May 10 is remembrance day of what many historians call India’s first war of independence. Although the war ended with the rebels' defeat in Gwalior on June 20, 1858, it resulted in a drastic change in the British attitude towards India. The British realised that the assumption that the local populace would naturally stand with the government in its hour of need just for a salary and uniform might not work; the assumption was fundamentally flawed.

The British had been horrified during the Revolt of 1857 to see both Hindus and Muslims fighting side by side and the command of one another against the foreign oppressor. They vowed this would not happen again. “Divide et impera was an old Roman maxim, and it shall be ours,” wrote Lord Elphinstone.

A systematic policy of fomenting separate consciousness among the two communities was launched, with overt British sponsorship. A restricted franchise was grudgingly granted to Indians wherein the British created separate, communal electorates so that Muslim voters could vote for Muslim candidates alone — only for Muslim seats. The seeds of division between the two communities were sown to prevent a unified nationalist movement that could overthrow the British.

Another strategy adopted was to accentuate the caste system prevalent among Hindus. The system of patronage available to the ruler was a useful tool and the castes competed against one another for a competitive advantage in collaborating with the colonialists.

Elements of the strategy involved

Aiding and promoting those who were willing to cooperate with the rulers.
•    Creating/encouraging divisions among the population to prevent alliances that could challenge the ruler.
•    Fostering distrust and enmity between local communities.
•    Encouraging expenditures that reduced the capability for social, political and military spending.

Historically, this strategy was used in many different ways by empires seeking to expand their territories. The concept is mentioned also as a strategy for action in economics to get the most out of the players in a competitive market. The information age has seen a new type of colonialisim that has taken root — a colonialism whose chief driving force has been the relentless pursuit of data and the riches that accrue to its owners.

The parallels and strategies that these data mining companies have used to spread their tentacles can be traced back to the lessons learnt by the British. Indeed, their cultivation of the local elite in the form of creating the nouveau riche owners of BPO firms tied at the hip to the American ICT industry, creating a new local corporate class of citizens through direct employment, liberal sponsorship of seminars and assiduous cultivation of the academics and bureaucrats — all have parallels in the system of patronage that the British created to cling on to power post-1857.

This patronage system has created new sepoys and their local chieftains owing their allegiance and, indeed, existence to the American ICT industry, a powerful lobby. This lobby has ensured that even after the Snowden revelations, the unregulated flow of data to the server farms of the US, the most valuable resource of the 21st century has continued. This has happened inspite of the recognition of privacy as a fundamental right of the citizen. That this right is being violated by the unregulated exploitation of the data by the data aggregator MNCs has largely been ignored by the establishment. John Perkins in his seminal work The Confessions Of An Economic Hitman has in great detail brought out how the ‘American Empire’ was created without taking recourse to armies. Data Colonies have been created by similar strategies — the only difference being that the White man has been replaced by the willing native, employees who ape their masters in a ritual that can be best described as ‘being more loyal than the king’.

The evidence for these are manifest in myriad incidents unconnected when seen in isolation, but a clear picture emerges when one adds up the dots.

NITI Aayog signing a pact with Google: It was announced that ‘Google will train and incubate Indian AI startups in an accelerator programme. These startups will be mentored and coached by Google and its affiliates to enable them to better leverage AI in their respective business models, the NITI Aayog said in a statement. Further, Google will also bring its online training courses on AI to students, graduates and engineers to numerous cities across India in the form of study groups and developer-run courses.’

Microsoft launching an app exclusively for India: The Pro version has additional features like user and group management controls, advanced reporting and analytics, ability to publish custom actions, etc. Microsoft Kaizala, which was being piloted earlier, has already seen significant adoption among Indian organisations like Yes Bank, Apollo Telemedicine, Republic TV, United Phosphorous and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan. In addition, more than 30 departments and over 70,000 users in Andhra Pradesh government use Microsoft Kaizala for day-to-day work.

NITI Aayog and IBM signing an agreement to develop a crop yield prediction model using artificial intelligence (AI) to provide real time advisory to farmers: The move is aimed at leveraging the technological tool to boost farming. Under the agreement, the two partners will work together towards use of technology to provide insights to farmers to improve crop productivity, soil yield and control agricultural inputs with the overarching goal of improving farmers’ incomes.

These actions raise the following questions. Why is the Government of India promoting Google, Microsoft, IBM and its commercial interests — all foreign MNCs with documented links to foreign intelligence services. Wont the pact with Google foster a new generation of Indians indoctrinated in the use of Google AI? Can Microsoft Kaizala app use by banks and government departments result in compromise in banking secrets and official secrets? Can IBM being given access to plan our agriculture lead to manipulation of our crop cycles? Do these actions have national security implications, especially post Snowden revelations and Cambridge Analytica? These are all relevant questions which all concerned citizens of India need to think about. 

American political commentator Jerome Corsi has opined that “the first principle of all propaganda and disinformation involves the manipulation of public opinion by the creation of a lie — known in today’s terminology as a ‘narrative’, that is ‘crafted to be sufficiently credible so a persistent campaign of repeating the lie can change public opinion, even if the lie — the ‘narrative’ or the ‘meme’ — is totally untrue, concocted without any basis in fact, evidence, or reality.” To ensure the propaganda spreads, any facts that disprove the disinformation meme are dismissed as “conspiracy theories”.

To discern the truth and see these facts in context, one needs to examine two documents that have caused much controversy. The first one was the Wolfowitz Doctrine, an unofficial name given to the initial version of the Defense Planning Guidance for the 1994–99 fiscal years (dated 18 February 1992) authored by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Paul Wolfowitz and his deputy Scooter Libby. Not intended for public release, it was leaked to The New York Times on March 7, 1992. It sparked a public controversy about US foreign and defence policy. The document was widely criticised as imperialist as the document outlined a policy of unilateralism and pre-emptive military action to suppress potential threats from other nations and prevent any other nation from rising to superpower status. The second was a document authored by a neoconservative think tank: The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) — Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.

The above-mentioned documents brought out the centrality of cyber space in ensuring US dominance. For those who might still like to dismiss these documents as not indicative of actual policy, an examination of history from 1992 to today will help in clearing any illusions. Information and Communication Technologies and nascent fields like Artificial Intelligence are the strategic high ground of the Information age. India is one of the largest producers of data which is now widely acknowledged as the most valuable asset of the 21st century. China has by careful strategy incubated huge wealth creating corporations like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu which are giving competition to Western corporations in game changing technologies like AI. What we need from our national leadership is policy initiatives that can take India into its rightful place among the comity of nations. These can come about only by a careful strategic appreciation of our national interests and options. Blindly following the advice of subaltern experts can lead us to the well trodden path of subjugation by the data colonialists and the imperialist powers behind them.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.