Wednesday, 3 May 2017

How new media ventures will change the meaning of "News"




Vivek Sinha  

The flow of information drives dialogue and discussions in a society, which is the bedrock of a vibrant democracy. The fourth estate comprising an army of Journalists aid and abet this information flow that in turn kick-starts societal discussions about legislative policies and executive actions. While doling out information Journalists rely on the five ‘Ws’ and one ‘H’ to apprise their audience, such that these five ‘Ws’ refer to What, Where, Who, When and Why while the ‘H’ refers to How. Several generation of Journalists have been taught and made to believe that of these six questions, ‘Why’ is the most important that requires the precision and trained eyes of a scribe to write a news report. This, ‘Why’ puts perspective to an incident by adding value to raw bits of information.

Interestingly, “Why” does an incident or an event becomes news worthy has undergone a sea change, for worse. To recall, in the pre-independence era newspapers were loaded with articles that castigated the British rule and dissected every decision taken by them thereby creating awareness about futility of British colonial rule in the Indian sub-continent. Why? Because the Journalists and Column Writers in that era were fierce nationalists whose aim was to initiate discussions about ways and means to gain independence from British rule. Things changed in the post-independence era and newspaper reportage was more about nation’s progress and talks centered on developmental issues.

However, over the last couple of decades the kind of news being reported has undergone a complete makeover. Entertainment has silently entered the lexicon and before we could realize it is now glued as a suffix to news and has given rise to the phrase ‘News & Entertainment’. Well, there is no anathema to Entertainment and happenings in the entertainment industry does have a news value, yet news and entertainment are of two different genres and attempts to club them together has deprived the sense of social responsibility that news dissemination once had.

This evolution has had far reaching ramifications. Now, events that have the potential to attract eyeballs and can boost TRPs (television rating point) are played up in the hierarchy of news importance. Reporters can be seen in pursuit of only those information-bits that have a sensational value or the potential to rake in moolah for their media houses.

In this scenario, news that is not 'sell'-able is no news at all. There is lure of money and in the process if ethos of Journalism gets eroded then so be it. This in effect explains attitude of the so-called “mainstream” Newspapers and News Channels where information presented as news have rarely any informative value or educative component. Pressing issues that concern well-being of our nation gets buried in the noise of ‘entertaining news’. The domino effect has led to constantly falling standards of discussions within the society with people shunning away all forms of social responsibility.

Ironically, all this is being done in the name of reader interest or the-audience-wants-it-so-we-give-it. Real news gets lost in this blind race to serve the lowest common denominator and discussions get skewed in a manner such that trivial issues take precedence on the nation’s center stage.

Thankfully, technology has been a great enabler in modern times that has opened new avenues across sectors, including news media. News dissemination is now no longer the preserve of a select few and rising Internet penetration has opened new possibilities for the exchange of ideas. The tech-revolution has pulled down the cost of setting up a new media venture. As a result, news portals are coming up across the world that raise issues untouched by big media organisations. 

Often the level of conversation in these newly born news portals through their incisive articles and columns is far superior than what the established media brands cater to their audience. Experts with vast experience in their respective fields of knowledge who were hitherto spurned by big media brands look towards these news portals to share their stories. New voices improve the texture, tenor and quality of discussions. 

This, indeed is a refreshing change but much depends on whether the momentum continues. Current indicators point that this momentum will build upon in the coming years. It should. Because healthy discussions lead to a better society.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Dream-Robbing of Young Kashmiris

How Islamic Terrorists are recruiting young Kashmiri boys to be play-things in their evil design

