Social Media

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Inherent Risks Of Social Media Advertising – And How To Mitigate Them

Published October 28, 2017 by vishalvkale

I was enjoying my morning read of the Business Standard, when my eye fell upon a story – Facebook and Google helpedanti-Refugee campaign in Swing States, Business Standard, Friday 20thOctober. I  noticed this story, and marked it for later contemplation. The recent saga over Twitter usage by  Indian Politicians brought my mind back to this story – and its many implications. While the ethical & moral implications are also present – but most vital is the implication of this, and similar happenings we may or may not be aware of, for us the people as well as for democracy.
Image Credit – Google Search

It is one thing for a politician to openly come on Social Media – quite a few have done it quite successfully; they lay their views, attitudes, national plans, ideals, problems etc – like one Indian Politician. Others use Facebook, and especially  Twitter in their own names to further their own views etc. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, that is actually welcome, as it helps a large number of people become aware of what that person stands for, as well as have a judgement of his or her potential. Used that way it is ethical, transparent, open and disseminates information.
TARGETED USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA BY INTERESTS
However, I would request that you open the link above and read it; the usage of – maybe even targeted usage of – the Social Media platform as described in the article, goes way beyond what has been described above, and indeed way beyond the scourge of fake news that is now a common phenomenon that we are seeing on Social Media nowadays.  “In the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign, voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina saw ads appear in their Facebook feeds and on Google websites touting a pair of controversial faux-tourism videos, showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law.
This is quite frankly, extremely disturbing, worrisome and should cause unease and disquiet in most minds. The article goes further, showing emloyees roles as well as targeted advertising : “Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google. They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences, according to internal reports from the ad agency that ran the campaign, as well as five people involved with the efforts.
FACTOR 1 : OUR ENTIRE LIVES ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET
In the modern world, those of us connected on Social Media have our entire lives on these platforms; it is easy to collate and study patterns for the SM companies – with a larger customer base meaning more defined patterns. It allows advertisers to target people specifically as per your individual tastes. Just think – you click on a site, and ads related to that site pop-up in your feed; used this way, it is legal, ethical as well as a powerful advertising tool, which can and does lead to win-win situations for the customers as well as the companies alike. But recall that we have our opinions, likes and dislikes etc all openly stated; it is easy to spot patterns and create interest groups on a large database.
FACTOR 2 : IMPACT OF AV MESSAGES & MODERN PREFERENCES OF PEOPLE
Secondly, the impact of Audio-Visual messages is known to be strong in both psychology as well as advertising. Further, add to that the increasingly short attention span of the audience combined with the sad phenomenon of lesser personal time / greater work stress, as well as the propensity to prefer easier to assimilate modes of information gathering {AV}, and short tit bits. These two sub-factors combine to create a situation that enables a mind to easily assimilate and accept messages that meet these criteria stated above.
DRAWING INFERENCES FROM THE TWO FACTORS
The two major factors above create a situation wherein a targeted message can be accepted with readiness and ease at least by one segment of the population. The abilities and concepts described in the first factor create a set of people with vested interests that enable the creation of ability and skill sets that can be put to use to reach the set of consumers identified for targeted messaging. In other words, to put it crudely, a set of people willing to accept, and a set of providers willing to use this acceptability of the people to get across a targeted message comes together to create confusion.
Let me explain – on one side, you have a set a data, voluminous, about people – their likes, dislikes, views, readership, viewership, opinions. We can use this to create sub-groups according to various tastes, opinions and what-have-you. This is the company-side skill. On the other side, you have a set of people with easy acceptance of AV or short messages, short content as told in the second factor. The companies can spot patterns among the people, can group them together. Thus it is becomes easy to make tailormade messages that can influence people with specific proclivities and propel their choices towards a targeted objective.
It is feasible to create patterns, extrapolate and draw inferences from Social Media activities. If one person has a habit of regularly visiting Food sites, specific to Chololates, Desserts, Cakes – one can draw the inference that this person may have a preference for sweets. Similarly, if a person regularly likes, tweets, gives opinion on one side of any view in the political or social spectrum, you can extrapolate that he believes in one POV. In large enough data – hundreds of thousands of respondents – this will enable the identification of a set of people predisdisposed towards a thought process. This may not hold true for all instances –  but in a large enough data sets of people, patterns will emerge that generally hold true; and remember, in Social Media we are dealing with live data sets, not snapshots of time.
As can be seen above – a targeted message {Anti-Refuge} was delivered through social media. And again, as we can read, there was direct collaboration of employees. Result was a strong message was delivered at a targeted audience, again as stated in the article.  And that is why the article above is so disturbing. While it is possible for this to happen even without the collusion of employees of SM companies, it becomes infinitely easier with their help; also, the data is also relatively error-free. Add to this the issue of Subliminal Advertising – of which currently there is no provable evidence in the public domain, and neither is it a legislated area.
COMING TO INDIA…
Can this happen in India? Has this happened in India? We do not know; I hope not. But we do know that now the political parties are using Social Media in myriad ways, as has been extensively reported. We also know of at least one book on trolling or usage of SM by one party. We have seen another getting smarter in its SM presence. This they should do – SM is an efficient way to reach audiences – be it politics or be it consumer goods. No issues with that whatsoever.
The problem is if this newfound capability is used to get across a targeted message – especially one of the fringe variety, towards a targeted audience. The biggest question is – where do we draw the line? And who is to judge what is the line specifically? If we have the capability to segment audiences as per tastes, I for one see no reason why that should not be used for mutual benefit. But – as I asked in my previous article as well – how far is too far?
It is we ourselves that are giving these parties and these companies this ability, by placing all our choices openly. This cannot be avoided in increasingly connected world – just not posting on SM is not the long term solution; other proxies can easily be developed, as so much is online in the modern world, that with time, money and capability drawing inferences from data sets is dead easy. This is the evil side, the negative side of the technology that drives our civilization. It really boils down to data security, and a question of simple regulation and ethics.
A QUESTION OF RULES & REGULATIONS
The Social Media companies need to have a strong set of internal rules &  regulations governing content that is accepted by their advertising departments; one that is specially rigorous for political parties or for messages that can be construed to have a political content, or indeed for social content. There has to be a differentiator clearly placed between product-service advertising, and cause advertising. This is doable and is frankly easy to do and operate. It requires an iron will within companies. It also requires strict regulation and a code of ethics so that pressure tactics are not used to pressurize companies.
CONCLUSION

