Urban Company most ‘fair’ in working conditions for gig workers; Zomato, Swiggy & Uber the worst
According to a recent report by FairWork Foundation – Urban Company had the best working conditions for ‘platform workers’ this year while food delivery apps such as Zomato and Swiggy had the worst conditions.
Few things have changed urban India’s habits. Over the years, an array of online services like food delivery apps, online grocery stores, and other online services have mushroomed across India. For urban middle-class Indians using these online services through various apps has become the new fad, and I guess, that’s pretty normal. But, have you ever thought about the working conditions of the gig or app-based workers, who bring you the services you love and enjoy?
According to a recent report published by a UK-based FairWork Foundation on the labour standards in India: Urban Company, the home services start-up, had the best working conditions for ‘platform workers’ this year while food delivery apps such as Zomato and Swiggy had the worst conditions.
Urban Company (earlier called Urban Clap) emerged out as the best gig economy app-based platform to work for in India, according to ratings by FairWork. At the bottom of the table are Swiggy, Uber, and Zomato. Yes! that’s right. These popular food delivery apps in India were ranked near the bottom when it comes to working conditions for their gig workers.
Who are these platform workers?
Platform workers are variously referred to as ‘independent contractors’ and delivery/driver partners in these companies. Currently, the legal status of gig/platform workers in India is that of independent contractors.
The FairWork India Ratings 2020 has evaluated Indian start-ups and platforms on how they treat their contract employees. Most surveys around the best places to work for focus on white-collar employees taking into account the perks, swanky offices, and issues like work-life balance and professional fulfilment. But this new survey has provided some insights into how Indian companies are treating their temporary gig workers, who now form the backbone of many popular start-ups.
The survey included workers who drive for Uber and Ola, delivery personnel for Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo, and professionals employed with Urban Company and Housejoy. The UK-based FairWork Foundation evaluated working conditions on these digital platforms and scored them based on five principles of ‘fair work’.
Five principles of evaluation:
The FairWork India Rating 2020: Labour Standards in the Platform Economy report looked at 11 app-based platforms and ranked these prominent Indian companies based on the working conditions prevalent there for temporary workers. The companies were evaluated on the basis of five principles.
The five principles are: Fair pay (minimum wages), fair conditions (health and safety), fair contract (simple terms and conditions), fair management (clear communication between leaders and workers) and fair representation (right to organise, worker unions).
The survey found that Urban Company’s workers had the best working conditions, with a score of 8 out of 10. Urban Company was followed by Flipkart’s logistics arm Ekart, which was standing at a score of 7. Among grocery delivery companies, such as Dunzo and Grofers scored a 4, while Big Basket just scored 2. Cab aggregators were some of the worst in terms of ensuring fair working conditions for their workforce, with Ola scoring 2 and Uber scoring 1 on 10. The worst conditions for workers seemed to be in the food delivery space, with both Zomato and Swiggy scoring the lowest possible score of 1.
Other focus areas of the report:
The report apart from other details also clearly mentioned the fact that with the exception of Urban Company and Dunzo, there was insufficient evidence from other apps to show that “accessible, readable and comprehensible terms and conditions were available to the workers.”
The report also found that Ola, Uber, Swiggy, and Zomato workers were “increasingly dissatisfied” with the communication channels of the platforms. It was also claimed that the helpline numbers that were provided to the workers were unresponsive most of the time or had premeditated responses. Workers on these platforms added that ID blocks without warning were also frequent.
Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal took full responsibility after this survey showed that his company had the worst working conditions among platforms offering “digitally-mediated work”. “Zomato ranked at the bottom of 2020 FairWork India scores. We knew we had things to work on, but we didn’t know that there is so much room for improvement,” Goyal said in a tweet.
The report suggests:
The report mentioned that with the rise of app-based companies, which works with hundreds of contractual or gig staff, a key challenge has been that such staff doesn’t profit from labour rules with respect to wages, hours, working conditions, and the proper to collective bargaining. The report also said that while such apps offer employment opportunities, it is far from clear whether the work offered by these platforms qualifies as what the International Labour Organisation calls decent work.
It is believed that a serious problem with work on such apps is employment standing as these gig or app-based workers most of the time are not categorised as workers by these apps. Instead, they’re often categorized as impartial contractors.
As India’s gig economy grows and develops, companies present in the internet space of the country will realise that it’s not only the white-collar employees that they need to focus on, but the well-being of their blue-collar rank employees and workforces present in all areas is just as important as other employees.
