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Why don’t the Chapel Hill attacks count as terrorism?

By Saurabh Chandra

By conflating hate crimes with actual terrorism, we end up doing disservice to both.

Many people on social media asked this question: Why don’t the Chapel Hill attacks count as terrorism? Terrorism is violence inflicted to create a general environment of terror towards a political objective. So, the Church Street IED in Bangalore counts as a terror attack as do the 9/11 twin tower attacks and the 26/11 Mumbai shootings. The Chapel Hill killings are in all likelihood hate killings where the victims suffered due to their religion. Any murder is despicable but by trying to label all hate crime as terrorism, we lose sight of what terrorism is and how to counter it.

In the 9/11 attacks Al-Qaeda had a political motive for murdering innocent civilians. The message being sent to the United States was that if they do not withdraw from the Middle East, Al-Qaeda’s sceptre of terror would haunt all American citizens and hurt the US financial system by adding risk. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror outfit behind the Mumbai attacks has a stated objective of waging a holy war to establish a medieval Khilafat (or caliphate in anglicised form) over the Indian subcontinent. LeT’s mentors, the ISI and the Pakistani Army are the only professional army in the world to have a stated objective of “striking terror in the hearts of the enemy” (from the Quranic Concept of War by SK Malik, a mandatory reading in the Pakistan war college since late-70s). By conflating hate crimes with actual terrorism, we end up doing disservice to both.

Is this specific to a religion?
Terrorism is a political tool used when conventional confrontation is not an option and members of all religions have used it. The Irish Republican Army fighting for Northern Ireland was Catholic. The LTTE (pioneers of suicide bombers and using children as suicide bombers) was largely Hindu (but had members of other faith also). The perpetrators of terrorism are political organisations or at times individual claiming to act under inspiration from such organisation.

The term Islamic or Muslim terrorism is an unfortunate outcome of the fact that we don’t distinguish between political Islam or Islamism and the religion Islam. This is perhaps a legacy of the fact that the religious and political leaders since Mohammed were the same person in the form of the Khalifa (or Caliph). The terror organisations also are more interested in making it appear that there is indeed no difference – IS or the Islamic State being a case in point. It serves their cause to appear as if they speak on behalf of all Muslims. In contrast, IRA or LTTE did not seek identification with a religion and had nationalistic causes.

What about the killings of Shia Muslims in Pakistan?
That is not terrorism either. An act of killing a group of people on account of race, religion or some other attribute is a genocide. Instances of this would be the Nazi Germany against the Jews or what happened in Rwanda, against the Tutsi. There is no other way to label an attempt to kill Shias by certain organisations in Pakistan.

If we need to pick an act of terrorism within Pakistan, the recent killing of school children in Peshawar by Taliban was a clear act of terrorism. Taliban wants the Pakistani Army to stop its operation against them and allow them to run its own government in parts of Pakistan. The killing was not a mindless act. Taliban had clear political demands and a message it wanted to send to the Pakistan Army through that massacre.

How do we fix this?
We need to move away from lazy journalism where terror attacks are often explained away having been done by Islamic terrorists.  It is important to cite the organisation responsible for the attack together with its political objective.  Most organisations that commit such attacks want people to know their identity, which is never a mystery.  Often, shoddy journalism leads to reporting that blames Islamic terrorists, without sufficient explanation or granular detail. This creates the false correlation of Muslims with terrorists, especially for western populations, that live in homogenous societies. This also creates an atmosphere where a killings such as those which happened at Chapel Hill, without a political objective also gets tagged by many people as a terrorist attack.

The other part is public education – people need to know that all Muslims don’t subscribe to Islam as a political ideology and faith is a personal matter. Highlighting the distinction between political Islamism and Islam the religion will weaken the cause of Islamists and increase safety of Muslims.

Finally, we as readers should ask why. If the why does not lead to a political answer, it is not terrorism.

Saurabh Chandra is a Bangalore based technology entrepreneur with an interest in public policy.

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Deciphering the signals behind Asad Durrani’s utterances

The former ISI chief’s successive appearances on television last week are possibly aimed at building pressure on the US to fulfil their side of the ‘deal’

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Lt. General (retd) Asad Durrani, a former Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) appeared on the Al-Jazeera Network and BBC HARDtalk last week, and opened up more than one can of worms in the process. In his interview to Al-Jazeera, he assessed that the ISI harboured Osama Bin Laden and wanted to give him up in exchange of a favourable resolution to the Afghanistan political question. On BBC HARDtalk, when asked about Pakistan’s continued support for the Afghan Taliban, he expounded that statecraft is based on realism, and not on abstract emotions of permanent friendship and trust. What Durrani said during these television appearances did not come as a surprise to people in India who have long suspected that the Military-Jihadi Complex(MJC) in Pakistan is a powerful and irreconcilable entity. Nevertheless, this was the first admission of the nexus between Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani State by someone close to the MJC. Officially, the ISI still claims that they did not harbour Bin Laden and played no role in the 2011 raid. Thus, from an Indian perspective, it is not the content of these utterances that matter as much as the the reasons behind the timing of this disclosure.

