Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim
Something strange, really strange, happened on Saturday, 28 July. The man whose job it is to secure our telecom and broadcast infrastructure wanted to play “cowboy cowboy” in a Wild West bar duel. He unsheathed his Twitter handle (the 21st century equivalent of the hip-strapped leather holster), and let fly – “Here is my Aadhaar (biometric ID) number, you b---dy hackers; I dare you to harm me now”.
The response and annihilation was brutal. The protagonist’s daughter’s email ID, his own demat/bank accounts, airline frequent flyer number, subscription accounts, income tax unique number and demographic details – everything was hacked and manipulated (in a dangerous breach, an unsolicited one rupee was deposited in his savings account) in a matter of hours.
But did he accept defeat with humility and grace? Did he say, “Oh great, thank you for showing us the path to a million correctives which we shall now develop to ensure that our security features are enhanced”? No sir.
A ‘Fatal’ Political Environment
I felt very queasy about this fiasco.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that “no school of thought can claim a monopoly of right judgement. We are all liable to err and are often obliged to revise our judgement”.
His arch rival, Winston Churchill, concurred: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, fatal distemper may develop”.
There has to be something “fatal” in our current political environment if a God-fearing 63-year-old bureaucrat with impeccable credentials – a mathematics major from IIT Kanpur and Masters in Computer Science from University of California – commits a criminal act himself. Remember, revealing your Aadhaar number is an offence punishable by three years in jail – why did this happen?
Critic = Enemy
Then a revelation struck me in a flash. A critic today is treated like an enemy. He is an adversary who needs to be eliminated.
You do not debate with him on merits. You do not want to convince him on substance. You have no patience for Gandhi’s exhortation that “we owe it to ourselves as to others to try to understand the opponent’s viewpoint and, if we cannot accept it, respect it as fully as we expect him to respect ours”.
Instead, today’s discourse is defined by intimidation:
- “Congress kay neta kaan kholkar sun lijiye, agar seemaon ko paar karoge, toh yeh Modi hai, lene ke dene pad jayenge.” (Congress leaders, beware; if you cross your limits, then remember, I am Modi, I shall retaliate with disproportionate force) – this statement by Prime Minister Modi at an election rally in Hubli on 6 May 2018 is perhaps the closest a democratic leader can ever come to advocating violence on his opponents.
- “I want to tell Kashmiri youth that azadi (independence) is not possible. But if you want to fight us, then we will fight you with all our force. Kashmiris have to understand that the security forces haven’t been so brutal – look at Syria and Pakistan. They use tanks and air power in similar situations.” – This chilling threat (invoking images of mass genocide) was uttered by Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat in an interview just 4 days after the Prime Minister, above.
- Even harmless popular fiction is not spared. Fanney Khan, a simple film about a cab driver and his dreams, featured a song “merey achche din kab aayengey?” (when will my good days come). It was a sarcastic take on Prime Minister Modi’s 2014 electoral slogan of delivering “achche din” (good days) for all Indians. Within 10 days, the film-makers were forced to change the song to “merey achche din ab aaye re” (my good days have come!).
- Three journalists of ABP News were forced to quit. Their folly? Criticism of government propaganda.
Unfortunately, it’s this culture of intimidation and enmity, as against accommodation and respect for a critic, that also encourages a God-fearing, sober bureaucrat to “dare” and damn his critics, instead of embracing and learning from them.