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Of sacred cows and dwarves in caves

A recent column I wrote criticising India’s cricket captain Virat Kohli provoked an avalanche of responses. One fan called me a China agent, another suggested I had Taliban connections and a third – the unkindest cut of all – called me “uncle”. Never had that Indian endearment used to address strangers and relatives alike sounded so vicious and so lacking in understanding.

In Scandinavian mythology, a troll is a dwarf inhabiting caves, and that’s a pretty accurate description of the anonymous critics on social media too.

Anyway, all those exciting messages got me thinking. Who are the sacred cows of Indian public life, the men and women you cannot criticise without having thousands of their supporters jump on you? A sacred cow – before my Scandinavian friends get active again – “is someone who is often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition.”

The two obvious candidates, and top of the list are our beloved Prime Minister and our almost-beloved Home Minister. Whatever the thickness of their respective skins, the skins of their devoted followers are very thin indeed.

In fact, you don’t even have to criticise these beloved leaders outright. You could write in lavish support - but use a word of more than two syllables and the floodgates open. This perhaps explains why much of our political reporting is in simple English; even simplistic.

What about the rest? The no-go areas include key figures in our four national obsessions: politics, Bollywood, religion and cricket. Sometimes, when politicians are involved in cricket, they are protected like double glazed windows. Jay Shah, for instance, is the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India as well as the son of the Home Minister. Therefore he cannot be criticised in any year which has a July in it.

There are national sacred cows and then there are regional sacred cows. In West Bengal, there is Mamata Banerjee, in UP, Yogi Adityanath. You can write what you want about them so long as it is laudatory.

Businessman Gautam Adani is a no-go area as publications who have been sued for their hard work have discovered. Some years ago, Narayana Murthy was seen as being above censure, but he seems to have fallen back into the general pool of the criticise-able.

Among Bollywood stars, Amitabh Bachchan is a bit of a sacred cow, but he doesn’t have one hundred percent protection, and is liable to attract both media criticism and on occasion, professional trolls.

Then there is a phalanx of so-called ‘godmen’ who have built-in immunity. This includes (in no particular order) Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Jaggi Vasudev and a host of others. Many have power without responsibility and a fan club that is the envy of movie stars. These politico-businessmen have humanity’s best interests at heart of course.

Which brings us to the old joke. “You know in our country we can criticise our Prime Minister,” says one. “It’s the same in our country too,” responds his friend, “we too can criticise your Prime Minister.”

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu).

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 9:32:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/of-sacred-cows-and-dwarves-in-caves/article36158895.ece

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