Of Bhakts, Udta Punjab and Raghuram Rajan

udta punjab

The two news grabbing events last week were the release of the dark drugs drama Udta Punjab and the exit of Reserve Bank of India(RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan.

Udta Punjab finally made it to the theatres thanks to the Bombay High Court. And Rajan decided to go back to academics in the United States, perhaps because he wasn’t offered a second term by the Narendra Modi government.

It was interesting to see how the Bhakts (for the lack of a better term) reacted to both these issues. In case of Udta Punjab they were convinced that the movie was funded by the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) and hence, showed Punjab in a bad light. And given that, the cuts that the censor board wanted the producers of the movie to carry out, were justified. Of course, none of the Bhakts had seen the movie.

Even some basic reasoning can tell us how stupid this sounds. The script for the movie would have been written in late 2013, early 2014. So, the Bhakts want us to believe that two writers of the movie, wrote the movie back then, planning three to four years ahead, to show Punjab in bad light, before the elections. In late 2013, and early 2014, nobody knew that AAP would be a force to reckon with in Punjab.

In case of Rajan, the Bhakts have been convinced that the man did not deserve a second term, because he was not mentally Indian and had a green card. Some Bhakts even thought he is not an Indian citizen, which is basically rubbish because you cannot be an RBI governor without being an Indian citizen. Still others totally believed in the accusations that maverick BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had labelled at Rajan.

The point being that the Bhakts were totally sure in both the cases and defended their positions vehemently. As Duncan J. Watts writes in Everything is Obvious—Once You Know the Answer: “Common sense is extremely good at making all sorts of potential causes seem plausible. The result is that we are tempted to infer a cause and effect relationship when all we have witnessed is a sequence of events. This is post-hoc fallacy.”

The point is that human beings like explanations and if none exist, they are likely to create them. Then there is also the issue of confirmation bias, which basically means that our initial position on any issue, decides what we think about it or other related issues. As Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich define confirmation bias in Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes as a “tendency to search for, treat kindly, and be over impressed by information that confirms your initial impressions or preferences.”

This bias plays out in many walks of life. As Leonard Mlodinow writes in The Drunkard’s Life: “When a teacher initially believes that one student is smarter than another, he selectively focusses on evidence that tends to confirm the hypothesis. When an employer interviews a prospective candidate, the employer typically forms a quick first impression and spends the rest of the interview seeking information that supports it.”

How does confirmation bias fit into the case of Udta Punjab and Raghuram Rajan? In case of Udta Punjab, sometime before the film’s release AAP started running an anti-drugs campaign in Punjab. Needless to say, it latched on to the movie. And AAP of course is against the Bhartiya Janata Party, the home ground of Bhakts. Hence, Udta Punjab was bad, and reasons to opposite it had to be found and were found.

As far as Rajan goes he is a man of ideas and an intellectual who is not afraid of speaking out his mind against whatever the government’s stated position on an issue is. This, of course, doesn’t go down well with Bhakts. In Bhakt land, you cannot question the Narendra Modi government. And hence, reasons justifying Rajan’s exit have quickly been found.

The most stupid reason being that India has enough good economists to replace Rajan. Yes, it surely does. But why fix what is already working?

The column originally appeared in the Bangalore Mirror on June 22, 2016