Both the above are doable; we in corporate India need to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to open our eyes, and see the immense potential for good that technology holds as well as the immense potential for influence it holds – and the potential for damage. On a personal side, we customers need to be made more aware of privacy issues, data security and issues arising out of the above. It is not feasible to expect 500million people to stop posting opinions etc on SM; that is not going to happen.  Above all we need to understand the immense creative as well as disruptive power social media holds, its potential, as well as the need for regulation. This is a space that is not self-regulating. We need to wake up, and ensure that some borders are set in place. The US example should not be repeated… 
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Clicking Photos While A Man Dies – Shabaash People!

Published July 21, 2017 by vishalvkale

Stock image from the internet – Blogger was taking incorrect images, so used this



The morning news  – the first article I clicked, an action I sincerely regret now, was on an accident in Pune, the city I live in. I was stunned into shock by the news – people stood around clicking photographs of the poor hapless person while he lay bleeding on the street. Not one person came forward to help. God Bless the only decent man there, a dentist, who came forward to help, and assisted in taking the injured person to the nearest hospital. Just think – people standing around, clicking photographs while a hapless and helpless person lies on the road, bleeding!

PUNE: A 25-year-old software engineer, who was bleeding severely after being knocked down by a hit-and-run accident, died because he did not get timely help from passersby at Indrayaninagar corner in Bhosari on Wednesday evening. Shockingly, the onlookers chose to shoot videos and click photos of the accident rather than take the engineer, {Name Deleted}, to hospital. – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/techie-lies-bleeding-on-pune-road-passersby-click-photos/articleshow/59692374.cms
What do I say to this display of inhuman brutality and idiotic insensitivity? I feel sick, feel like puking at the very thought of clicking photos of a man in dire need of medical help? What kind of sickening mental depravity of the worst order, what kind of sick insane bastard would do that? What kind of mad and equally cruel idiot would stand clicking photographs while a man died on the road? All who did this – you call yourself humans? Even ANIMALS have a greater sense of what is right and wrong. At this point, I am feeling ashamed to be a part of the human race!
What is so damned attractive of an injured man lying bleeding on the road? What is it that makes it a memorable event? Are we so blinded by the attraction of likes on social media that it eclipses our basic human instincts – instincts which make us human in the first place? Why this sickening, horrible and nauseating habit of clicking photographs of a dying man? What will you get out of it? A few damned likes on Social Media? Is it that bloody important?
If it isn’t likes on Social Media, what other reason can you find? If it isn’t likes, then what is it – is it that you are getting satisfaction out of it? Because if that is the case, my don’t-call-yourself-my-friend, you need to check into a psychiatric ward and get treatment. Blunt, Frank and Straight. Human misery – if that gives you satisfaction – then you are mad, period. And evil. The only possible recourse in such a situation is to leave to place immediately if you do not want to or for some reason cant do anything; or – at the very least you can and should try and collect like-minded people to get them to help; Not stand around clicking gory photographs and videos, something emblematic of a society and a person in terminal decline, a sign of a mentally sick man or woman!
If it isn’t either of the above- then what is the curious fascination some people have for such unfortunate scenes? Why are they drawn, and yet stand gawking like morons at the scene? Ok – it isn’t about likes, and it isn’t about a sick fascination. What else can it be? Why do we see regular scenes of half-wits standing around gawking and staring at scenes of mishaps everywhere around us? In every city I have lived in or travelled to in India, I can see this sick scene, when people are attracted like flies to a fire – to scenes of distress and destruction, and yet doing nothing, Just staring blankly as though they were watching a stupendous and mind-blowing performance on Theatre or Cinema!.
As a matter of fact, this actually proves that Animals are superior to what has now become of the Human Race. We call ourselves the pinnacle of evolution; to all those who subscribe to this wholly inaccurate belief, look around how animals also help each other. Compassion is an integral part of being Human – and these displays of evil insensitivity just make us all that little bit more inhuman with each passing day. This is an all-too-regular happening on our roads – I have written regarding this earlier as well. As a Human Being, today I ask for forgiveness from the family of the deceased, and from God… Please forgive us…

