[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here was an interesting article recently by Ananya Vajpeyi in The Hindu, where she gave intellectual, overarching justification to the multi-pronged attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government on freedom of speech and dangers of Hindutva, which, according to her, his government represents. She concluded the piece with:
The first step in protecting our Constitution is to recognise the seamless continuum between caste-based discrimination and communal hatred that provides the very plinth of Hindutva. This unequal, monopolistic, disrespectful, patriarchal, hate-filled and exclusionary ideology is no foundation for a nation that all of us, women as much as men, Muslims as much as Hindus, and Indians regardless of caste, could call our own.
She has been consistently doing this for some time and she loudly proclaimed on international forums that, with emergence of the Modi dispensation, freedom of speech is under threat in India.
Wendy Doniger’s Penguin affair had a ready defendant (in Foreign Affairs, her interview — “Foreign Affairs Focus on Books: Ananya Vajpeyi on Hindu Nationalism” and “The Triumph of the Hindu Right — Freedom of Speech and Religious Repression in Modi’s India”). Her article posited stock arguments, following a style that prompted me to dig deeper.
- She is a product of JNU.
- “Chicago” appears uncannily in Wiki bios of hers and Wendy Doniger — a little net search revealed that the latter taught Ananya.
- She has benefited from taking refuge with the left-leaning intellectual brigade that fostered a legion of ‘scholars’ who found everything Indian corrupted. Positioning Hinduism as the fountainhead of all ills in the Indian society has been the leitmotif of this school of thought. That archaeology and new discoveries have challenged the plinth (borrowing from Dr Vajpeyi’s term) of this school of thought is beside the point for them.
- She works with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
- CSDS is largely funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) under the Ministry of HRD, Government of India.
Readers may like to recall that the present government has started examining the affairs of ICSSR, which upset the applecart of stock historians and social scientists who have ready justification for why India didn’t progress under half a century rule of the left-leaning Congress. As they got mollycoddled by a vast network of academic patronage — the courtiers sang paeans to the giver — it didn’t matter why millions remained under crushing poverty. They justified the worst of caste politics by giving it cloak of intellectual arguments, never batted an eyelid on the demographic onslaught on the unsuspecting tribal population of the Northeast, never found anything wrong with the use of identity politics as the plinth or breed of politics, which got justified in their talks and dissertations, never found brazen proselytisation a threat to the social fabric or provocative.
The ICSSR funds about 27 social sciences institutions. That ICHR was found seriously wanting on some ICSSR-funded projects, which were exposed to be a cabal of we-all-decree-ourselves-to-be-liberals. Incidentally, Saba Naqvi Bhaumik in 1998 (India Today) took on Arun Shourie’s criticism of the presiding deities of history and described it as a secular-communal divide! Thus, if you can’t agree with these presiding deities, you are pronounced communal, period!
Modi represents a clear and present danger to this school of thought as he challenges its very plinth. That RSS is also coming out strongly against the caste system, buttressing the need to get rid of it, doesn’t help matters either. The prime minister changed the basic political discourse of Indian politics, which had for long been ready fodder to the dissertations and theorisation by this school of thought, when he brought development and governance not based out of politics of patronage and identity as the plinth of politics of the country. This tectonic shift caught all the usual pahelwans of Indian politics by surprise — here was a language that they never understood. How can there be a minister or an MP who does not run politics as family business, who does not partake in the spoils of the government contracts, transfers and postings?
The extreme quakes felt in the political arena is best exemplified by the small detail which escapes the Vajpeyis (would come on the other Vajpeyi shortly) is that the man who imprisoned and the one who went to prison have now been brought together in Bihar! The kind of politics Lalu Prasad represents was poignantly written on by Mallika Nawal in Swarajya recently. For the first time, caste is subordinated to animated discussions on the Bihar’s rightful place and its development. Whomsoever wins, the narrative has been fundamentally altered.
Ananya Vajpeyi represents the section of academia that does not have space for an alternative narrative, a fact which has so strongly undermined the credibility of JNU (from her bio-data: …has held post-doctoral fellowships at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library…). A quick search on documents on Google prop her and the likes of Mani Shankar Aiyar together! An interesting cast is seen in a particular conference.
The other protagonist of today is Ashok Vajpayi, whose work has quite an interesting overlap with that of Ananya Vajpeyi.
The man of letters has been in the Indian Administrative Service and served as a cultural secretary. He had been on several of bodies of the Union government; he was in government when the atrocities of emergency, Punjab militancy, Sikh massacre, surreptitious and venal demographic engineering of Northeast, Bhagalpur riots, violence in Western Uttar Pradesh etc happened. He was possibly busy penning his poetry while the nation he cares for so much was inflicted a million cuts!
That Ashok served with the perpetrators of all these crimes is a minor detail which Sagarika Ghose glosses over in her tweets (her glee on issues arising out of cow worship can be nauseating when she describes that she likes to have her meat dripping with blood:
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) September 10, 2015
A quick look at Ashok’s bio-data is sufficient to rest my case.
Over the years he served Secretary of Culture, Union Ministry of Culture, and as Vice-Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya; chairman, Bharat Bhavan Trust; trustee, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA); member, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), and executive board member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. … After being appointed a pro-tem Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi India’s National Academy of Arts, he was subsequently appointed as its regular chairman, in April 2008, till December 2011.
Ashok saheb is an old man and has lived a life that benefited all through his service and post-retirement from the party dislodged from power last year. By acting on selective amnesia — emulating Nayantara Sahgal to return the Sahitya Akademi award — he exposes his motives.
It’s the same with Ananya. The plinth of her school of thought is endangered. Isn’t she reacting to it! Differ with them, and you are labelled reactionary, much as it is their academic work that smacks of reaction, instead of supporting and working towards reconciliation in a society left asunder from long periods of occupation. They have provided justification and, in fact, pandered to identity politics by legitimising it, thereby making constitutional provisions read like modern Manusmriti. If the constitution is to be protected, it has to be protected from the worst form of identity politics and those who legitimise it.
It would be worthwhile to take a look at what MD Nalapat presciently wrote in The Sunday Guardian, 26 September. North India has venerated the cow for long and, as one who grew in Uttar Pradesh and travelled and lived in the mofussil towns, I have seen hand-painted slogans to protecting cows from slaughter in Bulandshahr, Barabanki, Gonda, Gorakhpur ages before BJP came to power. Is there a conspiracy of provocation before the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh and a message via UP to sensitive voters in Bihar?