The Indian cultural Left is in India, but not of India

A comment on Twitter about the lack of the Islamic world’s own Arundhati Roys, and therefore the lack of Leftism. My own reaction is that this is wrong. There is plenty of Leftism in the Islamic world, just not the sort of cultural criticism that Arundhati Roy specializes in.

To give an example, the PLO has several Communist member parties, and its largest element, Fatah, is Left-nationalist. Though the high-tide of Marxism in the Islamic world, and the developing world in general, was in the 1970s, the ghost of Left-nationalism haunts us to this day (the Syrian Ba’ath party has its origins on the Left, though today it is basically an Assad family enterprise). India, there remains to this day a militant Marxist movement.

So what’s going on with people like Arundhati Roy? I think the best way to understand her is that she is part of the global English-speaking intelligentsia, and as such caught up in cultural currents which are beyond, and above, her Indian milieu. She applies the tools and concerns which are validated among the global cultural Left to an Indian context.

It’s not just an English-speaking phenomenon. There is a global elite cultural movement united by share mores and disposition. Consider the movements for gay rights in East Asia, which seem to be clearly shaped by Western precursors. But, I think the Indian English-speaking elite exhibits the tendency to imitate and replicate far faster than in other developing societies because of its shared cultural presuppositions and linguistic fluency with the Anglosphere.

53 thoughts on “The Indian cultural Left is in India, but not of India”

  1. It’s also to appeal to the west for an easy audience. Like Amy Tan, “oppressed eastern woman” has proven to be a great way to make big book sales.

    Her leftism is a fashionable facade. My mother, who went to school with her, and knew her from running, informs me that her retconned statements on her own upbringing are inaccurate, and that her public persona is quite phony.

  2. That makes sense.

    I always found the post-modernist faction of the Indian left to be quite strange considering that India has just recently started to industrialize and still has a long way to go in terms of economic development.

    It’s hard to imagine Post-Moderism flourishing among the Western elite when it was at India’s current level of development.

    Its like the Indians have skipped a bunch of steps in the ideological progression. And this is probably leading to poor prioritization of problems in the country.

  3. Wouldn’t you differentiate the Marxism (both militant and democratic ones) practiced in India different than the Arab ones. Even in the heydays of 70s , i dont think the arab ones were religious neutral or ethnic neutral. Almost all of Arab left nationalism had liberal doses of Islam and Arab-ism. Nasser, Saddam et all used it whenever they found it convenient.

    Yes, Perhaps if you compare it to the other regimes in the middle east (Brotherhood, Sheikhs) , they might comes across as the least religious/ethnic ones. But overall on the world standard of left-ism i don’t think they would qualify as left. In comparison, in India the left hardly uses ethnic terms or religion OVERTLY.

    Along with the the reason you gave for Roy’s rise( English speaking and all) , i think India’s left more grounding in left sphere overall (compared to Arab left) is the reason you find Roys in India and almost none in muslim/Arab world. If you scour the left wing-
    regional nationalism sphere (Bengali, Tamil,Marathi, Malyalam ) the criticism of dominant religion/ nationalism is even more harsh than Roy’s. This is the critical thing missing in the Muslim/Arab left-sphere .

    1. Part of the appeal of secular nationalism in the Arab context was that you didn’t have to be Muslim, so various religious minorities signed up. The Assad family are Alawites, there were prominent Christians among some of those Palestinian leftist groups, and even the Iraqi Ba’ath party was dominated by Sunni Arabs while most Arabs in Iraq are Shi’ite.

  4. because of its shared cultural presuppositions and linguistic fluency with the Anglosphere.

    The “shared cultural presuppositions” only go so far. A lot of the English-speaking elite of India pay lip service to liberal Enlightenment ideals while behaving in a very “feudal” manner in India (or as a high caste, a plane above the English-deficient.) This is probably a factor in the present populist backlash, and Modi and Co’s popularity (as others have argued.)

    The present government, through Amit Shah, is trying to revive the language question again, advocating Hindi be the link language of India. I think it’s primarily driven by the desire to get rid of English and its attendant hierarchy rather than by a chauvinistic desire to impose Hindi on everyone (like southerners think; this has already produced an outcry in the south.)

    1. “A lot of the English-speaking elite of India pay lip service to liberal Enlightenment ideals while behaving in a very “feudal” manner in India.”

      This is quite accurate.

      For example, a non-insignificant number of people who self-identify as left-liberal are fairly opinionated on social issues that political parties are presently discussing in the West.

