Much of Nandy’s language is fine but the insights are not wisdom enough!
Prof.Ashis Nandy is a high profile academic. He is variously described as psycho-analyst and political psychologist. I don’t really know much to make any distinction between the two disciplines. With this confession, let me say what he has done to clarify what he says about the rise of the Indian middle class and how it has contributed to the rise of an authoritarian politics in Gujarat.
His article, Blame of the Middle Class in the newspaper in January led to a case filed and he was about to be arrested. Then, storm broke out ,178 intellectuals protested and the matter went to the Supreme Court. The Court in a famous line just dismissed the arrest petition, saying “If a journalist cant write an article who else? And when the police cant even arrest an ordinary municipal councilor why aim for a soft target’ ,lines to that effect. That only served to highlight Modi’s politics in a bad light.
Now, in an interview in the Thehelka(5 July 2008)Nandy had given an interview. That is what concerns us here.
First, Andy says he discovered Mahatama Gandhi during the Emergency. I am not sure why it took him so long to discover Gandhi only during the Emergency. That means he advocates Gandhian methods of protest? He doesn’t say that. Then, in what way he understands Gandhi, specially when he points to Modi’s illiberal politics?
He says ‘he rediscovered Gandhi, I became more skeptical of the Indian state which was model led on the colonial state’. Then, he points to ‘seculairsm’ which he says majority of Indians don’t understand, it cant be translated into the vernacular languages’. Fine. ‘Secularism is a tool to achieve tolerance and amity but it has not been able to touch the heart of Indians who have found it flawed and abstraction used only for political purposes’. Fine. He says we would gain more if we enter the hearts and minds of Indians if we enter it through the various cultural and religious traditions of India, so that we can confront the forces of fomenting communal conflict. It is here Nandy fails us. He doesn’t explain the paradox: fighting communalism by entering through the cultural and religious traditions of India.
The next paradox is he says Gandhi is anti-modern. Or, he says other modernists( I include myself as another modernist!) call Gandhi primitive. Unfortunately for Nandy’s formidable intellectual stature he targets some imaginary people to term Gandhi primitive or not quote Gandhi to welcome or explain the modernist development that is taking place in India. Why single out the Gujarati middle class? All the middle classes in all states, in TN too, where the caste and chauvinistic extremes can also be noticed, as in Communist ruled states too, we can see the middle classes welcoming the sort of modernist development, or developments.
Nandy, I dare say, confuses, I suspect deliberately, developments in economic sphere with developments in the related or unrelated cultural and religious and even literary and other intellectual spheres.
He also foists his case on the Gujarati middle class for what he sees in Singapore. Singapore authoritarianist government has a history. So too Modi-type BJP Hindutva authoritarianism.
Unfortunately, he gives more credit to Modi than what he deserves!
Now, to say, that we have got secularism from the West is also as much true as we have inherited a whole lot of Western things, democracy, Parliamentary
democracy, individual liberty, equality and much else. Modern nation itself is an inheritance from the West. Cultural deserts exist in all our present emerging material and non-material cultures. But that is not the same thing as the cultural desert as it is pointed out in Gujarat.
Nandy says in one place: “Large number of the middle class is now perfectly willing to sacrifice large sections of society for the sake of development. In most countries, spectacular development has been associated with spectacular authoritarianism. Not only Singapore, China is a very good example”. This is totally wrong. No section of the modern Indian middle class, I dare say, would approve of what Nandy says. Why the middle class only? Even the so-called upper middle and the top classes, the very rich and the very powerful sections too would very much want to see an all-round development and in a very significant sense, unless the very bottom of the sections are also benefit it is not development worth any value whatever.
He might find fault with this or that expert or the minister. Yes, the Finance Minister, why even the Prime Minister don’t articulate the aspirations of the people in a meaningful way.
We have a paucity of talent at many levels. I see the cultural desert in our university campuses. There is the terrible insensitivity among the educated classes, the teachers, the government servants, why even in the so-called affluent sections of society, as we see in the government circles, the very crowds I encounter in many places, government offices or lecture halls or even in such pretentious places like the India International Centre, I see so much pretension and so much hypocrisy, they all live, as I see in genteel poverty, both material and cultural poverty, and this is a cause for shame not for celebration.
India with all its faults in its development skewedness, is nevertheless a vibrant democracy, a vibrant open society and people are fully aware and tuned to making the use of their opportunities thanks to opening up of the economy and the globalisation process.
The new middle class or classes Nandy might have in mind are in my opinion are the new generation, high-earning IT industry professionals and the new faces of the new generation women employees in these sectors. They are the big earners and also the big spenders.
They are all well-educated and also highly sensitive, thanks to these new sensitivities we find more consciousness to the environment, pollution, many side-effects of the unplanned and unprepared infrastructure woes we witness in many cities.
It doesn’t help anyone to bring the big names, Gandhi, Mandela or others.
We have the sixty years of experience in running our democracy, it has survived, yes, we have communalism’s worst vandalisms and yet we have managed to throw the criminals in politics. the wrong-doers, yes, we can pick holes, that is part of practising democracy!
Hindutva is different from Hinduism. The new resurgence of Hinduism, if any, is again needs to be explained carefully, not just picking up some phrases and throwing up some other expressions.
What Nandy says about history is unacceptable. He doesn’t understand history as a source of seeking new knowledge through the evolution of histriography which has given us new insights into how to look at our past and the present what to look for in our future possibilities. So, too his understanding of economic development seems to me very faulty. No one in his senses would see development as excluding “the bottom 10 per cent”. This is to misunderstand the very meaning of economic science.
I started with much interest and curiosity to know Nandy, the intellectual. Yes, he is one of our finest intellectuals. He has enlightened us in many areas. But as for his particular understanding of our democratic polity and our economic development, he seems to be patently prejudiced.
This I am sure others also might feel like and share with the public.