On January 18, 2022, a thought-provoking dialogue unfolded as Madhu Kishwar engaged in a conversation with R. Jagannathan and Gautam Sen. The focal point of their discussion was the intricate subject of “Trap of South Asian Identity to Gag Hindu Voices in Western Academia.” This intellectually charged discourse delved into the challenges faced by Hindu scholars and thinkers in Western academic circles, shedding light on the complex web of identity politics and its impact on the freedom of expression and representation within the academic realm. The full video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I9rtpYOqoo
R. Jagannathan is an Indian journalist who serves as the editorial director of Swarajya, an Indian magazine founded by Khasa Subba Rau in 1956. Before that, he was editor-in-chief of all Network18 publications including the online news website FirstPost.com and Moneycontrol.com as well as Forbes India.
Dr. Gautam Sen is the President of the World Association of Hindu Academicians and Co-director of the Dharmic Ideas and Policy Foundation. He has an extensive academic background, having taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.
Madhu Kishwar: Today, our topic of discussion is the ‘Trap of South Asian Identity in Western Academia: Gagging Hindu Voices.’ To explore the implications of this issue, I am joined by Raghav Jagannathan Ji, also known as Jaggi, the editor of Swarajya, and Dr. Gautam Sen. I derived inspiration for this discussion from an email exchange among a close-knit group of concerned friends and scholars. Jaggi and Dr. Gautam contributed critical insights to that conversation, prompting me to organize this live discussion. The topic has been a lingering concern for me, and when Jagannathan and Dr. Gautam raised these questions, I recognized them as ideal candidates to kickstart this conversation. Both are well-acquainted with the dynamics of Western academia.
The concept of South Asian identity has troubled many of us, and we have expressed our dissatisfaction in various ways. What perplexes me is that Indians or Hindus seem to be the primary group traveling to Western countries, such as the United States, Britain, Australia, or Germany, to specialize in India-centric studies. I rarely encounter Indians who venture abroad to gain expertise in American Studies, for example. It leaves me wondering why they need to journey thousands of miles to express their concerns about India. While I can comprehend if a feminist wishes to study American women’s issues or the marginalization of specific groups in America, Western universities often question the qualifications of such Indian applicants, doubting their ability to comprehend and critique Western society. Thus, young Indian scholars face numerous challenges.
However, this raises another question: What about individuals like Ashutosh Varshney or even Amartya Sen, who have achieved the pinnacle of their fields? Indian Muslims are unlikely to enroll in American universities like Oxford or Cambridge to engage in criticism of Islam or Indian Muslims. So, how is it that Western institutions identify and groom individuals from our community to become critics of Hinduism and India?
R. Jagannathan: One of the reasons prompting many Indians to pursue studies abroad is the allure of better opportunities, scholarships, and other incentives, particularly if they focus on these specialized fields. It has become commonplace for Indian bureaucrats and politicians to send their children abroad for education, gaining admissions to Ivy League universities not solely due to exceptional scholarly prowess but often due to familial influence within India. This phenomenon underscores our society’s inclination to study how to become self-critical Hindus, rather than pursuing studies that could be more beneficial for our community. The legacy of 1000 years of colonialism has made us vulnerable to the notion that there must be inherent flaws within us, while unquestioningly accepting the judgments of others as accurate. This self-deprecating attitude has been deeply ingrained in us, leading many Indians to embrace such studies when they venture abroad, viewing it as an easier path to career advancement.
Just a few years ago, a group emerged under the banner of ‘Hindus for Human Rights.’ Unfortunately, this group comprises primarily self-critical Hindus, with their primary focus on Dalit rights. Regrettably, they have not raised their voices in support of Hindu rights in regions like Bangladesh or Pakistan, nor have they spoken out against incidents of racism in the US. They remain silent even when our temples are vandalized by individuals like Christian evangelists. Their emphasis remains exclusively on issues pertaining to Hindu human rights, framing it as a battle against pluralism and depicting Hindus as intolerant or oppressors of Dalits. This divisive narrative has sown discord within the Hindu community, and it persists because we allow it.
