The ‘Unfair’ ‘Right-wing’ Internet
After the series of exposures informally termed as “Barkha-gate”, a media report tried to publish some sort of reactions where various self-important commentators tried to condemn internet based discussions on “Barkha-gate” as ‘unfair’, ‘vicious’, ‘hateful’ and ‘right-wing’. This, I believe, deserved some attention. The supposed equivalence of ‘right-wing’ with the term ‘hateful’ has long dominated the public discourse of self-righteous left liberals. This was well known. What is odd is that the effort to brand the entire internet as a tool for the much-dreaded ‘right-wing’ that also happens to be ‘hateful’ and ‘unfair’. But is it really so? Does the internet possess a tendency to be generous to the right wing philosophy? Is the internet ‘unfair’ to the left-wing bloggers and commentators?
Before we can search for the answers, we really have to look for the base of these claims. Are they really correct about the right wing bias? A cursory look at the some of the site-ranking sites like alexa.com confirms a strange phenomenon. I passed a number of sites to alexa’s software (of all political opinions) to see how they get ranked based on number of visits. Except our national masala channels, none of the blogs/sites with left flavor comes even closer to the ranking of the some of the best known nationalist blogs. These blogs are also highly critical of the left and Barkha-gate. Their popularity indicates something: after decades of dominance in the public space in India, left lost the plot in the internet. It does not signify the end of the Indian left; it just indicates that Indian left is unable to direct their extra-ordinary resources towards dominating the internet and they have just began to understand it. In every country that does not censor their internet (from USA to Indonesia) discussion on the internet sites generally reflect the public discourse of that particular country. But this does not seem to the case with India, why?
To understand the answer we have to take a look at the process by which left came to dominate Indian public discourse. While Nehru had an inclination towards left, one can forgive him by knowing that having a different idea at that time would have required a sharp Rajaji-like intellect or Patel-like realist chutzpah he was incapable of having. It was during Indira’s reign when left got a chance to have a word in the statecraft. Indira’s power behind the throne was a coterie of Kashmiries, later known as Kashmiri Mafia. Among them, PN Haksar and PN Dhar, were the main architects of Indira’s decisive bent towards left. They also crafted policies of more centralization, more nationalization and more of everything that led towards public frustration that made emergency inevitable for the rulers. It was emergency which gave a real boost to the left. The only other political party that welcomed the emergency was communist party of India. Every single public funded institute of any consequence was filled with lefty ideologues. The IAS system which was pretty apolitical from Patel’s time found that being known as Soviet sympathizers paid well. The ultimate consequence of this policy was that institutes like JNU got lefties by dozens in it’s arts and social sciences department. By 1977, when Indira’s government went down, lefties have entrenched themselves in the positions which is not dependent on the sentiments of the ‘reactionary forces’ (i.e. Indian public) but can influence the government policies significantly.
All this government-capturing resulted into total domination of academia, media and policy making. This caused history books to be re-written, old literatures/traditions/cultural traits to be re-interpreted and every other dissenting voice to be thrown into garbage marked as ‘communal’ or ‘reactionary’. But that is where it ended. The fact that there exists a vast majority who do not know about the existence of ‘captured’ academia or do not read newspaper articles written in a English that would earn the respect of the British is conveniently overlooked. Thus while these folks kept on re-defining secularism as appeasement, nationalism as dirty concept, Hinduism as some sort of backdated idea and Hussain’s cloth-less Bharat-mata as the ultimate example of tolerance and creativity, there is a sizable majority that kept fuming and did not find a public voice. When by accident, some of these frustrated voices are leaked (like those writing in Organiser) into the public space, they needed to be trounced as “frustrated fringe” elements or “ill-educated and communally motivated” dehatis. Those allegations often acquired an aura of self-certified truth since the editors knew that any publication of rebuttal of these allegations may result into their sacking (example: sacking of Girilal Jain from Times of India group).
It is also to be noted that, decades of their dominance ensured that they do not have to bother with any kind of hard research on existing trends – things that western academicians are known for. Because research of western scholars exist and government is ready to use tax payer’s money to buy those research, our eminent intellectuals convinced themselves that it is a a nice racket they constructed for themselves. Rest who are not-so-eminent can take a hike. Our universities became small scale replica of South Vietnam government of the seventies – an ideal super-consumer society that produced nothing of real value. The political equations that allowed such elaborate system of entitlements possible were thought to be so robust that there was nothing to worry about.
So when the internet arrived, many public intellectuals and liberals failed to see it as a threat worth considering. Back in 1997-2001, activism in internet pretty much meant specialized small scale yahoo groups where lesser mortals used to put weak doubts on Aryan Invasion Theory and ’eminent specialists’ like Michael Witzel wrote heavy handed scholarly answers laden with circular references that often bordered on personal insult and racism. It was indeed hard to view it as some sort of alternate medium of expression. Then social media arrived on the scene without appearing it in the vision of any public visionary first. So our respected eminent elites in their university campuses did not receive any alerts either. Like Ceasar, it came, it saw and it conquered cyberspace with an ease that shocked the ‘visionaries’ and people paid to be known as ‘specialists’. This social media gave a voice to the not-so-eminent class.
It is necessary to realize that educated Indian is a highly opinionated creature. Nehru was an Indian and he had an opinion on everything that was happening in places from Havana to Honduras. The products that his system created would definitely have his mark. So they began to opine and when our eminent specialists did not like what they heard, they went for the old trick i.e. marking opposing arguments as ‘communal’ or ‘reactionary’ or ‘not-sophisticated-enough’ or more-gently ‘you-represent-a-minority-only’. The only problem this time was that the bloody web servers can not be sacked at will and dissenting comments began to appear on debates that eminent specialists declared as closed.
What eminent specialists do not understand is that ground has shifted. Whether new wave is nationalism or capitalism is simply irrelevant. Most of the new-generation of educated and well-to-do Indians simply view them as a relic of an age when cold war was considered natural and Russia was known as USSR. Their ground has shifted so much that today to express their view that Binayak Sen need to be freed without a trial they need to fetch letters written by sixty Nobel laureates; Had it been seventies or eighties, it would have been a convention of sixty thousand in every major city. That is how time humiliates the once-powerful.
Every democratic society has multiple forces advising multiple direction. Society advances when they interact together. A society that only listens to a special voice soon looses it’s direction and considers the road to be the end goal. That is the reason an ability to tolerate multiple voices, even the ones you do not like, is necessary in democracy. And ‘unfair’, ‘right-wing’ internet is a great tool to continue democratic tradition and provide voice to those who never got a chance. With their dominance and Marxist theology, left has delivered some blow to Bharatvarsha’s past as we know and present as we live in. Let us protect the future.
– Siddhartha Chatterjee is a friend of CRI. He tweets as ma_falesu.