Change Without Knowledge Is Not Progress

Social Psychologist Ashis Nandy takes us through India’s cultural past and connect it with today’s political rhetoric

LILA: Thank you for agreeing to speak with us today. As we talk about BELIEF this quarter, one of the first questions that comes to our head is that about religion and sacred beliefs in the country. Even as we appreciate that in a country like India, secularism is “insufficiently grounded in culture”, making it “virtually meaningless to the common run of citizens”, we also see its practical alternative emerging as a fusion of religion with politics. How do we then understand religion vis-à-vis India’s social systems, keeping in mind both believers and non-believers?

Ashis Nandy: The question is not how you understand religion from this point of view. The question is how do you negotiate religion when you are confronted with a belief system with which you are not acquainted, you’re not a part of or which you have come to dislike for some reason or some associations.

I am looking at belief here as a cultural vector which every individual has to grapple with in his life, in his workplace, in his family and in his or her personal life. So that’s the crucial part of the story. My feeling is this – that religion occupies a space in human life with which the modern world has one kind of expectation and the traditional believers have another kind of expectation. And it is easy to make instrumental use of both. Now, that instrumental use can either be minor, or it can be major. I often take the example of the village astrologer who comes to you and promises to tell you your future for 20 bucks. We consider it very superstitious, totally fake, and a fraudulent enterprise. But there are fraudulent enterprises of other kinds which are much more serious. Multinational corporations from the cosmetic industry sell you the idea of permanent youth, permanent painlessness. Nobody thinks of it as a superstition, and they build their billion dollar business on that blindness. I would say, if you want to fight superstition, start from the corporations and then go to the village astrologers, if you have the time. Otherwise you spend much more money on your cigarette packets than on the astrologer. That is one part of the story.

The second part of the story is this – that religion can also be used instrumentally, as we see, in politics today. There is a large scale attempt to mobilise in the name of religion. You have, not only in India, but all over the world, examples of that. The American religious right, as they call it, put Trump where he is, and his support base has not shrunk in America despite all his tomfoolery and all his vulgarity and all his nasty past.

I think one good way of fighting this is to distinguish between the healthy believers in faith and others, because religion fulfills a human need to have a spiritual, transcendental sector in life. Without that, life doesn’t acquire its full meaning. Artists and painters, musicians, writers, poets, they have these moments of transcendence; even if they are atheists, their work will translate that. But there are people who don’t want to enter that sector and yet are religious. And they use religion absolutely instrumentally.

A good way to distinguish the two groups – I’ve written about this – is to separate those who try to protect their religion and their gods and goddesses, and the other kind who believe they are protected by their gods and goddesses, their temples and religious rituals. The arrogance of believing that you protect gods and goddesses, and otherwise they will lose out, is a total negation of a healthy search for spirituality and moments of transcendence. I am not a believer myself, but as a student of belief systems I have to say that this is the crucial marker.

In one of the surveys this Centre (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) did about 7-8 years ago, it was found that in India, out of all the states, only in one state a strong belief in Hinduism and a strong faith in terms of the participation in Hindu religious life is correlated with Hindutva. In all other 28 states, a devout Hindu is not necessarily a believer in Hindutva. That is a very good indicator.

The same argument can be made about Islam. The Taliban, the IS and other Islamic fundamentalists are trying to protect Islam. I would’ve thought a devout Muslim will think Islam protects them. And I am convinced this marker holds in every religion. I mean, at one time the Popes used to define who will occupy which country in South America and issue bulls sitting in Rome (bulls are the diktats of the Pope) and accordingly there would’ve been nations divided off South America for colonisation. To me, that’s a vulgarity. A total negation of the basic requirements of religious faith. So, we are faced with a world where exactly those whose own beliefs are wobbly and insecure, they use religion in this way to advance their own personal agendas. They are not genuinely interested either in religion, or its advancements or its reforms or its emancipatory potentials. I’ll go as far as that.

LILA: When you talk about the instrumental use of religion by believers …

AN: They claim they are believers, I don’t know if you can call them believers.

LILA: Yes. Do you think the instrumental role that the first group plays can, in some ways, counter the second group’s actions and narratives?

