Almost Twitter-gated!

Almost. To actually have your own Twitter-gate you’ve got to be Tharoor. At least.

OK, to cut the cackle, this is what happened:

Early one morning last week I was gulping down breakfast (which usually happens in my office, poor me) while checking out some favourite haunts online when I saw this tweet from N Ram of The Hindu:

Read ‘India’s cultural pluralism its best defence’: on Vande Mataram & what constitutional secularism entails

The article he’d linked to was an op-ed in his newspaper on the BJP’s predictably knee-jerk reaction to the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind’s decision to uphold the Deoband clerics’ 2006 fatwa on singing Vande Mataram. Exasperated and disgusted by the piece (I’ll get to why in a bit) I tweeted the following to N Ram:

@nramind About Secularism is Vande Mantaram being insignificant – both the singing and the not-singing.5:28 PM Nov 4th from web

Pat came the reply:

@LavanyaK: Q:’Secularism is Vande Mantaram being insignificant[?]’ A: Read the Indian Constitution & Supreme Court’s Bommai judgment.5:35 PM Nov 4th from web in reply to LavanyaK


@LavanyaK: If you don’t like ‘secularism’, try ‘uncompromising protection of cultural pluralism’ & respect for ‘the idea of India’.5:37 PM Nov 4th from web in reply to LavanyaK

So there it was folks, my moment of defamation — accused of being a Hindu/ BJP sympathiser who knew nothing about secularism, much less the Constitution of India!

He’d clearly misunderstood my tweet as a sarcastic question about whether Vande Mataram was so insignificant as to be trifled with. Whereas what I’d tweeted was a straightforward comment, a statement, that Vande Mataram really is so insignificant that both singing it and resolving not to sing it are meaningless acts that shouldn’t matter to anyone. Should I explain the semantics of it, I wondered. But the prospect of doing it in 140 characters was just too daunting.  (I think it would make a good academic paper — The Pedagogical Uses of Twitter. What say, folks?)  So instead I just had some fun and posted some more provocative tweets:

@nramind Secularism is an integral part of the Const as the Bommai ruling held. But singing & not singing VM are unrelated to secularism.5:59 PM Nov 4th from web

@nramind To connect secularism with VM is nonsense.5:44 PM Nov 4th from web in reply to nramind

@nramind Plenty of people cannot sing VM. For various reasons. I suppose they are not part of the idea of India. 🙂5:43 PM Nov 4th from web in reply to nramind

I seriously don’t get it. How does resolving to sing or not sing anything prove your secularism/patriotism/ any effing ism?5:29 PM Nov 4th from web

But maybe he’d cottoned on by then.

I remember my dad telling me that there was a time many decades ago when the national anthem used to be played in cinemas after the movie’s end, but that the practice had to be stopped because people usually didn’t stand in respectful silence or join the chorus; instead they merely jostled to get out as quickly as they could. Naturally. What’s respect got to do with it?! The powers that be realized, I suppose, that respect cannot be forced! After all, the Hindu majority has rights, doesn’t it?

Personally I don’t much care for either the anthem or Vande Mataram and am always restless when expected to stand up for the anthem. Many of us feel no urge to prove our loyalties, if any, and certainly don’t wear our patriotism on our sleeves. It seems to me that the resolution about Vande Mataram  is merely an attempt to score god-knows-what points. I wonder if the ordinary Muslim really cares about Vande Mataram, its being sung or not sung. It’s an issue for the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and the Deoband clerics precisely because education, employment, healthcare and the like are not issues. And it’s an issue for the BJP because it’s much-needed oxygen for them.

For the likes of N Ram, India is divided into two neat categories: those who support the BJP’s ideology and those who are against it (and therefore support the Congress’ ideology).  People like me don’t exist — people who see merit in neither ideology, who see both parties as equally exploitative, who see religious leaders of all hues as equally self-serving. No indeed,  that would mess up the neat binary, wouldn’t it?

But what baffles me about that op-ed is that its self-righteous attack of the BJP is couched in a thinly-veiled paean to the UPA and the Congress. (See the first four paragraphs of the article. ) What is one to make of this:

It is clear that with the United Progressive Alliance government emphasising its commitment to secular governance and the preservation of cultural pluralism, the minorities, especially the Muslim community, find little conflict between their civic identities as Indian citizens and their cultural and religious affiliations.

The Congress likes to claim that India was a secular heaven before the BJP erupted on the scene and that they’re now leading us back into that heaven. But as I’ve said before, the insecurity of minorities in this country is as much a legacy of the Congress as it is of the BJP.  So when I read claims like the above, and from a widely respected newspaper, I wonder: do I and N Ram and Malini Parthasarathy live in the same India?

Five years ago when I joined the teaching profession, I was nervous about making my first-ever course outline. Therefore I pored over the outlines of courses taught over the years to see how they were done. One course that is still taught to this day is Modern Indian Thought, a course which includes such luminaries as Bankim, Tagore, Vivekananda, Gandhi and Nehru. Naively I asked “Why isn’t Ambedkar a part of this course? And if he isn’t, then how is it Modern Indian Thought?” The horror is not just that such “thought” is perpetrated; there are young men and women who seek it. There is no protest because those communities that should protest are so poorly represented that it’s easy to pretend they’re invisible. This is a sample of what our institutions of higher education are pedlling; what does it say about the dignity of minorities?

One is not in the least bit surprised that the BJP makes capital of such resolutions, to prove their “nationalism.” But did the clerics or the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind realize that the Congress and its official, unofficial, and undercover mouthpieces would be quick to jump into the fray, and lay claims to fighting their battles for them and upholding secularism?



  1. AB said

    Interesting exchange with N Ram.
    Twitter poses and interesting problem – Concision
    There is ONLY so much that one can say or do in 140 characters.
    Another issue revolves around status.
    100,00o people can see @NRamind or @BDUTT snipe at you and me – but they cannot- see our replies. It turns out to be extremely convenient for media celebrities to broadcast on twitter and at the same time – escape from engaging “fairly”.
    I have slipped into this trap of being spat at without being to clarify one’s position by twitterati on then more ocassion. I have learnt the hard (read insulting) way, that twitter for the twitteratti is about broadcasting and not about two-way communication. Concision will always be used against you.

    Your summary of N Ram’s position is spot-on.


  2. Thanks Anand; appreciate your remarks. Stumbled across your blog recently and was instantly hooked! 🙂

  3. Hari Batti said

    I missed this when it came out and when I saw it, I thought I wish I could be a better twitter person. But for me, regrettably, twitter remains a utilitarian thing. I’ve learned a few manners since my early days (the rules of twitter are not intuitive), but I’m still selling the dhaba (hey that’s off the record!) But I love the exchange you’ve given here. 140 characters demands much more, no? That’s what I like about poetry: compression!

    I’d say something about secularism, but there’s no time!



  4. HB:
    🙂 Oh the dhaba is pretty fantastic stuff; I wouldn’t worry about twitter at all!!

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