“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Mr. Pickering was galloping down the road in London in limitless joy moving his arms all over the place. In his abandon, he hit Mr. Smith on his nose. Smith’s nose started bleeding and the cop nearby arrested Mr. Pickering and took him to the Magistrate.
“I am a free man in a free country with freedom to express myself,” Mr. Pickering argued with the Magistrate.
Magistrate retorted dismissively, “Yes, it is true, Mr. Pickering that you are a free man in a free country with the freedom to express yourself. But your freedoms stop where Mr. Smith’s nose begins!”
In a free society, freedoms come with limitations. With boundaries. Smith’s boundary of his body starts at the tip of his nose. That is where Pickering’s freedoms end.
For a free society to take shape, we need a joint and collective covenant. A contract. A rule of law that springs from that collective contract that decides how we will interact together and ensure each others’ freedoms.
There will be times in such a society where my representation will lose out to your representative vote and vice versa. But that is the nature of such a contract. That is the basis of such a contract.
Just because you lose and I win does not make you righteous and me a dictator. The one who rules is the sum total of the democratic voices in society.
In such a society, any outsider who does not have access to or is bound by my voice cannot decide the laws and rules by which I live. Every community and society has its own ways and rules. For example, in Germany, you cannot give your child a name that the government does not approve of. By law, you need to take the approval of the government to finalize the name of your kid. That may be regressive to someone in India, but that is the law dictated by the citizens of Germany for themselves. They have by law and by rights provided by their democracy made that norm for themselves. What right do I have to force my sensibility or voice on them?
Companies like Twitter and fancy NGOs - no matter how high-sounding their ideals and works - do NOT have the power of representation! That is where they lose all right to dictate or change any rule in a country. We are now in an era where the people’s voice will have to battle against the whims of transnational corporations.
Its Representational Democracy versus Imperial Dictatorship!
it is about the ‘voice’, but we are getting it all wrong!
On January 31st, the Government of India had sent a list of 257 tweets and accounts that should be blocked. Initially, they were suspended but a few hours later, the decision was reversed.
On February 8th, the Government sent a list of another 1178 accounts to Twitter.
Earlier this week, the centre had issued a new notice to social media giant Twitter directing it to block 1,178 accounts found to be from Pakistan peddling Khalistani secessionism. This was an addition to the government’s earlier notice asking them to ban 257 anti-India social media accounts for making hate speech. (Source)
The company not only did not block those accounts which were peddling violence and terrorism but went onto pontificate on the benefits of “free exchange of information having a positive global impact.”
"We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact, and that the tweets must continue to flow," the statement further said. (Source)
Coming from a company that blocked a sitting US President because they decided his voice was not conducive to peace?
As opposed to interacting with the Indian Government in a serious way directly, Twitter decided to make a spectacle out of the whole thing. So it came out with a series of tweets and a blog post to defend itself.
Twitter’s blog post showcased their reply in a public manner instead of talking to the government directly. (Source)
Separate to our enforcement under the Twitter Rules, over the course of the last 10 days, Twitter has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice. To set the record straight, here is a list of actions we have taken as a result of these blocking orders:
- We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms.
- We took a range of enforcement actions — including permanent suspension in certain cases — against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules.
- Separately, today, we have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India. Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021. We will continue to maintain dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them. (Source)
The Indian government then shared its reply to Twitter on the Indian app Koo.
Most of the Indian government agencies and accounts have registered there with official handles.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and many of its organisations have moved to Koo, a Made-in-India alternative to Twitter. The Ministry of Electronics and IT, MyGov, Digital India, India Post, NIC, NIELIT, SAMEER, Common Services Center, UMANG app, Digi Locker, NIXI, STPI, CDAC, and CMET have verified handles on the platform. (Source)
Meanwhile, BJP’s IT cell replied to Twitter’s email by pointing out the difference between a publisher and a platform. Something that has been debated intensely in the US (If Social Media Companies are Publishers and Not Platforms, that changes everything)
A good reply. But is this the right track to tackle the battle on hand?
Twitter has tried to take the ‘high road’ by advocating for the Right to Free Expression.
In that context - one genuine question arises:
Who is the keeper and enforcer of the Fundamental Rights (including the right to free expression)?
And the corollary: How should the Fundamental Rights be enforced?
