So it turns out that Paresh Rawal’s infamous tweet about Arundhati Roy was based on fake news. The tweet has since been deleted – under orders from Twitter – so cannot be linked here, but in it he had expressed the wish that Roy ought to have been tied to the front of an Army jeep instead of the Kashmiri civilian who was forced by soldiers to act as a human shield last month.
With this, Rawal joined the ranks of fellow celebrities Rishi Kapoor, Virendra Sehwag, the Marathi actor Vikram Gokhale and some D grade ‘celebs’ too in publicly displaying his intolerance –and poor judgment – on Twitter. Apart from his tweet being plainly offensive, one wonders what would happens if some lunatic takes it upon himself to attack Arundhati Roy simply because his idol thinks she is physically expendable?
There is a crucial difference between Rawal and the other celebrities, of course, a difference that may not have struck him and even if it did, would not perhaps bother him. Rawal is an MP. As a member of parliament, he is obliged not just to uphold the Constitution but also to behave in a sober and dignified way.
But if at all he cared about that, he would have thought hard before tweeting in so cavalier a way. Clearly he knows that no one is going to pull him up for his indiscretion; perhaps his party leaders might even give him a pat on the back.
On social media, Rawal has been pilloried by many but supported by many more. Again, he might think, the critics are nothing but the usual liberals and ‘anti-nationals’. Persons, in others words, not worth bothering about.
What could have been the motivation behind Rawal’s tweet? The usual conspiracy theories have emerged. Many think that such tweets are distractions to lead the public and the media away from questions about more serious issues. In this particular case, Rawal’s tweet became bigger news than the brutal lynching of seven innocent men in Jharkhand, a state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. More than one television channel chose to ‘debate’ the former rather than the latter.
It is also possible that Rawal wanted to bring himself to the notice of his party bosses by showing that he was no slouch when it came to hitting out at ‘those who want to break up India’. The right winger’s job description is codified and the list of anti-nationals is well known. They have to be condemned in the harshest possible language; obscenity is encouraged. Arundhati Roy, for her crime of having asked difficult questions of the Indian state, is on top of that honours list and by simultaneously wishing her the worst and praising the army for its ‘out of the box’ tactic of tying an innocent Kashmiri to the front of the jeep, Rawal has won extra points.
But the actor’s is not just a command performance. He did not think up this tweet merely to catch the eye of his superiors. Nor is he part of a troll army that is paid to furiously attack ideological enemies with the usual stock phrases for daily wages.
In his case, the idea that Arundhati Roy should be tied in front of the jeep and made to face stone pelters in Kashmir is part of a fantasy. A fantasy tied deeply to the notion that India would return to a Golden Age if all the dissidents and malcontents – everyone from minorities, leftists, ‘sickulars’, journalists and pesky question askers of all types – could somehow be done away with. It is they, with their persistent negativism, who are holding up the Achche Din project, by demanding human rights and freedom of expression, rather than falling into line and accepting the Truth laid down by the majority.
Rawal, like others who are part of this cult, dreams of an India marching in unison, towards its manifest destiny, while the rest of the world looks on in admiration and envy. Such an India did exist at one time, they believe, only to be destroyed by outsiders – the Mughals, the British, and the Nehru-Gandhi family. They may have all gone but the children they spawned still exist and have to be fought. Rawal is simply an actor giving public expression to a sentiment that is regularly expressed in conversations all over the country.
How often does one hear, “What India needs is a dictatorship, a tough, no-nonsense leader with a vision”? Rawal and his ilk were always looking out for him and were overjoyed when he emerged. Except that things have not exactly gone as they had hoped. India still continues to be a noisy democracy where critics not only survive but also seem to thrive. They speak, they write. The Arundhati Roys publish books. The Kanhaiya Kumars and Shehla Rashids make stirring speeches. The Dalits seem to be getting above their station. Even businessmen grumble, albeit in a low tone. This is clearly unacceptable for the Rawals.
In the past, folks on Rawal’s side of the civilisational divide may have expressed violent sentiments in private only; in today’s environment, where men and women can be lynched on mere suspicion, they feel emboldened enough to say on a public platform that people like Arundhati Roy need to be physically restrained (Rawal’s tweet) or even eliminated, as the singer Abhijeet tweeted.