Craven cave-in

That a Rs 14.24 lakh crore company, which swears by values, withdraws a 45-second ad cannot all be blamed on faceless mob

A mob roams the digital commons, picking on a new enemy every moment, every day. This time, it chose a 45-second jewellery ad that shows a Muslim woman lovingly arranging a god-bharai for her Hindu daughter-in-law. It is a portrait — idealised, one may argue — of what a home in India or anywhere should be. Making room for differences by absorbing rituals and recipes of each other. But trolls will be trolls, haters will be bent on hate. So an ad that tries to evoke fuzzy feelings for a Hindu custom, amity and gold, becomes an insult to Hinduism; troll farms jumped in to dial up abuse. Even Charlie Hebdo was invoked. And Tanishq, a brand owned by the Tata Sons, one of India’s richest and most powerful companies that makes it a point to underline how it is values-driven, caved in. In a statement the company ducks behind “hurt sentiments” and the ruse of the “well-being” of its employees.

That’s nonsense. Increasingly, big brands today are being asked to take a stand on decency, compassion and basic human rights, the stand becoming an integral part of the brand. Tata Sons has a legacy of not just profit, but of rectitude and fair play. It has walked the talk by nurturing institutions on those principles. True, India is in the middle of an ideological contestation that has left no aspect of life untouched, that is barb-wiring the common ground of civility with more and more divisions. It is also true that from cinema to business, few want to cross the foot-soldiers of a ruling establishment bent on having its way. But this shared experience of diversity is what has enabled the India story, and allowed the building and creation of wealth. It is worth a fight.

A company with a market cap of Rs 14.24 lakh crore, with ample friends in business and politics, has the power to stand up to faceless trolls — and defend what is right. This is the kind of capitulation that will be remembered, it won’t easily go away.

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