Facts are sacred, comments free, goes the proverb. But the comments should certainly be based on facts and not on fiction.
However, in this era of social media, facts are the first casualty. The tragedy is that most of the time the person making outlandish and absurd comments are not even aware that he or she is indulging in creating a false narrative or are whipping up baseless propaganda, which has nothing to do with history or present reality.
The biggest problem in this globalised world is that wrong and fantastic public opinion are being made about somebody or some organisation or party by Facebook warriors and WhatsApp University graduates sitting thousands of kilometres away and having absolutely no knowledge about the subject on which he or she is commenting.
One has every right to hold an opinion but it should be based on sound first-hand information, reasoning and knowledge.
In the pre-social media era of 20th century there was very limited scope to spread ignorance. The expression ignorance should be understood in proper perspective in the present age of specialisation and super-specialisation. A person master in Space Science may not have any or much knowledge about Economics or History or vice versa. One should not be ashamed in conceding this fact.
But with the advent of social media an atmosphere has been created in which everyone thinks that he or she knows everything and is free to make comment and thus contributes in creating fake public opinion.
For instance, one comes across scientists engaged in research in NASA or software expert working in Silicon Valley or doctor employed in United Kingdom or in any corner of India making fantastic and abrupt comments on the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru or Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi though the reality is that the concerned lady or gentleman had not read even a word from the writings of these notable personalities. Their knowledge is based on hearsay or some cheap television discussions or discredited news-portals. What these scholars fail to appreciate is that their absurd comments on social media are taken seriously by thousands of youngsters who think that they are Gospel truth. How can such a big doctor or engineer make baseless or wrong comments? But this is very much the reality of the modern world. In the past there was little scope for the spread of such type of ignorance.
But there still exist people in our society who concede that they are not all-knowing person and can speak on everything under the sky. In Patna this correspondent recently came across one such gentleman. In a function held to honour some prominent figures who have excelled in different fields the organisers invited an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr (Captain) Dilip Kumar Sinha. When the turn of the chief guest came to speak he was honest enough to acknowledge that since he (that is Dr Sinha) is not capable enough to say much on the topic he thanked the organisers for inviting and congratulated those who received awards. He did not stop there, but announced that he would instead be presenting a brief PowerPoint presentation on back and knee pain and related subject matter. He said that as most of the award winners and people sitting in audience are above 50 his talk may be of some help to them. Thus he avoided poking his nose on entirely different fields about which he has little knowledge.
This was a significant departure as we often witness people of some intellectual status such as technocrats, doctors, scientists etc invited as the chief guest, lecturing on topic in which he or she has no or very superficial knowledge.
The story does not stop here. There are innumerable babas and self-styled gurus or maulanas who would prescribe ‘miracle’ medicine or cure for chronic diseases on the Youtube channels. Nowadays they are even getting time in ‘respected’ television studios. Till a couple of decades back they were confined to their ashrams with limited followers.
There is another example. The organisers of a two day seminar on Depreciation of Rupees held somewhere in the country–better not to disclose the name of the person and city–invited a prominent vice chancellor of a central university to inaugurate it. That gentleman accepted the invitation and flew more than a thousand kilometres from Delhi to grace the occasion. The irony is that the concerned vice chancellor was an expert on Geology. It would have been understandable had this seminar been organized in his own university. Yet he covered such a long distance and apologised that he can hardly speak anything on the issue as he is far removed from the topic of the seminar.
The scenario in this brave new world is quite different. Here the whole world, and not just the people sitting in the conference hall, is audience and while making comments a person should be guarded.
Take yet another example of how sometimes professionals of different field get exposed while making thoughtless comments on the social media. While reacting to this correspondent’s article: “AIMIM: a haven for decimated and opportunist politicians” a doctor living in Saudi Arabia for the last 35 years agreed that voting for Asaduddin Owaisi’s party would not be appropriate for Muslims but went on to suggest that the community should throw its weight behind Popular Front in the coming Assembly poll. He failed to fathom the essence of that article as to how dangerous it would be to support one communal party to counter the other.
As this gentleman has perhaps never voted in his home state of Bihar in the last three decades–as he lives in Delhi when he comes in vacation–he thinks that it is his birth-right to lambast all the secular parties for letting down Muslims. The truth is not just that he is holding such a view, but it is based on false or sketchy information. He does not even know that Popular Front is perhaps not even in a position to elect a single mukhiya candidate in Bihar.
(The writer, a senior journalist, is based in Patna. The views are personal.)