Watching ourselves over the past few months, I am inclined to believe that we are close to becoming a numb society. Lost in today’s sharp political climate is our ability to feel, empathise and share. We are unable to function without an interior agenda. This might be as true of Left-leaning liberals as it is of Modi bhakts.
On a weekly basis we are confronted with horror stories of attacks on Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis, the number of cases that highlight the excesses of Aadhaar are only mounting, polarising comments from political honchos emanate unabated. Amidst this, as always, corrupt businessmen escape in their private jets or fly first class out of the country. We read, hear and see so much of all this that it has become our new normal. We would be surprised if a day went by when none of this happened.
Many find all these occurrences superficial aberrations that are exaggerated by overzealous, breaking news-crazy mediapersons. Responses follow two prescribed scripts. One: launch an offensive that compares majority and minority body counts, blame the Mughals, the British and the Congress for every present-day crime and implicitly trust and share WhatsApp messages, blog posts and fake news manufactured by right-wing cronies. Two: just ignore the very existence of these tragedies and live within Narendra Modi’s 56 inch chest and hang on to his every dramatic utterance.
On the other side exist people like me. We highlight these traumas, further corroborate these accusations and try our best to make the larger public aware of the evils of our time. Unconsciously, we seem to be on the constant lookout for horrible, depressing news that puts the government in the dock. Another chance to say “I told you”. Anything remotely tinged with the right colouring is seen as offensive, divisive and brought down without a second thought.
Irrespective of which side of the line we stand on, I do feel that now is a moment to pause and reflect.
We might have reached a stage where none of us are truly concerned, where all this is just about our respective politics. Each side uses every weapon to either valorise or demonise Modi. We are constantly protecting or toppling this undeclared monarch and hence every happening is just ammunition. I am not referring to politicians and their political stratagems; this is you and I who are participating in this civil war.
Lost in this din are the real people, the dead, the injured, the financially destroyed farmers and the marginalised. They are reduced to just debating points. This sounds harsh and insensitive, but I have to wonder about who I am becoming. When I read the morning newspaper and take note of a murder or attack, how much am I truly horrified by its inhumanness? Even before I begin to feel, my mind shifts focus to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi. At the same time, Modi supporters skim over these deaths as though nothing happened, finding them irrelevant and insignificant, and continuing to defend the right-wing fortress. Aren’t we both doing exactly the same thing, moving around people belonging to weaker sections of society like chess coins? The Right attempts to turn on its head the very identity of the oppressed. If we were to believe their twisted story, the knights and bishops are the helpless. For us, the destruction of every pawn is a vindication of their heinousness. Lives are eventually reduced to just pieces in a game.
Charting a new course
The Right just does not see that the extreme is among and within us, and that revenge has become acceptable. And I, the liberal should be engaging with real people from whom my politics must emanate. The essence of being liberal is observing and questioning, but today we are only reacting. Still shocked by the fact that India elected Modi and the BJP, we are constantly looking outward. And in doing so we have forgotten that being open is about being inward.
Unless we shift course now, nothing will change even after Modi demits office. As the post-Modi India emerges, our work will be cut out: we will not only have to undo the partitioning of our society that Modi and his party seem to be effectively engineering, but also help heal our country. This will not happen if we remain stuck in the ditch dug specially for us by this government. They shout and we shout back, each of us winning brownie points within our constituency. This is exactly what the BJP wants to achieve: to disconnect us from people. We complain and point fingers while they go about brainwashing large sections of the society. We cannot wait for a disaster to strike before we take notice. We arrive at the scene after the crime has been committed, bemoaning the incident, using it to further our intellectual high ground. In doing so, we become exactly like the BJP – opportunists. We have to truly care and hold the hands of common people and irrespective of their gender, caste, religion or ethnicity, share as much in their laughter as we do in their sorrow. We cannot ignore or take any section of the society for granted, a lesson the right-wing has taught us. The liberal voice needs to be heard in every village, town, school and college and there can be absolutely no talking down.
But this malaise of negativity that has been spread to every nook and corner of our society is not just about one individual. It is a reflection of who we are. Modi and the BJP have capitalised on our inadequacies as a society. We cannot allow them to continue to cloud our minds. We must remain with those who are acutely affected by our social limitations, listening to them without political blinkers. We will recover only if the liberal community remains true to this spirit of sensitivity, eternally alive and awake.
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