It wasn’t a smirk

It was exasperation.

This article on Niti Central, an online publication that claims that it is “Bold and right”, has focused an inordinate amount of its attention on my facial expressions during a debate on NDTV’s show “The Social Network”. Instead of focusing on the points I was making on the show, the writer appears to have attempted to discredit my views by focusing on how I was smiling by saying that I was smirking. I find that rather petty, and symptomatic of the discourse that we currently see on Twitter today.

Shifting the focus doesn’t change the fact that those (apparently) representing the left (Congress) and the right (BJP) on the show were constantly attacking each other, and in the process, drowning out the others point of view on the show.

I was smiling because that’s exactly the point I was trying to make, and it was being proven on the show: both parties, the Congress and the BJP, have been constantly attacking each other on Twitter, and reacting to criticism by attacking the person criticizing them. In the process, they’re drowning out all legitimate debate.

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I support neither party. I’m neutral, and undecided, and equally critical of both sides. The Congress lost me long long ago with its ruinous policies, and the BJP is losing me with its vitriol, and lack of focus on what it plans to do for the economy. I hate it that what should be a debate on who has better ideas to improve things for citizens has turned into a shouting match, with each trying to prove the other is worse.

The trolls are obnoxious. By being vicious, vindictive and crass, they’re losing me as a voter. Things have been tough the last few months, and Twitter was once a place one could turn to, for friends and some banter – that five minute break (multiple times a day) that could brighten up things for you. Now it has people spewing hate and vitriol. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people in the past week – some for tweeting, some just for retweeting.

That was the point I was making on the show – don’t feed the trolls, and unfollow with a vengeance.

The discussion on NDTV was on mobs taking over Social Media, in the context of a satirical page criticising one party being shut down, alleging that he was being harassed. It was about mobs. Instead both sides tried to appropriate the discussion by blaming the other, hijacking the debate on whether the mobs are stifling free speech (which I feel strongly about), and focusing on a micro issue of one satirical page being (allegedly) forced to shut down by mobs, instead of the macro issue of this stupid, relentless and immature blame game.

You can abuse the other person all that you want, but that never really makes you look good. This morning, I was critical of the Congress for having shut down Aditi Restaurant in Mumbai, because it printed a snarky message on its bills, criticising the UPA government. A Congress supporter started attacking me because I agreed with a point an alleged BJP supporter was making. How does that help their cause? It just shifts the debate away from the policy being discussed.

As a neutral, if you support one sides point of view, the other side labels you and attacks you.

I don’t remember where I read this, but this stuck: be a gentleman not because the other person deserves it, but because you are one. There aren’t enough gentlemen around, unfortunately.

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I smiled because I’m Indian, and there are times when we’re fatalistic. I was amused by the helpless situation I am in: Look at these two parties, or the Niti Central article which tries to divert attention from the issue: do we have any choice? They’re both giving me reasons to not vote for the other. Arvind Kejriwal is doing much the same with the Aam Aadmi Party.

Here’s an idea for the Congress or the BJP: Assume that the other party doesn’t exist. I’m a neutral, undecided voter. Now tell me, the voter, why I should vote for you.

*

Hint: I’m socially liberal, believe in a small government, light-touch regulation (unless cartels need to be broken), open markets, empowerment of small businesses, a low fiscal deficit and low government spending, and transparency and accountability in governance. I’m also almost a freedom-of-expression absolutist (minus defamation), so…oops.

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14 Comments

  1. > Here’s an idea for the Congress or the BJP: Assume that the other party doesn’t exist. I’m a neutral, undecided voter. Now tell me, the voter, why I should vote for you.

    I like that pitch seeking a pitch.

    As for reasoned debate, imagine any debate in an average drawing room among people who disagree with one another. It is seldom the case that there is reasoned debate. This is not restricted to political parties and their supporters. Most arguments are replete with ad hominems and logical fallacies (never mind any facts). The average person ( or even the 90th percentile by any metric) is not trained to debate. So one cannot really pick a political party to vote for based on the behavior of their cheerleaders on social media.

  2. Nikhil,

    Amazing PoV and it resonates perfectly with all the people who love this nation and have rational thinking. I grew up in a family with a strong Congress tilt. I hated murderous Yatras done by zealots like Advani or casteist VP Singhs. Just like you Congress lost me years ago by its sycophancy and cancerous corruption. I started hating Congis but that didnt draw me as a rational man towards BJP or myopic regional parties.
    This disenchantment drew me to Arvin Kejriwal and I wrote a hugely popular and viral post http://arun-wicfy.quora.com/Arvind-Kejriwal-A-true-moron?__snids__=152369450%2C152358903&__nsrc__=2 having 55K views and 2400+ voteups .
    However the kind of dirty tactics AAP is employing has me disengaged with them. The only thing I can do is smirk till I gain economic independence to jump in the coal mine and take the bulls by horns

  3. Dear Nikhil

    Appreciate your spirit of writing a Column in response to a Column.

