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India's Internet Hypocrisy

As the world’s largest democracy, India is widely regarded as one of the world’s “digital deciders” in debates about cyber norms. But the decisions its government is making regarding the internet run directly counter to the values of an open society.

NEW DELHI – At last month’s G7 summit, India joined 11 other signatories, from Canada to South Korea to the European Union, in issuing a joint statement affirming their “shared belief in open societies, democratic values, and multilateralism.” The statement touted signatories’ commitment to international rules and norms relating to, among other things, “freedom of expression, both online and offline,” and identified “politically motivated internet shutdowns” as a threat to freedom and democracy. By this definition, India can no longer be considered a model of democratic values.

The internet’s potential as a force for good is well known, not least to India’s citizens. During the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, when public services failed, Indians used social-media platforms like Twitter and WhatsApp to crowdsource resources.

Indians also used such platforms to organize and mobilize support for protests against controversial agricultural reforms and the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act. But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party deemed this unacceptable, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government repeatedly suspended online access under the guise of “maintaining public safety.”

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