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Updated: February 18, 2014 01:38 IST

Dissent in the age of aggression

Vaishna Roy
Comment (22)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
NO PLACE FOR LOVE: Hindu Jagrana Vedike members staging a protest rally against Valentine's Day celebrations in Bangalore, alleging that it is against Indian culture. File photo: K. Gopinath
The Hindu
NO PLACE FOR LOVE: Hindu Jagrana Vedike members staging a protest rally against Valentine's Day celebrations in Bangalore, alleging that it is against Indian culture. File photo: K. Gopinath

To create an aggressive image in order to win an election might be a good strategy but what happens afterwards when the boring job of governing must be done?

Arundhati Roy has written an open letter to Penguin India in which she asks what “terrified” them into taking the book The Hindus: An Alternative History off the stands even before there was a “fatwa or ban,” even though the “fascists are campaigning… but are not in power.” The answer seems obvious. It was not fear of a legal battle — Penguin might have easily won that. It was not fear of bad publicity — Penguin could have only benefited from the inevitably larger book sales. No, it was fear of the mindless violence that certain bands of fanatics are capable of unleashing.

The quietness with which this surrender took place was about accepting beforehand that a certain kind of ideological climate could possibly soon come to hold sway in the country, and realising that any voice-of-reason argument the publisher might extend would certainly be drowned in the clamour of righteous indignation that was bound to rise.

In the run-up to the elections, one of the more noticeable aspects of offline and online political debate has been the extreme aggression on display. When the Aam Aadmi Party’s Prashant Bhushan suggested a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir on Army deployment, a right-wing mob attacked his office and vandalised it. When the Tarun Tejpal incident came to light, a bunch of right-wing activists attacked Tehelka’s (now former) managing editor Shoma Chaudhury’s house.

Shouting down critique

In online activity, it is impossible to avoid noticing the extreme hostility of the right-wing voice. Despite other political parties pitching in — the Congress’ Amaresh Misra, for instance, notoriously threatened a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter on Twitter: “We know where you live, Shilpi” — nobody else has been able to keep pace with the right’s sheer efficiency or decibel levels. It is not so much that these voices are simply defending their hero, which is correct and laudable; it is that they are unanimous in wanting to silence any voice critical of NaMo, ruthlessly trolling down the merest hint of disagreement.

I found an amusing online game recently, a Right Wing Insult Generator. Each time you refresh the screen, a new string of abuse is generated — sickular, anti-national, gay-sex loving, anti-Hindu pacifist, Taliban-lover, Paki stooge, anti-development troll, Maoist, Trotskyist tree-hugger… it is quite a hilarious list. What is not so hilarious is that all these words and phrases are gleaned by the key-word generator from actual comments on actual websites. Disagreement is vital in a democracy, but the problem here is with tone. How does one engage with yobs?

The rationale behind such efficiently channelled and PR-generated hostility is obvious. Aggression and machismo are useful tools to project Narendra Modi’s image as an alpha male — a man who represents a robust and rejuvenated BJP against an emasculated Congress, led by weaklings. This is the campaign from which the brash online supporter emerges. He is no accident but a carefully nurtured persona who has been taught that it is weakness to respond to an argument with mere counter-argument; one must destroy the arguer. Accommodating opposing ideas is considered submission, as is allowing the existence of films, art or books that question your belief system.

The strategy is to play to a kind of willing Indian who has often suffered from a slight inferiority complex on the world stage; the Indian who imagines he must now shout to be heard, one whose national pride is at stake at every turn. The voices representing this personality must be über masculine and willing to take up arms to defend honour, religious beliefs, sexual mores — anything that is perceived to be under threat. To this personality, any Gandhian talk of non-violence sounds wimpish; Iron Man Patel makes a far better icon.

As election strategies go, this is just fine. It makes sense to create such a personality in the face of the much softer, weaker and ineffectual Rahul Gandhi. It makes sense because Indians want to be seen as strong, as waiting in the wings to grab power and become world leaders. The problem arises when the violence spills over from theory into practice quite so quickly and willingly. When verbal assault so often becomes actual violence — stones hurled, chairs smashed, women mauled, books burned — the stance is harder to ignore. Worse, it doesn’t take much to provoke these reactions. They have been seen in the past spanning a range of issues — from art exhibitions to history books.

