Lockdown-hit Indian farmers take protest over state capital relocation plan online

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Farmers protesting in small group to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Many farmers have donated their lands in the hope of reaping the gains of having a high tech capital in their midst but now they are facing existential crisis. (Supplied)
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Farmers sit whole day long outside their houses demanding the restoration of Amaravati as the capital of Andhra Pradesh. (Supplied)
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The farmers’ protests have taken a new virtual shape with majority of the illiterate farmers have learnt the tricks of social media and are using Zoom sessions to connect with around 30,000 farmers who donated lands for the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. On the completion of 200th day of protest farmers connected through Zoom sessions not only with their local fellows but also with more than 100,000 non resident fellow Telugu settled in 35 countries. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Lockdown-hit Indian farmers take protest over state capital relocation plan online

  • Andhra Pradesh growers, many of them illiterate, use power of social media to rally global support during virus pandemic

NEW DELHI: Nearly 30,000 Indian farmers, the majority of them illiterate, have taken to social media to protest against relocation plans for the state capital of Andhra Pradesh (AP).

Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and social-distancing measures, thousands of growers from the southeast Indian state have had no choice but to go online, many for the first time, in order to continue their demonstrations.

Using Facebook and Twitter, they have been rallying global support for their objection to proposals for a decentralized three-city capital for the state instead of original plans to build a new high-tech center in Amaravati.

“Circumstances forced us to weaponize our mobile phones and social media sites and use them to protest against the AP government’s decision to shift the capital from Amaravati,” said P. Bava Sudhakar, of the Amaravati farmers’ joint action committee (JAC).

He told Arab News that farmers from 29 villages in AP’s Amaravati district had been protesting for the past 223 days against the local government’s decision. Up until March they had been organizing sit-in demonstrations and rallies to press for their demands but had to rethink their protest strategy after a nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25 over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Villagers had learnt to use video communication apps such as Zoom to organize conferences and share grievances with supporters around the world.

In 2014, AP was divided into two separate states – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – with a plan for Telangana to keep Hyderabad as its capital while AP would have a new capital by 2024.

AP’s previous local government zeroed in on centrally located Amaravati and thousands of farmers donated their land for the construction of the new capital which would have been built with the support of Singapore companies.

However, Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was elected to office last May, decided to cancel the project calling it “too ambitious and an unnecessary expense for a debt-ridden state.”

In December, Reddy instead announced plans to create three capitals, with the coastal city of Vishakapatnam to be the executive capital with all government offices, Kurnool to become the judicial capital, with courts, and Amaravati to be the legislative capital.

“The earlier government pegged the estimated cost of building Amaravati’s basic infrastructure at 1,090 billion rupees ($14.5 billion), while the spending capacity of any state government is only 5 billion rupees. At 10 percent of the estimated cost, we can develop places that already have basic infrastructure into capitals,” he had said in the assembly in December.

Since then, thousands of farmers have been demanding a rollback of the decision.

One of them, Pudota Sneha, 22, of Pedaparimi village, near Amaravati was helping her illiterate mother master the use of social media.

“We had three acres of land, and we gave two acres for the building of the capital with the hope that we would be part of the development of the new high-tech city. Now my family is left with just one acre of land, which is not adequate to live and earn,” she told Arab News.

Sneha said her mom had joined countless others on the 200th day of the protests when farmers held a Zoom session with expatriate Telugus in 35 other countries.

Another protester, Sudhakar, who donated 12 acres of land, said: “The idea is to organize opinion of fellow Telugus worldwide and put together a joint campaign against the AP government’s decision to annul the capital project.

“We have at least 100 million Telugu speakers worldwide, and they are all emotionally attached to their motherland. They are also unhappy with the government’s decision.”

The opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of AP has described the chief minister’s move as “vendetta politics.”

TDP spokesperson, Pattabhi Ram Kommareddy, told Arab News: “The decision to make Amaravati the capital was taken after the recommendation of a committee and after proper survey. People came out openly to support the project and gave their land without any dispute. But the chief minister (Reddy) is guided by narrow political vision.”

Analysts said that the issue had now become more complicated. “Political rivalry has got in the way of the development of a new capital,” AP-based political analyst, Sreedharan Jayaram, told Arab News.

“The farmers gave their lands in the larger interests of the nation, but politics has put paid to their hopes. The livelihoods of many farmers are now at stake. This is not good for the development of the state and its people,” he added.

Sanity prevails: Indian journalists decry misinformation about 'civil war' in Pakistan's largest city

Updated 23 October 2020

Sanity prevails: Indian journalists decry misinformation about 'civil war' in Pakistan's largest city

  • Indian mainstream and social media claimed this week a civil war had broken out in the Pakistani port city of Karachi
  • Journalists say Indian media want to create an impression that Pakistan has become very unstable and chaotic

NEW DELHI: Indian journalists decried a "garbage fake news" wave that earlier this week came from some of the country's media outlets which published reports of "a civil war-like" situation in Pakistan's largest city.
Earlier this week, several Indian media outlets, including News18, India Today, Zee News, reported that clashes took place between the Pakistani police and army in Pakistan's seaside metropolis of Karachi in the wake of opposition protests.
The fake Indian reports came a day after an inquiry was ordered by the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, into the circumstances surrounding the police arrest of opposition leader Mohammad Safdar in Karachi.
“It is not a fake news it is garbage fake news because there is certainly a problem in Pakistan but to exaggerate it to the point of falsification is the height of the irresponsibility," Mumbai-based activist and columnist Sudheendra Kulkarni told Arab News.
“The Indian media wants to create an impression that Pakistan has become very unstable and chaotic with some fake news and some fake photograph,” he said.
"On the one hand we call ourselves the world’s largest democracy, but it’s a democracy that feeds on the hatred for its neighbor. It reflects poorly on Indian media and India as a nation. I strongly condemn it."
Senior Indian journalists admit they are confused how the hoax outbreak could even take place and why.
"I am not sure how Indian media spreading fake news about the happenings in Pakistan would help Indian government," Sanjay Kapoor, editor of the English-language fortnightly Hard News, said.
“I am not sure India would benefit from this. Pandering to fake news reflects on all media, wherever they are located. It shows poorly on their professionalism."
"At the time of tension, truth is casualty on both sides. Editors should be mindful everywhere that they do not succumb to propaganda. Media should do its job- reporting truth and speaking truth to power," Kapoor said.
Ties between Pakistan and India have been particularly tense since August last year when New Delhi revoked the special autonomy of the disputed Kashmir region it governs. The Muslim-majority territory has been the site of decades of hostility between the two nuclear archrivals, who both claim the region in full but rule in part.
"When there is a trust deficit, when there is no dialogue, when there is no political outreach, such exaggeration of news is possible,” Jatin Desai from Mumbai-based Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy told Arab News.
The younger social media-savvy generation is not surprised that Indian media are peddling misinformation about Pakistan.
"If you look at the reporting on Pakistan in Indian media you will find that the domestic media is trying to portray the Islamic nation in a very negative way all the time," University of Delhi student Siddhant Sarang said.
"I am not surprised if the Indian media went overboard in its recent report on the political turmoil in Pakistan."
Arab News reached out to some of the news outlets that published the fake reports, but none of them responded.