Indian Intellectuals And Life After Corona
Presently everyone in India is focused on the pandemic, but it is time now to think of the post-corona period.
I have said several times that India’s huge socioeconomic problems (which have been aggravated by the corona pandemic) of massive poverty, record and rising unemployment, appalling child malnourishment, almost total lack of healthcare and good education for the masses, farmers distress, atrocities on minorities, etc can only be solved by a people’s revolution, not by reforms.
However historical experience shows that a revolution only occurs when there is a revolutionary situation in which the masses rise up against the system as they find it impossible to live within it. The truth is that although today there is great socioeconomic distress among the people of India, there is as yet no revolutionary situation.
However, does that mean that patriotic intellectuals should remain idle until a revolution breaks out? To answer this question we must go deeper into the matter.
A great revolutionary leader of the 20th century said “To change a political and social system, one must first of all change public opinion. This is true of revolution; it is also true for counter revolution.”
In other words, before an actual revolution there must be a cultural revolution i.e. revolution in the realm of ideas. For instance, before the French Revolution of 1789 there were several decades of intellectual struggle by great thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and the French Encyclopedists (Diderot, Helvetius, Holbach and others) who attacked the feudal system in France, religious bigotry etc (Rousseau’s book The Social Contract was Robespierre’s bible).
Why must an actual revolution be preceded by a cultural revolution? That is because most people are conservative by nature, and so they don’t want any fundamental change in the social and political system. For instance, most people in our subcontinent are casteist, communal and superstitious. It is, therefore, the task of the patriotic modern-minded intellectuals to patiently educate the people, change their feudal mindsets, and explain to them that unless the present system is overthrown and an alternative system created they will continue living in horrible poverty and with a host of massive socioeconomic problems.
Also, in every revolution many lives have to be sacrificed. A person will willingly sacrifice their life if convinced they are fighting for a noble cause, and so it is the task of patriotic intellectuals to persuade people that the cause for which they are fighting is a noble one.
Intellectuals are the eyes of society, and without them society is blind. Every great revolution was led by intellectuals, e.g. Robespierre and Danton in the French Revolution, Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams in the American Revolution and Lenin in the Russian Revolution. A genuine intellectual is a social engineer, a moulder of public opinion, a transmitter of ideas, who propagates the ideals for which people must struggle.
But for every genuine intellectual in Indian society, there are usually ten pseudo intellectuals, people who are ‘intellectual’ only in name (see my articles “Indian liberals and their illiberal ignorance” published in dailyo.in and “The wailing, howling of India’s liberals, intellectuals” published in theweek.in).
Such are our academicians, writers, media persons, etc. They are mostly full of arrogance and conceit, lacking modesty, and thinking too much of themselves. They have no deep understanding of historical processes or the laws of social development, but strut around in society like peacocks flaunting their superficial bookish, half-baked ‘knowledge’. They only care for their own comforts, and have little love for the people. Many of them are incorrigible, but some can be remoulded.
In India (as also in Pakistan and Bangladesh) there is hardly any ‘intellectual’ who speaks about what has become obvious: only a revolution can solve our massive problems (see my articles “Why celebrate Republic Day when the Constitution has become a scarecrow” published in theweek.in, “India’s moment of turbulent revolution is here” published in firstpost.com, “India edges closer to its own French Revolution” published in theweek.in, and “Eight steps to a revolution” published in dailyo.in).
Not one ‘intellectual’ in India refers to, or has possibly even heard of, how the Soviet Union industrialised after adoption of the First Five Year plan in 1928 (see my articles “The economy’s problem is of purchasing power not production” published in theweek.in and “The $5 trillion dream” published in thehindubusinessline.com). What can such ‘intellectuals’ teach others? Have they any real solution to the massive unemployment or economic recession problem in India, even though they flaunt Ph.D. degrees from Harvard, Yale and the London School of Economics?
This is not to say there are no honest persons among the ‘intellectuals’ in India. But their heads are often full of conventional ideas, e.g. about Gandhi, which are nonsense (see my articles on him on my blog Satyam Bruyat). The remolding of the minds of such persons will be a long painful process requiring great patience.
Sooner or later the present corona virus problem will be over, and then the economic problems, in aggravated form, will arise in our subcontinent. Only scientific minded intellectuals can solve these, but there is a great dearth of them presently.
In the coming revolutionary storm genuine intellectuals will be in great demand. But for giving leadership to the people the present ‘intellectuals’ will have to undergo a painful but necessary process of remoulding, otherwise it will be a case of the blind leading the blind.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.