Tag Archives | democracy

Giving encryption keys and back-door access to government is paving way to an authoritarian regime

Considering the current state of unaccountability with our government, government’s access to encryption keys and backdoor access inevitably leads to abuse.

You’re probably going “that’s too far fetched”, is it really?

Last year, the government caused a huge ruckus by releasing a draft National Encryption Policy (NEP), with people calling it draconian. It was in fact draconian in nature. The policy expected businesses to hand over the encryption keys and access to communication logs in plain text for 90 days, raising concerns over privacy and free speech.

While the government withdrew it immediately, it opened up a dialogue among the different stakeholders about the necessities for an NEP and the issues facing it. On one hand, some claim that having a encryption policy sets a standard, which will strengthen our cyber-infrastructure and increase foreign investments. On the other had, some think there shouldn’t be any encryption policy, we should just let the market figure that out by itself.

Either way, why does the government want it? The government remains vague as to why it really needs access to encryption keys or backdoors. The general narrative is likely along the lines of the need for real time surveillance for preventing terrorism and cyber crime, and enhancing our national security.

But, whats really at stake here? Enhancing policing tactics in exchange for what? eavesdroppingWe live in an opportunistic society, where breaking laws and cutting corners saying ‘chalta hai’ is the norm. If you don’t follow this norm, a few glaring eyes and smirks abound. It would be naive to think that this doesn’t reflect within our government system, especially within the police system. More troubling is that we not only lack the “right to privacy” in our constitution, but also lack proper oversight architecture that holds the government and its employees accountable when it comes to abuse and corruption. The bad apples are most likely to abuse the access and get away with it scotch free. Hence, given the access and easy surveillance, it is inevitable that this government or the next will abuse it to get rid of opposition and enhance its power, eventually moving towards an authoritarian regime. There is no guarantee against it.

Where is the balance? How can the government investigate and prevent crime without the use encryption keys or backdoor access?

Few things it can do is improve other strategies in preventing terrorism and crime. Stronger Human Intelligence network for instance is a great tactic and provides real time access. Other approach can be to request live monitoring access, via a special court, on terrorist groups or crime syndicates that pose a real threat. Sure, this may not be as good as having instant access, but that’s a trade-off the government has to make to maintain society’s trust with its governance.

Image Source: Flickr user pyride

Puru Naidu (@Brocolli88) is a Research Analyst at the Takshashila Institution.

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GST Bill: A Successful Exercise of Consensus-Building in Democracy

gst-759

Image courtesy of The Indian Express

Bhavani Castro is a Fellow of Indian Studies, Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo

The first half of 2016 was marked by several setbacks for democratic institutions and liberal values all over the world. From the Turkish government’s repressive response after the failed military coup to the rise of radical parties in Europe, a controversial impeachment process in Brazil and the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, it seems that democracy has recently been under significant pressure. Intense animosity and partisan divisions are challenging the way democracy works and its core values, undermining decision-making processes in parliaments, blocking key reforms, and leading to authoritarian administrative measures. However, in the midst of many worrying examples of flaws in democratic regimes in different parts of the world, it is possible to identify one case of significant success when it comes to democracy’s capacity to overcome division and build consensus: the passage of a groundbreaking tax reform by the Indian Parliament.

Goods and Services Tax Bill (GST) was passed in August in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, and approved by President Pranab Mukherjee on 8 September. The GST, now turned into law, creates a single tax system in India, and represents a significant breakthrough that in practice will transform the Indian states into a common market. This notable success generated little reaction in the international media, especially in emerging and developing countries; however, it holds important lessons on how game-changing reforms can be implemented in a democracy.

The world should look at the ratification of the GST law as a substantial example for effective democracy for a variety of reasons. First, it shows the capacity of a messy, multiparty parliamentary system. Since the 1990s, the Indian government needs to recur to coalitions to rule at the national level, as the increasing number of national and state parties make it impossible for a single party to rule alone. This means often making deals and negotiating not only with the opposition, but also with strong regional parties that seek policies that benefit only – or mostly – their local constituencies. Similar phenomena are visible in other large democracies like Brazil, where large coalitions make governing extremely difficult.

An increase in polarization usually means fewer laws pass in Parliament. For emerging countries like India, where there is a necessity of progressive reforms to manage the economic transformation and push for social improvements, political fragmentation and a lack of consensus building can have devastating effects. To avoid setbacks, the strategy adopted by the Indian government was to engage and include strong regional parties in the discussion, rather than coercing and embracing a combative tone. At the same time, the biggest opponent, the Congress Party, was slowly isolated and eventually, faced by the risk of having its image damaged, had to accept the bill and enter the negotiation. Consequently, opposition parties contributed to changes in the bill, while the ruling coalition yielded to demands and offered concessions in the final written version. The process was not simply an exchange of favours as it is usually observed in multiparty democracies, but instead a conciliatory process of political commitment by all parties involved.

