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Monday, April 14, 2014

Decontextualized Discourse: The Clean Chit

The clean chit in current discourse refers to a unique certificate of accomplishment or rather non-accomplishment of sorts which has a lot of relevance in the political landscape but as a political concept, it belongs far more to the lexicon of  Orwellian dystopia rather than in the cacophony of our chaotic democracy. When common folks are exonerated by a court of law, the act is referred to as acquittal,  however, if the person in the dock happens to be powerful a
nd rich, especially, politicians and businessmen the term then used is clean chit (largely an Indian English word). The clean chit when issued to a person entrusted with constitutional responsibilities, originally meant that the moral and characteral integrity of the person was beyond doubt and the person has fulfilled her/his constitutional and moral obligation. It had very little to do with laws and jurisprudence.  Ordinarily, when a person is not found guilty of having committed the crime he is accused of , s/he is declared "innocent" but in case of high profile politicians and businessmen the term innocent is seldom used by their followers, may be because the word appears more suited to apply to weaker individuals. Interestingly, the term "innocent" is seldom used, most likely because it is loosely associated with weakness.

Now what better example can there be on the question of clean chit, other than that of Narendra Modi, except that the clean chit given to him isn't clean at all! A detailed reading of the SIT report reveals the fact that Modi was left off not because he had acted impartially or according to his constitutional obligation but because of lack of evidence against him. However, the SC appointed amicus curiae in the final report stated that prima facie a case was being made out against Modi for promoting enmity between communities and threat to national integration. Besides, how can a Chief Minister claim to be clean when his Women and Child Development Minister is convicted of massacring innocent women and children, his aide being charged for triple murder and senior IPS officers languishing in jail for fake encounters.

However, I digress,in the original context, taint implied allegations only, it had more to do with morality than legality. When the allegations are proven, they become facts and the person is penalized. However, today "the clean chit" implies immunity from further legal prosecution, moral responsibility is no longer a factor. And worse, it also acts as a gate pass to climb to higher echelons of power using past wrongdoings as stepping stones. Again, Modi's political career encapsulates the essence of this contextualization. What is his claim to fame ? Even if we attribute the so-called "economic and infrastructure development in Gujarat" entirely to his leadership, the fact remains that he is known more for the allegations made against him related to Gujarat  riots of 2002. Ask yourself honestly, when did you first get to know his name ?   The answer most likely would be , in the aftermaths of the riots. By neither apologizing nor shedding his hardcore Hindutva avatar Modi keeps his hardliner support base intact. When talking with others he totally ignores the 2002 riots issue to give out the impression he is completely business oriented,

While it is apparent why he poses as a pan-Indian business friendly leader, Modi 's refusal to apologize for 2002 killings,  fake encounters (of alleged Muslim terrorists), his puppy remark and the like are aimed at ensuring support of ensuring that the traditional Hindutva votes which catapulted him to forefront remained with him. The "clean chit" is only supposed to silence his critics and attempt to get the top job without too many objections being made.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Decontextualized Discourse: The Curse Of 49

The avalanche of information this election season is not just diluting the political discourse but is also decontextualizing events, altering their meanings completely. The Aam Aadmi Party's phenomenal rise has been affected negatively as electoral campaigns reaches a feverish pitch, with personality cults, controversial statements and general mood of festivity drowning the more earthy issues taken up by the Aam Aadmi Party. As of yet, traditional parties, being unable to counter the very real stands taken by the Aam Aadmi Party had been attacking it for its lack of experience in governance and impracticability of its demands but now AAP government's resignation on 49th day of it assuming power in Delhi Assembly is being touted as vindication of their claims. It is nauseating to find even editorials of India's largest selling newspapers' mention AAP's 49 day stint as failure and abdication of responsibility.

Government Formation
The Delhi 2013 Assembly elections results not only threw a hung assembly but also a unique situation n which the three parties were so ideologically opposed to each other, that any genuine understanding between them was out of question or so it seemed then. Later on it transpired that Congress and BJP had unsaid agreement over several issues.

BJP on Friday asked Aam Aadmi Party, the second largest party in Delhi assembly with 28 seats, to form a government while assuring it of constructive cooperation in fulfilling its promises such as slashing tariff by 50 per cent and providing free water upto 700 litres daily. [Indian Express Dec 13th 2013]

  • AAP faced a dilemma; if it refused to form government, the two parties could accuse it of running away from responsibilities and also for having promised things in manifesto which couldn't be implemented. If AAP formed government, it wouldn't be able to bring sweeping changes without majority and thus still be discredited. Though both the Congress and the BJP promised to help AAP fulfill its pre-poll promise, there was little doubt on it being false promise.
  • Support for AAP's 18-point agenda was agreed upon by the Congress though the response bordered on ambiguity. 
  • Further, Arvind Kejriwal sought people's feedback through SMS campaign. In a political culture where people have to be paid money for even participating in a rally, 5 lakh Delhites SMSed in response to Kejriwal's call referendum and overwhelming majority was in favour of government formation.

