Facebook removes accounts linked to Indian political parties as election looms
From CNN's Rishi Iyengar
Facebook is taking down hundreds of suspicious accounts linked to the two main parties contesting India's election.
With the campaign in full swing, the company removed 687 pages and accounts linked to the country's main opposition party — the Indian National Congress — for "coordinated inauthentic behavior," it said in a statement Monday.
"The individuals behind this activity used fake accounts," said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy. "While the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that it was connected to individuals associated with an INC IT cell," he added.
Facebook said it had alsoremoved 15 pages, groups and accounts that frequently posted content supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and criticized his political opponents including theIndian National Congress.
The company saidthose profiles were linked to people associated with Silver Touch, an Indian tech firm that hasworked on government projects and reportedly developed Modi's personal mobile app.
Congress said none of its official Facebook pages had been taken down.
Producers of a controversial Narendra Modi biopic have denied allegations that the movie's release was timed to coincide with the elections in an attempt to woo voters for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
India's main opposition Congress Party had criticized the Bollywood movie "PM Narendra Modi," labeling it propaganda and suggesting its forthcoming release contravenes the country's election laws.
One of the film's producers, Sandip Ssingh, dismissed calls that they delay the movie's release until after the nationwide poll.
“We as filmmakers, as businessmen, have the right to choose our date, decide it and release it (the film). We have put in a lot of money and there is a huge risk,” he said.
Critics say the movie, which charts the course of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s life, shows the Indian leader in a flattering light. It depicts his time during a spiritual retreat in the Himalayas, his victory in 2014 and the controversy surrounding the 2002 Gujarat riots.
In 2002, while Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, anti-Muslim riots spread across the state, with more than 1,000 killed. Modi was criticized for not doing enough to stop the violence, but he was not charged with any crime.
The Congress filed a complaint with the Election Commission last week saying the film violated of the model code of conduct (MCC) that parties must adhere to during elections.
“This is no artistic venture. It is a political venture,” said Kapil Sibal, senior Congress leader Monday. “The purpose of this film is only political -- to get some extra mileage in the election.”
Lawyer to Vivek Oberoi, the actor playing Narendra Modi, said they have "submitted our detailed response to the election commission that this movie or biopic is not violating any model code of conduct,” said Hitesh Jain.
The Election Commission is yet to make a ruling on the complaint.
7:24 a.m. ET, March 28, 2019
Experts say India's anti-satellite test was not just about Pakistan
From CNN's Swati Gupta
Modi announced on Wednesday that India had successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global "space powers."
Though the prime minister said Wednesday's test was for India's defense and security, it is likely to be seen as provocative by Pakistan and China and raise concerns about the militarization of space.
"It is an anti-China measure," said Bharat Karnad, security expert with Indian think tank the Centre of Policy Research. "This means that it provided the country with the capability to shoot any Chinese satellite. This is the flip side of the constellation of satellites. This is the destructive side of satellites."
There have been repeated warnings against China's growing space military capabilities.
"Given the relevance of satellites and the issue of China in the region, India needed to demonstrate that it has the ability too. Warfare is predicated increasingly on satellites and the use of satellites," said Uday Bhaskar, director of Indian think tank Society of Policy Studies.
China also has a close military relationship with Pakistan and is the country's biggest arms supplier -- with 40% of Beijing's military exports going to Islamabad, according to data from a December discussion of Pakistan at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"He wants to be seen as a person who has great resolve when it comes to national security. It is very routine that a military success is packaged as a political benefit," said Bhaskar.
5:14 a.m. ET, March 28, 2019
Modi talks up development in Uttar Pradesh rally
From CNN's Swati Gupta
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a massive rally Thursday in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where he exulted the achievements of his government and derided attempts being made by opposition parties to unseat him.
Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party is vying for votes in Uttar Pradesh -- seen as a key state to win the election.
The enormous state lies in India's north and has a population of 200 million people; if it were a country, it would be the fifth largest on the planet.
As India's most populous state, it has the largest parliamentary representation and holds huge political sway.
But Modi is facing tough competition in Uttar Pradesh from a coalition alliance formed by two regional parties -- the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party -- and India’s main opposition party, Congress.
Modi touts development
The rally in Meerut is Modi's first since dates for the general elections were announced -- officially kicking off election season in the world’s largest democracy.
Speaking to thousands of people on Thursday, Modi touted accomplishments that he said his government has achieved during his tenure, including action to address terrorism, and providing electricity and cleaner fuel to the poor.
“There is no corner in the country that has been untouched by development from us. Our first time voters when they go to the booth and before they press the button to vote for BJP, they will take a vision of development with them,” said Modi.
“In the coming days, I will put forward the work done by the government. Our vision is of a new India and of the kind of India that is proud,” he said.
Attacks on opposition
Criticizing the previous governments for allegedly lining their own pockets and not doing enough to eliminate poverty, Modi dismissed the recent minimum income plan announced by Congress.
Last week, the Congress Party announced that it would provide an annual income of $1,045 per annum to 50 million families if they were voted into power.