The curious relation between Art and Communism
The philosophy of ‘art for art’s sake’ is a relatively newer concept, introduced and later developed during the early 19th century. However, historically art was meant to drive a purpose or further an agenda, or just simply project a pre-conceived social notion or message to the viewers. Artists mostly relied on patrons and the art that was put out was often commissioned for a specific aim and objective. The ‘historical museums and art displays where today’s public can see and understand art are only a recent development. In the past, art remained an aristocratic gig and it was only at a public location, usually religious or political function where the masses could also enjoy ‘high art’. Hence, shaping art to serve a political narrative is not a novel idea. The Communists however took this idea of serving art to another level by exerting more influence and control and keeping a more intrusive approach. However, it is imperative to establish that if it weren’t for the communists and their active participation in the field of art, the world may not have had such a modernized concept of mass production of images and words as it proudly reflects today. The number of Communist-centric art and artifacts flourished post the regimes of Russia under Stalin (1922-1953) and China under Mao (1949-1956). Though there have been many pieces of literature on art and culture during the mentioned timeline, the comparison between the two regimes presents a very striking image of “Communist Art”.
Rise of Communism
The foundations of socialism were already laid during the French Revolution although the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels was written much later in 1848. The Marx version of Communism is the solution to history’s riddle and is the “positive transcendence of private property…it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man –the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species.” While Marx and Engels rambled upon the fundamentals and their individual interpretations of Communism, none of them produced an official or informal theory on aesthetics, art, and literature being aligned to a particular ideology. No comments regarding art and its social implications were made in reference to the artist or the audience.
The ideas of Marx were adopted by Lenin and later passed on to Stalin and Mao. However, like any idea, theory, principle or even religion distorts in the realm of changing society and civilization, the named leader’s implementation of Communism was contrastingly different from what Marx preached. Hence the ideology did not exactly translate into its natural form on the ground. The practice of the ideology never matched its theory as its implementation was entirely dependent on a multitude of human actions and decisions. So, when an ideology is handicapped and is presented without its physical manifestation, it inevitably falls in the hands of idiosyncratic personalities of the leaders who shaped Marxist Communism into mutated versions: Stalinism and Maoism.
Communism is a very seducing and enticing concept. So, when Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, in Russia and China respectively picked it and molded it into a tool to simply overthrow the traditional and imperialist regimes, the concept became even more exciting. Communism, therefore, emerged victorious post the fall of Imperial Regimes by the devastating wars, the people welcomed them and the ideas of ‘communism’ were appreciated. However, the ideas that people embraced were in fact masking the true nature of these communist dealers as it ultimately took an authoritarian outlook in no time. So while people anticipated a change in the basic system of governance from that of Imperial Regimes, they unwittingly fell into another authoritarian regime and have been under its control for decades.
It is shocking to see that while both the countries, Russia and China are presently the flag bearer of Communism, the concept is foreign to both. The concept emerged from Western Europe and was a tertiary concept or an alien ideology to both. The concept, therefore, was bound to have been amended, molded, and altered to suit the needs of Russian and Chinese regimes. The original idea only served the cause of blinding people by offering a lucrative concept so that it can later be shaped into a profitable deal for dictators like Mao and Stalin and fetch them unfettered powers. Therefore, much like any paradigm shift in the world, Communism also rose through invariable back-stabbing, misrepresentation and misappropriation of a great deal of information and news against the public.
Stalinism, Maoism and Art
It is important to see the diversity of art and artistic practices before the said named leaders came into being. The type of art that was not most associated with Communism, did not just completely align itself to the political narrative. It was a gradual process of shaping and controlling the artists and in extension, the art. However, even before the advent of Communism, the art worlds especially in China and Russia were anything but unanimous.
The beginning of the 20th century in Russia saw a bright sunrise to modern and Avant-grade art. Artists like Malevich and Kandinsky confidently rose and approached the Dias. They proposed radical new ideas concerning the aesthetics and the purpose of art. While some artists followed those ideas, some aspired to push forth the envelope even further. But, all of them shared a common view of rejecting realism. The artists unanimously saw the idea of communist ideas as the shaper of the Russian society and were equally excited to chip in their two cents through their literary and artistic work. The artists were so hyped that they even joined state-run organizations as they ‘believed; that they must serve the regime as it facilitated artistic freedom. The then Minister of Culture, Anatolii Lunacharskii provided the required resources for the development of new museums and established art studios and schools. The regime was so hugely invested in the art and its effect on the society that academies that rejected the idea of Avant-grade art were shut down. While this appeared to be an uphill for the art and artists, no one noticed that the whole cultural system, including museums, schools, publications, and even public decoration were brought under the government control whilst everyone stood in awe of the glittering gold.
