Pankaj Mishra’s Tendentious Little Book

This was a rolling rant I wrote while reading Pankaj Bhayia’s book in 2012. Edited version follows

being told that everyone from Orhan Pamuk to Pakistani Ambassador (and liberal
feminist Jinnahist icon) Sherry Rahman is in love with Pankaj Mishra’s new book I have finally started
reading it.
I have only read 50 pages so far.So I have NOT yet reached the meat of the
book. But the intro is starting to set a certain tone. And its not a very
encouraging one.
I am not impressed. At all. So Far. 
how little time I am getting and likely to get in the next few days, I know I
am not going to be a doing a review. But
a blog permits other possibilities. One of them is a “rolling review” (basically a rant in real time). So here
goes. As I go through the book, I will try whenever possible to get online and
say a few words. Quotes
from Pankaj Bhaiya are in italics.
On  page 18: the word Islam, describing the range of Muslim beliefs and
practices, was not used before the 19th century. 

is then negated on the very next page by Mishra himself.
only explanation for this little nugget is that Pankaj knows his audience and
will miss no opportunity to slide in some politically correct lines. There is a
vague sense “out there” in liberal academia that Islam is unfairly maligned as
monolithic. Pankaj will let people know that he has no such incorrect belief. It is a noble impulse and it recurs. A lot.

Pankaj’s summary of colonial history is boilerplate and unimaginative. He
really has nothing new to say. But he does seem to think (and, somewhat
surprisingly, most of his reviewers seem to think) that he is revealing new
and (to quote Hamid Dabbashi) jolting our historical
imagination and placing it on the right though deeply repressed axis.
This is very surprising. Are we to believe that a professor at Columbia did not know this very basic outline of colonial history and had “deeply repressed it”? Anyone
with any genuine interest in history would know all this in much greater detail
Muslim power.. had been the biggest losers as the British
East India Company became the major power the subcontinent. 
is standard and rather unoriginal and not really accurate. The Sikhs and Marhattas lost more to the British than the remaining Muslim-ruled states in India.  
And anyway, isnt this very un-poco pomo when you think about
it? To label it as “Muslim power”?  I thought the pomo thing was to point
out that this business of dividing Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British periods was a British colonial reading of Indian history? Did
Pankaj not get the memo?
In actual fact Turko-Afghan power in North India was breaking up and weakening throughout the
18th century and large chunks of the country were in the hands of Hindu
(Marhatta) and Sikh rulers, most of whom had Muslims in their service..and vice
versa in the various principalities headed by Muslims. The British in some
areas got rid of Turko-Afghan rulers, in a few (Mysore comes to mind) they defeated Muslim rulers who were of Indian-convert origin rather than Turko-Afghan origin; and in several  others they got rid of Hindu and Sikh
rulers. And they were by no means as uniformly anti-Muslim as Pankaj implies.
In fact, after 1857, a disproportionately large chunk of their army was Muslim.
And Muslim feudals as well as a large coterie of officially approved ulama and mashaikh (clerics and saints) were dependable and loyal servants of the empire. Pankaj
missed several memos.
is also not above sliding in some facts that are less than accurate to make his
story more convincing. Having got on the case of Muslim defeat at the hands of
the British, he says “…finally subduing the great
Muslim-majority lands of the Panjab in 1848″.  

cannot be that PM is unaware of the fact that the “Muslim majority lands of
Panjab” were under Sikh rule since 1800 or so and it was a Sikh kingdom and not
a Muslim kingdom that the British conquered in 1848. Why not say Sikh kingdom
instead of “Muslim-majority lands of Panjab”? Minor point, but its a pattern.
The overall propaganda requirements generally take precedence over mere facts
with Pankaj bhai.
Over-running parts of North-West India, the jihadists were finally
suppressed in 1831 at the battle of Balakot in 1831, which was to assume a
tragic aura in South Asian Islamic lore comparable to the martyrdom of Hussain
at karbala in 680 AD. 
context in which this is mentioned implies (without explicitly saying so) that
this was all part of the Muslim resistance to British rule. Which is partly true but mostly untrue. Even Pankaj probably knows NO large
areas of British India were liberated by jihadists. The areas “liberated” by Syed
Ahmed were in what is now Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and he did not liberate them from the British, he liberated them from the Sikh ruler of Panjab. And finally it was a Sikh army (an army that included a predominantly Muslim artillery corps) that
destroyed the jihadists at Balakot, after they had already alienated many
Muslims in Peshawar with their harsh rule. NO karbala like mythology attaches
to these people though there has been some attempt to resurrect their memory in
Pakistan after 1947. Its a very small detail, but its telling. Facts will not stand in
Pankaj bhayia’s way. Be on guard.

