Are the academics deserted?Politics and dreams of power became the sweeping influences in academia.
A series of other questions should be addressed to answer the question in the title. Who deserted the academics? And, why and how did they desert them? I am writing this because I have heard this complaint made by some important and respected academics over time. The semantics of such melancholia is somehow related to politics and power, with sharing and advantage being the principal instigators. Being a senior member of the same fraternity, such questions make me pensive, and sometimes even bewildered. I had opted for the academic career for its almost Zen-like simplicity and joy that emanates from a condition that naturally comes after accomplishing the karma. The most favourite modus operandi of the cohort has been teaching and, of course, reading, writing and researching freely. The overall satisfaction that comes after accomplishing this is academic too in nature. But something went wrong in this covenant. The academics were lured by the apple in the Garden of Eden. That was the genesis of our pain and disorientation.
Politics and dreams of power became the sweeping influences in Nepal. In the earlier phases, there were clear demarcations that separated the academic karma from the others. Those who wanted to indulge in power shifted their interests to works that gave them power and pelf. There were limited options on the platter that were served to the academics. Some chose diplomatic careers for which they had to either pass the examinations dovetailed by what is famously known as the Public Service Commission or make a direct approach to the king and his men, a formidable circle of bureaucrats and sycophants with distinct characters of their own. In such processes, the academics who were interested in the limited opportunities of diplomatic careers gradually and naturally changed their interests. But the challenges were even more serious. In later times politics became the Mephistopheles, who you had to gradually banter your soul with. That Faustian practice, as in Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus, continued to get the better of the academics.
Playing the game
I do not want to be seen as stretching what appears to be a common practice of choosing or changing a career, beyond its limits. It may be considered a common practice to draw the academics to fill up some posts in the administration, or assign them some responsibilities. But that did not stay with such simple praxis in Nepal. Many academics bolstered the image of Mephistopheles to such an extent that they divided themselves into the warring camps of politics to vie for power, which weakened the soul of academia. During the Panchayat era, the source of that devil was the institution of monarchy or the autocratic system. A certain section of the academics knew the art of playing that system. But after the restoration of democracy in 1990 a healthy partisan culture came into being. People from different walks of life defined their loyalty to this democratic system. But it did not last that way for long.
The political patterns and systems changed very fast. A unique coexistence of the armed Maoist-led insurgency and the parliamentary multiparty system of politics became the unique reality in Nepal. That or the diverse political forces and factions carved out a unique political and social history in this country. The pattern of that history is a subject of debate. Political scientists and journalists have made good analyses of these situations. The approaches and opinions are naturally diverse. History records all claims and counterclaims to power, but a certain pattern of evolution continues to take a shape. That is what is called a continuum of historical evolution. A country where it ceases to function becomes a failed state. The continuum rests on this mutual, albeit loud understanding between diverse political forces in Nepal. The principal character of that continuum is democratic diversity, which I deeply believe is the power of Nepali politics. Whatever may be the condition, however daunting the challenges may be, it is established that the people of this country deeply believe in such diversity. The revolutions of the past have established that such diversity is the unique power of Nepali politics.
The academics whose actions are propelled by faith in the continuum of diversity have the responsibility of establishing and disseminating a suitable pattern of education. In other words, they should create an intellectual and educational foundation to enshrine such a culture. There is no confusion about the roles of the academics; they are clearly defined. As part of the most important condition for that, they cannot barter their souls with the devils in society—whether they be political, social, financial or cultural devils. The faith is that academics do not get carried away by the lure of money and power. But what dismays me today is that some academics have shown themselves to be reluctant to carry out their responsibilities. Their principal hubris is that they easily join political factional alliances. I get stunned when I face questions from my own fraternity about my own political leanings.
But when you as an academic say you are deserted you are complaining about your political group not giving you a position of power and advantage. You are confessing that you are derailed; now you are not saying why you are failing to make academic achievements, but you are complaining that the government of the political group that you support is not paying attention to your personal advantage. Feeling deserted or jilted is the melancholia of a person who feels that those who hold the reins of power in the country are not giving them money and power. That is a pathetic condition for any individual.
Now, I fear we might have already moved to a point of no return. Over a period of time, sadly, a large section of the academics have begun to accept the partisan hegemony. One clear disadvantage in that is that you lose your critical power; you have to support your interest group however corrupt it may be. The most damaging part of such a development is that lesser and lesser will be the number of people who can be called intellectuals. It is never late to retrospectively review the situation.