India’s SAHEB – Batman or Bait-man

Before you read, please note:

  • Resemblance to any characters, living or dead, of Hindu ancestry or extra-terrestrial origin, is purely coincidental.
  • SAHEB stands for Self-Appointed-Hindu-Evangelist-Batman.
  • If you’re a fan of SAHEB, please note that: While reading, your heart will race uncontrollably faster. Your pupils will dilate. You will feel a steady throbbing in your temples from rising blood pressure. Don’t be alarmed. This is normal and expected.
  • If you’re a fan of SAHEB and don’t exhibit above symptoms, you’re advised to consult a physician immediately.
  • This is not journalism. This is mere commentary. The two, unlike what our media likes to believe, are quite different.

There’s a SAHEB in town. You all know who he is. You’ve seen his legendary moves. In his universe, objects accelerate due to gravity at 9.8 PILs per second-squared, TDK is not a Japanese corporation, and all of human life traces its ancestry back to a solitary Virat Hindu male who arose in an East African rift valley 300,000 years ago. He is our not so silent guardian. A watchful protector of self-interest. A self-appointed desi knight.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against SAHEB, or his ilk, which engages in the sensational to grab eyeballs and earlobes and whatever other body parts they fancy. It takes all types to make up this world. We all have our roles to play in the grand scheme of things. That’s what makes things interesting. I also believe that it is not disrespectful to occasionally examine so-called heroes in the sobering and unforgiving glare of reason and common sense. SAHEB came into the spotlight first as a junior cast member in the anti-Emergency movement, best remembered for his dramatic cameo- surfacing one fine day in the Parliament after going underground. He served briefly as Finance minister in an ill-fated, long forgotten government.

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Over the years, he has flitted from one contentious cause to another, from defending Sri Lankan Tamils to turning into their foe, and from baiting RSS to his present day avatar as a champion of Hindutva. When you look at his 40+ years in “public service,” the man has achieved staggeringly little. It’s not like he has been idle either. He has been and is an effective rabble-rouser, an opportunistic, ever-morphing demagogue rescued from obscurity and oblivion by social media. This is not to suggest that he’s “not smart,” or that he’s somehow a “bad guy” or any of those labels we’re quick to bestow and snatch back. He may be smart. He may be a good guy.  He certainly doesn’t appear heroic.

“But for him, the 2G case might have never come to court,” you say. “How many PILs have you, you bloody armchair commentator, filed?” you ask. You see, therein lies the rub. There is a reason that we have two distinctly different words in the language for ‘activities’ and ‘results.’ Activities meant primarily to draw attention to the self (like what I am doing by writing this now), which lead to zero outcomes don’t rank high in my book. They shouldn’t rank high in yours either. Why not judge the man by the number of prominent cases, which have actually been decided and closed? “Are you nuts? How is he to blame if the Indian courts are slow?” you respond. And I say, “This is not about not blaming the dude for anything. This is about pointing out that he hasn’t proved worthy of your loyalty yet.”

There is something logically inconsistent about criticizing Sachin for scoring hundreds but not winning matches, and at the same time, celebrating unworthy chaps who spend more time in concocting acronyms and clever turns of phrases than in accomplishing real things. There is something logically inconsistent about entertaining the wild speculations of one, while condemning those of everyone else. Ramayan would be a lot less interesting if all Shri Ram had done was to return from Lanka after filing a PIL and tweeting a few choice epithets. The punch line in the immortal tale is ‘He took the bad guys out, against all odds. And, he did it the right way.” So, don’t bring up Shri Ram if you can’t handle the Rajya part.

I can see why SAHEB is admired. There are two systems that work in our brain, according to Professor Kahneman who researched the workings of the mind. System 1 is fast, reflexive and unconscious. It helps us make quick decisions. System 2 is slow and introspective. It examines the logical inconsistencies in our beliefs. Evolution has favored the dominance of System 1 in human nature. That makes sense. When faced with a sabre-tooth tiger, those among our ancient Hindu ancestors, who decided quickly to fight or flee, and avoided philosophical introspection, were selected to survive. Evolution has wired us to favor the simple and actionable over the abstract and complex. Often, the simple and actionable is not always right.

SAHEB understands this all too well. He feeds his legions with bite-sized, easy to digest, grossly simplified views of the world, which instantly gratify a deep primal instinct. He has mastered the art of the sound bite. He is a thespian in the public theater. He is a maestro when it comes to masking identities of his targets with acronyms and choosing words so carefully as to never make his outlandish speculations defamatory. He has mastered the art of hit-and-run guerilla warfare. Nothing more. Nothing less. Is that your definition of a hero? You make the call.

Few understand the role of chance better than SAHEB. The man is a human roulette. I can only imagine what a typical day in the life of SAHEB must be. I presume that he loads up his semi-automatic as he sips his filter coffee at the crack of dawn, and then after a brisk walk and shower, dresses up in crisp white “veshti” (dhoti) and a white cotton shirt, and wanders out onto Twitter or into the nearest courtroom, where he fires away robustly and randomly. It should come as no surprise that he manages to inflict flesh wounds on a target every once in a while, an act which earns him the rowdy applause and undying admiration of fans, who are not inclined to view it as statistically inevitable. As the great philosopher, “The Joker,” once said, “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just… *do* things.” We’ve got the Joker mixed up with Batman, and I’m not certain if that makes our Gotham better off.

“Fine. He hasn’t achieved much. But..but.. at least, he is doing something, no?” you protest. So we arrive, finally at the mother of all justifications, to the ultimate, fall back “at least he’s doing something” position from which we defend our heroes in this great nation. The real Batman observed, “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Rewarding people’s faith means a lot more than “at least doing something randomly.” It takes a lot, lot more than demagoguery to get there. It takes the stuff real heroes are made of. It might be wise to reserve our admiration for only those who get there.

– a Guest Post by @Waatho

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