New Delhi: Whilst Ashish Nandy spouted rubbish at the Jaipur Literature Festival about corruption being a great equalizer, he did not incite violence such as to merit being put under arrest, a threat he now faces. Nandy made the rather inane and well-known point that whereas corruption is rampant in all the castes, it appears more obvious and blatant in one section of society, this being a function of that section’s relative inexperience with underhand dealings.

There is nothing in this to lynch Ashish Nandy. For his credentials, this is thin thinking. Any political reporter in his first year learns this argument. It has been advanced by Dalit politicians themselves, especially in the wake of the Bangaru Laxman episode, or with reference to Mayawati’s ostentatious and gaudy birthday celebrations, which are apparently much preferred by her community, which sees it as social advancement of one kind. The Jaipur discussion did not of course lead in this direction, and was headed towards a trite justification of corruption in the non-forward castes, when the rage of political correctness singed Nandy, and now brings to grief the festival organizers themselves.

This is a tiresome instance of a mountain being made out of plain nonsense.

The defenders of Ashish Nandy say that his right to freedom of expression has been curbed. This is true. But it must also be said that India does not, quite apart from such overt intolerance as Nandy now faces, encourage free thought in the true sense. The op-ed pages of newspapers take the “liberal” line day after day because it is fashionable, non-controversial and pro-establishment. You read one and you have read all. There is nothing original in these opinions. For most of the time, they don’t even fit the Indian scenario. The only exception is some feminist writing which is outstanding.

At the Jaipur festival, according to media reports, there was a session devoted to the theme of India as a “Republic of Ideas”. The notion that India is a republic of ideas is laughable, even repugnant. Tellingly, the whole Ashish Nandy controversy originated in such a session, whose real highlight, aside from the troubles related to an ageing social scientist, who has seen better times as a thinker, pertained to the seminal discovery that “corruption is a great equalizer”. Really?

When great visions, ideologies and thoughts compete or clash, a fertile soil is prepared for original expositions. In his otherwise over-egged essay, “The End of History”, Francis Fukuyama despaired of the onset of mediocre times, though he tried to cover it up by triumphalism about the victory of Western liberal democracy over Soviet totalitarianism. Barack Obama, in all his schooled brilliance, represents that mediocrity. The United States once led in politico-economic and strategic thoughts, because of its immigrant culture, accent on excellence, and its unique capacity to reinvent itself in the imposition of dreadful Pax Americana. Europe has been dead in pure great thought for a time. After Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Johnson, the historian, cannot think of a heroic philosopher. The pickings from the United States have been lean for a long stretch as well -- and its terrible export of liberalism is the equivalent of a greasy McDonald burger for the mind.

But even from where modern Western thought left, India has not taken up, whilst it has made an almighty grab for so-called liberalism, which is nothing other than political correctness garbed in ersatz Prada. This political correctness infects everyone, writers, journalists, news anchors, academics (the worst of the lot), public intellectuals (hah!), and politicians. Political correctness is self-censorship if you know better, and most don’t know this, and are therefore none the wiser, and those that do have axes to grind, which keep them quiet or participants in the lie. Who cares for thought? And if there is no premium on originality, what’s the use of free speech? It would be as the cacophony produced in a chicken coop, and that is India’s present state.

What’s happened to Ashish Nandy is regrettable. The banning of the Kamalahasan movie is bad, even though the picture would be predictably trash given the standards of Indian cinema today. The space to think and write freely is shrinking, but India was a lost case much before. It is like writing the obituary of a person who was never born. Sad. Very sad.