The Facebook & Fake News Issues

Published April 15, 2017 by vishalvkale

The title of this article just about says it all… The Facebook Issue. This article is coming after a long self-examination and Facebook feed examination, with the explicit purpose of putting Facebook and its contemporary utility in Social Media with relevance to me as an individual. This deep introspective examination has lead to startling revelations to myself, which is what I am attempting place here, with an intent to support my decision to move my Social Media content away from Facebook due to issues arising out of the feed and the interaction that happens on it.
MY HISTORY WITH FACEBOOK
But first, the background. I came onto Facebook as a means to get in daily touch with family, find old friends, and keep connected with them. It then grew into a method of chronicling important events in my life through Photographs & Posts, that I could visit later. Both the above have given excellent results, and shall continue as important aspects of my digital profile with added security features, like sharing in Secret Groups, and strong personal security options.
Facebook then developed into a News Feed, as I liked the home-pages of all the publications I follow; it became an easy way for me to access the news as it happens. This has given superb results as well as  many, many discoveries and learnings through pointed articles. Not only that, it has also lead to my discovering other great Media Vehicles for topics of my interests. This is now becoming a major issue, and the most significant reason for my hunt for other options.
TIME PASSES, OLD TURNS TO NEW
However, there has been a significant change in past few months, maybe an year or two, which has increasingly caused me to wonder how to manage my feed. The problem was it wasn’t as simple as cutting a few people – whose views I may not agree with, but with whom I am close. In other words, I place a greater value on my relationship with them, than disagree with their views. One doesn’t stop interacting just because you don’t agree; true relations thrive despite differences.
The other, bigger problem was the contamination of my feed with POVs which are rather disturbing, things which  are too close to my Value-Belief Matrix for me to ignore. Being mature, one can ignore once, twice, thrice… but there comes a time when your defences drop, and you end up responding to the views, which is not the way forward. However, this is again related to POVs of my circle, one which can be managed by the simple measure of disengaging, like I have done on Politics totally. This has helped preserve some relationships – indeed deepen them.
By far the biggest issue is the scepter of Fake News, which is rampant, and appears regularly on my News Feed. The reason is that Facebook is by far the most popular Social Media Vehicle. This is compounded by the belief systems of my circle, some of whom tend to believe in these fake news articles. What is more disturbing is that even I have fallen to these articles and, on occasion, believed in them – despite my rather excellent repertoire of reading on a wide variety of subjects as documented on my blog quite faithfully over the past 5 years and more. This complex of Fake News + Belief Systems amplifies this Fake News, making it appear all over my News Feed.

While I can disengage with my circle; that is easy to do – it is not so easy to disengage with these articles which keep popping up with disturbing regularity. That increases the risk of I myself falling prey to them exponentially, as quite a few people in my circle also read and circulate them. And that is what is not acceptable to me as a person. My primary usage of Facebook was as a News Feed and as a means to keep in touch with family. Now, there are options available that can fill some of my needs…

THE OPTIONS
Whatsapp has filled a major gap; now it is easier than ever to remain in daily touch far more effectively. That apart, one can access Facebook once every day just to see what is happening with Friends and Family, achieved by cutting off all Social Media Engagements & Likes, which will purify my feed instantaneously. Sure, FF feeds will still appear, but, over time as my Facebook time falls, the quality of my feed will improve automatically, leaving all of us the happier in the bargain.
I cant disengage with Facebook totally; that would be stupid. I am just stating a smarter more strategic usage of the same. My blog still gets good readership from Facebook just to take another exampe, meaning it is valuable resource. All I am saying or rather advocating is the full usage of the other emergent technologies that are coming – like RSS Feeds, Email Subscriptions, Paid Subscriptions to content – and most of all Twitter. A judicious combination of these will fill the gap, give me a relatively clean and pure feed of news of my choice, keep me engaged socially as well.

Reason is that these vehicles are relatively uncontaminated as of now, especially Twitter, which is virgin pure almost. There is a near-total absence of disturbing nonsense as of now on Twitter, as it is not as populated and popular as Facebook. Likewise, RSS Feeds and Email Subscriptions, Paid content can be managed easily by regular monitoring. This will ensure the purity of my news feed, free from Fake News and disturbing content which is increasing by leaps and bounds on Facebook. And if Facebook’s attempt to clean up Fake News works, then maybe, some day, I can start re-engaging in the old fashion… 

Understanding Democracy – Can We Ask Questions?

