Edit & Opinion

Shame & Sham: Mobocracy, new black

By Poonam I Kaushish

We Indians have an insatiable avarice for gossip. The more salacious, succulent and sensational the better. Like voracious vultures we inhale the minutest detail even if it is exaggerated and fake emitting out of social media and TV channels, condemning the accused as guilty. Consequently the public abetted by media turn into kangaroo courts and pass judgments. Never mind if the fundamental principle of democratic jurisprudence —- innocent till proven guilty —- is turned on its head.   

Two cases in point: The political weaponisation of Kangana Ranaut’s case which started by her questioning Sushant Singh Rajput’s death/suicide, descended into a tirade against Bollywood’s czars involvement in the actor’s death, followed by an FIR against her for anti-Thackeray tirade culminating in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation demolishing ‘illegal’alterations at her Mumbai office.

Clearly, the BJP is using the ‘Queen’ as a proxy to humiliate and damage its erstwhile ally Shiv Sena. By unleashing another ‘Operation Lotus’ to break the SS-NCP-Congress Government by whipping up North Indian identity speechifying by sullying the Sena in Maharashtra. Some BJP leaders have demanded President’s rule in the State as Governor Koshyari showed his displeasure over Chief Minister Thackeray’s “inept handling of the case” and is likely to submit a report to the Centre on the controversy.

One fails to fathom why post haste the Central Government sanctioned Y+ security for Kangana on the facetious ground there was a threat to her life. Really? Is she a VVIP? And for whom? Why would the Modi Sarkar entangle itself in a Bollywood actor’s suicide and the ensuing war of words by a mere actress?

Yet the BJP is mindful that it could trigger a backlash being viewed as anti-Maharshtra, anti-Mumbai and anti-Marathi and has taken a nuanced line by distancing itself from Kangana’s “Mumbai is PoK” remark. Even as it speaks up in her support over the BMC’s demolition. Said ex-Chief Minister Fadnavis, “You don’t go to demolish Dawood’s home, but want to demolish the actor’s house.”

An uneasy NCP-Congress are waiting to see how it plays out, though senior leaders privately admit that Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray play at exacting revenge was not a smart move and were acting as bullies to persecute opponents when the need was for political astuteness and focusing on the State’s booming Covid numbers.

Bizarrely the “Justice for Sushant’ investigations have descended into relentless pursuit and character assassination of his girl friend Rhea Chakraborty and family by three central agencies, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and Narcotics Control Bureau. Ratcheting up ‘evidence’ of personal chats and calls to drug suppliers to create an unfavourable perception and declare her guilty of abetting her boyfriend’s suicide. Big deal if in its wake uncharitable revelations about the Bollywood star’s depression and being a regular consumer of drugs tumble out.

It stands to reason that if the NCB found illicit drugs on Chakraborty she should be arrested. But does the NCB need to launch a huge enquiry into her purchase of 59 gms of marijuana? That too, an amount below the quantity which warrants arrest?  And without finding any on her person? Or the ED register a money laundering case against her for siphoning of Rs 15 crores from the late actor’s bank account as claimed by his family members which his chartered accountant denies were in his account.

Think. Even if one dispassionately casts aside the morality and legality of Chakraborty’s arrest and views it through the prism of politics it makes little sense. Understandably, the ruling BJP has given a political angle to Sushant’s death to incite sentiments in Bihar which goes for Assembly polls later this year. Bihar politicians want to play on Bihari sentiment and emotionally exploit the actor’s death. Of what Mumbai did to their “ladla.” It would also help wean the 5% Rajput vote to the BJP-JD(U).

In West Bengal Parties cutting across the political divide evoked Bengali sub-nationalism, asserting the “vilification campaign” against actor Chakraborty “proved” BJP is “using” Bengalis as a soft target to score brownie points and cash in on this narrative as a rallying cry ahead of the Assembly elections next year. In retaliation the BJP dubs Mamata as anti Hindu and the Congress hits back by stating how the Hindutva brigade got a Bengali Brahmin girl arrested.

Alas, what started out as a tragedy of young life snuffed early has turned into a full blown political tamasha between the Centre-Bihar vs Maharashtra and the BJP vs erstwhile ally Shiv Sena. The BJP sees this as an opportunity to embarrass the Thackerays. Specially against the backdrop of the family scion Aditya being present at Rajput’s house.

Questionably, is the free-for-all conspiracy theories and instant media justice symptomatic of our times? Is vicious mudslinging fast becoming the rhetoric of the day? And hatred the new black? Questions which bombard like staccato gunshots which has ensnared the country in its vicious tentacles.

Pick any newspaper or surf any TV channel any day. Splashes of social schism gore into news headlines. Which has perfected the old saying “jiski laathi uski bhains”! Arguably, not a few would simply shrug it off with “sab chalta hai attitude and many would assert ki pharak painda hai.

Any reader or viewer of India today would think the Kangana and Rhea issues are the prime problems exercising our decision makers. Not for them that the country is in pain: struggling with rising Covid cases touching the 1 lakh daily mark, falling GDP at -23.9%, decrease in production, exponential rise in prices of commodities and services.

Of the poor getting poorer, if that’s possible, with over 750 million below the poverty line satiating their malnourished bellies on the neon light of McDonalds burger, lower and middle income groups being worst hit by recession with no money and jobs to meet their requirements.

While our netas seem oblivious of millions losing their jobs due to Covid resulting in spiking the country’s unemployment rate to 29.22% according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. Maharashtra’s unemployment rate is pegged at 20.9%, Haryana stands at 43.2%, UP at 21.5% and Karnataka at 29.8%. In urban areas it is at a 27.11% high as against 26.69% in rural areas.

Certainly, one would be righteous if one were to respond to the injustice of poverty, hunger, joblessness and sickness with anger but by whetting our appetite for retribution in the name of justice, what does it tell us about our moral quotient? Of how fury, violence and primeval has become a reflex reaction for many in the name of revolution. Replacing old victims with new, always in search of a new enemy and birthing attack on civil liberties, free speech etc.

The glut of rage and the single minded hounding interlaced with vicarious victimhood, sexism and conspiracy theories tells us something of our emotional health. How heartless have we become that not a tear drops when one is confronted with the harsh facts of 28 people commit suicide daily, an average of one every hour according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

As a society we have turned into voyeuristic vultures with a ferocity who revel in mobocracy wherein our primitive emotions of ‘going for the kill’ bloodlust thrive as we exult over lynching, love-jihad and hate crimes beamed to our homes and smartphones just as a matador in a bull ring or Roman prisoners being fed to lions. There is no guilt for this demonization that primes us daily into murderous rage against false gods and flawed heroes. In a milieu wherein adoption of strong-arm tactics to extract one’s pound of flesh has become second nature, it is time to cry a halt. Will the future generation be weighed down by our moribund, casual and politricking leaders albatross round its neck? Who aver: Let them rage, fight and bleed, its only life, stupid. They need to remember moral wrath without humility and empathy does not bring forth a new tomorrow.

 

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