Vivek Sinha
twitter: @viveksinha28
Yet again the picturesque Kashmir Valley is in news for wrong reasons. This time the big talk is about violence that occurred during the by-elections in the Srinagar Parliamentary constituency, which led to the death of eight boys.
Over next few weeks there will be a barrage of news-analysis wherein reams of newsprint will be devoted to the “targeted killing” of “innocent” Kashmiris, and hours of newsroom debates will focus on how Indian state is losing the plot in Jammu Kashmir. Discussion and debates will underline the alienation of Kashmiri youth, plebiscite, UN resolutions, human-rights violation, AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and several others.
During the last months, flash mobs have indulged into targeted stone-pelting at security forces, leading to deaths. Immediately after such incidents there’s always a media frenzy that talks about Kashmir slipping into chaos.
In fact, this follows a pre-mediated script. There’s no deviation from the preconceived trajectory.
No, I am not undermining or belittling the deaths of Kashmiri youth killed in violence during the recent Srinagar by-elections. Of course, these deaths are unfortunate and should not have happened. However, my point is about the selective and prejudiced reporting of the events leading up to such incidents. It’s this biased reporting about Kashmir Valley that has created a vicious cycle of deaths and has helped to cement a farcical narrative about Jammu Kashmir.
Let’s take a hard look at the facts. Kashmir Valley is just 7 % of the geographical area of entire Jammu Kashmir state, which also includes Jammu, Laddakh, Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK) and China-occupied Jammu Kashmir (CoJK). Of this 7 % geographical region, incidents of stone-pelting occur in only five districts of the Kashmir Valley—Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag, Shopian, and Pulwama.
So why do incidents of stone-pelting and violence occur at regular intervals in these five districts of Kashmir Valley?
It needs to be borne in mind that the pro-Pakistan rabble-rousers dubbed as “Kashmiri Separatists” are fighting a battle for their survival. These Separatist leaders live in Srinagar and yet wish that Jammu Kashmir should secede from India and join Pakistan. The entire coterie of Kashmiri Separatists that includes the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Asiya Andrabi and Yasin Malik, among others, have their support base in only these five districts of Kashmir Valley.
Interestingly, even in these five districts their hard-core supporters are confined to a few colonies. A large proportion of people in these five cities are either peace loving or support these Separatists out of fear of being ostracised. These fence-sitters are average Kashmiri middle class people, who aspire to lead a happy and content life. Their children want to be doctors, engineers, lawyers, pilots, civil servants, singers, actors or have similar other career ambitions.  Several of these youngsters have even joined the Indian Armed forces. They want to move with the economic development and prosperity of India. And this is what frustrates these pro-Pakistani Separatists.
If an average Kashmiri chooses tourism over terrorism then the entire gambit of Separatists comes to a zero. The Separatists are well aware of this and know that their back is on the wall.
And when the devil (read Separatists) is pushed to the wall (s)he unleashes a devious design. So, they have developed a web of paid agents across Kashmir Valley who work under diverse pseudonyms but for a common master. A human rights activist and an armed Islamic terrorist work in tandem in the same locality and are helped by several other proxies. Their modus operandi, over the last several months, have been to target school children in the age bracket of five to fifteen years.
Roping in children has its own set of benefits. It’s much easier to indoctrinate a school child at an impressionable age plus if he gets hurt (or dies) during stone-pelting violence then his picture is used for propaganda and helps play the victim card.
The Left-leaning media is always eager to lap up such stories. That’s precisely the case in Srinagar by-election violence. None of the journalists who report from and about Kashmir ask a simple question: Why do kids come out during stone pelting? This obvious question was finally asked by the Indian Supreme Court a couple of days ago. “But what are children aged seven, nine and fourteen years doing in a mob? Why are they placed in front of the mob to confront security forces?” asked a Supreme Court Bench that included Chief Justice of India and two other Judges. The question was posed during an ongoing hearing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by J&K High Court Bar Association to ban pellet guns used by security forces to quell restive crowds.
A closer look at the stone pelting videos and pictures clearly shows that only a handful of masked youngsters are keen on throwing stones while the rest remain as passive bystanders. The ones who are keen to throw stones and Molotov cocktails (petrol bombs) are the active cadres of these pro-Pakistan Separatists while the much larger crowd of bystanders are the kids who have been forced to come out. A further dichotomy of these bystanders reveals that a large group among these kids comprises of those who have been brought out with the lure of money, and most of them are paid between three hundred to five hundred rupees (USD 4 to USD 7.5)
The remaining and largest segment comprises of kids who have been literally dragged out of their homes. These children join ranks with the notorious Separatist elements only because if they do not, their family will be branded as informers of the Indian Army. Once that happens, the family comes on the radars of Islamic terrorists who work underground. The women from these marked families are mere lumps of meat for Islamic terrorists, who rape and molest them at free will. Every family wants its women to be safe and if the family’s young boys need to pay a price by being a face in the stone-pelting crowd, then so be it. The average Kashmiri has no option but to be a mute spectator during the stone pelting episodes and to take part in the funeral processions of terrorists killed by Indian security forces.
Over the years a perception has been assiduously built that local Kashmiris, especially the youth of Jammu Kashmir, are alienated with India and that they support and endorse Islamic terrorist attacks. This ‘perception management’ works in such a way that opinion, especially the Separatist’s viewpoint, is passed upon as news from the Valley. It is hardly reported that these Pakistan-sympathiser Kashmiri-Separatists and Islamic-terrorists are a mere handful and they do not enjoy the support of masses.
Of late, stories of high handedness of Islamic terrorists and Separatists have begun to trickle down, further eroding their support base. In order to stay relevant they have been desperate to play any kind of mischief.
Recent violence during Srinagar by-elections is a case in point. Whatever be the outcome of this election, it will have no bearing on the state or the national politics. Yet Sheikh Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah joined ranks with pro-Pak Separatists to save his National Conference from slipping into political oblivion. His party has lost support over the years due to anti-people polices and he knows that if he loses the by-elections, then its curtains for him and his party. A strategy was thus chalked out to disrupt election voting such that all those who are opposed to Farooq Abdullah are not able to come out to vote and only his supporters would vote, thus paving victory for him. The mere 7 % polling signals the success of these forces who kept common Kashmiris away from the polling booth. During re-polling this voting percentage dropped to a further 2%, such is the fearful atmosphere created in the Valley.
This indeed is a devious strategy. Farooq Abdullah will thump his chest at the electoral victory and yet claim to be a victim saying innocent Kashmiris lost their lives for his victory. The Separatists, on their part, will dismiss the elections as a sham, saying that the people of Kashmir had rejected India’s electoral process.
The fact remains that security forces faced grievous injuries. More than a hundred security personnel have been seriously injured due to stones targeted at them and the deadly Molotov cocktails (petrol bombs) that were hurled upon them.  Yet, the most worrisome aspect in this saga is that the psychological warfare waged by Islamic terrorists in the laboratory of Kashmir may now be tested elsewhere in the world as well.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Jammu Kashmir acceded to India on 26 October 1947. Period.






Vivek Sinha 

twitter: @viveksinha28

Quite often when a product has shortcomings its manufacturer resorts to deceptive marketing. It creates a smoke screen over the product’s limitations and marketing managers take it further by confusing and corrupting the minds of gullible people into believing that the product is not flawed, rather it is fabulous. That this is a common practice for corporations and businessmen is known, what is unknown is the fact that even historical events are subject to such devious designs.

While this may sound strange, a look at the recent propaganda on Jammu Kashmir confirms this belief. The state has been a victim of countless propaganda yet the recent efforts are subtle and have the ability to confuse all and sundry.

It is a historical fact that the erstwhile princely state of Jammu Kashmir acceded to India on 26 October, 1947.

Yet, in the month of August this year, Congress Parliamentarian Dr Karan Singh said that Jammu Kashmir acceded to India on 27 October 1947.