Published October 31, 2016 by vishalvkale

ASKING QUESTIONS – IS IT UNACCEPTABLE?
Two articles that appeared on social media today have led me to ask everyone a couple of  simple questions : Firstly, can we, in a democracy, not ask questions / give guidance / point errors without being accused of being unsupportive, or taking political sides? Asking questions and critical analysis is the very basis of modern democracy – and it is also the foundation stone of Indian Democracy; asking questions and critically appraising performance is the hallmark as well as the key to a functioning democratic system.
The second question that occurs to me is simply this :  a) Who is responsible for Performance in a democracy? And leading to b) How long can we or should be continue to apportion blame – deserved or otherwise, makes no difference – to history? These two ( or if you so prefer – three ) questions are the key to any functioning democratic system. You have to allow space and freedom for questioning and critical appraisal; you have to understand the metrics of system performance as they are relevant to a proper democracy, and you have to learn to take some responsibility.
Both these articles concerned the Armed Forces and its issues as highlighted lately in the Media, and can be found in the Bibliographical links; I use these articles only as a starting point of my article; which isn’t about the Armed Forces at all. These articles only provided the kick-start to my mind, and led me to ask these relevant questions and note these observations and trends, which I have been noting earlier as well. I am seeing, off late, a polarization in the Social Media trends, with a distinct reluctance of the supporters to this current government towards accepting any critical analysis even by people who take no sides – like self; this must change – although that is easier said than done.
The first is a hard hitting letter / article by a former Lt Gen… Anyone listening? Perhaps not, as anything that criticizes the GoI or seeks to ask questions is shouted down by the Bhakt Brigade… But these are real questions, asked by a retired General, and cannot be brushed away… But in India today, it is not done, asking questions, not due to the Govt, but rather due to its blind supporters. No one is saying this Govt is bad, but asking questions, expert giving opinion, which is not acceptable, leading to silence all around, and a belief that sounds like
 we all know this Govt is perfect, even though we know perfection is a mirage. Any answers to the questions asked by a General? {Refer the link  given  below in Reference Section}
The second is a typically blunt and soul-searching analysis by the redoubtable Shashi Tharoor, also on the topic of the Indian Armed Forces, an analysis which spares on one – in typical Tharoor fashion. In this second article, Shashi Tharoor takes apart the political establishment for progressive downgrading and CPC issues… again, the point is that there has now been a consistent series of write-ups coming on social media by more and more experts who are beginning to ask questions; the sad lack of interest in these questions, and an even sadder avoidance is the core issue in my mind at least.
Jai hind / praising Indian Armed Forces is dead easy… Bahut aasaan hai. Far more difficult to face these questions and seek answers, and even harder to face reality that even this Govt is {or may not be} not doing enough, not doing as much as it can and should for the Armed Forces. And if it actually is doing all it can – then the way forward cannot be shrill ostracization, selective presentation, or complete avoidance of those people who are asking these questions, with hard data and proof – people who are experienced in the relevant field, and can be reasonably called experts.
Again, asking all of us social media experts, consistent Modi Govt Bhakts and praisers, any answers? And are we ready to face these brutally hard questions based on hard facts presented? It is easy to write Jai Hind, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, and all that stuff. Far harder to have the guts and onenness to face the reality and look for a solution. Jai Hind likh Kar apni deshbhakti kaa daayitva pooraa Karna bahut aasaan hotaa hai, yaaron. Naa paisa lagtaa hai, naa koi knowledge, naa kuchh kar guzarne ki chaahat. Sarkar acchhi hone kaa kyaa yeh matlab huaa ki sawaal bhi naa pooochhein, guidance bhi naa Karen? Such hi kahaa gayaa hai, Aainaa dekhnaa bahut mushkil rehetaa hai.
THE FIRST QUESTION : CAN WE ASK AND CRITICIZE OR NOT?
Why should the very simple task of pointing errors – or even probable errors – amount to not supporting the Government? Is it not a better way to meet allegations with proof that the things are getting done – which is what is required? And, if they are right – is it not far better to talk and find a way out? How long can we afford to just  ignore and continue blind praise? Especially when no one doubts the quality of Governance being delivered by this Government? No one is perfect; and everyone needs course corrections now and again. In fact, midway corrections are the best source of excellence!
And yet, I find, repeatedly, opinionated discourse, and one-sided presentation of facts – not by the Government; but by we the people. Normal everyday people like you and me. And a complete refusal to engage with emerging issues and problems, coupled with hero-worshipping & a lop-sided understanding of the authority-responsibility matrix as it applies in a functioning democracy. That is the truly scary and terrifyingly sad part; good part is that there is another side to it – a small but increasingly vocal set of people with the right intentions, criticizing where due and asking the right questions, acting as a systemic and professional check and a benchmark for the Government.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PERFORMANCE IN A DEMOCRACY?
The answer, to be blunt – is you and I; we, the people of India. A Democratic system  is one which is of the people, for the people and by the people. The layman understanding of this translates to one word – “Vote”. This understanding is frankly, conceptually flawed from the outset; the Vote is the Term-End Examination, the Performance Appraisal System conducted by System HR : The Election Commission. Democracy isn’t, wasn’t and will never be about the vote alone!
 Democracy means freedom of speech {within limits}; freedom of the press; freedom of opinion; freedom of political, religious choice; or, in other words – democracy is about our freedom and the rights we enjoy. Which  brings me to the Authority-Responsibility Matrix I was talking of above – Democracy also means being responsible for the Governments performance; and acting in a timely fashion to communicate to the implementors – our Government – of the needs of the people through democratic means like Press, Social Media, Newpapers and Communication with community and elected leaders both.
In other words, Democracy implies and includes criticism of the Government- again within prescribed limits; asking questions of the Government, and guiding it along the required / needed direction. This direction is the one that is expressed by the people as a collective whole, not of any individual. This cannot happen unless you ask questions in public fora, which earlier used to be fairs, temples, etc – and now includes all these as well as social media, which together modulate public choice and opinion.
Legacy issues cannot be avoided by referring to earlier past mis-performance; would  that excuse be acceptable in our jobs? Obviously, this is not an acceptable excuse anywhere. Sure, you cannot be held accountable for those mistakes; but so long as the eventual targets are within reach and justifiably drawn up, past performance is never an acceptable excuse. And this is the prime excuse used in Social Media. The current incumbent is now responsible for performance; don’t blame them for past excesses – but that does not mean that you can forever state it was like this earlier, so will take time!
Thus, we as a people have to now start measuring the gains made by this Government; what steps is it taking correct errors; how they are being implemented {as opposed to vacant and vacuous talk and chatter}; are the implementation in line with direction; what more can be done to make our country a better place; and stop celebrating small achievements. We all grant this Government is excellent – high time that we started analyzing – not as political opponents, but as concerned citizens and helpful well-wishers of this Government. This needs to be done by all of us, including the Media, without whom can never be effective. And we all need to stop being armchair praisers, and start asking hard questions… 




