In the Lucknow passport controversy, while a Hindu-turned-Muslim woman's complaint tagging External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter was redressed promptly, passport official Vikas Mishra — male, Hindu and upper caste — was 'punished' without an inquiry
The passport issue regarding the altercation between an interfaith couple and passport official Vikas Mishra continues to snowball, and there is no sign of BJP’s own supporters’ anger ebbing towards how the party and the government handled things. Lately, media reports quoted MEA sources as stating that the paperwork for Anas/Sethi’s passport was in the clear and the issuance of the passport was valid. It stated that Mishra’s transfer to Gorakhpur stood.
But as Mishra cooled his heels in Gorakhpur, temperatures soared on social media (SM). Media revelations about the case pointed out discrepancies in the applicants’ version of events. SM, always ready to play detective, pulled out procedural lapses to accommodate Sethi’s case.
The narrative took shape as minister of external affairs and senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj was on an international visit. As anger mounted, many on Twitter started writing in directly to her. Some of those were predictably filled with invectives, abuse and slander of an entirely personal nature. The trolls even made vicious comments about her health.
However, a far greater number wrote in enquiring about what was being perceived as a case of “reverse discrimination”. Most of those who wrote to the minister were BJP supporters. The incident took a nastier turn when Swaraj, quite rightly, highlighted the nasty tweets and shamed its senders. However, in her attempt to make an example of them she also went on to “like” some tweets that were queries, and at most could be accused of adopting a cheeky/sarcastic tone, which is frankly the lingua franca of Twitter.
A major newspaper picked up the minister’s tweet and published a report that highlighted the “trolls”, a term that the minister had not used herself. Included in this sweeping list was a journalist (non-partisan) and social media influencers who supported the BJP. It was immediately felt that this was an attempt to delegitimise voices, especially in the case of the SM influencers that supported the Prime Minister and the BJP. The newspaper that is perceived as one with a pronounced political bias fell right into the story. The angst continued to build.
The queries kept pouring in and the electronic media picked up the story of the minister being “trolled” — the narrative shifted decidedly. However, the queries remained unanswered. Neither did the media question the possible procedural lapse that had led to the outrage.
This controversy isn’t just about the fact that rules may have been flouted, or the minister chose to reply to “trolls” and not to genuine questions. It is about a deeper shift in the perception BJP supporters have of the party in power.
The BJP rode to power on the back of the promise of “sabka saath” — appeasement to none, development for all. Although the BJP support base has been projected as communal by many in the media and varied political interests, most were hooked by PM Modi’s promise of inclusive development and upholding the true meaning of secularism, in which all are treated as equal.
Congress had got a bad rap for playing appeasement politics, but the BJP with this incident may have done one worse, acted on reflex and done reverse discrimination.
Mishra — male, Hindu and upper caste — could be perfectly cast as the villain in the “majoritarianism” narrative. The speed with which he was transferred suggests that no proper enquiry was conducted and optics were all that mattered to a dispensation worried about its image more than what was fair or right. In this country, even the “guilty” are assured a fair trial.
A senior journalist tweeted a message from Mishra in Gorakhpur who was grateful for the support. In UP, these transfers on political whims are the norm. It is quite likely that the man at Counter C in the Lucknow Passport Office is taken aback by strangers standing by him.
The matter seems to have settled for now, with amended rules and overruling of “adverse reports” being cited as source-based reasons for clearance, but the aftertaste will linger.
Advaita Kala is an author and scriptwriter
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Last Updated Jul 6, 2018, 10:31 AM IST