“….the day my father (Maharaja Hari Singh) signed the Instrument of Accession it (Jammu & Kashmir) became an integral part of India there is no doubt about it. 27th October I was in the room I was in the house when the Accession was signed…,”Dr Karan Singh said during a debate in Rajya Sabha. Dr Singh further said: “…he (Maharaja Hari Singh) signed the same Instrument of Accession that all the other Princely States signed. But, all the other Princely States subsequently “Merged” Jammu & Kashmir did not “Merge”

Apart from being a Congress politician, Dr Karan Singh is the son of Maharaja Hari Singh, had been the regent of Jammu Kashmir, served as the state’s Governor and has been actively involved in the matters of Jammu Kashmir.
In a cursory look, Dr Karan Singh’s statement appear benign and well intentioned. It is only after the surface is scratched that the real and devious intentions become clear. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947 and NOT (emphasis added) on 27 October 1947 as has been stated by Dr Karan Singh in his speech in the Rajya Sabha.

“… I Shriman Inder Mahinder Rajrajeshwar Maharajadhiraj Shri Hari Singh ji, Jammu & Kashmir Naresh Tatha Tibbet adi Deshadhipati, Ruler of Jammu & Kashmir State, in the exercise of my Sovereignty in and over my said State do hereby execute this my Instrument of Accession…. under my hand this 26th day of October, nineteen hundred and forty seven.”  

This text is quoted from the original Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and it clearly mentions the signing date: Twenty Sixth October Nineteen Hundred and Forty Seven.

Further, all Princely States became part of the Indian Union by signing the same Instrument of Accession and there was NO (emphasis added) “Merger Document” that needed to be signed by any of the erstwhile Princely State. In fact, Dr Karan Singh has himself conceded that his father Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the same Instrument of Accession and yet he goes on to state that the State of Jammu Kashmir did not “merge”.

Dr Karan Singh being the son of Maharaja Hari Singh is well aware about the exact date of Jammu Kashmir’s accession to India. This is not an innocent slip of the tongue rather a carefully crafted strategy, especially since efforts are being made by columnists, journalists and other opinion makers to establish 27 October as the date of accession.

The big question is why a concerted effort is being made to establish 27 October as the date of accession when it is a historical fact that Jammu Kashmir acceded on 26 October 1947.

A closer scrutiny of the sequence of events that led to the accession of Jammu Kashmir reveals subtle details. And a review of historical context in the run-up to partition is worth recounting to understand this nefarious design.

At the time of partition the Princely States had the option of joining either of the two dominions -- India or Pakistan. An Instrument of Accession was prepared wherein the Head/Maharaja/Ruler of a Princely State would sign and accede to either India or Pakistan.

Once the head of a Princely State signed on the Instrument of Accession it was deemed to be final and that particular state was considered to have become a part of that dominion. The most important fact to note is that after the Instrument of Accession was signed on a specific date nobody had the power to refuse or renege upon the accession. Neither the British Queen nor her representative Lord Mountbatten had any role about that Princely State’s accession.

Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947 and on 27 October 1947 Lord Mountbatten made a file entry about it.

Mountbatten’s counter signature and “acceptance” of Hari Singh’s signed Instrument of Accession was merely a file noting. Mountbatten did write: “I do hereby accept this Instrument of Accession. Dated this twenty seventh day of October, nineteen hundred and forty seven.” In reality this was merely a type of recording that Mountbatten had made about Maharaja Hari Singh’s Instrument of Accession. His counter-signature had no legal basis nor was it mandatory. 

It’s important to understand the real significance of 27 October 1947 and why is this date being stressed upon as the ‘date of accession’. When on 26 October 1947 Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, the Princely State of Jammu Kashmir became Indian Territory and defending Jammu Kashmir’s frontiers became India’s right. It was due to this authority that the Indian Army reached Jammu Kashmir on 27 October 1947.

The Pakistani Army had attacked Jammu Kashmir on 22 October 1947 and they were creating havoc across Jammu Kashmir. The Pakistani Army was killing people, looting properties and raping hapless women. Pakistan’s attack came in violation of its Standstill Agreement with Maharaja Hari Singh wherein Pakistan had clearly said that it agrees to continue with the existing arrangements with Jammu Kashmir until a final settlement is reached. Yet, Pakistan did not wait for a final settlement and instead invaded Jammu Kashmir on 22 October 1947. After Jammu Kashmir’s accession on 26 October the Indian Army took it upon itself to drive away the invading Pakistani Army.

The likes of Dr Karan Singh are well aware of the sequence of events. And they also know that if they have to “sell” the “Kashmir dispute” it needs to be marketed well. This can only be done if confusion and doubts are created about the legality of state’s accession and so they have unleashed a malicious campaign to project 27 October 1947 as the date of accession of Jammu Kashmir.

And what better way to cement this confusion than to say that Maharaja Hari Singh signed the accession under coercion of the Indian Army. This can be done by first establishing the date of accession as 27 October 1947 and later on creating an uproar that since Indian Army had reached Jammu Kashmir on October 27 so it was the Indian Army that bullied Maharaja Hari Singh into signing the Instrument of Accession.

A coterie of historians further these untruths about Kashmir and “market” this “Kashmir dispute”.

The only way to correct the discourse on Jammu Kashmir is to counter this malicious propaganda though hard facts. A beginning can be made by remembering that Jammu Kashmir acceded to India on 26 October 1947.

