The confabulating case of Sad(istic)anand Dhume

I had promised myself that I would keep myself out of the partisan debate that would undoubtedly arise in the aftermath of the Wharton Indian Economic Forum’s (WIEF) uninvite of Modi as a keynote speaker. Unfortunately, a chance reading of Sadanand Dhume’s article on WSJ blogs dissipated the determination behind that promise to myself. What drew me out to pen down this piece was the utterly shameful display of shifty standards on the part of the author in professing to stand for one thing even while leading the discussion to something else altogether.

Going by the title of Dhume’s piece ‘Why I’m not speaking at Wharton’, it would appear that it was a solidarity note in favour of Modi. But appearances are deceptive and shifty standards quite easily camouflaged by those who have practiced it for long years.

WIEF’s volte face can be best described as an undignified, unmindful & ungracious act unworthy of its image. One could construe it as an insult to Modi who had set aside some time for this event. To be uninvited from the event would then be rightfully seen as an insult to the time and effort that might have been set aside by the Chief Minister out of his other commitments as a public servant of the state of Gujarat. But Dhume, taking a sadistic view while taking pleasure in Modi’s uninvite situation, seems to think that WIEF’s action was more than a “ritual humiliation”. Now, as per me, the word “humiliation” has a connotation of showing someone in poor light. Going by the facts of what happened, it was Wharton that came up being shown in  poor light with its invite flip flop unbecoming of the stature of an organization that counts itself amongst the premier intellectual grounds in a free country like America. Instead, to then say that the act of uninvite was more than a ritual humiliation (of Modi) is nothing but a fanciful flight of Sad(istic)anand Dhume’s imagination.

Perhaps not content with conjuring up images of “ritual humiliation”, Sad(istic)anand Dhume creeps up on the unsuspecting readers and surreptitiously suggests that with “more courage and creativity”, the “humiliation” perhaps could have been even more extreme?. He suggests the format too quite helpfully:

The speech could easily have been followed by a question and answer session with students, or by a panel discussion on Gujarat that featured friend and foe alike.

Now, what are the kind of questions he would have liked?

To be sure, smart people disagree over important questions about his state. Has Gujarat struck the right balance between growth and equity? Should Mr. Modi be seen as a reformer or merely an efficient administrator? Have Gujarat’s human development indicators kept pace with its income gains? Are the lessons of the so-called Gujarat model, rooted in India’s most entrepreneurial society, replicable in states less comfortable with commerce?

The references to equity and human development indicators are shorthand to mean Muslim victimization when it comes to discussions about Gujarat under Modi’s rule. That is a stick that Modi’s detractors have consistently beat him with whence queering the pitch against him. Sadistic(anand) Dhume quite obviously also prefers the same.

Dhume also seems prone to moments of confabulation. He seems to remember at first that the law of the land that Modi is subject to has consistently exonerated him for his alleged role in the 2002 post Godhra riots.  Then suddenly Dhume imagines that America’s laws are in force in India since he finds the need to highlight the fact that “America has denied a visa since 2005” to be somehow important more than the fact of Modi’s exoneration by Indian courts. Decency requires an acknowledgement that the pain has been caused on both sides including on Modi’s. One has to remember that Modi is also a human being who, in addition to undergoing the demands of the country’s legal process, has withstood a media/intellectual trial patiently for well over a decade now. That Modi should be beyond reproach on those parameters after the clean chit given to him is something only smart people can understand.

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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 http://ashisnandysolidarity.blogspot.in/ . 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.

A literally modest proposal on raising awareness about “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder

Ok. I admit it. I am prejudiced when it comes to the writings of a certain “intellectual” named Salil Tripathi. I don’t know what it is about his writings but they seem to spur me into a response. Not that he or anyone else in the “intellectual” blogosphere, journalistic or academic community would actually care, but perhaps the motivating factor to respond  to Tripathi’s writings arise out of me wrongly harbouring grand illusions of contributing meaningfully to the greater intellectual issues of our time.

Anywhoo, now that I have confessed my sin of prejudice to our Dear Lord in Heaven I can now move on to committing my next sin of mocking Tripathi’s 31 Jan 2013 piece in Mint titled ‘Scissors and scared scholars’ .

In this short response, I will only restrict myself to a portion of Tripathi’s article which cover his attempted defence of Ashis Nandy’s comments at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival.

I don’t want to add to the popular notion amongst right thinking individuals that Nandy’s comments were either an attempt to garner attention or an unfortunate display of his casteist mindset. But what I will most certainly do is to shine the light onto the dark corner of Tripathi’s mind that is the source of his half assed justifications and dishonest pieces.  Tripathi starts off by saying India suffers from chronic irony deficiency and avers that modern India is not the place for irony or satire. The irony he is referring to relates to Nandy’s remark below; which Tripathi characterises as a glib one :

Nandy said, probably ironically, that some of India’s most disadvantaged groups were the most corrupt. He, of course, didn’t mean that quite so literally: Later he clarified that the corrupt from the so-called lower castes are more likely to get caught, unlike the corrupt among the elite, who have the means to cover their tracks.

It would be useful to have a look at what did Nandy actually say to understand if he was being ironical at all:

“It will be an undignified and vulgar statement but the fact is that most of the corrupt come from the OBC, the scheduled castes and now increasingly STs. As long as it was the case, the Indian republic would survive.”

