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2 January 2016 Editorial

 

2 JANUARY

Mr. Kejriwal’s challenge 

ArvindKejriwal has always projected himself against the might of the establishment to give his message a rallying edginess. He did so as an activist of the Right to Information campaign and subsequently against corruption — and unexpectedly, a year into his second stint as chief minister of Delhi, the old against-all-odds, anti-establishment manner continues to inform his style of governance. His politics, by all appearances, thrives on this. More significantly, by persisting with the David-vs-Goliath messaging, Mr. Kejriwal has framed questions of Centre-State relations and of equity and delivery of basic services in coordinates that have resonance in all of India. As Chief Minister, Mr. Kejriwal has been in constant combat with the Lieutenant Governor and the Prime Minister, an engagement that has often become too personal. But the extraordinary power-sharing in Delhi accentuates the debate on the Centre’s reluctance to cede more ground to Chief Ministers in India’s rapidly federalising polity.As Mr. Kejriwal told the The Hindu this week in an exclusive interview, characteristically combining the personal and the institutional: “I’m the quarter-sized Chief Minister of a half-State, he (PM Modi) is the ruler of the country. Why is he after me?” Mr. Modi has rewritten the prime ministerial protocol too in relation to Chief Ministers by his appearance of being in constant electoral campaign, and more substantively by his NITI Aayog-led reforms. But it is in Delhi, a Union Territory and not yet a State, that the cut and thrust of the PM-CM face-off is playing out most anecdotally. 

The tussle between Mr. Kejriwal and the Centre has many parts. There is the question of who should have the last word on appointment of officers and disciplinary action. He has alleged larger destabilising design in the decision of bureaucrats to go on mass leave this week. He has taken the fight to Union Finance Minister ArunJaitley after a key bureaucrat in the Chief Minister’s office was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation. He has grounded this combativeness with a politics of equity, promising to share civic services with Delhi’s periphery and less privileged segments. The current traffic decongestion plan — as a strategy — has had a dramatic impact in highlighting hazardous air pollution, and puts the VIPs’ exemption against an entire city’s participation. But what is of concern is that the Modi-Kejriwal face-off is affecting the city administration. In effect it denies the Chief Minister a chance to give a permanent shape to his policies or provides him an alibi to evade doing so. Either way, Mr. Modi will have to find a way to normalise the Delhi-Centre relations. For his own sake, as the asymmetry suits Mr. Kejriwal politically. But more importantly, to return the federal spirit to India’s governance.

 

Revive NATGRID with safeguards 

The Central government’s decision to revive NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid) is a welcome move in the fight against terrorism, but it calls for caution and nuanced planning in the way it would be structured. According to the existing plan, NATGRID will become a secure centralised database to stream sensitive information from 21 sets of data sources such as banks, credit cards, visa, immigration and train and air travel details, as well as from various intelligence agencies. The database would be accessible to authorised persons from 11 agencies on a case-to-case basis, and only for professional investigations into suspected cases of terrorism. NATGRID was among the ambitious slew of intelligence reforms undertaken in the wake of the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Like NATGRID, most of these proposed reforms in the security establishment have not fully materialised, yet again serving as a reminder that India’s memory is embarrassingly short.

In a data-driven, digitised world, it would be foolhardy to ignore the power of big data and its potential to provide real time tip-offs and predictive intelligence to deal with the terrorist threat. Over the last two decades or so, during which the post-Cold War chaos resulted in many violent non-state actors setting up shop, the very digital tools that terrorists use have also become great weapons to fight the ideologies of violence. Social media and other platforms have become recruitment sites and propaganda machines for terrorist groups, and formal banking channels are used as much as informal ones to transact terror funding. In those same oceans of information are trends and information that could avert terrorist strikes. However, appreciation of the power of digital databases to tackle terror must be accompanied by deep concern about their possible misuse. The Snowden files are just one pointer to the widespread misuse in recent years of surveillance capabilities to compromise individual privacy and even violate national sovereignty. Increasingly, there is also academic evidence to show that states are applying excessive force and surveillance to tackle terrorism. The NATGRID’s efforts must be placed against these realities before the government rushes into reviving it. When so much sensitive information about individuals is available on a single source, the potential for its misuse would dramatically go up. The poor track record of the Indian security and intelligence agencies on individual privacy and liberty must be kept in mind as the National Democratic Alliance government tries to nurture NATGRID, which has failed to take off despite the aggressive push by the previous United Progressive Alliance government. The overdue initiative to revive NATGRID must therefore be accompanied by action on the even longer-pending need to have effective oversight of intelligence agencies by Parliament or an eminent group.

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