July 04, 2017

What’s Behind The Scorched-Earth Tactics Of The Indian Establishment Elite? 



- Jul 04, 2017, 8:53 pm


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Amartya Sen recently chipped in with his views on the ‘lynching’ debate. This latest outrage of his – and other establishment elites – can be put down to two reasons, discussed here.

An economist known for being economical with truth has struck again. This sentence would have been deliciously funny if only it weren’t so tragic.

The kingpin of the pyramidal hierarchy in the elite establishment – Amartya Sen – has spoken. He has spoken firmly that “gangs of wild men hunting down beef-eaters” are roaming the streets of India, and fulfilled his sacred duty towards the circulation of motivated atrocity literature worldwide.

While he holds forth on the carnage that holding onto unquestioned faith in nasty things can cause, Sen seems to be doing exactly that, and repeatedly so. He clearly has complete unquestioned faith in a malicious and dystopian narrative that his fellow travellers in India’s elite ivory towers push. If not, he wouldn’t be endorsing their line. Any reasonable mind would certainly ask what this story is being built upon, but not Sen. Perhaps expecting reason from Sen in this matter is a problem in itself. As written earlier, he’s clearly at the top of the elite establishment and the machine is well-oiled enough to blow up only something that they automatically know the top endorses.

The truth of the latest outrage, including that of Sen’s, can possibly be put down to two simple reasons.

First, loss of relevance. The establishment elite is smarting from loss after loss to the ‘plebs’. Be it on the electoral ground or that of more egalitarian spaces like social media, their relevance is fast-fading.

Their consistent campaigns against Narendra Modi before he took up the top job and the fact that he got to South Block despite their best efforts, had enraged the elite enough. Subsequently, his political victories, be it in the personal popularity he enjoys, the stunning electoral successes of his party or the incrementally popular government he is leading – all this despite an endless stream of calumnious crusades, of which the latest bout is going on – drive them to desperation.

The double-blow has been that even in their favoured language of English, as far as TV media goes, their dominance has taken a beating.

It’s not to say that they have no influence. Their influence is still enormous through a number of powerful institutions they or their ideological brethren rule the roost in, including international academia and media. It is just that common voices have now become more than just irritants. It is just that their voices are now endorsed only by their own and the hoi polloi refuses to acknowledge any halo around their heads.

While Sen too has been a part of all these campaigns, this loss of relevance doesn’t hurt him as much as it hurts his proteges in India. He’s still a globally sought-after intellectual. It is the second reason that probably hurts Sen more.

Second, loss of power. The sense of entitlement that the establishment elite carries has to be seen to be believed. Take Sen himself, for example. When he ran the Nalanda University – literally as his fiefdom, bringing in whoever he wanted to in whatever position he wished, any question of accountability or counter-suggestions would be fobbed off through claims of ‘academic freedom’.

On how Sen appointed the vice chancellor, Ashok Malik writes in the Indian Express,

As a government official told this writer in the winter of 2013, a mid-level academic, at one of the affiliated colleges of Delhi University, with no known experience in institution-building, was selected to steer this flagship project, apparently over more respected names. We don’t know why. How was the vice chancellor selected? There is no available history of advertisements, global searches, and candidate interviews with wide-ranging panels.

Such arbitrariness on part of Sen and his Nalanda Mentor Group seems to have upset former president A P J Abdul Kalam, some ministers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and even the comptroller and auditor general.

In the same damning piece, Malik writes how Sen and his group sought to create a system that would keep themselves in power forever (emphasis mine):

In effect, the NMG/ governing board would become a self-perpetuating body, with members choosing their successors. This cosy club would have authority to spend Rs 2,700 crore of taxpayer money over a half-decade. The amendment was formally recommended by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in his capacity as the then chair of the National Monitoring Committee for Nalanda University. The PMO, under Manmohan Singh, initially supported the proposed amendment.

Such a brazen attempt to grab power and keep it for themselves with taxpayer money worth Rs 2,700 crore was initially supported by Manmohan Singh’s Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) before other parts of the same UPA government raised concerns and opposed it.

There’s no possibility that such a power grab can be attempted under Narendra Modi’s PMO even if Sen or his proteges were to try in any of the institutions they still are in.

Further, look at the sense of entitlement at play here. Malik writes:

All that is happening is Sen’s term as chancellor is expiring in July 2015. As such, he will stop being a member of the interim governing board. Earlier this year, the government told the interim governing board that it would not be giving the current chancellor (Sen) a fresh term. It asked the interim governing board to recommend three names for chancellorship. Sen has described this as an infringement of academic independence.

Essentially, if one does not give Sen a fresh term at the end of his current term, it becomes an infringement of academic independence. This sounds suspiciously like NDTV’s passionate excuse of media freedom when the alleged financial malpractices of its promoters are being probed. This also sounds very much like the burden of secularism that Hindus have to carry. Allow me to do anything that I want, else, you’re communal.

This sense of entitlement is in no short supply among the establishment elite. Journalists who have grown up with access to high places suddenly found that they have no access any more within the government. Not many had a clue that demonetisation was coming, or that Yogi Adityanath would be Chief Minister or that Ram Nath Kovind would be the National Democratic Alliance’s presidential pick.

Free foreign junkets, favourable Padma awards, negotiation responsibilities for key ministry portfolios and the like, are not on offer any more. Neither are free runs available any more in taxpayer-paid institutions for people like Sen. No wonder then that suddenly intolerance would rise up in an otherwise-tolerant society.

In the battle for credibility, intellectually dishonest sections of the establishment elite, including academics, media persons, star activists and the like, have mostly received drubbings apart from the occasional hurrah.

Now they’re just resorting to ‘scorched earth’ tactics, such that they’re fine with destroying this nation as long as it makes things more difficult for Narendra Modi. That is probably a charitable way to look at it, because, some suspect it is the other way around. They want to oppose Modi because he is currently India’s best shot at a position of strength and only a broken nation would harbour a rootless, morally corrupt elite.

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