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Internet Democracy in ‘New’ India

This era in India earmarks the journey of globalisation that began formally in the wake of the LPG (Liberalisation Privatisation and Globalisation) Policy in 1991. This is controlled almost entirely by means of information technology. It was initiated first by Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister. That initiative was, however, vehemently criticised by the Leftists. It does not actually explain if there is essentially any linkage between technology and richness. Alternatively speaking, it fails to identify if technological prosperity promotes or lessens poverty. Albeit a polemic issue, it has to be accepted that technology gives a poor person the opportunity to eclipse manual labour to a great extent and prosper better. Even Marx never suggested use of improvised and rudimentary articles. What he meant for was rather socialistic management of industrialisation instead of its abolition altogether.

Whatever the case, information technology entered the Indian economy gradually in the wake of the LPG (Liberalisation Privatisation Globalisation) Policy that was undertaken by the P. V. Narasimha Rao regime in India with the help of the then Finance minister and later Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. This Policy ushered a new era to India. Apart from the economic changes, it was also due to the versatile uses of information technology. It justifies globalisation as an extent of capitalism particularly in the sense that this is an age of finance capitalism where the movement of values is in terms of invisibles. The national income is well generated, the national growth is well quantified and the national power is well articulated particularly in terms of trade and commerce except the lacunae in the mode of that change. In other words, jobs are plentiful but most of them are volatile. As a result, pressure on the public jobs is continuously high on rise. Therefore, the worries of unemployment haunt the youth. Yet, it being the age of true competition, it requires every individual to be excellent on his/her capability to contribute to the cause of globalism of growth. Information technology is indispensable equipment in this regard.

Internet does have so many tentacles, positive as well as negative. It gives people convenient medium of exchanging news of different locations across the globe itself. As a result, any unethical incident happening at one place gets spread very fast through internet, that is, by means of various Social Networking Sites (SNSs). In this way, the emotional outburst gets the opportunity to take place in the forms of movements. These are mostly new social movements which are basically anomic in nature and mobilise people who irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds take to march in manners of civil disobedience. Thus, in case of the Nirbhaya Incident and the Anna Hazare Movement, the civic movements across the country in general and in New Delhi in particular invited State to come to terms with them in such a way that they would yield more fuel to continue their protests. Therefore, it can be said that the role of the SNS(s) ranged from public corruption to harassments of women. The magnitude of these movements was so decisive that they promoted change in political power through the General Election to the Lower Chamber (Lok Sabha) of the Parliament of India in 2014. In this way, the role of internet highlighted its communication potentials to the tune of supposing Indian democracy with strong cybernetics, which is more of a viable merit of globalisation that helps democracy being limited not only to politics but to social and economic aspects, too, that veers round again to reflect upon political democracy.

Internet is also exploited by some people with perverted characteristics. This is one of the toughest challenges to the State to overcome. In order to bridle such obnoxious usage of internet, India made legislation of the Information Technology Act in 2000 with necessary amendments following the first enactment. In 2015, the Narendra Modi regime took a commendable initiative by issuing a notification to all Internet Service License Holders regarding blocking access to the pornographic sites. But in the face of protests, that mainly took place through the SNS(s), the government had to step back by proscribing the child pornography sites only. Only legislations and strict implementations thereof cannot ensure prosperity. The proper sense of responsibility of the common people has to be very honest and respectful towards the moral aspects of life.

In conclusion, in today’s India, information technology has given primacy to the citizens the opportunity to harness their personality out of self-assessing their conditions of living amidst the surrounding happenings. This is no more an item of refreshment rather an essential equipment to move at par with the government. The government(s) nowadays are oriented to be digital. E-governance becomes an important orientation in the public sector nowadays. While on the one hand, it aims at dissolving the minimum chances of corruption, on the other, it appears to be universally accessible. E-governance aims at upliftment of the poor for whom reduction in transport cost, time and labour to that effect becomes invisible primarily but very much significant at the roots. It also makes the governance reach the citizens continuously, without any regular interruption that was a usual thing in case of providing utility services manually. Thus, there is an opportunity of utilising a 24-hour-day in its entirety. In this age of globalisation, when the public sector becomes a serious competitor of the private ones, digitisation is also a basic item that equips the public sector in that way by right. Therefore, the internet has given privileges as well as challenges to India which is new in the sense of the economic and according socio-political transformations. Overcoming challenges should be an essential target not only on the part of the State itself but also its members, that is, the citizens, even the imminent citizens as this group of population is now well versed in using internet at will.

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To the Brink of Democracy and an Unholy Alliance with the US

With the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the second of the (self-declared) oldest democracies of the world, has, alongside political developments in the United States, reached a tipping point. The political system(s), and most importantly the traditional principle of the division of powers, of both will have to demonstrate their resilience against anti-democratic leaders. If this principle fails to show its working order and effectiveness, then democratic politics and the recognition of the rule of law in the US and the UK are seriously endangered. There can be no doubt that Johnson and his cabinet suffer from democratic illegitimacy: a handful of people, namely the party members of the Conservatives and Conservative Members of Parliament at Westminster, have voted for a new Prime Minister, while the nation’s electorate has been ignored. The counterargument that Johnson’s legitimacy derives from the mandate of the Conservatives’ win in the 2017 general election is, however, an invalid argument as the electorate mandated, and arguable rightly so, a prime minister (Theresa May) who promoted and pursued a very different agenda to Johnson. This is what received a public mandate, not Johnson.

As a consequence, Johnson’s premiership resembles a democratically illegitimate coup d’état by an elitist minority, now established with power over life-impacting decisions on future generations – namely the outcome of Brexit. New elections to receive a mandate, or not, would be the only democratically acceptable way forward. New elections to receive democratic legitimacy applies to Johnson as this demand similarly would have applied to Gordon Brown’s succession of Tony Blair in 2007. But Johnson would not be Johnson if he called for new elections as this would exhibit uncharacteristic honesty and democratic attitudes. As an alternative example in a comparative perspective, the then spiritual brother of Margaret Thatcher, the previous German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), launched a similar change of government (although through a confidence vote, not party leadership change), but immediately announced new elections after his toppling of the previous government in 1983.

This points to the question of honesty in politics; and this brings us back to the reference to the US. With Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the US and the UK, two Western nations that pride themselves as the oldest democracies worldwide, have two supreme political leaders who have a proven record of public naughtiness with regard to their uneven and erratic tempers, their disrespectful language and misbehaviour towards their likewise erratically chosen enemies (often in public through social media), their ignorance or dismissal of their fellow citizens’ sentiments and fair-mindedness; and whose behaviour is influenced, if not determined by egomania. Thus, the question arises inevitably: how could it come to this? One might probably have to admit that politicians have always twisted their arguments, even lied, have always pursued bipartisan ideologies, and have always needed a strong ego to sustain and be successful in political competition. This is very likely true. But what causes dismay and disgrace is the blatant and unashamed impertinence with which the Trumps and Johnsons of this world present their divisive ideologies time and again. (It is noteworthy that Trump has been the first well-wisher to Johnson, via Twitter, of course, in his typically gauche language, calling him a ‘good man’ and a ‘very good guy’).

But also this has been the case in history, one might say: there have always been nasty politicians, and the inversion of democratic values and political ethics into activist, thoughtless, and aggressive battle-cries is not only what we know from political literature, but also from history. (The analogy to fascism of Trump’s stirring-up rants during his rallies, for example, is not (yet) what Johnson does, but one does not need to stretch the imagination too far to imagine Johnson acting like this). However, the crucial point is: even if there are historic precedents of politicians acting and speaking like Trump and Johnson, this only raises suspicions of how far down politics has declined the UK and the US to have two supreme leaders who relentlessly violate democratic public goods and political ethics, foremost of which is their complete lack of respect for plurality, equality, law, and honesty.

Likewise, this points to another conclusion. There is no doubt that there are millions of decent people in the UK and the US who are offended and disgusted by the likes of Johnson and Trump. But the fact that such men have risen to the highest leadership raises, too, the question of the moral fabric of societies which create the conditions for them to rise to power. Just one simple question: We would be unlikely to accept a person who constantly lies and cheats in our circle of friends, but society has made it possible that they become installed as national leaders. As potential friends we would not grant them enough credibility to be trustworthy and we would turn around and tell them to leave a dinner party. But what do we do when such people occupy national executives and heavily influence our, and our children’s future? The founder of investigative journalism, the US journalist Walter Lippmann, in the 1920s stated that a society which cannot detect lies is not fit for freedom. Hence, are we fit for freedom?

