Coronavirus disease 2019, most prevalently known as Corona or Covid-19, needs no explicit outline — because — over some time it has been petrifying the entire world. This infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 was first recognized in December 2019 in the capital of China’s Hubei province – Wuhan. It has since spread globally, resulting in the ongoing pandemic.

Covid-19; This infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2

Likewise, like many countries ordered the lockdown of their respective nation-states, the Government of India (GoI) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi on  March 24, 2020, has also ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days that persisted up to April 14, 2020, which is further extended till May 03, 2020.

The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi Announcing Lockdown

Soon after the announcement of the lockdown, the GoI has announced numerous measures to be implemented under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana under which about 80 crore people were expected to be covered. Cumulatively, the PM Garib Kalyan Package provides ₹1,75,000 crore to the poor to help them fight the battle against the Coronavirus. Besides, various states in India have come out with their self-sustaining financial assistance schemes to combat a situation created by the lockdown due to Covid-19.

Palpably, any such schemes undertaken by the government have to be implemented through the Public Sector Banks. They have been instrumental in the implementation of almost all welfare schemes designed, developed, and implemented by the Government of India. In this manner, the banks work as an arbitrator between the people and the government. The incredible efforts put in by the banks during demonetization is commendable.

Queue In Front of a PSU Bank

However, the situation, in this case, is entirely different from demonetization and has been turning the banks into the threat and hazardous zones. There is no doubt that the helping measures undertaken by the competent authorities are in good spirits. Nonetheless, when it comes to the implementation at the ground level, it is hitting a blow on the very purpose for which the lockdown has been announced.

Usually, a customer who visits a bank branch, once in a month, is now paying some 10 to 15 visits. Sometimes, the visits are just intended to see if the account is credited with any freebies like Aasara Pension, PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, State Government Rythu Bandhu, or PM Kisan Samman benefit, etc. 

According to bankers working in Telangana, the state government has credited Aasara Pension on April 03, 2020. There was a heavy crowd on the following working day to withdraw this amount — not caring for any social distancing or other preventive measures like using face masks. Soon after the credit of the Aasara pensions, in about just 2-3 days, the women Jandhan accounts were credited with ₹500/-, resulting in further inquiries about the credited amount through third parties, and, subsequently visiting in person to withdraw the same.

Queue Line In Front of a PSU Bank

Then again, after 2-3 days, the accounts were credited with PM Kisan Samman Benefit. The entire sequence of events repeated for obvious reasons. That was not the end of the concern. The state government has credited ₹1500/- into the accounts of the white ration card holders that gave rise to a further fracas, inducing in never-ending long queues in front of the banks even during this hour of crisis. In this entire episode, the customers continue to be the same for the reason that the end recipient of all freebies is the unchanged set of people right through.

Apart from the net banking, e-wallet services, and other digital banking services, the customers have plentiful other options like Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Bunch Note Acceptors (BNAs), Passbook Printers, Credit/Debit Cards, etc. All these facilities would nearly serve the bank customers during the period of crisis. Nonetheless, the customers who are offered these freebies are inept of using any of the above digital services. Thus, they are forced to visit the banks to withdraw the money. Moreso, there has been a hidden trepidation among such customers that if they don’t withdraw the money as soon as it is credited, there won’t be any future credits from the government. Such an allegory is forcing them to withdraw the amounts in many spells, instead of withdrawing the total money at a time. For example, in the aforementioned situation in Telangana, a person who visited the bank after 20th might have withdrawn the total amount credited on several occasions in one go…but it didn’t happen. 

NetBanking Facility Offered by PSU Bank

Additionally, the banks are asked to bid loans to various existing customers under a special Covid-19 scheme. Under this scheme, 10% of the existing sanctioned loan amount (subjected to the maximum permissible amount under each scheme) with a moratorium period of six months would be extended to potential customers. This has, unquestionably, imposed an additional burden on the bankers.

Also, a few PSU banks underwent amalgamation in this crucial period w.e.f. April 01, 2020. This has resulted in people visiting the branches inquiring about the intactness of their accounts in the post amalgamation set-up. Further, the amalgamated banks are not in a position to offer all the services that would otherwise be offered by their erstwhile parent banks, leaving the bankers facing an obstreperous situation, which sometimes results in a pointless argument with the customers.

In keeping with the opinion of most of the bankers, the employees of public sector banks have many woes that need to be straightaway addressed. First and foremost, they take delivery of heavy mental pressure from all ends to execute their roles as bankers, especially under such a stressful condition imposed by the pandemic Covid-19. Also, it has become a practice among the customers, who are likely to be defaulters, to often refer to the instances of Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya — without knowing the very fact that the corporate loans amounting to such huge sums are not tendered at retail banking branches.

NPAs Causing a Threat to the Survival of PSU Banks

In one of the recent articles titled, “When no one wants a promotion:  The appraisal system in public sector banks needs to improve”, the author Shyamal Majumdar, clearly explains the present-day situation of the banks due to which no one would like to opt for a promotion. The recent news has it that five employees of Bank of Baroda’s Ghodasar and Geeta Mandir Branch in Gujarat tested positive for Covid-19. In such circumstances, the demand of bankers for the thermal screening of visitors and temporary closure of branches located in hotspots is not an inordinate longing. Indeed, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When I consulted the bankers and grasped their woes, I remembered this adage.

Bankers: The Unsung Heroes

In the concluding words, it should be agreed that banks support all financial welfare schemes undertaken by the government even during the times of such crises as pandemic Covid-19. Of course, the banks play a crucial role in monetary missions like demonetization too. The role played by the banks in achieving targets set by the government is ever commendable. However, it is palpable that the bankers are becoming squashed in — both by the customers and the competent authorities. At present, it’s perceptible that even after stretching great services amidst an inordinate risk, the bankers remain yet the unsung heroes!

