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Exposing a nation of paranoid, ignorant, immature idiots

By Shekhar Gupta

Navjot Singh Sidhu hugging General QamarJavedBajwa and sitting next to the ‘President’ of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir during Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony as prime minister of Pakistan Saturday morning has given rise to a hyper-nationalist outrage, reminiscent of the furore faced by prominent Hindi editor VedPratapVaidik when he met Hafiz Saeed.
Except, the commotion now seems stronger. Sidhu, after all, is a star, and a recent defector from the BJP to Congress.
Neither of them was betraying his nation’s cause. Each, in fact, was furthering it by performing their own roles correctly: one as a public figure, and the other as an influential foreign affairs columnist.
Politicians, prominent figures from sports, cinema and popular culture meet diverse people all through their lives. The expectation that they must judge each individual before hugging, shaking hands or conversing with him/her is nonsense. It is regrettable that this has lately been legitimised by our commando-comic TV channels and some other electronic warriors on social media.
It makes me wonder what would happen to a journalist today if he met Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale a dozen-and-a-half times, Laldenga, ThuingalengMuivah, GulbadinHekmatyar, QaziHussain Ahmad and/or General MirzaAslam Beg (then Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami emir and serving army chief, respectively). And, while we are at it, let me say that I have also ridden a truck at the head of a procession with Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (now famous for laying siege on Islamabad) while a bunch of men waved their Kalashnikovs around us in non-threatening joy; met VelupillaiPrabhakaran; and conversed with two serving ISI chiefs.
Once, my reporter’s luck even found me in a lift in a Geneva hotel with a distinguished gentleman with taut, aquiline features, in a finely cut suit with fauji written all over him and Pataudi on his nose. He was Major General AsfandyarPataudi, our own Tiger’s first cousin, Saif Ali Khan’s uncle, and then number two in the ISI.
Given how “patriotic” the discourse is these days, how would I have explained all these misdemeanours? And my “cowardice” in not making enough of the “opportunity”. What would I be expected to do now? Grab the AK from one of Bhindranwale’shitmen and either shoot him or put him under citizen’s arrest?
Knowing the nonchalant Navjot Sidhu, he is most likely delighted by his sudden fame. But in the process, intellectual bankruptcy has taken hold of our collective judgement and exposed us as a nation of paranoid, unthinking, illiberal, ignorant, immature idiots. It also tells you how widespread under-employment is in our country.
Of all the non-controversies to have provided combustible gas for our prime-time warriors, this is the silliest one of all. A politician, at a former cricket mate’s swearing-in in a neighbouring country, need not bother about the protocol of who sits next to him. To stretch the argument—given that it’s so absurd anyway — since we consider PoK to be a part of India, we should also treat its so-called ‘President’ as our fellow citizen in Pakistani captivity!
A journalist (Vaidik) meeting a terrorist had shocked us four years ago. What did he discuss with Saeed? Could he have compromised India’s interests? Did he come back and brief the authorities? Did he freeze Muridke’s GPS coordinates on his smartphone? Did he offer Kashmir to Saeed?
All I would say is, if he did, I hope Saeed gratefully accepted his offer, and got off our throats. In these hyper-patriotic times, when the Indian sense of humour is circumscribed by Kapil Sharma’s Comedy Nights, it is best to idiot-proof everything. So let me add that I’m not saying this seriously. I don’t want Kashmir going anywhere, nor does Sidhu. Although, in the bilaterally angry week following 26/11 when a Pakistani TV anchor taunted me in a phone interview by asking that since Arundhati Roy had “said” Kashmir “should be given” to Pakistan, what did I have to say, I escaped by saying, with dead seriousness, “If so, please do take it from her”.
A public figure is fully within his rights to meet with anybody, whosoever. Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and NarendraModi were only furthering the national interest by embracing Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif. Former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat didn’t undermine India’s cause, but furthered it by writing a book jointly with his ISI counterpart.
This deterioration of the discourse in India has been in the making for at least two decades, probably since Kargil. This echoed in the jingoistic attacks on editors (including this one) who “gratefully” ate Pervez Musharraf’s breakfast at Agra in 2001 as he attacked India’s position on Kashmir. In 2013, in what can be called his first election speech, NarendraModi, at a rally in Delhi (29 September), attacked Indian journalists for again enjoying their meal without protest in New York when Nawaz Sharif allegedly described Manmohan Singh as “an old woman”.
For Modi it was campaign rhetoric. But it endures. It is just that the target now is a cricketer-politician, celebrating the rise to the top of his cricketer-politician buddy, albeit a Pakistani. And our politics is a non-stop war.
Still, Sidhu can safely laugh this away for several good reasons. The first that he is Sidhu and nonsense never bothers him, even when he speaks it on TV. Second, he knows this is a 48-hour madness and soon it will be replaced by something else. The third, and most important, is that in Punjab, where his politics lies, nobody, repeat nobody, would bother. If anything, his fellow Punjabis are laughing at the outrages.
Punjabis, more than any other community in India, are most at peace with Pakistanis. If a fight begins, they are in the forefront, always India’s sword arm. But not for them any of this prime-time paranoia. An NDTV attitudes poll had once shown that the largest percentage of respondents wanting better ties with Pakistan are in Punjab. The lowest, by the way, was in Gujarat.
Parkash Singh Badal, who had accompanied Vajpayee to Lahore in 1999, sometimes proudly displays to his guests back at his native farm house, the “dumbas” (fat-tailed sheep) presented to him by his counterpart in Pakistani Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif. The Punjab-Punjab games, with sportspeople from both sides, took place in 2004, and in the same year, former Pakistan cricket captain IntikhabAlam (he was coach when Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup) was appointed coach of the Punjab Ranji Trophy team. He served till 2007.
Why did nobody complain? Because the Punjabis are more than happy and secure in their skin. They elected, with the highest ever majority, Congress’s Amarinder Singh as their chief minister last year, never mind that his closest personal friend is prominent Pakistani journalist AroosaAlam.
No Opposition leader made their friendship an issue during the elections. Nobody complained when she sat in the front row at his swearing-in. They won’t bother one bit over who sat next to Sidhu or who he hugged.
The “khatremeinhaidesh” commandos have got their politics and sociology both wrong.