By Malvika Verma
Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
India’s great tradition of public debate and its importance has been hailed by many. However, recent developments have brought to the fore the question, whether the fabled species of the ‘argumentative Indian’ is on the verge of extinction. The entire nation seems to be struck by a conspicuous lack of serious debate on immediate as well as long term issues. Unthinking and sensationalism hungry, we seem to be lost in a labyrinth of controversies, misgovernance and cultural wars that feed off our insatiable thirst for ‘dhamaka style’ stunts.
But then are the masses the only ones to blame in this? The media, which has been bestowed with the honour of shaping public opinion, can be said to have a hand in this as it is known to poke and excite the vulgar tastes of the public. It tends to exaggerate and fan the fire, rather than present plain facts as they really are. The recent row over the country’s third-highest civilian award, involving ace player Saina Nehwal is a rather suitable example. Reports of her being ‘miffed’ at being left out inspite of being a deserving candidate and ‘souring relations’ of athletes are flowing in. It is only natural for her to feel disappointed and she chose to express this disappointment. The media in turn, so as to spice things up, decided to come out with reports of her apparently questioning the deservedness of fellow sports person Sunil Kumar. To further sensationalise the whole issue, boxer Vijender Kumar is repeatedly being quoted as demanding a recommendation from the sport ministry, making it seem to the common man’s eye that these awards are doled out on demand.
The Modi government has given birth to a great deal of ‘sloganeering’. The result is policies being made with an aim to create headlines, and no heed paid to the impact of the policies. Slogans however catchy, can never substitute clear, strong thinking. Development requires focus. The authorities have to realise that they cannot preach progress in Delhi and love jihad in Muzaffarnagar. But this makes one wonder, what encourages strategies which are driven to create a stir? How do individuals, groups, parties even media networks with whimsical agendas seem to grab so much attention? The answer lies in the sad fact that the common Indian is drowning in an ocean of mindless controversies which have become the staple diet of an increasingly coarse public discourse. This has been proved time and again when media houses, ministers, MLAs have successfully shifted our attention from the crux of the problem to something that is not even remotely related, as has been done more often than not when the issue of women’s safety is raised. Issues such as retribution, banning, death penalty seem to hog the limelight every single time.
I have often wondered why during Modi’s reign, incidences of communal clashes and deterioration of the social climate have been particularly highlighted and emphasized by the media? Is it because of his alleged Hindu chauvinist image and the fact that there is a Hindu nationalist party at power in the Centre? Would the media and the public have reacted in the same way to the attempts being made by many to sharpen communal identities and vitiate the atmosphere had there been some other person or party at the helm? Actually, would we have even noticed?
It is not that I have a personal grudge against the media. In fact, I am one of those who believe that the media is doing an excellent job and plays a critical role in the functioning of the democracy. However, what I am most certainly condoning is the fact that we as a population have stopped questioning. Serious debate and introspection backed by concrete action has been drowned in hollow words and empty ‘tu tu main main’ debates. There is an utter lack of ideas, vision and discussion. It is time that we resurrect the great argumentative Indian.
Malvika Verma is a first year student of Philosophy at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. She believes that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword and aspires to bring about a change for the better through her writing. Being a voracious readers, she reads almost everything she can lay her hands on, be it politics, history, literature or economics. She has immense confidence in the power of the youth and believes that when united, they can be the catalyst for proactive change. Malvika can be reached at email@example.com