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Aham Bhaktam: the dimensions of Bhakts on political spectrum

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Kishore Asthana

The word ‘Bhakt’ has been lately made an epithet by some on the left side of our current political divide. This is dismaying. I wish these name-callers had selected some other word to give vent to their angst. However, that they chose this ancient word reveals what is actually behind their mind-set.

In this mood, let me explain to those who wish to learn what a real Bhakt is, at least from my perspective.

Yes, I am a follower of the Dharm, an unequivocal Bhakt. Do not take ‘Dharm’ in the religious sense. My ‘Dharm’ is ‘duty’ and my bhakti is all encompassing. It includes those who agree with me and those who don’t.  It also includes all others in between. I do not get viscerally riled if someone says things against my faith, my idols, or my nation, or my environment, or my friends. I think about their motives and whether what they have said and done harms my society. When I say ‘society’ I mean my family and friends, my countrymen, my India and my Earth. If it does, I oppose them logically, with the required amount of vehemence, in the spirit of my Dharm.

I oppose even those who agree with my political leanings if they do something that is harmful to my society. I ignore dissent or negative comments if they do not result in short or long term harm to my society.

Viewing the current agitation and allegations and counter-allegations from both sides, I ask myself, “what does my Dharm dictate under the circumstances? Who is on the side of the right and who is on the side of the wrong? Who is Dharmic in this chaos and who is Adharmik?

I can find Dharmik people on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Imagine a long band. One end is white and the other black. In between, there are shades of gray. All those within my conscience are ranged along this band. Their positioning depends upon whether, in my view, they are Dharmic or Adharmic, with the real Dharmic ones aligned on the lighter side.

On the real dark side of this band, I find all terrorists, regardless of their nationality or religion. Here I see those who initiate anti-India slogans and those who engineer and lead anti-India demonstrations. I also find those ‘right-wingers’ who resort to death threats or threats of rape etc. against those who they oppose. I find everyone here who seeks to divide India, physically or metaphorically, for whatever reason.

Just a few millimeters away from them towards the darkest grey, I find those agitators who burn national and private property and stop normal lives in pursuit of their political demands – demands for reservations for example. Here are those, too, who resort to physical violence against those who voice views they are opposed to.

Just a smidgeon more towards the greyer side, but still fairly dark, I find those influential people in the media, politics and society who actively support and defend these dark forces. They do this by writing articles, giving speeches and recirculating posts on social media that further the agenda of dark ones.

These people are not ‘misguided’. They are conscious believers in the discourse of these anti-Nationals, on both sides of the political divide. Often, they resort to chicanery. They use the power of the media and the power of their social status to spread the message of darkness everywhere they can.

Yes, I consider them merely a fraction better than the ones in real darkness. These people harm the society in two ways – firstly by spreading the message of the dark and secondly by distracting the country’s attention from real issues like poverty, education, farmers, employment, health, economic development etc.

Many other Adharmic are here too, including industrialists who blatantly pollute my rivers, builders who illegally chop down forests and those who undermine society through corruption. All those who promote superstition also populate this area.

Then come the masses, mostly young people who gather and shout slogans. It does not matter who they are supporting or who they are reacting against. They are in the grey area on both sides of the ideological divide. They are easily moved and they rely on others to form their opinions. They are puppets with their puppet-masters hiding in the dark, convincing them that their views are entirely their own. I do not consider them anti-national. They are merely guided by the dialogue fed to them. They are bhakts, too, in a naïve, twisted sort of way. They pray with their faces towards the dark.

At this stage, I wonder why the authorities do not realize this difference in shades of motivation and work out a different strategy for countering each segment. Force is appropriate against some on the darkest side, regardless of whether they support or oppose the regime. Social shaming, exposure and financial pressure are better for the social supporters of the dark. A gentler approach, proper communication and understanding is more suited to those who are being manipulated puppet-like.

Problems escalate when the same strategy is used for people populating all shades of gray.  Furthermore, when this is perceived to be especially targeted only against those holding anyone mindset, it makes the situation worse. A true leader will not take sides and deal in an appropriately firm manner with all the dark ones.

As my vision moves more towards the lighter grey side, I increasingly find more and more logical people. These people, regardless of their socio-political leanings, rely on analysis of events and their real implications for our society. They may believe in a certain ideology but are not blind slaves to it to the extent of seeing everything rosy in it.

Such people react in a measured manner, addressing issues rather than personalities. There are quite a few here, too. There are some defense services officers, some corporate executives and some retired people populating the light grey. I espy a very few social activists but hardly any journalists and politicians here.

