Anupam Kher's March for India was more than a mere protest

It was about a democracy reminding itself that dissent without reason is quite meaningless.

 |  5-minute read |   08-11-2015
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I hope that Anupam Kher's important march turns out to be the beginning of something bigger than a mere protest against a protest. I hope, as absurd as such hope might sound, that it will mark the beginning of a more honest debate between supporters and critics of Narendra Modi, who is, independent of whether one is a supporter or a critic, the face of a major political phenomenon currently unfolding in India. So, on the basis of nothing more than this sense of hope, absurd or audacious, I offer the following points for friend and foe to consider.

The key issue that the popular support for the marches today raises is simply whether the anguished wave of protests by writers and others against the Modi government are accurate in their apportioning of blame, and appropriate in their scale and form. This is a question that critics of the Modi government should think about honestly, and independent of their public posturing with each other or with their perceived ideological enemies. Are their intentions really about saving India from increasing intolerance as they see it? If so, are they really trying to understand the causes of violence in the world today and in doing so broadening their intellectual horizons, or are they merely echoing each other in the hope their frayed theories about Modi will become magically true?

For one thing, even if they really do believe that an elected prime minister who hasn't said one unkind word against any community is somehow responsible for the cruel actions of quite disparate people in three different states (and none of them ruled by his party) over several months, they should open up their minds to the possibility that they have been obsessed and dogmatic rather than objective and honest. They should recognise, for one thing, that the popular resonance that the March for India has received from ordinary citizens comes from a genuine desire to go beyond this hateful obsession. The march, after all, was not remotely about excusing the murderers. It was only about a democracy reminding itself that dissent without reason is quite meaningless.

Also read: Anupam Kher needs to stop misleading people

At the same time, supporters of Anupam Kher and the March for India should also be open to recognising that the particular idioms in which this popular democratic outcry rose up may not have been completely articulate or accurately expressed too. I do not know if this began with the hostile response to Anupam Kher at a recent debate and his labelling of the audience as a "paid" one, or whether this is just part of a more systematic talent that the BJP universe has for wrecking whatever credibility and sympathy might come its way from liberal and non-committal Hindus tired of secularist Hinduphobia.

As much as I support the March for India, I also think it's important to not be deluded that only the Right has a monopoly on patriotism. It may be true that some leading lights on the Left think patriotism and nationalism are outdated concepts, but a large part of the Left-secular world, including the award wapsi writers and supporters, are people who are motivated by a genuine passion for social change and justice. We may disagree about how they do it, and how naively (or not so-naively) they often partner with unjust and violent global forces in doing it, but we cannot dismiss the academic-activist world as something it is not.

For example, while Shekhar Gupta's dramatic dismissal of Anupam Kher's statements as "neo fascism" is utterly off the mark, supporters of the march should also consider if the marches have responded, precisely and effectively, to the positions being advanced by their opponents. After all, merely saying "my country is great" and "you are ruining my country's image" does not really respond to the charge, however exaggerated, that the country is becoming more intolerant.

Also read: Anupam Kher is the best person to stand up against selective outrage

For a credible new counter-narrative to emerge against the predominant one in Indian intellectual and media circles, that sort of thinking will have to be done carefully now. After all, without an explicit and intelligent assertion of what it is we love about India, a large part of the new generation of young Indians and their friends around the world will only see in events like March for India blind 19th century nationalism sticking out sorely in the age of 21st century global liberalism.

It is therefore my sincere hope that after the insanely aggressive polarisation of the last few months, we can all move towards accepting some realities here. The Right needs to practise a more engaged and informed form of debate against its critics from the professional intelligentsia, and outgrow the occasional childish and narcissistic excuses like "we don't have to play by their rules". They are the dominant paradigm, and they are that way for at least one good reason - they have put their whole lives into building a worldview and the institutions to sustain it, however wrong they may soon turn out to be, and replacing that paradigm cannot be done with tweets and marches alone. As for the Left, it needs to outgrow the blind hatred that has replaced its sense of intellectual integrity and recognise that nationalism is not a bad word, and neither is India, nor Hindu. A genuine form of critique and dissent will not take intellectual shortcuts and deceptions of the kind it has resorted to from the moment it saw Narendra Modi win the election.

And as if that blind hate was not blind enough, it also had to go and expand it to include a barrage of contempt and violence upon that most gentle, kind, and elegant of animals that human civilisation owes everything to. If you can separate your anger at moral policing and tragedies like Dadri from your unexamined sense of entitlement to brutalise the last remaining species that a large part of this not so humane human race still feels some kindness for, you might find your way again.

Also read: Why liberals and conservatives need to stop the cock and bull fight


Vamsee Juluri Vamsee Juluri @vamseejuluri

The writer is a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco and the author of Rearming Hinduism.

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