Left, right or the middle – Can we be more than our political opinions?

I never participated in debates in school. The idea of a formalized argument with someone on a public platform did not appeal to me. More than the fear of public speaking, I was wary of losing face to a more well-researched set of facts. So instead of taking the mantle and bravely arguing with others, I chose to sit back and munch on imaginary popcorn and watch others heat up as they refuted each other.

It’s comforting to see that this version of me, a 16-year-old who was happy to hold on stubbornly to her own set of opinions, exists in most adults today. There is a shallow pleasure derived from self-righteousness. And we have multiple spaces to engage with or impose ourselves on – at work, home, with friends, at community events, on social media. Ah social media – the magical land of ‘Dump whatever here – it’s free!’ . The freedom to punch out ignorant, passive-aggressive or blatantly bigoted messages without dealing with the physical presence of the recipient brings out the worst in us.

It’s been three weeks since the election results were announced and I have already witnessed relationships crumbling because of differences in political opinions. People are un-friending each other on Facebook and arguing furiously on Whatsapp groups. Most discussions circle back to the question – What do you think of the big BJP win?

The truth is both camps failed miserably. The liberals presumptuously painted those who didn’t share their angst against communalist forces as ignorant and bigoted ‘Bhakts’ and the Modi supporters were all too willing to believe in his grand promises and not seek answers to the government’s several failures during his tenure. There was no middle ground where people came together- it was either this or that. A disjointed opposition that focused only on defeating the BJP while figuring out party arithmetic to stake claims to the Prime Ministerial seat helped cement this outcome

Since the ‘Tsunamo’ was declared, every third article on my feed is a dissection of the BJP’s thundering victory. There are multiple perspectives that delve into the party’s effective and vitriolic strategy, how democracy won and lost, the culmination of rage towards dynasty politics, what India’s future looks like etc.

For someone who is just completing her second year of living in India, being amidst this charged energy is new to me. When I was an expatriate, my main worries were exchange rates, the impending challenges of lifestyle adjustment in the eventuality of moving back, long-term investment plans and taxes, not being there for my parents if they needed me. Distance protected me from the need to take a stand based on real experiences. Whatever little political wisdom I had was from the news channel my father would blast in the living room. My simpleton brain distilled the country’s complex problems into two basic areas- poverty and corruption.

The India that I’d constructed in my mind as an NRI was based on how it stood against other countries, how warm and proud I felt when she achieved significant progress milestones. But it is this very notion of progress that I am reckoning with now, unlearning my naïve assumptions. I’m figuring out that with patriotism comes a certain arrogance that discourages criticism, even if it is constructive

As far as my moral compass goes, I am nowhere close to understanding what and how much it takes to be informed. I have gone from being a ‘keyboard warrior’ engaging in passionate debates with strangers to making a conscious effort to read more books by Indian authors on difficult subjects to devouring articles by independent news publications with the hope of exposure to unbiased information. I follow poets and writers who’re raising their voices, seeking inspiration on how to shift the way I think. Unfortunately, all I’ve been able to conclude is that I will most probably never know enough.

I have no right to be but I am exhausted. This quest to find space on the Left to Right ideological spectrum is frustrating. I am tired of the lazy and simplistic approach we use to understand each other that is ridden with assumptions and self-righteousness. I am disappointed with how intolerant we are with ideas and ways of life that are different from what we believe to be ideal. I am angry that it has become so easy to reduce people merely to their political opinions and religious beliefs

No post-mortem of the 2019 election fiasco is going to change the fact that we have an autocratic party in control with a weak opposition who seems incapable of getting their act together. Everyone wants power but no one wants to lead. The question is – can we go far as to say that this is it for India? Are we willing to place the entire onus on elected representatives who have always won based on how well they play the religion, caste and class card? Is it fair to castigate friends and family based on their political opinions? How can we be sure that our own ones aren’t premature babies produced as reflexes and not as products of thought, facts and ‘I could be wrong’?

There’s a wonderful writer whom I follow on Facebook – an unapologetic liberal who posts hilarious satirical pieces on the ruling party’s attempts to destroy secularism. During the weeks leading up to the elections, he posted important and thought-provoking rants almost every day. But here’s the thing, whenever anyone even politely disagreed with him, he shut him or her out. This for me is the true tragedy of where we stand right now– the lost opportunities to discuss, debate and expand our outlooks.

The endless judgment has to stop if we want to move towards an inclusive nation. We are at a serious juncture where issues such as climate change, water crises, terrorism and growing economic disparity loom grimly over the future. Shutting out people by thinking in binaries isn’t going to cut it. We have to shove our egos under the rug, listen and work on solutions. We need to teach our children to find grace in conceding

To thrust the idea of India’s soul on a bunch of people in power feels too drastic. India has survived the British Empire, Partition, wars with Pakistan and China, three emergencies, earthquakes and floods. Whether this has been a mark of resilience or luck is debatable, but the fact is she continues to be a force to reckon with. Politicians will come and go. If we’re too busy disagreeing with each other, they will continue to win for the wrong reasons. For now the most patriotic task can we can focus on is how to make our dissent impactful, not fractured

 

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