AN: Yes, because one of the roles of the first group is to access power. And they automatically become more powerful. In India we have avoided that for a long while because we didn’t have that kind of media reach and we didn’t have that kind of pan-Indian political culture, and we didn’t have that much of intercommunication among the different cultures and subcultures in India. So it could survive. This negative power of those who are not sold to the first group, the power-saving group, they nonetheless were a check on power. But now with the pan-Indian marketplace, pan-Indian media system, pan-Indian culture of politics emerging…, not fully there but still…, that safety valve is no longer as effective as it once was.

LILA: When we talk about this kind of pan-Indian reach of religion, there is bound to be conflict between believers of different faiths, with power structures and disparity naturally emerging. Do you see some way to bring peace in this kind of situation, or to bring harmony?

AN: Yes, because this is not complete. Other Indians exist and they outnumber the hard-eyed Hindutva waalas or hard-eyed Islamic fundamentalists. So there is that part of the story also. So, they still are badly outnumbered but they can momentarily mobilise people through propaganda and if you, as Goebbels used to say, repeat a lie one hundred times it becomes a truth.

LILA: But if we look at the situation today, the group which is this kind of extremist protectors of religion, they are all together and they are networked well. The other group which outnumbers it is still fragmented. Do you believe there is a rise in this kind of communal narrative?

AN: Yes, not ‘rise’ so much but ‘spread’, I would say. It is right. Because I do think that even now Indian society is genuinely poor. No modern society can be genuinely poor, but we are one of the few societies (that are)… Modernity, today, implies that there is a push toward unification and homogenisation. Look at the obvious example of languages. We have 22 official languages which are ‘national’ languages, and Hindi and English are the official languages of the Indian Union, but in all public debates and in public consciousness it has seeped in that Hindi is our national language. It is not the only national language. Take the case of Maithili, one of the last languages to get official status. Maithili was at one time considered a dialect of Bengali, because the British had their capital in Calcutta, and they were exposed to the very vibrant Bengali culture and activism. Bengalis can understand Maithili with a little effort. The script is similar to that of Bengali. But Maithili is probably slightly older than Bengali. Curiously, Maithili was also considered a dialect of Hindi, which, I would say, is a much younger language! We don’t believe that we need to really protect all our ancient languages officially. But, every time they talk about protecting the vernacular, they start with Hindi – you need more vernacular textbooks, you need more support for vernacular literature, vernacular poetry, vernacular novels so on and so forth, which all means more support for Hindi, but I am sure other languages too have rights!

Switzerland is a very small country. Its size is smaller than Kerala. It has four national languages. In India, there could be many. Tamil is a much older language than Sanskrit. 3000 year old Tamil manuscripts have been found near where the old Cranganore was, near Kochi. But nobody remembers that or wants to remember that. Tamil has become just a vernacular language.

The impact of this attitude is becoming more and more apparent because beliefs tend to become more important. I am not a Marxist; I believe people act not according to what is the reality, they work according to the belief of what is the reality. To them, that is the reality, and if most people believe something, that is an important empirical reality. This is a psychological way of looking at it. I stand by that.

So, naturally, there is a tendency to homogenise, unify, look for the singular instead of the plural. Let’s think of cities. See, London has many names. If you are in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, if you don’t know the French name of London, you will miss your flight. New York has a number of names. In Spanish it is called Nueva York. Take Varanasi – they are trying to call it Varanasi all the time. But nobody goes to Varanasi to buy a sari, they go to Benaras. In Varanasi, they go to buy the Banarasi sari. Benaras is not a colloquialism. It has a meaning of a different kind. Nobody goes to die in Banaras or Varanasi, you go to Kashi and die. So, these three names of Benaras have their particular significance. This holds good for all cities. I insist on writing ‘Calcutta’ when I write in English, ‘Kolkata’ when I write in Bengali, and ‘Kalkatta’ when I speak to a Hindi-speaking person. It is a civilised thing to accept these differences. In Bombay, because Shiv Sena controls the trade union, if you write Bombay they won’t deliver the letter. You have to write Mumbai. But Bombay and Mumbai are vastly different entities. The film world is in Bombay, whatever you might do. I cannot call it Mollywood because it has become Mumbai. It is Bombay films. So this attempt to unify, to make it similar, is a very deep need of ‘modernity’.

