Like a Moth To a Flame – People and Images

Growing up, I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers older family members scoffing at politicians and the entire subject of politics altogether. Let’s admit it – we’ve all seen how the actions of politicians in our country have helped in erasing any and all faith people had in them to the point of making the topic taboo.

Politicians have often been seen as people who’ve failed at almost everything in their life, only to land in politics as a last resort. But that’s not just an India problem. From Donald Trump stating he’d like to run for president when asked what he’d probably do in case he were to lose all his money (this was in a 1980, unaired Rona Barrett interview, right after he shot to fame with the first Trump tower in 1979 and a decade before many of his business ventures had to file for bankruptcy protection), to many actors turning this way when film contracts dry up, this stereotype isn’t unfounded.

This notion often tarnishes the image of even able minded and adept people who choose this walk of life with honest intentions. Nevertheless, the word ‘politician’ has probably been among the most favourite of curses in the vocabulary of middle class Indians.

That was, until the recent emergence of a cult of personality that divided the general populace of the country into polar flanks. As such, political awareness is a tricky subject at the time of such a cult of personality and the spread of false news, divisive policies and civic unrest.

The crux of the problem, however, lies with the extremist tendency humans have when faced with a problem. I’m sure we remember evenings in our living rooms where debates over who the better political representative was –taking into purview the reforms they promise in their campaigns to things as trivial as their habits – turned too bitter for anyone to stay in the room.

Also read: An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India

With this comes the inherent tendency to avoid such volatile topics of conversation, which in turn makes a dent on whatever political awareness could be expected of a citizen of a nation. As a matter of fact, many able minded students are looked down upon for being politically aware, let alone activism.

We’ve seen this trend across the nation where the brightest minds protest against what they feel isn’t right, whilst there are thousands of other voices, often those of ordinary citizens – berating them for being ‘politically active only because they were too idle’.

We, as a nation, turned a blind eye to the very apparent red flags in the form of faulty ideologies and xenophobic intent for the simple reason of absolving ourselves from the possible scenario of getting tagged as the ‘good-for-nothing’ literate who had run out of better things to do with his life. And this is exactly what has happened to a country whose founding fathers set an example for the youth of the emerging nation.

What was it that happened in between to have driven almost every other person of this nation to support the unlawful persecution of a religious minority? Even when the founding fathers set the precedent for the emerging youth, they hadn’t imagined that they were seen as nothing more than a few images by the budding, little different in this respect, from the cult of personality leader governing us now.

The fault lies in our inherent tendency of being drawn towards images without caring much about the message, the ideal – the kernel behind that image. This, however, does not imply that I ask people to shun symbolism altogether. Symbols have often been an important medium in expressing views.

A simple example of this could be found in the act of burning effigies at protests. When there are too many voices saying the same thing at different times to be heard properly, it’s often symbols that come to the aid.

What needs be done, however, is to not mistake the symbol with the entire argument altogether. Setting aside the way in which the nationalists in this country have broken down India into a handful of flawed images, it’s sad to say that the word ‘politics’ is still registered in the mind of many in that way – which is exactly why active participation in this sphere by anyone still translates to ‘idleness’ in the minds of the populace.

Whilst being limited to only a few sources of information is a terrible thing that affects our ability to reach a proper conclusion with respect to the current developments, it is time that people open their eyes and see political activism for what it actually is.

However, in this age of selective information flow, much in thanks to algorithms of social media platforms, bubbles threaten to grow around each one of us, widening a rift that already exists in these tough times to terrible proportions.

Anirban Chakroborti is a grad student who finds himself observing the world from a corner (and stepping in when necessary).

Featured image credit: Tao Wen/Unsplash