INTELLECTUALS, YES, BUT WITH CLOSED MINDS

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Historian Ramchandra Guha’s academic capacities may be considerable, but they are severely compromised by the biases he holds, and which colour his opinions

Cricket historian Ramchandra Guha recently called Professor BB Kumar, the newly appointed Chairman of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), a “semi-literate Sanghi”. These words demonstrated the acute intellectual arrogance and ignorance that Guha has been suffering from, for quite a while now. This sufferance has increasingly weakened his capacities for tolerance, for impartiality and for academic restraint; his expletive laden consciousness is taking its toll and is heavily clouding his thinking, if thinking there ever was.

There are many such other colleagues of his, who have increasingly lost the capacities of balanced and fair thinking and have, over a period of three years, poured venom and hissed at the Narendra Modi dispensation for being anti or non-intellectual. One of them has finally given up the pretensions of running a think-tank and taken over the reins of a private university, where he is now getting ready to lead a pretended life of a self-styled academic.

This same pretended academic had a problem with the Modi Government appointing a former bureaucrat as head of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and refused to acknowledge the fact that the former bureaucrat in question had a large corpus of publications and papers to his credit, is well-known as a thinking and prolific writer and articulator of positions, of thoughts and of strategies. Unfortunately, critics have never taken the trouble of pointing the spotlight on themselves and on their own uninspiring tutelage of organisations under their watch.

The academic and intellectual intolerance that Guha displays basically stems from two essential factors. One, the realisation that Guha and his friends both Left, soft-Left and non-Left have been omitted — and rightly so — by the present dispensation in its scheme of things; and  two, the unnerving reality that despite the near daily bludgeoning that these types have carried out on the present dispensation, there has been no shift of stance, no reconsideration of any sorts, and most of Guha’s friends and Guha himself find themselves on the margins with the limited option of only whining, booing or catcalling.

By vitriolising professor Kumar, Guha has displayed his own lack of education — an education that should have essentially engendered in him values of deep thinking, of reflection, of acceptance of intellectual differences and of, in short, agreeing to disagree on perceptions, on interpretations and on articulations. While the venerable professor Kumar has displayed a stoic and dignified silence, Guha’s expletives have only exposed his own mental desperation and despair. It also reeks of anti-subalternism, a mentality or mindset which stoutly resists the entry of the marginalised into elite and cordoned off thought-clubs, hitherto controlled by a limited and interested few.

Guha’s knowledge of the North-East and of all those who have poured themselves into that region’s welfare and have emerged, against great odds, to become true interpreters of its life and culture, is limited to Verrier Elwin. He knows precious little of others who have indefatigably worked in the region. Having myself lived and worked in the North-East, I can claim to have a fairly good idea of these institutions and individuals, who are not so well-known simply because the Library of the US Congress or the leading and agenda-driven publishers in India did not find it expedient to catalogue, recognise or publish them.

Just because the likes of professor Kumar do not have a permanent space within some of the intellectual clubs that span the geographical mind-space which begins somewhere around the Gole Market circle and ends somewhere between Lodhi Road and Khan Market, just because he held a different opinion when India-wreckers were crying hoarse in Jawaharlal Nehru University and wild-dancing at the death of our soldiers, just because he refused to toe the line which made Gandhians and misguided revolutionaries out of petty Naxal marauders and valley terrorists,  just because he believes that nationalism in the Indian context today is a power that can transcend barriers and lead to a greater well-being and thus need not be rejected and castigated, professor Kumar is fit for rejection and lampooning. These are the classic expressions and stances of a ‘post-truth’ world view, a world view which is essentially opportunistic, intellectually intolerant, academically shallow and politically insidious.

When pointed out that professor Kumar had a huge corpus of work to his credit and was very well known in the intellectuals circles of the North-East and beyond, one of those 140 character types, the types that are increasingly seen to be passing judgement on everything, argued that if he was so well-known why had he not heard of him, now it is like questioning the veracity of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s existence and the authenticity of his vast corpus of work which run into nearly 1,500 tracts, just because one had not heard of him or had not read him! Such is the intellectual contraction and skulduggery that is generated by the obsession of trying to express oneself within the limits of those 140 characters.

It does not matter to these types — a tribe which is seen to be increasingly led by the likes of Guha — that professor Kumar has successfully run the journal, Dialogue, for so many years; has sustained it and given space in it for a wide spectrum of thinkers and opinion-makers. While holding on to his fundamental thought-world, professor Kumar has over the years, against great challenges, continued with the Dialogue and turned it into a major thought-vehicle. One reads in its pages some of the best analysis and articles on the North-East.

But then this entire effort can be ignored, can be dismissed and spat upon because professor Kumar is from ‘nondescript’ Katihar, has lived most of his working life in ‘faraway’ Nagaland, has espoused causes without getting co-opted into the five star international conference circuit, has never been a member of the exalted committees of the Unesco and the conferrers of the Kluge prize have not heard of him — a fit case thus for being garlanded with derision and disdain!

Guha’s uncontrollable rage is increasingly exposing the puniness of his own intellect and drastically limiting his effectiveness as a thinker; much of the muck that he hurls will eventually find its way towards him…

PS: When told of Guha’s description of professor Kumar, BJP president Amit Shah, condemning his arrogance, challenged him to a public debate on any aspect of Indian history — that invitation stands. Will Guha respond, or in order to avoid, will for convenience sake, dismiss him like he has professor Kumar?

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