Politically conscious academicsSo-called academics once politicised institutions and destroyed academia. But reading culture is catching up.
A few discussions and seminars that I have attended in the past few weeks have made me pensive regarding the political awareness of academics. In one of them, some people from the audience hurled a barrage of questions at me. I realised I was speaking for those sahakarmis or fellow workers who have long left the field. Some have become political leaders, some part of think tanks, while some are dead. I felt like the English poet Thomas Gray (1716—1771) who wrote a famous elegy in a country churchyard with these words, ‘Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight, And all the air a solemn stillness holds.’ The occasion was not quite solemn, I must confess. Instead, it was restive and gnawing in character.
People were curious to know which of the two major political parties—Nepal Communist Party or Nepali Congress—did I belong to. The youths were conditioned to see the dichotomous minuscule universe. I am always a supporter and promoter of a liberated political consciousness, but what I was facing on those occasions was far from that. Working as a teacher at the Tribhuvan University, now in the 49th year, I thought I should share my experience, especially about the politically conscious academics.
Two big questions shape this phenomenon: did the academics promote the right kind of political consciousness or did they promote a culture of only wallowing in the turbid political waters? What prompted me to ask these questions is the growing failure of the above two major political parties to play significant roles in the very important times of Nepali history.
I want to invoke two styles the Augustan age poets and satirists John Dryden and Alexander Pope used frequently to talk about political and economic matters: lampoon and raillery. Though lampoon hits directly, it is said, the effect of fine raillery is even stronger. Last week, in Kantipur, CK Lal wrote a 'fine raillery' about the Nepali Congress hinting at their euphoria after their gains in the by-elections.
‘The Nepali Congress too received the opportunity to be satisfied with the results of the by-elections. To be able to retain the position of the second party despite the politics without ideological strength, ineffective leadership, chaotic party organisation, unenthusiastic supporters, and party workers without agenda, is not an ordinary achievement’ (Translation mine), Lal wrote.
Lal, who is well known for his strong critical perceptions, does not always use raillery—good-humoured teasing—but when he uses it, he is on point, like in the Kantipur piece.
Another critique of the communist party and its government comes from a Marxist economist and scholar Hari Roka. Roka wrote in Kantipur daily, ‘you can only say this looking at the state of the Communist Party of Nepal, this party is not even living up to the spirit of the revisionist ideology of Edward Bernstein, let alone to the 'originality' of Marxist ideology.’ (Translation mine). I closely share Roka's next observation. In conclusion, he says, the next cause of the crisis in Nepali politics is because there is no reading culture.
The spirit of the democratic socialism as enshrined in the constitution, Roka warns, appears to be getting lost in the maze of this culture of no reading. That is why, he says, Nepalis are condemned to leave the country by land, air and water routes in search of work and meaning, even if it requires taking loans. Hari Roka, an erstwhile strong Maoist supporter, has been trying to create a common forum for people holding different ideologies to come and share their free ideas. I have attended some and spoken in one of them. Promoting the free exchange of ideas requires a culture of reading, which is sorely lacking these days.
This leads me to question: What role are the politically conscious academics playing in today's politics? Further, are we speaking about the academics' role as teachers and promoters of reading culture among the graduates or among the politicians whose parties they joined or supported eventually? I have seen and worked with some serious academics at the university. But I have also seen, by the same token, a slow degeneration of the reading culture in the same environment. Either we did not have any leverage to push the graduates to study, or we did not think the exercise necessary when we openly became supporters of either of the two parties.
The faculties have been losing the spirit of studying and the promotion of the same for various reasons. Academics tend to be arrogant since they assisted the political parties, frankly, to take over the universities and to occupy the sources of free-thinking. They tend to be manipulating not only the political matters but also the sources of finances including the illegal selling of university land.
Reports of such grabbing by land mafia are rife. And that is dangerous because those who were a party to the above process affected all the other academics—who became powerless. The sincere academics' loss of power is the loss of the spirit of academic practice. We are all caught in the mess.
But that is not the end of the story. We are doing our best to keep the academic spirit alive. Despite the government's anti-book drive, and the racketing of political cadre makers, we can see the culture of reading catching up again.
Then what is the relationship of the two parties critiqued above with the politically conscious academics? My contention is that politically conscious academics still have some important role to play. That can be fulfilled by taking up the cudgel to lure people to come together—to read, interact and create an effective order of civil society.
What do you think?
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