And, there is also an attempt to Sanskritise, to take out the folk elements. People are embarrassed by the folk. Look at Gurgaon, which was a village that produced gur. Lovely folksy name. But, it is Gurugram now. Patparganj is a down market place, on the side of Yamuna, in East delhi. They have now changed it to Indraprastha. Grand! But Pat-Par-Ganj was a beautiful, charming name. What wrong has it done to remove that folksy touch? I’m sure future generations of Indians, once they get sick and tired of this, and once the fashionable side of modernity becomes less fashionable, maybe some generation after us, when I will not be there, will restore the old names. For, one of the principles of modernity is that nothing lasts, fashions change! It has happened with Allahabad, too. It is called Prayagraj, which is an important name. They could have easily added it. But, they never add, they excise. I think it is a certain kind of vulgarisation of public culture, not to have that respect for names that have evolved.

LILA: From the perspective of social psychology, when you talk about these things, clearly the issues concerned are very deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Some kind of a story is there behind each thing which, ideally, should belong to the people… But if it belongs to the people, there should be resistance from the people. I mean, I’m trying to understand the psychology behind it, why is it that there is no resistance from the people?

AN: Because people are not aware of this fact. This is something done by the ‘bade babus’. You see it in everything. And one of the first thingsI am noticing now is that the metro is being called ‘metro’ here [in Delhi]. It is a small word, not like one of those huge Sanskrit words, but there is a grandeur about it. So, in Bengal, people don’t like it and they translate it; they call the metro ‘patal rail’. In doing that, they are speaking a translatese – so sometimes there is resistance.

There was some resistence in Allahabad. Because this is the election year, they didn’t make much of a hoo-haa about it. Otherwise the trollers would have been after them, Anti-Hindu and so on, because Allahabad has very old connotations of Islam. It is a pity.

When I was a student in Nagpur, when they were working, there used to be a notice, ‘Kaam chalu aahe. Savdhaan’. It is a translation of ‘Work in Progress’. Now it has become normal here to write ‘Karya pragati main hai’. I mean, you call it Hindi? So, there is this governmentalisation of public spaces, and of public consciousness.  Underlying the lack of resistance to these is perhaps a belief that some things belong to the state. This is state’s work to do. This is much beyond us.

LILA: But then is there a way to engage, a way to spark that kind of awareness or engagement? Can we trace such consolidation of beliefs back to something and can we counter it?

AN: Yes, I think people will ultimately get tired of it. And all these huge names in a digitalised world, I mean, they are a liability. In Nagpur, there was a road, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru road. Jab main tha, usi vakt Nehru ek baar aaya tha udhar (When I was there, Nehru had visited once), and he was given an honorary doctorate. So, later the road’s name was changed to Pandit Dr. Jawaharlal Nehru Marg. Nehru Marg is good enough. Gandhi Marg is good enough. You don’t have to add Mahatma.

Shivaji Marg is Shivaji Marg. Shivaji terminal is Shivaji Terminal. There is no problem. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus… Nobody uses it. VT is what they call Victoria Terminal. Voh rahega, usko nikaal nahi paaoge. (That will stay, you cannot change that.) 

LILA: At one of your lectures that I had attended a few months ago, you had said something on the lines of this country needs a “gentle satyagraha” at this point. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

AN: People have their own ways, their own gentle satyagraha. It is not a satyagraha really, but I used it because I thought that is something like Gandhi’s method. For instance, it has taken 50 years for people to start calling Curzon Road, Kasturbha Gandhi Marg… because that’s a huge name. I have heard it being called Curzon Road till quite recently. For the first time I am now seeing a generation where autowallahs and taxi wallahs don’t identify Curzon Road. I am an admirer of Curzon, a great lover of India. It is he who said as long as Britain has India, it is a great power; if India goes, it will be a small island. Something like that, I forget the exact words. People don’t know all this, and they change. Also, belief in progress has come in, in such a fashion that it has become almost criminal to protest against change. Of course, change is the normal thing. And each party, each regime has its own priorities, and the need to redo or refashion or accelerate, to show that they are acting.

