Is TV sucking the life out of our intellectuals?

The political psychologist Ashis Nandy‘s “casteist” comments at the Jaipur literature festival—“the fact is that most of the corrupt come from Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs“; this is an “equalising force” because the upper castes have done for it for long; the “Republic is safe” as long as this happens—created an almighty kerfuffle last week.

Harish Khare, the former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, weighs in on the row which degenerated into demands for Nandy’s arrest (to which the Supreme Court put a stop but not before giving the sociologist a piece of its mind) in today’s Hindu.

Khare lays the blame squarely at the door of manufactured debates on TV, where nuance has given way to noise; irony to idiocy:

“We are now fully addicted to the new culture of controversy-manufacturing. We have gloriously succumbed to the intoxicating notion that a controversy a day keeps the Republic safe and sound from the corrupt and corrosive “system.”

“This happens every night. Ten or 15 words are taken out of a 3,000-word essay or speech and made the basis of accusation and denunciation, as part of our right to debate. We insistently perform these rituals of denunciation and accusation as affirmation of our democratic entitlement.

“Every night someone must be made to burn in the Fourth Circle of Hell.

“In our nightly dance of aggression and snapping, touted as the finest expression of civil society and its autonomy from the ugly state and its uglier political minions, we turn our back on irony, nuance and complexity and, instead, opt for angry bashing, respecting neither office nor reputation.

“We are no longer able to distinguish between a charlatan and an academician. A Nandy must be subjected to the same treatment as a Suresh Kalmadi.

“Nandy is simply a collateral victim of the new narrative genre in which a “controversy” is to be contrived as a ‘grab-the-eyeballs’ game, a game which is played out cynically and conceitedly for its own sake, with no particular regard for any democratic fairness or intellectual integrity.

“By now the narrative technique is very well-defined: a “story” will not go off the air till an “apology” has been extracted on camera and an “impact” is then flaunted. In this controversy-stoking culture of bogus democratic ‘debate’, Nandy just happened to be around on a slow day.

“Indeed it would be instructive to find out how certain individuals were instigated to invoke the law against Nandy. Perhaps the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association needs to be applauded for having the courage to call the Nandy controversy an instance of “media violence.”

“The so-called debate is controlled and manipulated and manufactured by voices and groups without any democratic credentials or public accountability. It would require an extraordinary leap of faith to forget that powerful corporate interests have captured the sites of freedom of speech and expressions; it would be a great public betrayal to trust them as the sole custodians of abiding democratic values and sentiments or promoters of public interest.”

Read the full piece: Why the intellectual is running scared

Image: courtesy Outlook*

* Disclosures apply