“Jab dil bhara ho aur dimaag khaali ho, toh charchey mein ruchi kaise aayegi” (When your heart is heavy and mind is blank, how will you have the appetite to engage in discourse?”). That was the crux of the evening well-spent under the aegis of Arun Shourie and eminent panelists. If you were plain unlucky to have missed the discussion on Shourie’s books at Indian Habitat Centre, I can lend you what I have gathered:
Indian democracy needs to be ‘spirited’. It needs to have the vigor and vivacity to get the momentum going.
Free speech is democracy’s consummate partner, but not ‘frank’ speech. Elaborating on the need for encouraging frank speech, Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggested that politically correct statements muffle the genuine voice and suppress truth. We need to be told what we ought to know and not what we would love to know. Only free speech can’t dust ambiguity from democracy’s fabric. Someone had rightly coined the term ‘political spine’ to assert the need for gumption on the leaders’ part to speak their mind regardless of ideology supported and position held.
In democracy, political leaders must bear the burden of justifying their stance. Indian polity has been about fast-changing dynamics where leaders shuttle from one affiliation to another, and this is where public needs to be informed. Every major shift in policies and views should be substantiated with facts.
Bureaucracy should emit good faith and credibility. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, we often bump into intelligent analyses and logical discourse when fine minds huddle together. However, the outcome of those discussions seldom sees the light of the day. Lack of credibility stands tall between ideas and their implementations. Why should Dalits trust us? Why is not a single political leader seen protesting Khap Panchayat’s (caste council) dictum? Pratap Bhanu Mehta also asked other aligned questions. He has a point. These are manifestations of authority-erosion among top echelons of Indian polity.
This brings to us a frequently ignored facet of democracy- gross disconnect between public and public servants. Politicians are far from understanding the root of malaise. They don’t seek reason behind people with heavy hearts. No diligence is seen in getting to know why they are doing what they are doing? True democracy realizes the inherent and political apprehensions shaping outlook and conclusions of billions. It’s democracy’s duty to evolve a healthy discourse to counter straight-jacketed views born of pandering to opinion leaders.
According to Arun Shourie, media have also made the water brackish. Instead of purging the political environment and holding a mirror to the on-goings, media agreed to be led by vested interests. Regretting the fact that news channels are losing a sense of proportion, Shourie added that sound bytes have degenerated public discourse. The fast-paced frenzy and breaking news psychosis are doing no good to the profession and its practitioners.
The tall claims flashed by news channels are often based on surface knowledge leaving vacuity unattended. Shourie felt, media should devote more time to fact-finding mission, look into the still water and be probing in its approach.
Taking a dig at vandalism and mob mentality, Shourie recollected attacks hurled at him on several occasions as protests over his books. Borrowing BJP leader L.K. Advani’s words, “The answer to a book is an even better book”, Shourie wished some sections of Indian populace learn to voice protest in a more civil way and not by rising up in arms.