Ramachandra Guha: The ignorant, intolerant Indian liberal – Vijaya Rajiva

Professor Icon“If Indian liberalism is represented by the ignorance of the country’s Sanskrit tradition it is not surprising that the Hindus of the country are in turn contemptuous of this failure. The binary opposition that Mr. Guha sets up between patriots and partisans is reflective of the limited nature of his own perspectives. Until he comes to an understanding of his own history, Mr. Guha will remain a limited writer of books that are sponsored by well-known international publishers.” – Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Ramachandran GuhaOutlook India has done great damage to historian/cricketologist/enivironmentalist and man of many parts, Ramachandra Guha. It has published an advance preview of his forthcoming book ‘Patriots and Partisans’ (Penguin) by printing excerpts from it. The excerpts are placed under the title ‘Who Milks this Cow?’ (Nov. 19, 2012). Mr. Guha refers to himself as a LIBERAL. It is difficult to believe that these excerpts were published without the knowledge of the author. It is possible that the editor of Outlook India was acting either with excessive liberal zeal or what is the more mundane explanation he was trying to boost sagging sales with this sensationalism.

The article is an astonishing collection of vituperative attacks on the Sangh Parivar, the RSS, the Hindutvadins, the Hindus of the diaspora, the Internet Hindus etc. It is astonishing because Mr. Guha seems to be quoting mainly from private emails he received from various quarters which berate him, rebuke him for being anti Hindutva and so on. Now, Ramachandra Guha is not surely lying about these emails, he is too intelligent for that. The question arises as to why he is publicising these emails in the first place. One is tempted to say that he has been set up as a hatchet man! Surely a historian described as a ‘leading’ Indian historian can do better than indulge in these infantile gimmicks?

The present writer had read some of his earlier environmental work approvingly and when the book ‘India After Gandhi‘ came out (2008) it seemed an impressive work, if only for the enormous amount of work that the author had put into it. Its serious evaluation still awaits, but whatever its shortcomings there is no doubt that it represented a serious effort in the genre of historical chronicle. It would be useful to compare and contrast this work with Radha Rajan’s ‘Eclipse of the Hindu Nation‘ (2009). He begins the book by wondering out aloud as to what was special about the Indian achievement and why and so on. One waited to see if he had arrived at some conclusion, which he clearly had not by the end of the book. And it seems that he is still searching. The forthcoming book might resolve the mystery.

However, the excerpts above are not an encouraging prognosis.

Outlook IndiaBut assuming that Mr. Guha was in earnest about his appraisal of the above movements and organisations based on some random emails that he received, one cannot help but wonder whether this promising author has begun to lose it. His ideological dislike, bordering on ‘hatred’ of anything that resembles the different versions of India (different from his ‘liberal’ versions) that have been thrown up, is a disappointment and an intimation of what is to come. This is ‘liberalism’ at its most intolerant and vindictive mode! Its failures are harmful to the country and act as catalysts for discontent.

Hindutva, which is Mr. Guha’s target, has been written about since the time of Savarkar in the 1920s. Shri Savarkar had raised the question of who is a Hindu? He had answered that it was any citizen of the future independent India, regardless of race, religion, caste, creed etc. He was one of the first caste Hindus who initiated intercaste dining and so on. It is this type of thinking that animated Dr. K.B. Hedgewar to establish the RSS (Rashtriya Seva Sangh) in 1925 and whose philosophy the present RSS follows faithfully to the letter. And if the Sangh Parivar organisations which do sterling social service work in the country, do have many members who are vegetarians (Mr. Guha was not sympathetic to this in his book ‘India after Gandhi,’ and this strikes a jarring note in the book) then he is to blame, not the vegetarians!

Indeed, apart from the fact that vegetarianism might be a good thing after all from a health point of view, it might be useful for the reader to be informed that the latest documentary on cattle trafficking, called ‘Their Last Journey,’ mentions that India is the third largest producer of meat in the world and that too under the most horrifying practices which cause untold suffering to the animals. Perhaps Mr. Guha is well advised to view this documentary (it is available here).