Demos in a democracy

To create an aggressive image in order to win an election might be good strategy but what happens afterwards when the boring job of governing must be done? It will be difficult to cork all this overflowing testosterone back into the bottle when ordinary administration and law and order concerns become important. Something the AAP found out when it went all guns blazing into Delhi’s Khirki Extension to flush out a drug and prostitution gang. Even in a democracy, you cannot actually let the demos rule — something that the AAP will soon discover.

By adopting aggression as its guiding principle, the right wing is playing with the kind of Frankensteinian monster that it will never be able to control. It will inevitably attract rightist groups from the lunatic fringe who will take umbrage at everything. From couples celebrating Valentine’s Day to women dancing in pubs, a dozen innocuous puppy dogs will come in the way every day, and in a real democracy, they cannot be run over by supporters already seething with so much rage.

vaishna.r@thehindu.co.in

More In: Comment | Opinion

When you go to a library and pick up a book, you hope for your researchs
sake that the facts in the book are true and correct. Wendys/Penguins
book had inaccuracies, misinformation and some massive historic
blunders. The reason Penguin withdrew it is because they realise their
brand name would diminish if their books weren't based on accurate
events. Who is Arundhati Roy in all of this? She is a anti-hindu, anti-
indian , if you listen to her voice, she has a slur in it .

from:  amrik
Posted on: Feb 19, 2014 at 03:09 IST

Does the author remember a lady author called Tasleema Nasreen, and her
book "Lajja"?

from:  R.K. Bhanot
Posted on: Feb 19, 2014 at 00:36 IST

Religious fanaticism is surely a major issue not just in India but
around the world. There is always a thin line between religious
freedom and freedom of speech. Other democracies too find it difficult
to uphold both. I am all for freedom of speech and dissent. Supporting
Modi by making a case of development goals is a good thing. However
just because someone is not supporting Modi or BJP that does not make
them open minded and accepting. The author's hypothesis is incorrect.
The author has failed to point out other aggressors. I haven't seen a
single reference of Muslim groups who went berserk for Taslema
Nasreen's books and Christian groups did same for the Da Vinci Code.

from:  Nikhil K
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 21:57 IST

What has happened to 'The Hindu'? Has 'The Hindu' been taken over by
some 'Anti-Hindu' group? Everyday I see such one-sided arguments
against the Hindus. I agree, I don't support the likes of VHP and Ram-
sene, but why blame 'Hindus'. An average middle class working Hindu
doesn't care about these right-wingers and indeed considers them a
nuisance.
And where were these pseudo-intellectuals when the Amar Jawan Jyoti
monument was attacked in Mumbai or when mass exodus of students from
North East happened due to rumors about immediate dangers to them
because their 'kin' had killed some Muslims in Assam? And I remember
all I could read on 'the Hindu' at that time was a small article in
the Editorial and not a single article in the Lead/OP-ED Space.
And a very heart-felt sincere advise from a secular and avid 'The
Hindu'reader: Bashing the majority is not Secularism!

from:  Nikhil
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 20:41 IST

I am amused to find that Rahul Gandhi could become a good professional counsellor! In his much discussed (or shall I say,lampooned?) interview on Times Now with Arnab Goswami, Rahul Gandhi repeated "Empowerment of women" in his replies for any and all questions! Inspired by him perhaps, the so called liberal, secular media in India, including "The Hindu", quickly lands on the Gujarat 2002 riots in any article or discussions whether there is relevance there or not. In this article too, I can see the signs of the same. What a pity!

from:  S.Balaraman
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 17:28 IST

How nonchalantly the writer of this article mentions that Penguin
would have won the case in the court. Has the author even read the
petition filed by the petitioner? There is point-by-point description
of each and every argument. Why cannot the publisher give a point-by-
point rebuttal? Also, the Wendy Doniger claims the book to be the
history of Hinduism while it seems more like a work of fiction.
Misquoting religious texts, anachronistic placing of traditions and
quoting sources which do not even exist is exploiting the freedom of
expression. Where is the responsibility here? The author's case as no
substance and publisher would have lost the case. One more interesting
point to note here. This time there was no violence in the entire
episode. You are trying to pin this on the fear of violence. Rather
than appreciating the party for resorting to legal recourse you are
assuming that the publisher took the higher ground. What a farce
reflecting the bias of this newspaper.

