I wrote this article on the 'Right' discourse in India for India Foundation Journal.
You can read a version of the article below:
Bharat is not a defeated but a wounded civilisation. Defeated civilisations cannot write their own history but ones those are wounded have the stamina and zeal for it. The question is what path must a wounded civilisation choose in its search of herself? How must it approach and read history so as to find out herself? What should this approach be called? And how do we reach such an approach?
Indian civilisational story is one of continuous evolution. Even after facing many attacks in the last 2,500 years, India has stayed alive simply because of its ability to survive and revive. At the precipice of darkness, the country has always managed to rediscover itself. Those who have faith in this past are billed as the Rightists. They are considered conservative, status-quoist, fundamentalist, rigid etc. These terms have been slapped on them by the Left-intelligentsia who dominate the social science discourse of this country. To begin with, this group of ‘Rightists’ needs to be identified and redefined, not in terms of its detractors but in terms of its own salient features. The quest for a new term may seem like a cosmetic exercise but it actually reflects the true spirit of those who want to build the future with an approach of ‘India First’, keeping in mind the agony of the present and the glory of the past.
Often dismissed for being outside the existing academic discourse, the vantage point of this intellectual-cultural tradition is largely unexplored. To take this forward, we need to arrive at a set of ideas that are not static in nature and which provide theoretical and scientific solutions to the problems of the existing world. There is also a need to identify factors that define or come close to defining the quintessential ‘spirit' of this civilisation.
We must also relook at thinking within the framework of Right and Left. Dattopant Thengdi (RSS Ideologue and Trade Union Leader) talks about the ‘Third Way’ which is neither Right nor Left but talks about indigenous knowledge system and national interest. Conversely, going by popular intellectual discourse, we can say that in the 1990s, RSS-BJP were culturally Right but economically Left. It was a time when RSS-BJP were raising issue of Ram temple on one side and advocating Swadeshi and opposing GATT and WTO, on the other. Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharitya Kisan Sangh (Trade Union and Farmers Union associated with RSS) had almost same views as Leftist Trade Unions. Even today, many policies of Modi government cannot be classified under the ‘Economic Right’. C. Rajgopalachari was the guiding light of the ‘Economic Right’ in independent India and advocated free economy. He left Congress when Pandit Nehru declared in 1955 that Socialistic pattern of the society will be the official policy of the Congress in Avadi Session. Rajgoapalchari founded Swatantra Party which along with Bharitya Jan Sangh (BJS) and Lok Dal was instrumental in the defeat of Congress party in nine states in 1967 elections.
Four Points of Reference
In my understanding, there might be four points of reference which should be kept in mind for better understanding and reformulation of ideas what is known as Indian Right. First, India i.e. Bharat has to be studied and understood as a civilizational-state and not just a constitutional-state or nation-state. The idea of nation-state evolved only in the last 350 years after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 when the Papacy of medieval age was questioned by the newly formed ‘sovereign’ states which were supported by the capitalist merchants. On the other hand, India has existed as a civilizational unit since several millennia. After the Independence, the idea of constitutional nation-state came into being. The current history of modern Indian nationalism also does not go back to more than 150 years which is said to be evolved after the so called Indian renaissance during the time of Ram Mohan Roy and others followed by the evolution of the Congress party. For India to be studied as civilizational-state, we need to resuscitate the history of India of thousands years.
Second, the study of India as a civilizational-state will take back our civilisational march from Indus Valley to Saraswati Valley. Traces of the existence of the civilisation will have to be rediscovered where there have been no or negligible efforts since Independence. Recently, there was a small report that Bhirrana in Haryana was claimed to be much older than sites of Harappa and Mohanjodaro. Many more such discoveries need to be made to fill in the existing gaps in India’s historical map.
Third, the history of last 1,300 years needs to become the reference point to know about our freedom struggle instead of just 130 years. While it is acceptable to study the history of Modern India from where modern nationalism begins, but without the reference point of 1,300 years, our understanding of Modern India can never be complete. We cannot brush aside the critical context of King Dahir, who ruled over Sindh and whose defeat at the hands of Mohammed Bin Quasim heralded a long phase of stagnation in knowledge, culture and tradition. Instead of spiritual and mental battle, the country was now fighting for its existence. Hereon, the caste system became rigid, women were confined indoors and ill-practices proliferated. The chain of philosophical tradition' set by the Upanishads was broken. One cannot understand India just by studying history of last 130 years, for that we need to take into account 1,300 years. While the history of the freedom movement of modern India is a great educator, we also need to study the freedom struggle of medieval India for a more comprehensive view. Moreover, our study of history has to be both dispassionate and unapologetic.
