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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.
The Quad Must Succeed In The Face Of China’s State-Guided Tech Strategy
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
The Quad Must Succeed In The Face Of China’s State-Guided Tech Strategy

Anil K Antony, tech entrepreneur, in Hindustan Times (October 4, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: @narendramodi on Twitter)

The Quad Must Succeed In The Face Of China’s State-Guided Tech Strategy

A key focus of discussion at both the Quad Summit and the India-US bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden was tech collaboration. While the two leaders agreed to revive a bilateral mechanism for accelerating high-tech commerce, Quad discussions had better defined outcomes. These included an agreement on tech principles and standards and an understanding among the participating countries (Japan and Australia were the others) to build on the work of a critical and emerging technology working group, first conceived at the Quad’s virtual summit in March.

The group is meant to facilitate technology standards development, and identify collaborations on critical and emerging technologies, including biotechnology, semiconductors and future communication technology. A key objective is the creation of resilient technology supply chains. Both the bilateral and Quad meetings focused on low-emissions technology solutions to tackle the climate crisis, as well as cybersecurity.

These are positive developments for India. Disruptive changes in China, however, make the realization of these goals challenging. China’s clampdown on tech companies has been restricted only to the consumer sector, even as state support to hard and manufacturing sectors including 5G/6G, semiconductors, batteries, avionics and space tech has accelerated. This suggests a state-supervised redirection of the tech sector into emerging strategically vital areas to optimize long-term geopolitical and geo-economic gains.

The Quad’s success in high-tech cooperation depends on the ability of the four nations to draw on each other’s strengths and identify opportunities for collaboration. They would also have to work with utmost urgency if they are to keep up with the singularly focused, state-guided competition from China. Falling behind in these strategic emerging technologies, the drivers of the digitally driven economies of our future, will be debilitating for democracies.


Two Ideas, Two Nations: Looking Back After 75 Years of Independence
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Two Ideas, Two Nations: Looking Back After 75 Years of Independence

Jug Suraiya, columnist, in The Times of India (September 9, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Two Ideas, Two Nations: Looking Back After 75 Years of Independence

As it celebrates its 75th birthday, India looks over its shoulder to get a glimpse of the road taken, and the one not taken. At the time of independence, there were two visionaries to guide the infant nation as it took its first steps on the path of freedom. One was Jawaharlal Nehru, and the other was Mohandas Gandhi.

They had very different personalities and two very different ideas of India. Nehru sought to imbue his country with a scientific temper, a nation whose temples were factories and dams. Gandhi envisaged a village India in which each rural community was a republic unto itself, bound together by the centripetal motion of the spinning wheel.

As prime minister, Nehru had political authority, Gandhi moral suasion. Nehru’s idea of a centralized, urbanized India which gave priority to higher learning as embodied by our Indian Institutes of Technology prevailed at the expense of primary education and grassroots development which would have released the country from the bonds of illiteracy and rural backwardness.

What if the two Indias could somehow have merged? The household of my early childhood was a microcosm which reflected these two ideas. My father was cast in the Nehruvian mold of vigorous discipline and modernism. He never wore Western clothes but had trained himself to speak perfect English; he was a vocal advocate of family planning, far ahead of his time. My mother came from village India and brought with her a lifetime habit of frugality, an affinity with the downtrodden, and an impish irreverence towards pomposity. So you could say I had the best of two Indias. And yet I have regret. For what? That the pupil didn’t have it in him to learn all that he might have from his two mentors.


With the Taliban, Remember the Consequences of Recognizing Communist China in 1949
Monday, September 6, 2021
With the Taliban, Remember the Consequences of Recognizing Communist China in 1949

Ameya Pratap Singh, postgraduate student in area studies at Oxford University and managing editor of Statecraft, an independent daily on global affairs, in The Indian Express (September 1, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Ministry of External Affairs of India)

With the Taliban, Remember the Consequences of Recognizing Communist China in 1949

Should the Indian government provide diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government in Afghanistan? Or should it refuse to do so on grounds of its violent overthrow of the previous Afghan government and the unreserved use of terrorism?

One line of thought is that the Taliban is in control and so recognition must logically flow from that. Consideration of values should not cloud New Delhi’s judgement. India has significant interests at stake such as cross-border terrorism and the drug trade that may be harmed by delayed recognition or non-recognition. Refusing to recognize the Taliban may strengthen the hand of its regional rivals – Pakistan and China – leading intensification of national security threats on its northern frontier.

