Debating India


Fundamental Issues


Thursday 15 January 2004, by PRASHAD*Vijay

Article paru dans Outlook India, ?dition en ligne du jeudi 15 janvier 2004.

Accepting Rajiv Malhotra’s invitation to a dialogue -’politics is disagreements that have to be aired, and fought over. This is a good opportunity to fight over our first principles and our methods of analysis.

For the on-going debate, please see the RHS bar under Also See Rajiv Malhotra’s Note (hereafter RMN) offers ten points for a discussion. I should say at the outset that I am not representing FOIL in any institutional sense - nor is Rajiv an institutional representative of Dharma!

I take Rajiv on his word that his note is sincere. I too don’t want to enter the world of personal diatribe. I first came to hear of Rajiv’s work with the Infinity Foundation a few years ago, and over time I have read many of his essays published on the web.

I was disheartened with Rajiv’s comments published on H-Asia about Indian and South Asian Studies. To think of our scholarship as "branding" India is incorrect: we are not in the business of marketing a nation-state. That is the job of the Ambassador of India, not of a scholar who studies the region or the country. I was equally chagrined by the term "India-bashing." I consider myself a patriot who has worked for most of his adult life within India and in the Diaspora to promote the well-being of Indian peoples. I "bash" those who disregard the liberty and opportunity of the vast mass of Indians - which means that I often write in a partisan fashion against the rulers of the country.

To equate a critique of the BJP-led or Congress-led government in power with "India-bashing" is quite the same as the way pro-Zionists label any criticism of Israel as "Anti-Semitism." I am uncomfortable with rhetoric such as this, and I would like us to leave such sloganeering out of our conversation. There are some genuine issues that can be discussed, but this should be done in a rational and reasonable way.

I would like, at a later time, to discuss the issue of funding, and of "NRI philanthropy" to US colleges. This is an important issue, one that has excised many of us since the Hinduja fiasco and recently over the debate on HR 3077 (to transform Title VI). Let us save that for the future.

I accepted Rajiv’s invitation to a dialogue because I think that while there is a lot that divides us, there is also sufficient ground for us to hold a conversation. I do not believe that political differences should lead to the demonization of those whom we don’t agree with. On the contrary, politics is disagreements that have to be aired, and fought over. This is a good opportunity to fight over our first principles and our methods of analysis. I welcome that.

Following RMN, I offer my own thoughts as a list. The first list is meant to clear the ground set by Rajiv. I believe that there is much that needs to be refuted in his original note, and that is what I have done. Following that, I have offered a way forward for our discussion.

1. The Straw Man

A "straw man" is a veteran of political arguments. You need only report an argument as that of your opposition, make sure it is a distortion and often weaker than that they actually hold, and then tear it down. When RMN represents the "Left" it generally pulls the Straw Man out of the hat. Let me take four examples of the Straw Man, among several:

a. Marxist Grand Narrative (no. 7)

RMN treats the Left as if there is one Brain Trust that comes up with a Theory that is then repeated by the shock troops across the world, over time. There is neither a singular "Left" nor is there one "Marxist Grand Narrative." The institutional weakness of the Left in general is because of the tendency to argue over analysis of the current situation and then dispute political strategy. There is no Left version of the Sangh Parivar, no United Front that lasts.

What is an institutional weakness, however, is an ideological and intellectual strength: Marxism is its own best critic. Marxists are always in debate and dispute. One of the old saws of Marxism, is that Marx would be surprised to find himself in the camp. For an introduction to the disputes, I recommend the multiple volume Main Currents of Marxism, written by the conservative Leszek Kolakowski, or else, Perry Anderson’s In the Tracks of Historical Materialism.

