Rhetoric versus meaning

This Week: Jairam Ramesh, Arun Maira and Sanjay Jain on Aadhaar; field notes from Bangalore Literature Festival; and more

Founding Fuel

[This allegorical woodcut shows Rhetoric enthroned between Prudence and Invention. By Anonymous (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]

Dear friend,

I had the pleasure of attending two sessions at Bangalore Literature Festival held recently. One of them was on Aadhaar. It had fantastic panellists: Arun Maira, former Planning Commission member, Jairam Ramesh, former minister, and Sanjay Jain, former executive at UIDAI. It was moderated by my colleague Charles Assisi. The topic—‘Aadhaar: Dystopia or Utopia’—seemed to highlight the impression that the debates around Aadhaar have become irrevocably polarised.

If your main sources of information on Aadhaar happen to be social media and television you will in fact believe that to be the case. You will see that the boundaries are clearly drawn around pro-Aadhaar and anti-Aadhaar groups. You will see them questioning each other’s integrity and sanity. You will see them trading insults. In her 2014 book, Political Insults, George Mason University professor Karina Korostelina warns us that insults can escalate to conflicts. You will see that many social dynamics that Korostelina elaborated in her book—transfer of insult, sensitising, generalisation—are at play in these social media circles. And so, you will be worried.

I have good news to share. Fortunately, this kind of polarisation seems to be limited to a fairly small set of people. The rest are neither rushing to the roads waving Aadhaar flags in support, nor are they shaking in fear. Most people whom I have interacted with in the past several months seem to be looking at it the way one would approach buying a car or a house—with caution. They are exploring. They are listening to both sides, often with a jar of salt next to them. We often ignore their voices, because they are not loud.

I saw quite of a few of them at the Bangalore Lit Fest, and at one point, I turned my attention away from the stage, and walked around to get a sense of the audience. They seemed to be deeply engaged. Luckily, we have the video recording, and I would urge you to watch it. It’s about 45 minutes.

Charles kept field notes on the event too, and backed it up with conversations with his fellow speakers including novelist Manu Joseph and JNU professor Makarand Paranjape. Do read.

Do read, and let us know what you think. And subscribe to the newsletter if you haven’t already.

Regards,

NS Ramnath

On behalf of Team Founding Fuel

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