P-40, para 2. Read it and marvel. Europeans thought Asian were in decline and
stagnation while Asians were actually economically and culturally
dynamic. And of course, PM puts “decline” and “stagnation” in
scare quotes. Then he tells us how Asians really were well
behind the Europeans in science, technology and organization and the Europeans,
because of superior skills many crucial areas, mustered more power than the
wealthiest empires in Asia. .a long list of examples of Europe’s extraordinary
“pulling ahead” then follows.

You have to read the section to get the flavor of Pankaj’s problem here. He
feels its not good to say decline and stagnation.
But the whole book is about relative decline and stagnation and attempts to set
that right.
What gives?

Even the unalloyed boon of modern medicine in the rising
West turned into something darkly ambiguous in Asia when it helped increase
populations in the absence of corresponding economic growth, compounding the
problem of poverty. 

Read the above passage a few times. Think about it. Feel the love…

Al-Afghani is barely known in the West today, even though his
influence exceeds that of Herzen and, at least in its longevity, almost matches
least in longevity”? What does that even mean? I can tell you what it means. It means Pankaj is telling his fans that there are great Asian thinkers that they should know about but that they have missed because of their Eurocentric education. And Pankaj will set them right. He knows how popular this kind of thing is among his European and Europeanised Desi audience. He gets them, even if he does not get Afghani. 
the Jamaluddin Afghani section, I suggest perusing these links to get an idea
of how he is generally remembered in the region (and in particular in Islamist
circles)> then compare with PM’s version.
p-53 he traveled to India in late 1850s to continue his education, and
spent a considerable part of the next decade there, in among other places,
Bombay, (which had a large community of Persians) and Calcutta. it was during
this time of fierce Indian assaults on the British and the latter’s brutal
backlash that his intellectual heritage of revolt from the babis began to turn
from a local into a global ideology of resistance.

now you know the drill; the “large community of Persians” in Bombay was Parsis
(Zorastrians), themselves refugees from Islamist persecution, not people
Afghani would especially associate with, and not people inclined to revolt
against the British (or anyone else at that point in time). 
The “heritage of revolt from the Babis” is
just plain bullshit. There is absolutely no evidence implicating the babis in
anything Afghani did or thought and the babis in any case are not exactly the revolutionary anti-colonial movement of revolt PM is hinting at. See here for details and compare this information
with PM’s casual insertion of babis into his narrative (here and earlier).
 PM, in short, is relying on the ignorance of his Western readers (and
Westoxicated Asian readers) to follow him along this path of anti-colonial struggle
without too much concern for nuance or historical accuracy. (the Babis are the founders of the Bahais. The furthest thing from an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement (and currently maligned in the Islamic world as imperialist agents, not anti-imperialist revolutionaries).