(This Column was first published in IndiaFacts.org)  


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Army’s surgical strikes on PoJK are an opportunity to change the narrative about India



















Vivek Sinha 

twitter: @viveksinha28



Certain events in a nation’s history are etched deep in its collective consciousness and have the potential to set the tone for future narratives. Quite often, we Indians have squandered away the positive opportunities presented by history and clung on to the negatives, only to remain as a self-doubting country that debates and discusses frivolous concerns and skirts the real issues.
Great civilizations are built only when public opinion is shaped by historical events and the discourse is turned towards cohesive national development. As a nation, we must learn to identify and build upon such opportunities.
Indian Army’s lethal strikes on September 29 on the terrorist base camps in PoJK (Pakistan occupied Jammu Kashmir) is one such historical opportunity. These strikes happened within days after the Pak-Army trained mercenaries attacked the Indian Army camp at Uri, in Jammu Kashmir. The counter-attacks by the Indian Army gave the message loud and clear to Pakistan, to the international community and to the Indian people that enough is enough and India will no longer show ‘strategic restraint’, if fidayeen strikes happen on its territory.
Of course, there was no shred of doubt about the capabilities of India’s defence forces. The doubt was about the dithering political class that on numerous occasions has failed the common man and our brave soldiers.
During their tenure, the Union Government of UPA-I and UPA-II were found lacking in their response to the continuous proxy war that Pakistan has waged upon us. Every time a terror attack happened on the Indian soil or an Indian soldier was murdered in cold blood, the puppet government led by Manmohan Singh gave the meekest response possible as the Head of the State. This had a cascading effect on the nation’s psyche and collective consciousness of Indians.
We began to believe that howsoever gruesome, may be the terrorist attack by the Pak mercenaries, India will always show “strategic restraint” and that these killings, bombings and terrorist attacks will continue. Public memory is often short and the memories of Kargil Victory began to ebb. This, coupled by the perception battle by a few agenda-driven high-profile journalists and fiction-writers masquerading as historians, played upon the collective consciousness of India. Concerted efforts were made to create doubts about the outcome of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Attempts had also begun to shroud the outcome of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Though India has emphatically won all wars with Pakistan and it can easily crush Pakistan in all future wars as well, notwithstanding its borrowed nuclear capability.  Yet, the dithering Congress politicians during their reign and the murky propaganda by their Communist comrades made the Indians feel frail and puny. We began feeling that India could hardly stand up strongly to Pakistan’s terror attacks.
After the terrorist attacks at Uri, Indians felt worse. Social media was abuzz with talks and jokes that the best response India can give to Pakistan is to strongly condemn- Kadi Ninda– terrorist attacks. No amount of assurance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi or any other minister in the government could change this perception in the minds of Indians. Such was the nature of our collective consciousness that had got into a self-destructive mode. This was the extent of damage done by the UPA-I and UPA-II on the psyche of Indians.
But, things had changed, since Modi took the reins at Delhi. He knows how to walk the talk. He also knew that India has to talk tough with the rogue neighbour. The Indian Army was given the green signal and it conducted successful surgical strikes on PoJK, destroying terrorist camps and liquidating terrorists waiting to enter India.
When news of Indian Army’s successful strikes across the LoC (line of control) first broke, there was a sense of disbelief and people seemed cautious in their response. The disbelief stemmed from the anxiety that “if” India had the guts to conduct a daring cross-border strike on a nuclear armed Pakistan.
This is the magnitude of the havoc that a few agenda-driven journalists, commentators, historians and a few politicians have played on our collective psyche. Once this process sets in, it is a race to the bottom and the collective consciousness of a nation becomes all about disbelief and scepticism about its institutional capabilities. Without even our realising we were gradually becoming a bunch of people, who chose to run away from problems rather than facing them boldly. Instead of building a strong public opinion and give a robust response to Pakistan’s terrorist attacks, we chose to somehow adjust and forget about it. We were slowly imbibing an escapist mind-set in our consciousness. Initially, we refused to discuss and build strong opinion, and when the national problems became too overwhelming, we chose to look for an alternative abode, without realizing that this scourge of terrorism will follow anywhere and everywhere we run.
All this can change and needs to change. Thankfully, the cross-border strikes by the Indian Army has given us an opportunity to change this.
The Indian Army is capable of annihilating Pakistani Defence Forces with or without nuclear weapons. This is beyond doubt and India has proved it in all the wars fought with Pakistan.
Great civilizations are built only when its people show the grit to face challenges. We need to remember that wars are not won only by the men in uniform. The huge mass of civilian population is also a party to it. After all, who is the soldier defending at the borders? And the Indian soldiers have never ever failed the nation, rather it is the masses that have been misled time and again about the capability, commitment and professionalism of our armed forces.
All this is done in a very subtle manner. And it has begun once again after the surgical strikes on the terrorist launch pads in the PoJK.
Questions are now being raised about the ‘objective of these strikes’ and ‘whether terrorism will stop after these strikes’. Congress politicos, rabble rousers from AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) and Communist parties have started demanding evidence of these strikes. Taking a dig at Prime Minister Modi over the surgical strikes, Rahul Gandhi has accused him of doing ‘khoon ki dalali’. Over the next few days, they will come up with some other stratagem to demean the Indian Army and try to create scepticism about India’s capabilities to deal with terrorism.
Well, evidence is not required in every case. At certain places it is the trust that reigns supreme. For instance, does a child ask his/her mother for evidence about who the father is? It is the trust that the child has on the mother that (s)/he accepts the man whom the mother says is the father. Ditto for Indian Army.
We must clearly bear in our minds that the Indian Army is a highly disciplined force that acts only on the commands of a democratically elected government.
It is worth recalling the meeting of Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw with Indira Gandhi after India’s emphatic victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. Manekshaw was hugely popular after the convincing victory over Pakistan and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was extremely worried that General Manekshaw (he was later on promoted as Field Marshal) would topple her government in a coup and take charge. Manekshaw flatly denied this possibility, dismissed them as mere rumours and said that there was absolutely no consideration of a coup by the Indian Army!
Our armed forces are led by men of character and their level of commitment to Indian democracy is of the highest order.
Unlike the Pakistani Army that “owns” a country called “Pakistan” and competes with IS fighters in committing atrocities; the Indian Army vigilantly defends Indian borders and protects its citizens. So, when our Army says that it has successfully conducted the surgical strikes, then we ought to believe it.
Also, whether we like it or not, the war has been thrust upon us by Pakistan. It may not be a full-fledged war, but is definitely a low-intensity proxy war, where along with terror strikes, a psychological warfare has been unleashed. There will be a jostling for our mind space and we need to brace for it. For instance, the talks of misuse of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Acts), or the atrocities being committed by the Indian security forces on the civilian population or the human rights of a terrorist. All these are deceitful and sheer propaganda.
The question is what should be our response? Well, the first and foremost duty is to identify our role in these pressing times. The civilian population can no longer afford to remain an innocent bystander. While the soldier on the border fights with a gun, we the civilians need to fight with facts and logic, and present a counter-narrative to the devious propaganda being run by fissiparous forces. It is not the time to let our guard down.
This is a historical opportunity to shun and isolate the naysayers, who find fault with every single thing about India. It is just a matter of time, when the perception managers and naysayers will start fabricating reports about Army’s excesses in Kashmir, misuse of pellet guns, false rape stories and human rights violation of “innocent” terrorists, among several others. The list is endless and given the vice-like grip they have over mass media it is just a matter of time that this starts popping up. The demand for “evidence of the surgical strike” is one of those illogical, but misleading arguments being put forth.
The strikes by the Indian Army could be a game changer for the nation and help shape our collective consciousness in a positive manner. This can happen only when we the people of this nation for whom a soldier sheds his blood are aware of his sacrifices and trust his word. Certain things are non-negotiable and India’s security and integrity is one of them. Period.
(This Column was first published in IndiaFacts.org)

