Nidhi Razdan’s new book Left, Right and Centre: The Idea of India is a compilation of 12 essays from people across a wide spectrum of life — politicians, activists, administrators, artistes, academicians — who offer their idea of India. Razdan spoke to SheThePeople.TV about Kashmir, freedom of speech, and her idea of what India is and can be.
How did the idea of this collection of essays come about. Was it a natural offshoot of your show?
The idea for the book actually came from Penguin — from my editor Premanka Goswami and Meru Gokhale. They called me for a meeting one day, we brainstormed some ideas, and it was conceptualised within minutes. Their idea was to take the idea of the TV show and expand it into a book.
Were there are particular parameters you kept in mind while shortlisting the authors of the essays included?
I think the most important thing for me was to have diverse views and to cover key subjects. When the overall theme is India at 70, then it’s a fairly wide umbrella. But I was keen to, for example, have essays on Kashmir (my home state), both the turmoil and the harrowing tales of Kashmiri pandits. Gay rights, feminism, the rise of the right — all these subjects are covered in terrific essays. There are 12 in all, but for a country as vast as this, 25 is probably a better number!
How can we ask questions without being shut down? How can we express ourselves in an environment where a lot of what we say is considered anti-national or an attack?
By asking the questions anyway, come what may. NDTV, me — we are called anti-national almost everyday online. But that’s far from the truth. Those who are busy handing out these patriotism certificates, are to my mind, fake nationalists. They only beat their chests, make noise and bully those with a different viewpoint. That doesn’t make you a nationalist. It is not anti-national to ask questions, it is not anti-national to hold all institutions accountable in a democracy, and it is most certainly not anti-national to question the government.
Are we seeing a move to populism in India, as we see the world over?
Yes we are. It is often easier for governments to take populist decisions than to take a tough call economically. But it’s not the first time we are seeing this in India and it won’t be the last.
Even though there is a rise of social media, have we become a less informed society? Have we in fact become more divided?
I don’t think we are less informed, but we have become more divided for many reasons. Social media is a terrific source of information PROVIDED that what you’re reading is NOT fake news. Unfortunately, many Indians today are fed on a daily diet of fake news over whatsapp, which is circulated as the gospel truth. Those are the dangers we need to be wary of. Social media has no accountability, Zero. Anyone can write anything and in India, that means they can pretty much get away with it. The new sites that are busting fake news like Alt News and SM hoax slayer are fantastic.
Are the Kashmiri youth too alienated?
Yes Kashmiri youth are deeply alienated. The Kashmir problem is very complex and has many layers. There is the security angle and Pakistan’s role in exporting terrorism. That is one major challenge. But we also have to look at the challenge within. We have to ask why homegrown terrorists have gone up in recent years, why educated young men are taking to the gun, why thousands of people come out for the funerals of terrorists. There needs to be some kind of engagement, especially with the younger generation that has grown up in an ugly cycle of violence.
What do you want the reader to take away from the book?
That we all have a different idea of India, and that in a democracy as big and vibrant as ours, it’s ok to have different perspectives, different points of view. I want people to be reminded of just how complex this nation is, all that we have achieved and the challenges that lie ahead. But most of all, to feel that nationalism cannot be defined by a bunch of people, it is what we all FEEL inside, not what is shouted down to us. We are India, we don’t need to look at repressive countries like Saudi Arabia or North Korea to feel ‘better” about who we are. Lets set higher standards for the world’s largest democracy.