To understand how far political discourse has come in India – how the Overton window has been stretched – one simply has to look at the media coverage of the Ayodhya Bhoomi Pujan.
While at one time, any intellectual worth his asparagus would be laughed out of the newsroom for backing the Ram Temple, every channel including those maligned as anti-national ran wall-to-wall coverage of the event.
By the time, the Mandir event came along, the opposition to it was reserved to some op-ed writers, a few Blue Ticks, a serial RTI activist and the Communists.
They had the vigour of an aged boxer running on dregs in an underground bar fight reacting from muscle memory rather than any real desire to win.
Secularism in India has no resemblance to the one that exists in Western thought.
It borrows from modern wokeism which believes the 'don’t punch down narrative', which even buys into the AOC maxim of being partial with the truth if it goes against a narrative.
While things have changed, old habits die hard.
The overwhelming sentiment of the majority and their disdain shows if we follow the commentary – or lack of it – that followed the Bengaluru riots.
For the uninitiated, an angry Muslim mob burnt down Dalit Congress MLA Akhanda Srinivas Murthy’s house for an allegedly derogatory post by his nephew.
The mob clashed with police officers and at the time of writing, over 100 people were arrested and three killed.
Over 60 police officers were injured, and Section 144 was imposed.
It was Satanic Verses over a bad Facebook post.
Yet, check the reactions.
Asaduddin Owaisi condemned ‘both acts equally’, suggesting a Facebook comment was the same as burning a building to the ground.
Congress, which is quick to blame everything in India on Modi, abandoned their MLA with the alacrity with which Bihar Police tackles cases outside its state.
Karnataka Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao gave a twist the Brandenburg Test of ‘imminent and lawless action’ calling the Facebook post the work of a ‘deeply sick mind with an intention to create violence’.
Siddaramaiah went a step further and asked Hindus to keep calm!
Shashi Tharoor, the centrist balancing things, shared a tweet of a chain of Muslims guarding a temple from a mob while ostensibly forgetting the name of the religion of the mob.
It was a rare instance where only BJP politicians were speaking up for a Congress MLA attacked by a mob.
What was particularly telling was the reaction from social and mainstream media.
There were no ‘bhay ka mahaul’ posts.
It’s unlikely to lead to a string of letters from eminent citizens including former judges, thinkers, intellectuals, and IAS officers.
It didn’t evoke strong reactions from those who run Hate Trackers or write weekly articles on the rise of majoritarian fascism.
Thinly-veiled Islamists masquerading as liberals claimed that a true believer would never act like that, an argument that is wheeled out every time a mob takes offence to a book, movie, cartoon or song.
A Twitter user’s account was suspended for simply quoting from a Holy Book.
Those who spoke about the incident, did a careful monkey-balancing comparing it to Hindutva mobs even though cocking one’s snook at Muslim fundamentalists is a far riskier proposition – to life and limb – than mocking Hindu, Jain, Christian or Sikh fundamentalists.
To put in context, a recent joke comparing PM Modi’s marital status to Lord Ram did result in an FIR.
While alternative re-imaginations of Durga’s profession might provoke online mobs, one is certainly likelier to have one’s limbs attached to one’s body.
It’s not even a particularly Indian phenomenon as the good people of Charlie Hebdo would point out.
Not Dalit enough?
While atrocities against lower castes are often the heading, most media housed didn’t even mention that the Congress MLA was from a Scheduled Caste.
The way the story was told and reported tells us why a huge swathe of the population came to view the media with distrust.
It’s unlikely that the case will get the same coverage in the Guardians, NYTs and WaPos of the world because it doesn’t really further the Hindutva fascism angle.
Contrast that to the reports of either a Muslim or a Dalit lynched by a Hindutva mob.
It’s the same reason most people have heard of Muhammad Akhlaq or Rohit Vemula but not of Kamlesh Tiwari.
India’s soul, it’s secular fabric, it’s idea, appears to only be punctured then the perpetrators of violence are Hindus, preferably upper-caste.
It has led us to a cul-de-sac, where the LW bends over backward to justify minority violence, the RW uses the same instances to extrapolate and vilify the entire community.
The rise of RW websites that peddle half-fiction
Those that lament the rise of right-wing websites which peddle half-fiction masquerading as facts should know that their selectivity allowed the rise of this parallel media.
In a way, they follow the Arundhati Roy model, but fall short of the literary flourish that the author exhibits.
This obdurate refusal to report, or report in a slanted manner, has seen the rise of websites that go far more viral than even mainstream news websites.
They wait to find instances that have been under-reported by media houses and add fat to the fire to exaggerate the image of tiptoeing.
They pounce upon a stock image to claim that mainstream media is shielding Muslim perpetrators.
They claim the burden of secularism is always on ‘meek’ Hindus.
They hammer it home on Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp, reducing deep insecurities into memes and jokes.
A video of Ed Sheeran jamming to ‘Tel Laga Lo Dabur Ka…’ is a far more effective method of communication than a 1000-word op-ed.
Even mainstream channels – who can spot depression on faces or consider reading WhatsApp forwards as news – have picked it up and started a descent which should have them categorised as entertainment channels.
We reached here because the mainstream media, politicians and even the judiciary pandered.
Whether it was a former Prime Minister saying that minorities had the first right to resources or SC advocating the entry of women into Sabarimala, all aforementioned factors combined to create a scenario where the majority were totally on board with a Prime Minister – dressed like a sage – leads a coronation ceremony at a religious place.
The overall reaction to the Bengaluru riots is a small glimpse into the long tenuous journey of how we came from Nehru’s India to Modi’s India.
Even for a hardcore self-anointed Bengali dhimmi/Macaulayputra atheist with no connection to the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, one who has never voted for the BJP, the apocalyptic meltdown that followed PM Modi’s event at Ayodhya felt spectacular.
Maybe, it is just schadenfreude.
The author is the Web Editor of The Free Press Journal and tweets at @nirmalyadutta23.
The views expressed are personal.