Congress Manifesto on Financial and Data Security

Mala Jay

In the digital age, the concept of ‘national security’ involves much more than just defending the territorial integrity of the country.   The Congress election manifesto for 2019 makes this amply clear by pointedly referring to the need to guard against breaches of India’s financial security, communications security and data security in general. 

This is bound to set alarm bells ringing within the shadowy world of unofficial players who have wheedled their way into positions of power, influence and profit in the Modi government’s national security apparatus over the last five years.

There is obviously much more to what has been crisply stated in the party manifesto about national security related policy pledges. The section on the topic has been carefully drafted by party leaders who are acutely aware that national security is “dependent on a sound defence policy, a sound foreign policy and wise leadership”.  

National security is not enhanced by chest-thumping or exaggerated claims, says the document and goes on to spell out the party’s pledge to take “strategic and hard measures” to defend the territorial integrity of India and ensure the safety of the people:   i) the Congress will reverse the trend of declining defense spending under the NDA government; ii) will ensure that defense spending is increased to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces;  and iii) will expedite all modernisation programmes of the armed forces in a transparent manner.

Promising to evolve suitable policies to address each of these objectives, the Congress has proposed to establish the office of Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) to be the Principal Adviser to the Government on all matters relating to defense and national security.  

For those who have been monitoring the decision-making process under the current dispensation, there is much in this to read between the lines.  Despite the understated wording, it is both scathing and loaded with meaning.

Leaving no room for doubt about the import of this, the manifesto states the intention to “provide a statutory basis to the National Security Council (NSC) and the office of National Security Adviser (NSA)”. The powers and functions of the NSC and NSA, it says, will be defined under the law and lays emphasis that “both the authorities as well as the agencies under them will be made accountable to Parliament”.

The party document does not hesitate to put these proposals in perspective. The BJP government, it asserts, “left the National Security Advisory Board in limbo between January 2015 and October 2016 and then truncated the body”.

To rectify the situation, Congress has pledged to i) re-establish the NSAB, ii) provide a Statutory basis to the body, iii) appoint experts from different disciplines and iv) ensure that it will function as a permanent, professional Advisory Body advising the NSC and the government.

This is followed by what is probably the operative part of the section on national security - as far as the parallel and unofficial players are concerned, even though no explicit mention is made of the nature of any specific murky goings-on. 

The manifesto states:  “The concept of national security in the 21st century has expanded beyond defense of the territory to include data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security and security of trade routes”.

The Congress manifesto leaves the rest unsaid. But the references revive questions regarding the Modi government’s excessive zeal on a wide range of harsh measures to digitalize the economy overnight - the vain attempt to impose mandatory Aadhaar, the heartless invalidation of high value currency notes,  the ill-conceived push towards a cashless society, the unseemly haste to implement the GST regime,  etc.  

The references also evoke memories of the traumatic days after demonetization when enormous amounts of cash and currency were transported by private security firms in circumstances that have never been explained.   

Without doubt, the concept of national security in India during the last few years has expanded to the digital sphere.  As the Congress manifesto indicates,  there are many unanswered questions surrounding the motives behind the attempts to wrest control of the financial system and the intention behind entrusting private security companies – some of them owned by foreign stakeholders -  with highly sensitive operations and access.

Apr 5, 2019

Mala Jay [email protected]

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