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India Abroad' s Brood of Opinion Writers - Analysts or Ideologues?

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

[Editor's intro: "Ramesh N. Rao is an associate professor of Communication at Truman State University, Missouri and serves on the Consultative Committee on Indic Traditions and Conflict Management at Columbia University. He worked as a copy editor at The Hindu and completed a PhD in Communication at Michigan State University". CJS wallia]

Since the installation of the BJP-led government, India Abroad has published some vicious and vindictive diatribes couched as "scholarly articles" for a readership that has as yet, as far as can be made out from letters to the editor, not understood the history of these "historians" and the scientism of the "social scientists" who regularly vent their anger and spill their vitriol in the Op-ed columns. That such attacks get the space they do in the op-ed columns of the largest circulated newspaper to the Indian clientele in the US makes one wonder about the editorial stance of India Abroad. Is it a centrist paper as some think?

Is India Abroad being"politically correct" by being overtly anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva and anti-Hindu nationalism? There has not only been a studied silence on the shenanigans of the Congress, but also of the mockery of democracy by the likes of goon-buffoons Laloo Prasad Yadav and his proxy Chief Minister and wife Rabri Devi. The newspaper is sanguine about Sonia Gandhi and her party, ignoring the fact that it was the Congress-I that cost the exchequer Rs 1000/- crores by toppling the United Front government and the calling of new elections. To understand the mindset and ideology of opinion writers that India Abroad favors, I counter two articles published in the last two months. The first, published in the May 22nd issue, was written by Itty Abraham, the program director of the South Asia Program at the Social Sciences Research Council in New York. The article was titled "Euphoria over Tests is seen as a result of ignorance." The second, published in the July 24th issue, was written by Arvind N. Das, a "commentator on political affairs." That article was titled "BJP is more comfortable with mythology than history." I believe that unless these articles are dissected carefully and shown for what they really convey we will continue to be inflicted by these ideologues whose eyes are shut to reality (however fashionably they might want to describe reality, polysemic, multicultural, etc.) and for whom the endgame is obliteration of those whom they oppose, or at least driving them into corners from which they either are forced to lash out or have a difficult time defending themselves.

Itty Abraham's article, in which he baldly and boldly proclaims that Hindus cannot be trusted is an exercise more in disingenuity than a clear analysis of the past and prevailing conditions in the "nuclear arena." Let me point out, as I did in a letter to India Abroad on June 6th, that Itty Abraham's characterization of Hindus as untrustworthy would have sent alarm bells ringing in any editorial office. That it did not do so at India Abroad shows how easy it is to attack Hindus than any other group, religious or otherwise. Mr. Abraham claims that South Asia was, until the nuclear tests this past May, at last catching "the bug that had infected the rest of the world: if not a peace virus, then at least the disease of detente." If indeed there has been a peace or detente bug floating around I wonder where. Did the collapse of the Soviet Union and changes in East Europe indicate the presence of such a bug? What a simplistic reading of the complex dynamic of economic, social and global military forces that burst the bloated bubble that the Soviet empire had become and the cold and brutal calculation of the Reagan presidency that reduced Afghanistan from a ruble economy to a rubble state and thus got to the underside of the bloated Soviet belly. If this is how detente works I wonder what real politik looks like! Mr. Abraham may point out to the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and proclaim, "See, that is the effect of the peace bug." Unless one is living on another planet, I don't see how one can with a straight face say that the Israeli-Palestinian relationship has improved. Is an assassin's bullet that took the life of Israeli prime minister Rabin indication of the presence of a peace bug? Is the cornering of the PLA by Netanyahu's government indication of an improved relationship? Is two years of dithering and the macabre dance on the edge of the cliff of failed talks indication of detente? Let us look at other areas of the world: How about Sudan and Rwanda in Africa? What about Iran and Iraq in the Middle East? What about Sri Lanka? What about Tibet or Myanmar or Kampuchea? Any progress?