The first reason for these statements could just be a personal vendetta between Durrani and Gen. Raheel Sharif, who heads the current military establishment, or a feud between Durrani and the ISI chief during the Osama Bin Laden raid, Lt. Gen. (retd) Shuja Pasha. Having figured out that there is nothing to lose personally, this could be a ploy by Durrani to voice his opposition to others in the military. Appearing on HARDtalk, Durrani appears to be critical of Operation Zarb-e-Azb on the grounds that it created more trouble than it killed enemies of the Pakistani State. In response to the military offensive against terrorists following the Peshawar attack, he hoped that the Pakistani military would calibrate its response based on what the terror groups stand for. In his own words: ‘In principle, groups which are ultimately going to be useful in the unity of Afghanistan and groups that are not against the Pakistani state will not be targeted, I at least hope that will not be done because that would be a very silly thing to do’. Such statements indicate differences between Mr. Durrani and the current military leadership. The possibility that these utterances are a part of a personal power play in the Pakistani military elite sounds like a damp squib but one can’t deny the role that personal differences play in such cases. This possibility however, becomes untenable considering that Asad Durrani has been the unofficial mouthpiece of ISI in the past and has served masterfully as a channel of plausible deniability for the MJC. If this modus operandi holds true even today, there are two possibilities that explain the purpose and timing behind these interviews.

The second possibility could be to pre-empt another revelation that might expose ISI’s duplicity further. By taking a stance now, Durrani is attempting to soften the impact that any disclosure which implicates ISI might lead to. When questioned by Al-Jazeera Network’s Mehdi Hasan that was Laden’s compound an ISI safe house, he responded ‘If ISI was doing that, then I would say they were doing a good job. And if they revealed his location, they again probably did what was required to be done’. Such statements are meant to shield the ISI against a domestic backlash as Bin Laden still remains an admired figure in Pakistan. What appears to have happened is that the ISI’s plan was to trade Osama Bin Laden at the right time and at a right “price”. What is not clear however, is whether the Abbottabad raid was a result of this deal or a consequence of an aborted one. After Asad Durrani’s outburst, the US seemed to be eager to deny his claims. US State spokeswoman Jen Psaki was quick to assert that  ‘we don’t have any reason to believe that the government of Pakistan knew about the location of Bin Laden’. This evidence suggests that a deal was indeed being negotiated when US took unilateral action, recognising that Pakistan was asking for too much in return.

The third and the most plausible reason could be that a deal indeed took place but Pakistan did not get what was promised. In this context, Durrani rued that ‘there was no co-operation by the US with Pakistan on Afghanistan’ after 2005. Solving the Afghanistan political question in terms favorable to Pakistan was the demand that Pakistan would have wanted in return of Laden’s handover. Since this demand was not met in its entirety, Pakistan now wants to remind US of its side of the deal. Praising Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan, Durrani reminded the US, and the world that Pakistan would continue to support jihadi elements not harmful to Pakistan like the Haqqanis. He even claimed that the Haqqanis were given signals to move out of North Waziristan before Operation Zarb-e-Azb began. Apart from a stake in the politics of Afghanistan, these statements might be aimed at boosting the quantum of US financial aid for the Pakistani military. Since Pakistan has vehemently expressed its disagreement with the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, these interviews could be meant to seek a similar deal between the US and Pakistan.

What happens in the coming days will help understand which of these three possibilities turns out to be true. Meanwhile, a lesson for all of us from these events, to paraphrase Asad Durrani himself, is that ‘Statecraft is not about permanent friends…you play so many games, you keep many balls in the air. International relations are not based on trust’. Serves as a reminder to all of us that amorality is a feature, and not a bug in the domain of international relations.

Pranay Kotasthane is a policy analyst at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Stand-up’s tryst with destiny

By Devika Kher

The history of stand-up comedy has shown that, like all the other fields, the relevance of stand-up will grow along with its demand in society.

It was the decade after the Second World War. There was still anxiety within the western communities just out of a war. The rules that existed before the war no longer applied. It was during this time that the pubs around America started appreciating a new breeze of entertainers. This new stream of talent wasn’t restricted to the rules of entertainment followed before. They, unlike their predecessors, were pushing the envelope as far as they could. It was the turning point in the field now known as, stand-up comedy.

In America, stand-up comedy started as a part of the Vaudeville theatres in the late 18th and early 19th century. Vaudeville theatre was a theatrical performance with a series of different type of acts presented in a sequence. It was like watching a play, a song and a dance performance on just one ticket. Quite a famous genre, vaudeville theatre art was distinguished for having liquor free and mixed-gender crowd. It was this form of art that increased the number and the size of theatres across cities.Amongst the various routines presented, one of the genres sprouting was a set of burlesque shows. These shows used a new art form in which the artists presented a set of fast one liner jokes. At the time, the jokes were mostly ‘clean’ and kept a safe distance from politically incorrect topics.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom saw the rise of stand-up comedy within the music hall performances.  One of the famous names of the time was Max Miller, who use to chip in jokes in between a song and dance set. However, the taste for such shows developed post World War II as the Armed forces started appreciating the art form they discovered while attending wartime concert parties.

