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‘Distancings’ taking us away from making of aspirational, new, smart India-III

Abhijit Banerjee, Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan
By Mansee Bal Bhargava*
The implicit presence of array of distances between the long standing social distancings and the pandemic’s requirement of physical distancing prevailing in the country, became more explicit rather exposed in the last few years and more so in the Covid-lockdown period. Those distances are Political, Economic, Judicial, and Intellectual, besides the prolonged Environmental/Ecological distancing.
Few days ago, I wrote two articles about ‘Distancings’ taking us away from making of aspirational, new, smart India, of which the Part-I was about the Political and Economic distancings and the Part-II was about the Judicial distancing. At the core of these distancings, lie the Intellectual distancing, which is the third and concluding article of the series and a subject close to heart since people talking conscience and common sense besides science are often marginalized in the deep rooted mediocrity of the society.
I start with my concern as also mentioned in the other two articles that, “if this is the way Making of the New (Smart) India is going to take place, I shall Refrain from being part of it, I shall Resist it to humanly possible means, I shall Restrict it to happen, I shall Reform it to my best of abilities to better my country”.
In India, we are blessed with several ancient scriptures of intellect and morality including the Vedas-Upanishads, Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayan, Yog Science, Chanakya Niti, and many more to the modern writings of the Teachers-Philosophers like, Kabir, Ghalib, Tagore, Vivekananda, Gandhi, etc.
Knowledge has been in abundance on this land however, the intellectual distancing with the knowledge and application in improving the humanity is challenged from time to time due to the many social reasons such as, access to education for all is discriminatory, acknowledgment of the true knowledge seekers and givers is lesser, appreciation of the innovative thinkers and philosophers is lacking, advent of the information technology with bombardment of knowledge has blurred the wisdom more than even, and many more.
Anyway, the focus is on the intellectual distancing leading to the political, economic, and judicial distancings as they are hampering the growth of the society and the country. A simple example of combined political, economic, and judicial distancing is simply put forth here.
When the judiciary had directed the government in 2018 to implement two old laws aimed at welfare of construction workers, namely, the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996 (BOCW Act) and the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act 1996, why did the government distance itself from implementing the Acts in first place and why didn’t the judiciary monitor the implementation of the Acts?
If those Acts were in place before the lockdown, the distress of the migrant labourers would have been reduced if not fully avoided. The Labour Ministry shunned its responsibility with the argument that, ‘the Acts were not implemented in view of the introduction of the proposed Occupational Safety Health and Working Condition Code (OSFWC) and the Social Security Code’, which no one knows when that will be floored in the parliament and floated in real on the ground.
Thankfully, ICMR did not submit to support the theory that the ‘ninja virus’ can fight the novel coronavirus. The denial of the bizarre proposal needs appreciation
And when the entire migrant exodus was happening, the Labour Minister was not in the scene and not even part of the National Executive Committee in charge of the Covid-19 since lockdown is still not accepted by the government as an added manmade disaster alongside the Covid-19. So, doing things for the sake of doing is the closest disaster of intellectual distancing. Anyway, it is crucial to look further into the intellectual distancing a bit closer on the ground than the above example that is at the top level.
Starting with intellectual distancing at societal level is the appraisal of the cow dung and cow urine as a probable cure for the Covid-19. Unfortunately, such predispositions are also being encouraged by the Government. The scientization of the politics can be clearly seen from the efforts on the full-fledged research programme called SVAROP (Scientific Validation and Research on Panchgavya) since 2016 to validate Panchgavya (is a mix of bovine urine, dung, milk, curd and ghee is a type of butter).
Despite the failure of SVAROP results, the research found convenient excuse to push its use as medicine with the emergence of Covid-19. There is no denial that cow (and many other animals) is an important part of our lives in terms of goods and services that we draw from them. Cow is considered a holy as ‘mother’ by some section of the society. Fine! Then, it is also important to highlight that cow is commercially bred in India left, right and center to sell to the international market, with India being the largest exporter of cows (mainly to be slaughtered for meat) in the world. 
Like the holy cow, the faith in the holy river Ganga is politicized and scientized. There is no denial that the water of Ganga is important for our living, so are other rives and wetlands. The National Mission for Clean Ganga, a branch of the Jal Shakti Ministry, asked the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) to undertake clinical studies for the treatment of Covid-19 patients with water of the Ganges.
Thankfully, ICMR did not submit to support the theory that the ‘ninja virus’ (bacteriophages is the scientific term) can fight the novel coronavirus. The denial of the bizarre proposal needs appreciation, for the seeds of unreason, once sown, will be difficult to uproot.
