The argumentative Indian

It is all very good to argue and be argumentative. But a lot of what we argue about, especially on digital forums and social media, comes from half-baked news and information and an appalling lack of interest in reading fully about something, by going beyond Google. How many of us can claim to be reasonably well-read on history, culture, law or religion — some of the topics that are causing so much angst? And because we do not know enough — the arguments begin and end with abusing a person, questioning their motives, religion, anything but that person’s stand or the issue. This is hardly a debate — it is just digital vitriol.

The book launch of TN Ninan’s The Turn of the Tortoise. Arun Shourie (left) got the most laughs because he took the government apart with a rustic manner that is very becoming. Pic/Twitter
The book launch of TN Ninan’s The Turn of the Tortoise. Arun Shourie (left) got the most laughs because he took the government apart with a rustic manner that is very becoming. Pic/Twitter

Is this what the world’s largest democracy has come to — a nation of ill-read, defensive netizens not willing to hear a different point of view and supporting physical assault on anyone with another? The thought struck me with poignant strength last week.

This was at the book launch of TN Ninan’s The Turn of the Tortoise. The book is a look at how the Indian economy could do in the coming decade based on a whole lot of data — past and present. Ninan, chairman of Business Standard, is one of the country finest minds on business, economics and finance and has edited some of its top financial publications. The panellists were — Arvind Subramanian, chief economic advisor; Government of India, former minister Arun Shourie and ex-diplomat Shyam Saran. Each of them spoke very well, made some excellent points about the state of the Indian economy, where it is headed and contextualised it against Ninan’s book, which they had read. Shourie got the most laughs because he took the government apart with a rustic manner that is very becoming.

This took things away from the book, but I assumed that the anchor, Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV, would pull it back. But Jain, who is generally a serious sort of reporter, couldn’t stop himself from going back to Shourie over every issue. That is what TV does to you, I suppose; makes you look for a headline, a controversy, every minute.

We came out of the discussion feeling pretty enriched by the points all those on stage had made and I looked at my phone. When I had entered the hall, I had tweeted, “At launch of TN Ninan’s Turn of the Tortoise. Panel: Arun Shourie, Shyam Saran, Arvind Subramanian & Sreenivasan Jain. Manmohan in audience.” The first response that had come in to this was “In other words, all Hindu n modi haters in one place!”

What the discussion had to do with Modi haters or lovers is beyond me — because the chief economic adviser to the Modi government was there and spoke well. But just like the response to my tweet, what appeared in the newspapers and social media the next day, was Shourie and his comments about the current government. What most journalists who reported on it did not mention was that Shourie also cautioned the media to examine facts, question promises and follow up on announcements of projects and what had happened to them. He tore apart several of the government’s announcements or claims simply by stating his own facts. But much of this was not reported. The next day Shourie was trending on Twitter and getting lambasted too.

Much of the negativity on social media usually comes from ill-read people with ill-informed opinions, and it was on display that day. And the lack of clarity, in media, on what was said, added to it. A few people did attach a video of the discussion but I am not sure how many saw it. It is so easy to ‘dismiss’, ‘hate’ or ‘dislike’ if you know little.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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