India adopted this line of reasoning in 1949 with communist China and failed. The Jawaharlal Nehru government felt compelled to provide early recognition to the communists despite close ties with the previous Kuomintang government during the interwar period.

Did early recognition change anything in communist China’s policy? No. Communist China continued to be suspicious of India’s intentions in Tibet and the bourgeois nature of its regime and elites. Moreover, India’s early recognition gave Mao Zedong confidence in his plans to annex Tibet through force in 1950. Goodwill proved to be an ineffective tool of deterrence. The lesson is clear: In the absence of compelling shared interests, building mere goodwill through early recognition provides no returns. Does India have any such compelling shared interests with the Taliban?

With its rhetorical efforts to appear “moderate”, the Taliban has not demonstrated sincerity, but rather a reluctant acceptance that legitimacy on the global stage is a social good that cannot be achieved through force. New Delhi must engage the Taliban but in a manner that uses their need for recognition to draw concrete concessions in areas of key interest.


Posture Changes in China’s People’s Liberation Army Affect the Border Dispute
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Posture Changes in China’s People’s Liberation Army Affect the Border Dispute

Suyash Desai, research associate with the China Studies Programme at Takshashila Institution, in The Times of India (August 2, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sarthak Bikram Panta)

Posture Changes in China’s People’s Liberation Army Affect the Border Dispute

Under the Chinese Central Military Commission Chairman Xi Jinping, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has undertaken military reforms intended to make it a world-class force by 2049. Xi has not defined what a world-class force means. But an informed guess is that it would mean being on a par with the US, UK, French, Russian and Indian armed forces.

Although China’s primary strategic direction is reunification with Taiwan and to prepare for the US contingency during reunification, India and other Indo-Pacific countries are also affected by the PLA’s force modernization. India needs to be cautious of at least four changes:

First, China has built dual-use infrastructure in Tibet to prepare for possible offensive and defensive operations on the border. The PLA is much more capable of forcefully changing the status quo on the border with India. With force modernization and improved connectivity, its ability to convert these standoffs into a protracted conflict has increased.

Second, the PLA is shifting from “near seas defense” to “near seas defense and far seas protection” – meaning protect its interests in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean.

Third, China created the PLA Strategic Support Force to increase synergies between its space, cyber and electromagnetic spectrums. This force is responsible for China’s information warfare and electronic countermeasures, cyberattack and defense, and psychological warfare missions.

Finally, China elevated its Second Artillery Corps to the PLA Rocket Force in 2015. This force’s missile systems and rapidly developing space and counter-space capabilities have become critical components of China’s emerging power projection capabilities.

China’s investment in military tech, big data, drone swarms, and other disruptive offensive technologies, its military linkages with Pakistan and the ongoing building of border villages should concern India. These developments have strategic and tactical implications for India’s border dispute with China.


What Beijing Wants To Tell The Rest Of The World
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
What Beijing Wants To Tell The Rest Of The World

Vijay Keshav Gokhale, foreign secretary of India from 2018 to 2020 and Indian ambassador to China from 2016 to 2017, in The Indian Express (July 19, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: CompleteCommunicationsSwe/Pixabay)

What Beijing Wants To Tell The Rest Of The World

Two high priests of the Chinese foreign policy community, Yan Xuetong and Wang Jisi, have written recent pieces in Foreign Affairs. Their task is to interpret for the outside world what China’s leader Xi Jinping means when he says that “the Chinese people have stood up and the era of suffering bullying has gone, never to return.”

Wang and Yan start by acknowledging that recent changes in US policy mean that relations are unlikely to grow any less tense or competitive. Wang holds America responsible for this adversarial environment. China, according to both, is not to blame in any way, and is simply responding to American provocation.

Both scholars wish to persuade readers (and nations) that unbridled competition can only end one way – badly for America. America is plagued by political dysfunction, socio-economic inequality, ethnic and racial divisions, and economic stagnation. Wang says that Washington must accept that “CPC enjoys immense popularity among the Chinese people; its grip on power is unshakeable.”

Their main message to the Americans is to give up on pressuring China to change its political system as this will be futile, and to return to accommodating the Chinese Communist Party as a legitimate global player. The Chinese message to the rest is to bend to China’s inevitable hegemony.