    I am surprised though you have failed to make a distinction between an Opinion Column and a News Report. Your opening seems to suggest it was a “Niti Central” Opinion when in reality it was the Opinion of the Individual Columnist. By failing to make this distinction you have somehow made this about Niti Central.

    Secondly your point on “inordinate amount” is a gross exaggeration if one goes by the actual content of the Column. I see only two references to the so called “smirk” in the entire long Column which is 1300 words long.

    Thirdly I see only 5 references to you in all in the entire Column two of which also brought out the points you were making (its a different that the Columnist disagreed with your points)

    Lastly analyzing Body Language of participants in a Television debate is nothing unprecedented or unusual. This routinely happens the world over, ask Al Gore about that infamous “sigh” :). Also most recently a IIT Delhi Prof went to the extreme extent of writing a many 1000s word column in The Outlook analyzing Narendra Modi’s body language in multiple videos.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the Individual Columnist’s Personal Opinion and irrespective of how sound that Personal Opinion was, I am sure you would appreciate that a 1300 word column is far more about reasoned debate than a 140 char argument.

    cheers
    shashi

    1. Hi Shashi,

      I’ve referred to “an article”, which could mean opinion or report. Even in reports where no opinion is offered, facts can be chosen selectively. They’re subject to sins of omission. I’m a blogger and I don’t really distinguish between reports and columns.

      On it being the opinion of Niti Central versus that of being an individual columnist: I saw no indication on Niti Central that this is an independent columnist not employed by Niti Central, nor was there a disclosure that the views of this individual do not necessarily represent those of Niti Central. Even a brief one line telling us who the individual writer is can indicate that the person does not represent the publication. So, perhaps I was mistaken, but this opinion appeared to be attributable to Niti Central, instead of the individual, but then it wasn’t clear.

      On “inordinate”: focusing even twice on how I was “smirking” in the context of the debate is, to me, inordinate. The person might be disagreeing with me, but I see the inclusion of ‘smirking’ as an attempt to discredit me, and use that to discredit my views. I’m calling him out on this, and am well within my rights to do so.

      There might be people who focus on body language and facial expressions in the context of a debate on issues, but if I disagree with these tactics, I will call them out. I’m not aware of the IIT professor analysing Narendra Modi’s body language, but I wouldn’t really give that any credence.

      I do appreciate that a 1300 word column is far more about reasoned debate than a 140 chr argument. It’s why I chose to respond via a blog post instead of using 140 chr.

  4. Thanks for putting to paper (or the keyboard) my exact thoughts. Congress has lost my vote but I have no idea what BJP plans to do in the next 5 years…where is their economic and political manifesto? TV debates feed on screaming and accusing but no information comes through the din.
    As a neutral observer, I’d say both parties are losing an important opportunity to address with clarity.

    1. Hope you are aware of a state called Gujarat which is attracting foreign business honchos like a magnet. Or is it that u r too afraid to put it out here? Congress and their Con media will never show you the real Gujarat. Hope you take an honest call after doing little research on Gujarat and Mr. Modi.

  5. One simple question, since you say u are being denied space, who is denying it to you? You have a right to your opinion as much as anyone else

    1. @ Ruchik: They have a right to their opinion, and I have fought to protect that right. At the same time, there’s too much noise, and real and civil conversations are being drowned out. I’m choosing to take back my timeline by unfollowing people. I have the right to do that. I would never deny them their right to speak, but I would try and reason with them to keep the discourse civil, and focus on issues, not on people.

  6. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I’m a Congress hater simply because of the %age of time they have spent on ‘governing’ this country. But I am not automatically a BJP worshipper because I like speaking English. I will vote in a way that will cause the incumbents extreme pain and am trying some way to reduce Congress’s presence down to 2 seats, but haven’t found out how yet. Waiting for fourth front that does not involve communists or ABCDEFGHIDMK.

  7. Dear Nikhil,

    I am not commenting here because I am supporter of any political party, but only because I felt the need to respond to your aggreviation with a positive approach. Your argument that just because you don’t want to vote Congress dosen’t imply that your vote goes to BJP, seems geniune but lacks any direction. By simply mentioning that you are not aware of what BJP will do for the economy in next 5 years dosen’t absolve you from trying to gather such an information from various pro-BJP blogs & sites which would give plenty of insight. Also NAMO himself has explained many a times about BJP’s view on economy & how Gujarat has achieved the phenominal success. Secondly the BJP is currently in the process of formalising its Economic Document for governance. Hope you shall eagerly wait till then. Finally its dangerous for citizens in a democracy like India to feel hopeless, its better to fight for it by voting the best alternative available. I hope you shall vote & make others to vote too.

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