Mark Twain summed up elitism best by commenting that when red-haired people are above a certain social grade, their hair is auburn. He could well be speaking of people such as Sanjaya Baru, a former media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, while writing about the emerging dynamics of the power elites in contemporary India, in all likelihood expressed the sadness of a bunch that cannot seem to come to terms with the fact that their shade of auburn ain’t the new black.
Baru noted how the political change (read the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP) had altered the power elite’s morphology. In an interview to promote his book, Baru lamented that the new breed of ‘elites’ shaping India’s destiny didn’t know how to use the correct cutlery while eating in Delhi restaurants and dressed up in dhotis, et al. It is this kind of insight you need to understand why the so-called Indian public intellectual has consistently failed to understand the real change that is taking place around them.
One of the world’s best sociopolitical commentators, Christopher Hitchens, no stranger to the concept of snobbery himself, once famously pointed out that most politics was a manipulation of populism by elitism. Hitchens believed that the elite had hijacked public opinion to a point where it was constructed, manufactured, manipulated and imposed upon the people in such a way that they believed it was their own opinion. A few years ago, books by ‘insiders’ such as Tavleen Singh and Baru gave the average reader a ringside view of how power operated in ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ and across India.
In some way, it was also a list of names that wielded power in the previous political dispensation and a declaration of how they could fit into the new scheme of things if needed. Baru and his ilk seem to be disappointed with the turn of events post-May 2014 as the cycle of a set of friends replacing a different set of friends—this is what the power shift in Delhi meant for some was broken. The chief concern amongst this bunch is not the change of guard but the continuing shattering of expectations where as much as they’d like to believe that they and only they have the best intentions for the world at large, leaders, at times, also do things for those whose views are different.
Every few years, there seems to be a new compilation of angst and frustration amongst the intellectuals who find themselves to be jobless, much like the ronin or a masterless samurai following his employer’s death or the loss of his master’s favour or privilege. This breed of elites is desperate to try anything to remain relevant. This group of intellectuals often insists on interpreting the world they once belonged to via literary festival panels, television news debates, or books.
Yet, at the same time, it also tends to resist explanation. It is funny to see how it aims to achieve this by not engaging with anyone it once labelled an outsider by constantly accusing the present powers that be of being unengaging. It employs a tried and tested tool to significant effect for this, an unmistakable sign of elitist behaviour, is to turn facts into questions of the motive.
Film historian and bestselling author