“A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.”
This quote by Mark Twain is prophetic as the entire world wakes up to the menace of fake news. The fact that such news sells, it gives adequate coverage and provides political mileage makes it come back at the forefront of political battles across the world.
Recent electoral outcomes, which have rendered the old elites in the media as obsolete or without much hold on policy seems to have colluded with the politicians to salvage the situation and regain their lost glory.
Their weapon of mass destruction is the general ignorance of people combined with their ability to legitimise fake news, thereby shaping up opinions of their local populace. The theme of the book Citizen Raj is similar as it outlines this clash of titans before the 2019 elections, while boldly forecasting a simple majority for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The forecast was right, and the discussions contained in the book are extremely relevant as India witnesses a repeat of what has transpired since 2014. The only difference is that this time the opposition didn’t lose a second, and started to agitate from the first parliament session onwards.
We saw similar such attempts during Modi 1.0 and it all originated from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), went to Hyderabad University, Jadavpur University and other centres of learning. A similar plot is unfolding at the moment and one cannot help but wonder the rationale behind it.
To be fair, history shows that popular mandates can be reversed only by aggressive student movements and the opposition seems to be trying this trick since 2015 onwards.
The difference, however, is that students don’t have a legitimate reason to protest —my liberal friends will probably disown me for saying this, but it is important to put the record straight.
There are virtually no reasonable grounds for any of the protests that are taking place and unfortunately, many of these individuals don’t realise how vested political interests are using them as cannon fodder.
Like committed foot soldiers, they are willing to lay on the tracks for their political masters, but do they really know what it is that they are committing too?
For starters, the recent lockdown in JNU as per available information now, was primarily because of a call by the student union against registration of students. The sequence of events was such that certain students who were protesting fee hikes had called for a boycott of registration.
However, the university managed to create an online system for registration. Certain masked men broke inside and ransacked the server rooms on 4 January as per the university administration.
There is a clear motive here of the JNU Students Union (JNUSU) which wants to create the university in a state of lockdown and therefore, this motive must be adequately investigated.
Interestingly, JNUSU claims that masked guards had attacked students, which sounds absurd. The first question that is worth asking here is — should the university be in a perpetual state of lockdown only because of some sections of the student body?
There is indeed a failure here of the administration to identify these students and take strong disciplinary action against such miscreants.
If students want to protest, they should protest — but can their protest come in the way of other people doing their jobs?
Can a protest superimpose the choice of one particular group on everyone else? Will we allow for such veto power to be given to a small section of violent, politically motivated and irresponsible group in an elected democracy?
Many students, research scholars and my friends believe that these protests are to protect and preserve the Constitution. It sounds funny.
These protests have nothing to do with the Constitution or secularism but they are nothing beyond a struggle for political survival. There has been no instance of an attack on the Constitution and a lot of it is driven by just political rhetoric.
The abrogation of a temporary provision of Article 370 does not count as changing the Constitution but it is more of correcting a historic mistake. Mind you, Article 370 denied private investments in Jammu and Kashmir and took away the rights of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and LGBTs so abrogation of the same only strengthen the constitutional rights of citizens of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
The recent debate around Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) also suffers from a similar misinformation campaign that it attacks the secular credentials of Indian Constitution. Nothing could be far from true as the CAA is only creating a special provision while retaining all existing provisions to grant citizenship.
There is precedence of the same in past, especially when similar provisions were created in the West to grant citizenship to Jews, who were being persecuted in Germany. An irony here is that human right activists are protesting against a move that will confer rights on religiously persecuted minorities from our neighbour countries.
It is worth noting that Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and Hindus that face religious persecution will be granted citizenship and therefore, the law does not discriminate against a particular community.
It so happens to be the case that Ahmadiyas face sectarian persecution, however, the CAA only deals with religious persecution. Therefore, all others, persecuted or not, if they desire Indian citizenship, they can apply through the normal process.
Having said that, one must also remember that the Partition of India was on religious grounds and while minorities have prospered and grown in India, they have witnessed a secular decline in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Therefore, Prime Minister Imran Khan should be the last person to give sermons on protecting the rights of minorities — especially with what is happening in Pakistan at the moment.
A bias against the government has crept in amongst certain students and this bias has resulted in many of them believing propaganda, fake news and false equivalences thereby participating in protests as foot soldiers of political have been(s).
I am outraged today at the glaring ignorance of students, who have failed to differentiate fact from fiction despite having access to Internet.
We should be outraged today at the convenient peddling of fake news by senior leaders of the opposition, by irresponsible statements comparing JNU violence with 26/11 Mumbai attacks and by the sinister plot to use our campuses to create a civil unrest.
I am outraged today at the fact that politically motivated activists are stopping students from studying at universities and they are using them as foot soldiers for a battle that they can’t fight themselves.
I am outraged today at the weakness of our institutions that fail to ensure that those who want to study are allowed to study. I am outraged today because within minutes of the violence, we say an unholy nexus twist the story and create a situation of panic across campuses. Protests broke out immediately across several universities, political leaders and activists arrived at the campus and the issue became national headlines. Coincidence much? I really doubt it.
The old elites have recognised their limitations and it has found reliable activists who can create public unrest in student leaders. The old elites are using them as cannon fodder, but if they are dumb enough to fall for it, then god bless the future of our country.
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