It also gives a hope from the scientific community that they are not yet fully infected by the politics. An unscientific temper and a false sense of safety at the time of pandemic (and otherwise also) with unprecedented crisis of no solution in sight, if people are seen using them as remedies as seen activists actually hosted cow urine parties, it may end up causing more harm than good. Traditional wisdom is crucial but needs critical look besides impetus on the modern technological advancements in medical science.
Secondly, intellectual distancing existing is the mediocrity of education for employment resulting in the brain drain for long time. Indian Intellectuals contribute immensely world over in every field be it Nobel laureates then Prof Amartya Sen and now Prof Abhijit Banerjee and a range of other laureates.
But ironically, they are unheard in their own country by the mediocre policy makers and large number of illiterate ministers. I still cannot come to terms with the fact that the government let go Raghuram Rajan and compromise the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief post. This is also not happening first time, including the post of the President of India that is time and again compromised in the politics.
I came across an extensive list of future intellectuals nominated by the current intellectuals. What hurts first in such kind of listing is the pattern of brain drain that continue to happen as half of the people nominated are serving abroad just like the Nobel laureates. One may argue that those who went abroad are more successful or may have taken the optimal path to success however, the fact that offering intellectual services with sanity and honesty in this country is neither easy nor sustainable and a harsh reality.
What hurts further in such kind of listing is the pattern of continued patriarchy now and in future. It is a concern as why the women nominators did not participate and why the nominators did not investigate more to find more women practitioners.
I understand and agree that intellect is gender neutral, but such gender-skewed imagery of future of intellect is not only misleading, it is demotivating. The above two points are relatable as I’ve had a chance to live in both the worlds. I’m advised by acquaintances from time to time to move abroad (again) if I intend to work more for the country else, I’ll succumb to the system one day, this way or that way. I’m still surviving, but the dominance of mediocrity augmented with nepotism in each and every field is an undeniable fact.
GD Agarwal, MM Kaburgi, Gauri Lankesh
Thirdly, time and again intellectuals have dared to participate in the decision making on several social-ecological issues of internal and international levels. However, it is also a fact that many are silenced like Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, succumbed like Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, Prof GD Agarwal and even villainized like in the case of people like Shoma Sen, Hiren Gohain, Anand Teltumbde besides, raising a fundamental question as whether laureates must interfere in the social-political decision makings.
This is crucial! Since intellectuals have the moral responsibility of shaping the thinking/thoughts of the decision makers, they must also have direct involvement in the system beyond submission of the scientization of the politics. We need more of Harsh Manders!
Fourthly, there are several laureates, involved in the national-international level governance like ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and late President Abdul Kalam, or those who chose to act at the ground level of the social-ecological governance like Prof Anil Gupta (of IIM-A), Prof Sandeep Pandey (of IIT-K). For intellectuals to be heard by the system or used by the system, if there is one straight formula for it, it will be: to be in sync with the government policies, so back to the argument of scientization of politics and politicization of science.
There has been a weak dissent or alternatives provided by intellectuals, yet there are those who try to remain part of the governing structure formally and/or informally and sacrifice their lives, though there are clear patterns that the governmental and societal institutions have deliberately marginalized the intelligence from the mainstream decision makings. This can be witnessed even at organization level of corporations, universities, and of course at all levels of the government.
Finally, the intellectual distancing from where the seed of intellects are sown, the university, is something extraordinarily strong now. Be it Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jadhavpur University, Aligarh Muslim University, they are under constant hammer from the government/politics. We are witnessing that the leadership void in the country is increasing more than ever with most youth distancing themselves from the political-social activities.
Then when the universities are badly attacked by the government/politics, it is further curbing the birth of youth leaders which shall be a big concern for the future. Young leaders like, Kanhaiya Kumar, Uamr Khalid, Aisha Ghosh, Shehla Rashid, Hardik Patel are harassed instead of giving them room to bloom leaving only the dynastic youth from across parties to join the leadership). Suppressing the free thinking at universities is like murdering of the intellectual growth of the society. When youth like Safoora Zargar’s imprisonment and Rohit Vermula’s suicide are required to inform the society about the intellectual distancing rooted out of social distancing, it is scary and a big reason to worry.
