When the inside baseball of Indian politics makes it to the pages of the New York Times and the website of the New Yorker, it's time to weigh in. Leaving the background to the hyperlinks, here's my take:
Indian sociologist Ashis Nandy's remarks at Jaipur, and his later clarification, are not important simply because the attempt to prosecute him for insulting Indians from lower castes represents yet another attack on freedom of speech in the name of “sensitivity,” as Manu Joseph aptly lampoons in the New York Times and Basharat Peer ably explains for the New Yorker.
The main issue is the content of his statement, which sneakily confirms as “fact” a widely held public perception for which there is no hard evidence, and, in truth, seems patently false based on common sense.
The statement in question?
“It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive.”
Much has been made of the context for that statement, which you can read in full here. But in my reading of it nothing undercuts the essential assertion.
Nandy is sincere and sympathetic. He is saying that the corruption of India's lower castes is justified, even desirable. And Nandy admits that corruption of a kind is common among the elites. But it's interesting, to say the least, that he compares the assistance of an old boys' network in getting into Oxford or Harvard to the “millions of rupees” amassed by “the only unrecognized billionaire in India today” Madhu Koda – which were allegedly earned through illegal manipulation of the mining laws and perhaps selling his support, by turns, to the Bharatiya Janata Party and later the Congress. (So much for the context).
Nevertheless, whether Nandy means well or not is immaterial. So is whether or not he suffers from some unwitting prejudices, even as he thinks he is being radical. The most important thing here is that he claims something as “fact” for which he offers no evidence and that he cannot support. Namely, he says that most of the corruption in India can now be attributed to the lower castes, which comprise the mid-level Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the formerly untouchable Dalits or Scheduled Castes. (Yes, there's also the Scheduled Tribes, but only so much inside baseball for one blog post).
This is a widely held perception that I suggest is based solely on a handful of high-profile prosecutions: the notorious “fodder scam” case against Bihar's Lalu Prasad Yadav, the “Taj corridor scam” case against Uttar Pradesh's Kumari Mayawati and, more recently, the “2G telecom spectrum scam” case against former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja.
That's called “believing is seeing” – you only process the evidence that suits your preconceptions, if you bother with evidence at all. Surely there were corruption cases against high-caste Indians as well. And if they didn't generate as much heat, one might say with equal authority that Mayawati & co were targeted for serious criminal investigations, and the others ignored, precisely because of their respective castes.