Showing posts with label freedom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom. Show all posts

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hindutva or Development; That is the Question

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.” 
Henry David Thoreau

Capitalism and democratic freedom go hand in hand. In order for India’s economy to succeed, people need to stop fearing backlash for religious or political beliefs, and have no fear in publicly criticising the government, the PM, elected officials and even the army.

Silence is no longer an option; it will be deemed as acquiescence at worst, cowardice at best, at a time when moral policing, anti-Muslim bigotry, religious intolerance, frivolous accusations of anti-nationalism and vigilantism continue to grow.

In order for Mr. Modi’s vision of India to succeed, he needs to go well beyond cutting a few layers of our bureaucracy and corruption, and also start championing free society where diversity of thinking is encouraged, where there is respect for rule or law (and consequences for breaking it) and where there is a very clear separation between religion and state.

These are the fundamental underpinnings of every successful free market economy. India cannot progress economically with one-hand tied behind its back. If Mr. Modi continues to allow apolitical institutions like the army to be used by his political cronies as instruments of faux nationalism, he will pay a very heavy price and so will India.

The bottom-line is that every month between 2011 and 2030, nearly 1 million Indians will turn 18 and if India is unable to create well-paying jobs, no matter what else Mr. Modi achieves, his tenure will be viewed as a failure.

In my estimation, there are couple of things Mr. Modi must do to change the tenor of the current discourse in our nation and lay the foundations for a more cohesive and inclusive India.

One. As one of the few politicians who understand the power of social media, Mr. Modi must make an appeal to all digital lynch mobs to make clear that this behaviour will not be tolerated and most certainly should not be done in his name. He needs to be unequivocal in his condemnation of social media misogyny, bullying and hooliganism, but stop short of passing new laws. 

His needs to be a plea for civility without limiting free speech. It is about appealing to people’s good sense and getting them to take the higher ground, just like Mr. Modi did when he met with Nawaz Sharif and invited Pakistan’s SIT team (against the wishes of his own advisors).

Two For a man who took office promising to attract foreign companies and investment by changing the backward, corrupt, bumbling and bureaucratic image of India, his government’s own PR has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.

In a world where perception is reality, the BJP is increasingly being seen as a government of overreach. One that regularly tramples on civil liberties and constitutional rights. Granted, some of this is overreaction, media bias and orchestration by opposition parties, but truth is that beef bans have been enforced in BJP-led states, independent documentary films have been banned, funding has been blocked for NGO’s, college students have been charged with sedition and there was an attempt to blacklist an independent TV channel without judicial oversight. All of this has transpired under Mr. Modi’s watch.

The point is that the world is watching and taking note. Ultimately, nobody wants to invest in a country where rule of law is regularly trampled and sound economic policy decisions are overtaken by religious fanaticism and medieval ideology.

Three. It is easy to forget that at sixty-nine years we are still a young and nascent democracy. Witnessing the machinations of the last two Congress governments, the Aam Aadmi party’s complete ineptitude and the BJP’s Hindutva antics, it tells me that to begin our evolution into a mature democracy we need to start creating non-partisan institutions, independent think tanks, civilian ombudsman bodies and numerous other apolitical and non-partisan groups that have the ability to monitor our government’s activities and prevent overreaches. 

Such institutions are the bedrock of every mature democracy. We have seen how these independent organisations ultimately held the US government to task over recent overreaches like the illegal Iraq invasion and the torture of enemy combatants, and put a stop to intelligence agencies' infringing on citizens’ rights through opaque domestic spying programs.

India needs this type of independent oversight to hold government and elected officials accountable when they stray, as they all inevitably do. Modi can become the PM who championed the creation of these public institutions.

If he does not start to address these underlying civil and social issues, all the good he continues to do – his recent bold move to combat black money, removing foreign equity caps (from defense to railroads), launching Jan Dhan Yojana (bank accounts for the poor), smart city initiatives, fast track projects, divestment of PSU’S, women's empowerment programs – will all seem inconsequential as they are overshadowed by beef bans and the use of antiquated British laws.