from:  sushant
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 16:36 IST

While, I refuse to see any connection between the BJP and the withdrawal of 'the' book
by Penguin india, I agree with the author about the aggression routinely being shown
on the internet. While the aggression is more prominent by voices defending the 'right'
, it is also noticeable by people defending the congress, or the AAP. Here's hoping that
we will all learn to argue better as time goes by.

from:  Mayank Kedia
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 15:56 IST

One thing stands very clear. The HINDU has become the torch bearer of all that is anti BJP.....The entire write up hints so loudly. I always thought that this newspaper was one of the more balanced ones.
Please have a inrospection, editorial staff. The awesome reputation of this newspaper so far is in danger of being compromised.

from:  T N Kumar
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 15:54 IST

I am indeed intrigued why such words of wisdom of cautioning the 'right wing' etc.,were not heard from our intellectuals,when Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' was banned.Be that as it may,is the withdrawal of a book with twisted intrepretation of Hindu mythology, the yard stick of the freedom of press in India? I beleive the world will be a better place if religion, like sex, is strictly kept private and each one of us respects the rights of the other in this regard.Utopian ?

from:  Capt. Harish Pillay
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 15:42 IST

Guys this is really funny, in the last few days this is the 3rd silliest excuse given to justify the legal and moral surrender of the fake liberals against a 84 year old macho aggressive lunatic right wing fringe retired school teacher.

First by Penguin and Wendy - The law is bad, so we will not take the full legal recourse and surrender shamelessly.

Second by The Hindu's reporter as a news report - The sale and downloads of the Book has increased, in fact the surrender is good thing to happen for the book.

Third By The Hindu's reporter as an Op-ed - BJP is going to win, Alpha male Modi will become PM so let’s surrender and we will give statements, give news reports and write opeds and do the damage control.

Come on you stupids give me a break..you fake liberals, the international publishing house and the overrated foreign writer are no better than the lunatic right wing. In fact you guys are far worse because they are unorganized and you are organized ...:)

from:  Praveen Nair
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 15:30 IST

Why is the article focussed on the right wingedness of only 1 religion? Doesn't the
author feel that every religion in the country is trying its best to ensure its agenda is
played out better than everyone else. Each religion/belief being as strong to its
group and the next religion to that group.

The author is being extremely biased in showcasing the strategy of a nationalist
party (which obviously represents the views of a large section of the society,
considering that they are the leading opposition) as a calculated ploy in appealing to
the insecurities of the people and actions to defend the religion of the majority as a
blow in the face of religious freedom.

I'm sorry, but one can't respect the views of another who doesn't consider the others.

One would've considered the article even a little less prejudiced perhaps if the author
had revealed his own affiliations.

from:  Adithya Rao
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 15:27 IST

There is nothing to disagree in this article. The issue of rise in
right wing fascism needs immediate attention before we have a similar
scenario when left wingers engaged in violence and naxalism came into
prominence. What they really have to understand is that 'culture' is
ever changing, and it's important for culture to change for us to be a
progressive society, both socially & economically. Valentines Day is
celebrated in our nation since it's already become part of the present
society's way of life. There's no point opposing it by burning
effigies or beating up innocent couples. It all comes down to 'live
and let live'.

from:  Purushu
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 15:01 IST

I do not understand why this is a debate about freedom of expression
of the author only and not the other side. The other person who filed
the petition was using his right to legal remedy and freedom of
religious practice but more so his own freedom of expression. If I
have a freedom to express what I am pleased with, the other person
also has his freedom to express his disgust with what I said. If I
decide to take back my comment because it hurt someone else, what
right does a third party have to come as a messiah of my freedom of
expression. Was he a party to the transaction? No! He is just being
holier than the right and using every stick he finds to beat his own
agenda drums.

from:  Mohit
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 14:53 IST

Political parties channeling collective rage for their own ends; that
of marginalized groups and other people who feel helpless in a world
they feel increasingly excluded from . Frankenstein's monster just
probably needs some good public policy and execution to uplift
them(Easier said than done). People who are not frustrated will have
better things to do than worry about valentines day. Meanwhile
defusing the atmosphere of fear and intolerance characteristic of
other parts of the world should be of prime importance. I guess the
media can do something proactive to quell this trend. But on the other
hand I find the lifestyle projected by Bollywood juvenile, low brow
and garish which is what I see nowadays as the face of the supposedly
modern Indian.

