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Narendra Modi, Godhra and The Internet

April 28, 2014

Several times in the past week people, including me, have wondered why we keep harping about the 2002 riots. There have been worse riots with death tolls being much higher in the past and a lot of people responsible for this haven’t been brought to justice till date. So why did Narendra Modi win the lucky title of the bad guy.

The answer remains simple. The Internet.

When the 1984 Sikh Riots happened, or the Babri Masjid fiasco, the channels of discussion between people were limited to their neighbours. Sure, we were outraged but we could write “Letters to The Editor” and perhaps one or two would get selected. Nobody could really do anything about it. The media was mostly nationally owned and the foreign correspondents could talk elsewhere.

Internet penetration was quite bad in 2002 as well… but there were more media who could talk about their views. More perspectives for people to hear. 

Fast forward 4 years later, by the time Modi was trying to salvage some things on his end, the social media was taking shape. Internet media had taken root. Blogs were around. A lot more people could add their two cents and these were the most recent riots for reference. At least the most talked about in the India. Sure, there were people dying in Kashmir and in the North-east but the media didn’t talk about it and so we did not.

People made short films. Photographs could be shared on the internet without waiting for verification by a nosy and purist editor. And so they were shared, without verification.

By 2010, when Modi started his PR campaign in earnest, a Google search would pull up the negative stories about him because there were just that many. Till his agency started working towards planting positive stories and wait for the crawlers to do their job, all we knew was of this guy who was responsible for the death of several thousand people. Most of the Facebook-savvy crowd were just being born in 1984 and issues related to those times just were too distant. We would look to the immediate past and there was this guy standing there, big and tall.

It shaped the opinions of a lot of us, who were impressionable at that time. My opinions of Modi and his guilt were shaped by a documentary I watched in college about the Gujarat riots. I went home and tried to read up on it and most of what was available talked about his guilt. The video footage of Modi asking the people what we should do with dissenters made an indelible mark in my mind.

And for the new generation, we wanted answers and accountability, starting somewhere. The somewhere was this one quantitative figure standing in front of us. 

I wonder if Modi would have been so reviled if not for the internet and social media. Or if he would be so loved if not for the internet and the social media. Or if the truth would have been so irrevokably lost if not for the internet. 

Most Indians who are hungry for economic progress have pushed his actions to the back in favor of the promises he brings. The internet makes sure we do not forget Godhra. This post will probably be another one of those floating in the top. But without the access to a blog, I’d have probably scribbled this on a piece of paper, which would be used to wrap the hot bhajjis sold on the street corner. 

There is a long list of people who have remained unanswerable to their mistakes and sins. And perhaps we would have to wait for another decade before we can make any leader accountable for anything, starting with Robert Vadra. Vadra’s sins too would have gone unspoken about if not for the internet, given the amount of influence his wife’s party exerts over certain sections of the media.

Internet. Friend or Foe.

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