I have been in the United States the last few days on a lecture tour. Every time I come here, I discover more fascinating things about this fascinating country! Though my hectic tour has not allowed me much time, as I would have loved to go through all manners of newspapers and magazines, I have still managed to go through a lot of them. And one thing strikes me as very strange. I mean, most of the media is full of stories about the imminent face off between the Republican Mitt Romney and the Democrat incumbent Barack Obama. But the media seems to have an equal number of stories on the Tea Party, on how the Republicans are waging a war on women and on how Obama has a massive lead over Romney when it comes to women voters in America. One thing you must grant this country – even those from the ‘Left’ ideologies who dislike America so much – the freedom of speech here is genuine and everybody seems to exercise the right to yell their heads off! I was blown away by some of the articles, columns and opinion pieces on controversial issues like Obamacare and the shooting of the Florida teenager by a white man that would have almost surely caused riots in India or would have been banned!

But even as I enjoyed reading about these ideological issues and debates here in America, one thought kept coming back to me. It was about how the extreme Right in America seems to be so ideologically rigid, so stubborn and so divorced from reality. And yes, so obsessed with so called family and Christian values. I was shocked to know that a significant number of people in many Midwestern states of America still think that Obama is a Muslim who goes to a mosque! And I couldn’t help thinking about how, in a way, the extreme Left in India is behaving in a manner similar to the extreme Right in the United States. I mean, if many extreme Right-wing types in America seem to nurture a hatred for Islam, many extreme Left-wing types in India seem to nurture a hatred for Hinduism. And I realized three things that are very disturbing. The first is that the extreme Right in America and the extreme Left in India have a very dominant space in mainstream media. The second is that in their respective countries, they both have an unusual influence on policy making. The third is that such rigid ideological stands and blind opposition to anything that doesn’t suit their worldview is literally screwing both countries.

When it comes to a dominant voice in mainstream media, it does appear as if the extreme Right-wing in the United States has less of it than the Left in India. Look at the two most controversial issues in America now – the healthcare act (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) and the urgent need to cut deficits. For both these issues, the liberals seem to get as much space as the conservatives. You also have liberal voices that are blasting the Supreme Court judges in America because they have got a hint that the ideologically Right-wing inclined Supreme Court might declare Obama’s dream healthcare act as unconstitutional. Then again, you have an equal cacophony of conservative and liberal voices about raising or not raising taxes on the rich. You have a Rush Limbaugh who calls a lady student a slut because she wants contraception to be part of her health insurance package. There was a huge outcry and many radio stations and advertisers banned Limbaugh for his remarks. But there were a lot who defended his right to free speech and said the lady had no business to talk about pills and condoms during an important debate over health insurance. But in India, it is the Left that seems to be the dominant voice in mainstream media. I have been following media reports since the horrific riots of Gujarat in 2002 and I have been astonished at the manner in which the extreme Left spews venom and hatred towards the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. A campaign by these secular fundamentalists led to a situation where the chief minister of a state of India was denied a visa by the US almost as if he was a war criminal. I mean, why single out only Narendra Modi to the exclusion of everything and everybody else? Have there been no other riots in India? Have Muslims and Sikhs not been butchered in other riots? Why single out Modi?
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