Friday, 30 September 2016

Perception about Kashmir unrest is the handiwork of spin doctors


Vivek Sinha 
twitter: @viveksinha28


Oftentimes perceptions are contrary to the truths. This happens, when systematic efforts are made to create a smokescreen to hide the real picture and then dole out camouflage as reality. Nowhere is this more visible than in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years a ‘perception’ has been assiduously built that local Kashmiri, especially the youth of Jammu Kashmir, is alienated with India and they support and endorse terrorist attacks like the one in Uri on September 18.


This ‘perception management’ has been going on for several years, thanks to the well-oiled network of spin doctors and opinion managers across media houses in the Kashmir Valley and in Delhi. The arrangement works in such a way that opinion, especially the Separatists’ viewpoint, is passed upon as news from the Valley. It is hardly reported that these Pakistan sympathiser Kashmiri Separatists are a mere handful and they do not enjoy the support of the masses.
This misinformation campaign reached a crescendo after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani. It is still on after the Uri terrorist attack on the Indian Army base camp. It has to be borne in mind that these perception managers know about Pakistan’s weaknesses and their lack of support in the Kashmir Valley, so they do not expose the chinks in Pakistan’s armour and deflect the public perception. They drum up the propaganda about Kashmiri youth’s alienation after every terrorist encounter and the negative fallouts of a nuclear war with Pakistan after every terrorist attack.
Indian security forces neutralise terrorists across Jammu and Kashmir and that includes shooting any terrorist, who threatens peace and national integrity. Wani’s encounter was one of these operations. But, the ‘perception managers’ of Kashmir Valley and their cousins in Delhi sniffed an opportunity in Burhan Wani’s death.
So, what happens immediately after Wani’s encounter? News breaks from Kashmir-Valley newspapers (read Pakistan sympathisers) reported that Burhan Wani was a ‘militant commander’ of Hizbul Mujahideen, who was killed by Indian security forces in cold blood. He was hailed as a ‘martyr’. This reportage from Kashmir was immediately followed by the mainstream media houses from Delhi. Soon, all media houses started referring to Burhan Wani as ‘commandant’ or ‘militant commander’.
As a result, these perception managers deftly shifted the public discourse to Burhan Wani’s hobbies, passion for cricket, and love for Facebook, Twitter, etc. The terrorist Burhan Wani, who was an anti-national, who supported radical Islam, and who preached violence in the name of Islam was shrewdly brushed aside. Discussions and debates shifted towards the use of pellet guns by Indian security forces and AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Acts). Media houses from Delhi and from Kashmir Valley still do not report that Wani was a radical Islamic terrorist rather continue to refer him as a ‘commander’.
Okay, for a moment, let us assume that given their overt separatist agenda, these Valley centric news portals are expected to use these terms. But, what about the newspapers and news magazines published from the Indian capital? Why do they still refer to Burhan Wani as a ‘militant commander’? He was a terrorist and he should have been referred to by this name only. Calling him as the slain commander, who represented Kashmir youth is akin to referring to Osama bin Laden as the commander-in-chief of poor Afghan people. Radical Islamist newspapers may refer to bin Laden with whatever name they fancy, but American and European media organisations prefix the word “terrorist” with Osama bin Laden. Ditto for Burhan Wani. He was a radical Islamic terrorist, who used his cyber prowess to preach the Wahabi ideology in Kashmir, which has always been known for its Sufi tradition.
Even a cursory glance at some of his tweets are enough to prove that he was a terrorist, who was simply furthering the violent ambitions of his handlers in Pakistan. Consider this: “There is only One solution Gun solution Gun Solution — Burhan Bhai” posted on Wani’s twitter handle @Gazi_Burhan2 on July 2, 2016. Days later his another tweet says “Support Zakir Naik or Time Will Come When Qur’an Recitation will be Banned— Burhan Bhai”.
Wani’s aim was to “unfurl the flag of Islam on Delhi’s Red Fort”. There are several other tweets from Burhan Wani that prove that he had adopted the path of radical Islam and was a tool in the hands of Pakistani terrorists like Hafeez Saeed and Hizbul Majahiddin chief Syed Salahuddin.
In fact, none of the armchair reporters from Delhi bother to actually visit the Kashmir Valley and talk to real people on the ground before reporting on the developments in Kashmir. Even if they do, they go as embedded journalists, where the entire trip is planned and executed by Separatist sympathisers. Their visits are planned to the last detail that includes travel and boarding arrangements. So, where the ‘Delhi journalist’ would stay and whom will (s)he interview are all scripted well in advance. It’s precisely for this reason that the mainstream media houses of Delhi and the separatist media of the Kashmir Valley sing the same tune.
Unfortunately, this is the smokescreen, which has been successfully created by these spin doctors for a long time. There is absolutely no widespread support for Wani among the Muslims living in the Kashmir Valley. Yes, you read it right. There is no widespread support, either emotional or logistical among the Muslims for terrorists like Burhan Wani or terrorist organisations such as Hizbul Mujahideen. The obvious question that could be asked is: What about large gathering of people in processions and hordes of stone pelters in Kashmir Valley?
Well, first things first. The unrest after Wani’s encounter is restricted to five districts of the Kashmir Valley: Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kupwara and also parts of Srinagar. There are no sympathisers of Burhan Wani in other districts of the Kashmir Valley or the Jammu and Laddakh divisions.
