Intellectuals Fail India


Poverty has been cursed to be mother of all problems. While that may or may not be so, affluence itself cannot be termed as a panacea for all ills afflicting the society. In fact, sometimes affluence leads to more serious problems. Newspapers abound with stories of affluent kids going astray, breaking and subverting laws and going scot-free. While poor people may be forced to commit crimes out of sheer necessity to survive, the rich indulge in them for pleasure. When affluence partners with power, we can face worst type of anarchy. The problem is more acute in developing countries like India where legal system is not adequate. And where, simultaneously, the intelligentsia, the intellectuals have failed to create public opinion, strong enough to rein the ill effects of abundance. As a result powerful people — Politically powerful, financially powerful, or with sheer muscle power— seem to get away with anything.

There are many instances when powerful people have taken the law in their “mouth”, by which I mean they spoke what they should not have. But I’ll share only two such instances which occurred sometime back. Both are
instances of affluence leading to irresponsible behavior and both have escaped the attention of most people, even the omnipotent and we-know-all obsessed electronic media. Sadly, they always raise a crescendo over non issues and often ignore the issues that pose real threat to the Indian society/polity and social fabric. The omission is more glaring when the cause of trouble comes from the powerful lobby of politicians and cash rich industrialists. And, as always, in the present cases also our intellectuals failed to notice and react to the latent threat in seemingly innocuous incidents/statements.

One such incident is the statement of one of the most highly rated industrialists – Anil Ambani, advocating Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India. The occasion was the inauguration of the Nano plant somewhere in Gujarat. Even Mr. Rattan Tata, otherwise very suave and well meaning individual, appeared to be giving a tacit approval to the proposal. Why was this desire raised publicly? Surely Ambani would have his own reasons! But what has been rankling the mind of all well meaning people is that a handful of industrialists are only concerned with their bottom lines and the facilities provided to them for increasing their wealth, sometimes in the name of national interests. But they seem to be least bothered about the way this target is achieved. They are worried only about the ends and not the means and that is dangerous. Unfortunately, the tendency to equate national interests with creation of wealth and economic progress is gaining ground in India. Indian intellectuals have failed to put the things in proper perspective.

Certainly these gentlemen are not new to Gujarat and Modi. In all probability they are aware of the post Godhra anti Muslim carnage in Gujarat. Such highly placed individuals must also be aware of the role played by the Gujarat Govt., the Gujarat police and the complicity of Mr. Modi during that black chapter of modern Indian history; and still these gentlemen want the same individual at the whelm of affairs of the nation! A nation that boasts of being the oldest civilization and the biggest democracy of the world! A nation that proclaims Gandhi to be the father of the nation. We all know that for Gandhi, means were always as important, if not more, as the ends.

Some will claim that in a democracy, everyone has a right to have his own views. But let me caution that such a right cannot be absolute. As a story after the French revolution tells us “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”. When a common social cause is in danger, when ancient values of a nation are threatened, when humanity itself becomes an endangered species, personal welfare of a few individuals cannot be guaranteed.

The second incident also pertains to a similar, self-styled protagonist of commercial wisdom, who used to think that he is beyond law and whatever he says, should be obeyed by all. He also had vast financial resources at his disposal. In addition he had the support of the cricket crazy masses. For him a petty, commercial sports tournament was more important than the most auspicious festival of democracy viz., the general election, yes I am referring to the previous general elections. First, this gentleman had the audacity of conveying to the Govt. of India that the dates for the IPL tournament were seemingly unalterable. And with mass support, and media created frenzy, at one time he threatened the holding of general elections also. He got support from none other than the highly “effective” Modi who rated the government’s failure to provide security as having dented the national pride beyond redemption. One may ask the cricketing buffoon, sorry tycoon, as to what was so sacrosanct about the dates of that purely commercial and private sports event? Why for him the game of lampoons was more important than most
important event of a democratic polity? Thanks to the steadfast stand of the soft spoken home minister his bluff was called. People of the country demonstrated rare wisdom in not making an issue of the needless controversy. Some people might justify his stand by quoting astronomical Rs. 1800 crore bypassing Indian economy. But fortunately, that was not good enough to befool the Indian masses which proved that they are discerning enough to weed grain from the chafe.

The danger that I see in Mr. Ambani’s statement and Lalit Modi’s stand lies in the possibility (even though very remote) of these people, with vast financial resources at their command, actually using their financial clout to manipulate the democratic process to accomplish their ambitions. That possibility is too scaring to even think of. That is why I feel that the incidents should have received more attention, and evoked stronger protests among the intelligentsia. However, as far as I can think, not even a whimper was heard! Unfortunately, in the cacophony for industrial development and vested interests of the politicians to be on the right side of the financial power centers, any political party also did not take notice of the dangerous suggestion. Surely, fertile ground for fascist ideologies to grow in India has been prepared. Let me share two of the fourteen characteristics of fascism as identified by Dr. Lawrence Britt: Powerful and continuing nationalism; and protection of corporate power. With RSS ideology in the background, Modi like managers at whelm of affairs and Ambani like self centered financial tycoons around, the danger of India turning fascist is nearer than it seems. Let’s beware!

But the question that still remains unanswered is: why the intelligentsia failed to react to these proposals? In his lecture “Intellectuals and Society: Time to Redefine their Role and Responsibility” delivered by the vice President, Hamid Ansari, at the IIAS Shimla on April 2009 he has emphasized the need for the intellectuals to be more vocal. He quotes Vaclav Havel who feels “the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the miseries of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressures of manipulation, should be the chief doubter of system of power and its’ incantations.” But Indian intellectuals have left much to be desired in this regard. They appear to be in perpetual hibernation. They seem too self centered, sometimes too scared to raise their voice against powers that be, and the majority opinion. Could it be for some future rewards? Edward Said’s observation in this regard seems very pertinent. He said, “Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political, you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and to remain within a responsible mainstream; some day you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life, it is the internalization of such habits.”

To me, it seems that Indian intellectuals have crossed the limit.



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