Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sanjaya Baru: India's Cultural Revolution

Sanjaya Baru points out:

The elections of May 2014 marked a turning point. After storming the Delhi Durbar, Narendra Modi chose to marginalise the Nehruvian elite rather than coopt them. The consequent Left-Right divide in India’s intellectual discourse is now out in the open. While Vajpayee sought to win over the ‘liberal centre’, Modi has pushed them away, allowing them to move closer to the Left. Modi seems to view his electoral victory as the beginning of the end of the dominance of the Nehruvian elite in India’s intellectual discourse.

That this intellectual regime change should impact so many institutions, ranging from an institute to train film and television talent to one aimed at promoting research in recent history, is a reflection of the enormity of the role of the Nehruvian State in shaping post-colonial intellectual discourse in India. In how many modern democracies does the government run a film and TV institute or a school for journalists? The Nehruvian State was involved in manufacturing not just scooters and bread but also culture. While other post-Nehruvian prime ministers began the process of getting the government out of the business of manufacturing scooters and bread, none of them, not even Modi, has tried to end governmental grip over cultural institutions.

It is not surprising that the first salvo against Modi’s attempted intellectual regime change in the Delhi Durbar should have come from none other than Jawaharlal Nehru’s own niece. Several generations of the Nehruvian elite and members of the Delhi Durbar are now up in arms. This will go on. In many institutions they may well be replaced by less accomplished people. Such is the nature of cultural revolutions.
We saw the lament of the displaced elite in Aatish Taseer's recent OpEd in the New York Times; and I expect we'll see much more ululation in the New York Times and the London Times and so on, as this elite draws on its international resources.  Maybe it will be their swan song.

The Indian Express has a rather different take; Yatish Yadav and Pratul Sharma write:
As intellectuals take a political stand against the Modi government, polarising the cultural establishment, the NDA refuses to rise to the bait.

But others are responding, e.g., as quoted by them:
Nayantara Sahgal received the award from the Prime Minister who had previously said that when a big tree falls, the earth shakes. She was ready to receive the award from him.

The Prime Minister in question was Congress's Rajiv Gandhi; and what he said was in response to the Congress-led anti-Sikh riots in Delhi that happened after his mother and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. This is the kind of example that would have any objective observer reach the conclusion that selective outrage and politics go hand-in-hand.

The Huffington Post has this article by Vivek Gumaste; without endorsing the whole article, I point to these specific things:

Additionally, a perusal of the track records of these famous personalities throws up a shocking picture of opportunistic inconsistency instead of an unwavering commitment to human values. For example, Nayantara Sahgal had no qualms about accepting the Sahitya Akademi Award from a government that had directly overseen the only true pogrom of modern India: the 1984 massacre of 3000 Sikhs in the nation's capital.

During the dark days of 1990 when Kashmiri Hindu Pandits were forced to flee their homes, Shashi Deshpande gladly accepted the Sahitya Akademi Award from an impotent government that stood as a mute spectator on the sidelines; she on her part failed to even acknowledge the grim tragedy of brutal ethnic cleansing that was being played out in Kashmir -- so much for upholding human rights and combating intolerance.

Likewise, Sarah Joseph, the Malayalam writer willingly accepted her award from the BJP government in 2003 barely a few months after the Godhra-Gujarat riots; her personal aggrandisement, the glory of the award seems to have pushed her principles to the back burner at that time.

"Silence is a form of abetment," the writer Shashi Deshpande averred while resigning from the Sahitya Akademi governing council. I do agree. By their silence these writers have abetted the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, the barbaric incineration of 59 Hindus at Godhra and the systematic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir. With such deliberate differential treatment these writers forfeit all moral authority; in addition, this discrimination directly provokes and fuels Hindu radicalism. They must share the blame for the rise of Hindu extremism which is still miniscule in the large picture.
Until I see these celebrities defend the rights of all victims, Hindus and Sikhs included, with the same vigour and passion that they exhibit now, I am forced to take their words, not with a pinch of salt but a ton of salt; their motive will always remain suspect and their protestations a sham.