A few years back, it wasn’t like this. And when I try to deconstruct the entire scenario, couple of things comes to my mind.
The inherent culture humans adopted since centuries world over to follow individuals, not ideas
I have always believed that people follow ideas and not individuals. At least, that’s what rational minds do or everyone would do, if provided freedom. Of course, it is arguable and there would be a grey area to it. People who seem to follow an individual are not following an individual per se, but the ideas of that individual. So, ideally, the loyalty should be with ideas and not individuals.
However, ideas don’t have a face, individuals do. Ideas are abstract, individuals are physical. So, it’s easy to worship the latter than the former. And hence, perhaps, we have people essentially trying to find someone who can impersonate these ideas. That’s how religions built or chose characters that were representative of all the good ideologies and asked others to worship them instead of these ideas. Even outside religions, groups were created with a face representing those ideas and people were asked to worship these faces. Hence, ideas took a backseat while individuals were given the driver seat. However, this essentially means three drawbacks.
1. One cannot differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual
Unfortunately, these days, any criticism of an idea is also taken as a criticism on an individual. Of course, political parties have vested interests in doing that but even the citizens get carried away in that. This sets a dangerous trend where meaningful discussions lose importance and the conversations are focused on defending and attacking individuals instead of talking about the rightfulness and wrongfulness of the topic in hand. It happened in the recent Anupam Kher video that went viral.
2. Following an idea is confused with following an individual
Secondly, it also builds an assumption that everyone who supports an individual, will continue to support her/him irrespective of the situation, which might not be the case. I remember a classic line from the movie “12 Angry Men” where the second last juror says ‘I don’t believe I have to be loyal to one side or the other” when he is confronted by the second juror for changing his vote. The second juror somehow assumed that the individuals were taking sides instead of taking rational decisions.
People can confront an individual on a given issue and support the same individual in another one. It is always possible!! It also helps in removing biases during debates/discussions when you know that the other person can get convinced if your point is stronger and, at the same time, you can change a stand at any time based on what facts you have on your plate at that time.
3. Contradicts the notion that no person is perfect
And this is more for people who feel an obligation to defend an individual, they support, all the time. A lot of times we hear, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. Following an individual, instead of ideas and principles, makes you obligated to defend the individual even when he/she is wrong. And that’s when the whole argument moves away from “for and against the issue” to “for and against the person”. There would be some notions which would not make any sense at a given point of time and would perfectly fit in, later on.
We have moved from the time when a BJP veteran supported a hard core Congresswomen when she did the right thing and she asked him to represent India in an important UN conference in spite of him being an opposition leader because he was the best man for the job.