DISCORDANT VOICES

The past month has been witness to a host of initiative and events, each having bearing on national security. The Government announced the establishment of the Defence Planning Committee (DPC), a most successful Defexpo was held in Thiruvidanthai in south Chennai and the IAF conducted Exercise Gagan Shakti, perhaps the largest such exercise till date. Predictably, all three have been widely commented upon, which is as it should be.

But a more disturbing trend was observed in the print, audio visual and social media, which literally exploded in the reportage of two horrific incidents of rape. While the incidents were condemnable, the manner of their projection did little for reposing confidence in the institutions of the country and point to insidious forces at work, with a motive of undermining the social cohesion of the country.

This brings us to a larger question of how perceptions can be shaped and manipulated, and which can lead to serious security challenges. Of particular concern was the news that a foreign firm, Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, was hired by a political party in India, with a view to influencing election results. The consequences of a foreign entity influencing Indian public opinion means that that particular entity can control some elements of both our domestic and foreign policy and implies a sophisticated form of subjugation. The threat of information management detrimental to national interests is thus very real and calls for a comprehensive policy on shaping the information environment. Does the nation need a National Information Advisor (NIA), on the lines of the National Security Advisor (NSA)? Information is a weapon of war and unless this fact is understood, it can have very dangerous consequences for the nation.

How the media, both mainstream as well as the social media can drive the nation to a frenzy is seen in the way the news of two rape cases were highlighted in April 2018. As a nation, India does not suffer from such incidents to the same degree as most western countries and nearer home, even countries in the region do. How then was the narrative hijacked to cast India as the rape centre of the world, boggles the imagination! While rape is a heinous crime and deserves condemnation, the incidents were hyped out of proportion. More worrying was the fact that two widely separated incidents, one occurring in June 2017 in Unnao, UP and the other in January 2018 in Kathua, J&K, suddenly caught the attention of the Indian public in April 2018 and became a national issue. Even more surprising was the fact that other criminal incidents which were equally horrific and which occurred in April, did not get that traction. Evidently, there was a coterie at work which whipped up public opinion, and if that can happen in a country as diverse as India, then the security consequences of such happenings needs to be taken note off.

If the cases were confined to just the rape incidents, then perhaps it could have been seen as a coincidence. But the sudden fear psychosis generated on a presumed shortage of currency in the ATMs across the country, the happenings in the Apex Court, and many other such incidents, point to a well planned plot to malign the country. Criticism of the government is part of the political process and denotes the health of our democracy. But denigrating each and every institution of the country is not and is suggestive of forces at work which we need to guard against. That goes for the military too, as well as the large veterans community. We need to be circumspect and correct in our actions. The Nation expects that from us.

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