The empty middle ground
Polarisation today takes forms vastly different from what it did earlier. In a session titled “The age of extremes: no space for the middle ground”, panellists discussed whether it is not only that no consensus appears possible in the public sphere to craft a centre that holds — but also that the kind of discourse that is playing out in the age of social media is so thick with name-calling that people take fright from nuancing their argument.
Arif Mohammed Khan, former Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi and VP Singh governments, made a case for proportion instead of dismissing the situation today as irretrievable. He urged everyone to go back to history to consider the terrible violence that was visited upon different parts of the world. The media, he suggested, must resist from projecting every adverse development as if it is the first time such a thing has happened. “The essential thing,” he argued, “is the rule of law. There is not a single problem that cannot be solved if we adhere to the application of the law and equality before the law.”
Losing the argument
Shekhar Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-chief of ThePrint, cautioned that the fear of being caught in the crossfire between two extremes could inhibit nuance and fact-based argumentation. Quoting journalist-writer Fareed Zakaria, he said it’s now seen that if you are arguing in nuances, you have already lost the argument.
“Today,” he said, “if you are not in the trenches and want to check facts, you get caught in the crossfire.” He recommended that those keen to safeguard the middle ground and fact-based debate must develop a thick skin: “It’s a question of not choosing to enter any bunker.” But he added that we should not mistake neutrality for the middle ground.
Ashwini Kumar, lawyer, Congress politician, and a Minister in the Manmohan Singh government, however, contended that today public discourse has been severely “debased”.
Saying that “moderation will always be the middle ground”, he pointed out that “it is the job of the leader to give direction”. Polarisation, he suggested, is not sustainable: “Nature shuns extremes.”
The discussion was moderated by Suhasini Haidar, Diplomatic Editor at The Hindu.
Need for dialogue Political leaders Ashwani Kumar (left) and Arif Mohammed Khan (second left), and journalist Shekhar Gupta in conversation with Suhasini Haidar K MURALI KUMAR