From Tanishq To Bangladesh, India’s Thin Skin Is StretchedBloombergQuintOpinion
Indians are forever searching to hit the top spot in something or anything, somewhere or anywhere—for example, consider the triumphalism that Senator Kamala Harris will be the first ‘Indian’ to rule America—and before you can say ‘pyrrhic’, we’re out clanging utensils in balconies or dancing drunk on streets or tweet-thumping exaggerated boasts or posting cheesy memes on Instagram.
Trolls So ‘Powerful’, The Mighty Tatas Capitulate
It all began with a harmless—nay, positively uplifting—commercial for that uber-rich jewellery brand, Tanishq (precious). They were launching an ekatvam (oneness) product line, and the warm, fuzzy film showed a Muslim mother-in-law celebrating the godh-bharai (baby shower) of her Hindu daughter-in-law. When she asks why the family was straying outside its religious traditions, the mother-in-law answers “which tradition or religion is against a daughter’s happiness”. All very straight and sweet, right? The creators must have felt good punching the upload button on YouTube. But the reprisal was swift and brutal. Right-wing trolls spewed the most uncouth, vicious, and acidic venom on Tanishq for glorifying “love jihad”, that diabolical phrase which accuses Muslim men of trapping ‘innocent’ Hindu girls in marriage, taking them like ‘prisoners of war’.
But again, as every victim of troll abuse knows, it tends to pass over after a few hours or days. No, not because those brutes feel guilty or are penitent. It’s just that another juicy target appears, and the termites swerve their poison darts elsewhere, leaving you wounded and semi-conscious. Slowly, you emerge from an acutely painful haze and begin to breathe again. Ask any victim of a troll attack, and s/he will confirm this horrible playbook.
So the mighty Tatas should have known better. They have survived a million upheavals over their 154 years of existence.
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They employ almost a million people. They are the salt of India. Their companies shovel nearly $125 billion in revenues every year. Just one crown jewel, TCS, is worth ten trillion rupees. The Tatas have been the epitome of corporate ethics, human values, and empowerment, their founders coming from the tiniest ethnic and religious minority of India. If anybody could have stood up to the trolls, it’s them. If anybody could line up a battery of lawyers to prosecute the devil until the day of reckoning, it’s them. If anybody could prod the state to act against the villains, it’s them. If anybody could deploy security guards and defend their stores, it’s them. But they keeled over, threw in the towel, emboldening the trolls, perhaps immeasurably.
Bangladesh Beats Us By Eleven Dollars; We Erupt In ‘What-Aboutery’
But Tanishq wasn’t the only itch to scratch our thin skin in the week gone by. Remember Bangladesh? That blighted, stricken land of starving millions that India had liberated from Pakistan’s pernicious custody in 1971? That destitute country chucking parasitic immigrants at us, sucking on our prosperity? Well, India got a reality check when the average Bangladeshi upended the average Indian by eleven American dollars!
It was the perfect cue for the apologists to launch their ‘what-aboutery’. No less than the mighty Government of India jumped in with a welter of statistics to counter the ‘myth of Bangladesh’. “In purchasing power parity (PPP), we are 11 times their size, but have only 8 times their population, so lo behold, our per capita income is $6,284 vs their $5,139”, our spokesmen cried out. Of course, nobody mentioned that in 2017, we had hit $7,200 versus their $4200 – so we have destroyed nearly one thousand dollars, while they have gained almost the same in per capita income in PPP terms.
Frankly, instead of acknowledging that Bangladesh has done a stellar job in becoming a hub of textile exports, we, as usual, want to drown the truth in bluster.
Hell, we even refuse to acknowledge that those who were once at our mercy (aka Bangladeshis) today live longer, are more urbanised, fewer of their children die, they’ve managed to stabilise their population before us, and hell again, more of their women work than ours.
Net net, even if their eight-dollar income lead is ‘pyrrhic’, their commanding sway over us in human/social indicators is something we ought to admire, aspire for, and learn from. But hell no, our thin skin shall not allow us to be that wise. We will deny, defuse by ‘what-aboutery’, and continue to tom-tom our own greatness in a desperate bid to side-step the truth.
Oh what a fall there is, my countrymen
How stoic and tolerant we were, once
But so shrill, so quick to offend, and oh so thin-skinned, now.
Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of three books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’, and ‘Super Century: What India Must Do to Rise by 2050’.