First a confession. I bunked work yesterday and spent time watching YouTube videos; some trivia, some trash and lot of serious stuff. Now that the guilt is off my chest, let me get to the subject.
Rachna and her cousins spent some time vacationing in Udaipur and on her return, she said, “Dad you know Vaishnavi (her cousin) is anti Modi. I just can’t believe it.” I replied, in jest, “May be it’s because her dad is pro Modi.” Rachna has her own doubts about the present Government and I always tell her to read more and draw her own conclusions. I share some posts from left leaning liberal thinkers, chief among them Mr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta or PBM for typing convenience.
I always wondered if our serious reading has come down since the advent of World Wide Web and YouTube. There is so much of trivia pouring on social media, you tend to miss out reading serious writings. A case in point is Mr. Noam Chomsky. Wikipedia introduces him as linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, and political activist. I have only heard about his political activist part and I probably last read his essay more than two decades ago, before the advent of www in our lives (in India).
Now I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled on to Noam Chomsky. My best guess is, I must have read his interviews/opinion pieces in ‘Frontline’, a fortnightly magazine published by ‘The Hindu’, a left wing newspaper group. I used to think he writes mostly about an utopian world and his thoughts are not going to make a difference in In India, which is just getting liberalized.
I am not sure, if his thoughts, speeches and writings have made any difference in USA. As you can see, USA has produced more zillionaires from the days of his writings from Bill Gates to Elon Musk whose combined wealth is larger than 90% of the countries’ GDP. And less than 1% of USA’s citizens control 95% of it’s wealth. So much of social impact.
The other person who immediately comes to mind, before the www days is, Mr. Ralph Nader who took on the mighty US Automobile industry. If my memory serves me right, he also stood as an independent in American Presidential Election. At least, in Mr. Nader’s case, he is widely credited for the safety features that has become standard in our automobiles now.
Mr. PBM has been writing his weekly opinion pieces and I read them in The Indian Express. His writings are almost always against the establishment, in this case BJP, the ruling party in India. He is widely credited as the most forward thinking liberal by Indian media. I may not subscribe to his views always, but his writings are riveting and we always need to know what the other side thinks.
So why a blog on Mr. PBM now? Well he was the vice chancellor of the first private liberal university in India and in 2019, he quit as vice chancellor and continued as a professor. About a week back he resigned from his position as a professor and the resignation was allegedly brought in by the Government by bringing on pressure on the trustees of the university. If it is true, it is appalling to the say the least. This is the land whose fame is ‘questioning everything‘ to acquire wisdom and that includes questioning the existence of The God and practice of The Religion. So couple of opinion pieces against the establishment should not make anyone worry let alone bringing on pressure to remove him from his job.
To understand more about Mr. PBM, I spent couple of hours watching his speeches and debates. Chief among them is, his one hour monologue ‘India is passing through an era of darkness where Constitution is a facade, says Pratap Bhanu Mehta – YouTube. Youngsters should definitely watch this. He talks about Nation State and Capital and how a deadly concoction of this two spells doom or death of liberal democracy. Parts of the speech are good, some OK and most of them has little relevance to a country like India. He tries his best to portray that India is becoming (without naming it as such) Nazi Germany, where capital and power collided to create a monster. I have my doubts for that to happen in India. He says the media, is controlled by the ‘Capital’, and, in India, Television is not TRP based but simply supply side control. In other words, ‘the capital’ will flow into media to control peoples’ minds. Next the ‘social media’ will also be controlled by the Capital, creating a perpetual hegemony over the populace.
I have my reservations on this. But India is too vast and is a potpourri of contradicting social ethos for single idea to succeed. What happens in one part of the country will have no repercussions on the other side. For the Capital and Power to succeed like it did in Europe before the war, you need one language one culture and one identity. How would anyone bring this about in India? He says two and half oligarchs, (Rahul Gandhi says two – I don’t know where Mr. PBM got the extra half oligarch) will connive with the rulers to bring about the fall of liberal democracy. As I am writing this blog, five states are going to polls in India and in four of them the current national Government will not get majority (at least according to opinion polls). I am not sure where Mr. PBM gets these notion of capital/ruling nexus to govern a vast country like India.
What I find more disturbing is, his prediction that India will do badly not in democratic values (which is debatable) but economically as well. He says that 8% GDP growth is not likely happen in the next decade. Well if that doesn’t happen the ruling party will no longer be a ruling party. Yesterday, I also watched an interview of Sadhguru Juggi Vasudev, who says that todays youngsters ask the Government to deliver what they want. I am sure the youngsters would want social security, jobs, better healthcare and opportunities to grow. Unlike Mr. PBM, Mr. Juggi Vasudev meets millions of people across the world every year and he would know the pulse of people. So if the Government can’t provide all these, well, they won’t be ruling the country four years from now not thirty or forty years as Mr. PBM predicts.
Also, in the morning, I read a report in the Economic Times which says GDP to growth in India will be 12% next year, partly to compensate the contraction happened during COVID year. So the rebound in GDP growth will happen even if Mr. PBM wishes otherwise. I also wonder why all the liberal thinkers always think the doomsday is just around the corner, if what they ‘believe’ doesn’t happen? Beats me!
As expected, the backlash for Mr. PBM’s resignation is swift and today 150 professors from universities across the globe (mostly in the USA) have condemned the Government’s pressure brought on the University which resulted in Mr. PBM’s resignation. I have no clue as what did these professors’ predecessors had written in seventies when Mr. Chomsky was arrested many times and Mr. Nixon had declared him as the enemy of the state. OK let’s leave the ‘whataboutism’ aside. Mr. Chomsky continued working as a professor in a university and I hope Ashoka University takes back Mr. PBM’s resignation. I would like eminent thinkers to continue to work and write their pieces in India and not in some foreign universities.
The idea behind this blog is to introduce liberal thinking to young readers and bring back nostalgia in old readers (when Nader, Chomsky and others of this ilk formed our thought process).
I really don’t understand why Governments play these games to curtail freedom of thought. One it doesn’t go well with people and two these liberal thinkers who may not have more than a couple of thousand followers will not make a difference in 1.3 billion people’s minds. All this gets them, rightfully, is, bad press and leaves a bad taste.
As I have mentioned before, the quote attributed to Voltaire but written by his friend, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it,” should be the motto of every sane thinking person and more importantly any democratically elected Government.
You can watch Mr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s monologue here: