In the last decade a word, never before used with reference to Indian politics, has become its staple description: polarisation. It was introduced by the Congress party along with another term, ‘echo chamber’. The BJP countered this with ‘ecosystem’, meaning the Congress sympathisers. Mind bogglingly stupid polarisation is the result.

The Cambridge dictionary defines polarisation as “the act of dividing’ something, especially something that contains different people or opinions, into two completely opposing groups”.

So Indian politics today is divided between those who are right wingers even if they aren’t. Those who oppose the right are left wingers even if they aren’t. This is because Left and Right aren’t defined.

But in India these terms have become an approximate code for pro- or anti-Muslim. Indeed, many don’t even know the difference between a religion and its practitioners.

Within that Left-Right division is a subdivision: liberal and illiberal. A right winger is illiberal and a left winger is liberal even though the evidence doesn’t support this categorisation.

And this is where we run into what I call the ‘paradoxes of polarisation’. It affects the intellectual class most, on both sides.

The biggest paradox is that liberals on both sides have become completely illiberal, closing their minds totally to any view other than theirs. Facts, or other peoples’ informed opinions, don’t matter to them. The driving force is pure prejudice uninformed by even the slightest modicum of fairness.

It’s like the Black Panthers formula: “if you believe in the solution join us; if you’re the problem ‘we will take care of you’.”

All these people are otherwise highly intelligent and well educated. But they believe that a view is correct merely because it’s they who hold it. The Latin expression for this is ipse dixit which means “because I say so”.

This has left no room either for reasoning or facts or contexts. It has therefore led to everything being judged and condemned on the basis of who is doing or saying it, not what is being done or said. It has also led to another new term: whataboutery. Everyone counters everything by saying “but what about that?” I must admit I too am guilty of this because it’s an easy and lazy way of weakening an argument. It’s very effective because it takes the moral sheen of polarised criticism.

What’s more X, formerly Twitter, has allowed everyone to contest everything without reference to context. The opposite of this is ignoring context altogether. Everyone is guilty of this. The IT cells of political parties are revelling in it.

The paradoxes

This sort of implacable opposition to each other has resulted in many paradoxes. The Oxford dictionary defines a paradox as “a situation, or statement, with two or more parts that seem strange or impossible together.” (This is different from a mathematical paradox.)

Some in-your-face paradoxes are given below. They provide stark examples of suspended judgment.

The Left and Right

For the Left, for instance, the application of laws that were introduced by governments supported by it amounts to suppression of dissent. Basically, the Left keeps saying that laws must be applied only with its approval.

The Right, which when out of power thinks governments should not be in business, supports the public sector when a government supported by it props it up with taxpayer money.

The Left, which thinks the Right is undemocratic, sees nothing wrong with dynastic political parties which, while waxing eloquently on the virtues of democracy, murder it in their own parties and for the citizens as well when they are in power.

The Right, which says caste politics is bad for the country, sees nothing wrong in espousing unrestrained communal politics; and the Left, which believes that caste politics is an abomination, indulges in it enthusiastically.

Even the media is guilty. There are editors and publishers who demand free speech but only for themselves. TV channels, X and YouTube are full of these Januses. Taboo topics are only for others. The right to call opponents names is ok if you do it but is utterly horrible when the other side does it.

Likewise, as long as the courts give judgments that you approve of, they are independent. But if they don’t, they are either government pets or completely divorced from Indian realities.

Exactly the same is true in respect of what we call, wrongly in my view, institutions. A government department is not and cannot be an institution. TT Krishnamachari who described the RBI as such was absolutely right.

I can go on and on but the point is clear. Polarisation of intellect has resulted in the Left and the Right converging in their follies. What worse fate can befall a society?

I am reminded of a 1962 song by Kishore Kumar. “Cheel Chillaa Ke Kajri Sunaaye… Kauvaa Bhi Dholak Bajaaye.

Arrey, Vaah Vaah Vaah, Arrey, Vaah Vaah Vaah.”