There is a combination of external agencies and internal factors who are against the strong leadership in Bharat. All they want is a scrambled alliance of political parties who cannot take strong decisions but would wait and watch and delay decisions of national interest.
There is a warning which India has to think very intently as outside powers could try to change public opinion and generate mistrust among the common people during this year’s general elections. We call it as “Foreign electoral interventions” or “Interfering to change Regimes”. Attempts by Big Powers, Neighbours and Regional powers doing covertly or overtly to influence elections in another country has become common in international affairs now due to a fundamental transformation in Telecommunication and Digital Age.
There are many ways that nations have accomplished regime change abroad, bags of cash delivered, scandalous stories leaked to foreign newspapers to swing an election, create hundreds of social media accounts impersonating supporting radical groups, planning and promoting rallies, and reaching millions of social media users. Release tens of thousands of private emails and attachments to the public during the final months of the campaign and finally electoral intervention.
One study indicated that the country intervening in most foreign elections is the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions or more. It is alleged that Russia interfered in America Presidential Elections in 2016 and America in Russia during 1996. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania offers a “forensic analysis of the available evidence and concludes that Russia very likely delivered Trump’s victory.”
The Church using its agents like the Human Rights organisations, NGOs, legislators in the international arena to paint India in a bad light is already in the newsIt was said that Russia interference proceeded along two main ways. First, as per the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” based in Saint Petersburg created hundreds of social media accounts impersonating Americans supporting radical groups, planning and promoting rallies, and reaching millions of social media users between 2013 and 2017. These messages and activities “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general”, for example by discouraging African Americans from voting or by motivating conservative voters to be wary of Trump. Second, hackers affiliated to the Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU) penetrated computer systems, and tens of thousands of private emails and attachments were released to the public during the final months of the campaign, as revealed by DC Leaks, Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks.
Recalling other instances of such electoral interventions, it was reported that during the reign of President Barack Obama, the U.S. State Department was accused of giving $350,000 to an Israeli organization, ‘One Voice’, which used the funds to try to influence members of Knesset to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is also alleged that Russia had interfered in the Brexit polls of 2016 using hackers and social media influencers. The UK Electoral Commission and the UK Parliament's Culture Select Committee are investigating these allegations.
India’s 2019 General Elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emerged as a powerful world leader in the comity of nations today. His leadership has led to the creation of Solar Alliance, and his forays at soft diplomacy has seen Yoga becoming popular across the world. His unique efforts in outreach to small, medium and powerful nations, including many neighbours has unsettled many regional and world powers who are having lesser say in the affairs of such countries. It is due to these powers who don’t like his rise, many security experts have opined that there may be attempts or interventions to stop his electoral prospects in 2019.
A cursory study of the neighbourhood and certain elements within India who have allegiance to anti-India forces, narrates a scenario to be wary of. There are 5 forces which could try to sabotage the electoral process of India which we need to be vigilant about.
I) China: The Communist country has been accused by Taiwanese leaders, including President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier William Lai of trying to influence its electoral processes. “China has been spreading fake news via social media to influence voters and support candidates more sympathetic to Beijing ahead of the 2018 Taiwanese local elections”, they had accused. Can China put in its hat in Indian Elections similarly?
II) Pakistan: The Islamic neighbour has always wanted a weak leadership or a coalition Government or a moderate party which is soft towards it. It can try to change perception or create ruckus against the regime. Recently Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused an opposition party of seeking help from Pakistan to “remove Narendra Modi as the PM.” Pakistan meddling in the internal affairs of our country through its agents here is not new. The current government and security agencies will do well to be very alert as regards Pakistan.
III) The Church: Recently Anil JT Couto, Archbishop of Delhi, issued a pastoral letter stating, “As we look forward towards 2019 when we will have [a] new Government, let us begin a Prayer Campaign for our country from May 13, 2018, which marks the Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima, consecrating ourselves and our nation to the Immaculate Heart. A Prayer to be recited in all parishes of the diocese, together with fasting and Eucharistic adoration, every Friday until the 2019 elections.” The Church meddling in the elections to have a dispensation favouring it and its activities is a sure possibility. The Church using its agents like the Human Rights organisations, NGOs, legislators in the international arena to paint India in a bad light is already in the news. In the run-up to elections, their interventions might only increase.
IV) Influencing Muslim electorate: Though in recent years there is a change in perception of Muslim community for BJP but a concrete effort is being done to downplay it. A systematic effort has been made to show BJP as being anti-Muslim. Pakistan has thrown its hat here too and has been tomtoming the so-called ‘treatment of minorities’ in India at the UN and other international fora. They are aided by its friends in international media. Then there are local politicians trying to drive a wedge between communities.
V) Social Media Companies: Social media is the biggest tool for communication today. However, the social media giants were exposed to have been trying to influence voters through online machinations and perception management. Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that he was “sure someone was trying” to meddle in elections via Facebook. The big revelations by Zuckerberg comes after the Narendra Modi government had cautioned him following Facebook’s admission that Cambridge Analytica used data that had been collected from 50 million users without their consent, an act of breach of privacy. Twitter too has been accused of trying to undermine users who belong to the ideological ‘right’ but give a free hand to those who subscribe to the Left ideology and Congress. Recently it was found that many accounts which support PM Modi were either suspended or shadowbanned. Twitter neglected complaints against accounts that support Congress or the Left. These instances prove that the social media companies too have taken sides for the upcoming elections and we have to be wary about them.
In conclusion, there are very powerful vested interests in India and abroad who don’t want a strong leadership. It is clear that forces from America to Russia to China to Pakistan to Taliban to Jihadis to Naxals to urban Naxals and their Media cohorts will try to stop PM Narendra Modi and his party from winning again. The Election Commission would do well to check such
interference in our elections right now. Otherwise, it could be too late. At any cost, we cannot afford to let India be a victim of Foreign Electoral Interference.
(The writer is an expert on Korea and International affairs, a political analyst and a columnist)