Bibliography / References :

One Nation, One Voice

Published July 26, 2016 by vishalvkale

ONE NATION, ONE VOICE
The recent events in our nation have lead to a rather interesting, and frankly disheartening & depressing scenario of some people in the media and the public asking questions of the Government of India as well as sadly, The Armed Forces; or critically examining our shortcomings and our flaws or perceived flaws both. It is not my point that these institutions cannot be questioned; but the timing of these questions leaves a lot to be desired for. Neither am I advocating ultra-nationalism or fanaticism, or making any observation for or against these two approaches.
THE MEDIA
Given the furore in some sections that I have seen, as well as sporadic comments on social media – let me be also crystal clear – nothing in this article is to be construed as an anti-Indian point, nor is there anything contained herein that is in support of anything even remotely anti-Indian. When I state that institutions can be questioned {given that we are a democracy}, before we start the blame game, we perforce have to consider the presence of internal mechanisms of redressal as are there in both the Government as well as the Armed Forces.  
It is the role of the Media to question the Government, to lead change and to engender a positive force on the Government that keeps it accountable to the people; this is does by providing information to the people so that they can be informed and can form opinions basis facts and data that are balanced and fair. This I whole-heartedly accept; not only do I accept this, I wholeheartedly support the role of the Media in a democracy.
THE PEOPLE
There is even a case for sporadic, interested, fair and patriotic individuals {and groups} to openly question the government, make petitions, approach the courts and all the rest that a functioning and vibrant democracy entails. The presence of all of these in our lovely India is a source of immense pride for all of us Indians, that is also beyond debate. Further, the above is not an indictment of any specific entity or individual – just a general observation in theory.
I am not making a case for gagging of the people in any way or form; we are a democracy – and any such move would not be successful in a nation where democracy has now taken deep roots till the last person and city & village in India. The very thought of gagging 1.27 Billion people is ludicrous on the face of it, and quite frankly impossible to achieve; any attempt towards that would be capital folly, as no doubt everyone realizes quite clearly. Given our diversity, there will always be a cacophony of voices emanating from our people who have diverse challenges, dreams and ambitions.
VIBRANCY OF OUR DEMOCRACY – AND THE MEDIA
The point here is simple : it is the role of the Media to communicate these diverse opinions, challenges, voices, problems, objections etc to the larger public in as coherent a voice as possible; it is also through the Media that the Government also, in some ways, keeps abreast of the overall public mood.  No one is arguing with that so far as I am aware; these are absolutely vital functions that a vibrant and rich democracy needs to breathe, grow and eventually enrich its people.
THE INFORMATION AGE
But beyond all of this, it needs to be kept in mind that The Media is also a very powerful force in the modern information world, with its rapid flow of information and its hyperactive social media. Examples of its power are evident in every of the world in shaping and influencing opinion, conveying an image etc. This places an onerous responsibility on all segments and sections of the Media {including Social Media} – one that needs to be kept in mind.
ONE NATION, ONE VOICE
It needs to be understood that times of stress are different from normal times; times of stress need a very different and highly calibrated response from The Media. Fine – this also applies to Social Media; but that is impossible to implement at least so far as I am aware; you cannot expect that from Millions of individuals. When the nation goes through trying times, especially times with an obvious foreign hand of intervention and terrorism involved in it – the equations change quite dramatically.
One cannot deny that there is a very, very high chance {certainty?} that these recent stressful times have been stoked by our kindly, peaceful, sweet, gentle, ‘democratic’  neighbor. Indeed – the evidence of this is present in our history as well as recent events. What should the response be in such a charged atmosphere? How do we prioritise our statements, responses and focus in these trying times is the key aspect that needs to be appreciated
Do we go the complete fair route and question the Government and its actions in such an atmosphere? Is this approach even fair? Again, I admit that any Government must be questioned in a democracy; this is the basis of democracy and is its foundation stone. Or do we keep silent – or should we mute our critical examination in light of the stress? Given the external factor involved and the complicated nature of the on-ground reality as well as the sacrifice of our patriots and our  citizens, is this constant questioning of the Government, or analyzing internal factors to the stress, really advisable or indeed accurate?

