I haven’t watched a complete “debate” on an Indian “news” channel in a long time. The incessant shouting and howling do not make for a pleasant viewing experience. I made an exception for the #UPSCJihad show on Sudarshan News that was finally given the clearance to air by the high court, after the intervention of the central government. I was curious to know how such a proposition could be defended given the data contradicts this. The next 40 minutes of coverage made me realize that perhaps there is no distinction between fake news on social media and the news that is being fed to us by these channels.
Mr. Chavahnke (hereby referred to as the host) started the show by playing the victim card. On the allegation of running a criminal show, he makes the point of deriving legitimacy from people who have been watching his channel for over 15 years. After some rants on freedom of expression, he calls out Akbarudding Owaisi, the controversial firebrand leader of AIMIM, for saying that more “Muslims brothers” need to enter the civil services. It is followed by a clip of IAS Abdul Rauf. It is unclear to whom Mr. Rauf is talking and what question he is answering. The only thing Mr. Rauf seems to be saying is that to increase power in decision making, there are two ways. First, by elected officials. Second, by having more civil servants. Then he says he has “sakaron” such videos. One of the later clips showed one congress leader using the phrase ”bureaucracy pe kabza” which I think is where the idea of such a show originated. These kinds of out of context clippings, speeches by firebrand leaders, exaggerations, and monologues were a part of the show throughout.
All that being said, the purpose of this article is not to decode the show but to look at the arguments being pitched in favor of the alleged conspiracy.
1. No. of Upsc aspirants belonging to the minority communities
The host said that the no. of Muslims giving the UPSC exams is increasing and claimed that the chart above has been taken from various websites (which he does not mention) and there might be a 1-2% variation in the data.
Here’s the thing. UPSC does not disclose the list of the candidates that have registered or take the examination, let alone break it down by religion. UPSC discloses the overall no. of candidates that register for the examination. It breaks down the no. of candidates that have applied by their caste in its annual report. UPSC discloses the names and marks of only the selected candidates. Recently, they have also started to disclose the names of willing candidates who reached the interview round but failed to get selected.
There has been an increase in the no. of Muslims selected in UPSC.
This chart is wrong at two levels. First, the figure that we should be interested in is the % of Muslims in UPSC as compared to the overall people selected, not the raw numbers, as it may be the case that the no. of selected candidates is higher in one year as compared to the other. Second, the graph conveniently does not show the years in which the no. of Muslims selected has fallen (for example 2018).
2. Case of Shah Faesal
Dr. Shah Feasal, the UPSC topper in 2009 examinations, resigned in 2019 from the civil services citing the “unabated” killings in Kashmir. He has since launched and subsequently resigned from a political party. He has been placed under house arrest for over a year now under the PSA act. His last foray into the mainstream media news cycle was when he made the controversial remark that Pakistan's PM should be given the Nobel prize to bring stability to the region.
The host showed the following graphic:
The graphic made little sense, and the host apologized for it. The point that he wanted to make was that Shah Faesal had gotten 60 more marks than someone named Rajpurohit, thereby securing a higher rank and that somehow there was something fishy in this. I went through the 2009 results. First, even if the interview marks were ignored Faesal would have scored the 3rd rank. Second, he did not even get the highest marks in the interview. The highest marks in the interview were 240 and were secured by another candidate.
3. The Interview marks
The host said that as the process of selection of doctors & engineers, there shouldn’t be an interview. He conveniently misses out the fact that IAS is not an education degree, it is a job. For almost all the jobs that are present, you have to sit for an interview. Next, he applauds the prime minister for introducing lateral entry into the civil services. It is important to note that the lateral services will also have a test and an interview.
There have been cries about the additional marks in the interview process to Muslim candidates. This graphic was shown on the screen:
First of all, the third column in the graphic is wrong. It says pratishat (percentage). What the column actually represents is the extra marks the Muslim candidates got. Second, and more importantly,even if there is a bias in the interview marks; it has close to no impact on the results.I have written this article wherein I have elaborated on the alleged interview marks conspiracy.
4. Government Assistance
The Ministry of Minority Affairs is responsible for the welfare of minorities in the country and runs various schemes for that purpose. Initially, the host tried to cast aspersions on the minority status of Muslims in India and indicated that they should not be given that status.*
The host makes the false claim regarding Muslims that “pareeksha mein hi preliminary ke liye hi usse 1 lakh rupay de rahe hain”. Then he goes in melodramatic mode and says that a Hindu would have to sell his mother’s mangalsutra and mortgage his father’s property to give the UPSC exam.
This was followed by the following graphic to insinuate that other minorities were somehow being discriminated against.
The fees for applying for the UPSC examination are Rs.100 for general candidate students. It is 0 for SC, ST, OBC, PwD (Person with Disabilities), and EWS (Economically Weaker Sections).
Now, coming to the assistance schemes.
First, the assistance is provided to those who clear the prelims exam. The name of the scheme is "Nai Udaan" - Support for Students clearing Prelims conducted by UPSC/SSC, State Public Service Commission(PSC), etc”. Second, the scheme is available to not only Muslims but all the minority communities. Third, the scheme has the criteria of “Total family income of the candidates from all sources should not exceed Rs. 8.0 lakh per annum” & the provision that “The financial benefit will be given to the candidate only once and for one examination only”.
As far as I could gather, the scheme is based on the population of particular minorities. It is reasonable that more Muslims will be eligible to avail the scheme as they comprise a higher proportion of the population as compared to the other minorities. The important word here is eligible. The number of Muslims that took the benefit of the in the year 2018-2019 (up until 31.1.2019) was just 601. The no. of Muslims who took this benefit for UPSC specifically was 72. The overall benefits availed by Muslim candidates are 72 lakhs for the year 2018-2019.
