Firstpost editors Sandip Roy and Lakshmi Chaudhry spoke exclusively with author, social psychologist Ashis Nandy, who is under fire for comments made at a Jaipur literary festival panel earlier today. The panel titled “Republic of Ideas” and its participants included Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal, Patrick French, Ashutosh, Richard Sorabji and Nandy.
Firstpost: What did you mean by that one statement that most of the corrupt come from SC/ST and OBC which has caused so much uproar?
What I said was that most of those caught for corruption come from these three sectors because the upper castes and the rich and the powerful have better ways of protecting themselves, better ways of hiding their corruption. I even gave a direct example of that by saying people like Richard Sorabji and I, if we want to be corrupt we can be corrupt in a very subtle way. No money has to exchange hands. I can give his son a fellowship or he can give my daughter a fellowship at Oxford or Harvard. And that will be good enough return and nobody will call it corruption. I said that the others have lesser chance of hiding their corruption, lesser chance of engaging sophisticated lawyers or giving ideological justification the way the CPM government in West Bengal gave when they were corrupt.
It was part of a larger picture. And I also said that as long as this corruption exists among backwards, tribals, OBCs our Indian republic still has some hope.
It leads hopefully to redistributive justice and equalisation of handicaps.
Firstpost: This was in the context of Tarun Tejpal saying corruption is a great equalizer?
Yes. Exactly. Both of us supported it. I began by saying I am endorsing Tarun Tejpal’s statement and I elaborated on it.
Firstpost: What did you think of IBN7 editor Ashutosh's angry rebuttal of you?
Well everybody has the right to interpret my statement the way they want. I thought it was very myopic. He didn’t understand what I was trying to say. I have written the foreword to his book on corruption, so it’s not that he does not know my position very well. It’s reflected in that foreword.
Firstpost: What did you mean when you brought up the example of West Bengal vis a vis corruption during Communist rule?
I said the price of confining corruption -- when there is no open corruption -- is also that you keep out the Dalits, the tribals, and OBCs from being near power for all times to come, in the name of ideology, in the name of culture. Communists had their own corruption but it does not look like corruption because they had an ideological justification for it. It looks like taking a toll or imposing a tax on the rich and the powerful. That’s the rhetoric at least.
Firstpost: You were also calling out the anti corruption movement for not acknowledging their own investment in the system?
That also is part of the story. As long as corruption does not look like corruption it seems alright. As soon as it begins to look like corruption.
Firstpost: What has actually happened after your comment?
I think some people have tried to file an FIR. Whether they file it or not I don’t know. Some people are very unhappy – local Dalit leaders. I think they must be local because they have not read me I am sure. I am not surprised by it because I have faced this situation before. And I am quite used to it.
I have not spoken to national leaders yet.
Firstpost: What is the state of dialogue here where the right to be offended is trumping the right to say something, even if it’s offensive, over and over again?
I am not surprised by it. I see it all around me. It’s not only my fate. It’s the fate of all kinds of people, writers, musicians, painters, poets. This is the right time for such epidemics to break out, epidemics of being hurt, epidemics of being offended or insulted by somebody. Because next year is election year and this is the appropriate time to seek some political salience which you wouldn’t get otherwise. Usually it’s very small group of people.
Firstpost: Where is it leading us?
I think nowhere. Most of the groups that raise this kind of issue are small groups. Their aim is not to remain small but to seem larger than they actually are. That’s why they exploit a comment.
Firstpost: You say something on a panel in Jaipur. Instantly it’s all over Twitter, Facebook, every channel. Do you think the 24x7 media landscape has made it so that even in a panel you cannot be free to say what you want without it being twisted out of context?
That’s true. Someone can insert a not or forget the ‘not” and create a situation. That’s ok. That’s one of the risks of a media dominated world.
Firstpost: Finally, can you clarify once again what you exactly wanted to convey.
I will say that I did try to give a justification for the use of corruption as an equalizing force in society. I felt that as long as Dalits, OBCs, tribals participated in it, corruption would remain to some extent at least an equalizing force in Indian society and not be a one-side affair where the rich and prosperous become more rich and prosperous. That’s all.
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