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Let Us Discuss Ideas

The new government led by PM Narendra Modi has brought with it a spurt of fresh ideas. He led a historic and innovative election campaign. The highly impactful social media campaigns, Chai Pe Charcha discussions and 3D rallies were all new to the Indian electorate and captured their imagination.

Riding on the success of these ideas India’s new PM is looking all set to implement a model of governance which gives importance to good, implementable ideas. His recent directive to bureaucrats not to give complicated theories but instead focus on practical doable policies is a case in point.

While all these developments at the political level raise hopes for a positive change, it stands out in stark contrast to a stagnant intellectual environment in media. There is not a dearth of new ideas in India. However, there is a dearth of vibrant discussions about new ideas. The main stream media (newspapers and TV news channels) in India spends a large chunk of their prime time coverage on allegations, counter-allegations, controversies and personality clashes.

Even when there is an opportunity to discuss an innovative idea, natural inclination of the media seems to be to sideline the idea and focus on a controversy. For example, when Modi used 3D holographic technology to reach out to people at different places simultaneously the media had an opportunity to discuss the potential of using this technology in a different field in India. For example, there could have been a discussion on whether or how it can be used to spread education in remote areas or such other possibilities. Instead, the entire focus of prime time discussions was on how the campaign was funded.

Media culture in India has degraded over the past many years and news stories are now written with a focus on appealing to the baser emotions of the viewers/readers. Stories that stoke paranoia, fear, confusion or revulsion dominate the media landscape. Journalists are an impatient lot and often do not invest time to do research about a new idea that they come across in a speech or talk. Rather the viewers/readers get an aggregation of sound bytes/remarks/tweets by individuals from different ideological divides. It is at best a noisy confusion and offers little clarity for the viewer/reader.

India has a long tradition of discussing and critically analyzing ideas. In the Indian tradition, discussions are classified into four types: Samvada (dialogue), Vivada (argument), Tarka (debate) and Kutarka/Vidandavada (verbal fight). In 7 AD, Shankaracharya re-established Hinduism in India by challenging Buddhist scholars and defeating them in debates (tarka). The very fact that the victory in debates was followed by the acknowledgement of the victor’s view point shows how liberal our ancestors were in accepting a different or new idea if it satisfies the intellect. Contrast this with the TV debates or political debates that we often see today. Our leaders and panelists on TV seem to have no clue of what is a Samvada (dialogue) or Tarka (debate). Today, what we get to listen to are mostly just Vivada (arguments) and Kutarka (verbal fights).

There is an urgent need to revive the culture of healthy debates and dialogues in our society. The rise of social media and online journalism hold great potential and can be used to make a shift away from Vivada and Kutarka to Samvada and Tarka. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Yes, let us discuss ideas.

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