      However, they would get visibly uncomfortable if they saw someone from a poorer working-class background sit on a sofa in their physical company and eat dinner on the same table as them.

  5. Interesting, in this connection, are the recent announcements by Jameela Jamil and even Riz Ahmed to boycott the event where the Gates foundation will present an award to Modi.

    The Indian Left (and its global extension) distances itself from “Hindu” concerns. The Muslim Left is generally sensitive to “Muslim” concerns.

      1. That it is considered reasonable to assume for people “of Pakistani origin” to have certain predictable opinions speaks for itself.

        People of “Indian origin” are somewhat less predictable.

        1. There is nothing unpredictable, you can make in informed guess. Would you really be surprised if an NRI drops out of a program where Imran Khan is getting an award. Its not that unthinkable/unreasonable and frankly not that controversial.

          On the other hand i would say Indians/NRI are also predictable. You need to just look at the ethnicity/religious orientation to again make an informed guess. Diaspora Dalits, muslims, sikhs and tamils, bengalis, mallus and other academic left type would/could take a stand opposite to what the Indian state does. While the diaspora North Indian UCs and OBCs Hindu would largely fall in line with what the Indian Govt does. Again not 100 percent but an informed guess. Similar to pashtuns, mohajirs,sindhis vs punjabis,kashmiris in the Pakistani diaspora.

  6. // she is part of the global English-speaking intelligentsia //

    What you are overlooking is how Indians have interacted with world with different power positions they were in & they have actually played a very important role in creating these movements as well as narratives as it allowed them multiple powers – Being a representative of unknown culture they exploited the Orientalist ideas, when they reached positions in their native nations they exploited them by presenting various narratives of South Asian history & thus were able to forge success all around the globe by accepting the prevalent narratives about Indians from those regions.

    Why South Asian history is hotly contested debate – because Indian scholars have chosen a narrative that can be endlessly debated or argued about ? Macro & Micro histories became contested in South Asia because historians here have tried to mix match them to paint narratives they wanted to create rather than to give the most accurate picture of India’s history. Most Indian left wingers don’t understand a centrist position & it is either their way or highway and that’s why right wing has risen in recent times in India & they are still blaming faults in events which happened 3-4 decades ago.

    Regarding Indians –
    Indians were never allowed the positions of ‘authority’ within academia as it got established in early 20th century & so Indians in order to make ‘space’ for themselves debated the prevalent narratives within academia and accepted or opposed them based upon their individual positions within academia & world politics.

    Thus to gain power positions Indians went along with dominant narratives or tried to invent novel ways so as to engage international academic community rather than outright challenge their academic consensus.

    For e.g. – Check how Ghurye got treated in academia vis a vis M N Srinivasan & how the sharpest caste narrative critique has only emanated from Western scholars like Will Sweetman or Nicholas Dirks.

    Regarding Academia –
    Eventually Academia which debated human evolution culturally & demanded social justice gain stronger foothold but other factions of academia which argued for material & financial security lost but academia is now finding itself in contradiction as it can not argue about social Justice without first dealing with other larger questions of financial & material security which is creating resentment among all factions which academia till now used to side step to argue in favor of social Justice issues.

      1. Actually my point is quite simple – Academia or for that matter any ‘system’ comes into existence when elites create rules of the game & the only power that rest of the people have is only ‘reactionary power’.

        Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy – Book – Power Elite

        My point about Argumentation can be observed from the fact that most of the Indian liberal intelligentsia keep mentioning it as Amartya sen called it ‘Argumentative Indian’.

        So the “English Intelligentsia” first created the rules with inherent biases at the dawn of 20th century -> Indian Elites in their zeal to gain ‘power’ accepted both fair as well as unfair criticisms & tried to devise as many new ideas as possible to challenge the prevalent ideas of academia {Thus M N Srinivasan gets credited for giving more importance to Groundwork sociological work rather than theoretical sociological work which was an innovative approach in the field when he did it.}

        Secondly since Indian diaspora became well spread after colonization they accepted regional beliefs about Indian or Hindus so as to exploit them for monetary profits in both regions – South Asia as well as the region they have now moved into.

        Thirdly & most importantly – “Holier than thou” attitude which came into being because Indians & colonizers were trying to compete for this attitude esp. politically to challenge each other regarding law & society etc. That’s why colonizers created the myths like ‘civilizing missions’ where as Indian nationalists created myths of ‘Secular past or Golden ages’.