LILA: So when we talk about change, like the way you are talking about it now, do you mean that it is once people start to reclaim certain things at their own levels when they will start again participating in the country’s affairs? 

AN: Participation is a taboo in many cultures, don’t forget that part of it. This has nothing to do with modernity, but something to do with the present system of politics and the concept of nation state. Nation state is a modern enterprise. We had states in India, for centuries, millennia.. But not nation state. Nation state came into being about 300 years ago. People started believing that it was the only form of state possible. It is not. This idea is sold to us, and we have swallowed it lock stock and barrel. Nation state is a different kind of demand. Tagore said, nearly a 100 years ago that India is not a nation, we are a civilisation and we have communities. Communities intermingle in many different ways. All kinds of communities. And I don’t mean only caste. There are sects, there are ‘pants’. So they all intersect and cross cut each other. It is immensely complex. Nobody can count how many castes we have in India. One estimated 75. A rough estimate. But nobody is counting. Are you a Brahmin?

LILA: I don’t know. I’m Karmarkar. I think I’m brahmin. That’s what I’ve been told…

AN: Make a guess, how many kinds of brahmins there are, how many castes or sub castes of brahmins are there?

LILA: 20… 50… 100… I don’t know.

AN: More than 2000.

LILA: Within brahmins?

AN: Within brahmins. And they don’t intermarry. Each community thinks they are the best brahmins and others are nothing… shudra. On the other hand, I think Muslims as a community are emerging now. The fall of Ayodhya mosque was the final proof. Otherwise there are no similarities, there are so many differences. I mean, for Suleimani Bohras, in their faith, in their religion, there was a place for Hindu gods and goddesses. And therefore, Maqbool Fida Husain has naturally chosen to portray Hindu gods and goddesses. But those who attacked and vandalised his studio do not know this. They probably know much less about Hinduism than Maqbool Fida Husain knew. And he was a devout Muslim.

LILA: Then doesn’t this whole construction of nation state become impractical in such a complex place like India?

AN: No, it is practical rather. It is working. A better way of looking at it is this – for the global system we need to operate as a nation state, but we will not take all the features of a nation state. We will be not only federal, but genuinely federal. That we will give some importance to the communities and see how they can live with each other peacefully and in a healthy fashion, which we have learnt already. We knew how to live this way.

LILA: But today, more and more people are getting disenchanted, especially now that the elections are coming. For instance, there is this sense that the BJP wants to build a mandir (temple). My question is, as more and more people are understanding that religion is being manipulated in the political sphere, why do we still see an increasing belief in that system?

AN: Because it gives access to power and perhaps to some extent economic security. You can make profit out of it. It is a profit motive and a power motive.

LILA: Since that is the case, as a counter to these kind of practices, because they are eventually leading to violence and obviously we don’t want that, what kind of countermeasures in that way are possible? One of the things that was proposed was that you involve religious actors instead of ostracising them, to show the positive side or the non-violent side of religion and faith. So are there any ways that you can suggest that may lead to a better belief system?

AN: I think, it will differ from religion to religion. I think in the case of Hindus, the majority behaves like a minority sometimes; there is a minority complex. I mean, a normal healthy person can have an inferiority complex. Similarly a religious community can have a minority complex. And that is why it cannot last, because it looks thin and unconvincing to many people, and mostly Hindus. The greatest resistance, again, is coming from Hindus. Don’t forget that. Muslims are very silent at the moment. Muslims are silent all around us. It is the Hindus who are resisting Hindutva. Because Hindutva is not more than 150 years old. Savarkar brought it 100 years ago but before that in Bengal, there were Hindutvavadis. For the first time the concept was probably used by Brahmabandhav Upadhyay. He had renounced Hinduism to become a Jesuit priest, but he retained that ideology because, after 1905, a lot of small extremist groups grew in Bengal – a revolutionary movement, they called it, of various kinds. And he was a part of that.