-Dr. Suman Kumar Kasturi

Dr. Suman Kumar Kasturi

The communication standpoint of Artificial Intelligence

Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi Hans News Service 2 May 2019 11:48 PM Communication is the decisive sharing out of all sorts of human involvements — an influential aspect of human life. The developments in communication are as deep-rooted as the enlargement of humankind itself. Irrefutably, technology has long been a lasting influence behind advancements in communication.

Nonetheless, contemporary technologies are profoundly altering the manner of human communication. Due to expansions in ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) and in the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), the conservative forms of communication are rapidly becoming outdated.

Due to such many expedient features as fastness, easiness, and more convenience of these forms of communication, the new technologies have taken over the entire space of communication. Insofar as Artificial Intelligence is concerned, it can be understood as machine intelligence — the intelligence validated by machines, contrary to the natural intelligence displayed by humans. Simply put, Artificial Intelligence is the facility of a computer program or a machine to think and deliver just like humans.

AI encompasses mainly of three dissimilar types of structures — Analytical (only cognitive intelligence), Human-Inspired (both cognitive and emotional intelligence), and Humanised Artificial Intelligence (all three forms of intelligence i.e. cognitive, emotional, and social). In fact, AI is facilitating people to approach creative activities in a manner that bear a resemblance to mathematics — muddling the line between art and science.

Artificial Intelligence comes to be ubiquitous with social media for the reason that AI is an essential component of the algorithms of vital social media networks. There is no doubt that communication is the most dominant factor in conceiving ideas for better efficacy. Artificial Intelligence is not only the governing factor in business communications but it also has the capability of transforming communication within the workplace.

Unarguably, AI fosters solid workplace communication. With the use of analytics, it can signpost the success of communication whilst submitting feedback on such aspects as presentation skills, areas of strength and weakness. Besides, AI is also supportive in gauging individual factors like a response to the presentation content, style and length. Thus, AI serves to heighten the method of communicating. The feedback of AI includes systems to resonate with the target audience — leading to more personalised and targeted communication. Artificial Intelligence plays an energetic role in vocalising ideas.

According to a guesstimate, above 90 per cent of communication in a business presentation is non- verbal in nature. As a result, AI takes into account each and every single subtle cue and response to precisely evaluate the entire presentation. This feedback becomes more significant in both business communications as well as in workplace communication that is desperate for all business setups.

Artificial Intelligence has entirely transformed the way business communications take place. Also, it has changed the functioning of industries and the way employees conduct themselves. Across the industries, nowadays, employees use apps with cross-platform compatibility that allow fast and effective communication. Such apps also include various messenger tools embedded with automation and bots. They automate many communication features like scheduling emails, instant responses to emails, and reminding forewarns, etc.

At this time, our lives are subjugated by smartphones. Even mobile devices use AI effectively. In our everyday life, Google Assistant and Siri have become an indispensable part — they help in getting easy access to everything without essentially giving manual instructions over the mobile phone. However, there is a hidden threat in this form of communication — AI gets access to the most subtle information stowed in mobile phones. Yes, it turns into a debatable question that AI is a boon or bane.

There is no doubt that with the development of AI, machines can complete almost all tasks with a precision that necessitate human intelligence — at a much larger scale than human beings. In unison, AI has triggered unease among the masses — because — in due course, it may completely melt down the jobs undertaken by the humans. As technology has improved and the scope of AI has extended, there arises a tautness between art and science. For example, in the industry of leadership communication, AI has already substituted natural human intelligence.

From times immemorial, as communication has in general, public speaking has been well-thought-out as an art. It has been a conventional belief that a person can be great at mathematics and science or great at writing and speaking, but not both. Nonetheless, due to Artificial Intelligence, now mastering both is not overly complex. All that makes it a possibility is to programme machines to identify the attributes like listen, act, engage, etc that makes an audience respond. Then, AI can be incorporated in machines to measure enough factors in communications such as usage of words, voices, gestures, etc. This would, certainly, influence the audience reactions. The data thus gathered can be used to develop algorithms — to build a brainy machine that enhances the impact of communication.

From employment to economy, and from warfare to peace communication, Artificial Intelligence is transforming the nature of every aspect of human life. However, there is a dilemma associated with Artificial Intelligence — whether it is advancing towards making this planet a better place to live or a place full of disaster. Similar to every other technology, the advantages and disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence outweigh each other. But, considering the very fact that machines that use Artificial Intelligence are also man-made, it could be envisaged that in the long-term the machines using AI will have more advantages to overshadow the disadvantages. Nonetheless, if it becomes otherwise, there would be a great threat to humankind.

Technological advancements have made humans to embrace a more advanced form of Artificial Intelligence in communication and various other sectors. On the other hand, there is a possibility of many protests in the context of unemployment, information breach, privacy, etc, caused due to Artificial Intelligence. Thus, it ever remains an unsettled question — whether or not Artificial Intelligence is good for humankind! (The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

Emojis vis-à-vis non-verbal communication

Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi Hans News Service 26 April 2019 12:12 AM

Certain things change to remain the same! Surprisingly, in the past few years, many old things are becoming new again. At the moment, people have started using utensils made up of sludge, eating raw vegan diet etc. By the same token, the emoticons, which was a feature of popular communication apps of the 1990s have now become a vital part of contemporary Instant Messaging (IMs). In instant visual communication, the emoticon has a long account. In order to express any universal emotion, these emoticons are effectively used.

