Right foot forward

Why it's in Chetan Bhagat's interest Modi bhakts don't improve their English

They can't be blamed for their lack of sophistication as they are a product of the educational system and social structure the country provided them.

 |  Right foot forward  |  4-minute read |   12-07-2015
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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 the 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 truckload of Santhal Adivasis. While the Santhals jumped into the pool, Chatterjee and his cronies raided the bar and 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 India International Centre (IIC) for the Lutyens' liberals, at another it was a hangout 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 that this was a democratisation of Twitter - a reality that was quickly recognised by the new kid on the block, the Aam Aadmi Party (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 a 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 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 television 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 Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)-educated self-appointed custodians of secularism and democracy.

Unlike in the MSM, opinions can't be blocked en masse on social media - despite any amount of "gatekeeping”. Through Twitter the “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 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 Modi is seen by this section as an assault on their constituency. One may argue, if supporters of Jayalalithaa or Mamata Banerjee 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 multilingual 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 and 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 outbursts and define the battlelines 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.


Sandip Ghose Sandip Ghose @sandipghose

Sandip Ghose is a writer and blogger on current affairs. Views expressed are personal and does not reflect those of his employer

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