Smriti Irani would've justified jailing Tagore for his nationalism: Ashis Nandy

Political psychologist Ashis Nandy believes that the main reason for the BJP to appoint unqualified people to important institutional posts is because the party lacks intellectuals and competent people within its ranks. At the same time, the BJP does not trust outsiders to take on these responsibilities. In a conversation with Monobina Gupta, Nandy explains why he does not believe that India is moving towards fascism, and how the government is ill-equipped to deal with the pressures and contradictions of an expanding, new middle class.

The BJP-led central government is filling up top institutional posts with people least qualified for these positions. In addition, the government is getting rid of highly qualified people like Raghuram Rajan. How much will this skewed process damage institutions?

The BJP doesn’t have enough intellectuals or competent people in its ranks. Yet, they don’t want to take the risk of depending on someone from outside the party. This is a problem for them. They don’t trust anyone outside the party ranks. Rajan is the latest example of this trust-deficit. Subramanian Swamy merely articulated what others have been saying behind Rajan’s back for a very long time.

 Smriti Irani wouldve justified jailing Tagore for his nationalism: Ashis Nandy

Ashis Nandy. PTI

Take for example, the recent appointment of former BJP MP and cricketer Chetan Chauhan to the post of chairperson of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). He doesn’t know anything about the subject, neither do most people in India. So, the government thinks it is safe to appoint Chauhan in such a position. Consider then the appointments of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairperson of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), then Pahlaj Nihalani as the Censor Board of Film Certification chief. Nihalani is more BJP than BJP members, even though he is not a member of the party. The importance of these institutions is totally lost on the BJP. What matters to them is the money. What matters to them is the post.

Can the BJP make up for its intellectual deficit?

No, I don’t see that happening. The RSS had an intellectual tradition but that ended after World War II.

So, the BJP only wants to elevate sycophants in the power structure?

Sycophancy is a calculated, amoral chartered accountant’s calculation of losses and gains. But the subject of sycophancy – Modi or dynasties (every political party now has a dynasty) – should also know that they are increasingly dependent on a smaller pool of people they can choose from.

How do you explain this crisis?

The BJP’s emergence is linked to the fact that the middle class has grown five times in the last two decades. And most of the middle class party is middle class by virtue of money, not the values that usually define this class. The established middle class, which was a small segment earlier, has now expanded but without the traditional middle class values.

This expanded middle class is extremely conscious of its newfound status. This class includes a large number of traditionally marginalised entrants who didn’t have access to power. But we had not bargained for what, for an expanding democracy like this, it would cost us. And we do not know how to deal with this expanded middle class.

For instance, I am told that India International Centre has torpedoed Lalu Prasad Yadav’s attempts to get membership to the club. The IIC has restrictions on the numbers of people you can bring into the dining hall or into the lobby. What happens if Lalu Prasad Yadav comes in with an entourage of 15 people... Then, there is a dress code to follow.

Do you think the recent events in JNU triggered a much-needed discourse on nationalism?

Nationalism is not capable of triggering an intellectual discourse because all nationalisms are the same. I think Rabindranath Tagore said the last word on nationalism.

What would have been Tagore’s fate, were he to write about his idea of nationalism in contemporary India?

Let’s not have any illusion about it. Tagore would have been jailed. And there would have been a justification from Smriti Irani, saying that the government had set up an expert committee which has found Tagore to be anti-national.

Are we now dealing with a fascist regime?

No, we are not. The Indian personality is not predisposed to fascism. It’s difficult for fascism to take roots here because that kind of fascism requires a large floating, psychologically uprooted middle class. The Indian political culture has a defining marker – and that is the ability to jump from one ideology to another. Nobody is shocked by such ideological switches. So, Swapan Dasgupta switches from Trotskyism to ultra-nationalism, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chandan Mitra from CPI-M to BJP. They don’t see any anomaly in such switches – neither do the political parties concerned. Ideology is skin deep in Indian society.

And it has its reasons for it. To survive in politics, even if you are part of the middle class culture, you must reach out to other classes. All of them (political leaders) have links to the other side; particularly, if you are businessman close to the regime – any regime – you will always have someone who’s from the opposite side, on your board. That’s because governments may change and then the board member from the other camp will become useful. Such a society is not conducive for an ideologically passionate party to flourish in.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2016 10:36:23 IST