The national vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Abhinav Prakash Singh, published an article on May 22 on the Gyanvapi mosque issue that is from start to finish an exercise in verbal sophistry. But while we have come to expect such nonsense from functionaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party, I was shocked to see this coming from Indian Express. (Some of my friends weren’t, so I am probably behind the curve here.)
Singh’s argument is not concerned with the historical facts of the case (many of which are gathered here) but with the people calling Gyanvapi a “controversy” hiding behind secularism, which according to him was developed to separate the state only from Abrahamic religions, and that the faux-controversy should nonetheless be allowed to blow through in favour of Hindus because the left is only resorting to “political rhetoric, academic obfuscation and chicanery”, and not because the right doesn’t seem concerned about the burden of proof. This is a defence of malice on the grounds of what it is not (not anti-national, not Islamic, not western, not leftist, not scholarly) over what it is (proofless, perfidious, communal). Oh, what it is also not is violent and riotous, which, in Singh’s telling, the protests against the farm laws and the CAA respectively were.
A national newspaper that believes it’ i’s okay to amplify lies can’t be on the side of democracy. And while India may be far from a perfect democracy at the moment, its institutions and civil society must still maintain their democratic tendencies, especially in the spirit defined by the constitution. This is more important than to be perfectly democratic at every moment, which is obviously not possible. Challenges will arise and there will be failures, and that is not an implicitly bad thing. When we tend to the best of our abilities, that is good enough. But a democratic nation will lose that character if we altogether stop aspiring in that direction and begin to admit exceptions to favour a political agenda and/or personal gain. It will also lose that character if we don’t employ common sense.
It will always be a virtue to be more informed (with reasonable exceptions), to keep learning and to value the methods by which we acquire knowledge and establish facts. One popular technique for this, standing on the deceptively simple foundation of logic, is called science – and in most democratic societies today, science and its exponents occupy a place of pride. But the unbridled application of science to solving society’s problems is not a good thing. Such overreach, called scientism but also encompassing hard-line rationalism, attempts to use science to solve problems that its methods and principles were never designed to solve, and eventually produces outcomes that subvert the proper functioning of a democracy in favour of a scientistic or falsely meritocratic agenda.
This said, scientism is not the only form in which science can get in the way of a functional democracy. Bharatiya Janata Party members’ claims that Ayurveda, yoga, the Vedas, the entangled Hindu state-culture-religion and whatever else anticipated and solved advanced problems that modern natural as well as social sciences still fumble with come first to mind. Ancient India’s feats, in the party’s telling, are a demonstration of its immense prowess and to which we must bow your heads without question. But the evidence for these claims is always, without exception, unfalsifiable: that which can neither be proved nor, more importantly, disproved.
This may be a carefully designed strategy at work but that doesn’t mean we’re obliged to recognise it as one. To everyone who has been to high school and studied a little bit of logic and set theory, it’s a blooper, and hopefully also a reminder that democracy can and is regularly undermined by our being okay with letting bloopers pass. For example, Abhinav Prakash Singh’s article is rife with pleas to let the Gyanvapi controversy swing in favour of the right-wing, each based on the premise that “what is not offensive is therefore good”. This is the fallacy of affirming the disjunct. It goes like this:
The left manufactured the Gyanvapi controversy because it has proof or it claims the supremacy of Islam.
The left is anti-Hindu and pro-Islam.
Therefore the left has no proof.
Does it make sense to you? It shouldn’t. It’s just how empty of meaning and substance Singh’s article is. The affirmation of the disjunct might tempt you to ask yourself whether there is something he knows that you don’t. Don’t give in; instead, ask whether there is anything rather than nothing at the heart of his argument. Don’t let his claim pass unchecked; don’t read it and believe that Singh may have a point. He and his colleagues seldom do, and prefer instead the use of kettle logic, as demonstrated in the opening lines of a recent article by Apoorvanand: “Who could have thought that an argument for syncretism and the blurry nature of culture can be used to first enter the religious or sacred places of non-Hindu communities and then lay claim over them?” Most of all, read Singh’s article and conclude, because Singh himself forces us to, that his remarks are foolish. All he has are big words wrapped around a statement that can’t possibly make sense.
Hat-tip to Jahnavi Sen