Guest column: Ad came. Ad Trolled. Ad left
In spite of its democratic dividend, India has recorded the highest unemployment in 45 years, but for some TV channels, Bollywood gossip and petty religious issues are taking precedence over matters of grave importanceUpdated: Oct 17, 2020, 22:57 IST
In the movie The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s novel, Don Corleone, when meeting the heads of five mafia bosses had said “I hoped that we would come here and reason together. And as a reasonable man, I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.”
Most reasonable Indians, who are a tad bit informed about the economy are aware that India’s demographic dividend started in 2018, when its working age population aged between 15 and 64, outnumbered the dependent population.
What’s the big deal, you ask?
In the 18 years since China entered this stage in 1994 — this came 16 years after Deng Xiaoping launched his economic reforms that led to eight years of double-digit growth — there have been only two years when it didn’t cross the 8% growth mark.
Japan had this period from 1964-2004. In five of these years, Japan grew in double digits; the growth rate was above 8% in two years, and a little less than 6% in one. Growth slid below 5% in only two of these 10 years.
It’s not just these two countries, you may look at Italy, Republic of Korea, Spain, Thailand, Brazil, or even our younger cousin Bangladesh, all have seen an upward trajectory of growth in the first few years.
In our case, two years after 2018, we are recording the highest unemployment in 45 years.
But the prime time on TV, and trending hashtags on social media are so preoccupied with Bollywood or religion that there is little mention of this anomaly.
A study by Dr Kota Neelima, a researcher, recently placed on record before the Supreme Court which shows how the way TV debates are conducted constitute hate speech.
Another report by Rate the Debate, an independent research platform, analysed 32 weekdays of news content, 55 hours of programming, and 76 debate topics of a popular news anchor and found that 65% of his debates focused only on a Bollywood suicide case in a tone it called ‘toxic, polarised, and filled with innuendos, salacious gossip, wild allegations, and character assassination”.
So what does all this have to do with the ad?
Well, religion, after Bollywood is an emotive issue.
To borrow a line from a popular Vietnamese T-shirt slogan, Hindus and Muslims are “same, same but different”. Yet they have co-existed happily in this generous melting pot called Bharat. But of late, it’s the differences that have come into sharp focus. And both the sides have considerable numbers who are prone to blame the other.
Jonathan Haidt, a highly regarded American social psychologist at New York University Stern School of Business, in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, explains that people who share sacred objects and fraternise on the basis of their faith, trust each other completely but consider the other group their arch enemy.
In this climate, with a significant population young, unemployed, and constantly triggered by a provocative narrative peddled by various media, it’s no surprise that they are reacting unreasonably to an otherwise very reasonable situation, aka the Tanishq ad.
While the solution to India’s problems will not come from religion, but jobs, it might be a good time to also reflect on what John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” So cultivating a few cross-religion friendships will not only make us smarter, but calmer as well, no matter how polarised the general climate.
Being aware of how our emotions are being manipulated by politicians and TV channels would be another useful tool to use from the toolbox.
And finally, in times like these, the sanest counsel that comes to mind is from, well, Don Corleone. Let’s be reasonable men (& women), and be willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.
The author, a former COO of a Philippines-based group of companies, is now an independent business consultant