The ‘credit’ for triggering the Hindu in me goes to the mainstream media, and the double standards it employed in reporting two riots that took place in 2012.
Excerpts from the book, 'Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha' by Rahul Roushan.
Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha. Rahul Roushan. Rupa Publications India. 2021. Pages 368. Rs 375.
‘Niti Central’ was launched in 2012, which declared itself “Bold and Right”. It vowed to be different from the mainstream media, which it, rightly, accused of setting an agenda in favour of the (secular-liberal) establishment.
I won’t say that I was immediately attracted towards these handles and initiatives, but they gradually exposed me to a counter-set of views, many of which sounded logical and convincing to me. Instead of countering them on facts, many of the celebrity journalists decided to discredit and label these voices by using terms such as ‘Internet Hindus’ and ‘trolls’— which was not a very smart strategy, as it made the Sanghis appear to be victims of viliﬁcation. I personally ended up following many such handles that were ‘under attack’ from the celebrity journalists, and most of them were not really trolls. The real trolls arrived much later.
Even though I had followed many ‘Internet Hindus’ on Twitter, it didn’t really turn me into one. The ‘credit’ for triggering the Hindu in me actually goes to the mainstream media and its approach towards two incidents in 2012, both of which were related.
The ﬁrst one was the Assam riots that took place in July 2012 between ethnic Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims, who are seen as illegal settlers from Bangladesh. The mainstream media was not reporting about it in detail while multiple claims were being made on social media about the violence. Many pictures and short videos were uploaded on Twitter and other social media platforms, where it was alleged that the Muslims were the main aggressors in the riots. Many claimed that the rioters had modern assault riﬂes, hinting at the involvement of terrorist groups.
In fact, these riots were used as an excuse to block those Twitter handles and other URLs by the government. So apart from being seen as an attack on free speech, this step was also seen as an attempt to suppress information when Muslims were allegedly the aggressors. Not just the government, the mainstream media too was accused of suppressing information by not covering the riots properly. ‘Why did the same TV media, which was hyperactive during the Gujarat riots, not covering the Assam riots now?’— such questions were being raised, tagging the journalists on Twitter.
Such questions were answered in a rather ‘controversial’ way by Rajdeep Sardesai, who came up with the phrase ‘Tyranny of distance’.
In an article, and later on Twitter, he tried to argue that it was not the religion of the perpetrators, but the accessibility of the region, that was the main factor why the Assam riots were not being covered prominently by the media. He pointed out how news channels didn’t have enough modern broadcast equipment in their oﬃces even in the capital city of Assam. Thus, he argued that the lack of means of travel and equipment were the reasons why a coverage similar to that of the Gujarat 2002 riots was not possible in Assam.
Sardesai had made the same error that the ‘Right wing’ often makes— relying on cold hard facts to make an argument while the topic was attracting emotional outbursts. Being a journalist, he should have known that the mahaul (mood) is always more important than data or facts— that is how journalism has been inﬂuencing public opinions for decades. He erred, and till date he is trolled with the ‘Tyranny of distance’ barb.
Further, while Sardesai was technically right about why the Assam riots were not being covered the way the Gujarat riots were, he opened the ﬂoodgates for similar cold hard facts about the 2002 Gujarat riots. By the corollary of his own argument, he virtually admitted that the Gujarat riots were covered widely by the media not because it was especially inhuman or shocking, but because it was easier for the media to cover it, and that the riots looked so ‘unique’ because it took place at a time when modern technologies were available. It was India’s ﬁrst televised riots. So, if access and technology were the only factors, why make it about Modi? Why single him out, when 2002 riots were certainly not the only communal riots to have taken place in India or even Gujarat?
I hope you noticed how Modi didn’t need to talk about the 2002 riots at all, but arguments in his support were already getting out there in public. The narrative was shifting. Modi didn’t need to trigger any communal sentiments at all; his detractors, knowingly or unknowingly, had started doing that.
The second incident that triggered communal sentiments took place a couple of months later in August 2012 — the Azad Maidan riots of Mumbai. Various Muslim groups in Mumbai had called for a protest against the Assam riots because there were counter-claims that Muslims had been killed in bigger numbers. The protests were also supposed to be against the issue of the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which they said was not getting the attention it deserved from the media and the world.
These protests turned violent, leading to the death of at least two people. The protesting Muslim mobs set police vans and media vans on fire. Not just that, a few female constables of the Mumbai Police were even molested by the protesters. The rioting Muslim mob also desecrated the Amar Jawan Jyoti — a memorial dedicated to the war heroes of India.
The Mumbai Police was accused of not acting quickly to rein in the protesters. The critics said that the police should have acted as soon as they saw signs of the protesters turning aggressive and hostile. Questions were raised as to why did the police not pick signals when incendiary speeches were being delivered. There were claims that the police commissioner had even shouted at one of the DCPs who had caught a rioter by collar. The rioter was allowed to leave.
Over the next few days, however, many arrests were made, including of the man who had desecrated the Amar Jawan Jyoti. He had fled to Bihar and was arrested from his hometown.
This incident surely triggered the Hindu in me. Why the hell should Muslims in India go berserk over alleged atrocities on Muslims in Myanmar? How was the Indian government responsible for what was happening in Myanmar? Why desecrate a symbol of war heroes of your own country? It was a manifestation of the two-nation theory at work, where Muslims felt a sense of belonging to one common nation beyond national boundaries — the Ummah.
The last comment obviously is in retrospect. At that point of time, I didn’t link it to the two-nation theory. But apart from the violence, what triggered the Sanghi in me during those days was an article by Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand in The Indian Express, barely a week after the rioting at Azad Maidan.
The husband-wife duo, who had gained fame by accusing Modi of orchestrating the Gujarat riots of 2002, wrote an article praising the Mumbai Police commissioner for not ‘repeating history’, pointing to the police inaction against the Muslim rioters. The duo recounted how the Mumbai Police had shot dead many Muslim rioters during protests against Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses in 1989 and then later when Muslim mobs came out to riot in the immediate aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. The duo then went on to commend the police for not having acted in a similar manner in 2012.
The hypocrisy was staggering. Setalvad and her husband were virtually arguing that the police did the right thing by letting the Muslims vent out their anger against perceived injustices. Well, that’s exactly what they accused Modi of saying and doing — that he asked the police in Gujarat to let the Hindus vent out their anger over the Godhra train carnage.
It was not just someone like me who found it odd and shockingly hypocritical. Madhu Trehan, a senior journalist, too, was surprised at the tone and objective of the article written by Setalvad and her husband. Trehan wrote an article72 in response to the original article by Setalvad and Anand, in which she also referred to the viral clip that showed the Mumbai Police commissioner shouting at a DCP and threatening to have him suspended for having caught a rioter. The concluding paragraph of her article read:
Gujarat 2002 upset and shook me up. Many Tweeters have sincerely tried to convince me that Narendra Modi was not responsible. I, sincerely, have not been convinced so far, since I have seen stories with evidence and footage that show the opposite. But an article like this one by Setalvad-Anand is enough to turn me into what is called an Internet Hindu.
So there you go again. Modi didn’t need to utter a single word about 2002 or how Indian secularism was deeply flawed and designed to give a raw deal to the Hindus, but such topics still ended up being discussed and debated.
This was because his haters, like always, were hyperactive in shielding Muslim aggression, and ended up exposing the double standards of Indian secularism. Not only that, they elicited reactions that made an average secular Hindu feel like an ‘Internet Hindu’. The Hindu identity in me too was triggered due to these incidents.
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