The previous century witnessed the India that travelled from being colonial to sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic and republic, if not in practice at least in the Indian preamble. This very preamble also talks about the India that gives its citizens equality and liberty of thought and expression. The bone of contention lies in the effectiveness of these written principles.
With the advent of technology and modernity, today we live in a country that is striving to become digital in every sense of the word. The current NDA government moved to the extent of observing Good Friday as the Digital India day. But is digital the kind of development that India needs? Or is it just an instrument in the vote politics?
The digital India concept and the principles of liberty seem to run on two parallel tracks in our society. The government has come to terms with attracting voters through fancy prospects of digital India, but are barely bothered about preserving the basic political rights for its citizens.
This article examines the extent to which our rights are curtailed under the veil of digital advancement. It discusses the so called “empowerment” derived from digital India and the political power being imposed on the citizens. Is digital India a hoax or is it actually emancipating the society?
Liberalism in India
At its earliest, liberalism in India is associated with leaders like Ram Mohun Roy, Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. These leaders were influenced by western liberal philosphers. The major challenges to liberalism of 19th century were caste system and gender discrimination. Roy preached “a limited government presenting a variety of checks on any abuse of its powers”. Liberals of this era argued for constitutional limitations on the British East India Company and demanded greater freedom of press, political representatives and judicial independence. The founding of Indian National Congress took place by leaders who supported individual rights and freedom. There was an understanding that political independence would be meaningless without economic equality, leading to a balanced approach towards democracy and socialist development.
Post-independence liberalism is characterized by opposition to state planning featuring the liberal economist B.R.Shenoy. It focused on the divorce between production and consumer needs due to involvement of state, and the consumer’s sovereignty to a free market. It criticized planning in India on the grounds that the statistics of national product do not accurately show overall economic progress. It accused government planning of benefiting only the upper thin layer of rich class in the society. The liberal solution here was to terminate the policies of economic interventionism and shift to a free market with a free pricing system. It advocated the responsibility of allocation of resources should be given to the private entrepreneurs.
Liberalism in India took a different turn in mid 1970s with the Indira Gandhi rule and declaration of emergency. Liberal Economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati and T.N.Srinivasan took the lead in criticizing inefficiency, poor level of growth and corruption due to state intervention. However, they did not argue for absolute handing over to private players. Instead the state should take the key decisions and rest is largely left to the market. They discussed importance of the role of foreign and open market. These were the thoughts that led to economic reforms 1990 in India.
Post 1991, Liberal thinkers such as Parth Shah, Gurucharan Das, Barun Mitra etc started spreading their ideas both in the economic sphere as well as the civil society. We started moving towards a society that questioned and applied the idea of liberalism in gender, individuality, press, politics, institutions and other elements of the society. Gradually, word of mouth and print was aided by the internet. Liberals from different corner of the country are able to express their opinion on blogs and forums, reaching a way wider audience.
The Digital Age
Digit India is quite new yet extremely popular wave of campaign in India. It was launched on 2 July, 2015 under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi. It comprises of three major components: development of secure and stable digital infrastructure, delivering government services digitally, and universal digital literacy. It aims to make the country digitally empowered and boost the accessibility of resources through internet connectivity.
At the economic front, Digital India will bring low cost information processing, communication and storage facilities. The small firms would also be able to break geographical boundaries with the help of internet without investing too much. However, we can face problems of false advertisement and misleading claims. The consumers will benefit only if consumer protection is properly extended to internet markets and transactions. The consumers are at the risk of exposing their role as potential consumer in digital India that attacks their privacy. The arrival of digital India in the distribution of public goods is marked by introduction of national biometric identity cards (Aadhaar Card), to make sure that the benefits reach the needy. Despite possessing a genuine intention, these cards increase government monitoring and tracking of its citizens.
Politically, digital technology can be a boon if used to make governance more transparent and monitoring more effective. Political parties have taken to digital media enthusiastically, making it a new means for leaders to connect with the citizens. The influence of digital technology remains one sided unless used for assessment of government performance. But it also poses the challenge of defamation and inflammatory speech. The digital world has the capability of transforming social concern into political action in much diverse and far reaching ways. But it also comes with pervasive elements such as pornography, cyber crime, online gambling etc. Sale of illegal substance is facilitated by internet, particularly the ‘dark web’ which has restricted access and is not indexed by search engines can also create problems in the society.
Providing plethora of opportunities, Digital India comes up with its own kind of challenges. The state is getting unlimited power of surveillance due to easy access to personal information in digital India, this erodes privacy and personal freedom. The government’s vision of Digital India is largely government-centric, with less focus on channelizing its economic benefits and more emphasis on glorifying the governance.
Digital India does facilitate economic growth at its face value. But how much of this material progress is inclusive? How is the illiterate population going to have email accounts that still doesn’t provide services in most of the regional languages? Does empowerment call for growth of each individual or is it to satisfy an indicator that ends up measuring prosperity only for the ‘haves’ of our country?
Digital India campaign does not add to the liberty of Indian individuals. It aids connectedness and awareness but doesn’t make us free in the true sense. Instead each step is binding us under the authorities of the government. There have been consisted blames of inefficiency and corruption on Indian government, how much can we rely on their digital documentation?
Thus, struggle for liberty has entered a new phase in the Digital India. From fighting against prejudices and discrimination, the liberalists now face the crisis of combating to save individual privacy due to introduction of Digital India campaign.
Daniel Sutter, Lawrence H. White. 2015. "Liberalism in India." Econ Journal Watch 432-459.
Sardana, M M K. n.d. "Vision of digital India." ISID.
Society, Centre for Civil. 2016. Liberalism in India: Past, Present and Future.
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