Furthermore, Marxism remains open to interrogation of its foundational concepts through interactions with new disciplines and areas of inquiry: Socialist Feminism (see the 2002 volume The Socialist Feminist Project edited by Nancy Holstrom for Monthly Review Press, or else the vibrant essays by Himani Banerjee’s 2001 monograph from Tulika, Inventing Subjects: hegemony, patriarchy and colonialism); Psychoanalytic Marxism (see the entire oeuvre of Slavoj Zizek, and his many interlocutors); Eco-Marxism (see John Bellamy Foster’s many books, and the essays by Archana Prasad that will be soon published by LeftWord Books, India); Rethought Marxism (the group around the journal Rethinking Marxism, but mainly the work of Julie Gibson-Graham), and other trends offer a vision of Marxism’s ability to dialogue with other disciplines and visions and reshape its central categories.

So, when RMN speaks of the Left, it is often in passive voice (see, no. 1, "entirely new frameworks are not appearing"), with no referent to any specific trend or tendency within the Marxist tradition.

b. "A thorough destruction of the old" (no. 3)

RMN claims that the Left wants "a thorough destruction of the old and rebuilding of an imagined new often guided by a teleology." Is that so? What Left, and where?

For a generation, Marxist historians studied ancient history and produced for us a series of books that are crucial to our grasp of the Indian past. They show us how our traditions have always been contested, and how the working people in the ancient world lived and struggled, and how they often won changes. D. D. Kosambi, R. S. Sharma, R. Thapar and others studied the past in order to understand its impact on our present.

The Marxist understanding of the past draws from a very cogent line from Marx, "The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living." What he perhaps meant is that you can’t simply pretend, as many modernists did in his time, that you can walk away from the past - you have to engage with it and struggle with it to guide a new society out of it.

Those of us who study caste for instance, are interested in its lineage into the past, as well as how it was re-cast during colonialism and into the new nation-state. Our work on caste is not to "destroy the old," but to understand how social organization worked and works, how it enables life for some and disables it for others, and then how it can be transformed so as to give liberty to all. I recommend Suvira Jaiswal’s extraordinary Caste: Origin, Function and Dimensions of Change (Manohar, 1998).

c. Indian Tradition

RMN’s nos. 9 and 10 on yoga and the Indian Classics assume that we on the Left have an allergy to Indian tradition, that we don’t want the classics or yoga to be taught in the classroom. I don’t know or haven’t read statements from any Marxist or Left historian who has said such a thing.

Who does RMN have in mind when it makes the comment that "Indian leftists seem to continue the Macaulay trend of despising the Indian Classics"? We all read the classics and some of us do yoga - we have nothing against these practices. When I teach my ancient India class each year, we always read selections from the Vedas, generally something from Kalidasa, always extracts from the various Epics, and parts of the literature on the body (whether the Kama Sutra or else Caraka Samitha). One can’t teach about South Asia without an engagement with the classics.

Do we "despise the Indian Classics"? No. Do we teach them to cheerlead about the Indian past? No. Our engagement with the Indian classics is as rigorous and critical as our engagement with the classical literature from anywhere in the world. I recommend the following, relatively randomly selected, books that engage critically and sympathetically with classical age: Uma Chakravarti, The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism (Oxford, 1987), Brajadulal Chattopadhyay, The Making of Early Medieval India (Oxford, 1997), B. N. S. Yadava, Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century (Allahabad, 1974).

Because Professor Romila Thapar has come in for some egregious attacks by the Hindutva circles in the US, I would like to underscore the importance not only of her many earlier books, but of the absolutely wonderful reconstruction of Kalidasa in her Sakuntala: texts, readings, histories (Kali for Women, 2002). I also recommend the neglected work of Rahul Sankrityayan - you could start with his Sahitya Academy winning book, Madhya Asia Ka Itihas (1958).

On yoga, I don’t have any notion why a Marxist would oppose its entry into the lives of the young - it is as good as physical training, or any other calisthenics taught in schools. I have not come across anything that indicates that Marxists or others wanted to ban yoga because it is "anti-secular" (no. 9).

