By Seema Kamdar
I am lost. I am constantly called upon to take sides, and to be doing that all the time in this feverish manner can be wearying and confusing. Sometimes, you are not sure which side you are on but there is no middle ground left. The earth is divided in this part of the globe.
That's why I don't open my mouth much. I am scared I will be mistaken for a right-wing bigot or a left liberal. Both are cuss words. I cannot voice an independent opinion of anything Modi does. If I have a good word for his Swachch Bharat campaign and smile with relief at the relative cleanliness of blankets and coaches in trains these days, I am smeared with the saffron brush. If I say the JNU students cannot possibly condone what Afzal Guru did, living as they are in India and on our tax payer dole, I am instantly shoved into that highly stressed corner where much-derided Modi bhakts are consigned.
If I say sedition is too serious a charge to be pressed against these aimless and misguided students, I am condemned as a liberal. If I discuss my admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, I am told, "How can you? You are a Modi supporter." The two, according to popular understanding, are mutually exclusive. This is apart from the fact that the 'Modi supporter' label, which is euphemism for "an illiterate person who will maim and murder in the name of the cow and Hindutva", is tagged to anybody who dares to approve of anything remotely connected with Modi. By implication then, you are endorsing the 2002 riots, his monogrammed suit and his entire career graph to date.
There is no space in any media for an authentic intellectual debate on any issue. The tugs and pulls wily nily drag you into one or the other hole.
This hysterical polarisation is not just counter-productive to the country's political and social health, it is also counter-intuitive. It started when Narendra Modi came to power. Ever since, everything in the country is suffocatingly us vs them. It gets difficult to breathe. I am particularly alarmed at the fanaticism of the liberal than the fanaticism of the "Hindutva fanatics".
I would give the Hindutva supporters a long rope and expect them to look at the world only through their saffron-tinted eyes. After all, as goes the happy myth, they don't know any better. It's the well-educated and well-heeled liberals that baffle me. Their inability to differentiate between right and wrong, to analyse a situation on its merits instead of extraneous factors, to not get carried away by erroneous logic of friends and influential people. It's on them that the onus of constructive criticism and meaningful dialogue lies, not the others. Isn't this what education is all about? But for some reason, there is serious grey cell damage among these unthinking, self-appointed custodians of liberty, equality and fraternity. For them, there is just black or white. They have no room for CMYK in their well-read world-view.
Take the JNU episode, for instance. The irony implicit in foisting Kanhaiya's predicament on Modi is lost on the left intellectuals, supposedly blessed with a very discerning eye. Afzal Guru attacked Parliament when the Congress (UPA) was in power. It was the Congress government which decided to hang Afzal Guru. Yet, when Kanhaiya's friends speak in favour of Afzal Guru, Modi gets the end of their stick while Rahul Gandhi bats for them and becomes their friend. This is nothing but the sheer beauty of their lateral thinking. Everything is Modi; there is nobody else in the government or in the Opposition. So blinded are they by their hate for Modi, they see him everywhere. Like God, to the religious-minded.
But that is moving away from the point. Coming back to the JNU controversy, rarely do you see any maturity in the way the entire episode is being handled by these zealots of the Indian intellectual brigade. For example, they say sedition was the wrong charge to slam on Kanhaiya. Sure. To me, it was a mediocre student election speech that has been mismanaged by Delhi. But why is it not possible for them to contest the charge and argue for Kanhaiya's innocence if they believe so, while at the same time, condemn the anti-India and pro-Guru slogans that were raised?
And in their desperation to plead for freedom of expression and cover for the erring JNU students, some tell you that Afzal Guru attacked Parliament, which is a haven for gangsters in politician clothing. So, the argument goes, isn't it good that he did it?
Huh? If this is not going off on a tangent, I do not know what is. Was Afzal Guru an Indian patriot out to neutralize bad politicians a la Rang de Basanti? And doesn't Parliament symbolise the country and its democratic systems? And, if we are getting literal and prosaic, did any politician die in the attack? The men who lost their lives in the attack were poor, genuinely patriotic security guards.
By seeing red every time the union government acts on an issue and by a furious refusal to objectively appreciate the complex layers within a situation, they are belittling their own high brow credentials, and giving a bad name to liberalism. This is nothing but a complete paralysis of free thought, the one virtue they fight for but do not possess.
By all means, hammer Modi, if he is the man responsible for all ills. But at least open your eyes and mind, process the given facts without their anchorage, and drop your intolerance of a contrarian point of view. Then, you would at least be justified in expecting the other side to do the same.
To both the sides, it's my humble plea to accept the grey areas that fill life's spaces in all issues and restore some quality to their public debates.
By writing this article, I run the risk of getting in the line of fire of both ends of the political - let's not pretend it's intellectual - spectrum. That would leave me friendless, because there is hardly anybody in between. That, by itself, speaks volumes about the strange polemics of this country. Or, am I being unnecessarily cynical? You tell me.