I read the next few pages and there is so much crap that I cannot bore you with
it. Poets are quoted out of context. Events are selected to fit the
story. Its not frankly untrue, its “not even wrong”. And throughout, the
dominant feeling is of a writer who knows his audience and is carefully
crafting his words to fit their preconceptions. This is not original history or
analysis, but it does fit in perfectly with what his readers seem to expect.
these fairly typical sentences:
Afghani still lived in the old city where Muslims in turbans and
flowing robes still study the Koran and the hadith. But elsewhere turks wore
the Fez ….and an imperial degree issued in 1856 (“a day of weeping and mourning
for the people of Islam” according to some Turkish Muslims) had permitted
church bells to be rung in the city for the first time since the conquest of
Constantinople in 1453. Indeed, churches palaces hospitals, factories schools
and public gardens were advancing relentlessly to the shores of the Golden Horn
and the sea of Marmara, squeezing out traditional Muslim neighborhoods.
passages practically drip with tears at the way “traditional life”, so beloved
of truly modern people like PM, was being “squeezed out” by new fangled crap
like allowing church bells to ring and building schools and factories. All the
confusions of modern “large-carbon-footprint” intellectuals are visible in this
and other passages. Modernization was terrible. Modernization was needed.
Modernization was the aim. Modernization was a tragedy. Its all the fault of
perfidious Albion (he uses the term, btw)…
Pankaj is providing red meat to his liberal, anti-colonial, postmodern,
vaguely leftist readers. Up to a point, one can do this sort of thing AND
provide interesting information and original insights, but beyond a point it
is just propaganda with no value beyond rallying the troops. In PM’s case, it quickly degenerates into propaganda.

Lord. The Ottoman section is so confused that I am surprised anyone gets past
this drivel. The Ottoman empire is sick; its not sick at all; it has fallen
behind; its not really behind; it needs reform; reform is killing it; The
claims are contradictory and confused. That anyone read this and kept going and
then wrote those laudatory reviews can only mean that “anyone” was just dying
to have his or her prejudices massaged and paid no great attention to “mere

two things.

1. Some people love Mishra because they think colonialism and imperialism are
bad and he is anti-colonial and anti-imperialist, so he must be good. Let me
put on my revolutionary Marxist hat and say thats just bullshit. I think
he is harmful EVEN to people who, for whatever reason, have made it their
mission in life to destroy Western imperialism or the upper classes or any
other target you think he is targeting standing on your side of “the struggle”.
….Lets take an extreme example, just to make the point…Everybody knows that
Zaid Hamid (Paknationalist propagandist)  hates india and
wants it defeated. But any sensible person should also know that Zaid Hamid is
harmful to to any actual attempt to “defeat India” (forget about whether its
even a good idea to “defeat India’, lets assume we want to do it). Here’s the
thought experiment…what would happen if your strategy for defeating India is
based on Zaid Hamid’s work? You would sink without a trace (or explode in your
toilet) because your guide is an idiot and is frequently misinformed or working
on false premises. Now Pankaj bhayia is certainly not in the Zaid Hamid class. But he and his ilk are objectively harmful to anyone who is
trying to make an Asian country independent or powerful. If the workers of the world unite and follow him, 0.01% of
them will end up making good money in western universities but the other 99.99%
will find that the world has passed them by and their deep and moving arguments
were “not even wrong”.

I am not saying colonialism was good (or bad, for that matter). I am just
saying things were rather different in too many details and HIS framework is a
21st century liberal Westoxicated framework mixed with 10th grade Indian
history textbooks, and its not worth the effort to try and fix it and use it for
some useful argument. 
makes one wonder; whats with liberals? why are they so taken with this book? A
friend on my FB page said its because “he tells us things we didnt know”. Well,
some of them are wrong or out of context or just ever so slightly displaced
from reality, but the parts that are true..why are they news? People didnt know
colonialism involved taking over countries and trying (with varying success) to
exploit them? or they didnt know that colonized countries had multiple strands
of resistance to colonialism? Or that some countries managed to get pretty far
in matching the Europeans in their own game? Whats the “new” revelation here?
The few facts are pretty well known. the commentary is cliched and confused, the three exemplars chosen for the book were not very influential, and
the tying together seems to be mostly imaginary. 
More thoughts on why this particular sophomoric book is being praised by so many