Moreover, the GST, when implemented, will go against an ongoing international trend of isolating peoples and markets – the new tax system has even been called a “reverse Brexit”. While the European Union is going through one of its biggest crises – with rise in partisanship and the exit of an important economic member – India is showing the world that democracies can do better. The new tax system will replace dozens of different tariffs that made selling a product to another Indian state as hard as selling products abroad. That means connecting 1.2 billion people in a European-style market and an expected increase of 1-2 per cent to the country’s GDP growth rate.

Finally, it is important to consider the dimension of this tax reform. The GST was designed along the lines of the value-added tax (VAT) model from OECD countries, and it is considered a key reform for restructuring economies. For India, it is one of the biggest institutional reforms since its independence in 1947. Most countries still struggle to enact legislation that will lead to this type of revolutionary work, as it can negatively affect some industry sectors and interest groups. Brazil, another populous democracy, has been trying for years to design a tax reform to substitute its inefficient system; however, it never even managed to produce an initial project for a new tax scheme. India’s lessons on the GST law-making process could be extremely valuable for countries like Brazil, which could follow India’s steps: first creating a highly skilled committee to design a uniform tax system, and then submitting the initial proposal to the legislative for a comprehensive discussion and adjustments between all political parties.

India still faces many problems threatening its democracy, including an ongoing civil upsurge in Kashmir, suppressed by the government, and a severe water-sharing dispute that increases tensions between southern states. However, in the case of the GST process, the government proved that it is possible to use democracy as a tool to reach potentially painful but necessary reforms in a pluralistic country. It took more than a decade to pass the GST Bill, but democracy is a slow process and does not provide fast solutions to urgent problems. India’s political system can be inefficient, polarized, disorganized and sometimes exhausting, but hopefully this experience will be a positive example for other democratic countries still struggling with much-needed institutional reforms.

Bhavani Castro is a Fellow of Indian Studies, Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo

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India-Afghanistan Relations: The Way Forward

The iconic short story “Kabuliwallah” by Tagore and the interpretations on the land beyond mountains and imaginations have shaped the India and Afghanistan relations from the past to the present.  “Bound by thousand ties and million memories”, the relations between the two countries go beyond the traditionally state-to-state relations or government. History, culture, civilization and people to people contact have created commonalities thus making the past history the guide to the future.

 

India-Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid rich tribute to Indian democracy. India has been admired as the largest pluralistic society in which diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and sectarian groups coexist and cohabit together. India being the largest secular democracy is in a position to share its know-how and practice with Afghanistan. The nascent egalitarianism society of Afghanistan in all its earnestness looks forward to India for assurance and support in its quest for democracy.

There is a strong economic, politico-strategic and security component in the India-Afghanistan relations. India’s economic assistance and support to democracy is a step to reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan and helps India to establish links with energy rich Central Asia. For India a friendly and pro-active democratic regimes in Afghanistan would act as a balancer in the region. The stability of the region can be assured only if we have a stable Afghanistan which would counter the Taliban forces and India has extended its all out support in this endeavour.

Encountered with deep recession, Afghanistan embarked on several austerity programmes and launched stimulus packages that would help the economy move out of a dependent entity to a self-reliance system.  From Afghan’s standpoint, India’s investments and partnership would be a great value addition in the re-building process of the countries economy and infrastructure. The strategic and security system of Afghanistan is fragile and weak and India’s support and strategic partnership is worthy of mention and a step forward in stabilizing the region. Powers like United States welcomes India as a key player in the stabilization process that agonizes Pakistan, who has adopted a zero-sum approach in the region creating a security dilemma.

Geo-economically Afghanistan is very important for India, the foreign trade policy of India and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), hosts a tremendous promise that could help the country develop economic and strategic importance in Eurasia and Central Asia. The INSTC has particular economic and strategic relevance to India given the increasing regional ambitions of China through its one belt one road initiative. Several MOUs have been signed between India and Afghanistan. Indian investors are interested in the “virgin markets” of Afghanistan. Indian private sectors are seen as a driver towards prosperity in Afghanistan. The other important project is the building of Sister-City relations between major Indian cities and Afghan counterparts. The Sister-City relations will be connected through tourism, faculty exchange programs as well as through private sector investment. Several invitations have been extended to India to invest in Afghanistan.  India has been invited by Afghanistan to join Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan Trade and Transit Agreement a very significant link wherein Afghanistan would act as a land bridge connecting South Asia and central Asia

Termed as one of continuity and engagement, India-Afghanistan relations is built on mutual trust and cooperation. With the exception of the Taliban rule, India’s relations with Afghanistan remain strong. Indian support continues in the reconstruction, rebuilding and stabilization process of Afghanistan.  As the fourth largest donor, Indian contribution to the rebuilding process has been to the effect of US $ 2.2Bn and generous assistance has been provided in the formation of human capital with approximately 13000 Afghan students studying in Indian Universities. India’s signature project and commitment to democracy and institutional support can be seen in the completion of the Afghan Parliament. The Salma dam in Herat is yet another initiative in terms of infrastructure development is nearing completion which would generate 42 MW of much needed power for the electrification of rural and urban Herat and also help in irrigating 80000 hectares of agricultural land. The Trade and transit between India and Afghanistan, is gaining momentum and the movement of trucks across the Attari-Wagha border would spur regional trade and enhance economic engagement in South Asia. There is a ray of positive hope that Pakistan would allow the India-Afghan trade movement, which would boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is also keen on India’s involvement in the India-Iran Chabhar Port project. The project would create an international transit corridor. The Chabhar Port Project is of enormous significance both to India and Afghanistan. For Afghanistan it would boost the regional trade and for India it would provide a sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

