Fists of fury

Mohammed Haris Nalapad—a Youth Congress leader and son of a Congress MLA from Bengaluru’s posh Shanthinagar assembly segment—went out to dine with his friends at a high-end eatery in UB City. (For the uninitiated, UB city is Bangalore’s pride and joy. It has luxury stores below, luxury residences and offices on top, and in the middle, a strip of restaurants that are uber tony. We show it off to out-of-towners with the pathetically eager pride of tier-3 town yokels showing off their brand new McDonalds or Cafe Coffee Day.)

The staff was a trifle tardy with his order. Meanwhile, at another table, a gent named Vidvat seemed to be getting better service. This Vidvat, also had the temerity to stick one foot out into the aisle, at an angle that was offensive to Mohammad Haris Nalapad. So, Haris told him to ‘sit properly.’ The other stated that he couldn’t—his foot was hurt, he was recovering from a fracture. This infuriated Haris so much that he and his friends attacked Vidvat with glass bottles, cracking them open on his head, face and shoulders, breaking his nose and rendering him unconscious.

To me, the incident seemed eerily reminiscent of the Jessica Lal shooting—which happened in a similarly tony setting of Delhi’s Qutub Colonnade in 1999—where a young female bartender refused to serve a drink to the son of a Congress minister as the bar was closed. He tried to bribe her, and then, he pulled out a gun. A woman standing behind him giggled to her friend that it was fake (Margaret Atwood’s words are relevant here: “Men fear that women will laugh at them, women fear that men will kill them”) and, so, he shot the bartender in the head.

It had the same combination of entitlement, hubris and toxic machismo; the same insecurity-fuelled fury at being ‘shown-up’ or insulted in a high-society setting. It was the behaviour of one who thinks he is above the law, and the fact that it happened in full view of CCTV cameras and, at a time when state elections are around the corner—when everybody should be on their best behaviour lest they hand the opposition party an election issue on a platter—it goes to show how totally drunk on power and entitlement this Mohammad Haris Nalapad was.

Nalapad has been suspended from his party for six years and has surrendered to the police. Hopefully, he will not wriggle out when the scandal dies down, but serve his time.

But, what of the larger picture? Because, unfortunately, this is a culture that has gone pan-Indian. There is an unspoken understanding amongst us that only people like Haris are suited to the hurly burly of politics. We, at some level, expect such thugs, we accept them, we even admire them. See how aggressive they are, we say, see how scared the police and the babus are of them. You don’t want to cross a guy like that, we say with pursed lips, that’s the sort of guy you want on your team, he will keep you safe!

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

We have taught our children that if you get into a car accident, you must come out yelling and cursing and blaming the other person, otherwise you will be taken advantage of. We have internalised that a strong person is one who brutally crushes all opposition, all difference of thought, or opinion, who denies everything and admits nothing. Because, if we come across as weak or conciliatory, women will laugh at us, people will lose all respect for us and we will be eaten alive.

And so, the country with Gandhi’s face on its increasingly luridly coloured currency has imbibed the lesson that only obnoxious, bossy, and violent people who aggressively thrust their boot into other people’s faces are ‘strong’ people. Everybody else is weak.

Chauhan is an author and advertising professional.