        When dust settled after world war II all nations used this ‘holier than thou’ formula to gain international currency esp. in multinational forums like UN but overtime the contradictory actions & behaviors of nations as well as of these forums have ultimately resulted in people questioning these attitudes which is causing a lot of churn in academic world.

      2. Here is an example of how ‘South Asian’ diaspora of how they themselves ‘perpetuate essential orientalist views’ to maintain a ‘safe distance’ to maintain their ‘Otherness’ from the native people in their new nations & to exploit it their knowledge of both regions in various manners.

        Here mention of Caste is essentially to enforce the orientalist beliefs of the natives of that region while gaining recognition as someone ‘insider’ of ‘Oriental culture’.

  7. Arundhati is like moss. She produces nothing useful (quite the contrary), but her presence indicates a degree of intellectual openness.

    1. In this I definitely agree. There are some ridiculous hypersensitive attacks on her, but your point is still true.

    2. I wouldn’t be so harsh but your response captures something profoundly insightful about South Asian countries.

  8. The way I would describe India’s Kulturkampf is a war between a land power (Right) and a sea power (Left).

    The streets and the masses are where the Right wins, hands down. Don’t get me wrong, there are people backing alternatives to BJP/NDA, but there is no support for the Left’s views here.

    Thus, the people on the Left who actually have to win elections (eg Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor) can’t go ranting about “Brahminism” and whatever. No, they have to wear the janeu and make a show of visiting mandirs.

    The press and academia are where the Left wins. Here, people attacking Hinduism is de rigeur.

    Neither side can make much headway where the other side is strong. The Left doesn’t care about outreach to the masses. The Right doesn’t care about academia.

    But there are spaces in the middle: televised media, the government, the bureaucracy, and so on. These are the battlefields.

    1. But the brahmin and hindutva interests are inherently cosmopolitan in India. They are not the son of the soil “rednecks”. Land power castes, like maratha/kunbi/Reddy/kamma/jatt ect are usually somewhat oppositional to brahmin-baniya nationalism. The whole modi-shah revolution is that they have finally been able to woo enough obcs and land power jaatis into the nationalist fold. It’s a generational shift, very youth driven, and possibly the outcome of mass media penetration and the diffusion of Hindi as a bridge language.

  9. I think what’s underappreciated is that hindu nationalism is partly caused by the collapse of the caste system. I know that may not intuitively make sense at first, but compared to when I was a boy the caste system has significantly weakened. People are finally starting to look at each other as hindus rather than by caste – and this has never been the case in the past. Obviously caste is still here and we all have a long way to go but it is substantially weakened and weaker than its ever been. I believe this is the major cause for the rise of hindu nationalism.

    A large number of hindus now look at each other more as hindus and less as another caste. The onslaught of missionary Christianity on top of historical issues with Islam has furthered this feeling of being under siege.

    I’m not saying its right or wrong, just pointing out that the weakening of caste is an underappreciated reason for the rise of hindu nationalism.

    1. Absolutely true, Mohan. When I was young upper and upper middle class Indians were almost happy to see the lower castes convert.

      You’d hear things about Christian servants and nurses being far better, and how it improved their morality.

      Today it’s how much of a threat this is, and the dangers of this form of religion for the cohesion of society. Now these are Pat Robertson’s new brown chaprasis – his unlettered footman for a new intrusion.

    2. Hi Mohan,

      I would re word
      “hindu nationalism is partly caused by the collapse of the caste system”

      Collapse of the caste system is result of hindu nationalism”

      Very true in Sri Lanka, starting pre WW2. Sinhala/Buddhist nationalism eroded the caste differences. Jati= Caste became Jati=Sinhala and/or Buddhist.

      Now the push is for Jati=Sri Lankan.

    3. “The onslaught of missionary Christianity” LOL such prejudiced exaggerated language seems to come straight from the RSS newsletters. A favorite target of the hindutvas, small in numbers, one that has not much power, pretty much non-violent and can be easily targeted with no repercussions. Thankfully India chose a “christian” (hows that for a missionary conspiracy) influenced rule of law that has kept the excesses in check, but one wonders when you see the same inflammatory diatribes repeated over and over again in parallels to what happened to the Jews in Nazi germany.

  10. @H. M. Brough
    “Arundhati is like moss. She produces nothing useful (quite the contrary), but her presence indicates a degree of intellectual openness.”

    Excellently said! Most of my social circle here in Delhi comprises men who admire her and women who aspire to be like her. Despite finding them insufferable and hypocritical at times, I would rather remain in this liberal, atheist, English-medium educated circle because I will never fit into the alternative.