Even in these troubled districts, it is just the perception of widespread support for Wani’s ideology and not the reality.
Several Sunni Muslim families with whom I interacted over the last few weeks denied extensive support to the likes of Burhan Wani. They explained that there are only a bunch of sangh baaz (stone pelters), who have created the mayhem. These anti-social elements, who were otherwise relegated to the margins of the society sensed Wani’s killing as opportunity and with active support from Jamaat (Islamic group) wandered through the villages ordering everyone to come out for the processions and for stone pelting. They earmark those households who defy their diktat.  The names of these families and their children are then handed over to terrorist groups across the border, who later on take revenge for their defiance. “It is the fear factor that forces an ordinary Kashmiri to come out, when these stone pelters give their clarion call for protests. We know that these are anti-social elements and have direct links with the terrorist groups,” a Kashmiri Sunni Muslim explained. He spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity.
The instructions from terrorist organisations such as Jamaat are very clear that whoever does not come out of their homes for the protest would be deemed as informers of security forces. And once the informer tag is pasted onto a family, then the miscreants get a free hand to conduct any kind of atrocity on them. The women in the family are raped, children abducted, and men are killed.
Yet another villager said that in order to create the perception that we are for the ‘Kashmiri cause’ the family members, especially young boys are forced to come out and be a part of sangh baazi– stone pelting. He added that they are afraid to go to the local Jammu and Kashmir police because instead of providing them with security, they pass on the family’s information to the terrorist groups.
An average Kashmiri is thus stuck between the devil and the deep sea. He has no option, but to be a mute spectator during the stone pelting episodes and take part in the funeral processions of terrorists killed by the Indian security forces.
In fact, these perception managers are so blinded in their love for anti-national forces and hatred for India that even after the September 18 terrorist attack at the Army camp in Uri, they continued with their anti-India tirade. Editorials and opinion pieces argue that Wani’s death followed by the terrorist attack at Uri point towards the Kashmir uprising and every Kashmiri Muslim is now against the Indian state.
Security lapse at Uri can and should be discussed, but brandishing the entire Kashmiri Muslim is absolutely false. Uri is inhabited by the Gujjar and Pahari Muslims, who are fiercely loyal to India. Even a cursory mention that Gujjar and Pahari Muslims are Pakistan sympathisers is an affront to their nationalist spirit. The perception managers know that Gujjars and Pahari Muslims are Indian nationalists, so they silently brushed and buried this fact from public discourse.
Now, what do these perception managers write and say on television debates? They know that Pakistan is absolutely no match to India in direct military conflict. They also know that public anger across India is intense after the Uri terrorist attack. Even PM Narendra Modi tweeted that the culprits will not be spared this time. So, they have quickly got down to the business of diverting public opinion and discussions on this issue. They are now busy saying, “Hasty military action should not be undertaken,” “Pakistan is a nuclear power and striking a nuclear power is no option at all”. Some anti-India zealots have gone over to the extent of justifying the terrorist attacks, saying this fidayeen attacks coupled with the sangh baazi (stone pelting) only prove that Kashmir is slipping out of India’s hands.
Let me reiterate: All this is sheer propaganda, which has no basis. None of these armchair propagandists and perception managers have any realisation of the ground reality in Kashmir or have any genuine concern for the Kashmiri people. They are just loudmouth speakers, who blurt out whatever is fed into them by the Pakistan sympathiser Hurriyat Conference.
A common Kashmiri is more concerned about the well-being of his/her family and education of their children. They know that adherents of Wahabi ideology have become school teachers across Kashmir Valley, who urge school children to becomesangh baaz (stone pelter). During troubled times these Wahabi teachers issue a diktat that no student should come to school rather should take part in processions and stone pelting. The perception managers take it further by reporting that children are not coming to schools in support of the bandh or are taking active part in sangh baazi(stone pelting).
The parents in Kashmir are well aware of these tactics and insist on de-radicalising of school teachers across the Kashmir Valley. This, they say, can be done by identifying and deporting teachers, who adhere to and instil Wahabi ideology in the impressionable minds of school children.
The need of the hour is to begin objective reporting from the Kashmir Valley, such that perception managers and spin doctors are not able to camouflage the truth about Jammu and Kashmir. It is time journalists stop choosing to be spoon-fed by the Pakistani sympathisers for information; they need to step out of their air-conditioned offices and visit Kashmir Valley—not as embedded journalists, but as honest reporters. They should talk to real people, understand the ground reality and then report.
(This Column was first published in IndiaFacts.org)

Friday, 20 May 2016

Bad-debt of Indian banks may dampen business momentum



Wilful corporate defaulters need to be rooted out from the public sector banks to reduce their NPA and create a business friendly environment for entrepreneurs