With a change in name as emojis, these popular communication aids have become the driving forces in communicating — all popular social networks and apps facilitate the users with emojis. A

Going in line with the advancement in technologies, smartphones, especially, have also become advanced to make themselves compatible with the innovations in mobile apps. An emoji can be defined as a visual depiction of emotion in the form of an object or a symbol. Though emojis turn into an effective form of communication, often people find it difficult to associate a precise emoji. With each and every update, the major social media platforms are adding advanced features.

For example, Facebook recently improved the ‘Like’ button by providing new emotions. These new options help in gauging reactions of the audience. It is rightly said that too much of anything is good for nothing. So is with emojis — emoticons prerequisites apposite time and place. In a conversation, if emojis are overused, the communication becomes insensitive and robotic.

It is better if the usage of emojis is limited to casual conversations for the reason that emoticons are not suitable in every form of communication. For example in such areas of communication as business communications, emojis are not advisable. Nonetheless, complimenting a smiley face with civility in business communications is indeed not over the top. One of the recent developments in emojis is the provision of skin tone emoji. In all probabilities, this provision could be an obvious answer to one of the commonplace assortment problems in communication. In the year 2015, excluding the original gold coloured emoji, five other skin tone options were introduced to emoji. This development followed years of criticisms about the lack of black and brown representation. The new range of emojis has facilitated the users in selecting faces and hand gestures in different skin tones.

Despite the fact the introduction of skin tone emojis was intended to see it as a fairness meter for the user’s mood while texting, it has equally become a motif categorising a user as a racist. The intention behind these updates is simple i.e. to allow users an expression of racial freedom, however, according to many, it is personal abuse of racial ghettoisation. For example, if a European uses a black emoji to congratulate an African, the European is risk offending his black friend by deliberately picking an emoji that best fits his colour. In the second scenario, if the European picks the white emoji, it also can offend the African as it can place the European in a position of dominance.

In this background surely one might wonder why should there be a colour palette? It is because, on face value, companies like WhatsApp and Apple are trying to achieve the concept of unity in diversity. The Internet took it as a victory of racial inclusion.

Emojis are a form of non-verbal gestures. Before using the emojis, one needs to have adequate knowledge about the emojis for the reason that emojis appear differently on a range of systems and devices — not only in the appearance but also in a wide range of meanings.

Emojis are effectual only if the two parties involved in the communication comprehend the same meanings to the symbols. Besides, it also depends on the platform used for communication. For example, WhatsApp seems to have somewhat different meanings for the coloured emoji hearts while Instagram has its own clarification. So it is imperative to understand the meaning of an emoji before it is meritoriously used. Let’s support this argument with the explanation of the exact meaning of the coloured hearts.

The Red Heart Emoji is an archetypal love heart emoji. It is used for expressions of love and its linked meanings such as passion, deep connection, romance, friendship, and unconditional love. Equally, a red heart on WhatsApp symbolises the immeasurable passion.

The Green Heart Emoji is known as a jealous heart with its allied meanings as envy, mistrustfulness or possessive love. It can be used in situations when there is hope for reconciliation and friendship. Then again, this emoji on WhatsApp implies a greener healthier connection too.

The Purple Heart Emoji denotes a sensitive, understanding and compassionate love. In order to portray glamour or wealth, this emoji is regularly used. On WhatsApp platform, it stands for sexuality.

The Yellow Heart Emoji signifies happiness and friendship. They are one and the same as the traditional heart of gold — new beginnings, youth, sunshine, spring, purity, and strength. On WhatsApp, it means someone is happy and optimistic.

The Orange Heart Emoji is used to express great care, comfort, serenity, joy, warmth, heat, sunshine, enthusiasm, creativity, success, encouragement. It also means to remain as friends with nothing mutual beyond friendship or acquaintance.

Finally, the Blue Heart Emoji indicates deep attraction, trust, harmony, peace and loyalty. However, on WhatsApp, the blue heart represents the deeply felt friendship and loyalty between two people. Sometimes, this emoji is intentionally used to convey a double meaning too.

In concluding words, emojis can be considered as non-verbal gestures that effectively address commonplace assortment problems in communication, provided there usage is appropriate and conveys the same meaning to the receiver as intended by the sender. (The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

Electronic Voting Machines: A Boon or Bane?

Electronic Voting Machines: A Boon or Bane? Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi 

On the day of the first phase of general elections-2019 i.e. on April 11, Telugu Desam party (TDP) chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu expressed his despondency over the problems concerning Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). According to him, polling was delayed at several places as the EVMs were not functioning.

On the other hand, in another latest development about the usage of EVMs, the Supreme Court on April 9 directed the Election Commission to increase the arbitrary matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs from one polling booth at present to five polling booths per Assembly segment. This would mean that the Election Commission of India (ECI) has to count VVPAT slips of 20,625 EVMs in 2019 general elections.

Ever since the EVMs have been used for the elections, there have been many versions of arguments — while some sets of people support the usage of the EVMs, the others sets of people oppose. In this milieu, there arises a need to understand whether the use of EVMs is a boon or bane.

By replacing the conventional paper ballot system, EVMs, in some measure, entered elections in India from 1999 elections. Later, the paper ballot system has been completely taken over by the EVMs. Thus, the EC decided to use only EVMs for Lok Sabha Elections in 2004.

Advancing further, Election Commission has decided to introduce EVMs with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system, considering the rulings of Delhi High Court, Supreme Court and demands from various political parties. The VVPAT system was introduced in 8 of 543 parliamentary constituencies as a pilot project in general elections-2014.

Though the EVMs were introduced in 1999 elections in India, in actual fact EVMs were commissioned by the ECI in collaboration with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in 1989 itself.

The design of an EVM enables it to record a maximum of 3,840 votes and caters for a maximum of 64 candidates — with a provision for 16 candidates for each balloting unit and a maximum of 4 units in parallel connection.

