Forgive me for using that endearment, which I came to understand recently is reserved for those close to you. I had initially started out my salutation as “Dear Mr. William Dalrymple, Sir” given that you are the inheritor of the Great British Raj—indeed, your illustrious bloodline had a judge, a no mean position to decorate during those imperial days. But then you claim in your numerous books and essays that you have immense love for this land, its people, customs, diversity, and the rest of the good stuff so I assume it’s ok to address you as “Willie.” After all, I was born in the same land, follow its customs etc and therefore I take it you profess the same immense love for me as well. At any rate, I certainly wouldn’t have called you “Bill” as is the wont of those crude, mannerless people in the land I lived in for several years. In that land, the word “Willie” is an obscenity.
I write this in retrospect. You could also consider this as a response to your New Statesman piece of 12 May. It largely is. But it is also other things. Your New Statesman essay on Narendra Modi is perhaps the grand finale, the climactic and the true showpiece of your self-professed love for India. And this retrospective holds a mirror to that rariora of love.
You initially earned distinction as a journalist and travel writer before exploding on the scene of what passes off as English literature in India today. Perhaps for the first time ever in India, you created a parallel Literature Government in the form of the Jaipur Literary Festival, which you continue to lord over. You hold the master keys to it and you’ve built the fort well by appointing native litterateur-bureaucrats as the gatekeepers. Of course, there are other gatekeepers far away from the fort, an invisible fence made up of both your admirers and worshippers of every hue: Left, Liberal, Centre, Right, Atheists…for every extremist Communist like Kancha Ilaiah you have a balancing (is the word “nuanced” now?) supporter and admirer like Swapan Dasgupta. You also have such eminences like Nandan Nilekani and Harsh Mander in your Jaipur literary kitty. Did I miss Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury? Accomplishing this sort of all-encompassing feat is the stuff of legends. Well done, Willie.
But it is only when we turn to your record as a historian—or at any rate, a writer of books based on history that another Willie emerges. But wait, I also noticed that you have acquired a new qualification: Wikipedia profiles you as an “Indologist.” Truly amazing Willie. Wonder when this happened. Wonder when you learned Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit among other languages. Wonder when you got yourself trained in epigraphy, genetics, and allied subjects.
But I was on history. And because you are also an Indologist, I wonder why all your acclaimed history books about India—including the wildly popular White Mughals— consistently repeat every colonial bias there is about India and presents a one-sided, and in some cases, a distorted version of its history? As an Indologist why do you translate Goddess Parashakti (in your Age of Kali) as one “seated on a throne of five corpses?” And why of all things about Goddess Meenakshi in Madurai, you gush only about her powers of seducing her husband, Lord Shiva? Or why in White Mughals, the decaying Mughal Empire which squelched the Indian spirit for nearly 300 years, you have a fond longing for those glorious days? Or why you insist on glorifying the Islamic zealot and mass murderer Tipu Sultan as a hero? And why does your pen take yearning wings and emit such mellifluous, melancholic prose lamenting the fall of the resplendent days of the Hyderabad Nizam’s rule in face of mountainous evidence to the fact that that resplendence was built on a foundation of corpses cemented by a mixture of blood and cruelty, and sustained by exploitation and tyranny?
I don’t know Willie but I think this historical side of you informs your political side. A historical side that pines for a return of bigoted and intolerant Empires, a historical side that sides with the forces that encourage servility over courage and independent thought. This is the sum and substance of your New Statesman piece.
Your prose describing the deserted streets of Delhi is pretty good but you trip early when you mention Arvind Kejriwal as one of the contenders for Prime Minister, fully knowing that he had himself declared on numerous occasions that “these elections are not the Aam Aadmi Party’s elections.”
Next, your criticism of Rahul Gandhi begins well with the accurate caricature of the Gandhi dynasty as the “most striking example of sexually transmitted democracy” followed by a delicious rendering of Rahul Gandhi’s self-immolating Times Now interview. Yet that, Willie, is a clever by half attempt to lull readers.
The real issue is not the personality, leadership or vote-getting capabilities of Rahul Gandhi. All these three things exist in the realm of fiction.
The real issue is the fact that you know that these exist in the realm of fiction. The real issue is the fact that you fling the blame for the Congress party’s vicious two-term regime at Manmohan Singh, and not at where it actually belongs: Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Of course it could be argued that as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh could have been more assertive and decisive. However, going by your own description of the Nehru dynasty-spawned culture of sexually transmitted democracy, Manmohan Singh can’t be entirely blamed because he’s also one of the travesties of that dynastic democracy. Indeed, almost every single disastrous piece of legislation—both economic and otherwise—that brought India to its knees was the brainchild of the nation-wrecking club known as the NAC, which Sonia Gandhi gestated.