However, the aesthetics of government-sponsored lucrative deals could not overpower the authentic concerns and creative differences which were bound to bud up between the artists. Consequently, the privileged place of Avant-grade art began to lose its ground. It is however true that numerous wonderful and great artistic stances flourished concurrently during this short period, some of them even shaping to become mass movements drawn on traditional aesthetics. As modern grade art began to wane, the group of artists proposed the idea of Productionism to replace Constructivism. They opined that autonomous artists are reactionary and cannot be caged within the political sphere. Therefore, these arts should not be given a free canvas and must become the colleagues of scholars, engineers, and administrators as it would restrict to the social reality controlled by concrete political forces i.e., the Communist Party. The artists however remained adamant in aiming to project the ‘What can be’ rather than projecting the ‘How affected they are’ as they believed that the latter connotation was the one which would catapult them and their artifacts into fame and positive audience response. This idea was in strict contravention to Stalin’s idea of art and aesthetic and therefore the Avant-grade movements were brought to a screeching halt.
Art in China also went through a similar trend. It also covered a similar journey from the muddle of styles and ideas, a large part of them being radical, to the art of prescribed aesthetics and purpose. Unlike Russia, China was influenced by Western art, both modern and traditional, in the 20th century. China switched to oil paint, leaving the traditional elite of art done mostly in ink. Numerous artists went to Europe and Japan and were exposed to new art practices such as painting still life and figure nudes. Artists were influenced by traditional European Art like that of the Renaissance and were equally perplexed by modern painters like Matisse or Picasso. As a result, many Chinese artists wanted to incorporate and integrate European practices into Chinese art, while some wanted to reform the whole Chinese-artistic discipline form within. This practice of incorporating and adapting newer paradigms with reference to art and literature continued into the 1930s as Chinese art transformed, reformed, pushed forward, and then explored itself in its whole entirety.
However, the same period saw a rise in a certain Modern Woodcut Movement led by Lu Xun. Hugely influenced by the Soviet Prophecy of Avant-grade art that leads to the destruction of the old, he inclined towards the realist school as well. Although he believed that art should not only be limited to a revolutionary message, he encouraged the idea of combining art with politics. In pursuance of combining art and politics together, he spread ideas in China by translating numerous Russian texts stressing realism art and the concept of Productionism. This eventually saw a rise of numerous woodcut groups creating rebellious art and organizing exhibitions exhibiting the same. Soon, the Sino-Chinese War happened and the relations with the outside world were significantly cut down, invariably giving rise to the realist school of art in China, running parallel with Russia.
Can China’s Common Prosperity become the Next Global Policy?
When confronted with China’s export machine—which produces everything from 5G telecoms gear to plastic Christmas trees and everything in between—a common complaint among Americans is that the US “doesn’t make anything anymore.” Americans produce more and better than anybody else the ideals and culture that make the contemporary world tick, from inalienable rights to Iron Man. China has long tried to reduce the gap, proposing ideas like “community of shared destiny” and “win-win cooperation,” but nothing has taken hold.
Xi Jinping, China’s president, may perhaps be onto something. Journalists, academics, and corporate leaders in China have embraced his latest watchword, “common prosperity,” with the zeal that only a tyrant can inspire. Common prosperity has primarily been a Chinese concept for internal use, but it may soon be exported. The concept might become a crucial node in Xi’s ever-expanding lexicon of rhetoric aimed at increasing Beijing’s influence in foreign affairs and reshaping the world order in China’s authoritarian interests.
One of the major successes of the post-World War II American world order was to establish democracy as the ultimate form of political organisation, the benchmark by which all countries are measured. Xi is questioning the significance of liberal ideas, which casts a pall on his brutal regime. His war of words is part of a larger battle for principles and ideas that could be just as essential for America’s future global supremacy as any other facet of the US-China conflict—economic, technological, or military. The outcome will have an impact on how the world views democracy, human rights, and open societies, as well as whether liberal political values can survive the rise of authoritarianism.
Common prosperity could be the hook Xi is looking for. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the idea of a fair economic policy that benefits the common man? It enables Xi to draw a clearer distinction between China’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and American-style unrestrained capitalism, allowing him to advocate China’s development model as a superior form of economic management for the rest of the world. “Common prosperity might occupy a crucial place in Beijing’s public diplomacy and in its fight with the West for ideological influence in global governance and international affairs,” Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Michael Hirson said in a recent paper.
In this way, Xi’s “common prosperity” is the polar antithesis of President Joe Biden’s “middle-class foreign policy.” While Biden’s aim is to refocus American foreign policy priorities to better protect workers and families at home, Xi’s strategy could be to change his foreign policy to transmit new and ostensibly fairer economic ideas from China to the rest of the globe.
The word is not new in and of itself. It has been used by Chinese Communists since the 1950s. Nonetheless, the increasing emphasis on common prosperity in state propaganda and the official language is a major policy shift. Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who pioneered free-market reforms in the late 1970s, famously defied Communist egalitarianism by acknowledging that if the country was to grow overall, certain individuals and areas of the country would have to get rich ahead of others. Despite promoting programmes to alleviate poverty and improve poorer provinces in the decades since the Chinese government has mostly let the billions fall where they may.
