Even gods tolerate dissent and believe in coexistence, but not Modi, his men and the middle class

Six schools of Philosophy have co-existed for ages. But now they want just one ‘school’ of thought. Knowledge is looked down upon and Modi will be remembered for making India the lynch capital

Ashis Nandi (Getty Images)
Ashis Nandi (Getty Images)

Ashlin Mathew

There has been a fundamental shift in the way the country thinks. Violence has been normalised and knowledge is looked down upon. As five years of the BJP government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, come to an end, Ashis Nandy says that it is only the Gujarat model of hatred that has spread everywhere in the country. In an interview with Ashlin Mathew, the political psychologist and social theorist says that the political regime is constituted by people with hardly any values

What are the changes that you have seen over these five years?

I don’t think I have to use my words to describe it. My friend, a political economist, who teaches economics at the University of Berkeley, puts it very neatly. He says the Gujarat model of development has not been duplicated anywhere at all, but the Gujarat model of hatred has spread everywhere in India. And it is now the dominant model in Indian public life.

The Indian middle-class is now a hollow middle-class. The old established middle class has increased more than six times over the last 70 years. But this new middle class has middle-class money but not middle-class values. The middle class is supposed have values and hone new values when old values die. But this middle class is a different kind of a middle class. They don’t make any pretence about it, they don’t even have the hypocrisy that they belong to the middle class and have middle class values as was the case with earlier generations.

So, though in spirit,they were not middle-class, their children got an exposure to other kinds of values. They could recover some of the values. For example, if you go to any Bengali household, you would see 15 volumes of Rabindranath Tagore’s works or even William Shakespeare’s complete works or CD/DVDs of Ravi Shankar. So, at least the values survived and had a chance of skipping a generation and coming back.

Now, we are casual. It is difficult to identify what led to the erosion of such values. I think there is the induced changes of the new regime and increasingly the political regime is constituted by people like that. There are some exceptions, but I doubt if Amit Shah has true access to such values at all. Or for that matter, Narendra Modi. He is a middle-class product but unfortunately,he is a child of the RSS. He has limited exposure to a world where different ideas and views co-exist and nonetheless have lively debates.

So, he would like to choke dissent and this is happening all around us. They are buying TV channels,summoning journalists. Earlier, you would summon witnesses, now it is the media.The government decides who to give ads to, who you patronise and who you do not –now all of this comes into play. So, in some sense, there is an attempt to introduce to the middle class a univocal voice. This means they don’t tolerate diversity.

There always was a peace movement in India. Now, it is criminal to talk about peace movements. Not even the Opposition parties dare to open their mouth. Nobody is allowed to criticise the Army as if they are sacrosanct. No sector of the Indian political spectrum is sacrosanct. Why should the Army be? Even the judiciary is open to serious criticism. They don’t go after people who criticise them.

Even the gods tolerate dissent. We have many gods and goddesses who are not on the best of terms with each other but they are tolerant. We talk of six major schools of philosophy in India, they have co-existed with each other for centuries. Now, for the first time, you hear how good a univocal society is. So that’s where we are.

Now, it will be difficult to change, because it is managerially more efficient. Development does this to a certain extent. Wherever a country has looked for spectacular development, they have tried to close the system as that allows to control and manipulate the system better. I do not look at the system with much hope though I’m hoping that the Indian electorate will have its say.

Narendra Modi is a middle-class product but unfortunately, he is a child of the RSS. He has limited exposure to a world where different ideas and views coexist and nonetheless have lively debates

So, how do you see the next five years?

I don’t think things will change much. It will be very difficult to change the style of Indian politics because of the highly media-intensive campaign which we have lived through. We have a whole gamut of leaders whose real self, real opinions, real beliefs I do not know. They say many things because they believe that will get them votes. It’s all media driven. It is becoming like the American presidential elections.

But, Indian democracy is not oriented to that. The representational system is crucial for us. The representational system is being bypassed. So, this situation is extremely dangerous, not only for democracy. It allows even within a democratic constitution to have an authoritarian regime.

How do you counter this? Do you see a different breed of leaders coming and changing this?

That breed of leaders will not be easily allowed in the central portals of contemporary Indian politics. They will try to come in. There is still a place for them I think, but for the moment people expect a different kind of thing. It is not that a new breed of leadership which will change it. What will change it is my hope in the resilience of the Indian voter because they have weathered such storms earlier too.

What do you think the BJP will be remembered for?

For making India the lynching capital of India. Whatever they do in America, they have to do here. America was the world capital of lynching till the 1950s, So, now after 70 years, we have revived the tradition in India. Huge numbers of witnesses have turned hostile in the Sohrabuddin encounter killing and also the killing of his wife Kausar Bi. The government has illegally killed him, just like how Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered ‘free-for-all’ killings in the state.

How would you rate the BJP’s performance in these five years?

I don’t think their heart was in their performance. They are saying they have performed, but their heart was in the media. Their heart was only in public presence. Modi holds the world record for hugging every statesman. No Indian PM will be able to match this feat. It deserves to go into the Guinness Book of Records.

There always was a peace movement in India. Now, it is criminal to talk about it. Nobody is allowed to criticise the Army. No sector of the Indian political spectrum is sacrosanct. Why the Army?

If the BJP comes to power, what is that we fear?

I think the system will close even further. Power is a good psychological test of a person’s character. At the moment, Modi thinks he does not have to learn anything from anyone. He thinks he knows everything and he talks on every subject. How he gets these ideas that knowledge is not required, no one knows. He has a contempt for knowledge.

He thinks of only applied knowledge. But, applied knowledge cannot come without theoretical knowledge. India has to have its own knowledge systems. This country has had its knowledge system for centuries and manifested in a different kind of exposure, not only to India but to also the Indic Civilisation. The Indic Civilisation also includes countries from Afghanistan to Vietnam – that is the spread. We have to know about these countries and about other countries.

The idea of spectacular growth has brought in the ruling elite, a group of people who stop at nothing. They think that NGOs and activists stand and speak of things which will stand in the way of India’s progress

Which segment has been hit the most by the BJP government?

I think it is absolutely clear that they all ill-treated or mistreated the Adivasis. Second, of course, the farmers. Third, the Muslims.

The National Advisory Council set up by Sonia Gandhi was a very good corrective step. A politician should see all parties and ultimately negotiate with everyone. If America could negotiate with the Taliban, I don’t see why the government cannot negotiate with the Naxalites. Don’t forget, more than 90 per cent of the cadres of the Naxals are Adivasis and we have deployed our security forces against them.

Now, in this kind of situation, the Adivasis are in two minds. Not only that, Adivasis have been the forgotten part of the democracy. They have had no demands all through. Their demands are minimal. They are also your guarantee for ecological health; they don’t allow deforestation beyond a certain point, mining to go unchecked. This part of the story has to be taken care of.

Here is an entire set of communities which have been rendered obsolete. Nobody cares about their future. As far as farmers go, everyone knows that the government wants to reduce the farm population. They want to reduce the proportion of farm-dependent citizens in India. The idea of spectacular growth has brought in the ruling elite, a group of people who stop at nothing. They think that NGOs and the National Advisory Council of Mrs Gandhi stand for and speak of things which will stand in the way of India’s progress.

This regime is very much like the Donald Trump regime – they are protecting a set of ideas which are doomed. But, that is not how they think. They think they are at the forefront of knowledge. Now, it will be difficult to restore the country to what it was before.

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