I believe it comes down to a very simple question that Modi needs to ask himself: What does he want his legacy to be?

Does he want to be remembered as the Prime Minister who put India on the path to achieving its full potential - by promoting free thought, gender equality and rule of law, or the PM who allowed India to be reshaped by wildly misguided notions of Hinduism and pseudo-nationalism? 

History will certainly judge how Mr. Modi chooses to answer, but long before that we will decide at the ballot box.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi: We will not go quietly into the night.


Image credit: www.republicdaystatus.in

Dear Mr. Modi,

I write not to celebrate your government’s demise but to say that I am gravely disappointed in you. There are many who were actively rooting for your failure, based on your RSS and Hindutva roots; to be clear these people are not rooting for India’s failure but for you to show your true saffron colours, so to speak, as you have now done.

Against my better judgement, I decided to give you a chance; not by giving you my trust but by vowing to keep an open mind. I understood that you would need to walk a tight rope, balancing your RSS constituency’s Hindutva demands and striving for double digital growth. But I gave you the benefit of doubt because I hoped you had grown wiser and understood that there can only be economic development in a democracy unhampered by religious and fanatical ideology. That there can be no innovation without inclusion. There can be no invention without free thought.  And there can be no democracy without freedom of speech, unimpeded by limitations imposed by an elected government.

India has never feigned democracy like a China or a Russia. We have always strived to be a genuine beacon of discovery, debate, discussion and dissension. Messy, corrupt, polluted and imperfect as we might be, I have always been proud to be an Indian. But I am also critical, when and where I need to be, of corruption, vote bank politics, the caste system and the fact that we remain a male dominated society even in the twenty-first century.

I once asked my father why he was always hard on me, and seemingly critical of everything I did, even though he would see my friends do much worse, and say nothing to them. He said; “Son, I care deeply about you, and how you turn out. If I am hard on you, it is only because I love you.”

Therein lies the definition of patriotism for me.

It is a relationship of a loving parent and child: always proud but also so deeply caring that it can be overly and passionately critical of all that is wrong. Do not mistake this honesty, sometimes demonstrated through anger and frustration, and even misguided sentiments, for anything more than a bid to shake up the status quo. It is the depth of this patriotic love that pushes many of us to find ways to make India better by first acknowledging our faults and shining a bright light on our government's flaws. 

You would do well to remember that patriotism is NOT blind love and devotion for one’s country or government. That is the definition of dictatorship and has all the trappings of an oppressed society where citizens are too fearful to express themselves.

And no Indian requires a certificate of patriotism from your government or any other. If I choose not to stand during the national anthem in protest, that is my right. If I choose to compare my Prime Minister to Hitler, in a social media cartoon, that is also my right. There are laws and there is freedom of expression; do not muddy the two.

So far I have held my tongue, but your government's actions on the JNU campus are a disgrace to India and to the democratic principles my forebears spilled their blood to earn. The BJP’s use of archaic laws, those once used by our oppressors, to arrest faculty and students is a step too far.

Our nation must recognize this growing abuse of power, this attempt to erode basic freedoms. To that end, I have adapted below words Churchill used when he and Britain also faced great adversity and the greatest threat to their way of life. 

Even though large tracts of India and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the BJP and all the odious apparatus of RSS rule, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end; we shall fight in Gujarat,
We shall fight from the Himalayas down to Kanyakumari,
We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in social media, we shall defend our freedom of speech, of thought and our Mathrubhumi whatever the cost may be,
We shall fight on college campuses,
We shall fight on the farm lands,
We shall fight in the judiciary and with the ballot box,
We shall fight in the halls of parliament and use the power of the press;
We shall never surrender to Hindutva…Jai Hind!*

Sincerely,
A patriotic and ‘anti-national’ Indian

*Credit: Indianised version of Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech delivered to the House of Commons, 4 June 1940

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Patriot Act, Terrorism and the Irrationality of Fear (Part 1)

“The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.”
James Madison

I believe most can agree that, no matter what your stance on national security, terrorism is and always will be a heinous and cowardly act of violence committed against innocent people, motivated by political, religious or social fanaticism. However, how we chose to let our government protect us and how we decide to fight this cowardly and invisible enemy is a choice we must make. 

