From Amitabh Bachchan to Gen. Bipin Rawat, from Arundhati Roy to Sri Sri, these unlovely individuals infest every aspect of the luckless nation’s life.
As befits a country with a preposterously large population, India has far too many people who belong on the negative side of life’s great ledger. Indian public life abounds in charlatans, criminals, bullies, windbags, braggarts, and thieves. While mostly in politics and religion, these unlovely individuals infest every aspect of the luckless nation’s life. What follows is my list—confined arbitrarily to a dozen—of some people we could really, really do without.
In alphabetical order…
Mani Shankar Aiyar
The personification of a certain sort of Nehruvian arrogance, Aiyar is a New Delhi elitist who’s lost his bearings in Modi’s mofussil-flavoured India. Ignoring the many legitimate ways in which the PM might be criticised, Aiyar resorted to a public disparagement of Modi’s humble social origins. “Neech,” he said. Low-born. This cost the Congress party an election.
Big B—his baritone on every voice-over, his mug on every product—offers us a textbook lesson in the art of overstaying a welcome. People tire, even of superstars, especially those who never seem to give others a break. Added to India’s Bachchan fatigue is a track record of…remarkably little, except for years as a shill who’s never taken a stand on any issue of national significance. And then there are the Panama Papers.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani
The most mulish of Kashmir’s “azadi” brigade, Geelani has yet to meet an offer of peace that he couldn’t refuse. More viciously anti-Indian than anyone in the Hurriyat, he was even opposed to the Manmohan-Musharraf formula on Kashmir, the most dovish deal of all. An Islamist hardliner, his idea of Kashmiri independence is a merger with Pakistan.
It’s true to say that Goswami is the most consequential Indian journalist—even at the risk of enlarging an ego that’s already full blown (and of testing the definition of ‘journalist’). Boorish, vindictive and biased, he has destroyed the once-civil genre of the TV debate, replacing it with a form of verbal mudwrestling of which he’s Rustam-e-Hind. (Except when he’s interviewing Modi, when he’s Pussycat-e-Hind.)
The IPL cheerleader
She represents nouveau riche India at its gaudiest. As if the teams’ names weren’t crass enough—Super Kings? Knight Riders? Royal Challengers?—the businessmen and movie-stars who own these mercenary cricket outfits give us underdressed white women to be ogled at in a televised mela of public voyeurism. Here, India’s fetish for white skin embraces India’s irrepressible sexism in one swift swirl of a pom-pom. “Whistle podu,” as they say in Chennai.
Kejriwal promised to sweep away corruption, but has been a civic moralist short-circuited by his own righteous wiring. Surrounded by fellow moralists and showboats, Delhi’s chief minister turned quickly into a bickering, pettifogging whiner who’s as intolerant of criticism as those old-school politicians he’s sought to shame. In spite of having his hands full in Delhi—pollution, anyone?—he went a-meddling in Punjab. A truly bad idea (but one of many).
This is the man many senior advocates agree is not quite the best Chief Justice in the history of India’s Supreme Court. Misra should be in a hall of fame for the quality of his writing alone—his sentences seemingly composed with words picked at random from a thesaurus, with syntax and grammar optional. But there’s more to Chief Justice Misra than mind-boggling verbiage. Google “land allotment in Odisha”, “Kalikho Pul”, and “medical college admission”. Unanswered questions, right?
Gen. Rawat is disconcerting because he speaks unfiltered in an institution that’s revered by almost all Indians. As Chief of Army Staff, he’s constitutionally subordinate to the civilian government, which means leaving politics to the politicians, not playing the fauji panjandrum in the manner of his Pakistani comrades. The general’s political opinions hit the headlines with such regularity that one wonders why Modi hasn’t suggested an early retirement. Ten-sion!
Perhaps a Maratha isn’t quite right for Rajputana: Raje’s Rajasthan is the most mismanaged state in India. Not only have social indices plummeted shockingly under her tenure, but Rajasthan has become a byword for religious violence and cow-hatya. The gau-rakshak terrorists operate with deadly impunity, even as the state’s schools rewrite their curriculums to accommodate the very latest in Hindutva revisionist ideology.
The caterwauling (and self-appointed) conscience of India’s radical enviro-left, Ms Roy is the Indian dissenter best loved in the West. She has described the Modi government as “totalitarian” and peddles the view that economic reform and foreign investment will leave India ravaged and dystopian, with its people beggared and its lands poisoned (Greenpeace-certified). There is nothing so tedious as a Manichean moralist, even with a Booker prize, especially one who has no qualms with Maoists in the motherland.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
One of many godmen who roam India unchallenged, Sri Sri is by no stretch the worst. He doesn’t imprison female devotees or foist godly noodles on a hapless public. But his is the smooth face of godmanship, which makes him, scarily, a Charlatan On The Inside. His recent pronouncements on the Babri Masjid—he says that India will become like Syria if the dispute isn’t resolved—suggests that he doesn’t know Syria at all. Or India, for that matter.
OK, he’s not Indian. But he does dress like one, and make his family do the same for photo-ops. And he does surround himself with Indians in that lovely “I’m-Canadian-not-American” way that makes our aunties smile and say, “So cute!” A pity, then, that some of those Indians in his orbit were Khalistanis.
It took a snub from Modi to make Trudeau aware that there were terrorist cuckoos in his multiculti nest. O Canada!
Tunku Varadarajan is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.