Parakala Prabhakar—The lone voice of dissent

Parakala, estranged husband of Nirmala Sitharaman, has been hailed as voice of voicel

“I am keen to invite Parakala [Prabhakar] to Mumbai… What do you think? Do you know him?” A friend asked. No, I don’t know the man. And no, it is not a good idea to invite him, unless you want to invite trouble, I replied. Parakala is ‘the’ man right now. Possibly, the only man boldly standing up for his beliefs. An outspoken public intellectual, Parakala is logically and fearlessly taking apart those in power and being widely applauded for saying what millions dare not. This has made him a folk hero at a time when there is a dearth of any heroes. That Parakala happens to be the estranged husband of Nirmala Sitharaman, Union finance minister, makes him doubly fascinating for millions of fans hailing him as the voice of the voiceless, an anti-establishment figure, articulating the concerns of countless citizens. His flatly stated, highly critical views, calling out Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political colleagues, have found many takers, mainly because his interviews are not rants. He makes sense, speaks calmly and answers without waffling. Given his impressive academic credentials, it is difficult to fault his cogent arguments as he holds forth on specifics without resorting to sensationalism and name-calling.

Parakala Prabhakar | Sameer A. Hameed Parakala Prabhakar | Sameer A. Hameed

But it is equally his rather unique position vis-a-vis his powerful wife that attracts extra attention as analysts attempt to deconstruct the marriage and read between the lines. Nirmala and Parakala have been married for 38 years and are parents to a daughter named Parakala Vangmayi, who is married to Pratik Doshi, a key aide of Modi—the guessing games continue. Parakala’s “outbursts”, publicly slamming his high-profile wife as he tore into the Union budget, are dubbed the story of every home by amused outsiders. Nirmala has maintained a stoic silence, which is just as well, or else we would have witnessed a full-scale soap opera, a domestic slugfest with gloves off.

Now that Parakala has been positioned as the lone voice of dissent, that too, during such a sensitive election, he finds himself in the spotlight, not always for the right reasons. On a podcast, he went ahead and called Modi a “dictator”, adding, “He’s not a democrat.” These sort of comments have found a niche audience with fans hailing Parakala as an iconoclast, risking personal safety while defending free speech.

Parakala comes from a staunch Congress family, with both parents active in politics. His books and essays reflect his own political thinking in unambiguous terms. Parakala’s critics are quick to dismiss him off as an oddball who is capitalising on the mood of the nation and being an agent provocateur with a hidden agenda. Well, so far his agenda remains under wraps, as observers figure out his motives and moves. The fact that no known attempt has been made to muzzle him, displays enormous confidence, especially since many young folks and stand-up comics have been warned to zip up or else.

India could do with many more Parakalas, but that’s a tall order. His brilliant mind is hard to match. It is not important to agree with his viewpoint. But it is important to recognise his right (and the rights of others ) who are challenging the status quo. Once the elections are behind us, perhaps, Parakala will not be as urgently needed and public discourse will resume its old course. Dissent and democracy go hand in hand. More voices need to be heard. 
In Parakala an unlikely hero has been created, all thanks to unprecedented political developments in the country. When my friend was advised not to invite Parakala to Mumbai, it wasn’t his safety that caused concern, it was hers.

@DeShobhaa @shobhaade