Urvashi Butalia in conversation with:
Patrick French, Ashis Nandy, Ashutosh, Tarun Tejpal and Richard Sorabji
'Republic of Ideas'
Watch Session Video
[Peter Griffin, Forbes India writes, "..I’d urge you to listen to the whole thing, but here, courtesy the Jaipur Literature Festival, is a transcript of the relevant part of the conversation (I’ve corrected a few typos)"]
(33:04) Urvashi Bhatalia: Ashis-da, your comments now on the ideas that have been discussed here: equality, the changeability, the need for change, the dreams of the founding fathers and mothers. Um, and on utopia generally, I mean what have you been writing about utopia? You want to tell us a little bit? (33:29) Asish Nandy: Well let me first clear two things, I think you heard when you said that I’m a philosopher. I’m a philosopher only in the sense that philosophy can come from texts but it can also come from slums. So I’m talking about the second kind of philosophy and I do hope that I will convey some idea of it today. First of all I do endorse the view which has come, that a realized or successful utopia is the other name for terror. In Soviet Union they used to put dissenters in mental asylums after the psychiatrists have diagnosed them as mentally ill because anybody who dissents in a utopia is naturally insane. Normally, we should diagnose them as insane so utopias can be dangerous and visions can be also dangerous but on the other hand no collectivity, and for that matter no individual, can live without visions. A good life requires vision. But such visions must also have a touch of the imperfect. And unless you are sensitive to that, I think it will be very dangerous to mount a kind of informed movement, which strives for perfection. In the context of our discussion, if I may point that the only country which I know is close to zero corruption is Singapore and that’s not part of my concept of utopia, it can be very much a part of my concept of dystopia. I do wish that there remains some degree of corruption in India because I would also suggest that it humanises our society. Indian society, Indian republic if you would like to call it like that here, is that it has left only four sectors of the society where your true talents are recognised, your true capabilities and skills are acknowledged. Rightly or wrongly, that’s a different thing but at least they’re acknowledged, people think they only work for that. In other words, no considerations of caste, religion, sect enter your considerations. And these four sectors are: spectator sports, which is a very small sector because sports heroes are not that many. Two: entertainment industry, which is a very slippery category because contrary to our belief at least four-fifths of all Bombay films for instance fail in the box office, so it’s a very risky business. Actually all four sectors are risky but it is perhaps the most risky business. Third is crime, our criminal gangs are perfectly egalitarian. Do not forget that Dawood Ibrahim’s gang had a lot of Hindus in it. Totally secular. And finally politics. You fight it out in politics and make it. All this talk of dynasty is an illusion created by the middle classes. Mrs. Gandhi did not become prime minister of India when Nehru was living. There was a large and very noticeable gap between her ascent to the throne and Nehru’s demise. She fought her way up. She was seen as a very meek, very unskillful, politically naïve woman. And therefore the syndicate chose her. She knew that in Indian politics that you should not project yourself as either too intelligent or too shrewd or too clever or even too political and that helped her. She clawed her way to power and so have each one of the names which have come up whether it is Mulayam Singh Yadav or Laloo Prasad Yadav. In addition, in the case of Laloo Prasad and Mulayam Singh, and people like them, exactly because of the reasons you give, there is a sense of desperation, utter desperation and insecurity. Even if you make through corruption millions of rupees, you suspect that you will not be able to get away using the machinery of law or cleverly manipulating your investments in the right way with the right connections because you have none. If I may point out to you that to the best of my knowledge the only unrecognised billionaire in India today, in dollar terms, is Madhu Koda. Madhu Koda. He’s a tribal and I can assure you that Mr. Koda must have been a very insecure, unhappy, tense person. And in this kind of situation, the only people you can trust are your own relatives. Your son, your daughter, your nephew or your own cousins, where you can use them for keeping your money, keeping your political secrets or trusting them to remain loyal to you. And if you fit your experiences within this model, you will recognise, why this insecurity is there because politics looks a very impersonal/contractual work to a large part of Indians. They are new to politics. And your family members do not have the capacity to absorb the additional money in more clever, intelligent way. If I do a good turn to Richard Sorabji, he can return the favour by accommodating my nephew at Oxford, if it were in the United States, it would be a substantial fellowship. Ms Mayawati doesn’t have that privilege. She probably has only relatives whose ambition was to be a nurse earlier or run a petrol pump. If she has to oblige somebody or have somebody in the family absorb the money, she will probably have to take the bribe of having hundred petrol pumps and that is very conspicuous, very corrupt indeed. Our corruption doesn’t look that corrupt, their corruption does.I also spoke to Sanjoy Roy, festival producer, about the whole thing, and here’s what he had to say:
[Sorry, I've been unable to put the recording online, but will try again later.]
While we were talking, he got a phone call, which he then told me was good news: they could leave the city. (He and several other members of the organising team had been told earlier that they could not.)
He also sent me this statement from the festival:
This is a transcript of sociologist and scholar Ashis Nandy’s statement at the session titled Republic of Ideas at JLF. While discussing different aspects of India, Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal had suggested that maybe one way of looking at corruption is that it is a sort of equalising force in society as power structures are always created by the elite to keep the status quo in their favour and the poor can break through these glass ceilings created by the elite only by bending and subverting the system. Tejpal went on to give Dhirubhai Ambani as an example; that if he had not bent and subverted the system, he might have remained a petrol pump attendant. Ashis Nandy picked up on this thread of argument and said he agreed with Tarun that corruption was a way of creating social mobility. He said the corruptions of the rich get noticed less because the rich have learnt to be sophisticated — and gave an imagined example of how he and another speaker Richard Sorabjee could be corrupt and nepotistic in ways that no one would catch on. The corruptions of the poor or those who have newly broken through the glass ceiling, on the other hand, are often more noticeable because they are more conspicuous. This, Ashis, argued was because they do not have the sophisticated mechanisms of the rich to hide their money. They only trust their families to be loyal so park their money only with close relatives — which again makes their corruption more visible. But, Ashis continued, according to him all of this was fine and part of a necessary social churn because this was the only way that the poor could break free from centuries of being downtrodden and access the power and entitlements that should be theirs by right. Another speaker had earlier criticised dynastic politics but Ashis explained that even that was part of social churn as Mulayam Yadav and the entire Yadav community that are seen as mainstream now were part of the historically oppressed classes barely 20 years ago. He explained how important it is for dalits and backward classes to break through centuries of oppression and access power and money so that society can become more equal. He spoke of the desperation they feel.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Full Video of "Republic of Ideas" panel, courtesy Jaipur Literature Festival
Posted by Jogi at Wednesday, January 30, 2013