Let us Restore Civility to Our Public Discourse
Why has our Public Discourse become so intemperate, offensive, and abusive? TV debates have been reduced to slanging bouts, wherein even s0-called mature adults try to outshout others and unabashedly hurl insults at them. Shockingly, even women are no exception and many of them frequently resort to heckling to drown out opponents’ voices. Hardly anyone can endure, for instance, the daily tamasha that Arnab Goswami presides over. His verbosity, pretentious rants, and self-laudatory boasts can leave any sane person infuriated. I often wonder, what is Vineet Jain’s compulsion to retain him, despite his antics. Regrettably, even other channels are catching the same bug, and rational, level-headed discussions are becoming a rarity.
Social media interactions fare even worse. One cannot but cringe at the extent of abuse and insults hurled at each other, when people run out of logical counter-arguments. Either one must have a foolish sense of bravado or the hide of a rhino to venture into the filthy quagmire of the current public discourse. No wonder most people desist from joining any discussion, whether on social media or even in personal interactions – such is the prevailing level of intolerance.
Unarguably, politicians and their recklessly polarizing electoral politics lie at the root of this malaise. While the steady decline has been evident for several years, the 2-3 years preceding the landmark 2014 Lok Sabha poll virtually marked its nadir. The troll brigades, initially deployed by the ultra-right and later countered by other parties, vitiated the atmosphere irreparably. While their condemnation of various acts of omission and commission by UPA 2 was politically legitimate, the spate of communally-surcharged articles, posts, and commentaries were irresponsible and reprehensible.
The gullible public was sought to be enlightened about the ‘Grand Design’ of Islam to tilt the demographic balance in India and elsewhere by citing dubious, purportedly academic studies. Likewise, a plethora of posts sought to educate us about the Muslim ancestry of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; even going to the extent of asserting that Sanjay Gandhi was not fathered by Feroze Gandhi. Not to be outdone, the rival troll brigade played up the Gujarat riots, and the consequent visa denial by USA and other western nations to embarrass the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, Modi.
Even some top politicians on both sides of the political divide, who should have been more circumspect and statesmen-like, set highly reproachable examples. Thus, while Sonia Gandhi was repeatedly called derogatory names such as ‘Italian waitress’, Modi was called ‘maut ka saudager’. It is unlikely that such rhetoric actually influenced people to change their voting preferences. What those deplorable statements did instead was to polarize people, and drag public discourse to the very depths of indecent, hurtful, and damaging acrimony.
Our penchant for pronouncing instant subjective judgments on any topic, without due deliberation, also inhibits sensible and balanced discussion. We tend to paint everything in either black or white, whereas in the real world there are only varying shades of grey. For instance, depending upon one’s political persuasion Modi is sought to be projected either as the long-awaited messiah, or the devil incarnate. The truth obviously lies in between. It is fashionable these days to blame Nehru for everything that afflicts India. True, he did make mistakes as regards J&K and China, but he also laid the foundation of truly democratic institutions, and a strong industrial base in sectors where private sector was unwilling or unable to invest. Several Pakistani academics and professionals have publicly lamented that Jinnah did not survive long enough and they did not have the type of leadership that Nehru provided in the early years after Independence.
Likewise, while Indira Gandhi is rightly blameworthy for the Emergency and Op Blue Star, she did provide astute and strong leadership leading to the creation of Bangladesh. No less a person than Vajpayee paid her tributes in Parliament by likening her to Goddess Durga. So why can’t we discuss each issue objectively and dispassionately, rather than viewing them through tinted glasses and rush to judgment?
Honest and balanced debates are the very essence of a democratic polity and a truly free society. That ideal stands marred today by the prevailing shrill, acrimonious, polarizing, and abusive discourse. Most people are reluctant to voice their opinions candidly for fear of being trolled and abused on social media. We need to wrest that space back and restore its dignity.
This blog is a small step in that direction. I therefore encourage you to freely contribute to discussions on this forum, and to even initiate discussions on any topic of national, societal or military interest that you deem fit. You can rest assured that all honest opinions will be welcome and published. At the same time as the Moderator I will ensure that contributors are not exposed to offensive tirades and polemical content is filtered out.