WhatsApp Snooping and the Misadventures in India

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Neither mummies nor dummies can lead a nation from the front. In India, here now is time for action .

IDEALISM IS different from practice; one cannot be confused with the other. An ideal state is one where there’s full freedom to individuals or citizens; at a practical level, freedom is limited to the extent neither the well-being of the society is compromised nor the safety and security of the nation hurt. Prime Minister Narendra Modi or a Chief Minister like Pinarayi Vijayan will have to first take care of the nation or state as the case may be, and then attend to the whims of its people within the framework of the Constitution and their own perceptions about the good of the nation or the state. Expecting of one or the other to act in ways as would compromise with the safety and security of the nation, and instead play to the gallery, is tantamount to abdicating their responsibilities as head of a government.

Reports emerged that the facebook-run WhatsApp communication platform has noticed snooping on a large number of individuals in its group by some as yet unidentified agencies with the use of an Israeli spyware, Pegasus. The issue is hogging attention in India and elsewhere, and understandably so. Those who were snooped on in India — where whatsapp has as high as 40 crore links — number a little over 100, many of them activists with connections to tribal and Maoist causes, or even politicians.

These reports stress that Pegasus is provided by the Israeli firm NSO, which has a policy of providing the software to only governmental agencies to track activities of terrorists and other extremists attempting to cause harm to the society. What is said unsaid is that the Indian government is a party to this snooping. If so, should this be a big news or a major provocation?

Logic suggests that the matter be simply left at that, and we avoid making this another issue for the TV channels to go on and on. For one, the concept that what we do on the net is fully secure is wrong. Or, why do we as common citizens require as much of privacy or security as long as we are not indulging in any violation of existing laws? If someone watches our activities, so be it. It is well-advised to avoid taking extremely confidential matters to the net, be it one’s bank account details or things like that. The matter ends there. Complete privacy and absolute security are welcome, but there is no such confidentiality in existence. Once we understand this, half the problem with privacy on net communications is solved for our own good.

But, this realization does not prevent our fashionable chatter boxes on TV from keeping quiet.  In reality, the number of those who watch prime time TV debates is seeing a sharp decline for quite some time now, for the reason that no meaningful discussions take place, other than attempts at beating around the bush, sensationalizing matters where there is neither a need nor a demand for this, and wasting precious time of the viewers; all of which are unacceptable to sensible brains. We now have things to turn on to, to pass time even in the comfort of one’s room. YouTube, for instance. With the touch of a button or two, one gets what he or she is interested in, and engages attention. Yet, India’s News channels keep the prime time shows going

Those who go on and on against snooping by state agencies should make clear, first and foremost, as to whether there is a state that does not snoop on its citizens, leave alone others in the neighbourhood, or elsewhere in the world as and when situations permit them to. Diplomatic missions everywhere have a fair share of spies masquerading themselves as diplomatic corps. India has them too. CIA, KGB, RAW, ISI all will close down shop once it is decided that there be no spying by state agencies. China does more than its share of spying. Why, even Nepal has its share of spies in the region. Phone tapping is part of spying, and it happens with most top individuals and others in circulation like media, activists, and politicians. To argue that this is not happening is to argue for the wrong side.

A similar argument is ongoing against the Communist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan unleashing his police force against Naxalites or Maoists operating inside Kerala’s forests. The operations were carried out by a joint team of the Centre and the state, and a few ultras died in action. The natural instinct on the part of prime time debaters is to turn against the team of cops or to throw mud at the CM who handles the home portfolio. Maoists cannot be treated with kid gloves as some seem to argue now. If Maoists deserve sympathy, so do terrorists. Are we ready to grant terrorists a space in the society, is worth a thought. Terrorists are young men brain-washed (in the present context) by Islamic fundamentalism; Maoists say they are fighting for the cause of the tribals and the poor who are exploited by the society at large and the reigning governments. In sum, what Maoists do is kill CRPF jawans, hordes of them, and all of them hailing from poor families and earning small salaries by wielding the gun. The rare exception of Maoists killing someone who’s someone high up the ladder was the extermination of some top Congress politicians including VC Shukla in Bastar in 2013.

