The road to hell is paved with good intentions

First of all I would like to share about a video which I should have talked or added about in the ‘Celebrating National Science Day at GMRT‘ blog post. It’s a documentary called ‘The Most Unknown‘ . It’s a great documentary as it gives you a glimpse of how much is there yet to discover. The reason I shared this is I have seen lot of money being removed from Government Research and put god knows where. Just a fair warning, it would be somewhat of a long conversation.

Almost all of IIT’s are in bad shape, in fact IIT Mumbai which I know and have often had the privilege to associate myself with has been going through tough times. This is when institutes such as IIT Mumbai, NCRA, GMRT, FTII and all such institutions have made loads of contributions in creating awareness and has given the public the ability to question rather than just ‘believe’ . For any innovation to happen, you have to question, investigate, prove, share the findings and the way you have done things so it could be reproduced.

Even Social Sciences as shared in the Documentary and my brief learnings and takeaways from TISS has been the same. The reason is even they are in somewhat dire-straits. I was just sharing or having a conversation with another friend few days back who is into higher education that IISER Pune where the recent Wordcamp happened had to commercialize and open its doors to events in order to sustain itself. While I and perhaps all wordcampers would forever be grateful for sharing with us such a great place as well as a studios vibe which also influenced how Wordcamp was held, I did feel sad that we intruded in their study areas which should be meant for IISER’s only.

Before I get too carried away, I should point to people that people should look at Ian Cheney’s some of the old documentaries as well (the one who just did the most Unknown) and has found his previous work compelling as well. The City Dark is a beautiful masterpiece and shares lot of insights about light pollution which India could use well to improve both our lighting as well as reduce light pollution in the atmosphere.

Meeting with Bhakts and ‘Good intentions’

The reason I shared the above was also keeping in mind the conversations I have whenever I meet Bhakts. The term bhakt comes from bhakti in Sanskrit which at one time meant spirituality and purity although now in politics it means one who choose to believe in the leader and the party absolutely. Whenever a bhakt starts losing an logical argument, one of the argument that is often meted out is whatever you say you cannot doubt Mr. Narendra Modi’s intentions which is the reason why I took the often used proverb to prove the same point and is the heading of the blog post. The problem with the whole ‘good intentions’ part is, it’s pretty much a strawman argument. The problem with intentions is everybody can either say or mask their intentions. Even ISIS says that they want to bring back the golden phase of Islam. We have seen their actions, should we believe what they say ? Or even Hitler who said ‘One people, one empire, one leader’ who claimed that the Aryans were superior to the Jewish people while history has gone to show the exact opposite. Israel, today is the eight-biggest arms supplier in the world, our military is the second-biggest buyer of arms from them as well as far more prosperous than us and many other countries. Their work on drip-irrigation and water retention, agricultural techniques, there is much we could learn from them. Same thing about manning borders and such. While I could give many such examples the easiest example to share in context of good intentions gone wrong is Demonetisation in India which deserves its own paragraph.

Demonetisation

Demonetisation was heralded by Mr. Modi with great fanfare . It was supposed to take out black money. While we learned later that black money didn’t get wiped out but has become more into your face. This we learned later was debunked by the earlier R.B.I. Governor Raghuram Rajan and then now from R.B.I. itself. This is before Mr. Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. Sharing below an excerpt from the Freakonomics Radio show which has Mr. Rajan’s interview. Makes for interesting reading or listening as the case may be.

DUBNER: Now, shortly after your departure as governor of the R.B.I., Prime Minister Modi executed a sudden, controversial plan to abolish 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes, hoping to crack down on the shadow economy and tax evasion. I understand you had not been in favor of that idea, correct? p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

RAJAN: Absolutely. It didn’t make sense. I was asked for my opinion, and I said, “Look, it is taking away money that people use in transactions. It’s going to create enormous disruption unless we replace it overnight with freshly printed money.” And it’s very important that we have all that in place, difficult to maintain secrecy, and then the fundamental sort of objective of this, which was to get people to bring out the money that they hoarded in their basements and pay taxes on them — I said, “That’s probably not going to work out, because they’re going to find ways to infuse the money back into the system without paying those taxes.”

DUBNER: It’s been roughly two years now. What have been the effects of this demonetization?

RAJAN: Well, I think more than the numbers suggest, because India was growing at that time. And we had numbers which were in the 7.5 percent growth range at that point, at a time, in 2016, when the world was actually growing quite slowly. When growth picked up in 2017, instead of going along with the world, which we typically do and we exceed world growth significantly, we went down. That suggests it had a tremendous effect on growth, but that, the numbers don’t capture it all, because what actually got killed was the informal sector — the people who were doing work with notes rather than with checks, who didn’t have formal bank accounts. And when you look at the job numbers that some private-sector people estimate 10, 12 million jobs were lost in that episode. And, of course, we haven’t recovered them yet. It was one of those places where more economic thinking would have helped.

DUBNER: Was it a coincidence that Prime Minister Modi went ahead with the plan only after you’d left?

RAJAN: Well, I can’t speak on that. I can only say that I made my objections very, very clear.