From India’s perspective, three points might deserve attention. First, the statement that there is a paradigm shift in post-Covid Chinese foreign policy. Second, Yan’s forthright statement that Beijing views America’s so-called “issue-based coalitions” (he presumably includes the Quad, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes Australia, India, Japan and the US) as the most serious external threat to its political security and the biggest obstacle to national rejuvenation. Finally, that China is still offering accommodation if Washington just respects Beijing’s internal order and acknowledges China’s regional dominance.


With Great Power Comes Greater Irresponsibility: Big Tech Needs Regulation
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
With Great Power Comes Greater Irresponsibility: Big Tech Needs Regulation

Ram Madhav, Member of National Executive, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist volunteer organization, and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation, in India Today (June 4, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

With Great Power Comes Greater Irresponsibility: Big Tech Needs Regulation

Big Tech companies including social media giants have grown big and powerful. With size grew their indifference and intransigence too. Governments are increasingly finding it untenable. Countries like China, Russia and North Korea used their authoritarian regimes to take a hard-line against the tech giants. Several European countries have taken steps to limit the power of these Big Tech companies and protect the privacy of their citizens. Having experienced the unprecedented power of these companies including the audacity to ban the Twitter handle of the president of the country, the US has initiated hearings to look into the possible power abuse committed by Google, Facebook and Amazon.

The Government of India's response can be described as mild and moderate. Twitter should understand this from the fact that instead of dismissing its self-righteous statement accusing the Indian police of "use of intimidation tactics" and a "potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve", the IT Ministry thought it necessary to issue a lengthy three-page rebuttal.

We are living in a technology-intensive world. The 21st Century world has moved on from multipolarity to “heteropolarity”. A heteropolitan world is one in which international power is no longer limited to national governments. We are passing through a transition into the heteropolar world. There will be debates over actions of the governments. Tech giants controlling social media platforms stubbornly resist any regulatory efforts.

It is important to build a national consensus over the need for a rational regulation that would not affect free speech but helps protect the privacy and dignity of the individuals. Big Tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter cannot continue to resist these moves claiming self-regulation.


Senior Ministers in the Government Now Seem to Believe Their Own Lies
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Senior Ministers in the Government Now Seem to Believe Their Own Lies

Tavleen Singh, columnist, in The Indian Express (June 6, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Government of India)

Senior Ministers in the Government Now Seem to Believe Their Own Lies

It is time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi realized that when his ministers tell barefaced lies, they reduce his personal credibility. The home minister was not seen or heard during the worst days of Covid-19’s catastrophic second wave. He surfaced to declare that we “controlled the second wave in a very short time” and that India has “set a record in the world for fastest vaccination”. Does he know that out of 100 Indians only 15 are vaccinated, compared to 88 in the United States and 96 in the United Kingdom?

When it comes to shameless lies, the master is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. He says his state is now a “Covid-safe zone”. Has he noticed the number of people dying in villages of fever and breathlessness without ever being tested for Covid-19? Has he noticed that his officials conceal Covid-19 deaths by handing people death certificates that simply state that they died of pneumonia or a heart attack?

The most tragic irony of all is that senior ministers in the Government of India seem now to believe their own lies. So, they appear routinely on television to declare that it is state governments who are to blame for the grim shortage of vaccines.

India is facing a health crisis bigger than any we have seen in more than a century and the only way to move forward is by rebuilding rural health facilities at supersonic speed. The prime minister needs the help of every chief minister to do this. When it comes to procuring vaccines, though, it is solely his job and he needs to do this with ultimate transparency. The one thing we do not need are for his most trusted lieutenants to be trying to erase the truth. It cannot be erased.


Own That Pain And Anger – Why Turn Away?
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Own That Pain And Anger – Why Turn Away?

Vinita Dawra Nangia, Executive Editor, in The Times of India (May 16, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PradeepGaurs / Shutterstock.com)

Own That Pain And Anger – Why Turn Away?

As the Covid battle roars unabated, all around is the sound of fading faith and breaking hearts. On social media – which in these times has fast transformed from the scourge of humanity to its greatest savior – you hear faint voices of hope gradually turn into doubt, fear and panic before quietly fading away, victims of this insidious virus that taunts humanity and mocks our bastions of security.

