Three years of Narendra Modi govt: Making sense of the shrillness that is India

"WE WON" – said the social media post from a friend soon after the International Court of Justice delivered its verdict on Kulbhushan Jadhav on Thursday, stalling his hanging in Pakistan. Appreciative, celebratory comments started rushing in. And ‘likes’ too. By the end of the day, there were 35 remarks on her post in the form of both.

“What is 35 when thousands is the normal? Is it a joke?” You might ask. Well, it is not if you understand the social profile of the person and all her social media friends. She is a homemaker from a faraway state, settled in a universe far different from the universe where Jadhav would be discussed with passion, energy and the weight of knowledge. Her circle of social media friends is limited. Like her, they are educated and perceptive but usually far too trapped in their everyday concerns to develop more than a passing interest in Jadhav or issues that generate great heat in newsrooms and television studios.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

The comments on her post were instructive. Suffused with the raw emotion of a person wronged, these carried intensity quite unusual among this section of the population. Going back to their earlier posts on other issues one realises that universes have expanded to touch each other. They have been reacting to developments far beyond their everyday lives regularly and they are particularly intense when these are in some way connected to patriotism and nationalism.

This was not the case earlier. Only a cricket match involving Pakistan or the possibility or reality of war evoked such reaction. Now, they react to almost everything, from cow to Kashmir, with similar intensity. Social media has contributed to it by breaking inhibitions and allowing free expression but its role still remains that of the facilitator of conversation. The quality of conversation is where the human factor comes in. It has changed over the last few years. It’s shrill, combative and intolerant alright, and the more several universes overlap or get closer, the more sharply divided people residing them appear, but to judge it as bad is fraught with risks.

The shift to the new pitch coincides with Narendra Modi assuming power three years ago. Indians are displaying traits no one thought they possessed. Before it is construed as a negative remark on Modi, let’s be clear, it is not. It is possible under him more and more people who felt deprived of their right to air opinions are coming in the open. It is possible they are no more coy about letting uncomfortable truths out. His arrival has unleashed a battle for space between old order and the emerging one. The shrillness around could be clang of swords in a ritualised combat where words become swords and are wielded to hurt.

Modi’s arrival on the national scene marked the ascendance of the most definitive counterweight to the Congress system and the thought process driving and sustaining it. Political changes earlier happened within that system because challengers to the Congress still subscribed to its core ideas and were similar in their imagining of the country. The issues before them, thus, were strictly limited. These primarily revolved around corruption and arrogance of power.

Modi has opened up a whole range of new issues to questions and arguments. And shrillness of noise is inevitable when arguments get intense. Take the cases of patriotism. Under the earlier dispensations, it was taken for granted to the extent that some within could even treat India without sympathy or respect. If it invoked umbrage among a section it was treated as frivolous sentimentalism. Take secularism. In their excessive zeal to be protective of the minorities, political parties went to the extent of majority othering. The cumulative anger manifests itself in several ways today. This is the case with every other belief the earlier establishment held sacrosanct and compelled people to treat as such.

In the three years of Modi as prime minister, the ideas space has become more equal. Yes, there’s a lot of crudeness and hate-mongering going around but it is undeniable that the new idea has spread deeper among people. People are getting out of their insular worlds and connecting to the new idea of the nation more.

The reaction to Jadav’s case in the ICJ in the social media circle of the friend mentioned above is one pointer to the trend. Thirty-five likes and comments are a small number but multiply them with the number of all such circles across the country, from villages, small towns to cities. The number would be staggering. That perhaps accounts for the shrillness around.

It may not be a good thing necessarily. When opinions are not backed by enough information and critical thinking they have the potential to be disastrous. The logic of the masses cannot be the same as the logic of the government or the country all the time. That’s the reason certain matters are best left to the governments and knowledgeable people. But then, new equilibrium takes time to take shape and settle down. Till that happens let’s enjoy the noise.


Published Date: May 20, 2017 07:38 pm | Updated Date: May 20, 2017 07:38 pm