Mr. Bhagat: Please get off our backs, will you!


Gratuitous advice is better ignored. Nevertheless, the ‘Underage Optimist’, Chetan Bhagat, intellectual icon of Generation Y, needs an answer. His advice for Muslims in his latest column, is, ‘Don’t let them divide and rule any more’. The assumption is that Muslims are permitting ‘them’ to ‘divide and rule’. For ‘them’ to not to rule ‘any more’, his ‘urge’ is that Muslims ‘not commit (their) vote and loyalty to any political party forever’.

His version of ‘vote-bank politics’ is in the minority choosing representatives ‘because he is a symbol of hope for the minority’. To him, ‘Muslim citizens are wooed the most because their community is one of the largest in terms of actual numbers and ‘also as a community they are believed to vote en-bloc’. This does not necessarily get them any dividends, since the representative then kept ‘us busy with the Hindu vs Muslim debate, while they hid the fact that the entire country suffered due to their misgovernance.’

Chetan Bhagat’s seemingly unexceptionable counsel needs to be juxtaposed with his earlier utterances. In earlier columns this year, he had offered public advice, that hindsight suggests may not necessarily have been unsolicited nor innocent, to Mr. Narendra Modi requiring him to make a transition to the national stage. He had praised Modi’s development record, attributing it to Modi’s ‘firmness’ on development. Look and behold, barely six months on and the nation has witnessed the first steps of Mr. Modi to break out of his regional satrapi, Gujarat.

In terminating a fast that has unfortunately for his pains, gone unremarked into history, Modi declined to sport a cap, the cultural marker of a Muslim community, offered by a Muslim follower. The commentary that attended the gesture had it that Mr. Modi did not want to spoil his image favoured by his majority supporters. In effect, there is an even more significant ‘vote-bank’ out there, the Hindu vote. The effort is to get it to vote ‘en-bloc’, an effort that has been on ever since the ‘Optimist’, even if ‘Underage’, has been old enough to know of. Why does this escape Mr. Bhagat’s admiring, though undiscerning, eye?

Chetan’s right for soliciting supporters for his favoured candidate is not in question. For him to employ his not inconsiderable talents and use his Times of India column for the purpose is between him and his maker and the editors of that newspaper. But his bias needs outing.

That he thinks in terms of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ is clear. Note his advice, this time to his co-religionists: ‘We as majority members have to be extra cautious to not hurt the feelings of minorities.’ In other words, the division he rails against is one in his own mind, one that he needs working on when he is not too busy advising others in the Sunday Times.

Rightly, there is a division, but not one between religions, but based on vision for the nation. The Muslims, sensibly are against majoritarian democracy, especially one in which the majority is defined, as Mr. Bhagat has it, by a denominational majority. To prevent this if they are to cast their vote the way they do, it is what usually trounces psephologists, the traditional wisdom of the Indian voter.

In his earlier ‘demystification’ of Mr. Modi, Mr. Bhagat deems him to be at best a pardonable ‘opportunist’. While that may be so, Muslims having had a taste of the ‘opportunism’ of Mr. Modi cannot facilitate it at the national stage by following Mr. Bhagat’s advice, even if it is for the sake of the argument here taken momentarily as well meant and above board.

Mr. Bhagat had once made out Mr. Modi as one who ‘believes in action’. He needs being asked where was this man of action, when Gujarat was burning? Or that it burnt was evidence of his being a man of ‘action’? Should not then Muslims take the evidence seriously, or should they believe his millionaire-writer apologist, Mr. Bhagat? It must be admitted that to his credit Mr. Bhagat admits to an incapacity, writing, ‘i can never fully understand the feelings a minority person goes through.’ But surely that does not prevent him from empathy, the stock of which is known to be more than most others in authors.

However, it must be conceded, Mr. Bhagat is right in his call, ‘my dear Muslim brothers and sisters, you have been had.’ There are several reports that bring this out, the latest being Harsh Mander’s Center for Equity Studies report. This is not necessarily as Mr. Bhagat implies because Muslims have propped up the Congress. Their support has been for those championing the development and secular plank. Mr. Bhagat appears to support without voicing it, a party that is not secular, howsoever strong it may be on development – a questionable proposition in itself once its record in Karnataka is taken on board. Consequently, it cannot benefit from the enlightened vote of Muslims. 

Therefore, Mr. Bhagat’s parting shot – ‘It is our nation, yours and mine, that has to be made great now. Are you on board?’ – sounds trifle like a Bushism – ‘Either you are with us or against us!’. By that yardstick, Mr. Bhagat needs being told off, ‘We are manifestly not on board!’ For all his ‘audacious’ pains, he deserves the reason: Any unilateral redefinition of India by those he supports is not in the national interest and therefore cannot be endorsed by patriotic Muslims.

Firdaus Ahmed blogs at subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.com.

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