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How does the ‘Establishment’ retain power? Here is what I learnt about ‘liberal’ privilege and how to break it down

This nation has been around a long time. This nation will be around for a long time even after all the historians, intellectuals and bureaucrats you despise are gone. Patience and grit will win the day. Stay put.

How do those in power manage to stay in power? And of course, by ‘power’, I don’t mean the government of the day but the all-powerful Establishment that move the corridors of power. In the popular imagination, we sometimes think of those in power brutally cracking down on dissent, midnight knocks on the doors and all. Which might be true if you are talking of a dictatorship like Saudi Arabia, North Korea or West Bengal.

But in most modern societies, that level of brutality is mostly impossible and often counterproductive, even in the short term. Instead, power is perpetuated in a different fashion: by getting everyone’s hands dirty.

In other words, give everyone who matters a small stake in the power hierarchy to shut up and toe the line. Find out what it is they need and as the Godfather would say, make them an offer they can’t refuse. This is far more effective. Cooperation works much better than coercion.

I will give you a personal example. A young cousin of mine is finishing the twelfth grade. She wants to become a lawyer, for which she aspires to study in one of the prestigious National Law Universities. For this, she must clear the Common Law Admission Test or CLAT.

So far so good. And so, like hundreds of thousands of other ordinary Indian kids, she goes to enrol in a coaching centre. And in order to prepare for the exam, they tell her to regularly read the following newspapers:

(1) The Hindu

(2) The Indian Express

(3) The Telegraph

In other words, become a Nehruvian. Orders from above. All escape routes are closed.

When I put this on Twitter, other folks came forward with their own stories. The UPSC entrance is a similar mess. So is the Bank PO exam.

That’s the genius of systematic ‘liberal’ privilege. Who do you blame here? Surely not the poor aspirant who wants to clear an exam. Do you blame the private coaching institute(s) who need their students to clear the exam so that they can build their reputation and make higher profits?

There’s nobody you can blame directly here. You grow up praying to Nehru in school. Then, you must pass a test of Nehruvian purity to get in. Each successive rung in the ladder requires you to demonstrate higher and higher levels of loyalty to Nehru.

If you have ever wondered how certain people can get bail over the phone, you have your answer. Every member of the ecosystem is beholden to every other. The Establishment prevails even if the government changes. They stick together.

The key is that these changes are incremental, so you hardly even realize them. But they add up. Like compound interest. By the time you reach the top, you have handed your soul to Nehru. And perhaps you still don’t know it. Because you have just been doing things the way they have always been.

The way it’s always been… That’s how it works in law, in business, in bureaucracy, in media, in the intelligentsia, everything.

And when you piece all these little things together, the big picture makes sense. A single party won the highest vote share in all national elections from 1947 to right before 2014. In the Rajya Sabha, that same party remained single largest straight till mid-2017, showing the depth of its power. And while the government might have changed in 2014, the Establishment remained the same. Even with Modi in power, the Establishment wreaked havoc. They wrote letters, the maligned the country, they furthered the lie of India being lynchistan, rapistan and what not, they demonised Hindus who dared to, for the first time, rebel against the Nehruvians, they painted the oldest culture as violent and they even shielded terrorists because it would suit their agenda. The Establishment’s agenda was simple: Bring back a government that would toe the line of the establishment.

Okay, so ‘they’ control the UPSC, the Bank PO, the lawyers, the journalists, everything. Question is: what are ‘you’ going to do about it?

Obviously, I cannot claim to have all the answers. But hopefully, I have at least the right questions. And some humble suggestions.

When fighting a battle from a position of extreme disadvantage, you start by building a secure fortress. A core.

Where would such a core be? Because of their objective nature, the sciences and engineering are the obvious places to start. Ideologues can get into science and engineering for sure, but the nature of their work requires a certain level of objectivity.

You can get a historian to “prove” that Nehru gave us freedom, but remember what happened when Sanjay Gandhi tried to design a car? It didn’t work. Despite Indira Gandhi putting the resources of the whole nation at her son’s feet, the car didn’t work.

Doesn’t mean that a person with no formal education cannot design a car or make a game-changing innovation. It just means that uneducated Sanjay Gandhi will start from the same place as every other uneducated person trying to design a car. That his mother was Prime Minister doesn’t matter one bit.

Science. It’s always our best hope.

This is where foolish ideas like this don’t help.


Yeah, why not open the floodgates and let the Trojan horses in?

So the first objective should be to secure the sciences and engineering like a fortress.

The next thing is to identify where the gatekeepers of ‘liberal’ privilege and replace the ones on the bottom rung. I will not name them here, but you might have heard of a certain Foundation that has diligently worked in the last few years to coach sympathizers of its ideology to crack the Civil Service exam.

The real “election” in India happens every year, at the time of the UPSC exam. Control the Civil Service and you control India.

If they can, why not us? Reach out to students when they are at the most delicate stage of their career. Help given at that time will pay dividends for a lifetime.

This takes patience. It all starts with low key changes at the bottom. Changes that are not so glamorous. Changes that are so “boring” that no media superstars would care to highlight them. It’s actually the boring stuff that really counts in life. We see the success of Bill Gates, but we don’t see the thousands of hours of programming he occupied himself with as a kid.

Above all, have patience. Unlike 1947, there’s no political monopoly today. If PM Modi today appointed a member of his family (with zero formal education) as an IFS officer posted as ambassador to America, UK, Russia and the UN, there would be an outcry. But when Nehru did so with his sister, Vijaylakshmi Pandit became a legend as a diplomat.

I am guessing UPSC aspirants today (all college graduates, presumably) are expected to know about Vijaylakshmi Pandit’s glorious career as an IFS officer.

But it’s not 1947. This is 2019.

Let us learn from the Chinese here,

Hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead.

This is what Deng Xiaoping used to say back in the 1970s when China decided they would become a superpower that could challenge the might of the United States. Sun-Tzu would probably agree. It’s the art of war.

Everyone can see how one election changed India’s political culture. For the first time in history, Hindu sentiments seem to matter to all sides in an Indian election. Now imagine 5-6 or even 10 of such elections one after another. Imagine the mark that would leave. Imagine if the Establishment that has wreaked havoc, is tamed. Dismantled.

This nation has been around a long time. This nation will be around for a long time even after all the historians, intellectuals and bureaucrats you despise are gone. Patience and grit will win the day. Stay put.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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