Rajasthan Assembly polls: Vasundhara Raje may get thumbs down from business community over frequent internet shutdowns, agitations

Jaipur: Rajasthan — a state often associated with valour and pride — was hit by a series of violent clashes and protests, especially with internet shutdowns affecting the bottom line of online ventures, during Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s tenure.

According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, the Congress-led Rajasthan witnessed about 7,820 cases of agitation between 2009 and 2012. This number shot up to 13,824 between 2013 and 2016. (Follow live updates on Rajasthan Assembly Election here).

File image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. PTI

File image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. PTI

National Crime Records Bureau statistics show that in 2014, 2015, and 2016, Rajasthan was the state with the highest number of cases of unlawful assembly under Sections 143, 144, and 145 of the Indian Penal Code. More than 11,700 such incidents were reported between 2014-16. The numbers are expected to swell further for the 2017-2018 period, which saw the Dalit-SC/STs protests, Padmaavat protests and farmers’ agitation.

Political analysts say Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s inaccessibility and her inability to move things are a major cause of distress.

“In a democracy, whoever is in power needs to provide the basic opportunity of hearing. When the doors are shut all the time, then people will come out, protest, and organise bandhs,” said Narayan Bareth, a Jaipur-based senior journalist and political analyst.

He cited the death of former MLA Gurusharan Chabra, who died while fasting for the prohibition of liquor even as the state refused to heed him. He further pointed out that even during farmers’ massive protest in Sikar, the government waited for more than 10 days to invite them for a dialogue. He said this approach of the government is not a good example of democracy.

According to a recent report on digital blackouts, published by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Rajasthan stands second in imposing the highest number of internet shutdowns in the country, following strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir. The total number of ordered internet shutdowns in Rajasthan during 2016 and 2017 cost the state $89.92 million, the report stated.

It mentioned how internet shutdown cost an online jewellery store half of its business and affected a Jaipur-based e-tailer of apparels in multiple ways. Not only did the shutdown cut this company off from prospective customers but also threw a spanner in its communication with designers and delivery team. The report explained how small businesses have come to heavily rely on WhatsApp for coordination and how unplugging this lifeline affects them.

Among the default casualties of the internet shutdown are cab aggregators, food-delivery platforms and other local e-commerce and mobile-based firms.

An area sales manager of a food-delivery app who requested to identify neither him nor his company said they witness 8-15 percent loss in transaction volume every time there is an embargo on the internet. He said it’s usually on weekends when food delivery platforms get more business but it was mostly on Sundays that internet was suspended in Rajasthan this year. He said his firm must have lost about 15,000 orders on every weekend when internet was snapped. He called this a major blow to their bottom line.

He added that many daily-wage employees rely on companies such as theirs for their bread and butter, earning about Rs 300-400 a day. He said every day of internet shutdown means their 2,000-strong delivery team remains unpaid.

Rishabh Jain, co-founder of Qriyo, an app that helps students find home tutors, said the B2C business gets affected no matter what the government says. He underlined that right from enquiry, demand and supply, every step in their service delivery requires customers to use their mobile phone. He said every hour of internet shutdown costs them business. He said they have incurred 10-15% loss in the months the state saw the suspension of mobile internet.

Gaurav Parashar, co-founder of online tutorial platform ExamBazaar, said if internet in Rajasthan is down, the state-based users of the website will be unable to access the information, thereby causing the company a loss of about 10 percent. Further, he said if they are unable to update their website, it erodes their brand value.

Despite the 2017 Supreme Court directive, which allows internet shutdowns in case of public emergencies or matters of national security, the Rajasthan government resorted to a complete internet blockade even during government examinations to avoid leaking of question papers.

“You cannot bomb a city to catch a terrorist. There are other ways to spread rumours except for the internet. Though digital blackouts contain spreading of rumours, it also eliminates access to basic services like banking, electricity and power. Ultimately problems will be faced by end users,” said Ajay Data, CEO of Data Infosys, a Jaipur-based IT company.

Widespread impact

Apart from the ban on the internet, violent agitations have also been taking a toll on the state’s economic output. The high-pitched protests against Bollywood movie Padmaavat, violence and vandalism by the Gurjars for quota in government jobs and higher education institutes, the bandh by Dalits that caused deaths and loss of property and farmers’ massive protest are just a few of the recent major demonstrations that have thrown life out of gear in India’s largest state.

Often, arson accompanies these agitations. Vehicles are torched, railway tracks damaged, buildings pelted with stones and people killed. Shopkeepers in affected areas do not do business until normalcy returns, the involuntary day off affecting their balance sheet.

Aslam Khan, manager of an apparel store in Jaipur, said their outlet doesn’t function on the days of the bandh. He said this results in a loss of as much as 20 percent in a month, depending on the number of days the bandh is enforced. Anil Kumar, managing director of a Jaipur-based BPO, said his employees were attacked en route office during the Dalits’ protest in April.

Commenting on the impact of such protests, Lakshminarayan Nathuramka, a senior economist from Rajasthan said, that all agitations are anti-growth. He said they cause huge economic losses and affect the construction industry and development-related work in particular. Nathuramka said that the Planning Commission was dissolved four years ago and that now there is no government authority at the central level to monitor the impact of bandhs and agitations.

The author is a Jaipur - based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.

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Updated Date: Dec 07, 2018 12:23:57 IST

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