Earlier this week, Rahul Raj, one of the co-founders of OpIndia and a popular on Facebook and Twitter as “Bhak Sala” tweeted, asking “Why does Indian Right Wing fail to create many great artists?” and triggered a mini debate on Twitter, as he usually does with his existentialist questions that usually make people attack him.
I also ‘threatened’ to attack him, but like much of the stuff I say on Twitter, it was an exaggeration. However, I did plan to pen my thoughts on it, and here it is.
Actually, the answer to the question could become a PhD thesis – it needs to cover education, sociology, politics, history, commerce, narrative, and many other things – but I’d try to cover as many relevant portion and try to keep it short and simple.
In attempting to find an answer, one has to first be sure what the question is.
“Why does Indian Right Wing fail to create many great artists?” has two terms that should be first defined – “Indian Right Wing” and “artists”.
Who is an artist?
Let’s try to address the easier part first – definition of an artist. General understanding of the term means it refers to people indulged in performing arts as vocation or as hobby i.e. actors, singers, dancers, musicians, painters, sculptors, etc.
The definition can also ‘safely’ include writers (poets, lyricists, dramatist, novelists, satirist, etc.) though writing is not strictly a performing art. However, writing complements many performing artists. Associated professions like movie making, documentary making, and comedy (as performing arts e.g. a stand-up comedian) can also be included in the modern definition and was perhaps included by Rahul Raj/Bhak Sala.
It has often been debated why one should exclude athletes or sportspersons from this definition? Sports can also be argued to be a performing art. One of the reasons why no sportsperson was given Bharat Ratna before Sachin Tendulkar was because the award was restricted to honoring achievements in the arts, literature, science, and public services. Why should cricket (or any other sports) be not treated as arts? Because cricketers and sportspersons wave tricolor and shout ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ after winning medals? Kidding.
As an aside, the criteria of Bharat Ratna were changed to make Tendulkar eligible for it, so the assumed definition of arts still excludes sports.
Nonetheless, we are more or less sorted with the easier part of defining an artist.
Now let’s come to the trickier or rather the trickiest part – defining Indian Right Wing.
Facebook has a term for it – It’s complicated.
But for sake of dissecting the question and attempting to find an answer, let’s consider four definitions of the (Indian) Right Wing, that normally passes off in popular parlance and social media debates.
Right Wing as political group
First and the foremost, and the most fraud definition, but the most popular as well, is anyone supporting Narendra Modi belongs to the Right Wing in India.
For this article, let’s only consider those who are vocal about their support or opposition to Narendra Modi, else we will keep guessing who Right Wing or Left Wing is.
Based on this, let’s revisit the original question, which would essentially transform to “Why are not many Indian artists vocal in their support for Narendra Modi?”
First of all, there are, including legends like Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, and many more. However, there are as many, if not more, vocal opponents of Modi too. Then there are people who are ambivalent and not vocal about either support or opposition to Narendra Modi. Yet, one has to admit, that general perception is that many are not with Modi.
One aspect that adds to this perception is the fact that those who oppose or hate Narendra Modi are always shouting the loudest, and they wear their hatred on their sleeves (and on their placards), thus appearing to be in majority. Is there a silent majority? We don’t know.
However, consider this. What will a professional artist gain by being vocal supporter of Modi? A lying talentless ‘joker’ like Shirish Kunder is dressed up as some sort of intellectual and his plagiarism is ignored just because he is a vocal hater of Narendra Modi, while even legends like Bachchan and Kher are subjected to disparaging comments for their support, sometimes not that vocal, for Modi.
This is the power that lies with those who control the narrative. Those who control the narrative are not artists, but mostly engaged in non-artistic writing or endeavors i.e. journalists, historians, ‘activists’, etc. I’d go back to one of my earlier articles – hating Modi gives you that paint of respectability.
So for your next door ‘artist’, there is no big incentive for being a vocal supporter of Modi in terms of earning daily livelihood or respect. A couple of established ones may benefit temporarily by showing themselves close to ruling party, but I’m talking about a person trying to make his career. The universe and market he operates in has different dynamics and it is controlled by the old Congress-left establishment.