    1. The fact that she is considered relevant also indicates a slight inferiority complex among the Indians, namely that “command of English is a qualification unto itself”

      No one cares in the US if Stephen King or JK Rowling criticize Trump. So why would any Indian care if a fiction writer criticizes Modi. Indian society, even the elite upper crust has a fairly long way to go in terms of self-esteem

  11. The media equivalent of Ms.Roy is The Wire.

    Recently in the Keezhadi archaeological site in Madurai district , they have excavated urban structures, and hundreds of potsherds containing graffiti. This might put the origins of writing in India to 6th Century B.C,, even though it is far from confirmed . Actually Keezhadi excavations have been going on for a long time.

    The same news has been reported by two newspapers , The Hindu and The Wire

    The Hindu style is studied factuality.

    The Wire presentation is unabashedly ‘political’, blaming BJP for some of cultural suppression of Tamils. The Political left is India specializes in incendiary journalism where the usual villain is Hindutva or by extension BJP govt at the centre. The Wire has replaced All roads lead to Rome with “All villainy leads to Hindus”

    1. I read the Wire article and couldn’t find anything factually untrue in it. The politics they are presenting is quite accurate, and is something that we have been arguing about on this blog for ages. Why should support for the conventional AIT and the view that the IVC was “Dravidian” be considered “Hindu-bashing”? To me, Hinduism exists distinct from these theories. (I consider the Hinduism of the early Vedas to be inchoate and ill-formed; only with the Upanishads and the philosophies that gave rise to Buddhism and Jainism did the religion get a coherent shape, and that shaping was entirely autochthonous.)

      I feel quite upset and irritated when any criticism of the BJP and Hindutva is dismissed as Hindu-bashing. I identify as Hindu, and am very clear-headed about our history (Islamic invasions, British colonialism, etc.), but I also consider Hindu nationalism to be highly pernicious, reactionary, and leading us to a dead end.

      I think Modi and bunch really suck at governance. Their core capability is mass propaganda, their big-ticket decisions are very poorly thought out and implemented. (The things they are efficient at are mass welfare schemes, which the Congress used to be fond of too, but the BJP does a much better job of advertising its largesse. Unfortunately, these are one-time giveaways, engender further dependence on sarkaar and do not create any kind of basis for future prosperity.) In the face of this, magazines like The Wire (even if some of them may have leftist slants) are breaths of fresh air when other forms of mass media have completely abdicated their role as challengers of the government’s propaganda.

      It’s also been a while since I left the States, so I’m quite gobsmacked at the adulation and hero-worship our Dear Leader seems to get from our American diaspora. What do you guys see in him? Can someone articulate this? Do you think he understands why you all prospered in America (and why America let you prosper), and if so, why isn’t he trying to reform India in the same way? Do you all not find these “rock concert” rallies he holds every time he visits the US unseemly? A political leader holding rallies in a foreign country? Would Modi be fine with Trump coming to India and holding a pep rally? Or Sheikh Haseena in Assam for that matter?

      1. The Wire story makes accusations of suppression with no evidence. The responsible thing – as exemplified in this blog – is to have an open mind on these questions and go where evidence leads us. The Wire sees science as merely ideological war by other means.

        1. Are you referring to this?

          But despite our demands to send it for examination, the Centre refused to do so citing various reasons, including financial ones.”

          Sure, it’s possible there really were financial reasons for the delay. But it’s not exactly news that our ruling party doesn’t care for theories like AIT, is it? So suppression wouldn’t be a stretch IMO. But I take your point; the article could have just left this statement out there without insinuating malfeasance.

          It still doesn’t rise to the level of Hindu-bashing for me though. Unless “Hindu” is now supposed to be synonymous with the worldview and ideology of Modi and Co.

          1. There are several unsubstantiated gratuitous statements that indicate the Wire is less interested in the science than in grinding an ideological axe:
            – The title refers to a “rebuttal” of ASI but besides a gratuitous remark by Venkatesan there is no basis for this being a “rebuttal” of anything.
            – The secondary title imputes a position to BJP that seems both unrelated to the finding and unsubstatiated.
            It is unclear why the story requires any reference to BJP at all. I am puzzled by your writings about Modi and his following among NRIs but see it as the Wire’s succeeding in hijacking the story to completely irrelevant topics.

          2. @Arjun:

            Sorry, I went off on a tangent. There’s no real relation between the article and my questions about Modi and the diaspora. I was just writing a comment and the question popped into my mind. Perhaps the “Hindu bashing” comment made me associate the two.

