The recent arrest of Disha Ravi may have irked many and rightly so. But isn’t it too myopic of them not to see what’s coming? Isn’t the unfolding of such an incident points towards not a new but a well-planned and devised strategy to target activists, scholars, academicians, and intellectuals who think albeit differently.
And what can be the best weapon to demonize this whole coterie of people if not the sedition law. This has quite strangely become India’s equivalent of blasphemy laws only to the exception that none of the heads have been hanged or chopped off so far. The momentum for this strategy perhaps took place from the JNU fracas which may have served as an experimental laboratory for the use of sedition law in official public parlance, but haven’t it started very much before it?
In today’s India, whatsoever may be the official sedition cases leveled against individuals, the public discourse has changed dramatically with people of opposite views being asked to prove their loyalty, of religion and country.
The social media discourse around Tanishq and tandav is a recent case in point even to the extent that some of our esteemed Bollywood celebrities and a majority of media networks given a mainstream platform for their ” anti-national ” rants peddling daily and to utter dismay it is seen as a new normal.
M.S Golwalker, pictured above, is one of the many important RSS ideologues who was anti-intellectualism.
If we look closely at the reasons behind this phenomenal attack you need to closely look through the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, their stated socio-cultural positions, worldview, and style of working. There is certainly a sense of dislike for intellectuals or activists in general and the left-leaning ecosystem in particular. Most of their discussions and strategies focus to establish an alternative to this ecosystem.
-“To condemn things as useless and retrograde simply because they are old would amount -to accepting the worst type of slavery – the slavery of the intellect. And yet these -intellectual slaves are pleased to appoint themselves as the ‘progressives’ of this age.”
-Bunch Of Thoughts, M.S Golwalker
“But people are calling themselves ‘progressives in our country today for whom all -our ancient life-values appear as reactionary and harmful. Their chief argument against our values of life is its age. These neo-prophets have neo-mania. For them all that is old -is bad. Since their nostrums are chronologically later arrivals, they assume them to be -more efficacious. It is like a doctor advising the patient to die since chronological death -follows life! Must we substitute tube-light for the sun because the sun is old, indeed very -old, and tube-light a recent device to dispel darkness?”
-Bunch Of Thoughts, M.S Golwalker
“Limits of intellectualism. There are some very eminent luminaries in our country, who declare with an air of omniscience, “What is this so-called motherland, except stones and clay!” Such persons -feel that intellect is everything. According to their intellectual reasoning, a country is -after all a stretch of inanimate, inert territory. However, even intellectual reasoning has its -own limits. For instance, the human body is after all material. The body of one’s mother -also is as much material as any other woman’s body. Then, why should anyone consider his mother different from other women? Why have devotion for her? An intellectual has no answer for this.
Take another instance. The human body requires for its nourishment starch, protein, fat -salt, and water. And these food-contents are readily available in human flesh in the requisite proportion. After all, biologically, man is nothing but flesh, blood, and bones.
So, why not eat up our neighbor? But if a person says this, he may be called a scholarly -logician, but certainly not a civilized human being. Such intellectualism leads only to -cannibalism. Ravana was a scholar, but a barbarian all the same. Therefore, mere intellect -is not enough. Man must be capable of experiencing the nobler sentiments of the hearing.”
– Bunch Of Thoughts, M.S Golwalker
“A very serious flaw which Gandhians and the Sangh have in common is their anti-intellectualism. Though Gandhi reputedly rebuked RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar for not publishing any doctrinal statements, i.e. for not giving any intellectual articulation to his nationalist movement, he essentially shared Hedgewar’s aversion for an intellectual job well done. Both of them made people march many miles, both led their followers to make great sacrifices, and both failed to substantially raise their followers’ political understanding. They did not bother to educate them (and themselves) in analyzing the character of the different forces in the field, all on the plea that “an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of theory“.
“This counts even more for its Hindutva variety. Indeed, Golwalkar himself was emphatically anti-bookish and berated his volunteers when they were caught “idling” by reading a book. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the RSS’s anti-intellectual orientation, which has been very consequential: (1) a complete absence from the public debate; (2) a propensity to make fools of themselves with fantastic claims, e.g. that “ancient Indians had airplanes” as if India’s real contributions to science and technology weren’t good enough; (3) a complete passivity when Nehruvians and Marxists moved in to monopolize the cultural and educational sphere; and (4) to really drive the negative implications home, an utter inability to give a credible defense of Golwalkar’s own books.”
“Sangh for most of its part possesses a strong disdain for activism and individual rights where collective thought and duties are seen more sacrosanct than that of an individual which naturally comes at odd with modern literature, liberal arts, and rights-based justice which constitutes an important bedrock in post-enlightenment age consciousness and constitutes the natural thinking of most of the modern-day liberal thinkers, intellectuals and activists.
