I know that many people don’t believe in the labels Right and Left because they hold different meanings in India’s context, they are simply used to differentiate between the two sides of intellectual, ideological and political discourse that dominates the public sphere in India.
As usual Anand Rangnathan has written a very scathing piece on how, when it comes to analysis and chronicling of political, sociological and historical events, both Left and Right adopt a very selective approach. It’s as if they are not writing what they see and observe, they are writing what they want their readers to read. The writing becomes a means to an end, instead of being an instrument of undiluted truth. This is why they tell half truths, or selectively choose instances to weave a particular narrative.
One ugly truth that the Internet has brought forth is the sheer hypocrisy of our intellectuals, historians and writers who give social commentary. For example, it wouldn’t have been possible for Anand’s observation (he specifically says it’s not a rebuttal) to reach as wide an audience as it has, without the Internet. Only those who subscribed to Newslaundry (assuming it was not an Internet-based publication) would have read it, or a few more with word of mouth.
Without the Internet, the halos around the so-called historians and intellectuals like Ram Guha and Romila Thapar would still have been glowing among unsuspecting readers.
As has been recently seen in Europe and America, this problem is pandemic. Most of the intellectuals and commentators and writers we used to admire just a few years ago, have turned out to be mouthpieces of ideologies and political parties they support. They are heavily opinionated. They are uncouth. They are misogynistic. To ensure that the ideologies and political parties they support prevail , they manufacture lies and propagate those lies that have been manufactured , without even an iota of hesitation. Even if they don’t directly manufacture lies, they portray the truth in such a manner that it can easily be open to various interpretations.
Although in the article Rangnathan primarily targets Leftist historians and journalists who constantly build up a narrative that shows the BJP in an caliginous hue, the underline message is that given a chance, the Right is no different than the Left. Both Right-wing and Left-wing intellectuals and writers indulge in creating a narrative and telling a “colored” history rather than simply giving the facts and then leaving it on the readers what opinions and conclusions they want to draw.
Broadly I agree with him, but there is a significant difference between the capabilities of the Left and the Right. While the Left is constantly setting the agenda, the Right is mostly reacting, and in its own, mostly unorganized way, trying to put out the fire started by the Left, perhaps with too much water sometimes. Or worse, starting a “me too” fire.
The mistake of the Right is that it’s trying to copy the Left without having the resources and single-mindedness that the Left has. The effort seems a bit “chaltau” and as I have said above, reactionary. They want to undo the damage without focusing on the new things that can be done.
Remember that the Left has been in the driving seat for more than 40–50 years (in the 60-odd years of mostly Congress rule). What is Left in the West becomes the Right in India and what’s Right in the West, becomes Left in India. So in that sense, the Left has been ruling India since the British finally had the whole of India in their grip. The intellectual, cultural and economic damage that they have caused spans generations. The Right has just started. So, comparing them is like comparing a sapling to a fully-grown banyan tree.
If the Left is a well-organised mafia, the Right, right now, are the roadside goons aspiring to be able to join the mafia someday. If the Left is a university, the Right is a neighbourhood tuition centre. Whether they admit this or not, the Right is constantly in awe with the platforms and the reach that the Left has created for itself.
This you can see in the way the various BJP ministers constantly try to be on the good side of the journalists belonging to the Leftist ecosystem. Even a small time journalist can make none other than our Finance Minister and (currently) Defence Minister Arun Jaitley launch her book. Even the official Finance Ministry Twitter handle tweeted about the event. This journalist has access to the Finance Minister even after tweeting how excited she felt at the prospect of Narendra Modi catching swine flu. Three different union Cabinet ministers were seen with Rajdeep Sardesai holding and endorsing his recently-published book. Such is the reach and power of the so-called journalists, writers and intellectuals propped up by the Leftist ecosystem.
In India, the Right has been out of power for most of the history of the Independent India. The Right intellectuals that have been able to make some mark can be counted with the fingers of one hand.
After dismantling the old Congress, Indira Gandhi sought new partners and a deal was struck between the Congress and the communists. The communists would provide political support to the Congress and the Congress would allow unrestricted access to various institutions, including universities, bureaucracy and the broadcasting media (that was at that time totally state-controlled). The Education Ministry was given to the Leftists. This is because the Left, driven by the communist ideology, seeks power in long-term intellectual domination rather than short-term political power. It likes to control the mind because such control is long-lasting.
So far the scholarly debate has been entrenched with Leftist intellectuals and they made sure that there was no space for alternative opinion. In this speech film maker Vivek Agnihotri explains how he was not allowed to show his movie “Buddha in a Traffic Jam” (the movie shows how Leftist intellectuals and university teachers support Naxalites) in most of the universities, including the JNU, and once a Jadavpur University official told him on his face that there was no scope for alternative views in the university.
Due to the Internet, such facts that were mostly known to individuals targeted by the Leftist cabal, are becoming public knowledge.
The biggest casualty has been educational literature. It’s so miserable that you have to read it to believe it. School and college kids get to read mostly three things when they read history and civics: how grand and militarily strong the Mughals were, how exploitative and ridiculously backward the Hindus were, and in the post-independence India, it’s only the Congress party that has sustained the secular fabric of the country.
The kids get to read how nasty various Hindu organizations have been, and how Nehru, and after him Indira Gandhi, and after her Rajiv Gandhi, have been the best political figures the country has had, and the remaining leaders and icons were functioning just at the margins, mostly under the glory of the Nehru-Gandhi family. It’s the Congress party and its various offshoots that have been holding the “Idea of India” together, kids are taught. There has been a sustained effort to instill a sense of guilt in the masses by one sided portrayal of our culture, traditions and religious beliefs.
Partly to undo this damage of massive scale, and partly because of lack of foresight, Rightist intellectuals and writers end up mirroring the behavior of their Leftist counterparts.
Course books need to be changed, without doubt. The history needs to be revisited. The perception of our children needs to be changed. They need to be told that are history isn’t just about superstitious rituals and casteism. They should feel proud of our thinkers, our philosophers, our kings and emperors, our scientists and mathematicians and our warriors. They need to learn that feeling proud of one’s cultural heritage isn’t something to be scoffed at. They need to learn that Western knowledge isn’t always better.
Of course there is going to be resistance. Of course allegations are going to be made. Leftists are going to accuse Rightists of saffronising education, history and political science, and some of these allegations are going to be true. When a churning happens, such things are bound to happen, although, they shouldn’t be endorsed and excuses shouldn’t be made.
The dust devils of allegations and counter allegations can only be placated with right intentions. The course corrections can’t be made by doing the same what Leftist intellectuals, writers and historians did. What we need is an impartial, unapologetic discourse.