            I will try to keep my comments separate in the future.

          3. No problem. For what it is worth, I see Modi as a rascal not particularly better or worse than the Nehru-Gandhi rascals. But it is better for the Indian electorate to have two viable alternatives than just one. Two thieves do a better job of keeping each other honest than a single one would need to be.

      2. “What do you guys see in him? Can someone articulate this”

        He is the embodiment of every Hindu UCs and OBCs dream, which forms the majority of Indian diaspora in the USA. Similar to Erdogan’s appeal in diaspora Turkish people. People who are still seen from the lens of the motherland’s poverty/religion irrespective of the affluent economic standing they now hold in their new countries. Their social standing has not increased commensurate to their economic standing. They think their image is still drawn from pusillanimous,secular , socialist India which was the laughing stock of the world in the cold war era, from where they or their parents immigrated from. This is “New India” which will throw its weight around, and Modi is doing that.

        1. There may be something to what you say. But Manmohan Singh too was invited to the White House multiple times by Obama; in fact, he was the first foreign leader to visit the WH after Obama’s election IIRC. So why wasn’t Singh considered a great Indian leader who had raised India’s stature? He also negotiated a nuclear deal with Bush, remember (one that was opposed by the opposition BJP.) For that matter, Vajpayee smoothed things over with Clinton so much that our ’98 nuclear tests didn’t have a long-lasting effect on US-India relations or India’s position in the international community.

          Why weren’t Vajpayee or Singh feted by Indian-Americans the same way Mr. 56 Inches is?

          Their social standing has not increased commensurate to their economic standing.

          This may have been true 20 years ago, but is it still true now? Could the craving for recognition be because Hinduism is regarded either with indifference or mild disdain in America? Whereas Islam is treated with kid gloves by the Left? And Modi is seen as a Hindu warrior while his predecessors weren’t?

          pusillanimous,secular , socialist India which was the laughing stock of the world

          I believe the people who laugh at India do so not because of idoeology or disposition but rather because of what they see in India. The decrepit infrastructure, the filth, the pervasive poverty, the disorganization, pollution, etc. (It’s Indians who tend to associate status with bombast, not westerners, in my experience.) In these respects, I don’t see a visible difference in India since my childhood.

          1. Both Vajpayee and Singh were men before their time in terms of conditions , Vajpayee in fact was feted by group of Indian Americans in the 90s itself , but the point is the Indian american community at that point was still finding its feet in the diplomatic muscle game. The nuclear deal was also a result of multiple Indian american diaspora groups heavily lobbing for it. So Modi is bearing the fruit of that decade long labor done by their predecessors. Right man at the right time moment.

            On Modi hindutva warrior thing, i think that;s largely true of North Indian diaspora, but its bigger than that. There are Indian diaspora groups who need not subscribe to Hindutva (S-Indians, E-Indians, sikhs, affluent muslims , neo dalits etc) but are part of the whole “New India” thing in this diaspora as well. They see Modi as representative of India and are willing to part of this concert even though they might be uncomfortable with it in India.

            On the whole infrastructure bit, i agree with you. Only that unlike the cold war era , we now have the economy and market which we didn’t have earlier. That (according to NRI) should mean something , but the image hasn;t changed a bit. That rankles. They feel that their power in their new countries is circumscribed by the “image of India” which they want to change. Its not dis-similar to how Pak immigrants think that the real problem of Pakistan is actually an image problem and not necessarily a terrorism problem.

          2. Whereas Islam is treated with kid gloves by the Left?

            This isn’t much of a factor because the people who like Modi aren’t that plugged into what the American Left thinks. The people who are plugged into it (predominately 2nd-gen) don’t know or care much about India anyways.

            And Modi is seen as a Hindu warrior while his predecessors weren’t?

            Vajpayee was a solid leader who ran a tough gauntlet. But Modi’s gift is that he can reach the crowds. His Hinduism is strident, unapologetic, and organic, and that really resonates with a lot of people (myself included).

          3. @HMB:

            But Modi’s gift is that he can reach the crowds. His Hinduism is strident, unapologetic, and organic

            I get that. But here’s where our experiences diverge. I have no experience of any significant Indian leader being apologetic about their Hinduism. Heck, I remember Bal Thackeray saying things in the early 90s that Modi today wouldn’t be caught dead saying. I don’t recall Rajiv Gandhi being apologetic about Hinduism either. Nor Nehru himself, who wrote with great feeling about his Hindu heritage. The difference between them and Modi is that they spoke up for the Muslim minority’s rights as equal citizens of India whereas Modi doesn’t.

