Published on October 20th, 2015 | by Sandeep Patil0
A brief history of “intellectual dishonesty”
India was never averse to Intellectualism! In fact Intellectualism has been a very central and recurring theme of Indian life, although the manifestation changed from time-to-time. The reason behind this can be sought in the foundation of Indian belief system – the Vedic era – which considered “knowledge” as the supreme entity and the goal of mankind. (“veda” literally means “knowledge”!) The approach in the subsequent centuries wasn’t always so direct, but the spirit remained the same. In the post Vedic periods, the “Knowledge” was slowly replaced by “Rituals”. It was then the Intellectualism reinvented itself again in form of alternative philosophies like Buddhism, Jainism, Advaita, Charvaka etc. When came the ruthless, testing times of Islamic invasion; it held its ground by adapting the modest course of Bhakti-marga in the hands of Poet-saints like Tulasidas, Meerabai, Kabeer, Dnyaneshwar. And in the modern ages as the world started coming closer, the Indian intellectualism assumed its rightful responsibility in the new world order… to guide the mankind with the light of knowledge. What once was individual effort by great Philosophers-Scholars like Swami Vivekananda, Lokmanya Tilak, Paramhansa Yogananda, Mahatma Gandhi has now become a global movement with spread of Yoga and Gita. I am aware that many readers would object to these examples as instances of “Intellectualism”… and that’s the precise reason I mentioned them at length!
In the present times of science, computers, logic … we have become used to using Rationalism and Intellectualism interchangeably… that we cannot acknowledge something as “intellectual” if we cannot rationalize it! This is the gift of Western mindset. Rationalism is the surest measure for being intellectual… but a lot of intellectualism can be equally irrational. For instance take the concept of “Satyagraha”. We like to tell proudly that it was Mahatma Gandhi’s gift to the mankind, but we forget that the concept is fundamentally irrational! If I just go on bearing all pain without protest or defiance; why would it change the mind of my oppressor? Is there any rationalism whatsoever in it? But it worked more effectively than the most rational ideas! (PS: That’s a reason why after the death of Gandhiji, the Gandhians – most of them rationalists – struggled so much at Gandhism, they almost always looked phony… because ways of Gandhiji always came with certain irrationality)
First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win
The “Intellectualism” – To me all the acts that have helped mankind in elevating or maturing their thought is “Intellectualism”… no matter where it comes from! At least in classical Indian way, all that is intellectual need not always be rational. This cannot be explained satisfactorily to a Western, rational mindset. By extension, the “modern Indian intellectuals” who get their legacy from British (and are – by the way – the topic of this post) find very hard to understand. Although it makes easy to understand them … because the classical way of Indian thinking is – comprehensive and tolerant in itself – somewhat of the super-set of the modern Indian intellectualism! It is only natural… that a subset would rule out the existence of super-set because it lies outside the purview. The sad part here is the modern Indian Intellectuals either ignore or make fun of such arguments. This as ‘intellectual intolerance’ indeed, but as irony has its peculiar ways.. it is the intellectuals who hold the yardstick for social values like tolerance. So although they may sense the ‘intellectual intolerance’, they would not acknowledge… which brings us to the next point, ‘intellectual dishonesty’!
The history of ‘intellectual dishonesty’ can be easily stretched back to the British times, if not before. To suit their interest, the British took more cautious, patient measures to undermine the Indian thought process. One strategy was to promote a kind of intellectualism which would make the natives feel ashamed of their cultural achievements and instead glorify all that was non-Indian. Note that the ideas like “Aryan invasion theory”, “Mughal brought their culture and architecture to India”, “Akbar – the Great”, “Shivaji – the plunderer” have been popularized in British period … originated in the intellectual circles.
The British legacy – Although the British left, their intellectual legacy continued. In the post British area, this shadow-intellectual class would be grown to fame under the collective name of Leftist/left-leaning liberals. Being leftist liberal was highly suitable for one’s intellectual aspirations. Leftist made them highly cozy with the ruling left-leaning governments; liberal made them easily follow-up their traditional agenda of being anti-conservatives (read, India bashing).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with intellectuals following leftist ideologies. What is really worrying is that there were no rightist intellectuals seen or heard – that too in a pluralist country like India. It is indeed the self-governing conscience of the intelligentsia, which should keep the space open for all kind of thoughts and philosophies. That’s precisely why the “intellectual honesty” is so precious! Else it is very very easy for the “intelligentsia” to become “intellectual Mafia”, especially in presence of a favorable government. India gave a unique, comic picture to the world where it’s population was largely conservative and it’s intellectuals were largely liberals!