Nonetheless, the ECI has faced with an uncommon problem in Nizamabad Parliament Constituency in the recent general elections. As many as 185 candidates filed nominations in this constituency, posing a hard-hitting call on the smooth voting process.

Shattering all the difficulties into pieces, the constituency created history as 12 jumbo EVMs with a maximum of 16 candidates were used by laying them out in the shape of ‘L’, in each of the 1,778 polling booths in the constituency.

As far as usage of EVMs is concerned, there are many advantages. The EVMs are powered by an ordinary 6-volt alkaline battery. This overcomes the problem of using EVMs even at places where there is no power supply or erratic power supply.

As compared to the conservative balloting system wherein the heavy usage of ballot paper takes place, conducting elections through EVMs is much easier a process. Besides, it becomes cheaper in a longterm process as an investment on EVMs is a onetime measure — the cost per EVM as such is somewhere around Rs 13,000/- per unit.

The shelf life of EVMs is projected at 15 years. So, recurrently the same EVMs can be optimally used in all elections for 15 years. Due to the light weight of the EVMs and its compactness in packaging, the transportation of EVMs is also easier as compared to ballot boxes.

As concerns the counting of votes, the EVMs enable the easiness and fastness. Beyond doubt, in places where illiteracy is an issue, the uneducated voters find EVMs easier than the ballot paper system.

For the reason that the vote is recorded only once, bogus voting can be avoided greatly. One important fact about the EVMs is that the unit can store the result in its memory before it is erased manually.

Another advantage of the EVMs is the totaliser unit that can be connected to several balloting units would display only the complete results from a particular constituency.

This ensures concealing of votes from individual polling booths. Besides all these advantages, indirectly, the EVMs are one of the means that reduces carbon footprint — because — they avoid usage of so much of paper, which is produced after cutting down of many trees. In this manner, EVMs come to be environment-friendly!

As far as the disadvantages are concerned, after all, EVMs are electronic gadgets. Thus, EVMs are sensitive to the extent of operational aspects. As EVMs use photosensitive electronic components in it, at times it becomes difficult in conducting elections using EVMs under adverse climatic conditions wherein the atmospheric temperatures reach its high.

On February 13, 2010, an international conference in Chennai on ‘the Indian EVMs and their Tamperability’ was held under the chairmanship of Subramanian Swamy.

The conclusion was that the Election Commission of India was evading its accountability on the transparency in the working of the EVMs. Two months later, in April 2010, an independent security analysis was also conducted, according to which EVMs are prone to several potential vulnerabilities.

However, the Election Commission of India reiterates that without having physical access and pretty high technical skills, tampering of the EVMs is not possible.

It is a point to ponder whether so many thousands of EVMs can be tampered to impact the results of an election by gaining physical access to them! As such the EVMs are stored under strict security that can be monitored by contenders or their agents all the time.

In a vast democratic country like India, EVMs best suit the election process as they have many advantages as compared to the conventional balloting system. More so, the recent direction of the Supreme Court would expel many such doubts as tampering of EVM units.

(The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

The menace of orbital debris

Dr. Suman Kasturi | Updated On: 11 April 2019 11:16 PM

In a test meant for boosting its fortifications in space, recently, India used a home-grown ballistic missile interceptor to destroy one of India’s own satellites located at a height of 300 km. Reacting to this event, the Pentagon on March 04, held that it stood by its assessment that debris from an Indian anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons test would eventually burn up in the atmosphere. However, NASA’s administrator presaged of the danger the debris posed, according to whom more than 400 pieces of orbital debris from the test had been identified. Such orbital debris includes those particles travelling above the International Space Station.

From the time when the first satellite was launched on October 4, 1957 (Sputnik by erstwhile USSR), the number of satellites that have been placed in the space have been burgeoned — at this time, there are more than thirteen thousand satellites and other large objects in orbit around the earth. In order to understand the threat imposed by the orbital debris, it is imperative to understand what exactly orbital debris mean. Orbital debris is nothing but the scrap produced due to spacecraft explosions and by collisions between satellites that are moving around the earth.

Simply put—space debris is a man-made object that is not in active use. Sizes of space debris range from a large scale of uncountable smaller pieces to obsolete spacecraft and rocket bodies that stand taller than a big infrastructure on the earth. According to an estimation, a piece of debris falls back to earth about once a day. Eventually, these microparticles either land or incinerate in the air.

Due to the major share of water on the earth, most objects that return to earth end up in water. Nonetheless, many of the objects sent into space are still in their respective orbits around the earth. Traditionally, it has been the standard practice that a satellite after placing into its orbit, used to be left in the orbit only. However, for the reason that the debris is travelling at the same orbital speeds, it poses a significant threat to the space shuttle, space station, and other satellites placed in earth orbit. For this reason, a heavy threat is imposed even due to a small splatter speck in space. With a collision, it can even crack a space shuttle body and create remarkable problems back on earth.

It should be understood that space debris travels at a speed 10 times faster than a bullet — as such an average bullet’s speed itself is 1,700mph. Thus, the collisions caused by orbital debris result in catastrophic mission failure. Object breakup has been a major contributor to orbital debris. Despite the fact that the reason for many of the object breakups is not known, sometimes they are caused by explosions and collisions owing to the residual propellant, overheated batteries, and due to the deliberate destruction of satellites.

In order to determine the volume of orbital debris, scientists study the space shuttle when it returns from the space orbit. Utmost care is taken in the design of the space station to make it the most heavily shielded spacecraft ever. Beyond doubt, a space station can survive impact with smaller pieces of orbital debris and safeguard the astronauts. Specially designed spacesuits are vibrant in protecting the space crew. Materials used in bulletproof vests are used in the design of the spacesuits. There has been a heavy increase in the volume of space debris due to the launch of many satellites. Thus, the threat caused due to the space debris is multiplied in leaps and bounds.

