By Akhil Sood May. 18, 2016
Like clockwork, when resident tinfoil hat expert Subramanian Swamy says something silly, we chuckle and shake our heads. But he has a PhD from Harvard.
We’re a land of strange people; we have this elaborate electoral process through which we participate in the creation of leaders and governments — arguably the best men among those presented to us (oh, women too, if the men allow it). We pick our leaders based on how well they manipulate us, only to then assume that they’re all actually marble-brained halfwits — dumb at best, laugh-worthy at bestest.
So we giggle when a leader wears a hat with his own photo on it, or when he mistakes Bhutan for Nepal. We generate a river of memes and forwards when said guy compares an Indian state to an African country. And it isn’t just us. When a Republican candidate in the US with a fluffy golden mop on his head says something as delightfully tone-deaf as, “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich”, we laugh condescendingly.
The slight fear that this guy could become the most powerful man in the world is offset by the realisation that he’s a brainless bozo and that it couldn’t possibly happen.
This is somewhat comforting. You know you have the option to complain and moan about how things are being run when you’re secure in the knowledge that the guys running it are A-grade melons, while we have all the brainpower and knowhow to make India great again.
Like clockwork, when resident tinfoil hat expert Subramanian Swamy says something silly, we chuckle and shake our heads: “Oh, that guy again. What’d he say now?” We forget that this is someone who’s risen to prominence in a very Fountainhead-esque, Anupam Kher-ian way: it started, for the sake of the story, from an op-ed that was a hilarious satire of a deranged fanatic (come on, I refuse to believe he was in any way serious in that article) running a one-man political party.
But that was merely a teaser. It grew to hundreds of millions of court petitions suggesting bizarre conspiracies (from persecution to prosecution – badumtish), to increased media attention, to finally landing that coveted seat in the Rajya Sabha last month, from where he can effect real, meaningful, long-term change (shudder).
We don’t realise that we’re being played. We’re puppets, characters in an imaginary, terrible novel, written of course by our old friend Chetan Bhagat, reduced to stereotypes with no trace of complexity.
Now he’s writing open letters to the prime minister, asking for the removal of the RBI governor on grounds of being “mentally not fully Indian”, since he continues to renew his Green Card (I’m not sure whether that makes him anti-national or super-national). Comparing Swamy’s delusions and paranoia to Donald Trump’s, and writing them off under a very large umbrella, made of tinfoil and embossed with, “THEY’RE ALL IDIOTS!” in gold is the easy, tempting option. Except that it isn’t true, is it?
Swamy is often the subject of much ridicule among us self-flagellating arty-liberal types. But just in terms of his curriculum vitae, he’s an academic whiz. He’s authored piles of books and research papers; he’s taught at prestigious institutes, shaping the minds of today and tomorrow – he also has a PhD in Economics from Harvard (!). And I’m pretty sure all his degrees even have the same name written on them, despite the fact that I haven’t yet come across any “sworn affidavits” or bigshot politicians holding them on TV. His views can be rubbished, but certainly not his pedigree.
Trump is a multi-bazillionaire; just his shoes probably cost more than the GDP of, well, Kerala and Somalia combined. He had so much money that one day he thought, “Ah, screw it, I’ll just become President of the United States.” Years of sexist, racist, classist classic bigotry (combined with extraordinary business acumen) can’t just be filed under “ignorance”. There’s obviously something more sinister at play. It’s a base-level way of connecting to a majority of people who think the same way.
Closer home, where our lovable leaders disgorge anti-women, anti-caste, anti-thought, anti-good-food rhetoric with so much affection, it is less important whether they actually buy that crap or not. What matters is that it hits home.
There’s an ominous shrewdness in there – they’re cunning, media-trained rabble-rousers. Shit-stirrers. I cannot accept that we live in a world where elected leaders genuinely believe that Indians invented space travel, time travel, genome technology, temperature-controlled toilet seats, and the meaning of life a billion years ago. We don’t realise that we’re being played. We’re puppets, characters in an imaginary, terrible novel, written of course by our old friend Chetan Bhagat, reduced to stereotypes with no trace of complexity.
The thing is: stupidity is always endearing, idiots are always charming. And these guys, credit where it’s due, have realised this. It’s time for us, too, to recognise what’s actually going on: A cynical ploy to disarm and then destroy.
They’re the geniuses; we’re the stupid ones.