Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Ridiculous Debate on Intolerance

There is a striking similarity between what’s happening in India today and post-World-War-I Germany that Ravish Kumar pointed out before the General Elections of 2014.
Strong anti-incumbency against the dynastic monarchy which was away from the ground realities and economic crisis led to the rise of German democracy which was soon bastardised by coalition politics. Policy paralysis reigned supreme with the Parliament not functioning for most of the time. This was when Hitler emerged as a moderate progressive figure synonymous with development of everyone.
Party workers started swearing allegiance to him. Personality cult seemed to touch a new high when the election posters had nothing more than a face and a name; as if he was the remedy to all malaise. There was an unprecedented support by the big businesses, war veterans and the youth. He had only one trusted deputy called Joseph Goebbels who is considered to have changed the paradigm of propaganda for which he chose radio as his favorite tool. Media’s independence was severely curtailed while there was an increasing intolerance amidst all classes in the society. People having no other similarity to each other except religion were made to believe in coherence which naturally bore aversion to anyone who didn’t subscribe to the same faith. It affected people of all religions regardless of their numbers. Victimization was in the air, ultra-nationalists ran amok in the name of German pride and anyone who voiced out the feeling of change faced character assassination.
Strangely, all media outlets kept praising Hitler’s foreign and economic policies and before anyone understood the depravity of it all, 6 million Jews had already been killed. It was only after his rule that it was found that most of his announcements didn’t progress much on paper.
Hitler's election poster. No party name/promises. Name and face.
Our generation and Modi
Our generation’s political evolution has been unique, just like every other generations pre or post Independence. Being unique has often been the most common commonality in the universe. Fools and madmen celebrate their uniqueness, like we celebrate the mass bastardized phrase of ‘Unity in Diversity’.
Our generation didn’t give a rat’s behind to ‘our country’ till about 4 years back. In all fairness, there were profile pic changes then, too, twice a year. And India crushing Pakistan everytime in World Cups sent us into an orgasmic tizzy. But it was there that it ended. Thankfully.
If we belonged to the backward classes, we availed reservation without blinking an eyelid. If we didn’t, we were plain jealous and criticized the policy of reservation. Fifty bucks was all that we needed to gratify the thulla at the traffic signal. We didn’t really get bothered to know about the intricacies of politics or bureaucracy, news channels bored us to death and we looked the other way whenever there was a threat to our physical or social safety. Because we loved convenience.
More ‘evolved’ ones among us started judging people on whether they voted regularly. It didn’t seem to matter whether they knew anything more than the name/party of the candidates. But the act of voting gelled well with the innate self-righteousness. We had no idea how to hold our MLAs and MPs accountable. In fact, we didn’t even know why do we need two different representatives and how do their responsibilities vary. But we voted. The necessary condition of responsible citizenship - voting - had conveniently become necessary and sufficient. And we had no qualms about it. Because we loved convenience.
Then, suddenly, everything changed in 2011 with the India Against Corruption movement culminating in Anna deification. The public conscience and discourse was changed irreversibly. Most of us had somehow survived the chronic societal conditioning that forced us to have an opinion. But here we were, suddenly enlightened by our greater consumption of informative media in our face.
From a generation of Gunda and Tip Tip Barsa Pani fans, we suddenly started asking bigger questions on social media. There have been hated governments in the past. But the almost surreal combination of last-in-dynasty Rahul Gandhi’s idiocy, Manmohan Singh’s emasculation, Robert Vadra’s windfall, several UPA2-gates, cheaper access to 3G data and availability of books on discount on e-tail made us more aware and thus suddenly intolerant of the regime. And everything that seemed to oppose it started sounding nice and fancy.
That, in my humble opinion (because I have one, too, like everyone else), was the start of polarization.
It was then we found Narendra Damodardas Modi. Our understanding of him was the exact opposite of our understanding of UPA2. And we thought we had found a savior.
