Gandhi, and Group Polarisation

Kangana Ranaut’s statement has once again created a controversy. In an interview, she said that India got its real independence in 2014. “…what we got [in 1947] was not Independence but alms.” She said. Later, in her Instagram account, she insulted the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, and numerous other freedom fighters by saying that, “…[In 1947]  freedom was given to us in Gandhi’s begging bowl.” This statement in itself is a testimony to what ‘New India’ is all about. The hypocrisy is, one gets charged with the draconian anti-terror law for tweeting just three words, and gets away by openly talking like Ranaut.

Statements like these by a national awardee are a disgrace to our society. And it also teaches us a couple of things. But first, let’s talk about some statistics.

Freedom Indices and India’s Rank

Talking about freedom, let’s take a look at some of the freedom indices and India’s rank in them.

In the Economic Freedom Index 2021 published by The Heritage Foundation, India has been given the 121st rank out of 184 countries.

In the Human Freedom Index 2020 published by The Cato Institute, India’s rank is 111 out of 164 countries.

In the Press Freedom Index 2021 published by Reporters Without Borders, India’s rank is 142 out of 180 countries.

In the World Index of Moral Freedom 2021 published by the Foundation for the Advancement of Liberty, India’s rank is 70 out of 160 nations.

In the Democracy Index 2020 published by Economist Intelligence Unit, India’s ranking has seen a huge decline, slipping from 27th place in 2014 to 53rd this year.

Gandhi is important even for the Right

The Gandhi-baiting by Ranaut is not a new thing. She has been an ardent supporter of the RSS-backed Bhartiya Janata Party who has made a career out of it.

In 2019, we saw women leader of Hindu Mahasabha shooting Mahatma Gandhi’s effigy with an air pistol to celebrate his death and the ‘martyrdom’ of Nathuram Godse, the man who killed Gandhi on January 30, 1948. RSS has always backed the likes of MS Golwalkar, who, in December 1947 said,

“Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course too.”

But, despite all this hate among the right towards Gandhi and statements by MPs and MLAs trying to glorify the assassinator of Mahatma, calling him a ‘patriot’, he is still relevant for them.

This can be concluded from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi restricts himself from doing so. But, neither he condemns statements like these by his own party members. It is also important to remember the fact that Modi referred to Golwalkar as ‘Pujniya Shri Guruji’ (guru worthy of worship).

As Ramachandra Guha writes, Modi visited Sabarmati Ashram infrequently when he was the chief minister, but that soon changed when he became the prime minister. He developed a keen interest in Gandhi’s ashram and visited it personally along with the prime ministers of Japan and Israel and the presidents of China and the United States. He writes,

“Modi himself knows that Gandhi remains, to use the contemporary argot, the Indian “brand” most visible and most appreciated around the world. So, whether it be Japan, China, Israel or France, or America or Russia or Germany, if Modi wants to make an impression he must cynically, instrumentally, have Gandhi by his side.”

Group Polarisation

A thing that Ranaut’s statement has shown us is the effect of what psychologists call Group Polarisation.

Since the advent of social media, people have been divided into groups or what economist Arnold Kling likes to call, Tribes. As one associates himself/herself with a group, he is likely to become more extreme, even within his own group. And this effect is known as group polarization. As Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein writes in Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,

“…when people speak with one another, they often end up at a more extreme point in line with their original inclinations… Internal discussions often create greater confidence, greater confidence, and greater polarization.”

This is what creates polarization within the groups, and if one thinks about his reputation in his group, he would like to be more extreme and dominant to get validation from others of his own ideology or thinking.

Internal polarization also creates polarization among different groups as people within the groups often try to attack the other group, again, to get validation from their own group members.

All this is natural in politics as the only thing that a political party needs, is an enemy.

Destroyed Easily

Amit Varma, in his newsletter, wrote a piece titled “It’s Hard to Build and Easy to Destroy”. In it, he wrote how difficult it is to build anything of value, but only ill-will to destroy. Just like it takes time and effort to make a sandcastle, but only a kick to destroy it.

He writes, as humans we always look for easy ways and hence always carry a hammer, ready to destroy things.

It took Gandhi years of penance and sacrifice to become a man of such great stature, but it took minutes for a Bollywood actress to destroy it.

Conclusion

I have said this many times before, and I will say it again, we need to decide how we form our society. Gandhi’s life explains all about his legacy. As Shashi Tharoor writes in the Elephant, the Tiger & the Cellphone,

“Gandhi’s life was, of course, his lesson. He was unique amoung the statesmen of the twentieth century in his determination not just to live his beliefs but to reject any separation between beliefs and actions.”

Even a book can’t describe his contributions to India, let alone this 1000-word blog. Dismissing all his contributions in a matter of a few minutes is utter disrespect to not only him but the whole nation.

These statements don’t require a rebuttal or an answer, but only pity.

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