Sunday, October 07, 2007

Politics, security and technology...

Here is a post, once again, that talks of things that are unrelated to one another. Let me start with politics, security and armed political opposition. Yesterday, I was at the CSA seminar on Civil Society in Conflict situations. There, one of the speakers, a distinguished and retired army officer analysed some of the characteristics of violence-ridden and conflict-torn societies. He said, in his rather interesting presentation, that conflict situations are often characterised by a lack of basic amenities, poverty, high levels of unemployment and absence of infrastructure. That reminded me of the fabled robbers of Chambal Valley, so famously characterised by Phoolan Devi. But, these factors do not always lead to conflict. Or inversely, all conflict situations are not necessarily characterised by the above problems. In fact, some of the most violent armed struggles of the world have been started and sustained by the prosperous.

Take, for example, the secessionist violence that the Democratic Republic of Congo suffered for decades. The province that wanted to secede, Katanga possesses practically 90% of DRC's natural resources. The same is the case with insurgency in Punjab. Punjab is one of India's richest states, in terms of agricultural produce. As I said some time back in my post on Bihar, the desire to secede or rise in arms against the state comes, not only from the poorest, but also from the richest states. Was Tamil Nadu ever as backward as the Northeast? Why then, did the campaign for a separate Tamil nation catch the people's imagination in the 1960s? Armed political resistance only starts where the insurgents are sure of carrying it on successfully. Insurgency will hardly work in a place where the common man is too worried about his next meal to support insurgent groups. What creates problems and incites insurgency is economic development and influx of money in the absence of good governance. That said, there is no linear relationship between poverty, unemployment and violence. the relationship is much more complex and merits a more detailed study then is possible on a simple blog. So, I will leave that to someone else.

Now, over to technology. The other day, I saw the brand new Lenovo with an in-built face recognition system. Now, that is the kind of computer I would like to buy. But, the said laptop had many more features and weighed just 900 grams. And, cost a whopping 120,000 rupees (about $3000.) So, I contented myself with just looking. The way technology has evolved over the last ten years is amazing. Using fingerprint identification or face recognition to access your computer would have been unthinkable at the turn of the century. At least, for us non-techies. Today, biometric identification for security had permeated every aspect of life. The French Government's decision to include biometric identifiers in all passports issued after September 2006, is symbolic of the change that is sweeping Europe and the rest of the world. It will perhaps take a few more years to get to India, not because we are far behind technologically, but because the Indian government takes a lot longer to act that the EU does. Not to mention that decisions are implemented a decade after they are actually taken, by which time they become redundant. Let us hope we get biometric passports soon. At least before my passport is due for renewal in 2014!

1 comment:

little donut said...


There is plenty of empirical research done on conflict and economic development and conflict and insurgency. Generally as you said, the relationship is not simply linear. For example, if one considers the relationship between Protest/Insurgency and governmental repression - they are both reciprocal and simultaneous relationships. Protests leads to more repression and repression tendencies leads to more protest. However, there is a threshold level that needs to be crossed for either of it to happen.
One distinction that definitely needs to be made is that insurgency /protests does not always lead to violent conflict. So while there may have been different circumstances under which various secessionist movements took place, under which specific set does violence erupt? As in, while the richer states may be more likely to secede, but the intellectuals or the economically comfortable class rarely engages in crude violence, where for the poor since they have a lot less to lose, it is easier to engage in violence. This in no way means there is no conflict.
There really are some good empirical studies out there that shed a good light on this particular research puzzle.