Democracy is a collective covenant
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, or simply Montesquieu was a political philosopher of the Enlightenment era. In his seminal work The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu laid down the basis of the constitutional form of government where the separation of powers and civil liberty were central. They could be enforced by a set of laws promulgated and enforced by political institutions that reflected the social and geographical aspects of each community.
A treatise on political theory first published anonymously by Montesquieu in 1748. In it, Montesquieu pleaded in favor of a constitutional system of government and the separation of powers, the ending of slavery, the preservation of civil liberties and the law, and the idea that political institutions ought to reflect the social and geographical aspects of each community. (Source)
We need to understand this a little better.
Every society is ruled by a combination of two things: Sovereign ruler + Laws.
Now, let us suppose the Sovereign ruler is a monarch or a dictator. The difference between him being a despot or not is not based on how virtuous he is. But if he follows a set rule of law.
Are there laws and rules that he follows - like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore or does he rule on his whims and fancies like Kim Jong-un of North Korea?
Of course, in a monarchy, the power for the rule-making and law comes from the monarch and his claim to superiority. Laws are an expression of the fancies and likes of the monarch. They don’t need to necessarily have any say from the people.
In a democracy, however, the sovereign ruler is a product of the laws. His existence and ability to function comes from the law.
A law that has been decided by the people of that society and community based on an agreed social contract.
“We, the People of India…” is therefore significant.
Laws flow from People. Rulers flow from the Law.
People, you see, are the sovereign. And the Sovereign is the people’s representative.
And, this is absolutely critical to understand.
Constitution in a democracy and the laws flowing from it are an expression of the sum total of people’s sense of agreed morality.
I may not like yellow but may love red. You may not like red but have a taste for yellow. Our agreed social contract will be orange.
The problem happens when someone decides that all yellows will have no say and the combined contract has to necessarily be red.
There is no democracy left anymore in our midst then.
Worse, in such a scenario, forget democracy, even a monarchy will become a despotism.
Laws - agreed upon laws - and their sanctity is what defines a liberal and inclusive society. Our subjective moralities notwithstanding.
The form of a democratic government makes the laws governing suffrage and voting fundamental. The need to protect its principle, however, imposes far more extensive requirements. On Montesquieu's view, the virtue required by a functioning democracy is not natural. It requires "a constant preference of public to private interest" (SL 4.5); it "limits ambition to the sole desire, to the sole happiness, of doing greater services to our country than the rest of our fellow citizens" (SL 5.3); and it "is a self-renunciation, which is ever arduous and painful" (SL 4.5). Montesquieu compares it to monks' love for their order: "their rule debars them from all those things by which the ordinary passions are fed; there remains therefore only this passion for the very rule that torments them. ... the more it curbs their inclinations, the more force it gives to the only passion left them" (SL 5.2). To produce this unnatural self-renunciation, "the whole power of education is required" (SL 4.5). A democracy must educate its citizens to identify their interests with the interests of their country, and should have censors to preserve its mores.
Democracy is not a “free for all”.
It is a solemn - formal, dignified, and made with utmost sincerity - contract between a set of people. A contract that puts our collective principles over everyone’s personal choices.
At the basis of a constitution and the rule on the basis of that constitution is the power of the sovereign.
The social contract - the Constitution of India - declares that India is the Sovereign Democratic Republic.
Sovereign because it is independent internally and externally. Externally from the control of any foreign power (like East India Company or Twitter) and internally it has a free government that is elected by the people directly and makes laws that reflect the needs of the people.
This is significant. India’s rule of law is established by and for the people as they have decided upon by a social contract after protracted debate and negotiations.
Any citizen may or may not agree with the laws or Constitutional provisions, but every citizen needs to not just abide by it but also protect it. If one wants to change it, there are procedures and there are enough methods available to all to bring about change.
Violence, threats, and unilateral actions by individuals or groups - are not the mechanism for that.
That is what a Constitutional and Representative Democracy is all about.
Without a sacred social covenant and a way to manifest representation of the citizenry, there is no democracy!
The fight between the law of the Indian Government - which is the sum total of all the Indian voices - and Twitter - a private foreign corporation - is NOT about an idea of free exchange of information.
It is about representation!
Indian Government represents every voter. Twitter represents its stockholders!
It about India’s sacred covenant that the society has agreed to abide by. It is about the voice of the meekest and the weakest in the most remote village where there is no internet. But there is the urge to vote for one’s own representative who will carry his/her voice to the hallowed halls where the laws will be charted.
