During the gulf war in the early 1990s US President George Bush famously told the international community one line which became hallmark of his international policy in the years later. The sentence was “In this war, you are either with us or against us” (he meant to say no nation can be non-aligned). India since the 1970s and 80s wanted to lead the non-aligned movement to create the third pole in the bi-polar world politics dominated by United States and Russia. The “either with us or against us” policy has somehow now crept into India’s domestic politics.
One of the main reasons why national news television channels have become irrelevant and ineffective is because they run on this “either with us or against us” narrative and focus on endless debates every night which are based on this formula. The danger in this is that all narrative becomes extremely predictable. When a news tv anchor takes up some issue of the day and turns to the Congress party spokesperson for comments, viewers can predict what the spokesperson is going to say right up to his last word, then the anchor turns to the BJP spokesperson you can again predict the same. So the debate becomes predictable and boring.
This is the danger that “either with us or against us” formula brings in. There is no scope for judgement on any issue on the basis of merit of the issue. It is all straight-jacketed narrative coming from a “soldier” who has been ordered to toe the party’s line and not coming from a “thinker” or “analyst”.
One symptom of the this problem is now seen in social media over actress Dipika Padukone’s visit on Tuesday to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus where the “left versus Right” battle is at its peak.
Right wing supporters targeted Dipika on social media from Wednesday morning onwards calling for a boycott on her latest movie.
A group of people from Bollywood were seen agitating in Mumbai just a day earlier and they will perhaps also be targeted by right wing netizens. In all this our film industry seems completely polarised and divided. The risk in this (just like the example of news tv spokespersons) is that these actors get branded as ‘belonging to one particular side of the political divide which means they then become like “soldiers” who have to parrot or toe the same line that their leaders decide. They lose the freedom to change their opinions based on merit of the issue.
Ideally members of any fraternity, whether it is artists or doctors or lawyers should be free of this kind of political division. They should take a stand on any issue based on the merit of that issue. So on some issues they might agree with the government’s policy and some issues they might disagree with the government. Because of political polarisation or division, now this freedom to-- sometimes have pro-government views and sometimes have anti-government views—is vanishing and that is dangerous.
In a sharply divided society that we see today, the need now is for some to be neutral so that judgements can happen on the basis of merit of the issue and not on the basis of political alignment so that each issue can be judged on the basis of its own merit and not on the basis of which side of the divide you belong to!