(This article was first published in September 2015 in the previous version of People’s Review. Due to an incident of hacking the old website was pulled down and we could only restore the old articles in this section)
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, made his maiden trip to the Silicon Valley of the USA, and the corporate media of India and the world exaggerated this through their propaganda as a great achievement made by India. The Prime Minister’s visit was majorly aimed at wooing investment for India from the non-resident Indians who have been the cardinal force behind the growth of the Silicon Valley since the late 1980’s. The cheap labour of the migrant Indians and their extra efforts to stay relevant in an industry at a time when India lacked any opportunity to provide them with decent employment made this community quite famous in the digital advancement of USA.
It is a fact that the total Information and Technology industry had been US centric since the 1990’s and even when the world wide web was conceived by a British national Tim Berners-Lee, at a European scientific research institute CERN back in 1989, the Americans were quick to pick up the research to build up the internet, which has evolved as a very powerful tool in the modern times, and not only manages business operations of the most complex type, but also has turned into a platform which now connects billions of people worldwide.
The Modi-led BJP (RSS actually) government of India has envisioned the concept of ‘Digital India’, a slogan which the corporate media and the BJP social media marketers has since eulogised as a weapon to defeat all socio-economic problems of India. Modi has hailed the information and technology as the tool to eradicate poverty in India and ensure empowerment of the downtrodden people of the country. The plan that he has envisioned is nothing more than the age-old plan of the Indian government to enact e-Governance in all spheres to hasten up the government functioning and to bring accountability and transparency in government dealings. Modi has added the features of building better infrastructure for digital services across the nation, running campaigns on digital literacy, etc to the existing plan and packed it in his own mediocre fashion.
However, even after several years of the e-governance projects that was put into practice by different state governments along with the Central Government, the people bear the witness that the digital governance so far has neither eradicated corruption from the ranks of the government bureaucracy, it did not change the way business is done in India, it could not usher in a new era of transparency and finally it never ended the hassles common people, as well as small and medium enterprises, have to undergo to get their work done at government offices. The processes and the functions of the government bureaucracy have remained equally rigid, regardless of the provinces where e-governance is put into practice, and the corruption has retained its space in the Indian administration.
When we see the craze in the media about the Silicon Valley meeting of Modi with the Indian NRI’s, the top corporate honchos of the IT industry and especially with the total fanfare exhibited by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social media giant, Facebook, over the visit of Modi and his Digital India campaign, we have no other option left, but to examine closely the case of Modi’s vision and the interest of the US-based top corporations in the campaign to digitally ‘empower’ India.
It must be noted that before Modi visited the Silicon Valley Indians, who were, of course, the carefully chosen gentry representing the outlook of the fascist RSS, he held a meeting with the top corporate media and entertainment tycoons who kept on demanding for greater opportunities for them to invest in the media business in India. The corporate controlled media has proven its power to brainwash people and polarise electorate through propaganda campaigns during the 2014 general elections that brought Modi to power. It must be noted that though the corporate media pays lip service to the cause of democracy by criticising the monstrous communal propaganda of the RSS and its affiliates, notably whenever the latter jabber its hate propaganda against the minority communities in India, these media outfits wholeheartedly supports the government’s economic agenda, which aims at liberalising the economy to woo corporate investment and appease the corporate capital at the cost of the anguish of the common people.
The demand for greater access to the Indian market by the corporate media is understood well by the size of the Indian middle class, a considerable amount of internet users and the requirement of India as a neo-colony of the US and its allies in the future. The corporate media and the corporate entertainment industry wants to dominate the Indian intellectual space to build up mass opinion in its favour and to erect a support base for the fascistic government that will pave the ways wide open for neo-colonisation of the country.
The growth of the internet has over years changed the way media has always operated. Since the beginning of the new millennia, particularly after the development of the blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger, etc, the concept of media has changed drastically. The internet has empowered a vast number of people to publish their opinion, report news and events from an alternative angle, write critical reviews on people and events and to do a host of other things. Social media since 2008 has made people connect better, and has made it mandatory for news and media industry to connect with the people through social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. As the internet has grown with the access to smartphones among the upper and middle classes, the pattern of news broadcasting has also changed diametrically.
The growth of the internet has provided a much-awaited space for the dissenting voices to express their concerns, criticise government policies and form social networks that also plays an important part in initiating socio-political movements. The revolts in Arab countries called the Arab Spring, the Shahbagh Movement in Bangladesh and above all the massive support gained by anti-war and anti-monopoly capital movements like Occupy Wall Street movement worldwide through the internet, has inspired millions.
The dissent expressed over the internet and its power to turn into a viral force that can beat the death knells of the most atrocious regimes has made the internet tool of a dilemma for the ruling classes of all countries. While the monopoly – finance capital requires internet to transact its business, control stock trading, invest in portfolios, buy and exchange foreign exchanges, etc, they are similarly scared of the progressive people using the internet to build up mass struggles against the domination of the monopoly finance capital and its allies. This has led to several legislations formulated by different governments, including that of India, to control the flow of information over the internet and restrict the expression of free thoughts over the cyberspace.
The BJP government, following the footsteps of the erstwhile Congress regime has brought in many legislative plans to control the flow of information on internet, demanding from various service providers access to snoop on the activities of people, and alike the US and the UK, which are managing draconian campaigns like PRISM to snoop on people of their countries as well as that of the world, India too seeks complete control over the netizens of the country. While each move of the government to openly control the affairs of an individual over the internet has backfired the Modi regime has resorted to covert tactics of controlling and snooping on individual’s internet activities through the Digital India campaign.
Though the campaigns were launched by the progressive section of internet users for net neutrality and against government snooping on internet users, Facebook which also owns the popular instant messaging service Whatsapp has quickly plunged into the fray of the Digital India campaign of Modi since the latter visited its facility.
Zuckerberg and Modi has formed a close strategic alliance, which is very unholy for India and Indians, as through their Trojan horse of providing free internet access and connecting more people in the digital world, the Modi government will get access to the activities, thought process, social connections, personal messages and communications of people connected to the internet on platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.
The real rejoice is for the ruling classes at it finally found an avenue to snoop on the people over the internet to control dissent and curb the growth of critical voices within the nation through pre-emptive measures. The sad fact is that the Indian people are again hoodwinked in the hullabaloo of another malicious campaign whose real intentions are camouflaged from the people through chauvinist jargon mongering.
It is very important to digitally empower India, to make the people digitally literate, so that they can gain knowledge from different sources on the internet and can communicate better with each other. However, the nation, first of all, needs a full-proof system that can stop the condition of the peasantry, the major part of the population, from deteriorating. The country needs a sustainable agricultural and peasant policy which will help the peasantry to survive amidst the havoc unleashed on them through the regime of neo liberal economic policies. The country needs a nationwide uniformity in deciding the minimum wages of the working class, to fix the maximum working hours, to bring parity between the wages and benefits of the regular and contract workers. The nation needs a comprehensive food policy that can guarantee food for the poor and downtrodden masses, the nation needs a proactive health care service and most importantly a system that will generate and guarantee job and job security to the youth of the country.
Unless we reach these basic milestones, it will be superfluous to discuss digitally empowering the country, as still millions of people live without electricity and cannot feed themselves with a proper diet every day. The policy of the government should be and must be to address these issues with priority before considering any other amusement, which can be a music to the ears of the upper and middle classes but mean nothing to the majority of the people of the country.