Month: November 2013

Biting the ballot

Business Standard

Indulekha Aravind November 16, 2013 Last Updated at 20:50 IST

It’s costly, requires minute planning and engages thousands of workers. But for political parties a mega rally is the only way to attract voters

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With an anticipated crowd of seven lakh, prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi’s rally in Bangalore today is being touted by the Bharatiya Janata Party as one of the biggest the state has seen and, if the numbers back it, Modi’s third biggest so far. Modi had already visited Karnataka earlier this year, before the assembly poll but this rally would be the first in the state after he was “anointed” prime ministerial candidate, which is why the party is pulling out all stops, says MLA and party spokesperson Suresh Kumar. “It may become the mother of all rallies in Karnataka,” he adds.

Cutouts, banners and hoardings of Modi have been put up in different parts of the city, announcing the date, time and venue and exhorting people to turn up in large numbers. In the basement of the party’s four-storey saffron-and-white headquarters in Malleswaram, the traditional, conservative heart of Bangalore, T-shirts with Modi’s photo and accompanying enthusiastic slogans are on sale. These will also be available at Palace Grounds, the sprawling ground where the rally is to be held. Upstairs, various discussions are under way, including one about deploying unmanned aerial vehicles during the rally. This rally, says Kumar, would be the first in the state where people have been asked to buy coupons of Rs 10 each to attend, though it is not compulsory. “This is to counter the allegation that a lot of people who come for political rallies have been hired, or given incentives,” he says. By Wednesday evening, they had sold nearly 400,000 coupons, he claims. People can also register online through the state party unit’s website – log on and a smaller window pops up, with Modi’s face and the slogan “Bharatha Gellisi”, roughly translated as “Make India the victor”.

Though there are at least six months to go before the great battle of 2014, rally season has started in full swing, aided by the fact that Assembly polls are currently under way in four states. Each party tries to outdo the other in terms of scale, size and speeches and Modi’s Bangalore rally will be no different. Last Sunday, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda held a massive rally at Gohana which, according to a party spokesperson, attracted a crowd of over 14 million. “This was our biggest show of strength to date,” says Shiv Bhatia, media advisor to Hooda. The rally was described as “a sea of pink”, a reference to the pink turbans worn by supporters, and as an attempt to cast Modi’s own rallies into the shade.

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Organising a rally is a complex task, and the most important factor for a successful one is the party cadres, whose job it is to spread awareness and ultimately, convince people to show up. The person close to Hooda quoted above underlines that while charisma of the speaker is also critical, cadres play the most crucial role, along with other arrangements such as transport and logistics. Apart from booking the venue, other preparations usually begin 15 to 20 days ahead of the actual date of the rally.

Preparations for the Modi rally, Kumar says, began three weeks ago when the date of the rally was finalised, with workers visiting homes in their constituencies as part of a mass public contact programme. “We expect at least a few representatives from each of the 44,000 polling areas in the state to be present at the rally,” he says. About 35 committees have been formed to look into various arrangements – from publicity, decoration, traffic and parking to food, lighting and sound.

Usually, the people who come for rallies are from in and around the venue, or at the most, within a 50-kilometre radius, and transport is arranged by local party leaders or supporters who are responsible for ferrying people to and from the rally, rather than the party itself. A rally thus becomes an opportunity for local party heads to showcase their prowess through the number of people they are able to bring to the venue, says a person close to the Hooda government, who does not want to be named. At the Hooda rally, for example, Bhatia says all the vehicles were private, and arranged by the workers themselves. “The party was not involved.”

For Modi’s rally on Sunday, too, about 60-70 per cent of the transport is being taken care of by local leaders, says Kumar. “Fifteen trains have been booked to bring people from areas like Gulbarga (in north Karnataka) and about 2,500 buses have been hired. In Bangalore, we have sought permission to use 3,000 buses, which has been granted,” he says. This is in addition to smaller vehicles like Sumos, and 1,000 sympathisers who are supposed to arrive from Mysore on foot. The cost for the remaining 30 per cent will be borne by the party. Eleven choultries near the railway station have been booked and a mutt near Ramnagar has offered its premises to those who are attending. Elaborate arrangements have also been made for refreshments. “We have constructed six mega kitchens, each of which can cater to 60,000 people. There are 100 counters in each block, with each headed by a separate team. The menu, however, will be common,” says Kumar.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. Kumar himself says a conservative estimate for the rally’s outlay would be Rs 7 crore though other reports quote the actual figure to be closer to Rs 20 crore considering the expenses involved, which will include a helicopter to ferry Modi from the Hindustan Aeronautics airport to Palace Grounds. The expenses are met by donors, party workers and well-wishers. Some of the donations were in kind, such as grain and vegetable. Donors also lease out a choultry without charging for it, says Kumar. Another aide of Hooda estimated that his mega rally in Haryana would have cost around Rs 4 crore, even though it was a “basic” rally, without a shamiana, or other trimmings. Once the electoral code of conduct kicks in, each Lok Sabha candidate has an expenditure ceiling of Rs 40 lakh though the Election Commission is contemplating raising this to Rs 50 lakh, according to a recent report in The Economic Times.