The space for stand-up comedy developed further after the war in both the countries. While America saw a rise of rebellious stand-up comedy, the workmen clubs in the UK provided space for comics who used racial and sexual stereotypes to entertain the audience. A series of comics like, the famous Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl were the products of this era, where comics like Bruce were being imprisoned on the ground of obscenity. The negative sentiment within the society after the World War became a fodder for these artists and the outcome was the stand-up comedy as we know of it today.

The modern stand-up comedy was no more bound by fear of censorship, and the comics slowly started delving into the topics which were once a taboo. The night clubs in the cities became the new breeding grounds for this genre of artist. A casual dress-code was brought into the act, and, various new forms of stand-up comedy were also initiated. Along with a rising number of followers, the post War period also saw the advent of communication technology. As the communication gap was filled by radios, televisions etc., the reach of these comics became global. Consequently, rebellious American stand-up comedians started influencing their British counterparts and stand-up comedy started spreading across boundaries.

As the reach of this profession continues to grow within new countries and cultures, it is important to remember where all of this came from. Not because it makes for an inspiring story, but to understand the nuances that are involved behind making it a culture within society. For instance, support for comedy as an art form is majorly dependent on the temperament of society. Making comedy a rebellious art form would not have been possible had the dominant temperament not been of insecurity and anxiety.

Another important observation to take away is the relation between political correctness and comedy content. As mentioned, comedy in its nascent stage was heavily censored: so much so that the content had to be passed through a censor board which would then mark the unacceptable content in blue. Later the comedy which focused on these unacceptable topics came to be known as “blue comedy”. After the war, the friction increased much more as various artists were sent to prison for obscenity. The fight between the two ends continued for a long time with famous comics like George Carlin and Richard Pryor facing the brunt.

Hence, it should not be seen as unusual for comics starting the genre within a community to start getting into trouble with the authorities. Stand-up content has had to fight through moral consciousness in all societies before the mindset evolved in its favour. One of the things which helped the most in this was the rising fame and demand for stand-up comedy, which made it an economically viable occupation. For some of the stand-up comedians it also brought fame and stardom which solidified the base for the upcoming talents and brought a legitimacy that the occupation needed. In other words, the budding comics from the countries with a comparatively new stand-up scene should look at early troubles as a rite of passage before they make it to a more accepting environment.

The history of stand-up comedy has shown that, like all the other fields, the relevance of stand-up will grow along with its demand in society. However, unlike most other services, stand-up does not only depend upon the choices and preferences of the people, but also their culture, norms and beliefs. The good news here is that even if it takes a long time, stand-up comedy as a profession will evolve as the society evolves.

Devika Kher is a Research Associate at the Takshashila Institution.

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The Indian Constitution and its Evolution

On the 65th anniversary of the formation of the Indian republic, V. Vinay shares some thoughts on the Indian constitution and its evolution.


The constitution came into being after nearly 3 years of debate, with 299 members. The drafting committee was headed by BR Ambedkar. The constituent assembly was an indirectly elected body created before independence. The first Loksabha elections were in 1952.

While India became a republic in 1950, it took less than 15 months for shortcoming to be found. Because judgements went against the govt. Freedom of expression became a thorny issue. Because the PM Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t like some cartoon and writings by the left. The first amendment was moved on 10th May and enacted on 18th June 1951. In this short while, our freedom of expression was curtailed.

It look less than six weeks for a slew of changes to the constitution. 13 changes in all including insertion of Schedule 9. Schedule 9 was created to be outside judicial scrutiny. Only recently the Indian supreme court said these provisions may also be scrutinised if required.

While the articles of the constitution have been amended 99 times until now, you would have thought we got at least the preamble right. But no, Indira Gandhi in the infamous 42 amendment decided to amend the preamble as well. This was on 1st April 1977. Oh, the irony! The preamble then and now:


This is how we became a socialist secular country. The Janata govt did not roll this back: lest our friends in Moscow be offended.

The 42nd Amendment touched/modified/inserted about 54 articles! This has been the largest surgery carried out on the constitution. In the meanwhile nearly 300 acts now find shelter in Schedule 9, away from judicial scrutiny. Many amendments were just showing the courts their ‘place.’ Here is the 24th:


Interestingly, one person who opposed changes to article 19 was Syama Prasad Mukherjee. Wonder if his successors have the courage to restore the article to its pristine form. Meanwhile, we have had 99 amendments. The Modi govt in surely bound to make the 100th amendment. A century! A number we all love.

But still this is the best we have. And this is what keeps us going as a nation. Happy Republic Day.

V. Vinay is a curious academic-entrepreneur living in Bangalore. He tweets at @ainvvy, and these thoughts were originally posted on twitter.

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The risks of conflating poverty alleviation with economic equality

by Pranay Kotasthane

One of them is an urgent and important problem while the other is a moral question

Takshashila GCPP alumnus Prakhar Misra brought to attention these lines from Pratap Bhanu’s book The Burden of Democracy:

The call for a redistributive politics was often confused between two aims, poverty alleviation and economic equality. In principal, the two are distinct.

It is rewarding to discuss these lines further and understand the differences between poverty alleviation and economic equality. It is rewarding because conflating the two concepts can lead to policies that achieve neither and in fact, worsen the status quo.

