A Will McAvoy speech, repurposed for other countries

At a time when the US, the UK, and India are all experiencing governments that are somewhat more exclusionary and nationalist than the historical trend …

Will McAvoy, and a (fictional?) political grid

I watched the American sitcom “The Newsroom” in India, long after it first aired, but thoroughly enjoyed it. Even before watching it I had, like pretty much everyone else who uses WhatsApp in India, seen that excerpt from Episode 1, Season 1, that went viral here, labelled, The Most Honest 2 Minutes on American TV, or something on those lines. Just icymi, in that clip an American university student innocently asks a panel including key protagonist Will McAvoy the leading question, What makes America the greatest country in the world. I enjoyed McAvoy’s brutal rant in response, without necessarily buying into it entirely. I recognised Jeff Daniels, the actor playing McAvoy, and realised the clip was from a fictional TV show, but didn’t bother to flag it as I sometimes do patently fake stuff on WhatsApp.

The full context is, of course, more idealistic about the US. Season 1 ends with the same university student being interviewed for an internship at McAvoy’s TV channel, where he tells her to ask him the same question again, and this time he answers <Drum roll>, “You do”. A suitably redemptive moment, among many in this season finale episode.

In that same season finale, there was another great speech by Will McAvoy, which seemed to speak to me about things happening in many countries besides the US. I’m no expert, but after turning it over in my mind for a day or two, I made up another version …

[… Pre-emptive defence, fwiw: This is an homage to a work of fiction, a re-write of a speech on a purely fictitious American TV show. Any resemblance or applicability to other real people or countries is purely fictional …

… Ha.] :

I call myself a nationalist — maybe the phrase should be, ‘small-“n” nationalist’. I feel for India, I cheer for her at any sport. In my various travels I thrill to the sight of the tricolour, or a memorial to Gandhi or to Indian soldiers, in any part of the world.

But I’m also probably what many self-described Nationalists — and these are clearly, ‘capital “N” nationalists — would call, in witheringly scornful terms, a liberal (if not a made-up, but clearly ruder, word).

Mind you, there are aspects of the Nationalists’ thinking that I do agree with. For one example, I am not in general in favour of subsidies. For the record, I know we need social programmes, and many social programs enacted since Independence work, and have contributed tremendously to raising India out of the poverty she was in then. But I also know there are way too many subsidies costing way too much that don’t get to those in need.

But maybe ironically, I think the most nation-loving people today aren’t Nationalists.

Nationalists believe in a homogenous society. I believe in a diverse society.

I am not just OK with, I am actively proud of, the number of non-Hindus in high positions in India. (Actually, if I may confess to a less-than-liberal thought, I think it is the biggest smack in the face of self-identified-as-Islamic enemies of India, that we have hugely successful, widely-honoured, Muslims in government and the private sector.)

The Nationalists believe in loving the Nation, but hating some of its citizens:

“This makes me hate that Gandhi and Nehru more than before”

The Nationalists believe in loving India, but hating anyone involved in its government before May 2014 (“After 67 years … “) — which seems to conveniently forget that the parties they adore actually governed India before, for somewhere close to a quarter of the time since Independence:

“After 67 years of ruining the nation …”

And they believe that anyone who disagrees with them has sinister anti-national motives. That the objective of the liberals is to destroy this country. That the objective of the liberals is to “keep” India in some kind of post-colonial slavery which they believe we have been shackled in, from August 1947 till May 2014:

“It is a conspiracy to keep India backward, backed by few foreign forces”

Most of all, they feel they must never, under any circumstances, seek to reach a compromise with an opponent, or try to understand each other’s points of view.

What’s more frightening than the perversion of our great history is that our leaders in high constitutional positions, the very men and women who should be standing up against fundamentalism, and leading popular opinion, are so frightened of the mass that they’ve thrown in the towel on sanity. So we get this:

Astrology a science, says UP governor

It’s ironic because if you buy what they say, the biggest enemy of the phony Nationalist isn’t Kanhaiya Kumar or Barkha Dutt or Girish Karnad or Manmohan Singh. It’s the man who said this:

“If I know Hinduism at all, it is essentially inclusive and ever-growing, ever-responsive. It gives the freest scope for imagination, speculation and reason.”

… which, in case anyone needs reminding, was the Mahatma.

Ideological inflexibility, compromise as weakness, denial of the patently obvious (“No, the attacks on Africans weren’t racist”; “No, the attack on cow traders was an altercation between two parties over a private dispute”), a desperation to prove that scripture is history, force-fitting mythology into science, unmoved by facts, undeterred by new information, a hostile fear of progress, a demonisation of education, a need to control women, severe xenophobia, tribal mentality, intolerance of dissent, and a pathological hatred of previous governments. They can call themselves Nationalists. They can call themselves good Indians.

But some of us don’t.

As I said, this is an homage to an American speech on a purely fictitious American TV show. Any resemblance or applicability to other real people or countries is purely fictional …

And then I ended with what, in a screenplay, would be a laugh.

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