This piece was published here by Huffington Post India on April 25, 2016.
As the hosts on a popular web comedy series put it smartly few months ago, “Corruption is what we used to care about, before beef.” Corruption is as unfortunate for our democratic ideals as the idea of minorities feeling threatened is. But, comparing the country’s mood six years ago and today shows that there is something more disturbing in action today.
Corrupt politicians shaped the political discourse during UPA-2, which has been entirely replaced today by discussions around “intolerance”, Hindutva and nationalism. The stark difference is that today, during the NDA regime, one theatre of the political battle is playing out within the citizen class, which is dangerous to our unity.
The Right and the Left are dividing us into two aggressive poles, like it was never seen during the UPA rule. When you create a discourse around a crime like corruption, the citizen class gets united against the political class. But when you create a discourse around ideologies, like the one currently, citizens are forced to take sides without critical thought.
The role of the ruling party and its ideological wing, the RSS, in this state of affairs is evident. It is unfortunate when ruling party MPs feed a vitriolic, divisive discourse. Regular suppression of freedom of speech and enforcement of nationalistic ideals is a clever method to appease those who support the right-wing agenda, and to provoke tempers.
Politics becomes easier when the public is ignorant and divided. This was used not only by the British, but also in independent India, through vote banks and communal politics. Today, even voting for crime, corruption and poverty seems to be a better choice than voting for polarization and ideological egos within ordinary citizens, friends and family. We deserve neither corruption nor intolerance, but the issue of corruption was not a debate; it was a people’s struggle. To a proven case of corruption, there are legal solutions. But, when right-wing fascist views serve little function in society except to divide us, there seems no legal solution in sight.
Another damage done by the prominence of such political debate is that actual issues, including corruption itself, are going out of discussion. There is much more outrage about ideology than about issues that actually affect us. At least, during the UPA rule, we were discussing about corruption, poverty and development. Today, howsoever hard the Prime Minister tries, the public discourse is centring on topics that do not even deserve any doubts given how India was envisioned.
Plurality of opinions is a good thing, but polarization, unfortunately, is not. As we talk of perceived intolerance, our own intolerance towards views different from our own is today shaping a threatening rift in the public discourse, and the role of the party in power cannot be ignored.