Dr. Pratap (Ballistic) Mehta

I had no intention of commenting on the Aamir Khan remarks. But, when I saw Dr. PBM go ballistic again, I concluded that he could not go unchallenged. I watched the video of Mr. Khan’ interview. At a simple (and not intellectual) level, these are my thoughts:

For the most part, Aamir Khan’s comments were unfair, unintelligent and superficial and unnecessary.

In India, the public go overboard in praise or in condemnation of celebrities. It applies to cricketers and film stars. What they say or do is scrutinised excessively always. Nothing new there.

Second, the reaction to Aamir – not by those in the government – was also quite emotional because he could not have gotten away with his film PK in many countries around the world, if he had done it for other religions. Yet he chose to say that he was alarmed and that his wife even thought of leaving the country. That was rather unfair.

Third, the issue had been beaten to death. For him to rake it up all over again, was unnecessary. The government should be allowed to govern. These debates are needlessly distracting. Hence, the reaction to his comments was far more spontaneous and emotional than was the case for the remarks of SRK. The country has other priorities. He was playing his part in keeping the issue alive and divert minds and brains towards this non-issue.

Fourth, it was unintelligent because he failed to see that the media narrative creates and nurtures perceptions. One must watch Barkha Dutt’s ‘confession’ in the video link above (ht: Sudhir Kumar). It is around the time-mark of ’23m and 50s’. It is very important.Ms. Dutt’s confession is extraordinary since it violates the basic principle of journalistic ethics and integrity. That rule is: retraction or apologies should be proportionate in importance and intensity accorded the original coverage. Incidentally, that is the point that Ms. Smriti Irani makes in her recent brilliant interview with Ms. Dutt. Pl. see that from the 49th minute.

Also, in the case of the Dadri murder, there is a news-report that the murder could be motivated by personal issues and a communal colour might have been given by the perpetrator, with the connivance of the police, to escape scrutiny and prosecution. This angle should be pursued.

PBM makes two points that are eminently contestable:

what we get is a grudging odd sentence from the prime minister that talks at people, rather than to them; mendacious evasions from the finance minister, who seems more concerned about our image and lawyerly complications than articulating basic moral truths; and an army of party spokesmen and trolls that accuses critics of treason.

Cannot quite understand why the PM and the entire Cabinet should have reassured Aamir Khan when, going by his experience with PK, he needed no reassurance. Also, did the country need reassurance for the phobia whipped up by people choosing to stay inside an echo chamber and hence finding the decibel level rising? It was not the problem but the perception and the chatter that have gotten into a self-reinforcing loop and hence becoming too much of a burden to bear.

The second point he makes that is contestable is this:

The norms are being set by people with small minds, resentful hearts, constricted souls and hateful speech. Every patriot should be worried about this and, yes, be ashamed.

He paints with a too broad a brush here. It is deeply disappointing and worrying that, lately, he has taken to this practice. All patriotic Indians must be concerned.

Meanness, small minds and resentful hearts have never been in short supply in India in the sixty odd years of domination of the discourse by the Congress Party and its acolytes – ‘secular’ or otherwise. Their brand of pettiness, resentment and hate has been much more systematic, persistent, pervasive, ruthless and insidious.

This government is not reacting, officially, to a phoney agenda or discourse that is being set by others and it is correct in not doing so because that agenda is paranoia feeding on itself. That does not reflect ‘norms are being set by people with small minds, resentful hearts, constricted souls and hateful speech’. It is disappointing that PBM did not find space in his column to praise a Ms. Irani’s (a Government minister) dignified reaction to Aamir Khan’s remarks. Check it out from 45th minute.

Here is a compilation of (some) outrageous remarks made by  people with small minds, resentful hearts, constricted souls and hateful speech, just in recent times. PBM and other patriotic Indians can be ashamed of them even now (Modi’s comments cited in this link appear tame in comparison to others’).

I have a few more reasons for him to feel ashamed or  concerned about small minds and constricted souls.

(1) Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks in Pakistan

(2) Salman Khurshid’s remarks herehere and here.

(3) Crowd’s reaction to the release of Salman Khan by the Mumbai High Court in May 2015

(4) Remarks by the Chief Secretary of Kerala, no less, on evangelism!

In case PBM had not read Vamsee Juluri’s piece in  THE HINDU, he should do so. Here are two pointed ‘questions’ that Vamsee poses to public intellectuals like PBM:

Even with many regional parties, caste-based parties, and all the politics of its diversity, India seldom showed polarisation on the fundamental definitions of reality on such a scale ever before perhaps. Whether this polarisation is real, or the symptom of an age when the pervasiveness of the media, and the power of the media environment to turn into an echo chamber and feed a contrived public panic, as much of the U.S. media did before the Iraq war, is a question that needs honest debate, and often sadly missing in the war of clichés and slogans that TV debates dominated by party spokesmen rather than independent observers get reduced to.

No one can presume to instruct a fellow citizen on how much of a sense of belonging he ought to feel for the nation. But those citizens who have assumed a public role and who have become, either through desire or clever commercial craftsmanship, or both, conscience-figures for the nation, cannot shy away from the need to be responsible in their public pronouncements. [Link]

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6 thoughts on “Dr. Pratap (Ballistic) Mehta

  1. I think I understand “Tolerance”.

    Went back to 1989, and remembered how we were all quiet when Kashmiri Pandits were butchered and chased away from their own homes.

    Tolerence: When genocide can be done with support from the Central and State Governments with nary a tear shed by anyone. Also ensure that our history books don’t record anything. People moved on their own out of no fear!

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  2. Hi Ananth,

    Fantastic piece. it looks like there is still some incentive to keep the intolerance debate with a semblance of life after Bihar polls, although it has been beaten to death, as you have rightly said.

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    1. You are right, Murali. In fact, Dr. PBM had written on how he think that the government could have or should have responded to Aamir Khan, an individual. But, I can also say how Aamir Khan himself should have responded to the question:

      “This topic has been discussed, ad nauseam, ad infinitum. All the rational and emotional arguments and counterarguments have been made and heard. I have nothing new to add at this stage. We have had two droughts. Rural India is in distress. We should not disrupt governance with divisive debates by flogging them beyond the point of their social usefulness or relevance”.

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  3. Dear Ananth,

    I have always had a pretty low opinion of PBM. For whatever reason, you have always had a high opinion. Perhaps now you will “come down” to my level!

    I can recall a time when public criticisms of Suzanne Roy would have to start with encomiums to her many (usually imagined) talents and contributions. Now people just jump straight-away to give her well-merited abuse. PBM is still at a stage where people feel obligated to praise him before criticizing him — witness how Rupa Subramanya starts off her take-down by highlighting that PBM is Oxford and Princeton-educated and is one of our best “public intellectuals.” But he too is beginning to exhaust his fund of public goodwill.

    BTW, what on earth is a “public intellectual”? Someone who pontificates on all subjects under the sun, without any evident qualifications to do so? In that case I can paraphrase Rabindranath Tagore and say “Where public space is not occupied by public intellectuals, into that heaven, O My Father, let my country awake!:

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    1. That is a good prayer. In any case, purely on factual grounds, I do not start my blog with any statutory (or, otherwise) disclaimer.

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