That Mr. Bhagat is a below-ordinary writer is not a secret. His prose is utterly pedestrian and apart from the mildly autobiographical works (5.someone and 2 States), his plots are like a cliché sandwiched between a banality and a platitude.
Nonetheless I've admired his ability to tell a story that panders to the masses and market the hell out of said story subsequently. Moreover, as bad is his prose is, the opinion pieces he sometimes writes are quite coherent and he makes his point, even if it is one I don't often agree with.
But his stand on the recent troubles the NDA government has had with Indian authors returning their awards has been baffling. It began with a snide remark, and has led to the tweet attached with this post (Screenshotted by me from his feed). And with this, he has gone from being an author who leans left to a logic-less Bhakt.
He uses the 'What about’ argument, which never makes sense. No, Mr Bhagat, just because someone is angry about Issue A and not Issue B does not de-legitimise their concern about Issue A. I might be vocal about animal rights and not human rights, Ana might be vocal about human rights in Africa and not South America, and my cats may be vocal about the increasing price of fish in Mumbai. Each of these are independently legitimate concerns, and should be recognised as such. Saying ‘Why didn’t you complain when’ is bad logic, bad debating and only shows you do not really have a point.
And then the issues he uses to prove his point! The Commonwealth Games – yes, unfortunate corruption, that was acted upon. Was free speech stifled? Was an eminent litterateur murdered? No, Mr Bhagat. It was a financial scam, of the sort that every goddam Government engages in. 2G – another financial scam, and one whose proportions were bloated by a malicious auditor. Perhaps Chartered Accountants should have surrendered their degrees at that display of astonishing incompetence by Mr Vinod Rai. Coalgate – again…Adarsh…the point is, these were all bad things, no doubt. Stealing from the state is a crime, of course, and it led to a movement in opposition to it. A little thing called India Against Corruption. It also led to the electoral downfall of the UPA government. Yes, a lot of the votes the NDA got had more to do with disgust at the financial shenanigans of the UPA than a naïve hope that a white knight in a kurta would come and take India into a golden age.
Why does any of that have to be conflated with the present crisis of conscience – the attacks on citizens of the country who happen to have a different dietary preference, or question the gods that you believe in? This is a serious issue, you know. The fact that you can be killed with impunity and not have the government stand up for you. That you could lose a father, a brother, and be blamed for harming some mythical animal-mother-figure. And if some people have the guts to make a gesture, however symbolic, against it, more power to them.
Look, I’m not sure returning awards is the best way to go. If anything, Amitava Ghosh seems to articulate a sensible stand here. But seriously, Mr Bhagat, you’ve lost the plot, and whatever respect you had.