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Siddharth, India hasn’t changed. You have.

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Actor Siddharth’s exchanges with social media influencer and pro-BJP commentator Karuna Gopal on Twitter have resulted in some polarization and partisan commentary, which is hardly surprising. Karuna Gopal’s political leanings are no secret. She is a strong Modi supporter who was on the Sub Committee BJP National Manifesto 2019. And Siddharth is bipartisan. Or so he wants the gullible to believe. Which is why the actor, in the wake of the heated exchanges with Karuna Gopal, made it a point to share his speech at the Indian School of Business in 2009.

The speech is interesting on several counts. At about 16 minutes, it was delivered by an impassioned Siddharth with conviction. One feels his angst and there is no doubt about it. At one point in the speech, the actor complains that K Rosaiah, then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, didn’t show the inclination to listen to him when he went to him to make a monetary contribution towards flood relief. For a celeb to say such a thing openly, especially down South, takes guts. Most celebs feel extremely humble when they just get an appointment. Most celebs are just craven down South. Siddharth understandably felt bad that his well-meaning thoughts didn’t find an audience when he met the Congress leader. 

To be sure, his 2009 speech is bipartisan. Plugging it, the actor confidently said, “I wonder why I never got a single complaint or threat then about the tone and nature of my speech? Nobody attacked me for having an opinion… For asking questions. India has changed. It changed in front of our eyes. Question is… what are we going to do about it?”

Siddharth is clearly complaining that, after 2014, he has been abused for attacking the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On the surface, this looks like a genuine complaint. But scratch it a bit and Siddharth’s too-clever-by-half sophistry comes to the fore. 

Why do I say this? Let’s analyze the contents of the speech point by point:   

1. In the speech, Siddharth says this with exasperation: “There are morons in every single party.”
Someone please tell me who was expected to take umbrage and troll him for this generic description of the political class? Isn’t this something everyone and their aunty says in our society? Does anybody get labelled as this or that for saying it even today – in the so-called India of Nazism, fascism and worse? 

2. The most beautiful part of the speech comes when Siddharth declares, “The stench of dynastic politics is going to kill this country.” (8:05 minutes).
This was incredibly bold of Siddharth to have said this. Except that it’s non-specific, much like the comment analyzed in Point #1. Which political party was he targeting? Or, better still, which party was he NOT targeting by saying this? Who should have felt offended, given most political parties are led by dynasts, some of whom are notoriously incompetent? (If anything, some BJP supporters must have presumed that Sid was indirectly batting for BJP back then by talking in the language of anti-Dynasty Sanghis!) 

In 2009, Siddharth believed that the country was going to go to dogs because of dynastic politicians. Shouldn’t he just thank Modi for averting the catastrophe, then? Siddharth might argue (for the sake of arguing) that BJP is killing the country. Taking the stupidity of this argument at face value, why should ONLY the BJP be the target of its righteous ire, day in and day out, when the country would have been ruined by others anyway? 

Against this, Siddharth and his ilk might say: “Corruption, incompetence and poverty are less dangerous than poisonous communal hatred.” But by saying this, they would merely be taking recourse to the discredited vocabulary of Lutyens sellouts, compromised intellectuals and self-diagnosed secularists. How is Siddharth different? 

3.  In the speech, Siddharth calls a spade a spade and calls out the conduct of “the shameless Indian media” that took “us on a circus journey for three days” during the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. What a solid statement against Arnab Goswami! Wait. He was actually calling out Barkha Dutt and her ilk. 

This brings us to the argument, how many times has he taken Dutt’s name directly over the years while he doesn’t think twice before lampooning some journalists like Goswami and Navika Kumar? Has Siddharth ever questioned those self-righteous people who see the very same “shameless Indian media” elements whom he called shameless in 2009 as conscience-keepers of a sane, secular India? 

There is so much dishonesty in Siddharth claiming that he never used to be trolled but he has been viciously abused only since 2014. Sid may genuinely be deluding himself that the climate was awesome back then. But it barely was. There were instances of attack on Freedom of Expression back then. Senior journalist Kanchan Gupta and about a dozen “right wing” Twitter handles were sought to be suspended during Manmohan Singh’s era. Do such incidents count? Do the many rape threats that Hindutva-leaning women receive count? Or does Sid want the world to believe that only one side gets abused/threatened?

A celeb chooses to highlight some issues while forgetting about others. When Article 370 was abrogated in 2019, Siddharth batted for Kashmiri’s entrenched interests. He got into specific issues and treated us to his celestial genius by mocking Uttar Pradesh and Yogi Adityanath (by deliberately referring to him as Ajay Bisht) and projecting J&K as the better State without understanding the complexities of the issue at hand. How many times did he get into such political issues when the UPA was in power? 

Generic criticisms are not the same as sustained, focused attacks on only one party. Nobody deserves abuse. But if Siddharth is bipartisan, then Bin Laden was a peace-monger. Siddharth was non-ideological in 2009. He is in company with ideologically-compromised intellectual dwarfs today.  India hasn’t changed. Siddharth has.

PS: Sidharth in the speech displayed his admiration for Jayaprakash Narayan of Lok Satta. For the unversed, JP is a vehement supporter of the farm reforms, which the actor doesn’t understand a bit going by his empty rants in recent weeks.

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