Six Lessons From The Atul Kocchar Episode
One lesson that celebrities can learn from the Atul Kochhar case is that it is best to lie low and ignore social media outrage; any public apology only serves to act as emotional fuel to the mob that is already enraged.
Well, friends, the hour has grown late and I am sure, like me, all of you have read, tweeted and discussed the issue at hand enough, so let me skip the preliminaries and go straight to the salient learnings from the sad episode of chef Atul Kochhar’s hounding by the Islamists and their left-liberal apologists.
‘Sorry’ seems to be the most useless word
American humorist Bill Maher once lamented that the liberals in America are increasingly becoming a party that is going from ‘ask not what your country can do for you’ to ‘you owe me an apology’. Indeed in these highly polarised, politically sensitive times where social media platforms are filled with angry partisans of all hues and where hammers search for nails 24*7, it is almost impossible to find a celebrity who hasn’t drawn the wrath of the perpetually purple-with-outrage crowd. The common thread that we also saw in chef Atul’s case is that a public apology, often tendered with an eye on mollifying the angry mob, only serves to act as emotional fuel to the mob that feels they have a foot in the door. Atul’s apology saved neither his contract with Marriot hotels nor his other industry contacts like Halal Gems app that has dissociated itself from him.
A quick look at the biggest cases of outrage on social media in recent times will bear out the truth that a celebrity who either chooses to brazen the outrage out or just lies low for a few days is more likely to emerge unscathed from such an ordeal. The past shows that social media, while capable of creating very intense pressure for a short time is incapable of sustaining an outrage for a long time and that is one of the reasons why boycotts as a form of protest have rarely worked in long-term. In the future, a celebrity facing similar predicament would be better off staying off the airwaves for a short while working one-on-one with any business associates who they might have offended.
Left-liberal elites remain biggest threat to freedom of expression and liberties of individuals
Anyone who has followed the self-proclaimed liberals of India would know that this crowd likes different sets of rules not only for themselves but also for causes and people they support as compared to the ordinary masses. This incident was a grim reminder of this phenomena yet again. From the neo-Congress partisan who piled on to Atul’s miseries by tagging his employers and informing her sizeable following of his business affiliations, to another television journalist who cheered the ‘social backlash’ to him, (conveniently ignoring that when she faced similar ‘social backlash’ she wanted Amazon to delete negative reviews of her book, and termed boycott as ‘economic terrorism’ ) the self-proclaimed liberals of India have once again demonstrated their reckless disregard for the well-being of their ideological opponents.
Frankly speaking, it was a little scary to read blue-ticked after blue-ticked liberals cheer the hounding of an individual as just desserts served to a bigot. The same set of people were outraged when millions of ordinary Hindus were angry about the ignorant and offensive depiction of Hindus in the largely forgettable Quantico. The hypocrisy of preaching tolerance over a TV show which is carefully thought out and written while cheering intolerance against an opinion expressed on social media, possibly in the heat of the moment, will not be lost on most readers.
The ordinary Indian voter would do well to keep in mind the larger issue at stake in the 2019 elections. If the old left-leaning ecosystem comes back, the same set of people who are acting as apologists for the communal hatred targeted at Atul would be back too, and I don’t know about you, but the thought sends a shiver down my spine.
An ecosystem that is not just different but better
Here is a thought for you to ponder upon, in case you are among the many online who feel that the left ecosystem is far more effective than the right. The left ecosystem, for all its effectiveness, is also one where neo-partisans might be asked to prove their capability by setting the online mob on an individual and possibly putting his life in danger. Do you think you will be able to survive in such a system? In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Liam Neeson warns Christian Bale’s young Bruce Wayne -’‘your compassion is a weakness that your enemies will not share’ to which the young Bruce replies- ‘that’s why it is so important. It separates us from them’. I rest my case.
You may not believe it, but the other side is more desperate than they are letting on
A myth, popularised by a few right intellectuals, is that even though electorally the right in India as represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) is winning victory after victory, most of these are hollow as the left is winning the larger culture war. The ground reality might be different as this clip (watch from 2.35, some people may find language offensive) shows. The frustration expressed by the left-leaning television host in America may not be too different from the one experienced by the Indian left who see their inept electoral representatives ceding ground after ground to the BJP election machine. The intimidation of BJP supporters has become far more overt in social media off-late, and while the pessimists among the right think it as a sign that the Congress camp is feeling good about their chances in 2019, the possibility of a lot of it having a ‘nothing to lose’ kind of despondency cannot be ignored.
A caution to the sceptics among the online right
After the incident, a few on social media were talking about how the person involved in this incident was one supported by some on the right. Those who were cautious about this person from day one may feel a sense of vindication today, but I think a word of caution is in order. Many times online right has a habit of viewing all neo-converts or neutrals with suspicion and subject them to endless tests of sufficient purity. While this approach may help weed out a few profiteer types early, it also turns away a lot of independent-minded individuals tired of the constant nit-picking. So while their scepticism might have borne out quite visibly in this case, it might already have exacted more than its fair price by making a few potential recruits walk away. If you question everyone, you are bound to catch the occasional trespasser just as even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
A case for issue-based support
Movements, for their long-term success, depend on ideas and issues, and therefore a conscious effort must be made to keep personalities out of the discussion as much as possible. A mature activist understands that very rarely would another person agree with him/her all the time on all the issues and hence the focus must be on collaborating on matters of common interests, letting go minor disagreements, and only standing up for those few non-negotiable principles. Even in the agreement, it is important to keep a sense of proportion and express support for the idea rather than making it an endorsement of the person himself/herself. That way, in case of future disagreement, you are not emotionally invested in defending your own past judgement of a person.
If you apply the same thumb rule, you will notice how the left liberal’s argument about Atul’s apology becomes invalid. If a person expresses an opinion in the heat of the moment, then if a punishment is needed at all, what should it be—threatening him with loss of livelihood or harm to his person, or his own remorse?