Binoo K John

Sudha Murty, Sehwag and the duplicity of India's majoritarian elite

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Sudha Murty, Sehwag and the duplicity of Indias majoritarian elite
A viral photo of Infosys heiress Sudha Murty cooking pongal at the Attukal Bhagawathy Temple in Kerala became a representation of her connect with Indian traditions. Photo: Twitter

The majoritarian elite has a desperate yearning to leave behind the rusticity of Bharat; they cover it up by putting on a show of loving Bharat

What do celebrities with massive social media following do when they are in the shadows after being out in the sun for quite some time?

Join any passing bandwagon.

Ex-opener Virender Sehwag is very good at jumping onto such, mostly governmental bandwagons, and delivering some spin to the narrative. Sehwag has mostly been funny, which is fine, but when he gets to espouse a cause as he did recently – to jump on the ‘Bharat’ bandwagon – he usually leaves yawning gaps between bat and pad to be easily bowled.

Bharatiya on surface, British at heart

With unnerving speed, Sehwag tweeted aggressively on the need to adopt Bharat as the name of the country.

His argument was the same as touted by the ruling party: India was a colonial name handed down by the British, and hence should be rejected. When pointed out that cricket too was a colonial handover, Sehwag changed his tune only to tie himself up in knots.

Till he was prodded on to join the Bharat debate, Sehwag was a beneficiary of all British handouts and its legacy. Cricket, of course, gave him all the wealth and fame deservedly, and no doubt he contributed greatly to the sport. But going further, he also started a school in the fully British model and, to cap it all, he named it the Sehwag International School, clearly attempting to distance the school from a ‘Bharat school’ which is after all only ‘national’.

After nesting rather well in the British tree to suddenly fly across to the rather dry leafless trees of Bharat (which is why he made his school international with an exclusivist agenda) is not perplexing. It is not that Sehwag decided to position himself at the intersect between an outward looking India and the inward-looking Bharat (hence being international helps). This is the contrived dilemma of the majoritarian elite who are now trying to figure out which side their aspirational bread is buttered and by whom.

Yearning to escape the ‘unwashed India’

The Sehwag dilemma and his sudden embrace of Bharat happens when aspiration collides with a half-baked political idea. That political idea consists of stripping India of its aspirations and becoming an imagined Vedic paradise full of historical (and medicinal) quackery, where everything is “pure” and cleansed of the Indian “other”: the unwanted, unwashed elements of the populace.

Just the type of world where Infosys heiress Sudha Murty wants to escape from, using her own silver cutlery, untouched by impure hands, as she said in an interview recently.

“There is a fear that if the same spoon is used in veg and non-veg items...This thought bothers me often. And so, when I go out, I look out for pure veg restaurants and also carry a bag full of eating materials,” she told Kunal Vijaykar in the show titled Khaane Mein Kya Hai. She admitted that she carried her own cutlery when she travels.

These instances are indication that the majoritarian elite which Sudha Murty and Sehwag belong and cater to, also has a desperate yearning to leave behind the unwashed India. Their children are all sent to the West early in life, to escape the rustic simplicity of Bharat, to develop into world citizens who will not have to come back to Bharat and live the daily fear of Sudha Murty: that hotel cutlery may have been used by non-vegetarians and by extension people of other castes and religions.

Jingoistic slogans from ‘un-Bharatiya’ pedestal

It doesn’t matter to them that the West is where such notions have to be shed before entering the hallowed portals of Harvard or Oxford about which they and their children have dreamt for many years. It is not just that internationalism is for their children and a jingoistic nationalism for themselves. This elite majoritarian class, loves to stand with feet on two boats going in different directions. There is nothing more in terms of achievement for this class than the very sight of their children coming back home with an English twang on their lips and wearing English twill trousers, proof that they have shed their ‘Bharatness’ completely. For them this is the ultimate sign of “arrival”. In this arrival there is no enigma. It is sought and obtained.

It is to cover up this lifelong dalliance with the West coupled with a rejection of so-called culture of Bharat that the Sehwag class puts on a show of loving Bharat so dearly that the name of India has to be changed in a hurry with no delay likely to be caused by the ‘others’ and their political allies.

It is of interest to note that this class of nouveau riche also live in gated communities called Belvedere Valley and Silicon Valley, Oxford Park etc. If such apartment complexes in Noida, Bengaluru and Gurugram had names like Bharat Bhavan or Gurugram Nivas for instance, these class of people would have shunned them because the names did not reflect their real-life destinations or their aspiration. It is after understanding this that Sehwag positioned his school in Jhajjar, Haryana as ‘Sehwag International’ which according to the school manifesto is something which is needed since “the environment around us is not suited to nurture our passions”. Really? Then how did Sehwag nurture his passion for cricket?

Duplicity of the elite ‘Bharatiyas’

This exclusivity is what the elite crave for: to get away from what Sehwag calls “dirty environment” to such exclusive international schools in Jhajjar or Gurugram, if not the real Oxford itself. Such a school can align closely with such gated communities where cash and ambition lie in store at least for a while before it lands in their true destination: the salubrious west with its tax havens. There is proof too. More than 1.6 million Indians have renounced their citizenship since 2011, including 1,83,741 in 2022, according to government data. About 18 million Indians (a quarter of the estimated 100 million cream of Indian society) have shifted out of India and live abroad according to latest figures. All of them needless to say belong to this elite class who have cornered about 70 per cent of national wealth and are now suddenly bothered about the shame of being in ‘India’, with such a heavy colonial tag.

This sudden embrace of Bharat by this class is a ploy to cover their real intentions but at the same time keep their country ‘pure’ and full of cutlery untouched by non-vegetarians and impure others. This duplicity is what drives this fabulist and jingoistic urge to change the name to Bharat, wiping out the last vestiges of British colonialism.

[Binoo K John is the author, among other books, of the recently published Top Game: Winning, Losing and a New Understanding of Sport (Speaking Tiger)]

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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