Prof. Ashish Nandy, India’s leading intellectual acknowledged as one of the the founding fathers of postcolonial studies has recently got a new ‘identity’. According to the Gujarat Police he is now an accused in a criminal case supposedly for ‘promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth and language.’ Definitely neither Prof Nandy nor many of his admirers would have ever imagined in their wildest dreams that a day would arrive when he will face prosecution for his writings. But as they rightly say it, in Gujarat things happen bit differently.
According to media reports the Ahmedabad police have admitted a petition filed by an advocate belonging to National Council for Civil Liberties over Professor Nandy’s leader page article in the Times of India (8 th January) ‘Blame The Middle Class’. It need be added that this is the same council which had filed a few petitions against social activist and leader of Naramda Bachao Aandolan Medha Patekar on some frivolous charges which were later dismissed by the court.
To put it straight, the particular article had tried to analyse the election results for the Gujarat assembly held in December 2007 which had once again given a mandate to Mr Narendra Modi. The article in question revolved around basically three points: One, it had tried to delineate the plight of the Muslims who were condemned to live a second class existence in the post 2002 phase. It had clearly stated that Gujarati Muslims too are “adjusting” to their new station. Denied justice and proper compensation, and as second-class citizens in their home state, they have to depend on voluntary efforts and donor agencies. The state’s refusal to provide relief has been partly met by voluntary groups having fundamentalist sympathies. They supply aid but insist that the beneficiaries give up Gujarati and take to Urdu, adopt veil, and send their children to madrassas.
Secondly, apart from the plight of Muslims it had also explained the situation in which the political formations who espouse the cause of secularism find themselves today. And he was unsparing in his criticism of these formations/individuals. For him the secularist dogma of many fighting the sangh parivar has not helped matters. Even those who have benefited from secular lawyers and activists relate to secular ideologies instrumentally. They neither understand them nor respect them. The victims still derive solace from their religions and, when under attack, they cling more passionately to faith. Indeed, shallow ideologies of secularism have simultaneously broken the back of Gandhism and discouraged the emergence of figures like Ali Shariatis, Desmond Tutus and the Dalai Lama — persons who can give suffering a new voice audible to the poor and the powerless and make a creative intervention possible from within worldviews accessible to the people.
Of course the focus of its attention was on the ‘state’s urbane middle class’ which has remained ‘mired in its inane versions of communalism and parochialism’.
The article had concluded with the observation that :
Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self- respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.
While one may agree to differ with Professor Nandy’s observations on various counts, still any concerned reader can see that it did not engage itself in any rhetoric and tried to delineate the challenges which lie ahead. Question naturally arises why did the state government felt perturbed over this article and decided to give a green signal to its police department to admit the said petition by the council and file a a criminal case against him?
At a general level one can say that targeting of individuals and stigmatising them in very many ways is part of the modus operandi of the Hindutva brigade. And this particular case does not seem to be different. In fact it is a politics that seeks to silence critique, and battles for a notion of the past that is homogeneously Hindu.
Last six year history of Gujarat is replete with many such examples where they tried to silence all those voices who did not fall in line with their agenda based on hate and exclusion. We have before us the examples of the dansescue Sarabhai or for that matter social activist Nafisa Ali or scholar-activist G.N. Devy who were targeted on different occasions.
In Prof Nandy’s case perhaps the powers that be did not like the manner in which he tried to delineate the future prognosis of a movement like RSS.
Events like the desecration of Wali Gujarati’s grave have pushed one of India’s culturally richest, most diverse, vernacular Islamic traditions to the wall. Future generations will as gratefully acknowledge the sangh parivar’s contribution to the growth of radical Islam in India as this generation remembers with gratitude the handsome contribution of Rajiv Gandhi and his cohorts to Sikh militancy.
The criminal case filed against Prof Ashish Nandy reminds one of the villification campaigns which were organised during BJP led regime at centre.In fact with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) assumption of power at the centre in 1998 and its ongoing attempts to remake the educational curriculum in its own chauvinistic image gaining momentum, intellectuals and academic positions at odds with the Sangh Parivar’s view of history came under attack under various pretexts. The BJP has pursued a concerted effort to malign and delegitimise scholars and intellectuals at odds with its view of India’s past. After the stalling of the Indian Council of Historical Research-sponsored ‘Towards Freedom’ project edited by professors Sumit Sarkar of University of Delhi (DU) and KN Panikkar of JNU, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) went all-out to weed out the influence of, in the words of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief KS Sudarshan, “anti-Hindu Euro-Indians” from the curriculum. In 2001, when the moves by NCERT were underway to delete passages from school textbooks that allegedly ‘hurt’ the sentiments of this religious sect or the other, a delegation of Arya Samajis met Murli Manohar Joshi, the human resource development minister, and demanded that Romila Thapar, the legendary historian along with historians RS Sharma of DU and Arjun Dev of NCERT, be arrested. Not to be outdone, Joshi had also reiterated time and again his pet thesis that ‘academic terrorists’ are more dangerous than armed ones.
(Published in ‘The Milli Gazette, 16 –30 June 17, 2008)