WhatsApp, a convenient cross-platform to stay connected and build community, has unfortunately gained notoriety because of getting attached to the pejorative term “Whatsapp University” that refers to much spurious fake news, misinformation and fake narratives that is disseminated through forwards on this platform. The term, supposedly coined by the well-known Indian journalist Ravish Kumar, is generally used by political dissenters to refer to all sorts of weird and irrational views (including the above-mentioned fakery) to support Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) stance, however illogical they may be. Any move to counter it through sane analysis is met with toxic Modi-fied views.
However, there are WhatsApp groups that do engage in serious discussion on social and political issues in the best possible way (though very less in number). But sometimes it so happens that even in those groups there is an invasion of toxic Modi-fied views. Recently, I was myself a target of one such attack in my own group, which otherwise is quite a mature group presenting and arguing views, as well as exchanging important news items.
The recent visit of Prime Minister Modi to the US was the topic of discussion and exchange that took place in our group. Various news items pertaining this visit were forwarded, written about and discussed (something common, perhaps, of such groups) in our group, of course, most of it inconvenient to Modi loyalists.
The WIRE news piece with headlines “‘India’s Democracy in Danger Under Modi’: Civil Society Groups in US” was forwarded by me in this group. The content of this piece was very appropriately presented highlighting the questions that civil society groups raised on matter of human rights violations in India, cases of violence against religious minorities and others issues. To this, a member, known for his Modi-fied views, reacted sharply, presenting a defence that was completely irrelevant (one typically presented by BJP spokespersons on mainstream television channels). I also expressed my response, sharply, pointing out certain facetiousness in his views. It turned personal till an intervention by another group member asking, rightly so, for ‘calling a truce”.
Later, reflecting on this entire episode I thought: why it required “calling a truce” in this situation? My thoughtful response would be, paraphrasing from Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,
for the sake of camaraderie in the group, and perhaps a little for the sake of my soul, I give up the deep peace of countering the insanity, inanity, immaturity and facileness in pretensions.
This concession of “deep peace” for the soul is granted. However, I should sadly admit, it comes at a price: that of genuflecting before such negative forces that wantonly display irrational, malicious and toxic viewpoints.
At the same time I strongly feel that these Right wing, reactionary and regressive forces take advantage of our decency and our sense of defending, upholding and maintaining camaraderie, and exhibit the worst form of indecent trolling and resort to what can be termed “accusation in a mirror”, a term that became popular in the context of Rwanadan genocide.
What is this accusation in a mirror? The carriers of these forces accuse and falsely attribute to, what they feel as, their adversary, of the very charge, which they themselves are guilty of. The social media gets infested and contaminated with such toxic and vitriolic views. Incidentally, the term “accusation in a mirror” was introduced by the French social psychologist, Roger Mucchielle, in his book Psychologie de la publicite et de la propaganda, only to alert the reader to resist the sowing of such views through manipulation.
So the question is: Should we buy such “deep peace” at a price instead of censuring “irrational, malicious and toxic viewpoints?”
One can definitely have differences of views which can be debated in a more mature, civilized, and dignified manner by providing scholarly arguments, for and against. Unfortunately, this blind worship of whatever the strongman populist leader says, without answering questions and without engaging in a mature political debate, smacks of fascist consciousness permeating and pervading the civic space reminding one of the Hitlerian Nazi era and portends the worst of times to come.
S K Arun Murthi is Ex Faculty of Philosophy in IISER, Mohali (retired), Department of Humanities and Social Sciences