5. NGO funding
The host made the allegations that “foreign NGOs are funding UPSC coaching”. In the latter section of the video (which I admit I skimmed through) he linked Zakat foundation to ISI to our former prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Zakat foundation, an NGO based in Delhi, provides coaching to Muslim candidates and has seen many of its students make it to the civil services. The allegations against it are nothing new. OpIndia, a news website that has published fake stories in the past, has made claims linking the NGO to Zakir Naik. Recently, the NGO has released a clarification statement in which it has said that “about ninety percent of ZFI’s donations have been received from within India'' and ZFI International, the alleged organization with links to extremists is “a different, much smaller, charitable company registered under British laws.”
6. Age relaxation
The following graphic was displayed on the screen.
This is a flat out lie. There is no age relaxation given to Muslim candidates. The age relaxation is given on the basis of caste. The maximum age for General candidates is 32.
The host is comparing the OBC Muslims to the General Hindus (in the age comparison graphic). He signals that Muslims are taking advantage of the OBC quota and trying to dismiss the presence of caste amongst Muslims.
First, there is a strong presence of Caste in Indian Muslims. Second, the reservation system is based on the system of caste, not on the basis of religion. The % is calculated at an aggregate level. The counter argument will be that Muslims constitute less of SC/ST candidates. Both these arguments fall flat as there is no provision of a combination of caste and religion while considering reservations.
7. More attempts
Again, a flat out fake graphic. The attempts are fixed on the basis of caste. The graphic is comparing General Hindus with OBC Muslims.
Initially, the host claims that he has a video to show to his viewers regarding the advantage granted by Urdu to aspirants. He fails to do so. Later in the show, he comes up with this graphic.
To understand what’s going on here, we have to first understand the structure of the mains examination.
In addition to these papers, there is a 300 mark Indian language paper. This is a qualifying paper, meaning that a candidate has to secure at least 75 marks in the paper. The marks obtained in the paper are not added to the overall score.
Given this complex system, there are 3 scenarios that arise:
The candidates have the option of writing all the mains papers in any of the 22 Schedule 8 languages. Of these, Urdu is one.
The candidates can choose to write the qualifying Indian language paper in Urdu. They can choose to write the rest of the examination in any other language.
The candidate can choose Urdu Literature (or the literature of any of the other 22 Schedule 8 languages) as one of the optional subjects.
The first 2 points are of little consequence. 1 candidate in 2017 and 3 in 2018 gave the GS examinations in the Urdu language.
(Source: UPSC Annual Report)
The regional language paper was given by 50 and 40 aspirants in Urdu in 2017 and 2018, respectively. This amounts to just 0.4 % of the total candidates giving the mains examination. Also, as mentioned earlier, this paper is just a qualifying one.
The graphic shown by Sudarshan News corresponds to the 3rd point. The first thing to note is that they have conveniently excluded the years 2015 & 2016. Second, they have not listed down all the optional subjects that are available to UPSC students. I did an analysis of the data for the optional subjects from 2014 to 2017.
Some of you might ask the question “why did I not include the numbers for the year 2011to 2013?”, supposedly the years wherein more selected candidates had taken Urdu literature as an optional. The answer is that I was not able to convert the pdf files for those years into excels (due to the way the files were made). But I did a small comparison of the number of selected candidates who had taken the Urdu language in the years 2011-2017.
It's important to remember that all this analysis is for just the 500 marks that are allocated to the optional subjects that comprise less than 25% of the overall marks. There might be the case that optional subjects may have had a little effect on the overall scores of the candidates. Also, the sample size of students taking literature subjects is very small. This distorts the percentages.
9. Subjects & Paper Checkers
The host did not explain the “subject advantage” and moved ahead. On a side note, it's important to point out the fake news that UPSC had Islamic studies as an optional subject that had been circulating on social media platforms.
The host then made the comment “Paper banane wala urdu, paper likhne wala urdu,paper tapaasne waala urdu” (Paper is made by an urdu speaking person, written in urdu, inspected by someone who knows Urdu). He also alluded to a conspiracy of the identity of the person not staying intact because of the Urdu language, based on some social media post.
I could not find a source that definitively states the board/colleges responsible for making the papers. The paper is made in two languages--Hindi and English.
Only 4 people out of 20000+ (2017 & 2018 combined) have written all the GS papers in the Urdu language according to the latest UPSC report.
The paper is checked by a set of examiners and they encode the answer sheet with fictitious numbers before the process begins.
10. Coaching centers
No arguments were made by the host on this apart from jibes at the former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh and praise of the current administration
Why does all of this matter?
Many of us would say that Sudarshan News is a fringe “news” network and this should be ignored. Ignorance in this case is dangerous. We have seen the rapid fall of the news networks in the past 2 years and what was considered fringe back then is mainstream now. Secondly, Chavhanke’s view is gaining traction amongst a large section of right-wing media who call themselves “news and current affairs” websites. Opindia published a piece on the show essentially re-stating what Chavhanke had said without doing any fact-checks. Third, there are many in the center of the political spectrum, who might not have the time to go through all the data and come to an informed opinion. These kinds of news items create doubts in the minds of people, even those that know that the channel presenting them is biased. They may start to think that there must be something in this because it is being discussed so much.
The issue here is not free-speech or questioning UPSC. Any individual should be allowed to do that. But allowing a “news” channel to misrepresent data, cite “social media” as a news source and sometimes show outright fake graphics violates NBA guidelines.
The host made a statement during the show “Court bhi hamaare pe stay nahi lagaa sakta” (Even the courts can’t put a stay on our show). Perhaps he is right. But till the day there are people who critically examine their news source and are willing to counter such propaganda, we still have a chance of preserving the remnants of facts in this post-truth era.
(The graphics of Sudarshan TV are screenshots taken from a phone)