Right after Kejriwal was sworn in, the BJP began a malicious campaign accusing AAP of going back against their pledge of having no trucks with the Congress, conveniently forgetting that even the BJP had offered issue based support at that point in time..

While the BJP's attack was from the front, the Congress had a more insidious agenda. Given the unique nature of NCT of Delhi's administrative structure, the AAP government was left with very little room to manoeuvre, leave alone bringing systemic change. With the high level of expectation from the AAP government and Union government tightening the shackles of technicalities, the situation was similar to being thrown into a boxing ring with your hands tied behind your back.

That the AAP government had a limited lifespan was a foregone conclusion but the manner of it going out was still a matter of speculation. Arvind Kejriwal quit on his own terms after the Janlokpal bill was defeated in the assembly. However, with a sustained campaign by various stakeholders in the present order managed to bury AAP's achievements in those 49 days, only the resignation of Arvind Kejriwal was allowed to live in public memory and that too in a perverted form.

The media's focus is too short and too enamoured by sharp and vitriolic sound bytes made by popular political personalities to dwell on the way things played out after the Delhi elections and decisions taken by parties in view of constitutional propriety. The fact is that the Aam Aadmi Party had formed the government on assurance given by the Congress that it would support the passage of Janlokpal bill, the issue on which the movement had begun. After blocking the bill the Congress not only went against its commitment, it also proved that the AAP did not command confidence of the house and its constitutional obligation was to resign. Minority governments functioning through horse-trading or jugaad during the test of strength on the floor of the house may have been the norm in last two decades but AAP cannot follow the path and occupy the moral high ground that it does. 

Has personality-centric politics so diluted civil discourse that following the ethical and constitutional path is now seen as folly even by intellectuals ? Or has too much real-time information decontextualized events of  recent past, allowing them to be reinterpreted as part of the media wants it to ?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

SSPG For Modi

Congress leader Imran Masood's desire to kill Narendra Modi, which he expressed in a private gathering is alarming but what I accidentally came across is much more disturbing than the ranting of an ambitious but ill-educated political leader. If Google Search's auto-complete feature reflects the sentiment of large number of its users then what I found is scary indeed.

Combining this with reports of various terrorist agencies planning to assassinate him, raises serious concerns. Despite being the most protected man in India with his elite Gujarat police,  NSG security cover, and most importantly his own 56" chest, non-availability of SPG coverage might have negative impact on the morale and especially on those dimensions. The Union Government says that SPG Act restricts its duty to be extended to a Prime Ministerial candidate or anyone other than the Prime Minister of India and the former Prime Ministers and their families.

However there is no reason why another legislation cannot be made to make Modi more protected! There is an urgent need to create a force, SSPG for the security of the person more important than the Prime Minister and even the state of India. The Snooping Stalking Protection Group should use the very techniques and procedures that Gujarat police under the instruction of the then Home Minister (now murder-accused out on bail to engineer er....campaigns in UP ) Amit Shah followed to protect the lady architect ( from what?) .
In case you are unaware or have chosen to forget it,  a Cobrapost-Gulail joint expose of audio tapes few months back revealed that an 24x7 surveillance had been carried out against a young lady architect for a month or two. The operation was monitored by then Home Minister Amit Shah and involved officers from anti-terrorism squad, state intelligence, CID and even the Chief Minister Narendra Modi, referred to  as Saheb in the conversations. Not only where her phone conversations recorded, she physically followed and the operation involved spying upon  not only her but also her family members,fiancee and even a senior government official.
Interestingly, after the expose the BJP did not deny the allegations at all, instead it produced  an undated letter by the girl's father that the surveillance was being carried upon his own request, for her personal safety! The implication that
However, preposterous it may sound, that still remains the argument put forward by the BJP in response to questions related to this. So to ensure safety and security of such a great leader from threat - however real , exaggerated  or even imaginary they may be, it is of paramount national importance that an identical security apparatus be put in place. Since, Modi is already the most protected person in the country, the SSPG would have  to be much bigger to function covertly  but it would be a small price to pay for the protection of a leader who would simply wave his wand and we would be ridiculing China for its slow economic growth.

