Don’t believe the lies
Last year ended in rising protests and anger across the country. This year has begun on the same troubling note. The organized mob attack on protesting students in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, with what appears to be the active connivance of the university administration and the police, has torn away the last remaining vestiges of normalcy from our democratic functioning.
The fact that the attackers got away despite gates being locked and police present, and that it is the victims who have had cases slapped on them, speaks volumes.
It is common, and necessary, to have differences of political opinion in a democracy, but when one of the opinions is clearly thuggish and totalitarian in character, it becomes difficult to pretend it is just the usual political debate between two points of view.
I spent years trying to understand the views of the Hindu right wing. I used to edit a newspaper, The Asian Age. Sometime in 2014 or 2015, we began to get visitors coming into the office to have interviews with our team. There were various kinds of personalities, ranging from political leaders to movie actors and directors.
We had frank and open discussions with these people. Anyone in our diverse editorial staff was welcome to attend, and everyone had an equal opportunity to ask any question they wanted during the interviews, which were subsequently published. My own openness to all questions, answers, and points of view came from a position of journalistic neutrality.
I considered it important for journalists to not be activists. The job of the journalist was to hear all sides of every story and report them fairly. It was necessary to treat all political parties alike, with a measure of scepticism, and to wait and see what a political party or government did before coming to firm conclusions.
What I have seen in the intervening years is a well-organized control of the media by the ruling party. Large sections of it have been turned into pure screeching propaganda, and much of the remainder has been left to do puff jobs and bury inconvenient stories.
I have seen the capture of all institutions in which the government has any role, and the placing in key positions of loyalists of questionable merit.
I have seen repeated attacks on reason and science, ranging from laughable comments about Mahabharata Internet, Darwin, and peacocks, to the murders of rationalists. I have seen communal hatred of the worst kind mainstreamed and normalized.
I have seen the country’s economy sent into a tailspin by a move that, at least initially, I did not oppose, because the goal seemed laudable and I could not imagine that such a massive thing as demonetization had been done without sufficient study about its consequences.
I have seen three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir and the entire Kashmiri political class disappear overnight before the eyes of the world. I have seen the fragile peace that had returned to Northeast India ruined, and many ordinary lives destroyed by the NRC in Assam, where the process began in earnest in 2015.
The subsequent passing of the CAA in December 2019, with its explanations of “chronology,” was at least in part a reaction to the politics of NRC that began in Assam. Current countrywide protests have come about as a result of that complicated communal politics.
It is abundantly clear, at least to me, that for all my openness to hearing and seeing the Hindu right wing’s point of view, I am unable to discern any sign of the promised “acche din” for any section of the population.
I cannot understand how the worst unemployment rate in 45 years, and increasing workloads coupled with decreasing increments, is “acche din.” Prices are rising while incomes are stagnant or falling. The recent GDP forecast of 5% is the lowest in a decade.
There is zero sign of “vikas” in any field except hooliganism. The market for hired goons is probably one of few that have seen steady growth. It started early on with the lynching by cow-protection vigilantes. What were then “stray incidents” have since spread far and wide, and now we have police itself openly aiding and abetting rioters and vigilantes of a particular party, not only in Uttar Pradesh but even in Delhi.
How is any of this good for the country, or anyone who lives in it? What is the meaning of destroying a healthy economy and a peaceful society? We were doing fine as a country until we were pushed into ever-increasing chaos by terrible decisions which had one common thread: They were all driven by hatred of one group or another.
It was resentment against the corrupt rich in the case of demonetization. It was hatred against “Bangladeshis,” and more broadly Muslims, in the case of NRC and the Citizenship Act.
The poison has now spread throughout the society and country. It is always there, sloshing about in the form of “fake news” on social media, popping up on TV and newspapers, emerging awkwardly in arguments in social gatherings.
The only way that I can think of, to retain a measure of sanity in this growing madness, is to cut myself off from what I now know beyond reasonable doubt to be lies, hate speech, and propaganda.
I don’t see the point in hearing more lies, either from those who spread it knowingly for personal gain or those who spread it unquestioningly because they have been brainwashed. I have heard enough. I will believe the evidence of my own eyes only.
If I see a peacefully progressing country and a healthy economy, if I see a country in which the constitution is upheld in spirit and in letter, if I see a country where all castes, tribes, and communities are treated with equal dignity and respect by the government of the day, I will not need bigoted, sold-out uncles on WhatsApp trying to sell me some unbelievable spiel to convince me of the greatness and glory of this government.
I will sing the praises it will deserve.
Samrat Choudhury is an author, journalist, and former newspaper editor. He tweets as @mrsamratx. This article was previously published in Firstpost.