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Left, Right and vanishing Centre
The ideological tennis-match that is public discourse in India has left the ordinary or garden variety of citizen who can think for himself as a spectator with a crick in the neck
A strange phenomenon seems to have gripped this country. Every development in the economic and political realm appears to accentuate its virulence. At times I find myself oscillating my head from left to right; just like I do when I witness a live tennis match. Issues which must be condemned for just being blatantly wrong are being politicised by extremes. The space for a healthy middle is diminishing; and very rapidly.
Debates in this country are being held hostage by two conspicuous squads. On the left, we have India's liberals. Mind the usage. In political science, the term liberal has a completely different meaning. But people who subscribe to this philosophy in India have grossly misinterpreted its essence. They will eloquently articulate their grand vision for India; an India where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is nowhere in the picture. This appears to be their only agenda. Any unnerving development has to be and must be attributed to the current regime. On the right, we have the blind supporters of Prime Minister Modi. Their unwavering commitment and dedication to the current regime sometimes blinds them from discerning subtle trends in policy that may in the end not be good for even their own cause. Any action undertaken must be right, is the discourse. So, where do people who can think for themselves and strive for balance, appear in this polemic? Well, we are a like a little crestfallen puppy in the middle who is trying to catch the ball; but the two players keep playing catch.
The horseshoe theory in the realm of political science propounds a very important message — there comes a time when the far left and far right begin to resemble one another. Their posture and rhetoric sound very similar. This is happening in India today. Both sides have twisted the political discourse. There appears to be no difference between the two camps.
Let us start with the brigade which desperately needs to unlearn what it has poorly digested — India’s liberals. What does it mean to be a liberal in this country? Well, the list is interminable, but from my understanding, one needs to subscribe to a few basic tenets to be a part of this coterie. For starters, you need to be polished and articulate. In their view, the Indian Government is the Satan in Kashmir. The Goods and Services Tax (GST)and the Uniform Civil Code are detrimental for the economic and social fabric. The massacre of Sikhs in 1984 was exaggerated and best forgotten. The forced expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley in the early 1990s is case of selective amnesia. The minority, especially the Muslim community, must be protected from the rapacious majority. The unfortunate lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri must be unequivocally condemned but strangely, the same group of liberals condoned the death of Mohammad Ayub, the policeman who was lynched in Kashmir. Why you may ask? Well, because he was lynched by Muslims — the community that is the cynosure of liberals — or because he was a policeman in Kashmir who must have been up to no good just like the Indian Army! The ailing Congress, which is in desperate need for an overhaul, is India’s only hope. And they despise the colour orange, or should one say saffron? These are just a few common traits the liberal community exhibits in India.
But they do not have it all wrong. Freedom of speech and expression must be protected. It is an inalienable right with reasonable restrictions that are justiciable. They did vociferously criticise the gruesome murder of Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore but where were they when the lynching in Kashmir took place? And, of course, they routinely express fears of India turning into a dictatorship. This I find to be the most hilarious. Do they not know that the Congress ruled this country for decades? That Jawaharlal Nehru ruled the country for years and single-handedly crafted India’s foreign policy in the main as he saw fit and depending on his own ideological position and intellectual proclivities?
A strong Opposition is indispensable in a modern democracy. It creates room for passionate debates. Ideas thrive when there is stiff Opposition. But does this exist in India? Have the liberals in the main ever bothered to introspect and demand that the leadership in the Congress is strengthened? Have they ever clamoured for the change they so ardently champion? The illusory space they operate in is far removed from reality. India’s liberals are shockingly arrogant and dismissive, to top it all. Intergenerational privilege does that.
India’s far right brigade is another problem. Like it or not, Narendra Modi’s ascendancy to power has changed many perceptions. Hindu nationalists seem to have been emboldened by Prime Minister Modi’s rise. But it would be a folly to suggest that the Prime Minister himself is encouraging these anti-social elements; on the contrary, he has condemned them pretty unequivocally. Now there is nothing wrong in being proud of your country, indeed one hopes we all are. But when some let their narrative of nationalism threaten the way of life of others who share the same country, it becomes a huge problem. Do not dictate what anyone should eat or how they should dress.
Just like the liberals, this albeit self-appointed Modi brigade refuses to identify faults in policy implementation. In their view, demonetisation had no implications for the rural economy because the Prime Minister introduced it. They will fervently champion the GST and refuse to admit that some sectors are bound to be impacted. The Government's decision to announce rollbacks in the GST regime is an implicit admission that all is not well with the GST. The far right will hail the much-vaunted Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project as a success of the Modi Government, conveniently forgetting the spate of recent rail accidents and the fact that we still cannot avail basic services (hygienic food) on a train journey. The right brigade will never question the aggressive push to electrify the car industry and its feasibility. Do not forget that there is an acute power shortage in the country. The far right will take every opportunity to incite tensions and communalise issues. This certainly does not augur well for the future. With a country as pluralistic as ours, it does not take much to ignite emotions.
The discourse in the country has been hijacked by these polar opposites but strangely they often resemble each other in terms of their bigotry and perceptions. They both are recalcitrant legions spearheading their agendas. There ought to be a healthy middle where the rest of us can express our views. Where do people like us do in this disquieting atmosphere? The debilitating peculiarities of both sides have left us with no option. The majority, which does not subscribe to these murky extremes, must carve out its own space in these rapidly changing contours; and we must do so fast before these extremes expand their footprint and the centre ground vanishes from beneath our feet.
(The writer is a socio-economic commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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