Xi is now returning to more socialist ideas, as he has in many aspects of his government. At a conference of top cadres in August, he began emphasising common prosperity, and it has since risen to the top of his government’s economic agenda. This new approach could be a political victory for Xi. The Communist Party’s antennas are always carefully tuned for potential sources of societal upheaval, and rising income disparities might be particularly dangerous. The approach permits him to act like a common man (rather than the privileged princeling he is) in order to improve his prospects of being re-elected to a third five-year term next year, which is still a sensitive subject in Chinese politics.
The concept is also economically sound. China, like many other countries, suffers from harmful income disparity. The severity of the problem is determined by how the data is sliced and diced. According to a 2019 study by economist Thomas Piketty, the share of the national income produced by the richest 10% of the Chinese population increased from 27% in 1978 to 41% in 2015, while the share earned by the bottom half fell from 27% to 15%. According to World Bank data, China’s wealth disparity is not as large as in the United States, but it is still more than in many other major economies, including France, Japan, India, and the United Kingdom. Reducing China’s reliance on debt-driven and frequently wasteful investment and replacing it with a healthy dose of consumer spending, which remains low relative to other nations, would help mend the economy’s stuttering growth engines.
Of course, how common prosperity is implemented will determine whether or not this occurs. It’s not quite obvious what common prosperity is or how it will be reached. In his essay, Xi clarified what it isn’t: It’s neither “neat and tidy egalitarianism,” which he defined as “falling into the trap of nurturing lazy people,” nor “welfarism,” which he defined as “fostering lazy people.” Xi also did not specify how shared prosperity will be realised, merely stating that it will be “essentially achieved” by mid-century when the income disparity is “narrowed to a reasonable range.” Xi provides us with primarily vague and broad concepts about how to reduce inequities in livelihood across different groups of society and the country.
Whatever the details, China’s foreign policy aligns well with common prosperity. Beijing already portrays itself as a fellow traveller with developing countries, as the underprivileged kid who made it big and now wants to give back. Xi describes his Belt and Road Initiative, which focuses on developing infrastructure, as a model of wealth distribution. “The programme has helped enhance people’s lives in participating countries and created more prospects for common prosperity,” Xi stated in 2019. Xi is increasingly promoting China’s authoritarian capitalism as superior to the standard Western menu of free markets and open societies for developing countries. Belt and Road is only one technique Beijing is using to push its economic ideals, according to Elizabeth Economy, a senior consultant to the US Commerce Department for China. “China has grown more confident in its efforts to export its state-centred political and economic model around the world,” she told a cabinet committee last year, with the goal of “ensuring that international norms and values line with and serve Chinese ideals and policy interests.” This campaign could include a focus on common prosperity. In other words, shared wealth would transform China into a beacon of hope for impoverished countries, just like the United States has always aimed to be.
Common prosperity, on the other hand, can only spread abroad if it thrives at home. It’s unclear when, or even if, this proposal will become an active policy. However, there are some concerning symptoms. Xi emphasised “giving full play to the key role of the public sector economy in boosting common prosperity,” which could suggest that the least productive and inventive state agencies and corporations will take the lead. Xi’s programme also has an anti-capitalist tinge to it. Policymakers, he said, should “resolutely reject the chaotic expansion of capital” and “fairly adjust high income,” whichever that term is defined.
As a result, if implemented with typical Communist zeal, common prosperity risks becoming a “levelling down” rather than “levelling up” process, in which the wealthy, entrepreneurial, and successful are harassed and hamstrung by an intrusive state, potentially draining the economy of its growth and innovative energies. However, if managed well—and that is a big if—China may offer innovative measures to help other countries achieve greater equality. Then there’s the possibility that “common prosperity” is merely another Xi Jinping term used to boost his political profile rather than the well-being of China’s impoverished. It’s difficult enough to come up with new things to market to the globe; coming up with new ideas is even more difficult.
Military Peril in Pakistan
The two-nation theory has been directly linked to India’s partition. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a 19th-century Muslim modernist and reformer, used the term “two nations,” which may have had something to do with the formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906, which was formed to preserve “Muslim interests, amid neglect and under-representation.”
Sir Muhammad Iqbal, a poet and philosopher, proposed an autonomous new state in “northwestern India for Indian Muslims” on December 29, 1930. “A Muslim in one country has considerably more sympathies with a Muslim in another country than with a non-Muslim living in the same country,” Muhammad Ali Jinnah said. As a result, “the socially right notion of Indian Muslims as a country may not be racially correct.” These viewpoints were only part of certain material prior to 1940, and they were not as important as they are now. These viewpoints were the result of the British aim of keeping Hindus and Muslims apart in order to maintain internal peace in India. However, there are secret documents that indicate the Western countries’ grand strategy. Pakistan was formed more as a result of the growing Cold War’s geostrategic imperatives than the two-nation idea.
