Let’s illuminate public discourse
Public discourse has been redolent with outrage. The reasons pertain to reports of rising intolerance, ignorance, hatred, and violence. The response of the government, which has ranged from the well-worn conspiracy and victimhood theories to ideological intolerance against the BJP and its associates, has not addressed the serious problem squarely. It has, instead, given credence to a general perception—and in some instances— conviction, of its implicit support for acts and utterances that are clearly indefensible, and which deserve unequivocal condemnation - especially from a dispensation that received a resounding mandate for inclusive growth and development just over a year ago.
The outrage has manifested itself in different forms and each one of them has successfully received some media attention. The attention has not always been adulatory. After what appeared to be a time-lag, trashing and bashing exercises of these manifestations, including, inter-alia, returning of awards, were taken up in civil society with some gusto. These were contrived enough not to be taken too seriously by the discerning.
However, what was quite disturbing, in this cacophony, was the quoted comment of Prof Irfan Habib, a noted Historian, at “Pratirodh” organised on October 1 at New Delhi, that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was no different from the Islamic State as far as the intellect is concerned. Without being accused of taking the comment out of context, it would be fair to seek what exactly was the purport of the undisguised slur. Professor Habib also owes it to his many supporters to explain what his comment actually meant. Someone, as distinguished, would not simply dole out rhetoric to an audience of like-minded, well informed and discerning persons. It would be highly disappointing if that turned out to be the case.
If eminent personalities stop at these shock-and-awe statements, the prospects of sustaining the fight to uphold reason, democracy, and composite culture will be lost quite early on.
Without questioning their credentials, can such eminent personalities move beyond act one and work towards exerting more effective pressure on the Government so that it cannot get away with dismissive statements issued in a distant cyberspace? Such statements by the government reduce these highly negative developments down to mere accidents or stray incidents, lacking in any consequence.
It may be useful, for the next act to follow-up in a creative, effective, coherently designed fashion, on the advisories – no less than three in as many months – which have been recently communicated by the President of India. The historical significance of this cannot be lost to any citizen. The famed ingenuity of the crusaders can be exhibited best in this constructive counter.
If the meaningless game of accusation and counter-accusation continues, the destructive, predictable end results will be hastened. We do not need the top-notch international rating agency, Moody’s to forewarn us, without mincing words, that the credibility of the country is at risk. We had heard that from President Barack Obama too, in January this year, on his way out, after receiving a red carpet welcome from the Government on Republic Day. He said what he had to say on “Bharat Ki Dharti” and we did not object. Why? It is because there was a grain of truth there - presumably. And that was several months ago.
Subramaniam Swamy can rave and rant all he likes against Raghuram Rajan for calling a spade a spade at the IIT Convocation recently and dare the RBI Governor to go back to the States where he may feel more comfortable. However, can that qualify as a reasoned or reasonable rejoinder? It is legitimate to question and urge erudite leaders like him to use this crisis as the quit-a-sound-bite moment and transform it into an opportunity to gift ourselves the democracy of proper debate and discussion that we deserve. That the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, however, had to say what he did, in one of the country’s best-known educational institutes, is very instructive, for those who care to learn. Like Professor Irfan Habib’s dark jibe, Swamy’s response does not help one whit. That we have a most tolerant past is not enough to take us forward. That may well remain history if one were to be uncharitable.
There are many strong and genuine voices that need to coalesce at this critical juncture. These voices need to engage the Government and civil society in illuminating discourses about the imminent and palpable threat that is looming large. Apart from symbolic individual acts of protest or statements that invariably get lost in a black hole of Governmental disdain and apathy, there has to be action on the ground. The focus must especially come on the not already converted, with a far more successful use of tech-aided mass appeal techniques. The available legal remedies may also be plugged into, taking judicial support wherever required. Such methods have been used earlier and in the present surcharged atmosphere can be expected to deliver even more telling results.
While many in the Government may prefer to let matters carry on, with an eye on the outcome of a prolonged, eminently forgettable, and dirty electoral battle in Bihar, this will be nothing short of inexcusable negligence and low-level myopia. With six more State Assembly elections coming up in the next two years, we are asking for big trouble if we do not put an end to this madness. Let’s be honest and acknowledge our inadequate disaster-preparedness skills.
(Dr.Tuktuk Ghosh is an independent commentator, former bureaucrat, and an academic. Views expressed are strictly personal)