MK: Our own school curriculum plays a substantial role in directing individuals towards this path. Young minds are shaped in this direction from an early age through their education. I am aware that those who aspire to study subjects such as American history, politics, economics, or German politics and economics are often discouraged or outright denied the opportunity to pursue these fields. Even comparative studies on feminist movements in India and Europe are conspicuously absent, despite scholars dedicating their entire lifetimes to Western academia. They tend to focus on critiquing issues related to women in India rather than conducting broader comparative analyses. Even if someone of the stature of Amartya Sen were to explore topics like Indian American politics or British politics, they might not receive the recognition they deserve. Doors to other fields remain firmly closed, while the incentives for conforming to the prevailing narrative are substantial.
Gautam Sen: The story becomes more intricate when we delve into it. Let me share an anecdote to illustrate this point. When Amartya Sen commented on the Great Leap Forward famine in China, he faced criticism from none other than Utsa Patnaik, a Professor at JNU. Another incident involves an Indian who aspired to study the anthropology of Holland and Belgium but was denied that opportunity. To broaden our perspective, it’s crucial to understand that we are primarily discussing the field of Social and Human Sciences, not Indian Science Scholars. The latter must compete internationally with their peers across the globe, while our scholars often find themselves competing primarily within the Indian context.
Our focus primarily centers on three fields of study: History, Anthropology, and Sociology, in which individuals tend to specialize in India. For instance, Sanjay Subrahmanyam has authored significant works on the Portuguese empire and global history, which transcend the narrow scope of India. However, we need to delve deeper into understanding the origins of this phenomenon. Some insight into this matter has been offered by Sai Deepak’s meticulous work, as reviewed in Swarajya. What motivates us to adopt such a self-destructive approach? Having spent nearly 51 years abroad, I primarily taught political economy, with a specialization in American foreign and economic policy, rather than Indian studies. My engagement with Indian Studies came later, fueled by personal interest and in an amateur capacity. I am likely in the minority in this regard. I also specialized in British foreign policy due to my residence in the UK.
It’s essential to recognize that universities in Europe, Britain, and the United States are integral parts of the establishment, deeply embedded within the policymaking network. In some cases, individual academics are recruited full-time into the Office of the State Department, the White House, or serve as consultants. What unfolds in the West is essentially an aspect of state policy. These academics serve as informants, collecting data and information to provide foreign governments with a more profound historical understanding of our society. This mirrors the data collection undertaken by technology giants like Google and Amazon. In fact, the significance of the academic world is diminishing as Amazon, Google, and Apple accumulate vast real-time information, negating the need to rely solely on outdated data sources like the census. They possess real-time data, unavailable to our counterparts in India, which they immediately share with intelligence agencies and foreign ministries.
Our scholars, whether consciously aware or not, function as mere informants, akin to British administrators during the 19th century, tasked with gathering data. For example, the 1872 census, India’s first, essentially constructed the caste system as we understand it today. The current caste landscape was shaped by that census. The 1931 caste census further entrenched this perspective, giving rise to the caste-related challenges we encounter daily. This was the work of informants.
Going a step further to contextualize this, during the 1857 mutiny, Brahmins from Bengal constituted a significant proportion of the mutineers. The British recognized that they needed to discredit this intellectual class, which was quick on the uptake. This narrative persists today, asserting that Hinduism is a religion propagated by oppressive Brahmins who foster false notions of divinity, with the objective of segregating the intellectual class from the rest of society.
Brahmins have faced considerable oppression and enslavement even before the British arrived. However, the British added the final blow by discrediting them intellectually. Punjab serves as an illustrative case, where many Punjabis believe they were oppressed by Brahmins, resulting in a weakened intellectual environment. The British identified Brahmins as potential troublemakers. Churchill often criticized the Congress Party as the Hindu party, perceiving it as being dominated by oppressive Brahmins who hindered British efforts to assist lower-caste individuals and Dalits. This narrative has now become the prevailing ideology, not just abroad but within our own civilization. Sai has been one of the first to systematically consolidate these ideas into a comprehensive framework. This narrative has deeply influenced our perspectives.