“For this purpose -some restraints will have to be placed on the individual. The concept of personal freedom -cannot be so narrowly construed as to harm the interests of the community at large. Freedom of the individual to amass and enjoy the wealth has to be kept within certain -limits to ensure freedom for all others in the society to have same opportunities for leading a happy and prosperous material life.”
-Bunch Of Thoughts, M.S Golwalker
” It is the undigested modern ideas like ‘freedom of thought’ and ‘freedom of speech that is playing havoc in the minds of our young men who look upon freedom as license and self-restraint as mental regimentation!”
“A lasting solution to the economic crisis can come only from cultural rejuvenation and re-assertion of Hindu values such as reverence for man and nature, a non-acquisitive and non-exploitative life-pattern, recognizing mutuality rather than the individual right as the basis of the economy, voluntary austerity in consumption, and a premium on self-reliance.”
-(From vision and mission of RSS published in rss.org
The Sangh ecosystem though hates the intellectuals for their sin of critical thinking and logical reasoning, yet it demeans itself for an inherent lack of intellectuals in its ranks. A strange set of confusion hits its face when on one hand it abuses the intellectuals for their intellectual quotient and on another hand, it still wants an intellectual ecosystem to stand globally or nationally in a digital world of younger generations.
The RSS’s focus on groundwork meant that it could not focus on critical intellectual ideas.
On their supposed lack of intellectualism this is what Rakesh Sinha, a prominent RSS ideologue had to say
“Paucity of good literature and lack of progressive literature are some of our weaknesses because we concentrated more on the groundwork. We are now directing attention to producing more critical work with new ideas that appeal to a wider audience.”
The rise of post-enlightenment literature, creative and liberal arts had already changed the dynamics of intellectualism across the globe including in India. Post-renaissance, liberal values, democracy, individual rights got the stardom like never before.UNCHR was the legal and principled token of credentials for those values and principles. These made nations abide by these concepts even if it was just lip service. Naturally across the globe intellectuals imbibed these values with renaissance spirit and helped to disseminate them in society. This made the Sangh or its earliest proponents wary of the intellectual breed whom they openly defied.
“Obsession with West-originated theories has resulted in blinkered vision in major knowledge-areas like history, science, technology, economies, administration, etc. Thus, mainstream economics as taught and practiced today is blissfully unaware of the fact that such nuances as real commodity prices were comprehensively dealt with by Shukracharya, Kautilya, and other sages. The materialist approach, blindly copied from the West, has led the country downhill”
-from mission and vision rss.org
But as those intellectuals also had a mark on their individual field of creativity or activism, there would have been occasional instances of praise for the intellectuals without much acknowledgment of their intellectual work to maintain a sense of deceptive neutrality in the eyes of the public.
Enlightenment-era gave the global consortium some noble philosophies and jugglery of words for example secularism and equality which even if not completely understood or agreed upon has become an invincible word in the public dictionary that any educated individual needed to abide by or else risk being branded an illiterate.
Thus we got to see even Sangh proponents vouching for human rights but in different contexts and narratives. They became mature enough to not openly stand against human rights per se but more often to give it their own spin like for example their tears for the human rights of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Hindus but forgetting the same rights about activists, minorities, victims of conflict areas. But to use these eye-savory words to their own advantage and narrative they needed to have intellectuals and this explains their cringing for an intellectual ecosystem.
The rise of the BJP in the 1980s gave it a pass to an array of the intellectual workforce. Many intellectuals due to their varied vested interests swarmed across the Sangh force mostly to the political font helping it to give some kind of intellectual justification and cover-up to its brazen anti-intellectual agendas. As the political face of Sangh, the BJP has always been forced to take a more non-brazen viewpoint in the public discourse owing to its practical operability helping those aligned intellectuals to justify the more brazen ideology in a non-brazen manner. There were others too.
Though less, these intellectuals associated more closely with the Sangh than the BJP and had no luxury like the latter. They may have genuinely believed in some of the song’s worldview. To justify those worldviews with their intellectual reasoning, they used the same liberal principles of critical thinking to ponder on some issues that have been kept neglected for years by the dominant intellectual ecosystem of the country for example UCC.
The BJP has had to adopt a more non-brazen outlook than its parent organization RSS.
while doing so they not only neglected the ample areas of discrimination, the majoritarian worldview of their Sangh Parivar but also failing to see the devious and decisive intention of the Sangh around some non-divisive issues like UCC for which they had given intellectual cover. They ought to forget the brazen anti-intellectual thought process of the Sangh and disdain for the same liberal principles which they had supposedly used to analyze and present their own cases and some of the Sangh’s worldview.
They ought to overlook the fact that while in some issues the Sangh speaks in a more liberal language but the same argument doesn’t apply to their other issues. For eg the argument for CAA was used very liberally while the same argument didn’t get a place in their rant against Rohingyas. This dichotomous reasoning could have pointed to the fact that they are more concerned about their divisive intentions than to the liberal principles they espouse in some cases, for example, it was the intent of Hindu consolidation and Islamophobia than any liberal principle of refugee to the deserted which drove the momentum for CAA in Sangh circles. But sadly some intellectuals unwillingly or willingly chose to overlook the same.
