Vir Sanghvi’s piece in this Sunday’s HT on Narendra Modi being denied a visa by the US is one of the more interesting things I’ve read in a newspaper in a long time, mainly because it goes so completely against the grain of the typical weekly column by a renowned editor; it openly expresses self-doubt and an inability to be comfortable with one’s own mindset. I can’t link to the piece here, it needs registration, but here’s the gist: Sanghvi points out that he’s been one of Modi’s strongest critics in the mainstream media, but says he was still cheesed off by the visa denial, and then tries to work out why. After sifting through various rational reasons and rejecting them, he concludes that his indignation stems from illogical "jingoism and crude patriotism". "My position is this: Modi may be a mass murderer, but he’s our mass murderer…logic and patriotism don’t always go hand in hand."
The above is a good example of why Sanghvi's "Counterpoint" is always such a provocative column: the author doesn’t allow personal asides to be subjugated by sweeping generalisations. This is, of course, the very reason some people don’t like Sanghvi’s writings: "Too self-indulgent and precious," I was told by a colleague the other day, "and have you seen how, in ‘Rude Food’, he always goes on about how, as a young lad of 12, he visited the Chateau d’so-and-so in Paris for what is still the best meal of his life?"
Anticipating ass-licking charges, let me clarify that I don’t actually agree with much of what Sanghvi writes in the column. Starting with the patriotism thing: I’m not a patriot myself and I think it’s a horribly overrated quality – no nobler in any sense than casteism or regionalism. And I find it repulsive how many people seem to take more pride in being Indian than in being human. But this is material for another blog (or maybe it isn’t, because I’m not too comfortable discussing it at great length). I also have a big problem with the headline given to the edit: “Give This Man a Visa”. I think it should be supplemented by “...and Hang, Draw and Quarter Him While You’re at It”. But the point is, our newspapers need a lot more "self-indulgent", self-questioning writing of the sort found in Counterpoint - assuming of course it’s done by good writers with opinions to express - and less of the This is Gospel Truth brand of editorial that talks down to the reader.
P.S. Incidentally, it’s wrong to assume that Sanghvi’s perceived self-importance comes from his status as a celebrity journalist; go back to the profiles – on Raj Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Amitabh Bachchan etc – that he did as a young reporter for India Today in the late 1970s (I read some of them in the library archives when I was with Today) and you’ll see the same confident individualistic streak, the writer’s voice rather than clinical, supposedly "objective" reportage.