Abraham finds fault with the Indian public's "broad pro-nuclear sentiment, " and asserts that such a sentiment is rooted in disillusion, despair and lack of information despair and disillusionment from the slow and unsteady pace of social and economic change in society and lack of information about nuclear matters. The lack of social and economic progress has disillusioned many of the educated middle-class no doubt and no doubt that in a country with about 500 million illiterate people one canfind that information about complex nuclear issues is not easily available or disseminated. But are they the only reasons for broad support of the nuclear program? The three wars with Pakistan, the one disastrous defeat at the hands of the Chinese, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the company of poor and unhappy neighboring states and the hegemony of a few powers in the world arena could also explain why Indians support the nuclear program. Mr. Abraham's sanguine take on the state of the world is merely a cleverrhetorical stance to beat up on India, not a balanced reading of world affairs.

Next, Mr. Abraham characterizes the BJP as pro-Hindu and right wing. This from a "social scientist" who describes Hindus as untrustworthy!I could simply point out and say that Mr. Abraham is anti-Hindu, hysterical, and a demagogue. The labels "conservative, reactionary, fundamentalist, fascist, etc., " that have been crudely used by some marxists, liberals and feminists in India to characterize the BJP and drown out civilized debate, bandied about by every goon and a buffoon of a politician who doesn't belong to the BJP, used simplistically by ignorant and lazy Western journalists and hungrily swallowed by some greenhorn graduate students of literary criticism, political science, or sociology are more an indication of ignorance and ideological posturing than an effort to educate and inform society or seek reconciliation among political groups in India. Marxists have been good at propaganda and those homegrown in India have successfully covered their own shameful and schizophrenic ditherings on Indian and global affairs by throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the BJP, or as Mr. Abraham does, at all Hindus.

Finally, Mr. Abraham concludes his article by claiming that the nuclear powers have acceded to the CTBT, the revival of Article 6 of the NPT, etc. I don't know when Mr. Abraham last talked to Senator Helms, but let me tell you it ain't going to be easy for the President of the United States to convince the US senate to ratify CTBT! And what about those Western powers like France, who till about two years ago bombed to smithereens the atolls in the Pacific! How morally or ethically strong is their position on CTBT? Sure, some countries like Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, or Canada have taken a consistent stand on testing. But aren't these countries hypocritical when they accept the nuclear umbrella that the US and NATO provide them? Would India have sought to go nuclear if the US had heeded India's request for a "nuclear umbrella" in the 1960s immediately after China exploded a nuclear bomb? Mr. Abraham doesn't address any of these basic issues but spends all his energy lambasting India, Hindus and the BJP.

Similar in tone, but a rather aimless and wildly polemic essay is contributed by Arvind Das in the July 24th issue of India Abroad. He begins by asking: "Why is the BJP so afraid of history?" He characterizes the BJP ideology as antediluvian and that it is more interested in legend and myth rather than in "an actual engagement with the past." Now, let us look at how he answers the question he poses and substantiates the characterization he gleefully begins with.