Why Pakistan Exists
The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States had already begun in 1947. Over two centuries, the USSR has vowed to advance south through Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to reach the Arabian Sea’s warm waters (Indian Ocean). As they governed the world through their colonies, the British had always feared this menace. After 1945, the US assumed the role of world hegemon, and the security danger posed by Russia to the globe became a challenge to the US. After World War II ended in 1945, it seemed obvious that India would gain independence.
The withdrawal of the British Army from India would allow the Soviet war machine to invade the subcontinent. India had made it clear to Western nations that its security will be indigenous, not outsourced. India was unwilling to place its military under foreign command. The geostrategic hole could only be filled if the Allies established a buffer zone and controlled it with a native force. Because the British had failed to conquer Afghanistan three times, it was ruled out. The only option to break the impasse was to construct a British or American-controlled zone outside of India in the North West. The British Indian Army will provide the security personnel for this corridor. And it was Jinnah and the two-nation idea that carried out this approach.
Pakistan Army and the State
The US boosted the Pakistan Army in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. As a result, the Pakistan Army was given advanced equipment. Because it believed it was a vital component in global politics, the army grew powerful, and the generals began to look down on politicians, wanting their own strategic space. Pakistan’s political-strategic arena has shrunk to the point where a military coup was unavoidable.
In order to control greater assets, the army ignored the growth of the people. To justify its existence, it transformed Pakistan into a security-seeking state (over-emphasizing the threat from India), with a strong army seen as a requirement for the country’s survival. Pakistan’s first military coup occurred early in the country’s history, when President Iskander Mirza violated the Constitution and imposed martial law on October 27, 1958, appointing General Ayyub Khan as the top martial law administrator. Ayub Khan deposed Iskander Mirza thirteen days later. That was Pakistan’s final glimpse of democracy. Pakistan’s army has maintained control after this occurrence. Since then, they have been in charge of the defence and foreign affairs portfolios. The Pakistani army is primarily responsible for dealing with external threats, although it is also active in domestic matters.
Pakistan Army and Nationalism
Pakistan’s formation as a nation-state was a hastily conceived concept based on religious ideology. Nationalism was founded on religion. The well-connected, powerful class that flourished under British tutelage were more secular at the time of independence, and religion was a governing element for them, thus there was no sense of nationalism. They saw Partition as an opportunity and seized possession of all the riches and assets that were loosely claimed, amassing vast sums of money in Pakistan’s early years. This evolved into the feudal system that today governs Pakistan. This class desired to protect their money, so they built an army and recruited officers of their choosing, resulting in a symbiotic link between wealth and security. This expanded the army’s involvement in domestic politics. “The army’s image of itself, its domestic role, and Pakistan’s strategic environment will be the most crucial determinants in moulding Pakistan’s fate,” Stephen Cohen wrote in 2004.
In its inherited splendour, the Pakistan military imitated a colonial authority in its own country, alienating the people. General Zia-ul Haq attempted to restore communication with the people of Pakistan through Islam, which he saw as a great unifier. In the name of religion, he expected the people to willingly give up their few resources to support the army. (This sparked religious fervour in Pakistan.) Every Pakistan Army chief has frequently stated that Islam is their philosophy. These chiefs’ logic has been to achieve some level of national cohesion and attract support in the never-ending battle with India. The Pakistan Army has squandered the people’s resources by launching four useless and destructive wars against India, none of which have resulted in a victory and the loss of East Pakistan. The Indus Valley was undivided into India’s most fertile and rich region. It’s depressing to see how bad things have gotten.
The Pakistan Army’s most catastrophic blunder, which dates back to 1947, is its ties to terrorism. It has created an unethical terrorist force that it refers to as a strategic asset. Poor families with religious motives urge jihadis to commit terrorist attacks. The army has mastered the art of using terror to some extent. Brigadier S.K. Malik’s book Quranic Concept of War explains the use of terror very well. General Zia-ul Haq ordered that all officers in the Pakistan Army carry the book. Terrorism has utility for a while, but when it turns against you, it nearly always becomes a liability. Pakistan is struggling to maintain control of this force and is now facing international sanctions.
Pakistan has had a string of unfortunate incidents. Its revisionist policies are driving the country into bankruptcy. And its efforts to maintain the state’s security are jeopardising the state’s integrity, if not its existence.
