The Big Story: Sledgehammer tactics

Demonetisation appears to have set the wrong example for state parties across the country. That move was accused of harming everyone in the hopes of hurting the few bad apples, and few believe even that was achieved. Over the weekend, the Rajasthan government seems to take the same drain-the-pond-to-catch-the-crocodiles approach. It shut down internet services across a number of major cities: Not because there was a law-and-order situation, not because of rumours of child lifters, not because of communal tensions, but because there was a scheduled examination.

The Rajasthan Police Constable Recruitment exam took place over July 14 and 15 at centers in Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur, with 15 lakh candidates applying for 13,000 posts. The decision was taken because the same exam had to be cancelled in March after it emerged that a gang was using hi-tech methods to cheat, including creating thumbprint clones of candidates – first tested through Aadhaar verification – so better prepared proxy test-takers could be sent instead. Concerned that the same cheating situation would occur, Rajasthan decided that the exam would be completely offline, that nobody in the centers would be allowed to bring their phones in and, indeed, that no one in the area could use mobile internet at all.

This completely callous disregard for the fundamental and economic rights of its citizens by imposing internet shutdown is apparently not new to Rajasthan. The state comes in at second on the list of those willing to turn the internet off to deal with a situation, after Jammu and Kashmir, according to the shutdown tracker. It has imposed shutdowns nine times this year, which is more than one a month. As various reports have proven, such actions come with a genuine economic cost, in addition to the effect it has on people’s freedom.

But in some ways the story is reflective of life under Bharatiya Janata Party governments: The reason so many hundreds of thousands are applying for just a few thousand seats is because jobs, which were promised in plenty in 2014, have not turned up, forcing competition for opportunities like this to become fierce. The cheating in March was enabled by a heavy dependence on biometrics, Aadhaar style thumbprints in particular, which the gang was able to fool. In response, the government, by now comfortable with this sort of measure, chose to take away its citizens’ freedoms despite knowing exactly when and where examinations were going to be held. The result is the normalisation of internet shutdowns. Once deemed necessary during riot-like situations, the government has now taken to pre-emptive use of this damaging approach even for scheduled exams.

Every aspect of this story should ring alarm bells. The government should not be allowed to simply turn off the internet willy nilly, even though it technically is following the Centre’s rules in the matter. Abdicating its own law and order responsibilities is no cause to take away the fundamental rights of its citizens. But because it is the internet, people still do not see it like they do other utilities. Would citizens be as sanguine if the government turned off the water supply simply because some people were stealing water?

The Big Scroll


  1. “It’s time the Court recognised that India’s sexual minorities need not only decriminalisation but rights and protections that help them build productive lives and relationships irrespective of gender identity or sexual orientation,” write Chapal Mehra in the Indian Express.
  2. “The alacrity with which the defence minister and the prime minister seized upon a fallacious news report to dub the Congress a “Muslim party” makes the BJP’s game plan obvious. For all the talk of “development”, the party has clearly decided to bank on communal polarization as the leitmotif of its general election campaign,” writes Manini Chatterjee in the Telegraph.
  3. In other words, an agency of the state has been entrusted with doing personal and social profiling of 1.3 billion Indians at the expense of the tax payers. This unprecedented surveillance of citizens in the guise of promoting nationalistic feelings among the masses abridges every canon of our fundamental rights and the principles that govern an open and free society,” writes Aadil Singh Boparai in the Print.
  4. India needs to balance business and social progress. Unfortunately, India ranks 93rd on social progress globally. Even though the GDP growth is robust, the problem is in the facets of social progress, wherein India is unable to fulfil only one out of the two conditions for competitiveness,” writes Amit Kapoor in the Hindu Businessline.
  5. “The Indian economy seems to be headed out of its recent funk. The private sector perhaps has a good run ahead of it—despite the inherited problem of excess leverage. Policymakers would do well to stick to the basics right now. They should try to maintain macroeconomic stability rather than artificially push economic growth above potential,” says a leader in Mint.


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