During the 2014 general elections, I heard a lot of people countering arguments against Narendra Modi with the claim that those criticizing him only did so because, being snooty and elitist, they were naturally terrified by the prospect of a mere tea seller getting elected to the high post of the Prime Minister of the nation.
India’s bestselling author suggested the same in a newspaper column recently. A man who believes the Twitter mafia needs to get a girlfriend in order for the social platform to become a more congenial place, who reveals his ignorance by belittling the work of historians, also imagines that all the writers, filmmakers, scientists, and members of the general public expressing concern over the increasing intolerance in the country are only doing so because they feel their intellectual or financial position is in danger.
Chetan Bhagat has been repeatedly stating this point of late, declaring that if Modi and Amit Shah “attended Doon school, spoke impeccable English and were spotted with their English girlfriends”, no one would be pointing fingers at them. I have never been a fan of Chetan Bhagat, or his writing, and I doubt anyone, including the man himself, can explain why he imagines girlfriends will solve everything.
But for him to trivialize what his own contemporaries have been doing of late – returning awards or protesting vocally against the increase intolerance in the country- in such a blunt and unapologetic manner is a new low for him.
He accuses “liberals” of being motivated by selfish concerns, and of being elitist in their thinking and lifestyle. He holds their education against them while criticizing them for holding other people’s lack of a similar kind of education against them. He places them as a single selfish, greedy body by virtue of the class they belong to, while criticizing them for looking down upon people who do not belong to their own class.
To claim that people with money or an English medium education can have no one’s interests at heart except their own is the same as saying that everyone without money is irrelevant. There are all kinds of people in all classes, religions, nations, and societies, and to generalize so strongly is perilous, especially when a man with the kind of influence and following that Bhagat has does it.
Apart from being appalling, his claims are also untrue. The people protesting don’t necessarily come from privileged backgrounds. Several of them, in fact, have worked their way up to get to where they are today, just like Bhagat or Modi have done in their respective fields.
For example, Ajmer Singh Aulakh was born to a family of farmers, while his fellow Punjabi writer Baldev S Sadaknama worked as a taxi driver, truck cleaner, and truck operator before he began writing. To overlook the struggles and achievements of these artists, and declare that anything they may have to say is irrelevant because of the position they hold in society today is disgraceful, and ironic considering the grounds of criticism against them.
Bhagat goes on to say that these “liberals” who are protesting look down upon vernacular languages. That is a loose, uninformed claim, if not a stupid one, considering several of those protesting make a living off those very vernacular languages. The writers in question, for example, turn out work in Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi, Malyallam, and Kannada amongst other languages.
In addition, he claims that these “liberals” are only speaking out in today’s situation because Hindu fundamentalists can be blamed – “They claimed to be modern and fair, but one would rarely find them speaking out against Islamic diktats that militate against gender equality. Liberal discussions on Godhra riots never touch on how Islamic fundamentalists burnt trains with passengers inside.”- hence turning the protest against communal intolerance into a communally motivated one itself.
Chetan Bhagat accuses anyone speaking out against increasing intolerance of some of the worst ideological crimes possible in a diverse, secular country like India, and he never once actually addresses the point of intolerance himself.
Bhagat, regardless of what I think, is a well-known and much beloved writer for most of the people in this country, and he, as a writer, wields the power of the pen in a way that few people can. To criticize a manner of protest, or to deny the issue entirely is one thing, but to accuse those who are giving up much treasured possessions- awards that are a sign of success and a source of respect- of being selfish and inconsiderate, apart from labeling them as greedy and insecure, is disgraceful and, considering Bhagat’s influence, dangerous.
For Chetan Bhagat, intolerance doesn’t exist. It is just an issue that the “liberals”/elites are cooking up to protect themselves, fearing they will lose their position in society. But he is privileged – what with his money and the books he writes in English – what does he know.