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Nearing extinction on Indian Twitter: A top politician being decent

Quartz india
Quartz india

At other times, none would have noticed the tone and tenor of the tweets sent out by Indian home minister Rajnath Singh on July 11.

This message came in the aftermath of the gunning down of seven Hindu pilgrims by terrorists in the restive Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir a day earlier. The pilgrims were returning from a revered shrine of lord Shiva in Amarnath.

Singh followed it up with another statement, mildly putting down someone who had venomously responded to his first tweet. The respondent was angry that the home minister had sought to mollify Kashmiris at a time when Hindus had been attacked.

Coming from the man in charge of the country’s internal security and stability, the tweets were hardly extraordinary. They were matter of fact, devoid of flair or rhetoric, and simply sought to downplay the religious tensions that the Amarnath attack threatens to unleash. Using stock words and terms, Singh had tried to assuage ethnic Kashmiri anxieties, particularly those of Muslims, and especially those living in other parts of India.

Yet, the tweets were not fated to remain normal. Just the fact that they managed to fall on the better side of decency makes them look statesmanlike in today’s India. So much so that even well-known and bitter critics of the government, its policies, and its Hindu nationalist ideology were effusive in their appreciation.

That such banal tweets evoked gushing responses is reflective of the extent to which public discourse has regressed in the country. For around the time Singh was trying to soothe taut nerves, other public personalities were busy deepening the wedge.

Perhaps the most ominous one came from a spokesperson of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The spokesperson clearly had no love lost for a particular section of Indians.

To lay observers and participants in public debates, the three tweets above reflect India’s new normal. You simply can’t miss the pervasive bitterness. From television news debates to drawing room banter, conversations turn vitriolic in no time. There is virtually no contemporary subject—economy, society, defence & security, education, sports—that isn’t potentially explosive even in the friendliest of environments.

Part of the nastiness reflects grassroot anger and disbelief at the turn of events, be it communal riots, targeted lynchings, or political malice. What compounds it is the role of senior political leaders, government officials, media personnel, celebrities, and other public personalities in fanning the embers. Their contempt for propriety, dignity of the position they hold, and mere public welfare is blatant. And when their vile public utterances, often based on manufactured information, are called out, there is rarely any attempt to make amends.

In this heated situation, the middle ground, if it exists at all, has shifted so much that even the most unremarkable stock tweets that attempt to reach out to the entire country are being treated as exceptional. And it has left a good section of Indians yearning for more of the Rajnath Singh-kind of normalcy.

A handful of others did feel betrayed and tormented by the home minister’s well-intentioned tweets, though.

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