Sunday, June 29, 2008 3:37:00 AM
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‘Middle class by virtue of money, not values’
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Social psychologist and public intellectual Ashis Nandy is under attack from a little-known Gujarat civil liberties organisation for an article he wrote in January this year criticising the state’s middle class for playing out the extreme positions of Vinayaka Damodar Savarkar and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
Apparently, enraged, the BJP-ruled state’s establishment dispatched a legal notice to him, accusing him of inciting hatred between communities. Nandy has long riled India’s establishment with his incisive critique of the myths of modernism.
An unflappable Nandy spoke to Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr in his office at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, about the new post-liberalisation middle class and the rising tide of intolerance in Indian society.
Does the attack from this Gujarat civil liberties organisation come as a shock to you because despite your provocative intellectual stance all these years, this is a first?
I would not say that I am shocked, but it was certainly unexpected. It is for certain that this organisation is a mere front. It is the state government that is behind this. It is usually the case that even when politicians do not agree with what the press writes, they try to ignore it. They never take on the press. In this instance, they are being brazen. It shows that they are not even politically wise.
Is it not surprising that this attack comes from right-wingers?
One would have expected the leftists to attack you because of your intellectual positions. This is not a right-wing attack at all. We do not have a right-wing or a left wing in this country. They are inappropriate labels. There is no proper conservatism here. We do not have anything like a Tory party.
Do you think that we have a new middle class that is resorting to legal measures to fight opponents? Is it an improvement on street protests and violence?
In this case it is the government and the political establishment which is using laws of colonial times meant to suppress public opinion. Those laws should not have been allowed to continue in a free country. Yes, there is a new middle class which is using legal measures to fight opponents. But they belong to the middle class by virtue of money and not by virtue of values. The street protests and violence are still there. They are just using the courts as well.
Is there a rising tide of intolerance?
Certainly. Look at the cases filed against MF Husain. I notice that this intolerance is spreading.
Is this a passing phase of a middle class which is yet to settle down in its new place?
It is a passing phase. Generally, it takes a generation-and-a-half for the new middle class to acquire the value system of the class.
Is it not surprising that with the opening up of the economy, our mental horizons have not widened?
The number of people who attend a musical soiree, attend a lecture, read a book and take part in a discussion has remained small. Perhaps, in each Indian city there are not more than 4000 such people. That is a generous estimate.The new entrants into the middle class are extremely ignorant. They are imitating the Western Protestant Christianity culture of intolerance. They have the arrogant belief that they will defend Gods, who are supposed to protect human beings. They do not know anything but the cheap Western ways. They do not know the Indian way of believing in religion, which is personal, playful and even erotic. We joke with our gods. We
invite them. We send them away. Indian Christians too believe in god in a different way from that of the West. I see the new trend of religious intolerance not just among Hindus but also among Muslims. They are all imitating the religious fundamentalists of the West. These people do not know how people in East Asia believe in religion and god. All that they know is the Western, American way.
Would you say that this is the proletarianisation of the middle class?
I would call it lumpenisation
Is not this new middle class more vocal than ever before?
It is vocal but it is uninformed. These people do not think it is necessary to know. They say what they feel and think. They write their ignorant views on blogs, voice it on TV shows. If you are informed, you will be less assertive. These people have no doubts. They think that what they say is right. The information and news they get is from the television. They do not want to check out whether what is being shown and doled out to them is true or not. They have become passive
recipients of an enormous amount of information. They cannot decide for themselves. They pick up their views and opinions from TV channels.