What heckling of Rajdeep Sardesai in Karnataka says about peddlers of hate in Modi's India

What happened to the senior journalist can happen to anyone due to the climate of hate perpetuated by PM and his supporters.

 |  5-minute read |   09-05-2018
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A video showing journalist Rajdeep Sardesai being heckled while he was having breakfast at a restaurant in Bangalore has gone viral. The video shows a young man, later identified to be a techie, walk up to Sardesai and shout, "You are born in India. Don't hate Hindus."

An admirably restrained, Sardesai, asked the man not to cross the limit of decency in a public place. Unfazed, the man once again shouted to Sardesai, "You don't have decency. You spread crap in your news."

While one is in public life, one earns both critics and admirers. There are times when you are asked for selfies, and then on occasions you are questioned by your critics. But there is a fine line between heckling and questioning.

The incident in Bangalorewill fail to unnerve someone like Sardesai with 30 years of journalism behind him. However, Sardesai's heckling is reflective of the support base Prime Minister Narendra Modi has nurtured.

The techie in question is an English-speaking resident of Bangalore. He is one of the many who have bought the persecution complex Modi has sold to the privileged majority. Much like US President Donald Trump has outrageously made the whites believe they are victims of an unfair system.

The techie represents a new brand of political supporters who are enamoured by the sudden attention they got in 2013-14 by being projected as victims of the so-called politics of appeasement. They are not supporters of a political party.

They are mere midgets paying obeisance to a strong leader, who will continue to patronise them in new India. They need a demagogue like Modi to inspire and guide them.

When Adolf Hitler first became the head of Germany, he had hundreds of such supporters, who were in search of their own identity.

Similarly, the new Modi supporters are looking for their own identity. On one hand, they enjoy the fruits of a modern integrated globalised world, on the other, they want to protect their religious identity. It doesn't seem to matter if it takes us back to the Stone Age. And when the weapons to fight for religious identity and express nationalism come at 20GB per month, the battle gets more intense.

Which is why we see educated and well off professionals, working as lawyers, engineers and doctors form an army on social media. What we saw in Bangalore was this social media hatred spilling out on the streets.

Interestingly, these are the same people who are dying to live as second-class citizens of America instead of living in and voting in India. The ones who provoked Sardesai at Madison Square belong to this category. But Sardesai is not alone.

This has happened to many senior journalists in the last four years. Recently, after Kathua and Unnao gang rape cases came to fore, a fake handle of Rana Ayyub circulated a quote defending the rapists. She immediately called it out, but by then the fake tweet had gone viral after which BJP supporters shared obscene videos with Ayyub's morphed images. The times are really bad for women journalists, who even face rape threats, when they say something against Modi or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar, too, is a regular target of such abuse. Recently his phone number was made public and he got several threatening calls. This is a well-planned strategy of the Sangh Parivar to harass journalists who don't fall in line.

And this is not new. The harassment goes back to December 6, 1992, when Babri Masjid was demolished. Journalists were singled out and targeted for their political views. Some women journalists were even physically abused and had to run for police protection. The pattern continued in 2002 Gujarat riots, where armed Vishwa Hindu Parishad roamed the streets spreading fear with complete impunity. They were unhappy with the coverage of the riots, and journalists faced the ire for reporting what they saw. Sardesai has narrated one such incident at length in his book 2014: The election that changed India.

The larger point is what happened to Sardesai can happen to anyone due to the climate of hate perpetuated by Modi and his supporters. Sardesai is a household name, and his critics too might think twice before physically attacking him.

But what about the young reporters who work in anonymity from different regions of India? Is it not the responsibility of the state to protect members of the fourth estate while they perform their duties? Is this not an attempt to suffocate free press?

We as a society have always had difference of opinions, but the poisonous polarisation is new. What happened with out in the open Sardesai is happening in most homes, offices and WhatsApp groups. Families are divided, friends have become foes. Hate has consumed us to the extent that I fear we would soon reach a point of no return.

Hours after this incident Sardesai tweeted:

I agree with him. This hope keeps us going. In Maharashtra, there is hardly any village unaware of my political views. Residents of the remotest villages with strong political inclinations have confronted me about a piece

I might have written or a show I have anchored and in true democratic style, invited me home for a delicious meal. I have always maintained that education and money have little to do with dignity and decency. What happened to my friend Rajdeep Sardesai in Bangaloreproves it yet again.

Also read: Implications of government's 'slow demonetisation' of Rs 2,000 note


Nikhil Wagle Nikhil Wagle @waglenikhil

The author is a senior journalist from Maharashtra.

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