An Open Letter to the Right-Winger Who is Not Wrong

POV

An Open Letter to the Right-Winger Who is Not Wrong

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Dear Right-Wingers,

Will you take a break from your righteously earned celebrations for a few moments? I want to tell you a story. You probably think I’m one of “them” – feminist, liberal, queer. I check all the boxes that would make you want to put me away in one, don’t I? But this won’t take long, I promise.

Not so long ago, in a land not so far away, there was a leader – bold, charismatic, beloved of the masses. Even feared, perhaps, but shouldn’t a good ruler always inspire that occasional little shiver down your spine? The leader ruled with an iron grip vanquishing any enemy that dared to pose a threat, be it across borders or within. Even as new laws rippled across the land, the people suppressed any doubts that crept into their minds, for their leader reassured them that it was for their own welfare.

Wait, wait, before you start calling me anti-national, this is not the story you think it is. This is not even the story of any particular era, or any particular leader. This is the story of history repeating itself. It’s one we have all been taught in classrooms, it’s one some of us have lived, it is one we will all live, if we live long enough. It is a myth spun across centuries, a tale of a messiah, a saviour, a deus ex machina to all of life’s plot holes. But above all, it is a cloak – a cloak spun out of the insecurities of multitudes to warm the ambitions of a few.

Today, it isn’t the political candidate, but you, the educated, politically aware, rational right-winger who has won for the next five years. It is immaterial whether the elections were rigged, and I will not be one of the people looking for a ticket out of here, even though, I must admit, it was my first response. You’re right, the liberals didn’t leave in 2014 and we aren’t about to leave now. We will continue to dissent until our voices fade, because dissent, after all, is the safety valve of this democracy. But that is not why I’m writing to you.

You claim to feel the pulse of the nation and deride us for being armchair activists disconnected from reality.

I am writing to you because I know you are so much more than blindfolded acolytes swearing by the magic of gomutra. Your strength (and my hope) lies in the fact that you do not channel the ignorant mindsets of your less discerning allies who resort to violence and bigotry in the name of “safeguarding culture” but instead represent the right-wing ideology that stands for civil liberty and inclusive development.

You claim to feel the pulse of the nation and deride us for being armchair activists disconnected from reality. So I am writing to you, because with great power comes great responsibility. Your job is not over by having voted in someone to power with an overwhelming majority: Your task is to keep them on their toes for the next five years to prove that your faith has not been misplaced. When you decide to hand over your voices to your leader’s chosen words, the onus is on you to retrieve your tongues when they utter hate speeches, misinformation, and hatred that you do not endorse.

I am writing to you because you say you have read Harry Potter. Then, you must also be aware that Voldemort isn’t really a person. Voldemort is a phenomenon, an exaggerated caricature of the divisive fears that already exist in our society. Voldemort is an illustration of what happens when we take all of our aspirations for a better future and place it in the hands of one person who claim they are the only hope. Think of how, when they ask you to describe the ideology or the model, you end up describing the individual. Remember every story of unbridled power you have ever read. Remember how it ends as badly for those who followed, as those who fought.

You see, for a democracy to thrive, we need discerning critics as much as we need a visionary leader

I am writing to you because you are not wrong in saying that the poll figures speak for you. The lack of an opposition that is organised, vigilant and adheres to the ideals of democracy has failed our voters equally. And that the biggest concern for liberals shouldn’t just be the growing clout of the ruling party. But the disappearing, faceless opposition and the emergence of a growing breed of sycophantic yes-men should be worrying for all of us, irrespective of our political divides. You see, for a democracy to thrive, we need discerning critics as much as we need a visionary leader.  Independent India is no stranger to the excesses that can be committed by a majoritarian government with a toothless opposition. Remember, that one scapegoat is very like another and a democracy that does not learn from its past is setting itself up to be a burning ship.

Then again, like you pointed out, I am after all, a hopelessly optimistic liberal, and so I will hope that the next five years will be more inclusive and more tolerant and not be marred by lynchings and media gags. I will hope for more press conferences, healthier debates and journalism that steps up to its responsibility of broadcasting verifiable facts instead of deliberate misinformation. I will hope that there is no political interference in our universities and that an individual’s anti-propaganda stance is not automatically equated with them being “anti-national”. And, that the autonomy of our institutions – the RBI, CBI, and the judiciary – is maintained with zero political influence.   

I will hope for policies that spend as much on health, education, and the environment as they spend on statues and cows, and milestones in development that are realised at grassroot levels and not merely showcased on social media handles. I will wish for a government that focuses on a constructive agenda instead of saying, “They have had six decades, we’ve only had one.” I know our democracy is not dying, but I don’t want it to just survive – I want it to flourish.

Chalo, maan liya, chowkidar chor nahi hai. Do you now promise to guard the guards?

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