Consequently, there arises a dire need to address this problem. Many international space agencies have been striving hard to reduce the problem caused due to orbital debris. For example, the upper stages of launch vehicles, and some satellites are being placed in lower orbits. This is to ensure that the orbital debris re-enters the atmosphere and burn up more readily. In order to prevent old satellites, other space objects, and the orbital debris that they engender from making low-earth-orbit (LEO) unusable, a provision must be made for removing the used satellites and spent rockets from orbit.

There are various methods for removing the used satellites. One method of removing a satellite from orbit is carrying extra propellant so that the satellite can bring itself down out of the orbit. However, this method has its own limitations as it burdens carrying of heavy propellant — thus making the rocket carrying a satellite, bulkier. Recent studies have shown that satellites left in a higher orbit will slowly break apart as micrometeorites and will eventually endanger operational satellites. Moreover, once the old satellites split into smaller particles, it will be nearly impossible to clean up the debris.

Consequently, it will be much more cost effective in the long run to deal with the problem. Currently, there is no law requiring that old satellites be removed from orbit. However, NASA has recently effected a guideline for its own satellites. In the same lines, it is imperative for all other space organisations run by various nations to formulate their own guidelines. Major space organisations like ISRO and NASA should join hands to congregate the nations to formulate an international law to address the problem of orbital debris. (The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

Freebies and Indian democracy

Dr. Suman Kasturi  |  Updated On:  4 April 2019 11:20 PM

The high school students of 1990s in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh have been au fait with an academic question about elucidating ‘India as a rich country with poor people’. Honestly, at that point of time, those tender minds might have not understood what it exactly means. Nonetheless, over a long period of time, the condition of India remains unalterable — India is still a rich country with poor people. Even after these many years of India’s independence, the country is still placed under the category of ‘yet to be developed nations’. Sheesh, India’s progress!

One of the key issues that make India still a developing country is the freebies being offered by the government to numerous sets of people under the name of welfare schemes. It is due to these freebies, the very concept of democracy has undergone a lot of change. People’s participation is a key element of democracy. Even so, it has drastically undergone unsolicited changes. The interaction of the people with the government has become very nominal.

In a democratic country, in making the decisions that affect them, each and every eligible citizen has the right to participate — either directly or indirectly. However, in democratic India, the voters just limit their role to vote to a political party that offers freebies. In its true form, democracy is the most effectual system of government. The people of a democratic country have sanctioned rights of adult suffrage that allows them to actively participate in the elections and a plebiscite for the selection of the ruling government. This, for sure, implies that the sovereign power lies with the people in a democratic nation. Thus, the people are the decision makers — the success and failure of a democratic nation purely depend upon the acumen, mindfulness and attentiveness of the voters.

In Indian setting, offerings of freebies in elections by parties, for the most part, have outdone the centrestage in all election campaigns. Such freebies can take on many forms that primarily have an appeal to the voters, but with an obligatory exercise. For this reason, there is an increasing trend on the offer of freebies to voters during election campaigns. This has resulted in recouping of votes and thereby making the naive masses easily overhang all balloting practice in the country.

It is rightly said that the success of a welfare measure is to be evaluated by the number of people that leave the welfare scheme but not by how many are added further. Such a status quo would be in the cards only when people become self-dependent. A democratic government which is “by the people, of the people, and for the people” should perceptibly provide ideal governance for the people. But in reality, it is extremely at a distance. In real fact, Indian citizens/body of voters are not making any rational or truly cognizant choices. This ultimately makes Indian democracy engrossed on the short term aspects. As a result, freebies vitiate the sacrosanctity of elections and leads to daubing campaigns by candidates — it has, irrefutably, a large bearing on the voter’s persona and picks.

In the past, a challenge was made in the honourable court under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act stating that any gift or the promise offered by the contenders or his representative to persuade a voting member to franchise the vote in his favour would amount to bribery. However, the honourable court held that the promises to dole out election freebies in an election manifesto cannot be read into the language of Section 123 of the RP Act, for affirming it to be corrupt practice under the prevalent law in force. In this case, even if the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the State of Tamil Nadu, it admitted that in actuality distribution of free gifts by political parties does influence the voters.

At present, many freebies are offered to the voters in the guise of the ‘welfare society’ by almost every political party. However, it should be well understood that this is a type of exploitation of the people as it amounts only to treating the cause of ennui but not deracinating it from society.

As far as an offering of the freebies is concerned, the political parties alone are not blameworthy. The electorates have an equal share too. But there is a reason behind the electorates looking for these freebies. It is only due to many unresolved problems like the high rate of unemployment and increased corruption in society. Till the time there is no end to such long rooted problems, the voters would compromise on the situation and accept the freebies.

However, justly, every citizen of India wishes to settle their lives in a decent manner. They aspire to live in a developed nation — a sovereign state with high industrial and Human Development Index (HDI) as compared to other countries. Thus, instead of focusing on short term measures, the government needs to focus on a technologically advanced infrastructure to make India an industrialised country — a developed country. It is very much possible if the new guidelines added to the Model Code of Conduct are followed meticulously in India.

The voting public should understand the fact that they lose their right of questioning once they accept the freebies for the reason that freebies are the hamartia of Indian democracy. The need of the hour is to choose the right candidates — the capable leaders who can, by all means, strive hard to make India a developed nation. The elected leaders should fight righteously against corrupt practices. If not realised even now, time shall come to amputate the existence of democratic election process for it will have no meaning in conducting elections, per se!

J & K imbroglio : Can backchannel diplomacy be effective enough?

Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi  |  Updated On:  28 March 2019 11:09 PM

In a significant diplomatic rebuff, over an invitation to Kashmiri separatist group Hurriyat, the Indian government has, on the record, boycotted the Pakistan national day reception in New Delhi on March 22. It is worth mentioning here that in the past four years, union ministers V K Singh, M J Akbar, G S Shekhawat and Prakash Javadekar have represented the government of India at the Pakistan day reception.

Despite the fact that the Indian government has officially boycotted the event, according to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, he received the following message from PM Modi: “I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan.

It is time that people of sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.” Considering the various developments that took place after the Pulwama terrorist attack that occurred on February 14 and the above message which was apparently sent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it becomes clearly evident that India is looking only for the peaceful development of the region by averting conflict with the neighbouring country.

However, the situation at the border of the two nations in Jammu and Kashmir is still overwrought. At this juncture, surely, traditional diplomacy as a means of conflict resolution cannot play a key role. Traditional diplomacy has, for many years, involved bilateral talks in closed chambers between the governments of the two nations — but to no avail.

Such negotiations may be proven better in resolving only such issues as water sharing and power sharing between nations but not in getting a perpetual solution to a complex issue as Jammu and Kashmir problem. In this milieu, there arises a need for the backchannel diplomacy (also referred to as Track 2 Diplomacy), which is often communicated through an informal intermediary or through a third party. Once traditional channels of negotiation, mediation and conflict management become unproductive and need to be supplemented, backchannel diplomacy plays an instrumental role.

As far as Jammu and Kashmir issue is concerned, it is essential to have mechanisms that intend to transform the constraints of existing discourse. This can be done by impelling public opinion on the need to look at creative alternatives, thereby expelling the rotted opinions based on conventional wisdom. A flamboyant issue here is — backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan evokes interest not only for these two countries but also internationally.

In fact, backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan is not any new tender — already it has been in vogue. In the 1990s, it clutched open responsiveness when the international focus of attention on Jammu and Kashmir enlarged. The very first attempt of backchannel diplomacy to address problems in Jammu and Kashmir was undertaken by a US-based Kashmir Study Group. It was headed by Farookh Kathwari, an American national lived in Srinagar. Later, backchannel diplomacy played its part after the Kargil conflict and the tensions that followed the attack on the Indian Parliament, on December 13, 2001. Based on an unequivocal pledge from President Musharraf that he would not allow territory under Pakistan’s control to be used for terrorism against India, there was an agreement to resume the “Composite Dialogue Process” between India and Pakistan — the agreement to this effect was made on January 6, 2004.

At the first instance, the aforesaid development may seem as if it was the role played by traditional diplomacy. Nonetheless, the assurance from the Pakistan President Musharraf was only due to the aftereffects of terrorist strikes on September 9, 2001, in New York and Washington. There was a heavy pressure by the US to ban groups like the Lashkar e Taiba and the Jaish- e – Mohammed. In the same backdrop, under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, the U.N. Security Council has banned and declared these groups as international terrorist organisations. This way, the U.N. Security Council acted as an intermediary in the process of Track 2 Diplomacy between India and Pakistan.

Again in December 2004, a Track 2 meeting was held in Kathmandu. One significant issue about this meeting was — for the first time ever, politicians, journalists and representatives of civil society from either side of the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu and Kashmir were brought together in this meeting. The only virtuous outcome as promulgated by the Pugwash Report issued after the December 2004 meeting was — all participants admitted that the human dimension of the conflict should take priority over geo-strategic considerations. However, the report noted that there was no consensus in recognising the starting point for evolving mechanisms of conflict resolution.

It is a matter of fact that backchannel diplomacy may play a crucial role in relaxing the vital issues. On many occasions, when Governments intend to duck publicity, before entering into the realm of official and formal talks, they utilise informal channels of diplomacy (backchannel diplomacy), using reliable and steadfast individuals and institutions for preparation of their negotiating approaches. In some serious issues like Jammu and Kashmir, the foundations of the conflict are so deep-rooted that after so many pointless attempts there won’t be any official room politically to seek resolution or phasing down of the untoward situation.

In such circumstances, the backchannel diplomacy process can primarily seek avenues to bridge differences, initiate a dialogue between the countries to share concerns, influence public opinion and keep communication channels open. (The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

Cronyism and present-day politics

Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi  |  Updated On:  1 April 2019 12:50 PM

At a time when the society and Indian politics as a whole are going through a rapid change, it becomes indispensable to have a close look at the arrangement that is governing the Indian politics. Without any second thought, the present-day political system has been revolving around the cronyism — crony capitalism and crony journalism. In a sense, cronyism can be understood as a combination of nepotism associated with concrete preferential treatment.

The most widely accepted definition of cronyism is — it is the practice of partiality in conferring jobs and other compensations to friends and relatives, especially in politics and between politicians and supportive organisations.

In the political arena, the term cronyism is often used derogatorily — to denote exchange of favours. Cronyism exists when the beneficiary and benefactor are in contact in some or other way like business dealings. When both the beneficiary and the benefactor are in need to support each other, cronyism plays its part.

In the Indian setting, various political parties do contest in the elections. Though it is not openly admitted by any political party, the utilisation of cash in the whole election process enormously exceeds the actual limit imposed by the Election Commission of India. The amount being seized by various agencies soon after the announcement of election schedule for General Elections-2019 is the clear evidence to prove this argument. In order to survive in this game of superiority, every political party needs to be funded adequately with cash in leaps and bounds.