The word poverty itself can mean different things to different nation-states. In the current Indian context, some of the biggest challenges are malnutrition, lack of sanitation, homelessness, poor public health facilities and unaffordable education. These deficiencies in the living conditions are broadly classified into what is sometimes referred to as absolute poverty. Hence, poverty alleviation in India would mean enabling people to eradicate these problems from their own lives.

Economic inequality on the other hand can be broadly understood to be the same as relative poverty. When OECD countries worry about their poor, they are concerned with the differences in the incomes between the richest and the poorest. This is because they have largely solved the problems of absolute poverty that continue to plague countries like India. Targeting problems of relative poverty would mean that the rich should take the burden of reducing this inequality in the society as it might lead to the alienation of the poor.

The discourse in India about poverty has conflated between the aims of absolute poverty eradication and relative poverty eradication. This confusion is best expressed in common sensical paradoxes like “How can Indians accept that while some of the richest in India are amongst the richest in the world, some X% of people continue to die of malnutrition everyday?” This is a powerful and emotive argument that tends to veer the discussion towards economic equality. Invariably, this leads to redistributive policies which aim at transferring wealth from the rich to the poor.

In this approach to economic equality lies our problem. Aiming for equality when we have more pressing concerns of absolute poverty is detrimental to the society as a whole. A State that is optimising for poverty alleviation would focus on providing for public goods and rely on private enterprise to generate wealth. Economic growth would be its mantra so that no one is poor on an absolute scale. On the other hand, a State optimising for economic equality would be concerned about the best ways of redistribution alone. Such an approach without economic growth will disincentivise private enterprise, even stalling the process of absolute poverty eradication.

Then there is a larger philosophical question of whether a socialist society where everyone is economically equal, a right way to go? Will it not demotivate those who work harder? Will it not motivate free riders? These are moral questions best left for the society to answer. And even if we assume that a society where economic equality is a reality is the best one, why should we let the best be the enemy of the good?

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Russia’s new military doctrine: an attempt at deterrence

By Pranay Kotasthane

The new doctrine seeks to assert Russia’s position in the neighbourhood and salvage Putin’s position domestically

Only a few days after Ukraine moved closer to NATO, relinquishing its troubled “non-aligned” status, Russia announced its new military doctrine which was signed by President Putin on December 26, 2014.

This update has garnered a lot of attention in the US, EU, and NATO nations, which I argue was its sole objective. A few frantic reports from the US termed this new doctrine as an escalation, culminating in a “Cold War 2.0” or “The New Cold War”.

The updates in the military doctrine by themselves are cursory in nature. First, the doctrine singles out the NATO expansion in Eastern Europe as the primary threat to Russia’s national interest. As a result, military measures such as anti-missile shields, ‘global strike’ concept, plans of placing weapons in space are spotted as the dangers to watch out for. Considering the upheavals in Ukraine and fomenting troubles in Estonia, Lithuania and Moldova, this move is in line with Russia’s previous versions of the doctrine, which explicitly state that protecting Russian “compatriots”, a loose term meaning any ethnic Russian in the former CIS states is a duty of the Russian Federation.

Second, analysts have highlighted that the new doctrine is belligerent because it mentions that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons against its enemies if it faces aggression of any type that threatens the security of the Russian State. This is again consistent with Russia’s earlier stance of retaining the right to the “first use” of nuclear weapons. Indeed, deterrence as a policy rests on the foundation of extremely destructive consequences.

Third, a significant change that should be of interest to all nation-states, but has largely gone unnoticed is that the doctrine has put protection of national interests in the Arctic as a priority for the armed forces for the first time. This highlights Russia’s continued focus on the oil & gas market as a currency for global power.

Thus, even if the doctrine does not contain any remarkable changes in Russia’s position, it is significant for other reasons. What’s important is that Russia felt it important to garner attention towards a doctrine that had not changed since 2010. This change might be a signalling instrument aiming at two things. First, buckled by sanctions over the Ukraine issue, Russia wants to signal that involving Ukraine and other eastern European nations in the NATO buildup might have larger repercussions for the world. This is particularly aimed at the fence sitters in the EU, who have supported Russia previously due to their energy dependence. Second, the falling rouble and a resulting looming economic crisis have started hurting Russian businesses badly. This change in the doctrine will help stem the opposition to Putin coming from powerful business circles. A new military doctrine helps Putin consolidate his position, generates public support and possibly prevent a backlash from the oligarchs.

The larger point that the doctrine signals is Russia’s desperation over the crippling sanctions, exacerbated by the falling revenues from oil and gas exports.

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The appropriate umpire

By Devika kher

The Spicejet case allows the Directorate General of Civil Aviationto emerge as an appropriate umpire.

The Government regulators got it right this time. Based on the remarks of the hassled civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) Chief Prabhat Kumar took the much needed steps to monitor Spicejet, a heavily indebted domestic airline in a timely manner. The airline was put on the cash-and-carry mode after the Civil Aviation Minister expressed his concern regarding the flight. All these measures were taken by the DGCA as a step for “heightened surveillance”.

