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Tag Archives | JNU

Kanhaiya Kumar and blockchain

In a society with severe trust deficit technology can help bridge the gap.


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There have been many victims in the JNU incident but none suffered greater damage than the credibility of the media, especially the TV reportage. Video journalism was on the rise throughout the last decade but with the proliferation of smart phones this took a different turn altogether. Everyone can be a reporter now and not just write but present video proof in real time. The Kanhaiya Kumar case brought out another aspect of the video technology out in the open for everyone to see, that it can doctored. And doctored easily. We can expect this drama to go on for a while. Now that some videos have been found out to be fake, people will deny that they were aired. They will try to create obfuscation about the timing and the exact content of the videos. The hope is that you create so much confusion that people stop believing anything. But what if you had a very simple and tamper-proof way of checking the authenticity of the video or any other media?

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Enter blockchain. Blockchain is the technology behind the crypto-currency bitcoin. One of its fundamental properties is that it de-centralizes trust. You do not need to trust a central authority to do transactions or maintain records. Another property is that the history cannot be altered. Once a transaction is recorded in what is known as the distributed ledger then it cannot be tampered with. What it needs is a lot of individuals to run nodes (a software) on their own computers. The more people run the nodes, the more secure and fool-proof the system becomes. You can imagine it as a tweet which cannot be deleted.

It makes sense to put such videos on the blockchain. Once they are there no one can dispute or create confusion about the timing or exact contents of the videos. This is greatly help with quick resolution of facts instead of getting wound-up in endless hours of deciphering who said what. The best thing is that everyone can participate in the maintenance of the network and no one person or organization is responsible for it. There are many technical details that need to be figured out – like using the SHA1 hash of the video might be good enough, an incentive structure for running the nodes, etc.

Ultimately, no technology can help if there is no social capital for its adoption. But the blockchain technology is tailor-made to work in situations where there is a trust deficit. And the current Indian media qualifies.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Danger of Militarism over Nationalism in current times

The use of military veterans to portray nationalism for achieving political objectives has dangerous ramifications for civil-military relations in a liberal democratic society like India and must be avoided at any cost  

The use of military symbols to project nationalism by the present government has dangerous ramifications. In trying to portray Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid (the case is still sub judice) and some other students as anti-national, the government, aided by a section of the TV news networks, unfortunately used Lance Naik Hanumanthappa’s heroic death due to avalanche in Siachen glacier. The obvious aim was to steer the discourse in a binary framework: national versus anti-national or simply, us versus them. Ex servicemen have been commandeered to be the torchbearers of patriotism and nationalism by inviting them to meetings at the JNU. Prima facie, there seems to be nothing wrong with inviting veterans to the JNU. What is wrong is the brand of competitive nationalism that is being imposed and exploiting our soldiers to do the dirty job. The social media has been actively used for trolls and counter trolls. In an event held in JNU by ABVP on February 24, senior veterans were invited  to speak to the university administration. Reportedly, they asked for a memorial to be built in the campus and also volunteered to donate a tank.  The latest to join the fray is a 2 minute video titled ‘Freedom of Action?’ directed by Vivek Joshi.

The title is quite provocative and asks probing question from the audience. Two soldiers are on guard with their guns trained at the enemy across the border when they hear some anti-national slogans coming from own side. At this, one of them turns around and aims his gun in the direction of sloganeering (although, no one is visible). The other soldier laconically tells his comrade that killing them is useless, as  he would be killing only the men and not the ideology. To which, the second one replies that a man who has broken his relationship with his mother has broken all his relationships. And then, goes on to take aim. The message is very clear. Army can be the symbol of extreme form of nationalism and it will be used to eliminate whoever is deemed anti-national.  Getting the veterans involved in student politics that is within the ambit of state is nothing short of absurdity.  This rings an ominous warning and brings us to the complex debate of civil-military relations.

The Indian armed forces are modeled on the British system. The civilian control and oversight over the military is taken for granted in such a set-up. The military in a liberal democratic society must remain strictly apolitical for it to remain professional. Towards this, the officer corps plays an important role, for they are the decision makers of an arm of the state which is capable of utmost violence.  Huntington, a highly acknowledged American political scientist terms this as the ‘objective civilian control’ which is the most desirable for effective civil-military balance of power. This maximises military professionalism, and hence security of the state. The military’s and as a corollary, the officers’ role in politics is non-existent. The civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. This is in stark to contrast to ‘subjective control’ where the civilian assertion has dangerous portends of deprofessionalising the military which might ultimately result in a coup.

