The most defining moment of Mamata Banerjee’s ongoing election campaign, in fact, the most definitive question is this: where does the Great Empress of Bengal go to the loo? That question-of-the-moment is also the most involuntary act of public undressing of the class that calls itself the Indian media. In its defence, which it itself is incapable of giving, this much can be said: one can’t expect any better from the former Lutyens janitors.
Another defining trait of this legacy Lutyens class is the fact that it was and continues to be ruled by the law of barbarians who lucked getting a college degree of some sort. Servility doesn’t always guarantee success. It is one thing to extoll the non-existent virtues and inadmissible wisdom of its political masters but it is entirely twenty thousand leagues under the muck to speculate on the toilet-going habits of the selfsame masters. This kind of thing…stinks. Literally.
Then there’s that other non-janitor class of legacy Lutyens. Harsh sun doesn’t singe their skin. Hailstones don’t crash on their wizened heads. Icy winters don’t rattle their bones. A lifetime of savvy dedication of a distinctive nature has mostly vaccinated them from changing political fortunes. Mostly. Until now. Especially now.
For the worst part of the last seventy years, the various motherships that incubated this non-janitor class included colonial enclaves such as the Doon School and St. Stephens College from where they had a visa-free voyage to places like Oxbridge and “earned” Rhodes scholarships, and returned to India only to find their worst fears confirmed: the country was still stinking and dirty and third world. The solution? The same that the British had so magnanimously left behind: exclusive gated communities where dogs and Indians were not allowed. Even as late as the late 1980s, the worst invective that emanated from a subsection of this class was bloody Indian.
The foregoing paragraph is pretty much the summary of an interview aired on The Wire’s YouTube channel featuring Karan Thapar and Sanjaya Baru. It is a truly hilarious spectacle watching two Lutyens relics nostalgically exchanging adolescent notes about lost courtier privileges. Adolescent because they obstinately continue to remain glued inside the bubble wrap of a past that burst apart in their own lifetime. The whole interview surreally reminds us of the climax of the Bollywood movie, “D” where the protagonist tells the power-denuded mafia patriarch, “apni baaki zindagi apni khoyi hue takat pe rote rehena” (spend the rest of your life wailing about your lost power).
I initially laughed off the interview as unworthy of attention but I decided to write this in order to carry forward the immortal dictum of our Rishis, crisply encapsulated in just five words. In a way, this is one of my methods of discharging the Rishi-Rna (debt to our Rishis).
दुर्जनं प्रथमं वन्दे सज्जनं तदनन्तरम् ||
durjanaṃ prathamaṃ vande sajjanaṃ tadanantaram ||
Let us first honour the wicked and then the virtuous ||
One of the enduring methods of teaching prose composition to school students is making them do this exercise: “rewrite the following sentence or paragraph in your own words.”
The Wire interview discussing Sanjaya Baru’s new book, India’s Power Elite: Class, Caste and a Cultural Revolution is an adult version of this exercise. It could easily be titled Nehruvian Secularism in India is Dead Because Modi Killed it, and variants thereof. Barring few exceptions, pretty much every book that has emerged from the legacy Lutyens stable since 2014 can be titled as such. In John Dryden’s immortal verse, this is the essence of all such books:
This aged prince now flourishing in peace,
And blest with issue of a large increase,
Worn out with business, did at length debate
To settle the succession of the State:
And pond'ring which of all his sons was fit
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit;
Mature in dullness from his tender years…is he
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity.
He…never deviates into sense…
His genuine night admits no ray,
His rising fogs prevail upon the day:
Besides his goodly fabric fills the eye,
And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty…
All arguments persuade,
That for anointed dullness he was made.
As the interview itself reveals in respective first-person confessions, Baru and Thapar dutifully tick off all the relevant boxes: secularism, idea of India, aggressive Hindu identity, an increased awareness of caste, intolerance, and the rest. While we’re largely familiar with this templatish narrative, some aspects in this interview are especially egregious, appalling in their ignorance, and stunning in their sense of entitlement.
Right off the bat, Sanjaya Baru mentions that Modi’s 2014 triumph was a cultural revolution. Which is correct in a partial sense. However, Baru completely sheds any sense of history or perspective when he immediately equates it with Mao’s so-called cultural revolution which he says destabilised China and that at its heart, it was an “anti-elite,” and “anti-intellectual movement.” And that
The only term to describe this sort of intellectual acrobatics is this: Lutyens narcotic. It is said that the same narcotic, say, heroin, produces different kinds of hallucinations in different people. But the Lutyens narcotic has the singular distinction of producing the same hallucination within its users. Case in point: a March 14 article by Ram Guha who drew “parallels” between Modi and Mao.
To point out the most obvious historical fact staring at the face, Mao’s “cultural revolution” was a genocide motivated by Communism, a totalitarian ideology that brooks absolute obedience and subservience. Modi’s 2014 and 2019 victories were not revolutions but popular electoral mandates in a constitutional democracy. Mao butchered about thirty lakhs of his own people on his path to dictatorship. Modi was voted in by crores of his own people who reposed faith in his leadership.
