On Your Right: Configuring the Hindu Nationalist Intellectual Architecture

Right wing intellectuals are bringing out the sidelined side of Indian History. Source: Indian Express

In this post-truth era where facts are malleable to the whims of power and disinformation, an ideological cannon to serve one’s politics is an insurance policy, used repeatedly to firm up arguments in a desi culture war. 

India has reached a post ideological phase in its politics with unlikely political partnerships being firmed up since the coalition era of the 1990s. Since independence, a left-of-centre, soft Marxist school has determined the written history and centralised economic planning, which came to an abrupt halt when its fountainhead, The Planning Commission, was dismantled and rejigged as the NITI Aayog. 

This event marked an advent in to a ‘New India’ informed by a school of thinking, side-tracked for decades for it was inconvenient to the rulers of the day. The secular, left-of-centre school, dominating all institutions of knowledge production and dissemination, dismissed this thought collective as regressive, irrational and other, without examining its merits. 

The doyens of the secular camp (aka the ‘Khan Market Gang’) comprising of noted historian Romila Thapar and theorist Ashis Nandy, to more recently public intellectuals Ramchandra Guha, Arundhati Roy and Pratap Bhanu Mehta have built the dominant thought architecture in the country. It is often rooted in western liberal ideas rather than similar sophisticated philosophical/political/sociological thinking emanating within Indian traditions. 

Such thinking has therefore focused on articulating the civic state, decoupled from a civilisation state which is culturally and philosophically Hindu.

The word ‘conservative’ is a blurry term, and the other preferred lexicon-right wing is an omnibus consisting of a range rather than something more specific. In the Indian realm, it is referred as rashtrawadi, or nationalist in the political spectrum. 

Indian conservative thinking process is linked deeply to the Hindu inheritance of the country. The reclaiming of the dharmic state is at the heart of the Indian Conservative Thought. 

The sheer displacement of the notion that Hindu thinking should be discarded in the service of the secular post-colonial Indian state is a Nehruvian invention. It was used as a ceasefire flag that was being waved to its large minority population. It was an indication that irrespective of appeasement politics, dharmic thought shall be muted as the post partition peace prevailed. 

This thinking has led to the emasculation of everything Hindu, the thought process being removed from the administrative echelons of the nation. The dharmic ‘Deep State’ (in the words of Mr. Ajay Kumar, a Mumbai based lawyer and philosopher with whom I interviewed on what does it mean to be an Indian Conservative) on the contrary has been resilient, operating under the administrative surface over many centuries during the Mughal and consequent British Rule, interspersed by a Hindu Maratha dominance for 75 years. 

In India, the nomenclature of a conservative also meant cultural nationalism rather than economic free market policies. Swatantra Party was the last political configuration focusing on economic conservatism as it was hamstrung by a disproportionate number of princes, parsis and big businessmen[1]

The Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha and later the Bhartiya Janata Party have been situated firmly within Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva thinking of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The trade union wing of the Sangh Parivar has its policies which are swadeshi in character (economic self-reliance) and are often overlapping with the diagonally opposite left, which also has a rich track record of scholarship informing its policies. 

The Hindu voice in the popular discourse is slowly being reinstated since 2014, as Modi won a massive mandate which it repeated in 2019 as well. Institutional power needs a school of writing which will create the narrative and recover the stories of the past long tucked away in the archive. 

Member of Parliament and columnist Swapan Dasgupta has done striking work. He has been one of the preeminent Indian conservatives, even when it was not very fashionable to be one. 

In an interview to journalist Anuradha Sengupta, on the now defunct TV programme, ‘Off Centre’- Swapan Da as he is affectionately known said, “A Conservative, is a lapsed Marxist mugged in to reality. Mr. Dasgupta has recently published a book Awaking Bharat Mata spelling out the fundamentals of the Hindu Right belief system. 

I had met the present Principal Economic Advisor to the Government of India, the incredible polymath Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal at Dr Parag Khanna’s book ‘Connectography’ launch at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore in 2016, where while engaging in a conversation post-event he said, “I did not like how history was written in India, so one day I woke up and started writing history.

Mr. Sanyal has eloquently written on the Hindu heritage in South East Asia, in his book ‘Ocean of Churn’and is presently writing his next book on revolutionaries during the freedom struggle who have been silenced in the writings of our history. Journalist and writer Deep Haldar in his book ‘Blood Island’ captured oral histories of the Hindu Namasudra survivors of the Marihjjhapi massacre in 1979 inflicted by the then left regime in power. 

There has been a spate of books capturing the Hindu experience from seasoned writer Mr. Hindol Sengupta’s ‘Being Hindu’ to Sahitya Akademi Awardee and Politician Dr Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Why I am a Hindu’. From noted author and former diplomat Pavan Varma’s book on The Adi Shankaracharya to scholar Jyotirmaya Sharma’s three-part book series capturing the essence of Hindutva. 

The Indian conservative is busy recovering and chronicling the Hindu past and in the same breath resurrecting his own space in the sun. However, the focus on the revisionist historiography needs to give way to thinking on the future, as was raised during an e-conversation with a political scientist from the National University of Singapore. 

So how does the Indian Conservative think on issues related to science and technology policy or urban planning? There is a definite structure to thinking on education, national security and social issues which the Hindu conservative in India has. However as more scholars and thinkers write on such matters, a corpus of writing will be developed which will act as an intellectual first responder for the Hindu Nationalist Policy Makers. 

There is a need to recover voices in vernacular literature to holistically carve a conservative voice for the country. One such voice, Sir Jadunath Sarkar the famed historian was banished from the corridors of Indian History in the 1970s. Hopefully, the Indian Conservative shall not be muted again whether it is in the footnotes of history or at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi. 

[1] Swapan Dasgupta Talk on Indian Conservatism and Protest Movement at Kings College London, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UdREQdvygY (34:19 minutes)

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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