Many of us do have a problem with the way in which the "East" is adopted by people in advanced industrial states as a salve for their alienation, where the "East" becomes one-dimensional and without its contradictions. My critique of Deepak Chopra and the distortions of ayurveda in the New Age World is available in Karma of Brown Folk (2000) in a chapter entitled "Sly Babas and Other Gurus."

d. "Essentializing Hindus as perpetrators for all the current problems" (no. 3).

The Left of which I am a part does not speak of "Hindus" as the perpetrators of our problems. When I excoriate the forces that conduct pogroms in India, I am always careful to write of those who are either ideologically driven or institutionally linked to Hindutva.

Hindutva is not Hinduism, and it will never be so. It is a secular political ideology initiated by V. D.Savarkar and developed by his followers in the RSS and the Sangh Parivar that makes a cynical use of religion and "race" to organize people against religious minorities and its own political opposition. We always maintain a clear distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, between those who find their spiritual solace and moral compass in a tradition, and those who want to make mayhem based on a secular distortion of tradition. If there is any "essentializing" done it is of the followers of Hindutva, not of Hindus in general.

In addition, I don’t feel that the Left of which I am a part finds "Hindus" or even Hindutva to blame for "all the current problems." Many of us are foes of neoliberalism (in political terms, this includes the Congress), of imperialism, and of all manner of religious sectarianisms (especially the rise of global jihadis, such as al-Qaida).

The principle contradiction in our time, as far as most of us on the Left see it, is between imperialism and the rest, between those who benefit from the American Empire (including many Indian and NRI elites) and the rest of humanity. The rise of Hindutva, in my opinion, should be seen in light of the neoliberal epoch, a theme that I explore at length in my latest book (Namaste Sharon: Hindutva and Sharonism under US hegemony, LeftWord Books, 2003) - you will see from the title that Hindutva is not the perpetrator of "all the current problems."

e. "The Left has failed to see Religious Multinationals in the same light" (no. 4).

I appreciate your distinction between individuals and institutions, between the lives of ordinary Indian Christians and Muslims, and the wiles of organized churches and mosques, of the Vatican and the Madrassas. That is a crucial distinction not made by many of those who have written books in opposition to Christianity in India: Arun Shourie’s 1998 Missionaries in India mainly confines itself to the colonial period, but it too has an impatience toward those who are Christians, while N. S. Rajaram’s 1999 Christiantiy’s Collapsing Empire and Its Designs in India is openly venomous toward Indian Christians.

Those who conducted the pogroms against the Christians in Dangs, Gujarat, in 1999 did not share RMN’s carefulness to make the distinction between institutions and individuals. The Bajrang Dal walked the streets in Dangs with this slogan, "There is a noise in the streets, That the Christians are thieves. Hindus rise, Christians run, Whoever gets in our way/Will be ground to dust." (for more on this, see Human Rights Watch, Politics By Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in Gujarat, September 1999).

The Left that I live within is not opposed to religion, but we tend to believe that religion must remain outside politics, that religion must not enter the matters of the state. Obviously this is a very tricky formula and it is prone to all sorts of interpretations and misunderstandings. I do not concern myself with the religion of people or with conversion: if people are unhappy in a faith, they have every right and every liberty to convert to another.

I was disheartened by the tenor of the letters to India Abroad on the conversion of Bobby Jindal. I totally opposed his gubernatorial candidacy on political not personal grounds: his own conversion bothered many NRIs who, I’m tempted to say, have been influenced by this casual anti-Christian tendency promoted by Hindutva.

Of course, I worry when religion is distorted into use for secular purposes - which is why I oppose Hindutva, the Evangelical Right in the US, the Orthodox Right that influences Israeli politics, and it is certainly why the Left has been and continues to be fundamentally against Islamic fundamentalism. Keep in mind that the fundamentalists have as much, perhaps more animus against secular forces than other religious ones, because we disagree with the very foundation of their belief system - the Left suffered at their hands in most of the Arab lands, and certainly in Afghanistan.