And so, the real issue is the fact that you like thousands of Dynasty sycophants, are trying to defend the indefensible: the clueless Rahul Gandhi and his blind mother. Of course, I do understand your concern: you could thrive only in an ecosystem that their Dynasty germinated. Your loyalty is appreciable Willie. But elsewhere, for example, in your own country, you were “banned” from the Telegraph for “rampant, foaming-at-the mouth anti-Semitism in Middle East reporting, in [his] Islamist enthusiasm.” But I’m not Conrad Black who characterizes your New Statesman article as one written by the “tired, punch-drunk London journalistic Left [which] adheres timelessly to its ancient subterranean standards of fair political reporting, and the lengthy article within was an appropriate farrago of leftist bigotry.”
But Conrad’s characterization is appropriate given the title of your piece: India’s Worst Nightmare? Narendra Modi, neo-fascism and the making of a tyrant. One must also appreciate the New Statesman’s ingenuity. In the Web edition, it is titled: Narendra Modi: man of the masses. But we’re all used to such hypocrisy so we’ll let it pass.
Four days after your piece was published Narendra Modi became the 15th Prime Minister of India. Would you still call him a tyrant, Willie? Perhaps you won’t. Perhaps whatever moral compass you have doesn’t permit you to refer to a Prime Minister in that fashion? Or perhaps your friend Swapan Dasgupta won’t approve? Recall, he chided you on Twitter recently, asking you to stick to history?
As we get to the part where you begin to speak about the third PM contender Narendra Modi, you spread your wings of hatred wide open Willie. Even the sky is no limit. It appears that there’s nothing you will stop at Willie, in denouncing Modi. Including gross, grand lies and slander. And everybody supporting him risks facing similar attacks from you.
So Willie, which Government record gave you the figure of the 2000 people killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots? And on basis do you confidently claim that “[P]regnant women had their womb slit open and the foetuses smashed in front of their eyes?” And do you give no credence to the Indian Supreme Court which has cleared Narendra Modi of any wrongdoing in these riots cases but instead try and obfuscate the matter by claiming that the “case is ongoing?” Would you care to read for me the law relating to contempt of court in say, England? I assure you it won’t read differently from that here in India.
Of course, having Modi as the centrepiece of your hatred has its benefits. You can call the current Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as a “dark legal genius” of the BJP. You can go ahead and call the RSS a fascist organization, a Nazi outfit. Or you can Willie, descend into utter ludicrousness by comparing it to the Phalange. You can even keep abusing it without offering any proof. You can:
- Link it to Gandhi’s assassination
- Hold it responsible for “many of the worst atrocities against Muslims” during Partition.
- Claim that “most senior BJP figures have an RSS background, holding posts in both organisations” whereas the organization structures and rules precisely lay down the opposite.
- Blame it for the post-Babri demolition riots without mentioning the Dawood Ibrahim incited serial bomb blasts.
- Rely on avowed BJP, RSS and Modi-haters like Vinod Mehta as the sources of incontrovertible truth.
Willie, more than anybody else, you know how to use numerous lies to manufacture the truth you wish to tell the world. You’ve shown it eminently in Tipu Sultan’s case. And done it with a straight face. Like how you’ve done by claiming that the S-6 coach in the Sabarmati Express on 27 February 2002 caught fire “due to a malfunctioning gas cylinder.”
Just how do you manage to rebel against legally established truths Willie? Anything in the service of Modi hatred eh? Like how trashing Modi’s personal life is fair game whereas the Most Preferred Approach is Stoic Silence in the case of the personal lives of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi which are unsavoury to say the least. Perhaps you’ve read Tavleen Singh’s Durbar, which lays it out in detail. If you haven’t I’ll gift you a copy.
Also Willie, what gives you the authority to arrogate to yourself the right to decide on what or who India should vote for when you say, “In voting [for Modi], India is knowingly taking a terrific gamble on its future..” You aren’t even an Indian citizen, and if Hartosh Bal is right, your knowledge of India doesn’t extend beyond the Mehrauli farmhouse and Golf Links. What is the source of your hubris that lets you quote Yeats “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” indirectly labelling all Modi voters as “the worst.”
And since you’re so fond of poetry, let me quote the greatest of poets. But before that, let me remind you that while your piece will warm the cockles of the collective hearts of your target audience at the New Statesman, it has done nothing to dent the collective wisdom of Indians who gave Modi an absolute majority. You might be surprised Willie, but it is pieces like yours that have actually brightened Modi’s star. And so, before you pen one more in this vein, it helps to keep the Bard’s timeless adage. I assure you he told me that he was anticipating your birth when he wrote this:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Oh and by the way, never mind the endearment I used for you in the beginning. I’ll stick to the American meaning of “Willie.”