How To Resolve Ramachandra Guha’s Paradox About Lack of Conservative Intellectuals in India?

Ramachandra Guha’s very long article (17 pages), “In Absentia: Where are India’s conservative intellectuals? in “The Caravan” magazine published on 1 March 2015 is significant in many aspects as a brief intellectual history of India since independence, the least of which is what he considers as a paradox of Indian public life or Indian culture.

The paradox is that while there is a right-wing government in India, it does not have many right-wing intellectuals to “provide ballast,” in the form of ideas and theories needed for the right-wing government.

The paradox gets itself resolved, or at least we have a clue to resolve that paradox, just from the way he formulates it in the very first paragraph of his article, provided one has the mind to ask the right question to any fact of reality that one observes or one reads about the correct identification of a reality by someone else (which is the hallmark of an intellectual, without which any amount of “original research” would be of no use)!

I am quoting from his article, “The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany all have a long lineage of first-rate intellectuals on the right, who continue to provide ballast to parties such as the Republicans in America, the Conservatives in Britain, and the Christian Democrats in Germany. On the other hand, while the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys political power in India, it can command the support of few well-known or widely published intellectuals.”

Now, the first question one would ask after reading this point would be:  What is the difference between Indian one the one hand and “The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany” on the other in respect to cultural and intellectual atmosphere? Although Guha quotes a few intellectuals from the West, he does not discuss the fundamental difference with respect to intellectual atmosphere as a cause to this paradox in the whole 17 pages of the article.

But, fortunately for us, there is another article by Guha, which was published in “The Telegraph” on January 24, 2015, titled “A fifty-fifty democracy – Seven Threats to Freedom of Expression,” which provides the clue to resolve the paradox: “the lack of freedom of expression,” in India since independence, which was the fundamental cause for the lack of conservative intellectuals in India.

I am quoting from “A fifty-fifty democracy”:  “The first threat to freedom of expression is the retention in our statute books of archaic colonial laws.  These were: Section 153 (“Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot”), Section 153A (“Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”), Section 295 (“Injuring or defiling [a] place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class”), Section 295A (“Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”), Section 298 (“Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person”), and Section 505 (“Statements conducing to public mischief”).

The State’s powers to suppress independent thought also take advantage of the first amendment to the Indian Constitution which restricted the sweeping freedom of speech originally granted by the Constitution. This amendment, introduced in May 1951 when Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister and B.R. Ambedkar law minister, allowed governments to ban periodicals or books, which threatened “the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, [or] public order” – provisions that give the authorities wide latitude to prohibit the circulation of books, newspapers or films they do not like.”

I would ask Guha a simple question:  Who would entertain the idea of becoming a non-fiction writer in the field of social sciences to ultimately become an intellectual with a mind of his own in such an atmosphere? Even if one enters college and enrolls himself in any of the social sciences discipline, would not he, after a few years, when he comes to know these laws, change his mind and decide to become “a leftist intellectual” so as to swim with the current and earn a respectable living? Or if he preservers an independent mind of his own, would he not just join some government department as an officer and bury his idea of becoming an intellectual?

What would be the existential consequences of the archaic colonial laws and the first amendment to the Indian Constitution which restricted the sweeping freedom of speech originally granted by the Constitution? Guha himself provides a recent example about the threat to freedom of expression in India in the case of the publication of a book and contrasts this with how these fundamental rights are well protected in Europe.

“I was recently reading a book on the publication, in the United Kingdom, of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The novel was banned under a section of the Obscene Publications Act, which permitted the State to stop circulation if the work in question was “such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons” likely to read it. The defence was able to get the ban lifted, in part because it effectively used another section of the same act, which stated that even if some parts of a book were considered “obscene”, it could still be circulated if its publication was “justified as being for the public good on the ground that it is in the interests of science, literature, art, or learning, or of other objects of general interest”. Alas, no such provision exists in Indian law. Otherwise, it could have been used in defence of Doniger’s book, which is manifestly a work of learning and of literature.”

This is the most fundamental reason for the lack of conservative intellectuals (and more lack of any kind of intellectuals other than leftist, socialist or communist variety).

I posted my comments, emphasizing essentially the above points, to the article, “Where are India’s Conservative Intellectuals” on March 19, 2015.  I am repeating the same here:

“If one asks the question, “Why there were no conservative (right) intellectuals in USSR?” the answer would be simple and obvious.  The hypocrisy of the left; because the slogans of the left about “freedom of thought” is applicable only to other societies in which they are in the opposition, but not when they are rulers in “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and such a society would never allow any dissent even in the practical application of its ideas or how exactly those ideas to be implemented and when except that of the rulers (Read about Leon Trotsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, etc.) let alone other ideologies.

India embraced the soviet model of social organization with the state assuming almost total control of the economy either by means of public sector (socialistic aspect of statism) and Licence/Permit Raj (fascist aspect of statism) and become a perfect symbol of a “mixed economy (a mixer of freedom and control),” not a full “dictatorship of the proletariat,” though Nehru would have liked it that way (read about his failed attempt to collectivize Indian agriculture on the model of collectivization of agriculture under Stalin in USSR)!

