Imagine this — it is February 2016, you are sitting in a suit with a blank paper in front of you and this is your WAT topic ringing in your ears; it is that period before you put pen to paper, your thoughts are still gathering themselves into a point of view.
The topics be it for GD or WAT are usually framed this way — a quirky turn of phrase, an either-or scenario, a proverb, a proverb twisted to refer to a recent event.
Given the amount of dust that the stomping hooves of the new government and its detractors have kicked up, there is a high probability that WAT-GD topics this year will revolve around the myriad issues that have been fought bitterly over.
This post is my take on what has transpired since the new government/dispensation took over the reins of the country.
Starting with a ban instead of a bang
While people who voted them to power were expecting what are usually termed as “big-bang” reforms”, the new BJP-led governments both at centre and state-level started off with bans be it the attempted porn ban or the accomplished beef ban in Maharashtra.
The obvious question that deserves an answer — how is this related to development? Throughout the election campaign the one theme, the one slogan was development. So much was this word bandied about that the PM should have taken on Vikas as his middle name! Even now the standard response to any controversy is that the party is all about development and vikas.
Even if we accept that vikas and reforms take time, that they need support from the opposition for legislation and that at a micro-level they are happening but make for unglamorous headlines, were the bans a part of the election manifesto or promise?
If these were going to be carried out the moment the government came to power, which means that they were high up on the agenda, the same should have been shouted out at election rallies.
Alternatively if development was the agenda then should not every legislation of the government be evaluated against whether it will lead to development be it economic development or development as defined by the HDI index?
A blinkered view of development
While the beef ban might seem to be a non-issue (a thing that primarily affects Malayalees living in Mumbai) it has wider implications.
When we talk about development we talk about opening of various sectors, lowering the FDI caps, we talk about becoming an investment great destination and so on and so forth.
So how does it makes sense to pass a legislation that ensures that financial capital of India and the home to biggest Indian stock exchange will never be able serve a steak to the same investors we are trying to attract!
So on one hand we want to reform our policies and build our infrastructure in the mirror image of the developed world and the same time we want go back to our ancient mythical past.
Just like the cow is most sacred to us and part of our myths, the first thing that happens after a victory in any of the minor scenarios in western myths like the Iliad or the Odyssey is a sacrifice of a bovine, an offering to the gods, followed by eating of the same with wine.
Now how do we welcome them and at the same time refuse to be hospitable to them by not offering them their main choice of food. Do we not believe in athithi devobhava? If cattle is what they sacrifice to their gods, then should we not be giving it to them as well?
We cannot have it both ways. One leg in the past and one leg in the future. One leg across the ocean and one leg deep in our own hinterland.
It naive to imagine in today’s highly interconnected world that a magical sieve exists — a sieve through we can selectively filter in what we want to come in to the country and what we want to keep out.
Can development happen without a commitment to excellence in every sphere?
One of the acknowledged reasons for the tremendous success and clout of the United States is the huge cultural capital and soft power it enjoys in the rest of the world through its media and entertainment industries.
We marvel at an Interstellar, we wait for the release of every Marvel comic made into a movie, we love their fantasy literature and the TV series versions of it such as the Game Of Thrones (I am very well aware that the ‘we’ refers to a very small fraction of India but it is the fraction from which we expect to earn our great demographic dividend)
What I am trying to get at is that shouldn’t we be committed to producing excellence not just in manufacturing or IT but across all fields?
In this light does the appointment of Gajendra Chahuan as the director of FTII make any sense at all? Don’t credentials have no say in the matter?
Doesn’t the premier film institute in the country whose alumni are an integral part of both our commercial and art-house cinema — Raju Hirani, Subhash Ghai, Naseeruddin Shah, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the list is endless — and where Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak once taught deserve better than this?
The appointment like other selections actually reflects two things
- The fact that affiliation and not quality has become the main criteria not just in such positions but even within the party where even people with credentialed veterans like Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie are sidelined
- The fact that the party does not have any support from the intellectual elite.
Even so one cannot just believe that Gajendra Chauhan was the best they could find.
If we should select the best candidate to run the country and our companies should do the same, should it not be the same with our institutions as well?
All of us who have not studied at IITs or even NITs, do we not feel like studying at prestigious national-level institutions such as the IIMs because for once we want to be inspired by great teachers instead of teachers who provided the best raw material for jokes to be cracked at? Do we not want directors with a vision instead of guys who just turn up on Annual Day to put a medal around our necks.
