On Bombay

Writing in the wake of the May bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, Spiked! Editor Brendan O’Neill wrote:

After the terror, the platitudes. And the hashtags. And the candlelit vigils. And they always have the same message: ‘Be unified. Feel love. Don’t give in to hate.’ The banalities roll off the national tongue. Vapidity abounds. A shallow fetishisation of ‘togetherness’ takes the place of any articulation of what we should be together for – and against. …

It is becoming clear that the top-down promotion of a hollow ‘togetherness’ in response to terrorism is about cultivating passivity. It is about suppressing strong public feeling. It’s about reducing us to a line of mourners whose only job is to weep for our fellow citizens, not ask why they died, or rage against their dying. … They want us passive, empathetic, upset, not angry, active, questioning. They prefer us as a lonely crowd of dutiful, disconnected mourners rather than a real collective of citizens demanding to know why our fellow citizens died and how we might prevent others from dying. We should stop playing the role they’ve allotted us.

I was reminded of O’Neill’s visceral anger as I followed news of the deadly stampede at the railway station formerly known as Elphinstone Road.

Continue reading


Fake news and real problems

After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

At 2 AM in June 2009, a man dressed all in black got out of a car at a deserted intersection in Los Angeles. With obscenity-laced stickers he had made earlier that day at a local Kinko’s, he defaced billboards advertising the release of the move I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

He got back in the car, shot pictures of the defaced billboards from the passenger window, and later that night he sent them via a mail account in a fake name to a couple of blogs. The accompanying note said he had just spotted the defaced billboards, and he was glad Los Angelenos were protesting the filthy, obscene movie.

Continue reading

Who leads the leader?

“If you know Niraj Dave, Nikhil Dadhich and Akash Soni,” says TV anchor Ravish Kumar in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “then please ask them if they are planning to kill me.”

The letter is a follow-up to Kumar’s Facebook post where he talks of a WhatsApp group that repeatedly adds him (and others, such as Barkha Dutt) in order to abuse and threaten. Even when he leaves the group, Ravish said, they add him back on and continue the abuse.

Kumar and Dutt are not isolated victims of abusive social media groups. To cite just a few recent examples from an overflowing collection, Quint reporter Deeksha Sharma was targeted for her criticism of a sexist rap song; Times of India reporter Rosamma Thomas received threats on WhatsApp for publishing an article critical of Modi’s crop insurance scheme. A Scroll story speaks of various journalists in the Delhi/NCR region being threatened. AR Meyyammai, who wrote a story detailing child abuse in a Tamil Nadu temple, and her editor have been at the receiving end of threats.

Continue reading

WTFJH: Random links and an open thread

Today’s post is not thematic, but more in the nature of a scratch-pad, a compilation of stories that caught my eye over the past 24 hours.

#1. Muslims in Hyderabad set a temple on fire; dead cows were later found on the floor. The whole was captured on video, which was spread widely through social media channels. Only, none of this happened — the video, says Hyderabad police, is a fake. Ask yourself why this keeps happening. In this connection, here is a story out of West Bengal that talks of systematic plans to spread terror during the Navratri season. I haven’t seen this on other media platforms yet, and I can’t vouch for its accuracy — I saved it to my files only because the broad outlines seem familiar, part of a well-thumbed playbook.

#2. Bofors, that periodic preoccupation of the media, is back in the headlines at least in certain quarters. The latest on this is that the PAC has asked the Defense Ministry to trace and share all missing files related to the case. I just set a reminder on my calendar to check back on this in a month, the reminder to recur monthly, because for a long time now Bofors has felt to me more like a red herring to be kept on ice and periodically dragged across the media space whenever the narrative needs to be changed, whenever a distraction feels necessary. Like most people who have followed this story since 1990, I think it is time for some kind of closure. And what better time than now — the government, after all, has no stake in a cover-up; in fact, the reverse is true. So the case should move forward to a conclusion fairly soon. No?

And while on that, big news: the ED says it will summon Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and others on some unspecified date to probe their involvement in what is known as the Panama Papers scandal (A Guardian backgrounder, for those who came in late). It is good to see the ED move lightning fast on a major scam — after all, the story only broke in April 2016, and if some backward nations (Pakistan, to name one) have completed their probe and even sacked some of their highest office-bearers/politicians, what of that?

Continue reading

WTFJH: The BHU edition

Back in 1998, in course of covering the national elections of that year, I ended up in Baramati. The object was to find out why Sharad Pawar has such a hold on that constituency that he does not even campaign, and yet in every single election anyone who opposes him loses his deposit.

Pawar is known to reach Baramati late night on the penultimate day of campaigning. On the last day, he drives to a few select areas where he holds public meetings; just before campaigning officially ends, he holds a large meeting in Baramati town.

I spent three days traveling around Baramati, talking to people, trying to find out the reasons behind his political success. And very early in the morning of the last day, I went to Pawar’s home hoping to get time to ask him a couple of questions. Talk of early birds and worms — he had just finished breakfast and was about to drive to his first meeting; he told me to get in the car, and to travel with him through the day, and ask whatever I liked.

The entire transcript would fill a decent-sized book — Pawar was in a loquacious mood that day. The interview that was finally published is sizeable enough and covers a wide area of politics.

Among the many themes he spoke to that day one, in particular, has resonated a lot in recent times as serial unrests roiled educational institutions ranging from the FTII to JNU, Delhi University, AMU, Hyderabad, and most recently Benaras Hindu University. Here is that portion, in full:

Continue reading

Make India Grate Again

The BJP national executive meeting is now on at the Talkatora stadium in New Delhi. Given the importance of the event, there are entry passes and everything.

The passes are made in China.

A WTF sequel to the earlier WTF

The wife is not just apolitical — she is completely detached, by choice. On the rare occasions, I try lecturing her on the need to be more involved, she quotes an old Tamil song of which the refrain goes: “Raman aandalum Ravanan aandalum” (Loosely translated, what difference whether Ram rules or Raavan?)

But even she has been in a bit of a state these past 24 hours, marking the passage of almost every hour with “God, what do you think he is going to do?” The “he” is Modi, and her numerous invocations have to do with the speech the PM was to make today, and what new headache scheme he was likely to announce.

Domestic tranquility has been restored. Modi spoke, and it was totally unexceptionable. Some stuff about the “new India” that is about to dawn in 2022. And a new scheme — Saubhagya. As follows:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched the ‘Saubhagya scheme’ to give free electricity connections to poor families in both cities and villages by 2018 with a total outlay of Rs. 16,320 crores, which will be funded largely by the centre. No poor person will have to pay for electricity connections, the Prime Minister has said.

Continue reading