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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!”
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* Director, Prashant, Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace

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