Millennium Post

Dancing with Mephistopheles

As the 24X7 Indian news media extracts its pound of flesh from Narendra Modi, who, in a decision bordering on affront and sheer disregard, gave his first post-2002 no-holds-barred interview to a foreign news agency, Reuters, and brushed off the shrill, overzealous, and often virulently anti-Modi domestic television channels, it is worthwhile to look at what lies behind the thrice victorious Gujarat CM’s flirtation, or shall we say ‘puppy love’, with all sections of our society.

In fact, Narendra Modi, perhaps the leader who is equally lauded and reviled than any other in the country today, shares more with Chetan Bhagat, the bestselling author and now the self-proclaimed spokesperson for India’s religious and economically downtrodden, than he does with his fellow political playmates, allies and foes alike. It is both in their techniques of ruling the charts of popularity, as well as excelling at their jobs – former, by drumming up the importance of ‘maximum governance, minimum government’ and trumpeting the achievements of the ‘Gujarat model of governance’; and the latter, by churning out books at the speed of light that repeatedly drive home how the English language, once a colonial hangover and tool of bureaucratic discrimination, is now an instrument of revenge, by virtue of its incremental deterioration brought about by the Lo-Cal literary brigade and empowering technologies such as SMSs and Twitter – that Modi and Bhagat come together and imagine, for all of us, an India that is more interested in marching towards a technological and technocratic utopia, let’s call it the logical consequence of Hindu nationalism, than in indulging in petty affairs like minority appeasement or weighing the pros and cons of wearing skull-caps.

It is interesting to note that both Modi and Bhagat honestly believe that they speak for everyone Indian. For example, Modi waves his flag that claims ‘India first’, and not Hindus first, or Muslims later. In fact, the interview to Reuters could have been Modi’s way of coming as close to expressing remorse for the 2002 pogrom as he is capable of, of opening up his dark cavern of guilt (if he felt any) for which he has been taken to task by the media, Indian and global, alike. Yet, decoding the Q&A, one realises that all he wanted to do was wipe out the slate that chalks his past mistakes, that his covert admission of inexperience in handling the 2002 riots leading to loss of thousands of lives was actually intended to be airbrushed with the rhetoric of growth and development and buried under a renewed vigour for a patriotic stance, called Hindu nationalism.

In a not very dissimilar manner, Chetan Bhagat’s recent ‘Letter from an Indian Muslim youth’, that appeared on his Times of India column few weeks back, the author of Five Point Someone, Three Mistakes of My Life among others poses the ostensibly bleeding heart question: ‘Everyone seems to care for Muslims, but no one actually wants to listen to us, particularly the youth. I keep hearing political leaders promising to uplift us. I don’t know how they plan to uplift us and only us, without uplifting the nation. But then, I am a nobody, what do I know?’  Bhagat, though masquerading as a young liberal Muslim, possibly male, is, undoubtedly, too far removed from being one. He’s not a nobody from a persecuted religious minority that is forever inclined to ‘play the victim card’, as Bhagat (and Modi) would like us to believe, but rather, a super successful, educated, upper class writer, belonging to the Hindu religion, although, his societal stature allows him the elbow room to dismiss his belonging to a majority community as an insignificant detail in a tapestry of well-intentioned advice.

Just as Bhagat’s fiction occupies the post-liberalisation historical vacuum, wherein going to and surviving in IITs/IIMs and half-winning the battles of love happen without any actual political backdrop, his missive as a young Muslim gets drawn out from subtle prejudices that are so entrenched that they are invisible to an eye as naïve as the bestselling author’s own. Bhagat’s worldview, which questions why should the Indian state ‘dole out freebies’ for the Muslims, why should wearing ‘Muslim caps’ equal to religious expression, why the minorities’ aversion to free market policies and reliance on the state’s practice of pre-election appeasement games, etc., point towards a classic case of a textbook majoritarian, who is too blinded by his own set of ideological sureties to ever honestly engage with the other and opposite perspectives.

However, that is not the end of the woes begotten by Chetan Bhagat’s latest avatar as a messiah of the Indian Muslims. The problem lies in the fact that Bhagat’s outlook is also the analogue of the neoliberal, entrepreneurial, technocratic and scientific confidence that stems from a ‘modern’ and ‘good’ Indian. This is not intellectual dishonesty (as might be the case with some of the politicians, if not Modi himself), this is intellectual inability to see the difference between the two widely differing positions. And it is this incompetence to tell the difference, to read between the lines, that lies at the heart of the current flight of the middle classes from a full-fledged politics of engagement to a stunted politics of consumerism that has been and shall be encouraged in a Modi model of governance.

Although it is true that the Congress-led UPA government experiments with secularism are nothing but an election-driven lip service and half-felt pandering to inflamed religious sentiments, the contrasting pole occupied by Modi and Bhagat is also not exactly what India needs right now. Even if we give Modi the benefit of doubt that his ‘puppy under the car wheel’ faux pas has been extracted out of context and blown out of proportion, certainly his proclamations of being a Hindu nationalist in a country that is known for its plurality of socioreligious fabric does not bode well for a chunk of the Indian population. However, as long as we have Chetan Bhagats as the interpreters of maladies and emissaries of concocted hope, our collective vision is bound to remain blurry, and India’s Faustian tango with political Mephistopheles will continue.

The author is assistant editor at Millennium Post

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