Indian right must fill its scholarship blanks

The question to B or not to BBC cannot be resolved in India. The Indian Right seems to lack the intellectual depth and scholarship to mount a counter-narrative.

Published: 29th January 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th January 2023 10:45 AM   |  A+A-

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The question to B or not to BBC cannot be resolved in India. The Indian Right seems to lack the intellectual depth and scholarship to mount a counter-narrative. Its boffins write textbooks claiming that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar flew out of prison on a bird (not Twitter's thankfully) to visit his pals. Its polemists laud uncritical biographies by pretend-scholars and hold science conferences lauding Narendra Modi gravitational waves. Its prickly rhetoric bandies the tired trope of liberal control over academia; nobody was stopping them from building a formidable counter-intellectual phalanx with Indian versions of Conservative French thinkers Alain de Benoist and Bernard-Henri Lévy and his 'New Philosophers' group or American conservatives like Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman. The BJP's ideological disputants must gain a better understanding of history to mount a cogent defence instead of calling Padmavati the national mother and Shah Rukh Khan a pro-Pakistan actor.

A paper by Markovits Claude, India from 1900 to 1947, Mass Violence and Resistance notes that "the British conquest of India was accompanied by large-scale violence, sometimes directed towards the Indian civilian population".

Why is the BJP yet to demand an apology from the British for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre? It was Amarinder Singh's Congress government that did in 2019.

Or, for the communal and caste massacres under colonial rule?

In May 1925, police fired on peasants in Alwar protesting the rajah's land policy, killing 156 and wounding 600. On April 23, 1930, the British Army shot 30 Civil Disobedience activists in Peshawar who were agitating the arrest of Abdul Ghaffar Khan -- the unofficial toll was 200 to 250. Following the announcement of the Quit India movement on August 8, 1942, the government deployed 57 army battalions, which murdered 1,060 Indians in the Eastern United Provinces; unofficial estimates count 1,761 in Bihar alone. The rulers even used the Air Force to bomb agitators.

Communal riots in 1917 in Bihar and the Northwest Frontier Province claimed the lives of hundreds. In February 1928, 149 people died in riots. In March 1931, a hartal called by the Congress to honour Bhagat Singh sparked a major Hindu-Muslim riot in Kanpur, which claimed 400 deaths.

Writes Professor Margrit Pernau of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany: "The Civil Disobedience movement did not renew the scenes of communal amity which had marked the earlier Non-Cooperation movement. Most Muslims stood apart and did not join the boycotts and hartals, the closing of businesses as a sign of protest against a moral injustice."

In May 1932, Bombay witnessed more such riots that killed 217 persons and injured 2,569. Claude notes that "violence between Hindus and Muslims is one of the most publicised features of colonial India's history". All this happened under the watch of the British. A documentary would hence be helpful to understand context.

Saffron savants, intimidated by the English language and intellectually robust Left-liberal bluestockings, could start with some R&D by holistically delving into historical records to interpret and question history. The famous American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead intuited, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world; in fact, it's the only thing that ever has." The BJP’s brainiacs might want to take her advice seriously if it wishes to establish a globally respected thought leadership, which will stand the test of time.

(Ravi Shankar can be reached at


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