Spicejet is a low-cost Indian airline owned by the Chennai based Sun Group, a conglomerate of Kalanithi Maran who also own the Sun TV Network, the largest media network in the country. It commenced services in 2005 and has Sanjeev Kapoor as the current CEO who took the position in April 2014 as the airline made a substantial loss of Rs.1,186 crore in 2013-14 and was in a dire need of investments. In the turbulent times faced by the airline last year, the owner Kalanithi Maran invested Rs. 54.27 crore into the airline as it made a loss of Rs 559 crore for Q2FY14.

Not keeping with the financial condition of the airline, Spicejet managed to be the second largest passenger carrier till August 2014 with a 20.9 percent share of the domestic market. A major attribute for the high number of passengers was the low fares maintained below the cost price, which eventually led to the increase in the losses made by the airline. As the financial health of the airline became grim, the Civil Aviation Minister pointed it out as “giving (them) a heart attack”.

On December 4th, the DGCA Chief issued a warning against Spicejet airline asking it to provide a schedule for payment of a Rs.1,500 crore loan to various vendors. The DGCA Chief also took other steps, such as withdrawal of the credit facility for airport user fees, in response to the Rs. 200 crore debt owed by the airline to the Airport Authority of India (AAI). However, an interesting aspect of the decisions was, the caution taken to leave the market untouched. Instead the DGCA went a step ahead and asked the airline to stop advance bookings of flights for over a month as well as to refund the customers of the cancelled flights. The airline was asked to withdraw slots to minimise the impact in the aviation industry. Besides the market factors, the safety measure have also been kept in mind when the DGCA ensured that pilots would not be made to do overtime, as 115 commanders and 17 co-pilots resigned on Saturday, December 6.

Another intriguing aspect was the government’s ability to avoid taking extreme steps. For instance, on one hand the authorities refused to provide financial support to the private airline, on the other, they extended the deadline for the debt payment to AAI by almost a week. Hence, the government took the stand of not being authoritative enough, so as to ban the airline, but were cautious to not misuse the fiscal resources at hand.

This case can be seen as an example of the government playing the role of a fair umpire. As an umpire the government should set the rules of the game. It should ensure that all players adhere to it. If this is done right, it helps the government in asserting legitimacy over the players in the market. In this case, the government has shown timeliness by taking steps before it was too late. This not only helped improve the government’s ability to overlook the scenario but also saved the employees, investors, customers and agents from another massive loss after the Kingfisher Airline fiasco.

Fortunately, unlike the Uber case, this scenario gives hope for a government body with the ability to realise its role in accordance to the objective required to be attained. Hence, instead of impairing the market by banning a firm from operating in the national capital, the DGCA concentrated on reducing the impact of the losses of one firm from adversely affecting the entire industry. The government authority in the case of Spicejet used its power to sustain the market, instead of using it as a punching bag for the political economy.

Devika Kher is a Research Asoociate at the Takshashila Institution.

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Store in India! Part II

By Ranjeet Rane

Why enforce, when you can enable and engage instead?

In my previous post I had proposed the idea of “Store in India” by using a four layered model, also while presenting the concept of a “Data Ecosystem” in the same post; I had discussed Data Sovereignty and Lawful Interception as the two layers around which the policy discourse of the data ecosystem is currently focused on. To evolve into a more holistic approach the policy discourse needs to take into consideration two more factors, namely “Data Intermediaries” and “User Privacy”.

Data Intermediaries are those body corporates that aid in the transmission, storage, and third party access of your data. Data Intermediaries find mention in the Indian IT Act 2008 and subsequent Rules as the sole custodians of user generated data. These intermediaries comprise of the entire spectrum of service providers including telecom operators, ISPs, cloud based services, Over the Top (OTT) applications and even Cyber cafes. They form the back bone of the physical infrastructure needed to sustain the data ecosystem.

It would be apt to mention that the National Cyber Security Policy 2013 categorically lists the need to engage in a PPP model to strengthen the cyber infrastructure in the country. While the policy awaits implementation in letter and spirit, contradictory examples of the Government using this proposed partnership to further its interests towards tapping into public communication networks can be stated. One such example is the announcement by Microsoft to terminate certain services of its Skype application in coming weeks.

While the business dynamics behind this decision are debatable, it is clear that the insistence of the Government to gain access to Skype calls in a bid to monitor anti-national groups has been one of the main reasons for the termination of this service in India. By creating and aiding the implementation of an ambiguous policy framework the government has prevented efficient utilisation of such services by the end user.

Further the nature and scope of these services (and the involved service providers) is undergoing a change as well. WhatsApp (and other messaging applications) which are being used by Law enforcement agencies to strengthen their traditional informant networks are also under the scanner for spreading defamatory and communally sensitive content. These services have a dual nature of application and present day policy structure is focused on blocking these instead of utilising the last mile connectivity options provided by these services. Policy makers need to accept this duality and encourage the integration of these in main stream communication channels across all levels.

