By Rishit Jain
The Indian government has worked extensively on managing social media and internet activities of citizens wherein the past the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a public sector undertaking under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) of India, was publicly seeking software companies to help set up hubs that would “tacklefake news” and “mold perception”.
The government recently has been aggressively inclining itself towards using social media as a tool to monitor citizens and their activities. This has been seen time and again, where recently the government even expressed their interest in gaining access to WhatsApp messages which had to be shut down by the Supreme Court.Such moves have garnered a lot of public antagonization and such attempts as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy, as Congress spokesperson Abhishek Sangvi described the act as spending the taxpayer’s money to “snoop on them”.
The Other Side
As it is in the case of the formation of most government policy, there are always two sides to the story. There are certain benefits of the government’s actions, including monitoring suspicious activity by internet users and other forms of radical propaganda that presents a threat to the nation.
Any form of media that becomes such a vital form of communication and sharing of ideas requires a certain level of control and regulation in order to ensure authenticity. In fact, Smriti Irani, I&B Minister, was quoted saying that there’s a dire need to introduce “proactive policy which upholds the right to free speech, but at the same time doesn’t give anyone the right to instigate a riot.”
Many have acclaimed such policy to have the ulterior motive of eliminating anti-national elements from the internet. However, when we talk about the issue of propagating nationalism, again two sides emerge. In a nation like India, with such high diversity in language, religion and culture, nationalism is of utmost importance in order to unify a populace that is divided into so many different social subsets.
One can draw a parallel to the sufferance of Austria-Hungary, which was also home to several different ethnic groups, many of which were in conflict with one another. While Austria-Hungary’s rapidly increasing military and economic prosperity proved to be an incentive for these varying ethnicities to remain together, once Prussia, Russia, Germany and Italy started rapidly augmenting eco-politically, Austria-Hungary’s unison was broken down as these rising internal pressures crippled the nation. Unison solely due to selfish economic interest and a lack of genuine nationalism was why Austria-Hungary fell, and thus, the lack of such a unifying sentiment will always be worrying for a nation like India.
The main problem here is understanding the gap between the measures the country needs to take and the measures it can take. As we proudly boast the title of being the world’s largest democracy, it is fundamentally crucial to respect the privacy of our citizens and protect them again manipulation by the media.
This would be in immense contrast to the stand taken by certain nations with a similar economic background and problems such as conflict-stricken China which sought Communism (as it still resides in a state of quasi-socialism) and surrounded itself by powerful political players such as Russia who followed similar political ideologies. Thus, China successfully developed a political foundation that allowed them to undertake strict censorship of media for the sake of social and political stability.
Similarly, a young North Korean nation antagonized by most of the western world needed acute consolidation by the people, formed a dictatorship that was built on the principles of censorship, ‘detention camps’ and other forms of encroachment on basic liberties. They, too, followed autarky for most of their existence, resorting to China whenever they needed help in times of emergency, thus developing a foundation of political support that allowed them to make the tough decisions they took.
The lone tiger
India, however, has become a lone soldier in this regard, unable to completely rely on Western nations such as Europe and the United States but failing to make China and Russia reliable allies.
However, social media manipulation is only one of the many ploys undertaken by the government to trigger nationalist sentiments. In the past, they have launched legislation that has mandated the national anthem to be sung before every movie. Additionally, there have been several instances of antagonizing another nation to gain a unified sentiment, for instance when constant tongue-in-cheek dialogue is made publicly against Pakistan. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated, “one country has only one competitive advantage: exporting terror”, “clearly someone funds and arms them (terrorists)” and “one single nation” in South Asia is spreading terror in multiple international conferences.
Apart from affecting political and international ties, another worrying aspect of nationalism is the probability of the misuse of such sentiment. History has been proof that heavily nationalist nations have always been feared, from Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its success in transitioning from post-Treaty of Versailles economic devastation to being a powerhouse capable of militarily engaging with the world’s most powerful armies despite the egregious atrocities the administration had been committing publicly (such as the Anti-Semitic Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass, as Jewish-owned stores, building and synagogues were broken by the government).
While nationality is a certainly a strength for a nation, it also makes the nation more susceptible to face social atrocity in the name of ‘nationalistic sacrifice’ while also damaging international allies who fear the rise of such power. Looking beyond the merits of a unified nation, greater military strength and more socio-political consolidation, nationalism has externalities far beyond just what goes on in the mind of citizens.
Rishit Jain is a writing analyst at Qrius
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