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Questioning Balakot Air Strikes? You're a Traitor: How the Right is Giving Left Taste of Its Own Medicine

Author: Ravi Shanker Kapoor
Publication: News18.com
Date: March 10, 2019
URL:      https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/questioning-balakot-air-strikes-youre-a-traitor-how-the-right-is-giving-left-taste-of-its-own-medicine-2062035.html

It would not be inappropriate to say that the Right is paying the Left back in the same currency. Not long ago, BJP leaders suffered the Left's ad hominem assaults. Every BJP politician was 'communal', 'fascistic'; everything he or she said was 'divisive'.

Left-liberals often — and correctly — blame the Bharatiya Janata Party and its government at the Centre for equating anybody opposed to Hindu nationalism as traitorous, anti-national, despicable, etc. In times when national security takes the centre-stage, as it has in the last few days following Pulwama and Balakot, public discourse gets particularly vitiated with vituperation regularly hurled at intellectuals. This is unfortunate, but it is also true that it is their (intellectuals’) bad karma that has brought them just desserts.

No, this is not blaming the victim; Left-liberals are getting battered by a weapon that they themselves used and popularised with abandon for decades. The technical name of the weapon is argumentum ad hominem, a reprehensible form of argumentation in which attack is on the arguer and not on the argument. It goes like this: A heart specialist, who happens to be an alcoholic, advises his patient to give up drinking. He is criticised on the grounds that since he himself is an alcoholic, his advice cannot be taken seriously. The criticism is invalid: just because the doctor indulges in a vice doesn’t mean that his expert opinion is of no worth.

An illustration of argumentum ad hominem: a minister is accused of corruption; he doesn’t refute the charges hurled at him with facts; instead he alleges that the accuser has an agenda to further; he goes on the cast aspersions on the accuser. Then he says that since the accuser is bad, the allegations made are wrong.

Argumentum ad hominem is universally acknowledged as deeply flawed, fallacious, and nefarious; yet, in public life in our country, it is used by a lot of people. In fact, Left-liberals were the first to use it with devastating effect; they often do it now. A few illustrations: If somebody favors liberalisation and foreign investment, they are accused of being a stooge of big business and multinational corporations; if somebody says that the draconian section 498A be removed as it is unjust and open to abuse, they are denounced for being anti-women, misogynist; if any questions are raised about caste-based reservation, the accusations of anti-Dalit come up, etc.

It would not be inappropriate to say that the Right is paying the Left back in the same currency. Not long ago, BJP leaders suffered the Left’s ad hominem assaults. Every BJP politician was ‘communal,’ fascistic,’ etc.; everything he or she said was ‘divisive,’ ‘bigoted,’ and so on. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, whom intellectuals fondly remember today, were lambasted and lampooned no end. Everything they said or did was trashed. Even on the Shah Bano case, in which the BJP stood for the rights of Muslim women, the saffron party was hauled over the coals for trying to ‘communalise’ the issue. BJP leaders’ statements and positions on various issues were denounced just because these were the statements and positions of ‘communal’ politicians and, therefore, worthy of nothing but denunciation.

Needless to say, argumentum ad hominem has emerged as the bane of political debate and public discourse. A curious blend of self-righteousness and intolerance has forged this weapon. Just like the votaries of Hindutva, Left-liberals were equally, if not more, confident about the correctness of their ideology. To be sure, they still are, but till the fall of communism globally and the economic reforms in India in 1991, for them socialism or communism was the gospel truth.

In that era, communism was not just the Truth, as revealed to Prophet Karl Marx (PBUH), but it was imminent; one-third of the world was already under that ideology; the ‘decadent’ West was about to fall or fail; and the Third World, of which India was part, was inexorably moving towards a Red revolution, in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism. Therefore, from intellectuals’ perspective, those who did not believe in this divinely ordained future were not just in error but also in sin.

In fact, their intolerance emanated from their self-righteousness. Since those who held divergent views were sinful, there was nothing wrong in disparaging and maligning them. After all, the opponents were manifestly malevolent.

Today, the tables have been turned; now the Right is might and the Left has been rendered irrelevant. But the attitudes have remained the same. Those in the ascendant, like their predecessors, refuse to believe that those who hold opposite views may be decent people. Therefore, anybody talking about the high unemployment rate is doing PR for the Congress, anybody seeking proof of the government’s claims on the extent of damage at Balakot is a traitor, and so on. They find nothing wrong in abusing a lady journalist and sending her obscene pictures.

The same cocktail of self-righteousness and intolerance; the hue is different but the toxicity is the same. The more the things change, the more they remain the same.

- (The author is an editor, Power Corridors. Views expressed are personal)
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