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But setting aside the question of the numbers that turn up, whether 400,000 or 1,400,000, does it translate into votes? “Political rallies represent a number of realities, the first being the efficiency of the political machinery and motivation levels of the cadres. This is a fairly important aspect and an indicator. It does reflect the novelty of the speaker or charisma, and certainly this does in this sense reflect momentum. But while it is hard to create a causal relationship between vote share and strength of rallies, these do reflect the state of the current mood and also the capacity of the party,” says Samir Saran, senior fellow and vice-president of Observer Research Foundation. Speaking about Hooda’s rally last Sunday, Bhatia says the turnout was naturally a reflection of the party’s and the leader’s popularity, considering they had come to see the leader of a government that had been in power for nine years.

Commenting on the tactic of selling coupons of Rs 10 to those attending, Saran termed it a clever tactic. “They are making stakeholders out of the portion of the attendees who are not converts already and for the others, it creates a sense of ownership as well. But this is a novel proposition and the outcome is yet to be seen.” The BJP had introduced the coupon strategy first at its rally in Hyderabad, where they were sold at Rs 5. This was increased to Rs 10 at their rally in Trichy in Tamil Nadu, a state where the party strength is negligible. The Congress has so far refrained from going down the same path.

This is, of course, just the beginning of election season. There are eight more Narendra Modi rallies planned in Karnataka alone, before the 2014 polls, and the party is targeting 100 all over the country. And with good reason. “In a country where TV homes and Internet are still fairly sparse – political mobilisation and messaging is still delivered and achieved through such direct campaigning like house calls and rallies,” says Saran.

Finding a middle way : The Cyber Debate in India

The Security Times, November 2013, Berlin, Germany

India is uniquely dependent on the cybersphere – it being the chosen medium for the implementation of the country’s socio-economic schemes. But this also exposes the country to a higher probability of cyber- attack, according to National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.“Commitments to plurality and democracy in the cybersphere have to be tempered by security considerations,”. Discovering the golden mean is both an Indian and a global imperative. It was against this background that delegates met in New Delhi on Oct. 14 and 15 for CyFy 2013, the inaugural India Conference on Cyber Security and Cyber Governance.

Given the democratic nature of India and its sheer size, the solutions it chooses will have a seminal influence on the future of cyberspace. The underlying theme for most of the discussions was how to preserve the democratic nature of cyberspace while protecting it. An early consensus emerged that privacy and individual freedoms would have to be balanced against the question of security of society as a whole. Thus, the state will have to be empowered to some extent at least, to deal with the kind of social instabilities that can be generated in the real world through acts in the virtual domain.

The debate threw up some interesting nuances. Once conference participant said surveillance was like salt – good in moderation, unpalatable in excess. But it is clear there are many unre-solved issues, including the very definition of what privacy is, and what it is that we are trying to protect.
The debate on the concept and limits of sovereignty in cyberspace was also combative. The central question was how to regulate a domain that is international in its operation through the exercise of national sovereignty.“Cyber governance is something of an oxymoron” said Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister for Communications and Information Technology, “and a re-imagined notion of sovereignty is essential to develop an effective cybersecurity paradigm. The dilemma here is the inherent conflict between national security and the necessity of international cooperation, which is to some extend based on countries ceding sovereignty and working with each other.

Another overarching theme, and one on which there was much less disagreement, was the role of the private sector. There seemed to be general consensus that the government’s role was morphing from that of a regulator to a facilitator. Delegates emphasized the state’s role in setting security standards to ensure the resilience of the net. Contrary to romantic notions of the internet and social media destroying the existing state system, the reverse is true the state is empowered more dramatically than ever before. However the question of providing or generating sufficient cooperation between the government, private sector and civil society proved especially thorny given the issue of trust and surveillance especially with regards to privacy.

Jaak Avaiksoo, the Estonian Minister of Education flagged the issue of the Internet “not being a virtual domain.” There as physical aspects to it, he pointed out, and that means there are specific requirements in terms of how we build resilience into the system. He also raised the question of moral legitimacy required to create a culture of trust building between the government and the people because the whole question of state versus citizen has been a central theme in the evolution of the debate on cyber governance.

