By Tanvi Khemani Dec. 28, 2019
Ever since 2013, my grandparents have been on a mission to Modi-fy me. A barrage of fake news greeted me on WhatsApp every morning, until it abruptly stopped. Shortly after the nationwide protests against CAA and NRC, my grandparents started to see reason. They started questioning the BJP’s policies.
Sometime in early 2013, while I was away at college, the Modi wave sweeping through the country washed over my grandparents. And I, their most politically outspoken grandchild, paid the biggest price. Ever since, my grandparents have been on a mission to “Modi-fy” me. A barrage of fake news about the government and its “miracles” greeted me on WhatsApp every day. One day I woke up to a message on how there were chips inside the new ₹2,000 notes. And on another, to a video of dear Modiji’s face appearing in a waterfall somewhere. Over the past five years, I have been inundated with stories of our PM’s childhood bravery – you know, from the time he spent battling crocodiles and whatnot. Whenever I attempted to offer any argument, I was promptly labelled a Naxalite. Later, thanks to the efforts of our hardworking news channels, my grandparents learned a new term, and I was upgraded to “Urban Naxal”.
So when I moved back home earlier this year, I had a secret mission – to make my grandparents see reason. They could choose their side as long as they were equipped with the correct information. I came up with a multi-pronged plan. First, get them addicted to better journalism. Less Arnab and Zee News = more living brain cells. Then, gently keep prodding them with alternate perspectives during our discussions; parallelly, arouse their curiosity by telling them about real facts and developments being ignored in conservative media.
For a few months, I kept the battle low key. I got them intrigued by Ravish Kumar by casually bringing up his brand of journalism in everyday conversations. Out of sheer curiosity (or boredom, who knows?) my grandfather switched to Kumar’s channel one day while watching a slow cricket match. My grandparents slowly became his biggest fans. Meanwhile, the economy’s massive tailspin helped my cause tremendously. Suddenly, demonetisation and GST were no longer “bold moves”. Yet, it was not enough to make them see my point completely.
I had been losing hope, until something happened this December. Tired of the pro-Modi rhetoric at home and upset with the reaction of the establishment to the demonstrations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, I decided to attend an anti-CAA protest with some like-minded friends. In my city of Calcutta, the situation had been mostly calm: the police were generally cooperative during the protest marches, and even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was on the streets. Many BJP loyalists were speaking up against the CAA and its implications; yet my grandparents didn’t seem to think that things were all that bad.
Thanks to the efforts of our hardworking news channels, my grandparents learned a new term, and I was upgraded to “Urban Naxal”.
They didn’t see why anyone would be protesting against a law that has been passed in Parliament, least of all me. They thought that in my misplaced youthful idealism, I dreamed of bringing about change by being “hit by lathis” (spoiler alert: I didn’t). They lectured me on how political battles should be fought only in election booths, with our votes being our only weapons. When these arguments didn’t work, they pulled out their trump card: emotional blackmail. Clutching their hearts and making big eyes, they moaned about their advanced age, general fragility, and how they would get palpitations if I actually went to the protest.
I still went, and I think that was the moment when things started to change.
The march I attended was a peaceful one. I returned and showed them photographs of witty posters carried by fellow protesters. I think my safe return and the smiling faces of so many ordinary people gathered together made them question their own stance.
A few days later, my grandmother’s cook told us about his wife, whose parents had come to India from Bangladesh many decades ago. Frantic searches for their documents had gone in vain, and now his wife was convinced that the police were coming to take her and her children away at any moment, and put them in detention camps. My grandmother’s heart softened when she heard about how terrified the poor woman was. She magnanimously said to the cook, “Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you or your family as long as we are here.” But I suspect she had also begun thinking of the millions of people like the cook’s family who found themselves in the same situation, but didn’t have sympathetic employers to turn to for help.
Meanwhile, the anti-CAA protests which my grandfather had variously dismissed as “paani ke budbude”, “bemausam badal”, and my personal favourite, “barsati medhak”, only gathered steam. Soon, daily protests were taking place in around two dozen cities. I told them about the crackdown on campuses and police brutality. I read out the lists of planned venues and timings for the protests across the country – Mumbai, Chennai, Pune – to my grandparents. They had thought that the protest I attended was a one-off thing, and the hullabaloo around NRC and CAA would die down soon. When the opposite happened, when people continued to raise their voices despite lathi-charges and detainments, it challenged my grandparents’ assumptions.
I don’t think even the most diehard Modi critics had expected this country’s descent into Trumpland.
Their morning walkers’ group had fallen like ninepins after one particularly well-respected neighbour, whose business was failing because of the economic downturn, began loudly railing against Modi and his policies each morning. I have great fondness in my heart for that gentleman, without whom I might still be having to put up with Arnab Goswami rabidly screaming through my grandfather’s TV set.
But the last straw was Modi’s rally in Delhi. I don’t think even the most diehard Modi critics had expected this country’s descent into Trumpland. Mouths slightly open, my grandparents watched footage of the PM denying ever having talked about NRC and the existence of detention centres. This was the moment when their “Sab changa si!” bubble finally burst. After all, they had seen Home Minister Amit Shah announce plans for a nationwide NRC in the Rajya Sabha, and take questions about its implementation. They had seen various other ministers talking about the NRC and CAA over the past many weeks. They had watched news reports about functioning detention centres in Assam. They had even read articles about real people dying in those very real detention centres.
With that, my seven-year battle with my grandparents came to an end. I wish I could say that they admitted that my generation seemed to know what it was doing, but they are Indian grandparents after all. All I got was an overheard phone call between my grandmother and her brother, an ardent RSS supporter, who she was trying to convince that Modi was not without his flaws. Nevertheless, it was a win for me. That, and my grandfather’s promise of not sending me forwards and propaganda videos without verifying them first.