The Military Regime Conundrum
The need to curb the expansionist state’s involvement in grassroots administration has made ‘Western’ academics cry themselves hoarse. However, in Pakistan, you do not have to be concerned about this. Indeed, some analysts argue that power must be established first in emerging countries before it can be curtailed later because the sheer amount of what is expected of the state effectively demands ad hoc decision-making. Long-term structural reforms are largely ignored. And the voters respond entirely to the brave, unselfish monarchs who, every now and then, descend from their thrones to deliver momentary gratification before returning to their abodes.
As a result, massive administrative vacuums persist in Pakistan, leaving everyone at the mercy of malicious forces. Natural and man-made disasters periodically show the shortcomings of our civilian systems, and we continue to rely on the military’s excellent performance in times of crisis. The administration’s problems are exacerbated by even more severe political instability. Ineffective politicians rush about in vain, attempting to restore some order and method to the chaos that they helped to create. Understandably, they are worried about re-election, but we appear to be stuck with a particularly bad bunch who have entirely abandoned the very people who elect them.
Perhaps, in the spirit of forgiveness, politicians seek out possibilities that will only benefit them personally. After all, the wealthy people in Pakistan are either directly involved in politics or allied with one political party or another for a reason. In order to sustain a condition of permanent upheaval – and with it, the necessity for an antidote to this mess – instability has also been produced through covert ways. Because of the elected leaders’ poor performance, there is always enough ammunition for this activity.
Frequently, politicians and political parties’ poor performance allows the security establishment to quietly sneak a few measures here and there to suggest what should be done to address the situation. Because repairing the situation would require severe decisions (which Pakistani politicians despise), the populace feels that only the military could truly clean up the country. Politicians and bureaucrats stammer and stumble in volatile times, and the dominoes fall where they may.
Lessons for Taiwan from the Russia-Ukraine War
There is no doubt about the fact that the recent vicious invasion of Ukraine at the hands of Russia has sent the whole world in a flurry of serious thoughts, stress, anxiety, panic, and shock. Numerous small countries are constantly in a state of fear that the actions akin to the Russians on Ukraine, can be replicated on their soils as well. Seeing the devastations that Russian bombs and missiles have wrought upon once-tranquil Ukrainian cities have made instigated Taiwan to become more alert and vigilant against the potential threat, China. Having a similar motive as that of Putin, the Chinese Communist Party also seeks to annex Taiwan, despite having never ruled it, and eliminate Taiwanese identity. Many Taiwanese, drawing inferences from Ukraine’s current reality as something that could befall their homeland, have resorted to planning to secure citizenship elsewhere while a few of them are determined to stay and fight. This determination and willingness to fight against the mighty China, who for the record hasn’t fought a single war since 1979, has gained robust momentum since the Ukrainian government, civil society and diaspora have responded to Russia’s onslaught with gusto. While the military preparations are at play, Taiwan can learn much more effective lessons in the areas of public diplomacy, representation at the UN, strategic communications, cyber defense, etc.
Public Diplomacy and global representation have played a vital role for Ukraine in keeping its side and presenting its piece to the whole world. The words or dialogue in response to heavy missiles and bombarding may appear to be insignificant but have rather landed huge global support and also laid the foundation for newer strategies and plans. Furthermore, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s entertainment background has also been a key influencer in projecting the serious image of Ukraine’s dire condition to other democratic nations. The regular tweets and Instagram updates of the foreign calls with other democratic counterparts have pressed the big democracies in the world to lend their support and leaders to chalk out defense plans. The idea of putting and publicizing every small update and discussion out on social media in front of domestic as well as global audiences has not only inclined the world towards Ukraine but has also pushed Russia into the palisade.
The Public diplomacy technique has resulted in many welcome visits from several EU and NATO member governments to Ukraine during the invasion to signal support on the international stage. Furthermore, the Ukrainian society has also showcased the ideological conflict as a battle between autocracies and democracies to bind together and build more support with other democratic partners globally. The Ukraine government has also pushed its Twitter stint up a notch by categorically tagging the Chinese administration in their tweets and invariably asking them to clarify their stance on the whole matter between Russia and Ukraine to reflect that upon other democratic states as well. Taiwan therefore, must pursue, adapt and incorporate these creative tangents of public diplomacy via social media to build more goodwill with democratic partners the world over as desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Ukrainian government and its foreign allies didn’t just get hyper-active during the invasion but were exceedingly and remarkably transparent even during the onset of the war. The government did not shy away from using its intelligence agencies in the lead-up to and throughout the invasion, shedding light on Russia’s motives. The news of Russia setting up troops along the boundaries of Ukraine was already out in the open thanks to the United States Intelligence officials. The US while addressing several outlets also actively denied and negated Russia’s false pretexts and claims made in furtherance of justifying the invasion. Under the US’s umbrella shade, Ukraine’s government social media accounts have also worked in pursuance of mobilizing support and international sympathy. This strategic coordination amongst democratic countries in turn resulted in a unified front in terms of security arrangements, sanctions, and export controls. The key aspect here for Taiwan to draw inference from is the way Ukraine has managed to bust its classified top-intelligence agencies’ protocol to put it in its crude form to the outside world. The narrative, though very unusual, can extend to a great deed in the events of hostilities with China and possibly can yield better results. Therefore, Taiwan officials must eye to build international coalitions and foil Chinese intelligence activities.
