No one knows how the ‘Digital India’ project will turn out for India’s growth. But before Prime Minister Narendra Modi could take a giant step towards the fulfilment of his pet project, over 100 prominent US-based academics have raised a red flag.
The academics, including Wendy Doniger, Partha Chatterjee, Akeel Bilgrami, (here’s the full text with all names) have sent copies of a joint statement to some of the topmost American technology firms.
They have written how Modi’s project may infringe upon the rights of people and may put their privacy at risk.
The statement has been sent to companies including Google and Microsoft, both of which have an Indian as a CEO.
In their statement, the scholars have advised the firms to exercise caution while dealing with the Indian Government.
The letter claims that some recent government decisions have actually suppressed the right to expression and are against civil liberties.
“As it stands, ‘Digital India’ seems to ignore key questions raised in India by critics concerned about the collection of personal information and the near certainty that such digital systems will be used to enhance surveillance and repress the constitutionally protected rights of citizens.”
Modi is set to visit Silicon Valley on September 27, 2015. The purpose of his visit is to promote his initiative and bring on board leading IT companies of the country.
Leading American IT companies can help push India’s digitisation drive. Nearly all of them are looking at India’s market.
But the academics found fault in the Modi government’s one year in power on issues such as censorship, religions freedom, ban on NGOs, and attempts to rein in the judiciary – not one of them related to the business at hand.
As if pointing at Modi government’s policies was not all, the academics reminded the IT behemoths of the 2002 Godhra riots while appealing to the industries not to “disregard their own codes of corporate responsibility”.
“As educators who pay particular attention to history, we remind Mr. Modi’s audiences of the powerful reasons for him being denied the right to enter the U.S. from 2005-2014, for there is still an active case in Indian courts that questions his role in the Gujarat violence of 2002 when 1,000 died.”
They also pointed to the appointment crisis at FTII and other such institutions trying to underline the government’s interference with the autonomy of leading institutions.
What is surprising is the fact that not one of the 100 or so academics have anything to do with technology or the IT industry.
Wendy Doniger is the author of the controversial 2009 book, ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’. Her book was criticized by Hindu groups who alleged that she had insulted Hinduism by misrepresenting the faith. Following a lawsuit that alleged “distortion” aimed at “denigrating Hindu traditions”, the book was withdrawn from India. Furious, Doniger criticised the entire Indian judicial process.
Bilgrami is a philosopher who once said that the political demands of Osama bin Laden should have been looked into. He also criticized Saudi Arabia’s “corrupt” elites, which he blames is a result of US corporate interests.
Partha Chatterjee is a Columbia University professor of anthropology.
Vijay Chauthaiwaale, chief of the foreign affairs cell of the BJP, told The Hindu that the Prime Minister’s popularity cannot be “determined by classroom simulators of socialism who are enjoying all the benefits of capitalism”.
He is not wrong when he says that Modi’s fate is determined by the ballot box and development agenda beneficial to millions of people at the bottom of the pyramid. If Modi’s digitisation plan succeeds, India and Indians living in the country will have opportunities galore.