The photograph has the potential to represent the nation as it is in 2020.
A gunman walks towards a group of unarmed protesters, as police look on from before and behind barricades.
A student with a bloodied hand is lifted over the police barricades after the gunman fires – barricades which have not been lowered for an ambulance to pass through, or even parted to allow the wounded student to reach the ambulance.
Much has been made of the fact that it happened on the seventy-second anniversary of the assassination of the man we call the Mahatma, and occurred as the protesters were heading for Rajghat.
The gun-wielding man claims to be a boy. The first-year student whom he wounded was a peaceful protester.
The gunman’s actions rendered the protest violent for several hours, with people pushing down barricades and clashing with the police.
It may have happened on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
But this incident is hugely different – not only because no one was killed, not only because no great leader was targeted.
It is different because of the climate in which we live.
Back then, the country went into mourning.
We have reason to go into mourning now, when we see that tens of armed policemen could not protect – or did not protect – students from a gunman, and that their excuse is that it all happened too fast.
For the less dramatic of us, who are not inclined to mourn the inefficiency of an arm of the legislature, perhaps shock and horror are not entirely a stretch.
However, it appears large sections of the country are celebrating.
Screenshots from the gunman’s now-deleted Facebook profile are going viral, with all the venom he spewed on social media receiving validation from others of a similar bent.
His old school mark sheet is doing the rounds too, in what may be an attempt to prove that he is indeed a juvenile – and also, unlike several of his idols, not shy of revealing his public examination scores to the world.
Even after the bloodiness of Partition, even after years of communal mistrust and hatred, no central minister in the 1940s ever urged people to shoot down “traitors”.
Days before the gunman fired at the students, Anurag Thakur did mention the phrase “goli maaro” as he campaigned in Delhi.
Also days before the incident, the Republic Day parade at Rajpath in Delhi had for its chief guest Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro, who assumed office in January last year, would find much sympathy with the Twitter trolls here. He shares many of their passions and pet peeves.
He is a vocal opponent of secularism, LGBT rights, abortion, and affirmative action, among other things that are anathema to them. He is a votary of national conservatism, supports deforestation in favour of “development”, and has expressed his admiration for the genocide in Chile under the watch of dictator Augusto Pinochet.
During the 1990s, he often expressed distaste for the democratically-elected government of his country and praised the military dictatorship which had ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.
In photographs, he looks happiest posing with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the august company in which the current Indian leadership will find themselves in his office.
Perhaps we should look at the signals it sends out when such a man is invited to the event which celebrates the day India declared itself a republic.
In 2009, Feroze Varun Gandhi became infamous for allegedly saying he would cut off the hands of anyone who dared attack a Hindu, and was jailed for it; in his defence in court, he said the tape had been doctored and that he had not made such a statement.
Eleven years on, and after the youngest Gandhi has either been sidelined or chosen to distance himself from his party or both, it is rather hard to imagine that a Member of Parliament who spoke of cutting off limbs would become infamous rather than popular. It is almost impossible to imagine the person being arrested, let alone defending himself with the argument that he didn’t speak the words the court heard.
We live in a climate in which airlines will bend their own rules and the rules of the land to put a man on the no-fly list for doing unto a BJP ally what he has very often had his subordinates do unto others.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com