About 15 years ago, a global survey was done – I have written about this also – comparison of nations and how nationalist they are. India was found to be one among the top. Even the world’s most nationalist countries are not quite nationalist, if every time you have to propagate nationalism and identify your opponents as anti-national and in every cinema hall you have to stand up before the show begins and everywhere you put huge flags whether you require it or not. I think this is infantile. It gives you a false sense of solidarity and a false sense of nationhood. Nationalism is a new word. Patriotism is the old word. Patriotism is a sentiment, everybody has it. Everybody likes their place of birth. A Pakistani will give anything to visit her old places in India. Most of the sacred places of the Muslims are in this nation, and they would all like to come for those. Still they seem to be demanding less nationalism from their citizens than India does today. Forget that, even China and America’s nationalism is low… or medium. Bangladesh is high. After India came Bangladesh in the survey. But at that time they were rather new, probably that was the reason.

LILA: Since we are talking about this belief in various ideas, this idea of nationalism also found its stronghold at the time of the colonial era and you have written about their idea of nationalism…

AN: Because they were using this term. Gandhi also used it.

LILA: Yes, and at the same time there was this propagation of the belief that nationalism is intertwined with masculinity. So the creation also of the belief in masculinity…

AN: Savarkar even changed the gender of the country. Not ‘Matrabhoomi’… ‘Pitribhoo’. I mean, ‘bhoomi’ is feminine in Sanskrit. So he went to the root to find out its masculine form – ‘Pitribhoo’. Because he was very much impressed by the European experience – Hitler also called it fatherland. In Italy, ‘matrabhoomi’ works; Motherland also works there. He missed that part of the story because I don’t think he ever visited Italy, though he translated Mussolini. Mussolini probably picked it up from other European countries – ‘Padre’, ‘Fatherland’.

LILA: There was also a strong need for this kind of propaganda in Germany at that time, with Hitler trying to be this macho man…

AN: That is why the hostility to Gandhi. He represents the androgynous self of India. And that’s India. In India, the most powerful gods are women…

LILA: So why does this get left behind?

AN: Women deities are more powerful than the masculine deities. The war cry of Sikhs, otherwise looks a very patriarchal thing, was ‘Jai Bhavani’. This was Guru Gobind Singh’s war cry.

LILA: So there is this base from where this can be reclaimed, or rather the idea to not get washed over by this brush with which nationalism and masculinity have been painted. There is some hope there to go back to these kind of ideas and try to reintroduce them…

AN: It is coming back. You know, all these movements were anticipated by Gandhi. He tried to be the first androgynous man in politics.

LILA: But then there is again this… I mean look at this “Chhattis inch ki chest” (36-inch chest).

AN: Ya, 36 inch chest and one-and-a-half inch heart.

LILA: But this is kind of ingrained in people now, this idea of masculinity.

AN: I am for the heart, the one-and-a-half inch heart, the expansion of the heart.

LILA: Is there a way to reclaim or subvert?

AN: That is going to be difficult. You are asking repeatedly how can we do that. But we are talking about very large cultural and civilizational processes. This cannot be done by social engineering. We have to give up the social engineering concept, we have to do our work, what we can do, hoping that the next generations return to some of these issues and are less enchanted by what India is becoming otherwise. You can see that already, that disenchantment. How to disenchant Indians about some of these slogan words – ‘development’ and ‘secularism’. Some of them are also not bad, but they have become slogans. And now they have become so much so that even our leaders are hauled up. They are a summation of slogans and one-sided messages. They want to lecture, they don’t want to listen. Our present Prime Minister has not given a press conference in the last 4 and a half years. He is the first Prime Minister to do so and I think it will be a record that in 5 years he will not be addressing a press conference, lest people ask uncomfortable questions. The fear of moving away from that narrow safe enclosure you have built for yourself. And you believe that that enclosure will protect you. It is like that new Delhi rich sometimes building high walls hoping that will protect them if deluge comes.

LILA: I know you have said before, in a certain context, that education may not be the smartest thing to do when you are talking about such things.

