Graphic by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint.in
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Top row: Nandan Nilekani, Dipankar Gupta, Ashutosh Varshney; Middle row: Shiv Visvanathan, Ramachandra Guha, C. Rajamohan; Bottom row: Ashis Nandy, Surjit Bhalla, Shashi Tharoor
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ThePrint’s intellectual list presents a homogeneous group of English-speaking people who look similar to each other.

The people in ThePrint’s list of next-gen intellectuals are bound together by the thread of the English language. That there is no name of an intellectual who has worked in the Indian languages is reflective of the narrowness of the world of the intellectual elite.

It is interesting that there was no effort made by them to even find names from the Tamil, Gujarati, Malayalam or Odiya world. It seems they are not even perturbed by these absences. But they should not be blamed for it. It was for the curator to find names like K. Satchidanandan, Ashok Vajpeyi, Nabaneeta Dev Sen or Ganesh Devy who would have told us about promising minds active in Indian languages.

It is true that English is in a way now an Indian language, but not to take into consideration the vast universe of Indian languages shows how careless our best minds can be. A language, which a tiny minority is familiar with, and an even tinier well versed in, is thought to be the sole reservoir of intellect in this vast land – it just shows the arrogance of our intellectual leaders.


Also read: This is the next generation of Indian intellectuals


ThePrint’s list also presents a homogeneous group of people who look similar to each other. No voice from Dalits, Muslims, disabled, and the dominance of men in an India where young women are doing excellent work in different fields shows that intellection is still considered a preserve of the upper caste Hindu male in India. It is interesting and dismaying to see how the nominators have myopically confined themselves to their disciplines and areas of work. They couldn’t look beyond selected area specialists, or experts from their own domains.

It leads one to think that there might be confusion about categories. There is a difference between an academic and an intellectual. All academics, even the good ones, are not necessarily intellectuals. Normally, we see them take pride in the fact that they are primarily analysts, they believe in going into the nuances of the things and they avoid looking at issues in black and white. In short, they avoid taking sides.


Also read: Why ThePrint list of gen-next intellectuals did not have any women nominators


This is the great inhibition our good minds have to overcome. The question that we need to ask is who is an intellectual? An intellectual in our times is necessarily a person who, according to Noam Chomsky, fulfils the obligation that arises because of the special space she inhabits. He writes, “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.” Since they, through their work, know what is happening, they are duty-bound to tell people about how things are being obfuscated.

An intellectual is thought to be one who speaks truth to power. But the task of the intellectual is more difficult and complex. Power knows the truth. It is the people who don’t know and it is the job of the intellectual to tell them the truth.

An intellectual is, of course, someone who understands, but if she does not get angry, then it is very difficult to call her an intellectual. An intellectual must intervene, and intervene when it would make difference, not preserve herself for better times to come, nor leave the task of intervention to those who are patronisingly and also derisively called ‘activist’ intellectuals.


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An intellectual is necessarily an activist of ideas. Who asserts the primacy of ideas in a world, which had created a neat division between theorising and practice. Those who practice their ideas are seen mostly with suspicion.

Terry Eagleton said that you can identify an intellectual with the way she speaks. When you say “This is torture!” it must imply “It has to stop”. But if you have no exclamation sign and do not suggest what to do with it, you have no right to be called an intellectual.

Intellectuals are different from policy makers and advisers. They do not feel beholden to the state. An intellectual has to take the side of the dispossessed and oppressed. It is not the job of an intellectual to rationalise the actions of the powers that be. Arvind Subramanian now says that demonetisation was a disaster, but he kept mum when it was urgent to tell the people what was being done to them. He preserved himself, but failed as an intellectual.

To recognise the urgency of the situation and then act is what distinguishes an intellectual from an academic. One hopes that our intellectuals don’t fail their times and people.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.

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8 Comments Share Your Views

8 COMMENTS

  1. Author’s opinion about absence of ‘desi’ intellectuals is a valid point. However, relying again on western left oriented intellectuals like Chomsky to define intellectuals and fit intellectuals in the same mould is not a pristine idea.