Mr. Das states that "...the BJP-led coalition recently packed the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) with historians who are seenas being in agreement with the party's world view...." Does hesubstantiate this claim by giving the names of those historians who share the BJP "world view"? (And what is that world view anyway? Have we any clear, detailed description of it? This rhetorical ploy, often usedinsiduously by some politically correct Indian commentators, is a crass attempt at belittling a group/a stance without rigorous analysis orsubstantiation.) For those interested in the ICHR issue, I direct them to a recent column by Arun Shourie titled "Fabrications on the way to the Funeral"dated June 27th in which he provides all the details that Mr. Das does not. Shourie analyzes an article in Outlook magazine that alleges the ICHR hasn't only been packed with pro-BJP historians but that certain key words in the ICHR Memorandum of Association has been changed to fit the BJP's nationalistic, pro-Hindu agenda. It would take too long here to summarize the investigation that Shourie carried out to find out if indeed the allegations were true, but I will just point out two things: one, there was no conspiracy to change the word "rational" to "national" in the Memorandum of Association but that it was a typographical error that was made 20 years ago and so continued to appear in every new printing of the Memorandum;second, that the ICHR was always packed by a "Red and Green" brigade of historians R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Bipan Chandra, Muhammad Habib, D.N. Jha, S. Gopal, Ravinder Kumar, Sumit Sarkar, Parthasarthi Gupta, Mushirul Hasan, K.N. Panicker and others whose agenda was to gloss over what was not convenient in their scheme of things(for example, in the multi-crore research project to publish a record of the Freedom Struggle from the Indian point of view). As Shourie states:"Twenty seven years have gone by. Not a few lakhs, instead two crores of Rupees have been spent. The project is lost in the wilderness one of the major scandals of Indian academia. Not just that. These were leftists. At various stages, the leftists had done their best to thwart the Freedom Movement. Salivating at the thought that by doing so they would attract Muslim youth to their fold, the Communist Party had supported the demand for the Partition of India. And so, the dedicated historians who had been conveniently handed the project, did everything to suppress documents and derail volumes which could not but have brought the facts about the left on record. That is history. That is objective history...." Of course, there are many who hate Shourie and dismiss his carefulresearch because he does not belong to the group of fashionable and politically correct but lazy academics. For those whose sensibilities do not allow the mention of Shourie, how about V.S. Naipaul? In an interview with The Hindu, on July 5th this year, he was asked: "You have been rather vehement about Marxist, leftist interpretations of history. What did you see as a major flaw in their arguments? Naipaul's reply:"Probably not so much the Marxist interpretation of history as Marxist politics which, of course, is entirely criminal. Such disrespect for men. (Long pause).I think that is enough; that is condemnation enough. This lack of regard for human beings."

Mr. Das quickly shifts from his allegation that the ICHR is now packed by a saffron brigade of historians without ever naming names, without ever mentioning the works of these "pro-BJP historians." Why? Because if he did, he would have no case. That is the ploy of commentators and"scholars" of his ilk. Allege, blame, label, pontificate, polemicize and never substantiate that is the name of the game that Mr. Das and those 70s-trained Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU) sociologists, political scientists and historians play.

From claiming that JNU has now been "overtaken by the saffron surge"to blaming a variety of research and academic institutions (like the ICSSR, ICPR and ICHR) for their apathy, under-production, bureaucratization, etc., Mr. Das then editorializes that while the Congress Party patronized their own they also accommodated the "heterodox" in these institutions, the BJP has just loaded these bodies with "saffron" scholars. Again, there are no names, no affiliations of these scholars. Just claim that this is so, and you are supposed to believe! The only names that Mr. Das mentions are that of B.B. Lal, K.S. Lal and B.R. Grover, who he alleges are BJP supporters but who also prospered under the Congress. It is time to squelch this canard too. Let me draw the reader's attention to an article by B.B. Lal (retired Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India) in The Hindu titled"Facts of history cannot be altered" written in response to The Hindu's allegations that Prof. Lal had refused to hand over his field diaries to the ASI and that he, Lal had begun "echoing the Sangh Parivar and even claimed to possess clinching' evidence suggesting the Babri Masjid stood on the ruins of a Hindu Temple." Once again, it would be impossible to summarize all of Prof. Lal's point by point reply to The Hindu, but let me give you the gist of it. Prof. Lal is accused of changing his stance on the historicity of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. His reply: "In 1988 the ICHR organised an international seminar in New Delhi at which I presented a 60-page paper entitled Historicity of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana: What has archaeology to say in the matter?'Finding in it something that went counter to their views, the then authorities of the ICHR withheld the publication of the paper. Thereafter, when another journal published it, there was a great hue and cry, as if the heavens had fallen."So much for Das' claim that Prof. Lal was "accommodated" by the ICHR during Congress rule! Regarding his alleged withholding of the diary from the ASI, Prof. Lal says: "...The Survey is the custodian of all the documents, including field diaries, plans, sections, photo negatives and the entire excavated material; and as my information goes, the Babri Masjid historians did see the same a few years ago. Why all this fuss now?"