The questions we have to ask ourselves are: How many hard-fought freedoms are we willing to let our government sacrifice in the name of protecting us? And how much privacy are we are willing to give up to feel safer? To say that we need to make an absolute choice between our freedoms and our security is a false argument because it’s impossible to be 100% safe from an enemy that is willing to give up their own lives to take ours. 

This is an extremely important debate given the revelations about the opaque nature with which our government and the NSA have been operating and abusing their powers. They have gone beyond our borders, bypassed our laws and their severely overextended their remit. The NSA no longer felt the need to keep the President of the United States of America informed about some of their spying programs. 

We urgently need a new framework for the NSA, one that has sufficient and effective oversight by the executive, legislative and the judicial branches of government. The NSA has shown they cannot be trusted, operating with complete impunity, little transparency and zero accountability. Beyond the argument to protect privacy, there are a number of other reasons why the current NSA spying program needs to be curtailed and have some reasonable limits applied to it, before it is too late.

Let’s start with the simple fact that, while fear is an irrational thing, it does have a tangible effect in our daily lives and societies. Take the stock market, for example, it goes up and down based on a number of rational factors, but is also directly driven by irrational sentiment – our level of confidence or lack thereof, in the economy, personal job prospects and optimism or pessimism about our future. So too with terrorism, there are irrational and rational elements that we need to consider when determining the level of security that is reasonable to protect against attacks.

First, security experts around the world agree that the majority of airport security procedures are completely ineffective in preventing an act of terror; yet the TSA’s budget in 2014 was over $7 Billion (source: Wikipedia). There have been numerous studies and reports published on how ineffective the TSA and their methods are (Source: “Airport Security Is Making Americans Less Safe” and “Report Says T.S.A. Screening Is Not Objective” and “TSA Chief Out After Agents Fail 95 Percent of Airport Breach Tests”.)  

If you examine these facts rationally, you could build a strong argument for getting rid of most of these airport security measures, or at the very least cut down on the number of inconveniences travelers face. Yet, the reason for all this security is simple and has little to do with making us more secure on an aircraft. It is psychological and driven by the fact that air travel is vital for global commerce and economic growth.

Imagine if people became too scared to fly - the world and business would come to a grinding halt. So even though the amount of money spent on airport security is disproportionate to the actual security it provides, the visibility and inconvenience makes people feel safer, which in turn helps them go about their daily lives. For this reason, there are sometimes important and valid reasons to make a show of security. There is a tangible economic benefit involved and this is why airports and not train stations, bus depots or sea ports are protected in the same manner. This is also the reason we always see a beefed up security presence on the streets in the aftermath of a terror attack anywhere in the world.

The second thing to weigh in this debate is that we have a disproportionate emotional response to terrorism as compared to every other event that ends with loss of life. Consider our response to the Boston Marathon bombings against our response to the Texas refinery explosion that happened the same week. Three people died in Boston and fifteen in Texas. In Boston, a number of people were maimed; in Texas an entire town was leveled with hospitals, schools and homes all destroyed. 

Yet, we and the media fixated entirely on the events in Boston and the subsequent manhunt for two young men. Within a few weeks America had donated $61 Million to the OneFund for the Boston victims; while Texas has received little more than $1M of our kindness in that time. I am not arguing that one was less or more devastating than the other, simply pointing out how disproportionate, both our fixation and our tangible responses is to terrorism versus any other calamitous event. 

Ultimately it is much easier to unite against a common enemy that has a name and face, and get some sense of closure when our government hunts down and kills them.