Are these people who produce such humanitarian videos to be dismissed as Hindutvadins? If so, three cheers for Hindutvadins! Even by any yardstick (Mr. Guha’s liberalism or otherwise) the job they do in publicising the plight of these animals is something that Mahatma Gandhi himself would have endorsed. Mahatma Gandhi is a name that Mr. Guha frequently evokes in admiration. There are also Hindu groups that work towards the protection of Hindu temples, again surely a worthwhile task when the liberal atmosphere is not conducive to such efforts. Don’t Hindus have the right to protect their temples? Should not the country engage in constructive activity that would keep the temples as World Heritage sites ? Why in a country that is predominantly Hindu should Mr. Guha display a tendency towards unpatriotic proclivities ? Is it surprising then that people write angry letters to newspapers or even to him ? Why indeed do Indian liberals jump up and down at the perfectly respectable word ‘rashtram‘ (of Vedic lineage). The goddess Sarasvati has said: aham rashtrii sangamani abhyudayam (I move people towards their welfare). It is time that Mr. Guha read the Rig Vedic corpus, since no serious historian of the country and its culture can afford to neglect it.

Patriots and Partisans If Indian liberalism is represented by the ignorance of the country’s Sanskrit tradition it is not surprising that the Hindus of the country are in turn contemptuous of this failure. The binary opposition that Mr. Guha sets up between patriots and partisans is reflective of the limited nature of his own perspectives. Until he comes to an understanding of his own history, Mr. Guha will remain a limited writer of books that are sponsored by well-known international publishers.

Then again, Mr. Guha’s pet peeve seems to be Hindus in the diaspora. Many of these whom he maligns not only contribute to the foreign exchange reserves of the country, they also put their money where their mouth is, by supporting worthwhile causes such as the education of girls, or the education of tribal children and so on, which also happens to be organised by the Sangh Parivar organisations. Or is Mr. Guha saying that only the people that he authorises, puts his stamp of approval on, are allowed to undertake such philanthropic works? Here again is liberal narrow-mindedness at its worst!

Now to the question of caste? If, as he says in the excerpts above, his family divested themselves of the sacred thread, is it mandatory for all Hindus in that category to follow suit. Indeed, this much abused section of Hindu society in recent times, has been responsible for the preservation of ancient rituals from Vedic times. A good example (but not the only one) would be the Nambudiris of Kerala who have maintained the Athiratram Yagna rituals unchanged since Vedic times. It is to the scholars from this caste and community that Hindus owe the faithful transmission of Sanskrit texts and traditions. Is Mr. Guha saying that they should all follow in his family’s footsteps and throw out Hindu sacred rituals from the Vedic homa onwards and consign Hindu sacred literature to museums? Indeed all over India it is this community which has through thick and thin , through barbarian invasions and atrocities kept the Hindu Agni alive. Sadly, Mr. Guha in his new-found role as the Grand Inquisitor has forgotten his history.

Guha and his editor!With regard to the Dalit question his family’s service in helping them is to be commended. But his further assumption that this is the only effort being made in India is ludicrous. Both the GOI and the NGOs (which include the Sangh Parivar organisations) and ordinary individuals have worked to alleviate the situation of the Dalits? En passant, it should be pointed out to him that it is one of his much disliked Hindus in the diaspora who has written an excellent recent monograph on the topic. He is well advised to read Dr. Rakesh Bahadur’s ‘Equality and Inclusion: Progress and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes In Independent India‘ (2010).

As for the question of minorities, he rightly raises the question of violence, but is selective in pointing out only that which is committed by the Hindus and is silent on the atrocities committed by the minority community (in this case the Muslim) both historically, in recent times and at present.

Outlook India may unintentionally be doing a service to the nation by the preview. Readers can expect to read more of the same and are forewarned. Far from being the work of a contemporary Indian intellectual it might turn out to be a diatribe against Hindus in general. The inquisition against the Hindutvadins is usually that.

» Dr Vijaya Rajiva is a Political Philosopher who lives in Montreal and taught at a Canadian university.

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5 Responses

  1. It appears that the persons like this Guha are working to a plan to earn some cheap publicity for them and attain higher sales for their anti Hindu pulp [take the recent case of Girish Karnad].

    Hindus should not get worked up with such anti Hindu diatribes by a dozen odd chaps still clinging to their 19th century beliefs [and telling us to modernise]. March of time [and Hindus] is pushing such remaining pseudos in to a corner.Let them remain there for a while.

    But you are right about their credibility for writing Hindu history.These guys don’t know Sanskrit,they don’t want to learn it [Maxmuller at least did that] but want to write toms on Hindu history.Twistorians all.