“I will give an example. The state of least corruption is West Bengal. In the last 100 years, nobody from the backward classes and the SC and ST groups have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state”

Forgive me but I am quite new to this irony thing. Perhaps the irony in Nandy’s comments escapes me. Or perhaps Tripathi doesn’t understand the meaning of “literally”.  When Nandy follows up in the same breath with the West Bengal example, you can be sure that he isn’t even remotely trying to be ironical.  That example about West Bengal is a crystal clear indication of Nandy making an argument   about how the presence of Dalits and Corruption are strongly correlated.

Now, like I said earlier, I probably couldn’t tell irony from a bar of soap; but I am pretty sure that my reading comprehension of the English language is reasonable enough to make a distinction between an argument and glib remark that may or may not be coated with irony.  Nandy clearly and literally asserted that the absence of Dalits from any seat of power ensured that West Bengal was a Corruption free state under Communist rule.  There wasn’t the slightest hint of irony in Nandy’s remark. Instead what is ironical is that some intellectuals are seeking to twist Nandy’s comments to mean something else than what he quite literally stated. Hope this short post elucidates what irony is and what it is not so that Tripathi is able to cure himself of his “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder.

 

The masquerade of the “finest intellectuals” at Jaipur Lit Fest

Ashis Nandy’s controversial comments at a panel discussion of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) about Corruption amongst Dalits/OBCs/SCs/STs have drawn widespread condemnation. A First Information Report (FIR) was filed with the police by SC/ST Rajasthan Manch against Ashis Nandy in Jaipur under Section 506 Indian Penal Code (criminal intimidation) and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The police has said that the matter will be investigated.

While the police investigate, I shall pursue the line Nandy’s JLF fellow panelist Tarun Tejpal, the editor in chief and publisher of Tehelka took:

“It is sad that in a literary festival, people should be attacking the finest intellectual. When you come to literature festival, you are coming to play with ideas.”

To do that, let’s first actually examine the comments of JLF’s “finest intellectual” who unfortunately has a poor grasp of the English language:

“It will be an undignified and vulgar statement but the fact is that most of the corrupt come from the OBC, the scheduled castes and now increasingly STs. As long as it was the case, the Indian republic would survive.”

“I will give an example. The state of least corruption is West Bengal. In the last 100 years, nobody from the backward classes and the SC and ST groups have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state”

Following protests by Dalit groups, he later said while issuing a clarification that he had meant to endorse fellow panelist Tarun Tejpal’s statement that “corruption in India was an equalizing force”.

“I do believe that a zero corruption society will be despotic society (like Singapore). I also said that if people like Richard Sorabjee and I want to be corrupt, I shall possibly send his son to Harvard and give him a fellowship and he can send my daughter to Oxford,”.

“No one will think it as corruption. Indeed it will look like supporting talent. But when dalits, tribals and the OBCs are corrupt, it looks very corrupt indeed. However, this second corruption equalizes. It gives them access to top their entitlements As long as this equation persists, I have hope for the republic”

Speaking to a Newsx reporter, he clarified that Dalits and OBCs are caught because

They have “less finesse” in being able to hide their corruption and as long this proportion, that is, a higher number of Dalits being caught continues, there is hope for the Indian republic because that means the poor and Dalit can also play the game and take advantage of India’s political system.

I am not the finest intellectual around but I can with enough certainty say that the following three conclusions can be drawn based on the reading of his comments:

1. As per Nandy, apparently it is Corruption that will hold together India’s republic by virtue of the interplay of the forces of corruption between India’s rich & privileged class and the poor & Dalits.

Contrary to every single text on governance & development that discusses the corrosive impact of Corruption on a nation; clearly Nandy knows something that has escaped this century’s eminent economists and political philosophers!

2. Nandy implies that Dalits must continue to be unsophisticated while going about their business of corruption to ensure the longevity of Indian republic.

As if past burdens of untouchability and poverty weren’t enough, Nandy now wants to place on the Dalits an additional burden of carrying on corruption in an unsophisticated manner to ensure Indian republic’s longevity.  Talk about adding insult to the injury; first by making a casteist remark (in bold above) about correlation between presence of Dalits and Corruption and then trying to cover his prejudice by linking continued corruption by Dalits and the longevity of the Indian republic!

3. A corruption free state is a despotic one and since West Bengal has been an absolutely clean state it is one.

Thanks for stating the obvious as regards to the condition of the state under the communists!

Enough with the play of ideas; on a serious note, I have a list of gratis suggestions for

1. Organisers of JLF & People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL):

You fight tooth and nail for Nandy’s right to free expression (& the right to be casteist) against the FIR lodged against him. After all if artists, writers & a collection of finest intellectuals don’t fight for freedom of expression, especially when the matter arose during a congregation at a literary festivals then what are the chances we will have our freedom in our day to day lives.

2. Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and all other sociologists associated with Nandy:

Since you provided the accolades & endorsements to Nandy for being an eminent sociologist and political psychologist and also to preserve your reputation of being competent researchers promoting social science research, my suggestion is that you ask Nandy to

a)     provide the proof that points to the correlation between presence of Dalits/OBCs/SC/ST in a population and levels of corruption in the society. He quoted Bengal as an example to support his theory. So perhaps you could ask him to furnish the data sets for the other states

b)     provide the proof that causally links Corruption to the longevity of a republic.

3. Tarun Tejpal

Thanks for playing. I suggest we play again sometime again with some other “finest intellectuals”.