Parts of British and American society appear to be sleepwalking into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: amusing themselves so to not realise their loss of freedom. And there is a sheer endless number of trivial daily amusements in the modern, image-flooded, technological world. So, we have to be on our toes and relentlessly vigilant to master the challenge of our times: namely to work for the cultivation of public mores which would not allow the likes of Trump and Johnson to hijack politics. Such mores, i.e., foremost respect for plurality, equality, law, and honesty, would link the public mandate of leadership with esteem and decency which it has lost. Some may say that this was never the case, however, we should not forget about the differences between, for instance Jimmy Carter or John McCain and Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson’s record of dishonesty and amateurishness as Mayor of London and before. Loud activism seems to render politics ill-founded and desultory. But we as people should not accept this. We deserve better. But we have to get involved and make our disagreements and discomfort heard. We need to detect and unveil the twists and tweaks of their politics; and we must use all legal means to fight for our freedom and future which is threatened by egocentric and ill-prepared demagogues whose only skills are outrage and noisy political behaviour. However, to not sleepwalk like Huxley’s protagonists and not amusing ourselves to death (i.e., losing freedom) without noticing it, we need a further awareness because Trump’s and Johnson’s lies are creating deeper labyrinths. Their language is ‘gaslighting’, i.e. psychologically manipulative and distorting our perception of reality, reminding us of the eponymous 1944-movie with Ingrid Bergmann. To not have our political perception of what is ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’, ‘democratic’ and ‘undemocratic’, ‘respectful’ and ‘disrespectful’ destroyed and inverted, and to not get used to regard politics as per se evil and selfish, but to uphold certain standards of public life and mandate, we must cultivate our awareness and sharpness observing and critically commenting on politics; and not only amusing ourselves while drifting into the dystopia of a brave new world.

Coming back to Lippmann’s warning: It emphasises another indispensable condition for freedom to detect lies, namely to the value of education. Education is here understood not as specialised education in a particular subject, discipline, or profession, but as the cultivation of general knowledge and of political and ethical judgement, parallel to the German concept of “Bildung”. In other words, this skill of political judgment and knowledge would theoretically allow every individual to scrutinise the knowledge claims made by politicians. It would allow to check those claims for evidence, consistency, and factual truth. It would thus detect lies or “gaslighting”. This is a crucial target for primary, secondary, and HE in order to build and save democracy; and every democracy that really wants to be one should aspire this critical skill in its people. Many conclusions for the educational system and the national curriculum follow-on from this which to develop I do not have time here. But critical issues touch upon questions of student fees, elitism, social mobility through education, and curriculum development. The neo-liberalisation and the development of education into a market commodity seem detrimental to Lippmann’s plea and the conditions of its realization. Indeed, and this is last point I wish to make, there is seems to be a silent, but ever stronger and harmful complicity between the neo-liberalisation of education and authoritarian government – that is authoritarian precisely as it abolishes a critical civil society.

This aspect becomes visible through the application of a Foucauldian perspective on the relation between power and knowledge and would suggest that knowledge is organised in such a way that it produces a certain kind of society to make a certain kind of power organisation and execution possible. When applying this to the power of capitalist market ideology, then knowledge would be organised so that it produces a non-reflective, non-critical consumer: in large, a consumer society which does not critically explore politics, government, elections, public morality, the limits of law and ethics, but is complacent in superficial happiness, with money-making, and consumerism. Such critique of modern, industrial society is not new – we know such critique since the 1960s with Herbert Marcuse’s One-dimensional Man – but such critique receives novel topicality through the current overwhelming degree of political disenchantment and retreat into the private sphere. In this vein, it would be important research to study comparatively the structure, content, and historical developments of national curricula in the UK, the US, and elsewhere in order to determine and assess this ‘soft skill’, so-to-speak, of democracy and the future of democratic society.

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