October 26, 2014, 5:50 AM IST Sagarika Ghose in Bloody Mary |  India  | TOI

Dear India’s right-wingers,


Your time has come, your moment is here. After the victory in the general elections, and the big win in Maharashtra and Haryana, the Indian Political Right is bang on centrestage. It is ascendant -and why should it not be? For a decade we Indians were at the receiving end of the subsidies-inclined, left-oriented UPA with its weird secularism, its dynastic inclinations, its vow of silence on every issue, not to mention its scam-a-minute way of life where the media, Anna Hazare and citizenry at large played bloodsport with the hapless Manmohan Singh government. You, the rightwing soldiers, so expertly harnessed these agitations to your cause. Now you rule social media. Across the world social media -whether challenging dictatorships in the Arab Spring or spreading awareness of police brutality against Iranian protesters -is generally the anti-establishment maverick, a realm where Assange and Snowden are icons, where dissenters blow the whistle on secret government machinations.

But in India you have made social media a propaganda arm of the government. It is a ferocious army against anyone who disagrees with the ruling party , an engine of thought and social control that is harnessed firmly to the personality cult of the Prime Minister. To be pro-government and pro-establishment is now de rigeur on social media.

You say this is a war -your very own jihad -against decades of apparent dominance by the “left“, where a handful of Oxbridge-educated, “left-liberal“ journalists, historians and activists created a Nehruvian discourse that was supposedly loyal to the previous government and upheld Congress-style secularism against the “nationalist“ urges of the majority .

But since this is a democratic debate, since you have come to power through elections, why are you seeking to eliminate, shut down and silence all your critics and the entire opposition in general? This is not democracy! Any critic of this government is a “deshdrohi“; any hint of disagreement and you become an “anti-national traitor“ liable for sedition; any small critique means one is a “minorities-worshipping“, “sickular“ “libtard“, “communist“, “dynastic Congi slave“ who must instantly take up residence in Pakistan.

Right-wingers, do remember that we, journalists and citizens, attacked the UPA on every primetime; we called out Rahul Gandhi for every gaffe; after the initial euphoria of “Singh is King“, Manmohan Singh was torn apart for everything from coal scam to 2G scam to CWG scam, but the UPA ‘s brigades never called its critics such foul names as you do.

Why is debate not acceptable? Why is dissent not to be tolerated? Why are you transforming social media from an important debating platform into a cacophonous echo chamber of thought control? Let’s move to definitions. You call yourself rightwing, but are you? Rightwing in the US and Europe implies parties who are socially conservative on issues like abortion and gay rights but zealously uphold the free market and business. Now you may be socially conservative on Hindu-Muslim marriage and live-in relationships, but are you economically liberal? The government has not so far shown that it’s committed to privatization. The farthest it has gone is some disinvestment a la Congress. The government is against retail sector liberalization, it is not keen on free trade (as shown by its scuttling of the recent WTO round) and so far we do not know what its tax policy is. (As you may know, right-of-centre economics is based around lowering taxes on businesses.) The government believes in social engineering -such as the highly laudable Swachh Bharat initiative, but typical rightwing economics is less about measures and more about providing incentives.

So why do you call your critics “leftist“ when you, and many elements in the Sangh, seem much closer to the economics of the left than of the right? Uma Bharti opposes Walmart, Mohan Bhagwat has called for a boycott of Chinese goods, the anti-MNC, swadeshi way of thinking is influential among many in the Sangh Parivar.Those “leftists“ critiquing the government are actually calling for the government to be more rightwing than it is. Basically , “rightwing“ for you seems to be about religion and nationalism and not really about economics.

As a hallmark of achhe din, why has the space for debate suddenly become so restricted? Let’s throw the debate open. Let’s work for a more vibrant democratic order based on respect for pluralism and diversity . The right to free speech must fundamentally include the right to dissent. Yet your triumphalist intolerance offers too little space to express any contrarian view. The PM is indeed a dynamic and talented leader but, as time goes on, questions on policies and issues will inevitably arise.Let’s not shut down all questioning.

Sanatan dharma has always stood for freedom of thought! Bharat mata ki jai!