On Polarization in India

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, or in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. – Thomas Jefferson

Irrespective of whether we support the left, or the right, most of us are unhappy with the extreme polarization that we see in India nowadays. So am I. It’s almost terrifying, especially on Social Media.

What worries me most is that the space for “centrists”, or those who would like to “think deeply” on issues before they take a side is really shrinking, or almost non-existent. We make instant judgments and decisions based on our affiliations, we outrage at the drop of a hat, and we’re all being forced to fit into stupid stereotypes; for eg: “Urban-Naxals” or “Bhakts”. We now eulogize “diversity” in name only and have forgotten that there can be “diversity” in ideologies as well. Ideology can be a continuum from left to right, instead of consisting of just two groups at opposite ends that hate each other, and call each other names.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a “liberal” used to be a person who could accept and evaluate all points of view before he drew conclusions (only in reference to India, might or might not apply to other countries). However, nowadays we seem to have forgotten that there are always two sides to a coin. Take for example the CAA issue (or any issue) – we only get to see articles or opinion pieces that are strongly in favour or strongly against it. Yet to see an article in any publication that honestly evaluates both the merits and the demerits, and suggests solutions. Alarming that intellectual honesty (or intelligence) is almost non-existing in the media, and very sad that most TV News is heavily skewed either way.

Never really understand why we have TV debates between politicians or their obviously biased representatives who always espouse a particular view without ever bothering to question it. The debaters on TV are more like the Roman gladiators whom bloodthirsty audiences egged on in the middle ages, and both sides would literally love to see the guy on the opposite side butchered. We don’t care anymore about actually hearing the debate because our minds are all made up – and unlikely to change.

No wonder we’re polarized!!!

Instead, why can’t we start by assuming that each and every issue needs to be debated objectively, and might have both pros and cons. Most issues do – which is why even the CAA was supported in the past by some opposition leaders who are now vehemently against it (there is ample proof on paper and in video). Once we evaluate both sides, then we can find solutions that transcend the problems.

Surprisingly, I’m a JNU alumnus (!!) and it’s especially difficult for me to come to terms with what is going on. Luckily for me, back then, I was totally disinterested in politics and never even knew the meaning of “left” or “right”, or couldn’t care less. Thanks to that, the two most amazing years of my life were spent there. I met the most amazing people and learnt so much. I could observe a lot of political activity and knew that there were many student parties, but, If I ever voted, I voted for the “Free Thinkers” party that didn’t support any major political party, and also never won any elections 🙂 🙂

Got interested in and started following politics much later. Of late, have been cutting myself out and avoiding the subject again because the acrimony is really depressing. But, as a die-hard optimist, I sincerely wish that we could stop being so prejudiced and hypocritical, and start to debate issues more deeply, with a desire to understand the opposing views, and where they come from. We need to do it on an issue by issue basis and feel secure in having our own individual opinion on a certain issue, even if it doesn’t always ascribe to that of our political party.

Irrespective of whether we’re on the “left” or “right”, one can be a “liberal” – by deliberating on issues individually, and by having the courage to differ from the crowd at times. We’re not “liberal” if we always follow a group or party blindly. We should be able to accept “constructive criticism” and be willing to change our minds on and off. I rue the fact that we have become a nation of shallow thinkers and hypocrites, who decide without deliberation, and outrage and hate easily.

The above are my opinions, but I’m willing to listen to anyone who has anything to add or denounce – as long as they don’t call me names, and they’re respectful. I don’t believe that my opinions are invincible, or that I can’t be wrong at times.

Sharing an article that offers some insight into one reason why we might be so polarized in India. It states that while many of our universities are excellent in many respects, they’re skewed to the left and follow a Marxist model, and as a result, those trained with that lens, refuse to be open to differing perspectives. This is worrisome. If this is true, we also need people who’re trained in the hard sciences, those who believe in scientific temper, and look at problems with a sense of impartial and objective inquiry, to step in, study, and comment on issues of importance. Only then can we have truly intellectual debates and a non-polarized society.

In addition to the above point, I think what colonization did to our psyche and our geography etc. is another important factor. Our history makes us unique – therefore we can’t blindly apply theories from one country to another, without taking into account their unique histories.

Would love to hear your views on what I’ve said.

Excerpts from the article whose link I’ve provided:

For free-thinking JNU, lack of diversity in faculty, students, courses has been a curse

“JNU has won the President of India’s award for being the best university more than once in the last five years……….But there is also room for constructive criticism even as we find many reasons to celebrate JNU, like most recently, economist Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel Prize. A university must project diversity as its core goal – in faculty, students, courses and politics. JNU has been lacking this to a large extent. During its formative years, faculty appointments at JNU were seemingly made keeping a candidate’s Left-wing leanings in mind, sometimes at the cost of academic standards…………..Most humanities and social sciences curriculum in universities across India and the world have a Marxist model of interpretation. The model has its merits but it should not be the only lens through which disciplines should be examined………”

  1 comment for “On Polarization in India

  1. 2 Feb 2020 at 8:43 am

    Completely agree. Our society lacks introspection. You may read my views on this:

    https://mylunatickingdom.wordpress.com/2019/12/24/nrc-and-caa-is-there-a-humane-way/

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