Two leading Indian intellectuals betrayed not only their clumsy articulation but revealed also their imprecise understanding of prevalent reality. Intervening at the recent Jaipur Literary Festival noted author Mr. Tarun Tejpal set the ball rolling by asserting that corruption was a great social leveler because it allowed deprived sections to acquire wealth and upward mobility. Renowned sociologist Mr. Ashish Nandy went a step further. He endorsed Mr. Tejpal to add that the majority of the corrupt belonged to the dalit and backward caste communities. Both worthies are liberal and secular. What they wanted to convey was vastly different from what they actually did. Their failure may be traced to their distorted understanding of current realities.
These are perilous times. One must note with dismay the deplorable distortion of our democratic functioning in which free speech is being strangled through coercive threats.... If freedom of expression is stifled, democracy dies.
Mr. Tejpal seemed to endorse corruption. One suspects that all he wanted to say was that corruption redistributed wealth to reduce disparity among the privileged and under privileged sections of society. His error lay in confusing corruption with politics. Although this is understandable, since politics today is nothing but corruption, Mr. Tejpal’s failure to distinguish between the two was unexpected. After all it is only politicians belonging to the disadvantaged communities with the opportunity to become corrupt. They acquire this opportunity thanks to democracy that allows them to advance in politics.
In order to strengthen this argument about wealth redistribution Mr. Nandy proudly stated that the maximum number of the corrupt belong to the dalit and backward caste communities. He probably thought he was striking a great blow for the under privileged and our current political system which allowed this to happen. Later his unconvincing clarification indicated what he wanted to convey and failed to do so. It is not the maximum corruption monopolized by the newly privileged but their maximum prosecution cases of corruption.
The privileged are seldom prosecuted or exposed or pressured through corruption cases leveled against them. Would a dalit or backward caste leader charged by most credible sources to have received funds from a foreign spy agency and of having Swiss bank accounts running into billions of dollars escaped investigation and prosecution? Would a dalit or backward caste chief minister named by an official Commission of Inquiry of complicity in a major corruption scandal have escaped investigation and prosecution? Sadly, neither intellectual said this, thereby adding to the silence on such issues observed by all MPs and the rest of the intellectual class.
One humbly ventures to advise our worthy intellectuals to stick to literature and social issues to which they make such valuable contributions. They had perhaps best refrain from dabbling in political issues. These are perilous times. One must note with dismay the deplorable distortion of our democratic functioning in which free speech is being strangled through coercive threats. The law is wantonly twisted to send cartoonists and outspoken Internet bloggers to jail. Mr. Nandy has been threatened with prosecution and imprisonment. If the current laws are wrongly worded as to facilitate dictatorial censorship these need to be amended. If freedom of expression is stifled, democracy dies. Must the President and Governors remain mute spectators?
Indeed, India’s justice system is becoming unrecognizable. Recently the Supreme Court questioned the government about its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy. It asked the government if the interests of the poor had been adequately protected. One never knew that it was the court’s business to monitor the egalitarian content of executive policy. More recently a Hyderabad court directed the police to investigate whether Finance Minister Chidambaram had committed fraud and cheated the people of Andhra by failing to create Telangana state after promising it to them. Another court will hear a petition against Home Minister Shinde of committing criminal defamation for remarks made against Hindu terrorism which enabled Pakistan and Hafiz Saeed to criticize India.
One had no idea that political policies and statements were subject to legal review in this manner. If such is the case this writer must confess that his understanding about the separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and the legislatures, and indeed about the entire justice system, needs serious rethinking. In fact his understanding of our very system of democracy needs fundamental reappraisal.