  2. Ramachandra Guha seems to be a shameless rootless fellow. He must know that many Hindus (Brahmins in particular) have been maintaining the sacred ritual fire for generations. Even i have seen many families doing so. My question is to him is this: If he is asked by any one of the minority community to jump into a well to prove his secularism, will he do it?. If he and his family wants to remove his sacred thread does it means that everybody has to do it? He & his family can remove whatever they want and screw themselves. Who cares? Disgusting fellow that i would avoid like plague. It is these kinds of idiots that allowed foreign powers like the Britishers to flourish in India. Spineless fellow!!!.


    “More than any other religion, Hinduism is a decentered and deregulated faith, and in this it appears akin to cyberspace. It has no one prophet or savior, nor are Hindus agreed upon the authority of a single text…Hinduism not only has multiple sources of doctrinal authority, it is polycentric [has many sacred spaces]…one could say that Hinduism is rhizomatic, with multiple points of origin, intersection, and dispersal…[therefore] Hinduism most certainly inhabits those very properties that characterize cybernetworks…Hinduism and the Internet, one might conclude, were happily made for each other”

    Vinay Lal in Lal, Vijay. 2003. North American Hindus, the Sense of History, and the Politics of Internet Diasporism. In AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Edited by Rachel Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. London and New York: Routledge.

    Vinay Lal is critique of Hindutva.

    Now in Hinduism and cyberspace Heinz Scheifinger in Religion Volume 38, Issue 3, September 2008, Pages 233–249

    “Hinduism is thriving in cyberspace. In this article I consider the suitability of this environment for Hinduism. This can indicate both whether various forms of Hindu religious expression online are valid and whether Hinduism needs to undergo any radical changes as a result of its presence in cyberspace. In order to investigate this issue I consider the nature of cyberspace and then discuss a number of key aspects of Hinduism in the light of this. I conclude that, overall, cyberspace appears to be a highly suitable environment for Hinduism”

    Now Vinay Lal writes “Hinduism is a decentered and deregulated faith, and in this it appears akin to cyberspace”and Heinz Scheifinger writes, “I conclude that, overall, cyberspace appears to be a highly suitable environment for Hinduism” .

    This is what happened when the internet came. This deregulated faith found a suitable environment, the cyberspace and the deities of this pluralistic faith found a safe place to be seen, worshipped with Bhajans and darshan and whatever this faith could offer. Cyberspace was God-send creation for Hindus. They latched on to it and I still remember, the great excitement of the pluralastic followers when cyberspace first appeared. One exclaimed “The Brahman (cyberspace) has arrived to house the deities safely” The formless to form became a salvation route for the Hindus on cyberspace. In the beginning before the advent of cybersapce some centuries ago, the deities were broken , as form was rejected by the believers of the formless. The cyberspace brought deities back into reckoning. What happened, slowly snide comments were passed on deities which were posted on the internet The snide postings were the first cause for the Hindutva outpouring.

    This deregulated, decentralised faith has an advantage over the centralised formless faiths on cyberspace as imagery is abhorred by the formless worshippers. Well, the deities are safe in cyberspace. The other day I saw the Bamiyan Budhhas smiling in cyberspace as if to say “Don’t worry, Taliban we are safe here” Surely the Taliban won’t break computer screens” Yes, how many will they smash”

    The reply written by me in outlookindia.com

  4. IS, you have said it! Clearly in preparation for the 2014 polls! About two years ago I recall reading about a meeting of Indian writers and authors in the UK. If I am not mistaken both Guha and Amartya Sen were present. Guha signed a contract with Penguin.

    Many Hindus feel that Sen is the head of the snake and is orchestrating much of this anti Hindu sentiment. Not the Guha needs any encouragement!

  5. The Indian liberal has never been very liberal. And Outlook India magazine has had an established policy of Hindu-bashing from its first edition.

    And all these Indian liberals seem to be camping in the same sweaty, smug little town–Bengaluru.

    Attacking Hindu vegetarians is absurd in that most Hindus are not vegetarians. Today any medical doctor will tell you that eating meat, especially beef (red meat) is bad for the health. It is a different matter that the the Indian government and many Indians don’t listen to the world experts on diet. And of course vegetarianism is a superior practice both scientifically and morally. No reason to hide this fact or be ashamed of it.

    There seems to be a conspiracy in operation. First Karnad shoots his mouth off in an inappropriate forum, now Guha lists his complaints against Hindus in an established anti-Hindu magazine. In between we have Dalrymple and the literary refugee Taslima Nasrin chiming in on the side of the Hindu-baiters. Wonder who will be next? And does all this have to do with laying the Cong-UPA groundwork for the next election?

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