January 2, 2018

Filthy Abuses: A Key Pillar of Democracy!

Yes, you read it right! This is an article in praise of unparliamentary language. In simple words, in praise of filthy abuses. They normally begin with an ‘F’ in English and ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘M’ in Hindi. And yes, they are playing a crucial role in the revival of the Congress party’s fortunes.
In 2014, BJP swept to power, and I – as the head of a media house and in individual capacity – believed in Modi’s development promises and backed them wholeheartedly. Of course, instead of development, a wave of nationalism and religious fanaticism took over. So much so that today, there are ministers with the audacity of stating that we must drop the word ‘secular’ from our Constitution and that BJP would change the Constitution of India – while in the name of development, we got some slogans around Swachh Bharat (mind you, no real cleanliness).
This poisonous wave of nationalism and religious polarisation was orchestrated mainly through the social media through a two-pronged strategy. On one hand, there were thousands of posts and videos created to spread hatred; and on the other hand, there were thousands of posts created to lampoon the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and brand him as a joker (Pappu, if you may). And the nation was caught unawares. There were thousands kept on the payrolls and incentivised, who did this job to precision. This not just propelled BJP to power but also was carried on and on and on post elections, to give an image of invincibility to BJP.
Little did they realize that they were playing with fire. Social media can’t be manipulated for long. It’s the world’s first real prefect market. It’s the world’s greatest equalizer. It’s the world’s greatest democratic force. It is the world’s only forum where all kinds of people are really equal – or at least have a real chance at equality. And by the mid of 2017, the waves started changing. And I wrote about that in my editorial “The jokes are now taking a U-turn” a couple of months back (https://www.dailyindian.com/2017/10/15/the-jokes-are-now-taking-a-u-turn/). Many people didn’t believe it and mocked me, showing me opinion poll results of the Gujarat elections and then the exit poll results. But of course, the reality was what I had written. The jokes are indeed taking a U-turn. The BJP, which said anything less than 150 seats in Gujarat would be a defeat, couldn’t touch 100. And Rahul Gandhi, despite continuing to give bland and ineffective speeches, almost made a joke out of BJP. Had BSP and NCP joined hands, probably today the Congress party would have had a CM sitting in Modi’s Gujarat.
But the question is, if Rahul Gandhi continued to look unconvincing, how did he manage to almost match the BJP in terms of the number of seats in Gujarat, despite Modi’s charisma, brute force and massive financial backing. The answer to a large extent is thanks to the social media and the power of filthy abuses. You must be wondering how. And if so, what’s so praiseworthy!
Well, opinions in a democracy aren’t just made by people like Ravish Kumar or Dhruv Rathee or Vinod Dua, who try to use logic and rationale through their videos, or people like me who write such long posts. They are made by the common man. And the common man doesn’t always understand complicated logic. They understand an abusive rap song much easily. They understand an abusive stand-up comedian much easily. They understand a WhatsApp abusive meme much easily. The interesting thing is, when you prick the masses on social media with your money power and try to force down their throats things that they don’t believe in, they revolt with abuses.
Social media doesn’t like voices being throttled. What happened for about three and a half years on social media was an effort to take it over by force. Not that a large proportion didn’t enjoy it or support it all; but the problem is that those who didn’t enjoy, felt suffocated – such was the brute force of this attempted takeover of the social media. And unlike the mainstream media, which can be bought and no one utters a word, on social media there aren’t just a handful of identifiable players. Social media is about crores of players and often unidentifiable. And when they feel suffocated, they hit back hard. So, fed up of getting all government propaganda messages from all over the social media, the ones who were getting suffocated just rebelled. They started to make their own memes. Pen down their own songs. Make their own shows. And everyone else, who didn’t like this feeling of being suffocated, liked, shared and enjoyed these forwards, giving the movement an exponential growth. That’s social media. Say what you like. But try to make the minority feel suffocated and they will grow exponentially. And they don’t grow by using rational, long posts. They grow by using a major shortcut to rationale. They use abuses and it actually often conveys the rationale more than logical and long explanations. Abuses have an instant heart-to-heart connect. The feeling expressed is easily and instantly understandable. The beauty of abuses is that when you use it once, it might sound dirty. But use it ten times in one line and it actually starts sounding funny. That’s why it’s a pet trick used by stand-up comedians.
