Rishi Sunak, a foreign-born prime minister of another country, has been ‘appropriated’ by Indians because of his family’s undeniable roots. He has their attention though not necessarily affection as, arguably, he has given them a sense of ‘achievement’. That it is Britain with which India has had bitter-sweet relations helps, also thumbing the nose at Winston Churchill who had foreseen a grim future for India and Indians. The problematic part is if Sunak does not ‘favour’ India, he will become Brutus.
However, something Churchill did not say sticks. Sunak is hailed as the “first Hindu”, although some from the diaspora in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean region preceded him. He is welcome as a “Saraswat Brahmin” by those who grudgingly overlook his holding platefuls of beef produced by his electors, in the same hands that worship Hindu deities.
These are but a few contradictions Indians live with. They resent being reminded that they rejected an Italian-born widow to be an Indian prime minister in spite of being the president of a party that had elected British-born presidents before.
The Sunak euphoria seems many times more than that experienced two years ago and has since vanished, about United States vice president Kamala Harris. Any suggestion that this could be because Kamala is also African and a Black is bound to be rebuffed.
Harris prides herself on her connection to her Indian mother, personally and culturally, but not politically. She represents the US, after all, just as Nicki Haley did as a Donald Trump administration officer. Haley did not mince words in telling India what the Americans expected. So, beware, Sunak.
Indians are getting smarter. Their adulation is not absolute. A Preeti Patel or a Suella Bowerman, despite their Indian connections, has not won their approval because they oppose Indian ‘over-stayers’ in Britain.
All this is neither about diaspora nor about differing affections of Indians who appropriate or abhor them. It is about how conflicting sentiments have played, and are playing in public discourse where aggression and intolerance have come to rule. Sunak’s election and the day earlier, the cricket match that India won over Pakistan, are only the latest occasions.
The two events that added spark to the Diwali celebrations last month generated a parody – yes, a parody — of how they were supposedly viewed by some known critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party.
It would take a genius, even of the argumentative Indian to connect the two events to the usual suspects: writer-activist Arundhati Roy, TV anchors Nidhi Razdan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Ravish Kumar et al; Congressman Shashi Tharoor, Rahul Gandhi’s advisor Sam Pitroda, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Modi-baiter journalist Rana Ayub. The common thread linking them and many more, with quotations attributed to them, was that these ‘anti-nationals’ had ignored, tweaked, condemned or belittled the two historic ‘achievements’.
Views, even on imaginary things and events are fine. I may be wasting your time and mine on this parody. But many actually believed the alleged statements to be true and aggressively condemned them. I was a target of many ‘friends’, some long-time acquaintances, who insisted that I also condemn them. My plea that they were merely a figment of some professional troll’s fertile imagination made them turn their guns at me.
Not a new trend, this has been around for some years. Many on social media have become aggressive, howsoever docile they may be in their real lives, practising and preaching non-violence.
The war of “Forwards” in the media often takes Mahabharata-like proportions with the Pandava-Kaurava binary. The battle lines (minus Krishna, though) are neatly drawn.
They go well beyond political issues. Even ‘magic’ cures and preventions during the Covid-19 pandemic (although some may be genuine) were bandied about as medical Gospel that you dare not question. A convenient three-word caution, “sent as received” means none takes responsibility. The level of conformity with the unknown, untested and unverified is complete.
Forget the less privileged, it is worrying when even the educated middle-class exercises no discretion and turns blind believers. That they seek to impose their beliefs on others makes it worse. The irony is that those aggressively propagating their viewpoint, even ‘forwards’, want everyone else to stay objective and neutral.
One hears of families being divided on issues that do not necessarily affect them in their daily lives. It jeopardizes harmony and relationships. The time when people disagreed and moved on is over in this era of ‘un-friending’ and ‘blocking’.
Going beyond being argumentative, we have become my-views-or-none. We have stopped rationalizing. We have stopped being accommodative. And this could come with abuse – damn the civility that supposedly comes with education.
Numerous reports indicate how word spread through social media apps has led to sectarian and political violence. Since it is an individual act of participating in collective information/ misinformation, generated without physical participation, the authority is helpless and is often late in responding.
The Supreme Court recently condemned hate speech. Possibly, it was using an all-inclusive but neutral term to cover all forms of hatred. It could not be unaware of this daily occurrence that heightens during elections – and India is in election mode all the time.
Save a few newspaper editorials, did anyone in the government(s), or in any political party, endorse the court’s observations and warn their employees and cadres? It was mainly the political class. Now even some bureaucrats have also begun to get controversial. Just how many ministers, MPs, MLAs and other elected representatives have been brought to book for hate speech?
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wants photos of Lakshmi to be printed on one side of the currency notes, the other side retaining that of Mahatma Gandhi. He may be wanting to ‘trap’ the Modi Government and outperform the Hindutva political plank. But he must be naïve not to know that many people, particularly young whose peers have themselves gone hateful and wayward, want Gandhi to be removed altogether. Basics are being questioned. That points to the level of hatred.
Is it any surprise that this aggression, individual or collective, fed on social media, but also by mainstream media through TRP-driven television channels and websites, has numbed the public mind into accepting the most unjust when it is staring in their faces?
People who thronged the streets ten years ago to protest the rape of Nirbhaya have not thought it fit to protest the release of 11 persons tried and convicted for raping a woman and then killing her family members. A provision in law has been conveniently invoked by the Gujarat Government and endorsed – and since defended before the Supreme Court by the Union government. They were freed for “good behaviour”, garlanded at the jail gate and were feted in public.
Symbolic of the toxicity prevailing in our body politic, this carries an inherent warning. The release of the 11 came on August 15, the much-celebrated country’s 75th Independence Day. Does one need to say more?
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