Fourth, spiritualism is the mainstay of this civilisational-state. This civilisation is not intolerant simply because its essential nature is of assimilation and evolution. From Peshawar to Ganga Sagar the plains between Indus and Ganges are as fertile as its culture and tradition. Suitable climatic conditions and fertile land made life simple and easy and this provided scope for inner quest i.e. 'chintan'. As a result, for many millennia, spiritualism became the basic foundation of Indian civilisation. Each time the civilisation stepped into decadence – Buddha, Shankar, Mahavir, Tulsi, Soor, Kabir, Gynaeswar, Ramanand, Vivekanand, Gandhi, Golwalkar and Ambedkar showed up and reignited the light of knowledge, making India a ‘Sanatan' civilisation.
India is a spiritual entity which evolved in thousands of years. The spiritual power of India is so immense that it accommodates everyone and evolves without struggle and also without compromising with its core values. The history is replete with instances of rulers (Kanishk and Milind) who won in the battle field but were defeated by the spiritual power of this land.
Having set a foot firmly in the past we must now turn our eye to the future. What we need is a new set of ideas, tools, symbols, terminologies and methods to re-establish our civilisational march. So far we have been working with those provided by our detractors. We might win a debate or two with this borrowed armoury but we can never make a lasting contribution.
As we build our own bank of ideas, we also need to answer some critical questions. What should be our vantage point - Harappa Valley Civilisation, Chandra Gupta Maurya or 1947 or Ramayan and Mahabharata period? Far from the line-up of Ashok ‘the Great’ and Akbar ‘the Great’, what about Chandra Gupta Maurya, Rajendra Chola, Lalitaditya, Samudra Gupta, Rahtrakoot, Pratihar, Marathas, Kanishka, Harsh and others. On the other hand, what about the origin of caste based biases and women subjugation? Similarly, we need to find the answers to the question ranging from territorial integrity, economic policies to gay rights and other issues. By doing this we will be making contemporary derivatives and linking our past to the present. Without this connection we cannot claim our rightful place in the ideological streams of India.
Three Ideological Streams
Three ideological streams have been in existence in India for the last 100 years. First is of Congress inspired by the ideas of Jawaharlal Nehru which says that India is a 'nation in making' started with independence of India. The second is of Communists which say that India is not a nation at all and there are many nationalities and they support all the secessionist movement as a matter of principle in the name of self-determination. Third ideological stream is of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) which talks about national reconstruction. It believes that India was a glorious nation for a long time. It's glory, lost in the last 1000 years, needs to be restored; hence there is a need to reconstruct our nation and society.
We currently study a distorted face of history where we are taught that Aryans came from Iran and ruled India first. Later, it was Turks and Mughals and then the British. The broad idea here was to establish the civilisational superiority of the West and justify their invasion of this land with narrative of ‘White Men’s Burden’; and to prove that caste and woman subjugation has been an integral part of Indian society and philosophy. Two hymns of Manu Smriti and Ram Charit Manas were used to build up an entire discourse against this civilisation.
After the formation of the Modi government it was believed that an ecosystem will emerge that will assist the creation of a new narrative to understand the civilisational march of India. However, the idea that India should remember and develop her own narrative is not is everyone’s interest. Hence, all efforts are being made to block the growth of any such narrative. Since the Modi government came to power, several attempts have been made to malign the image of the government and raise issues like intolerance, fundamentalism and fear of minority communities. Terms like "Hindu Pakistan", "forces of intolerance", and the "situation worse than Emergency” have been coined in the last 45 months. People campaigning on these lines are decidedly anti-Modi and propounded these theories when the formation of a Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre started looking imminent. Many of them had even claimed at that time that they will leave the country if Modi became the Prime Minister. Like true followers of Karl Marx, 'secular-liberal' intellectual elites started with a conclusion and all their arguments now are directed at proving it. Having lost the battle of ballots, they want to now take the fight to academic institutions using universities as semi-liberated zones.
Academia: The New Warfront
A world-renown artist like Anish Kapoor wrote that India is ruled by "Hindu-Taliban" and an academic like Irfan Habib thinks RSS is comparable to ISIS. The factiousness and monotone of these remarks makes one question the sincerity of our present intellectual scenario. The most obvious yet inconspicuous truth about the academic and intellectual environment in India is that it has for years remained overshadowed by Western and Leftist thinking while maintaining the façade of ‘independent’ thought. Having accepted another's thought tradition as the benchmark we forgot that each country has its own unique knowledge and experience, in our case it was the Indic tradition.
Anish Kapoor and Irfan Habib are the products of an intellectual sphere with strong imprints of the British and Marxist legacy. British bureaucrat Lord Macaulay designed a strategy to make it easy for the British to rule India. He advocated an education system which would produce Brown British to work as loyal clerks under the regime. The key to this was to make the "natives" disown everything Indian and covet everything that was British. We were made to see how flawed and redundant our traditions were and we were so grateful to learn the spelling of 'renaissance'.
The post-Independence India could not rid itself of this mindset. Nehru-Indira governments gave ample space to Leftist-Marxist discourse and institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) churned out thousands of bureaucrats, academics, journalists and activists with ‘Leftist' leaning. Over a period of time, the Left discourse elbowed out the Indic intellectual ecosystem which was shunned as regressive and backward.
