Virtual Wars in the Virtual World

sandeep-sir-284x300By Sandeep Sahu

Nothing unites India more than war and cricket – or so went the conventional wisdom. The heart-warming example of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then an Opposition leader, christening Indira Gandhi as Goddess Durga after the comprehensive win against Pakistan in the 1971 war is cited even to this day to prove the adage. In more recent times, we have all seen how the Kargil war in 1999 united the nation.

But what one is witnessing right now is something bizarre. While it is technically true that India is not in a state of war – at least not yet – there is no denying the fact that war clouds have begun hovering over the western sky after the wildly celebrated ‘surgical strikes’ on terrorist ‘launch pads’ across the Line of Control (LoC) on the intervening night of September 28-29. Reports of military mobilization by Pakistan, multiple ceasefire violations by the Pak army and two back-to-back terrorist attacks (both mercifully foiled) point to the possibility of a military conflagration, which may or may not take the form of a full-blown war.

At a time like this, one would have expected the old adage to hold good and all Indians to stand united behind the Union government and the Indian Army, even if we are still some distance away from a war or a warlike situation. But what one is witnessing instead is a vertical divide among Indians – at least in the media (both mainstream and social) – with one side raising questions on the veracity of a ‘surgical strike’ even while reaffirming its abiding faith in the Indian Army and the other questioning the ‘patriotism’ of the Doubting Thomases.

While India and Pakistan are not at war, it is virtual war in the virtual world. Slander, innuendo and worse are being generously used by both sides to discredit, lampoon and dismiss the other. Anyone active in the social media knows the viciousness and below-the-belt barbs being used by the two sides. If those behind the Narendra Modi government are questioning the parentage of those questioning the ‘surgical strikes’, the latter are hitting back ferociously at the bhakts (the derisive term coined for Modi admirers by their opponents) accusing them of being boot-lickers of the obscurantist Hindutva forces. [In one particular WhatsApp group that this writer is part of, the ‘war’ between the two sides over Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s too-clever-by-half taunt to Modi asking him to release video footage of the September 29 raids has now entered the third day – with no signs of either side winning!]

I believe there are two reasons for the dictum about war uniting Indians not coming true this time. The first is, of course, the social media. It has given an opportunity to the lunatic fringe on both sides to take centrestage. They can spew venom (with or without an assumed identity) against their ‘enemies’ without any fear of retribution. There are no ground rules of engagement in this virtual war. If one side, in an attempt to ruffle feathers on the other side, claims that the attack on the Uri Army camp that left 19 jawans dead could be the ‘handiwork’ of Indian intelligence agencies, the other side takes the battle several notches down by wondering aloud if Kejriwal would also ask for ‘proof’ to be convinced about his parentage. Social media has degenerated into a filthy space where nothing is sacred, no holds are barred and no epithets are anathema.

The second reason for the base, vile and utterly despicable nature of the virtual war is Modi himself. As a panelist on Arnab Gosawmi’s ‘Newshour’ pointed out last night, the claim about the ‘surgical strike’ would have been credible and acceptable had it been made by ‘any other’ Prime Minister. The implication was clear: the man who the left-liberals love to call ‘feku’ can fake anything, including something as important as a raid on enemy territory.

While the jury is still out on the ‘surgical strike’, there is little doubt that Modi, as his critics have warned us repeatedly, is a great polarizer. No previous leader has commanded the kind of blind following and visceral hatred that Modi has.

With the great polarizer at the helm at least for the next two and a half years, we are clearly wading into some hitherto uncharted territory.