Why We Need to Talk About Cambridge Analytica

One of the things that I do as a part of my three-pronged preparation for interviews is to look up and gather insights about my interviewers from publicly available data on social and professional media. I’ve only given a handful of interviews in my life and hence it is difficult to ascertain whether this works, but it does give me a sense of control over a situation that otherwise – and generally – is uncertain and unknown. Looking up key stakeholders and interviewers on social and professional media becomes a great conversation enabler at times. But I digress… The whole point of this diatribe was to highlight the fact that a cornucopia of information and personal data exists and is readily available for individuals to mine. Now imagine a company that does this – collects and mines social media data – on a mass scale and uses that data to disperse targeted content in connivance with a social media giant, quite possibly influencing the outcome of an election. Scary? You bet! Continue reading

The Saffron Undercurrent

As Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, attempts to provide the panacea to all that ails this country, a steady wave of saffronization is spreading, one that is barely perceptible but very much extant. Nehru’s legacy is questioned; Nathuram Godse is called a patriot, and it is suggested that he should have killed Nehru instead of Gandhi. And the leader of the largest secular democracy of the free world gifts a copy of the Gita – the guiding light of those who bask in the glory of Hinduism as a way of life – to another world leader. Maybe I read too much into it… But when a respected Parliamentarian and a Union minister calls for the Gita to be declared the National Book of India, I sense a saffron undercurrent. I sense it when money is raised to fund conversions of Muslims and Christians. I sense it when those self-appointed guardians of the Hindu culture and chest-thumping pseudo-intellectuals dictate the heroes I should worship and the language I should speak. I sense it when textbooks are purged and history is rewritten in hues of religion. It is only a matter of time before the parivaar and its perverse ideology merge with the party, and one will become an extension of the other, if it isn’t already.

Modified or Not?

A lot has been written and said about Narendra Modi and every aspect of his leadership in national and international media in recent months. Riding on the back of three successful stints as chief minister of a state with an extremely enterprising populace and the anti-incumbency factor, Modi is widely seen as the man forming and leading the next government at the center. With a few weeks left before 814 million people vote in one of the biggest electoral exercises in the world that will last for over a month, the BJP has gone on an overdrive to highlight Modi’s meteoric rise with most of the advertising for the elections centered on the man and his pro-development and pro-business image. The markets, driven more by sentiment than by fundamentals at this point in time, have touched new highs and are already factoring-in a Modi-win. Small and medium enterprises, which were hit hard during the global economic meltdown and are still reeling under the after-effects of its collapse, are riding out the last few months of a government plagued by policy paralysis in the hope that business will receive a stimulus once a new regime takes over. Continue reading

Of Systems and Rebellions

Systems exist, and they function because there is always a framework within which they are relevant. Most modern systems of governance and administration are based on democratic principles first defined by the Greeks and later refined by the English; these are political structures where checks and balances are installed to regulate a people and their societies, to ensure order in an otherwise chaotic environment. But what happens when these systems fail? The most pertinent applications of these democratic and free systems have conventionally involved the division of power between the legislature, the body of the system responsible for direct governance, and the executive, responsible for the administration of the elements of the framework within which the legislature functions. This separation of powers that defines most independent and free societies is now undergoing a transformation; the classification of powers and responsibilities of governance and administration now includes the civil society, the judiciary, and independent institutions. Continue reading