AN: Education will not help, because in education we are talking about deep-seated beliefs, fantasies, what is in the heart of us. When somebody falls ill, and somebody wants to take recourse to religion, they go to a temple, that is, identifiy their family gods and goddesses or personal gods and goddesses. Everybody has personal gods and goddesses, family gods and goddesses, village gods and goddesses and caste or sect-specific gods and goddesses. Udhar hi 8-10 toh ho gaye. (There only you have 8-10 already.) You go to them.

LILA: In fact, I wanted to also understand this. In a lot of these religious spaces you have healing systems that actually work. Like I have seen people… there are so many stories of people who have never walked and then went to somebody and asked for a mannat and suddenly they are cured. How does the psychology behind that work? Is there some kind of belief triggered?

AN: It can be belief or it can be something to do with history. History can also give you that kind of feeling and if you believe in that kind of thing it will be effective. But it may not be effective sometimes. Even the confidence to walk, because you have not done it, you are thinking you are unable. Once you start it you improve, you feel better. People will go to anything when they are faced with a personal crisis of that kind. That is different. But we are not talking of that. In political culture, public life, you can, up to a point, do things by changing regimes. The BJP has learnt one thing from the Ayodhya mosque thing: as long as we keep the issue alive, we will win. Thoda aur dedo votes toh hum kar denge (Give us your votes, we will get it done). They could have done it, but they don’t, because they lose their best electoral ploy. Losing your best electoral ploy is an invitation to suicide. They are not going to commit suicide.

LILA: True. But then what is it, like people believe blindly in these kind of promises and they don’t see?

AN: Nobody will see. Oh, they are very wily and you just see, the results are coming. By the time you write this up, there will probably be more to see. Many are acts of desperation. You can see how much money is required to fight an election. It is probably 1,500 crores, or maybe even more, 2,500 crores. Now, how do you get this money without being corrupt, you tell me? Naturally all parties are corrupt. Modi himself may be very honest but his party is getting money by twisting arms.

LILA: I want to understand this creation of icons. Even today you see people who are willing to forgive because there is this icon. So okay, whatever has happened has happened but we have faith in this one thing. Is it easy for people, is it just convenient for people to believe in something? Now what is the strategy basically?

AN: Yes, even now, if you produce a very charismatic figure from the other side, probably public will go for that. But remember, governments that lasted only for few years, very few years… also have served well, contrary to popular belief. Non-iconic figures have brought about major changes. The liberation that these people are tom-tomming was done by Manmohan Singh under Narasimha Rao. Totally non-charismatic. Toh aisa nahi hai ki rajneeti mein koi sunta nahi hai (So it is not that people don’t listen in politics). And after a point, people get to know that normal rhythm is also healthy.

LILA: We also have this question of the belief of the masses. For example, in the space of climate change, Donald Trump believes that it’s all a strategy and he has pulled out of the Paris Treaty. Then, it doesn’t matter that the world believes in something. Once you have power it’s what that one man will do or will say. So what is the future?

AN: I don’t know. But even in the case of Trump, I think he is spent now. Even if he stays, it will be a lame duck presidency. He’s a fool, so he won’t go. He will stay because it’s the only chance he has. But such things cannot last. In Russia they lasted for 80 years nearly. And that’s not too much in a civilisation’s life. See Germany, the most powerful of the whole lot, lasted only 12 years. [19]33 to 40. Mussolini lasted even less.

LILA: But are there lessons that we keep learning from these?

AN: No, I doubt. I think it is human nature not to learn lessons from other people’s experiences, they want to learn it themselves. India also goes through this, like Emergency taught some lessons, and now this will teach some lessons. If Modi particularly gets very bad results, then he will jump the gun. They are also looking for a different kind of opportunity. Many of them are hoping in the BJP itself, getting power through that kind of a chance, making a jump like Jagjivan Ram did during the Emergency, to become the Prime Minister. He didn’t become the Prime Minister but that made a huge change in the atmosphere during that time.