To provide a contemporary context, consider pursuing a degree at Oxford in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). Those who undertake such studies often come from privileged backgrounds and possess established careers, primarily due to their family connections. The real challenge emerges when one embarks on research. If an Indian applies to study British Medieval history, they may not gain admission. However, if they propose studying a sub-caste in Tamil Nadu, they are more likely to receive approval. Individuals studying topics like tribal human rights, women’s oppression, or social fractures within Indian society are generally encouraged because this aligns with their role as informants.
Indian society, characterized by democracy, constitutionalism, and historical openness, is exceptionally vulnerable. It can be manipulated without the need for invasion. The invasion of India poses significant challenges due to the determined nature of the Indian armed forces. Thus, the focus remains on information gathering. India, however, faces an economic challenge: the supply of desirable resources is small compared to the demand. While this situation has somewhat improved since 1992, with India’s economy tripling in size, a significant problem persists. Indians tend to believe that behaving honorably in an environment where others behave dishonorably yields no benefit. They perceive that acting unethically brings personal gains for themselves, their families, and their children, rendering them highly vulnerable.
In contrast, the Chinese are characterized by deep nationalism, with their identity closely tied to their homeland and a collective memory of the Opium Wars. China is insulated against this form of subversion. While they engage in espionage and subterfuge, their strong nationalism serves as a shield. Only a handful of academics in the social sciences actively speak in favor of India. One such individual resides in San Francisco, while another has authored an exceptional political history of partition. This scholar’s work is immensely valuable and deserves recognition. When he attempted to launch his book at the World Hindu Congress, many participants withdrew from the seminars, underscoring the depth of animosity he faced.
Geopolitics also plays a crucial role. Following the Cold War, Pakistan became a close ally of Western powers, particularly the United States. India, on the other hand, remained resistant and aligned with Russia, which the West viewed unfavorably. Consequently, India became a target of criticism. In parallel, a long-term subversion agenda exists: the program to convert India. Church leaders claim that 40% of Andhra Pradesh has already converted. Nehru’s decision to gift Nagaland to Christianity in 1948 laid the foundation for substantial conversion in that region. The church and evangelists recognize that acquiring a constituency in India could surpass the East India Company’s achievements, creating a loyal group aligned with foreign powers. The recent protests by the church, rather than Muslims, underscore this agenda.
Churches and evangelists understand that they lack the numbers to hold the Indian government to ransom. Consequently, they have played a role in various events, such as the cancellation of Modi’s visa in 2002, proposed by the church. Over the years, they have made substantial gains, with Nepal undergoing significant Christian conversion, particularly in the context of the Prime Minister’s wife’s claim that 32% of Nepal’s population has already converted. Hindu parties are facing challenges in securing votes above 33%. If these parties fall below 25%, winning national elections becomes improbable. India’s academics abroad in fields such as social sciences, history, and philosophy actively campaign for this purpose because it aligns with their role as informants.
The left-wing vs. right-wing debate in India is often misleading, as both sides can be manipulated by foreign powers. For example, the Naxalites were used to undermine the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM]. Naxalism was a CIA operation with Chinese support to destabilize the CPM. Collaboration between China and the United States dates back to 1969. Foreign powers exploit these dynamics to advance their agendas. Notably, it’s not the Muslims who protest abroad but the church. The church and evangelists have actively influenced events, such as the cancellation of Modi’s visa in 2002. It’s crucial to recognize that these forces are working in concert, with the state taking the lead in subversion.
