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PM Narendra Modi raised major issues that ail Democracies

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Ex-Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer

Prime Minister Modi in the recently held (9-10 December 2021) Summit for Democracy convened by the U.S., made pertinent remarks. He asked the international community to jointly shape global norms for technology such as “social media and cryptocurrencies”, so that they are used to empower democracy, “not undermine it”. In the present day world, social media and cryptocurrencies are the most contentious ones. More often social media is used in breach than in privilege. At the beginning, everyone thought social media was democratizing society. The voiceless sections of society got a voice. But that euphoria evaporated with the misinformation/disinformation/fake-news peddling in it. Like the mainstream media, it is not regulated. The promises by the tech-giants to self-regulate are not bearing fruit.

In the U.S., they hold Facebook and other tech-companies to account, if fake news is peddled. However, in the world’s largest democracy, India, with no proper accountability they are causing chaos. Similarly, cryptocurrency is an unregulated online currency. It does not come under Reserve Bank of India guidelines. Who has how much cryptocurrency and how or on what purposes it is used is unknown. Like social media, transactions are done from across skies, without bounds. Hours later, P.M’s call for global norms to control cryptocurrency, the hackers, it is said, took control of PM’s Twitter handle very briefly and tweeted: Modi Govt to have officially adopted bitcoins as legal tender. The cryptocurrencies (bitcoins) are mushrooming in many forms. Now, they are unbridled. They have become a cause for concern.   

After many reminders, social media giants: Facebook (now Meta), Twitter etc. have opened offices in India and placed Indian-heads, as per the guidelines and regulations of the Govt. of India. In any case, all democracies should mull on the bad effects of social media and cryptocurrencies, as they mostly affect democracies not the autocracies/authoritarian-Communist regimes: China and Russia. Hence, the call of the prime minister is timely. The question with social media in intellectual circles is: whether liberal democracies will be able to survive social media.

Democracies all over the world are noisy and at times unregulated. Plato, in his age and time, i.e. centuries ago regarded democracy as little more than mob-rule by another name. The alternative proposed was: philosopher kings that control their emotion and put wisdom before instinct. Since democracies are hard-wired to test boundaries, the founders of democracy in Greece, proposed a series of restraints. These controls are to check people so that democracy would not turn into mobocracy. Plato and his disciple Aristotle always warned of democracies’ rise to mobocracy. They wanted power to be divided. As seen now, into main branches like the executive, legislature and judiciary, so that nobody wielded too much. However, citizens were given extensive Constitutional rights. The fears expressed in B.C. are coming true. Because of social media democracies have become mobocracies with multitudes of voice hollering. Earlier, it was no good. The socially elite (not necessarily intellectually elite) controlled opinion.

In this democracy and technology debate, what is democracy and how is it threatened by technology of the 21st century is important. As far as democracy is concerned, it is pertinent here to remind what has been stated by former President of India, Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma in his speech on democracy in Bulgaria in 1994. He said, “A democracy is not merely a matter of elections. Every political process has its rules and regulations, its traditions and conventions. True democracy synthesizes the rights and duties of the individual and the State. Democratic politics embodies the principles of continuity and change, so important to the life of a nation. And ultimately what makes or breaks a democratic system are qualities of self-discipline and restraint.” This self-discipline is lost through unregulated social media. Checks in the Constitution alone cannot control civic culture. Alexis De Tocqueville, the French Sociologist, who wrote a book on Democracy stated, ‘Civic decay might corrupt democracy’. That being the case on how to stop democracy becoming mobocracy—there are liberals, there are civil rights activists that add fuel to fire. They celebrate anti-Government (the Govt. they disapprove of) agitations as: People’s Power. By supporting these, liberals expect those agitators to always be on their side (to them it is the right-side) of the political spectrum. This is only their presumption. The woke culture of the left, enrages the right in all democracies. They are up against one another, not as opponents of different viewpoints, but as if enemies to be vanquished.

That is all on people’s front, coming to new technology of the 21st century, it is more intimidating. Technology: info-tech, bio-tech, is vast, unregulated and supersedes human agency. This poses a problem, especially to the existence of liberal democracies. The U.S. as a country and President Biden is also feeling the heat of this at home-front. The world’s oldest democracy (the U.S) and the world’s largest democracy India, needs to find a solution for the threats from big-techs and cryptocurrency. The sooner, the better.

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Ex-Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer
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