The unfortunate part in the whole FTII debate was a tendency to shoot the messenger instead of debating the message.
Not once did anyone from the government come out and say this is the best candidate for the job. The whole strategy was to show how the students were rowdy elements (they did not exactly cover themselves in glory with some of their actions) overstaying on campus.
A classic case of the Critical Reasoning fallacy, Ad Hominem — instead of attacking the argument, attack the person!
This segues well into the next big controversy — tolerance versus intolerance.
Has the sword become mightier than the pen?
Well it started with writer Perumal Murugan, deciding to give up writing in the aftermath of the harassment he faced for his writings. In hindsight what Perumal Murugan actions seem prescient, considering what happened with the other two writers, Kalburgi and Pansare.
How is this different from progressive bloggers and publishers being killed by the religious fringe in our neighbouring country to the right?
Can we proudly say after these open murders that we uphold Tagores’s words — where the mind is without fear? And what was their crime — they questioned and debated.
Add to this fringe elements within the party and random right-wing organizations not necessarily affiliated to the party making incendiary statements and lynching people for alleged cow slaughter. If the cow slaughter did happen shouldn’t the police arrest them and shouldn’t the law take its course?
A few of these incidents have happened in parts of the country where the BJP is in power and a few where they are not but can we deny that the atmosphere in the country is not really one where people can question, debate and express their views?
Not everyone is going to stand up and question, only a few will, and if they can and will be silenced and we are told that all is well, then we might as well get down on all fours and start chewing on grass.
Know your consumer
The current government is thought to be pro-business and the PM’s election campaign was in itself a massive marketing success. But once they came to power they seem to have forgotten crucial tenets of marketing — who is your customer, who is your target audience?
The BJP got a massive mandate in the election. Does this mean that the large section of people who voted for it are those who are on the right, support the bans and want a majoritarian state?
The BJP’s core support group is not large enough to get them such a sweeping mandate. This mandate was possible because people who are neither right nor left but just want good governance voted for the BJP and the PM with a great deal of hope in them and a great deal of frustration with the previous regime.
A majority of the people who voted for the BJP wanted and want just one thing, the very thing that was promised — development.
But the core supporters, party workers, feet on the ground (of whom the PM was once a part) and the institution from which the party cadre spring are not interested solely in development. The party should not make the mistake of catering to only that part of the electorate that voted for it.
Vajpayee was a statesman who had the stature to keep all the fringe elements and the Sangh at bay and not let them extract their pound of flesh. Unfortunately the PM is not cut from the same cloth.
Somehow it seems like the government has taken a bet — if they eventually deliver development then all else will be forgiven and forgotten.
If they focus solely on delivering what they promised this government can without a doubt get three terms in a row otherwise it might all unravel sooner than expected and the sweeping majority will look like it happened in another era.
It is not about the outcome but about the process
One of the main things about a debate or a discussion is that it is not about winning or losing or getting your way. It is not about browbeating your fellow participants into submission.
A WAT or a GD is never about your final opinion but about
- the width of the arguments you put forth
- the depth to which you discuss an argument
- the way you discuss it
- the way you formulate it
- the way you re-assess it
Also while the topics might be framed in an either-or format (which is more for effect) there is very rarely a clear cut-case for one or the other.
The question in this title too is a rhetorical one, no one can argue that ache din gaye, because the days under the UPA were nothing to celebrate, but it is debatable whether acche din have arrived!
The idea of this post was to just show how to build an argument and how to really open an issue by taking a scalpel to it and making the right incisions.
Some of the things I have touched upon are actually part of detailed articles. I did not leave a link in the text so that your reading is not broken.
- Well it started with writer Perumal Murugan
- The party does not have any support from the intellectual elite
- If they do not manage to get the fringe elements under control
- to keep all these elements at bay and not let them extract their pound of flesh
- Unfortunately the PM is not cut from the same cloth
All of the articles are from CARAVAN magazine, whose managing editor, I can proudly say, is a batchmate of mine from IIM-L. Go through all of them since unlike Math and Verbal there are no shortcuts when it comes to WAT & GD.
In the next post I will outline a plan for what topics you should read up on and how you should go about preparing for WAT and GDs.
Hope this was a good warm-up!