Speculations on Jayant Sinha's demotion symptomatic of 'credentialitis'

Credentialitis is a most peculiar disease in India. It is not a physiological as much as a mental condition. Prevalence is usually confined to the commentariat and the chattering classes, followed by the professional and managerial class. Now, the disease is spreading to the political class. It tends to be an elite illness; the common man has too much on his plate to worry about credentialitis.

What exactly is credentialitis?

It stands for a vague and excessive regard for someone’s credentials, particularly their educational credentials. Credentialitis is never manifested in the person possessing the credentials. It manifests in the behaviour of people towards the credentialed person. Ivy Leaguers seem to be at the receiving end of credentialitis, which is not a bad thing, once in a while. After all, as a class, they’re not used to being at the receiving end of anything.

File photo of Jayant Sinha. News 18

File photo of Jayant Sinha. News 18

The disease is usually carefully hidden, but bursts out occasionally with a trigger. The condition is a volatile and unstable one, oscillating between obsessive regard on the one hand, and envy or insecurity, on the other. The condition results in credentials being put up as the causal factor behind any number of outcomes that befall the person possessing the credentials. Positive outcomes happening to the holder of credentials are attributed to the credentials. Negative outcomes as in Jayant Sinha’s perceived demotion in the recent Cabinet reshuffle result in “despite” statements : “Despite having such and such credential, this is what happened to such and such person”. Either way, the obsession stands out.


Its etiology — the cause or set of causes that puts the condition in motion — is mysterious and complex. In fact, because the causality is complex, there is some debate about whether credentialitis is a syndrome or a disease. As mentioned, the condition manifests in the behaviour of people towards the credentialed person. Envy and insecurity are the main causes that set it off. Another cause is the uneasy coexistence between the Brahmanical mindset and the modern temperament — both republican and democratic — that inclines towards equality. Historically, the Brahmin’s position in the society came from his monopoly on knowledge, often manifested through credentials. But the modern republican temperament with its focus on egalité sits uneasily and uncomfortably with this elitism. Finally, in a democracy, power is won through the ballot box, and often by people without these credentials. Such people then proudly proclaim that the achievement was despite the absence of credentials, and not because of their presence. “Hard work and not Havbhaard”, and so on. This appeals to the lumpen element in the masses. It makes credentialitis a part of public discourse, in fact makes it contribute to the coarsening of that public discourse.


Symptoms are usually carefully hidden and need a trigger to set them off. Symptoms get triggered when a very credentialed person figures in the news, or when comments are necessary on the person. One telling symptom is the tendency of the chattering classes to routinely mention the person’s credentials in the story itself. The number of times a person’s educational credentials get mentioned in news stories about said person is astonishing, and a peculiarly Indian phenomenon.

In the usual pattern of symptoms that mark the disease’s progression, good fortune is breathlessly attributed to the credentials. This is understandable. But bad fortune is also — and equally breathlessly — attributed to the credentials, often with an element of wonder. In the recent case of Jayant Sinha, there is wonder that such a person with “such and such” credentials, could have “such and such” happen to him. Here the “bad fortune” of being shunted from finance to civil aviation, is actually a source of wonder and disbelief, as it happened to such a credentialed person. The disbelief then results in exaggerated searching for other causes behind the event. More obsession.

The desi vs phoren dichotomy is pronounced here. The acute symptoms of the disease manifest in the attitude of those responding to foreign credentials, rather than domestic credentials. Nazar and envy, together with rampant insecurity, are the usual reasons for all this; throw in the colonial hangover and you have another element in this volatile mix. As always, internet message boards give one an idea of the disease’s extent. The anonymity of the message board format allows an envious venting of the spleen which is another symptom of the disease.


Diagnosis can be done through observation and tests are usually not needed. Looking at the patient and listening carefully to what he says is usually enough. A defining feature of the diagnosis, is the tendency of the sufferer to attribute exaggerated super-man like qualities to the credentialed person, followed by the inevitable disappointment, and then the sniffing about how the credentials have no connection to “on the job” performance in India. “Highly overrated” is the usual tut-tut conclusion which is then reached about the person. The crowing and gloating that routinely happens when a credentialed person stumbles, is remarkable and noteworthy, and this schadenfreude — or malicious delight in the misfortune of others — is a definitive part of the diagnosis.


There are no drugs to cure the disease, and surgery by definition, can be ruled out. But two procedures that may be used for treatment are “watchful waiting” and “delumpenisation”. “Watchful waiting” or ignoring the symptoms of the disease is best. Besides, the peculiar feature of credentialitis is that the patient doesn’t know he has the disease in the first place. Further, when the patient ignores his own illness, it has the beneficial effect of letting him continue to suffer; under the circumstances, this is just punishment. Lumpen elements are uniformly the ones who carry the disease, so “delumpenisation” is also a good treatment; but that is a long term and next to impossible treatment, as it depends on self improvement and changing attitudes.


None. Contraindications are courses of action, the pursuit of which might be harmful to the sufferers of the disease. But, in this case, even if there were contraindications — let them suffer.


Dismal. The disease is an ancient scourge that certain people are doomed to suffer from. Cure or even prediction of an outcome is simply not possible, but there is the possibility that the disease might go away on its own.

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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2016 09:56:23 IST

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