We oppose all fundamentalisms, but we do not join hands to forbid conversion. The Pope’s statement in 1999 during his visit to India was offensive and many said so: the Vatican and the Evangelicals ruse of conversion is to be condemned, but their role in India is not as significant to me as their role in the US, for instance. For more on this, please click here..

I hope we can dispense with the "straw man" and go forward with a mode of discussion that keeps close to the text, to the actual arguments made by different sides in a debate.

2. Historical Revision

As I said above, the Marxist tradition has always been about openness to historical revision, to reasoned debate about the historical archive and what one is able to surmise from it about the past. The generous debate over the question of the transition from feudalism to capitalism within English history is an example of academic Marxism’s openness to material, method and debate over the narrative of history (known as the Brenner Debate, after the interchanges in Past and Present over the work of Robert Brenner, now at UCLA); and in the Indian context, the dispute over the question of an "Indian feudalism" reveals much the same kind of openness to transformation and revision of the narratives that operate (the main players were Harbans Mukhia and R. S. Sharma, and the debate has been published in Journal of Peasant Studies, 1981).

Indian Marxists have not been unaware of the lack of a genuine, original debate among historians - Kosambi’s comment, "The outstanding characteristic of a backward bourgeoisie, the desire to profit without labor or grasp without technique, is reflected in the superficial ’research’ so common in India," exemplifies the desire for research and debate, and for historical revision when the material and the theory merit it. Rigidity is not something that is inherent in Marxism; it is rather the refuge of mediocrity.

So, when no. 5, asks "Are Leftists willing to accept that there may well be legitimate revisions of (Indian and non-Indian) by non-leftists, in ways that contradict the ’sequence of history’ mandated by leftist ideology?" I can only answer, yes. What is erroneous in RMN is the presupposition of rigidity and the charge of a "mandated" version of history. The field of South Asian history is vibrant, charged with interventions from environmental history, labor history, feminist history, religious history, and the history of peoples who had been held in the margins (adivasis, dalits, etc). This rich scholarship has truly transformed the narrative of Indian history as taught in many colleges and schools - I, for one, have to revise my Indian history syllabus annually.

The new work on ancient India, on gender relations for instance, has made even the distant past open to revision - it is a good time to be a South Asian historian. I recommend that readers go and look at the recent publications from Permanent Black, Oxford University Press, Manohar Books, Kali for Women, Tulika and other such major publishers of South Asian history to get a sense of the actual histories written by contemporary historians - many of whom are not from South Asia, but whose grasp of South Asian history is exemplary.

3. On Patriotism

Is the Left, as RNM alleges, "against Indian nationhood"? I want to ignore the charge that the Left has an "uncritical loyalty to western idioms and politics," because the very notion of "nationhood" at one level is quite classically "western" or at least modern. So, if we can set aside the logical inconsistency here between the supposed disregard for "nationhood" and the loyalty to "western idioms and politics," let’s deal with the question of patriotism and the Indian Left.

The question of patriotism is one that is easily leveled without any specificity about who one is being patriotic for: the nation as a whole, the nation as a surrogate for the elite, the nation as a surrogate for one community, etc.? The Left is patriotic toward the nation in the sense that we uphold the traditions and struggles of those who fight for justice and equality, we uphold the legacy of the Freedom Movement, and we celebrate the republican Constitution that offers the horizon of rights for all people.

We do not, however, uncritically support anything that goes by the name Indian - nor does anyone, for the right is equally able to disparage the history of such as Gandhi, a symbol of patriotism. RMN confuses the post-modern critique of the idea of the nation-state with the Left’s critique of the polices of the successive government’s of India, and of the Left’s commitment to internationalism.

