Some people, especially if they were born after 2000, may not really know Abhijeet Bhattacharya as a singer. After all, the man who spent the ‘90s giving us memorable songs such as ‘Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon’ and ‘Chaand Taare’ from Yes Boss (1997) hasn’t been doing the same for the past few years. In recent times, if there’s anything he’s really been known for, it’s for being a douche on Twitter.
On Saturday, he tweeted about the tragic murder of Infosys engineer S Swathi, who was hacked to death on a railway platform in Chennai, in broad daylight, on June 24. “Hindu parents want justice for Swati/revenge for our child who was butchered by love jihad,” he thundered, in a tweet addressed to the Prime Minister's office.
Of course, Bhattacharya, like many, had assumed that an act of such barbarism could only be the outcome of an imaginary movement that Hindu nationalists like him believe is a reality: one in which devious Muslim men lure unsuspecting Hindu girls into relationships and marriages so as to convert them to Islam. Over the past seven years, multiple investigations in Kerala, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh have yielded zilch by way of evidence of its existence.
You’d expect that, 48 hours on, he would feel a tinge of regret about making such a wild and woefully ill-informed statement. But as I write this, the hashtag #IStandWithAbhijeet is trending.
He also doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping up with the news. By the time he’d lent his voice to the battle cry chorus, it had already been reported that Swathi’s murderer was 24-year-old P Ramkumar, an engineer who was besotted with her, routinely followed her around, and was enraged that she did not reciprocate his feelings. Even someone as ignorant as Bhattacharya is probably likely to notice that this would be hard to peg down as a case of ‘love jihad’, given that Ramkumar is quite obviously not Muslim.
You’d expect that, 48 hours on, he would feel a tinge of regret about making such a wild and woefully ill-informed statement. But as I write this, the hashtag #IStandWithAbhijeet is trending. Why? Because, instead of having apologised for his oversight, the singer has rained abuse on Swati Chaturvedi, a Delhi-based journalist, who opined that he was deliberately trying to instigate communal hatred by spreading false information about the case. She also added, somewhat unfortunately, that Bhattacharya’s hatred perhaps stemmed from his jealousy of Pakistani singers (such as Aatif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, whose rise in popularity coincided with his decline in the mid '00s), who may have snatched away lucrative Bollywood opportunities from him.
बेशर्म बुढ़िया..U not proud of Indians? Wats your breed? U sk pakis..I fk Pakis, U lick..I kick, dnt block just wait https://t.co/0BWHU60rPm— abhijeet (@abhijeetsinger) July 2, 2016
As a raging battle goes on over this misogynistic reply from him — a tweet he may pay dearly for, since an official complaint has been registered against him by the Delhi Police — it is important to see where this hatred is coming from. After all, this is hardly his first such offence — remember when he openly supported Salman Khan after the verdict of his 2002 hit-and-run case last year, and compared the people his car ran over (with him allegedly at the wheel; the case is now being heard by the Supreme Court) to dogs who deserved to die for sleeping on the pavement?
A piece on FirstPost opines that his rants are rooted in his personal failures. It notes: “Abhijeet’s constant fulminations against Pakistani singers suggest he feels his era ended because of Bollywood’s invasion by artists from across the border. Like all bigots, he suffers from deep-rooted sense of personal failure that he has conditioned himself to attribute to ‘outsiders.’”
To reiterate: a 24-year-old engineer died because we live in a patriarchal nation in which men, when all else fails, resort to violence to satisfy their fragile egos. Meanwhile, with this entire circus, right-wing Twitter has managed to, once again, divert the real issue into an idiotic ‘he used bad language; no, she did it first’ battle between two people.
But the fact is, whether it is true or not that he does feel slighted by how Pakistani singers replaced him over the last decade-and-a-half, Abhijeet is by no means unsuccessful. He claims to be one of the highest tax-payers in the country, with a thriving real-estate business, lives in a swanky apartment in Mumbai’s Lokhandwala Complex, where he helps organise the area’s annual Durga Puja. While he hasn’t been singing as much as he used to, barring a few songs in Bengali, he still keeps himself busy with live concerts, in India as well as abroad.
In fact, although he was once a popular choice for playful numbers featuring Shah Rukh Khan (it started with ‘Badi Mushkil Hai’ from 1994’s Anjaam and ended with ‘Khudaya Khair’ from 2009’s Billu), in 2012 it was he who declared that he would never sing for Khan again, alleging that he and the industry don’t respect singers enough. Once, he even walked out of AR Rahman’s studio, saying that he was insulted at having to wait for seven hours to meet the man. These moments of chest-beating effectively ended his Bollywood playback singing career; his vocals, once a Bollywood album staple, would never be used in a Hindi film again (barring one stray song in 2013’s Besharam — a widely panned comedy starring Ranbir Kapoor that sank big-time at the box-office).
To be fair, it’s hard to fault him for this. His frustrations against the industry sound valid enough, and his ouster from the upper echelons of Bollywood playback singers may well be both unfair yet simply an unfortunate (well, for him) sign of changing times and tastes.
But then, all of this makes his hyper-nationalistic, arrogant behaviour even more obnoxious and… inexplicable. All that money and fame has been unable to teach him the value of facts, the idea that xenophobia is wrong, and that it is misogynistic to attack a woman with the ‘oh, you must be sleeping with them’ argument.
This must make him some sort of crown prince for right-wing trolls, who delight in whataboutery and using out-of-context screenshots of tweets from years ago to make their arguments. Here is one Bhattacharya retweeted, wherein a troll tries to argue that Chaturvedi’s complaint against the singer — for using foul language — is invalid because she too once used the four-letter word two years ago.
(But what complaint? Should anti-nationalism, lobbying, and foul language be allowed in the name of feminism?)
As of Monday evening, Bhattacharya was still unrepentant about his demeanour with Chaturvedi. Meanwhile, many seem to have lost sight of the fact that the man still doesn’t seem to have bothered to correct his original mistake — the fact that Swathi’s gruesome murder wasn’t a case of love jihad, but the actions of an immature and dangerous stalker, who felt so entitled to the love of a woman that he felt nothing about butchering her.
To reiterate: a 24-year-old engineer died because we live in a patriarchal nation in which men, when all else fails, resort to violence to satisfy their fragile egos. Meanwhile, with this entire circus, right-wing Twitter has managed to, once again, divert the real issue into an idiotic ‘he used bad language; no, she did it first’ battle between two people. What’s the common factor between the two? Another fragile male ego, operating on perhaps a more evolved level, but threatened by the same thing: a woman asserting herself freely.
Right-wing Twitter couldn’t have found a better person to rally around. Bhattacharya may have made a career and built a reputation as a singer, but if he keeps this up, he risks destroying his own legacy. Soon, his claims of being able to make people smile nostalgically with the sound of his voice will amount to nothing — he will be remembered only as a man who inspired ignorance, bigotry, and hatred.
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