Thursday, March 30, 2017

Whose line is it anyway?

You mean this is your own stupid opinion?

(Published on March 18, 2017 in Business Standard)

Sometimes, after I return from a trip to social media, I have to take a moment to compose myself. Only when the whites of my eyes are no longer visible, and my blood pressure has stabilised, can I can sit down and calmly cuss the idiots out over dinner like a normal human being.

Just kidding. They’re not idiots, they just have views different from mine.

Just kidding! They totally are idiots. 

In this deeply polarised political climate, it’s becoming harder to talk to whoever constitutes the ‘other’ side on any issue—not because of their views per se, but because of their view of the origin of your views. The same Modi-backer who claims to have arrived at her choices via cool-headed independence, is quick to dismiss opposing views as motivated—by blind hatred, by slavish loyalty, by political puppetry or financial incentive, or (my personal favourite) by the desire to be ‘fashionable’.

I figure this last accusation arises out of the notion that power and success so obviously require compliance and deference, that critique can only be a form of attention-grabbing cockiness. The other accusations seem to arise from the belief that your views must be dictated by something suspect—by class, political allegiance, sour grapes, or payroll—anything but your own principles.

The Modi-backer, for her part, must resent her views being perceived as springing from bigotry, religious chauvinism, venality, insensitivity, jingoism—anything but her genuine desire to see a man of action stop corruption in its tracks and develop the hell out of the country. I feel her pain, and feel that I should make an effort to reassure her that I understand her.

So here’s the best case scenario: I have nothing against any economic good that the BJP can accomplish in terms of fighting corruption and raising incomes without trampling over rights and environmental regulations. But if she thinks that she can cherrypick economic roses out of a nasty bouquet of social hemlock, she is either unaware of the RSS’s agenda, or aware but certain of her own acceptability to the majority and uncaring of her fellow citizens, or deluded into thinking that Mr Modi does not represent the Sangh despite his tireless, lifelong service to it. There, does that make it clearer?

Seven years ago, when the world was merely horrible, rather than horrible and proud of it, I wrote a Stet column titled ‘Left brain-right brain’. It paraphrased a friendly conversation about Palestine. Re-reading how it degenerated into insults hurled across a deep, wide belief gap, I recognise that dynamic as today’s mainstream. The only difference is that now the conversation is about Indians and other Indians.

The BJP’s storming of U.P. has disheartened a lot of liberals, who are keenly feeling their political marginality. But the wonderful thing about being a liberal is that you can go ahead and be the very last one left standing. That’s the principle of the thing—individual rights, down to the last individual.

So go ahead and fling social media faeces at us, tell us how irrelevant we are, and accuse us of opposing Mr Modi to be cool. (Face-palm—glad you think it’s cool, but that’s not why we’re doing it.) Tell us about our ‘political masters’. Tell us how you felt put down by our superior tone, so you chose a religious supremacist. We’re still not going anywhere. 

And regardless of what you believe about the source of our respective stupid opinions, in the same way that mine reflect on me, know that yours reflect on you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Nationalist baby steps

Intern here and you could be a big nationalist one day

(Published on March 4, 2017 in Business Standard)

Are you a passionate young person? Do you often feel inadequate, and are you beset by inchoate feelings of anger and fear and disempowerment? Do different people and different ideas create feelings of panic? Is your skin thinner than the thinnest argument you can muster? Are you happier running in a pack, following clear directions, than exploring things yourself? Are you willing to trust and venerate your leadership? Are you looking for like-minded people, and, more importantly, are you willing to never rest until there are only like-minded people to be found?

If this describes you, please take our multiple choice entrance exam.

Congratulations! A very warm welcome to you from all of us here at the Anti-Antinational Brainless Vigilantes Plague, or AABVP. We think you’ll be very happy here, because, as we like to say, ignorance is bliss.

First off, may we offer a pat on the back to prop up your fragile sense of self? You scored a brilliant 100% on your multiple choice entrance paper, choosing from the four interchangeable versions of the single possible answer we provided alongside each question. You’re a genius. There is little else to know, and if anyone tells you different, here’s a handy manual entitled ‘Making Weapons Out Of Whatever’s Available’. It’s not hard, mostly pictures, mug it up. It’s often going to be your first resort.

We teach you what to think, not how to think for yourself, so please don’t do anything dangerous like try to use your own brain, or indulge any stray feelings of self-doubt, guilt, compassion, or mutual respect for people unlike yourself. These uncomfortable feelings may arise, and we know how scary they can be, but be assured that they will pass. Stay strong.

Some people will tell you that there are other answers to the questions on our entrance exam. They will criticise ideas, and authority, and will not be afraid to do so. They will act as if it’s normal. These are the people who are destroying India. What do you mean, how? Have we taught you nothing? Questions that do not conform to the answers we have provided, are invalid. This gig runs on a need-to-know basis, and what you need to know is: These are the people we hunt. 

If you find one of these people, which you will, because they’re everywhere, this is your time to shine. Our standard operating procedure is pretty simple.

1. Get into their faces and yell the four interchangeable versions of the single valid answer you know.

2.If they argue, push them and threaten to rape them.

3. If, for the sake of form, you wish to come across as reasonable, agree with them fully, then say ‘But!’ and repeat the four interchangeable versions of the single answer.

4. If they keep talking, pick your favourite picture from the manual and do that.

5. If things aren’t going your way, appeal to the nearest policeman. The police will help you.

Remember that you won’t last a minute in a verbal debate, so if someone starts one, skip directly to intimidation. If that doesn’t work, go back to the manual. You’re so cute when you’re angry! We’re very proud.

By the way, please don’t confuse us with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, or ABVP—that’s the nationalist student organisation affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who tirelessly protect our universities and communities from intellectual and cultural mayhem, showing the kind of extra-judicial entrepreneurship and dedication without which this country would shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. The ABVP is for the big boys.

Maybe if you do well here, in ultra-nationalism nursery, you could think of joining them one day.