There is a notable study from 2012 that explores US foreign policy and evangelism. Evangelists were often the only individuals proficient in the local languages and cultures, training Foreign Service officers. The US officers frequently attended the School of Oriental and African Studies. This network of universities and the state apparatus is integral to the subversion efforts. Unfortunately, India’s economic constraints make it easy for foreign powers to exploit vulnerabilities and manipulate individuals.
In stark contrast, the Chinese possess a deep-rooted sense of nationalism, emphasizing their connection to their homeland and harboring deep resentment towards the historical injustices of the Opium Wars. Even during the devastating Taiping Rebellion in the 19th century, where 70 million Chinese lost their lives, their national identity remained robust. This resilience insulates and inoculates them against foreign subversion. While they engage in espionage and covert activities, their profound nationalism sets them apart. Regrettably, I can count on just two hands the number of academics in the social sciences who actively advocate for India. One of them resides in San Francisco, while the other has authored a remarkable political history of partition. This individual’s work is of exceptional quality, making it difficult for detractors to silence him. Regrettably, I cannot disclose his name due to certain reservations, but I consider him a dear friend whose contributions to changing the trajectory of Indian historiography are paramount. I eagerly anticipate his next work.
To reiterate my argument, you will likely never receive approval to pursue meaningful work; instead, you may be co-opted or silenced. Consider the treatment of Rashmi Samant, who faced disgraceful treatment for innocently expressing her faith. In contrast, academics like Abhijit Sarkar, a Bengali historian, faced no consequences when he openly wished for China to attack India. These individuals are protected and remain untouched by the system.
I personally organized the book launch for Jaswant Singh, then the Foreign Minister, when he published ‘Defending India.’ At that time, I was teaching at The London School of Economics, alongside 34 other academicians in my department. Astonishingly, not a single colleague attended the book launch. They refused to participate in an event associated with someone affiliated with what they deemed a “fascist Hindu government.” This was a wake-up call for me, as I had not fully realized the extent of the animosity at that point.
The geopolitical landscape also plays a significant role. After the Cold War began, Pakistan became a favored ally from 1955 onward. India, on the other hand, resisted and remained aligned with Russia, which was not viewed favorably by the Western powers. Consequently, India became a target for criticism, with many Western powers blaming India for the 1964-65 conflict, even deploying their fleets to the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea to threaten us.
Simultaneously, a parallel track operates—a long-term subversion agenda, focused on converting India. Church leaders claim that 40% of Andhra Pradesh has already been converted. Nagaland, which had a 2% Christian population in 1948, was gifted to Christianity by Nehru. They recognize that by acquiring a constituency, their influence can surpass that of the East India Company, ensuring automatic loyalty to foreign powers. The WikiLeaks revelation exposed the truth about Koodankulam, with the American Embassy orchestrating events because India was purchasing Russian nuclear reactors. These two aspects—geopolitics and conversion efforts—coincide in a complex web of influence.
Importantly, it is not Muslims but the church and evangelists who often protest abroad. They understand that they lack the numbers to exert direct influence over the Indian government. Instances like the cancellation of Modi’s visa in 2002 were orchestrated by the church. Over the course of a decade, starting in 2004, they made significant gains. The most substantial victory was Nepal, handed to them on a golden platter by Sonia Gandhi and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. The Prime Minister’s wife has informed me that 32% of Nepal’s population is already Christian. I believe the game is over for Nepal. With evangelists leading the charge, Islam is seen as an ally. They may eventually clash, as seen in Kerala today, but for now, they are vigorously pursuing their objectives. They understand that Hindu parties struggle to secure more than 33% of the vote.
Once Hindu parties fall below 25%, their chances of winning a national election become slim. The 42% vote share in Uttar Pradesh was an anomaly and is likely to face challenges. Therefore, Indian academics abroad in fields like social sciences, history, and philosophy are actively engaged in campaigning because it aligns with their role, which they have been remunerated for. The left-wing vs. right-wing debate in India, as I have argued, is often a facade, with both sides manipulated by foreign powers. In many instances, the left is used against the left, such as the Naxalite movement, which was orchestrated by the CIA with Chinese assistance to weaken the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM]. This resulted in significant casualties among CPM workers in West Bengal.
