A hundred and ten people do not speak for 1.3 billion Indians by any stretch of imagination. At least not the India I know, respect and interact with. Reducing our hopes and hard work, aspirations and questions to personal envy and parochialism and foisting it as a national calamity is to try and fool Indians who I have no doubt have seen through the game of snakes and ladders.
This week started with 49 famous people (largely from the east Indian state of West Bengal) hyperventilating about how India’s cultural and intellectual fabric was in tatters because people were forced to chant Jai Sri Ram, an invocation and a salute to Lord Rama one of the gods most revered by Hindus. Hindus believe that Rama Bhakti is universal Samarajyam – a concept and space Abrahamic and one-book religions struggle with. That is their problem, not India’s and mine. In Brahmandam, there is no other. Go figure.
India, they wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was now a lynchistan (a land where people are lynched as sport), where minority communities are indiscriminately killed sometimes for carrying a cow, other times for just being different. The difference is defined by what I call the 49-ers, the reference to the American soccer team is intended. Who on earth are 49 people to tell me about India especially since most have sold their souls for penny?
Indians love hyperbole, the Bengalis, especially. This is a culture with handsome oral traditions that have historically been political and sound valuing of not only difference but also robust dialogue as opposed in public places. The 49ers have let themselves and their grand teachings down, begging at the altar of political expediency.
The burden of the 49ers’ song is that India is heading mindlessly into an abyss of disaster from where recovery could be impossible. The same songs were heard in the run up to the 2014 elections and have now returned as there are some state elections around the corner. How we love drama – in Bengal it is called Jatra, a style of story telling with high decibel pathos and victimhood. The 49ers press conference has come a long way from thought provoking jatras and community dialogue. English cannot replace substance.
As if on cue, appeared a counter missive, this time by another set of famous people supporting the Modi government, calling out the first letter as the work of hypocrites who cherry pick what they want to condemn, in particular dreadful killing of Hindus. Ignoring writing about the killing of Hindus in India is fashionable and you can see this is the headline of the Anglo Saxon media in London and Washington that carry pieces by their Indian sepoys. Beggary pays.
For me there are two issues here – one concerns my view as a human being, an Indian and the other relates to my responsibilities as a media person. I’ll address them in a bit. One thing, however, is clear. Both groups are guilty of many acts of omission and commission, but most are connected by breathless opportunism and will be untouched by the outrage they flame and wallow in. Let that sink in. Many of the 49ers and their challengers have sold their souls to various governments – ruthless politics seeks ruthless allegiance. There are few innocents here.
None of them will speak about creating jobs or raising investments in public health or simple things like daily blood donation where the real outrage should be. That would be too real for comfort requiring them to some real work – forego bed tea - that will take them out of press conferences and televisions studios to the streets where India is being built and bullied. The manufactured concern of the co-opted can sometimes be comical. I’ve been tracking it for 30 years. Many of them have worked with various governments to get jobs abroad and ensure their children study in London and Washington. The “New Lutyens” in New Delhi is doing the same.
Above the din, one thing bothers me. It is the constant running down of Hindus as the organisers and perpetrators of calamity and murders, of a people so vile and violent that unhindered they’d unleash a blood bath in the country. During times like these of false agitation and fake data, it is worthwhile to pull back and reflect on this one point – India is probably one of the most spiritual spots on earth, a dharmic nation where the other is welcomed and celebrated, accommodated and rejoiced in. If push comes to shove, dharma will seek respect without malice because that is what it is. Isn’t it extraordinary that English and the Abrahamic religions fail to understand Dharma’s non-violent search for justice!
Faith has nothing to do with dogma and the 49ers do not strike me as being especially politically intelligent or connected to the India of today. There’s obviously a campaign there that each of us in India irrespective of our faith and favour have to push back – India is not petty. Our country is grand and we cannot allow a handful of people to tell us who we are, what we must eat, think and speak. Governments will come and go but parasites will go on forever.
It is okay to be a leftist, its okay to oppose the government and question policies – that’s what fires healthy democracies. It’s not okay to be a terrorist who seeks the destruction of the State as one of the 49ers is. A terrorist who thinks nothing of taking lives, brutalising populations, speaking the language of guns, raping women and holding children hostage. There is no place in a democracy for people who promote this and by that token alone, the 49ers must hang their heads in shame. You give yourself away by whom you associate with publicly and privately.
Expecting governments, including the Narendra Modi government to weigh in on this controversy is to have no faith in our vote, our democracy and our future. Faith has nothing to do with dogma and the 49ers do not strike me as people of faith. If they were, they’d propose solutions for India, share their gathered wisdom and rally for dialogue instead of standing with terrorists and bleating on national media.
As a human being, the thought of killing someone for being different is beyond my realm of comprehension as will remain there. As a media person, my responsibilities are more complicated. What would I do if stories – planted and real – landed on my desk, stories of gore and death, of hatred and harm? I have given this very serious thought and here’s what I think. I would keep easy recognition of the killers and killed out of it. I would report the crime in complete detail and ensure that crimes are identified for what they are – acts of unspeakable violence against innocent people. A news report is not a commentary. The first is immediate, the latter affords time for responsible commentary giving space for advocacy and even data driven evidence, but simply counting numbers on all sides is a limited exercise.
Monkeys can collect data – remember they beat top traders a few years ago. Data has a place in journalism, a very important place, but more important is how that data is framed by the editor or editorial desk – are you pushing for a solution or are you fanning flames by reeling numbers? If you are fanning flames, how different are you from the 49-ers? Where does informing people end and securing their safety begin?
I may have some answers, but not all. Because as a human being and as a media person, I am acutely aware of where I end as a person and where my job begins. I have been around long enough to know that among those defending Modi are sycophants whose concern for personal glory far outweighs any commitment to their country. It’s the same people who have been around for 50 years, partaking of all governments. They have mentored none – it is all about themselves, their families and friends. You and I are not even part of the equation.
Don’t fall for louts and losers writing letters, India. We have better things to do, like building our nation.
PS: I was disappointed that Mani Ratnam was part of the 49ers. It hurt.
(The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)