Finally, Mr. Das tries to pontificate about the nature and effects of history. Like any greenhorn graduate student whose first encounter with secondary sources summarizing the turgid, boring, predictable and pretentious meanderings of continental philosophers, Mr. Das pays obeisance to Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Bakhtin, et al. and lectures that"History, in particular, is a complex matter and the mere appointment of academic bureaucrats cannot either mythologize it or trivialize it to the Sangh's satisfaction." What balderdash and what a clever but lazyescape clause!

If history-writing is "clearly linked to the discourse of power, " pray what power is or does? Is power "out there" in some abstract, nebulous other world? Power is exhibited in many ways ideological, institutional, relational, individual and in real and concrete forms (buildings, armaments, literature, music, et al). And power is and has both negative and positive characteristics and affirmations. That Mr. Das chooses to take silly potshots at academics (whom he does not name) by invoking the works and names of some dead and some alive white men and white men only, I suspect that he has little or no serious and rigorous training in the humanities or the social sciences and has even less of an interest or knowledge of matters and material Hindu and Indian. Mr. Das says that"the Sangh Parivar as a whole neither has, nor can possible have, a consistent view of history." First of all, I would like to draw attention to the use of the words "sangh" and "sangh parivar." To make these words "demonterms" and so to demonize the character or works of people in such groups as Mr. Das does is the worst kind of demagoguery. Mr. Das may believe that the and people of his ilk somehow have the right and a monopoly in usurping and claiming the moral, intellectual and political high ground and all those they survey from such dizzying heights are moral, intellectual and political pygmies. Dream on! My next point is that myth and illusion have been dealt with great insight by Hindu philosophers and sages (like Shankara, for example) and Mr. Das need not expend his energies on castigating those historians, archaeologists and scholars for a nuanced understanding of those matters. What he should look at seriously is his own lack of rigor and interest in analyzing the works of those others whom he castigates as "pathetic specimens" of "...cynicism, pseudo-scientificism combined with sheer bigotry." It is a sad commentary on the 70s and 80 straining of some Indian academics in the social sciences and humanities that they resort to such unscientific and inhumane name calling so easily, so blithely. When Mr. Das dismisses the work of archaeologists as"...producing evidence of a broken pillar here, the fragment of an inscription there, pieces of pots and human artifacts from beneath theearth of Ayodhya evidence that is historically verifiable or not..." he is doing what self-righteous but lazy academics always do, just simply shift the goal post. When people raised questions about the historicity of the Rama temple, the gauntlet they threw was "produce the evidence."

When the evidence was produced (see the article by B.B. Lal in The Hindu for more details), the challenge became something else. This kind of shameless political posturing is befitting of goons and criminals, not those who claim to be academics. Mr. Das ends his article saying "Monkey gods may've their place in mythology, but human history is too important and complex to be left to be monkeyed about by bigots, zealots and office-mongers."What he has done is to caricature and condemn a people, their gods, their history (however slippery and vague Mr. Das' definition of history maybe), their right to affirm and reclaim what is theirs. Mr. Das, however, has noproblem putting Marx or Derrida or Foucault on a pedestal and worshipping them! And regarding the problematic of human history, Mr. Das, I suppose, would have no problem claiming the right also to interpret it his way. To such people as India Abroad provides space to ventilate their wicked blatherings, I will just quote the last question posed to Naipaul and his reply.

Q: But don't you think this tendency is only going to increase the tendency to whimsically and freely interpret religion or history at the street level?

A: I think it will keep on increasing as long as you keep on saying it is wicked and that they are wicked people. And if we wish to draw the battle line, then of course, you get to battle. If you try to understand what they are saying, things will calm down.

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