I was always amused by the way Indians reacted to the Airtel Zero scheme, but I never felt like articulating my views on it until I heard news about the DoT secretary’s remarks today. I do not find his arguments and those of these so called net neutrality ‘activists’ very convincing. I mean come on, these companies are offering their services for FREE (we Indians used to be big time suckers for that) and they are being very transparent about the whole thing! My first peeve with these ‘activists’ is that they are using terminology used by American Internet activists to bring to light the bandwidth throttling and fast lane policies implemented by certain ISPs (like Comcast throttling Netflix). Airtel Zero & Internet.org does not do anything of that sort, as they are in the business of zero rating, i.e they are doing the internet equivalent of offering free shampoo sachets with magazines. If you do not like it, just bloody go and get yourself another scheme or service provider, AFAIK Airtel doesn’t stop/throttle your access to any service in their other (paid) schemes (except for those FB data access plans).
An oft used argument is that ISPs should behave like utility providers and be agnostic towards the use of the service they provide (like the way power companies don’t care if you power up a Fridge or a washing machine). But the Internet does not work like a power/water/gas utility. The fact is that the notion (illusion?) of net neutrality is held together by diverse and arcane agreements between ISPs, undersea cable owners, CDN providers and media houses. The one thing most of the world agrees on is that ISPs go foul when they deceive their (paying) consumers by throttling and fast lane services of their choice. But jury is still out on zero rating policies violating net neutrality, and we see many critical but nuanced views from both supporters and detractors (like this one by Mozilla), something that escapes the usual level of discourse among our arm chair Internet activists.
Banding under the net neutrality banner to stop ISPs from coming up with creative (and importantly, free) schemes like Airtel zero and Internet.org to bring internet access to the last mile is unfair to the telecom companies as well as the millions of users who would have been beneficiaries of the schemes. This confusing of issues has served only our ill-advised activists as they started getting favorable and uncritical coverage from all over the world, most of which implicitly assumed that Indians were facing genuine net neutrality violations. And now political compulsions has seemed to force even the progressive govt at the center to issue half-baked pronouncements against zero rating (atleast they have clarified their views on net neutrality in general which is a win for the Indian public). I do not know what the best model for spreading the Internet in India is, but for a medium that spread through the world due to market forces, the problem is best left to these same forces to figure out, and as long as there is a free and open ecosystem, fair access policies (ensured by regulators) and enough choices for customers, net neutrality will remain alive and well in our country.
Swarajya is perhaps one of the most articulate voices in the Indian media right now, along with The Takshashila Institution’s Pragati. A strong voice of the conservative and libertarian spectrum Indian thought, it is interestingly more progressive and liberal than most of our left-‘liberal’ media houses. Where on one side you see the crassness of Arnab, the childish insults of the Sardesais and Sagarikas, the pedestrian page 3 preoccupations of Times of India, the brown sahib’s guilt of the Hindu, Tehelka & the Outlooks, on the right side of the spectrum (pun intended) you see the reasoned and articulate voices of Bibek Debroy, Nitin Pai, Swapan-da, Arvindan Neelakandan, Rajiv Malhotra et al.
Most people could be forgiven for taking Swarajya to be one of the crop of new media houses springing up all across the landscape, but it was actually established way back in 1956 by the acolytes of C Rajagopalachari, India’s last Governor-General and the founder of the center-right Swatantra party to counter the socialist and anti-federal policies Nehru’s Congress government was pursuing. Both the party and the magazine had folded up by the 80s leaving behind a vacuum that was barely filled by the mouthpieces of the Sangh. But as the Modi wave took off in the 2010s, the suppressed spectrum of nationalist, libertarian and conservative voices from inside India and the diaspora could finally break free of the shackles imposed by the western leaning Indian english media & marxist academic clique.
As the resurgence of the BJP and the new right continued, think tanks like the Takshashila institution and the Vivekananda International Foundation were established, the latter becoming the de facto brain trust of the new Modi government. These institutions and its publications (like TI’s Pragati) started quickly dismantling the monopoly of high brow Indian thought that for more than 50 years was the bastion of the marxist JNU historians and socialist economists (notably Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze who has now lost the narrative to the Columbia university duo, Arvind Panagriya & Jagdish Bhagwati). Whereas in the last few decades Swapan Dasgupta & Arun Shourie were some of the rare articulate voices from the right that managed to get its views out, the 2010s saw a tsunami of right voices (pun intended) that even made Sagarika go into with panicked outbursts against the #internethindu. The battle for reclaiming the narrative is far from over, as everything from reforms in the economy to education system will first encounter the well trained leftist response long before the voices from the right rush in. In a healthy democracy that India is slowly transforming into, we will ideally see both sides of the spectrum balancing each other out across the academic, political and media landscapes. This resurgence is also being played out across the Indian/Hindu diaspora as it reclaims the narrative once lost to the left and the foreign, but that is a topic for another time.
“India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be great.” ~ Sri Aurobindo
See, I get obsessed over an idea, and my entire existence will revolve around it until I come across the next <insert overused TED adjective here> idea. Though I always secretly long for that one original thought, that one idea that would take over my life, I have resigned myself to the possibility that all ideas worth thinking have already been thought out and all that is left to do for us is to take them, cut them, mash them up and shove them deep in the dirt of the mind and see what grows out of it. So here goes nothing, a blog to document my interests and thoughts, a travelogue for the thoughtscapes I find myself in.