The word ‘intolerant’ must be one of the most widely used word in India right now. Every news channel, every newspaper, every website seems to be inundated with this one word. Heck, my Whatsapp has tens of, quite innovative, ‘intolerant India jokes’ now. Unending debates are raging in the internet world and in TV about intolerance and India. Everyone seems to have a view on this matter. But there is not much fruitful discussion happening. Most of the cacophony seems to be pointless reactions, for or against the headline grabbing statements made by some bigwig or the other. This prevailing noise is not only drowning any positive happenings in the country but also making the situation feel far worse than it really is. I mean even if I had never originally read about the incidents like Dadri or heard some of the ‘intolerant speeches’, a browsing session could be enough to convince me that indeed something serious (and dangerous) is going on in my country. And if I can feel like this, I dread to think what impression this could make on someone observing from outside India with much less means to validate the ground reality.
This forced me into thinking if perhaps we are experiencing a self-fulfilling prophecy on this subject. Well, what is a self-fulfilling prophecy? Let me give some examples.
We are always taught to ‘be positive’. Why so? Perhaps this can best be explained by understanding how a placebo works. Your doctor gives you a pill which looks like a medicine but is anything but. You start taking the doses happy that the treatment has started and you will soon be well. This positive thinking starts a positive chain reaction in the body, some physiological but mainly psychological thus speeding up the patient’s recovery. The real benefits of this placebo effect can be debated but it’s no denying that a happy body and mind is a better way to fight your illness than a depressed state. You think you will get well and the chances of you actually doing so increase manifolds.
In football or in cricket, some coaches are known to prefer experienced players over young and unproven ones. They seldom if ever give chance to these players in their teams citing their lack of experience or ‘match practice’. When these players do get a rare opportunity to play in a match they often end up performing badly as they really lack the match fitness, both mental and physical, to perform on the big stage. One bad performance ends up hampering the next opportunity these youngsters will be given to prove themselves again. Thus the coach is self-fulfilling a prophecy about these players.
How does all this apply to the debate on intolerance?
Recently two of the biggest stars of Indian cinema have made public their views on the rise of intolerance in the country. Let’s not get into what actually made Shahrukh Khan say on intolerance what he did. Nor what has scared Mrs Aamir Khan so much that she wants to pack her bags and leave India for ever. Irrespective of whether India is becoming a more intolerant nation or has always been, these statements has made it just that bit more intolerant than it was before his interview. And this is true for proclamations coming from any other celebrity or for that matter the ‘award wapsi’ campaign which has been running in the last few months.
Every word or action from a well-known public figure is only ending up adding fuel to the fire of intolerance. The millions of fans and critics alike which these stars attract, means that a full blown war of words breaks out between these two sets. Human nature dictates that we are much more likely to overtly criticize a person and bring him down than to lend support. And this often results in the loudest noises coming from those who are either prejudiced against the celebrity personally or against his views on this topic. Anyway in the world of Twitters there seems to be no policing or regulations in place. Here we can get away with words and opinions which if otherwise used in the real world would be enough to start a brawl, attract legal notice or get oneself socially ostracized. This freedom is expectedly misused and otherwise perfectly normal human beings end up spitting venom all over the internet. From suggesting Aamir’s family to leave for Pakistan and actually offering them tickets to declaring the same fate for all Muslims to using such expletives which cannot be reproduced here, the reaction from the hate brigade is as bad if not worse than what the original source of distress would have been for the statement. Not to say, the vitriol from the other side of the argument is also as bad if only a tad less in quantity. An atmosphere of mutual hatred is furthered.
And it is not just the general public which gets sucked into this trap. The intelligentsia of the country, participating through its tweets, blogs and TRP driven endless TV debates, invariably adds its share to the supposedly ‘degrading situation’. Here the prejudice is largely in favour of the celebrity. The intellectuals typically tend to lean left and so are always waiting for any opportunity to prove their ‘secular’ credentials even at the expense of actually ending up poisoning the atmosphere themselves.
On the streets meanwhile effigies start burning, B-grade politicians who may not necessarily represent the view of the incumbent government and self-proclaimed guardians of ‘national interests’ respond with even more inflammatory speeches, hooligans start creating ruckus at theatres if a movie star was involved or at an art gallery if it was a renowned painter. This all of course gets its own media coverage, usually in prime time and front pages and it almost feels the country is on the verge of a genocide where Boko Haram type groups are roaming around killing people of other religions with abandon.
There is another much more severe consequence to this. For businesses and corporates, regional stability is a very important factor when deciding where to put their money in. No surprises then that no corporate will right now invest in Syria or Yemen. While situation in India is nowhere nearly as bad the image of the country as a favourable investment destination is definitely taking a hit with the constant media barrage on intolerant India. It does not help when Moody’s starts ‘advising’ the Indian Prime Minister on growing intolerance and how it can affect India’s credibility.
Apart from direct investments, it also affects other avenues of earnings and employment for the country. For example consider a foreign national who wants to visit India and does some online research before making his decision. When he comes across the news that one of India’s stars of Bollywood is contemplating moving out of the county due to the prevailing atmosphere in the country, it is very likely that he would not go ahead with his plans. Ironically here, Mr. Aamir Khan is definitely playing his part in turning Incredible India into Intolerant India.
This advertisement of spiralling fear and hatred in the country by our very own stars, intentionally or not, is going to have long-term impact on the economic future of the country. And this definitely is not what we want. We have to understand that an intolerant India is also a poor India, an undernourished India, an unfulfilled India. Let’s be frank, it’s much harder to incite a well-fed, employed person into hate-mongering in the name of religion (or anything for that matter) than an unemployed, hungry man who is looking for something or someone to vent his frustrations on. As the PM has rightly said on a few occasions, Hindus and Muslims should be fighting poverty and not each other. To fight poverty we need jobs, we need investments and we need overall development.
The good news is we have a very good opportunity to achieve just this and much more. A perennial underachiever and an eternal ‘developing nation’, India is at a threshold. After decades of coalition bounded governments we have elected a regime with a strong mandate. The Lok Sabha elections were by and large fought and won on the promise of reforms and economic progress and whatever the other short comings of the government and Prime Minister, it cannot be denied that they are trying hard on this front. Corruption, the bane of our country has not weighed down this government and hopefully will not. Every politician, willingly or not, is at least talking about development. Be it the ads about ‘Akhilesh Yadav ka yuva netatrava’ on FM radio or ‘Rajasthan hai taiyar’ campaign on TV, from Telangana’s K. Chandrashekar Rao to Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, everyone is competing to market their states to potential investors. The results are starting to show. India’s ranking on ‘ease of doing businesses’ improved by 12 places (albeit later re-adjusted to 4) this year as per World Bank report. Amidst global terror and economic crisis, India is being cited as the beacon of hope by world economists and leaders alike.
Let us not blow away this chance and definitely not by a wholly avoidable matter. Irresponsible celebrity statements, overhyped media coverage of the same and relentless public reaction that follows create a vicious atmosphere which has the potential to derail the India story. There are other positive ways to express one’s concern. A private but stern conversation with the government should not be beyond the reach of someone like Aamir Khan. Producing a movie which showcases religious solidarity or social harmony in a typical Bollywood masala style would be the most effective way of combating fanaticism. It would get the message across without tarnishing the country’s image.
The who’s who of our country should be really careful when they make public their negative feelings about the state of the nation. They are inadvertently setting in motion the forces which will ultimately make India a more intolerant place.