MK: Let’s return to the core topic at hand. My primary concern is related to foreign policy and the need for India to have individuals who understand societies like Germany and Afghanistan. It’s disheartening to see so few Indians learning languages like Pashto or Sinhalese. The government should be actively encouraging specialization that would enhance our understanding of the world and how to leverage global dynamics to our advantage. Currently, the world benefits from us, but we need to reciprocate by developing expertise that allows us to engage more effectively on the international stage.
Sending Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers to leadership programs, such as those organized by Yale for political leaders, often doesn’t yield a deeper understanding of host societies. Instead, the government should invest in nurturing experts who can better represent India on the global stage. Unfortunately, there are very few Indian specialists in American politics or German society and history who are taken seriously internationally.
Now, let’s delve into the issue of South Asian identity being used to stifle Hindu voices in Western academia. This is a trend that has emerged in recent decades. Would you agree?
RJ: I became aware of this issue about three to four years ago when I attended the World Hindu Conference in Chicago. During the conference, a group calling itself the South Asian group infiltrated the event and created a disturbance. The puzzling aspect is why a South Asian group would oppose a Hindu conference while showing no such inclination at Islamic conferences or Evangelical events. They adopted the label “South Asian” as a shield against potential backlash from Hindutva activists. However, many of these individuals are either self-loathing Hindus or have separatist agendas, such as Khalistanis.
The use of the term “South Asian” serves a dual purpose for them. First, it erases the Hindu identity and emphasizes South Asian identity, which doesn’t resonate with anyone. Geographically, yes, this region is part of South Asia, but there is no collective identity associated with it. Secondly, it helps hide the actions of other groups. For instance, in cases like the grooming scandal involving Pakistani gangs, they were often referred to as “Asian gangs” to avoid explicitly mentioning their Pakistani Muslim identity. This tactic allows them to divert attention from the crimes committed by individuals from their communities. By using “South Asian,” they can include those who are anti-Hindu and Hindu-phobic, effectively masking their true intentions.
Even in the USA, during incidents targeting individuals of Chinese descent, they were labeled as “Asians” to avoid specifying their Chinese origin. This tendency to use “South Asia” as a catch-all term to obscure some crimes while highlighting others and blaming a specific community is a deliberate strategy. It’s time we stopped using “South Asia” as anything more than a geographical descriptor because nobody truly identifies as “South Asian.”
MK: I’d like to add to that by noting that during my formative years, Western universities used to offer programs in Indian Studies. As you rightly mentioned, nobody identifies as “South Asian” except as a political statement. The term “Indian subcontinent” has disappeared from the vocabulary, replaced by “South Asia.” This change serves to place India on equal footing with Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and even the smallest islands off India’s coast. Simultaneously, it conceals the actions of some while poking holes in the shared identity umbrella, potentially tearing it apart. For example, Pakistanis often operate restaurants under the label “Indian restaurants” rather than “Pakistani,” highlighting the complex dynamics at play.
GS: The use of the “South Asian Studies” label, as you mentioned, is a deliberate attempt to diminish India’s significance. It’s essentially an insult that has become the norm. Regarding the issue of grooming gangs, these incidents date back to the 1990s, and unfortunately, they have not stopped. The media’s role in this is crucial. Even today, these gangs are often referred to as “Asian” in the national media, which is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
It’s important to understand that British politics is now heavily influenced by the Muslim vote. Boris Johnson’s victory in 2019 had a majority of 86, and the Labour Party cannot hope to come to power without the support of the Muslim electorate. They are deeply invested in issues related to Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani Muslim political activists are not easily fooled by words; they demand concrete policy actions. This is why the Indian government made strategic decisions, such as not purchasing the Eurofighter, as it could have led to pressure from Pakistan and the British government, disrupting the supply of spare parts.
