The Trivialization Of Politics
By Parvin Sultana
28 November, 2015
Debate and discussion is inevitable for a democracy to function successfully. But at present the level of this debate and discussion has taken a nose dive. Political discussion has lost civility. Personal attacks are what pass from political debates in our nation today. This is important because the rhetoric of the political class increasingly mirrors the invective of their most rabid supporters. The favoured line of attack is not to challenge the other person’s ideas, but to lay into the person himself.
The current activities of some political leaders reflects the larger erosion of the norms of intellectual engagement in this country. We no longer debate ideas, we attack individuals. The reason behind such vile tactics may be that it is easier to grab attention. Call your political opponent a thug and the sound bite will likely play on an endless loop in every news channel. The social media popularity of leaders like Subrahmanyan Swamy is based on anti-Congress invectives rather than an objective appraisal of their misdoings.
Getting personal is easier. Many intellectuals and academics are targeted by trolls who do not bother to read them and engage intellectually. Rather they pick on personal details and go down to abusive name calling. There is a trivialization of politics at place. This is evident in the political debates and discussions, news channels and talk shows as well as social media. In the name of democratizing debates, social media has trivialized it. There is no deep engagement on important issues. Often both sides indulge in meaningless cacophony.
Media, the fourth estate of democracy, failed to rise above this trivialization of important issues. TRP rates ensure that media also joins the cacophony. Media reporting tends to focus on petty issues which are entertaining but has no value. While Indian politics have always had politicians high on rhetoric and hollow on substance, in recent times this kind of superficial statements have taken a foreground.
If we go back a few days and talk about the Dadri incident, the way political leaders behaved was shameful. A person is beaten to death by a mob on the suspicion of consuming beef. It was a terrible failure of law and order and local state machinery. It also pointed to the decay of tolerance in our society. But instead of working towards ensuring communal harmony in a tensed situation, political leaders jump into the fray to make the most of the situation. Absurd statements emerged of the situation, starting from how the killing was an accident, how the accused criminals were young confused kids to how the person murdered was a Pakistani agent and a thief. In the cacophony there was no assertion that irrespective of anything, a mob cannot take law in its own hands. Even the lynching of a murderer is not justified.
Statements of leaders of the BJP government seemed like trivializing the danger of such an incident. Stating that slaughter of cows is wrong, there was a tendency to justify the murder. While the political parties were busy in a blame game of how law and order is a state subject or how beef ban was the cause behind the murder, the people in the ground had a free hand cooking up their own version of the incident.
This incident brings to mind the murder of another person in Dimapur on rape accusations. While everything was on the discussion table, starting from the person being an illegal immigrant to a rapist, the problem of vigilante mob justice was not focused enough. Similarly attitude was seen during another recent incident. When two young Dalit children were burnt alive in Faridabad, Union Minister General V K Singh commented that central government cannot be asked to respond to each and everything. One cannot throw a stone at a dog and then ask the government to respond. This insensitive statement led to a furore. While many leaders came to his rescue saying he did not equate Dalits with dogs, it seemed at best that he equated the murder of Dalit children with incidents like stones being thrown at dogs.
Such insensitive remarks overshadowed the cause of killing. The engagement of the political class with real problems has been very superficial. When a large number of reputed writers, historians and others started returning their awards in opposition to government’s inactivity on the rising intolerance, rather than taking their concerns seriously, the government seemed more keen on bracketing them as sympathetic to the Opposition Party. There was no effort to respond to their concerns which was soon shared by historians, scientists and other eminent personalities. The indifference puts a big question on the commitment of the democratically elected government. What we had to witness was a protest march against the protestors led by a veteran film actor Anupam Kher. Are we to believe that protesting against our government is wrong because it tarnishes the image of the nation?
Coming to the mother of all recent controversies – the ban on cow slaughter, the discussion around it ranged from puerile to vicious. While the fact that cow has religious importance for the Hindus was asserted again and again, the reasons behind the inclusion of ban on its slaughter was misinterpreted. Article 48 does not concur to the religious sentiments of a particular religion, but rather was a response to the need of a largely agricultural society. Also the debate was high on emotions but had nothing concrete on the real agricultural problems that the country is facing. When we have to witness farmer’s suicides on a regular basis, the concern should not merely end at cows but also the group whose livelihood is closely related to cattle.
The country continues to face real social problems like poverty, malnutrition etc and incidents of gender violence continue, our entire political discourse is mired with trivial politics. Poverty and starvation are real but our concerns are more with what meat somebody else is eating. Those in power make silly insensitive statements and those in the opposition have to respond in the same language. Amidst all this the voice of the reason is silenced.
The recently held Bihar elections saw an equally loud campaigning especially from the right wing forces. Cow was an important issue and we were gifted absurd statements. Ads were such that Election Commission had to object. However the election result of Bihar seems to show that people have rejected such politics of rhetoric and divisive issues. But we are back to the same triviality with Amir Khan’s statements. While the actor expressed his wife’s concern regarding the rising intolerance and the option of moving to a better place, enough abuse was heaped on the actor and his family. Nobody bothered to assure him that the situation was not that bad.
There is an urgent need to bring back political discourse and discussion with issues of concern. The policies of government which impact the lives of the people have been pushed to the margins. And the centre stage has been taken by the irresponsible remarks of some people.
Parvin Sultana is an Assistant Professor in P B College of Assam. Her research interest includes Muslims in Assam, development and northeast, gender etc.