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The confused intellectuals

By Kumar Ketkar

One often meets wise people at seminars, intellectual debates, in elite cerebral institutions like the India International Centre or at small parties. They are able to decipher trends and forces, identify people who are making a difference, and interpret national and global changes. There may be differences in their perceptions or analysis, but they help in understanding the complexities that envelop us.

But these days, I find that most of them are flummoxed, and are losing the parameters and historical contexts. They contradict themselves, and struggle to offer structured narratives. After a lot of conversational acrobatics, they admit, “everything is so confusing”! Not only about politics, but about traditions, culture, economics, international issues. The topics invariably get reduced to Donald Trump, Narendra Modi or Vladimir Putin.

Most of these intellectuals used to be eloquent when the world was broadly divided between Right and Left, between neo-liberals and liberals, between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Even after the end of the Cold War and the rise of radical Islam, they maintained scholarly equilibrium. They could write or discuss cogently about Pakistan and China. They were able to dissect the Congress crisis or the Hindutva phenomenon.

These pundits used to be at the top of the world when elections came. Analysing the collective national and regional mood, the swing in the caste, religion, gender groups, they would watch and interpret micro and macro phenomena. They could (or they thought they could) give a sort of an integrated image from the broken mirror!
But today, they cannot relate #MeToo movement with Sabarimala’s mass uprising! Today, the RSS ideologue welcomes the rise of the #MeToo and condemns male chauvinism in society, like any Leftist activist would.

Yet at the same time, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat declares full support to the conservative revolt of the Believers, in the name of tradition. Then, how come the organisation’s so-called political arm condemns the age-old tradition of triple talaq? Even khap panchayat protagonists can claim tradition as their defence and justify or explain the killing of young inter-caste couples.

George Orwell wrote about these contradictions in Nineteen Eighty-Four where he said that doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both as true. People like Bhagwat and BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav have made Orwell so relevant.

In one breath, Bhagwat declares faith in the Indian Constitution and also demands that a law (and the Constitution) be enacted to build Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. He wants Muslims accommodated in India’s glorious diversity, and yet does not really care about their views on the destruction of the Babri Masjid while demanding Mandir at the same place.

All of a sudden, Ram Mandir is becoming an election issue. In the American election campaign of 1992, Bill Clinton’s strategy team had come up with the phrase ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ to counter George Bush. Bush was losing approval ratings, just a year after his popularity soared following the Gulf War. Somebody needs to give the same wisdom to Bhagwat and Amit Shah-Narendra Modi.

Modi supporters still continue to greatly appreciate his “decisiveness”, even the “courageous” demonetisation, but do not want to give even a shred of evidence as to how that “courage” and “decisiveness” helped the economy. His propaganda team celebrates the anniversary of “surgical strikes” but does not even mention that India won two wars with Pakistan in the past.

Now, the celebration of the “tallest” statue of Vallabhbhai Patel will overshadow almost all other issues at least for a fortnight, as if that in itself is an achievement (not to mention that some material for the sculpture was reportedly sourced from China). No wonder, the Doklam issue has been almost forgotten, where India suffered a political and strategic setback.

Indian media has lost focus on the Sino-Indian issue, except sudden news flashes of Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman or Ajit Doval visiting the giant neighbour. We never learn what was discussed, what was achieved or what is expected from those visits.

Indeed, not only China, our worldview itself is now limited to the photo-op visits of Narendra Modi to various countries. We never know the purpose of those visits or their outcomes. Yet, some supporters and experts say that Modi’s foreign policy is great. Nobody has so far explained the global vision of this messiah.

Not just today, the world was always complex. The leader, the scholar, the intellectual is expected to explore this complexity and make us understand the world so that it can be transformed for better. Today, the leader has no vision, the scholar has lost sight of history, and intellectuals confess they are confused. No wonder, we are just floating on wild waves, not knowing which way we are heading. We have lost the compass and control of the broken ship!