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The burden of understanding the other side lies with the liberals

Saurabh Dwivedi, the Editor of Lallantop, on Newslaundry’s Hafta recently (translated from Hindi): “…the majority community in this country – read Hindus – (tends to) have a hatred for Muslims. This is the unfortunate truth… There is a very small chunk of people like you and me who don’t care what the caste of the other person is.”

Newslaundry’s Abhinandan Sekhri: “Do you really think so?”

Dwivedi: “Sir, this is the truth; it’s bitter, and politically incorrect. I don’t say all of them do, but…”

In this podcast (23’20” to 28’00”), Saurabh Dwivedi talks of the prejudices Hindus and Muslims possibly hold against each other in the hinterlands of India because of a mutual distance and lack of exchange. He mentions these in response to a comment that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh shows the voters probably do not care about divisive communal agenda.

I grew up in Delhi but my origins lie in Bihar, a state that values its religious and caste divides more than it values religion or caste itself, not much different from Uttar Pradesh. Having observed the local discourse around me, I have a fair idea of what Dwivedi is talking about. What has triggered this piece is the Newslaundry panel’s apparent disbelief at what he said.


Being able to acknowledge the conservative truths of the masses despite upholding and believing in liberal values is today a taboo at best and rarity at worst. Liberals I meet and listen to often show blatant denial of social conservative realities of prejudice, divide, misinformation, and discrimination – traditionally powered by the old India (of divisive speeches, organizations, and rath yatras), and now increasingly by the New, Digital India (of institutionally funded trolls, fake news, and WhatsApp forwards).

The criticism of the propaganda is incomplete without understanding that the propaganda has already had an effect even before we took the pain to criticise. The votes have already translated from a million to two million, and mindsets have been reset back from the 20th to the 19th century.

This denial is visible when TV pundits still seem to believe that the killing of a Muslim man for storing beef and the suicide of a Dalit scholar is really a problem to a large portion of the electorate that orgasms at the idea of a Hindu nation, delivered with the topping of development (in that order). And no, Indians are not that way. Vicious mindgames have been played with our intelligence for far too long.

Public intellectuals and GDP enthusiasts whose logic (unfortunately) fails in front of emotions were in denial all the while, believing that demonetisation was a political risk and could have hit the vote bank. They realised it was never meant to – but not before the election results. The propaganda of a Hindu nation, served with the topping of development and the sadistic spicy pleasure of hurting the rich – and the package delivered right at your doorstep by the Messiah himself. Have our analysts forgotten social psychology and world history?

The liberal discourse will find it difficult to promote its progressive winds until it learns to work with the current realities, and not deny or ignore them condescendingly.

In the polarised atmosphere, the burden of understanding the other side lies with the liberals. Social conservatives are, by definition, comfortable with the way things have always been, in matters of religion, society and culture. They do not have any obligation to want to consider liberal values that talk about progress into an unseen future. Liberals, however, do have access to the present-day sociological realities, and it’s unintelligent to ignore them or be unaware of them.

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