Twitter has absolutely NO such representational character whatsoever! It has not signed any covenant with the Indian citizens on what they consider to be a right or what fundamental laws they will abide by.
The fight between Twitter and the Indian Government is about India’s sovereignty.
For sovereignty is not merely about the sanctity of the physical territory. It has as much to do with the ability to decide our representation and the laws that we agree to be governed by!
And, THAT, agreement, the Constitution, and the political institutions like the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature are sacred! No amount of gaslighting can bring down its absolute nature in a democracy.
That is why it would be in the interest of every Indian citizen to make this a fight about his/her representation, voice, and above all the democratic principles. Twitter’s action is an unequivocal, direct, and unprecedented threat to democracy.
It has nothing to do with Modi.
Hot off the press
Latest note: As per the latest on this battle, Twitter execs may be arrested for non-compliance with the government directive.
Top Twitter executives in India may face arrest with the Centre making it clear that its list of accounts sought to be censured over “inflammatory content”, especially those with the hashtag of farmers’ genocide, was “non-negotiable”, and warning its patience was wearing out over the refusal of the company to follow the diktat given under Section 69A of the IT Act. The US micro-blogging giant, which partially followed the order by taking down around half of the accounts sought to be blocked by the government, may now approach the courts as it holds ground in the defence of “right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve”. During a meeting with Twitter executives Monique Meche and Jim Baker on Wednesday, Union IT secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney made it clear the use of the controversial hashtag was neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression as such “irresponsible content could provoke and inflame” the situation. He also expressed his displeasure over differential treatment by Twitter in its handling of the problems on Capitol Hill and Red Fort. (Source)
Great message from the government. However, the Indian commentators and analysts need to make this battle into the battle of Democracy Vs Imperialism and about the Constitutional Representative structure of the Indian democracy - as it really is!
This discussion needs to become much larger than Modi vs Twitter. Because Twitter and the US will try and make it about that.
market corner: 10 quick bytes
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Cricket Jihad: Mahim Verma, who is a former vice-president of the BCCI, accused Jaffar of quarreling with Cricket Union officials and trying to break the cricket team due to his religious bias. Verma said that initially they lend full support to Jaffar and accepted his decisions considering that he has scored the maximum runs in domestic cricket. Verma added that he never pressurized Jaffar regarding the selection of players. He told that Jaffar brought in Iqbal Abdulla, Samad Salla, and Jai Bista as guest players. Jaffar forcefully made Iqbal Abudullah the captain of the team instead of Kunal Chandela, alleged Verma. However, the team lost four matches out of 5 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament due to his decisions, said Verma. (Source)
Drone Swarms and lasers: In line with the Centre’s Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) initiative and the need for modernisation of the armed forces, India’s premier defence research agency is confident of achieving milestones in three key projects this year. DRDO chairman G Sateesh Reddy told TOI: “The anti-drone system today is completely laser based and we’ve demonstrated that. We’re developing higher power lasers, naturally the range of kill gets enlarged and we can also engage some other kinds of targets too. We should be able to demonstrate this this year.” (Source)
UFO or Missile: A strange object resembling a UFO or Unidentified Flying Object was spotted in Florida on Wednesday sparking several theories about aliens finally making contact with the Earth. However, Dutch researcher and scientist Marco Langbroek threw cold water on the speculative theories associated with alien spacecraft, saying the object sighted was a Trident-II SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile) test. (Source)
An Egg a Day can kill: A team from Zhejiang University finds the yolks of eggs are high in cholesterol and fat, which can fuel heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. They warn that people should use only the whites or switch to healthier egg substitutes. Their findings suggest that those who consume an additional 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day, less than two eggs, are 19 percent more likely to die prematurely. The risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer jumped by 16 and 24 percent, respectively. The average whole egg contains about 186 mg of cholesterol. (Source)
video corner: China vs Australia
China has made more enemies than it would like to have. Australia has suffered enough from China. Here is the latest tiff and blow up. Please check the sentiments. Please read yesterday’s newsletter to see how the world has changed and Biden may actually be in an impossible situation if he thinks that he can carry on from where Obama left. The world is fundamentally different now!
Today’s ONLINE PAPER: Check out today’s “The Drishtikone Daily” edition. - THE DRISHTIKONE DAILY
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