The delusionary Indian intellectual

Last Updated: Mon, May 27, 2019 11:39 hrs
Intellectuals

Since May 23, people have been touching my arm gently, giving me looks of commiseration, and asking me in husky voices about my reaction to the elections as if we were mourning the death of a beloved classmate.

The assumption that I was hoping the country would forgive the Congress yet again, simply because I seem to espouse liberal values, surprises me.

As it happens, the descendants of Nehru evoke in me even less respect than the saffron brigade.

I certainly was not hoping for a BJP win.

The closest analogy to our current situation – perhaps our regular situation – that I can conjure in my mind is that of traffic flow. I have driven long enough to see bottlenecks grow tighter, new traffic signals installed, one-ways and diversions introduced, and all manner of traffic management tested in (futile) attempts to avoid the morning and evening rushes.

The only days that the traffic flows smoothly happen to be the ones on which the signals are not working, and policemen have given up on controlling the traffic.

The days on which the traffic situation is at its worst is when policemen install themselves at the islands and try to monitor the signals. Before long, motorists are suggesting the policemen are involved in incestuous relationships and honking in (futile) attempts to deafen them into submission.

And so it is with governments. The country works best when no one is in charge.

I did not expect a different result, but I do usually hope for a hung parliament so the politicians will focus on the next elections and leave us to go about our business.

Tamil Nadu survived the tsunami and floods better than could be expected because the governments had fallen asleep, and people rushed to the aid of their fellows.

I often marvel at people’s faith that a different set of politicians might offer up a better country.

I also find myself in a unique position, because I realised some years ago that my greatest hope for the human race is that it will go extinct. I have always cared more about animals than about human beings, but as I witness the increasing industrialisation of animal exploitation, from large-scale dairy farms where machines squeeze the udders of cows to the packaging of meat in supermarkets, I find it hard to draw up the least sympathy for humans.

When I wrote about my veganism in my latest book, a troll wrote that I should forever be haunted by the ghosts of those who were killed for being “beef eaters”. As should be obvious from the term “vegan”, it is not only the beefeaters, but the milk-drinkers that I despise.

I replied that I was haunted by plenty of ghosts, since I had not always been vegan – the ghost of every animal I ate, the ghost of every calf that died so I could steal his or her mother’s milk, the ghost of every bee that was burnt so I could consume, with my morning tea, the honey he or she spent a lifetime producing.

Perhaps it was a combination of the jallikattu drama, the animal-slaughter parties, and the trolling I have witnessed in the last few years, but I feel indifferent to all humans.

No government will do anything good for animals. And I don’t care for humans.

Which leaves me in a unique position to analyse the delusions of the self-assessed intellectual.

Across the world, it has become fashionable to embrace a figure of hope, a figure who appears to represent the opposite of all that the bigot at the centre does, and therefore must be loved by the liberal intellectual irrespective of his or her flaws. The Americans had Hillary Clinton, and now they have Elizabeth Warren; the British have Jeremy Corbyn; and the Indians have settled for the Gandhi siblings.

The delusionary intellectual then goes on to support this antithesis, oblivious to how one sounds while going about this: and so it is that the media has been consistently making snide remarks about the lack of education of the BJP’s foremost leaders, and the class to which each belongs, offering as a contrast the Gandhis’ foreign degrees and inherited privilege.

One can break security cordons to hug the poor and one can carry all the shoes one wants and one can help a journalist who has fallen in the melee, but one can hardly defeat mass appeal and a penury-to-power story with the aura of nobility. The word ‘nobility’ carries the idea of inherited privilege, of having skipped the hard yards and the dirty work.

A man with few family ties who has managed to unite people of different castes and classes by parading faith and fear is not invincible. But he can only be defeated by an equally good story, not by the intellectual’s dash for the alternative. Perhaps a diplomat with decades of experience in policy, perhaps a charismatic leader who has actually wrought a change in his or her fiefdom, perhaps an intelligent politician with plenty of good ideas and the shrewdness to put them into action. But not a prince and princess.

The people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at the receiving end of laurels for keeping the saffron forces out. Over the millennia, this part of India has kept several empires, including the Maurya and Mughal, from spreading further. The reason is not its literacy or its intelligence. It is simply its political slant. People vote for a person’s beliefs and promises, not for his or her surname. The number of first-time MPs from Tamil Nadu who will take their seats in parliament this year is testament to that.

Perhaps once the pan-Indian intellectual realises this, he or she will come to terms with the Gandhis’ obliteration.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

No one should be afraid to talk about religion



How Modi-haters became his PR angels

Why the Indian elections will always go wrong

When the people want a change

Abhinandan Varthaman: Hero, yes, but victim first


Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols


The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Ten things the chowkidars failed to protect


Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com