LILA: There are many theories on cultural practices and rituals that study how social change happens. Anthropologist Victor Turner, for example, talks about certain rituals that make it possible for either cultural ideas to transform, or for them to be reified, through these practices. In one of the tribes that he studied, there was a ritual involed in the throning of a new king. Through the night, he is treated like a peasant – he is supposed to wear those clothes, and is subjected to various kind of demeaning rituals, and then they believe that now he has what it takes to become king, because he has gone through something

AN: Our epics did that all the while, with examples to show how one qualifies. In India, one of the great lessons from the epics is this: not to raise the peak so high that you are not left with any majestic enemy. Because a hero is known by the enemy he has. Ram had Ravana, Arjun had Karna. Very crucial. A hero has to go through his journey, a long journey in which there is a touch of exile and a touch of, what you might call, when you have to hide yourself. This is a global thing. Psychologists, Otto Rank and Freud himself, have said this.

LILA: You’ve talked about the nature of creativity also as an endeavour to contain multiplicity – “the otherness of the other”, and the ability to contain that.

AN: Absolutely. You have to host your anti-self. If you don’t do that, you can be anything but creative.

LILA: So is there some practical steps that you think can enable this kind of practice amongst people?

AN: No, I don’t think it can be prompted like that. It evolves from the people and people find their own ground.

LILA: Many suggest that the current government, with their slogans and message, have captured people’s imagination. Is it because of this kind of creativity that people can get attracted?

AN: No, inexposure to that. This is not creativity. He has an American guide/consultancy. This has been tried out in America, repeatedly. But Americans have become immune to that because they have been seeing television for 60-70 years. It came into public space when (Richard) Nixon and JFK (John F. Kennedy) fought. Here, people have not developed that skepticism toward television, skepticism toward the word of the politician. I mean, they are fed like children on American presidents, their autobiographies. Ronald Reagan used to mix up the roles he had played in the films and real-world events. He would often say what happened in the war, then he would realise it is the film in which he has acted… It’s not creativity. It is a very instrumental transactional thing. They are doing it, you are doing it. That’s that.

LILA: And you wouldn’t say that there is some kind of training required to understand?

AN: No, you do not need training to understand that. Their experience will tell them that and gradually they will learn and they will see it. All advertisements that come, are not true to their promise or true to their claims.

LILA: Ya, recently somebody I spoke to was so surprised to know that some train accident had been misreported because it happened right in front of them. And till now they were blindly believing whatever news was coming, so I guess ya, it is a matter of experience and time.

AN: Yes, and that will come naturally, gradually, slowly. People are very good learners. Politicians are also very good learners, don’t forget that part of the story. Next generation of politicians will come and they will know better, what the limits are.

LILA: Because you are saying it is an experiential learning that will lead to it, so my question would then be what about intergenerational learning, maybe 3 generations down the line or 4 generations down the line.

AN: That will be a very different thing. They have to rediscover the whole thing, all over again. See the books on Gandhi. The earlier books on Gandhi were very respectful, very reverential. They made him a saint, and both sides are in consensus on that, that if you make him a saint you don’t have to follow him. Saints are outside the purview of day to day life, outside everyday life and certainly public life. But Gandhi was also a politician, and he succeeded in getting a lot out of it.

LILA: Is there hope for a multiple set of ideas to exist together, a multiple set of beliefs to exist together?

AN: 61% of people in America do not believe in the theory of evolution. They think God created the Earth, like many of the Muslim countries. You cannot challenge that. But Muslim countries are Eastern countries, most of them. And I must say, that their duplicity is like Indians. In one part of the mind you believe it, and one part of the mind you lead your life, you teach theory of evolution in schools and colleges. Nobody stops you. Over there, there is a culture little more modern than India’s. They look for consistencies. Indians don’t look for that kind of consistency.

Personally, I think I am writing for future generation Indians, mostly. And here, it resonates. It does resonate. I am not unsure of this, it does… till now.

LILA: But it resonates with a certain kind of people, right?

AN: No, all kinds, many kinds of people, more than what people think. Because NGOs were doing their part, now they are under attack. Studies of governance have found that the best governance was in countries where NGOs were a part of it. If I say this, they will think I am mad. Because there is a need to hear the other voice. And you must have an anti-self, you must push that inner self to be effective, really speaking.

LILA: That’s a good note to take forward.

AN: We go back to the old population.

LILA: It’s like a cycle that keeps repeating. 

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