India’s Rihanna and Ganesha Syndrome

internet surveillance

You can call it the ‘Rihanna and Ganesha Syndrome’ – the inability of some folks to focus upon the truly divine and get easily distracted by imaginary demonesses.

In India this translates into the country’s ruling elite frothing at the mouth about completely trivial issues, while ignoring life and death questions that threaten the very existence of the Indian Republic.

For those who came in a bit late, the R&G syndrome refers to a recent tweet of the singer and fashion icon Rihanna, showing her wearing nothing more than a pendant with the image of Lord Ganesha[i]. The idea of their favourite deity swinging from the neck of a topless pop star incensed some Hindu organisations and Indian ruling party politicians, who accused her of mocking their religion.

If one thinks of it carefully though, the spiritual inclinations of those feigning outrage are highly suspect. After all, what any real devotee really needed to do when confronted with such a provocative picture was to just calmly meditate on the Lord, instead of letting his eyes wander anywhere else.

Doing so could perhaps have helped the bhakts imbibe some of Ganesha’s key qualities – wisdom, generosity and the ample ability (thanks to his big ears) to hear other points of view. However, to expect even this level of genuine spiritual attention seems to be too much to ask for in today’s India, where the differences between the truly devout and the common lout have been blurred by the rise of a highly politicized pseudo-religiosity.

Everyone in India now, from the clerk to the corporate tycoon, wraps a saffron scarf around his own neck, with the sole intention of using it to wring someone else’s at first chance. We are now deeply into a culture where nobody knows or cares about what is really sacred anymore. Every heinous act – lying, cheating, even murder and pillage –  can be justified by simply contrasting it with an official list of alleged insults – all attributable to an ‘enemy’.

This is a problem that unfortunately stems from the Indian state itself, which has become an ‘enemy manufacturing’ machine for many years now. Anyone even remotely challenging those in power is instantly branded an ‘evil anti-national’ or a ‘terrorist’ and visited by the full wrath of the Indian police state.

Real and imagined ‘urban Naxals’, religious minorities, leftists of all kinds, farmers and now youthful climate change activists – all are ‘enemies of the state’ by default, without even the option of proving innocence in the country’s sold out or suborned courts of law.

All this is of course quite well-known and much written about too in the non-mainstream media. Less discussed are the consequences of the Indian state’s distorted gaze for its own ability to govern a vast and diverse country like India.

The current regime seems to have completely lost its sense of priorities as to what is needed to defend the country from the many real threats it faces. The challenges facing India are numerous – a collapsing economy, growing unemployment and ecological disaster – among others.

The debasing of democratic norms and principles of federalism plus the destruction of social cohesion by the bigoted extremists in power have also created fertile grounds for systematic foreign intervention on the Indian sub-continent. This ‘foreign interference’ though is not directed by an American diva but comes from old or new wannabe superpowers, ambitious Big Tech firms and groups pursuing various extremist agendas.

As the Chinese army demonstrated last year, by casually walking over into Indian territory without much resistance, the self-styled ‘nationalists’ in New Delhi are not really very good at defending the nation’s land.  The Indian establishment’s ability to protect the country’s data and communication systems – vital for the functioning of the economy as also all defence operations- is even worse.

As Edward Snowden, the former US spy and whistleblower, showed back in 2013 India was the fifth most tracked country by US intelligence, which used a secret data-mining programme to monitor worldwide internet communications[ii]. At that time, the Indian government of Dr Manmohan Singh made some feeble noises of protest but the true extent of spying by the US National Security Agency was never fully revealed.

No one has since really bothered to ask if the hacking of India’s information networks was stopped even after Snowden’s explosive disclosures? Is the US intelligence (or Chinese for that matter) still reading the emails and recording conversations of top Indian politicians, defence chiefs, judges, bureaucrats? What is the kind of vital data of Indian citizens and businesses that is still being routinely harnessed by all kinds of foreign entities? Are some Indian companies or policy makers involved in facilitating such leakage for commercial gains? Does the Indian government even know whether it is being hacked, where and when?

Instead of addressing all these critical issues Indian security agencies, gripped as they are also by the R&G Syndrome, have been busy planting cooked up evidence on the laptops of political dissidents[iii] and prying on their private conversations.  As a recent analysis by a US forensic firm Arsenal Consulting concluded, incriminating evidence was planted on the computer of Rona Wilson, a human rights defender, just in order to mislead the courts and put him and his associates away in prison.

The simple fact remains that – for all their bravado – the security agencies themselves are as vulnerable to similar attacks as ordinary activists. Using the same cheap software available online any bunch of foreign hackers can easily penetrate the deepest chambers of the Indian state any time they want.

For all one knows today India’s entire security establishment – especially the highly ‘un’intelligent agencies – are perhaps as much in their birthday suit as Rihanna was in her controversial photograph.

And  the solution to this problem is also clear – the mighty Indian state should take its eyes off Rihanna for some time and focus on praying hard to Lord Ganesha. Given the path it is on now, He is the only one who can save this ancient nation from total destruction.

Satya Sagar is a journalist who can be reached at [email protected]







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