by B. Jeyamohan, a noted Tamil and Malayalam writer
I learnt the meaning of “Power” when I visited Delhi in 1994 to receive my Sanskriti Samman award and stayed for two days in India International Centre. I did have some familiarity with Information and culture ministries. However, IIC is the place where “Power” is served on a gold plate.
IIC is located in a peaceful and luxurious bungalow with lawns, high-class food, and drinks, quietly moving waiters, the butter English is spoken without the upper lip moving, lipsticked women gracefully adjusting their hair, the elegant welcome given to the inner circle members with signs and hugs without making any noise!
I have stayed in many star hotels later. But I have never seen anywhere the luxury and comfort of IIC.
IIC was established and funded by the Indian government as an independent body to promote arts and free thinking. If my memory serves me right, Dr. Karan Singh was also its head. I saw him that evening.
I saw every intellectual that I had known through my reading of English language magazines. U R Ananthamurthy was staying there for almost four years, almost as a permanent fixture. Girish Karnad was staying for a few days. Writers, journalists, and thinkers such as Pritish Nandi, Makarant Paranjape, Shobha De were seen everywhere in the Center.
It was true that I was overwhelmed that day. Arunmozhi (my wife) ran to Girish Karnad on spotting him and was thrilled to introduce herself to him. I was told that Nayantara Sehgal used to come there on a daily basis to have a drink. I saw her that day too. I realized that the two other individuals who were given the award along with me, Rajdeep Sardesai and Anamika Haksar were regulars there.
They wear rough Kolkata kurtas and Kolhapuri chappals and small glasses. Women in pure white hair and khadi saris. One of them, they said, was Kapila Vatsyayan. They said Pupul Jayakar will also come. Wherever you turn, there were literary talks and art discussions.
That pomp kind of unnerved me. The ultra-high intellectualism seen there somewhat alienated me. Venkat Swaminathan, who saw me the next day, immediately recognized my sense of discomfort. He said, “Hey, three fourths of this crowd is just a perfect horde of crows (the Tamil equivalent of psychophants). The snobs that make their living draw their power by licking the boots of power centers. Most of them are mere power brokers. At best you may find one or two artists who you will really respect. And they can’t bear this atmosphere for too long and will just run away.
But these are the people who decide what is culture for this country. They can talk about everything in the world for one hour in colorful English with the right number of jargons. But on the 61st minute, the color will start fading. Actually, they don’t know anything in the real sense. Almost all are like the little boxes we find in attics which held things a long time back”, said Venkat Swaminathan.
Everyone will have four or five trusts in the name of Service Organizations or Cultural Organizations. They will be flying from one conference to the other. Once given accommodation in a government bungalow, they can never be removed from there. In Delhi alone this crowd has illegally occupied about 5,000 bungalows. There is another Power Centre similar to this in Delhi which is called the JNU. It is the same story there too.
“Can’t the government get rid of them?”, I asked. He said, “normally governments do not think in that line. Because this crowd has stuck itself from the time of Nehru. They support each other. Even if some IAS officials try, they will fall at the right feet and escape”.
“There is one more thing added to it” said Venkat Swaminathan. “Not only were these people just parasites, they also derive great power by showing themselves as progressive leftists. Did you notice it?”. I said “Yes” with an amazement.
They are known throughout the world through the numerous seminars they attend. They are highly networked. Journalists around the world seek their opinion on whatever happens in India. They are the people who gave a leftist mask to the Congress Government. If you look at it that way, the amount spent on them is quite low”, he said. They are the trolls sitting on the head of India and nobody can do anything to them. They decide what is art or culture or thought of India.
I have often been to IIC with my Malayalam journalist friends. For them, this is the place to pick rumors and convert them into the news. They know there are no secrets as the day wears out and the spirits rise higher and higher in the head.
But I can only pity those people who engage in political debates based on the supposedly rare gems of wisdom dished out by these “intellectuals” through the middle pages of English newspapers. These intellectuals never actually know the real politics. They just shout on the basis of the superfluous knowledge and standpoints, with the prime space enabled by the network. That’s all.
A long time back when I wrote about this Circle, I had mentioned that Barkha Dutt is none but a power broker, my own friends fought with me for degrading a “progressive fighter”. Fortunately for me, within a few days, the brokering she did with Tata leaked out through the Nira Radia tapes. (Incidentally, what happened to that case, does anybody know?). But even those stark revelations could not bring down Barkha Dutt from her exalted pedestal even for a month. That is the kind of power they have.
But now, for the first time in the history of independent India someone has dared to touch this power circle. Warnings were circulated at the lower level for the last about 6 months. Last week the Culture Ministry decided to send a notice to them. This, perhaps, is the reason for these intellectuals to suddenly flare up against “intolerance”.
For example, painter Jatin Das, father of actress Nandita Das is occupying a large government bungalow at one of the premium locations in Delhi free of cost for many years. The government has sent an eviction notice to him. This is the real reason for Nandita Das strongly speaking about intolerance in television channels and writing in English newspapers (all diligently carried by the network).
Even for a man as strong Modi, I think he has touched a wrong nerve. These elements are too powerful. They can destroy India through the media worldwide. They can create a picture that rivers of blood are flowing in India. They can make businessmen around the world to halt. They can wreck the tourism industry. The truth is there is no other power center like this in India. Tolerating them is unavoidable for India. And Modi’s intolerance of them is extremely dangerous – not only for him but for the country itself.
The original publication in Tamil appears in Intolerance dated December 1, 2015.