Political / Social / Uncategorized

A democratic experiment in jeopardy


We are a house divided. The knives are out, rhetoric both private and public is bereft of restraint, bloodlust hangs heavy in the air, fissures run right down the middle of families and friendships – ’tis the season of ‘with me or against me’.

How did we get here? What drove us to the brink? Why are our differences so stark? Is the prospect of reconciliation virtually implausible? Well, let’s see.

 

 

Facts

~ John Adams  famously said – “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Sadly, John Adams and this core belief of his are both relics of the past. We live in a post-fact world today where each side has their own version of fact. Our inclinations and the dictates of our passions do determine our version of fact. There is no single point of reference anymore, no golden source of record, no last word, no touchstone. Each side has their stated position on the matter and that is their incontrovertible fact. The very first casualty of a fact-free society is history. History is reimagined with maniacal vigour and we end up with ‘parallel’ versions of history. I use the word parallel deliberately to demonstrate the fact that parallel lines run adjacent to each other till infinity. That is simply to say that the two competing versions of history shall never ever converge. Thus, with each passing day the chasm between the versions of truth grows like the Israeli settlements in the Palestine! Slowly but surely. Therefore, if a society cannot agree on their shared history then how do you expect them to agree on anything else!

Historical facts are just one part of the larger problem. The collection and dissemination of news is the domain of the media. It used to be print and radio in the beginning. Television followed and ruled the roost for a few decades. The next big leap was to the digital medium. The traditional media outlets of yore were controlled by individuals or entities who albeit ideologically partisan kept the reportage objective for the most part. These media houses were gradually acquired by corporates and later by proxies of politicos who used these mediums to not only further self-interest but also to go after all opposition. The advent of smartphones turbocharged with social media applications likes of Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter emancipated news as we knew it from the clutches of a select few. The average Joe and Jane on the street who was already disillusioned by what they perceived to be ‘partisan coverage’ was ripe for the taking. The common man not only had access to breaking news in the palm of their hand but could also ‘break the news’ themselves! Citizen reporters were a new breed this wave of democratisation spawned. And break the news they did with gusto. In the initial days, they broke the news in the intended sense by posting videos/pictures and information about an incident that they had serendipitously happened to be in the midst of. This was ground-breaking stuff. News in the real time; uncensored and untampered. No window-dressing, no powder and certainly no blush. What could be better! The awe-inspiring power and reach of social media was unmissable. The unscrupulous are always the first to take note and they did. Doctored videos, malicious memes, trumped-up allegations and patent falsehoods were now gushing out of the profusion of cottage industries that had set shop. Social media was now a medieval battleground, mayhem was in spate and it was gory and grotesque. They were still breaking the news……only this time they were breaking it apart!. The ghost of hyper-partisanship has emerged from the corpse of news reportage to fool, haunt, terrorise and polarise us. A post-independence partition had ensued.

Trust

The Bureau of labor Statistics periodically publishes job numbers in the United States. This figure is an indicator of the prevailing employment situation in the country. Regardless of the party in power, the veracity of job numbers is rarely disputed. Similarly, other indicators pertaining to the state of the economy, healthcare, education and crime etc. are seldom contested by either the Republicans or the Democrats. There is an inherent trust attached to these institutions as they are seen to be independent and non-partisan. Hence, the data they put out in the public domain is considered kosher. Not so much in India though. Pretty much every single institution which now unfortunately includes the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission to the various ministries that are responsible for publishing performance metrics for their respective domains are considered untrustworthy and with good reason. It is a commonly held belief that the independence of these institutions is severely compromised and consequently the data they put out is manipulated in some form or fashion to make the powers-that-be look good. This credibility deficit has given rise to competing trust centres which each camp swears by. The half that supports the politics of the incumbent blindly trusts its policies and the half that is opposed is equally dismissive. And so the chasm continues to widen.

Caste 

The curse of casteism has been the bane of Indian society for as far back as recorded history goes. Leg up to the ‘higher castes’ for the better part of our history and the relatively recent affirmative action in the form of reservations for the ‘lower castes’ have kept the embers of discontentment smouldering. What successive dispensations and more so the current one have done is dump a jerrycan of petrol onto those embers. The resulting inferno fanned by this brand of divisive politics rages across the nation and ravages economic development, social upliftment and societal harmony in its wake. Casteist politics is brazenly employed at every level to keep the pot boiling. The Hindi heartland is the posterchild of this satanic scheme. Wounds should they begin to show signs of healing are poked at to ensure they are always raw so that the body never recovers fully to mount a fightback. The fact that the psephologists in election debates still discuss ‘caste arithmetic’ should be evidence enough of how little has changed. Caste divisions actually are more pronounced than ever.

Religion

Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool. ~ Voltaire

Of course, there is no dearth of either scoundrels or fools!

It is nothing new that nations of people for long have been pitted against each other and led down the path of self-annihilation by drumming-up religious fervour. In India, where the Indian National Congress (INC) for the longest time pretended to be the messiah of the religious minorities without actually doing squat to improve their lot the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its bizarre belief that the minorities had enjoyed a profitable run since independence at the expense of the majority decided that it was time the balance of favour was tilted decisively toward the forsaken majority! The BJP under the stewardship of Messers Modi and Shah and guided by the ideology of its parent body the RSS has consequently sought to stoke the flames of majoritarianism and by extension minority subjugation. The Hindutva dog whistles which raise the spectre of minority domination and demographic alteration via illegal immigration of Muslims has unfortunately resonated with many and they just can’t stop drinking that Kool-Aid today. These folks have been brainwashed into believing that their religion is under imminent threat and that they are the chosen ones who shall snatch their country back from the jaws of Islamic expansionism. And how does the majority do that? Most of them purse their lips, shut their eyes and cover their ears when murderous mobs comprising of their brethren (and a few sisters!) set out on a lynching spree. Furthermore, this state of extreme polarisation has allowed silver tongued con-artists to sneak in and perpetuate religious bigotry under the garb of ‘Inner Engineering’ and Yoga.

Ideology 

Tag of an ‘Urban Naxal’ and charges of sedition are reserved for anyone espousing liberal or communist ideology. The fastest way to get there of course would be to simply sloganeer against the government while being a student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)! India is going through a pivotal phase in its history. Those merely questioning the raison d’être or the validity of events like the revocation of Article 370, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), or the National Register for Citizens (NRC) are being demonised as traitors and terrorist sympathisers. Consequences range from being subjected to the wrath of a murderous mob, police brutality, banishment to Pakistan or a day in court and in that order of decreasing likelihood! All divergent and contrarian ideological views are treated as a threat to national security and those that air or even so much as align with these views are hauled up as ‘anti-national’. If the ever-shrinking room for dissent wasn’t concerning enough the space for democratic debate stands annexed as well!  On the other hand, every single act of this government is summarily lambasted by the left without affording it a reasonable appraisal. Belief systems are savagely ridiculed and intellectual elitism is hurled at them to muzzle them or belittle them. Ultimately, the merit of the matter is the casualty in this mad rush to appropriate public discourse and policy. The ever-widening ideological fault lines are keeping now as well.

India is a grand experiment that was undertaken by our founding mothers and fathers with a multi-faith, multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural group of human beings as its components to achieve the envisaged result of a prosperous, progressive, modern and pluralistic democracy which whilst retaining all the aforesaid distinct identities would also manage to transcend them in the interest of one nation and one people. A shining beacon for the rest of the world. That experiment today stands at the precipice of abandonment. It is no longer a controlled experiment where a variable is altered to alter the outcome. All the variables are being tampered with now and there is no telling what the outcome of this recklessness might be. I guess we know all too well!

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