    IT REALLY LACKS NAMES OF ORIGINAL THINKERS IN SOUTHERN REGIONS WHO ARE PROMINENETLY REVISITING LOCAL FOLKS AND THEIR THOUGHT PROCESS

  2. Author’s opinion about absence of ‘desi’ intellectuals is a valid point. However, relying again on western left oriented intellectuals like Chomsky to define intellectuals and fit intellectuals in the same mould is not a pristine idea.

    IT REALLY LACKS ORIGINAL THINKERS IN SOUTHERN REGIONS WHICH ARE PROPOSING NEW THOUGHTS WITH THEIR REVISIT OF LOCAL FOLKS AND THOUGHT PROCESS

  3. Lists such as these or the one that inspired this list simply deserve to be laughed at. They are a reflection of bias, stupidity and blinkered thinking.

  4. One name I choose to refute is from Malayalam , K Sachithanandan..he was never seen in Kerala and was always cozying up to the Lutyns Delhi powers irrespective of who in power is.,The man is a communist prop up who was in silent mode whenever communist violence engulfed Kerala. Over all pount that only English speaking people are represented is correct but ThePrint is in English..so ask Aajtak to do a similar list.,and names from vernacular press will come..

  5. Mr Apoorvanand deserves praise for invoking the “Dalit, Muslim, Disabled not-included angle” in the sham exercise of identifying future intellectuals. The issues raised by Apoorvanand, shows the extent to which people are willing to go to build their CV for future rewards like Padmi Shri etc. If you want a Govt Samman, the best way is to abuse the so-called UC, and simultaneously introduce the “Dalit, Muslim, Disabled excluded” angle. One can understand the “marginalised, excluded” argument of Apoorvanand, had the list been issued by the Govt, but how can one protest a list compiled by some private individuals? By the way, there are indeed, several individuals of the Dalit, Muslim category in the list which Mr Apoorvanand has chosen to ignore.

  6. Modi is right when he says I speak in Hindi for domestic audience not in English for international audience.
    The issue with our lists is very burning and vivid- These recommendations come from or are about people whose successes are defined by
    1)English language skills
    2) Their networking in the Anglo-Saxon world of Indians, from American universities to British Indians to elites in India matter than anything else.
    4)The lack of intellectuals from technical, Engineering and Science background is very stark.
    3) Majority of them show various caste/religion/regions of the intellectuals and confirm various issues of representation.
    4) The idea that western educated Indians knows better about Indians than Indian residents helps to maintain and controll the elite sytem created by these intellectuals where they reject the rest. For ex. Journalist getting Fulbright felloships become something than somebody who has worked on the ground.
    5)Ex. Somebody suggested Gurmeher Kaur though I did not find Kanhaiya Kumar anywhere. She has one book published by ‘penguine India’ where as he has stirred Indian mind with very strong understandings on various issues and he has Phd from JNU. She is Punjabi but he is Bihari from non-elite background. Or Shehla Rashid from Kashmir was as much deserving if you are going to add G Kaur who totally lacks anything to be part of the list.
    6)we need economist who can see value in pakoda economics or finances of chaiwala or other street vendors and address their challenges. Or authors who can unlike the likes of Nandini Sundar or Arundhati Roy who see tribal rights, welfare in binary terms but those who can redefine their way of life, relations with nature and its integration with mainstream.

    The majority of the intellectuals lacks what is necessary- the sense of Indian reality and defining its needs and real picture. Many of them walk and talk like foreigners in India. Which is real tragedy of our intellectuals because we dont publish what Gurumurthy wrote about Indian economy and his opinions on RBI. We write about these issues from those who serve American interests and try to apply their theories to India, little realising the difference and the real priorities of India.
    Look at the book by Snigdha Poonam. Such language even British don’t write about India.
    Even it took international experience for Kumar Mangalam Birla to throw shackles of this English obsession and he started praising Indians beyond English world. I don’t about Indian English aristocracy.

  7. It was an expected position and it gives me pleasure to read and re-read this wonderful article by Apoorvanand. There is at least someone in India who can define what an intellectual is. It is to be hoped that those who have concocted this list will remember this definition of the intellectual. I would add for myself: we are not dubbed by someone to be considered as intellectual. We are recognized as intellectual by civil society but we are not appointed by people of the system and whatever their competence !!!

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