Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why it's in Chetan Bhagat's interest Mod-Bhakts don't improve their English

Chetan Bhagat's dissection of “Bhakts’’ – albeit mildly amusing – is superficial and simplistic, as one has  generally come to expect of him.  Abuse or insults in any form can’t be condoned – but the Freudian explanation of Bhagat (whom the ‘’adarsh liberal’’ twitterati have gleefully welcomed back to their fold as ‘’a reformed Bhakt’’)  – ignoring its deeper socio-political roots - is specious at best.
In 1967, when the first United Front Government came to power in West Bengal by dislodging Congress  - Ram Chatterjee, a Minister from one of the alliance partners (Forward Block, Marxist) stormed the Calcutta Swimming Club (till then an exclusive preserve of expatriates and foreigners – as the Breach Candy Club in Mumbai still is)  with a truck-load of Santhal Adivasis. While the Santhals jumped into the pool - Chatterjee and his cronies raided the bar - exhausted the entire stock of imported liquor. This was Calcutta’s Bastille moment of sorts and soon the Club was forced to open its doors to Indians (read 'natives').

When Twitter arrived on the Indian scene, it began largely as a parlour for the ‘’English Speaking’’ elite. At one level it was the Social Media equivalent of IIC for the Lutyens’ liberals, at another it was a hang-out for the yuppies and the social parvenus discussing Bollywood, Restaurants and Cricket (or MUFC and Arsenal at night). Narendra Modi unleashed his army of followers into this sacred land - much like Ram Chatterjee did at the Calcutta Swimming Club – starting a cultural Kurukshetra as it were. It may be argued – this was a democratisation of Twitter – a reality that was quickly recognised by the new-kid-on-the block AAP and later also grudgingly accepted (with limited success so far) by a stodgy Congress.

Contrary to Bhagat’s assertion - that the Bhakt-brigade suffers from deep-seated inferiority complex – it is, in fact, the Boston Brahmins of MSM who viewed this as an invasion into their inherited territory and felt threatened  and insecure at the prospect of the political and social narrative was being hijacked from their control. This led to the disparaging coinage of terms like ‘’Bhakts’’ and ‘’Internet Hindus’’ – which invited counter invectives like ‘’Adarsh Liberals’’.  (Later we shall see a similar action replay from the ‘’Bhakts’’ at the intrusion of ‘’AAPtards’’ into what they considered, by now, their well-won space). The same attitude is visible in the hostile and condescending attitude of the talking heads on English TV Channels.

It may be true, many ‘Bhakts’ lack the ‘’intellectual wherewithal’’ (to borrow a phrase from the highly cerebral Hartosh Singh Bal) – but there is no reason for them to feel apologetic about it. They can’t be blamed for their lack of sophistication and social skills – as they are a product of the educational system and social structure the country provided them all these years and they are not as privileged as the few Oxbridge, Stephen’s or JNU educated self-appointed custodians of secularism and democracy.

Unlike in MSM –opinions can’t be blocked en-masse editorially on Social Media – despite any amount of “gate-keeping’’. Through Twitter the so called “Bhakts’’  think they have found their rightful voice and feel empowered to participate in the national discourse, which has so far been a monopoly of the “Macaulay-Putras’’.

Whether his detractors like it or not Narendra Modi is a phenomenon - that represents the hopes and aspirations of a huge section of the population who feel they were not adequately represented in the national polity so far. Therefore, any attack on Narendra Modi is seen by this section as an assault on their constituency. One may argue, if supporters of Jayalalitha or Mamata were on Twitter in equally large numbers – they would have behaved quite similarly. ‘’Modi as a man’’ may fail – and could well turn out to be a God with feet of Clay. But, the idea of India which he has unleashed is here to stay.

Interestingly, since Twitter remains a largely English dominated medium - there are not too many multi-lingual intellectuals who engage on Twitter. But, it may not be very inaccurate to say our “Bhasha” intellectuals – whether on Social Media or MSM are far more tolerant of Right-Wing views than their English brotherhood. Not sure, if it would be correct to draw any correlation between this perceived difference in attitude and the now clichéd distinction between India Vs Bharat.


So people like Rana Ayyub may celebrate the ‘Ghar-wapasi’ of prodigal members of the English speaking elite like Chetan Bhagat. But, she would be well advised to recognise – that this motley group of  PLU’s (People Like Us) will have very limited influence over the future discourse – which is likely to be dominated by PLTs (People Like Them). Therefore, baiting them with supercilious barbs is only going to beget vituperative outburst and define the battle lines much more sharply.

No amount of Social Media Policing or “Bhakt-Hunt’’ can cure this malady. But, accepting the reality that –  PLTs are here to stay and allowing them adequate space and time to mature  in what is a new medium for all - will pave the way for more civil interaction in the times to come at any forum.

And, as far as Chetan Bhagat is concerned – he should be thankful that so few Indians are good in English otherwise Amitav Ghosh’ novels would have sold more than his own.

Article first published in @DailyO_ on 12th July 2015 Click here for link