Whistleblowing as an act of political resistance

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

–  Edward Snowden

After Nehru…

Longish quotes from London Review of Books from After Nehru by Perry Anderson

To be impressive, however, is not to be miraculous, as Indians and others still regularly describe the political system that crystallised after independence. There was never anything supernatural about it: terrestrial explanations suffice. The stability of Indian democracy came in the first instance from the conditions of the country’s independence. There was no overthrow of the Raj, but a transfer of power by it to Congress as its successor. The colonial bureaucracy and army were left intact, minus the colonisers.

For twenty years, across five polls between 1951 and 1971, Congress never once won a majority of votes. In this period, at the peak of its popularity as an organisation, its average share of the electorate was 45 per cent. This yielded it crushing majorities in the Lok Sabha, amounting to just under 70 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In effect, the distortions of the electoral system meant that at national level it faced no political opposition. At state or district level, this did not hold. But there, the centre had powers that could deal swiftly with any local trouble. These too were heirlooms of the Raj, eagerly appropriated by Congress.

No other system of inequality, dividing not simply, as in most cases, noble from commoner, rich from poor, trader from farmer, learned from unlettered, but the clean from the unclean, the seeable from the unseeable, the wretched from the abject, the abject from the subhuman, has ever been so extreme, and so hard-wired with religious force into human expectation.

Fixing in hierarchical position and dividing from one another every disadvantaged group, legitimating every misery in this life as a penalty for moral transgression in a previous incarnation, as it became the habitual framework of the nation it struck away any possibility of broad collective action to redress earthly injustice that might otherwise have threatened the stability of the parliamentary order over which Congress serenely presided for two decades after independence.

By the end of his life, Nehru would have liked a more presentable fig-leaf for Indian rule, but that he had any intention of allowing free expression of the popular will in Kashmir can be excluded: he could never afford to do so. He had shown no compunction in incarcerating on trumped-up charges the ostensible embodiment of the ultimate legitimacy of Indian conquest of the region, and no hesitation in presiding over subcontracted tyrannies of whose nature he was well aware.

Surrounded by mediocrities, Nehru accumulated more posts than he could handle – permanent foreign minister as well as prime minister, not to speak of defence minister, head of the planning commission, president of Congress, at various times. He was not a good administrator, finding it difficult to delegate, but even had he been, this was a pluralism too far.

Nor was Ambedkar consoled by sanctimonious plaudits for his role in drafting the constitution. He knew he had been used by Congress, and said two years later: ‘People always keep on saying to me: oh sir, you are the maker of the constitution. My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do I did much against my will.’

Secularism in India, it is explained, does not mean anything so unsophisticated as the separation of state and religion. Rather – so one version goes – the Indian state is secular because, while it may well finance or sponsor this or that religious institution or activity, in doing so it maintains an ‘equidistance’ from the variegated faiths before it.

As with other oppressed minorities in societies keen to advertise their pluralism, a sprinkling of celebrities – a batsman or film star here, a scientist or symbolic office-holder there – adorns, but doesn’t materially alter, the position of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India.

What the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act effectively does in such zones, the young Indian historian Ananya Vajpeyi has written, is ‘to create an entirely separate space within India, a sort of second and shadow nation, that functions as a military state rather than an electoral democracy, and only remains hidden because it is not, at least so far, officially ruled by a general or a dictator’. This space should ‘not be thought of as a zone of exception, but as a contradiction so extreme that it undoes the totality in which it is embedded’, which breaks down into ‘two distinct and mutually opposed regimes’ that form ‘two nations: India and non-India’.

Had the party or state been truly secular, in each case this would have been a priority, but that was the last thing it had in mind. There cannot be a genuinely secular party or state unless it is willing to confront religious superstition and bigotry, rather than truckle to them. Neither party nor state has ever contemplated doing that, because both have rested, sociologically speaking, on Hindu caste society. The continued dominance of upper castes in public institutions – administration, police, courts, universities, media – belongs to the same matrix.

After Independence, Gandhi’s doctrines were consigned to the museum, but his saturation of politics with Hindu pathos lived on.

Indian secularism of the post-independence period had never sharply separated state and religion, let alone developed any systematic critique of Hinduism.

The BJP does not oppose, but upholds secularism, for ‘India is secular because it is Hindu.’

‘Myths have a way of running away with their proponents,’ G. Balachandran, an Indian critic of this outlook, of whom there have not been that many, has remarked: ‘Belief in the essentially secular character of the modern Indian state and society can often be little more than an exercise in self-congratulation which overlooks or rationalises the sectarian religious outlook pervading large areas of contemporary social and political practice.’

