If you are interested in South Asia, you might have come across a news report about Indian actress Kangana Ranaut who was permanently suspended from Twitter. Reason? Hate speech. Given the amount of crazy that now comes out of India you are unlikely to make a lot of this news story. Who cares if an actor you have never heard of is punished for something crazy? Right?
But the actor's own statement after the suspension reads something like this: “Twitter has only proved my point they're Americans & by birth, a white person feels entitled to enslave a brown person, they want to tell you what to think, speak or do. I have many platforms I can use to raise my voice, including my own art in the form of cinema.” Interesting right? Especially when race is the first place you go to, while reacting to a social media ban. Let’s now see what the controversial tweet said about the purported violence after the West Bengal election.
“This is horrible… we need super gundai (violence in Hindi) to kill gundai… Modi ji please show your Virat roop (larger-than-life form) from the early 2000s,” reads the tweet. Early 2000s is a reference to the 2002 Gujarat pogrom where over 2,000, mostly Muslims, were killed in broad daylight. After the violence, Sanjiv Bhatt, a senior police officer, filed an affidavit in the Indian Supreme Court claiming that Modi as the chief minister of the state had allowed the mass murder to take place and asked to let the Hindu extremists “vent their anger”. Once Modi became prime minister all such cases were systematically dropped and Bhatt sent to prison for trumped-up charges. Teesta Setalvad, a brave social activist, who formed a non-profit organisation to provide legal aid to the victims of Gujarat violence was harassed beyond wits through litigation and otherwise. Gauri Lankesh, a journalist who among other things was translating her colleague Rana Ayub's book, Gujarat Files, detailing Modi and Amit Shah's role in the violence translated into Kannada, was shot dead in broad daylight. But Modi's supporters have always denied his role in the pogrom. Modi himself could only offer a mild condolence when accosted by a journalist in an interview comparing the 2,000 killed to a puppy that is crushed under a car.
But when you take a few steps back you truly grasp the implications of the said actor's tweet. Before that a little bit of the West Bengali context will be helpful here. After a year-long highly communalsed election campaign by Modi's BJP aided and abetted by the Indian Election Commission, the state's assembly election results just came in and the prime minister’s party could not even cross the psychological threshold of a 100 seats. This despite the wholesale hate offensive against the state's minority population and the allegations of minority appeasement against Trinamool Congress, its chief rival and the incumbent party in the state. So, what do you do when India's fourth most populous state rejects brand Modi so openly? You try to deflect in a way that you emerge as the victim. Remember, Modi's love for his supporters in the state is evident from the fact that despite open warnings about the second wave of Covid infections he kept holding his mammoth sized rallies with little precautions and even boasted about them in Trumpesque fashion. Votes and images matter, lives don’t. But as soon as the results were in the BJP social media spin-masters started the yarn about Modi supporters being attacked. This pony knows only one trick you see. The purpose was simple. To use these claims to impose governor or president's rule in the state, depriving it of its elected government. Miss Ranaut was then a part of the BJP's online psy-ops where the purpose was to provoke the upper caste and upward mobile classes of Hindus (Modi's core vote bank). This campaign however missed the mark because the very same voting bloc is reeling under the weight of the sheer incompetence of Modi’s government in handling the Covid situation in the country and cannot be asked.
The significance of the tweet, you ask. One, that whatever Miss Ranaut tweeted came directly from the BJP's IT cell. You will remember what happened when Greta Thunberg tweeted support for India's protesting farmers. Leading Indian celebrities came out of the woodwork and shot out tweets criticising her. Some even did not bother to remove quote marks that came along with the message from the IT cell.
Two, Modi bhakts have stopped denying his role in the 2002 pogrom. In fact, they take ferocious pride in the violence and seek to use it as a deterrent at best and as a model for the future course of action at worst.
Three, Modi supporters now openly deify Modi. The internet had this to say about Virat roop: It is where everything is part of Lord’s (Krishna’s) physical body. As per Purusha Suktham, the Vedic verse which explains this, we have everything arising out of his body (Sun from his eyes, moon from his mind, Indra and Agni from his mouth, etc.)
Four, racism is the first place these elements go to whenever they face scrutiny or a disciplinary action from a western social media company or body. This, at a time when the world faces the spectre of racism in every continent. If you ask me, while the West focuses a lot on Russia's role in sponsoring the rise of racism when Russia is a former socialist republic which keeps paying at least a lip service to the idea of an egalitarian society. No one bothers to look under the Hindutva hood where the doctrine of monism, the blind faith in the fundamental inequality of human beings, is practised and upper caste Hindus who believe in the doctrine claim to be related to the white race by virtue of being Aryans.
Another distant implication. Remember, how India is facing oxygen shortage due to a surge in coronavirus cases? Foreign governments have been rushing assistance to the Indian government to help the country. Remarkably this foreign aid doesn’t seem to be reaching the suffering humanity. Is it possible that all of this is being stored for the economic and political elite of the country? It would most certainly seem so because the Indian courts are constantly taking the government to task for failing to provide these services to the patients. The situation on the ground is only worsening.
Now that India, along with South Africa and a number of other states, has gone to the WTO to seek patent waivers on Covid vaccines ostensibly to offer more relief effort to its citizens and the US has decided against its better judgment and interest of its own companies to support the move, is it possible that the Indian government would use the waiver and the resulting vaccines against its more combative and less privileged neighbours and own minorities by depriving them of access? Which part of the evidence of hate and examples of prejudice reproduced above indicate otherwise?
A quick question to all who think peace with India under Modi is possible: in what world?
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi