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Decoding patterns of intellectual tradition


Battles happening at educational institutes in the country have their roots in the British approach of moderating lives, where the liberals moved to set up their preserve

There is something about our social narrative which escapes attention, at least in terms of emphasis and projection. Two domains can be identified for want of a more communicable phrase. One can be called the cultural domain and the other can be called the social domain. A visit to France will establish that France has Paris as its political capital. Paris is also the cultural capital of France. The cultural trends, with the stamp of the French psyche, have very often originated in the Parisian backdrop. From paintings to poetry — the acceptance has to be first in the cultural capital for it to percolate geographical barriers: Locally, regionally and of nations related to the French speaking world.

There is also another healthy trend in the social domain. Most cultures have an un-written ethos, which defies analysis and is often beyond debate. A Brit is always worried about where he puts his money and who controls it. Some will recall the slogan of the American Revolution which talked of “No taxation without representation”. It reached such a crescendo that the British sovereign had to “grant” independence to the US. Interestingly, the political overtones of social domains are equally inscrutable. The entire British empire became very much of British property, after which Britain in its self-proclaimed magnanimity, went around granting ‘independence’.

Nobody bothered to ask what legitimised their presence to begin with, as a colonial power in different parts of the world. To their credit, it must be recognised that they created a nurturant-cum-delivery channel of the so-called ‘mind control’ in their colonies. This they did through glorifying their own educational centers in the UK: Be it Cambridge or Oxford the names are not relevant. While flagging this masterly innovation, it must also be recognised that post-World War-II, they had an incredible insight to set up new traditions without disturbing the old. The chain of red-brick universities came up in the UK with Sussex being the primadona. These red-brick-universities were often the opposite of the Smuts imperial tradition — of South African fame-nurtured in Cambridge.

The Leftist-oriented intellectuals of newly independent territories of the British empire began flocking to theses red-brick-universities. Just as the imperial tradition flaunted the attendance at ‘trinity’ in the Cambridge University, the new revolutionaries talked of having relationship with Institute of Development Studies at Brighton. In either case, core British interests were projected, nurtured, packaged and marketed. This was a handy come back for the British Empire in its reincarnation. The story does not end there. Its reverberations carry on in many manifestations. While espousing cutting edge Leftist ideals in their home country, they became messiahs of new thought and arrogated the suffix of being liberals. The tradition still continues.

The empire had become necessary for the Brits to carry forward the white-man’s burden and save the colonial world from ‘self damnation’. The liberals took on the same constituency but had a new garb. The so-called liberals, of any vintage or variety, have in the post-colonial world fought against the bands of tradition. They fancied themselves as the torch bearers of modernity and progressive thought. Shining bright in the new knight’s armour, they were determined to fight against tradition and what they termed ‘archaisms’. They refused to recognise the modernity of traditions and the tradition of so-called modern theories.

The British approach of moderating lives through educational centers and their ideologies continued to flourish in the UK. In the colonies and ex-colonies, the so-called liberals moved into intellectual centers and universities to set up exclusive preserve and enclaves. They had control of the levers of powers in educational institutions, to perpetuate themselves. It appears today and shows itself in battles at the Jawaharlal Nehru University or Delhi University’s Ramjas college. These are the more talked of examples. Wielding the strengths of patronisation, using the weapon of ridicule duly backed by a vocal section of the media, they are hugely powerful. They are perfectly in sync with the social ethos where the rising sun and the powerful must have paeans sung to them. India will have to cogitate over the acceptability of its indigenous intellectual tradition and indeed its architecture to contend with this type of liberal-colonial mould.

By Vinayshil Gautam

(The writer is senior managing director and principal econnomic advisor, Protiviti India Member Pvt Ltd)