Arvind Kejriwal Phenomenon: The arrival of knowledge society in India


By Amar Yumnam

The success of the movement headed by Arvind Kejriwal is a contrast of class with performance of the mother and the son in the press conference after their party’s disastrous performance in the recent elections to the four provinces of the country. The duo’s performance signals the inevitable demise of the old order where knowledge and ideas mattered little if any in politics while the Kejriwal group’s success heralds the arrival of the knowledge society in the Indian context. The inimitable Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek wrote in his 1945 American Economic Review article on “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” thus: “The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate “given” resources—if “given” is taken to mean given to a single mind which deliberately solves the problem set by these “data.” It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.” This was long before what we now hear more frequently as “knowledge economy” and “knowledge society”.  The significance of knowledge is so much that, as Walter McMahon writes in his 2009 book titled Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education, “income has not risen for Americans who have not gone to college since 1980. At the same time, the real income of college graduates has risen 57% since 1980.” Though knowledge and thinking were very closely associated with the Roman and the Greek civilisations, the inevitable imperative of putting knowledge in the centre of behavioural reactions and actions is a recent discovery of humans. This has been driven by the realisations for finding ways to perpetuate civilisation and happiness and the possibility of achieving these. Though it was realised long back that humans are but rational animals, it is only now that the fundamentality of critical thinking is appreciated. As Gary R. Kirby, Jeffery R. Goodpaster and Marvin Levine raise in their book on Critical Thinking, “Is anything more important than thinking? Is anything important that is not connected with thinking? STOP! Did you think about the first question before you read the second one?”

As Barbara A. Misztal writes in her book on Intellectuals and the Public Good: Creativity and Civil Courage “Although intellectuals will always be caught in the tensions between specialism and generalism, engagement and withdrawal, a society can still benefit from their capacity to offer a broader perspective, as it is both necessary and desired by the public”. This is exactly where the significance of the Kejriwal phenomenon arises.

Indian politics and the values associated with it have been the theme of public derisions in private discussions for quite some time. The non-emergence of shared vision and shared opportunities for well-being have plagued the minds of the people of the country all these years but without having neither the opportunity nor the capability to transform these into expressions of collective critical thinking; the public did not have the capability, awareness and strength to convert these disparagements into expressions in terms of actions. Kejriwal has performed all these at one go. His achievements via the recent elections have put before us many lessons of the strengths of democracy and the possibility of harnessing these even within India. First, Kejriwal has shown the knowledge–based awareness of the universally accepted values of democracy to the people and the fundamentality of living up to these. He has empowered the people with the universally recognised value of their wisdom-based decisions. Second, he has also shown to the public the power of convictions, as against the manipulative functions of politics till date, in order to transform common wishes into realities through the participation process in politics. Third, courage or rather lack of it among the intellectuals of the country has so far been the undoing of the Indian politics. Kejriwal has shown the courage of convictions by his recent engagements and the outcomes of his actions.  

Now these naturally take us to the realities and issues before Manipur. The time is now for the people of the land for self-reflection, gather the courage to act on the convictions, engage collectively in continuous dialogues for finding the best ways to express thoughts and actions. With Delhi already shown signs of ushering into a knowledge society, Manipur cannot afford to lag behind. We have been so long used to living up to the decisions, paths and designs shown and decided by others without harnessing the collective strength and possibility to display indigenous ingenuity. Now we have the parliamentary elections coming soon. The process and outcome of this would tell whether the Manipuris have in them or not. The option is coming to put knowledge and ideas at the centre of our collective action. If the people make the choice the better it would be. The chance is now to reverse the trend of choices making the people instead of the other way round.   


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