1. Because with 100 safe years between him and actual events,
Pankaj can now play heroic anti-colonial crusader and his elite fans can play
anti-colonial fanboys with absolutely NOTHING at stake. Win-win for everyone.
Britain’s empire is long gone. So is the (frequently subtle, occasionally harsh) pressure
special branch could apply on those misbehaving in the empire. Of course it was
not always
gentle, but ice-pick in Trotsky’s brain was not the usual special branch
style…most of the time a couple of agent provocateurs, a few informants and the
extreme likelihood that Maulana Shaukat Ali and Maulana Mohammed Ali will
embezzle Hijaz funds was enough…that last vignette btw is mentioned in special
branch dispatches…its somewhere in Francis Robinson’s book on Muslim separatism
in North India. A junior functionary reassures his boss not to worry about the
anjuman e khuddam e kaaba (society of servants of the holy Kaaba) because the
Mohammeddans will inevitably have trouble with financial proprieties and that will take them down… Special
branch knew what it was up against.

btw, Pankaj hasnnt yet mentioned the speculation (as poorly
sourced as almost everything else about Afghani’s life) that Afghani himself
was an agent of British intelligence.

2. Because it is
clear that most reviewers have no detailed knowledge about those times. Tagore
specialists may disagree with his Tagore section but find nothing objectionable
about his Afghani stories and vice versa. And all of them know batshit about
the Chinese guy.

some things Panjak forgot to mention in the Islam section:

1. Akbar Ilahabadi, the poet most often quoted in this section,
was a traditionalist shocked by the appearance of women outside of purdah but
not so shocked at being in British service (he spent his whole life in government service,
retiring as a session judge and being given some minor honor as a reward for
his services). His position of honor in PMs book remains dependent on carefully
excluding aspects of his life that dont fit the anti-colonial guerrilla war
Pankaj is waging a hundred years after the fact.

2. The Mahdi in Sudan. PM’s version “in the Sudan in the 1870s, a charismatic leader
calling himself the Mahdi emerged at the head of a millenarian movement to beat
back not only the Egyptian Khedive but also his British allies. Scoring one
brilliant victory after another, he promised to Islamize the entire

Wikipedia, as usual, does a better
job of describing the fanatical eruption
and its disastrous results.
Afghani becomes an eager follower of the Mahdi. “he had clearly and vehemently
turned against the kind of accommodation to Western power and tutelage that
many Muslim elites had previously advocated. “
PM clearly approves. Even the craziest and most insane scheme
against the British empire (or its puppets; a long list in which Akbar
Ilahabadi would surely be included by Pankaj if he was not already being used as poster
boy of anti-colonial heroism..Akbar being far more “accommodationist” than most of
the Sudanese who tried to resist the rising millenarian tide) gets his fullest

To sum up. Afghani opposed Sir Syed, declared himself, falsely,
an acquaintance of the Mahdi, offered his services to Turkey, to Russia, to the
British, to Iran, floated harebrained schemes that few people actually joined,
opportunisticallysupported self-destructive fanatical Islamists,
opportunistically invoked the Vedas in front of a Hindu audience, got carried
away with blasphemous rationalism when debating Renan (and then hid it from his
Muslim audience), and ended his life as an ineffectual guest of the Turkish
Sultan. And has had NO impact on Islamic theology. And Pankaj has fallen in love
with him. 

Thats the key to this book. Pankaj is living out an
anti-colonial (mainly anti-British, he seems untroubled by the Russian empire in Asia, which is also very telling) fantasy and is following Afghani around from one half-baked idea
to the next. Meanwhile, the actual 19th century world carried on, little
affected by Afghani or the time-travelling Pankaj. Until we land again in the
21st century where this book is selling well and the British empire has moved
on, never seriously threatened by either Afghani or his acolyte. Afghani’s tomb in Kabul meanwhile is being repaired with American “war on terror” funds. 
Oh the humanity.

