The Overton window and political change
The Overton window and political change
The social imagination of our country has changed considerably. What was believed to be marginal came to the center. What was once unthinkable and unspeakable is now heard everywhere and provokes our reflection and conditions our life on many levels. The old centrist consensus which aimed for the common good of every Indian is being replaced by a cheeky, arrogant and majority one who is on the threshold of the tyranny of the majority. What we once thought of as blasphemy has now become everyday talk. Ideas that once risked popular support have now become mainstream.
Congress was ousted by the BJP, which is a hobbyhorse of the far right. We are witnessing a rapid shift towards the far right in our society and we are becoming more and more intolerant of otherness day by day. Both the extreme left and the extreme right impose an imaginary homogeneity on the people. Right-wing forces impose a similarity on our country. What passes for a timeless Hindu nationalism can be traced back to the 19th and 20th centuries and is marred by the Hindutva which is far from liberal and tolerant Hinduism as well as the welcoming ethic of our Indian civilization.
Perhaps to understand how we’ve changed, we may need to take help from the Overton Window, a notion developed by public policy researcher Joseph Overton. The passing of the CAA or the central agricultural laws or the Bhumiputra law in Goa knocked down the Overton window as a result, the center also had the Goa government to face criticism from the people. One can also find how the same kind of reaction to the Goa CM’s statement to the legislature that criminalized late hours and lonely places in the state for women and tried to impose on parents the responsibility to protect girls from being raped. This means that the policies and statements of politicians depend on what is known as the reigning Overton widow. Each company has its own Overton window.
Although the Overtone window has changed and leans to the right, it still allows us to reject government policies and actions that are seen as unfair. Some issues like AAC and farm laws made people angry. In these cases, it looks like our folks have moved the Overton window to the right, but overall we can notice that our Overton window is marred with saffron stains. This is why the Overtone Window of our society has not seemed to equip many of us to challenge the monstrous crimes of lynching as well as allow us to see the brutal crushing of dissent as a loss of freedom and democracy. The Pegasus Project allegedly invading our privacy has also disturbed a few.
Our silence is therefore to be understood as rising from within Overton’s window. The widow Overton of our society has turned to the right, and as a result, we assimilate without questioning several statements of our politicians as truths of science when they relate them to our imaginary golden past. So, politicians speak hate or even nonsense and break free without being charged with incitement to hatred and make false claims that masquerade as scientific truths. It seems that neither we, our opposition (except a few) nor the media have the courage to endorse what is now clearly outside our Overtone Widow but aligns with the values ââand ethics of our tolerant civilization and our joke for wisdom. We are only repeating what we consider precious and imagine as something that promotes the golden past. There is no room for the future in our society. The future is simply the future of the past. This means that the future cannot really become the future. This means that our politicians have become followers and not leaders. We only live with what is in the Overton window of our society.
It’s time we understood the costs of our silent enslavement to the reigning Overtone Window. Sinking economy, loss of peace in a society marked by hatred and unrest, taking possession of our national resources by people like Ambani and Adani, lack of democracy, loss of several fundamental freedoms, etc. can be noticed as we are blinded by the glow of the Harmonic Window reign. We can see how there is an attempt to match the Aam Aadmi party’s promise of free electricity supply with a promise of free water supply by the BJP in Goa. As the elections approach, the race to imitate each other’s gifts has just begun.
The challenge is to move the Overton window in order to embrace what is emancipatory and lies outside of it. Regional political parties are certainly changing the framework of Overton Window on some level. We can see how the Goa Forward Party made room for Goa’s interest in politics. It also opened the playing field for other stakeholders like Goycho Awaaz. We can remember how the tragic deaths of our children in Calvim, Aldona in the past sealed the political career of a seasoned politician. Shifting political discourse allows us to shift the Overton window. To do this, we must empower the creative, critical and dissenting voices in our society. Unfortunately, with the suppression and silence of dissent, we are running out of critical voices. The political discourse that blames the big old party in reality hides the inefficiencies of our government. Further, a rudderless leadership of Congress, both at the national and state levels, does not inspire confidence. As a result, it became almost impossible to move the reigning Overton window. But to bring about change and emancipation, we must find ways to bring about a change in the window of Overton reigning to save Goa and India.
(Fr. Victor Ferrao is an independent researcher attached to St Francis Xavier Church, Borim)