One doesn’t need to go far in the subcontinent. Pakistan is a standing example where intrusive interference by Jinnah involved military in politics immediately after independence.  Within a decade, the military overthrew the civilian government. There has been no looking back since then. Bangladesh too has had an uneasy relationship with the military wherein the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in a bloody military coup within a few years of its independence.  Myanmar has been ruled by its military for the better part of its existence. The complex of civil-military relations becomes a dangerous cocktail when mixed with religion. A benign flirting with religion at the beginning, subsequently leads to massive inroads into the vitals of military effectiveness and competence.

From its inception, military has been associated with masculinity, valour,  and defending the territorial integrity at any cost. The trouble starts when these values get mixed with symbols of religious identity masquerading as nationalism in a politically charged atmosphere with passions running high. A large standing army can be a beast— it can be extremely powerful and strong enough in thwarting an external aggression.  By the same token, it is also used to quell internal strife and insurgencies by remaining purely apolitical and non-partisan.  At the same time, it should be subservient enough to the civil authority and not become a frankenstein monster. Till now, by all available evidence, only a minuscule section of retired personnel have visibly showed signs of aligning with the ideology of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.  In contrast, the police in uniform has demonstrated its partisanship by looking the other way when violence broke out in the Delhi High Court premises. It must be borne in mind by the political masters in charge that the military has an almost paternal relationship with its veteran community. The politicians are only playing with fire by involving the veterans to realise before long that the serving officer corps too is afflicted with this. To achieve their ends, the stormtroopers in the form of foot soldiers of ABVP are being released as trial balloons. Once this genie of ‘military in politics’ is out of the bottle, it will be dangerous to control.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar 

Featured Image : Military unit in training by Elizabeth Anderson, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

 

 

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Interpreting Section 124 (a) in the context of JNU students’ protest

The history of prosecution success of sedition law in India has been rather mixed and its application in the case of JNU students too raises uncomfortable questions

The arrest of seven students of JNU and its president on February 10 for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans under section 124 (a) has sparked a debate whether this section is needed in a modern democratic society. The constitution of India does not define the word sedition.  Section 124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) defines the defines the offence of ‘Sedition’ as below:

Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

The sedition law is a colonial hangover (like many other archaic laws). Interestingly, it is linked to the Wahhabi movement in India. Although the IPC was brought into force in 1860 (after the bloody 1857 revolt or the first war of independence), this section was introduced only in 1870. Reason being that our colonial masters were drawing their lessons after fighting the Wahhabi rebels. The movement was ruthlessly put down by the then British government.

During the freedom struggle of India, the British Raj used this law against many freedom fighters, notable among them being Annie Besant, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Mahatma Gandhi. This in no way condones the allegedly anti-national slogans raised by the JNU students, one of them being  desh ki barbadi (destruction of the country) and if proven, action needs to be taken.  At the time of writing, the case is still under investigation by the Delhi Police.

The successful prosecution under this section has been very patchy in independent India. Some of the personalities against whom this section was applied but could not be prosecuted are Maneka Gandhi, Arundhati Roy, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, and Binayak Sen. In a well known case, 67 Kashmiri students were booked under this act by the UP government in 2014 when they cheered for Pakistan in an Asia Cup match against India. Again, this could be applied subjectively. If in a match between India vs Australia, you cheer for Australia, it may not be termed sedition because the relations between the two countries are not by any stretch of imagination, inimical. The charges were dropped later on due to intervention by Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Kashmir.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly cautioned that even words indicating disaffection against the state will not constitute the offence, unless there is a call for violence or a pernicious tendency to create public disorder. In this specific case, reportedly the JNU students union had even dissociated itself from the views of the group of students who had organised the ill conceived anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging.

Even other political parties have resorted to use this section selectively at various times. Taking a non-partisan approach, the time has come to genuinely debate whether we need this, almost 70 years after independence.

 

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Really old law books by umjanedoan, licensed from creativecommons.org

 

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