Skip to main content

Testing waters? Government withdrawal of order to snoop on social media is but a temporary, pyrrhic victory

Ravi Shankar Prasad
By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
The oft-quoted saying “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” has been attributed to several people across the ages; who used these words first is irrelevant. The truth of the matter is that in India, the world’s largest democracy, these immortal words not only carry great weight today but also hold a direction for all Indians.
Yesterday (September 22) banner headlines in several of the major newspapers across the country screamed, ‘Deleting Whatsapp, FB, Viber chats could be made illegal!’, ‘Centre mulls controls on instant messaging apps!’, ‘Save your Whatsapp messages, govt wants to play peeping Tom!’ and so on, as the Central Government (through a Committee) introduced yet another proposal which not only infringed but also grossly violated a fundamental right of the Indian citizen.
The proposal (a draft policy on internet security) sought to strengthen the Government control over private data; one of the points stated that “instant messaging, apps (like ‘Whatsapp’) users will have to keep their communications for 90 days and should be able to produce them if asked by the authorities”. It was certainly a blatant attempt to gag social media and freedom of speech! That such a proposal was even contemplated (even if it was in a draft) would have made the thinking citizen wonder whether “the dark times” have already arrived in the country!
Very naturally, there was a huge outcry! Social media reacted strongly to the proposal. Several newspapers carried their ‘point of view’ on the subject and several noteworthy editorials. The Opposition parties compared it with the “Gujarat snooping model” which has now become a symbol of how a Government interferes in the private lives of its citizens.
The Government was surely not expecting such a backlash and had to beat a hasty retreat! By noon yesterday, the Telecom and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in his typical pompous manner sought to ‘distance’ the Government from the draft policy - calling the massive protests as “uncalled-for misgivings” and that he had asked those who had prepared the draft to withdraw it.
But no one is being fooled! At most, the withdrawal by the Government is but a “temporary” or a “pyrrhic” victory. The Government is adept at testing the waters and see in how many ways they can actually mainstream the ideology of its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The key ideologue of the RSS, MS Golwalkar (the second Sarsanghchalak) who in two of his significant works ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ and ‘We or our Nationhood defined’ makes it clear what their core ideology is all about; this includes the denouncement of the Constitution of India, the upholding of the ‘Manusmriti’ code; the negation of basic democratic principles and above all the treatment of minorities as second-class citizens.
Given the fact that several important Ministers of the present Government had to pay obeisance and to report to the RSS top brass recently is a clear proof that it is the RSS that is calling the shots in the country today.
Since May 2014, there have been several efforts by the Sangh Parivar and their ilk to tamper with, manipulate and intervene in almost every aspect of life of the ordinary citizen. The Government has entered the private domain of what people should eat and wear, what films they should see and whether or not an Indian girl can even be out late at night! The “ban” culture reigns supreme as “majoritarianism” slowly gains a stronghold. Media to a great extent is muzzled as never before!
The way the education system of our country is being mauled makes one squirm; the students today are fed with a syllabi which is loaded with myths, superstitions, half-truths, discriminatory attitudes and everything else which hardly befits a nation which desperately seeks to find a niche as a global player.
A few days ago, the Government admitted that it was planning to introduce lessons from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita in the curriculum of schools and colleges. It is unbelievable that people without the necessary academic qualifications and competence are now made directors of reputed institutes of learning and even Vice Chancellors! All part of a strategy to nationalise education in the country!
The ‘Ghar wapsi’ programmes is surely a clever ploy to usher in a nation-wide anti-conversion law; social analysts regard the ‘Patidar’s stir’ in Gujarat in tune with a key desire of the RSS to do away with reservations in order to continue their hegemony over the lower castes in India. Recently, the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has said unequivocally that ‘reservations need to be done away with’. The denigration of minorities include the attacks on Churches and Christians and the renaming of roads with Muslim names.
The impunity by which another affiliate of the Sangh Parivar, the ‘Sanathan Sanstha’ has allegedly murdered intellectuals and rationalists like Govind Pansare also demonstrates that those who stand up for what is right will be severely dealt with. The murders of other rationalists like Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Dr MM Kalburgi also point to this group; as expected, no Government official has condemned these dastardly acts. Human Rights Defenders, RTI activists, whistleblowers and other civil society members - who fight for truth and justice, continue to be the targets of vicious attacks.
One certainly has to toast the many who from every walk of life have had the courage to take a stand against what is happening in the country today; however, when one looks at the broader picture there seems to be no groundswell of protest; no visionary political leadership which can contain the heap of violations, abuses and injustices to which the common man and woman of India is subjected to today.
The agenda of the right-wing forces is there for all to see. Now that they are in power, they are certainly not going to stop mainstreaming their bunch of thoughts and of redefining nationhood. There is no doubt that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and more so, the Indian citizens will have to remember the words of Edmund Burke the eighteenth century Jesuit-educated Anglo-Irish statesman who said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing!”
---
* Director, Prashant, Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace

Comments

TRENDING

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Gujarat link of controversial US doctor who 'forced' WHO quiz Trump's wonder drug

By Rajiv Shah
A top American doctor, Sapan Sharankishor Desai, born and raised in the “affluent” North Shore (Chicago) region of Illinois by Indian parents, at one point of time involved in NGO activity through  dedicated to “improving” the lives of the impoverished in Gujarat, is in the eyes of a major international storm following his paper (retracted) in a “Lancet” questioning Donald Trump-promoted drug hydroxychloroquine.

Border conflict? RBI nod India's 'brotherly' help to China internationalise its currency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
In the middle of a global pandemic, China started an unprovoked border conflict with India. It unraveled trust deficit and ties between the two neighbours. As thousands of Chinese troops tried occupying Indian territory, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government directs the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow the Bank of China to start regular banking services in India. The Bank of China will now operate in India like any other commercial banks.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Dalits in India, Blacks in US suffer 'similar' humiliation: Macwan drafts letter to Trump

Counterview Desk
Well-known human rights activist Martin Macwan, recipient of the prestigious Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2000, has drafted an open letter to US President Donald Trump following the disturbing turn of events with the murder of George Floyd, leading to widespread protests in the US. He has sought signatures of concerned citizens before sending it to Trump.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.