Sriram Karri | Left, right, left: Contradictions expose ideological confusion

Let us start with a joke in a classic format — a Carnatic musician, a mobile app food delivery boy and a social media-savvy godman walk into a bar… And hell erupts.

The Carnatic musician in the middle of a stormy controversy, almost his permanent address, is T. M. Krishna: a Brahmin by birth, winner of the Magsaysay award, perpetual rebel, both an icon and an iconoclast, he combines a peerless artistic genius as a Carnatic vocalist, and is an incessantly mutinous voice, at war with the elitist, Brahmanical, Madras Carnatic music establishment.

The Music Academy chose to bestow on him the title of ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’, which brought out the prospect of him finally performing at the famous annual conference, which he has boycotted for years. Immediately, several musicians, led by Ranjani and Gayatri, and the Trichur Brothers, who acknowledge his art but scoff his politics, and disagree with his stances against the establishment of Carnatic devotional music, its rigid commitment to puritan discipline, wrote to the Academy expressing their inability to perform at this conference anymore.

This is where the public debate went all wrong. Some of the underlying themes are centuries old — should you love the art and ignore the artist? Should the moral conduct of an artist colour our critique of the art? What do you do with an artist whose art you love but disagree with the politics of?

The answer, and an extraordinary insight, was nakedly staring the nation in its face but we ignored it — it missed us in the midst of an anxiety with alacrity to publicly declare our own stance, to side with one and attack another.

It was the stance taken by the Academy — whose politics Krishna derided and fought, which decided to honour him. The Academy is surely unlikely to be in agreement with Krishna’s views on Periyar Ramaswamy, or M.S. Subbalakshmi has chosen to honour his art. This is the biggest insight for us all — honour thy critic.

These days, no one, honours their critic. It is against the spirit of our age, an anathema to our zeitgeist. The badges of honour for critics in our time are trolling, abuse, cancellation, attacks, arrests, cases, and organised hatred. We as a nation missed the extraordinary gesture of the Academy of not only engaging but offering to honour a critic, a bitter, strong critic of the institution.

The debate, paradoxically, had the Left liberal supporters of Krishna flay the cancellation — notwithstanding the glorious history of the Leftists as the fountainhead of the cancellation culture. The right wingers, who sensed a larger BJP-DMK political faceoff in these ideological sparring, turned ‘award wapasi’ gang and the cancellation supporters. No one was bothered by the contradiction in methods. Oh, how quickly the tables turn.

Around the same time, in the mobile app-based food delivery world, Zomato was cooking up a storm — ‘pure’ vegetarian food delivery as a service. It raised a far bigger furore, what with apparently more people tending to eat food than listening to carnatic music factoid and all. Champions of pronouns launched a war on the adjective. Staunch advocates of He/Him and She/Her could not stand pure being attached to vegetarianism.

Like musician Krishna, the war against Zomato’s idea was to attack Brahmanism. Again, paradoxically, those who would normally rush to defend the ‘food freedom’ of people, choose to pan the right of people to eat anything they want — including ‘pure’ vegetarian food from restaurants of their choice. After all, anyone could opt for the service — universally.

The public debate again quickly became bitter, political, and almost instantly, mindless too. One way in which we can all analyse our honesty in public discourse, to eliminate contradictions and hypocrisy, is to initiate an ‘alternate fact check’. Would you condemn an incident, a trend, even if the identity of the players gets changed?

Do you condemn a lynching? A violent crime? A public shooting? A rape? Or do you take a stance after verifying the identity of the victim and perpetrator? Do you launch a tirade or go silent based on the identity of a criminal? Does it sound like a lesser crime to you if the perpetrator shares your identity, or political world view?

For example, would you object to someone seeking to order kosher or halal meat-based food orders?, and not wishing to order to eat from any other kind of restaurant?

Truth is neither the intrinsic value of any creation getting reduced, nor the gruesomeness of crime augment based on either identity or political worldview of its creator, or perpetrator. But your contradictions reduce you to a hypocritical, opportunist, mean, weak scumbag of a citizen when you change your judgment based on if the author votes like you, or a criminal worships just like you, or not.

In the last fortnight, we witnessed a third incident, which too shared its undercurrents, with the above two — a similar mesh of overlapping tensions was unleashed — discussions unleashed were marked by similar outbursts of collective schadenfreude, or collective rationalising.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev went to hospital for surgery for an emergency treatment, provoking people to call him out for hypocrisy, arguing that since he had advocated ayurveda or naturopathy for people, he should not have gone for an ‘allopathic’ surgery. Interestingly, those who supported the godman on social media argued that there were no contradictions here, that it was never either-or; there was always a case for allopathic medicine plus alternate medicine where applicable, whereas his critics, almost invariably those who disagree with his ideology, argued that he had “lost his right” to go for treatment.

All three incidents put together beget larger questions for us as a nation. Do we believe in rights for all at all, or just rights for those who support our point of view? Like a licence. Do we believe in any absolute right or wrong, or do we merely conveniently shift all views based on dramatis personae involved in the case?

If the answer is that most of us can justify the wrong done by our party, our leader, our brethren in caste or religion, by someone who we like or agree with, then we have lost all judgment. Because in any public debate, it is seldom about the issue; and almost always about you… and you, and I, are as Indians today, hypocrites.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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