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Breaches in Trust

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We all have that one hipster friend- the type who never caught on the Facebook bandwagon because she believed in the intimacy of face-to-face conversations. The kind who smile patronizingly when anyone panicked about leaving their phone elsewhere. She lived a digital detox and actually looked at the butterflies fluttering their wings unlike the rest of us who were instagramming away. It made you want to slap her face.

But you controlled your particularly violent urge and turned to your other friend who loves long air travel because it’s the only time she can’t use her phone even if she wants to. When the news of data breaches by Cambridge Analytica came to the news last week, your phone-addict friend and you decided not to see your hipster friend for a while.

Both of you would have punched her if she smiled patronizingly and sometimes, that tends to affect friendships. All of this comes in the context of Cambridge Analytica making inroads into India as early as 2010  when the Bihar elections took place. While this highlights the immediacy of the need for a data protection law in India. But the American citizens are more outraged about how the data collected by Cambridge Analytica helped swing the 2016 US Presidential elections. Varghese George says that the obsession with the Russian collision and this not only denies agency to their own citizens but is counterproductive and dangerous. Not ideal tourist season but Admiral Sunila Lamba (who also serves as the head of the National Chief of Staff Committee) is visiting the US. Hopefully this is an indication that defence ties are on an upswing. will provide some clarity about the degree to which India and the USA can revisit the June 2005 defence agreement

Trump also signed the Taiwan Travel Act which allows for high-level visits between Washington and Taipei. Predictably China is furious at this violation of the one-China policy and has vehemently denounced the new American legislation. But this is not as worrying as Trump’s ‘America First’ measures. Trump’s trade actions and its contagion effects could lead to a slow erosion of the global rules-based trading system and this could indirectly affect India. Intermediate goods that originate in the US and form part of the global supply chain will become more expensive and could slow down wheels of trade, affecting India.

New Delhi hosted a WTO “mini-ministerial” in Delhi a week ago despite several trade disputes with the US. Asoke Mukherji argues that this is significant to inspire confidence and mutual trust among member countries. For India, the main issues of priority are agricultural and services negotiations as well as institutional reform. Another important issue is the fisheries subsidies reflective of the mismatch between WTO reform and domestic reform. A recent world Bank report underlines the need for India to invest more in health and education to raise wealth levels sustainably in the years to come. Raising per capita income and improvements in health conditions are both critical to raising welfare in a country, as seen in the increase in per capita wealth in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh than India.

India and China have demonstrated their demand for greater influence and power in global decision-making. The existing world powers, however, have made it clear they will not cede influence easily. India believes that its attitude of exceptionalism will place it as a 21st century power, behind USA and China. But in this discussion about becoming a great power, it is important to remember that India is only a distant third in the race. Lately a lot of Indians seem to be asking what the price of freedom is. This week Jug Suraiya pointed out that while we can be proud of our freedom Chinese citizens have a much better standard of living.

Even as open-source satellite imagery shows that China found a new route to hold on to Doklam, India is looking at resetting diplomatic relations with the larger neighbour. But, analysts point out that India cannot hope that a diplomatic reset will solve all the problems borne out of the widening power gap between India and China.  On our perennially fraught western border, the first two months of 2018 have seen a quick escalation of hostilities. India must work towards some understanding with Pakistan before the situation on the border spins out of control.

The most distressing this week was the Indian government was that the Indian workers at Mosul who had been kidnapped by ISIS four years ago had been killed. The Indian government has come under fire for allowing the families of the deceased to hope for their return. The sole survivor of the kidnapping of the Indian workers by ISIS at Mosul was disbelieved through these years despite the fact that his account matches the official account now. The Indian government’s bluster that the Indian workers abducted by ISIS were alive was merely a ploy to cover up its inaction, says Praveen Swami:

The story illustrates the weave of magical thinking and hubris – stitched together with petty lies – that this government passes off as foreign policy. Put simply, the government abused the rights of the victims’ families to defend a series of ill-conceived statements put out by top national security officials who should have known better. Propaganda claims that this government would succeed where others could not, ended up forcing the government to persist with a pointless, damaging lie.

Some of these links were collated by Adya Kadambari, an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

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About the author

Hamsini Hariharan

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Associate with Takshashila's Geostrategy Programme. She is also the Assistant Editor at Pragati, and one of the hosts of the Pragati Podcast. Her research interests include Chinese foreign policy, Asian geopolitics, and India's worldview.