The Problem With India’s Liberal Intelligentsia
Recently Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramaniam resigned from Ashoka University, and there was a big hue and cry over it, as if the heavens had fallen.
Intellectuals like Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Arvind Subramanian, Ram Chandra Guha, Subramanyam Swamy, Shashi Tharoor etc; and liberal mediapersons like Siddhartha Varadarajan, Karan Thapar, Ravish Kumar, Ajit Anjum, etc; are oft flaunted and touted for their views and activities. However, I am not convinced that we are dealing with thinkers of as great a calibre as how they are billed.
To give an example, it is obvious to anyone who has even a little understanding of Indian realities that parliamentary democracy – which operates in our country under the Constitution – runs largely on the basis of caste and religious vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces which have to be destroyed if India is to progress, but since parliamentary democracy further entrenched them, it has to be replaced by an alternative political system under which there is rapid development. Otherwise we will remain condemned to massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling levels of child malnourishment, almost total lack of proper healthcare or good education for our masses, etc.
But our brave ‘intellectuals’ and mediapersons will never address this issue, for challenging parliamentary democracy means in effect going outside the Constitutional bounds, and advocating a historical people’s revolution, which scares the daylight out of the heads of them. The very word ‘revolution’ horrifies them, as if they are facing a guillotine. But is it not true that everything has collapsed in India? That our state institutions have become hollow and empty shells, while the people’s distress is growing every day? So, is India not heading for a revolution?
Intellectuals are the eyes of society, and without them society is blind. But what if our intellectuals are themselves out of their depth, and fail to think deeply? Will it not be a case of the blind leading the blind?
Our so called ‘intellectuals’ and ‘liberal’ mediapersons cry themselves hoarse against the suppression of freedom and democracy in India lately. But what they overlook is that freedom is not an end in itself, it can only be a means to an end. The end must be to raise the standard of living of our people and give them better lives.
Freedom can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. If it helps to attain that end it is a good thing, but if it becomes an obstacle to attaining it, it is bad. And it can become an obstacle directly, e.g. if freedom of speech is used to propagate caste or religious hatred, or indirectly, by diverting the people’s attention from the real issues which are socio-economic, to relative non-issues or trivialities e.g. lives of film stars, cricket (which is one of the opiums of the Indian masses), petty politics, fashion parades, astrology, etc.
Similarly, when we talk of democracy, we must go deeper and ask: what kind of democracy one is speaking of. We have parliamentary democracy in India, but it has only furthered casteism and communalism, which are feudal forces keeping India backward.
But our intellectuals never go outside the bounds of parliamentary democracy – thus by insinuation treating it as a holy cow. And our mediapersons will never publish or speak views which are outside these bounds, thus negating the freedom of speech and expression which they loudly proclaim from the rooftops. The only views that they will permit are those within such bounds.
But if the solution to the people’s huge problems lies outside those bounds of the existing system, should people not have the freedom to express such views and get them publicised? Evidently the answer of our ‘liberal’ intellectuals and mediapersons is: no.
Is this not hypocrisy?
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.