While OTT applications are riding the popularity wave across multiple technology platforms, the ownership patterns of most of these applications are not transparent. Ownership of data nested at any geographical location will be difficult to establish as this sector undergoes its consolidation cycle in the near future. Indian authorities continue to ignore these trends in the Data Ecosystem and are stuck with the “Local Server” rhetoric. They however, have no answer to the legal, technical and logistical challenges that such demands brings to fore. Coercion and arm twisting as seen in the case of Blackberry servers may not always work. These intermediaries need to be engaged on multiple platforms and be enabled to “Store in India” than arm twisted into it

The last layer and the core of this model is that of “User Privacy” concerns in the data ecosystem. The realisation that ‘User’ is the keystone species of the data ecosystem is of utmost importance here. Data based services have been chosen by end users to serve specific purposes. If the present policies make it difficult for users to avail of these services, they will move on to the next option, which might not be based on data enabled networks.

Recently a report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India states that by December 2014, India will overtake the US as the second largest Internet users’ base in the world. The numbers point to a staggering 302 million users. A very large percentage of this growth will be driven by the ‘mobile’ platforms. Google and Twitter have already put their weight behind these numbers.

This user base is reason that the Data Ecosystem exists. By interfering with user patterns, market regulators and policy makers may indirectly sound the death kneels for this ecosystem. A recent attempt of which was seen when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) conducted a round table on the possibility of Over the Top (OTT) applications paying spectrum usage charges to telecom service providers.

It is ironic that while on one hand the Government announces initiatives for a “Digital India”, on the other hand it tries to shape end user choices through market regulation. The policy makers need to propose a mix of measures, including but not limited to tax incentives, long term policy clarity, accountable methods of lawful interception, affordable local sourcing of hardware and other technology components and aggressively promoting the use of these data enabled services to further the cause of citizen service delivery. Microsoft is already tapping into the Indian market; it claims that local data centers will benefit organizations in the country adopting its technologies, by providing them with data sovereignty, lower latency and geo redundancy.

While the Narendra Modi led Government is pulling all stops to draw global focus to the potential to “Make in India” it is time that they also roll out a policy document that addresses the evolving nature of the Data Ecosystem in a long term perspective. The market has recognised the potential to “Store in India”; it is now time for the policy makers to resonate with an enabling environment for the same.

This is the second of a two part post. Read the first post here.

Ranjeet Rane is a research assistant on cyber-security at the Takshashila Institution.

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Store in India

by Ranjeet Rane

As the dust settles around the Indian Air Force (IAF) notification against the use of Chinese mobile phones by its officers and personnel, yet another opportunity to discuss and work upon the larger issues of data sovereignty, user data privacy and lawful interception may be lost. The issue at hand goes beyond the “Chinese spying” rhetoric. The IAF advisory and subsequent denial about the same only highlights the incoherent approach adopted by the Indian policy makers towards understanding the changing dynamics of a “data ecosystem” in a world that is fast embracing the “Internet of Things”. A “data ecosystem” encompasses all the processes relating to user data generation, storage, transmission and third party access/consumption.

A four layered model can be used to demonstrate the possible approach that can be adopted while working on a holistic policy for the rapidly evolving data ecosystem in India.


The outermost layer is that of Data Sovereignty. Policy discourse is presently centered around this concern. Security and Law Enforcement agencies have constantly been demanding “India based servers” (read Data centers) from data intermediaries. The Blackberry case was perhaps the most notable example in the last few years that centered around the issue of Data Sovereignty. This demand for data centers within geographical boundaries of India is based on two reasons. The first is that Indian IT laws are not applicable to data stored outside of India. Security and Law enforcement agencies often face procedural delays if access to data is sought for prosecution needs. The other reason is concerning third party access to such data. While the IAF advisory against communication devices that have a “China connect” is the most recent example of this, similar advisories have been issued by the Army as well as the Intelligence Bureau. Curiously, most of these are based on third party vulnerability reports released by private cyber security firms.

This brings to fore the need to have in place a “testing environment” that conducts routine vulnerability assessments within the data ecosystem. This could then be evolved into a certifying authority for “Data Integrity” Standards across various data intense technologies. Coupled with an agency like CERT-In it can be utilized to institutionalizethe Government oversight that is currently missing in this domain. Further this will make it easier for the data intermediaries to establish service credentials, maintain high quality of service along with mandatory documentation and periodic review of steps taken to ensure data integrity. By enabling intermediaries to follow predefined standards, the Government may indirectly boost user confidence that will help in strengthening the fundamentals of the data ecosystem.

Lawful Interception is the next sphere of this model. The NDA government has been vocal about strengthening internal security mechanisms in the country by reviving programs like the Central Monitoring System, NETRA and NATGRID. It will rely heavily on lawful interception towards meeting the objectives of these programs. The focus on blanket surveillance techniques will not be in the benefit of the data ecosystem in the long term. By increasing end user apprehension and making it difficult for the intermediaries to comply with government requests for interception, the government will continue to alter the way users perceive threats to data privacy.

The Government needs to move out from the shadow of the colonial Telegraph Act 1885 if it wishes to have a measure of success in these programs. It needs to put in place an accountable system where legitimate requests for interception would be vetted, documented and realized in public domain at regular intervals. This will increase the end user confidence in using services within the data ecosystem. This will also make it easier for the intermediaries to comply with genuine requests of interception and user information. One of the long pending steps in this regards is the National Telecom Security Policy. While its draft has been around for quite some time, it has been caught in the turf war between various ministries seeking exclusivity over interception requests by agencies under them.

