On 26 October, Sagarika Ghose in her blog in the Times of India expressed her concern that freedom of speech in India is under threat with a BJP government led by Narendra Modi at the helm.
It appears that her fear stems more from what she calls the dominance of the social media by the ‘right-wing trolls’ :
Dear India’s right-wingers, Your time has come, your moment is here. After the victory in the general elections, and the big win in Maharashtra and Haryana, the Indian Political Right is bang on centrestage. It is ascendant -and why should it not be? For a decade we Indians were at the receiving end of the subsidies-inclined, left-oriented UPA with its weird secularism, its dynastic inclinations, its vow of silence on every issue, not to mention its scam-a-minute way of life where the media, Anna Hazare and citizenry at large played bloodsport with the hapless Manmohan Singh government. You, the rightwing soldiers, so expertly harnessed these agitations to your cause. Now you rule social media. Across the world social media -whether challenging dictatorships in the Arab Spring or spreading awareness of police brutality against Iranian protesters -is generally the anti-establishment maverick, a realm where Assange and Snowden are icons, where dissenters blow the whistle on secret government machinations.
But in India you have made social media a propaganda arm of the government. It is a ferocious army against anyone who disagrees with the ruling party , an engine of thought and social control that is harnessed firmly to the personality cult of the Prime Minister. To be pro-government and pro-establishment is now de rigeur on social media.
You say this is a war -your very own jihad -against decades of apparent dominance by the “left“, where a handful of Oxbridge-educated, “left-liberal“ journalists, historians and activists created a Nehruvian discourse that was supposedly loyal to the previous government and upheld Congress-style secularism against the “nationalist“ urges of the majority .
But since this is a democratic debate, since you have come to power through elections, why are you seeking to eliminate, shut down and silence all your critics and the entire opposition in general? This is not democracy! Any critic of this government is a “deshdrohi“; any hint of disagreement and you become an “anti-national traitor“ liable for sedition; any small critique means one is a “minorities-worshipping“, “sickular“ “libtard“, “communist“, “dynastic Congi slave“ who must instantly take up residence in Pakistan.
Right-wingers, do remember that we, journalists and citizens, attacked the UPA on every primetime; we called out Rahul Gandhi for every gaffe; after the initial euphoria of “Singh is King“, Manmohan Singh was torn apart for everything from coal scam to 2G scam to CWG scam, but the UPA ‘s brigades never called its critics such foul names as you do.
Sagarika’s diatribe is no different than the countless alarmist pieces penned by the secular eminences in the media and academia who are now seeing the slow but inevitable end of their unfair and disproportionate influence over public discourse. But some points need to be looked into.
Firstly Ms Ghose’s claim that worldwide social media is generally anti-establishment with India being a contrary case again shows the habit of Indian secularists of creating false equivalences.
Tell us Ms Ghose, is the Indian government an autocratic entity stomping over people’s democratic rights? Are the Indian elections a sham where the people’s mandate is not respected? Is the Indian government like Orwell’s dreaded Big Brother spying over other nations?
If your answer is yes, then explain how you are able to express your own dissent in this very Times of India blog, and if the answer is no then please explain why the social media in India should oppose the government just for opposition’s sake?
And if I remember correctly, wasn’t it during UPA 2, that former law minister, Kapil Sibal came up with a draconian piece of legislation, Section 66A, which was introduced in the 2009 amendments to the Information Technology Act? In December 2011, the same Kapil Sibal as Communications Minister openly talked about pre-screening Internet content. This intent of Sibal took a nastier turn in the following year.
Ms. Sagarika, let me refresh your memory by quoting an extract from a report in the Economic Times:
For four days starting August 18, the department of telecom instructed Internet service providers to block around 300 web pages, including blogposts, news articles of mainstream media outlets, You-Tube videos, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. The four directives (1, 2, 3, 4) did not cite any sections of the IT Act or any other law that was being applied.
The Twitter accounts of two Delhi-based journalists, Shiv Aroor of the Headlines Today television channel and Kanchan Gupta, formerly of The Pioneer, also feature among those blocked.
However, at the time of going to press, many of these handles and websites were still accessible across Internet connections with the exception of Airtel, which appears to have scrupulously followed the government’s instructions. In all, 20 Twitter accounts have been blocked and hundreds of web pages featuring user-generated content on websites such as Facebook and YouTube barred.
Where was your concern then Ms.Ghose? Did you go ahead and declare that India was under siege by troll-like Congress ministers?
For generations, the Congress patronized a coterie of intellectuals who loosely shared its socio-political viewpoints and over time, came to command a domineering influence over public discourse, censoring anyone who disagreed with them. But this smooth relationship faced a sudden and unexpected roadblock with the arrival of the Internet.
Many of the concerned public could now communicate with each other, bypassing the censorship of this powerful and entrenched coterie. Those few brave people, who took on this coterie before the Internet era were cast into the backwoods never to be heard of again. But now their voices are being heard loud and clear. And this is something the eminences which include you, Ms. Ghose cannot tolerate. And neither is this the first blog you’ve written on the subject despite getting refuted again and again. Indeed, a month ago, I myself counselled you to go back to school.