Mayawati’s erection of 150,000 statues of Ambedkar, not to speak of two hundred effigies of her party’s elephant symbol and of herself (the largest 24 feet high, and like the rest covered in pink polythene as the state went to the polls in March, on the orders of the Election Commission, so as not to beguile or distract voters), at the cost of more schools and healthcare, offers an extreme case of this identity politics, which does not seek to abolish caste, as Ambedkar had wanted, but to affirm it.

Castes continue to be, as they have always been, and Ambedkar saw, one of the purest negations of any notion of liberty and equality, let alone fraternity, imaginable. That the Indian state has never lifted a juridical finger to do away with them, but in seeking only to ameliorate has if anything legally entrenched them, says more about its secularism than the omission of any reference to it in the constitution, or the belated passage of an amendment rectifying the omission to embellish the Emergency.

With it has come a large measure of convergence between Congress and the BJP in government, each pursuing at home a neoliberal economic agenda, as far as their allies will allow them, and abroad a strategic rapprochement with the United States. Culturally, they now bathe in a common atmosphere in which religious insignia, symbols, idols and anthems are taken for granted in commercial and official spaces alike.

In India democracy never extended very far from government to the parties contending for it, which were always run from the top down. Today, however, many have become something other than the oligarchic organisations into which the political scientists Ostrogorsky and Michels thought all parties must sooner or later turn. With the exception of the communists and the BJP, they have become family firms competing for market shares of the electorate and so access to public office.

Of the ensuing scenery, André Béteille, the doyen of sociologists of India, has written that the ‘abject surrender’ of Congress to a single family, corrupting all other parties, has done irreparable harm to Indian democracy, poisoning the wells of public life.

The court, now self-recruiting, is the most powerful judiciary on earth. It has acquired such an abnormal degree of authority because of the decay of the representative institutions around it. Even admirers are aware of the risks. In the graphic phrase of Upendra Baxi, India’s leading legal scholar and one of the first to bring a public interest suit before the court, it is ‘chemotherapy for a carcinogenic body politic’

Comparing India and China from another angle, one of the most lucid political minds of the subcontinent, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, has observed that in the People’s Republic, where there is no democracy, communist rule is based on output legitimacy: it is accepted by the masses for the material benefits it takes great care to deliver them, however unequally. Whereas in India, democracy allows just the opposite – an input legitimacy from the holding of free elections, that thereby excuses the political class from distributing more than confetti to the masses who have elected them.

Three years later, with typical dishonesty, the Manmohan regime renamed it as ‘Gandhian’ to fool the masses into believing that Congress was responsible for it.

Caste, not class, and alas, least of all the working class, is what counts most in popular life, at once sustaining Indian democracy and draining it of reconstructive energy.

If the poor remain divided against themselves, and workers are scattered and ill-organised, what of other sources of opposition within the political system? The new middle class has turned against mega-corruption, but is scarcely foreign to the bribe and the wink, let alone favours to kin, at its own level of advantage. Besotted with a culture of celebrity and consumption, on spectacularly vapid display in much of the media, and to all appearances hardening in collective egoism, it is no leaven in the social order. The intelligentsia is another matter. There, India possesses a range and quality of minds that perhaps no other developing society in the world, and not that many developed ones, can match. Whether working inside or outside the union, it forms an interconnected community of impressive acuity and distinction. In what kind of relationship does it stand to the country? Intellectuals are often held, quite wrongly, to be critical by definition. But in some societies, the mistake has become internalised as a self-conception or expectation, and so it probably is for most Indian intellectuals. How far do they live up to it?

A rigid social hierarchy was the basis of original democratic stability, and its mutation into a compartmentalised identity politics has simultaneously deepened parliamentary democracy and debauched it. Throughout, caste is the cage that has held Indian democracy together, and it has yet to escape.

In the 1920s the great Tamil iconoclast E.V. Ramasamy could declare: ‘He who invented God is a fool. He who propagates God is a scoundrel. He who worships God is a barbarian.’

Hindu culture, exceptionally rich in epics and metaphysics, was exceptionally poor in history, a branch of knowledge radically devalued by the doctrines of karma, for which any given temporal existence on earth was no more than a fleeting episode in the moral cycle of the soul.

‘In an overwhelmingly religious society,’ one subcontinental scholar has written, ‘even the most clear-sighted leaders have found it impossible to distinguish romanticism from history and the latter from mythology.’

