Everybody loves a bomb blast; television channels that can't wait to bring out those hysterical terror montages, those creepy background tunes and them evergreen “Enough is Enough” slugs, conspiracy theorists and, of course, the hardliners from the Khaki Knicker Clan.
Whether it's on Twitter where 140-characters of shock, horror and condolence mindlessly turns into hateful messages and quick fix solutions to end terror by hanging that “freeloader Kasab”, or on television channels where popsociologist-turned-socialites ramble on; everybody loves the space it provides them to pontificate on all that's wrong with the country.
But even the most 'GoSwami-est' of TV programming - the kind where Islamist organisations are tracked down and named within minutes of a Blast, despite there being “Zero Intelligence” on the attack - would not have prepared you for what a self-obsessed, economist Swami had to say on the subject. Published in Saturday's edition of the Mumbai-headquartered daily, Daily News and Analysis (DNA), was a 1,250-word rant on “How to Wipe out Islamic Terror”
, written by Subramanian Swamy
, president of the nearly defunct Janata Party, part-time littigant and rabid rightwinger whose pet wet dream is a Hindu Rastra.
So DNA readers in Mumbai opened the pages of their daily to read an article, that would otherwise only be deemed fit to be published in an RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pamphlet or on one of those dime-a-dozen rightwing websites. A newspaper known for publishing a lot of reader articles (oddly, a few months ago its editor Aditya Sinha – who recently moved from the top job at the Chennai New Indian Express – ran a strange, signed piece on how the paper is getting rid of the Edit page as it has “outlived its purpose”) DNA appears to have made this choice simply to grab a few eyeballs, or worse, “in the interest of a debate”.
But does Swamy's line of argument even merit a debate? How can one attempt to reason with a man who believes (and repeatedly says so in his article) that any citizen of India who does not acknowledge his/her Hindu ancestry must be denied the right to vote? Do we really want to spend our time arguing whether or not we are a secular democracy? Have we not or are we not being told that we have moved past that dark period of post-Independent history (up until the post-Godhra carnage) where it was okay to say that India should only be for Hindus? Do we really need this debate at this juncture, just days after three bomb blasts killed 21 and wounded over 140 citizens [not Hindus, as Swamy will have us believe] in a city that has a recorded history of terrorist attacks, and more importantly, of religious rioting and violence?
Aditya Sinha, editor of the DNA, believes that we do. To be fair to him, he has given space for many a liberal voice in this broadsheet, but does that justify the decision to publish an article that provides space and legitimacy to an ideological line of argument that is offensive to a large section of its readers? I would think not.
Liberals (even those of the Aditya Sinha kind) are increasingly dismissive of the threat that the Hindutva brigade poses to our country. They believe – as we heard many commentators parrot after the Allahabad High Court verdict on the Ayodhya temple dispute – that the Indian polity, and the people of India, have moved on. There is no space for hardline Hindutva politics anymore, they believe.
Here's why I think they're terribly wrong. On the very same day that Swamy decided to insult our collective intelligence with his article, the Karnataka Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Visveswar Hegde Kageri spoke at the valedictory of the Bhagwad Gita Abhyaan in Kolar. The Abhyaan is a compulsory programme for middle and high school students in government schools, where they are taught the Bhagvad Gita as a subject. It has been the pet project of the BJP government for over two years. On Friday, in response to critics of the Abhyaan (mainly Left political parties and outfits, for, the Congress and the JD(S) have not had much time for this) Kageri said that those who oppose the teaching of the scripture in schools should “QUIT INDIA”
Kageri, among the RSS hardliners in the BJP government, had no qualms in saying so because he knows that this is what sells in Karnataka. That despite the sickening levels of corruption and blatant misuse of power, it is programmes like this one that will win them the support of various Matths and the powerful, wealthy Pontiffs who wield considerable influence over votebanks. In Karnataka, where I live, I can point out one such example a month. One can only imagine that in Gujarat, from where there is little mainstream media reporting on such matters, things are only worse.
Getting back to Swamy, who has for some time now been brandishing his extreme rightwing views on several forums, occasionally on television shows where he retains legitimacy by attacking the UPA government on more valid issues such as the 2G scam, corruption and, of course the Italian Lady he loves to hate.
The kind of “soul-searching for the Hindus of India” that he proposes in his article, is provocative and vile on several counts. Without so much as alluding to the clear and present danger presented by militant Hindutva terror outfits – compelling evidence for which has come to the fore, courtesy yet another Swami, Aseemanand – Swami holds the entire Muslim community responsible for killing Hindus in a “halal fashion”. He uses his keen acumen in predicting a Taliban takeover in Pakistan by 2012, and foresees that the Americans will by then flee Afghanistan [Amen to the latter]. “Then, Islam will confront Hinduism to “complete unfinished business”,” says the genius.