There are clear patterns that the governmental and societal institutions have deliberately marginalized the intelligence from the mainstream decision makings
Politics and Thinking People, Dissenting People and Intelligence with social concern are deeply connected and therefore requires mention here. I don’t know why people criticize about dynastic politics only in case of Rahul Gandhi, when Deora, Pilot, Pawar, Shah, Abdullah, Scindia, Yadavs, Chuatla and many more are the result of nepotism. 
Well, nepotism, like in politics, becomes a useful tool used everywhere by the mediocrity when Intelligence needs to be distanced and/or to be defeated, be it corporate, government or even a trivial bollywood cinema as it resurfaced with the shocking death of young intelligent actor Sushant Singh Rajput who succumbed to mediocrity and nepotism and the struggles that even intelligent actors like Irrfan Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, have had in the tinsel town.
What is important and interesting about these knowledge centres mentioned here specifically, is that they are not only the top universities of the country in terms of producing knowledge, they are also offering thinkers and leaders to the country and to the world. 
Then, we should not pose this question often to the intellectuals whether a moral duty of any intellectual in a democracy to interrogate the state and the institutions of power is secondary to the primary one of creating valid knowledge. The two points are not comparable but complementary as both are crucial. Any government, if it makes too much adversaries with intellectuals, it is neither good for governance nor for the government to sustain.
Intellectual distancing existed for long time but got fueled more recently with the government’s villainizing of the intellectuals personally instead of placing sound-innovative arguments. It seems that the government has managed to tame the intellectuals and that the governance is slipping away from democracy. Speaking truth to power is crucial but isn’t easy.
I shall conclude with a simple request to please google, ‘intellectuals who are silenced by the government in India’, one will find hundreds of articles which tells how the intellectuals are not only underutilized but underrated in the governance process for long time but more brutally handled in the current time.
There is a dire need of outcry, unrest, and an uprising from the intellectuals, but the problem is intellectuals don’t learn to take it to the roads and are not that backed by others like the civil society and the corporates who are in constant confusion on the role of intellectuals as ‘barely’ knowledge producers. The very scientization of politics and politicization of science are both affecting the advancement of the science specially to address the rising social-ecological challenges.
Though there is an increase in the budget allocation (2020) for research by 13% with a stress on quantum-enabled science and technology (QuEST) and formation of a National Research Foundation to fund and promote research; the budget flow into the premier knowledge centers where most researches take place are drastically reduced.
Further the priorities set for education and research are bound to increase the Intellectual Distancing and affect the intended scientific rigor for example, the share of funding for environment is slim and there is absolutely no funding for independent research. And if a research is to produce some critical knowledge or criticize the governance, it looks in the current regime, that it may have to wait. 
It is important to remind ourselves that all the developed nations India tends to look up to, use the Intellectuals as their PILLARS of Good-Evolved Governance, if that makes sense and ironically many of those pillars are our very own soils born n’ bred intellectuals.
The economic developmental model of the New (Smart) India has unfortunately a narrow perspective on the Sustainable Development with respect to inclusiveness be it with social-intellectual where we are still stuck with the rudimental religious belief systems further coated with nepotism; or be it bio-diversity where even the holy cow is merely perceived as a commodity and not a co-inhabitant of the planet; or be it the environment where a river is perceived for what it can be only used for rather than what life it offers; or be it even technology where going to moon is rated more important that reaching the manhole and even men who are deprived of basic rights of life, livelihood and dignity.
It is important to understand that these (Political, Economic, Judicial, and Intellectual) Distancing(s) are interconnected and are to large extent ideology driven. Trying to understand the Chronology of Evolution of the New (Smart) India and hoping for a really New Sensitive-Sensible India with Diversity and Democracy in place where people of all class, caste, creed, capital will have gone through introspection and retrospection.
So, to remain optimistic at my level, I’ll see Covid-lockdown time as a catalyst to shorten the distancing in social to economic to political to judicial to intellectual and to new normal of physical distancing from the bad things of the society such as, unnecessary consumption of alcohol (to save water and family), consumption of packaged foods (to reduce waste and health expenses), consumption of extravaganza materials (to slow down production), consumption of hatred (to invest in peace), consumption of violence (to invest in brotherhood), consumption of lust (to stop seeing women as a commodity for use), consumption of divide (to start talking inclusiveness) and consumption of power (to start talking to empowerment.
When you see this long list, you know that the masculinity and patriarchy is the root cause of the distancings. So we need to slow down, soften up and to do so we need more feministic intelligence to be applied.
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Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2 of this article
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*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad; professor, Amity School of Architecture and Planning, Amity University Chhattisgarh, Raipur; keen political observer

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