Dr. N. Sukumar
Ashis Nandy's observations at the Jaipur Literary Festival have created a furore. Inadvertently, it has exposed the shallow foundations of our academic elite. Suddenly, the brahmanical lobby is forced to go on the defensive and is tying itself up in knots providing all kinds of explanations. The Ashis Nandy fan club has started online petitions over the issue of freedom of speech. For long, Nandy has been the poster boy of the liberal intelligentsia, pontificating about everything under the sun. He is supposedly a champion of the rights of the marginalized. "Over the years Ashis Nandy has affirmed the rights of marginalized groups and communities to assert and express themselves in their unique ways" (Online petition to the Govt of India, change.org). Even if Nandy is recognised to be a public intellectual by his academic coterie, nothing justifies his intellectual arrogance.
One fine day, the mask slips and he is revealed to be an ordinary prejudiced casteist being, with feet of clay. The same society castigates Raj Thackeray or Akbaruddin Owaisi for hate speech. Obviously, they lack the finesse of post-modern linguistic gymnastics. One wonders, was it a Freudian slip? Nandy was unconsciously articulating a deep rooted fear prevalent among the academic elite. They are unable to persecute any more Eklavyas and that being the case, who will talk about Arjuna's 'merit'? So, the modus operandi is to tar the entire SC/ST/OBC community as thieves, untrustworthy, burglars etc.
In order to protect Nandy, the petitioners argue that he is only mentioning the political elite amongst the marginalized groups as being guilty of corruption. "While Nandy's deliberately ironic remark on corruption in the OBC and SC/ST political elites as a form of equality may not be to the liking of all, we have no doubt that it was meant to question the upper caste-middle class notions of morality rather than denigrate marginalized and subaltern groups". (Online petition to the Govt of India, change.org)
The language used by Nandy to denigrate vast sections of India's population is self explanatory. No amount of white wash can alter the fact that he commented that OBCs, SCs, and increasingly the STs are corrupt. (Nowhere does Nandy mention the political elite amongst these groups). The state of West Bengal is 'morally' clean as power was controlled by the bhadralok. On the contrary, states like Bihar or Uttar Pradesh or of the North East are mlechha as they are ruled by 'dirty' people. The language is eerily similar to the semiotics employed by the rabble rousers of different hues. The notions of morality are also based on caste/class lines. Such selective and exclusive scholarship smacks of pettiness.
Why does one forget that the modern Indian state has a bania Father of the Nation and the progenies of Panditji are still ruling the country? When the barons of industry like the Birlas and Sarabhais supported Gandhi, it was ostensibly for the cause of freedom. The Indian state steps in to protect Ramalinga Raju. Corporate India was agitated when Rajat Gupta was accused of insider trading in the United States. A cursory look at statistics would reveal that the SC/ST/OBC is nowhere near the corridors of power and established systems of knowledge. They are fighting tooth and nail to simply survive in this unequal world. The rarefied world of knowledge has always treated them as aliens. They are beggars who are forced to survive on the scraps of reservations and monetary fellowships that the state is constitutionally compelled to throw at them.
The Nandy controversy is a blessing in disguise. For long, it was believed that the academic community was very fair and progressive and genuinely concerned about the welfare of the downtrodden. The self-proclaimed academic intellectuals are equally responsible for giving space to such intellectually challenged people. How can we forget that it was the same Ashis Nandy who delivered the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture on April 14, 2012, organised by Ambedkar University, Delhi, wherein Ambedkar's name and contribution was conspicuous by its absence.
In the brahmanical universe, there is provision for vanaprastha*, a gradual withdrawal from worldly matters. Hopefully, the Nandy fan club should gently suggest this option to him. All is not lost; at least the minority community in India is not tainted by corruption. It's time we stopped giving fodder to such people who survive on tax payers' money. At least, Nandy should have shown some sense of the enormous responsibility vested in him before he made such disparaging remarks. An entire generation of students venerated his scholarship and they now feel cheated. The fact is that the worst victims of corruption are the poverty-stricken masses of this country, who encounter corruption at every stage of their life- from procuring an Aadhar card, ration card to birth and death certificates etc.
The public intellectuals should realise that the world and its audience has changed. No longer can they claim the unquestioning allegiance of the people. The SCs, STS, OBCs are no longer willing to be silent spectators to accept intellectual corruption which holds the society hostage.
*In an informal discussion, a friend suggested this idea.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.