Ritu Raj Subedi
Who are intellectuals? What is the role of the intellectuals when there is utter political dilemma and division? These questions are pertinent in the present day Nepal as there is constant erosion of critical thinking in so-called intellectual classes, who have become subservient to power and political parties. These days, intellectuals do not speak the truth. Rather they have become the agents of vested interest groups – domestic and foreign – that have reared their ugly head virtually in all areas of the society. When the intellectuals keep silent about the malfeasance and hypocrisies of the political parties and brazen anti-national activities, they simply lose the moral fiber to speak in favour of the people and the nation.
In his famous write up entitled ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals’ published as a special supplement by The New York Review of Books on 23 February 1967, noted American thinker Noam Chomsky highlights the role of intellectuals in the context of Vietnam War. He attacked the American intellectual culture that is not critical of the killings of innocent Vietnamese. Chomsky strongly criticised the social scientists, media and technocrats for providing ‘a pseudo-scientific justification for the crimes of the state. While exposing the pseudo-intellectuals, he notes that it is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. “The intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions,” he writes in the long essay.
Then, who are intellectuals? “An intellectual is a person who engages in critical study, thought, and reflection about the reality of society, and proposes solutions for the normative problems of that society, and, by such discourse in the public sphere, he or she gains authority within the public opinion,” defines Wikipedia. Do our intellectuals possess these attributes? Can intellectuals openly dare to invite foreign meddling in the internal affairs of their own nation? These questions have upset this writer after Pradeep Giri, a socialist thinker and intellectual, had asked the southern neighbour for direct intervention in Nepal. Giving continuity to his disturbing proposition, Giri derided the new-found Nepali nationalism in his speech in the parliament recently. While defending the statute amendment, he said, “Nepali nationalism has pointed the finger at the rights of the people.” It was his apparent reference to the UML that had voted against the amendment. It argued that the amendment is anti-nationalistic and anti-Madhesi.
Before analyzing Giri’s stance for amendment proposal, it is better to illuminate his interactions with Congress-I leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. In his article ‘Modi’s Interference Turning Nepal Towards China,’ published in NDTV Online last month, Aiyar brings forth the pro-Indian attitude of Giri. Giri complained that Aiyar made a mistake by asking India to turn its back on Nepal. “That was impossible. The fact is that India exists, it influences us – and so you cannot stand apart,” he quotes Giri as telling him. “How, he asked, can India extricate itself from a process that India itself had started? He said everything of significance that had happened in Nepal since 1946 was because of India’s involvement and motivation,” insisted Giri.
“And, begging Pradeep Giri’s pardon for denying his allegation that I believe India should “turn its back” on Nepal, I think, on the contrary, that we should build with the constitutional democracy we have fostered in Nepal a relationship of maturity that treats Nepal not as a protectorate or as a buffer against China, but as an independent, sovereign nation that best understands its own interests, and believes that it is not in a subservient Nepal but in a Nepal that holds its head high that India can best find true friendship with its northern neighbour,” Aiyar said in the article that contains the opinions of Nepali leaders with whom he interacted during his visit here in July.
Here lies the biggest irony – Mr Aiyar said that India must not butt in the domestic affairs of Nepal but Giri insists that India should continue to interfere in Nepal to fix its problem. He projects himself as more Indian than Aiyar. This scribe personally respects Giri for his intellectual prowess and logical bent of mind but his pro-Indian penchant is uncalled for. Giri did not explain which provisions of the statute are against the Madhesi people. It is flexible in addressing the issues of citizenship, representation and language. Instead, the amendment proposal sought to impose Hindi language through the backdoor approach. It directly had a bearing on the rights of heads and deputy heads of local units to choose the President and Vice-President. The amendment proposal also infringed upon the rights of provinces to choose the official languages on their own.
During the recent floods and landslides, many Terai residents lost their lives and property. The tragedy has been attributed to dams and embankments constructed along Nepal-India border by the Indian side. But Giri keeps mum about this. He never questions many unequal treaties signed with India in the past. He intentionally tergiversates the truth and goes to create phony discourse, such as nationalism versus the rights of Madhesi people. This is divisive and implanted mindset. Without the Madhesi people, Nepali nationalism can never be complete. The Madhesi people have not only been victims of illegal dams as well as highhandedness of Indian border security guards but they have also valiantly resisted them and defended the Nepali territory. To pit genuine Madhesi people against the hill-origin people is a preposterous design to weaken the Nepali statute.
Duty of intellectuals
As Chomsky said, the duty of intellectuals is to speak truth and expose lies and hidden intentions. Equipped with information, knowledge and interpretive faculty of mind, the intellectuals should embrace ethnical and national character so as to safeguard the sovereignty, dignity and right to self-determination. If the intellectuals fail to rise above the partisan line and call a spade a spade, they are not true intellectuals. They are just pawns, quislings and cowards. So, beware of them!