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Academia & Politics

Both politicians and scholars use language as the vehicle to give expression to their right to freedom and thought. However, both use it differently. While the academician uses words without mincing them, the politician is always indulging in mincing words. So, while an academic, a scholar or a researcher is  afraid these days to give free expression to his thoughts or  views  for fear of  “hurting” sentiments of one or the other sections of the society, the politician is unfazed to speak even the most hurtful views in the crudest possible language. He can propagate hatred against one set of people or ideologies or socio-cultural groups with impunity and also justify it. So the political class attacking a Salman Rushdie or a Ashis Nandy or Kamal Haasan is an instant success in intimidating the thinking citizens, whereas the scholars are afraid to freely even discuss issues affecting public interest. This kind of mobocracy is the bane of democracy as it reduces an open society like India to a fundamentalist state. Any objective assessment of the issues and views will throw up only one result that the scholars are right and the rabble rousers patently wrong. There is, however, some merit in angry voices against radical scholars. A Rushdie or painter can say his or her say without going as far as painting vulgarly nudity where faith is concerned or using language that does nothing more than provoke. If the real issue before the writer or painter is to attack or demolish religion, he/she has to first reach the stature of a philosopher erudite enough to criticize, review or rewrite the treatises that have been found so acceptable by people for so long. The writer/artist can’t simply sensationalize or titillate.There are other genres to experiment with ideas on all variety of  issues without operating from behind religion or holy book(s). Beyond that there can be no bar on a writer, scholar or artist on thinking anew on any subject including religion and religious texts. A writer is well within his rights to demolish any ideology- religious or political. He can challenge any established custom, more or tradition. Offering resistance to new ideas or threatening police action against thinkers can never be justified.It is for the people to accept or reject any ideas. Conflicts created by competing ideologies have contributed to the growth of culture in human society. Fundamentalists are wrong in thinking that the world is static, since for many it is dynamic. This conundrum of the static and the dynamic, the changing and the permanent,the stable and the unstable alone defines the nature of this creation. No human being controls it. None should attempt to do so.

India is repeatedly betraying unhealthy tendencies of going after scholars, thinkers, intellectuals, writers, artists and journalists. A country where these categories fear to speak the truth or their mind is doomed to destruction. A country where vegetables and dry fruit sell at the same price is governed by a disoriented ruler or group of persons and is inhabited by a society that feigns myopia and hence not worth living (andher nagari chaupat raja, taka ser bhaji taka ser khaja). The police authorities are compelled to apprehend thinkers and intellectuals for voicing their views, as happened at the recent Jaipur Literary Festival. Is the country forgetting the prerogative creative writing? Are we to conclude that it is the end of literature for India? What are the themes left for literature? It ruffles feathers if discusses caste, creed, religion, gender, region, language,ethics, values, culture, tradition, modernity, new ideas, science, technology or even sociology. So crippling is this fear that governance has simply disappered from India, as none is more frightened today than the bureaucrat. But isn’t it the “duty” of the bureaucrat to  “advise” the government without fear or favour? Experience has made them sagacious and none is prepared to risk his or her career interests by displaying any independence of mind. The casualty is good governance. Public frustration can be gauged from the fact that Anna Hazare commanded greater respect in India during the Lokpal agitation last year than the Prime Minister of India! There can be no better commentary on  the credibility of the politician , which has resulted from “mincing” words. If it is the predicament for the politician to mean exactly what he says, at least he can spare the intellectuals for speaking boldly even the unspeakable in larger public interest. Under no circumstance should an intellectual be subjected to the trauma of police action against him. Neither the law nor the state policy can ever gag or ban freedom of thought and expression except under foreign rule. The action against any scholar or intellectual, including Ashis Nandi is unjustified, autocratic and mischievous interpretation of the law. It might succeed in a few cases initially, but is bound to fail generally. Societies are neither organized nor developed in such isolation. Unless an act is done or purported to be done malafide, the state should not create enclaves within the society governed by different sets of rules..No patriotic leader will indulge in such superficial yet dangerous acts unless pursuing a policy to destroy the nation. Goodwill among all sections of the society is the sine qua non of a strong nation. It alone is capable of strengthening the integrity of the people and unity of the nation. For vote bank politics, the inputs of the intellectual community cannot be ignored. Intellectuals are going to be a miserable minority in any society, who will never be able to influence the results of the elections in a democracy. Unfortunately that is the worst shortcoming of democracy. It is more so in India which has grafted the Westminster model on a country not adequately prepared to appreciate or adopt the form of such a government. On paper India might be the biggest democracy in the world, but in practice it is worse than feudalism under the Raj. Governance stands outsourced to local musclemen, who control votes and trade them for a price. There is so much of confusion all around that the bureaucrats are not prepared to advice and the ministers keep mum im cabinet meetings but give their views outside, which are dubbed by the Establishment as their “personal views”. So in democratic India, there is a government view and there is another personal view. That, perhaps,explains why intellectuals who participated actively in discussions on the republic of ideas at the Jaipur Literary Festival are being vigorously pursued, more vigorously than the dreaded fugitives from the law.

It is suicidal for any government to rely on yes man only. An honest minister can be bitter. But can a patient ask for sweet potion only while seeking cure of his illness? The government would do best to leave the intellectuals alone. It has its own mechanism of farming a crop of writers, artists, intellectuals and journalist in the dozens of awards it confers on the many undeserved every year. For one Ashis Nandy it has dozens to tear him apart. Where than is any need to use the state terrorism machinery of the police against the practitioners of soft power only?

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