India’s own policy in terms of developing a layered approach was brought into focus – specifically the question of training large numbers of people to ensure that India’s planned cybersecurity policy can be implemented. Deputy National Security Adviser Shri Nehchal Sandhu admitted that “while India has a national cybersecurity policy it is still to develop a national cyber-security strategy.”

The sheer size of India’s cyber population makes its national deliberations critical to the global dialogue. They key discussions here revolved around whether to promote sovereignty on the net or even to seek a wholly sovereign internet. Are we doing to side with those who say information security is absolute, or those who say each government has the absolute freedom to do what it wants in its own territory?

That India is finding its own middle way was best reflected by the fact that, despite furious debate, there was little to no mention of PRISM or Snowden. Being pragmatic it would seem India and Indians, unlike the EU or Brazil, have chosen to forgo rhetoric and instead debate the core issues around privacy, anonymity, intellectual property and national territoriality.

One final question that came up was whether technological developments would allow states to dominate. This is a debate that has played out historically in every new medium that has emerged. As the international negotiations proceed in the coming years, the whole question of whether we are going to have an internet that is transcendental and collectively used across the world or is it going to be dominated by each country in its own little domain of influence.

The India conference was the start of a process – one that raised many questions and found some interesting and out-of-the-box answers. The complexity of the debate dictates that this will not be any easy path to navigate. The India Conference on Cyber Governance and Cyber Security will not and cannot be a one-off interaction among multi –stakeholders. It is the beginning of a strong forum that can debate India’s policies, help mould its strategy and simultaneously address global challenges.

Security times

Internet architecture can’t be left solely in hands of developed world

Global Times | 2013-11-7 19:58:01

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According to World Bank estimates, India and China together account for more than 700 million Internet users. Citizens in both countries have embraced the digital sphere enthusiastically, and mobile phones and the Internet are the preferred platforms for anything and everything, from expressing opinions to conducting business.

Indian and Chinese stakes in cyber governance are already significant, and are only likely to increase as both continue connecting even the most rural hinterlands, which still suffer from lack of efficient physical connectivity.

Much future global wealth generation will be deeply integrated with the online sphere on account of access to new markets, online supply chains, services and Internet-based financial flows. Hence, India and China, as they seek to raise the incomes of their citizens, will need to transform into sustainable and secure digital economies. Digital governance, norms and rules, and International conventions must see India and China as rule-makers and not rule-takers.

The West, in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, is witnessing a new wave of support for discussing and negotiating a certain “code of conduct” for this global commons.

Although the current discussion is more on privacy and surveillance, there are other aspects that must also be vigorously debated.

New Delhi and Beijing must take the lead and articulate their positions and core interests on these issues, and see to it that they are addressed adequately. It is in no one’s interest to see a “virtual gridlock” and the World Wide Web becoming a “World Divide Web.”

The region’s success and prosperity are so closely linked to its successful integration that a divided digital domain may be detrimental to the region.

In fact, both India and China must learn from their predicament of dealing with the border legacy, and should ensure that discussions on cyberspace are not held prisoner to old notions of boundaries and rigid ideals of statehood.

The common prosperity of the two nations is linked to the digital future, and even lifeline provisions such as social security schemes, health and education among others are likely to be delivered through virtual means. Therefore, it is important for India and China to ensure that the world does not witness the birth of “digital sovereignty” where states contest, or of “digital capitalism” where commercial interests prevent this medium from being a global commons.

There are certain historic biases already. Technology, services and access reside with Western corporations and in Western capitals. The Internet must remain technology and geography-agnostic. Any global architecture for both hardware and software must ensure this.

Despite these converging objectives, the conversations between India and China on this subject, much like in other sectors, have been limited and impeded by suspicions and historic security concerns. It is time that the two nations go beyond these.

China seeks to be an influential player in telecommunications and the digital economy in India. And Indian IT companies are looking for a more hospitable environment.

A positive atmosphere and confidence building are a must for realizing these ambitions. In fact, Indian and Chinese companies can jointly lead the way in providing hardware and software solutions to developed and developing economies across the value chain.

To create an environment conducive to business and in order to shape an Asian discourse on cyber governance and cyber security, the two governments must seriously consider the following ideas.

One possibility is to create “cyber hot lines” between nodal agencies, such as between the Computer Emergency Response Teams in the two countries. They should also establish mechanisms for threats and vulnerability reporting and sharing information on gateways and access codes where required.

The two sides can also discuss responses and solutions to counter hacking and malware that threaten economic operations and businesses between and among parties in the two countries. Experiences on protecting critical infrastructure should also be shared. And, finally, they need to undertake joint development of low-cost digital access to, and affordable technologies for, the underprivileged segments of society.

