View: Disha Ravi’s arrest exposes the hollowness of conspiracy theories about the farmers’ agitation

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A young climate activist, Disha Ravi, has been arrested and remanded to police custody for five days. She is accused of manicuring the foreign hand stirring up trouble against the government of India — specifically of having edited a so-called toolkit, a document outlining the farmers’ agitation and ways to mobilise support for it, through online campaigns addressing the government of India and, for those living outside India, local governments.

This is technological illiteracy and disregard for the interconnectedness of the modern world at one level and wholly undemocratic silencing of dissent, on the other.

Social media, by its very nature, can be both local and global. India has a large diaspora spread out across the world, with sizeable populations in some countries such as the UK, Canada and the US. They constitute significant chunks of voters for local politicians, and it should come as no surprise that politicians who value their support would extend solidarity with causes they champion, so long as these do not conflict with those nations’ vital interests. Canada’s Trudeau faces a turbanned Sikh as a major leader of the Opposition and is naturally keen to cultivate Canada’s sizeable Sikh citizens.

When delirious crowds of people of Indian origin greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a conquering hero at Madison Square Gardens or other foreign venues, it does not strike the government or its fanboys as outsiders interfering in India’s internal affairs. The support for the farmers’ agitation is the symmetrical opposite of those cheers for Modi, by those who live abroad but are still deeply moved by events back home. The new farm laws, whatever their merits, have agitated the vast majority of farmers in Punjab and the Sikh peasantry is up in arms against the laws. This resonates with their brethren across the world, besides with those who stand in solidarity with them locally.

It is entirely natural that, in the age of social media, campaigns would be organied on social media on a global level. The India Against Corruption agitations that brought the UPA government to its knees also had the support of people of Indian origin abroad. The Nirbhaya horror similarly stirred people around the world.

The farmers are demanding repeal of the laws, not downfall of the Indian state. Yes, the Khalistani outfit, Sikhs for Justice, has chosen to tag along with the agitation to gain support among the agitating farmers. Those who think this makes the farmers’ agitation a Khalistani conspiracy would, perhaps, seek to milk the flea that attaches itself to a cow’s behind.

Much is made of the toolkit that Greta Thunberg tweeted to her followers for coordinating the campaign in support of the farmers. This is what is seen as a global conspiracy. It is in the nature of agitations to use the potential of the media at their disposal to mount as effective a campaign as they can. Social media platforms enable mass petitions and mass messaging. So, why is it sinister that such a toolkit should have made an appearance in this agitation as well?

The January 26 violence, it is alleged, was part of the toolkit. Since the original toolkit is no longer available online, no one can directly affirm or dispute this. Would planned violence be part of a toolkit to be circulated to all and sundry to mobilise opinion through various media campaigns, or would it be restricted to those on the spot? Does Deep Sidhu strike anyone as an ardent follower of Greta Thunberg? Does Greta Thunberg, climate campaigner, strike anyone as someone interested in subverting the Indian state?

Conspiracy theories have become the standard defence of the indefensible by this government and its supporters. Elgar Parishad was a conspiracy, not an occasion of Dalit assertion. Shaheen Bagh was a conspiracy. Popular outrage against the Hathras rape and murder culminating in the midnight cremation of the victim’s body under police guard was a conspiracy to defame the UP government. Now, the farmers’ agitation is a conspiracy.

Idealistic youngsters campaigning for the environment, greenery and farmers are co-conspirators and fellow-travellers of Khalistanis. Sure, some people perhaps do swallow all this conspiracy stuff and will still have room left for yet more conspiracies. But those who have not mortgaged their own faculties to political spinmeisters but still spout these conspiracy theories do so with the same degree of sincerity shown by Republican lawmakers in the US who say that the Democrats stole the election and that Trump was the rightful winner. Funny, birds of a feather stick together, across borders. Another international conspiracy, perhaps?





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