The only place where Russians could not impose their brute force was the cyber hub. The Ukrainian government and the whole civil society built out several mechanisms to protect critical infrastructure from cyber intrusions carried out by Russian military-affiliated hacking groups and organizations. These groups are not independent but rather well funded by foreign countries and therefore have been able to take down several Russian government websites ever since the invasion began. For instance, one of the ad-hoc mechanisms, the IT (Information Technology) Army now has more than 400,000 members actively working there, which have valiantly taken down the Belarusian railway network, Russian banks, and financial institutions, and even Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB. For Taiwan, it is necessary for the government to encourage and promote ethical hacking and further reach out to Taiwanese hacktivists abroad, to shore up protections for their critical infrastructure and attack Chinese websites in course of a Chinese invasion.
Taiwan’s ongoing preparation
Taiwan has drawn up significant inferences from Ukraine’s colossal damage, especially concerning dealing with human traumas. For instance, a Taiwanese doctor Wang Tzu-Hsuan, a women surgeon in a typically male-dominated field in the state has decided to stay back and further educate medical officials about the incoming threat of hostile events. She has decided to diversify and broaden her medical skills from her usual thyroid, liver, pancreatic and intestinal surgeries to include trauma- namely bullet and shrapnel wounds. Although, gun and bomb violence are almost non-existent in Taiwan now that the Russian-Ukraine war is on the song, the threat from China has concretized even more. Wang has, therefore, approached local groups to devise and design ways to prepare a generation of surgeons who have never experienced war for the realities of conflict.
Along with individual concerns, the Russia-Ukraine war has also set political discourse ablaze. Taiwan politicians are using the war to rationalize their views on China. While the ruling party headed by Tsai Ing-wen justifies its 5 years of buying weapons from the US, the opposition party, on the other hand, has accused the ruling party of its on-and-off frenemy with the Communists over the past century. Furthermore, the former commander of Taiwan’s military has called for the formation of a territorial defense force to deter China’s ambition.
While Taiwan eyes to incorporate significant learnings from Ukraine, China is already learning from the mistakes that Russia committed. The current invasion is reduced to a double disaster for Russian President Putin as he faces serious economic sanctions from global whilst having a poorly performing military resting in the attic. The Chinese Communist Party has also experienced such situations in the past as well and therefore it is very unlikely that Beijing, in today’s time and age would reiterate the Russian footsteps. Therefore, is actively looking and deliberately working to fix many of the problems and minimize the risks currently plaguing Russia in Ukraine. While China’s economy and army both are larger and more diversified than Taiwan’s, overestimating their role in a situation of hostility or ‘war’ would be akin to getting off on the wrong foot. The same kind of unabashed overconfidence is what overweighed on Russia. Russia’s air-ground coordination simply ceased to have any effect as Russian forces showed extremely risk-averse tendencies in the air. Russia also struggled with logistics, especially concerning the military supply in Ukraine.
Given the wave of battles between autocracy and democracy, countries like Russia and China pose a significant threat to smaller democracies like Ukraine and Taiwan. Therefore, to protect, preserve and uphold the essence of democratic sovereignty in smaller and united democratic territories, nations of a common system of governance need to come together and share vital information, strategies, and ideas to keep themselves afloat and often come out victors in course of war and hostilities.
COVID-19 – A Disaster Management baggage or A National Security Concern?
As COVID-19 cases start to intensify again after a short and peaceful interlude, the viral disease again stresses the issue that whether the disease is just a mere health emergency confided to its medical liabilities, or is it a National Security concern at large as it ostensibly affects the decisive decade i.e., 2020-2030. The Covid outbreak has conveniently presented an opportunity to reconsider the current emergency and disaster-response authorities. Not only has the disease threatened the well-being of the nation and its population but also has diverted the attention and resources of the government away from other national security threats. Hence, it is necessary for a country like India to explore and amend the old statutory framework that simply negates the healthcare challenges as national security threats. Furthermore, the geographical challenges which India anticipates with respect to China in terms of war increases manifold ever since the controversy regarding Covid-virus being synthesized in Wuhan’s lab has surfaced. The controversy did not gain major traction with WHO and other global authorities brushing it away by calling it a baseless narrative. However, if at all there is a possibility of the virus being intentionally homegrown or domestically synthesized, India should put its guards up against a major biological war.
