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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Milligazette, 16-31 July 12, p. 10

Chetan Bhagat’s latest column in the Sunday Times (the masthead of the Times of India on Sundays redolent of a publication in UK), The Underage Optimist, is titled ‘And the people’s choice is…’ ( He considers two candidates for the answer, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Bhagat exercises his democratic right in favour of Mr. Modi. There is nothing exceptionable with either his debunking of the Congress ‘crown prince’ or his political inclination for Mr. Modi. The issue is in his arriving at Mr. Modi as the ‘people’s choice’.

He claims that 82 percent of those voting on a poser from him on his Facebook page between the two political personalities weighed in favour of Mr. Modi, helping Modi beat Rahul Gandhi by ‘an astonishing 16 times’. Those who follow Bhagat’s socio-political writings in his columns and op-eds as against his bestsellers are by now familiar with his political predilections. Yet again in a free country there is no problem with that. It can be expected that those agreeing with him would also be linked to his site on Facebook. Therefore, if the vote goes a particular way, it cannot but be otherwise. From that to stretch the argument and prejudge the national election two years away is, to quote a phrase in his article, ‘a bit much’.

The matter of using his column for propagating a candidate as he has been indulging in over the past is also one between him and his editor. However, it is important to equally consistently dissect Bhagat’s argument in favour of his choice, lest through biased propagation by his influential supporters Mr. Modi does end up acquiring the prime minister’s chair in the real forum as against Facebook.

Bhagat, as befitting an IIT-IIM graduate, sensibly builds up his case as a comment on the manner Mr. Modi is acquiring a following in cyberspace among the youth. He caveats his advocacy by requiring Mr. Modi get ‘lucky, stay humble, has some genuine remorse and make the right moves.’ Getting ‘lucky’ is meaningless. ‘Staying humble’ is a notably tall order for Mr. Modi, as his recent campaign against his bete noire in the right wing, Mr. Joshi, indicates. It is the contradiction between the latter two – ‘genuine remorse’ and ‘making the right moves’ – that needs interrogation.

‘Genuine remorse’ cannot be felt and expressed as part of making the ‘right moves’. While remorse is right, it cannot be a right ‘move’. It cannot be taken as a means to an end. It has to be an end in itself. Genuine remorse in this case would amount to abdication, not only of the gaddi but by taking political sanyas. A life spent thereafter in service of the victims is one that can efface the blot, since the state and its judicial system has not deigned to bring justice to bear. However, since neither this is not about to happen, it is best that Mr. Modi be shown the door democratically. 

Will that happen? Not if the likes of Mr. Bhagat manipulate their fan following into turning in a majoritarian verdict. Even if backed by the majority, it would hardly be ‘democratic’, since political theory well knows that majority and democracy are not synonymous. A graduate with a technical degree such as Mr. Bhagat cannot be expected to know better.

A decade of uninhibited manipulation of the evidence in the Gujarat carnage using a cowed down state machinery and docile police has led to Mr. Modi being given the benefit of the doubt by the likes of the Supreme Court appointed SIT led by RK Raghavan. However, his supporters are ever willing to keep skepticism in suspended animation blinded by majoritarian supremacism.

This does not imply, as Bhagat suggests, a willingness to forget someone else’s past in order to gain a future. It is instead to be well aware of the past and not be bothered by it. Bhagat’s suggestion that the nation should follow such a cohort is to be blind to their motives going beyond a development orientation as Mr. Bhagat selectively presents them.

Bhagat’s selective blindness tells more about him than does his column. It is for this reason his case needs interrogation. And the fact that as a ‘youth icon’ – in the wikipedia’s words – his words may be taken as gospel in youth liable to mistake the credentials – IIT-IIM – as those of Almighty himself. It is no wonder then that Bhagat in his conclusion advises the BJP to go about ‘mobilizing people to vote’.

There remains one last bone to pick. Bhagat in drawing up his negative contrast of Rahul Gandhi to his champion has Gandhi ‘hiding whenever there is a national crisis.’ Bhagat can be forgiven for not knowing where Mr. Modi was in late February 2002, since Bhagat was perhaps over in Hong Kong busy with investment banking.

But, where was Mr. Modi hiding during the national crisis in rajdharma? Keeping his political buddies in police control rooms, Mr. Modi was certainly not busying himself with preempting the carnage at the controversial meeting on the evening of 27 February 2002 in his residence office. The SIT claims he was not busy precipitating it either.

The vote on this due in 2014 will surely confine Bhagat’s ‘people’s choice’ as PM of his Facebook page.

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