The Gandhian way of Dalit discourse

The recent Ashis Nandy controversy has turned out to be an excellent case study to document the serious intellectual morass that exists in our society today in relation to social issues. It is sad that there were far too many intellectuals who while commenting about Nandy’s remarks, where he asserted that Dalits/Tribals/OBCs were the most corrupt of all, resorted to hijack the discussion away from his casteist and opionated comments that had no empirical basis. Instead of having a discussion around the charges that were laid on Nandy by people who called out Nandy on his ‘caste and corruption’ thesis, these intellectuals even tried steering the discussion in trying to find meaning in Nandy’s opionated and transparently casteist comments.

The fundamental charge that was made against Nandy was that he was being casteist. This casteist charge that Nandy’s supporters are denying is all too apparent if one can read the full comment that Nandy made (reproduced further down)  wherein he asserted that Dalits were the most corrupt while giving example of West Bengal which is apparently a clean state because no Dalit had ever come close to being in power. The other serious charge relates to that of an academician/intellectual like him talking through his hat; Nandy did not feel it necessary to indicate support for his wild assertion with any empirical study that would show Dalits/Tribals/OBCs to be the most corrupt of all.  The supporters of Nandy, instead of replying to these charges or have a discussion around Nandy’s key ‘caste and corruption’ thesis, came up with wide range of variety of responses completely unconnected to the discussion. In doing so, they unwittingly laid bare their hypocritical and deceitful nature given they are supposed to be intellectuals who are supposed to seek and understand truth. Sadly, this type of intellectual dishonesty is widely prevalent amongst “public intellectuals” and pervades the public discourse surrounding issues relating to the Dalits/Tribals/OBCs that impede any sort of serious reconciliation efforts.

One supporter tried to project as if Nandy had provided one of his “startlingly fresh insights” when it comes to the matter of corruption and tried to explain the protests as such

It is, of course, a feature of our times that attentive reading of texts and the work of interpretation are seen as luxuries that can be ill afforded when the country is thirsting for ‘change’, ‘fast’ track courts, and the speedy resolution of complex social issues.  The dedicated do-good activist types, in particular, are generally without humor and find irony a hindrance to whatever noble cause they wish to espouse. (Vinay Lal writing in The Outlook)

Another maintained that Nandy’s comments were made in an ironical manner. I had responded to Tripathi’s article here.

In a country suffering from a chronic irony deficiency, it was no surprise that academic Ashis Nandy’s glib remark about corruption and caste, made at the just-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, morphed into a gargantuan controversy, as though he had risen on a pulpit calling for a caste war in India. (Salil Tripathi writing in the Mint

Another said taken out of context and the meaning twisted beyond that he had made a nuanced and complex argument with the usage of irony

It is symptomatic of the times we live in, of the climate of political discourse that we have contributed to, that even relatively innocuous statements can get so easily misrepresented and twisted to convey a meaning that is diametrically opposite to what was said and meant.  (Harsh Sethi writing in the Outlook)

In my earlier article, I had highlighted what intellectuals were consistently and deliberately glossing over; that is, Nandy’s casteist bias. That article also showed the “nuanced argument” that Nandy made was utter bullcrap that flies in the face of academic rigour. In this article I will show that Nandy was only too keen to display his casteist bias.

But first, I must set the context of Nandy’s remarks to make it clear to the reader the obfuscations, half truths that Nandy’s cronies are resorting to by trying to project that Nandy was misunderstood and all of us had missed out on his insight regarding ‘caste and corruption’. The context is thus:

Briefly replying to the moderator’s queries on his ideas on utopia (conceptualized in part as lack of corruption in the panel discussion) he says any state with no corruption is most likely to be a despotic one and that he hopes that there exist some corruption in India because it humanizes our society. Nandy then goes on to say that the corruption by the Dalits (taking examples of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav & Mayawati) & tribals (Madhu Koda) looks more corrupt than the corruption by the upper castes and the elite class. On the issue of corruption, Tejpal responds that perhaps Corruption is an equalizing force whereby the non-elite classes “using  their wit, their intelligence and their hunger and very often subverting the rules that certain classes made” have become successful in occupying the corridors hitherto frequented only by the elite class. Tejpal cites the example of Dhirubai Ambani in stating this.

In response, Nandy says:

Just a response to this part, very briefly, he’s not saying the most important part of the story which will shock you and it will be a very undignified and, how should I put it, almost vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive. And I give an example, one of the states with least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal where when the CPM was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last 100 years nobody from the OBCs, the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.

 It should be apparent to anyone who can read and understand English that Nandy was only continuing to further make his point wrt Dalits & tribals and not building upon the point Tejpal had made about the non-elite classes. Nandy was speaking about castes while Tejpal was speaking about classes as you can understand from a reading of the comments above. Also if you look at the examples of personalities quoted, Nandy quotes Dalits (taking examples of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav & Mayawati) & tribals (Madhu Koda) while Tejpal’s example is that of Dhirubhai Ambani who as a member of the non elite class was earlier filling petrol in a pump in Doha. So, Nandy and Tejpal were speaking about two sets of people when Nandy throws in his two cents worth of opinion about Dalits being the most corrupt of them all and then anecdotally puts forth that the lack of corruption in West Bengal is due to Dalits never ever have come close to power in that state.

One has to only read through the above mentioned transcript to understand that all these intellectuals who put forth various explanations in Nandy’s defence were only trying to spin the facts in a manner to make everyone think that they might have missed out on some crucial discussions that was not picked by the TV media which then would have proceeded to whip up the casteist controversy . There can be only one reason that explains this flurry of intellectuals coming to Nandy’s defense. I shall hint at the reason using an anecdote by the man himself

If I do a good turn to Richard Sorabji, he can return the favour by accommodating my nephew at Oxford, if it were in the United States, it would be a substantial fellowship.

This being the sad state of affairs, such intellectuals are not fit to be trusted with the responsible task of dealing with public issues truthfully. A list of such people is easily accessed at . An intellectual is supposed to be honest to himself first; his devotion should be to seek and highlight the truth and not obfuscate, misrepresent in an attempt to mislead people for personal benefits. It also shows that those who are supposedly pro Dalit are the very ones who have no empathy with the Dalit cause and are only interested in milking the cause for what it is worth, just as was the case with Gandhi who was only interested in two things when it came to the cause of  eradicating Untouchability a) paying lip service as well as b) raise funds for the same.  I have written about in one of my earlier posts here that highlights how Ambedkar has exposed Gandhi for the damage Gandhi did to the Dalit cause.


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