In Absentia: Where are India’s conservative intellectuals?


Ramachandra Guha in Caravan Magazine:

THERE IS A PARADOX at the heart of Indian public life today: that while the country has a right-wing party in power, right-wing intellectuals run thin on the ground. This makes India an exception among the world’s established democracies. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany all have a long lineage of first-rate intellectuals on the right, who continue to provide ballast to parties such as the Republicans in America, the Conservatives in Britain, and the Christian Democrats in Germany. On the other hand, while the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys political power in India, it can command the support of few well-known or widely published intellectuals.

The shortage became strikingly apparent last August, when Y Sudershan Rao was appointed the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. It has further manifested itself in the growing influence over school curricula of Dina Nath Batra. Rao’s publication list is meager—he wrote one little-noticed book 25 years ago, and has no publications in peer-reviewed journals. From the statements he has made since assuming office, it is clear he does not know the difference between fact and fiction, or between history and myth. Batra’s claims to scholarship are even more tenuous. He is of the view that when god made man, he placed the various strands of humanity in an oven—the strain taken out too early became the whites, the strain taken out too late became the blacks, the strain taken out at just the right time became the brown Indians, perfectly coloured and destined thereafter to rule the world.

Both Rao and Batra have long-standing connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Although the RSS describes itself as a cultural organisation, it is in fact intensely ideological and deeply political. Its ultimate goal is the construction of a Hindu rashtra, a state run by and for Hindus. The RSS has very close ties with the BJP—as it did with the party’s predecessor, the Jana Sangh—supplying it with cadres, ministers, and an unending stream of advice.

Rao and Batra’s influence over public policy is based not on their claims to scholarship but on the strength of their links to the RSS. Their statements and proposals have attracted a fair amount of criticism, largely merited, in the media. This could have been avoided if, instead of Rao and Batra, the new government had promoted and patronised scholars with political views congenial to the ruling dispensation and with a string of books and research papers to their name. That alternative, alas, was not available, since intellectuals who meet this twin desiderata do not exist.

More here.