ANIL PAD­MAN­AB­HAN

THE SHRINK­ING SPACE FOR DI­A­LOGUE

Mint Asia ST - - Myview -

Last week, Gauri Lankesh, jour­nal­ist, pub­lisher and ac­tivist was bru­tally gunned down by un­known as­sailants at her home in Bengaluru.

On the same day, co­in­ci­den­tally, Rakesh Ran­jan Ya­dav, son of Manorama Devi, sus­pended Janata Dal (United) MLA in the Bi­har as­sem­bly, was con­victed by a lower court for shoot­ing dead a teenager Aditya Sachdeva in a road rage in­ci­dent in Gaya.

One is cause for de­spair and the other for hope that our le­gal sys­tem de­liv­ers jus­tice and, in this in­stance, on time.

More im­por­tantly though, both tragedies point to a grow­ing malaise of In­dian democ­racy: the shrink­ing space for di­a­logue.

In­di­ans, as a na­tion, stopped lis­ten­ing to each other some time ago; now we have launched fur­ther down the path of slip­pery de­struc­tion of democ­racy, killing those who dis­agree with us or as they say en­force the maxim of ‘my way or the highway.

And iron­i­cally this is hap­pen­ing in the 70th year of the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence—the mile­stone is no mean achieve­ment, given that other coun­tries have failed where India has suc­ceeded.

Whether it be na­tional spa­ces like Par­lia­ment (where pique and less of na­tional in­ter­est drives po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions), high­ways and city roads (in­creas­ing in­ci­dents of road rage) or ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions (where the ecosys­tem for di­a­logue, a ba­sic cri­te­rion for aca­demic ex­cel­lence, has been re­placed by a mind­less cy­cle of bi­nary ex­changes), the di­vide is most ap­par­ent (and of course it is nowhere most man­i­fest than with the bel­liger­ent talk­ing heads on news pro­grammes).

A regime change in New Delhi, es­pe­cially with a new gov­ern­ment de­ter­mined to pur­sue struc­tural change, has only ex­ac­er­bated an al­ready ex­ist­ing prob­lem. In our per­sonal space, es­pe­cially so­cial me­dia (as I of­ten see on my time­line on Face­book), the spew­ing of hate, by both lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives, is de­press­ing and a trag­i­cal reaf­fir­ma­tion of the new bi­nary con­tours of

It is time for us as a na­tion to start lis­ten­ing to each other to re­gain our demo­cratic space

na­tional dis­course.

This col­umn has, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, flagged the per­ils of a bi­nary dis­course (bit.ly/2vy5bcd). The rash of re­cent in­ci­dents—some which have not even got play in the na­tional me­dia—sug­gest that India may have reached a tip­ping point. This is in­deed a mo­ment of reck­on­ing and clearly it is not just politi­cians, but other in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing me­dia, ju­di­ciary and so on, and the peo­ple at large too have to step up to the plate. As the cliche goes, it is bet­ter late than never.

But where could we pos­si­bly be­gin? The clue lies in the sim­ple mes­sage from David Bohm, a physi­cist (a mes­sage pre­vi­ously re­peated by this col­umn). About five decades ago he pre­sciently pointed out, at a time when tele­vi­sion was emerg­ing as the pri­mary en­ter­tain­ment medium, that peo­ple had stopped lis­ten­ing to each other. Fact is that if

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