Back in 2007, the internet looked and functioned very differently. There were no ‘trends’, as we know them, and even though misuse of the technology cannot be ruled out, mostly, things were much simpler. Naturally, the discussions on the internet looked different as well, and you’d be delighted to know that one of the most prominent ones was started by the former President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
Those were the days of Yahoo! Answers, which has been closed since. The platform was very similar to Quora and Reddit. A person would ask a question, and anyone on the internet could respond to it. Now imagine if the President of India, or some other politician of their stature, was to ask a question on Reddit, without making a big deal out of it, and genuinely in search of an answer. It seems unlikely.
Anyway, APJ Abdul Kalam did exactly that. His question to the internet was related to terrorism:
Human society, from origin until now, has always been at war within and between groups and has led to two World Wars. Presently, terrorism and low intensity warfare are affecting many parts if the world. As the current global population of 6 billion increases to 8 billion by 2025, national and international conflicts will continue to be a source of concern for humanity. When evil minds combine, good minds have to work together and combat. In this context, what are the out-of-the-box solutions to free the planet earth from terrorism? Your answers when processed and implemented can lead to a peaceful, happy and safe planet earth (sic).
A lot of people participated in the discussion, including famous names like Kiran Bedi and Leander Paes. In the end, the question got a whopping 31,000 responses, which was, and remains a big deal.
APJ Abdul Kalam, being the dedicated person that he was went through the answers. He possibly couldn’t have read them all, but he tried his best to go through as many as possible. He also chose a winner in the end.
The winning answer was by a man named Sugato Mitra, and could very well land someone in jail if it were posed today. That should tell us a lot about where we are headed as a nation.
You can read the complete answer, in this article by The Newsminute, but mainly Sugato mentioned two things. 1. The imbalance of power, and 2. The lack of effort shown by the government to understand the grievances of certain people, who ultimately turn to violence.
Sugato neither tries to justify violence nor tries to make it sound like the only solution to a problem as big as terrorism. He simply says that if a community is making an understandable demand, should it not be addressed? And if it is not, is it surprising that that anger is used by divisive forces to create an environment of fear?
This exceptionally nuanced answer was the one that impressed the President the most.
As the internet increasingly becomes a threatening place, full of hatred and trolling, it is important that we go back to these intellectual discussions which allowed people to speak their minds. It is also imperative for us, the voters, to figure out what we want from our leaders.
Do we want someone so detached from the public discourse, they have no idea of the ground reality? Or do we want someone who makes an active effort to communicate with the common people of the country who can show them the mirror? We deserve the latter, and for better or worse, only we can give that to ourselves.