Does India have a rational and robust right-wing intellectual class? Does the BJP have intellectual heft? Many of those who do not think of themselves as belonging to the Right have answered the questions with a resounding ‘no’.URA’S BOOK RELEASE ‘HINDUTVA OR HIND SWARAJ
Modern historian Ramachandra Guha has done so repeatedly. He said in an interview that BJP is a rare right-wing political party “with no intellectuals”. Guha is not alone in this analysis. Another historian, Sanjay Subrahmanyam of UCLA, told this newspaper last December “that the BJP has always had an intellectual deficit. Their best intellectuals are apparently Arun Shourie and Madhu Kishwar. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to intellectuals.”
These are putdown statements not worthy of true intellectuals. If we find so few of intellectuals on the Right, it is partly because we do not care to look for them in the right places, and partly because academic institutions everywhere – and not just in India – have been captured by the left-liberal elite.
Nicholas Kristof wrote about “liberal intolerance” in the New York Times earlier this year: “We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table – er, so long as they are not Conservatives.” He quotes four studies which show that Republicans form just 6-11% of professors in the humanities; in social sciences, their numbers are even lower, at 7-9%.
But would we know a right-wing intellectual even if we brought him or her in a procession to the beating of drums? ‘Right-wing’ has many meanings, but two of them matter in our context: the economic Right and the cultural/religious Right.
It cannot be anybody’s case that India lacks an economic Right, one that backs market-based economics, a smaller state, and less welfarism. Pick up any pink paper and you will find them in droves. On the other hand, it is difficult to find any left-wing intellectualism in the economic sphere, especially those who can claim to have broken new ground beyond what Karl Marx had to say more than a century ago. The Left has polemicists, not intellectuals.
The real deficit on the Right relates to one thing: money. Creating intellectuals of any kind needs an ecosystem that nurtures them, and in India that simply does not exist. The mere fact that there is a BJP government in power does not mean there will be a flowering of right-wing intellectualism tomorrow.
Money to build academic intellectual capital usually comes from three basic sources: government patronage, wealthy individuals and corporations, and support from religious/cultural organisations that run high-quality academic institutions.
In India, government patronage has created a Left intellectual class (what little there is) which dominates academic institutions. Government funding for right-wing think tanks hasn’t begun even now with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in power.
The next source of right-wing intellectual funding is its natural constituency – wealthy individuals and corporations. In the US, institutions like Cato and Heritage receive massive funds from these sources. It does not happen in India because crony capitalism has been the norm, and cronies do not fund projects that have no immediate wealth-generating potential for them. The few of the super-rich who are willing to fund long-term research and intellectualism prefer to do so at Harvard and Stanford. Reason: Indian governments meddle too much in academic institutions here.
The third avenue is temples. In India, temples generate a lot of money, but many of them are effectively run by politicians or state governments. In the West, the church owns many academic institutions, and they can fund research and intellectual capital to support their ideological positions. But is this the case in India? Whether it is the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the richest Indian temple, or hundreds of other temples in many states, especially the south, the heavy hand of the state ensures that temple funds are managed by politicians, and not individuals with vision. The wealth of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, running into over Rs 1,00,000 crore, could have been useful to run academic and social institutions, but no politician is going to let this happen. Till this changes, we can rule out any development of true intellectualism supported by cultural/religious institutions.
But even with all these handicaps, many intellectuals who could fit the description of ‘right-wing’ are coming to the fore. Where, for example, would one place the works of Meenakshi Jain such as ‘Rama and Ayodhya’ and ‘Sati’? These are well-researched books. How would one classify the work of Sanjeev Sanyal, who is formally not a historian, but has pieced together two well-researched popular history books (‘Land of the Seven Rivers’ and ‘The Ocean of Churn’)? Both quietly challenge the monofocal views of leftist history writing of the Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib kind.
Or consider Indian author Michel Danino (born French), who has done great work on the ‘mythical’ Saraswati river and ancient Indian science. Then there is Rajiv Malhotra, a US-based Indian who gave up his business to do a purva paksha on Abrahamic theology. And where would one place Makarand Paranjape of JNU on the Right-Left spectrum of intellectuals?
One can name many such names, of people who are only now coming into their own. A fledgling right-wing intellectual system is actually taking shape if only one cares to look. And no, this intellectual class is fully committed to liberalism and pluralism, not to theocracy or beef politics. In less than a generation, India will have a robust right-wing intellectual class that will challenge the Left.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.