“New Delhi’s intellectual establishment is a reactionary set that is unable and unwilling to offer any new ideas to solve age-old governance problems. It is both more permanent and less accountable than India’s much maligned bureaucracy. It is no surprise that this establishment is increasingly ignored by India’s “stupid” citizens and discredited in the eyes of the public, for they deserve no better.” – Rajeev Mantri
The criticism mounted by Centre for Policy Research president Pratap Bhanu Mehta, where he laid the responsibility for the murder squarely at the door of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been heavily debated and particularly struck a chord.
Writing with uncharacteristic fury in the pages of The Indian Express, Mehta asserted that the gruesome murder “exemplified the depths of the barbarity that lurks behind the veneer of our civilisation.”
The response to the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq tells us far more about our media and intellectual establishment, than it does about our civilization.
Several cases of crimes motivated by religion were reported before and have taken place since that horrific incident.
For example, in Karnataka, a 29-year old Hindu flower seller, Prashanth Poojary, who was also an activist against cow slaughter, was stabbed to death in a public market.
Why should the prime minister speak out about one crime motivated by religion, but not the others?
The position India’s eminent intellectuals are taking is Narendra Modi is not Prime Minister of India, but Prime Minister of Hindus: he is answerable for the crimes of Hindus, but not for heinous crimes committed by individuals of other faiths.
The sickening perversity of this position is that a crime committed against a “minority” community member matters more than a crime committed against a “majority” community member.
Our individual identities stripped and dissolved, each of us becomes merely a member of a group—there couldn’t be anything more communal and poisonous than attaching different weights on human life, depending on which religion an individual follows.
As society, are we going to treat the murder of a Poojary differently from the murder of a Mohammad?
Moreover, if the murder of a Muslim by a Hindu mob reflects on “the barbarity lurking behind the veneer of our civilization”, does the murder of a Hindu by Muslims not reflect upon any barbarity in “our civilization”?
Who is the “our”—are Muslims excluded from India’s civilization?
Are they not Indians?
Is Mehta writing about Hindu and Indic civilisations from which he has excised Indian Muslims?
Has Narendra Modi’s rise turned the “secular-liberal” Pratap Bhanu Mehta into a freshly minted “Hindu nationalist”, who doesn’t consider Muslims to be a part of India’s civilization?
The position India’s eminent intellectuals are taking is that Narendra Modi is not the Prime Minister of India, but the Prime Minister of Hindus
Mehta has fallen prey to the soft bigotry of low expectations—he is implicitly assigning different behavioural standards to individuals based on the religious group they happen to belong to. It doesn’t end there.
Much has been made of the murder of “rationalist” activists.
It is another matter that activists like Narendra Dabholkar agitated for a law that has turned members of the Aghori community, a small Hindu sect, into criminals.
Think about that: some individuals have been turned into criminals for who they are, and those who made it happen are being touted as paragons of rationalism and liberalism.
While buckets of tears are being shed for the murder of such “rationalists”, not a word of support has been offered for Sanal Edamaruku, who fled India in 2012 after groups affiliated with the Catholic Church filed a complaint charging him with blasphemy.
Edamaruku fears he may be jailed indefinitely or even assassinated if he comes to India.
The most disgusting, vile, nauseating, morally odious and revealing spectacle of all has been the revolt of the writers led by Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece, the 88- year old Nayantara Sahgal.
“What’s the use of smart cities if stupid people live in them,” Sahgal proclaimed in a moment of absolute honesty to her credit.
The eminent writer felt that there was no point living in a smart city if you entertained baseless beliefs about why Lord Ganesha has an elephant’s head.
Some background is in order here.
India’s intellectuals have enjoyed astonishing patronage from the Indian state, which has been controlled for over 50 years since 1947 by the Congress party and the Nehru-Gandhi family.
In 1954, Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich and his wife, film actress Devika Rani, received 100 acres of land from the Karnataka (then Mysore) state government, whose chief minister was Congress party’s Kengal Hanumanthaiah.
Consider the spectacle of an infant republic and a dirt poor democracy doling out public land to a Russian painter and his film star wife—having just taken away lands and properties owned by feudal landlords in the name of social justice.
In his book Nehru: The Making of India, M. J. Akbar recounted how Nehru had been romantically connected with Devika Rani.
In a personal letter dated January 2 1937, Nehru wrote that his mother had confronted him with “suppressed rage”, based on popular rumour, about his links to Devika Rani.
In Sahgal’s modestly titled book Jawaharlal Nehru: Civilizing A Savage World , she writes that Devika Rani was an ardent admirer of Nehru and “sent him a photograph of herself in a silver frame. After independence, she and her husband Svetoslav Roerich were visitors to Nehru’s official residence Teen Murti House whenever they came to Delhi from Bangalore.”
The response to the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq (pictured above) tells us much about our media and intellectual establishment.
If , who is contemptuous of ordinary Indians because their personal beliefs are “stupid” in her opinion, had any appreciation for the incredible privilege she has enjoyed, she would have paused to ask why India’s masses are the way they are.
Could it be because her uncle, as India’s first prime minister, failed to prioritise primary school education?
Could it be because her uncle, as prime minister for 17 years, neglected agricultural productivity, even trying in 1959 to collectivise agriculture like Soviet Russia’s Stalin and China’s Mao had?
Even today, not getting adequate nutrition impedes the physical growth and mental development of millions of Indian children.
Indeed, mundane topics of governance do not interest our eminences, and questions such as why the law and order machinery controlled by India’s state governments is so impotent, why justice delivery is so slow and courts so dysfunctional, and why ordinary citizens have just no fear of the law are barely raised for public debate.
If the question is never raised, no solution can be deliberated.
New Delhi’s intellectual establishment is a reactionary set that is unable and unwilling to offer any new ideas to solve age-old governance problems.
It is both more permanent and less accountable than India’s much maligned bureaucracy.
It is no surprise that this establishment is increasingly ignored by India’s “stupid” citizens and discredited in the eyes of the public, for they deserve no better.
Through its charged pronouncements, the ancien regime may vitiate public discourse in the shorter run, but over time this behaviour will precipitate its own implosion. – Mail Online, 29 October 2015
» Rajeev Mantri is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, fund manager, writer and policy wonk. He is the co-founder of the India Enterprise Council and lives in New York City.
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