Read Pankaj bhaiya’s attempt to link his story/fantasy to
current events on p-110 and enjoy. “It
is impossible to imagine, for instance, that the recent protests and
revolutions in the Arab world would have been possible without the intellectual
and political foundations laid by Al-Afghani’s assimilation of Western ideas
and his rethinking of Muslim tradition”. (
what assimilation? what
rethinking? I would like to hear about one Arab revolution of recent times that opted to give any credit to Afghani?  but to say so is enough for both Pankaj and his

Dear Indians, I have good news for you. Pankaj has his hopes set
on Islam as the virile tradition that is now “challenging empire” (in his 19th
century dream avatar AND as he sits in London today). 
but do keep in mind, there is a Tagore section coming up after a
detour through China (its Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist revolution and
Hyper-capitalist industrialization surely forgiven as it prepares to do battle
against “empire”..I can already feel PMs breast beginning to swell with Asian
pride). So dear Indians, I may have spoken too soon. You may not be safe yet.

1. The Chinese and Tagore sections are even weaker than the
Afghani section. The same confusion remains paramount. Thinkers in China and
India are responding to Western dominance. Pankaj describes this domination in
one paragraph and then tries to show it was never really that dominant in the
next. He shows how weak China or India were in the face of Western invaders and
then wants to insist that they were never as weak as portrayed in his favorite
straw-man, “the dominant narrative”. He consistently underplays sectarian and
religious fanaticism and their violent consequences in Asian countries, but
pounces on every example of violence or duplicity in the Europeans. All of this
is perfectly calibrated to suit the tastes of his eager (and forgiving)
audience. As long as ALL their buttons are pressed, it seems they have no
problem with button A being flatly contradictory to button B.
2. The weakest part of the book is its claim (made in large
print on the cover and repeated in every interview and in every favorable
review) that these
were the intellectual who remade Asia. 

How so? Jamaluddin Afghani was a serial impostor who
tried to sell his services to every empire of the day (British, Russian,
Turkish, Persian, Egyptian, etc) and failed in every one of his harebrained
schemes. His efforts had no detectable impact on the rise or fall of the
British empire. His attempts at creating some sort of modern Islam, neither Shia nor Sunni and able to meet
the Western challenge, have NOT become the dominant form of
resistance in the Islamic world. The high-water mark of modern Islamism was around the end of colonial empires. Where is that synthesis
now? Even if we imagine that such a synthesis is ABOUT TO EMERGE, how can that
effort be said to have ALREADY created modern Asia?

Besides, it is a tremendous stretch to say that Afghani was
somehow the prime mover of the Islamic revivalist trend. That trend existed
(and still exists) because the Islamicate world retained a self-image of ideal
unity and worldly power and reacted from day one to “objective conditions” that
did not conform to their self-image. There is a long history of Ottoman
attempts at “catching up”, leaping ahead or falling back on fundamentals in order to match the West.
Mishra himself makes tangential mention of those attempts but seems to
empathize mostly with those who completely rejected Western knowledge and
insisted on an “authentic” response, one that would meet Mishra’s own apparent
need for
justification by faith. 

Similarly there were multiple Persian attempts
at reform and re-invigoration. Afghani would approve of some of them. All of
them would have gone ahead without him. Allama Iqbal attempted an “Islamization
by stealthy Europeanization” by retroactively imposing modern philosophical
categories on Islamic theological debates (with little substantive
success…countless middle class fans in Pakistan think he did something very
original and great, but NONE can ever tell you what his philosophy was in any
concrete detail..try for yourself…ask any PTI supporter what Allama Iqbal’s
vision of modern Islam really was…enjoy the silence), but his admiration of
Afghani came AFTER his own work was well underway…i.e. this trend existed
independent of Afghani and in any case has now petered out after Saudi money pumped up the
more “authentic” return-to-purity version.

Modern China was built on traditional China and big influences include Sun Yat Sen’s nationalism
(explicitly described as an opponent of Liang by Pankaj),  Mao’s
revolution (its debt to Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism acknowledged by his
followers and his detractors, his debt to Liang, imaginary) and Deng’s
counter-revolution (his debt to America to be found in the 100,000 Chinese he
sent there to study, his debt to Liang?).Again, If and when modern capitalism
and nationalism fails in China and if
and when
some sort of Liang-ism (whatever that is, Pankaj has
not yet enlightened us about the new faith that will replace “the dominant
narrative”)  replaces it, maybe we will be forced to say something else.
But for now, how is modern China in any way the creation of Liang Qichao?
Pankaj fails to make that case and yet labels him one of his “intellectuals who
remade Asia”. How so?

