In the past, we have dug up cricket pitches, threatened Pakistani singers and actors and in the process of flaunting our nationalism, we have hit our own people and strategic interests.
I always had problems with mass hysteria and collective jingoism that grips our country after every terrorist attack.
There is no doubt in my mind that terrorist incidents, like the one in Pulwama, India, where over 40 soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing, are an attack on the sovereignty of the nation and deserve a well-calibrated response by the government, security agencies and forces on the ground and not the kind of jingoism we see in TV studios, social media and streets.
This kind of hysteria on a national scale actually helps those behind such terrorist attacks. Remember, their job is to terrorise!
Since February 14, when a convoy of paramilitary troops was attacked on a Jammu and Kashmir highway, we have reacted in a childish manner — a news anchor offering himself to be strapped with bombs and dropped into Pakistani territory; TV studios debating when India can launch a nuclear strike were among some bizarre suggestions.
So, what has happened since February 14 is this: A united India pretending to collectively respond to this dastardly act.
While the government has taken a series of steps as part of its diplomatic and security offensive (rightly so), the strong message that it sought to convey has been lost in the din created by this collective jingoism.
The message that should have gone to the perpetrators is lost, what is heard loudest in post-Pulwama India are the screams of warmongering nationalists.
Caught in this hysteria are Indian nationals, including a cricket superstar. Reacting to calls to boycott Pakistan in the World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar expressed his concern that it would lead to India losing two points in the championship.
In a post on social media, Tendulkar said: “India has always come up trumps against Pakistan in World Cup. Time to beat them again. Would personally hate to give them 2 points & help them in tournament. For me India always comes first, so whatever my country decides, I’ll back that decision with all my heart.”
Soon after this post, news anchor Arnab Goswami, who is known for his chest-thumping histrionics, criticised Tendulkar.
“Sachin is 100 per cent wrong. Sachin Tendulkar, if he has any sense, should realise that he should be the first person to say don’t play with Pakistan. And (Sunil) Gavaskar should be the second person to say we should not play with Pakistan. These people say we need two points. Both are damn wrong. I don’t need two points. I want revenge for my martyrs. Understand? Sachin Tendulkar can take his two points and put it in the dustbin.”
While Goswami’s prime time rant may have earned him the respect of his neo-nationalist followers, this kind of irresponsible behaviour by a senior journalist on live television puts the country in poor light.
Geographically, India is the biggest country in south Asia and a nation of over 1.25 billion people, how it responds to a geo-political crisis is watched not just by its neighbours but people across the world.
And media coverage is the first indication of the national mood, not necessarily that of the government though.
Goswami is not alone and those who consume news on television have seen news anchors behaving like street thugs in the last ten days. To be fair, their Pakistani counterparts are not any better, a quick search will throw up videos of Pakistani journalists abusing Indians on live TV.
In another example, owners of a bakery were targeted by some people who objected to the bakery’s first name.
Police arrested nine people after they barged into ‘Karachi Bakery’, a popular eatery in Bengaluru and demanded to see the owners.
After the group left, the owners covered the first name of the bakery. In a statement, the owners said: “We would like to clarify that Karachi Bakery was founded by Shri Khanchand Ramnani, who migrated to India during the partition. The brand was established in 1953 and is an Indian company based out of Hyderabad, Telangana, India. The popularity and love for its products has contributed to its growth throughout India and abroad. The essence of Karachi Bakery is absolutely Indian by heart and will remain so. We request everybody to refrain from any kind of misconception.”
These two examples stand out but there are many other individuals, including writers and film personalities who have been attacked on social media.
Actor-writer couple Shabani Azmi and Javed Akhtar were called “anti-nationals” by their Bollywood colleague Kangna Ranaut. More problematic are the violent attacks on Kahsmiri students in several parts of the country.
A sitting governor, known for his irresponsible statements, even called for a boycott of Kashmiri traders and businessmen. Alarmed by the trend, the Supreme Court had to step in, asking states to protect the Kashmiris.
The biggest problem is that this hysteria and hyper-nationalism are adding muscle to a narrative that is being built to gain political mileage ahead of national elections.
As the world’s largest democracy, the Indian media and people have to recalibrate their response to terror — warmongering and targeting individuals are definitely not the answer.