Wasting no newsprint before getting to the point, he rebukes devout Hindus (virat Hindu, as he puts it) for not organising themselves better. “If half the Hindus voted together, rising above caste and language, a genuine Hindu party would have a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the assemblies,” he says. Wow, the BJP should recruit him as the Chief Sarathi for their next Rath Yatra!
What is incredible about this article – besides the fact that a mainstream newspaper deemed it fit to publish – is that it manages to sustain its 'cringe value' through successive paragraphs. As a non-believing Hindu (by birth only), I cringed. I can only imagine that any average believing-but-secular Hindu would reach out for his/her barf bag mid-way through the second paragraph. As for the Muslims, they're all too busy being “fanatic” and preparing to “slide into suicide against Hindus” anyway to read this, aren't they Swami?
Muslims, he reiterates can only prove their loyalty if they accept that their ancestors were Hindus. Revolting? Wait, believe it or not, it goes downhill from here. He goes on to say that those who refuse to acknowledge so [he includes the foreigners; after all, the Madame in 10 Janpath has for long been his pet peeve] should not have voting rights. Had he been delivering a speech at a Knicker Abhyaan, at this point the Khakis would have given him a standing ovation.
For good measure Swami borrows heavily from RSS manuals, be it the Ram Mandir or referring to the wealthiness of Islamic terrorists. And then as if he were actually proposing plausible solutions to political problems he goes on to offer what he terms as “Goals and Strategies”. This section Swamy, and the sensible editors at DNA, should have called Swamy's Wet Dream.
On Kashmir, Swamy's suggestions are nuttily cunning, and original (Not); “create Panun Kashmir for Hindu pandits, take over Pak-occupied-Kashmir and assist the Baluchis and Sindhis to get their independence”. That's it, problem solved. By now one would imagine this article ceases to shock. Then, he goes on to advocate the removal of the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 masjids at other temple sites. Between making learning Sanskrit/singing Vande Mataram mandatory, and annexing Bangladeshi land in proportion to immigrants, his hyper narrative reaches a crescendo with this hugely idiotic sentence: “If the Jews could be transformed from lambs walking meekly to the gas chambers to fiery lions in just 10 years, it should not be difficult for Hindus in much better circumstances (after all we are 83% of India), to do so in five years.”
Now, there are many reasons why Swami's article should not have seen light of day. Consider that even as Swami's article 'trends' on Twitter – Twitter parlance for when an article is really popular – a Muslim man, who was rounded up by cops in Mumbai in connection with the case, died in police custody. The word on the street is that he was innocent and died because of mistreatment by the police. We heard of him because he died. After an attack of this nature, typically, scores of innocent young innocent Muslim men are rounded up by cops; and the cycle of hatred and injustice perpetuates itself.
So do we really need DNA to help add fuel to this fire? On the one hand, Sinha's reporters strive to tell us the story of a resilient Mumbai (as if Mumbai or anyone had a choice), while on the other, the newspaper endorses an article that is at best an attempt to capitalise on the horror, anger and grief felt by the people of Mumbai in the aftermath of an attack. Indeed, Swami, the wingnut that he is, is mighty content with himself and his perverse world view. Going by the response on rightwing sites, and to an extent on social media, his hate-filled prose won him accolades, and then some claps to DNA for publishing it.
But is DNA culpable? A quick read of the Press Council guidelines on reporting communally-sensitive issues in the media shows that indeed publishing derogatory/inflammatory content (even if done in the interests of promoting diverse views) is journalistically unethical. We – and the print media in particular – are ever critical of the hysterical reportage/tone adopted by 24X7 news channels in such situations. This time around, barring the unmissable references to Pakistan, and a tad over-the-top attempts to record the obvious anger and helplesness felt by Mumbaikars on July 13, television reportage was tolerable. As for those news-discussion shows where you heard people say this, that and the other, one can take solace in the fact that there are at least 10 windows -- and a semblance of diversity in opinions -- each of which disappears into oblivion once the 15-minute slot is over.
It isn't so with the printed word. There is something far more definitive about it. Something that creates an impact that is less fleeting, and therefore needs to be dealt with more responsibly.
Yes, we have a free Press in this country, but in retrospect even Sinha may agree that merely publishing the other side of the story (like DNA did on Monday) will not suffice. Not this time.