India: A republic of nobodies, most of the nation belongs to them

  • Manu Joseph
  • Updated: Nov 22, 2015 23:15 IST
Unlike their counterparts in the West, in India the poor and destitute have no qualms about what constitutes their home and therefore are not attracted by extremist movements. (HT Photo)

Activism, which includes acclaim-prone art and organised terrorism, is a feudal system where nobodies are in the care of somebodies. Among the nobodies are the inheritors of the unnatural phenomenon of poverty; or people who are deficient in faculties that the modern world rewards; or clinically depressed and too religious to know that; or culturally homeless and incapable of enjoying the world as an orphanage; or suffer from a mental disorder that makes them, as the French journalist Nicolas Hénin, who spent 10 months as a prisoner hostage of the Isis, describes, “more stupid than evil”.

The somebodies are often none of this. They are ingeniously altruistic, or in search for meaning, or criminals.

There is a difference in the circumstances of the European nobodies and the Indian nobodies. In western Europe, the nobodies are in physical islands of abject failure surrounded in plain sight by a mainstream society that is so happy and thriving, like a Facebook page where everyone else is having a good time.

For the smart among the nobodies western Europe is a paradise because the society has built ways for them to escape their circumstances, chiefly through education.

But most people are not smart, at least not smart in a way that is widely accepted as useful. Even though they may lead lives that are far superior to that of Indian millionaires, say, in Gurgaon, they harbour the severe disenchantment of being in proximity to a glowing mainstream.

Also, not all who are disenchanted are poor — many are just lost, Europe does not feel like home. Young French women leaving France to go to the Isis must be people who are very different from what we think are people.

In the past two years, I have passed through this disenchantment in Paris and Brussels that has supplied a handful of the “more stupid than evil” to a criminal republic that has and may again order the massacre of harmless people going about their generally joyful lives.

The Indian nobodies see a very different world in plain sight. They, of course, see a bit of the glitter of the rich, the decadence of the young in long cars and the illuminated fine-dining behind glass windows, but then in India it is the rich who are in the islands, who are confused about their idea of home.

Most of the nation belongs to the nobodies, it is a republic of nobodies. Some do join armed struggles fooled by handlers who are mentally-imbalanced or socialistic or criminal, but mostly Indian nobodies are in no doubt about what home is. Politics belongs to them. They love and revolt against the nation through their votes.

Indian democracy has survived because the nobodies wished its survival. It is India’s cultural and financial elite who have been afflicted with extremism because for long, until recently when the children of the nobodies became somebodies, they had no voice in Indian politics. They wished for a ‘benign’ dictator and they funded violent religious outfits that had no mass support.

The anger and longings of the nobodies that Indian democracy could not absorb were taken over by non-violent activism that put pressure on politics to accommodate the tensions. India is not a paradise for the nobodies, but whatever it is it is theirs.

Of all the handlers of the nobodies, the artistic establishment is probably the most useless. All novels, for instance, may be moral but they are often transactions between somebodies with the loser as a mere plot device.

In a recent interview, the Italian novelist, Umberto Eco, said, “The real literature always talks about losers…Losers are more fascinating. Winners are stupid … because usually they win by chance.”

Compassion then is a literary technique. But it is often much more than that for writers. It has an outsized reputation among them as that quality which makes writing a moral profession.

They will always bat for the losers of history and of the times. Losers are the political constituency of artists. Their actual art may not change the fates of the nobodies but artists, in the gowns of public intellectuals, use more influential mediums, like journalism, to take on the powerful on behalf of the losers.

That is one of the reasons why Prime Minister Narendra Modi is serious when he says he believes in “tolerance”. His stature as a global figure in the western world where the value of an Indian life is as high as any human life depends on his projection of himself as a compassionate, if misunderstood, statesman.

He cannot afford to have a foe in the modern righteous artists made of the global liberal monoculture. They can communicate across boundaries and cultures venerating universal values and universal wounds.

Together, they constitute an organised form of political correctness that controls a portion of reputable international journalism and most of quality art. It is underpinned by a sacred compassion for the nobodies. Here, hyperbole for the greater common good of the nobodies does not diminish the credibility of the artists indulging in it.

Salman Rushdie can say, with foreigner’s naiveté, as he did in an interview to, “In Bihar, where (Narendra)Modi himself was the face of the election campaign, people proved that they are tolerant, inclusive and pluralistic. They have made it clear that they do not want to live in a Hindu fanatic country.”

And the British sculptor, Anish Kapoor can write in The Guardian, “A Hindu version of the Taliban is asserting itself” in India.

But there are nobodies whom the compassion of the artists does not defend — the terrorist who does not wish to remain an underdog. Because without violence he is worthless. He hopes for the destruction of the world because that way he can convert everybody into a nobody.

(Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People. He tweets from @manujosephsan. The views expressed are personal)

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