It’s a bit strange, the number of seemingly intelligent people who expect a television programme like the film star Aamir Khan-hosted Satyamev Jayate to solve all India’s problems. Actually, I’m sure they’re intelligent enough to know that the programme can’t do any such thing but they just find the lack of solution a strong enough stick to beat it with.
It is this belief in the extremes which seems to colour our public discourse at the moment. According to anti-corruption activists, the Jan Lokpal bill as prepared by Team Anna Hazare will end corruption. According to our chattering classes, Shah Rukh Khan has committed a cardinal sin by fighting with a security guard which should be punishable by social ostracisation if not death. According to our cricket puritans, the IPL is the end of the cricket and is also the repository of all social ills. According to our media, Bollywood must be our only form of popular culture. According to the Mumbai police, all young people who go to parties are morally reprehensible, most likely to be sex workers, drug dealers or both.
We are skating from one apparently impenetrable certainty to the next and have eliminated all the middle ground.
If, for instance, you do not like the methods and policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party then according to the Internet, you are an unpatriotic, sexually deviant, corrupt admirer of the unspeakably evil Congress Party and its president, the Machiavellian Sonia Gandhi who spends all her time pretending to have cancer but is in fact running abroad to bank all the money she has collected in her mattress. As for her son, the less said the better.
There is no way you can just be a person who is uncomfortable with Hindutva and gets an allergic reaction when you see Ravi Shankar Prasad on TV. And if you are a BJP-disliker, that automatically makes you a Congress-lover. There may be millions of political parties in India but there is only one or the other in the public sphere.
Yet surely most of us live in the middle space. We have strong opinions about some matters and not about others. We muddle our way through as we sift through the facts, other people’s ideas and our own convictions. We may even change these at times. Murder for instance is usually bad, but soldiers are good even if they do kill people for a living. When you do it for your country, it is not murder. It is patriotism. And so we live with contradictions and understand why they exist.
But in the public space, we see no shades of grey. The number of people who have railed against the IPL is quite remarkable, especially as it doesn’t match the number of people who watch it. Yet the same anger is not expressed towards Bollywood, which I personally find is often a travesty of the cinematic art. I know I am in a minority since 1.2 billion people (minus one) love it, so I just choose not to watch it. But I balk at labelling all its fans as idiots because they do not agree with me.
It is interesting though that events and trends often make our strongest opinions irrelevant. There was a lot of anger directed at climate change proponents a few years ago. But empirical evidence about the effects of pollution and personal experiences of extreme weather conditions seem to have muted the army of anti-global warming commentators. Better to switch to CFL bulbs in case all the climate change nutters are right and so hedge your bets by hanging on to the SUV.
I suppose there’s a solution for me too — stop watching our TV “thinkers and yellers” and be more discerning on the Internet. Peace in our times? Why not?
As for Aamir Khan, guess he just has to keep at it too!
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona