OPINION

Thekedaars of the Middle-Class?

November 14, 2008
commonsense

We have all heard of the “my sentiments are hurt” claim to push for a ban on topics that we cannot handle. The long list of such political maneuvers includes but is not limited to Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the artist M. F. Hussain, Taslima Nasreen etc. Such claims by the thekedaars of so-called religious, regional, linguistic communities are quite obviously irrational and appeal to the lowest common denominator in all of us.

The Gujarat government has gone step ahead by claiming that the sentiments of the state and of its middle-class are “hurt” by the loose canon scholar Ashish Nandy’s op-ed piece published last summer in the Times of India.

Stung by the acerbic piece by penned by Nandy (who by the way, received his PhD from Gujarat), the Gujarat state government has apparently lodged a case against the scholar for apparently implying the middle-class’s addiction to development at any cost, is to blame for Modi’s re-election. Nandy of course, is a self-styled provocateur who passes sweeping, frequently quite off the mark pronouncements in the prophetic mode. He is taken more seriously outside rather than within India. Once in a while he does provide quite interesting insights about Indian society. More often than not, he lashes out at any hint of the term “development” and indeed considers himself as the “thekedaar” of the “real” India and Indians.

The point however is not whether one agrees or disagrees with him as far as his takes on Indian society are concerned.

What is ominous is the government taking a writer to court for imagined injuries to the sentiments of the state and its middle-class. Are we slipping backwards to the era when any critique of state policies was labeled as “treason” and the pressure to conform was enforced by intepreting the law in particular ways? This time around, the Supreme Court of India not only dismissed the case against Nandy but also issued a stern rebuke to those who wanted to prosecute the author.

Where exactly are we headed in the future as far as freedom of critical commentary is concerned? If we disagree with any critical commentary, there is always the option of criticising the critic. If established media outlets won't publish our critiques of critics, there is always the world-wide blogosphere. The proliferation of self-appointed of thekedaars of who seek to address real or imagined injuries, is, at least from a non-sectarian point of view, indeed ominous.

Commonsense is in the business of peddling commonsense or so he believes, since others think of his wares as patent nonsense or even worse. He is committed to diversity, secular humanism and a live and let live attitude until he encounters religious or culturalist fundamentalists.
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#1
Vinod Joseph
November 14, 2008
05:10 AM

Freedom of speech and expression is a modern 'developed world' luxury. I doubt if we ever had it in India. If you displeased the King, it was 'off with his head' all over the world. Once a country becomes very prosperous, people will stop caring too much about religion and values will become personal. When that happens, freedom of expression will take the front seat. Therefore the only way to guarantee freedom of expression is to usher in prosperity for everyone.

#2
commonsense
November 14, 2008
06:56 AM

Vinod,

Another way of looking at the issue is that such freedoms, within reason, are essential and indeed were essential for us to move beyond the "off with his head" (alice in wonderland!) mode of existence. I am not sure if it's an either or issue, ie. once a society gets "developed", then critique and freedom of expression is ok. Singapore, going by pure economic indicators is not "hyper-developed" but, freedom of expression is severely curtailed. Perhaps freedom of expression (within limits of course, as in not shouting "fire" in a crowded place) is not an afterthought that one can afford only after the fact of "development". Think Socrates, Galileo, Buddha, Nanak, Phule etc. etc. etc. who went against the grain of accepted parameters. Should any government take somebody to court if that someone criticizes its policies? Are we living in the "off with his head" era, even now?

#3
commonsense
November 14, 2008
07:03 AM

CS:

""Singapore, going by pure economic indicators is not "hyper-developed" but, freedom of expression is severely curtailed.""

I meant, singapore is not only developed, but indeed hyper-developed!

#4
Vinod Joseph
November 14, 2008
07:22 AM

Singapore and countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are indeed examples of prosperous places with little freedom of expression. However, I would like to stick with my basic thesis that economic development is necessary for freedom of expression to flourish. However, economic development alone isn't obviously sufficient. One needs to build up the values such as the right to free speech and that does takes time.

#5
suresh.naig
November 14, 2008
08:15 AM

commonsense:

Be happy, Gujarat State moved the court against the author. Had it been Tamil Nadu, the press would have been ransacked, as happened for "The Hindu" at Coimbatore recently, for publishing an article by Malini Parthasarathy. The pitiable aspect was, that the onslaught against the press was orchestrated by lawyers, the custodians of "Justice".

The root cause of the "rot" is, "Believe it or else" attitude of many of our Netas, intolerant to healthy criticism, and also contributed by some third class journalists for cheap publicity.

#6
suresh.naig
November 14, 2008
08:21 AM

cs: Another piece on criticism and wits.
In British parliament in a fit of rage Lord Gladstone, made angry remarks against Disraeli.

Mr.Disraeli, you will either die of gallows or of venereal diseases. There was a pin-drop silence and Disraeli responded with a smile on his face,

'that depends Lord Gladstone, whethere I embrace your policies or your mistress'

#7
commonsense
November 14, 2008
08:41 AM

Vinod:

""Singapore and countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are indeed examples of prosperous places with little freedom of expression. However, I would like to stick with my basic thesis that economic development is necessary for freedom of expression to flourish.""

the problem however is that in India we have traditionally had this freedom of expression and we have been justifiably proud of it. this is now being throttled, legally, illegally, thru the use of violence and force. if this is the trend, it will be quite an uphill battle to restore such rights "once we are developed"! once gain, look at saudi arabia and singapore etc. etc.

#8
commonsense
November 14, 2008
08:45 AM

Suresh,

True, all too true! All the more unlikely that economic development will pave the way for "luxuries" such as freedom of expression (within bounds of course), as Vinod argues. If anything, with more economic development, netas and other thekedaar will have more at stake to prevent such critiques.

disraeli's quip is great. not for nothing did he have a reputation for wit!

#9
kerty
November 14, 2008
11:11 AM

For a while, I thought here we go - another article about Obama who successfully peddled dreams and hopes of middle class to win election. Obama and McCain with their respective Joes at hand jostled to claim the mantle of saviors of middle-class, promising every goody and every cure they thought middle-class needed. Obama won that beauty contest.

Obama must owe it to Modi who invented that wining formula - do whatever it takes to be a thekadar of middle class. In Gujarat, its middle class craves religion and development, and Modi is there to fulfill all their dreams.

Ashish Nandy, nothwithstanding his Phd from Gujarat, sounds like a typical journalist of Bengali pinko school, who have driven out every Vehicle of development from Bengal and successfully de-linked middle-class from development. Thekedaars of Middle-class believe development should not occur at the expense of justice, and not until justice prevails - and since they are the thekedaars of what is deemed as justice, justice can never prevail in the short or long run unless they say so, and therefore, development must always wait until they say so. It is such thekedaars that have turned entire states into Bimaru states, forcing its population to migrate to states where middle-class does identify with development, and leaders who champion development for them. Gujarat and Modi represent an antithesis for such Bimaru scribe. Who would blame Modi if he considers them to be economic terrorists and treats them like one? Litigation is not illegal in India and it has been a handy weapon used by Modi-bashers to chill out Modi - so it is fitting that Modi gives them the taste of their own medicine.

When it comes to Modi, media has not been fair, free, balanced or independent - media acts like a partisan activist, slander machine, attack dog, political front. When political crusaders masquerade as media, than it becomes a fair game for politics. That is how politics is always waged in political arena - tooth and nail. If media wants to be a partisan political player, why should it be treated any differently? I am sure if any other leader had done similar thing to any scribe, it would have remained a non-issue in media and blogosphere. Ashish Nandy should count his stars that he did not get beaten up like he would have been in many other states.

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