How ‘alternative facts’ were used by a ‘fact checker’ to show PM Modi in poor light

An article was published on Hindustan Times yesterday, which claimed to “fact check” the speech made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an election rally at Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh on February 16.

The article was written by someone working at an organisation called IndiaSpend, which OpIndia.com had earlier found lacking in their “fact check” rigour, and it appears that this article was another example of that.

The most notable aspect about the article is that the author couldn’t find a single claim made by PM Modi that was completely wrong (except one, which was ‘alternative facts’ by the author himself, as we’d see it later in this article), yet the article went on to claim that the speech was full of “half-truths” and “tall claims”.

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In essence, the only “tall claim” was that the article was presented as “fact check”, and the “half-truths” were some of the claims made in the article. For example:

On crimes against Dalits:

Modi says – even the article quotes this – “Hindustan mein sabse zyada daliton par atyachaar agar kahin hote hai, to us pradesh ka naam hai Uttar Pradesh”. This, the article claims, is “wrong”.

This sentence clearly indicates that, in terms of absolute magnitude, Uttar Pradesh sees the highest number of crimes against Dalits. The article however assumes that PM meant the crime rate against SCs i.e. crimes reported per 100000 SC population, which although a valid indicator, is not what Modi himself was using in his statement.

It’s like a person saying that “Sachin Tendulkar has made the maximum runs” and some “fact checker” shouts “wrong” because Sachin is not the number one in batting averages.

Nonetheless, using this crime-rate indicator, the article makes a point that many other states have a higher crime rate than Uttar Pradesh against SCs. However, it is one thing to say Gujarat has a higher crime rate against SCs than Uttar Pradesh, and yet another to conclude Uttar Pradesh is safer for Dalits than Gujarat. The latter – the article concludes that Uttar Pradesh is “better place” for SCs than Gujarat – becomes a heavily contestable claim which ignores other possible factors that feed into this data.

The “fact-checker” assumes it is as easy or difficult for an SC to report a case against a dominant caste in Uttar Pradesh as it is in Gujarat. In a region infamous for its heavily caste-ridden and politically connected security apparatus, for an SC to file a case against a dominant community may be an uphill task. In fact, Modi himself mentions in this very speech that IndiaSpend refers to, that it is difficult for a Dalit to register cases in police stations in Uttar Pradesh.

Remember that in Uttar Pradesh, outside the cities and sometimes even within, politically connected strongmen and bahubalis rule the roost and even the police are not immune to such influences. Recently, there was a case of even the Supreme Court having to intervene and order the Uttar Pradesh Government to register an FIR in a case of alleged gangrape of a minor against a minister in Akhilesh’s cabinet.

Deriving conclusions by looking purely at the crime rate from a numbers-only perspective without contextualising it with ground realities may be misleading.

Further, Gujarat had a crime rate of 29.2 in 2013, 27.7 in 2014 and 25.7 in 2015 while Uttar Pradesh had 17.1 in 2013, 19.5 in 2014 and 20.2 in 2015. The rate in Gujarat is dipping gradually while the situation in Uttar Pradesh is going in the opposite direction, and this is something the article itself concedes.

This constant rise in crime rate against Dalits makes Uttar Pradesh a “better place” than Gujarat where it’s going down? The crime rate against SCs jumps from 15 in 2012 to 20.2 in 2015 – an increase of about 35% – a pretty damning indictment of Akhilesh’s governance actually.

On crop insurance:

The fact-checker observes, as opposed to Modi’s claim, that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) is not the first in covering natural calamity risks since the Weather-Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) is already present to cover weather-related vagaries.

However, there is one key difference between the two schemes. What is unprecedented is that the PMFBY actually covers extremely localized calamities which the RUA (Reference Unit Area) based approach of the WBCIS does not – a nuance which a fact check should have covered since it claims WBCIS already did all that PMFBY does.

PMFBY states “For Risks of Localized calamities and Post-Harvest losses on account of defined peril, the Unit of Insurance for loss assessment shall be the affected insured field of the individual farmer”. WBCIS adopts an RUA-based approach where claims are studied based on conditions in the RUA than in the specific field of the insured individual farmer.

In this sense the PMFBY, surely has an important first up its sleeve whose value-add may be subtle on paper but can turn out to be a life and death question for an individual farmer whose field saw adverse natural conditions affect his prospects which an RUA-based insurance scheme may not consider since it considers weather conditions of the overall RUA to evaluate such a claim.

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