Modern India is the product of British empire building, an
earlier Mughal empire, a somewhat mythologised Gupta Charter state, the efforts of
people like Gandhi and Nehru, and modern political parties and modern political
movements (albeit with skilful use of Indian cultural symbols by Gandhi in
particular). How exactly can the last 100 years of Indian history be described
as the fruit of Tagore’s intellectual labors? if Tagore had not even existed,
would India look different? I am sure Tagore was a good man (and in his
gentlemanly way, not even critical of Stalinism, not to speak of gentler
Western models) but how did he “remake Asia”?

Pankaj himself describes the failure of Liang and Tagore to do
much (and their disappointment at the end of their lives). Maybe in his own mind, he
sees their achievement as the fact that they were not impressed with Western
notions of progress and warned that these may include hidden disasters. These hidden dangers have become more manifest today so in retrospect they may seems somewhat prophetic, but they did not CAUSE the current rethinking. Their influence in their own time was not great, their detailed programs were either missing or included as many errors as prescient predictions (Tagore and Stalinism, for example). 

The response offered by all three thinkers to the supposed
“dominant narrative” is different and it needs a lot of selective reading to
make them part of the same trend in anything more substantial than “skeptical
of Western civilization”, but PM’s audience knows even less than he does, so he
gets away with it.

PM also feels that the demise of “Western” notions like the
secular nation state is now imminent, so those intellectuals are about to be
vindicated. Well, even a stuck clock is right once a day. Real vindication
would involve being right in more detail than just some vague notion that “materialistic
Western civilization” was doomed. It would also involve being at least
partially right about what happens if “it” fails. In any case, with nation
states and capitalism still very much alive (and no more unwell than they were
in 1930 or 1960)  how can these brave intellectuals be said to have
“created modern Asia”?? What is un-modern about modern Asia?

To get some idea of his thought process, take a look at these
excerpts from a recent interview with fellow prophet Hamid Dabashi:

Comrade Hamid: “Postcolonialism
is a mode of knowledge production. Colonialism happened, then postcolonial
nation states emerged, and they become conducive to the production of
ideologies – nationalism, third world socialism, Islamism, etc. These
ideologies have exhausted themselves and postcolonialism has ceased to produce
knowledge. This is what I call the end of postcolonialism and the result is
postcolonial leaders running for their lives across North Africa and the Arab

The world is rather large. Which parts exactly have moved beyond
the ideologies of socialism, nationalism etc? (capitalism is not mentioned;
perhaps sensibly enough).

China is no longer nationalist? India has dissolved the nation
state? Japan is now a multicultural post-national melange of new social
experiments? Sherry Rahman is no longer ambassador of the nation-state of
Pakistan to the nation-state of the USA? WTF does this even mean? A few (VERY
few) dictators in the Arab world, long since past their sell-by date, have been
deposed (3 at last count, out of 30 or so Arab countries, ZERO in the rest of
the world). They have been replaced by new regimes trying to stabilize their
nation-states in ways completely predictable in the modern paradigm. What does
this question even mean?

Here is PM’s humble response:
“I would date my political awakening in many ways to that particular visit (
Kashmir), where I was
confronted with the debris of the postcolonial ideology. I saw how a
postcolonial ideology of secular nationalism had turned malign and had become
extremely oppressive for the four million Muslims of Kashmir, who had embodied
at some point – and they still do – a cosmopolitan idea of culture, a
cosmopolitan idea of society. Here they were being asked to conform to a
certain form of postcolonial polity which claimed to be secular but that
actually concealed a very strong Hindu majoritarian element.”

I invite Indian friends to have a go at this one. Start with “postcolonial ideology of secular
(malign) versus the Kashmiri Muslim idea of  ” a cosmopolitan idea
of culture, a cosmopolitan idea of society.”