BJP spks half-truth that intellectuals hate it as they’re Leftist. The other half: BJP’s own failure to build a creative/intellectual class
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) October 13, 2015
In the tweet Gupta ji – perhaps unknowingly – has acknowledged the same. Either I have to believe that the Right wing intelligentsia never existed, although the right wing party is catching imagination of country since quite some time … Or that the Right Wing intelligentsia was always denied the platform. I am not an intellectual sir, but not dumb enough to believe the former one!
The present “intellectual” crisis – Now coming to the the talk of the town… The Pradhanmantri Award Loutao Yojna! The people who are returning the awards are… that’s right, intellectuals! This is the latest episode in the long running history of “intellectual dishonesty” in this country. Please note that I am not condemning the act of returning the awards. The awards are won by the individuals, it is their sole discretion and authority to keep them or return them. Similarly it is their own right to hold a suitable belief system against a certain government. My whole objection is about glorifying them or painting them in colors of principles and morality … that would be a very wrong precedent. Questioning (and mere questioning, not condemning) these intellectuals comes at a price of looking morally compromised, biased (Bhakt), unprincipled and non-intellectual! You get disqualified even before beginning the argument itself!
To know why a seemingly upright, principled act of returning awards – as means of protest – is in reality a case of “intellectual dishonesty”… we need to consider the whole context, than just the singled out incident.
The ecosystem of “Society” and “Intellectuals” – In a social arrangement of government on one side and the people on the other side, the intellectuals play a crucial middle role. The protest by the intellectual class is important because this class with its vision and foresight can/should predict the implications of a government decision. The incorrect government decisions cause unrest among common people. In short term it would mean protests, in long term Revolutions! All of this can be saved by the presence of awake, watchful and honest intellectual class. Note that in case of all social revolutions, the intellectuals were deprived of this traditional authority! Either the governments didn’t listen to the voice of intellectuals, which resulted in intellectuals like Mazzini, Lenin or J P Narayan lead the revolutions … or the intellectuals were compromised by the government and were missing from scene, which caused even catastrophic consequences like in French Revolution or Nazism. But the principle is valid … in a revolting society, the intellectuals are in opposition and/or they are compromised.
Thinking of the past 3-4 years in Indian political history, a lot of revolutionary things happened. These are the years where ordinary people took matter to their hands and started some unprecedented things! They first revolted almost leaderless in Jan-lok-pal or Anti-corruption movements… then they collectively gave a clear, nationwide mandate to a non-congress party first time in history. So what were the intellectuals upto in these times of social changes? Were they joining hands of common people in protest or were they sitting silently under the favor of government? The answer is ‘both’… Strange as it may seem, but it could happen because of a new third-dimension. The advent of a new platform where practically anybody could publicize his opinions, criticisms or arguments … this practically gave rise to a whole new generation of intellectuals! They echoed and shaped up the peoples sentiments – like the intellectuals are supposed to.
On the other hand, the incumbent intellectuals – who were since quite a time were enjoying monopoly suddenly were pulled out of their cozy cocoons of Lit-fests, Award committee and Cultural cocktails … and were put under bare, hot sun for debates. The affairs in last couple of years have taken away the cozy atmosphere and hurt their ego badly – particularly the ego that came from habitually taking the common people for granted or even at times despising them. How else do you explain statements from intellectuals like “people have made mistake by electing this (BJP) government and would soon realize it”
But more than anything else – this is not just about comfort, not about ego – even that too would be luxury soon. Now this is slowly becoming a question of existence! As Darwinism says, in the struggle of existence the fittest do survive. In the intellectual domains, a new, fitter species of Social Media activists (irrespective of ideologies) has arrived … those young aspirants who like facts, dig for data, take screenshots and post them back on face of any hypocritical person when needed. This is worse than throwing ink… you can’t even cry intolerance or fascism. Sigh!