I respectfully submit that in such times, it would be an excellent idea for the Media to speak as one- as one nation, one voice. This does not mean blind support to the Government – as I pointed out above, that isn’t democratic, or indeed advisable. That just means that we allow the situation to settle, allow all facts to emerge – this will allow a much clearer image to emerge. This will also be a powerful force multiplier to our Armed Forces and to the Government which is already fighting a hard fight on the external front with our perpetually sick neighbuor! 

Farm Gate Prices And Urban Apathy…

Published June 16, 2016 by vishalvkale

Today’s Indian Express carries an interesting article on the rural landscape of India, bringing to the fore a superbly balanced presentation of the farm gate prices issue: should farmers be able to sell as per their choice, and not just through the APMC-demarcated regulated market   yards and auctions. This raises many questions, as we shall see. But first, the article in question:



APMCs were originally established with a view to prevent exploitation of farmers by intermediaries, who compelled them to dispose of their produce at the farmgate at very low prices. By mandating all farm produce to be brought to regulated market yards and sold through auctions, the APMC mechanism was meant to ensure fair prices to farmers. But in many cases, these bodies have themselves become dens for cartelisation by traders, who control prices and charge hefty commission fees on produce transactions.

An extreme case that surfaced recently was of Devidas Maruti Parbhane. This farmer from Vadgaon Rasai, a village in Pune district’s Shirur taluka, supplied one tonne of onions early this month at the local market yard under the Pune APMC’s jurisdiction. The price he got — a little more than Rs 1.5 per kg — was itself very low. But adding insult to injury was the various “cuts” imposed on top of this.

A scrutiny of Parbhane’s patti (trade slip) by The Indian Express revealed his total revenues from the sale of one tonne of onions at Rs 1,523.20. The total cuts even on this meagre amount added up to Rs 1,522.20. That included commission fees of Rs 91.30, hamali or labour charges of Rs 59, bharai or filling-in-bags charges of Rs 18.55, tolai or loading charges of Rs 33.30, and transport charges of Rs 1,320 (as the kutcha patti issued in Shirur was billed for delivery at Pune). Parbhane, at the end of it, was left with a net earning of Re 1: “When after the auction, the trader handed me a Re 1 coin, I was flabbergasted. Maybe, he should not have taken the trouble to pay me even that!”

Traders, however, dismiss these as one-off incidents, while claiming that delisting of F&V would ultimately hurt even farmers. “The produce brought by farmers is not uniform, which is what processors want. The APMCs are tuned to handle variety. Here, we have 50-55 varieties of vegetables and 25-30 varieties of fruits arriving on a daily basis. Such variety will disappear once delisting happens. Moreover, instead of a centralised marketplace, you’ll have small and medium vehicles carrying farm produce and creating traffic mayhem in Mumbai,” warned Rajendra Shelke, a leading onion and potato commission agent at the Vashi APMC.

Besides, the APMC system guarantees that the farmer is paid for his produce, which wouldn’t be the case if he were to sell directly? “The proposed reform looks good on paper, but it will only spell doom for the farmer and end up completely destroying the agrarian economy,” he added.

Sanjay Pansare, who represents traders at the Vashi APMC’s fruit market, justified the high commission rates on grounds that the goods being handled here were perishable and prone to quality deterioration. Only around a quarter of the produce brought to the market is eventually of the best quality; the rest falls between medium and bad. The losses borne by b on this count have to, therefore, be made up through higher commission fees. Since 2002, the Maharashtra government has been issuing marketing licenses to various entities for procuring directly from the farmgate. Besides, 34 private markets have been allowed to be set up. But despite this, an estimated 75 per cent of annual arrivals of F&V in the state still take place in APMCs. The proportions are lower at 46 per cent for cotton and 25-30 per cent in oilseeds and foodgrains.


The good part of the article is for the first time in my reading at least, has someone tried to place the other side – the benefits from traders to farmers; for too long, we have been treated to articles that focus on the low farm gate prices prevalent in India. Such an approach suffers from one major disadvantage: the bulk of purchasing happens through these regulated markets; these are an intermediary reality that cannot be wished away; they form an ecosystem within the economy, have large dependencies of families as well as business connected to them.