To Rahul Gandhi’s advantage, every abuse to Modi and BJP is leading to a vote for him by default. There is virtually no stand-up comedian in the country today who isn’t critical of this frenzy of nationalism, demonetization and religious fanaticism. These guys aren’t fools. They can easily give a long sermon. But instead, they use ten F words in English, a few more B, C & M words in Hindi, while in-between taking Modi’s name, and the audiences come out feeling empowered. Never have I ever witnessed the Prime Minister of a country being abused so freely, as is happening in public forums in India, with pride and with the entire audience rolling in laugher instead of feeling offended and coming out and forwarding those video clips. In the US, of course, this has been a common practice; from Bush to Clinton to Trump (Obama included), all have been subject of and to the biggest, abusive ridicule on TV and comic shows. But in India, it’s a first. All because this is the first time the people of social media were feeling throttled, and they revolted with abuses. Just like the Blacks in America used abusive rap songs as a symbol of rebelliousness.
Leading this revolt have been of course individuals like Akash Bannerjee and groups like AIB (All India Bakchod), EIC (East India Comedy) and ATD (Aisi Taisi Democracy), with faces in the forefront like Varun Grover (an IIT alumnus), satirist Sanjay Rajoura and Rahul Ram (of the most iconic band Indian Ocean). A number of other stand-up comedians with their unending use of abuses mixed with their own message and are empowering people to have courage to revolt. Revolt out loud with abuses. The more the current government is trying to create an atmosphere of fear and fake propaganda, the more are the abuses rolling out empowering the common man and acting as a key pillar of democracy – for nothing gives you the feeling of freedom more than the ability to stand up in public and revolt. Not just revolt, but revolt with a good dosage of abuses thrown in. I have actually heard people humming EIC/ATD songs in tea stalls. Can you stop WhatsApp forwards? Can you stop memes being shared on Facebook? Can you stop dignified and well-spoken people like Ravish Kumar, Dhruv Rathee and Vinod Dua from making videos and forwarding them?
No, you can’t. Because the moment you do, there will be many more like them coming up. And no, this isn’t a big city English language phenomenon. This is happening in regional languages, in small towns and villages. Thousands of people are learning this new non-violent way of showing irreverence, and giving birth to more and more such people. They may not be very sharp in their logic, but they will be scathing in their abuses and would convey their opposition as effectively and more. They will prove that while personally using filthy abuses can be looked down upon as a negative quality, it does have a mega, macro effect of preserving the democratic right of freedom of speech in a non-violent manner. And at this point of time, all this is adding votes for Rahul Gandhi, while he sits and wonders where did all the votes come from.
Before ending this editorial, I must clarify my relationship with the usage of abusive words. It was as a student of class 8th in Delhi Public School (DPS), when I first started using abusive language – and realized that the more you used them, the more popular you got. I think that still didn’t make DPS specially bad (at least not as bad as it has become in my eyes after recently seeing a Tulsi song being enforced on the students on the ‘Great Tulsi Day’). During those days, my father once caught me using abusive language and I got a good thrashing. But the style quotient associated with it made me continue using it… till one fine day in 1989 –after 5 years of using them like nobody’s business, a girl I liked was passing by when some of my friends were using foul language between themselves. I was standing there, she looked at us and I realized how uncomfortable she felt (of course, I felt worse that she must have thought I used similar language too). And that’s the day my relationship with the filthy English and Hindi abuses ended.
For 20 long years, that is. Yes! Till 2009, I had never again used a single, filthy word. Not even once did it slip out of my mouth. Then, in 2009, at the peak of work pressure, one day I realized that about 35 odd people I had trusted the most were actually cheating me left, right and centre, taking advantage of my completely decentralized and infinitely independence-oriented organization structure – and I lost it. I started using some of those words again, and got caught by my father again. This time he was more hurt than angry. But I couldn’t stop. I carried on using foul language for five years, till all of those cheats were away from me. And then on my late brother’s birthday on 28th of March 2014, after my second stint of five years, I stopped again. I know this time it is forever. It is a matter of promise to my father. So no, I don’t use abusive words, but I do realize that the ability to use it against people and institutions that are too revered is one of the key ways of preserving democracy, non-violently.
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December 14, 2017

How long do we stay silent as a nation on the farmers' suicides and the grave agrarian crisis? Is it finally time for India's biggest farmers' revolution?