Post-modern scholars tend to have a disregard for the tradition of anti-colonial nationalism: within South Asian Studies, the canonical book is Partha Chatterjee’s 1986 Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World. A representative article is Arjun Appadurai’s 1993 "Patriotism and Its Futures." The ground here is not very firm, as can be seen in Chatterjee’s very interesting critique of Appadurai’s discomfort with the nation-state (Economic and Political Weekly).

The Left to which I belong understands that the "nation" and "nationalism" are crucial categories for our times, that we cannot envision a political horizon or rights outside a republican constitution. Sovereign nation-states are a potential bulwark against the depredations of trans-national corporations. These nation-states are also theoretically accountable to the people, and are therefore the horizon of our democratic aspirations, namely our rights. So there is no presumption toward Balkhanization among all tendencies of the Left.

We are critical of governments that claim to be patriotic and nationalist, but that sell out the patrimony of the people to vested interests and transnational corporations, such as Enron. Consider that it was during the BJP government’s 13 days in power in 1996 that its one act of government was to guarantee Enron’s robbery of the Indian consumer: what kind of nationalism is this? Even the Swadeshi Jagran Manch was exorcised about this.

Our nationalism is not the racial fantasy of one people who are serially linked to each other because of some kind of inherent tie (such is the view of Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar. For the latter: "Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has shown how wellnigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by," as he wrote in We, Or Our Nationhood Defined).

We, on the Left, are more inclined to a republican notion of nationalism than a racial one - hence our defense of rights over race, of the Constitution over convention. We are also internationalists, which means that we oppose national chauvinism. Be proud of your country and its heritage, yes, but not so as to disparage another. We argue for people to make connections with others across borders so that "national" chauvinism is not used by corrupt governments to turn peoples against each other, to divert their attention from the corruption. We want real security, the security of the full stomach and of the full imagination, not false security, the security of tanks and bombs - the latter is only the prelude to war, which is the end of security.

Fundamental Issues

RMN leaves out some fundamental issues that do worry me about the way South Asian Studies is taught in the US. Confronted with RMN’s many errors of emphasis, there is a temptation to defend the status of South Asian Studies.

I think this is wrong. South Asian Studies is no longer the adjunct of colonialism, or of the newly aggressive US Empire. It is also no longer staffed with former missionaries, or those who have a theological axe to grind. In 1956, Bernard Saul Stern finished his terrific dissertation, "American Views of India and Indians, 1857-1900": it covers the heyday of American evangelical domination of the study of South Asia (including the role played by Joguth Chunder Gangooly, a convert who wrote a series of books on how to regard the "Hindoos").

We have a very different academy now, one that is staffed by people who are more empirical than an earlier generation, schooled in languages and history, as well as in a general sympathy and awareness of today’s subcontinent. There may be some who linger on with older ideas, but they are marginal. From Berkeley to Columbia, from Chicago to Texas - the expertise of the scholars should not be treated lightly. I am often stunned by the effort and enthusiasm of scholars who have no special link to South Asia before they started their research, but whose time in South Asia and whose contacts with South Asians has blossomed into a genuine interest and understanding that is sometimes far more authentic than the rash judgments of many NRIs.

I think that it is legitimate to criticize the way Hinduism is taught in the academy, but one has to be aware of the context within which religion is taught in the academy in general: Religious Studies is a secular field, for the most part, and it is not Religious Study (to train people to be priests or gurus). There has been a long-standing debate about the study of Hinduism, and many of those who have been in the fray are not Hindus and yet they are critical of the colonial roots of the pedagogy on Hinduism (Peter Marshall’s early book followed by the work of Ronald Inden, Sheldon Pollock, and of course the crucial interventions by people like Ann Gold on the difference between textual Hinduism and the lived, everyday Hinduism of the working-class and peasantry). This rich debate over the status of "Hinduism" is ongoing, and I hope that those who enter it will do so with a sense of what people are saying rather than what their own religious backgrounds might be.

That said, I do think there are at least three problems that I see with South Asian Studies that should get attention. This is a summary from my point of view. I would like some of these ideas to be part of our ongoing conversation.

