What is ‘whataboutery’

(D Nagarjuna)

Only in the recent past, I could make out what ‘whataboutery’ meant. Its synonyms are also equally difficult to comprehend, they being hominem, tu quoque, and recrimination. One wonders whether we had ‘whataboutery’ in the dictionary in the 1960s and ’70s during our school and college days. After getting into government we got familiarised with the word ‘precedent’ which could be sufficiently used, reused, abused, and misused to settle various scores, be they service matters or day-to-day office issues.

For lawyers, precedent is a strong foundation on which they build their cases either to win over their opponents or collude with their opponents to ditch his/her clients. A good number of judgments unfortunately or for some fortunately are based on precedent in such a way that winners may be happy but guilty and losers may be unhappy but happy in conscience as judgements are based on precedent rather than justice.

Now, let us come to social media and think of whataboutery which is as good or as bad as the word precedent. A recent incident of parading two women naked followed by their rape and murder in Manipur shook the entire country to utter shock, disbelief, and instant anger but the feelings also spread to the entire world like rapid fire.
The otherwise silent and immune Prime Minister had to intervene, albeit for 36 seconds for an incident which took place a clear two months before, that too outside the parliament when the session was anyway going to begin.
Instead of feeling sorry and apologizing to the country like how Man Mohan Singh did during the Nirbhaya incident, Modi facilitated himself with whataboutery so much that he also got tempted with this word and roped in the names of two other states where also gory crimes took place while condemning Manipur incident.

To be fair to him he did express that this is a nation’s shame but his whataboutery unnecessarily created suspicion that he is not serious where no nonsense approach is demanded. Man Mohan Singh could have won a few political brownies if he too resorted to this. He did not do politics in the Nirbhaya incident and that went well with the people but the fact remains that Nirbhaya was one of the main causes besides corruption which pulled down his government in the following elections in 2014.

There is no denying the fact that the Manipur incident has been the most demeaning and here what angered people is when the honour of women is compared with counter allegations or whataboutery during this tragic time as if it is excusable as a result of comparison. Social media was full of condemnation of the incident but for every condemnation, its warriors resorted to whataboutery which they may feel dilutes the seriousness or tempers the anger. Whataboutery angered people more than the assuaging feelings of regret starting from Modi to Irani to Rekha Sharma, NCW Chairman. Whataboutery, unfortunately, like corruption has no politics.

It comfortably settles in every party and to prove that just log on to any of the SM platforms, mainly Twitter and WhatsApp where every user barring a few simply put out a counter allegation and resorted to whataboutery. Is it, not high time that all parties draw a lakshman rekha on how to be sensitive, sensible, careful, and humane when such incidents are commented upon? This word is dangerous at least for such crimes where there is uniformity in agreeing to the HONOUR of WOMEN.

There should be no compromise in such incidents like the Manipur one and yes equally other incidents too. Whataboutery is a psychological blow to every victim, his or her family whose plight should not be trivialised by this. It is a shame if someone uses whataboutery to defend someone’s action knowing pretty well that it is an inexcusable crime and there is no compromise in this whatsoever. It has nothing to do with whose party or under whose government this happened.

There is no need for whataboutery and people can set aside their politics and unite to condemn every such incident irrespective of where it happened and who is responsible. So, an incident in West Bengal cannot be brushed aside by quoting the Manipur incident and vice versa. Both are inexcusable and by quoting one for the other, either of the two does not get exempted. No compromise for both. Whataboutery seems to be a washing machine to cleanse every crime by showing another crime.

Dishonor of women cannot be set aside by quoting Manipur for Rajasthan or for that matter any place in any part of the world. All incidents are condemnable and there is no compromise on this condemnation. If every crime is erased by whataboutery, is it correct? When every issue is settled without wasting much time, people will live peacefully. When the police or army fails to control mob frenzy, then it is a serious matter and no government should be found wanting for such a grave development.

It is not whether Kuki suffered or Meitie suffered but suffer did they both. Both need to be attended with a firm hand. Humanity cannot be put at stake. During such a situation, what is needed is to restore peace and normalcy and then do the post-mortem for all the past deeds. Instead of doing whataboutery, why can’t government instantly act be it WB, Chattisgarh or Manipur, or Kashmir? Prevention of whataboutery is better than nursing the wounds caused because of it.