In a decision taken by elements of the bureaucracy working with a silo mentality, electric vehicles from the PRC are to be given easier entry into India

by M D Nalapat

Functioning in silos has long been a feature of administration in India, and the consequence has often been that much too narrow a view gets taken when individual decisions get made even on major matters. At present, a situation exists where a state of hybrid war exists between India and a neighbour to the north that is intent on stunting our country’s economic progress and destabilizing its society. For quite some time, this columnist has been pointing to the danger caused by the deliberate spread of disinformation intended to sway attitudes in segments of society that overall would hurt the interests of the population. Just as there is a “WhatsApp University”, there is also a “TikTok University”, and even more potentially harmful, a “TikTok High School” for the very young in several countries, whose outpourings have become the accepted wisdom of hundreds of millions of youth in the major democracies.

Only in India did PM Modi recognize the danger and ban TikTok. Soon after Hamas carried out an unexpected terror attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 using methods unexpected by security agencies in the world’s only Jewish State, both TikTok School and TikTok University were soon flooded with messaging that emphasised not the brutality of the 7 October attack but the response of the Israeli Defence Forces to it.

There has been almost no mention in TikTok world about the way in which Hamas created and administered a reign of repression in Gaza, and the way in which residents of Gaza who deviated in their thinking and actions from the extremist line fundamental to the ideology of Hamas have been brutally dealt with. Fifteen years of savage repression of the people of Gaza went unmentioned, but in fifteen days of the IDF response to the 7 October attack, almost immediately there appeared a flood of reports in the US version of TikTok that demonised Israel and characterised IDF responses to the 7 October attack as being of the same genre as Hitlerite atrocities that were committed during World War II.

Each such message competed with others in portraying the IDF as a band of thugs intent on making innocent civilians suffer collective punishment for the Hamas terror attack on Israel. Small wonder that campuses across the US erupted in student fury. Thus far, President Joe Biden has not shut down TikTok in his country and the consequences of such indecision are playing out on campuses before him, harming his chances for a second term.

The 7 October terror attack was unexpected, despite several signs signalling the intent of Hamas to inflict such a blow in order to strengthen its credentials within the West Bank as the only “resistance” movement against Israel. As a consequence, the carefully scripted communications strategy that needs to accompany the use of overwhelming kinetic force by Israel was absent from the battlefield. Shortly after 7 October, TikTok High School and TikTok University were ready with their alternate perspective, which had the effect of casting cadres of Hamas, a votary of extremist hate, including denying the right of the Jewish people to exist, as innocent victims.

Through TikTok mostly, Hamas succeeded in hiding behind the Palestinian people, most of whom are moderate. Across the world, one-sided perceptions about Israel have been amplified, including in the PRC version of TikTok, Douyin, which is wholly different in intent and content from its counterparts in democracies. Efforts are ongoing by legislators to deprive Byte Dance, a company entirely under the control of the CCP, of control over TikTok in the US. The PRC-based company is using the courts to argue that “freedom of speech” is getting impaired by such moves.

When such freedom gets used to systematically foment hatred and violence within a democratic society and polity, it does not nourish democracy but weakens it. The harm done by toxic manufactured messaging by hostile states within democracies, including through covert elements of hostile powers embedded in domestic platforms, is palpable.

In a decision taken by elements of the bureaucracy working with a silo mentality, electric vehicles from the PRC are to be given easier entry into India. Given the commitment to protecting national security of PM Modi, the Prime Minister’s Office needs to step in on the basis of the adverse security and environmental implications of such a decision. The ease of embedding electric vehicles with trojans in the form of malware that are designed to garner information, including conversations, is the reason why several countries are reviewing their earlier lax policies regarding entry of electric vehicles from the PRC.

India needs to do the same, including because Indian domestic EV brands are on the edge of becoming world beaters in the field. Experts say that the life cycle of charging of batteries in PRC EVs is much lower than that of models developed by Indian or US manufacturers, thereby ensuring that PRC EVs, although initially cheaper to buy, will have a much higher cost over their lifecycle than competing brands. As for used EV batteries, more will need to be disposed of, and sooner, where PRC EVs are concerned. This would increase the risk of environmental damage, especially the absence of adequate supervision and safe storage of used batteries in parts of India. Trojans that are sent in by hostile states need to be met by a comprehensive ban on any such entry.

(With reporting by Sunday Guardian Live)