03/10/2015 12:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, You Failed To Sell Us Your Digital Un-Freedom

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - JULY 1: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the launch of Digital India Week at IGI Stadium on July 1, 2015 in New Delhi, India. The Digital India Week which is part of the $18 billion campaign to provide fast internet connections for all and is aimed at popularising Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign promise to connect 250,000 villages in India by 2019. (Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Digital India has swept the imagination of the 'modern' Indian along with the 'development' paradigm of invest (read 'make') in India under the present BJP government. Surprisingly, this package, what our esteemed Prime Mister would term 'governance' of development, in terms of infrastructure, digital empowerment, and economic prosperity, is gaining mass popularity without any critical questioning or dissent from the majority of the Indians living in and outside of India. The middle class and the media is vociferously advocating for a 'globalized and digitalized' India, empowered enough to give a strong competition to the most advanced countries of the world.

Well, it all sounds absolutely fantastic! Who would not want economic prosperity, technological advancement, and economic growth, but until we start asking some basic questions -- like whose India are we talking about? what empowerment means to MOST Indians? who benefits out of this? -- how ready are we as a nation to embrace digital India at this point in history?

It all dates back to when the East India Company (EIC) first came to 'invest' in India, with the sole business motive that it would be mutually advantageous for India and the EIC. Sounds surprisingly similar to the present context of the politics of FDI in India, right? Well probably that is where it all started; it remains a similar kind of politics although deceitfully garbed under the banner of international cooperation as part of India's foreign policy. During the colonial era, the kings reigning over the princely states did not lose their rule overnight, but gradually as the East India Company proceeded with capturing the market, took control over political systems and finally took over the society (we are thinking about importing foreign goods which led to the closing down of hundreds of indigenous cotton and textile mills). What began with a language of cooperation ended in India being a colony under the British. India could understand that language of control during the colonial era because the authority exercised by the British crown was direct.

"[P]olitics is now being sold under the banner of development with a rosy dream of India transforming into a superpower."

However, in the age of digital India initiative with the loud slogans of 'invest in India', somewhere there lurks a similar danger to which India seems blinded because the politics is now being sold under the banner of development with a rosy dream of India transforming into a superpower. While this takes India away from its reality to an imaginary farce, neo-colonialism takes control to make India its 'beloved colony', this time in the name of democracy and development.

But who gains from this politics and why would the government do it anyway, considering that the government came to power with promises of 'development' of the poorest of the poor. (Un)fortunately the story here is not very different from why during the colonial era, the zamindars or landlords supported the British. The difference is one of terminology, today the capitalist has replaced the zamindar in nexus with the state.

Before the real issues captivates us -- like farmer suicides, displacement, rape, khap panchayat, infant mortality, separatists movements in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, poverty, AFSPA etc -- let's pause here because according to our government and a majority of the middle-class Indians the issue with digital India seems to begin and end with net neutrality. While that is important, we are also trying to understand how is 'Make in India' and 'Digital India' any solution to most of India's real problems leave aside the ambition of linking all villages with broadband connectivity?

"[W]e are also trying to understand how is 'Make in India' and 'Digital India' any solution to most of India's real problems "

Isn't this idea of digital India itself sitting on the thrones of internet monopoly? The story is similar to how big malls came to our doorsteps with promises of selling us cheaper goods than the corner store or the grocery store down the road. We eventually stopped buying from our retail shops and started investing in the goods sold by these malls until most small-scale shops and retail stores were forced to shut down with our shifting preference for a giant, 'friendly' mall selling huge businesses off the corporations. And soon enough the market forces started controlling our likes, dislikes and even what we could buy or not thereby conveniently limiting our choices and controlling our needs.

We did not dissent because we did not understand the politics of this market monopoly that happened under the carpet. Let's take a look at the crowd that walk into these malls? Do these few represent the countless 'real' people of India? Clearly No! A similar story goes for digital India. Beware for it's not just a policy initiative, but a conspiracy consisting of virtual hegemony for profit and a glance at our corporate partners, Reliance, Facebook and those opposing net neutrality, is suggestive of this. It too shall begin with lucrative offers and eventually Reliance and Facebook will decide what we see over the internet, how much we have to pay for which product (website); turning the internet into a product controlled and monopolized by big corporates to foster their economic interest. People rejoice that will provide free access to some websites via Facebook. Does it not sound similar to something like 'give me your nature and I will give you an artificial garden, which will be a token representation of the nature that you will sell me; give me your freedom and I will farce you with the idea of the same freedom that once you really had!'

Well, Mister Prime Minister you have clearly failed to sell us 'your' dream of digital India and make in India. By us we also mean the countless voices of the voiceless - the Adivasi woman in a rural village in Manipur who lost her home and family to ethnic conflict, the farmer who lost his crops and life to GM seeds and pesticides and many others who 'make India'. You failed to sell us your digital un-freedom!

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