Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Increasing Intolerance" not "Intolerant India"

In july 2014, it was reported in the media that Mr. Amit shah in his speech said "Acche Din will take 25 years to come (click to read)".  The BJP president was speaking to BJP Volunteers who were a part of the Mass Contact programme of the Party. Ofcourse what followed was a huge uproar - even suggesting that like in many cases the BJP was taking a U-turn on the "Acche Din" promise as well.

The truth however was more mundane. If someone took a little more nuanced view of the speech that Mr. Amit Shah made that day - two things emerge. One, that Mr. shah was not talking about the proverbial "Acche Din" in the speech - he was talking about India to be brought to the No. 1 position in the world. Two, his context was that he was motivating the volunteers of a mass contact programme of his party to ensure that they worked towards creating a mass base for his party that will ensure his party's win in elections at all levels for the next 25 years.

Here is a rather provocative and yet a more accurate (click to read) rebuttal to that piece of news. And here is a more balance explanation (click to read) on the news. While one could technically twist the logic to mean that he was suggesting that "Acche Din" would require 25 years to come yet the truth is that to any sensible person that will be an unfair inference to draw from his speech.

What is my point? That instant and reactionary outrage on just a part of a larger point creates an imagined narrative which is not the whole truth.

The Intolerance Debate
That seem to have happened in the case of the "Intolerance Debate" as well. Let me explain.

Most people who raised the issue of intolerance ,apart from one clear exception of the eminent Historian Irfan Habib, have made just one point - that religious Intolerance is growing in our country. They have not claimed that India has (already) become an Intolerant country. In fact they would want to believe that their opposition, protest, returning of awards is to ensure that India does not actually become an intolerant nation.

For the large massess out there this distinction is too fine to make. And simpilified reporting of such issues makes it worse. Hence, the returning of Awards by authors, scientists and artists turned into acrimonious debate by focussing on whether returning awards is an organised conspiracy or whether it is payback by those undsererving people who received awards as favours from earlier governments or whetehr these people had ulterior motives. Very few people actually discussed growing intolerance or the lack of it which should have been discussed in the first place.

The Aamir Khan controversy
Here is the full transcript of the conversation with Aamir khan (click to read) where he made his statement on Increasing intolerance. I quote some long excerpts below:
I think for creative people to voice what they feel is important and I think that a number of creative people like scientists, historians increasingly had a certain feeling in them which they felt to express. So, for creative people to express their dissatisfaction and disappointment is to return awards. I think that is one way of getting your point across, certainly. 
I would actually endorse any protest which is non-violent… as long as you don’t start beating up people, as long as you don’t resort to violence. All individuals have a right to protest and they can protest in any manner that they feel is right as long as they are not phsically harming people or taking law into their hands. It is certainly a way to protest.. for creative people. 
When people take law in to their hands and when there is a sense of insecurity, we look upon these people to take a strong stance, make strong statements and speed up the legal process to prosecute cases. When we see it happening there is a sense of security but when we don’t see that happening there is a sense of insecurity. So it does not matter who the ruling party is. It’s happened across ages. On television debates, we see where one political party, in this case, the BJP which is ruling right now, is accused of various things. They said, ‘But what happened in 1984?’. But that doesn’t make right what’s happening now. What happened in ‘84 was disastrous and horrendous. At other times also, through ages, whenever there is a violent act, when an innocent person is killed, be it one or a large number, that’s very unfortunate. And these unfortunate moments are the ones when we look towards our leaders to take a strong step. Make statements that are reassuring to the citizens. 
To complete my answer that there is a sense of fear more than there was earlier. I do feel there is a sense of insecurity. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran. (Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.
Now the simplified reporting made it into a simple headline. One interesting headline was - Aamir Khan's 'quit India' comment attracts outrage and support. Almost everywhere the talk of the town was that Aamir khan wishes to go out of the country because of Intolerant India which is obvious simplification of what he said.

What is going on?
Well a lot is going on simultaneously. It is not as if India was an abolutely tolerant nation earlier but often its intolerance and the reaction to it was differently managed by the powers in authority. The current dispensation (read the Modi Govt.) has often chosen to ignore or to remain indifferent to many such incidences in the past. Also often on behalf of the Govt. or the Party the responses to such insidences or protests have been of strong opposition, or of mild justification. Earlier governments would have generally followed a more conciliatary approach to calm down rebellion or dicidence.

I am not saying that the earlier govt. was better at managing such protests or vice versa. I am just pointing out to the difference in the approach. The current appraoch to responding to such controversies obviously generates increased acrimony.

Further, the India that we lived in a couple of decades ago and the current India are also different in its structure or appraoch to such controversies. Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar has this interesting take on the issue. He says India is not growing more intolerant but it has grown more sensitive (click here to read and, in my view, that may not be so bad, actually.

What do I think ?
Before I am branded a "leftist sickular" and a "modi baiter" (which this post is not about) let me clarify where I stand on the issue - because till now I never really wrote on the issue of intolerance. Here is what I think

1. I don't think Authors should return rewards AND yet I also think it is a valid way of protesting in a non-violent and unintrusive manner. I would have surely liked the authors - artist to speak strongly on the subject - even march to the president (like Anupam Kher) instead of returning awards and yet I do not care whether it was  "manufactured revolt" or an "organised conspiracy". It was a fairly effective, non-violent and valid way of protesting.

2. The best performing Prime Ministers in our country (primarily based on Economic development policies) were those who followed the consensual approach to Governance. The examples I have in mind are Mr. Narsimha Rao, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajayee & Dr. Manmohan Singh as the PM of UPA-I (not UPA-II). I think the current Govt. needs to tone down the arrogance and converse more with all stake holders.

3. I agree with Aamir Khan when he says that any protest which is non-violent should be allowed every space. I wish to add to it that the protest should also not violate someone else's rights. However, I do think that he is more of a commercial manager than a conscious stake holder in the issues that he raises. He is other wise an unsocial person and he often finds his voice of conscience around his film releases. However, the timing of this comment is nowhere nearer the release of his next movie Dangal (expected to release in Dec. 2016). So it is NOT confirmed pattern and hence I must give the benefit of doubt to Aamir. Lets go with the theory that he is sincere in what he is saying.

4. We need to debate the issue. The answer to a critical question should NOT be that "you also did so" or "where were you when something like this was happening earlier". This may be valid grievances but are invalid arguments.

So what do you do with the Social Media pouncing on all and sundry for every word of what they say?
Not much. They too have a right to disagree and protest (non violent and non-intrusive). The saner voices can wait for the initial dust to settle and then come with better analysis and inputs. But what is going on currently is that everyone has an opinion and everyone has found a channel to vent it. And there are many forces working in all possible selfish directions. To top it all it is not a perfectly competitive market - so there are parties with varying degree of advantages.

Yet all that is happening, though chaotic, is not necessarily bad. All parties including the audience will come out wiser from the experience. I believe that India is on a road to become a wiser and a more matured country after several such irrational - emotional outbursts. Will it be a more developed one - lets wait and watch the next three years of this Government.