1. "India" Without Contradictions.

"Indian Culture" is often written up as a thing itself, as singular, as one-dimensional, as something without history. Scholars in the present are too sophisticated to truck in the tired old 1950s language that openly speaks of India as one thing, as endowed with an essence (caste or dharma or darshan). We’ve moved beyond that tired mechanistic language. That is an advance.

What we don’t often have is an acknowledgement that "India," like any social formation is rife with contradictions, that it is not one thing or the other, but that it is multidimensional and alive. The notion of a singular "Indian culture" without fractures is common among those who hold to a crude multiculturalist perspective: everyone has their own culture and each culture has its own dynamic. Such an approach disregards the interchanges over centuries between cultural formations and it minimizes the impact of imperialism on cultural formations across the world. England, as shown by literary historian Kumkum Sangari and others, was changed fundamentally by colonialism, as much as India was transformed - think of tea in both places, gift of imperialism, for one relatively small example.

In the colonial era, the value accorded to "India" was largely negative (among some Indo-philes, they made a distinction between the greatness of the essential [ancient] India and the degeneration of the present). Multiculturalism simply reversed the values and now accord India with good marks, but not dignity. To be told that your civilization is so great is condescending, because such an attitude does not reflect deeply on the contradictory structures and problems that plague India.

So, borrowing from the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, I believe that such an attitude to "India" is "racism from a distance" (I have elaborated on this argument in Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting, Beacon Press, 2001). While multiculturalism gives us jobs, it also denigrates the complexity of the place we study and teach, and the place that gives us inspiration. There is, however, a distinction to be made between those who have an open disdain for India ("India stinks") and those who have an unbearable fondness for it ("India shines"). Both approaches see India as singular and without contradictions, see Indians as super-human or non-human, because contradictions and struggles, disagreements and debate are the hallmark of social relations.

a. "India Stinks"

Few of those who work professionally within South Asian Studies, who travel to Madison each year for the conference, hold this view. Nevertheless, such a view is not uncommon in the US and it is certainly held by colleagues with whom I have conversed, most of whom teach Europe or the US. They cannot imagine why I, or others like me, believe that Asia and Africa and elsewhere had anything to offer to the world, and they tend to think we exaggerate to "make our people feel better about themselves."

For really, they suggest, Greece is the font of knowledge and "Western" science is where its at. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s phrase, to "provincialize Europe" is very evocative, because one of our tasks must be to ensure that people not see science or rights as European, but as products of world history. In the world of science, historians in India such as Irfan Habib, Dhruv Raina, S. Irfan Habib and Deepak Kumar lead the way - they are doing for Indian science what Joseph Needham did for Chinese science. Their work shows us how imperialism defrauded South Asia of its right to science, and they also show us how the republic produced what is without question one of the most innovative science programs to emerge with a relative paucity of research funds.

While I understand that the "India Stinks" approach still exists in some spaces, I’m afraid I was taken aback by the anachronism in University of Texas graduate student Yvette Rosser’s list of "negative stereotypes" of Hinduism in her paper for the Infinity Foundation: "devil worship, polytheist, pollution-causing, evils of the caste system, irrational, world negating, inferior to scientific West, denial of the autonomous individual, relative morality, narcissism, mushy center."

Devil worship? This is not what is taught at most universities and colleges that work on South Asia. Polytheist is a description not a negative stereotype. Pollution-causing? The major critiques of University of Chicago’s anthropologist McKim Marriott from within the US academy should give us pause when we assume that ideas of "pollution" taught in an uncritical way are given a wide berth. In some spaces negativity does make its appearance, but not in a malevolent spirit.

