We are a confident nation with a strong stomach. Without turning a hair, we gaze upon ads in which cricket stars strut about in clothes emblazoned with the legend “Pimple”. Sometimes in pink. But even we must balk at the bizarreness of the government’s seniormost counsel arguing in the highest court that we must not seek restoration of the Kohinoor diamond because it was never taken from us in the first place. Because it was a gift. And war reparation. And never mind that the two notions are diametrical opposites.
The difference between a voluntary contribution and a negotiated, contracted obligation is kind of basic to financial law. But instead of probing this howler, the media remained almost entirely focused on the enormity of a government, which had gone to the polls in 2014 with the nationalist promise to bring back every last stash of loot from overseas, now declining to go questing for just one measly Golconda rock.
Fancy geegaws seem to get all the buzz, while the never-ending story of antique art recovered from overseas gets cursory attention, though several items are wrested from collectors every year. Specifically, auctions of Gandhi’s possessions and letters, and Vijay Mallya’s acquisition of Tipu Sultan’s sword get the nationalistic juices flowing. Incidentally, there is curiosity about the current location of that sword. Is it sharpening the aspect of a drawing room in London? Even the Supreme Court wants to know.
WhatsApp has given the world’s security agencies a dull, persistent headache by deploying end-to-end encryption for conversations. Surprisingly, our government is handling it maturely, and not trying to reprise the arm-twisting match that it had got into with Blackberry in 2012, when it forced the company to set up servers in India to intercept traffic in cleartext. CNN-IBN (or the less hyphenated but more sprawling CNN News18) reported at length on the government’s assurance that it would not lean on the hugely popular messaging service. Quite a change of the heart from the the times of the UPA, which seemed to salivate at the prospect of pervasive and permanent surveillance of citizens.
However, following heightened tensions in the Kashmir valley following five civilian deaths, the government has required all WhatsApp groups which circulate news to register themselves, on the reasonable ground that cooked up news creates scares and costs lives. It’s a bit kinder than snooping on the whole population, but problematic nevertheless — channel administrators would automatically become wary about what content they let past, and specifically, government employees have been told not to diss government policy, but to let off steam through the fabled “proper channel”. Where you can’t really let off steam without scalding yourself. Freedom and privacy on social media are issues which will continue to engage governments, from here to the US. Whose media is in a flap over the latest anxiety — the possibility that US citizens may sue Saudi Arabia for complicity in 9/11. And that Riyadh could retaliate. The atmosphere here is much more convivial, with much public hilarity about the Kashmir issue. The standout is a list of what those little WhatsApp ticks signify. Three ticks mean that the government has read your message and doesn’t care about it. But if the third tick is red, it signals that a police party is on its way and you should leap out of a window or something.
Still can’t get over these pimply cricket ads promoted by a pharmaceutical company, but there’s some good advertising commissioned by this government. For decades, the railways have been the preferred pipeline for trafficked, lost and runaway children. They ride the rails all over the country and seek shelter in stations. Both now carry advertisements asking passengers to inform station masters if they find a child travelling alone. And the voice of Nitin Gadkari is a regular feature on the radio these days, urging vigilance against the multiple causes of India’s staggering road fatality rate, from weaving to the rather obscure problem of power steering failure. Who would have thought it’s taken over 3,000 lives in the past year?
Finally, the finest communications fiasco of the week: NDTV reports, all too deadpan, that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar sent a message of peace and goodwill to ISIS, and they sent him back a picture of a headless human which spoke a thousand words. Twelve of which were: you made our day, so here’s a picture to make your day. The spiritual leader (that is such an unspiritual designation) has said that ISIS must be engaged militarily.