Whether local, conventional, limited, or nuclear, war has always been a nation’s principle instrument to deal with threats. Upon analysing the nature of the threat, a nation goes either on the offensive or on the defensive or both in traditional natural domains such as air, land, or sea, leading to war, peace or prolonged tensions which can be considered as peace in the absence of military action. However, in the manmade domain of cyberspace, the scenario changes; nations indulge in espionage to collect information and stay ahead of the enemy nation, and this is perceived as a ‘digital war’.
Given the role of digital infrastructure in modern human lives, many nations and military organisations like the NATO acknowledge that the cyberspace has opened a new front in warfare. The US originally developed the Internet for military purposes and to stay ahead of the USSR and has been enjoying monopoly on it till date, with surveillance programmes such as PRISM and Five Eyes to prevent another 9/11. Indeed, the US has been ruling the global economy not only with the dollar, but also through companies such as Google and Facebook who have access to large amounts of data and personal information and reap a profit out of it.
Despite the presence of nuclear powers, war today will be limited. The real likelihood of warfare lies in cyberspace, and as we progress towards an Aatmanirbhar India, we must include digital or cyberspace in it. Superpowers such as the US and China are already engaged in virtual warfare through propaganda and surveillance. China has already implemented facial recognition system in its main cities, eight of which have made it to the list of ten most surveilled cities of the world and many other nations uses Chinese surveillance devices too that might be aim of China one day to see the every parts of world live in their television and control it with IoT (Internet of Things).
India has been progressing towards digital self-reliance thanks to its tech-savvy young generation. Young Indians are not only taking digital leadership but are also becoming more patriotic and united in their response towards threats against the country. In the national security domain, India’s military prowess has been built through missiles and competent specialised troops, however, it still lags in the cyber domain, especially in terms of countering propaganda of neighbouring countries through social media.
Social media has enabled Indians to overcome internal differences and unite over external aggression, a very recent example being our citizens jointly protesting against China’s aggression. Chinese app TikTok was wildly popular in India, however fans and netizens downgraded its ratings and even boycotted it. A Jaipur-based company came up with the “Remove China Apps” app in response to the protests.
This was just the tip of the iceberg of anti-China sentiment. In the following days, the Indian establishment responded with banning 59 Chinese applications, including TikTok. A point to be noted is that Google censored TikTok’s negative perception in India by deleting the negative ratings and it needs to be analysed in the context of its possible involvement in Project Dragonfly, China’s Internet censorship project.
Either Google has completely withdrawn from Project Dragonfly and the censorship is a goodwill gesture in the latter’s support, it is just following its own fair play policy of not accepting politically motivated comments/ratings on Play Store.
India’s retaliation to Chinese aggression on land has also been digital; the government banned TikTok and other 58 China-backed apps. Yet, there is a catch; they need to be uninstalled manually and can still be downloaded through the web. Also, the ban is less effective in the light of the possibility that the apps must have already captured data and made the phone vulnerable to hackers.
Redmi/Xiaomi is still one of most preferred mobile brands by Indians today. The latest version of One+ smartphones sold like hot cakes on Amazon. This, along with the burning of Chinese goods across the country constitutes the mixed responses to the anti-China initiative.
The post-pandemic world is not going to be the same as before. Global trade and manufacturing processes will change. Global political engagements will perhaps change too. Digital is going to be the norm, and we will see giants such as Google and Facebook hosting both offensive and supportive content in terms of national security. In such times, it is important we have our own digital platforms, and thanks to our political stability, human resources, technological prowess, and huge market potential, we can certainly begin to do so.
Indigenous efforts in digital media and communications can boost business, create jobs, reduce brain drain and even revitalise the national carrier BSNL. The last is especially important given that companies such as Jio have opened doors to foreign partners such as Facebook and thus brought them a step closer to vital databases on Indian citizens (through Aadhar card, which is compulsory for purchasing Jio sim card). Technology and cyberspace are an important component of today’s economy as a substantial portion of financial transaction and business dealings are carried out digitally.
Hence, instead of turning against something (or someone) specific, India must work on strengthening its own technological capacities and creating better substitutes for existing imports. Then only can India become aatmanirbhar and effectively handle the indirect war waged on its economy through technology and cyberspace.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.