India, or at least parts of it, is going through a weird phase of fetishized nationalism and knee-jerk rejectionism. The divide is between those who profess unquestioning nationalism and are staunch supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and those who castigate everything and are virulently antagonistic to the prime minister.
Social media seem neatly divided between those who insist Modi can do no wrong and those who assert that he can do no right. I use Modi not only as a person but more as a metaphor that represents a certain type of resurgent Indian thinking.
A subset to this rigid posturing on both sides is the shrill debate over whether India has become more intolerant with the rise of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and his Hinduist affiliates.Both sides come across as sanctimonious and self-righteous. The simple fact is that if India is intolerant now, it was always that way. And if it is tolerant now, it was always that way. India has not fundamentally changed but the articulators of its core have.
It is absurd to think that a nation of 1.25 billion people, which is home to six world religions, can be treated with monolithic certitudes. Purely in terms of its demographic heft and diversity you can create about a dozen separate countries out of India. With that being the case, how does anyone say anything with such finality? I used to occasionally get into exchanges over such perpetually acrimonious themes on Facebook but I have completely given it up because they are increasingly ill-informed and devoid of any reasonableness. Semi-literate fools brandish opinions as knowledge.
Dissenting the nearly doctrinaire position on either side of the divide now has become a lazy synonym for bigotry and treason. One is either bigoted or treasonous. There are no shades left at all in the national color palette. It is best to be on the sidelines and watch the current spectacle of idiocy run its course. What we have now are echo chambers where like-minded people get together and keep repeating each other’s ideas and positions in the smug assurance of the righteousness of their respective positions.
It is amazing how much the debate in India mirrors what one hears here in America. People just assault one another with their certitudes engendered by their religious and cultural conditioning.
The best option for now is to pursue interests that lie well outside the ordinary realm. For instance, tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein publishing his gravitational field equations of general relativity. To mark that I am introducing an occasional cartoon strip called ‘Strip Tease.’ Here is the first one. I have had to change the orientation and split it to make the text legible here.