Take the example of Nitin Gupta aka Rivaldo. Not a Modi hater, and a very talented stand-up comedian whose style and content are in no way inferior to anyone else in the business. He doesn’t get any support from the fraternity or the media. Once he was at an India Today event, and this is what he said. He might not be there ever again. Contrast that with unfunny comedians getting one platform after another by selling their Modi hatred. Funny thing is they gain all this while crying victimhood.
Therefore, if we define Right Wing as per support for Narendra Modi, we know why not many artists ‘appear’ to be Right Wing. They simply can’t afford to.
Right Wing as ethnocultural group
Now let’s go to another definition often tossed around, this time based on culture and religion. Let’s define Right Wing as those who take pride and have sense of belonging to the Hindu culture. Or at bare minimum, those who don’t hate Hinduism or aim to destroy it (which the Cultural Marxists aim to do, for they seen Hinduism as the oppressive force).
Now the original question can be paraphrased at “Why does many artists in India dislike Hindu religion and culture?”
Does it sound right?
I will categorize myself as a lapsed ‘Hindu Libertarian’ who is now almost a ‘Paranoid Hindu’ as per my own definition here, but I’m not that paranoid yet.
Except for a few placards holding haters on steroids, I don’t really think that many artists fall in this category. Actually, many of those who are vocal opponents of Narendra Modi could also not fall in this category.
Say, someone like Javed Akhtar. I might prove to be unpopular among many for saying this, but I believe he is a hater of BJP and Modi, but he doesn’t hate Hindu culture. At least that’s how he was till 2014. The fact that recently he has tweeted regular nonsense betraying himself as a petty person insulting anyone not agreeing with him would add make me vulnerable to mocking for supporting Akhtar, but my support is limited on a very narrow topic.
Yes, there are instances like his recent tweet on acquittal of Mecca Masjid accused or earlier the bile he poured at the lady police officer for penning a poem against Azad Maidan rioters that might trigger someone to say he is a hater or even an ‘Islamist’, but I’d still say that he is not acidic as some leftist lout from JNU would be towards Hindus and Hinduism. In fact, when everyone, including many Modi supporters were busy mocking Tripura CM for saying internet existed during Mahabharat, Akhtar said that this belief is no different from what followers of other religions would be nursing. In a way, he opposed singling out Hinduism for mockery.
Essentially, you can take my argument as – ‘even’ Javed Akhtar wouldn’t exactly be non-right wing if we go by the above definition.
And moving beyond Bollywood, most musicians and singers of Indian classical music are very rooted and proud of our culture. Same about most classical dancers and painters. Even now, the theme in these art forms are from Ramayana or Mahabhrata.
Even if not in classical music, dance or painting, most of the Indian artists don’t lose their minds and start behaving like nuts when they have to light a ‘Hindu lamp’ or see a Natraj statue of Lord Shiva. Those often form a part of their daily lives. Yes, there is an attempt by Cultural Marxists to wage a war against these symbols and traditions, but most of the artists have not surrendered, yet.
Going by the pro or anti-Hindu definition of Right or Left wing, although there is no empirical data, one can safely assume that most of the artists can actually be called Right Wing.
I know some of you can point to me such articles about how Bollywood has been seeding anti-Hindu bias and I don’t disagree with many points – in fact, I myself have made such observations – however, you’ve to consider the fact that there are artists beyond Bollywood. Furthermore, Bollywood could have inflicted far worse damage if the ‘anti-Hindu’ forces had entirely dominated it. It was dominated by the old left, which was perhaps not exactly anti-Hindu.
The Cultural Marxists, the new left – with ingrained anti-Hinduism – dominates the non-artistic writing (journalism, history writing, political pamphleteering, etc.) field and is trying to gain a stranglehold on arts too. They control the narrative and thus can force the artists into submission or silence, but at least as of now, they are not entirely successful. The cultural war is on, and unfortunately not many see it, but that’s a topic for another day.
