The Curious Case of Sandeep Pandey
In this semester I am teaching political sociology, and this naturally forces me to think about the way political parties cement their hold on power structure. I am not a Marxist, but I always advice my students: ‘you cannot do social science without understanding Marxism’. The reason being, that we live in the ‘age of capital’, and no one has analysed the logic of capital better than Marx. So, I myself will begin this short essay with Marx and some of his ideas about politics. For Marx, peasants were burden on the history, as they lived in isolation, and had hardly any contact among themselves. They had neither means nor vision to become revolutionary proletariat. They were ‘class-in-itself’, as per the famous distinction Marx made between 'class-in-itself’ and ‘class-for-itself’. It is the urban-industrial proletariat, Marx opined, that had the potential to become ‘class-for-itself’, and are the vehicle of revolution.
However, in course of time Marx proved himself wrong. While agrarian societies, like Russia and China, had experienced communist revolutions; the industrial societies of the west, in spite of being the home of some of the largest and very powerful communist parties, were not experiencing any form of proletariat revolution. Gramsci, who was very much concerned as to why revolution had not taken place in western societies, as predicted by Marx, developed the concept of HEGEMONY to understand the non-revolutionary character of industrial proletariat in the capitalist west. For Gramsci, the way cultural institutions advocating the virtues of capitalist logic have evolved in the western world, that, these institutions do not allow the proletariats to perceive their real enemies. Broadly this is what Gramsci meant by hegemony. For Gramsci, the ‘sacred canopy’ of cultural values and ideas are essential for any economic or political system to function and stabilise.
This theory of hegemony helps me to understand the issue of Sandeep Pandey. For me, it is not important why Pandey was removed from the IIT Banaras, but more important to understand is to how he entered the IIT (without any corresponding degree). Pandey was proclaimed as a Gandhian who would teach Gandhian values to the students. But there is a reason why the Congress party ‘adjusted’ Pandey inside the IIT. The Congress Party has read Gramsci thoroughly. The Congress knows that if it has to rule the country in long terms, it needs the support of not only the people (voters), but equally important, of those, who play important role in ‘opinion making’. Thus, after Independence, the Congress has worked very hard to control most of the educational and cultural institutions that shape the ideas favourable to it, with the help of these ‘independent scholars’ (be it film, or curriculum, or other forms of discourses).
The Congress knows that opinion of an ‘independent’ person or expert carries more weight in the eyes of the people, than those who are overtly aligned to a political party. The ‘secular’, ‘leftist’, ‘human right advocates’, ‘Gandhians’, to name a few, receive support from the Congress, but they are hardly visible on the Congress platform. They proclaim themselves ‘apolitical’, and also ‘speak’ against the Congress, but they never hit the Congress where it hurts the most. This was one of the reasons why Kejriwal and Anna found political space during the UPA rule, since most the ‘independent’ scholars and activists were not willing to confront the Congress on the issue of corruption. These ‘independent’ scholars share very cosy relationship with the Congress Party.
Thus, the Congress can bank upon the power of ‘independent’ scholars during critical political situation. (One such example in recent times has been the ‘intolerance’ debate and ‘award wapsi’ by ‘independent public figures’ just before the Bihar assembly election). While legitimation of dissent is most important feature of a democracy; the protest by these ‘independent’ scholars against the NDA government for ‘systematically destroying the institutions,’ had also something to do with an attempt to help the Congress Party to perpetuate its control over those institutions that play important role in the production and reproduction of hegemonic ideas favourable to the Congress Party (one can see the way Indian Independence struggle has been written by the historians of ‘repute’, and how people have forgotten the ‘Emergency’).
Contrast this with the BJP. First, the BJP has not been able to put much of its supporters in the public institutions, since it has not been in power for long. But whatever little supporters it is cultivating, it forces them to publically affirm their loyalties to the party. (Recently one such meeting took place in the Delhi University) I am not sure who gets what from this type of event in the BJP, but certainly it forces the scholars of repute, even when they are its best sympathisers, to distance themselves from the BJP. And those who publically affirm their loyalties to the Party, their viewpoints hardly carry much weight among the general population. The BJP perceives intellectuals not as source of ideas, who would help the Party in the creation of a hegemonic structure favourable to it, but in terms of number. Thus the BJP cannot bank upon the power of ‘independent’ scholars and experts when it needs, and its hold over power remains fragile.
No doubt the Congress remain a natural ruling party in this country (even it has less support in terms of numbers), and others, including the BJP’s entry in the government remain an abrasion (even they have more support in terms of number). Erosion of people’s support, to some extent, can be compensated by control over ideas.