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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Javed Akhtar reflects the old, decaying elitist mindset of India

Lutyens’ Delhi is not just a geographical location, it is a mindset. For 67 years this mindset has set the agenda for our nation. It has decided what is acceptable & high-class discourse, and what is low-brow & plebian.

The two mandatory requirements which control entry into the Lutyens’ club are impeccable English OR mastery over Urdu. Other qualifications like staunch secular/liberal/socialist beliefs, family tree, educational pedigree are also evaluated, but the ability to speak fluently in either English or Urdu is non-negotiable.

One just has to go through the Delhi weekend circuit – seminars, talks, cocktail parties, Urdu mushairas, Sufi nights – this is what our opinion shapers frequent. Events which fall outside this charmed circle automatically acquire a lower status – ‘traditional’, ‘vernacular’, ‘commercial’, ‘loud’ being some of the labels used to describe them by the Lutyens’ socialite.

So whether you are a scam-tainted Tamil politician & lawyer with a clipped English accent like P Chidambaram, a Urdu poet & Bollywood lyricist like Javed Akhtar, or a wheeling-dealing English-language journalist like Barkha Dutt, Lutyens will welcome you with open arms.

But if you are a Gujarati politician with Gujarati-accented English like Narendra Modi, a Kannada novelist like S.L. Bhyrappa, or a witty Haryanvi match-winning cricketer like Virender Sehwag, Lutyens’ doors will remain closed for you.

There is also a conditional access pass, without full membership, to this elite club.  The brilliant, St. Stephens’ alumnus Arun Shourie was considered an outcaste till the time he was writing and working in support of the ‘communal’ Hindutva cause, but he turned halal the day he lashed out against the current NDA Government.

Given the way they have dominated public debate since Independence, members of the Lutyens’ club are bound to suffer from intellectual arrogance & delusions of grandeur.

Hence it is no surprise to see Javed Akhtar tweet like this, after an online debate broke out between DU student & AAP activist Gurmehar Kaur who claimed that “war, not Pakistan” killed her martyr father, and sporting icons Sehwag, Phogat sisters, Yogeshwar Dutt, actor Randeep Hooda (all from Haryana) who disagreed with this clean chit to Pakistan.

While there were many who logically decimated Akhtar’s condescending jibe at the Haryana sporting heroes, two responses from the actual target of Akhtar’s derision show just how much Bharat has changed in the last 5 years –

“I have been raising nationalist slogans (‘Bharat Mata ki jai’) from since I was a child, even before I started going to schools. Patriotism is not learnt from books”

“We (athletes) slog for a lifetime to win medals for the country, and you dismiss us as illiterates in a second”

The Lutyens’ club is floundering and the nation is awakening. These self-appointed arbiters of public morality (prosecutor, judge & jury) are finding out that the internet and social media has created a level playing field in the battle of ideas.

How did the Lutyens’ club become so powerful?

If there is one person who can be held responsible for creating this cabal of self-aggrandizing individuals know today as the Lutyens’ club, it is Jawaharlal Nehru, the PM of Bharat for 17 long years after independence. Nehru’s love for the British way of life was clear, even though he opposed the British colonialism which had enslaved Bharat. “I am the last Englishman to rule in India,” Nehru once told the American economist John Galbraith.

After the deaths of Gandhi in 1948 and Vallabhai Patel in 1950, Nehru had a vice like grip on the public mind. Nehru’s view of Bharat’s history and understanding of our civilization is revealed in this analysis of Nehru’s popular book The Discovery of India’ –

“Nehru though well-intentioned and gifted as a writer, was not a scholar, much less a researcher. As a result it (the book) carries the biases of his background and education. 

What is needed is a new model for historiography or the methodology for the study of history, not a compilation of bits and pieces taken from secondary sources as Nehru’s book happens to be. These sources were also works by European scholars of the colonial era. Like most men of his background and education, Nehru disdained Indian scholarship unless it was as deferential towards Western opinion.There was no attempt at creating a historiography.

Nehru failed to note that the Islamic rule was also colonial, in which the establishment was dominated by a ruling class of foreign origin, Turkish, Afghan and then Mongol. Nehru’s family had long served in the courts of Islamic rulers and had imbibed many of the anti-Hindu ideas of the Muslim ruling class. Like many educated groups of his time, Nehru and his family transferred their loyalties to and imbibed the values of the British rulers when they replaced the Mughals following the 1857 revolt, and prospered.

It was this double imperialism that shaped Nehru’s view of India. At the same time he saw British as foreign colonizers (as the Muslim elite did) while he accepted (or assumed) that Muslim had become Indianized and evolved a syncretic culture.”

Nehru’s worldview was further embedded into our public psyche by his daughter Indira who ruled us for 15 long years, followed by Indira’s son Rajiv (5 years) and Rajiv’s wife Sonia (proxy rule for 10 years). A sum total of 47 years of public indoctrination is bound to have its effect. Even the non-dynasty Governments that have come to power have not dared to challenge the intellectual hegemony of the Lutyens’ club, such is their clout.

But May 2014 marked an epochal change – it saw a rank outsider and complete antithesis of the kind of leader that Nehruvian dogma has deemed acceptable, come to power with a resounding majority. Hailing from a poor family, a backward caste, this self-made man who educated himself as an adult and who comes from the ranks of the ‘evil & communal’ RSS, makes the Lutyens’ club denizens skin crawls every time they hear him speak. But even this usurper could be controlled – what has made life intolerable for the Lutyens’ club is the democratization of the public discourse with the advent of social media.

But this club is not about to give up without a fight – they have survived NDA-1, and will try every trick in the book to subdue the current challenge to the disastrous Nehruvian idea of India. The odds, and most public institutions, are still stacked in their favor.

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