The empty mid­dle ground

The Hindu Business Line - - THE HUDDLE - MINI KAPOOR

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

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