Dissent could be bad for health
People tend to believe that only qualified medical doctors performed surgeries, also referred to as operations. The parlance has now been hugely expanded, and all manner of specialists are routinely performing surgeries. The doctor’s mistakes are usually quietly buried, while other successful operations are demonstrated through credible data, photographic or oral evidence, or those involved with planning and execution. Questions about such operations, whether they are “local” in nature, or “cross-border” strikes are usually given prominence in proportion to the success achieved. Indeed, “success” of such surgeries has been inversely proportional to the media hype they generated. Euphoria overcomes the cynical Indian mind at first, particularly when the targets destroyed are linked to our western neighbour.
Then politics takes over, as it must, more so in our country. Scepticism is induced into the discourse and soon becomes inflamed into an identity crisis amongst the “nationalists” and those whose patriotic fervour is suspect. New battle rages, but far away from the LoC. Security strategists, real and others self-styled, a whole battalion of ex-generals, some battle scarred but mostly sensing an opportunity for political glory or at least a governorship, and doubtless, the “trained” media, all desperately wanting to be counted in their respective Angel’s list of devout patriots, are engaged in striking the doubting masses. The cacophony rages on.
A “noble” television channel struck a big chord for morals in media by wiping out an advertised interview with a former minister, citing its newly conceived editorial policy not to give space for political bickering. It sure looks as if we are all about to be deprived of our daily dose of petty bickering from now on, at least on one reformed channel. The army cannot be doubted is the clarion message and by implication, nor can the government that orders the military and if you are willing to stretch the logic further, not even the party that runs the government. The discourse has thereby got downright complicated. There lay public, particularly those going to cast their vote afresh in a short while are hopefully impressed by “Hanuman’s” feats across our Western front this time.
Fervent nationalism is on the rise again. India is about to step into the superpower league and nobody ever doubts that except at one’s peril. The growth rate is booming, so what if the numbers have been re-arranged; interest rates are being gently lowered, no matter if the fixed depositors will suffer a drop in their incomes, the only enemy all the countrymen hate with a passion has been cornered, black money has been mopped up, “Ram Rajya” is in the offing. We have to do what the investor wants, and the country is at their disposal. Ask no questions, is the new red line. It is of little consequence if the Global Hunger Index shows us struggling at 97 in a list of 118 or so. IIP outputs are sliding. Notwithstanding, rest easy countrymen, as we are in the race for the big prize which is superpower status around the globe.
The fourth estate is ready and willing to comply with the trending sentiment. Country before all else and woe betide the one who stammers or falters in denouncing the common enemy as predetermined, both by geography and rank misconduct.
We have to wear our heart on our sleeve and our shared, agreed and a nationally approved list of hates on the other. If that obsession cannot be displayed, then best is not to have an opinion. The health of a Chief Minister of a state cannot be addressed. It is already a criminal offence. Comments, particularly critical of governance in a state on social media by a tech student in Bengal on the carnival of immersions will invite abuse from the loyal trolls and also the state police. A sympathetic noise about artists from across our border would be a heavy cross to carry for the rest of one’s life. Bollywood is bending and fawning alternately before the local goons and, the state is a helpless and a willing bystander. Or is it a collaborator?
It is good to remember that governments do not like dissent. They like dissenters even less and usually are all thumbs at handling contrary views. The standard response is through the Penal Code and or to dwell on the loss of sanity of the contrarian. The truth is not a defence anymore, but lies, yes lies you can keep spreading. They no longer carry any consequence in our society. Maybe libel is a cause, but it will bring no joy at the end of three decades in a court of law.
The moral of the time is why dissent. Just conform and be happy or protest and fume silently and be unhappy. You have the freedom of either. Why does one need to have an opinion at all? Only egotists own opinions and want to inflict them on others. This business of everybody wanting to dominate everybody else is fraught with conflict. An ideal Indian has no ego and conformity will bring him peace in this world, maybe. So be an ideal Indian. No state can object to that ideal.
(The writer is a former Director, India Habitat Centre. Views expressed are strictly personal.)