It is indeed a deeply ironical reality that the idea of India, which is referred to ad nauseam, has actually been a deeply selective idea of India which has thrived on marginalising those whose thoughts, actions or views did not conform to a certain ideological pattern or worldview
A significant and narrative defining decision of the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government has been its resolve to commemorate and highlight the achievements of forgotten or marginalised heroes, thinkers, leaders who had made profound contributions to consolidating and re-igniting the idea of India. It is indeed a deeply ironical reality that the idea of India, which is referred to ad nauseam has actually been a deeply selective idea of India which has thrived on marginalising those whose thoughts, actions or views did not conform to a certain ideological pattern or worldview.
Thus, in the process of creating a narrative of the India, a select few have always received primacy while a vast number of others have faced oblivion. It is also a tragedy of our times that most of our young minds are well exposed or conversant with details of the Western thought or ideas but have hardly any exposure to Indian thinkers who through the power of their mind shaped the Indian mind and psyche.
As philosopher KC Bhattacharya observed in his seminal essay, Swaraj in Ideas, “We speak of world movements and have a fair acquaintance with the principles and details of Western life and thought, but we do not always sufficiently realise were we actually stand today…We either accept or reject the judgments passed on us by the Western culture, or we impotently resent them but have hardly any estimate of our own, wrung from an inward perception of the realities of our position.”
In fact Bhattacharya asked a deeply pertinent question when wrote, “Then again in the field of learning, how many of us have had distinctively Indian estimates of Western literature and thought?” This making of an Indian estimate was repeatedly stalled in the past by a powerful and politically active section which, displaying an uncompromising ‘ideological chauvinism’, has always argued that all frameworks and rubric that do not conform to Marxian instruments of studying society and class are to be set aside and eventually rejected.
Bhattacharya himself was to soon face oblivion in independent India with generations of learners graduating from Indian institutions knowing in great detail what Karl Marx, James Mill or Noam Chomsky had to say about India or ‘oriental’ thought but with little or no acquaintance with our own indigenous thinkers and their deep and their potentially epoch-defining ideational positions.
While his essay Swaraj in Ideas remains a great articulation arguing for the need to evolve a distinctly Indian orBharatiya assessment of our knowledge texts and positions and through these to generate contemporary civilisational expressions and positions, Bhattacharya was soon forgotten and relegated to the unknown, he was too uncomfortable for the powerful section that insisted on studying India under the lens of Western frameworks of class, conflict, clash and disintegration.
A powerful and vocal section, trained in Ivy League circuits in the West which took control of most of India’s social science institutions, repeatedly blocked or taunted any effort to create centres of study that would encourage research and dissemination of Indian thinkers, especially those whose writings generated and discussed India’s civilisational achievements in a positive light. That is finally, at last and heureusement changing. India’s social sciences and social science institutions are finally undergoing a process of democratisation and surely but certainly the marginal scholar, the silenced thinker and the neglected-thought leaders are being gradually repositioned.
Interestingly, those who are sermonising today on the dangers of ‘ideological chauvinism’ are the very ones whose ideological ancestors in India indulged in the practise of an acute ‘ideological chauvinism’ which ensured that the other voices, voices which derived their text, texture and inspiration from deep within the Indian civilisational context faced marginalisation, segregation and eventual oblivion.
Ever since the 1960s or early 1970s, India’s social sciences were controlled by the Left and its group of historians trained under the Marxist framework. Interestingly, most of these historians, patronised and propped up by an intellect bereft Congress establishment were and continue to remain, as per their own admission, members or active adherents of the Indian Communist parties.
Eminent historian Irfan Habib, for example, admitted as much on public television show and displayed a certain flourish at such a long and unbroken association. Professor Habib, for example, has spent a lifetime acting as a pamphleteer of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), heaping calumny on those who have differed from his historical assessment or reading of India — be they historians of deep accomplishment, be it the Indian judiciary or archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India.
Displaying a staunch and aggressive ‘ideological chauvinism’ professor Habib and the likes have, over the years, prevented and segregated anyone found to have come up with an alternate reading of India, especially those readings which research and study the high-water marks of India’s civilisational march.
Ironically, despite their professed, active and publicly flaunted proximity to a particular political dispensation, the likes of Professor Habib have never been labeled as ‘ideologues’; such a nomenclature they have reserved only for those who differ from them intellectually and academically. For them, the only historians worth noting or engaging are those who have earned their degrees from Western universities by sitting before and serving Western masters and absorbing their assessment of India.
Their sneers at the newly constituted Indian Council of Historical Research comes from a deep disdain they have always displayed for Indian scholarship, for regional scholars and for those who have grown out of the Indian system. Professor Habib and the likes, for example a historian who has now become a Member of Parliament and who is most concerned with ideologues being appointed as historians, are certainly ideologues themselves.
They have remained active in political party circuits. On the other hand, scholars like historian Dilip K Chakrabarti, Purabi Roy, Michel Danino, MD Srinivas, Sacchidananda Sahai, Nikhilesh Guha — who for instance has done seminal work on the forgotten nationalist thinker, economist Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar — Meenakshi Jain and CA Issac can hardly be called ‘ideologues’. They have never been members of a political party or known to have been remotely associated with politics, nor have they churned out propaganda material, as their accusers have often done, in support of a certain political line. Fiercely independent, their only academic objective and goal has been to support the evolution of a balanced discourse of Indian civilisation and to research the true and positive civilisational achievements of India. One can hardly have an issue with that!
The repositioning of the marginal and the sidelining of the actual ‘ideologues’ is indeed happening. Let us rejoice that Indian social sciences, historiography and education are at last being democratised and depoliticised.