It is true that there are all kinds of persons in positions of influence who are not quite updated on what is considered politically correct in high intellectual circles. It is truly strange, however, that the very persons who are quick to condemn ‘intolerance’ in certain matters are extremely hard on those who may say things that are unpalatable from their point of view. Free speech in India is constrained, legally, only when there is provocation to violence, communal discord and promotion of hatred among sections of society, etc. Twenty-first century India should, otherwise, be intellectually strong and psychologically stable enough to digest differences in thought, ideology, culture and worldviews on most issues. Unfortunately, it has been seen that the media, social media in particular, gangs up on someone who might hold views that are contrary in some ways to those ‘sanctioned’ by the intellectual establishment.
This is nothing other than authoritarianism of another kind. Unless people can speak their minds, say what they believe, they will not be able to participate in dialogues that are informative or constructive. Take, for instance, the ‘stings’ carried out against police personnel which reveal their conservative or patriarchal mindsets. They become an occasion for condemnation and instigating contempt for the force, a reason to reject whatever opinion they might have on important issues to do with the welfare and security of citizens. If the most important stakeholder in law and order is rejected as unworthy of contributing, how can there be any real reform?
This is not the only case – it can be seen in every sphere, be it the environment, sociology, philosophy, economics or strategy! The dominant ideologues in each ensure a monopolistic hold; do not keep the doors open for the entry of new talent, thought or interpretations. This is so that the platform remains theirs, irrespective of the change needed, and uncaring of what is good for the nation and society. The bullying attitude of moderators is there for all to see on TV debates. A line of thought is sought to be pushed through, even if it means twisting people’s words or scolding them into silence. In fact, apart from the fact that the nuances of statements in Hindi are not understood by the narrow minded elite, there is sometimes a deliberate and concerted distortion of what is said to build favourable opinion towards their objectives. If honesty, objectivity and hunger for truth are so dispensable, what can be said about the credibility of the media?
The counter to this is a civilised culture of debate, not just at the highest levels but right down to the grassroots. If people with the strength of knowledge are provided the opportunity to influence public opinion, the role of money and muscle would automatically diminish. Even the highest academic institutions cannot maintain an environment of free and healthy debate. Each is dominated by one or the other ideology, muscling out those whom they differ with. Gathering unruly mobs is the highest skill required in winning debates.
India’s future cannot be established on such a narrow base. The voices of the conservatives, radicals, progressives, liberals and non-conformists, et al, must be heard so that a multi-dimensional understanding can be obtained of the issues at hand. The people must decide in a more informed way so that governments have the required support to bring about the necessary change.