If you are familiar with VS Naipaul’s stature as a writer you would have got a little surprised by the indifference of Congress guys on Twitter to his passing away recently.
And when I say Congress guys I mean the entire pro Congress brigade from editors through average sympathizers to Cong MPs. I can understand the tepid response from the average Cong sympathizers and even those who formally represent the party.
They mayn’t know much about Naipaul – because Naipaul is not Rushdie nor was he a very popular commercial writer like, say, Jeffrey Archer or John Grisham. Before he won the Noble Prize for Literature, he was hardly known outside the group of people with genuine interest in English literature. After he won there was a sudden eruption of interest in Naipaul.
That’s when many who didn’t know him would have read him the first time (this includes me). And many would have restricted their knowledge about him and his work to what the media had to say about him, that he was an anti-Muslim bigot, a misogynist etc. But what about the pro Congress editors?
I didn’t see too many posts from them beyond the customary ‘great writer bad human being RIP VSN’ ones. Did you?
Many of them would have read Naipaul, at least his nonfiction books. Many of them would have interacted with Naipaul when he came to India to research for his last book on India, The Million Mutinies Now. On record Naipaul had met Vinod Mehta (who is no more with us), Vir Sanghvi and Shekhar Gupta.
Only an article by Vir Sanghvi was an expection to the rule. In the article, Vir Sanghvi claimed he knew Naipaul rather closely having met him several times while Sanghvi worked in Calcutta and Naipaul was visiting the city.
Sanghvi admitted his greatness as a writer but little bit tarnished it by calling Naipaul’s contemporary relevance into question. “Will his novels stand the test of time? Does anybody still read say, A House for Mr. Biswas? Will they read it ten years from now?”
Most of his books are celebrated and no discussion on post 2nd World War great books is complete without a mention of A House for Mr. Biswas.
This ‘tell as little as you must, then shove him inside the carpet’ approach of Congress online image managers towards VS Naipaul is not strange. VS Naipaul’s nonfiction work on India – mainly An Area of Darkness, which was written in the mid-60s and was scathingly critical of India – almost of everything you can think of.
The India that Naipaul criticized so strongly in his first two books An Area of Darkness and A Wounded Civilization was actually Nehru’s India. And Naipaul never changed his views until Million Mutinies Now, many years after An Area of Darkness, published in 1990.
This was two years before liberalization and many years before liberalization made its effect on India felt, but Nehru by then was firmly placed in India’s past separated by several subsequent leaderships of Congress.
And if you think a little deeply, the India that Naipaul rejected – the Nehru constructed India – is the main bone of contention between BJP and Congress. BJP says Nehru’s socialist model, which Congress followed until Rajiv Gandhi started tinkering with things in the mid-80s, denied India its share of development, made it poor, and deepened corruption even as it strengthened the grip of the Gandhi Nehru parivar on power.
Congress says the path shown by the first prime minister of India is the right path for the country, and moving away from the Nehruvian way is where India’s doom lies.
But Congress knows it stands on a very shaky ground when it comes to Nehru. Economically India has moved beyond Nehru. His contributions to nation building may be immense but sadly obscured by the subsequent years of Congress rule when Nehru’s economic legacy degenerated into license raj which held back India until it was dismantled in the early 90s, his institutions were subverted as his own daughter strengthened her grip on power – Emergency was an extreme manifestation of which – and the Congress became the fiefdom of one family.
So if you found the response of the online Cong image managers to Naipaul’s death underwhelming it’s because there is no point paying too much attention to a writer who held inconvenient views about a period when Congress was in power especially when the tempo for 2019 general elections is building up.