Helpless gazes turn to one another, but who amongst us knows any better than the next? Not even the most optimistic any longer hold out a glimmer of positivity. We have been defeated. What is gone is lost forever, and with it is gone our belief of invincibility and the arrogance of knowing all. We thought science and technology had all answers and were infallible predictors of future menaces, ready with antidotes. But of course, that was before an invisible virus taught us better. We debated whether we are the makers of our own destiny or mere puppets in the hands of Nature “red in tooth and claw”. As we helplessly wait for the scourge to end its torment – when it will – there is little left to speculation.

Sadness and desolation are all around, deeply entrenched in our hearts and souls. But at least it proves that we still feel – we feel for each other. As “the sea of faith” retreats with a last “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar”, we still hang on to our humanity, our empathy, pain and anger. And of course, we must! Let us own that pain and anger rather than turning our eyes away – why deny it with talk of positivity and hope, when we can clearly see hope retch and gasp for breath, miserably curled up in a dark corner?


From Mao To Modi: The Link Between Great Power And Great Suffering
Thursday, May 13, 2021
From Mao To Modi: The Link Between Great Power And Great Suffering

Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University and Director for Contemporary South Asia, in The Indian Express (May 6, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Government of India)

From Mao To Modi: The Link Between Great Power And Great Suffering

Is mass suffering, inflicted by policy design or emerging as a policy byproduct, an integral part of the Narendra Modi regime’s view of national power and national revival?

Consider three big events causing mass suffering since Modi came to power. First, the 2016 demonetization produced long lines of people waiting to convert their currency, many collapsing out of sheer exhaustion. Second, the national lockdown of 2020 witnessed millions of rural migrants – tired, shocked and hapless – walking miles and miles to reach their homes. Finally, we have the biggest spectacle of all unfolding in our midst today, bringing sickness and death to thousands and thousands of Indians.

The prime minister neither expresses adequate remorse, nor sufficient compassion. What he does is the opposite of remorse and compassion. The Modi regime cannot accept governance failure, for to accept failure is to show weakness.

The obsession with state strength, national power and leader infallibility on the one hand and insensitivity to mass suffering on the other have been associated mostly with the big Communist polities. The most discussed case is of Mao Zedong and China. Mao was unmoved by the suffering. After retreating and fixing the food deficit, he returned to the theme of national reconstruction and Chinese glory. The Cultural Revolution was inaugurated. An estimated 2 million Chinese died. National renaissance and a return to China’s glory were infinitely more important than a couple of million lives.

Is it too much to expect Modi to admit that even if the virus is more virulent, India is actually going through a man-made disaster? How else can one understand the lack of oxygen, the scarcity of hospital beds and, most of all, the shortage of vaccines in the vaccine capital of the world? Could not the planning have been better?


That the Pandemic Was Handled Almost Painlessly Has Been Impressive
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
That the Pandemic Was Handled Almost Painlessly Has Been Impressive

Tavleen Singh, columnist, in The Indian Express (March 14, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Gwydion M Williams)

That the Pandemic Was Handled Almost Painlessly Has Been Impressive

On March 24 last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that day everything in India would come to a halt, the first reaction in this village was panic. The worst affected were workers from distant villages who suddenly lost their jobs. The village economy is built on fishing and tourism. It is to work on the fishing boats and in the small hotels, rustic homestays and noisy restaurants that these workers come. Unlike in the cities where migrant workers suffered terribly, in this village people found ways of helping the outsiders survive. The village temple distributed food and at first there was compassion and goodwill in abundance.

Then as days went by and the disease continued its relentless march, anxiety and fear spread and the village banned outsiders from coming here. Nobody died in this village and only a few people got sick, but a blanket of dread hung over everything for months. What made life more difficult was that weeks after the lockdown ended came Cyclone Nisarga. It ripped off the roofs of village homes and tore down old trees and fragile electricity poles. Luckily, nobody was killed.

This year seems to have begun on a happier note. The tourists are back. Sometimes it feels as if the nightmare has ended, but then comes news of a “surge” and once more panic spreads. But now there are vaccinations and people have adjusted to the idea that Covid-19 is going to be around for a while. It is remarkable that the “experts” who predicted that there would be 500,000 deaths in India by last July have been proven wrong. Where are those experts by the way? What has been most impressive is that India with its hopelessly inadequate public healthcare facilities has somehow handled the pandemic almost painlessly. 