In as early as 2005, then prime minister Manmohan Singh described these ultras as the “single largest internal security threat,” spread largely over some 70 districts. Collusion between Maoists and Islamists is a recurring phenomenon, and traces of this were detected in the present case in Kerala as well. Those who lead the Maoists from the front, preying on the misery of the poor, are themselves from well-to-do background. A highly educated Brahmin was at its head too. Maoists are seen to be engaged in poppy cultivation in forests and trafficking to make money for the “cause” in Odisha as also elsewhere, just as Islamic terrorists make huge money from drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Both terrorists and Maoists make money by running extortion rackets as well. Maoists also have a history of stalling economic development of areas where they are well-entrenched, for fear that once the poor find a regular means of livelihood, they would run away from their iron fold. Overall, neither Maoists nor Naxalites acquitted themselves well, if one judges them on the yardstick of their roles in improving the lots of the poor or the tribals.

What would they achieve if their only obsession is to kill hordes of poor CRPF jawans? We have seen how the boldest of the bold, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi ran for his life, screaming and wailing, when the US special forces zeroed in on him. Baghdadi, claiming lineage from the prophet, wanted others to fight for the cause and die and he wanted to remain alive without having the courage to stand up and fight. The Maoist leaders of India are pretenders of the same kind. They want others to fight the causes they claim to uphold. They rarely dare challenge the high and the mighty, the real exploiters of the masses in India. There have also been instances of sexual liaisons among the Maoist cadre, just as the Islamic fundamentalists too have an army of sex slaves around them. All is well as long as others are harmed.

A large number of arm-chair advocates and intellectuals, TV debate heroes, are pouring out their pain over cops targeting Maoists in the forests of Kerala a week ago. Do any of these men have, in reality, the simplest spec of sympathy towards the poor or the tribals? This is a big question which remains unanswered. Rather, inference is that they are there for the show, if only to misguide the society, and to fish in troubled waters for the very purpose of their self-aggrandizement. Question is, how does one support Maoists if he does not have the guts to support or have the inclination to back Islamic terrorists?

Where has 25 years of LTTE mayhem taken the Tamils in Sri Lanka is worth a thought. It is difficult, extremely difficult, for an extremist organization to win a war with the state power. State power today is highly lethal, largely different from the powers that faced Chairman Mao and his revolution; or the powers that were cornered in the French Revolution, or the Russian Revolution, for that matter. Today, there are multiple, more sophisticated and extremely lethal forms of state power in action. Winning a fight with country-made pistols or antiquated guns is no more than an idiot’s dream.

Unlike the regimes in the past centuries, governments today are responsive to people’s plights. Even a peaceful non-resistance movement will help press a point or two. This is the land where Mahatma Gandhi fought and won the biggest struggle of Independence with a loin-cloth twisted around his body. He carried no weapons, not even a blade. Point to note is that there is no donkey around today to even campaign for just public causes; what we have are publicity-crazy, self-serving men and women out to make a kill on TV screens, fighting their battles on the small screen with rare vehemence.

A Narendra Modi or Pinarayi Vijayan, if they have the spark of leadership in them, cannot buckle under pressure of this army of creeps out to misguide the society with their misleading arguments. One who leads from the front will have to act, and act in a firm manner. That’s how leadership matters. Neither Mummies nor Dummies can guide a nation to its destiny through choppy waters.


See how Xi Jinping, who by grit and determination, is arming himself with the title of President for Life and seeing his nation through wonderful times. There are no Sitaram Yechuris there to stop him in his track or raise the bogey of snooping. The Yechuris, the Bhushans and their kind are rather the toast of the season out here, on Indian TV channels. They are protectors of the citizens’ freedom, the elitist fad at the expense of the causes of the ordinary masses, and they are also promoters of the nation’s doom.

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About Prem Chandran 30 Articles
The writer is a media consultant, former Editor, and an activist of the India Against Corruption. EOM