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Unlike Nehru, Modi has no army of intellectual elite

Despite nearly four years in power, Narendra Modi has not been able to create his own power elite. He, of course, has his strong supporters in the media – conventional and social. He has a few intellectuals who write columns in his favour in mainline newspapers. He surely has a loyal following in the corporate class, and admirers (even worshippers) in the middle class, especially among the upper castes.
But that does not constitute the ‘power elite’. Not only Modi, but even the BJP, or for that matter the RSS, has not been able generate a support circle of intellectuals, academics, artists, scientists and others. The government has appointed some supposedly eminent persons in various institutions at the top, but most of them have generated controversy on the question of calibre and quality.
The ‘power elite’ is a social phenomenon that does not have necessarily negative connotations. And mind you, this ‘elite’ is not the same as elitism, which is the same kind of phenomenon as Brahminism, where a select bunch of people control knowledge. The ‘elite’ actually have to be liberated from elitism for knowledge and education to spread.
Jawaharlal Nehru had virtually an army of the elite, which included scientists and poets, writers and technocrats, artists and historians, bureaucrats and even industrialists, all of whom had the proverbial halo.
From Homi Bhabha to Amrita Pritam, Satyajit Ray to Nikhil Chakravarty, Jamini Roy and Nandlal Bose to V.P. Menon and Girija Shankar Bajpai, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and K.A. Abbas were all directly influenced by the Nehruvian ethos.
There was also a huge range of Western intellectuals and diplomats including J.K. Galbraith and Chester Bowles. Nehru’s association with the Aurobindo Ashram and his personal relationship with Vinoba Bhave also provided a kind of philosophical- spiritual dimension to his circle.
Even Indira Gandhi had a huge circle, which included P.N. Haksar and Romesh Thapar, Ebrahim Alkazi, Pupul Jayakar, Kapila Vatsyayan, architects like Charles Correa, scientists like Vikram Sarabhai, poets like Harivansh Rai Bachchan and artists like Satish Gujral.
She even had in her circle international elite like Michael Foot, Katherine Frank, and Zubin Mehta.
Indira used to frequently meet J. Krishnamurti and visit Santiniketan. That provided a cultural and also transcendental character to her.
Despite the Emergency she declared, her power elite survived and became an almost ready-made intellectual support system to Rajiv Gandhi after her assassination.
Modi has not been able to give rise to such circles. Some might say that it is only four years in power, and so, it would be unfair to compare. But Modi was chief minister of Gujarat for 12 years, and he could have established relationships or at least contacts with the world of art and culture and literature. Nehru and Indira did not create such circles after they became prime minister. They were brought up in a hallowed social class and continued their interest in things beyond power and politics. Modi, on the other hand, often says that he is an “outsider” to New Delhi, perhaps realising that he has no elite base.
The RSS, though, it calls itself a “cultural organisation” and wants to establish “cultural nationalism” as a new ideology. But it has no roots in classical or modern arts and literature.
In the intellectual drought RSS members have lived and still live in, they think of absurd ideas and imagined glory, like the mythical Pushpak Vimana as evidence of aviation science, transplant of Ganesha’s head as ancient plastic surgery etc. They think of replacing history and science text books with myths. Even Charles Darwin became a victim of this nonsense.
Their mind cannot wrap itself around anything beyond Padmaavat and ‘Vande Mataram’. And even that history, mythology and poetry is Greek to them. They can’t recite Vande Mataram, as proved by one BJP leader when asked to do so on a TV channel, and have no idea who wrote it and when. But they want to build a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on top priority, and as well as a temple to Nathuram Godse in Madhya Pradesh.
Vandalising M.F. Husain’s art, attacking Ghulam Ali’s ghazal concerts, condemning Aamir or Shah Rukh Khan on utterly silly charges, banning women’s entry into beer bars, forcing college girls to not wear skirts, banning beef and other non-vegetarian food, and despising most Western intellectual and artistic traditions and science are some of the “cultural” manifestations of their “cultural nationalism”.
The whole ethos of the RSS organisation and ideology is starved of anything cerebral and creative, as they have consciously decided to not to grow mentally and philosophically. They are convinced that all the knowledge did indeed exist in the Puranas and the Vedas, and thus, it is not necessary to “waste” time on new knowledge.
What they don’t realise is that studies into ancient Indian philosophy and arts, even the Sanskrit language, are a result of promotion and encouragement during the Nehru and Indira’s times. That did not compromise with their modern outlook and liberal approach to knowledge. Visiting ashrams or temples did not compromise their secular convictions.
Nehru himself has written glorious chapters on ancient Indian history in his magnificent tome, Discovery of India. He has glorified the Ganga and the Himalayas and India’s geography and ecology. Nothing comparable has been written by the Golwalkars and Bhagwats. And yet, the RSS and their fellow travellers in the media have been able to hijack the national philosophical, intellectual, social and cultural debate.
The collapse of civilised behavior, which has become new social norm, is a result of this march towards medieval notions. Modernity, civility, liberalism, scientific temper, respect for global knowledge traditions, appreciation of arts and literature must come from the leadership, from the ruling ideology.
That is where the ‘elite’ culture must prevail.