Spare a thought for the sophists. The professional arguers and teachers of ancient Greece drew the ire of Socrates for lacking conviction; for making the case with rhetorical skill for whichever side paid them to do so. All they were trying to do, after all, was make a living and by most accounts, they were good at what they did. But even the most adept at the craft of rhetoric would doff their hat to the political pundits that grace Indian news television — not so much for their skill, perhaps, but certainly for how deftly they can marshal the same argument for opposing points of view.
Thanks to the pandemic, the counting of votes for the election to the Bihar Assembly, as the Election Commission had warned, took longer than usual. But that didn’t stop analysts and anchors from analysing the reasons for a victory that had not yet taken place — but was foretold by them. In the morning, when the Mahagathbandhan appeared to have an edge, the election-time sophists proclaimed, with ease and confidence, how the RJD had managed to appeal to the disgruntled youth, how women needed more than prohibition to cast their ballot for Nitish Kumar and how a young Tejashwi Yadav had come into his own. As the afternoon wore on, and the tide turned, the BJP under the prime minister appealed to the youth, women were loyal to the JD-U and the Mahagathbandhan needed to reimagine its politics and look for fresh leadership.
These straight-faced u-turns would have made Socrates and Plato livid. But there is a charitable, if obvious, explanation for the seeming lack of conviction. Result-day programming begins at 7 am — that means over 12 hours of “analysis”. And since the visual medium, like nature, abhors a vacuum and there’s only so much originality to go around, the viewing audience is treated to discount sophists — instead of rhetoric, they give us repetition without conviction, twisting their theory to suit the facts so that by prime time, it can make a pretence at political wisdom.
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