And why Twitter’s explanation ‘that they wanted to hear all sides’ doesn’t wash either.
In my high-school history textbook, the chapter detailing the rise of British rule on India was titled “व्यापारी म्हणून आले आणि राज्यकर्ते बनले “ (they came as traders and became rulers). Indeed, worldwide, we seem to be seeing a repeat of this phenomenon, as heads of powerful social media companies seemed to be getting more and more open about using the immense reach and power of their platforms to enforce their writ on countries across the world. Already, someone as respected and senior as Apple’s Chief Executive Officer(CEO) Tim Cook has talked about “ for technology companies”. Twitter boss Jack Dorsey’s with left journalists from India, with Jack holding a sign “smash Brahminical Patriarchy “ must, therefore, be viewed in the context of a powerful technological company asserting its political will in a foreign country in a brazen manner.
That Twitter worldwide and unfairly censors the right (or non-left in Indian context) is no secret. From prominent non-left handles to arbitrarily banning some accounts while leaving others unmolested, Twitter has been trying to tilt the field in favour of the regressive left worldwide. Even in India, Twitter’s policy head Mahima Kaul was recently forced to hateful tweets only after people found out that she works with Twitter. Until recently, Kaul had also followed Ambedkar’s Carvan, a rabidly abusive handle that has celebrated the death of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and espoused violence against Hindus on several occasions.
Jack’s visit was embroiled in controversy, even before the disastrous photo-op. During Jack’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his body-language and postures, as well as sartorial choices, were questioned, as was the presence of Mahima Kaul in that meeting.
Minus the self-indulgent virtue signalling of the perfumed elites present, Jack’s meeting, wherein he posed with the poster, was the most blatant form of echo-chamber indulgence possible. If the idea was to hear all sides of an important conversation, as Twitter later claimed, where were those who represent the ideological opposition to Barkha, Anna etc.? Where were scores of popular, articulate and charismatic non-left women who have suffered from rape threats to harm to their children from the anonymous regressive left trolls? If the idea was not to promote or target any community, why didn’t Jack hold another placard condemning Islamic terrorism or Maoist terrorism, both of whom claimed lives in India, while Jack was in India?
Coming to the of the photo after social media outrage, the company’s claim that Jack was just “gifted” the poster by a Dalit activist to hold, shows, at best, highly questionable judgement by a senior business executive. Would Jack hold a Nazi sign in Germany without understanding the full context of it, just because it was gifted by an “activist”? Also, what is this business about Jack holding the sign that he doesn’t endorse as the company note maintains? This is the old “RTs not endorsements” disclaimer taken to ridiculous lengths.
Why Jack was approached by the journalists for this photo-op is not hard to understand. The regressive left in India, reeling after a string of electoral losses since 2014, is desperately seeking to turn the balance back. The electoral results since 2014 show that the numbers are not in their favour. So naturally, they are trying to achieve their objective by suppressing free speech, brazenly putting out results based on highly questionable surveys (and then them when called out) and maligning a large majority of their ideological opponents as violent, fascist trolls. This tactic in itself is nothing new since the regressive left in America has been doing it nearly from the end of World War II. Barkha Dutt who was present in the photo-op with Jack had even the murder of Shujaat Bukhari, a Kashmiri journalist slain by Islamic militants, on social media trolls and hyper-nationalistic TV channels. To put it in an American context for Jack to understand, it is like blaming Bernie Sanders for the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
While criticising American college student’s humourlessness, noted comedian Jerry Seinfeld had said- “They don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Sexist. Racist. Prejudice. They just want to use these words”. Similarly, if you ask those present for a definition of Brahminical patriarchy, you are likely to get a lot of invective and rhetoric but very little substance. The term is just a clever attempt to Indianise the victimhood based narrative they have copied from the West. Recently, Print, an Indian digital platform, had carried an article where the writer had violence against pre-teen Brahmin boys if they wore the thread as per their custom. In light of such open calls for aggression, the implications for this photo-op, become even more serious.
I talked about the ever more explicit expression of ideological bent by social media powerhouses at the start of this op-ed. To make such expansionist ambitions truly dangerous to a country’s sovereignty, you need the saboteurs from within, the proverbial Ghar ka bhedi (the breaker from within the house). During the 18th and 19th century India, the feuding royal clans often provided such openings to the imperialists. India’s elite media, under ever increasing scrutiny and unable to set the narrative since the middle of this decade, finds itself increasingly powerless and a lot of them are lashing out at the masses like petulant rulers of the historical era. I have discussed elsewhere why the Indian elites who form something like 95 per cent of India’s mainstream media, are such staunch supporters of unelected institutions. Similarly, for them, the owner of one of the largest social media companies in the world represents an ideal shoulder to fire their ideological rifle from. These elites, stripped of their influence and credibility, understand that for them to regain their power, they would need to turn the clocks back and somehow bring the democratisation of discourse to an end. Ironically, the honchos they are turning to for help are often heading the same companies that stripped the elites of their power. They would not turn a hair if to achieve this objective they have to malign a peaceful, minority (in terms of population percentage) community and unleash societal violence against them. In this context, their attempt to enlist the support of a foreign businessman, to promote a vicious, divisive narrative through him, is an act of internal sabotage.
It is for us masses to determine if any of the people present in the photo-op including Jack is capable of speaking on behalf of us. Suppression and inequity are societal truths that must be faced bravely and without rancour by the agents of change. At the same time, as members of a sovereign country, we must strive to ensure these words don’t end up becoming tools of suppression themselves.