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Book review: Sanghi who never went to a Shakha

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The book is based on the ideological journey of the author Rahul Roushan, which is divided into the timeline of nine chapters from becoming a “Congressi Hindu” (libertarian) to a “Sanghi” (Rightist associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) who never went to Shakha. The author has tried to put his view of the socio-political scenarios that he had observed before 2014 and after 2014. Being associated with media for the most part of his “job-life” he has given a lot of focus to journalism and media and how it has changed.

The book starts from the early life of the author with him getting a secular upbringing by his parents and how he romanticized the song “Yeh teri meri yaari ye dosti hamari, Allah ko pasand bhagwan ko hai pyaari”. He talks about how his school in Bihar which was owned by a “religious Hindu” never propagated anything religious to the students and compares it with other convent schools. Talking about the political scenario during the early nineties which was the era of “Samajwadi” and “Mandal-Kamandal”politics he says that in the the nineties even though “Mandir-Andolan” took place the “Political Hindutva” was far behind “caste” politics. He says that just like any other “ not so religious” Hindu he had no political or ideological views but it started changing after his entry into journalism school and knowing more about “responsible journalism” the word which was used by journalists to justify the one-sided approach by them so that the communal harmony does not get disturbed, which led him to get disenchanted with mainstream media and their “unbiased journalism”.

He mentions a lot of instances that accentuated the “ideological and religious biases” by mainstream media, citing the contrasting coverage of Gujarat Riots of 2002 which had a vast coverage and Assam Riots of 2012 which weren’t covered in the same way . He talks about how media houses and journalist distort the facts to propagate a particular narrative and how he became the victim of one such narrative about “Gujarat and Gujarati people” when he had a negative image of them being rioters, as he had heard a lot about 2002 when media portrayed the majority population of the state in a bad light. But he found a totally different image of them during his stay in Ahmedabad for his MBA. Talking about his days in business school he says he got disenchanted with the idea of communism which aims at creating an equal society where wealth is equally distributed among all. Business school days drew him towards economic right i.e capitalism and wealth making. Jan Lokpal movement or the “Anna Movement” was a major feature of the socio-political change which India was going to witness in next decade, talking about it author points out that how some ideologically driven people who were inspired by “Arab Spring” and who were trying to repeat the “Tahrir Square” incident in India in the guise of fighting corruption hijacked the whole movement and created a close group among themselves not allowing others who do not subscribe to their ideology to become a part of it.

He points out that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) was not allowed to be part of the movement however it was a major incident that ended up with RSS getting more acceptance and sympathisers than before because of a small mistake by Congress which was then the ruling party. He talks about how the event followed by 2G-spectrum scam, Radia-tapes and Delhi Gang rape and murder enraged the people against the existing government, which ultimately changed the political momentum towards the political wing of RSS i.e the Bharatiya Janta Party(BJP). The author has tried to encapsulate a change that Indian society witnessed after social media, when a lot of social media accounts that weren’t controlled by the media establishments came forward and people started to know how much information they have lacked and how the dominant journalists and media houses pushed a particular type of narrative with their journalism. Giving an example about an interview given by Sharad Pawar in 2006 about 1993 Mumbai Bomb Blasts when he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra where he admitted that he lied about an extra bomb so that the communal harmony does not get disturbed, he says that a of people could only know it after the clip got viral after 10 years due to social media.

He also talks about the change in society post-2014 elections which involved intolerance debate which was started after a statement given by the then president of US, Barack Obama, award-wapsi which involved a lot of writers, activists etc returning their awards as a protest against “growing-intolerance” in the country, JNU sloganeering which shifted a lot of media attention towards JNU, which ultimately led to the rise of politicians like Kanhaiya Kumar. Talking about how he was criticized by his ideologically committed friends for not criticizing Modi in the political satire website “Faking News” he says that the erstwhile establishment was not ready to accept the change of the government that took place in 2014.

Overall, it might be a story of the author’s ideological journey, however, a lot of people can relate to some incidents mentioned like the bursting of crackers during the India-Pakistan match to support Pakistan in localities of Indian cities, that had some insidious meaning attached to it but we didn’t pay heed to it and let it go. The book is also a critique of society which brands itself tolerant and liberal but has ended up being the most illiberal and intolerant. It can be a good read to understand society which prevailed before social media when there was a limited information flow which was mostly one-sided and how it changed post social media
with information flow both ways.

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