IF Kashmir had thrown off the Indian yoke and become some sort
of cosmopolitan alternative to the nation-state then we would have had to sit
up and take notice. As it is, it was an armed revolt (one of many that have
occurred in every part of the world before and after “modern” times. It now
seems to be on the verge of failure but even if it had succeeded, it would have
led to a modest enlargement in the size of nationalist Islamist Pakistan at the
expense of nationalist-so-called-secular India. Or maybe it would have
triggered a collapse of modern India (the one Pankaj doesnt like too much) and
been followed by a violent free for all that would probably entail Pankaj
spending much more time in London than in Mashobra. and how would that suddenly negate whatever it is that Pankaj thinks
it negates? The straw-man of peaceful, perfectly secular, perfectly just,
perfectly-formed nation states would go down in flames. The actually existing
world of nation-states indulging in violence, territorial grabs, religious
violence, etc. would remain unsurprised even as parts of it in the Indian
subcontinent are violently rearranged.

Keep in mind that I am NOT saying secular nationalism etc cannot
be malign. But actually existing A needs to be described accurately, then
perhaps replaced by actually possible B. PM’s description of actually existing
A is frequently overpowered by his intense desire to see a modern Western
“materialist” civilizational catastrophe (in his interview: “The old paradigm of “the west” having
reached the summit of human achievement – modernity – with everyone else
catching up, lies exploded due to various crises not just within “the west” but
also the sheer scale of environmental crises that are about to overwhelm large
parts of India and China who have elected to follow that particular path of
development and globalisation”)

Since this apocalyptic vision is
already mainstream in the Western Left (now waiting for global warming to
finally do what years of revolutionary intellectual effort has failed to
accomplish), it is accepted without question by his audience. But out there in
the real world, modern civilization is closer to what Marx predicted it would
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising
the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and
with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of
production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of
existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of
production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting
uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier
ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable
prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated
before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is
profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real
conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

This is not necessarily a happy state. Maybe “we” were better
off without it. (thats a big maybe
though, since it has to take into account that most of “us” were peasant serfs
in the good old days). And maybe new ways of social
and communal life will arise from the smoking ruins of the old (or, perhaps in a
few luckier cases, will evolve relatively peacefully from the old). One can certainly make an Ashish Nandy type case against
bourgeouise triumphalism. One can also make an Islamist case or a Hindutvadi
case or one of a thousand other cases that have been made in the past and
continue to be made today…many of them by people who are themselves willing or
unwitting creators of exactly the revolutions they wish were not happening. But
what is Pankaj Bhaiya’s B and how is it superior?  Where
has it replaced the “dominant paradigm” and how did these three intellectuals
create that alternative?

He doesnt have to bother with making that case because his
audience is already eagerly waiting to be told that it is the case. This fact (the
existence of such an audience in the Western and Westernized world elite) may
indeed forewarn us that a huge disaster is about to happen…or it may tell us
that he and his audience are entertaining each other while life goes on. I take
the second view, but am still open to the possibility of the first. In both
cases, these intellectuals did NOT remake Asia.

Btw, an example of how PM Bhaiya creates his straw men and
shoots them down with his super-gun:  ”Someone
like Mughal emperor Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, nominally a Muslim emperor and
yet incredibly syncretic. Someone who knew he was presiding over a
multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious reality. These are examples of
suppressed histories that we don’t really talk about much or that don’t form
part of the dominant narrative. “

First of all, the view of Akbar the Great as a great syncretic ruler has been around
since the 19th century! British historians described him in exactly those
terms, as did Nehru and many many Indian nationalists. What dominant narrative?
what suppressed history?

PS: another interesting thing about Pankaj: his heroes OUTSIDE India tend to be the same kind of people he cannot stand INSIDE India. Afghani, with his pan-islamist dreams (with a reformed and modernized Islam in place in a Muslim empire that can match the West in scientific and military terms, not just in some airy-fairy spiritual realm) is good, but Savarkar, with similar nationalist-revivalist dreams about Hindu India is not? The same goes for Chinese and Japanese nationalists. It is something to think about…