Dear Mr. Bhagat,
First of all, I hope you do not take any of my comments personally – you know, as celebrities tend to do whenever an ordinary human being criticizes them. I just happened to read your column yesterday (just because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about) and felt that in your endeavor to put ‘internet trolls’ in their place, you seem to have grossly misunderstood them. When you decide to criticize someone so callously, it would be worthwhile to spend at least a modicum of time trying to gauge whether your characterizations are true or not.
Let me first begin with your blanket equation of Internet trolls with ‘bhakts’. Maybe you didn’t mean for it to be this way but your article certainly seems to suggest it. From my personal experience, I can assure you that internet trolls come in all shapes, sizes, ideologies and social statuses. There are numerous Congress, AAP and Left supporters on Twitter, who are extremely derogatory and abusive. There are many of a non-Hindu religious persuasion as well. I would suggest you check the comments section of your selfie with Narendra Modi in case you wish to verify this for yourself.
I would also suggest that you please consider this –Internet trolls need not always be anonymous. Celebrities can be Internet trolls too. You can try checking the Twitter handles of various journalists, activists, actors and politicians (some of whom you have alluded to in your article), and you will find that what these luminaries have been doing to Narendra Modi doesn’t fall short of what you call trolling.
Let us move on the four traits that you have managed to identify about ‘bhakts’.
First that bhakts are almost all male. I am not sure how you came to this conclusion considering the fact that you claim that it is anonymity which drives bhakts to be so ‘abusive’. Perhaps it could be because without this assumption, the rest of your diatribe would lose its relevance?
Moving onto your second so-called trait, I must say that it is a profound irony that you are castigating common Indians for lack of fluency and correctness in English. Putting aside the fact that Twitter as a medium does not lend itself to grammatical perfection, this particular comment reflects the same sneering elitism that you used to claim you were against. I suppose all those ‘Kick’ success bashes in South Mumbai have had their effect.
It does seem extremely silly that you see someone not being fluent in English as a statement of inferiority but even so, it can’t be your assertion that only the views of the English speaking class should be respected.
Coming to your third trait – not being good at talking to women. Again, I am truly amazed how you managed to glean this by reading 140 characters of abuse from anonymous Twitter handles. I certainly hope that you did not take time out of your busy day to identify some of these Twitter users and follow them around, observing how they speak to women. Because that would be crazy. Then again, if you haven’t, it means that your characterization is just based on some preconceived notion you may hold – perhaps a good line to cause insult but very far from the truth.
And finally, this thing about being ashamed of being Hindu, Hindi-speaking or India. Let us, for a minute, leave aside the fact that there are many factual inaccuracies in your justification for this particular ‘trait’. Suffice to say, all social groups carry some sense of victimization. But if you believe that it is poverty or shame that causes anyone to find an Internet connection, create a Twitter handle and log in religiously to criticize you or anyone else, then you are really barking up the wrong tree. By your very same argument, there should not be any Internet trolls in developed countries like the US, UK or those in Europe. Again, a quick view of Twitter handles and trends across these countries would be useful for you to understand how ‘full of it’ your analysis is.
The very fact that most poor people in India (Hindu or otherwise) do not have access to the Internet, leave alone Twitter handles, should be enough to convince anyone that the most Twitter users come from the internet-savvy strata of society. In fact, most data would suggest that Twitter users come from the upwardly mobile, growing middle class who wish to be part of the aspirational India rather than the one of doom and gloom that you have described. When they see the elite attempting to foster the same cynicism of past decades on to them, they react – sometimes, I grant you, aggressively. This is not an outcome of any sense of shame, but from a deep ambition to break from the defeatist narratives of the recent past and to move away from victimhood to achievement. Do you remember Sourav Ganguly twirling his shirt at Lord’s? The elite sniggered but the common man cheered.
A couple more points before I wind up.
First, you are correct in saying that Bhakts almost always support the BJP and Narendra Modi, in particular. But you have to admit that this support isn’t born out of any convenience or fashion consciousness. ‘Bhakts’ do vigorously support him when the media does a witch-hunt based on silly hubris like the infamous LalitGate media trials. They do support him when the contemptuous elite mock his well-meaning initiatives like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, International Yoga Day and the SelfieWithDaughter campaigns. But they also did support him when he was being hung in the media and elitist courts without any evidence during the Gujarat 2002 ‘coverage’. They also supported him when your friends at the high table continuously asserted that India would never vote for Modi. They did not wait for ‘supporting Narendra Modi’ to become fashionable and then take a selfie with him.
Perhaps, it is time to consider the fact that the so-called ‘Bhakt’ support for Modi was because they were able to see through the screaming biases of the elite and fashionable – something which a lot of English- speaking, debonair, ultra-confident intellectuals were not able to.
My final comment is more of a general one. Not everything is about being shy, anti-social and attractive to the opposite sex. These themes may be convenient for writers to project when they want to write stories fashioned around the underdog – especially when they want to appeal to young readers with more interest in light reading. These themes may also be easy go-to points for those same writers to use to mock anyone else who happens to disagree with them.
Human beings are usually much more complex. It would an extremely superficial exercise to equate or link political leanings, religious consciousness and patriotism to the same elements that sells Bollywood entertainers and non-fiction novels.
Praful Shankar is an IT Strategy Consultant based in London. He has an MBA in International Business and Advanced Strategic Thinking from Lancaster University.
12 Jul, 2015
It is a profound irony that Chetan Bhagat is castigating common Indians for lack of fluency and correctness in English.