Even today the course on Indian philosophy is not taught in JNU and the proposal for a centre on Sanskrit and Yoga studies is met with stern resistance by Leftists including teachers and students. It is this intellectual tradition that convinces people like Anish Kapoor and Irfan Habib that the Indian civilisation has forever been exploitative and hence the need is to stitch up a new system with no Indic traces.
According to ‘Left-Liberal’ line of thought Sanskrit is the road to Conservatism and Brahmanical dominance. The theory of a terrible Brahmanical regime thus comes to be accepted as a fact and often dangled as a fearsome consequence of faith in the Indic system. No one, however, cares to question that if the theory holds water, how was it that the two greatest Indian epics were penned by Valmiki and Ved Vyas, both non-Brahmins. Does no one wonder if it is possible for an exploitative civilisation to organically survive for more than 5,000 years?
Liberal and Popular Discourse
There is no liberal discourse in our country but there are only predominantly Left-liberals working in the field of media, academics and development. When the intellectual class should have worked on developing an ‘Indian Left’ idea, they found it convenient to accept super-structures dominated by Classical Marxism. The essential Indianisation of Marxism or Left never happened and we created a false paradigm for our debates and discussions.
In the field of popular cultural discourse, Indian cinema is one of the important media. India cinema has played a significant role in developing understanding of our myths and history in the last half century. There are more voices from the world of cinema that influence different issues of national importance. There is a need of group of cinema and literary personalities which can speak on issues of national importance but with a different perspective and represent the counter-cultural narrative of the current times which is now shared by millions of youth of this country and which the outdated intellectual class want to brand as 'intolerant' and crass.
A peek into the time of Partition provides us valuable insight into the Left leanings of the Indian film industry. That was the time when actors like Dilip Kumar and the Lahore Writers' Group became a dominating force of the "Bombay" film industry. Many from the Progressive Writers' Forum (read Communists) also joined the film industry from time to time like KA Abbas, Bhim Sahani, MS Satthu and others. Like the rest of the country, the film industry too was deeply influenced by the wave of Nehruvian-Socialism. The film circuit, as a result, was dominated by Left-liberals and Congress-supporters like Nargis, Sunil Dutta, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Shah Rukh Khan. During the Emergency the cinema fraternity was asked by "Yuvraj" Sanjay Gandhi to organise musical nights and create an environment in support of Emergency. The only dissenting voice of that time was of Manoj Kumar who made patriotic films like Upkaar and Purab Aur Paschim. Today, there are few cine stars like Anupam Kher who have broken away from the old guards and taken a nuanced ideological position. We need more Anupam Khers which can represent a parallel narrative which has the potential to give birth to a new paradigm of intellectual-cultural tradition free from old ideological shackles and representative of a de-colonised Indian mind.
In Search of Indic Tradition
Collective efforts are needed to search and work for an Indic tradition. For Left-liberals, Indic is equivalent to Right-wing, Hindu-centric, nationalist or Hindu-nationalist but actually it is more than that. Indic comprises anything that originates from this land, blossoms in this atmosphere and prospers in this geo-cultural territory. An Indic tradition can lead to assimilative points of view, nuanced solutions and the creation of truly ‘new’.
Such an Indic ecosystem based on our civilisational values can provide the adequate environment to discuss our civilisation background, its legacy and relevance as well as its lessons. Today, when religion is a major area of conflict, very few academic institutions conduct a comparative study of religions. This is because of an academic-intellectual environment that alienates and distances religions from each other. An Indic intellectual environment will provide the necessary insight and compassionate approach needed for such a study. Our ancient texts and writings of intellectuals like Coomaraswamy, Yadunath Sarkar, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Vasudev Agrawal can provide the ammo to start this intellectual spark.
Respect for local heroes, beliefs and modernisation of Indian traditions would be the basic foundation of an Indic intellectual ecosystem. It would take inspiration from the past, think about the present and envision a prosperous future for all Indians. We can not prosper and develop with a borrowed narrative. We need to have our own story, conceptualised and narrated by our own people.
The creation of an ‘Indic' intellectual ecosystem does not entail wipe out the Left-Marxist system, but simply balancing it out. It is the responsibility of the academic and intellectual community to create a new narrative that springs from their own intellectual rigour.
Mughals and Turks destroyed Indian temples and knowledge centres but the British developed an education system that was meant to kill India's faith in itself. As a legacy of that education system, the colonial mentality still works in our mind obstructing our journey inventing or discovering anything new or original. There is a dire need to rejuvenate our civilisational discourse and develop an Indic knowledge tradition that will help us and also benefit people all over the world.
We need to develop a theoretical foundation for Bhartiya Drishti - an 'Indian Way' or Indic tradition to look at all the perpetuating problems of India and the world. Before that we need to understand ourselves - develop a vantage point of our knowledge tradition, study when and how it got weak and how it could be revived. We can reform only when we know the form.