I am becoming increasingly concerned about the scale of collaboration between India and Rolls-Royce. While this partnership has potential, we must ensure that we do not become overly dependent on foreign suppliers for key components. We need to carefully manage this collaboration to safeguard our interests.
The British are well aware of our weaknesses and have cultivated a substantial group of East African Asians with connections and lobbying power. However, India is much stronger now and less susceptible to bullying. Still, we should approach these matters with caution.
Let me provide a specific example. Makarand came to give a lecture at Mary’s College on Indian politics and caste. He delivered an excellent, thoughtful lecture, but later, a complaint was filed with the Vice Chancellor, resulting in the sponsoring institute’s abolition. Such incidents highlight the power of marginal groups, often with official connections to the UK government.
British intelligence services are experts at infiltration and manipulation. They have infiltrated every Hindu organization, and many of these groups are reporting to the Home Office and the police. They can exert control through blackmail since many of these organizations have skeletons in their closets. I advised our Prime Minister to rely on the High Commission, even if it means not engaging with me directly. It’s important to recognize that government officials and their families have strong ties to foreign countries, which can influence their decision-making.
For example, during the anti-CAA protests at Oxford University, Indian students from India joined forces with Pakistanis, with tacit support from academics and administrators. Their opposition is not just against Modi; it’s against the changes happening in India that alarm them.
MK: Both of you have highlighted how easy it is to manipulate and influence our academics and intellectuals. Some may argue that we are docile, making us appealing to the West. Hindus are known for being peaceful citizens, following the rules of the host society, and not causing trouble. However, it’s worth noting that Islam continues to challenge Western societies and expose them to issues like love jihad and sex jihad. So, why would the West favor being pro-Islam?
GS: I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding here. When I mentioned that we are harder to bully, I was referring to Indian state policy, which is not submissive. Pakistan, on the other hand, has never disobeyed the Americans. India, in contrast, resisted American sanctions against Iran in 2012 and continued to purchase Russian jets despite US objections.
As for academics and intellectuals, they are indeed easily manipulated. I have little respect for them because they can be bought and sold over the counter. In the UK, the government is monitoring 43,000 potential terrorists, which comes at a significant cost. Half of the British prison population is Muslim, despite comprising only 3.4% of the total population. Each prisoner costs 50 lakhs a year to maintain. The number of Indians in British prisons is so small that it hardly registers statistically. We need to recognize that being peaceful doesn’t necessarily protect us because the media often fails to highlight these disparities. However, even India is beginning to show signs of being firmer in its stance, which is a positive development since independence.
MK: We should actually be more likable and treated with greater respect, but that’s not happening. It’s puzzling why they favor Islam, which is actually dangerous, as it poses a threat to Western civilization.
GS: Islam has been used strategically for decades, dating back to the 1930s, against secular Arab nationalism in countries like Iraq and Syria. In the 1970s, oil politics became a significant factor, and Islam has been a valuable ally for the West in India. Islam serves a purpose in India because it can hold the Indian government hostage, as recent events have demonstrated.
RJ: Islam’s advantage lies in its ability to exert control through physical intimidation and force. Criticizing Islam, no matter how well-founded the critique may be, is often labeled as Islamophobia. Many governments, including ours, are fearful of displeasing a particular community and are concerned about how their actions will be perceived internationally. Consequently, this community is often catered to at the expense of others.
The anti-CAA protests are an example of how a simple policy intended to help people from Bangladesh was portrayed as anti-Muslim, leading to a fake narrative. Even after two years, the government has been unable to implement the law due to manipulation by a particular community.
Islam’s influence extends to colonizing Muslim minds, which then try to impose their beliefs on others. This is a psychological phenomenon known as displaced aggression, where those who have been abused or oppressed tend to become oppressors in the future. Islam, in essence, colonized India, not Muslims, and it did so in a different way compared to the British.
