In January, Indians displayed a mysterious and unprecedented concern for the welfare of Ugandan women. Even the Ugandan women were baffled.
The outrage erupted after the workers of AAP in Delhi held four women hostage in their car, accusing them of being African prostitutes. It marked the beginning of the downfall of the party’s head and the former chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal.
Kejriwal then did a string of things, including going to sleep in the foetus position on the road, and eventually resigning as chief minister to protest against the political opposition to his version of the anti-corruption Bill.
The media portrayed him as a clown anarchist and a deserter and a person with something called ‘agitation gene’. People across many layers of the society, who do not own their own opinions, agreed and the way they spoke about their disenchantment with him was as though they were used to being governed by geniuses.
The great tactician, who had shaken the political system purely through his cunning and analyses, was beginning to blunder.
The word from within his party was that he does not listen to them, he always made a show of collecting advice from others but did not take them seriously. But then how could Kejriwal take seriously wisdom that is not his own? After all, he has been proved right so many times and the world wrong.
If he had listened to people, he would have been a software engineer in the suburb of a suburb of San Francisco — nothing wrong with that at all, honourable even, but surely Kejriwal has done better by not listening. If he had listened to people he would have remained an old man’s sidekick, crawling on to a stage to whisper things to his chief, announcing fasts people had got tired of and breaking them with fruit juice given by little girls.
People with great instincts begin their lives wading through the cesspool of opinions, most of them hostile to their own inner voices, and as they begin to succeed against all odds they find it hard to respect the collective wisdom of the world.
Because they have seen from so close how wrong the world can be.
If at all there is a defence of Ram Gopal Varma’s recent films, and it is still humane to defend him, it is just this. What else can explain the degradation of a revolutionary who once forced Hindi cinema to mutate, into a middle-aged man who uses ‘Twinkle twinkle little star…’ as the background score in a horror film.
Varma has made only three types of films — about thugs, about young women facing great odds, and about female ghosts. He was once brilliant at them. When he began making the films he truly wanted to, he faced the jeers of the immediate circle around him.
But then his analysis of what was great modern commercial cinema turned out to be right. As a result he grew suspicious of opinions. He is even amazed at people who talk a lot about cinema.
“Barista directors”, he told me once during an interview in the way of describing a type of people in Mumbai who sip coffee and talk about cinema for hours. When Anurag Kashyap used to assist Varma and he would make a suggestion, it was not uncommon for Varma to say, “Do that in your film”.
It does not mean that he does not listen, it is just that it is rare for him to respect what he hears about cinema. Also, the mechanism that once made him create his influential films is the same that now makes him churn out the rubbish. He cannot tell the difference.
The writer Sylvia Nasar recounts an incident in her biography of the mathematician, John Nash, who shared the Economics Nobel in 1994, when he was asked by a visitor, “how could you, a mathematician, a man devoted to reason and logical proof…how could you believe that extraterrestrials are sending you messages? How could believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world? How could you…?”
“Because,” Nash said, “the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously.’
On a somewhat lower plane, Kejriwal’s great ideas, too, were born out of the same process that now creates his miscalculations and even delusions — the conceit of intellectual independence and irreverence for the dominant species of ideas.
But it is important to remember, when we still can, that the destruction of Kejriwal was not entirely a consequence of his blunders alone. There was something else at play.
The sudden concern in India for Ugandan women, the transformation of Kejriwal’s reputation and the imagination of the public that they deserved a better politician than him were all a part of the vicious nature of love — the love for Narendra Modi.
It was Modi’s time, and everybody who stood in the way risked being defamed and they were. Among other things, Modi has been accused of presiding over a police force that faked encounters, of abandoning his wife, of stalking a young woman, of taking favours from rich industrialists and having a shady right-hand man.
But nothing touched him. His foes, on the other hand, were measured by different standards. As a consequence Kejriwal’s blunders were magnified.
Even in the best of times, Kejriwal allowed his contempt for those who disagreed with him to extend to the media. He did not regard them as fools, but as corrupt. He played them, of course, and did it well, but there were times during his interviews when he would begin to sulk and dish out jibes like a juvenile.
Even now, as he tries to resurrect himself, he has said that he does not believe the media is essential to his fortunes. He is probably right when he says that the mainstream media and its middle-class consumers do not represent his voters. But they control the noise. And Kejriwal is nothing without the noise.
(Manu Joseph is a journalist and a novelist. The views expressed by the author are personal.)