This, in a nutshell, means that the political parties need funds to patronage the contenders to fight elections. Palpably, the contenders of the elections and the business tycoons looking for return favours would fund the political parties. This could be viewed as a cyclic process wherein business conglomerates need political support to get contracts, and political parties need funds for contesting elections. Here it should be understood that the money being funded by the businessmen is obviously the public’s own money. Also, no businessmen ever fund any political organisation just like that, without seeking return favour.

The aforesaid discussion clearly indicates that the stronger the relationship between the businessmen and the political parties, the stronger will be the levels of mutual cooperation. Thus, crony capitalism can be better understood as a system in which business profitability hinges considerably on the ability to maintain strong relationships with bureaucrats and politicians wherein the money greases the relationship between the stakeholders.

On the other hand, if we take the ownership details of any media in India, most of the organisations are owned by the business conglomerates that are into various other businesses or who are into politics as such. Strikingly, almost all television channels or even the newspapers have taken a lean towards one or other political party. This means each and every political party has its own mouthpiece. In such a state wherein each media organisation has taken some or other side, where do the true journalistic ethics exist? For this reason, journalism has to be obviously tainted. This apparently becomes the base for crony journalism. Due to this crony journalism, the media organisations would not only lose the credibility of the organisation but also would result in loss of media objectivity due to such an absurdity.

It is a matter of fact that most of the Indian political parties have also started their own newspapers, trying to propagate their political viewpoints among the masses. Besides, these political parties, especially the regional parties, also own television news channels. They not only broadcast their views but also promote propaganda. In the best interests of society, cronyism is good for nothing. It ultimately breeds corruption in society. As well, it results in the empowerment of a few people to have control over the country’s economy. Such a state is effectively identified as ‘Oligarchy’ — defined as a political and economic structure that is characterised by a small group of people exercising great power and control over a country’s economy. Such a situation is not just hypothetical — there are many previous instances. For example, soon after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there was an upsurge of a group of very rich people who were labelled as oligarchs or kleptocrats. Their accumulated huge sums of money were attributed to the sale of government-owned assets at throwaway prices to the companies owned/controlled by this group of people.

In concluding words, it can be rightly said, that of the four pillars of democracy, the media serves as the fourth pillar while judiciary, executive, legislature are the remaining three pillars. Beyond doubt, the ethical media which is free from crony journalism would, for sure, has the capability to change the entire system in India — it is possible only with the practice of journalistic ethics in true letter and spirit. (The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

Consumer rights and responsibilities in the age of e-commerce

Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi  |  Updated On:  14 March 2019 11:14 PM

Around the world, every year March 15 is celebrated as the World Consumer Rights Day — an annual international occasion that connotes celebration and camaraderie in the international consumer movement. The very purpose of this day is respecting consumer rights while safeguarding them, as preferred by the consumers. The consumer movement was first marked in 1983 on this date. The theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2019 is — ‘Trusted Smart Products’.

The contemporary world has been transforming sharply at the same pace as that of the transformation of the technology itself. Beyond doubt, the emergence of smart technology has given a vast number of openings for consumers such as access to new services, with several options and greater expediency. Also Read – Renamed fake accounts spreading political bias on FB Advertise With Us In fact, it was in 1999 that the concept and implementation of e-commerce came into force when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adopted the first International Instrument for Consumer Protection in the framework of e-commerce. Subsequently, following the review of existing policies, recommendations were made to embrace the idea of e-commerce.

Bygone are the days when people used to plan and do shopping, to meet their needs. The advent of the Internet and its various applications have facilitated everything at the doorsteps of the consumers. Incontrovertibly, online e-commerce offers a responsive and smart environment for the customers and eases the business options by making them available round the clock. However, the development of e-commerce poses a number of legal and consumer challenges too.

It should be recognised that e-commerce is pretty much extensive than consuming network-based technologies to conduct online businesses. There arises a need for a complete transformation of business operating measures that go beyond traditional practices. For this to happen, a comprehensive reengineering of the existing systems is solicited.

The heart of e-commerce lies in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that brought industrial revolution in the contemporary aeon. More specifically, it is the Internet, the eighth wonder of the world, which made the globalisation and glocalisation possible. A business associated with the Internet is straightaway global in reach with no extra asking time and price. Presently, one-third of all the business transactions conducted electronically is undertaken through Internet-based e-commerce — an intensely pro-consumer application. Electronic commerce, which is more commonly expressed as e-commerce, is nothing but a business or commercial transaction that encompasses the transmission of wide-ranging information across the Internet.

As its major characteristic, e-commerce allows consumers to electronically exchange goods and services without any barriers of time or distance. Basically, e-commerce is of three types: B2B (business to business); B2C (business to consumer); and C2C (consumer to consumer). For the reason that the exchange of goods and services involves the use of the Internet, there arise a few major consumer concerns that include such matters as security, privacy, fraud, access, dispute resolution, terms and conditions, fees and charges, and another most important problem — jurisdiction issue.

Globalisation and glocalisation have turned the businesses into enormously large cybernetic markets. In addition, consumers have unlimited choices. However, in unison, the e-commerce transactions are equally associated with complexities and greater risks. For example, when a business goes online, it is subject to the jurisdiction and schemes of law pertaining to a particular country in the world. It is not reasonable, per se! The seller may belong to one nation while the buyer may be a resident of another nation. Thus, the seller’s connection with the jurisdiction of the purchaser may be isolated and tenuous. Laws associated with businesses are fairly and persistently in flux. They also vary significantly from country to country — and even within a country. Then again, when consumers go online, they may lose the benefit of domestic consumer protection laws. Even this is not fair.

The idea of e-commerce has taken its form as the technology is leaping with unmatched speed. Ease of doing business through e-commerce has reached the apex, globally. Nonetheless, the consumer protection laws in India need to go a long way before they comprehensively address the rights of the consumers of e-commerce. Due to the discrepancies and loopholes in consumer protection laws, the consumers who participate in e-commerce, for sure, experience some sort of problems.