India is an all weather friend of Afghanistan and continues to play a significant role in tackling terrorism in the region. India has expressed keen intent to strengthen Afghanistan’s defense capabilities for safeguarding its security and combatting all forms of terrorism.  India is supplying helicopters to Afghan government in its effort to combat the growing menace from Taliban. India and Afghanistan have discussed several ways and means to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism. India has spearheaded capacity building prgrammes and training to Afghan soldiers in their effort to tackle terrorism. Several terror network outfits operate from Afghanistan and have expressed this menace as a global phenomenon threatening international peace and stability.

Deep engagement drives India-Afghan relations. There is committed partnership and enduring interest between the world’s largest and fledgling democracy. A pluralistic society with rich tradition and civilization that was undermined by the Taliban forces today is committed to restoring peace and stability in the region. Deeply embedded in democratic principles and values, India’s support in this endeavor of reconstruction of Afghanistan is most sought after. There are set agendas and shared objectives in India-Afghanistan relations. India is keen to assist and build a robust economy and stable political institution in Afghanistan.  An earnest effort in the reconstruction process that is vital for India, as it anchors regional peace and stability.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.

 

 

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Mexico: Return to the “perfect dictatorship”?

Nivedita Kashyap

Between the French elections in April and the US elections in November, the Mexicans voted for their new president on the first of July. Mexico has a presidential system of government and four parties were in the fray, each with a candidate for the post – the PAN, the PRI, the PRD, and the New Alliance. The official election results showed Enrique Peña Nieto from the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional in Spanish) in the lead with 38.2 percent of votes followed by Andres Manuel López Obrador from the PRD with 31.6 percent of votes and Josefina Vázquez Mota from the incumbent PAN with 25.4 percent of votes.

López Obrador, however, has refused to accept the results accusing Peña Nieto’s campaign of electoral fraud and of paying the major media outlets for a favorable coverage. López Obrador’s allegations of widespread vote buying were accompanied by reports of thousands of people rushing to grocery stores to redeem gift cards that they said were given to them by Peña Nieto’s PRI ahead of the elections. Since the results have been announced, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets to protest what they call the “media legitimisation of the electoral fraud”.  These have been led by Mexico’s very own protest movement marshaled via social media, called the “#YoSoy132” (I am 132). The hash tag emphasizes the movement’s connection to Twitter, where it was a trending worldwide topic for days.

Despite the lead in the election results, Peña Nieto cannot declare himself as the president-elect because according to Mexico’s electoral laws, this can only happen when all allegations against the candidate have been first resolved by the Electoral Tribunal of Mexico. Indeed, Barack Obama has been criticised for congratulating Peña Nieto prematurely.

If Peña Nieto is sworn in as the president of Mexico in December this year, he will bring his party, the PRI, to power after 12 years in the opposition. The PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years between 1929 and 2000 and has often resorted to repression of dissent, vote-rigging and corruption to get its way. The outgoing PRI president handpicked his successor in consultation with the party bosses. This had prompted the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa to call the government under the PRI “the perfect dictatorship”.

The presumed president-elect, Peña Nieto, has sought to distance himself from the old PRI, stating in his first op-ed after the results were declared that his win does not mean a return to the old ways of his party and reaffirming his commitment to democracy. However, the deep discontent among Mexicans persists with the mostly young protestors drawing inspiration from the Occupy movement, the Indignados of Spain and the Arab Spring in demanding “real democracy” for Mexico.

With many movements demanding democracy all over the world, a very interesting initiative  called the Globalbarometer Surveys (GBS) needs to be highlighted. This project seeks to “develop a global intellectual community of democracy studies surveying ordinary citizens”. The GBS surveys three continents with the help of five regional networks covering Europe, Africa, East and South Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East. In an event last year in Bangalore, “The Multiple Meanings of Democracy” some interesting trends from the various country surveys were discussed.

The Latinobarómetro, which is based in Chile, has carried out regular surveys of opinions, attitudes and values in Latin America since 1995. Every year they publish a detailed report in Spanish offering a broad view of popular opinion in the eighteen major countries of Latin America, focusing on Latin American citizens’ political opinions and their satisfaction with their governments. Their 2011 report reveals that Mexicans are the least satisfied with the way democracy works in their country among all eighteen countries surveyed.

Latinobarómetro does offer some hope to the Mexicans’ desire to democratise their country. The graph below (made using data made available online by Latinobarómetro) shows a steady fall in the support for an authoritarian regime among Mexicans. It is now up to the new government to ensure that that the number of Mexicans increasingly indifferent to who governs them change their minds.

 

Nivedita Kashyap works at a research based think tank in Bangalore.

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