It is not just Barkha vs Bhakts, it is also Barkha vs Gunday

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Barkha Dutt, the celeb journalist from NDTV, has written a book and it’s getting negative reviews (one star) on Amazon, by scores of people who have most probably not even read a sentence of it. It’s silly, but it’s not unprecedented.

Barkha is blaming it on “bhakts” – a term she and other “liberal” commentators use very liberally to describe people who support Narendra Modi. And the truth is, most of those giving one star and negative reviews to her books are indeed Modi supporters.

So this is all about Barkha vs Bhakts? Or rather just about Bhakts, who last month, angered by Aamir Khan’s comments on “rising intolerance”, raced to uninstall the Snapdeal app and give it a bad review on app stores?

Can we simply close the case because these Bhakts appear as an organized gang of online goons? Gundays harassing a “liberal” law abiding citizen Barkha?

Yeah, gundays, rather Gunday. There lies another story.

More than a year back, thousands of Bangladeshis took on themselves to bring down the rating of Bollywood movie Gunday on IMDb. The movie didn’t have awesome rating to begin with, but Bangladeshis came in hordes and gave just one star to it, making it one of the worst ever movies at that time.

Why? Because they believed that the movie insulted the Bangladesh Liberation War. Apparently in the movie (I have not watched it), the liberation war is termed as Indo-Pak war, and that offended a lot of the Bangladeshis.

It was not just about one movie; many Bangladeshis complain that Indians are too condescending about the 1971 war, as if Bangladesh owes its existence entirely to India. Added to that was the fact that a 1971 war crime convict was hanged to death a few months prior to the movie release. Nationalist feelings were high and it was easy to get offended.

They needed to tell Indians that it was not something they were cool with. They needed to express themselves. They needed to convey something.

And their anger, their desire to express, their desire to push back (against the perceived Indian condescension) found an outlet in giving negative reviews to Gunday on IMDb.

The same equation is at play here when Barkha’s book or Snapdeal’s app is given one star.

It will be very “liberal” to say that Indians should listen to what grievances Bangladeshis have, which led them to do something as silly as downvoting Gunday, but somehow the same “liberal” crowd is in no mood to find out what grievances “Bhakts” have, which lead them to downvote Snapdeal or Barkha’s book.

Forget Bangladeshis, the “liberal” crowd is willing to listen to even a Yakub Memon, a juvenile rapist, a bloodthirsty Naxalite, a murderer of Kashmiri Pandits, a Pakistani terrorist, et al. but when it comes to Bhakts, LOL.

They are happy in self-serving arguments like “LOL, Snapdeal’s ranking improved after Bhakt attack” (obviously the ranking will “improve” because so many new downloads happened just to give ‘one star’ and the frequency of reviews increased). They think that ridicule is all that this phenomenon deserves.

And I think the “liberal” reaction won’t change. Because not for no reason I have been writing “liberal” within double quotes in this article (I try my best to do the same even when using this term on Twitter where number of characters are limited).

This crowd has all the vices, without any exception, that they accuse the “bhakts” of having. Only that those vices, and voices, are more polished, more embellished, and more English.

Even I, who’s avowedly right-wing on Twitter, sometimes wonder and introspect if I could be becoming an apologist of people with whom I don’t entirely agree; in fact, some of whom I despise. And I decide to pull things back a little. But I have never seen even an iota of such introspection or calibration from the so-called “liberal” crowd.

A rare moment when someone from that crowd indulged in some introspection was Manu Joseph (who, by the way, is not in Barkha’s good books) who wrote in August this year:

Leftwing oppression too is a rule of thugs, mostly of academic and activist thugs who do not have the means to cause physical injury. They stifle opposition through sustained slander and defamation, by usurping academic spaces, monopolising journalistic spaces that they eventually destroy by being unbearably tedious, and entrenching themselves in cultural committees that control acclaim thereby deciding what type of art reaches you. Then they would sit in a circle and whine about how art is in decay, and how Amazon is ruining literature.

The Rightwing assault on freedom of expression is straightforward. The academic and activist Left preaches such a freedom, but when its own agendas are inconvenienced it deploys all its weapons.

From a crowd that composes articles as frequently as right wing composes tweets, only two paragraphs of introspection have come out ever since the regime changed in May 2014 and Bhakts became vocal.

While it appears that bhakts are in no mood to read, the equally apparent scenario is that the “liberals” are in no mood to listen. Their plan to counter the vocal bhakts is to shout louder. These days they are shouting “intolerance”.

For them it’s a war. The recent electoral setbacks to the BJP have convinced them that this war can be won, and thus there is no need to pull back. No need to talk.

So if a book is getting negative reviews, Barkha will rather talk to the Amazon than to those who are trying to say something. Why not offer a We The People episode to those downvoting her book? It will be good marketing for the book too (not that these days journalists need lessons in marketing).

But that’s not going to happen. Gunday episode might be over, but this movie of “liberal vs bhakts” is not going to end anytime soon. Stay tuned for the next battle.