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February 25, 2013

Elitist Eccentricities: Since When Freedom of expression Start Including Hate Speeches Mr. Ashish Nandy?

[From my column OBVIOUSLY OPAQUE in the UTS Voice, 01-15 February]

Ashish Nandy comes across as the naughty boy of Indian intelligentsia, which is if you go by the accounts of those out to protect his right to free speech. In his quest for knowledge, he titillates, provokes, stings. He is a gadfly to his protégés, noted psephologist Yogendra Yadav, who did never get his predictions right, included. Ashishda has humbled him many a times, he recollects. I have no idea if he ever felt humbled by the masses that consigned his predictions to dustbins of Indian polity elections after election, but then that is beside the point.

Nandy is in news again, this time for prophesying that the republic will survive. Ironically, is the republic under any imminent threat is a question he did not bother with.

Indian republic, it does seem, has developed a strange habit of getting threatened. A curious development for a 60 plus secular socialist development as it encroaches into a sphere hitherto monopolized by religions! Have not the Right to Get Threatened and Right to Feel Persecuted been reserved for religions?  All of them I mean, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and the myriad others.

It was in grave danger last spring, as some Aam Admis (common men, if you have no clue what this species is all about) had suddenly discovered. The threat to its existence, they found, came from widespread corruption that was eating the system from within. Being true patriots, unlike those running the system according to them, they declared a war on corruption.

They went on to invent a new age Gandhi, in the form of Anna Hazare. The fact that this copy cat Mahatma was hitherto known for opposing reality show Big Boss for hosting Pakistani actors like Veena Malik and beating ‘drunkards’ of his village is beside the point. It was understandable if he had a problem with Veena Malik being referred to as an ‘actor’, but then having issues with someone being a Pakistani was not quite a Gandhian thing, provided Gandhi does not mean Varun Gandhi(you know who, right?) to you. 

Having invented this new Mahtma, the Aam Admis inflicted him on the body politic of the nation. He came to Delhi and roared, cameras rolling. He threatened the irreversibly corrupt system and asked them to accept a draft he had brought with him. He wanted, in true Gandhian sense, death sentence for corrupts and Kasab. To add spectacle to the act, he wanted the sentence to be executed in public. People came and listened to him for a while.

Then they noticed Ram Madhavs of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sitting on the stage, right next to  Hazare’s Bharat Mata. The rest is history as they say. The history of these new champions of middle class India funded by likes of Navin Jindals of both Tiranga and Coal-gate fame being consigned to the dustbins of contemporary politics, that is.

Nandy’s republic was different. He would not, inexplicably, disclose what threatened his republic while happily inventing the messiah who would save it. The savior, for him, is corruption, the great equalizing force. It would redeem the republic to live up to the dreams of its founding fathers (whatever happened to founding mothers). That’s what he told a baffled audience in recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival.

The republic, naughty Nandy further elaborated in his ‘subversive’ style, will survive because most of the corrupt, never adding a ‘now’, “come from the OBCs and the scheduled castes, now inserting a ‘NOW’ “and now increasingly scheduled tribes.” Ask him for the evidence supporting this vulgar and undignified statement in his own words, and he would scoff at you invoking his right to free speech as if the right to free speech intrinsically includes insulting the marginalized communities. Cite the requirements of research methodology which the professor himself might have assiduously taught his students and his followers-in-awe would tell you how original a thinker he is.

That is where the statement requires a closer scrutiny. His take on Dalits and OBCs is timeless and ahistorical. It has no temporality in here and now or there and then. Most of the corrupt might be coming from the Dalits and OBCs since the beginning of the time, at least right from the birth of the republic. Is that the case though? Pause for a moment and recall Rajiv Gandhi’s iconic statement of only 14 paisa out of a rupee reaching the people and one would remember that Social Justice brigade was not even born on the Indian political scene. What does, then, make Nandy make such a sweeping, timeless statement indicting Dalits and OBCs? There are tens of Kalmadis for every A Raja, aren’t there?  

Worse than this is Nandy’s, and “now increasingly scheduled tribes” part. Does he have any evidence to support this obnoxious claim other than indicting alleged bribe-takers Shibu Soren(s) while absolving alleged bribe-givers P. V. Narsimha Rao(s) of all criminal culpabilities? Narsimha Rao, by the way, is the only former prime minister of India who has to face a criminal charge in a corruption case, and is an ‘upper caste’ if one can remind Nandy.

