Sycophancy on social media | The Indian Express

Last week an SMS from the COWIN portal informed me that I was eligible for my booster shot. Why it is called a ‘precautionary’ shot only in India beats me. Anyway, off I went and got my precautionary whatever and can report that everything went off perfectly. Within minutes of the needle being removed from my arm, I got a message telling me that the COWIN app had recorded the new jab. I have to say that I was impressed by both the efficiency and speed. And, admit to being impressed with the mature way the Prime Minister is handling the Omicron wave. It is reassuring that he appears regularly on TV to advise people not to panic.

He has come a long way from that time two years ago when he thoughtlessly ordered the most brutal lockdown in the world. And fuelled the innate superstitions of Indians by asking us to beat thalis and light diyas to drive Covid away. Those were bad ideas. They encouraged voodoo doctors and covidiots who believed that bathing in cow dung would save them. He is doing much better this time. May he now desist from plastering public places with ‘thank you Modi’ posters.

My booster shot caused a robust reaction from my immune system and laid me low and it is that has put me in a reflective mood. It is in said reflective mood laced with strong paracetamol that I write this week’s column. Indulge me as I reflect on Indian democracy. I have said more than once in this column that I believe that the greatest advantage we have over our old enemy China is democracy. But I also agree with Winston Churchill that, ‘The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.’ It is my misfortune to need to have conversations with the ‘average voter’ daily on Twitter. They are usually unpleasant exchanges, but I am obliged to have them because in these isolated times I need to hear virtual chatter from the public square.

So, I dedicate some amount of time every day to trawling through the tweets of twitterers who appear to believe that it is their primary purpose in life to attack those who write in the much reviled ‘mainstream media’. The tweets I read every day range from vicious, abusive and ugly, to idiotic, ignorant and insane. They come from both sides of the divide in these politically polarized times.

Let me say here that the Gandhi Dynasty’s more passionate supporters sound as unhinged in their tweets as Modi bhakts and the point they both make most often is that I ‘hate’ Modi or that I ‘hate’ Sonia Gandhi. As a veteran political analyst, I feel it is my duty to educate them while I am in current reflective mood. A political columnist has no choice but to critique what politicians say and do, just as a film critic’s job is to critique films and a book reviewer’s job is to review books. Only the clinically insane would accuse film critics or book reviewers of hatred being their prime motivation. So why should political analysts be charged with hatred?

The other point made often in the attacks on me is that I criticise Modi because I am a ‘leftie’ and a ‘libtard’. I am certainly a liberal. I despise autocrats and autocracies. But leftie I am not. I blame Nehruvian socialism for most of our economic problems and have in this column always opposed the licence raj. It might surprise Modi’s devotees to know that I believe he is nearly as socialist and statist as Nehru and this worries me. When I supported him in the first couple of years of his first tenure, it was in the hope that he would move away from welfarism towards free markets. When demonetisation happened, I realised that he had not outgrown the RSS school of economic thought. It is not one that produces economic thinkers or economists. So, seven years on, we are still on the statist path laid out by Nehru, and this means it will take a very, very long time for India to become an economic superpower.

From the political chatter I pick up daily in the public square of social media, I gather that Hindutva is extremely popular. Expressing hatred of Muslims is now absolutely acceptable. And religiosity is celebrated. Every time Modi allows TV cameras to follow him into the sanctum sanctorum of temples to record every moment of the ceremonies he performs, there are ecstatic tweets about how he has made us ‘proud to be Hindus for the first time’.

There is no question that he has changed the political discourse and made religion more important than anything else. And he is being faithfully emulated by formerly ‘secular’ political leaders. They also make sure that cameras record their visits to temples. The one thing that unites devotees of Modi and the Dynasty is a deep hatred for criticism of their political heroes.

The Congress party has, since Nehruvian times, done its best to crush critics but where they were once circumspect, they no longer are. In my reflective, paracetamol-induced mood I find myself reflecting on why our revered political leaders have not yet noticed the damage their followers are doing them on social media. They do more harm to their political heroes than any critic could.