Any change process can only be successful when both sides of the coin are taken care of; the concerns of the traders need to be met head-on and dealt with, as, regardless of the question of compensation to farmers, they currently fulfil a market function. This is where a slow and planned change can bear results – as seen in the example above, wherein the procurement for cotton and oilseeds, foodgrains are at much lower percentages. Full marks to the Maharashtra state Government for crafting a graded transition to the newer system!

It is heartening to see Maharashtra and Delhi take the first tentative steps towards making a fair and balanced system for all; this is something needs to be taken forward in all states. Therein lies the major issue- it nationwide implementation. Sadly, I have not come across more coverage, or at least focused and concerted coverage in the media on this vital aspect. While Foreign Policy, Political brouhaha, Make In India etc find coverage and deep, informed, threadbare analysis – this is all but absent in this matter. As a net result, sporadic articles spring up in the media, and the public remains mute, unconcerned and uncaring regarding this matter. While the other initiatives will impact Urban India immediately, and Rural India through the trickle down effect over time – this will have a  much faster and potent impact, given that more than 2/3rd of India is Rural…

This is a systemic change, deep and layered; it does not have the dramatic, esoteric and visual impact of  Make In India, or Digital India or the other steps of the Government; and yet, it is equally, and in some ways more effective in ensuring the development of our nation; it is also something that the internet generation, social media, mainstream media and Urban India just do not have an interest in, which is truly sad.  Frankly, this state of affairs is a brutal indictment of Urban India

The shocking example above exposes the state of affairs – that the farmer is not getting anywhere near enough; other data and proof in the for of articles can be provided; let us take Onions as an example. How much do we pay in retail? 20/- a Kg – 30/- a Kg? At times, 40/- a Kg? How much of this should the farmer take home? Prices to farmers have even gone as low as 20 Paisa a Kg. We hear a massive hue and cry when prices shoot up – so why are the people and the media silent now? Why is there total silence on such a vital matter? Because it doesn’t impact Urban India?


The bumper harvest this year, however, has left farmers in tears with reports suggesting that prices have fallen to an all-time-low of Rs. 30 paise per kg at Madhya Pradesh’s mandi in Neemuch district. “There has been surplus onion production across the country this time, and the demand is relatively low. The farmers are badly hit as they spend at least Rs. 12 per kg in the entire process of producing the crop, excluding their labour cost,” said Rajender Sharma, member of Azadpur, Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC).

In Delhi, which primarily relies on these two States among a few others for onions, the situation is equally grim. At the Azadpur Mandi, the kitchen essential is being sold at Rs. 7.86 per kilo on an average. The best-quality onions are being sold at a wholesale rate of Rs. 10.5 per kg, whereas the poor-quality and the smaller ones are being bought by traders at Rs. 4.5 per kilo. The retail prices in the city range between Rs. 18 per kilo and Rs. 20 per kilo.

Did we read much of this in  the Media? And do note the difference between retail and wholesale prices; and ask yourselves some questions on tis state of affairs. Also do ask yourself is it fair that these matters take backstage to the much more visual steps that directly impact Urban India – and also ask yourself how can we change the state of affairs?

Famers, and The Urban Indian

Published February 2, 2016 by vishalvkale

The past few months {and more} have seen a whirlwind of news regarding great moves by the NaMo Government; highlighting a series of developments and laudable initiatives by this Government by the Media as well as the Bhakt Brigade on Social Media. That is indeed good; a positive environment engenders a powerful impetus towards growth, and is a significant factor. Positivity engenders growth and development, problem resolution in a manner negativity can never do.
In all this euphoria and positivity, one factor lies ignored; the status of the Agriculture Sector. This article isn’t about The NaMo Government, but about our {Urban India’s} response – or lack of it – regarding the Agriculture Sector, about how it has taken the back seat, and about how we just don’t respond, or are not even aware of, the status of this sector, its issues and the problems that plague it. While news regarding Farmer Suicides reaches us due to the sensationality factor, the real issues and problems this sector faces never reach us. And for that, we the people are to blame.
Rising Farmer Distress in some parts of India, for example in Maharashtra is but one aspect of this; the aspect of drought that has hit large tracts of India is another and potentially more troublesome and serious a factor to hit us. Add to this the lack of serious attention to the myriad problems that inflict the agricultural scenario, like Seeds for example, or unbalanced fertilization to take another pertinent and current example.
And yet, despite the scale of these problems, neither the mainstream Media or the larger Social Media is focussed on these factors; the large number of news articles, updates etc are built around digitisation moves of the current Government, Smart Cities, Bullet Trains, Railway Modernisation, Make In India, Digital India, FDI and Economic Growth, Basic Office Hygeine steps by the NaMo Government, Aggression {long-needed} towards the needs of the Armed Forces etc.
Not one of the points listed above is unimportant; not one is without value. Each step truly laudable in its own right, and very welcome. Credit where credit is due; fact is fact. But critically and interestingly, Crop Insurance apart, no news in relation to the Agriculture Sector has made it to Social Media, or to the News that I am aware of – not to the tune of the others, those I mentioned above. That means either the Government has done nothing; which is highly debatable – given that there is a ministry devoted to this; or that we aren’t aware of it- which is far more likely.
The state of affairs in Indian Agriculture is there for all to see, and requires no data to prove it. The shocking evidence of your eyes should shake anyone from stem to stern, with rampant poverty, and abject conditions the moment you move into the Rural parts of India. And yet, we Urban Indians continue to bask in the glory of moves and steps that largely benefit Urban India; I refer to Smart Cities, Make In India and Bullet Trains etc. Even the praise of Digitisation in Social Media hovers around facilities for Urban Indians! Why doesn’t the status of the Farming Community in India reach the consciousness of us Urban Indians?
The news that is coming out is disturbing, to say the least; The Maharashtra government has declared a “drought-like condition” in 14,708 of the state’s 43,000 villages. This means the drought covers 34% of the state, as per a Times of India Report. Another Hindustan Times report states As of Nov-end, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions.  That is approximately 50% of India. Another report from October categorically mentions : For India to grow at 8%, agriculture must grow at least 4%. Yet, the farm sector has barely crawled at 1.9% in the first quarter (April-June) this year. It could get worse when the effects of a widespread drought become visible in the next few months.
The same report goes on : Between April 2014 and February 2015, the value of India’s farm exports dropped nearly 3%, as prices in global commodity markets fell. In August this year, tractor sales were down 23%. Rural wages rose at a slower 4.6% pace in a 12-month period ending in June, compared to a 12% rise in the same period a year ago.; earlier, the same report made this point : Alarmingly, a rural distress — marked by slowing wages, poor incomes and lower profits from farming — now looks getting entrenched.