Setting up of a data center is dependent primarily on its utility for users in a geographical region. India has the highest number of active users on Facebook outside of the USA. Similarly India has the highest number of users for messenger applications and other OTT applications. This large user base needs to be projected as the first reason for intermediaries to invest in setting up data centers in India. By encouraging the establishment of data centers in India, the government will be able to find partners for its National Fiber Optic Network, a project to ensure last mile connectivity to remote locations. It will also act as a counter to the perceived threat of Chinese spying in the region.

By choosing to “Store in India”, intermediaries of the data ecosystem will be able garner user trust and at the same time aid the growth of the other layers of the ecosystem. It is important that the policy makers take a relook at the various telecom and communications policies framed in the last decade and make a serious effort to integrate these in the “data ecosystem” that is flourishing in India. Unless a holistic approach is adopted to look at the issues in the data ecosystem, we might lose out on an excellent opportunity to project India as a “data hub” in the coming decade.

In my next post I shall discuss the role of data intermediaries in the data ecosystem, impact of regulatory intervention and highlight the importance of keeping end User Privacy at the core of this model.

Ranjeet Rane is a research assistant on cyber-security at the Takshashila Institution.

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Devolve or die

By Anantha Nageswaran

Reflections on the Takshashila-Hudson Conference on ‘India – the way forward’.

I have just returned from a daylong intense conference jointly hosted by the Takshashila Institution and the Hudson Institute in Bangalore on August 2. There is an onslaught of ideas, information and even emotions. The brain struggles to keep pace and works overtime to assimilate all the information and arguments presented and finally, to make sense of it all, into a cogent whole.

If one day of ideas on four topics – labour, health, innovation and trade & investment – can send the brain into a tizzy – how difficult it must be for the so-called  policymakers and politicians (P&P) to make sense of a far greater bewildering range of information, emotions and pulls and pressures thrown at them non-stop, 24*7?

There are more than ten definitions of ‘wages’, numerous laws dealing with them, some contradictory and many confusing. Changes to the Apprenticeship Act 1961 first mooted as the last of the twenty-point programme of former prime minister Indira Gandhi is beginning to see the light of the day. India should not touch Chapter 5B of the Industrial Disputes Act for the next two years, at least – it is about the right to hire and… the right to fire. In the jargon, it is about labour market flexibility. But, is India’s problem about conferring another right – this time, the right to fire – or is it about creating more jobs to accommodate and engage the demographic youth bulge in the next two and half decades?

Then, there is the Health sector. India is said to be following the fashion of the day set by the World Health Organisation. Standards are set by the Government for hospitals. But, government is a player. It runs hospitals. Hence, the standards are enforced more on private hospitals with scope for corruption and abuse. India is gravitating towards third-party payer insurance model. No one has a stake to control costs in the ‘Third party pays’ – neither hospitals, nor patients nor the insurance companies. The Western world has defined all forms of medicine other than Western medicine, ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’. In the Indian context, it should be the other way around, perhaps, given that Indian medical traditions, practices and medicines pre-date Western medicine. But, are there enough qualified practitioners with the right blend of skills, experience and ethics to apply traditional medicine to health and healing? The Medical Council of India restricts supply of doctors. India needs more doctors. Really?

Perhaps, India needs more ‘Licensed Medical Practitioners’ who can take care of the daily ailments that afflict people – some 80% of the outpatient visits to hospitals. In complex cases involving prolonged treatment, they can be referred to qualified medical practitioners. But, in other countries, they do not start practising after getting a basic medical degree which is what Indian MBBS is all about. Then, there are extensive regulations on inputs – size of classroom, size of laboratories but less on outcomes. The regulatory system is, as always, designed to catch even the last violator with the result that it makes compliance onerous, costly, wasteful and counterproductive for the reasonably to highly honest.

Then, the topic was innovation in India. India is content with mediocrity. There is no attempt to reach for the horizon. Science education is not given undue importance. May be, the scholarship given by the Central Board of Secondary Education for students undertaking Science Education in Bachelor’s and at the Master’s level needs to be publicised and commended. Should the government encourage innovation? Or, is government the problem? Have not many innovations in the West happened, ranging from nuclear power to medicines to Internet, because of the initial government support and research? Why talk of innovation when hardly 5 percent of around 1.0 million engineers that graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering every year in India know any engineering at all? So, should India aim to get its plumbing right, to start with? Perhaps, as in the case of Maslow’s hierarchy, when a step in the ladder is crossed, the other step will automatically come into view and become more easily scalable? As Nitin Pai, good friend and the co-founder of Takshashila Institution often says, India may not be able to get its security right if it cannot get its sewage right.

Then, on to Trade and Investment. Should India hold the process at the World Trade Organisation hostage as, after all, the WTO is more egalitarian than other multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF? Will India get its infrastructure spending and other investment spending right if it develops a corporate bond market and eliminate its revenue deficit? Should India be mindful of the spillover onto its domestic economy and financial markets arising out of the policies adopted and executed in the West and free flow of capital across borders? How does India make sure that the financial sector and financial assets do not exercise an undue influence on household and corporate financials and net worth in India, as they do now, in the West?