The revolution in China was simultaneously the violent annihilation of its pre-Communist cultural civilization, which shared several values with that of the Sanatana spiritual civilization. It is precisely this annihilation that set back China. The real parallels that Baru and his ilk like Ram Guha seek in India are found not in Delhi or in Modi’s “revolution,” but in West Bengal and Kerala where the Maoesque “revolution” succeeded: the Hindu civilization and Hindus in both these states are the most vulnerable here.
But Baru’s charge of anti-intellectualism has a twofold source: the first is obviously the loss of the familiar comfort of the Lutyens cushion but the second is ignorance and anathema. Ignorance of the fundamentals of his own culture and civilizational inheritance wherefrom springs the anathema. There is a culturally-rooted method to illustrate this: it was Sanjaya who really gave us the Bhagavad Gita, one of our invaluable national treasures. The alienated Sanjayas of our time are most comfortable in the discourse that says that the Bhagavad Gita is a war manual.
Then there’s the documented, seven-decade record of the intellectualism Baru and Thapar prize so much. As we have explained elsewhere, this intellectualism precisely gave us “Hindu rate of growth,” “BIMARU,” “Cow belt,” and “Hindi heartland,” “militant Hindutva,” “Hindu fascism,” all used as obscenities. It also airbrushed, whitewashed, and apologized for the worst excesses committed by the fanatical Ulema which held our politics and society hostage for the same period. The same intellectualism shielded, even applauded convicted criminals like Lalu Yadav—the latest instance was the delirious celebration of the RJD’s victory in the 2015 elections symbolized by this notorious photo.
Like Pratap Banu Mehta, Baru & Co too, need to answer for this record of “intellectualism.”
The other manifestations of this intellectualism include using overtly racial and colonial terms like “provincial” and “vernacular,” which Thapar and Baru liberally throw around while describing Modi’s PMO and administration. These are terms which nobody, especially, no educated Indian, has used roughly in the last three decades in public discourse. Suffice to say that words like “provincial” and “vernacular” have ugly origins in and connection to racial theories like the Aryan Invasion Theory. Plainly speaking, the two eminences in the interview have characterized Modi’s administrative class with the familiar slur, gawaar. Struggling hard to maintain a façade of objectivity.
The same overbearing condescension reflects itself when Baru says how the “new” political elite is extremely caste conscious and how it proudly identifies itself with the Hindu religion. Apparently, this is a worrying development because Baru’s generation wasn’t even conscious of its religion much less caste. That generation was internationalist, he says with some pride, identifying with Vietnam war protests, etc. Those were the real issues, broad, large and “universal.” But the good Baru misses a fundamental point: the obverse of being an internationalist is the fact that an internationalist is culturally rootless and therefore profoundly homeless.
But perhaps the most disgraceful portion of the interview is the nonchalant racism underpinning their “discussion” on the fine art of using spoons and forks. According to Baru, the social class that “prefers to eat with its hands and does not…understand the different purposes of a fork and spoon…This class does not form the power elite but it has begun to matter more.” In turn, this phenomenon supposedly reflects the rise of Bharat. It only gets worse:
Karan Thapar pours even more toxic fuel on this: “they don’t care, they got the confidence that earlier generations when they were social misfits didn’t have confidence.”
Social misfits. That is what the full population of non-Lutyens Indians are. Let that sink in.
Recall: dogs and Indians not allowed.
This is the entire essence of the “India” that the Nehruvian machinery created, nurtured and in the process, destroyed its civilization with greater crudity than the British. Shorn of the cloak of its colonial tuxedo, this is the Idea of India: whether one eats with one’s hand or uses a spoon and a fork in the approved manner, holding it in the…err...right angle.
It perhaps escapes the analytical prowess of the Baru-Thapar duo that they are exhibiting the most nauseous form of the same “caste system” that self-righteously rail against. This extends to the duo doing a caste-wise breakdown of the BJP by explicitly caste-calling Vajpayee as a Brahmin and Modi, an OBC. This is something the BJP itself doesn’t do unlike the Congress and its offshoots which are frank about creating caste vote banks.
Then there’s some monkey-balancing chatter about how this class that Modi has empowered will evolve in future but the rhetoric fools nobody today, after seventy years of secularism.
But as far as the non-Lutyens flavour of this interview goes, Baru-Thapar make an honest admission: that Modi has rejected Lutyens Delhi. Followed by an even more honest but wry admission as the interview ends: we’re becoming increasingly irrelevant in the new India.
Which is as it should be.
What Thapar and Baru call a cultural revolution has a more realistic term: civilizational reclamation. They would’ve grasped it if only they had breathed the timeless air of India instead of coating their lungs with the fumes of the artificial Nehruvian oxygen mask.
Precious insights also come in the form of innocuous news items. The following is one such news item dated June 29, 2020, at the peak of the Covid lockdown.
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