There is no need to get worried about the current polarisation in Indian society, nor should there be fears that Indian democracy will be destroyed as a result. This too will pass, seemed to be the consensus during a rather heated debate and discussion among panelists and audience, on the binaries resulting in “You are either with us or against us.”
The debate was part of the Tata Literature Live festival held over two-days at St. Pauls Institute of Communication Education, Bandra last weekend. The panelists comprised three veteran journalist-authors, namely Raj Kamal Jha of the Indian Express, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay and R.Jagannathan of Swarajya. It was chaired by another author, Tony Joseph, whose book, Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, was later announced the winner of the Tata Litfest award, 2019, in the non-fiction category.
Incidentally, this panel had two winners, with Jha’s book, The City and the Sea, bagging the Book of the Year award.
Jha professed he was not pessimistic about the seeming polarisation of hearts and minds in the country, represented by this binary thinking. This was not new but it had been present throughout India in some form or the other, he declared. “It was the same in West Bengal during communist rule in the 70s or 80s,” he says. “It was also present during emergency and when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. It is just a phase,” he added.
He was concerned about the public discussion being pushed towards either left or right and the shrinking middle space between them. “The space where people can talk to each other irrespective of being a left winger or a right winger. It is the space where we can search for a common goal. The need for the middle space is the point that should be spoken about,” says Jha.
Editorial Director of Swarajya, R. Jagannathan, was of the opinion that liberals are to be blamed for the polarization of public opinion. He stated, “The business of polarization was started by the left who tried to dominate the politics during their rule.” He was also of the opinion that the majority in India are excluded by the law. And as a result, “The government is not running majoritarian state but minoritarian.”
The third panelist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, the author and journalist noted for his reportage on the rise of Hindu right wing organizations, pointed out that on the contrary, today’s polarization is different from the previous one and, in fact, completely new. “It is more ideologically driven now,” he said. “There is a new kind of vocabulary that is used by social media trolls against people who criticize the government.”
He spoke about the decline of inclusive nationalism which is being replaced with cultural nationalism. “We never hear Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai today as it was heard before,” he said.
Contributed by Journalism student Kunal Hariani
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