Modi’s decisiveness led out of unforeseen centralization of power (15 portfolios shared between Amit Shah and him) amidst least number of days when the assembly functioned (avg of 31 per year) seemed a better alternative to the ‘policy paralysis’ of UPA2, the only understanding of the phrase being the interference by coalition partners, the only understanding of the phenomenon being Left’s opposition to the Nuclear deal, the only understanding of the reason being Left’s morbid abhorrence to anything to do with the United States of America. The opposition’s role in policy paralysis was quickly forgotten if, at all, we knew about it.
Modi’s clean record of personal gratification on public money and lack of immediate family was a start contrast with the ‘dynasty’ rule and several thousand crores scams. Modi’s eloquence gelled better than the aloofness of Gandhis and Manmohan. Modi’s use of social and anti-social media was better than UPA’s, if there was any. Modi’s PR team made groupthink suddenly come alive out of Orwell’s 1984 in the not-so-scary non-Commie context.
Before we knew it, we didn’t hate UPA2 as much as we loved Modi. One person leading a nation of a billion people out of it’s woes. It boosted our egos to think we should be involved in how is our nation being run, not in how our constituencies are. An NDA Parliament candidate suddenly had a newfound credibility. He was suddenly absolved of all the corruption scars and lack of progress as an incumbent. Our innate need for an almighty leader made us blind to everything else including the past ideologies, actions or lack of them. Namo-Namo was in the air.
The debate on ‘Intolerance’
If history is anything to learn a lesson from, the debate on intolerance is now getting ridiculous. On the ridiculousness scale of 1 to Sudarshan News, it’s quite comfortably sitting next to India’s constitutional declaration of being secular. And it’s unnerving.
There is absolutely no doubt in the factual accuracy of the following:
  • Ours has been a country with the most deep-rooted divide on the basis of subcastes, castes, religion and gender. Exploitation of a vast portion of population on the basis of race or color or ethnicity has examples throughout the world, but the sheer number of divides and sub-divides set us apart. We have been conditioned to harbor prejudices at many levels across generations.
  • In the last few months, there has been a deliberate attempt of sensationalism in public discourse. It has either been blamed on the rightwing ultra nationals (side ‘A’) or the opposition parties (side ‘B’), depending on which side one is on
  • Irresponsible statements have been made from both the sides of the spectrum in the name of ‘you-did-it-too’. The majority is made to abhor the minority appeasement while the minorities are made scared of emergence of an akhand Hindu rashtra
  • There has been no action taken - at least not made public - on the above repeat-offenders of people inflaming the volatile sentiments. It makes the powers-that-be look like they are in cahoots and their agenda is being served.
  • It has been majorly attributed to the Bihar 2015 and UP 2017 elections. Since the NDA doesn’t enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha (which is the House protecting the interests of states in our Federal structure) and has not been statesmanlike in dealing with the opposition, Bihar and UP were/are important. Team ‘A’ feels that such issues are raised to obfuscate the glorious work done by Modi while Team ‘B’ feels that polarization has been the modus operandi through which NDA wants to sweep the states, too.
So, the question arises that why is someone who says exactly this is being hunted like a witch to the point of inanity of app downloads and ‘I will not watch Dangal’ Facebook pages?
The bits about Hitler and Modi serve as a backdrop to what I am trying to vent out next. Not even remotely am I placing the entire blame of a billion-strong societal shift on one person. But if someone enjoys the glory and the perks, he should get the most part of the blame, too. Having said that, the role of the media - most of which runs like Modi’s errand boys anyway - cannot be ignored.
The pressures of 24-hour news reporting had brought in the ‘saanp-bichchhus’ and alien stories in long narratives with background scores before 2011. But our generation’s premature and sudden interest in passive consumption of news media after the IAC movement has changed the game. The TRPs are over the roof and so is competition. The bigwigs can pull the strings and play a symbiotic game with the Lutyen’s Delhi. The small fries just emulate what the big media houses are making news of. Rest is left to the senas of Bhakts and sickulars crammed up in war rooms, making made-and-paid news viral for a living.
Political establishment’s toying with the media houses is not a new phenomenon. There have been editorial visions closer to establishment, the visionaries of which have been suitably rewarded with Rajya Sabha seats and extravagant foreign junkets. It’s not tough to understand which media houses have enjoyed the most given the long rule of the Gandhis.