We, the participants at the conference, did not have to decide on anything. However, P&P have to make decisions, fraught with unknown consequences, predictable and unpredictable reactions from the public and pundits (another set of P&P). Uncertain and unintended consequences must be bearing heavily on their minds. But, there is no getting away from it. If the enormity of decision-making leaves one paralysed, his place in the history books is assured, but for the wrong reasons. The people who headed the previous government in India should know.

Then, on the way to the airport to return to Singapore, I was discussing with my friend the case of a promising young company that is now in the market raising capital from investors at one-fourth of the valuation at which it raised capital some three years ago. How did the company lose its way? Not all but most start-ups with a good idea and an energetic entrepreneur eventually run into the Peter’s principle where every manager eventually runs into his ultimate level of incompetence. Things just become too complex for him to manage.

A day later and back in Singapore on Sunday as I was unpacking, the question that cropped up in my head is this: Can India really be managed? This question may sound hackneyed. However, I would like to submit that I am coming from the management angle here.

This question is often posed at the corporate level. Corporations start small, succeed and grow. They become too complex for the management team, howsoever talented and competent, to manage. They stagnate and struggle to survive. They have to be broken down into smaller units with substantial empowerment and autonomy or divested. So that the cycle can start afresh, in some sense.

This is an eternal truth because human cognitive limitations are the biggest binding constraint on managing complexity. As many researchers who have peered into figuring out how the human brain is wired have discovered, for the most part, our brains have stopped evolving after the Stone Age, and most of its instincts were honed in the days when we were just hunter-gatherers. The modern industrial age would not merit more than 4 inches of space from the end if all of human history were inscribed on a scroll a mile long. Hence, it is no surprise that the brain has not evolved to discern long-term trends, to distinguish random from systematic outcomes and focus on a multitude of factors at once. If this eventually comes in the way of managing corporations, it is even likelier to come in the way of managing nations. Especially given the size and diversity of India, templates or precedents simply do not exist.

Therefore, it is not an admission of inadequacy but an admission of a universal reality that any capable politician in India is going to run into the Peter’s principle. With 1.2 billion people and growing, democracy, open and subversive media, the explosion in the growth of social networks, 29 States and multiple languages, multiple layers of government, a complex legal and regulatory regime overlaid on the legacy of predatory and control regime of the colonial era, it is simply too much for any government to handle. Throw in information glut, the proclivity to argue endlessly, tendency to reach for instant gratification and much else, India is perhaps too overwhelming for Indian members of Homo sapiens. Then, is the message of this article one of despair and of no hope? May be not.

Given the enormity of the challenge faced, an attitude of resignation and cessation of efforts is a big risk. Giving up is not really an option. It is important to recognise that post-Independence modern India has survived and made progress on several fronts. Challenges remain not because they have not been tackled but the problems have kept getting bigger and more complex due to the relentless rise in the population numbers and we are where we are now.

Faced with a complex situation, the first step is to break it down into manageable, bite-size parts in every possible way. So, forget about tackling all things at once. If ingenuity has kept Indians going defying adversity in every aspect of their daily lives, the same ingenuity will guide them when conditions turn more favourable. So, the government does not have to solve all the problems. It can solve some – very few – and that would enable India to solve the rest of its problems on its own.

How about just making electricity available 24*7? Or, may be, the best brains in and outside the government can just agree on three most important things that the government should tackle first and three things that citizens can do, in return. Once some reasonable measure of progress is achieved on the identified goals, the country can move on to the next set of priorities. Why are citizens indispensable to the process? Well, simply because governing and growing India is too big and too important to be left to the government alone.

Second, devolve, devolve and devolve. India is too big and too complex to be a single administrative unit. A very loose federal setup is required. Substantial devolution of authority, responsibility and resources to the States and from the States to Corporations, to Municipalities, to Gram Panchayats and so on is urgently needed.

Some or most of these lower administrative units may fail. They may be too overwhelmed by the sudden change in their situation. They may not be able to cope. They have to be open to new ideas, to getting new people in and to new powers and responsibilities. Most may buckle under the pressure. Peter’s Principle is powerful. But, some will succeed and, over time, others may start to emulate.

Third, because there are no templates and precedents for India, it is important to run multiple pilots or multiple policy experiments simultaneously. No one answer will emerge that can be applied all over India. Far from it. In fact, plurality of solutions has to be expected, encouraged and even demanded. By its nature and given the uniformity it has to enforce, the bureaucracy might find plurality of policies and approaches the most difficult to accept and work with. They first need to become aware of this gap between their conditioning and what the reality demands. That is the first step towards acceptance and then mastery of the situation.

Fourth and finally, humility is called for – both from those who design and execute and from those criticise. We are dealing with a unique situation in many ways. Humility will make dialogue possible making it easier for a diversity of solutions to emerge.

With the above approach, there is a possibility that India becomes a positive role model for problem solving under complexity with such an eclectic, diverse and open-minded approach. If it did not, it can still be a role model but of the wrong variety.

Anantha Nageswaran is co-founder the Takshashila Institution and Fellow for Geo-economics.

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