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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Why we need to reach out across the divide

Wherever ideology creates schisms between us, we should rise beyond the comforts of those barriers and keep walking on the road that unites us

Written by Suvir Saran |
Updated: January 9, 2022 4:00:46 pm
democracy, Indian democracy, democracy in India, Indian politics, Left and Right, Left vs Right, political ideologies, poltical rallies, jingoistic nationalists, fascism, ultra-nationalism, woke-secularism, demagogues, Suvir Saran column, eye 2022, Sunday Eye, indian express newsThis is the Left’s wake-up call to not to become mere reactionaries, and for the Right to be cognisant of the old diktat that what goes around comes around. Today, it is the other they are going after. Tomorrow, that other will be from within the fold. (Credit: Suvir Saran)

It’s a pulsating loud, wildly raucous rally in a huge stadium. The crowd is on its feet and thumping. There could easily be a stampede, but nobody would care. They would gladly die for the cause. Every word coming out of the speaker’s mouth is going directly into each person’s heart, touching a raw nerve, making them proud of their country, proud of their religion, proud of their skin colour, and proud of their place in the world, determined that they must protect their own kind. They have willingly and enthusiastically placed themselves in the hands of the puppeteer.

These rallies are taking place all over the world. The speakers are not leaders of small nations. These are leaders of nations that are secular in their constitution, that have pluralistic societies, that have people of all colours and creeds living in them. And yet, by touching the hearts and minds of the fearful populace, these demagogues are able to rule over the people of the nation and go against all the norms of civil democracy.

Strongmen, rabble-rousers, jingoistic nationalists strutting around like patriots, and yes, fascists — it is these men and women who are finding popularity across the world. In the oldest and largest democracies of the world, we are seeing a rise of proudly sectarian nationalism that is gaining mainstream admiration. It’s ideologues and those speaking with muscular majoritarian language who are finding favour at the voting booth and greater bandwidth on news channels and other media platforms. Left or Right, extreme viewpoints are gaining more and more access into hearts and minds that are otherwise mostly apolitical.

As we begin another year where we find ourselves gripped by questions and fears that are part and parcel of living in these pandemic times, we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that ultra-nationalism and woke-secularism are passing trends. Neither of these is the mainstay of any one nation, religion, people, or continent. They are as universal as cellphones and our shared humanity. These extreme Left and Right viewpoints have always existed, have always been part of our human ethos, and have always provided connecting links for disparate people who might not share much else.

These extreme viewpoints are easily supported and sustainably bred in people fraught with the terrors borne out of the strongman’s cold avarice and brute ego. All firebrand agitators, both woke and right-wing, understand the value of preying upon people’s fears and prejudices. They know that people who are broken and feel forgotten will accept lies and trumpery nonsense when they are convinced that what the other side is offering is evil and inhuman. These people, exploited by both the Right and Left, and after generations of having been ignored and living without basic amenities and access to things most of us take for granted, will believe the despot’s lies and vote against their own interests. Donald Trump didn’t do anything that remotely furthered his slogan “Make America Great Again”, but those who voted for him and still support his messaging and his kind will most likely seek to vote those like him back into power.

Strongmen know that extreme viewpoints, more than moderate ones, are easier to sell and even easier to emulate and embrace. They come with a personality that has life and energy; they are easier to comprehend, and readily replicable. Finding the middle ground isn’t easy; it requires time and concerted effort, takes more explanation and educational support, and the results are slow in coming and lack the flamboyance of the extremes. There weren’t many who thought Trump was smarter than Hillary Clinton, but his was a story that was easy to parse and even easier to sell. Similarly, although Clinton had greater experience and more solid grounding, Barack Obama brought with him a much more muscularly defined message of hope than hers of measured centredness. Left or Right, people chose the fiery over the nuanced, style over substance, popularity over erudition, showmanship over statesmanship.

People are people, some more Left-leaning than Right, others more Right than Left. Few have the chops and stamina to survive in the not-so-popular-or-easily-understood Centre. To rid ourselves of the deeply vexing majoritarianism that is enveloping the world everywhere, those on one end must recognise that those on the other are our neighbours, our fellow humans, with ticking hearts and thinking brains. They have loved ones; they have dreams and aspirations and hopes, too. We cannot hate them, alienate them, or look at them simply as losers who are destroying the world. We must make a concerted effort to reach out to them, invest in our shared humanity, and make time to appreciate other viewpoints. We must grapple with the whys and whats that have brought us to these difficult times where our fellow humans are voting for the likes of Vladimir Putin, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Castro brothers, and their proxy — strongmen who are creating frightening divisiveness. Sad that these authoritarian leaders are followed like false prophets when they could well be emperors with no clothes. We must invest in understanding the motives that drive people to vote or support leaders as they do. We are out of touch with each other, and how we feel, and what we want. We are living like pendulums, not as human beings who understand each other.

This is the Left’s wake-up call to show a side of themselves that is not politically correct, but correct; to smartly appreciate the bruises that are making majority groups nervous; and to show empathy and not apathy when dealing with the other. They must listen first, and then reflect, so as not to become mere reactionaries.

And for the Right, these are no times of comfort and complacency. It must be cognisant of the old diktat that what goes around comes around. Today, it is the other they are going after. Tomorrow, that other will be from within the fold. Muscles have memories, and the brain is the organ with the most nuanced control of all muscles. A person who has learnt to hate must have a target. Once a dog has been taught to bite, when no prey is in sight, it will turn and bite the hand that feeds it.

As we begin the 365-day journey towards another year, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be divided by predators who are interested only in their own rise to power. Wherever ideology creates schisms between us, we should quickly rise beyond the comforts of those divides and choose to continue walking on the road that unites us as humans, no matter how long or challenging that journey might seem. All humans are but just that, human, and it is we who give permission and credence to some in our midst to have messianic power and popularity. It is, thus, pertinent for us to understand that humanity — that consciousness that gives all men and women of the human fraternity a common link — is nothing we ought to ever take for granted.

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