Sabse khatarnak hota hai
Murda shanti se bhar jaana
Na hona tadap ka
Sab kuchh sahan kar jaana
Ghar se nikalna kaam par
Aur kaam se laut kar ghar aana
Sabse khatarnak hota hai
Hamare sapnon ka mar jaana
These lines from a famous poem by Punjabi poet Avtar Singh Sandhu aka Paash, have taken on a life of their own, and we have often been reminded of them in dark times.
Roughly translated they mean:
The most dangerous thing is
when we embrace a deathly silence
when we yearn for nothing, when we bear injustice – silently
When we leave home – for work
And uneventfully return
The most dangerous thing is
The death of our dreams
Indeed, that is the most dangerous state of being for a human being – where one only exists – without exercising any will, any agency, any desire. Extrapolating on that – what is the most dangerous thing for a democracy?
It is the death of the willingness to ask questions – where the very act of raising questions has been de-legitimised, and is seen as being ‘anti-people’ or ‘anti-national’.
This process drew attention in 2014, when the PM’s denial of access to journalists was seen as a ‘necessary step’ to reduce and eliminate the influence of ‘Lutyens’ media’ in the corridors of power.
Prominent intellectual voices – sometimes overtly and at other times in cleverly-couched jargon – built a narrative that the PM is incorruptible, hard-working, and has the supreme interest of the people in his heart (or 56” chest). Hence, the act of questioning him is not only unnecessary, but also counter-productive.
According to this narrative, Narendra Modi knows best – he is incapable of doing wrong; indeed he is incapable of even committing a mistake. He cannot err, after all only humans err. He seeks forgiveness from none, he seeks guidance from none.
‘Controlled’ Interviews, One-Sided Interactions & Myths
The PM's one-sided interactions with the people through 'Mann Ki Baat', unrelenting electioneering campaigns, and occasional controlled 'interviews' was meant to reinforce the image of a man who does not need to answer anyone. The PM's only 'duty' was to inform the people what he wished to inform them of, and to occasionally answer innocuous questions with inane philosophisms. To use that particularly evocative Hindi colloquialism, his role was 'gyaan baantna'.
This was how Narendra Modi, the chief minister, had successfully built the ‘Gujarat Model’ myth, and so, there was no reason to change that template just because he was now the prime minister in Delhi.
What kind of a sewak, let alone a pradhan one, refuses to answer questions from his masters (the people), and gets away with it? A compliant media played along. A weak Opposition failed to build any counter pressure. And independent voices that raised questions, were either silenced or browbeaten by a babble of trolls.
Culture of Falsehood Destroying Human Compassion
Anyone who raised questions was called ‘disgruntled’ (who had fallen out of favour with the new regime), ‘compulsive-contrarians’ (eternal pessimists who are incapable of seeing that the glass is half-full), ‘bleeding-hearts’ / ‘liberals’ (which became a pejorative term), ‘intellectuals’ (being educated and possessing expertise in any field was seen as elitist – remember Harvard vs Hard Work?), or worse ‘anti-nationals’, thus robbing them of legitimacy, or in many instances, even their life or freedom.
All governments lie, all governments propagate falsehoods, and all governments resist questions. The difference is that the Modi dispensation has taken mendacity to dizzying heights. This is truly a manifestation of Kalyug.
Though all of this is extremely distressing, it is still not the most dangerous thing. The most dangerous thing is that this culture of falsehood is now destroying the most basic of our human values – compassion and empathy. The ability to see right from wrong.
Politics Clouding Our Basic Moral Values & Judgement
Even when the PM shows extreme insensitivity, his followers choose to defend and justify his actions – using whataboutery at best, and outright brazenness at worst. This absence of basic human decency is not limited to the so-called loony fringe.
For instance, no one from among his rank of followers will say, “we will vote for you Mr Modi no matter what, but it would have been nice if you had tweeted about, and condemned the brutal killing of Mohd Akhlaq in unequivocal terms”.
Or, “We support you fully Modi ji, but was it really necessary to break protocol and receive a foreign dignitary with fanfare, at a time when we lost nearly 40 jawans. After all, any true friend would have understood that we are a nation in mourning, and would have empathised with your reticence.”
Or, “you are already flawless in our estimation Modi saheb, but if only you had addressed and calmed the nation after Pulwama, like New Zealand’s young PM Jacinda Ardern did after Christchurch, you would have risen further in our estimation”.
When politics start clouding our judgement about basic human values, when we lose sense between right and wrong, that is the most dangerous thing. It is dangerous because it pushes our humaneness off the precipice, and there is no telling whether it will survive that fall.
(Vishakh Rathi is a TV media professional with over 2 decades of experience, straddling news, sports and entertainment. Currently based out of Mumbai, he is working as an independent writer/consultant/content strategist. He tweets at @vishakhrathi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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