But the times have changed. The establishment has changed and it bloody well knows the game. In fact, it plays it much better than the predecessors. The so-called anti-establishment media houses have suddenly found new saviors. Advertisement slots bought by Patanjali and various Central governement departments are the most visible tip of the iceberg.
News is out. Campaign is in. What Arnab Goswami started - with the same spokespeople with absolute authority on every topic on the Earth - has slowly spread across the spectrum. Not only are these nonsensical panel discussions saving millions of rupees on investigative jounalism, it is creating a public discourse suited to the powers-that-be.
Aiding the panel discussions is selective and agenda-led reporting. People who should be on the fringe are made protagonists and explosive sound bytes are misinterpreted and ran on air throughout the day. Fact checks are things of the past. Why let truth get in the way of a good sensational story? It has fallen to such levels that an otherwise bullshitting KRK made sense for a change.

Our nationalism is being appealed to and conquered. Our weak spot of self-righteousness is being hammered on. Patriotism is in the air, the only manifestation of which is writing on social media. We are made to believe in the concept of a paramount nation, which by the way, is no different from the Zamindari system abolished 50 years back. We’re the commoners at the mercy of an all-powerful elite enjoying the perks and throwing the leftovers to us. Democracy has been one of the most tragic inventions ever.
Riots have happened throughout our history and will continue to happen. Stray incidents of violence will, too. Some religions have had more extreme subscribers because of the ambiguity of the tenets and lack of evolution and will continue to be so. There have been blatant state-sponsored violations of the Constitution and peace and will continue to happen. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
But what is different this time is a suddenly curious but extremely polarized set of people who are ready to discount all shortcomings of their ideology, whichever side they might be on. Anyone who is not ‘A’ has to be ‘B’ and vice-versa. Two wrongs are made a right by both the poles of the game.
Since ‘A’, the extremely right-wing, funnily-pseudo-nationalists-on-social-media-and-panel-discussions monstrously outnumber the other extreme, they have been the bigger culprits of being misled and making the society more collectively extreme. The ‘liberals’ are slow to realize that by countering every point of view of the extreme, they are making things worse and are more prone to be earmarked into ‘B’.
Any celebrity who speaks out in favor of the team’s belief - whichever team it might be - is made larger than life and appreciated. There are no questions on his past, his political affiliations, his ‘agenda’. His quotes are shared extensively over the Internet and Whatsapp; most of which have no connection to him and often are obscure movie dialogues suiting the occasion.
Any celebrity speaks against the team’s belief has his past and motives questioned. Dirt is thrown like he has sinned and the act of speaking out is termed ‘publicity-seeking’. If someone didn’t speak out when there were incidents of violence during the past regime, he has absolutely no right to speak up now. Wow.
Well, it’s not every week that Anupam Kher gains 2 millions followers. Siding with the majority has it’s perks for sure.
The damage done is irreparable. I am no optimist, either. But I just hope that Team ‘A’ understands that there is no international ‘badnaami’ when celebrities speak their heart out, atleast not more than the ‘badnaami’ by inflammatory statements made by the bigwigs which made the celebrity voice out his concerns in the first place.
Just for fun
Just like everyone (including me) is an expert on national politics today, we have collectively been experts on cricket from time immemorial.
Imagine people criticizing the national cricket team’s weaknesses on their Facebook page. Or a celebrity voicing out, say, the growing lack of aggression under Dhoni (or unnecessary aggression under Kohli) and this being the only topic of panel discussions on news channels.
Would the critical analysis make the Indian team ‘badnaam’ in the international cricketing circuit? Will it affect the foreign investment in the team? Should any critical analysis be an insult to only the captain? Shouldn’t he be held accountable for most of the blame, though? Shouldn’t such critical analysis be encouraged rather than shelved? Should you make separate camps belonging to Dhoni and Kohli and threaten everyone who spoke out his mind against your team?
Come on. It’s high time we get a life. That includes reading and writing any more articles on the new buzzword: Intolerance.