By now, we have blamed everyone. Our favourite target has been the TV channels, revelling in their sensationalistic, exaggerated and often totally fabricated coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput murder case. We have been appalled by the anchors and have been shocked by the way in which TV crews have surrounded and jostled Rhea Chakraborty.
We have blamed the politicians and their agencies as well. We have bemoaned the fact that there is a clear political angle to the way in which the case has been handled. Obviously, our rulers want to play politics to inflame sentiments before the Bihar election. And there is a second agenda: to do as much damage as possible to the Shiv Sena, the former ally who spurned the BJP.
The agencies have done what their masters wanted. Is it normal to launch an Enforcement Directorate investigation into an unsubstantiated allegation that Rs 15 crore may have been transferred from one account to another? (All the evidence now suggests that there was never a payment of Rs 15 crore into Sushant’s account anyway.) Does the Narcotics Control Bureau need to launch such a huge inquiry and make arrests in a case that involved (apparently, even this is being disputed) the purchase of 59 grams of marijuana?
All of our indignation is justified. Nobody can deny that. But here’s my problem: we tend to blame everybody else except for the principal culprits.
The truth is that the public is enjoying the spectacle and it wants more. One look at the television ratings will tell you how this case is playing it out. Even while anchors on other channels huff and puff about Republic TV, not only has the channel solidified its position as the most-watched English channel, its Hindi counterpart has swept past the established market leader to also become Number One.
Who is watching these channels? It is not some faceless ‘them’ that we can all blame. It is us. People like you and me.
Have you checked out Twitter recently? Say something vaguely sympathetic about Rhea Chakraborty and the responses will come flooding in. Some will be from bots and paid tweeters. (One of the mysteries of this saga is: who has established the fake accounts used only to tweet about this case? Who is paying so many of the tweeters? Who is picking up the tab for the glove puppets?)
But a surprisingly large proportion will be ordinary citizens with genuine accounts. Many (but by no means all or perhaps even most) will say, on their bios, that they support the BJP and the Prime Minister. But let’s not forget that they are working men and women with jobs, children, homes, families, etc.
And they spout the most vicious hatred of Rhea. They are convinced that Sushant was murdered (Rhea’s family will be painted as honey-trapping, drug-peddling, money-grabbing crooks). The suggestion, now substantiated with much evidence, that Sushant had mental health issues is dismissed as being part of a murderous conspiracy against him.
For all the talk of patriarchy and feminism, women are also enthusiastic supporters of our version of the ‘Lock Her Up’ movement. They smear Rhea’s morals and demand that she be punished.
And if you go out of the charmed circle of the chattering classes, you will find that far from being shocked by what is happening, many educated (well, literate, at any rate) people feel that a grave injustice was done to Sushant and that the guilty people are now being punished.
What does this tell us about today’s India – or at least, the India that watches TV and goes on social media?
It tells us that large sections of the middle class have bought a conspiracy theory of how things function. They believe that India was run by an elite which had money, spoke English, and made the key decisions. They see this elite as being good-looking, sophisticated and worthy of envy. Bollywood fits neatly into this category. So do the other traditional targets of the new, aspirational middle class: the so-called Lutyens lobby, political dynasts like the Thackerays, and so on. If this sounds bonkers to you, remember that there are many people who are deeply invested in this world-view. And if you disagree with it, they wonder if you are part of the conspiracy too.
And secondly, the jubilation over Rhea’s arrest tells us how much we have regressed back in time and become a primitive society where the mob rules, even if this time around, it participates by way of smart phone. It is like Romans watching prisoners being torn apart by lions, or like some modern version of bear-bating: a lynching beamed live to our homes and our phones by satellite and by 4G.
The conspiracy theory view of India does not worry me that much. It is not unusual for a new middle class to resent the old and to feel that even though it is just as deserving, it is still not being given a seat at the table. That view changes with demographics. The children of today’s angry, first-generation middle class TV viewers will overcome their resentments and feel more at home than their parents did.
What worries me the rise of the mob, the naked bloodlust, the desire for unspecified revenge and the willingness to target the defenseless or the outnumbered. It is the sort of madness that occurs during a riot when a large, well-armed mob burns down the homes of vulnerable people and then congratulates itself on its accomplishment.
That surely, is the India we are becoming. A country when the mob roams hungrily, looking to create a modern-day riot.
(Vir Sanghvi is a journalist and TV anchor.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.