Vivek Sinha

NPA (non-performing asset) has always been a dreadful word in the banking industry but these days this three-lettered acronym is giving sleepless nights to India’s top bankers. The banks, especially public sector ‘sarkari’ ones, have been at receiving end both from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and economists for mismanaging their bad debt and even as debates and discussions focus on the lost wealth another crisis is just looming on the horizon. And this is the  possibility of a slow and painful demise of entrepreneurial spirit.
Dreadful as it may sound but the prospect is real and requires urgent steps. Loan disbursal and business-growth are closely related as all enterprises require money. But when debt-repayments do not come back, banks become wary of further lending thereby stifling a source of capital requirement for enterprises.
The good part is that banks are aware of the situation’s gravity and are taking measures to control their NPA—loans where borrowers do not pay either the interest or principal amount, also referred to as the bad-debt. But, unfortunately the bank’s measures of ‘dressing up’ a loan and showing them as restructured is like postponing a problem for a later date.
This loan-restructuring that is supposed to be an exception had been rampant over the last several years. “You can put lipstick on a pig but it doesn’t become a princess, was RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s response in 2013 to this dressing up of bad-debt by the banks. The purport of Rajan’s words were clear. The bull must be held by its horns and this NPA needed to be tackled with deft measures. Sadly, the then UPA-II government chose to sit on the problem rather than offer viable solutions.

Genesis


Well, first things first. This NPA issue did not balloon overnight. Bad-debt had been largely steady but there was a spike in year 2012 when it suddenly jumped to Rs 1.14 lakh crore from Rs 74.6 thousand crore a year ago (see bar chart). This should have set alarm bells ringing and immediate measures could have been implemented by the then government. They chose to close their eyes. As on December 2015 the total NPA for public sector banks is Rs 3.9 lakh crore. The problem has since been worsening.
In the years from 2011 till 2013 there was talk of India growth story, optimism was in the air and PSU banks were more than generous in offering loans to the industry. “During those days the PSU banks wanted to show their commitment towards economic growth through high loan disbursals on their account books and so loans were sanctioned generously,” said DK Aggarwal, Chairman and Managing Director SMC Investments and Advisors.
On top of this there was political pressure on banks to offer loans to certain big industrial houses. "The government of the day considered public-sector banks as their personal fiefdom and through us they obliged many industrialists. Norms were flouted and loans were advanced in several tranches. Now when things are getting out of hand the banks are being blamed for not doing their due diligence,” said a senior banker, requesting anonymity. 
This banker had a point. Take for instance the case of Vijay Mallya. The liquor baron used his connections to start Kingfisher Airlines in 2005 with loans and advances from public sector banks. The airline that folded its operations in 2012 now owes a mammoth Rs 9,000 crore (including interest) to these banks (see box).
All these years while his airline was bleeding Mallya was unabashedly partying with scantily clad models, buying yacht, private jets and properties across the globe. In fact, alarm bells should have rung when first symptoms of loan default by Mallya became evident. But then he had the right “connections” during both UPA-I and UPA-II regimes and despite reservations by some bankers several tranches of subsequent loans were passed through.


Of course Mallya is not the only rotten fish in pond and there are several other big defaulters. The pertinent question is why and how could the then government let it happen. Intervention at the right time could have saved the thousands of crores of bad-debt of these PSU banks.
“The warning signs started coming in when demand from China slowed down. The excess capacity was being built up at a time when demand was less. The then government could have issued convertible zero-coupon bonds to tide over the bad times and these bonds could have been converted into equity at a later date. All this requires rational and forward thinking which unfortunately was not present at that time,” explained Dr Rajeev Lochan Bishnoi a Director at the Bank of India and a Chartered Accountant. A convertible zero-coupon bond is a debt instrument that is bought at high discounts and offers profit upon its maturity
Amarjit Chopra who has served as a director in another public sector bank said autonomy in decision making at the PSU banks has always been an issue. “The private banks are able to adjust their loan outstanding against land transactions when there is a default but several ifs and buts are raised when PSU banks get strict with big ticket defaulters,” said Chopra.

