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Jaipur Literature Festival : How to make a mountain out of a molehill

The controversy which Ashis Nandy unwittingly became a part of
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First Published: Sat, Jan 26 2013. 08 53 PM IST
Ashis Nandy. Photo: Mahesh Acharya
Ashis Nandy. Photo: Mahesh Acharya
Updated: Sun, Jan 27 2013. 03 33 PM IST
Step 1: Invite a panelist known to hold opposing views.
Step 2: Appoint a moderator incapable of handling the discussion.
Step 3: Hand over the mike to the audience for a string of questions.
Step 4: Leave those questions unanswered.
Step 5: Hold a press conference to clarify the non-issue.
Sounds easy enough, right? And it actually is!
The ability to create an issue out of a simple statement by taking it out of context was never more in demand. The media–social, digital or otherwise–plays a huge part in propagating the views shared by the public. And when a comment spirals into a complaint, that’s when you know you are overdoing it.
‘Republic of Ideas’, one of the first sessions of the third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) 2013, started off like any other. Buddhist chants, fuchsia-coloured mornings, orange-hued tents and bright pink faces greeted the panelists– Patrick French, Tarun Tejpal, Richard Sorabji, Ashutosh and Ashis Nandy. For moderator we had Urvashi Butalia at the packed Char Bagh.
Nandy, pointing to Sorabji, said that if he wanted to be corrupt he would probably send Sorabji’s son to Harvard giving him a fellowship. And ask him to send his daughter to Oxford as a return favour. No one would ever call it corruption, on the other hand, it would, most probably, be labeled be as ‘in support of talent’.
Tehelka editor Tejpal, resplendent in his trademark hat, commented on corruption being a great class-equalizer. Nandy endorsed Tejpal’s statement, continuing with his earlier statement saying that, “In India, the most corrupt people are the OBCs, SCs and STs.”
And that’s when all hell broke loose. What started off harmlessly enough as a discussion about Utopia spiraled into dystopia. The crowd booed Nandy. And before Nandy had a chance to continue explaining, the renowned TV anchor, Ashutosh, jumped in saying how it was ‘a classic case of the elite that perceive the downtrodden as the oppressors’. That comment made, the crowd applauded, labeling Ashutosh as the savior of the oppressed. And Nandy the ‘insensitive elite’.
Somehow in the ensuing confusion, no one seemed to have bothered to understand the simple meaning behind Nandy’s statement that when the dalits, tribals and the OBCs are corrupt, it looks very corrupt indeed.
In the press statement issued at the JLF press enclosure, Nandy, accompanied by Tejpal and Butalia, clarified, “I do believe that a zero-corruption society in India will be a despotic society.”
He continued saying that when the second corruption occurs, where the OBCs, SCs and STs are corrupt, it equalizes. It gives them access to their entitlements. “So, as long as this equation persists, I have hope for the Republic.”
Maybe Tarun Tejpal was being utopian in his wishful thinking that literature festivals are a place where the mind is teased to evoke a thoughtful response and not to provoke. How disappointing that of all the places, it was at a lit fest that a quote was taken apart.
Tejpal continued saying that when the rich enrich themselves, no one notices. But if the poor, in order to move socially upward, use corruption as a tool, they are targeted. That’s where corruption becomes the great equalizer. He ended by saying, “Engage with ideas. Open your mind. Listen to arguments. Not to banalities. ”
That’s when a reporter asked him, “What do you mean as an equalizing force?” And Tejpal, in all sincerity, was heard to whisper, “Hopeless!”
Note: At the time of filing this report, an FIR had been lodged against Ashis Nandy.
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First Published: Sat, Jan 26 2013. 08 53 PM IST