Moral indignation is too precious an export to be wasted at home. That the democracy of his country and the humanity of his leader preside over an indurated tyranny, replete with torture and murder, within what they claim as their national borders, need not ruffle a loyal Indian citizen.

Nobel prizes are rarely badges of political courage – some of infamy – so there is little reason for surprise at a silence that, in one form or another, is so common among Indian intellectuals.

What is true is that no break away from the union is conceivable in this area, not because of any economic impossibility, but because Delhi can unleash overwhelming military force, as it has done for a half a century, to crush any attempt at secession, and can count on exhaustion eventually wearing out all resistance, as it cannot in Kashmir, where the alternatives of independence or inclusion in Pakistan have not left the Valley, and any free vote would prefer either to the Indian yoke.

Still, at the altar of Trimurti, costs are discounted inversely to gains. Unity, whose moral and political deadweight is heavier, is safer from reproach than democracy or secularity.

The dynasty that still rules the country, its name as fake as the knock-off of a prestige brand, is the negation of any self-respecting republic.

Congress had its place in the national liberation struggle. Gandhi, who had made it the mass force it became, called at independence for its dissolution. He was right. Since then the party has been a steadily increasing calamity for the country. Its exit from the scene would be the best single gift Indian democracy could give itself.

The political ills that all well-meaning patriots now deplore are not sudden or recent maladies of a once healthy system. They descend from its original composition, through the ruling family and its affiliates, and the venerations and half-truths surrounding these and the organisation enclosing them.

via After Nehru | LRB

The Worst Get to the Top

Yes, you read that correctly: democratic government invariably leads to the rule by “demagogues” who manipulate the most immoral segments of society.

The core of this immoral coalition consists of “the lowest common denominator” – the “‘mass[es]’ in the derogatory sense of the term.” The masses consist of the least “educated” and least “intelligent” driven by “primitive instincts.”

The unethical leaders add to this core the “docile and gullible.” They are easily manipulated by propaganda that creates “a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.”

Their “passions and emotions are readily aroused” by demagogues “who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”

The third component of the totalitarian troika is the “most important negative element.” These are the murderous bigots motivated by “hatred of an enemy … the envy of those better off.”

via Bill Black: How Hayek Helped the Worst Get to the Top.

Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
act any person could request data from government departments
pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
required information officially. What was important also was that
there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
examples?)

Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
/daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
examples)

What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
this I mean they lack support from people with similar
interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
from various government departments. The activists can send their
queries to the government departments through this collective. This
collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
respective government departments, and associated problematic
elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
available for researchers.

Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
possible way of execution of this collective are needed.

World We Live In

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

via Techdirt.

Triple Standards

With the case of Tarun Tejpal exposed there was a media flurry for breaking the news to the audience. But it was a broken news, it did not need breaking. Though I am not against questions Mr. Tejpal, and some media houses questioning Tehelka having double standards this episode needs a deeper analysis.

Sometime back the Niraa Radia tapes appeared in the public. And they were breaking the news. But soon some very interesting personalities also surfaced in the tapes. They included the likes of Ratan Tata and Barkha Dutt amongst others. And suddenly there was a complete radio silence on that. It seems NDTV especially became really silent about this whole issue. But more importantly none of the other media houses dared to raise questions to Ms. Dutt, the tone and manner which we are seeing in case of Mr. Tejpal, via Shoma Choudhary. Since we have already crossed the double standards, I call this particular episode from media having “Triple Standards”. One for themselves, one for the general public and one for vendetta against fellow reporters who might have made them uncomfortable in the past.

Personally for me, the case against Ms. Dutt was for more serious and grave as the future of entire country was being decided, though no “individuals” were harmed. And also the intent and tonality of the Radia tapes just shows how powerful and at the same time morally corrupt the media have become. So far Mr. Tejpal is concerned he admitted to and will perhaps face law for what he has done. But what about Ms. Dutt? No cases, not even a CBI enquiry! The matter has been suppressed well. Forget about law, one has a feeling that collective amnesia that media is presenting in this case will make even people forget that this incident ever happened. Even after all this there seems to be no remorse and none of other journalist dared ask accountability from Ms. Dutt or for that matter anyone else from NDTV. So this vehement attack on Tehelka on this issue seems more like a soap opera which shows that they do not leave out people from media when they are exposed. What about themselves?

I just no longer see Ms. Dutt speaking on behalf of “We The People” for she is no longer one of us, but rather firmly on the other side.

Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.