It was on March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump invoked the National Emergency Act and the Stafford Act in response to the novel coronavirus. It was the first time that a leader of a State equated a Health crisis to a National Emergency. Needless to say, the risks of Covid were exceedingly high and the casualties caused were also unparalleled. Therefore, as the well-being of the nation was threatened and the attention and resources of the government were diverted into one single crisis as opposed to other major risks, calling it a National Security concern is simply textbook-accurate. However, the current US Federal Law is rusted when it comes to dealing with high-risk virus outbreaks that have catastrophic consequences. While it acknowledges that disease outbreaks as potential threats to national security, the orientation however is statutorily limited in preparation and prevention but has absolutely no strategical way out once the disease spreads domestically. The organization of emergency response in Federal Law presently is unilateral as opposed to the disease in hand which is rather multi-lateral.
Covid-19 has not yet perished and it is highly unlikely that it is the last one of its kind. Future diseases with more serious casualties are likely to occur again as also attested by Bill Gates in one of his Ted Talks Speeches. Hence it is necessary that disaster response and national security should not be branched into two separate paradigms by the policymakers and must be conjoined into one. Acknowledging public health crisis naturally constitutes national security and is, therefore, an important conceptual step. Hence as for the US, the Federal Law must fill up the gaps that Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on. For instance, invoking National Emergency Act was surely a brilliant move but it lacked execution. It was not exactly Congress but the law, in general, that was weak. The nature of the said statute is such that the Federal structure takes a back seat when the provision is invoked and consequently the states are left with a very large leadership vacuum which is an absolute necessity in response to such a crisis., As a result, President Donald Trump and his cabinet were widely criticized for this move as the underlying statutory framework limits the federal government’s involvement in disaster response.
On the other hand, New Zealand under the able leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern garnered lavish global praise for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic exceedingly well. While, thinkers and authorities like Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations believe that the nation has an advantage of a relatively isolated location which invariably means that the country has far fewer visitors from China or other infected areas. In addition, the director also contended that the country is also small and rich with a population widely spread out, and therefore, the success of Kiwis cannot be replicated in a populous country like the US. However, the arguments appear to be mere evasive assumptions, and credit to New Zealand’s administration must be given on all accounts, especially for taking immediate cognizance of the disease, unlike President Donald Trump who completely trivialized the issue when it first surfaced.
India’s imminent need to take cognizance of Bio-Warfare
With a strong sense of ‘We are in this together’ echoing around the world, there has been a fair share of blame game amongst the countries as well. While the infamous ‘virus escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology’ remains at the top of the ‘it’s your fault’ pyramid, the US remains second. And it’s China that has blamed the US Army for bringing the Virus to their country. Chinese diplomacy has simply rested its argument on the fact that the virus was engineered in the US and was deliberately sent to China to halt the country’s progress. The blame game will continue to exist suiting to different political spheres of distinct nations. However, it is imperative for India to consider, collocate and confidently approach the possibility of bioterrorism.
Indian military at large is not as technologically advanced as the militaries of China and the US. Although training programs concerning chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, the programs are on the back burner stewing in their own resourceless gravy. Furthermore, the country has a wide population with health facilities already taking a knee due to this pandemic. Thus, the possibility of a bio-warfare happening is indicative of India already sitting on a virus time-bomb. Japan has already taken cognizance of the matter and has started building its response against a bio-terror attack. For the first time, the country has imported five types of live viruses – Ebola, Marburg, Lass, Crimean-Congo, and South American viruses to study detection and precaution measures. Something, which India does not actively intend to do.
Another reason why India must not dismiss the possibility of a bio-war attack in the near future is simply the rise in the number of Bio-genetics labs in the US, China, and other states. While Iran and North Korea are believed to possess chemical weapons, countries like the US, Europe, Russia, and Australia also have around 50 functioning or under-construction security labs solely for the study of dangerous pathogens and churn out efficient results for their respective countries. In addition, virus sensors are largely ineffective and hence it becomes increasingly easy for a terrorist to simply ferry a contagion to other countries. The said virus can be mixed with powders, and aerosol sprays or can be infected through main, envelopes, or newspapers.
Chemical weapons were recently used in Afghanistan where people were seen suffering from blisters, severe anxiety, etc. Pertinent to mention, China endorsing and recognizing the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the nation experiencing biochemical attack episodes projects a highly probable image of the former vehemently supplying the latter with weapons and armory. Therefore India, on all accounts, must not be an ostrich for biochemical or genetic warfare in the coming future. While the United Nations explicitly bans the use of chemical weapons, the regulations are only bound to the member countries and thus can easily be used by an adversary. Quoting the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, a country like India must be prepared for all kinds of threat.
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