What else can explain the lack of your righteous rage when during the early part of the year, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde threatened to crush social media? Wasn’t he in your words ‘seeking to eliminate, shut down and silence all your critics and the entire opposition in general?’
Remember how your sympathy for a confused dolt like Rahul Gandhi gushed forth when you wrote this following Rahul’s incomprehensible speech to the CII?
Liked how Rahul presented himself, tho. Low key and informal. None of the swagger and bombast of You Know Who…..Sensible strategy of Pappu not to try and compete with Chappan in loud aggro swagger. His only hope is to sell the contrast in persona..
Equally interesting Ms. Sagarika, is your constant harping against the abusive language of Right Wing trolls, yadda yadda. Here is a tiny sample of the highly refined language of the UPA brigade. This gentleman happens to be close to Digvijaya Singh, and is (was) quite influential in the Congress party circles. He was also recognized as a credible voice by by the charming and suave Shashi Tharoor.
To read more of such depraved comments used against the supporters of Narendra Modi and the BJP on a constant basis on the same social media, Ms Ghose can take a glance at the IndiaFacts feature, the daily Secular Tweet Digest.
It is true Ms. Ghose that the practitioners of journalism of your ilk did criticize the UPA at times but that was only when the UPA’s brazenness was too extreme to be ignored. But can that be compared with the pure and relentless vitriol your kind unleashed on PM Narendra Modi? And have you conveniently forgotten the nonstop, 12 year-long witch hunt you indulged in when he was still the CM of Gujarat?
In spite of proving his mettle as an able administrator, as well as proving his development credentials, Modi was derisively called ‘India’s Fuhrer’ by many in the print and electronic media. Where was your concern for fairness then? Ms Ghose did you censure your liberal friends when they compared well-wishers of Modi with young neo-Nazis? You remained quiet even as Modi’s female supporters were harassed by Modi-haters labelling them as ‘Hindu hate hags’ and ‘Modi Mausis.’
Sagarika Ghose continues:
Why is debate not acceptable? Why is dissent not to be tolerated? Why are you transforming social media from an important debating platform into a cacophonous echo chamber of thought control? Let’s move to definitions. You call yourself rightwing, but are you? Rightwing in the US and Europe implies parties who are socially conservative on issues like abortion and gay rights but zealously uphold the free market and business. Now you may be socially conservative on Hindu-Muslim marriage and live-in relationships, but are you economically liberal? The government has not so far shown that it’s committed to privatization. The farthest it has gone is some disinvestment a la Congress. The government is against retail sector liberalization, it is not keen on free trade (as shown by its scuttling of the recent WTO round) and so far we do not know what its tax policy is. (As you may know, right-of-centre economics is based around lowering taxes on businesses.) The government believes in social engineering -such as the highly laudable Swachh Bharat initiative, but typical rightwing economics is less about measures and more about providing incentives.
Ms Ghsose, ever heard of a person named Sita Ram Goel? Or Ram Swarup? Ever know what befell them? Ever know how they were targeted, isolated, hounded, and finally had their voices choked in public discourse? More recently, would you tell us why was the late Varsha Bhonsle removed from Rediff? Even more recently, why did Joe D’Cruz receive hate mails after he expressed support for Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? The translation of his Tamil work ‘Aazhi Soozh Ulagu’ into English was also halted as a form of vengeance by the publisher Navyana .
Regarding definitions, please do understand that right-wing thoughts are not the sole property of Britain and America. In many parts of North-West Europe, right-wingers favor a form of market based capitalism united with a social policy favoring social insurance, often classified as a coordinated market economy.
The famed French economist Michel Albert described a similar concept called “Rhine capitalism” (also called social market economy) which has its foundations on publicly organized social security as opposed to the neo-liberal model of a capitalistic market economy, introduced in the 1980’s by the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the US and UK respectively.
The concept of the social market economy is still to an extent the common fiscal basis of most political parties in Germany, as well as some other major Western European nations. If your reading of politics is limited to Britain and America then don’t be annoyed if someone calls you an Oxbridge-educated Leftist. The world has changed rapidly since you stepped out with that Rhodes goodie. It also helps to be updated—there is an entire world outside that TV studio that you inhabited for a long time.
At the end of the piece, Ms Ghose suggests:
Let’s not shut down all questioning. Sanatan dharma has always stood for freedom of thought! Bharat mata ki jai!
What just happened? Is Ms Ghose forsaking her secular beliefs? If she was so concerned and enamored with Sanatana Dharma then why does she indulge in drawing false parallels?
Now that the trivial complexities created by liberal eminences are slowly but surely being sorted out, they are yelling murder. But don’t you worry Ms Sagarika Ghose, as long as the soul of India is Sanatana Dharma, Bharat Mata will tolerate all forms of dissent, even if it stems from ignorance like yours did.
Oh wait. And speaking of abuses what do you have to say about these tweets Ms. Ghose? They are yours.
I feel bad and sad Ms. Ghose. I’m not sure what is bothering you lately because you’re penning such pieces with alarming regularity. I am no doctor but I suggest you to go easy on that Bloody Mary.