbiased eye, a rumour which shocked most is the fact that centre-left Congress used the support of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to win the elections.

In the book above, it was claimed that Rajiv, who was riding on the sympathy wave, aspired to push the Hindutva ideology to safeguard his political interests. “There were talks of a secret meeting between Rajiv Gandhi and Balasaheb Deoras, resulting in RSS cadre supporting the Congress during the 1984 Lok Sabha election, despite the presence of BJP in the political scene,” wrote author Rasheed Kidwai. While the Congress has not disputed the claim, in 2007, former Congress leader Banwarilal Purohit had corroborated this claim.

Former Congress MP Banwarilal Purohit believes that a meeting took place between the Congress and the RSS to further strengthen the party’s support in the 1984 Elections. Image Source: Firstpost

Purohit, an MP from Nagpur at the time, had claimed to act as a mediator between Gandhi and Deoras. “Since I belonged to Nagpur, Rajivji wondered if I knew then RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras. Upon hearing my ‘of course, very well’, he wanted to know my opinion on whether the RSS would support the Congress if Shilanyas (foundation) at Ram Janmabhoomi is permitted,” he reportedly said.

Calling the 1984 General Elections undemocratic can be a bit harsh, as apart from this lapse of the Election Commission on those three occasions and this largely unproved conspiracy of back-channel support, the elections are mostly regarded as a free and fair one. But it is indeed compelling to conclude that Rajiv and the others went off the edge to prevent the loss of power at the centre, in contrast to Indira Gandhi’s defeat in 1977 to pave the way for a first non-Congress government. Rajiv did everything for history to not repeat itself.

Rajiv’s young and ‘Mr Clean’ image (similar to the P&G mascot) worked wonders for the Congress, who were considered to be crippled after the death of its two towering leaders, Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. His famous, “I am young and I too have a dream..,” at the US Congress in 1985 is forever remembered as a highlight of his political career.

Rajiv’s noteworthy address at the US Congress struck a chord with the youth, who idolised him in the 80s, a time when Indian politics dawned to a new era. Image Source: WordPress

His name has now irrevocably been entrenched into charges like corruption post the Bofors arms deal and the Fairfax scandal. Author S.S. Gill later deduced that Rajiv’s inexperience subsequently led him to align with the same forces that he pledged to fight against. This probably accounts for the fact that his policies towards the advancement of technology, education and infrastructure remain a tad less illustrious.

Disclaimer: Through this article, MTTN solely aspires to highlight the hitherto unknown dimension of a particular election in Indian history. Even though best attempts were made to keep the article objective,  MTTN, by any means, does not align itself to any political party/ideology or an organisation by the means of this article.

 

All the claims that are made by this piece are only done after confirming it from verified sources. A major source of facts of this piece is from Rasheed Kidwai’s book “Ballot: Ten Elections that Changed India” along with similar articles found on India Today and Zee News. 

Written by Rishi Kant for MTTN

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