We, at The Sunday Indian, were perhaps the first to do a serious cover story warning the BJP government of the looming agrarian crisis. And we believe it's necessary to repeat the same given the seriousness of the issue and that despite only 15 percent of GDP coming from agriculture, the fact is that India still resides in villages and agriculture remains the livelihood of about 50 percent of the population. Forgetting about those marginalized masses could be equivalent to inviting catastrophe – not just humanitarian, but also political. Two weeks back, the Kisan Panchayat was held in Delhi and it is more than clear that the farmers' movement is gaining serious momentum across the country. As many as 187 regional kisan forums gathered on Parliament Street under the umbrella of the Kisan Panchyat. The forum, headed by Raju Shetty MP, VM Singh, Hannan Maulah former MP, CPI General Secretary Atul Kumar Anjan and Yogendra Yadav, yet again reminded the government that farmers across the country are in severe distress and the Centre needs to look at them.

What needs to be done is way beyond the easy and populist route of knee-jerk loan waivers that invariably benefit the rich farmers far more than the poorer 80 percent, simply because the poorer lot aren't creditworthy and they never take loans from banks – instead, they are exploited severely by local money lenders. The situation is such that various estimates are clearly putting the rise in farmer suicides at about 40 percent since 2014. Obviously, the government seems hardly bothered. This, despite the ever rising farmers' agitations across MP, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and more. Yes, the movement still lacks a central leader like Anna Hazare; but what the AAP movement was to Congress, this kisan movement could turn out to be to BJP. The crisis mainly consists of the inability of the poorer farmers to get credit from the formal banking system to efficiently get access to better agriculture facilities; their inability to take advantage of the minimum support price (MSP) due to the fact that their land holdings are so small that whatever surplus they have, doesn't make economic sense to be transported to the nearest mandi, thus forcing them to sell it to traders at less than 25 percent of the final market price; and finally, lack of insurance support against climatic conditions leading to failure of crops. Of course, one must not forget that the lack of a large-scale cooperative farming movement in India also harms the future of the small farmers.

Add to this the fact that government policies can play havoc. In a year with great yield of pulses, if the import is allowed without duties, then we will have domestic production getting destroyed. Similarly, the import duty reduction on wheat from 25 percent to zero led to a huge increase in wheat imports, thus obviously leading to crashing domestic prices. Add to that, the GST regime that has put 12 to 28 percent taxes on key agricultural inputs from tractors to pesticides. What is most surprising perhaps is the fact that no government representative or Minister came to receive the demands of these marginalized farmers, who have in the past been seen protesting even with the skulls of their dead kin.

The matter of the fact is, farmers are ready for political participation and they want to create a pressure group in the legislature and in particular the Parliament. Farmers feel that they are being cheated by all the political parties. They are ready with their slogans, asking their groups to vote jointly for those who care for them and refuse to act as mere vote banks. In fact, Swabhimani Party of Raju Shetty may expand its wings in North Indiam fielding candidates for Lok Sabha polls with its main demands being the minimum support price on agriculture products to be cost plus fifty percent, along with better logistics to farmers for pre- and post-harvesting facilities, like cold storage etc, and better selling avenues. They also want expansion in irrigation facilities as only 45 percent of the cumulative 70 percent marginal farmers have access to proper irrigation facilities. They basically want the Swaminathan Committee Report to be implemented, which recommends the cost plus 50 percent formula for minimum support prices and calls for better infrastructure facilities, logistics, credit system, better quality seeds, and access to formal banking and credit system. Of course it also calls for better health insurance policies and support system to prevent farmer suicides. Shockingly Gujarat is a state where there is no compensation for farmers' suicides, telling a lot about the mindset of the ruling party.
So, so far, three years have passed and despite the growing crisis, the government has not given an ear to the demands. The question is, will they do it or get ready for new regional farmers parties to (like AAP did in Delhi) take centre-stage in various states and ruin their 2019 poll calculations.
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