Towards a surveillance State

The latest order of the Union Home Ministry authorizing ten designated agencies “to intercept, monitor and decrypt” any information “generated, transmitted, received or stored” in a digital device takes India one more step toward a surveillance State. This has been done, the people have been told, in the interest of national security. This is the standard argument used for taking every new step that intrudes a citizen’s privacy in a more pervasive manner. The object is to keep the citizen twenty-four hours under surveillance. His personal data will be accessed, the information – any information – stored in any computer, whether or not linked to the Internet, will be accessed, the websites he visits, the type of websites, the number of visits and the time spent on each website will be recorded. The sum of the information thus collected will enable the State to study the political inclination of every citizen and make it easy to profile the individual citizen more closely. 
After suffering defeat in three States in the Hindi belt, the BJP has become so shaky and panicky that it wants to make its snooping network more universal and foolproof so that every move of its potential opponents before the next election is known to it as soon as it is made. This is not a sign of strength, but of weakness. It betrays a fear of the electorate which sends a political party to power. There have been unmistakable signs in the last few months that the Prime Minister’s personal charisma is waning, that people are being less and less moved by the oratory he is known for. Even Hindu fanaticism seems unable to move the voters. Most of those constituencies in which Yogi Adityanath, the symbol of Hindutva, was the chief campaigner of the BJP, saw the party’s candidates being defeated.
When a ruling party starts fearing that the people may reject them, it seeks to strike terror in the people. This is what is happening now. In the last four and a half years that the BJP has been in power, no threat to national security big enough to warrant giving of such sweeping powers to official agencies was felt. It is only after the people in three major Hindi-speaking States turned their face away from the ruling party was the necessity felt for arming the State with such draconian powers. Whether the step will meet the approval of the voter or will only alienate him from the present dispensation will be known only after the elections.

Monday, 24 December, 2018