Having It All, Redefined: Every Woman Gets To Have Her Own Definition
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Having It All, Redefined: Every Woman Gets To Have Her Own Definition

Ruchi Saini, research scholar, University of Maryland, in The Times of India (March 7, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: UN Women India)

Having It All, Redefined: Every Woman Gets To Have Her Own Definition

“Having it all” is a phrase used exclusively in the context of women who juggle a professional career with a family, without having to sacrifice one for another. It is often seen as an ideal that all women aspire to and only a select few can accomplish.

If you are a single woman, a single mother, a childfree married woman, or a homemaker, then based on this definition, you do not have a shot at having it all. The point being that there is no single definition of happiness and success, and they mean different things for different people. The reductive notion that only women who have both a career and a family can be considered as successful and/ or happy ignores the complexity of human personalities and desires. Also, it is heteronormative to the core.

If you are a single professional woman, then to “have it all” you need to have a partner and subsequently children. And if you are a married woman with a career, then “having it all” becomes a patriarchal shorthand for “doing it all”. It implies that you need to excel at your workplace, then be back in time, go on playdates with your children, and follow it up by reading bedtime stories as you tuck them in bed. Unrealistic expectations like these set working mothers up for disappointment and guilt.

Unfortunately, not only are such unrealistic expectations from professional women accepted within society, they are glorified. There is no glory in drudgery, and that is exactly what “having it all” encompasses for a regular, middle-class woman who wishes to climb the professional ladder while managing a family. It is high time that we redefine the notion of “having it all” for women to make it more inclusive and kinder.


For More Online Civility, We Need Deeper Engagement and Careful Legislation
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
For More Online Civility, We Need Deeper Engagement and Careful Legislation

Malavika Raghavan, lawyer, in The Indian Express (March 1, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: European Union 2016 - European Parliament)

For More Online Civility, We Need Deeper Engagement and Careful Legislation

The Narendra Modi administration announced a regime for India’s internet intermediaries and digital media. Some changes to our current legal landscape were inevitable, given the negative impact of social media and digital platforms on recent events, ranging from a celebrity’s suicide to a young person’s environmental activism. But the government’s rules in reaction to these and other events raise many questions.

A key issue that is raising eyebrows is the use of government powers to regulate intermediaries to create rules for publishers of content. Under the new rules, publishers of online “news and current affairs content” and “online curated content” will be subject to a code of ethics, a redress and content-takedown mechanism and an oversight framework. This raises the big question of whether such publishers can be regulated in ways akin to “intermediaries”.

No doubt serious suspicions have been raised in recent months regarding the ability of intermediaries to selectively highlight or bury content. But it appears hard to justify regulating publishers (who create content such as written publications, podcasts, videos or audio content) using the power to regulate intermediaries.

Online digital news sources and content producers have created new spaces in India for creativity and free expression. We have also seen the rise of outfits that generate “alternative facts” and realities that often polarize and vitiate public debate. While some codes of ethics or rules are necessary to combat misinformation, fake news or propaganda online, the regulation of publishers of original content raises questions around policing speech and expression.

Ultimately, the government needs to find different hammers, tools and railings to create a safe space for users. A wider toolkit is necessary for the government to build a framework that respects Indians who use these platforms and the collective online public and private spheres we are building together.


What the Disengagement With China Means for Asian Geopolitics
Friday, February 19, 2021
What the Disengagement With China Means for Asian Geopolitics

C Uday Bhaskar, retired naval officer and Director, Society for Policy Studies, in Hindustan Times (February 16, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Vir Nakai)

What the Disengagement With China Means for Asian Geopolitics

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the disengagement of troops by both China and India at the contested Pangong lake. This development is cause for modest satisfaction.

It is significant that China has agreed to pull back from a position of relative tactical advantage. Will the current disengagement and the acceptance of a temporary suspension by India of patrolling rights in one area lead to greater malleability in managing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – remember China has been reluctant to clarify the LAC despite repeated Indian attempts – and provide a roadmap towards an agreed border? That would be the most desirable outcome, in which case the compromise by India would be a prudent political determination. An equitable and consensually settled border remains the Holy Grail for Delhi.

