BJP’s IT Vision: The Discreet Charm Of
By Binu Karunakaran
24 March, 2009
In June 2007 the Indian Express reported that the Shiv Sena (SS) is planning to build a software to monitor abusive communities on the popular social networking site Orkut. One doesn't know whether the Shiv Sainiks made use of any web technology when they singled out and slapped a criminal suit on a teenaged computer science student from Kerala for letting anonymous users post defamatory comments against Shiv Sena in a community he created in Orkut.
But one thing can be confirmed: The existance of saffron cyber vigilantes crawling the internet for every bit of ideologically inimical political kilobyte that lies buried in blog comments or community discussion threads. Perfect virtual partners for the street lumpens who beat up pub-going women or girls who dare talk to Muslim boyfriends.
The crime of Ajith D who now faces charges of criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments in a Mumbai court (his appeal for quashing criminal complaint was dumped by the country's apex court).
There are several issues here that concerns not only the freedom of speech but also the quality of democracy as reflected in our participation in the information society through the medium of Internet. The colour of content, the ideological orientation of communities in the Indian cyber-landscape is showing a definite tilt towards politics of Hindutva. Hundreds of ethnical and racially abusive comments are posted in web discussion forums daily and any content/article that touches Hindu nationalism brings in armies of dogged cyber flame warriors.
The political activism of Shiv Sainiks in Orkut, which tops the list of social networking sites in India with 12.8 million unique vistors is only a pointer to a larger Hindutva project that aims to hijack the cyberspace for its political ends.
In the past Shiv Sainiks have done everything from vandalising cyber cafes to blocking entire web communities for hosting 'disparaging and objectionable' content. But if you search for Shiv Sena in Orkut you will find dozens of Shiv Sena communities along with anti-Shiv Sena sites. Interestingly the ant-SS kept mostly alive by Hindu's who may be supporters of BJP but can't stand the Maratha nationalism.
The Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been in Orkut since June 2005 and currently has some 45,565 members. A well organised community which also has the technical ability to provide members with SMS update. The VHP at the time of writing this article had some 11,563 members. The BJP supporters group also in Orkut has a strength of 21,023. The National Development Front (NDF) currently known as the Popular Front of India (PFI), a political party suspected of harbouring Islamist agenda has 545 members.
For the comfort of the Left there's an unofficial CPI(M) community with 619 members which suffers from lack of any active debate and entry of fake profiles who carry out ideological sabotage. If you look at Orkut communities little more closely you will find it a virtual forest of fake profiles and pseudo communities. The profile of Praveen Togadia for example lists Dawood Ibrahim as a community that he joined.
The activism of Sangh Parivar's cyber sympathisers should be read together with the massive online campaign that the BJP has unleashed through the Advani cult website www.lkadvani.in and the www.bjp.org. The newly released and much-hyped IT Vision Document of the party establishes a broader theoretical framework for cyber politics.
It is easy to view the BJP's new IT vision document in the perspective of techno-nationalism, where public policies that target strategic industries (in this case the IT industry) are given governmental support. The party's open support for Free and Open Software (FOSS) and the promise to bring about standardisation in open source computing has been generally welcomed by the Indian Freedom Software community that prides itself on its stand against the greed of techno-capitalism.
As a party with a prounounced techno-ideological goal of becoming the most high-tech political outfit, the BJP is ensuring that its action matches the words by moving its entire IT infrastructure into the realm of Open Source - In the words of Prodyut Bora, the national convenor of the BJP's Information Technology cell: to create an entire enterprise IT ecosystem using only FOSS. So the party uses OpenVZ for Server Virtualisation, Qmail and Squirrelmail for emails, Ubuntu interface for desktops and Joomla for web content management.
The BJP is miles ahead of its political competitors when it comes to thought and action on the possibilities of harnessing the possibilities that the information society and the discreet charm of the power that it provides.
To be fair on the BJP the IT Vision document is not short on great/grandiose ideas (even if some of them looks recycled) that can tranform our nation like a national digital highway, unrestricted VoIP, a special rural IT infrastructure christened Digital Gram Sadak and a programme to help the marginalised sections of people enjoy fruits of IT-enabled development. Also clubbed together are techno-nationalist concerns reflected in the promise to promote the domestic IT hardware industry and the domestic hosting industry. The party promises that it will make India equal to China in every IT parameter in five years.Though one is not very clear whether the IT parameter also includea the level of freedom that the country's cyber dissidents and netizens are currently enjoying.
All this is well and good and reveals the Sangh Parivar’s bleeding liberal info-tech heart.
But read it closer and you cannot but arch your eyebrows. The BJP wants to set up an independent body - Digital Security Agency exclusively for cyber warfare, cyber counter terrorism and the cyber security of national digital assets. One can understand the cyber counter-terrorism and cyber security part of the declaration. But what is cyber warfare? Did they mean to say counter-cyber warfare and suffered a Freudian keyboard slip? No sane country in the world is likely to set up a body for Cyber Warfare - the unofficial stink job of spy agencies and misguided techno-Jihadi's.
Then there is the new technology subdomain to bolster BJP's ideological backbone of cultural nationalism. The use of IT to protection of India's priceless cultural and artistic heritage. Good so long as it is used to digitise ancient text archives, document artforms and give fillip to dying languages. Scary when you think of the potential to be used by self-imposed guardians of culture, muzzle free press, gag bloggers and other cyber dissidents.
The pivot of this digital revolution will be a Multipurpose National ID Card that will integrate all identities (Electoral ID, PAN and Driving License) into one common identity: Citizen Identification Card. The project which was the brain child of NDA's Obsessive Compulsive Neurosis with our nationalistic identity and disregard for citizen's privacy. The vision document claims that the project has been dumped by the UPA government. But the claim is far from true. The UPA set up the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI) in January this year.
The BJP now says it will combine the offices of the Registrar General of the Census of India and that of the UIAI to create a Citizenship Regulatory Authority of India (CRAI) which would maintain the National Register of Citizenship. The CRAI would have a 24x7 Online presence and enable government, law enforcement and ‘authorised’ private institutions to let their computer systems 'look up' the MNIC database in realtime. Leave the government institutions, but who is going to ‘authorise’ private institutions to run a check on our privacy?
"The amended Citizenship Act would make it mandatory under the law for all citizens to acquire an MNIC and parents of newly born infants would have to apply for one for their child, immediately after the baby's birth," says the vision document. I hope there will be some realistic time to cut the umbilical cord or tie a nappy.