Entrepreneurship in peril

But then that is past. The dangers of ballooning NPA might affect current business environment and kill business plans of budding and small scale entrepreneurs. Dr Bishnoi explained that entrepreneurship could be the first casualty due this NPA mess. “Today the banks are extremely wary of doling out loans to business houses. In this scenario a budding entrepreneur is finding it extremely difficult to raise fresh capital, which ultimately delays the venture or in worst cases will even lead to folding up of the enterprise.”
On the face of it this might appear a minor collateral damage but then small and budding entrepreneurs have remained the backbone of India’s business. According to a Credit Suisse study the non-corporate sector (read small entrepreneurial ventures) generates around 90% of the total 474 million jobs in India and contribute to half of country’s GDP. The 2013-14 Economic Census reported that close to 57.7 million family-owned non-farming and non-construction businesses yielded 128 million jobs.
Veteran journalist S Gurumurthy in an article has said:  “The banks fund corporate which add very little jobs, but starve the job-rich non-corporate sector of funds.”
It may be argued that within the global ecosystem of start-ups India ranks third, with over 4,200 start-up firms that are growing without government support through borrowings from venture capitalists and angel investors. Well, any enterprise that includes start-ups, after attaining a critical mass, is in need of institutional funding. Also, venture capitalists and angel investors are primarily driven by market conditions and personal choices and most of them are from the technology sector. So while a start-up in the IT sector might find it easy to attract funds a budding enterprise in textiles may not find it so easy.
Similarly, a whole lot of small and medium enterprises (SME) are dependent on banks for their expansion plans. In order to cater to the fund requirements of this SME sector Prime Minister Narendra Modi had introduced the Mudra Finance scheme that offers loans up to Rs 10 lakh for a small enterprise to help them start the business. Yet, when these SMEs become big enough they will require much larger funds for their expansion. And it is here that they will approach the banks (read public sector banks).
 If the budding entrepreneurs are denied bank loans then it will be an unfortunate situation for the country. The business environment will suffer and those desperate for funds might land up in the clutches of private money lenders who lend at usurious rates of interest.
 Several bankers feel that the ‘90-day overdue’ norm for classification of a loan as an NPA hits at the back of entrepreneurial spirit. The norm was among the several suggestions put forward by the government appointed Narsimhan Committee, which were accepted by the government in 2004-05. This norm was brought to put India on an equal footing with international best practices in finance.
The intentions may have been genuine but then this was never followed by any subsequent improvements in governance practices, which is a must.
For instance, take the case of road infrastructure project where loans have been disbursed. The company laying out roads might be stuck only because a section of the land through which the road had to pass was not acquired by the local government agencies and handed over to the firm. Now, since the firm is unable to complete the entire length of road the payments get delayed that affects the loan installments. Similarly, in a thermal power plant if coal-linkages are not made available on time then the power plant will face a fund crunch.
Bankers admit that this ‘90-day overdue’ system leads to round-tripping of capital and the moment an entrepreneur gets the loan sanctioned his/her mind starts thinking of how to manage the first installment.
The problem gets more acute for budding entrepreneurs who have a fledgling business and robust payment systems are not in place. No entrepreneur would want to turn his account into an NPA as the moment an account is branded as an NPA a kind of mistrust develops and it takes one year of continuous payments to make the account normal. A small entrepreneur who cannot boast of right connections like Vijay Mallya cannot think of further loan disbursal after the initial loan account has been turned NPA. The NPA issue if not taken care of might get out of hand. The focus should be to create a honest entrepreneurs.   

What is NPA in a Bank?
Non-Performing Asset (NPA) refers to those bank-loans where the borrower fails to payback either interest or the principal payments for 90 days to the bank
How does NPA impact business and economy?
  • The moment an account becomes an NPA a kind of mistrust develops and diversion of fund starts
  • Banks get wary of giving loans to genuine parties so budding entrepreneurs find it difficult to raise capital
  • As a fallout, it kills entrepreneurship
  • It could bring back private money lenders in business Rs 3,93,035 crore is the NPA of Public Sector Banks as on Dec 2015 14% of PSU bank’s total lending has turned into NPA Rs 25,000 crore is the amount allocated by government to recapitalise public sector banks that have high levels of NPA
Affected sectors
Infrastructure , Services,  Steel , Mining, Aviation, Textile
Major reasons for rise in NPA
(Internal Factors)
  • Delay in land acquisition has adverse effect on infrastructure projects
  • Diversion of loaned amounts to other areas
  • Inefficient yet over-dominating top management of companies
  • Shortage of means to raise capital which is then funded as an interest bearing debt
  • Lack of flexible funding and short repayment schedule that is not in consonance with the cash flow
  • Inaction of various local bodies, state governments and central governments in releasing timely payments to the entrepreneurs  
(External Factors)
  • Global slowdown that resulted in lack of demand
  • Excess demand from China had created a demand upsurge which has now come down
  • Excess capacity generation


Time’s bad for King of Good Times
Mallya’s flambouyant lifestyle
  • He personally interviewed airhostesses for Kingfisher Airlines
  • Was unabashedly seen partying with bikini-clad models while his airline flopped
  • Has a collection of around 250 luxury and vintage cars
  • Spent huge money in buying an IPL team and FormulaOne racing team
  • Fond of horse breeding and horse racing
  • Owns around 26 super-luxury properties at prime locations across the world
  • Owns two luxury yacht
  • Owns luxury aircrafts
Private Jets
Boeing 727
Mallya uses this jet to criss-cross his villas and penthouses around the world. The jet used to function as his office for conducting business meetings in the air.
Airbus A319 ACJ
This was home away from home for Mallya. This plane can travel to London or US with a single refueling halt. This jet is being auctioned by lenders of Vijay Mallya.
Hawker HS125
Gulfstream III
Luxury houses
  • Kingfisher Towers-residences, Bangalore  
The under-construction luxury tower has around 82 apartments and a helipad on its roof.
  • Clifton Estate
This mansion is located on Johannesburg's Nettleton Road that is South Africa's most expensive streets.
  • Trump Plaza Condo
The penthouse at Trump Towers in New York City, overlooks the San Francisco Bay. It is one of the most expensive towers in New York.
  • Goan Family Home
The villa is located at the Candolium beach in Goa. The villa along with Mallya’s two properties in Mumbai is estimated to be around Rs 120 crore.

Mallya’s Yacht
  • Indian Empress yacht At 95 meters, is one of the largest private yachts in the world. Mallya bought it for $93 million (Rs 620 crore). It’s equipped with a  helipad.
  • Kalizma Yacht
     Vijay Mallya purchased Kalizma in 1995 and restored the yacht. The yacht boasts of a modern galley and an open-air jacuzzi on the main deck.

  • May 2005 is the year when Mallya started Kingfisher Airlines. The airline was grounded in 2012 and never made profits.  
  • Mallya had approached the banks for further lending in 2010. Despite serious differences of opinion among bankers the Kingfisher Airlines was given the loan once again.
  • In early 2011, the bank consortium including SBI had converted debt amounting to Rs 1,400 crore into equity at a 60% premium to the prevailing market price.
  • Finally, Kingfisher, was declared an NPA by most banks, including SBI, towards the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012.
  • Several government agencies are investigating as to how and why did the banks approve loans worth hundreds of crore of rupees to Vijay Mallya when his Kingfisher Airlines was bleeding and financial turnaround was nowhere in sight