Guest Post by author Pankaj Mishra
One can only welcome the broad coalition that has sprung up against the assault on JNU and in defense of the right–eternally vouchsafed to students–to intellectual freedom. But the imperative of solidarity should not make us forget that this multi-pronged violence—ordered by the government, and assisted by police officers, university officials, lawyers and sections of the media—has been in the making for a while—at least a decade and a half.
The empowerment of a technocratic elite that presumes to know exactly what the ‘New India’ ought to do in order to be wealthy and powerful made much intellectual and artistic endeavour, not to mention political struggle, seem unnecessary. Its cherished epithet ‘jholawallah,’ aimed to scornfully delegitimate a whole spectrum of demands for justice and equality as well as a culture of reflection and debate. Wealth-creators and their lackeys in politics, business and the media have long been united in their contempt for intellectual dissent—roughly interpreted as anything that seems to impede or slow down their own progress towards more wealth and power.
Today, the Modi government has decided to stoke, with typical recklessness, a long-simmering hatred of India’s political and intellectual diversity into a nation-wide onslaught against ‘anti-nationals.’ In the process, it has unmasked many previously closeted institutions and individuals as repellantly neo-fascist. The anti-anti-national anchor finds himself disdained—momentarily, at least—by his own colleagues; the Modi regime’s particularly toxic brand of nationalism is being denounced by even some of its boosters, enablers and whitewashers.
But the complex web of New India’s working alliances—which stretches across many ostensible ideological differences, connecting liberal-minded literati to Sanghi publicists, smooth-tongued anchors to hysterical ones—was woven long before Modi’s arrival, and looks set to outlast his departure.
It is likely, to take only one grotesque irony, that debates about freedom of speech and Anupam Kher’s stalwart attendance at Jaipur Literature Festival will continue to be sponsored by Zee News, the most influential, vigorous and malicious non-governmental inciter of violence and hatred against writers and academics in India today. Hannah Arendt, reminiscing once about her generation’s tame acquiescence in fascism, wrote that ‘what disturbed us was not the behaviour of our enemies but of our friends.’ The Modi regime has surprised with its brutishness only the very naive. We must stand up to it by all means. But we must also be wary of some of the dodgy friends we stand with, lest solidarity turn into complicity with the dedicated enemies of thought and dissent in India today.