How Not To Build An Ecosystem
Dear social media warriors, if you find people taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s side more often than yours, you have all the right to disagree with them.
However, please do not question either their morality or intelligence for disagreeing with you.
I am a lifelong MAD magazine fan. In one hilarious article showing the magazine’s progress over 60-odd years, the entry against No 2 issue read – “No 2 issue is released. The first set of letters complaining MAD is not as funny as it used to be arrives.”
I am often reminded of this while reading the various “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have forgotten their base” missives, written by Indian right wing supporters pretty much from June 2014. In the past, I often resisted writing about it primarily because like Bill Maher once said – what’s point of fighting with people who agree with you 90 per cent of the times? Well, three-and-half years into National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, I am no longer sure of this agreement percentage. Even more worrying is the number of articles/tweets in the last few months castigating people like me as “BJP slaves” or “members of tribal cult” for coming down on the side of the government instead of the social media power centres.
I think it is time to break the silence.
Let’s first address the primary complaint such people have against the government – a failure to create a so called “ecosystem” that would rival the much-dreaded Lutyen’s ecosystem of the left.
The primary source of many of these disappointments lies in the unrealistic expectation that the BJP-led NDA government should mirror the Congress government without the support base of the former mirroring the latter. So while each government failure is discussed in terms of how Congress would have acted in a similar situation, not only do the same people refuse to support their government unconditionally like Congress supporters often did in the past, they take active pride in the same. While I admire this integrity of the right wing base, it is important to accept that the kind of leadership that will favour such supporter base will be different from Congress leaders in almost all aspects. Like the late Stephen R Covey says in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – when you pick one end of the stick you pick another.
It is also undeniable that the adage about absolute power corrupting absolutely holds true for any system of unelected, powerful thinkers outside the government. We have seen the utter indifference to ordinary people’s concerns demonstrated by the Lutyen’s and how over a period of time the balance of power shifted where the tail called Lutyen’s began to wag the government dog. Even assuming that no moral rot sets in, such elite ecosystems often have a tendency of going after boutique issues that stop resonating with common people after a while.
We saw it happen with the left in India over a period of time, we saw it happen with Democratic Party in US which lost the middle class in their quest of more highbrow but limited impact issues like transgender bathrooms. If you think the superiority of your ideology will protect your ecosystem from producing such excesses over the period of time then you are either incredibly naive or incredibly arrogant. In either case, I have a huge problem if the government I helped elect is going to give any power to you.
To a neutral observer, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) is a classic example of the sort of ecosystem that the right wing would want to build. However, many right wingers wish to use the organisation and network of RSS to drive the agenda that they want to push. In the real world, nobody is going to build an organisation with decades of sacrifices of its cadres, and then hand it over to self-proclaimed intellectuals to lead. This does not, however, mean that the organisation is closed to different points of views. In the recently concluded India Ideas Conclave, organised by Indian Foundation, there were many speakers, who have been vocal critics of RSS in the past. However, changing the strategic direction of an entity as large as RSS takes time and persuasion skills. Unfortunately, what we have seen from the social media intellectuals is a lot of mockery and anger about the organisation for not listening to them and very little patient persuasion.
Now, I come to the second and more objectionable part of this debate, which is dismissing those who take government’s side as establishment stooges and keeping critique of the government as the ultimate test of purity. One of the oft given argument of this debate is (if you don’t criticise the government) what is the difference between you and Congress supporters? This is a misleading question that asks the supporters to differentiate on the basis of how they treat the party they support rather than the ideologies and performance of the parties themselves.
The above question implies there is not much difference between the two parties and hence a true supporter would treat them with equal amount of scepticism. If you feel that on past performance and calibre as well as fundamental morality there is not much of a difference between the two, I have no argument with you. However, if that is not the case, then treating NDA government with the kind of suspicion you would accord United Progressive Alliance, puts the former at an unfair disadvantage.
Let’s also accept the fact that personal likes and dislikes colour our perceptions and what is acceptable from one leader is subject to outrage coming from someone else. So, while the social media warriors were angry with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for attending the book release of an NDTV journalist, nobody had any problems with Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy having Rajdeep Sardesai present for his wife Dr Roxna Swamy’s book launch function. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister for Textiles and Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani are two more leaders that are very rarely criticised by this group of self-appointed government watchdogs. I would argue this bias as completely natural, what is not natural is people with bigger voice on social media making these preferences for the larger population and then calling those in disagreement as personal worshippers.
So is it my argument that no new ecosystem needs to be created and that none of us should disagree with the NDA government and/or criticise it?
Well, no and no. As a matter of fact, claiming that anyone supporting government is asking the other person to shut up is an insidious way to shut the supporter in first place. But let me make one more attempt to answer the above questions without rancour or rhetoric.
To start with, it is possible that a large number of right wing, nationalist supporters may realise that the ecosystem built by BJP-RSS is no longer addressing their concerns and aspirations in which case such people must attempt to build their own ecosystem. However, for maintaining its neutrality and core objectives, it should not only not expect help from the government but actively discourage it. Criticising your employers is often one task even the best of us have failed at and if our goal is to build a system that will keep the government honest, perhaps it is better we are picking up our own tab. Where the government can and should support such ecosystem is by taking all necessary steps to ensure that any competing system does not draw unfair advantage of patronage from a political outfit.
About the disagreement itself, I have no doubt that from time to time that we will find ourselves in disagreement with the government and by extension with people who are in agreement with it. A healthy and vigorous debate about such areas of disagreements must be encouraged, provided any such debate is devoid of either suspicion or condescension. Disagreement cannot be automatically seen as a sign of either moral turpitude or gullibility. Conflating disagreement with moral deficiency is kind of what left does and while staring into the abyss of civilisational challenge posed by the left, we all must strive to ensure that the abyss isn’t staring back at us.
Sirs and madams, if you think you could influence an outcome due to your social media presence, please do not forget that presence was felt primarily due to the thousands of nameless and faceless fellow social media travellers, who faithfully shared, re-tweeted and forwarded each argument made by you in countless chat groups, Facebook forums and Twitter direct message groups. Today, if you find those people taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s side more often than yours, you have all the right to disagree with them. However, please do not question either their morality or intelligence for disagreeing with you. It would be truly ironical if while advising elected leaders to not insult their constituency you end up doing the same.
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