One thinks but thinks how little critical debate matters to our society which is implacably divided into hostile camps, convinced in the absolute infallibility of our own positions. I have become a minimalist and do not venture beyond Twitter or FB posts. But Ravish Kumar will not let you remain in peace. He protests so much even though there are strategies available for you to have your cake and eat it too.
Kanchah Ilaih Shepherd must be a learned man.
Together they share the self-image of "intellectuals", leading the dangerous crusade against right wing retrograde and authoritarian forces out to vanquish rationalism and spread darkness all around. A compulsive letter writer, Ravish Kumar has cried wolf so often in his epistles that one has ceased to take him seriously. (He reminds me of the protagonist in Saul Bellow’s famous novel Herzog who keeps writing letters to all and sundry, including God). This time round his paranoia has taken him one step further; he fears for his job, which would mean the dissolution of his identity? What would Ravish Kumar be without his very private pulpit to which he retires every evening, to deliver long sermons to the faithful of similar political persuasion? About the making of this unique intellectual later! Let us first address ourselves the concern of two very, very scared intellectuals. If Mr. Modi is following me, my earnest appeal to him is to accord them Z+ security. Let them ignite their revolution with police help lest history gripe at the lost opportunity. And yet!
The idealized image of the intellectual in our minds is that of a courageous individual on whom lies a moral onus - to "speak" - in the Biblical phrase popularized by Julian Benda (Traihon de Clerics, The Treason of Intellectuals) "truth to power". A contrarian figure and an eternal naysayer, an intellectual is indifferent to the lure of material advantages or personal glory. His convictions do not admit the fear of death. Socrates is the archetypal figure; the escape route was available to him but he accepted the cup of hemlock casting derision on death.
Emilie Zola’s championing of the Dreyfus case carved another role for the intellectual (as also the coinage of the word); a political activist, an honorary spokesperson for truth and justice in all seasons. In short, for an intellectual (in Voltaire’s famous dictum) "Moi, je ne propose rien. J’expose". (I proposed nothing, I expose) Zola’s "J’accuse" (I accuse ) came to symbolize the war cry. He has a full-blooded engagement with the vulgate world of politics and yet remains absolutely unaffected by its evil ways.
The political activism of the intellectual was accorded some kind of inevitability by the Bolshevik Revolution. The Revolution was largely made by vanguard fighters, a small band of intellectuals under the direction of Lenin, whom he called "dead men on furlough". Their fearlessness lent a modish charm to the idea of the soldier-activist-intellectual.
Martyrdom and honour go together. But some of these intellectuals forsook personal honour; courted infamy, wallowed in filth and mud to advance the cause of revolution as immortalized in Arthur Koestlers famous 'Darkness at Noon'. It was clear to the most perceptive of them that the Revolution was not going the way it was expected to and to admit the defeat of the idea would be detrimental to the cause of the Party. So like Rubashov (modeled possibly on Karl Radek, Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin) the protagonist of the novel 'Darkness at Noon', which foreshadows the horror of the Stalinist shadow trials, confesses to the most absurd charges because he is made to believe that it would help the cause of the party to be told that the failure of the revolution was not due to any fatal flaw in the design but to the treasonable activities of its leaders.
In case the examples seem remote and distant in context, let us remind ourselves of Lasantha Wickramatunga who is very close to us - temporally and spatially. His 'Letter to Grave' shows a philosophical detachment at the prospect of his own death which he embraced with equanimity, because he knew he had a choice.
There are of course other stripes of intellectuals who were being run in 50s and 60s by a middle level police officer and funded by the CIA to think progressive thoughts; not one but the entire non-communist left and liberals which could boast of names like Isaiah Berlin, and Hannah Arendt, Trevor Rooper, and Mary McCarthy, Edward Shills and Stephen Spender. You name it they figured there. Anyone who has closely followed Frances Stonor Saunders’s detailed investigation into the funding of ENCOUNTER and DER MONET (two of the finest intellectual magazines of their time to which all those named above contributed) cannot be blamed for wondering WHO PAID THE PIPER?
Which company do you keep gentlemen?
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.