Actor Sunny Deol, the BJP candidate from Gurdaspur was recently on a three-day roadshow, interacting with citizens. The action hero, a Jat Sikh by birth speaks fluent Punjabi and enjoys great popularity in the region. The public is familiar with his turbaned avatar, thanks to hit films like Border and Gadar- Ek Prem Katha. In his directorial venture, Singh Saab The Great, Deol played an honest, principled collector who stood his ground despite the corruption flourishing around him. In reel life, Deol has been a fierce patriot, but in reality, the actor is still cutting his political teeth. Which is why he has very endearingly confessed his rudimentary grasp on matters of national importance. When questioned on the Balakot air strikes, Deol admitted, “I don’t know much about Balakot or India’s relations with Pakistan. If I win maybe I will have an opinion. Right now I don’t.”
Clearly, method acting, where actors research madly to get into the head of a character wasn’t a crucial requirement for Deol’s illustrious innings in cinema — nor is his lack of knowledge on foreign policy, likely to turn the tide against him in this election. Despite the army fatigues he donned many a times for roles, Deol’s understanding of military strategy is non-existent, and the Opposition quite naturally seized the opportunity to mock his ignorance. The Punjab Chief Minister referred to Deol as a ‘showpiece’ leading to much hilarity online with the Twitterati speculating whether the CM was confusing Sunny Deol with Sunny Leone. And sure, considering the BJP has gone all out to build an intense nationalist narrative around these air strikes, one would have imagined that Deol would have been better briefed. Still a novice, Deol is nowhere close to mastering the art that all serious politicians, alas, must hone — the (exhausting) business of pretending to know everything, while knowing almost nothing at all.
It is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest scourges of our times, that no self-respecting human being, including politicians, may dare move around uttering unacceptable sentences like “I don’t know”. Of course, it’s a perfectly valid question, why is Deol entering politics if he doesn’t know about the strikes barely two months ago? At the same time, it is also worth noting that to be a good administrator, an in-depth knowledge of India’s missile system should not be a requirement. However, Deol broke the fundamental rule of the post Internet generation that staunchly believes that in this age of over-information, any dummy can (and should) put up a pose of (weary) expertise. It’s true that being in public office requires a tireless zeal for speaking with confident authority on topics ranging from climate change to GST. It’s no wonder that politicians end up becoming crafty obfuscators, they’re expected to know too much, and for that matter, so is everybody else.
Since I am not, nor likely to become anyone who knows enough about anything to be worth listening to, I’m always amazed when I see people who know as little as I hold forth on national TV. This is not humblebrag but a fact that even after two decades of consistent reading and writing, my understanding of the nuances within politics and caste equations, is at best, minuscule. It’s become so easy to fake intellectualism in an era of short attention spans and it’s not just politicians or journalists, everyone believes they know much more than they actually do. Like the comedian Jay Leno, who would occasionally stroll the streets of LA in his segment Jaywalking, asking pedestrians questions like why is the sky blue and receiving howlers for answers, I conducted a short quiz among two friends, who would fall in the category of upwardly mobile Indians.
What is Hindutva, I asked one, adding that no, you can’t ask Alexa. He muttered something vague about ideology and it being a way of life but there’s nothing more he had to add on this much-bandied term. Let’s try again, I said encouragingly and asked him what is the Kashmir issue. My friend, a well-read law-abiding citizen mentioned terrorism and stone pelting and Dr Karan Singh but couldn’t recall anything else (without Google). Like him, most people’s political opinions are shaped by shallow assessments picked up from here and there. In this scenario, when there are so few in public and private life saying anything worthwhile, Deol’s refreshing candour should be appreciated: straight forward honesty has become countercultural.