Replacing Eggheads with Boneheads

Nov 05, 2018, 07:50 IST | Aditya Sinha

Modi doesn't like intellectuals because they'd rather use their mind to help the country than blindly accept the values he stands for

Replacing Eggheads with Boneheads
The Supreme Court is currently under siege as the BJP looks to expand the test case that was the Sabarimala verdict and consequent violence, to the Ram temple demand in Ayodhya. File Pic

Aditya SinhaRajiv Malhotra, guru of "Yankee Hindutva" (thanks, Gita Ramaswamy) and "philosopher-in-chief of Internet Hindutva", now makes the cross-planet corporeal commute from the milk-and-honey comforts of New Jersey, USA, to the air-polluted South Delhi in his new role as honorary visiting professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

This continues the BJP government's efforts, since appointing Jagadeesh Kumar as vice-chancellor, to "tukde-tukde" the bastion of free thinking and left-wingism in academia. Malhotra claims to be an Indologist but does not know Sanskrit. Also, he has never been able to fend off charges of plagiarism ("sanskrit does not use quotes" is one of his feeble defences). The true gauge of Malhotraji's scholarship comes from eminent philosopher Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago: she described him as highly aggressive and a person who, instead of discussing the substance of a particular book, makes unbalanced attacks on its alleged mistakes. Naturally, he is a hero to the 'incel' Hindutva sheep the world over.

Following Malhotra's appointment came news that one of our best historians and public intellectuals, Ramachandra Guha, who has lately published Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World, would not be taking up a position at Ahmedabad University as the director of its Gandhi Winter School. This happened because the boys at the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Hindutva's students' union, objected to his appointment. Besides the usual neanderthal allegations of he being an alleged anti-national left-winger, etc, it mentioned an anti-caste passage in a chapter, written by someone else, in a book that he edited. In these current times, the sturmabteilung's anger put pressure on AU. Guha graciously let the University off the hook by himself stepping back from the appointment.

It is ironic that a serious Gandhian scholar is prevented from heading a Gandhi institution in Gandhi's home state. But irony and nuance were never Hindutva's strong suit. Guha is an academic who does the yeoman service of making Gandhi accessible to the wider reading public; while the size of Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World may appear daunting, it is, like the best-written histories, lucid and easy to read (the first time I ever read such good prose in history was 33 years ago, when I picked up AJP Taylor). Guha has spent his life immersed in deep and extensive research. He has taught at Stanford and Yale in the US, at Oslo University, at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, at the London School of Economics, and at the Indian Institute of Science. However, our incels revile him as passionately as they love Malhotra. It is a sign of the times that one is in while the other is out. The loss is totally India's.

Continuing its mission of making tukdas of India's non-Hindutva legacies, the government announced it had appointed cacophonous fishmonger Arnab Goswami to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Society. Arnab's appointment is nearly as ruinous as was chartered accountant S Gurumurthy's as non-executive director on the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) board — the consequences of Gurumurthy's appointment has been that Governor Urijit Patel and Deputy Governor Viral Acharya have revolted against the very government that appointed them. Arnab takes the place of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the VC of Ashoka University, which is sometimes cheekily referred to as the rich kids' JNU. Imagine: a man whose career is deep intellectual debate replaced by a man whose career is debate by decibels.

Though Mehta was one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's enablers, back in the good old days of lambasting Dr Manmohan Singh's policies and supposed paralysis, Mehta now provides weekly critiques to expose Modi's complete absence of vision, application of mind, and concern for the future. True, Mehta resigned his position; but did he have to be replaced by a self-confessed entertainer in the guise of a newsman?

This is unsurprising. Modi derides intellectuals and intellectualism, partly because like other strongmen he believes that reflection is inferior to rote, that critical examination should be subordinate to wholesale acceptance of traditional values and culture. Modi is shallow. He cares nothing for books; he does not even read government files. A book is a universe, but Modi prefers his own putrid little pond.

Authoritarians do not like experts or expertise; it is why Gurumurthy, who sold Modi the idea of demonetisation, is preferred over Patel and Acharya. It is why the Supreme Court is currently under siege as the BJP looks to expand the test case that was the Sabarimala verdict and consequent violence, to the Ram temple demand in Ayodhya. Expertise by its nature undermines an agenda by preferring facts over fiction. Strongmen hate experts.

Modi abuses intellectuals as enemies of the nation, falsely accusing them of being unpatriotic. But deriding the finest minds India produces is hardly evidence of love for one's country.

Aditya Sinha's latest book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written with AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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