Firstpost editors Sandip Roy and Lakshmi Chaudhry spoke exclusively with author, social psychologist Prof. Ashis Nandy.
Firstpost: What did you mean by that one statement that most
of the corrupt come from SC/ST and OBC which has caused so much uproar?
Ashis Nandy: What I said was that most of those caught for corruption come from
these three sectors because the upper castes and the rich and the
powerful have better ways of protecting themselves, better ways of
hiding their corruption. I even gave a direct example of that by saying
people like Richard Sorabji and I, if we want to be corrupt we can be
corrupt in a very subtle way. No money has to exchange hands. I can give
his son a fellowship or he can give my daughter a fellowship at Oxford
or Harvard. And that will be good enough return and nobody will call it
corruption. I said that the others have lesser chance of hiding their
corruption, lesser chance of engaging sophisticated lawyers or giving
ideological justification the way the CPM government in West Bengal gave
when they were corrupt.
It was part of a larger picture. And I also said that as long as this
corruption exists among backwards, tribals, OBCs our Indian republic
still has some hope.
Ashis Nandy: It leads hopefully to redistributive justice and equalisation of handicaps.
Firstpost: This was in the context of Tarun Tejpal saying corruption is a great equalizer?
Ashis Nandy:Yes. Exactly. Both of us supported it. I began by saying I am endorsing Tarun Tejpal’s statement and I elaborated on it.
Ashis Nandy:Well everybody has the right to interpret my statement the way they
want. I thought it was very myopic. He didn’t understand what I was
trying to say. I have written the foreword to his book on corruption, so
it’s not that he does not know my position very well. It’s reflected in
Firstpost: What did you mean when you brought up the example of West Bengal vis a vis corruption during Communist rule?
Ashis Nandy: I said the price of confining corruption — when there is no open
corruption — is also that you keep out the Dalits, the tribals, and OBCs
from being near power for all times to come, in the name of ideology,
in the name of culture. Communists had their own corruption but it does
not look like corruption because they had an ideological justification
for it. It looks like taking a toll or imposing a tax on the rich and
the powerful. That’s the rhetoric at least.
Firstpost: You were also calling out the anti corruption movement for not acknowledging their own investment in the system?
Ashis Nandy: That also is part of the story. As long as corruption does not look
like corruption it seems alright. As soon as it begins to look like
Firstpost: What has actually happened after your comment?
Ashis Nandy: I think some people have tried to file an FIR. Whether they file it
or not I don’t know. Some people are very unhappy – local Dalit
leaders. I think they must be local because they have not read me I am
sure. I am not surprised by it because I have faced this situation
before. And I am quite used to it.
I have not spoken to national leaders yet.
Firstpost: What is the state of dialogue here where the right
to be offended is trumping the right to say something, even if it’s
offensive, over and over again?
Ashis Nandy: I am not surprised by it. I see it all around me. It’s not only my
fate. It’s the fate of all kinds of people, writers, musicians,
painters, poets. This is the right time for such epidemics to break out,
epidemics of being hurt, epidemics of being offended or insulted by
somebody. Because next year is election year and this is the appropriate
time to seek some political salience which you wouldn’t get otherwise.
Usually it’s very small group of people.
Firstpost: Where is it leading us?
Ashis Nandy: I think nowhere. Most of the groups that raise this kind of issue are
small groups. Their aim is not to remain small but to seem larger than
they actually are. That’s why they exploit a comment.
Firstpost: You say something on a panel in Jaipur. Instantly
it’s all over Twitter, Facebook, every channel. Do you think the 24×7
media landscape has made it so that even in a panel you cannot be free
to say what you want without it being twisted out of context?
Ashis Nandy: That’s true. Someone can insert a not or forget the ‘not” and create a
situation. That’s ok. That’s one of the risks of a media dominated
Firstpost: Finally, can you clarify once again what you exactly wanted to convey.
Ashis Nandy: I will say that I did try to give a justification for the use of
corruption as an equalizing force in society. I felt that as long as
Dalits, OBCs, tribals participated in it, corruption would remain to
some extent at least an equalizing force in Indian society and not be a
one-side affair where the rich and prosperous become more rich and
prosperous. That’s all.