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food for thought

‘It is the multiplicity of ideas and human expression that makes us more vibrant as a society,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on Thursday. This is a remarkable statement that makes a lot of sense in the context of societal discords ragging the nation in recent times even as he said so on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day while championing media freedom. What is multiplicity of ideas? It is ideas in their diverse forms – in disagreement – that nevertheless hold the promise of confluence. That is, ideas may be diverse and contradictory – often apparently irresolvable – but that may find a common ground for the common advancement of society. It is more like a ‘common minimum programme’ as is practised nowadays in coalition politics. But politics is one thing, the complexity of a diverse society quite another.
What are in jeopardy today are discussion and deliberation, consensus, and common societal movement for the greatest good of the greatest number. Characterized by senseless violence of myriad shades – communal, casteist, terrorist brand, sexual, and psychological – Indian society today stands at a crossroad as a fragile entity. Diversity is deemed as the essence of diverse groups to stand apart clinging to their stands that cannot be compromised just because they must appear different or unique. The victim is common ground. One religion is pitted against another, upper castes refuse to accommodate lower-castes interests (especially Dalits), terrorism is religion-driven (especially Islamist terrorism of the ISIS kind), gender biases continue unimpeded, and varied political interests based on ethnicity are at war with each other. The nation stands weak and floundering. And the Northeast is not an exception, given its puzzling diversity.
Just ponder: Even if we have differences and are obstinate to stand as unique groups, and even as we take pride in us being different that we are not prepared to compromise at any cost, how is it that we have forgotten the course of human civilization that has moved on despite differences only because some common grounds have been evolved over the years so that hate, malice and violence are defeated, and sense prevails? Had it not been for this sense, India, with its bewildering diversity, would have fallen apart just after Independence. Why not pause for a while, forget our differences, and apply the faculty of reason to move ahead with a common minimum societal programme for the benefit of one and all? Is it so difficult even as we call ourselves ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ in the 21st-century world?