The 'bumbling liberal' and the 'neo-fascist' are two sides of the same coin. Neither has place in a moderate India, says Nikhil Inamdar
Many have mourned the slow silencing of the Indian liberal in recent years. The banning of books, the brazen trampling upon academic institutions by nationalist ideologues, the ongoing persecution of activists, the dimming of studio lights over former prime time regulars (now TV pariahs as a largely corporate controlled media stands proxy for the government they oppose), and more than anything else, the triumph of the 'Internet Hindu', the ubiquitous troll who negotiates all forms of digital media -- Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, and numerous dedicated hate portals -- to mock and gnaw at the Indian intellectual core, once a sole preserve of the liberal elite.
The country's most commercially viable writer Chetan Bhagat even dedicated a column to dissecting the 'anatomy' of this disruptive creature a few weeks ago (Surprise, surprise, he was trolled!).
Alas, not a flicker to his popular flame, or at the risk of being pounded by the 'bhakts', I too am going to hazard a Bhagat style cognitive surgery -- albeit on the bumbling liberal, who considering the events of the week gone by, seems better off in forced silence.
So, who really is he? What are the idiosyncrasies that define his genetic breed?
For starters, the bumbling liberal has commendable motives, but often barks up the wrong tree. Like he did, by peddling ballistic untruths, twisting facts and reading Yakub Memon’s own appeal as gospel truth to argue against the Supreme Court verdict on his hanging. This purely to defend a philosophical position on capital punishment. That Memon and his lawyers had several years to build up a compelling defence counted for nothing.
The bumbling liberal latched on to selective bits of an article written by a former RAW official, B Raman who himself lacked the courage of conviction to get it published while he was alive. Bits inconvenient to the argument being propounded -- such as Raman's unequivocal assertion that he hadn't an iota of doubt of Memon’s involvement in the conspiracy -- were ignored. It resulted in a hullabaloo that made a martyr of a terrorist.
Propensity for selective activism is another characteristic trait that plagues his stock. Barely had former President Abdul Kalam breathed his last, than the bumbling liberal began nitpicking. Agreed, uncritical eulogising might be a pervasive Indian malady, but our creature sought to enthusiastically puncture any notion of Kalam's worthiness with the sole remonstrance that he'd had meetings with the RSS. Contrarily there was either brazen unconcern or brash defence of the astounding turnout that Memon got, at his funeral.
Writing a while ago in the Indian Express, the celebrated academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta accused the bumbling liberal of deriving greater joy at exposing hypocrisy, than in defending freedom. Nothing could have rung truer in the days gone by.
Solely preoccupied with unmasking the bias of the Indian state in prosecuting the riot accused, the bumbling liberal couldn't give two hoots about preserving the tiny whiff of justice the victims of the Bombay blasts smelt after decades of waiting. For him, merely that justice hadn't been delivered in the riots where Hindu mobs had unleashed terror, was reason to suppose that Memon’s hanging was a case of majority mob appeasement.
It is by and large bigots who exploit stereotypes, but increasingly one wonders if there is fair bit of accuracy to labels like ‘pseudo sickular’ & ‘saffron bhakt’. More than ever before, these caricatures seem to reflect a worrying degree of truth. The two seemingly polar opposites have even begun resembling one another -- two sides of the same coin -- converging on their purpose to drive agendas, rather than uphold principles.
Its a shame the Indian liberal has had to stoop to the cheap gimmicks of the clamorous right -- drawing unnecessary equivalences, exploding into mischievous hyperbole and targeting contrary opinion with the “us or them” George Bushisms -- to drive his point across. Because unlike the right, every so often, he does take on battles that are eminently worthy of a fight.
If only every so often he stopped undermining his own arguments!
IMAGE: Hundreds of people gather outside Yakub Memon's home in Mahim, north-central Mumbai, ahead of his burial on July 30. Photograph: Sahil Salvi