Fortunately for India, due to influence of British rule (unlike the Mughal rule, based on mystic ideas and philosophy, the legacy of which the left would pamper so much in spite of their atheism, or is it preciously because of it?) that has imbibed some western ideas such as freedom of thought and the ideas of free market, there were men like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajaji, N.G. Ranga and others who did not allow Nehru to have his way to establish a “dictatorship of proletariat” in India.

The establishment of Universities/Institutions to “the spread of liberal and socialistic ideas” such as Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (In the early years, the research activities were financed through assistance from various ministries and public funding agencies including the Government of Maharashtra and private foundations like the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust), Indian Statistical Institute (An academic institute of national importance as recognised by a 1959 act of the Indian parliament. It grew out of the Statistical Laboratory set up by Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis in Presidency College, Kolkata), Jawaharlal Nehru University (a public central university in New Delhi), etc., were either started or funded mainly by the leftist Government of India.

Obviously, rightist or conservative intellectuals would never flourish in such an atmosphere! Universities are considered as a bastion of plurality of thought where different and often opposing ideas flourish under an environment of freedom as in the West. Why there were not many private universities in India started by businessmen as in the USA, where there are so many conservative intellectuals? This would have allowed the establishment of Universities “for the spread of conservative ideas” when some businessmen leaning to those ideas were allowed to start Universities.  Even if anyone had entertained such an idea, would he have been allowed to do so under the Licence/Permit Raj? This was the main reason for the lack of conservative intellectuals in India.”

This was another comment that I posted in his article on 22 March 2015:

Sometimes the leftist intellectuals are forced to accept the facts which they would rather not elaborate much lest the evil nature of the theories that they have been supporting and pandering all their life would be shattered beyond repair and their claim to the title of intellectuals would become highly suspect even in the eyes of the “common man” whom they are supposed to serve.

Here I am quoting Ramachandra Guha: “Rajaji characterised the Nehruvian state as a “License–Permit–Quota Raj.” In a 1959 essay, he sharply attacked the “megalomania that vitiates the present development policies.” What India needed, he wrote, was “not just big projects, but useful and fruitful projects … Big dams are good, but more essential are thousands of small projects which could be and would be executed by the enthusiasm of the local people because they directly and immediately improve their lives.”

“Speaking more generally, Rajaji argued that “the role of the Government should be that of a catalyst in stimulating economic development while individual initiative and enterprise are given fullest play. Nehru dismissed Rajaji’s economic ideas as out of date, but in fact they anticipated the trends of the future.  In 1991, the government finally began to liberalise the economy.”

He goes on to write that, “Rajaji’s ideas on the economy have been largely vindicated.”

Now, if ever a “common man” with some semblance of common sense reads this, would not he obviously conclude that the policies and programs of Jawaharlal Nehru and her daughter Indira Gandhi were utter failure?

Is it not obvious that their “License–Permit–Quota Raj” kept India a country of poverty and penury in spite of their 32 years or rule? Is it not obvious that the slogans such as “Garibi Hatao (Abolish Poverty rescue the country) were mere slogans that were intended to fool and rule the gullible people of Indian rather than any meaningful policy or program for the development of the country?

Why did not Guha accept these failures of the Nehruvian policies explicitly and openly?  Why did he left it to be inferred?


4 thoughts on “How To Resolve Ramachandra Guha’s Paradox About Lack of Conservative Intellectuals in India?

  1. I think reason for lack of coherent rightwing intellectuals is the inconsistency of mainstream right across the globe.

    Best of them promote freedom and reason. But like Modi, not because these are consistent with survival needs of everyman. But because these help in achieving altruist like ideal, greatest good to the greatest many. This inconsistency makes these intellectuals vulnerable….

    And therefore Ayn Rand and her trinity of reason egoism and capitalism is more needed than ever….

  2. The right wing (and centrist) intellectuals are right here in India. It is more fashionable to be a Leftist, Cummunist, Socialist, brown sahib and that is why the media only focus on these.

  3. The point Guha makes through his article is the lack of conservative free thinkers who could act as the antithesis of the most prevalent schools of thought by creating or publishing their own comprehensive body of academic work. Policy failures, as you rightly point out, have happened at both ends and will keep happening in the future. That being one of the pros or the cons of democracy, depending on the way you look at it, belongs to an entirely different table of discussion.

    You are absolutely right in making your point that there are several archaic laws which prohibit free thinking. However, under the garb of the same laws the current right wing sympathizers or right wing bashers manage to violently challenge contemporary intellectuals. So, how do you justify the surge of liberal intellectuals within the ambiance of these very laws that you say have always hindered the rise of the conservative thinkers?

    Why not go through the entire rigor of articulating the essence of conservatism and exploring peer review and critique, rather than blaming archaic laws for the lack of an intellectual disposition.

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