Having had my fill of the dark, I turn around and look towards the brightest side of the band. I see my ancient India here, the fount of my Bhakti. I sense sadness in her heart and tears in her eyes. I bow my head, partly in reverence and partly in shame at what past generations of my countrymen have done to her and so many in the present generation are intent, even now, on doing to her. Our propensity for divisiveness and a warped sense of what is right and what is wrong have brought her to this pass.

Through good thoughts, I try to assure her that all will be well but, knowing the resolve of foreign and domestic dark forces, the mindsets of the opinion-makers, the gullibility of the puppet majority amongst my countrymen and the cynical vote-bank politics and frequent ham-handedness of our politicians, there is not much conviction in my thoughts.

All I can do is affirm to my India that, whatever happens, I am and will remain her Bhakt. I will not take sides except against anyone who attempts to harm her. I will not react in a knee-jerk manner to any provocation. I will willingly lay down my life for her and will respect others who do so too, both at our troubled borders and inside. I will analyze issues and look below the obvious to see where they originate. I will cut the strings if anyone tries to make a puppet out of me. Then I will determine my own action.

Yes, as a true Bhakt, I will be my own man – and my India’s.

Mr. Asthana is a resident of Gurgaon. Twitter: @kishoreasthana

asthana1@yahoo.com

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Indian IT Act Silent On Social Media’s Manipulative Role

With a wide array of social media analytics tool available online it is not even difficult to spot the right influencers for their advertising programmes.

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While celebrities with huge following running into millions on social media are known as macro influencers, even some people with small number of followers can earn big sum of money as influencers. They are known as micro influencers. Pixabay

If the Cobrapost investigation which revealed that several Bollywood celebrities were willing to pass views of political parties as personal opinion for money shook your conscience, but there is not much that you could do to restrict them from doing so because the relevant Indian law is silent on this matter.

The investigation revealed that more than 30 Indian film and TV industry actors/artistes agreed to spread the propaganda of political parties through their social media accounts for money.

“Taking money for tweeting on behalf of political parties is definitely unethical, but it is not illegal. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is completely silent on this,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS.

What the investigation unearthed was just the tip of the iceberg. The rise in popularity of social media platforms actually opened up a relatively new advertising economy driven by “influencer marketing”.

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Just as social media companies have come up with transparency rules for political ads, they should have similar features for influencers so that people can distinguish between commercial space and personal space. Pixabay

Marketing firm Mediakix estimated that influencer marketing on Instagram alone could reach $2 billion by the end of this year from $1 billion in 2017.

While Instagram has over a billion monthly active users globally, its parent company Facebook has over 2.3 billion monthly active users and over 16 million people log in to Twitter every day. WhatsApp is another powerful platform which has over 200 million users in India.

The kind of reach that these social media platforms have can offer some idea about how big the influencer marketing business could be. Important here to mention is that it is not just celebrities who are the stars in this game.

While celebrities with huge following running into millions on social media are known as macro influencers, even some people with small number of followers can earn big sum of money as influencers. They are known as micro influencers.

With a wide array of social media analytics tool available online it is not even difficult to spot the right influencers for their advertising programmes.

“In the starting, celebrities were used as influencers for brand endorsement and marketing purposes, however, after social media, now everyone is a celebrity and everything is business including politics,” social media expert Anoop Mishra said.

In countries like the US, it is mandatory to put proper disclosure on paid posts. But only a few follow the rules.

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With the elections coming, political parties are not complaining much. A top WhatsApp executive recently even warned political parties against abusing its platform.
Pixabay

In India, due to lack of user awareness, it is even more difficult distinguish between a paid post and personal opinion.

With the elections coming, political parties are not complaining much. A top WhatsApp executive recently even warned political parties against abusing its platform.

“More than 10,000 official WhatsApp groups have been created by a leading political party to slam its rivals on social media,” Mishra said.

“Political discourse is going to be impacted by social media influencers. There is no two opinion about it,” Duggal said, adding that the consequences of this can be very serious as social media platforms are being used to create a highly-polarised atmosphere in the country.

Also Read: Socialism is Making a Comeback Among U.S. Democrats
Just as social media companies have come up with transparency rules for political ads, they should have similar features for influencers so that people can distinguish between commercial space and personal space.

“Manipulation of social media platform for personal gain must be brought under the ambit of law without putting barriers on free speech,” Duggal added. (IANS)