Sharpening the moderate

The key is to not view the middle ground as a convenient and passive space, but one that calls for deep and dynamic engagement on the ground.

November 30, 2018 12:17:41 pm

The discourse around us makes it seem that today there is no midpoint left in intellectual deliberations and by extension, society. Away from the TV debates and media for a few days, though, life seems to run pretty much on its usual track. However, a simmering concern about the consequences of such a perceived polarity is often focused on. As a corollary, there’s increasing discussion around the need for the more nuanced and moderate voice.

The question I explore here is: Who truly is a moderate and what does it mean to be one? Is it about the “compos mentis” — the saner voice prevailing — or are moderates hankering for consensus without drilling down to the core issue? Is it about, as some suggest, ambivalence, a brainwashed psyche, of lives in a social bubble? Or about closet crusaders hesitant to take a stand publicly? Or is the deemed moderate voice in India culpable of espousing “live and let live” without underscoring that it’s a two-way street?

Some consider the so-called moderates to be spineless sitters on the fence because of whom indigenous culture and sovereignty were compromised. Whilst others point out that it takes equanimity and courage to actually sit on the fence in the pursuit of objectivity — which, up to an extent, one can fathom in contrast to premeditated or impetuous decisions. Sitting tight until one understands the situation completely may be prudent.

However, from my vantage point, sometimes entrenching oneself in the middle, despite its poise, limits one from being able to contribute to or sculpt the active discourse. One can only hope to influence things for the better if one is ready to roll up the sleeves and get down to work in shaping and moulding circumstances. The idea is not to carve out a midway system for the sake of a neutral identity but to intensely engage with the existing situation with the intent and resolve to give it a positive direction.

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So, do we need to delve deeper in order to understand why the moderate or liberal voice is finding a fainter echo before seeking to bolster it and give it direction? The world around us is quite disparate if we look at it through the physical, economic or cultural lens. Differences exist. Some can be obliterated, others cannot. Nevertheless, they all need to be understood and acknowledged, not vilified for the lack of a perceived “meeting ground”. It’s not about aiming to subsume two individual identities into a third neutral “meeting ground”. Perhaps there is no such meeting ground; like that of a river which flows within two parallel banks seamlessly. Toning down the individuality or neutralising the nuances is not the solution. The art is in accepting all in their authenticity and diversity. The sane voice can prevail if one is genuinely open to let in all viewpoints — when there is enough room for your individuality, thought process, nuanced character and way of living, without letting go of mine.

As I had written in verse many years ago: “Tera bhi apna geet ho, main bhi koi geet gaaoon” (you and I sing our own melodies ) not an approach of — “let’s create a new song where the originality of each is diluted”.

It became disconcerting when the space which professed the values of an open mind became cemented and sequestered in a singular view. At some point, progressive thinking got entwined with affluence, privileged education and stretchable societal norms. Did it also get disconnected from the masses and disengage itself from the larger narrative? We have often heard that the conformist lacks nuance. But, of late, was the reverse also evident?

For, in the truly unbiased person’s world, there would be a truly welcoming mind — not premeditated dismissive thoughts. Every section of society carries its own identity and one must acknowledge and respect that. Facets that need to be weeded and the ones that need nurturing, have to be in context and balance of the indigenous and the universal.

Several questions emerge about the voices of the “fringe groups” and fingers are often pointed at the politics of power. I do think there is merit in the contention that a few such voices get some political patronage and mileage. But this is not the sole reason that unfamiliar and diverse voices are reaching us now. And I say this, despite the fact that one has been targeted and threatened. Infuriated and saddened as I was, it was more constructive to study the complete issue in depth.

The world is going through disruptive technological change, varied people today have multiple accessible platforms to voice their viewpoints. Those who see this as a problem are likely the ones who believe that these platforms are proprietorial and to be controlled by mastering the codes and lexicon. They forget, perhaps, that others with different points of view may too gain access to these platforms. To deny an alternate narrative and give the moniker of “fringe” or lumpen elements to views different from one’s own, reflects a bias
Let me be categorical: The context here is of raising a view and concerns, not that of resorting to violence in any form. But to consider oneself as a holder of the hallowed just because one is adept at articulation and others as deficient in both sense and sensibility is condescension. To assert one’s own voice as civilised and decry every other as uncivilised displays intellectual hubris.

We can’t stay in denial. Are we working to create a uniform society with placid sameness, which doesn’t have edges, doesn’t have granularity, is imposed and not organic? Every culture is born out of a different seed. Let indigenous cultures manifest their seed, only then will a garden have different kinds of flowers. A raat ki rani blooms only at night, but one cannot refuse to acknowledge it as a flower during the day. We need to respect distinct identity — be it of the majority or the minority. It will require much more effort, a pressure few are willing to take. Most are herded into craving a benign neutral comfort zone.

My intention is not to point fingers but to simply share perspective, evoke thought and view multiple facets. And through introspection and internal churn, attempt to understand the change around us in terms of the personal and the collective. Bringing about an equilibrium and credence to a moderate approach should not have a precondition of diluting the purists’ points of view. In no way do I imply that no evolution is possible in thoughts. But this should happen organically. The idea is to examine, not paint in broad strokes.

The endeavour should be to dive deep, immerse oneself in as many facets as possible, to arrive at a true balance. One that equips us to moderate a situation as per genuine need without dulling or expunging the fervour of anyone. Communities of both, the convinced and the malleable, provide the spectrum of possibilities — of courage and compassion, to stand up and stand by.

Let there be a constant reshaping, augmenting, and pruning. After all, society, belief systems, and viewpoints are contextual — works in progress, like us. Class vs mass, sane vs the mindlessly angry, liberals vs conservatives, moderates vs extremists, ethnicity vs multiculturalism, folks vs trolls, patriotism vs nationalism, globalisation vs localisation, have to find not outright dismissal but understanding and co-existence. For, at times, the truth is in between two sharp notes, a “Teevra Madhyam” (a sharp middle) as one would call it in Indian classical music terms. The substance, is not in the “or”, it’s in the “and”.

The key is to not view the middle ground as a convenient and passive space, but one that calls for deep and dynamic on ground engagement. It’s not about who articulately wins the argument today, but rather who gets into the trenches to authentically and positively shape tomorrow. With all sincerity, I’m trying to work on the latter.

Joshi is a writer, poet and chairman, CBFC.