{Image Credit : Hindustan Times, article linked in references}



Another Hindustan Times article strips the Urban Indian naked in this blunt statement, which I fully endorse : Obsessed with the latest, hyper-emotional social media trend, India’s people and mass media are all but oblivious to Bharat’s emergency situation. The only national newspaper that has consistently followed collapsing farms and failing rains is Mint. As of last week, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions. If you ask why none of this is on India’s primetime television shows or splashed on front pages, I will only say that the media, in general, are not interested and neither, dear reader, are we.Sad, but a completely factual indictment of the status of Social Media.
The same report had made this point : The data indicate the essentially dead-end nature of Bharat’s jobs and realities and a worsening farm economy, which grew only 0.2% last year. If it grows that much this year, we should be lucky. The under-reported and largely ignored farm crisis has been made greatly worse and more urgent by two years of scanty rain. Fact upon relentless fact can be piled up to build the case of neglect by we the people in our consciousness…
Going further, a Reuters report goes even further, with facts : Last month, India made its first purchases of corn in 16 years. It has also been increasing purchases of other products, such as lentils and oilmeals, as production falls short. Wheat and sugar stocks, while sufficient in warehouses now, are depleting fast, leading some traders to predict the need for imports next year. The same report also has this stunning statement from an analyst : “There’s a complete collapse of Indian agriculture, and that’s because of the callous neglect by the government,” said Devinder Sharma, an independent food and trade policy analyst.
In our Euphoria about the various Urban developments, somewhere along the line, the hands that feed us, the hands we owe everything to – the farming community in India, lie forgotten. This does not reach the awareness of Social Media, which is busy extolling the virtues of Urban Development and the various and admittedly excellent steps undertaken by this Government in its tenure so far. The reality of the farming scene is  not even on the radar of Urban India.
Furthermore, the other side of the story lies forgotten. I had noted categorically in my budget analysis last year, and I quote : And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments.{ http://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/2015/03/is-this-government-on-wrong-path.html}
Note this article from The Indian Express, which corroborates and confirms my reading of the state of affairs:  “During the UPA regime, the Centre contributed 90% for the initiative while the state pitched in with another 10%. But following the Narendra Modi government’s decision to slash central assistance for most centrally sponsored schemes from April 1, 2015, the Centre’s share has gone down to 60%. A condition that this reduced share will be released only after states release the matching grant was also imposed. Given the fund squeeze in the state, officials admitted that funds earmarked for the scheme in 2015-16 have not been released to districts so far. The scheme is applicable in 33 out of the 36 districts in the state. With funding support drying up, it has now come to light that the societies have tapped into the unutilised development funds marked in 2014-15 for the farmer training initiative for meeting salaries of the staff. {Jan 7, 2016}
Farmers produce the food we eat; this is a fact. Their troubles should be on the forefront of the nations’ priorities; alongwith the needs of the Armed Forces. The proofs and reality given above bear mute testimony to two realities : one is the lack of awareness and churlish attitude of Urban India towards the farmers and rural India; and the other reality being the gap highlighted by the Indian Express article on the change in the method of operation of UPA vis-a-vis NDA, which is exactly what I had foretold long back. I am sure the Government will learn and take corrective measures {Note article from reuters}; question is – will we, the people, wake up and understand that it is the Rural India that requires our helping hand? That extolling Urban Developments alone does not suffice? Will the Urban Indian wake up? 

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