You Are Way Off The Mark, Mr Minister
When you said on the floor of the House that surveillance through Pegasus is not possible because of checks and balances, it looked like a naive understanding of the system. You forgot that India, which always had a flawed democracy, has become an “electoral autocracy” going by V-Dem of Sweden. Checks and balances work when there is a rule of law and institutions are functioning. When institutions are compromised or rickety and the rule of law is hollowed out by design, how can they work?
Now let us look at offence against the state and whether the entire jurisprudence developed after Magna Carta in 1215 needed to be upturned to protect the state. Incarceration of the accused, case accepted by the court without application of mind, refusal of bail are all against the citizen and his/her freedom. These laws have come into picture and their constitutionality is not being questioned by the courts, which are mandated to do it. The terrorist act also includes normal IPC crimes, but booking a case under the act can invoke draconian sections of the special laws. Eventually, the case may fail but by that time the person/s goes through enough suffering. Sedition cases filed may not conform to the guidelines set by the Supreme Court. But the person has been arrested, imprisoned and maybe tortured in the meantime. Imprisonment and suffering in the interregnum has come to mean the punishment. The only difference here is punishment is being meted out by the state and the police and not by the judicial court. What is the balance here and what are the checks you see here?
Arsenal Consulting PLC’s finding shows that incriminating document can be introduced in a system to foist a case. Pegasus controversy is a pointer to the technology being the handmaiden in breaching privacy and tracking people completely unconnected with the crime and terrorism for state expediency. The dystopian world of “Digital Dictatorship” that Yuval Harari visualised is already there. Who will be punished finally for going against the basic freedom or for conspiring to put in place digitally unconnected material to frame a person? What did the vaunted institutions tasked to protect freedom do finally? Do you find any trace of checks and balance here? A case can be made without any ground, incrimination can be beefed up by foul play, privacy can be breached to the state’s advantage. But all who were tasked to protect it became Tweedledees or Tweedledums.
There are people in the government who say that this is a conspiracy because countries are envious of our progress. No one has the courage to ask what is the progress we have made, since everything creditable started in 2014! There is an industrialist who finds India has a great future when our economy is shrinking and all parameters are moving southward. He is so optimistic that he sees Indian economy moving to $15 trillion from the existing $2.4 trillion. He doesn’t indicate the year by which we will reach that level. Even a school student can say that from here we are not climbing to $5 trillion in a hurry and $15 trillion looks like a dream now. But the way the said industrialist’s wealth is increasing (before and during the pandemic), for him understandably $15 trillion economy, which is a seven-Tim, increase looks just round the corner. But you have seen the reality at 360 degrees, you have seen the suffering of the common man, how can you be so naive?
The courts will not insist on timely filing of the chargesheet, they are not allowed to give bail, what is the balance them? What is the check on the agencies of the government and the judiciary even?
There is a civil society and a media to keep the government under watch. But they are being tracked and their voices are being silenced. Which media will serve as the bulwark of arbitrariness in such circumstances? If people like Stan Swami are framed as dreaded terrorists and the state plays its role in framing the case, resisting bail and take their own time as if even death is under their beck and call, who will be stepping into the shoes of an activist or civil society animator? The corner from where questions would have been raised, has been quietened and not with insubstantial planning and effort. The corner which would have thrown light will merge with darkness then.
The government may not admit to the Pegasus imbroglio. We may not know who paid for the spyware. But we know with the credibility of Washington Post, Le Monde, the Guardian that the software is sold to the vetted governments and Indian government can only be a buyer. But the sale could have been transacted through the layers of subterfuge of the government of India. This is where accounts are not kept nor audited. There is no sunlight on these operations and it is by design to make it expedient to indulge in deniability. Where are the checks then?
Next time you reply, be mindful that the subject could be yours but the decision could have been taken somewhere else. Now we are in the august company of autocratic regimes like Hungary, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In keeping with their standards, the book of Constitution may tell something but behind the screen several things must have been done to undermine the book. You apparently said that the numbers could have been given but not necessarily the numbers are tracked. As the Railway Minister would you build a bullet train line only not to use it?
You are way off the mark, Mr Minister. By the way, I heard your number was in the list too. Why did the checks and balances fail for you as an exalted lawmaker? How does it feel in the end?
[Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author, a former secretary to Govt. of India, are his own and do not necessarily represent that of the website]