Is fatigue setting in with polarised binary discourse in media?

Sandip Ghose | 03 Oct 2017 09:43 PM

Image: PTI/File

Yashwant Sinha’s outburst last week at the Government’s handling of the economy brought much cheer to the critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both in the political classes and media circles. Though his statements were directed at the Finance Minister, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Sinha’s real target was Modi himself. Some saw in it signs of rebellion brewing in the BJP. The Congress was quick to jump in with its support to Sinha. Old rivalries were buried and Sinha’s traditional detractors like P Chidambaram hailed him for speaking “Truth to Power”.

Left-leaning journalists, especially from the electronic media, lapped it all up and Yashwant Sinha himself seemed to enjoy speaking on camera after a long hiatus, generously doling out sound bytes and interviews. Clearly seeing himself as the voice of dissent, Sinha has broadened his attack and started talking on issues other than the economy, like the stampede in Mumbai (which he attributed to the Government’s “chalta hai” attitude) and New Delhi’s Kashmir policy. One can expect more from him in the days to come.

The Government’s reactions were restrained and calibrated. Apart from the much-talked about rejoinder penned by Sinha’s son, Jayanat Sinha, who is a Minister in Modi’s Council, a few heavyweight Ministers countered Yashwant Sinha’s tirade. Of course, the most spirited response came from Arun Jaitley, who was in the direct line of Sinha’s fire.

However, interestingly, the real defence came from somewhat unexpected quarters. When orchestrated media hype made it appear as if there was universal condemnation of the Government’s macroeconomic management, a number of respected independent voices complimented the Modi administration for prudent fiscal consolidation over the last three years.

Among them were Sajjid Chinoy of JP Morgan and Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar. They cautioned against knee-jerk booster shots to the economy and advised the Government to stay on the path of reforms. Of the two, while Sajjid works for one of the largest international investment-banking firm, Swaminathan Aiyar is a senior economic journalist who is not known to mince his words.

It is not just that these people came out openly in support of the Government’s approach so far, that their views appealed and resonated with a wide cross-section of opinion leaders is heartening.

Meanwhile, early data coming in for August already indicates an uptick as reported in the financial papers. This to a large extent corroborated the prognosis of a recovery in the works and to some extent blunted the aggression of the naysayers.

Irrespective of which side one chooses to take or find more convincing, it is significant that two points of view have been established without any one being allowed to hijack the narrative. If this makes way for a more healthy debate on issues of national importance it augurs well for the country.

At the same time another unrelated development in the sphere of public discourse might have caught the attention of some. Two non-partisan journalists and authors, Rahul Pandita and Manu Joseph, far from being either ‘Right-wing’ or pro-Government, came down heavily on the Left-Liberal clique trying to control the the media discourse.

In his interview with Newslaundry, Joseph calls out the hypocrisy of Left-Liberals in India for their selective defence of freedom of expression.

Apart from keeping their own portals out of bounds for anyone differing from their chosen narrative,  Manu talks of instances when Left-Lib stalwarts have tried to block Right-wing voices by writing to editors who have carried their pieces or threatening legal action. He says, these are at best more sophisticated expression of the strong arm tactics that RW activists are alleged to deploy.

In his Open Magazine atrticle, Rahul Pandita takes on what he calls the “Hate-Modi Industry”.

“The visceral hatred for Modi is making many observers of politics lose their objectivity. In their desperation to see him on his knees, they find meanings where none exist”, he writes.

Pandita goes on to say, “It is okay to be anti- authority, but that should not be only because there is a particular man at the helm of affairs. The idea is to write about the wrong policies of any Government, not to hold meetings on how to bring it down.” Perfectly reasonable position, one would think.

The point here is not the validity of what Joseph or Pandita had to say. But that they felt the need to say so. Their views were met with stunned silence for the most part or muted objections at best. Cetainly none were constested on facts. One may argue that the response was charitable as the criticism came from people of their own ilk or at least those who could not be branded as the rabid Right.

Simulatenously, one notices another trend. Some commentators who were earlier very strongly with the new dispensation are taking a more nuanced view of the Government. They are not shy of criticising the Government on specific issues without losing their objectivity. Some term it as ‘post-purchase dissonance’. I would prefer to call them as the ‘revisionist’ right.

These are very welcome developments at a time when every debate is highly polarised. It is opening up a ground in the middle which will hopefully expand in the coming days for more civilised conversations based on logic rather than innate prejudices.

Sadly, one does not see a similar receptivity on the Left. Their stance if anything is only hardening; they believe Modi Government is showing its slip.

However, clearly, there seems to be fatigue setting in with a binary partisan view of politics. If this mood gains ground, publications and portals – like ABP News that provide a platform to all shades of opinion, while disallowing perverted propaganda, will become more relevant and sought after.

Who know, going forward, the Left intellectuals may actually feel the need to be truly ‘liberal’ by being more accepting (or, at least, less disparaging) of diverse opinions that may not normally pass through the lens of their own worldview?

(Author is a writer and popular blogger on current affairs. His Twitter handle is @SandipGhose)

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