So when does Nandy’s ‘now increasingly’ begins? Since Shibu Soren’s ascendance to power in Jharkhand? Or that of Madhu Koda’s ? How many ‘corrupt’ tribal leaders worth their salt could he find in Uttar Pradesh, a land of scams? Or in Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra?

Nandy, the naughty professor, got to answer at least a few of these questions instead of turning into a victim of ‘growing intolerance in society’, for which, sardonically again, his supporters blame ‘corrupt’ Dalit leaders like Mayawati. First of the set is the same. Where does he get such mind baffling statistics from, statistics that can shame even the Mathematics genius zero loss Kapil Sibal? However ‘original’ a thinker is, he cannot consign all data to flames to reach at his preferred conclusions after all.

Therein lays the signature brilliance of Nandy, the maverick intellectual. This is not the first time he has offended a community.  He has quite a track record of doing the same. For the sake of those with a fickle memory, the latest among those was his ‘qualified’ support to Mohan Bhagwat’s claim that rapes occur in India and not Bharat. Not atypically, Nandy had then prophesized that India was going to see lots of ‘anomic’ rapes taking place in cities. The data on the contrary from the National Crime Records Bureau did not bother him. Neither did the news reports coming from across the country.  

Decades ago, similar was his take on Sati, or burning a widow alive on her husband’. The institution was no longer rooted in feudal ideas of honour and valour but was taking place more and more in upwardly mobile ‘modern’ families. He did not have any evidence to support this ludicrous claim then, or when a 75 year old Brahmin widow, a community not particularly known for valour, jumped in the funeral pyre of her husband in the last reported case of Sati.

Why does Nandy do all this? Perhaps, because he lives in a world of his own. His world is a world of idealized, almost romanticized villages as rendered to us in movies like Dabangg. His villages are inhabited by Chulbul Pandeys having a heart of gold despite all their rustiness. His villages do not include those like Khairlanji which witness worst possible forms of ‘anomic’ gangrape and murder. Caste discrimination does not exist in his villages, except perhaps during elections when the pre-modern identity somehow resurrects itself and make castes vote en masse.  

This is why, perhaps, that he sees the redemption of the republic coming from corruption that of the Dalits, OBCs and tribals, and not from struggles for social justice. He, in fact, negates the very existence of such struggles.

This actually is the real problem with his statement. Wrongly insinuating that most of the corrupts are from marginalized communities is offensive, negating the struggles for social justice is preposterous. There is no denying the fact that quite a few of the leaders from the social justice camp are widely believed to be corrupt, but why are they so?

How a certain Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party would would survive in a system that demands ludicrous expenses running in tens of crores for contesting elections in just a single constituency, forget the expenses of running the party. Her voters are not rich enough to support her on their own, and she does not have the kind of clientele with Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis like the Congress or the BJP. Who has instituted this systemic corruption in the Indian political system in the first place?

Nandy would not answer this. He would, rather, trivialize the issue and would concoct corruption as the solution instead of the gallant struggles for social justice being waged across the country. Interestingly enough, his defender-in-chief would be the same Yogendra Yadav, who as a member of Aam Admi Party finds corruption to be the single biggest threat to the republic.

Yadav, though, would never stand up for Dalit Professor Pramod Bhumbe of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Social Work in Dhule, Maharashtra who was beaten up by the members of RSS, Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajarang Dal for making ‘offensive’ and derogatory remarks against Lord Ram. There would be no panel discussions either.

No one would get to see outraged faces of suave and urban intellectuals crying foul over the case. No one would discuss the other part of the argument that the corruption of the elite conceals itself in myriad forms like scholarships in same Oxbridge institutions as they themselves might have benefitted from. This is why this whole free speech business is neither about freedom nor the inabilities of the lesser mortals who fail to understand the subtleties of nuanced statements.

The freedom of expression is selective for them. You have it if you are ‘Ashishda’. This is about the eccentricity of elites who have not abandoned their patronizing claim over the toiling masses despite having abandoned them long back. It is not for nothing that Ashish Nandy gets ‘misperceived’ twice in less than a month.

Of course, I am not for his arrest but I do wonder why only Akbaruddin Owaisi(s) should get arrested for their hate speeches. Freedom of expression does not include the freedom to insult a community, and that is what Ashish Nandy has done. As it is, if his freedom of expression is boundless, why should the freedom of those offended not be unlimited as well? If he has a right to hurt (or humble) then the people have a right to get hurt, and humble him, as well. He should have apologized for the republic has risen up.
Or else, he should learn not to speak what he does not mean, time and again. 

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