Weakening intelligentsiaThe Saarc created a certain form of elitism that was happy to stay in the world of power
I was asked to comment on the role of the intelligentsia and elitism in the region, especially their role in helping the politicians and stakeholders to work out the complexity of the dominant issues they have been grappling with. The context was the review of the Vikram year 2072. I am only writing about my understanding of this subject, how I—as a literary person and a teacher of literature and cultural studies—perceived the role of elitism.
I begin with my perspective of elitism that is associated with the Saarc. My belief is that since its inception, the organisation has nearly failed to create a communicable or dialogic culture among the people of the region. The reason: It created a certain form of elitism that was happy to stay in the world of power. Elitism is certainly related to the hierarchy of power and its delineation in a society, state or region. We mostly find interpretations of elitism in the case of power structure of the Soviet Union, Africa and Latin America where elitism has assumed a new meaning over the course of the end of the Cold War, and also in the context of the postcolonial power contestations. My focus is not on this broader subject. I am simply alluding to a few common experiences of this region, which relate to the culture of civil society and of the creative intelligentsia. I am presenting the subject and its contradictions and ellipsis.
Elites have emerged in this region more in the domain of power than in areas of education, opinions, and epistemology or of the culture of sharing knowledge. The Saarc region could not develop any effective class of people who could play that role. We can judge that at the national and regional levels. The creative intelligentsia is trapped in the political structure of the relations among the nations of this region. In terms of the role they could or could have played in easing the complexity of relations among the nations, we cannot be very optimistic about it here.
Baby and bathwater
An Indian political scientist and professor emeritus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University says in one essay he published in summer 2015 in the journal CLAWS after Narendra Modi took office, “SAARC, being a hostage to the bilateral dynamics between India and its neighbours, has been performing far below its expectations and promise.” I understand this statement as a correct remark made about the inertia of the creative intelligentsia of this region. I also want to allude to another remark by SD Muni here. He writes in his article published in the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore in January 2002, “Attention is also given to the fact that the forces of ethnic, religious and ideological extremism in almost all the South Asian countries continue to threaten internal stability and regional security.” I have cited Muni whose arguments have been debated in Nepal, but he has at least fulfilled the role of the concerned intelligentsia by writing on the issues. In general, a power-savvy elitism has emerged in this situation but not one that would help create an atmosphere of communication and understanding.
Neither Nepali nor the regional stakeholders have taken up the cudgels to read the positive side of each other’s achievements, and criticise the failings and autocratic behaviour of the governments of the region. Nepal is a case in point. Its politicians and those who run the government have made mistakes and shown imprudence in making dialogues with different groups within the society. People’s agitations and the emergence of self-centric elitism are partly the results of that failing. And one telling example is that the achievement of the recent Nepali political transformations is thrown away like a baby with the bathwater.
A remark made by Teresa Whitfield, a Fellow at New York University Centre of International Cooperation, in her paper of 2008 titled “Masala Peacekeeping: Nepal’s peace process and the contribution of outsiders” concerns the creative role of regional and other intelligentsia. Her mention of names who helped her to write this paper is very eloquent. She mentions Rhoderick Chalmers and Pankaj Malla of the International Crisis Group, Ian Martin, SD Muni, Devendra Raj Panday, and Tamrat Samuel. The remark she has made about the turbulent journey from February 1, 2005 when king Gyanendra seized power, to August 18, 2008 when the Maoist leader was sworn in as the country’s prime minister, is worth citing. She says that the history of this isolated country, sandwiched between India and China and held hostage by feudalism, was freed by people in 2006, forcing the king to ‘cede power’.
I recall publishing in this paper a very carefully worded commentary protesting the arrest of Professor Lokraj Baral under the title “Statism and political shastra” in February 2005, one month after king Gyanendra declared emergency. To dodge the direct censor, I alluded to the civil society persona Ganeshraj Sharma who was answering questions on Nepal Television a few days earlier. After asking a series of question I concluded the paper with these words, “There is always a tension between Statism that is looking over the economic and political problems by the central government, and the academic discourses of the political science or sastra. Detention of academicians is a serious matter that can bring bad reputation of the country abroad.”
When I look back at the period of turbulence and the subsequent history of this region, the past year has seen the bonding among the intelligentsia of Nepal and the region getting weaker. It is undermined by the emergence of a class of elites in the Saarc region whose identity is shaped by unconcern, arrogance and solipsism. This class is engaged in blowing up non-issues and thus dealing a blow to the creative intelligentsia.