There are some who document the widespread oppression of women and dalits, of adivasis and others. What they document is often very useful, but where their work has the feel of the "drain inspector’s report" (as Gandhi described Katherine Mayo’s book Mother India, 1928) is in their silence on the myriad struggles within India by dalits, women, adivasis and others for justice. If we document oppression without struggle, if we allow "India" to remain in the singular, then it does appear that we have participated in the "India stinks" world. For a good series of accounts that foreground struggle, I recommend (on adivasis, for example), Nandini Sundar’s Subalterns and Sovereigns (Oxford, 1997, based on a Columbia University anthropology Ph. D.) and Archana Prasad’s Against Ecological Romanticism (Three Essays, 2002).

b. "India Shines"

Far from "negative stereotypes," the academy is more prone to "positive stereotypes." From economists (such as Cornell University’s Kaushik Basu, University of California’s Pranab Bardhan, Columbia University’s Jagdish Bhagwati, and others) we get the sense that "liberalization" has produced nothing but positive results. There is little engagement with the suffering of the people, a point that I shall explore below.

From people like independent scholars David Frawley and Koenraad Elst we get nothing but glowing accounts of the Hindutva regime (Elst tells us that he has nothing against Muslims, but he does have something against Islam - he quotes Sadhvi Rithambara’s erroneous statement approvingly, "the Quran teaches [Muslims] to live in wait for idol worshippers to skin them alive." One could throw back the Manu’s Dharmashastras, but this is to participate in the one-dimensional argument that I think is erroneous, since neither "Hinduism" nor "Islam" is one thing or the other, just as I believe that Hindutva in its lived political reality is far more complex than the rants of Golwalkar).

I find these accounts that deny the complexity and struggle within the Indian social formation as troubling as those that denigrate India. Both fail to see us as humans in struggle.

2. Elision of Political Economy

Part of the view of India as a "culture" that is singular (and seen either as a good or bad culture) is the elision of political economy. Political economy demands an explanation for the contradictions of economic and political life: why, for instance, are farmers and farm workers starving and committing suicide when there has been a grain surplus in the last few years? This is a contradiction. Few scholars in South Asian Studies work on this topic (exciting new dissertations are on the way, from Dalhousie University’s Sripad Motiram and University of Massachusetts’ Vamsi Vakulabharanam).

India has attained an immense growth rate and the balance of payments has never been stronger in the last two decades, and yet, why are real wages down and why has the level of nutrition eaten by rural India decreased? Another contradiction, another problem that needs investigation (in India, there is a group of scholars who have researched and written much on this theme: from the Indian Statistical Institute’s Madhura Swaminathan and V. S. Ramachandran, as well as Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Vikas Rawal).

We have cheerleaders for neoliberalism, but we don’t have serious scholars who want to look at these contradictions (in India, economists from Jawaharlal Nehru University lead the way, such as Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, and C. P. Chandrasekhar). One need not be a Marxist to study such problems: Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze are two who are not Marxists but who have spent their time on such themes.

There are a host of scholars who work on the growth of the BJP and of Hindutva, but too few of them are interested in the relationship of the BJP’s rise to power and the Indian state’s dismemberment of the welfare state. The Congress began liberalization, lost its legitimacy, gave way to the BJP which came to power on a cultural nationalist plank, but which has continued the fire-sale of India’s resources.

A genuine patriot would be outraged by the way the BJP has give away India’s resources to trans-national corporations: Enron is one story, but there is also the sale of India’s waters. In Thane District, Maharashtra, the government sold a lake to Coca Cola (it will draw 3 lakh litres per day, an amount that could take care of 75,000 people). In Chattisgarh, twenty kms of River Sheonath is now owned by the Radius Water Limited, with fisherfolk and other denied access to the river.

Where is Infinity on this, where is South Asian Studies on this, and where are all those who snipe at the failures of South Asian Studies on this? On such issues, the Left and the people’s movements are alone.

Hindutva is eager to talk about the mythologized Saraswati and the Ganga, but not about the real Ganga and its denial to the people.


The above is unedited text of Professor Prashad’s e-mail response, with only paragraph-breaks introduced for format issues - all the links offered are by the author.

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