India's 'social media sena's' reaction to Pakistan ad mocking Abhinandan Varthaman is self-righteousness on steroids

A cricket world cup match between India and Pakistan has the potential to bring the two countries to a standstill during the best of times. For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen cricket enthusiasts treat an India-Pakistan world cup match less like a sporting event and more like war prep. Losing to Pakistan is usually mourned with as much — if not worse — grief as losing the world cup itself. I imagine the sentiment is more or less the same among our neighbours.

Usually emotionally supercharged, the match is particularly fraught with peril this time, scheduled as it is on 16 June, a scarce four months after February's Pulwama terror attack which resulted in airstrikes in Balakot on Pakistan soil, and the subsequent capture and release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistan. He may have received a hero's welcome in India, but being the benefactor of Pakistan’s 'goodwill gesture' was a bitter pill to swallow, as was evidenced by political speeches threatening Pakistan with dire consequences if Commander Varthaman was not returned, after his safe return.

So when a Pakistan TV channel — Jazz TV — released an ad featuring a mock interrogation between Pakistani officials and an actor playing Commander Varthaman, it was bound to make India's always-on-the-ready 'Social Media Sena' take immediate umbrage and cry foul over Pakistan’s shameful, rude, insensitive, etc., etc., behaviour for allowing such an offending ad to be aired in the first place.

 Indias social media senas reaction to Pakistan ad mocking Abhinandan Varthaman is self-righteousness on steroids

File image of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. PTI

The ad, about 33 -seconds-long, parodies the actual interrogation of the commander — a video of which was released by Pakistan when the Wing Commander was in captivity. In the original, Commander Varthaman was seen sipping on tea and refusing to answer mission-critical questions with, "I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to tell you this." In the parody, a sad-looking man sporting the commander’s striking handlebar moustache is also seen enjoying tea and using the same line — but to answer questions about India’s world cup strategy. And it ends with him having to surrender the tea cup, the implication being that Pakistan is going to ensure that the (world) cup is returned to its rightful owners.

The ad is in poor taste, of course, while also being somewhat funny in the it's-so-bad-it’s-actually-good kind of a way. The channel had to have known that it will spark resentment among the more violently "patriotic" Indians. Already, there have been several calls on social media for “retaliation” over “mocking our hero”.

Let’s turn the spotlight to India now, and all the social media warriors who are frothing and foaming at their mouths over a neighbouring country disrespecting her most loveable hero. I don’t know of a better way to describe it than self-righteousness on steroids. We demand that Pakistan show us respect and restraint. This, from a country where Pakistan-bashing is a proven election-winning strategy, and politicians and self-proclaimed patriots are forever telling people to go to Pakistan should they have the temerity to question or disapprove of the radical Hindu turn that the country seems to be taking. From a country where Pakistan-hating is the gold standard for patriotic films, and a tried-and-tested award-winning, money-raking Bollywood formula.

But let’s turn to our heroes and the respect they rightfully deserve. Our political leaders never fail to invoke the sacrifices made by our soldiers (or hog the credit for it, if need be). We’re mortally wounded by the thought of a country — one that we very helpfully start referring to as the “enemy nation” at the slightest hint of unrest — having the gall to show our hero in an unflattering light. And yet, we’re perfectly comfortable with allowing a person who makes public speeches about cursing a martyr who died in the line of duty, and all but crows in giddy celebration of his death. We don’t just allow her to contest elections, we help her win them. The hypocritical hypersensitivity of our people is a gift that keeps on giving, and truly never ceases to amaze.

Here’s a radical notion: perhaps our heroes are better served if we spend more time reflecting on and feeling ashamed of our own behaviour, instead of policing neighbourhood cheek. Shouldn't we try that for a change?

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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 15:24:17 IST