Right Wing as conservative ideology
The third definition, not unique to India unlike the previous two, of Right Wing can be taken as a sociopolitical ideology of conservatism i.e. where you don’t aim for radical changes in the society or politics and want to preserve the traditional social institutions.
So the question paraphrases to “Why do most Indian artists want to move away from tradition and yearn for radical changes?”
Now this question is similar to the earlier one, except that here tradition is not being explicitly defined as Hindu tradition. But the arguments in response can be similar to the earlier one i.e. the radical left has still not taken over the performing arts field and thus this statement is not true, yet. Most artists, especially not from Bollywood, are rooted in tradition.
However, the question can also be paraphrased to “Why do many conservative Indians fail to become artists?”
Now there is a little truth to it especially if we take the term ‘conservative’ in sociocultural sense.
A typical conservative person would stick to rules (often born out of traditions) and won’t like to experiment or innovate too much that upsets the traditional scheme of things, whereas arts is often about pushing the boundaries and creating new things.
Say a person who is religious and conservative has to follow strict timeline of waking up, indulging in rituals, prayers, etc. The image of such a person is of a stickler who won’t go beyond what’s in the book. One can argue that this is not conducive to ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ thinking.
However, this discipline and sticking to rules actually is in line with some form of arts, especially music and dance. You can’t innovate too much and create an eight sur while singing! As an aside, maybe that’s why many singers are ‘right wing’ as per the definition of supporting Modi – from Lata Mangeshkar to Kumar Sanu to Abhijeet to Babul Supriyo and others.
However, in general sense, arts can’t be bound by too many strict rules. It has to innovate to be relevant, and that’s why a typical textbook conservative approach will not be helpful in being an artist, so the paraphrased question “Why do many conservative Indians fail to become artists?” can’t be outrightly rejected.
One can also argue – and I personally subscribe to this stand – that conservativism as understood in the western sense is not applicable in India, as Indic culture and religions are not rigid and bound by some books. However, that is a different debate going into philosophy and theology.
Right Wing as economic ideology
The last definition of Right vs Left can be taken as the old one based on economics. Did the original question mean Right Wing as economic ideology i.e. free markets, less government control on business, no labor unions, etc.? If it did, the question would paraphrase to “Why do many Indian artists support socialist economy?”
Again, there is no empirical data, but at least Bollywood definitely was dominated by many who believed in socialist ideas. There were associations and unions of theater artists, writers, etc. that were formed on ideological lines – most of these having the keyword ‘progressive’ in it – and that was one of the reasons why the old left dominated Bollywood. If you wanted work, you couldn’t have gone against the unions and associations.
However, there is an interesting thought here. Did the left dominate due to presence of unions? Or is a person believing in free markets less likely to become an artist?
As I had said earlier, it can be a topic of thesis and maybe some research papers are already there, but for the scope of this article, I’d say that there indeed are some reasons to believe that a person believing in free markets or capitalism is less likely to be ‘artistic’.
Capitalism can appear ugly – unequal distribution of wealth and no guaranteed affirmative action – and free market principles appeal to rational senses – humans are just units in various models – while artistic works are supposed to appeal to aesthetics and emotions of people. A man losing a job can become a great plot for drama for an emotional person, while it could be ‘natural rate of unemployment’ for the rationally minded person.
There appears an inherent conflict, and it’s real. A person believing in free markets is more likely to pursue interests that appeal to rational senses than emotional ones.
A free market guy will also think about ‘return on investment’. An average artist doesn’t earn as much as an average person indulged in trading or in some vocation based on science or technology. So there is a ‘rational’ reason for not being an artist. Better to invest time and money in acquiring skills that can pay more handsomely.
Since this article is already long, I won’t go into much details but one can wonder if it’s possible for the same person to be don both the hats – rational and emotional ones – at different times? Maybe one can.
Or a more radical idea. Why not redefine arts? Why should it stick to only aesthetics and emotions? Or why should our idea of aesthetics not evolve with changing times and technology. As WordPress says, “Code is Poetry”.