‘ Ramachandra Guha : The Failure of Indian Liberalism’

published on November 13, 2012

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Outlookindia has done great damage to historian/cricketologist/enivironmentalist and man of many parts, Ramachandra Guha. It has published an advance preview of his forthcoming book ‘Patriots and Partisans’ (Penguin) by printing excerpts from it. The excerpts are placed under the title ‘Who Milks this Cow ?’ (Nov. 19, 2012). Mr. Guha refers to himself as a LIBERAL. It is difficult to believe that these excerpts were published without the knowledge of the author. It is possible that the editor of Outlookindia was acting either with excessive liberal zeal or what is the more mundane explanation he was trying to boost sagging sales with this sensationalism.

The article is an astonishing collection of vituperative attacks on the Sangh Parivar, the RSS, the Hindutvadins, the Hindus of the diaspora, the internet Hindus etc. It is astonishing because Mr. Guha seems to be quoting mainly from private emails he received from various quarters which berate him, rebuke him for being anti Hindutva and so on. Now, Ramachandra Guha is not surely lying about these emails, he is too intelligent for that. The question arises as to why he is publicising these emails in the first place. One is tempted to say that he has been set up as a hatchet man ! Surely an historian described as a ‘leading’ Indian historian can do better than indulge in these infantile gimmicks ?

The present writer had read some of his earlier environmental work approvingly and when the book India After Gandhi came out (2008)  it seemed an impressive work, if only for the enormous amount of work that the author had put into it. Its serious evaluation still awaits, but whatever its shortcomings there is no doubt that it represented a serious effort in the genre of historical chronicle. It would be useful to compare and contrast this work with Radha Rajan’s Eclipse of the Hindu Nation (2009).He begins the book by wondering out aloud as to what was special about the Indian achievement and why and so on.  One waited to see if he had arrived at some conclusion, which he clearly had not by the end  of the book. And it seems that he is still searching. The forthcoming book might resolve the mystery.

However, the excerpts above are not an encouraging prognosis.

But assuming that Mr. Guha was in earnest about his appraisal of the above movements and organisations based on some random emails that he received, one cannot help but wonder whether this promising author has begun to lose it. His ideological dislike, bordering on ‘hatred’ of anything that resembles the different versions of India (different from his ‘liberal versions)that have been thrown up, is a disappointment and an intimation of what is to come. This is ‘liberalism’ at its most intolerant and vindictive mode ! Its failures are  harmful to the country  and act as catalysts for discontent.

Hindutva, which is  Mr. Guha’s target, has been written about since the time of Savarkar in the 1920s. Shri Savarkar had raised the question of who is a Hindu ? He had  answered that it was any citizen of the future independent India, regardless of race, religion, caste, creed etc. He was one of the first caste Hindus who initiated intercaste dining and so on. It is this type of thinking that animated Dr. K.B. Hegdewar to establish the RSS (Rashtriya Seva Sangh) in 1925   and whose philosophy the present RSS follows faithfully to the letter. And if the Sangh Parivar organisations which do sterling social service work in the country, do have many members who are vegetarians (Mr. Guha was not sympathetic to this in his book India after Gandhi, and this strikes a jarring note in the book) then he is to blame, not the  vegetarians !

Indeed, apart from the fact that vegetarianism might be a good thing after all from a health point of view, it might be useful for the reader to be informed that the latest documentary on cattle trafficking  Their Last Journey  mentions that India is the third largest producer of meat in the world and that too under the most horrifying practices which cause untold suffering to the animals. Perhaps Mr. Guha is well advised to view this documentary (it is available at Haindava Keralam.com).  

Are these people who produce such humanitarian videos to be dismissed as Hindutvadins ? If so, three cheers for Hindutvadins ! Even by any yardstick (Mr. Guha’s liberalism or otherwise) the job they do in publicising the plight of these animals is something that Mahatma Gandhi himself would have endorsed. Mahatma Gandhi is a name that Mr. Guha frequently evokes in admiration. There are also Hindu groups that work towards the protection of Hindu temples, again surely a worthwhile task when the liberal atmosphere is not conducive to such efforts. Don’t Hindus have the right to protect their temples ? Should not the country engage in constructive activity that would keep the temples as World Heritage sites ? Why in a country that is predominantly Hindu should Mr. Guha display a tendency towards unpatriotic proclivities ? Is it surprising then that people write angry letters  to newspapers or even to him ? Why indeed do Indian liberals jump up and down at the perfectly respectable word ‘rashtram’ (of Vedic lineage). The goddess Sarasvati has said : aham rashtrii sangamani abhyudayam ( I move people towards their welfare). It is time that Mr. Guha read the Rig Vedic corpus, since no serious historian of the country and its culture can afford to neglect it.

If Indian liberalism is represented by the ignorance of the country’s Sanskrit tradition it is not surprising that the Hindus of the country are in turn contemptuous of this failure. The binary opposition that Mr. Guha sets up between patriots and partisans is reflective of the limited nature of his own perspectives. Until he comes to an understanding of his own history, Mr. Guha will remain a limited writer of books that are sponsored by well known international publishers.

Then again, Mr. Guha’s pet peeve seems to be Hindus in the diaspora. Many of these whom he maligns not only contribute to the foreign exchange reserves of the country, they also put their money where their mouth is, by supporting worthwhile causes such as the education of girls , or the education of tribal children and so on, which also happens to be organised by the Sangh Parivar organisations. Or is Mr. Guha saying that only the people that he authorises,puts his stamp of approval on, are allowed to undertake such philanthropic works ? Here again is liberal narrow mindedness at its worst!

Now to the question of caste ? If, as he says in the excerpts above, his family divested themselves of the sacred thread, is it mandatory for all Hindus in that category to follow suit. Indeed, this much abused section of Hindu society in recent times, has been responsible for the preservation of ancient rituals from Vedic times. A good example(but not the only one) would be the Nambudiris of Kerala who have maintained the Athiratram Yagna  rituals unchanged since Vedic times. It is to the scholars from this  caste and community that Hindus owe the faithful transmission of Sanskrit texts and traditions. Is Mr. Guha saying that they should all follow in his family’s footsteps and throw out Hindu sacred rituals from the Vedic homa onwards and consign Hindu sacred literature to museums ? Indeed all over India it is this community which has through thick and thin , through barbarian invasions and atrocities kept the Hindu Agni alive. Sadly, Mr. Guha in his new found role as the Grand Inquisitor has forgotten his history.

With regard to the Dalit question his family’s service in helping them is to be commended. But his further assumption  that this is the only effort being made in India is ludicrous. Both the GOI and the NGOs (which include the Sangh Parivar organisations) and ordinary individuals have worked to alleviate the situation of the Dalits ? En passant, it should be pointed out to him that it is one of his much disliked Hindus in the diaspora  who has written an excellent recent  monograph on the topic. He is well advised to read Dr. Rakesh Bahadur’s ‘Equality and Inclusion : Progress and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes In Independent India’ (2010).

As for the question of minorities, he rightly raises the question of violence, but is selective in pointing out only that which is committed by the Hindus and is silent on the atrocities committed by the minority community (in this case the Muslim) both historically, in recent times and at present.

Outlookindia may unintentionally  be doing a service to the nation by the preview. Readers can expect to read more of the same and are forewarned. Far from being the work of a contemporary Indian intellectual it might turn out to be a diatribe against Hindus in general. The inquisition against the Hindutvadins is usually that.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

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