Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chetan Bhagat, West Asia and the limits of Technocratism

I have been questioned on why I mocked Chetan Bhagat in this tweet. I have been giving several responses, but decided to compile a few of them to highlight my views and the reasons I chose to mock a certain tweet of his on the Israel-Palestine issue, which Mr. Bhagat described as out of context since it was part of a set of three. Perhaps not worth quibbling too much but a few points are in order.

My comment in the tweet was NOT ABOUT IITs but about misplaced priorities and imagined excellences in the social and public discourses.
IITs and IIMs, as far as I know, are not schools that teach politics or international affairs. Brains are required to learn any subject, and not all brains or not all schools are good enough to substitute each other. I am a master's in political science, and I don't think I can comment on bridges or factory equipment -- a civil engineer or a mechanical engineer may be better at that. An IITan will do fine for these subjects, thank you. I should expect C Bags to comment on why the Mumbai Metro got delayed, with his knowledge of engineering and management.
Someone compared with this politicians protesting on the same subject and questioned their legitimacy vis-a-vis Bhagat who studied in "the best of institutions".
It is important to differentiate between politicians who speak out of constituency concerns (Any vote bank leader) and others who are qualified (such as Jaswant Singh, Shashi Tharoor etc). Same goes for commentators. A pulpish writer taking positions on international conflicts based on casual knowledge is decidedly questionable. As an individual, he can voice his views. "It's complicated" when the person in question acquires questionable social legitimacy because he studied in a particular place or because he wrote a love story that went to Bollywood! People who have spent decades looking at this with a shade or two deeper perspective reserve their right to make the occasional caustic remark on such.
My quibble is on what defines the "best of institutions" -- The Bhatkande Music School is also "best of institutions" in its chosen field. IIT is about engineering. IIM is about management. There are excellent universities that teach social sciences, humanities, politics etc. So I compare within the category.
The aura built around Bhagat, which is a composite creature, has layers that invited my comment. His being an IIT+IIM pedigree is part of the general Indian middle class image or aura built around him.
You would rarely find a humanities major venturing to comment on serious engineering matters, with or without preambles. His comment shows the trivialisation of humanities and the faux aura built around "technocrats" that needs to be challenged. This is just my two-cent attempt. IITs are engineering schools. It is time to see them for what they are.


  1. I sincerely expected better from you. You cannot be having views as parochial as this where a technical person can not have views on int'l relations and politics and the vice versa. Secondly, one doesnt need to be a pundit or and authority to have a view. Everyone or anyone can have a view. Its for others to decide weather they need to follow/ consider / or pass it. Illiterates have views that are world changing and path breaking.

  2. apparently you too studied in one of the IITs (as evident from your very recent tweet, i hope it was not a joke) ... and by all accounts it is now a million years since you passed. but still u seem too keen to point out it out to everybody and point out how other IITians are probably fools ... the only uber-Nobel winner we have in India is your highness.

    time to grow up ... high time, no?

  3. @No Mist - No I never went to any IIT, except to attend their festivals ;-)