So a look through this perspective would reveal that the current dispensations attack on critical voices is nothing new to be shocked off. It’s a part and parcel of their ideological conviction which it is following religiously and meticulously. The assault on civil society is just a systematic product of majoritarianism, authoritarianism, and anti-intellectualism where any critique of the govt or its ideology is seen with suspicion and regarded as seditious.
Across the world, this was and is the style of any majoritarian regime. Civil society itself is seen as a hindrance to the hegemony of such regimens. The majoritarian regimens due to its push for the majoritarian ideas and impulses like those of the Sangh tend to brazen up the nuances of reasoning which makes critical thinking their dreaded enigma.
And from this stems their anti-intellectualism streak. So the anti-intellectual brand of thinking in the majoritarian regimens is not just an exception but a well-devised and well thought out convictions that have their roots in their ideological moorings. It is not just that some rulers of Delhi have any political or personal vendetta against the civil activists but it’s more in pace with their well-exclaimed ideology.
In such a context it’s responsible of us to remember that whenever and in whichever country the civil society faltered on account of its own creepings and crawlings or by the terror and might of the state, it’s the country that takes a backseat. Let’s see for example Bangladesh and Pakistan. Though both the countries were founded on more liberal and reasonable principles than what both are today, Bangladesh, by contrast, has tried somewhat successfully to retain its early constitutional principles to some extent even though both countries suffered multiple reckless military coups.
This contrast could easily be explained with the vibrancy of the Bangladeshi intelligentsia vis-a-vis their Pakistani counterparts. There is an ever-growing shrinkage of critical voices and civil society in the Pakistani landscape making the way for a more radicalized Pakistan and disappointing its citizens to hold it back to the principles its founding father promised. After all, a nation is never built or sustained by powerful rulers but by civil society and their vision.
Ideas originate in the minds of the intelligentsia which at times get to be emboldened by the political leadership for example land reforms and at times as crusaders of change in the society even to the chagrin of political class. Ideas usually don’t espouse from the power echelons and equations of new Delhi but the coffee houses and book fairs of the country. Today the protests at streets, universities, and colleges are not only the protests of few anarchists but a real embodiment of a vibrant civil society India always was proud of.
The batons of the police or the sedition of the law are just the arm twisting of a mighty state who want to destroy the spine of its civil society and thereby the country because it’s the civil society that constitutes the soul of the nation. The state should not be given the chance to win in its clampdown spree over its activists.
The sedition and UAPA law have been used to curb civil society.
The activists and the civil society at large who raise the bar for the state create consciousness in the society and help in formulating and disseminating ideas. From laws and consciousness on land reforms, gender sensitization, climate change, or the ideas about equality, caste struggle it’s the civil society that has always taken the lead. It has always tried in raising the bar of societal consciousness.
But how does civil society thrive? It’s definitely not by the rules of a market economy but largely through their credibility in the eyes of the people they serve. Crusading for new ideas is itself an uphill job in an unequal and conservative society like ours where reforms in any arenas may meet with strong resistance socially or politically.
But it’s the credibility that allows it to thrive against all odds. And here comes the laws of sedition. In a world when the ideas of nationalism or religious identity are so vexed that it even seeks to uproot other identities from the consciousness of the people for example the socio-economic struggles of people’s lives and their deprivations.
By coloring the society by its ultra-nationalistic fervor and religious supremacy feeling it tried to consolidate the majority where all the strata of the society are oppressed or the oppressors tend to not identify themselves with something which is even remotely anti-national or anti-religion allegedly. This is where the laws of sedition or the conspiracy to defame a country comes. It defames civil society in front of the public and strips off its hard-earned credibility and the support it received from the public.
Society in its madness for nationalistic fervor tends not to identify with any such activists or individuals who have been allegedly called anti-national, even if the latter would have fought for their cause. And this may be the reason why albeit with the handful of convictions in sedition cases or narrowed down the precedent of judgments regarding sedition law, the laws are used whimsically. The use of the law by the rulers has nothing to do with the maintenance of the law of the land but to threaten the voices of civil society by defaming it. The purpose is readily served. Once suspicion is injected regarding civil activists in the public they lose their credibility and the country loses its voice.
It needs to understand that even if any law is passed by the elected representatives in the halls of democracy, dissent could still be possible and not necessarily be confined to the hallowed walls of parliament but at any place and any form because for democracy the whole country is the hall room and dissect its bedrock.
We tend to always talk about the four pillars of democracy but tend to forget the bedrock on which these pillars stand .it’s the civil society and any assault on that can make the pillars falter and can take us back to a country in which we were never born into.