In addition to the laws that are in force for the protection of consumer rights, the responsibility of a consumer also becomes vital. Such responsibility plays a very important role in assessing the genuineness of the product being offered in the online market and thereby restricting unnecessary consumption. A self-imposed responsibility by the consumer is always better — such responsibility is based merely on ethics and rationale, for there are no perfectly defined set of consumer responsibilities as such.

The Internet has become a source of many frauds. In spite of various preventive measures, the consumers are being trapped on the platforms of e-commerce. The modus operandi for such frauds is vigorously captivating a number of techniques. Therefore, a consumer needs to be very agile while doing any online transaction. (The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)

Cross-border conflict and manic media

Dr Suman Kumar Kasturi  |  Updated On:  8 March 2019 12:00 AM GMT

Cross-border conflict and manic media

There is a sense of victory and jubilations in the air on Indian soil as well as in certain political flight path in the country as the nation’s valiant soldier – IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman – returned to his motherland with his intriguing smile of a true-blue squaddie who showed the whole world the life-force of Indian armed forces.

While the Commander was tied, paraded blindfolded and made a butt of ridicule by the Pakistani locals and some of its soldiers, the bleeding hero was cool, calm and collected, showing the spirited stature of Indian military.

While the border was boiling and the whole nation was eagerly waiting for the wounded soldier’s triumphant return, Indian visual media has been overworking to grab the maximum eyeballs and to increase their TRP rates. Anchors were shrieking, panel members were showing their verbosity to the maximum and reporters were making all sorts of claims and counter claims.

It is true that in its efforts to emerge as the truthful watchdog, a congregation of journalists from the entire world generally gets animated while reporting any armed intervention or military conflict. Based on the situation in the field, the media is expected to analyse the steadiness of armed forces and report sensibly. It is a general notion that the armed forces and governments ensure that the general public know how a military operation unfolds.

However, while taking into account the entire episode of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, which does not require any introduction per se, a need is felt to evaluate the role played by both mainstream media and the social media. At this juncture, there arises a need that the media and armed forces must rub their shoulders — in order to produce revised criterions to standardise rules of reporting a conflict.

Of course, as accustomed as they may be, already there are a set of surfacing standards and codes on war reporting. Nevertheless, the recent episode highlights the overenthusiastic reporting of the cross-border clashes by the media. It had a great impact not only on the interactions between the media and the armed forces but also on the relationships between the media and the public, and between the public and the armed forces.

One of the unique features of Indian media is — there are innumerable news channels that work round-the-clock to get noticed in the world of cut-throat competition. If the news channels in the vernacular languages are also taken into account, the number of news channels in India are much higher than any other country. It is rightly said by Donald Rumsfeld that the battle does not take place only on the battlefield; it can only be won or lost in the court of public opinion.

It is important to understand how the information passed on by the mainstream media and the social media would benefit the other side of the battlefield. History gives the answer to the question, “What happens if the media does not bother the consequences of what they are reporting?” For example, the role of the media in the Vietnam War is a subject of on-going controversy — some accept that the media played a large role in the US defeat while others have a different perception.

Considering the recent episode of Wing Commander Abhinandan, it is evident that the mainstream media and the social media have sprinted together in passing the unwanted confidential information to the opponent, though unintentionally. While the ‘air warrior’ himself refused politely to inform the Pakistani authorities of the vital information that includes his basic personal info such as his native place, the Indian media disclosed his entire bio-data within no time.

It might have been the strategy of the Pakistan Military to extract information from other sources. TRPs and the popularity alone are not the criteria while reporting a conflict or allied issues — the nation’s interests are to be kept far ahead of the personal/organisational interests.

In some of the news analyses, they visually projected the locations of vital air bases along with such information as the number of aircraft and their types and capacity. All such information is very confidential in the best interests of national security. The enemy is ever ready to fabricate a cloth out of small pieces of rags. It should be very well understood by media agencies while undertaking such analyses.

Yes, it is true that the online citizen journalism is sometimes given too much credibility by other media networks fervent for a sensation. In the race of who informs first, without verifying the facts, some of the mainstream media rely on material that they cannot verify. It leads to great exertion, especially while reporting a conflict. On the other hand, the netizens hold government authorities and armed forces accountable for their engagements.

In such circumstances, the audience who are exposed to the media, for sure, would be in a Catch-22 situation. Because of the lack of exact information, nobody really knows what is happening. The best way to discern the truth is to interact with the responsible people hailing from the hot spots of the country.

But it may not be always possible as during emergency situations like an international conflict, the authorities cannot divulge details for the reasons best known for them.For this very reason, the mainstream media do not like the participation of citizen journalists. In the past, some journalists have raised concerns about the role of citizen journalists in reporting vital news.

However, as a rule, they cannot be controlled from reporting as their status in terms of international humanitarian law (IHL) is legitimately strong. They are safeguarded as civilians as long as they do not take part in conflicts — IHL differentiates between only two categories of people – civilians and combatants. It means irrespective of a journalist whether he publishes in mainstream media or social media, he is entitled to the protection granted by IHL.

Beyond doubt, propaganda has played an important part in the politics of the war. Social media has been used as the tool for propaganda as it has played a major role with global mainstream networks repeatedly rebroadcast video footages of various versions of the conflict posted by netizens.

Due to the changes in the nature of the conflict, the nature of war reporting has also changed. As far as war reporting is concerned, holding a pen is as daring as holding a gun. So, the media people should understand their responsibilities and appreciate that the line between activism and journalism is at times thin.

(The author is an Air Veteran, a mass communicator and an author of more than 10 mass media books)