An ageing enfant terrible is not only a contradiction in terms but also someone who is somewhat ridiculous. Ashis Nandy, unfortunately, has cut himself out to be such a figure. His penchant to say something original and shocking got the better of him in Jaipur and has landed him in an unnecessary controversy. Mr Nandy’s statement about corruption among the Dalits and the other backward classes does not appear to be based on any empirical study. If it indeed is then Mr Nandy would have done well to have first presented his findings and conclusions to his academic peer group. Instead, he chose to air his views at a literary carnival. Mr Nandy is an experienced hand and he cannot be oblivious of the fact that a literary festival, where he can speak only for a few minutes, is not the best forum to put forward a nuanced argument. Not surprisingly, he now claims that he has been misunderstood. If this is truly the case, Mr Nandy has only himself to blame because he has behaved irresponsibly. Mr Nandy has exercised his right of free speech. But as he knows every right carries with it a responsibility. Liberty is not licence. Mr Nandy should have been aware that his statement would have hurt the sentiments of sections of the population. Mr Nandy has courted controversy in the wrong place and on the wrong subject. There is a distinction between an academic seminar and a public gathering.
If Mr Nandy behaved irresponsibly and rather exaggerated his propensity to shock and startle, the reactions to his pronouncements have also been overblown and out of proportion. His views deserve a strong rebuttal at the level of ideas and Mr Nandy’s prejudices should be exposed. There is no need at all to clamour for his arrest and for the filing of a first information report. Irresponsibility cannot be countered by intolerance for the simple reason that two wrongs do not make a right. Mr Nandy, to do him credit, once he realized that he had hurt the sentiments of some people, tendered an unqualified apology even though he believes that the grievances against him are the results of a misunderstanding of what he actually meant. Such an apology should bring the curtain down on the matter. The episode reveals how even one of the best minds in India is liable to misuse his freedom, and also how fast intolerance is breeding in India.