Our corruption and theirs
Is corruption among the lower castes an equaliser? Is it a
zero-sum game? First we, the upper castes, were the looters, now it is your turn, the lower castes, to loot — and it's okay. After all, according to Ashis Nandy, there is hope for the republic if there is still some scope to loot, and especially if it is by the lower castes. And according to Tarun Tejpal, you have the right to do this because it means fairness in the ability to gain by subverting the system (perhaps corruption redistributes ill-gotten wealth, and those who did not earlier have a share will have it now).
Nandy argues that the upper castes are sophisticated looters while the lower castes are not so sophisticated, so they get caught easily (on camera or with their hands in the till) and get publicly branded as corrupt. They do not have the social networks or cultural capital (as yet, let us say) to be sophisticated in camouflaging their corruption, as upper castes do. Due to this, they suffer. Alarmingly, West Bengal's assumed insulation from corruption is attributed to the lack of lower caste persons in prominent political positions (a feather in the cap of communist West Bengal or an irony?) by Nandy. By implication, are the upper castes of West Bengal squeaky clean as their brahminical souls? Do they not indulge in corruption? Upright communists can't possibly be interested in the grubby material world.
This is the sort of discourse that can be understood from the statements of two public intellectuals — one a renowned political psychologist known for his counter-modern, creative and unusual reading of India and the world, and the other a well-known journalist of Tehelka fame and a self-declared champion of India's poor.
Nandy's admirers (including myself) are appalled at the quandary he is trapped in; Nandy too is finding it hard to explain away, justify or retract his statement — in or out of context. He has been trying to perform a balancing act between his indictment of corruption among lower castes, and blame towards upper castes.