GS: I was shocked to learn that individuals like Swara Bhaskar and Siddharth Varadarajan give lectures to Indian Foreign Service (IFS) trainees. There are constraints on the Indian administration that people may not fully realize. However, in the last seven years, they have accomplished much. I am currently advocating for two key changes: the freedom of our temples to be run by the community and a revision of the school and university curriculum and the prevailing narrative.
MK: Implementing these changes will not only save money but also produce educated individuals who use their skills and contribute positively to society. Initiatives like clean water supply, housing for the homeless, and health insurance for the poor have already proven to be efficient under Modi’s leadership. Unfortunately, there are those who benefit from these programs while simultaneously sabotaging them, without showing gratitude.
The development agenda must be more efficient and better targeted. Anti-Brahmanism continues to thrive, and there are no efforts to bridge the divide or address the discrimination faced by Brahmins in accessing benefits. The Supreme Court has warned about the misuse of the SC ST Act, which is seen as draconian and a form of legal terrorism. Yet, instead of addressing these issues, the government has made the act even stronger.
The problem we are discussing, the use of South Asian identity to silence Hindu voices, is also prevalent within our own country. We are being silenced within India itself. If we were stronger domestically, and the gatekeepers were not forces working to break up India, those who engage in Hindu bashing would be unemployable. The government must find the right talent and place them in key positions. The Ministry of Culture, for instance, is facing significant challenges today.
GS: Regarding Brahmins, we must grasp a profound connection—Brahmins and the caste issue are two facets of the same coin. For India’s adversaries, caste becomes a tool to control the nation. If citizens vote based on caste loyalties, it hinders the emergence of a nationalist government. However, in a recent development, Modi’s victory in Uttar Pradesh offers a glimmer of hope. It’s alarming for everyone because people seem to be moving beyond caste-based voting. We should not underestimate this achievement; the breach of caste alliances poses a threat to adversaries who rely on the caste narrative to manipulate Indian politics.
From the government’s standpoint, any profound societal or cultural change invites opposition, especially from the US and Europe. Strengthening India’s economic position is crucial to withstand external pressures. Modi has made astonishing moves in this regard, such as securing sanctions against Pakistan through strategic visits to Washington. Despite the disruptive and costly transition India is undergoing, the groundwork is essential for future growth.
While there’s a noticeable shift in the cultural atmosphere, official policies remain largely unchanged. This shift towards a new center of gravity offers a window of opportunity lasting 25 years, provided the BJP seizes it. India’s imminent urbanization, with 600 million people in cities by 2030, holds the potential to reshape our national identity.
MK: Our varying perspectives on Modi’s strengths and weaknesses define our conversation. While we celebrate his strengths, the economic arena leaves much to be desired. Demonetization and unnecessary lockdowns have had detrimental effects. Modi’s endorsement of Covaxin and vaccination raises questions about its efficacy compared to traditional approaches like Ayurveda.
The return of bureaucratic hurdles and complex regulations under the “inspector Raj” is incompatible with a thriving economy. Simplified rules are essential for a robust economy. Life today may have improved for the poor reliant on subsidies, but the rest of us face challenges. India’s unity is also under threat, and maintaining law and order requires a Yogi-like approach. I’m not optimistic about economic development.
I’d like to revisit the South Asian Studies department. Can you provide insights into its origin and the driving force behind its establishment?
RJ: The process of renaming to be politically correct, as seen in American academia, is evident. Shifting from Europe and Britain to the USA, these studies adopted neutral geographical terms like West Asia, East Asia, and South Asia. These terms are now malleable, serving foreign policy agendas. The use of these geographical terms is part of a policy that is essentially anti-Hindu and aimed at curbing our economic growth. A nationalist government for another 5 to 10 years is needed to confidently bring about this change.
Focusing on the economic bottom of the pyramid is advantageous in the long run. Once backward classes become mainstream, so does Hindutva. Supporting the new middle class’s emergence and urbanization minimizes the ease of dividing people based on caste, as we move beyond such simplistic identities.
