Tuesday, January 08, 2013

When noise becomes news and news becomes noise

Tuesday, January 08, 2013 4 comments Share: Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Facebook

Good intentions and cheap thrills will not change the ground reality.

3 weeks ago, a 23 year old girl was gang raped by 6 men and she died on 29th December 2012. A lot has been written about the rape, protests, reactions and a lot more will be written. So here are my views on some other incidents during these 3 weeks and how they might have cost us an opportunity to change the status quo.

First, there was Abhijeet Mukherjee (Congress MP and President Pranab Mukherjee's son) with his "painted and dented" remark. Then one Kailash Vijayvargiya wanted women to not cross the "Laxman Rekha". A Congress leader, Botsa Satyanarayana, advised women to not step out during late hours. Short skirts were blamed. Some Honey Singh got his concert cancelled because his songs insulted women. Mohan Bhagwat (the RSS Sarsangchalak) thought such incidents did not occur in Bharat, but only in India. Yesterday, it was Asaram Bapu who thought the girl was partially to blame.

Women's rights organizations got into the act. courageous, angry women who had faced the brunt of male aggression, groping, sexual abuse, escalated the brutal incident of 16th December to the larger issue of violence against women. The topics of marital rape and sexual abuse in families got effortlessly weaved in to this narrative and were debated vigorously. Free speech advocates jumped in defending Honey Singh's rights. Every noble cause seemed to have found fresh legs and each one of these out of touch, old-fashioned, narrow-minded jokers were ridiculed, mocked, shamed until their comments were "withdrawn" or apologies given, or clarified by spokespersons and apologists.

It was all happening. We were frustrated by the Government's (lack of) response, ineptness of the police; angry with a system that could not prevent this horror, a society that does not respect women; saddened and hurt by the rape and our own helplessness. There were protests on streets, fire fuelled by relentless media coverage, helped along by Facebook shares and tweets. A nation was waking up. Or was it?

I ask this because I don't see an awakening, but only collective stupidity. Each one of these incidents, our excessive attention to them, the joy over a TV anchor making a politician squirm or extracting an apology, our obsessing over ridiculous comments, were a distraction. Those who pushed forward other important issues about women's rights, sexual abuse and attitudes in society, added to the noise despite all their good intentions. While it looked like there was progress being made, we drowned the original issue - of rape, punishment, deterrence/prevention, of police sensitivity to such crimes and accountability of law enforcement officials - in a sea of larger agendas and nonsensical utterances. We tried to win wars that have been fought for centuries and would take a few more decades, even before we had won the first battle.

Wars are won one battle at a time, not by overreaching and getting desperate but by hammering away at weaknesses until the walls are breached. Issues can co-exist and battles can be fought on more than one front at a time, but it requires focus and the rate at which we get distracted makes it impossible for us to win. The next time we lose a battle, it won't be because the system is too strong to be defeated, but because we can't stick to one issue long enough to see it through.

3 weeks later, these distractions dominate the news and the dead girl seems like a distraction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Without comment

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11 comments Share: Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Facebook

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why the Time 100 Poll does not matter

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 17 comments Share: Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Facebook

Political battles are not won on the internet, but they can be lost there

There was some buzz on the Internets about a Time Poll which the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi almost won. Some celebrated, some were aghast at the possibility that Mr.Modi would come out on top in an Internet poll and there was one excellent analysis of what the numbers could mean. Apparently, Mr.Modi led the poll a few days ago, thanks to his massive (online) following and his opponents mobilized enough online votes to make their opposition loud and clear.

The poll itself does not matter because

1. It is an internet poll, and it is best not to take it very seriously and
2. It was a battle of fanatics and devotees, who eventually canceled each other out.

But there are other issues to consider.

On one hand, there is no politician in India who commands such intense devotion as Mr.Modi does, and it boils down to three reasons:
1. Gujarat under Mr.Modi has been touted as investment-friendly, corruption-free and a model of good governance
2. Top-notch media management has highlighted the positives coming out of Gujarat, a stark contrast considering the state of affairs in the rest of India
3. Media focus on the post-Godhra riots and Mr.Modi's role in it, which make him look like a victim.

On the other hand, his opponents have tried to assert that Gujarat is not all that it is made out to be and his direct or indirect involvement in the Gujarat riots is reason enough to disregard any progress seen during his tenure as Gujarat CM. They were fairly successful in traditional media. But for the first time, I have seen Mr.Modi lose an internet battle, indicating the arrival of another group of fanatics who want to win perception battles with mouse clicks.


Some people argue about issues beyond the legal ones Mr.Modi faces, but morality has limited and convenient value in politics. If morality was the yardstick to elect our politicians, we would have elected an entirely different breed of leaders. Therefore, only three things matter:

1. The court's verdict on cases before it: I think even Mr.Modi opponents know that there is no smoking gun as they seem to be inclined towards tying him up in court cases and impeding his Prime Ministerial ambitions.
2. Election results: Rohit Pradhan has a great piece in Pragati on future political scenarios. There is another scenario. While Mr.Modi's move to the centre may galvanize votes against him, middle class India might actually turn up to vote for him (and the BJP). This could be due to frustration with Congress' misgovernance and corruption and also because those on the fence only need the court cases to go away so they can brush off questions of morality and vote for the man they think is a man of action.
3. Acceptability of allies: This is a hurdle that Mr.Modi might find most difficult to negotiate, but what if there is a wave in support of Mr.Modi? It seems difficult in the current political and social climate. But because the BJP doesn't have much to lose, Mr.Modi is the make-or-break bet it must make and hope that the allies will eventually come around.

I believe Mr.Modi's time has come and while I may not trust him as the country's Prime Minister, I would rather see him have his legitimate opportunity to lead the country. Of all the politicians and political formations in India today, he has articulated a coherent vision for his state and followed up on it. This, his followers believe, makes Mr.Modi a transformational leader and support their hero with an indignation and hostility that has to be seen to be believed.


I received an interesting tweet last evening about a myth-busting website re:Gujarat riots, and I would like to quote a couple snippets from that website:
"Myth 1: 2,000 Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots
Fact: 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the riots, 2548 people were injured and 223 people were missing"
"Myth 2: Muslims were ‘butchered’ in Gujarat
Fact: "by and large - the riots were not one-sided- and Muslims were hardly the cattle hiding from the slaughter house"

There is more, and I will leave you to make your own conclusions but this is a sample of Mr.Modi's following. Another section, arguably, is only interested in good governance and want him to replicate Gujarat on a larger scale.

Mr.Modi's devotees are a curious combination of well-meaning people impatient for good governance, the aggrieved Hindu who thinks the Gujarat riots were a good thing as it taught Muslims a lesson, and the Hindu supremacist. Except for a few people who remain objective, they are either blinded by devotion for Mr.Modi or by hatred towards anyone who speaks against their hero, and won't stop at anything to drown other voices out.


Any politician with the extent of demonstrated success as Mr.Modi deserves a fair political chance and it is high time that Mr.Modi's opponents gracefully step back instead of hysterically rehashing the same talking points. While perceptions can be changed on a smaller scale, elections won't be won on the Internet. This is something his devotees must realise because their hostility and storm-trooping puts off more people than they can win the support of. An old proverb says "a man is known by the company he keeps". Mr.Modi's devotees should understand that they are his company and they will have themselves to blame when their he is judged by their behaviour.

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