Millennium Post

They polarise, we perish

To polarise means to divide people or their opinions into two opposing factions. The term is a popular one, particularly in media and among those who media love to quote. In simple terms, a polarising person or party is one that divides the nation in two sharply-demarcated camps. In an intensely polarised scenario, there is likely to be an insignificant section of swing voters. A glaring example oft repeated of a polarising force in the context of the Indian politics today is Narendra Modi.

Hidden in the popularity of the term polarising force is one secular assumption. That Hindus and Muslims in India are poles apart. Any political party or leader wooing the latter is a non-polarising factor, while somebody not subscribing to this particular sectarian style of politics is a polarising force. In a nation boasting of the largest number of Muslim citizens not addressing the community separately is viewed as an offence, an affront of the democratic principle. Therefore the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav are not viewed as polarising factors despite him addressing Muslim Indians as vote banks. Polarising happens when one fails to separate Indians along the religious lines.

Even in the much-abused concept of polarisation, opinions, that we see, hear and are force-fed, are selective. Thus when a high court delivers a judgment against such sharp polarisation on the basis on religion, promptly the fingers get pointed at Narendra Modi. But the Gujarat chief minister has not, in his three terms as the chief minister of the state, discriminated Gujaratis on the basis of religion. At least the swing voters did not see any influx of Muslim Gujaratis into neighboring states or anywhere in North or West India. 

The evidence is Modi’s Gujarat gave reasonable stability and comfort to all residents of the state. The track record of governance does not indicate any effort to polarise.

Modi represents BJP, a party referred in the western media as the “right-wing Hindu party”. There is little to protest such branding. Did the party not take up the cause of building Ram temple in Ayodhya, a disputed site said to be the birthplace of the mythological king Rama? The issue had sharply divided opinions in the 1990s and even saw BJP coming to power in New Delhi. What is more L K Advani, the senior most leader of BJP, had personally led the Ram temple movement. 

Curiously when Shri Advani was projected as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate nobody cared to call him a polarising political leader. What could be the reason for such selective amnesia?  Could it be winnability?

The question that haunts swing voters is what are the characteristics of a polarising leader? Was the union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde not trying to polarise the citizens when he advised the states to go soft on detaining suspects from a particular religious community? Was Azam Khan, the UP strong man, not guilty of selectively using state administration against a particular community? Did Sonia Gandhi address to Indians of all faith when she called the Gujarat chief minister ‘mautkasaudagar’? 

It seems Narendra Modi’s fault had been presiding over a state at times of communal carnage. That the unfortunate incident had been handled competently and addressed effectively to bring in lasting peace is not viewed as an administrative skill. What is more the peace and prosperity of Gujarat has come without any particular religion receiving any special attention goes un-recognised.

In the debate over polarisation what is winked at is that there are greater factors polarising people than religion alone. The critical most factor in the seamless world of the 21st century is economic prospect. Indians, the young in particular, aspire for their economic well being; religion comes much behind in priority. The Marxists realised this aspect in early 20th century. Unfortunately the Indian communists failed to broad-base their sphere of influence with their dogmatic espousal of some political jargons. 

Finally they became irrelevant in a world without boundary, even losing their strong hold in West Bengal. The extreme rightists ignored the aspirations of the poor. India’s business tycoons remained more busy in showing off their wealth and fighting over acquiring more than shaping up their business empires into a respected enterprise for the society. The business called media fell in the later category. Thus polarisation remained in the narrow confines of tussle between two religious communities.

Forgotten in the process were the aspirations of the billion plus Indians. Left to themselves they live in harmony. A Muslim parent having the same dream about his children, as does a Hindu parent. In life where opportunities to grow are controlled and constrained there are several provocations for conflicts. These are there within communities and among them as well.  Wherever the administration had been neutral in delivering justice such skirmishes remained confined in the village and its neighborhood, never attracting TV crew or media. Polarisation happens when such influence penetrates the peaceful fabric of a society. The recent incidents in Uttar Pradesh are a glaring example. But will we accept the follies take corrective steps? Will the pundits tell us the polarising forces they and media play along with some political vested interest groups?

In a poor country, where citizens struggle daily for their pathetic existence, the role of the intellectuals should be to propagate peace and progress. Instead of suffering from selective amnesia or plunging neck deep in supporting certain elites having no idea of the realities on the ground, they will do well to think of the future of those faces languishing in remote corners with no means even to learn English so as to compete in a fast globalising India. Help them to progress, your concept of polarisation may wait.

The author is a communication consultant
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