A toast to the silly season: Why India’s election process is bringing out the absurd in us all

PUBLISHED:01:16 GMT, 6 November 2013| UPDATED:01:16 GMT, 6 November 2013

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It seems that the greatest celebration of India – its democracy and the much-feted elections – also bring out the absurd in us all.

As the five states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram go to the polls in the coming weeks, it seems the ‘silly season’ is upon us. We are being saturated with inanities masquerading as “political discourse”.

The problem, however, is that as these samples of ludicrousness tumble out in a disturbingly steady stream, we actually engage with them in earnestness.

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BJP workers wear masks of the party’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, who is presently spoken of in the manner of a superhero.

Let us therefore first propose a toast to the Indian National Congress and its brilliant and original idea of banning opinion polls on the grounds that these are unfair and influence voters.

Now, in any normal society – leave alone democracy – this would be considered a misguided attempt at humour by a geriatric who has crossed the threshold from dotage to anecdotage. But evidently in India it is taken seriously enough to merit furious (and serious) discussion on talk shows and much scholarly debate on the subject in the online, visual and print media.

Heck! Why stop at opinion polls? The logic that these polls unfairly influence voters can equally be extended to op-eds, reporting, and indeed to the very application of one’s mind. So why not go ahead and ban people from thinking for the next 6 months?

After all, it can be stated with a great deal of medical and sociological certainty that the application of one’s mind creates a capacity within the individual to actually decide his or her fate, as opposed to being a force-fed farm animal that gets shepherded into an abattoir.

Would Sonia Gandhi’s Congress prefer voters to go to the polls blind-folded, lest their genuine opinions affect the vote?

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In fact, in order to extend wholehearted support to the Congress’ proposals we should take the logical next step of blindfolding the Indian voter before they press the EVM button – so that the voting process can become a lucky draw – truly free of undue influence and bias.

Of course there is the danger that our hallowed Electoral Commission – the so-called protector of India’s freedom and democracy – might actually embrace this fruit-loop scheme.

So let us raise the second toast to the monumental silliness of the Election Commission of India, now rapidly on its way to becoming a much-loved and celebrated ‘law unto itself’.

In its notification dated the 25th of October – “Instructions with respect to the use of Social Media in Election Campaigning” – the EC has made the terminal mistake of assuming that social media is like every other media that has come before it, claiming “since social media websites are also electronic media by definition…”.

While this betrays a deeply flawed, almost astoundingly naive view of the dynamic and deeply democratic cyber-sphere, at a more serious level this has dangerous overtones of the Sippenhaft laws from Nazi Germany.

What this notification means is that the election code of conduct will now apply to mediums of individual output like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Basically any candidate can lodge a complaint against any individual Tweet or Facebook comment based on the fact that they can be “reasonably connected with the election campaigning of political parties and candidates”.

This is guilt by association of the worst possible kind, because now any sympathiser, relative or associate of any candidate effectively has his or her freedom of expression curtailed on the basis of specious reasoning that this can be traced back or connected with a political party.

So much for the Election Commission being the guarantor of India’s democracy! It is sad that this body, overwhelmed by this deluge of election-season silliness, has become the epitome of silliness itself.

Indeed, if the EC is so serious about this regulatory order, it should assume charge of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, to avoid any hint of bias on the part of the two wings of the government.

The third toast in this autumn of silliness is reserved for the BJP, its Prime Ministerial aspirant and their rather “unique” take on Indian history.

I am yet to find where Alexander ever set his eyes on the Ganges, I am yet to find anyone named Chandragupta Maurya belonging to the Gupta Dynasty, and Taxila – as far as my maps show me – is part of Pakistan not Bihar – though presumably in some warped version of ‘Akhand Bharat’, northern Punjab may in fact be annexed to the penurious ruin that is Bihar.

Of course logic would have demanded that the head of a speechwriter roll, or the entire research team be put out to pasture. What we see instead is a bunch of experts finding ways to somehow discover coincidence between history and the recent remarks of the BJP’s PM-in-waiting. But perhaps the victor does script history – and let us toast to that possibility.

Despite what they all say; despite the INC’s moral indignation, the EC’s delusions of infallibility and the BJP’s historical certitude, they all think of us – the Indian people – as livestock, incapable of discerning chaff from wheat and deciding for ourselves.

If India chooses to take these people seriously, we really do need to ban any outlets of independent expression and go back to the happy days of black-and-white Doordarshan with programming restricted to Krishidarshan and Zara Sochiye (as relevant today as they were then), because as it turns out the greatest fools are the people who tolerate – nay celebrate, revel in and vote for – such silliness. It is to them the fourth and last toast should be raised.

I say, this season let us all get sillier still, and put our finger on ‘NOTA’.