No Country For Rationalists


No Country For Rationalists

Illustration: Rutuja Patil/ Arré

The Rational Choice Theory is an economic principle that states that individuals always make prudent and logical decisions. These decisions provide people with the greatest benefit or satisfaction — given the choices available — and are also in their highest self-interest.

It’s at play in matters of personal importance like choosing a nursery school for our children where we would make our choice on rational things like say facilities and location rather than colour of the uniform. But what happens when we try to be rationalists outside our homes, in matters that concern the country? Bollywood actor Om Puri got the answer to this question the hard way.

Puri made the grave mistake of rationalising the idea of joining the Indian Army. (Bad timing Mr Puri. Logic is something you should steer clear of when keyboard warriors double up as experts on foreign policy and are busy redefining nationalism.) He called it a job. (Pause for shock here.) By calling it a job, he hinted that reasons like lifetime employment, subsidised accommodation, free rations, house building allowance, Canteen Stores Department facilities, Old Monk at ₹100, and other tangible perks weigh in, in their decision-making. So do the intangible perks of respect and an increase in attractiveness levels to the opposite sex. How dare he? The hyper-nationalists would like to believe that none of this matters.

And yet the truth is it does. I’m not questioning the patriotism of those who join the army and devote their lives to serving the country, but most are also making a career choice, keeping the pros in mind just as they are keeping track of the cons – the lack of a normal life and the off-chance that you get killed.

And yes, of course, these men and women enlist knowing the dangers the job entails. Also knowing that danger is what makes the glory. There is a reason that night watchmen don’t get state honours.

Rationalism has been surgically stricken by nationalism, but it is a voice that needs to be heard.

The nation is up in arms against Om Puri’s rationalism. His questions, flowing from the above rationale, have become the basis of an official complaint, a sedition case. “Did we force them to join the army,” he asked. “My father was also in the army… We are proud of them (soldiers)… I am asking you: Do you want India and Pakistan to become Israel and Palestine?”

Do you want India and Pakistan to become Israel and Palestine?

These are important, pertinent questions. Why is a Bollywood actor asking them? Why aren’t journalists? The discourse on the idiot box has reached such levels of stupidity, that mainstream news anchors aren’t really interested in peace anymore, or the safety of those who were martyred, because they want war, which, if anyone wants to know, means more soldiers will die.

Indulge me for a moment, what is a better way to commemorate the martyred? Asking for a war to avenge them so that we let more sons of India walk toward their death or actually try to make sure Uri doesn’t happen again?

But there is no room for rationalism in this time of rabid nationalism. “Anti-national” Kejriwal too is at the receiving end of social media hate yet again for “insulting the army” because he asked the PM to “unmask the false propaganda of Pakistan”, which translates to “pointing his ugly fingers towards our beloved army” and “being a member of a Pakistani political party”. Calling him a black spot was not enough. In spirit of true nationalism his face had to be blackened. And so ink was thrown.

So blinded are the nationalists of today that even uttering the words Indian Army and Pakistani artistes in the same sentence is considered sacrilege. Javed Akhtar questioned the silence of Pakistani actors on the Uri attacks, which makes you think he’s condemning Fawad Khan and the gang. And that should really be okay. But the patriot is hard to please and Akhtar has been accused of being diplomatic and amply saving his “Muslim Paki brothers”.

Rationalism has been surgically stricken by nationalism, but it is a voice that needs to be heard. Nationalism can be poisonous if it doesn’t accommodate those who have a different world view.

Like that of Puri’s.

Puri should’ve asked why despite patriotism levels reaching an all-time high, over 50,000 positions lie vacant in the Indian armed forces? Puri should’ve asked why government after government delayed One Rank, One Pension for the armed forces. Isn’t that directly going to reduce the confidence of our jawans? He should’ve asked why do about 100 soldiers commit suicide every year? Puri should have asked when veterans are protesting for OROP, why is it that our nationalists go into hibernation?

What Puri does not know, is that questioning the institution of the army (not the patriotism of the jawan), being governed by a political party who made its bones with patriotic fervour is not good for business.

For all the patriotic fervour in our government and its spokespersons, the fact is that acche din remain nothing but a pipe dream for our jawans. And when the nationalist fever is over, the jawan will once again retreat from public consciousness.

And we’ll go back to a place, where the depression, sacrifice, and patriotism of our army men become secondary to Ranbir Kapoor’s dating life and the number of sandwiches Indrani Mukerjea eats in jail.