Not too long ago, Sir V S Naipaul stirred a hornet’s nest in the literary world and the media in particular with his sexist remark that women writers “were different” and “can never be a match to him”. The works of Jane Austen, according to the Nobel laureate, were “too sentimental”, and that this was because women are never the masters of the house.
That his comments generated hot air can be conveniently termed as the understatement of the century. Whether he chose to do so to invite attention –which also meant inviting a fierce backlash from a wide range of personalities, including his former editor, Diana Athill – or was he in his right frame of mind while making the remarks are the stuff of debates, not this blogpost. I have not read his works and do not know him personally; I am of the firm opinion that his statements were definitely reprehensible, and not keeping in with someone of his stature. So there. But we digress.
However, one thing’s for certain. That he chose to remain unfazed and stand by his views. Even in the face of vehement criticism. Even when intellectuals from around the world, and the West in particular, raised an uproar. Some called him senile, others went a step ahead, called him a ‘misogynist prick’; his remarks are laughable, termed a few; his works were withdrawn from international events; he withdrew from addressing the European Writers’ Parliament. One can speculate that he may not have invited the same outrage had he made the comments in a South Asian or South-East Asian nation, where women as a rule do not share equal rights with men and feminism remains only on paper. One can hypothesise that the Taliban would have lauded him for what the world views as a faux-pas, given that the comment strikes a chord with their ideology. However, it must be noted that the tsunami of backlash that emerged against Sir Vidia could not force him to retract his statement, or even issue an apology.
Contrast this with how India’s leading politicians behave. Former telecommunication minister A Raja first goes on record, stating that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and current Home Minister P Chidambaram were involved in the 2G Spectrum scandal, only to state at a later date that he did not want to “implicate” the PM. Our Minister for External Affairs, S M Krishna, while during his first visit to the UN reads the speech meant for his Portuguese counterpart, but later counters that “there was nothing wrong”. The media-sound byte darling politician of India, Digvijay Singh, seems to have it in his blood to utter something one day and retract it soon, or offer his favourite excuse, “I was misquoted” – be it in his comments on RSS, his genuflection towards Rahul Gandhi or his criticism of the Lokpal Bill or former Karnataka Lokayukta N Santosh Hegde. Probably everyone out there is a dunderhead at English.
From the Bhagyalakshmi scheme to the Posco steel plant proposal and his eventual resignation, u-turns were, and probably will be, the characteristic of the only Indian politician who deserves the Nobel Prize (at least according to him), former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. And Shashi Tharoor, who was once tipped to be the UN secretary general, went on air, clarifying on Saudi Arabia’s role as interlocutor (whatever that word meant) in the Indo-Pak peace process. Go on record, say anything you want, the clarification can wait, seems to be the motto of our esteemed politicians.
Unfortunately, this list is only indicative; from Farooq Abdullah to M Karunanidhi, from Mayawati to Sharad Pawar, conviction on the right issues is a trait that is virtually absent in our nation’s leadership. We are an apology of a nation. With such persons being the nation’s face abroad, it should not be too difficult to figure out why we are not taken seriously in the international arena. China’s ‘string of pearls’, India’s ever-pending consensus on Kashmir, the 1-2-3 nuclear agreement and the nuclear liability bill, delays (or refusal?) in extraditions of David Headley and Kim Davy, to name a few, are some of the direct fall outs of the phenomenon mentioned above.
It was left to India's former ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, to describe our nation's politicians as 'headless chickens', a statement that he was forced to retract.
Our netas could learn from Sir Vidia on how to stand by one’s opinions, not utter balderdash.
PS: Even tinsel town has not been spared of this phenomenon, as actor Katrina Kaif did not have the gumption to stand by her recent half-blood Indian remark, that was aimed at Congress princeling Rahul Gandhi, and had to tender an apology.
PS 2: Feel free to share your views on the issue.