Modi’s vision extends to the long term. While demonetization was a mistake, subsequent corrections have positioned us as digital powers. We’ve reached the last mile through digital technology, surpassing Western nations in financial technology, digital massification, and digital reach.
MK: Let’s discuss the entrapment of the South Asian identity, which stifles Hindu voices. In my view, even the Indian identity can be limiting. It encompasses individuals like Owaisis and missionaries with agendas that don’t align with our heritage. Embracing Bharatiya identity, distinct from Indian, may better define us. Indian identity, often deracinated, was imposed by others, whereas Bharat reflects our true essence. Shifting to Bharat as our primary identity may better accommodate the Hindu identity.
GS: I sympathize with this idea, as a cultural shift is indeed underway, though perhaps not as swiftly as desired. Changing the narrative is essential, and we can expedite the process. The first South Asian Studies Department was established in Berkeley in 1959, funded by the Ford Foundation.
Indians are becoming less concerned about foreign perceptions, a positive development. An example is Amit Tripathi, who, albeit unknowingly, fosters cultural awareness and pride in small-town India. In contrast, Chinese studies departments worldwide depend on collaboration with Chinese institutions, and China’s educational institutions lead in research and funding. India should implement intelligent policies to nurture talent and expertise. Reservations have driven many of our mathematicians to the US, where they contribute significantly.
MK: I resist the Indian identity due to its truncated and imposed nature. It allows others to redraw boundaries, as we saw in Kashmir. I desire a connection to all of Bharat, fostering geopolitical vigilance. This connection is vital for countering the constraints of the South Asian Studies Department. What three actions would you both recommend, with or without government involvement?
RJ: It’s crucial for all like-minded individuals and Hindu intellectuals to collaborate without undermining each other over minor ideological differences. We don’t have to ridicule institutions like the RSS just because we disagree on certain aspects. In many ways, they are our fellow travelers.
Secondly, we need substantial private funding for research, which doesn’t have to be exorbitant. Consider this: to overhaul the entire school history textbooks, it wouldn’t cost more than 10 crores. The information is readily available, and we can enlist experts like Meenakshi Jain for medieval history. In fact, a team of five individuals can revamp the entire history curriculum within two to three years at a cost of 5-10 crores, a sum well within the reach of private initiative. We can initiate curriculum changes privately and later advocate for their inclusion in schools.
Geopolitically, for the next decade, we should emulate China’s approach from the 1980s by maintaining a low profile globally. We should wait until we become a $5 to $10 trillion economy before asserting ourselves on the world stage. Until then, it’s prudent to proceed cautiously, prioritizing what’s right over vocal assertions. These three initiatives can be pursued without relying on government intervention.
GS: Ultimately, the government needs to make a prompt decision. Numerous scholars are capable of producing high-quality work swiftly. We must reshape people’s perception of themselves within the world they inhabit because our identity is currently ambiguous. I’ve encountered individuals in their 60s and 50s repeating false claims from Indian newspapers. Hence, we must alter the prevailing narrative. I am a staunch advocate for the liberation of temples because they serve as centers of learning and profound scholarship. This aligns with our Vedic worldview, strongly reaffirmed by Adi Shankaracharya. We recently submitted a proposal to the government outlining a potential approach, which I can now disclose. Temple liberation is of great significance, as a thriving Hinduism will curtail conversion efforts.
On a more personal note, my upcoming project, perhaps next year or later this year, involves launching a website that provides a meticulous analysis of products Hindus should consider boycotting. We may feel powerless, but our collective purchasing power is substantial, constituting a market of at least 200 billion major buyers. We will elucidate the reasons for each product’s potential boycott, including well-known brands like the Times of India. Hindus can wield their economic influence to exert pressure. Companies typically derive the majority of their profits from the last 10-15% of their turnover. Consequently, when their financial interests are impacted, they are more likely to pay attention. This initiative is on my agenda for the near future.
MK: I have no doubt that this project will gain substantial traction, as previous boycott campaigns have proven effective.