However, if this is only a brief pause for Beijing and President Xi Jinping as China prepares for a major political event — the July centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China — and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) subsequently reverts to its pattern of territorial assertiveness. Delhi may rue the accommodations it has made in the disengagement process.

Whatever the outcome, it will have an impact on external interlocutors such as the US, Russia and China’s other neighbors. While Delhi’s resolve to resist Beijing’s aggressive bellicosity will be noted by the smaller nations, the Delhi-Beijing dynamic will also shape – and be shaped by – the US-China-India triangle. President Joe Biden has signaled that the US will hold Beijing’s feet to the fire over the Indo-Pacific and the principles of freedom of navigation and territorial integrity, with a continued focus on reinvigorating Quad. How China reads this message, and how it orients itself in relation to contested territoriality will shape many outcomes in Asia and beyond. Pangong is the bellwether.


If Not Now, When?: There Is No Option But Reforms
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
If Not Now, When?: There Is No Option But Reforms

Ruchir Sharma, Head of Emerging Markets and Chief Global Strategist, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in The Times of India (February 16, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Pradeep Gaurs / Shutterstock.com)

If Not Now, When?: There Is No Option But Reforms

Many commentators complain that, with the pandemic-stricken economy “in the ICU”, now is exactly the wrong time to push painful reform. But if not now, when? Few nations ever accept harsh medicine unless they are forced to by a crisis. Reformers come out better in the end. Today, developed nations are offering stimulus packages to ease the shock of the pandemic, but they are running up debts that will slow growth in the future.

Meanwhile, India is one of the many emerging countries that, lacking the funds for more stimulus, are instead pushing reforms which are likely to boost productivity and growth. India’s reforms encompass the controversial agricultural reforms, the new privatization push, and the broad shift in spending away from subsidies and other freebies to capital investment.

Indonesia’s reforms are as ambitious, including looser labor laws, tax cuts, deregulation, and most recently a push to open up the financial sector. The Philippines lowered its corporate taxes from among the highest to among the lowest in Asia, and will emerge more competitive. Brazil, a chronic over-spender, has imposed caps on its deficit and is working to meet them by downsizing a wildly generous pension system and streamlining bureaucracy by making it easier to fire public workers and cut their benefits.

By comparison, there is nothing particularly harsh about how the Indian government is treating its patient. When the sugar rush of stimulus fades, the effect will not be felt equally. Nations that exercised restraint and prioritized economic reforms are likely to see their growth prospects continue to improve. Those that spend heavily to ease the pain are likely to pay for it in higher debts and slower growth. This was the lesson of 2008 and every major global crisis: Seize the opportunity to reform, or it will never happen.


States Must Not Clamp Down on Free Speech in Fight Against Fake News
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
States Must Not Clamp Down on Free Speech in Fight Against Fake News

Ameya Bokil, Srujana Bej and Nikitak Sonavane of the Bhopal-based Criminal Justice & Police Accountability Project in The Indian Express (February 9, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sarabjit Singh/Tribune India)

States Must Not Clamp Down on Free Speech in Fight Against Fake News

The Covid-19 vaccine being administered by the government of India raises safety and efficacy concerns, stemming from a rushed approval process. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs has recommended that all state governments pursue criminal action against individuals and organizations spreading “unfounded” or “misleading” rumors that “create doubt” about the vaccine’s efficacy.

Given the government’s lack of proactive transparency on safety issues with respect to the vaccines’ approval, public scrutiny serves an important function. The evolution of a nebulous category of “fake news” has become the bedrock of curtailment of free speech. Where restrictions are vague, overbroad, and punitive, they create a chilling effect on free speech and have been held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

A report has documented 55 instances of targeting of journalists during the lockdown. State governments have used the garb of epidemic disease control to prosecute persons for reporting on mismanagement of the pandemic, corruption and the lack of state support for migrant workers and others affected by the pandemic. The only purpose of these “fake news” laws has been to advance narratives of effective governance during the pandemic.

No democratic government can be considered effective if it fails to be transparent and accountable. Effective government function necessarily requires adequately engaging with and scientifically responding to both valid criticism and unscientific misconceptions to build robust public discourse. When criminal law is relied on to place gags on valid questions and there is a failure to communicate all necessary information to the public, the government violates the principle of informed consent – a crucial tenet of healthcare. “Minimum government, maximum governance” has unfortunately translated into minimum government transparency and maximum public penalization.