The Congress did not reveal details for the plan and the BJP has claimed that it provides better economic help to the poor through subsidies and welfare programs.
Strong on defense
The BJP has repeatedly used its record on national security to beef-up Modi’s profile as a leader who is strong on defense. Modi has spoken about the increase in India’s muscle power and international strength, particularly in the wake of the Kashmir crisis that saw India and longtime rival Pakistan edge to the brink of war.
On Wednesday, Modi announced that India had conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global "space powers," and boosted India's defense capabilities.
“I will put everything on the line for the country. No political or international pressure can scare your prime minister,” said Modi.
Modi is expected to address two more rallies today in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
7:43 a.m. ET, March 27, 2019
$78 million in cash, drugs and liquor seized ahead of polls
From CNN's Swati Gupta
Cash, drugs and liquor worth $78 million have been seized by Indian police in the last two weeks.
Law enforcement officials have been on high alert for possible bribes since the Election Commission announced the schedule for the upcoming polls.
In India, bribes in the form of cash, gold or alcohol are common. Police said they confiscated $23.5 million worth of gold and $19 million worth of drugs.
According to the Election Commission, a total of $43.4 million of cash was seized during the entire 10 weeks of the 2014 elections. In the last 15 days, officials have already seized cash worth $20.7 million from 25 states across India.
Analysts say political parties and candidates have been known to spend more than three times the amount that is declared officially as expenditure during elections.
Goods worth millions of dollars are routinely seized during state elections every year as they are smuggled across state lines.
Earlier this month, the Election Commission introduced dedicated mobile apps where people can register any complaints or suspicions of bribery during the next two months.
7:41 a.m. ET, March 27, 2019
Modi says India conducted successful anti-satellite missile operation
From CNN's Swati Gupta
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India has successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in a league of global "space powers."
In a national address Wednesday, Modi said India had achieved a "historic feat" by shooting down its own low orbit satellite with a missile in just three minutes.
Only three other countries: US, Russia and China have the capabilities to use such an anti-satellite missile.
India’s space program has grown substantially over the past decade. In 2014, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars and the Indian Space Research Organization has announced that it will send a manned mission into space in the next three years.
Modi said the operation, called Mission Shakti – which stands for "power" in Hindi – would defend the country’s interests in space. The country's foreign ministry said that India had "no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space."
Though Modi said Wednesday's test was for India's defense and security, it is likely to be seen as provocative by Pakistan and China.
In response, a spokesperson for Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said "boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote’s tilting against windmills," meaning to fight imaginary enemies.
"Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena," the statement said.
Opposition leaders dismissed the announcement as a publicity stunt.
Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and one of Modi’s severest critics said, Modi's announcement "got himself an hour of free TV" and "divert nation’s attention away from issues on ground."
India’s feat comes after repeated warnings against China’s growing space military capabilities.
A report released last year by the Pentagon detailed that Russia and China are developing capabilities including “laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage satellites and their sensors."
The growth of China's space capabilities and the need to help safeguard US satellites have been cited by the Trump administration as a reason why the US needs a Space Force.
4:40 a.m. ET, March 27, 2019
Narendra Modi biopic slammed as propaganda by opposition ahead of election
From CNN's Helen Regan and Swati Gupta
India's main opposition party has criticized a Bollywood biopic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, labeling it as propaganda and suggesting its forthcoming release contravenes the country's election laws.
In a petition to the Election Commission, the Congress Party demanded that the release of "PM Narendra Modi" be delayed until after the country's elections, which begin on April 11 and will last for about six weeks.
"This is no artistic venture. It is a political venture," said Kapil Sibal, senior Congress Party leader Monday. "The purpose of this film is only political -- to get some extra mileage in the election."
"Too many graduates are trying for low level jobs because they are not finding jobs that suit them," he said. "To some extent the lack of job creation mirrors the problems in the West, that is good jobs for the people with moderate education, is simply not there."
Rajan is currently the Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
"There is a huge hunger for good jobs. Our job statistics have been poor for a long time. We need to improve collection of those statistics. We can't rely on the EPFO (Employees' Provident Fund Organization) or other make-do versions. We need to collect better job data," Rajan said.
More than half of Indians are aged 25 or under, and some 12 million enter the workforce each year. According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate in February this year stood at 7.2%, up from 5% in February, 2017.
5:25 a.m. ET, March 26, 2019
Rights group says parties should pledge to protect human rights
From CNN's Helen Regan
Human Rights Watch has called on all parties standing in the forthcoming Indian elections to commit to "strengthening human rights protections."
"Respect for economic, social, and political rights has declined in India in recent years," the international rights organization said in an open letter Tuesday. "We are writing to urge you to adopt human rights as a key part of your pledges and manifestos ahead of parliamentary elections."
The rights group wants candidates to pledge to ensure accountability of the security forces, to protect freedom of expression and assembly, to enforce laws that protect women and children, and to end discrimination against minorities and refugees.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch said, “It is important for voters in India to have the choice to elect leaders who will genuinely uphold human rights protections."