from:  Peppo
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 12:36 IST

The Author had mentioned many cases of eruption of extreme damaging
movements,most will be neutralized into mainstream of Justice.
However,classification of movements,to hear the deep down voices of
this world and many Campaigns aren't arbitrary in nature there are
Institutionalized, appeal against the established institutions
for/against the practice of social injustice.for example: Oxfam,
PETA.,Neutralized,with press releases and regular feedback systems,
and Counter,radical movement,completely against the existing.
It is not marketing strategies such as NaMo Tea, verbal attack etc. it
is beyond and can haul larger forces that falls into this eventuality
and it doesn't happen quickly as each forces try to neutralize it to
their own benefits. However, the communication and the intentions had
created the awareness and this would convert into their political
stands.For example:Kundumkulam or Hanford Watch, power generation vs
maintaining wastes for years cost/space billions each year.

from:  Krishnan
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 10:46 IST

why is this paper silent when it comes to other religious
fanatics,why only hue and cry over the hindu fanatics,why cong
banned salman rushdies book is it not fanaticism or fear of them
but when it comes to otherside you shut off

from:  manas
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 10:11 IST

well said, nothing to disagree here

from:  gaurav
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 10:01 IST

For years, the majority suffered silently while the minorities were
pampered, so a time comes when patience is lost and all hell breaks
loose. Who is to blame? And was Modi so bored with governing in Gujarat
that he abandoned his job like the AAP? Come on, don't take all of us to
be duds.

from:  Bhavadas Unni
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 10:00 IST

Another attempt by TheHindu to demonize Narendra Modi and link him
to almost anything - anything that is happening in India to him.
Though there is an indirect reference but TheHindu appears like a
paid lobby to keep him from winning and forming a Government at
center at all costs.

from:  Rahgul Bajpai
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 08:46 IST

As an academic, nothing is more precious to me than free speech. I so totally
agree with the author,but for a reminder I'd like to put forward. As a keen watcher
of political developments, I watch all Parliamentary proceedings. Articles such as
this prefer to overlook the genesis of this trend of political discourse, and I do see
this as an excercise guided by a bias against the right of center politics. This is
dangerous, as it it fuels public anger even more, which is what this article is about.
When Sonia Gandhi said of Prime minister Vajpayee that "Santoolan kho diya hai" in
Parliament and of Narendra Modi, at a public Rally as "Maut ka saudagar", the
destructive fire was lit and abusive political discourse became legit. So it behoves
the political journalists to learn to be objective and not fuel the flames of hatred
as is being witnessed today.

from:  Leela Krishnaswamy
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 06:27 IST

A good article about machoism and its impact on society.However the
author seems to link too many unconnected things together. Firstly,
there is nothing to suggest Penguin would have won the legal case. In
fact Penguin also reluctantly acknowledge that the section in Indian
IPC that goes back to 1953 limiting freedom of speech is the problem.
True liberals should dare to ask for removal of this section. For
politically convenient reasons many want this limit to be retained.
Secondly there is nothing to remotely suggest NaMo campaign has
anything to do with Wendy case.In fact NaMo has not even uttered a
word about the book,even welcoming its pulping.So why connect them?
Thirdly, machoism and trolling is prevalent on Social media by all
parties.Even the so called celebrities, authors, journalists on social
media do troll and use loose adjectives.Hence blaming it as a right-
wing problem is the type of attitude of MSM that invites troll.

from:  Gajamani G
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 06:13 IST

The BJP bashing goes on unabated. The pulping the book," the Hindus" was a matter
between the publisher and the petitioner, who may have Hindu leanings. Does that mean
every writer should find fault with the whole spectrum of Hindus and Hindu practitioners,
of all kinds of mis behavior etc., this is unfortunate. This book has been in the shelves for
the last 4 years. Most of us came to know only after penguin decided to pulp and they have
also given the reasons for it. It is obvious our laws are very draconian in this matter. The
powerful liberals of Luytens Delhi
should influence the people in power to get this law amended so that More Doniger books
are available in India to educate our children about the glory of India.

from:  Sarath
Posted on: Feb 18, 2014 at 05:29 IST
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