Freakonomics Podcast Stephen J. Dubner interviewing Mr. Raghuram Rajan, RBI Governor 5th September 2013 – 5th September 2017. Aired on 6th February 2019 .

I would urge people to listen to Freakonomics Radio as there are lots of pearls of wisdom in there. There is also the Good ideas are not enough podcast which is very relevant to the topic at hand but would digress about the Freakonomics radio for now.

The interesting part to ask from the details known from R.B.I. are –


a. Why did Mr. Narendra Modi feel the need to have the permission of R.B.I. after 38 days ?


b. If Mr. Modi were confident of the end-result then shouldn’t he have instead of asking permission and have the PMO have taken all the responsibility.


In any case, as was seen from R.B.I. counting only 0.3% of the money did not come even though many people’s valid claims were thrown out and the expense in the whole exercise was much more than the shortfall. R.B.I. didn’t get INR 10k crore while it spent INR 13k crore for the new currency. Does anybody see any saving here ?

The bhakts counter-argument is that the bankers were bad, if everybody had done their work, then it would have all worked out as Mr. Modi wanted. The statement itself implies that they didn’t know the reality. Even if we take the statement at face-value that all the bankers were cheaters (which I don’t agree with at all) , didn’t they know it when they were the opposition. Where was the party’s economic intelligence, didn’t it tell them so many years they were in Opposition. This is what the Opposition should be doing and knowing about the state of the Economy and know the workings to say the least.

There is also this https://www.scribd.com/document/401570379/Minutes-of-RBI-s-board-meeting-on-demonetisation

These are minutes obtained by Venkatesh Nayak under the RTI tool.

To rub salt to the wounds, now the IPP is at low of 1.7 percent as well 😦 . As always, I’m sure BJP will say these are not the final numbers.

I am curious to know what RSS people would think or make of this video –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYKKrnG26YA

The other terminology people do use when they are unable to win an argument is I don’t know in detail, why don’t you come to the shaaka and meet our ‘prachaarak’ . Pracharaak while a hindi word used to mean a wise man disseminating knowledge but in RSS-speak he is a political spinner. In style, mannerisms they are very close to how born again Jesuists or Missionaries do, the ones who are forceful, don’t want to have a meaningful conversation. The most interesting video on this topic can be seen on twitter

https://twitter.com/akashbanerjee/status/1105309181240885248/

Important Legislations which need Public Scrutiny

The other interesting development or regression which I and probably many tech-savvy Indians would probably noted is the total lack of comments on any of the new regulations by Mozilla about Internet, whether it is the News and Draft Intermedairy rules, the Aadhar Amendment Bill, 2019 which was passed recently, the Draft E-commerce Bill , Data Protection Bill, all of which are important pieces of legislation which need and needed careful study. While the Government of India isn’t going to do anything apart from asking comments, people should have come forward and made better systems. One of the things that any social group could do is either have Stet or a co-ment instance so it could capture people comments and also mail it from their to Meity .

The BJP Site hack

Last and not the least was the BJP site hack which is now in ninth day where it is still under maintainance . It was a hack because there was a meme which went viral on the web. Elliot in his inimitable style also shared how they should have backed up their site . In an un-related event I was attending devops event where how web apps, websites should be done was shared. It’s not rocket science, even if one of the people had looked at ‘high-availability’ they would have got loads of web-pages and links which tell how to be secure and still serve content. Apparently, they just did not take BJP site data but probably also donor data (people who have donated wealth to BJP) . There is a high possibility if it’s a real hack that crackers, foreign agents could put BJP to ransom and have dominion on India if BJP comes back to power. While I do hope such a scenario doesn’t play out you never know. I would probably share about the devops event some other time as there was much happening there and deserves its own blog post.

On the other hand, it could be a ploy to tell to EC (Election Commission) we don’t have the data, our website got hacked when EC asks from where you got the funding for the Elections.

In either way it doesn’t seem a good time for either BJP or even India as a whole if it has such weak I.T. Government 😦

Frankly speaking, when I first heard it, I was thinking hopefully they wouldn’t have put their donor details on the same server and they probably would be taking backups. I chided myself for thinking such stupid thoughts. A guy like me could be screwy with his backups due to time, budget constraints but a political party like BJP which has unbridled wealth wouldn’t do such rookie mistakes and would have the best technical talent available. Many BJP well-wishers were thinking they would be able to punish the culprit and I had to tell them he could use any number of tools to hide his real identity. You could use VPN, tor or even plain old IP spoofing. The possibilities are just endless. This is just when I’m a infosec rookie or baby.

The other interesting part of this hack is till date BJP has neither acknowledged the hack, nor have they shared what went wrong. I think we have been to comfortable and been used to hacks on reddit, gmail, twitter where the developers feel that the users should know the extent of the hack, what was lost and not lost, what they are doing to recover and till when we can expect services to start and then later a full disclosure report as to what they could determine. Of course, there could be disinformation in such information as well but that would have been a better response method than how the BJP IT Cell has responded. Not something I would expect from a well-oiled structure.

Update – 14/03/19 – Seems fb, instagram, whatsapp is down . Also see how fb responded on twitter . Also Indian Express ran an article on the recent BJP hack. We will know what happens hopefully in the next few days .