Who Needs Intellectuals
Intellectualism as power and intellectuals as mercenaries

A professor teaching at a Chennai based journalism school, accused of sexually exploiting his own students young enough to be his grand-children, was actively supported by academics and intellectuals who wrote letters in his support. As long as predators are from the Left, they are immunized by intellectualism; even feminists become intellectuals and denigrate women.

We have been told that it is power which produces knowledge, a truism of sorts in academia. Thus social norms are questioned as sites of domination: family values denounced as patriarchy, religious virtues dismissed as Brahminism and cultural practices questioned as Hindutva. If for a moment we accept that knowledge is indeed produced by power, it would also establish that the whole institutional complex of contemporary academic knowledge about class, caste and gender are products of Left power over academia, journalism, activism and allied spaces of knowledge production. Today what we take for granted as knowledge or being progressive in the academic world is something utterly irrelevant to common people or even outrages people’s belief. For example, nationalism is an idea which resonates among postcolonial people is a bad word in academic circles just because it was associated with violence in 19th and 20th century Europe or just because a European historian saw nation as imagined community. Even those who shout tukde tukde are celebrated as conscience keepers of the country, and questioning anti-constitutionalism that sanctions splitting of the country is seen as intolerance.

Intellectuals replicate colonial discourse

The sacrality of the nation that fired the imagination of the multitude and defined independence movement has been quietly buried by academics and other intellectuals. Manipulated by reductive Marxist vocabulary, the academia imagined India’s salvation in obsolete clichés and projected street sloganeering as ethics. To understand this degeneration, we may have to go back in time to someone called Nurul Hassan who successfully established that anybody who controls institutions controls knowledge. When Indira Gandhi fell short of a majority and sought support from other communist parties, Nurul Hassan became the education minister and established various research institutions such as ICHR and many ICSSR run institutions. Such was his power that in spite of being a historian he became the vice president of CSIR, a top body of scientists. The establishment of JNU perfectly contributed to the agenda of producing Orientalist and colonialist stereotypes of India and her people. Since then Hassan’s children have controlled universities, research centres, media, publishing houses etc. They not only control our present but also our past and create layers of mediation between us and our understanding of the world. And they act as gatekeepers of knowledge by not letting anybody in.

After having removed Indians from their traditional schooling and knowledge systems and supplanting them with Western paradigms and vocabulary, the intellectuals now ask ‘where are right wing intellectuals?’ They first remove Indians from their cultural roots, from their ground of being so that Indians forget who they are and where they came from. Then they are supplied with Orientalist knowledge, and after decades of internalizing such knowledge they are asked to name their intellectuals. By the standard of intellectuals, anybody who does not subscribe to Renaissance or Enlightenment ideals and does not replicate colonial stereotypes is no intellectual. If a proud Indian takes inspiration from the past, intellectuals call her revivalist (elsewhere this revival was celebrated as Renaissance), monoculturalist etc. Interestingly though, in 19th century, progress was a bad word for being linear and for authorizing over-exploitation of environment, and many development practices have moved away from such an attitude. Similarly, Enlightenment philosophy has also been dismissed as instrumental rationality, though recently the Chief Minister of Kerala asked his people during Sabarimala agitation to go back to Enlightenment ideals, thus establishing the derivative and slavish nature of Leftist thought. By pushing people out of our life-world, intellectuals remove traditional Indians from contemporaneity. Thus intellectuals occupy the space of the present and the future and ordinary Indians come to be associated with the past.

How representative are these intellectuals and to what extent they speak for/to the common people? Actually they speak only to themselves. Just imagine NDTV as a space of intellectual debate and then try to process this information: Pranoy James Roy is a relative of Suzanne Arundhati Roy and his wife is the sister of Brinda Karat who is married to Prakash Karat. Or imagine a group of Brahmins from one family running a ‘progressive’ newspaper called The Hindu. This is the whole politics of knowledge production that actually maintains status quo and defends elite privileges. The fact of the matter is that more often than not, these intellectuals manage to get the coverage because of this academic-media-publishing house-institution complex that can legitimate their platitudes as knowledge. Many people get lured to that paroxysm because research institutes, funding agencies, publishing houses are run by their proteges. More often than not, these people are very weak in facts and high on decibel and sophistry.

Who needs intellectuals?

 These intellectuals replace the very group they claim to speak for. They indulge in politics of representation when they speak for the marginal and subaltern others such as women, tibals etc. So far so good. But in reality they actually speak for themselves as the emancipators of subalterns. Perhaps that is the reason they cannot tolerate Modi, because a backward community leader becoming the Prime Minister is something that goes against their politics of representation. That is why only elite privileged Brahmins can be politburo members of communist parties, unless you are D. Raja or Karat’s wife. When Raya Sarkar published the list of sexual predators, mostly hailing from the Left, feminist intellectuals like Nivedita Menon and Kavitha Krishnan dismissed the list because such assertion against established academics dilutes the promise of intellectualism and weakens their resolve to fight against ‘fascism’. A professor teaching at a Chennai based journalism school, accused of sexually exploiting his own students young enough to be his grand-children, was actively supported by academics and intellectuals who wrote letters in his support. As long as predators are from the Left, they are immunized by intellectualism; even feminists become intellectuals and denigrate women.

Mounting challenge to them involves reclaiming India and Indian experience. This involves both deconstruction and reconstruction. The first impulse can highlight contradictions and prejudices of imported categories and their advocates, and the latter can replace them with Indic thought. The ICHR chairman Jamkhedkar has already made right noises arguing that rewriting is part of history writing. The entry condition of that rewriting engagement will be the idea that India is more than a geographical expression and that it is a coherent cultural and spiritual entity. Establishment of publishing houses and newspapers given to dharmic thought will go a long way.

Now the question is who needs intellectuals? Actually nobody. Intellectuals need one another for protecting their privileges that includes free travel, free club membership, free fellowships, free cocktails, free everything and anything that can be obtained through their intellectual capital. But let us not forget that we do not have any parallel in Indian languages that can capture what intellectuals stand for. The closest that comes to mind is buddhijibi, one who is a peddler of intellect or one whose profession is intellect. That sounds too mercenary and supercilious and even an insult to common people desirous of interpreting their social life. So intellectuals are an anti-democratic force that only protects its own status. In a secular universe and as citizens of India who are treated equally by the constitution, citizens must strive to erase this modern inequality and hierarchy called intellectuals. No surprise that they rewrite virtue as expediency and morality as political interest. Just think of intellectual activists like Soma Sen, Saibaba, Teltumbde and Varavara Rao.

Featured Image: Red Spark

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Jyotirmaya Tripathy is a Chennai based academic and cultural critic.