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Pegasus and the Securitization of Politics

But since it is difficult for a ruler to be both feared and loved, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two must be lacking.

- The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli Ch. 17., 1532

Dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and coercive power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge would make impossible all of the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends.

- The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes., 1651

Image Credits: Sri Lanka Mirror

The State was awake as the nation slept when the news broke about the horrors of a creeping Surveillance State allegedly snooping on the citizens’ privacy. A Series of reports by a global consortium of seventeen media outlets “exposed” the invisible hands and eyes behind the violation of our privacy which was in recent history declared as a Constitutionally guaranteed and protected Fundamental Right. Soon a question erupted in our collective psyche: If so, who will protect the Fundamental Right(s) in practice? Fundamentally speaking, why should a State surveil its citizenry? How do we understand the scope and legitimacy of State Power in a postmodern order?

The facts of the report about alleged surveillance are as follows: So far, 115 names of individuals belonging to several areas of interest (to the government) have been announced by an independent web portal, The Wire, which was part of the consortium called “Pegasus Project”. The individuals are part of academia, media, social, and political activism, Rights groups, legal profession etc. In a response to the questionnaire sent to NSO Group which supplies Pegasus software, it stated that the software is sold only to 36 “vetted governments” across the world and denied any role of private entities in the sale or purchase of the software. The report interestingly notes that countries ranging from absolute autocracies to “semi-democracies” or flawed democracies across continents are clients of NSO.

Image Credits: Trends Wallet

My argument is as follows: The postmodern politico-structural and functional formations have created new vulnerabilities among the global population. These vulnerabilities are the sources of mass consent for greater usurpation of power and the rise of a surveillance state thereof. Security has become a new idiom of political mobilization and therefore securitization of politics.

The phase of the end of the Cold War can be characterised by Post-Westphalian conceptions of sovereignty, interventionism – political and military, new vulnerabilities surrounding identity and States. Particularly in the post-9/11 world order, States have been displaced by non-State entities as sources of violence and instability. The emergence of a post-conventional category of worldwide conflict particularly predominant in West Asia and South-East Asia has been the source of vulnerabilities that Mary Kaldor refers to as “New Wars”. She argues, postmodern post-conventional conflicts are the results of contradictory evolution of globalization – diversification and homogenization, globalisation and localization, fragmentation and integration. States and identities are conflated to create new meaning in a postmodern order in her assessment of global conflicts.

The saturation of the decolonization process and the end of the Cold War resulted in new claims of recognition and self-determination among identity groups, particularly in post-colonial societies. In the context of India, the Kashmir question, the emergence of post-conventional and asymmetric warfares with non-State terrorist groups created questions about national disintegration, identity and security. The identitarian notion of security has raised questions about sectarian mobilization, graded hierarchisation of identity and majority-minority relations in a democracy.

The imaginations of persecution are constructed due to exposure to violence and absence of security in an increasingly uncertain and unconventional world are often perpetuated with the media sensationalization of “war and violence as spectacle”. The hyperreal construction of violence, “the performativity of narration” seizes the link between the “reality” of violence and the “imageries” of violence in the mediation. Therefore, the function of media transforms from being an aggregation of discourse and means of sorting questions of legitimacy to disoriented political mobilization rooted in collectivised hysteria and a sense of helplessness resulting in a permanent sense of fear and anxiety.

The mass consent for a powerful State and surveillance takes two forms: State sovereignty by institutionalising laws designed to enforce political obligations and State sovereignty by acquisition or the consent of the masses. Therefore, the pathology of State power in enforcing political obligations is rooted in a perpetual State of nature: “Restless desire for power after power that drives all of us will lead to a warre of every man against every man”.

When the Indian State becomes hostile towards the civil society by employing the coercive apparatus of the State like using IT department as tools or police to act as clients of the State or in the case of Pegasus surveils the acts of the citizens, it is acting upon the consent of the masses within a framework of democracy to enforce obligation from the civil society members towards the will of the State.

Image Credits: Outlook India

In the perpetual state of nature of brutish war, violence and mutual distrust, the State becomes a point of reference as well as reliance for the masses as the source of security. Ronald Krebs argues in his assessment of the securitization of politics that three contemporary developments have enabled consolidation of State Power – the rise of the transnational, communications and technology revolution & the fragmentation of authority and community. These historical processes have complicated and fragmented constituencies for mobilisation. Combining this with the new vulnerabilities has created subjectivities for the State to become the aggressor.

While the State is an aggressor, it operates within the framework of constant fear of the other and Fortuna as Machiavelli writes. Fortuna for him is the opposite of virtù. Fortuna implies that the ruler must be unambiguous in his pursuit of power and sociality., That “the intolerance of ambiguity is a mark of an authoritarian personality”. When we read that even the close associates or the supposed inner circles of the government of India were the targets of surveillance, it reflects a Machiavellian pursuit of power at the suppression of even the potential “enemies”. The Pegasus issue mimics the antiquity and contemporary of intimidation and power.


By Nikhil Jois K.S.

Nikhil Jois K.S. is a politics and philosophy enthusiast. He finds solace in Indian Classical Music. He is an aspiring civil servant. He studies History, Economics and Political Science at Christ University, Bangalore.