(प्रतिलिपि के दूसरे वार्षिकांक के लिये आशीष नंदी से संवाद करते हुए उनसे किया पहला संवाद याद आया जो पिछले साल आतंक के अनुभव पर केंद्रित पहले वार्षिकांक के लिये किया था। वे संसार के अग्रणी समाजविश्लेषकों में हैं और इस बात को तो क्लीशे हुए भी एक जमाना हो गया है कि वे दक्षिण एशिया की सबसे मौलिक और निर्भीक आवाज़ों में प्रमुख हैं। चित्र, फिर से, शिव का है)
Political psychologist and social theorist Ashis Nandy’s readings are often marked by their ‘vulnerability’; in fact vulnerability has been one of his many strengths. Here, he talks about the link between despair and terrorism, the emergence of a new kind of victim and his renewed optimism.
Giriraj: In Narcissism and Despair, you have tried to understand terror in terms of ‘despair’. Baudrillard in one of his essays does it in terms of ‘humiliation’. You say that cultures do not encourage us to acknowledge the sense of despair that is crystallizing today. Baudrillard speaks not of ‘humiliation’ that has its origins in defeat and exploitation but the one that comes in cultures/peoples from being at the receiving end all the time – a receiver all the time and never a giver. Do you see a connection between the two, despair and humiliation?
Ashis: The problem is not with cultures, but with the present incarnation of global capitalism. It has a festive style and seeks to banish all states of mind associated with anguish, despair and desperation. These are seen as forms of sickness, requiring help from psychiatrists, psychoanalysts or clinical psychologists. To prove yourself normal and healthy, you have to be permanently happy. You are expected to drown your unhappiness in unending entertainment, consumerism and, now, immersion in virtual reality. Those caught in quasi-nihilistic designs of global dominance and violence find this particularly humiliating, offensive and insensitive.
Giriraj: More than anyone else, you have tried to understand the relation between terror and culture not as a clash of civilizations but as clash(es) within a civilization or within an individual self. This essay describes it as a clash between the nonviolent and the violent selves. Just as nonviolence has become increasingly more significant and crucial in your work, certain pessimism has also become profound. Do you find yourself less hopeful or less ‘cheerful’ now? (I am reminded of what D.R. Nagraj observed, ‘Mahatma’s company makes him cheerful’).
Ashis: On the contrary, I am more optimistic now. I live in times when Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi are active in politics, when the dreams of Martin Luther King are closer to realization and Gandhi has been rediscovered, when some of the most ruthless vendors of violence have bitten dust, and violence as a pathway to revolutionary and progressive changes lie discredited. Frankly, the entire realistic school of international relations and the innocent, pre-war belief that all nonviolence was impractical and romantic hogwash fail to enthuse almost anyone except the uncritical statists of the two great nineteenth-century nation-states that are trying to mimic their former colonial masters in the twenty-first century.
Giriraj: With globalization becoming near-irreversible, will such despair only increase given your argument that the targetless rage of ‘those who have been let down by the present global system’ will be owned by agencies that can give their rage a cultural/religious framework, some meaning or target? As peculiar to your work, you see them no different from their targets that have the same need of an enemy. If it’s a ‘dynamic bond of lethal mutual hatred’, is there scope for one to take sides?
Ashis: None whatsoever. However, we must recognize and grapple with the sense of despair that maims sections of our population. That sense of despair is real; and it is not all in their mind. It is true that the sense of despair has been engineered in a particular way and, at the moment, that way seems cultural-religious. But it is actually a more general search for meaning in a world that seems to a growing number of people meaningless. Nihilistic solutions may come from within political ideologies, too, as we are seeing to some extent in India. But even when it comes to, say, the violence associated with Maoism in India or Nepal there are real and obscene suffering and blatant cruelty and oppression that have made Maoist violence thinkable to a section of our youth. That thinking cannot be eliminated through the gun. The state suppressed the earlier epidemic of Naxalite violence through counter-terror and thought it could live happily ever afterwards. It has come back.
Giriraj: I asked the previous question also because of a personal dilemma I get into looking for a correspondence between your work and your closeness to activism. All kinds of people who took you to be a ‘non-secularist’ seem to be confounded by your critique of Gujarat and 1992. My confusion, for a change, comes from the nature of your work that kind of makes it impossible to take sides. For activism also, one needs to know targets clearly. Is any activism possible against terror? For you?
Ashis: Gandhi knew his targets clearly. And he did consider the Polish resistance to Nazi Germany close to nonviolence. Nonviolent politicians are not fools. Is Aung San Suu Kyi inactive just because she does not preach violence? Did Nelson Mandela did not know his targets? But they also knew that if you adopt your enemy’s main technology of political intervention-terror-you gradually begin to resemble your enemy. Ultimately, there is no difference between the two sides. So even when terrorism formally ends, scars remain. The society gets permanently brutalized.
On a personal note, my discomfort with secularism comes from the recognition that it cannot but be ineffective in a mass democracy like ours. It does not allow us to use fully the cultural resources of this society to resist ethnic or religious violence. But I do not worry about this too much. Now that some of the famous Western scholars and thinkers have begun to express the same kinds of doubt, our colonial intellectual culture will also obediently follow suit.
Giriraj: India’s political left (=left parties) has virtually no agenda on terror. I remember an SMS that was very popular after the November Mumbai event: You are scared of those who came on a boat; be scared more of those who came through vote. And I did receive it from my leftist friends only. What makes it impossible for them to recognize terror as a ‘political’ phenomenon?
Ashis: The fear of politics is widespread in the Indian middle class. It wants democracy but not the politicians. Its main grudge is that it is a minority in India and does not wield decisive political clout. Ultimately, the best guarantor of security against terrorism, even when the terrorists seem utterly irrational or insane, is participatory democracy. And despite all the antics of the politicians and despite all their greed and criminality, they do have to connect to the people. Bringing the terrorists within politics is to defang them. We already have many respectable terrorists among our politicians; a few more will not make the country unmanageable.
Giriraj: Most of the responses to terror are about the politics of self or the clash of civilizations or the fight against American imperialism etc. Those who suffer the ‘collateral damage’, all the direct and indirect victims of the act rarely feature. Can we understand terror as an experience/phenomenon only by understanding terror from the position of those who perform it i.e. America and Al-Qaeda, Terrorists and the State and so on? Because with bomb explosions, serial blasts we have entered a unique phase, anybody is a potential victim now. More so in India’s case. There are no preferences except perhaps the symbolic Mumbai event where the elite and the effluent seemed to be the primary targets. Are we confronting a new kind of victim?
Ashis: You have asked one of the most important questions that dog societies that face terrorism. It has direct relevance to what I have said about deepening democracy as a means of countering terror. You are right; the power of terrorism comes from its random choice of victims. If any citizen could be a victim, everybody is a victim. That allows terrorism to fundamentally subvert the democratic spirit in a society, sometimes with the consent of the people themselves, and the society begins to imbibe some of the features of the terrorists. Terrorism is a way of using democracy to destroy democracy. As a result, sometimes, even when terrorism ends, the culture of terrorism continues to thrive in the victim societies. When this happens, terrorism, even after its death, triumphs.