Of course, the great leader should never have any idea of the security system deployed or the very purpose would be defeated.

Fool's Day Special

Friday, January 31, 2014

Are Gov 2.0 and E-Governance Synonymous ?

Picking up the thread from my last post, it seems , Indian politicians do see the tremendous power of the Internet but only for self-propaganda. That would explain the huge amount of money they spend on social media campaigns but not an iota of grey matter to think how the same technology can be leveraged for strengthening the democracy.  It reflects the attitude of the political class of viewing the electorate as subjects to be ruled, herded through carrot and sticks and not as the collective sovereign they are part of and represent. Even when information sharing becomes imperative, it is done in a manner so as to make its consumption, a bland and difficult experience. Visit any government website and you are likely to find the interface incredibly outdated. It almost reminds you of rows of somber looking, bespectacled babus tapping keyboards monotonously, almost like the machine they are staring into.

However, the websites exist, exist like numerous contradictions that make India unique. Another example would be the $35 tablet Aakash that the Ministry of Human Resource Development promoted and got global fame, even if there have been hiccups. But at the same time the ministry's websites itself isn't mobile compatible. As a matter of fact, for the first time, in 15 years, I have come across a website that restricts others from linking to it ! The National Portal of India website is quite  upto the mark and does encourage linking and solicits feedback (I don't think they would like this feedback :p) but ironically links from it to detail information on e-governance either returns "page not found" status or a security alert by Firefox (the reason could be that the pages have been moved from National E-Governance Plan to Initiatives but the links have not been updated).

 Now is e-governance the same as Gov 2.0 ?

I don't think so. E-governance is about using the electronic medium to extend governance, typically governamental stuff, a one-way route. Gov 2.0 concept is about participation of private players, innovation not authority should determine the course of action. Transparency and access to information the poorest as well as those living in the remotest corner of the country should be the first step forward. Smart phones, tablets, Internet may seem luxury items used mainly by the urban middle class and higher, but the same applied to mobile phones too, Initially, the mobile phone was a rich person's accessory, gradually the middle class adopted it but it was only after those in lowest rung started using mobile phones that a change in livelihood, lifestyle and outlook came to be perceived. Ironically, despites its numerous advantages cell phones were and are cheaper, require less resources, investment and even effort in procuring one.  Similarly, providing Internet enabled devices and providing coverage in remote areas can much cheaper if done in the proper manner. If EVM can be taken to the remotest part of the country, kiosks offering other information can also be installed to provide better access to people.

 Further, the major milestones in the history of technology have always been invention of newer means of transport and communication. The ark, wheel, papyrus, Gutenberg printing,railroads and metalled roads, the telephone and the Internet, gave mankind the power to take quantum leaps, every time covering several times more ground than before but spending much lesser. Perhaps the government should prioritize extending Internet accessibility even the remotest corner of the country and wait upon instead of concentrating on e-governance initiatives.  In instances such as soliciting bidding from contractors online has been great tool in fighting against corruption. But devoting money and resources for certain public welfare measures, using the Internet, it could let the new breed of social entrepreneur do it. Concern for security of data shared, is futile as long as those very data are available as public data in hard copy or is dynamically served on web. During the ongoing election in India the web is being used for endorsement only. I haven't come across any information specifically related to leveraging Internet to help the poor and  marginalized communities, instead what comes across chest-thumping, back-patting and  appealing for votes.

In my earlier post I wrote about Election Commission of India's bid to tie up with Google and how the idea was crushed by politicians. True India based-companies may be given priority when outsourcing such projects but is there a single Indian company which has a user-base that is even remotely close to Google, Facebook or Twitter ?  Even a cursory glance at Google Civic should reveal the fact that there is no scope of secretive or partisanship in the proposed services. It is aimed solely at empowering voters and even leaders as long as they are for the people's benefit. Check this out.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

ECI-Google Deal Failure Points To India's Contradictory Open Data Policy

Talks of collaboration between the Election Commission of India and Google to provide voter facilitation services ahead of Lok Sabha polls have fallen through with the Election Commission declining to go ahead with the plan. Opposition to the proposal by the Congress and BJP, two parties stuck in their own time-warps is understandable but so-called cybersecurity experts raising security concerns is intriguing.  The fact that Snowden expose has been referred to as one of the arguments in the context is more than ironic. In information age, being cautious while sharing data with foreign-based companies is natural but knee-jerk reaction can be very counter-productive.