            Also, it seems there’s a new generation (you included perhaps?) who think of Modi in opposition to “Italian” Sonia and Rahul, whose Hinduism they suspect is skin-deep? To someone as old as me, these people don’t matter at all, so I don’t see whatever Modi is doing as a sign of courage.

            Also, and here is the key thing, I come from conservative, religious, small town, Hindu India, and have zero connections with elite liberal “Lutyens” circles. The kinds of things Modi is saying, and much worse (“pack off all the Muslims to Pakistan”, for example) were commonplace in my experience even back in the 80s and 90s. I can imagine your experience and your parents’ experiences as possibly embattled Hindu immigrants in the US was quite different. But people in my surroundings were not apologetic about anything to do with their identities, and non-Muslims always had a dim view of Muslims and Islam. It’s just that social media has now amplified their views and there’s a canny politician who has harnessed all that rage (which was always present) into votes.

            I oppose all of this not just because of my libertarian views but because it does jack shit for Indians and for our future. For people like you, this may be an ego boost while you enjoy the good governance and liberalism of American institutions, but for people in India, it just keeps us mired in Third World conditions.

      3. // Hinduism exists distinct from these theories. //

        Let me problematize the idea of distinctness -> First of all Sanskrit itself is an outcome of interaction of Indo-European language with Dravidian input -> So the historical distinction that has been propagated can not be accepted without hard evidence & not only that modern linguistics are noticing the language change as it is happening in modern times which questions old presumptions of ‘language imposition’ & presumed disctinctness of both languages.

        Then there is religion & politics -> Both saramanas & Vedic ideologies have affected & developed each other’s ideas in various ways where if one takes a close look into what & how they debated it is impossible to distinguish which idea came from where first yet the focus on ‘dictinctness’ is essentially to promote the divide by which Indian academia has tried to linked everything good with Sramanas & bad with Vedics {Can be noticed about the perceived differences about the views of both religions internationally}. Not just Hindus but no community ever created any ‘religious’ identity before encountering Islam instead they used to live in clans of certain crafts or as communities of region & made their demands to kings along these social identities.

        For e.g. – Check this paper from book ” History of Bangladesh: Early Bengal in Regional Perspectives (up to c. 1200 CE), Vol.2 Society Economy Culture, Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, 2018″ṇa-Jāti_System

        // I also consider Hindu nationalism to be highly pernicious & reactionary.

        I think Modi and bunch really suck at governance. Their core capability is mass propaganda. //

        I agree with these points to a large extent but i find wire’s reporting to be too heavily biased with no centrist position & so they are not constructive & heavily moderated {as they either delete comments or mark them spam or simply don’t approve comments if it challenges their narrative}.

      4. “I’m quite gobsmacked at the adulation and hero-worship our Dear Leader seems to get from our American diaspora. What do you guys see in him? Can someone articulate this?”

        Modi is one of us. He’s not a cloistered Anglophone elite, he didn’t come from that background. He is unabashed about being a Hindu, and that is very important in a world where there is a powerful global movement constituted of people who refer to the Shivalingam as a “penis-shaped lump of ice,” as the Economist so delightfully put it. When there are strong efforts afoot to denigrate Hinduism and Hindus, it’s important to have a man that raises the status of Hinduism by virtue of the power he holds. And that’s Modi.

        You can talk about the 370 annulment or Swacch Bharat, and that kind of stuff matters…but it’s ultimately ancillary. We like Modi because of his identity and symbolism. We’re not going to stop liking him.

        This line of thought is not an Indian thing, it’s a human universal. When people write hagiographies about Obama today, do they focus on his legislative achievements? Or on something more nebulous?

        1. But by diving headlong into identity politics and treating it as the only form of politics that has any meaning, aren’t you taking good governance and all the things that fulfill our lives in the 21st century for granted?

          I know this attitude is not peculiar to Indians. The Brits who voted for Brexit think quite similarly. And the alt-right Americans too. They deride all the good things of globalization while making full use of the tools and amenities that globalization, open trade, ability to migrate across borders, etc., have give us. Or they take all that for granted. And they have no ability to empathize with people of a different “identity”.

          For example: think what would happen if Trumpian Americans decide to constitute an NRC for Americans of foreign origin, and they decide to do a retroactive evaluation of all H1B visas granted since the program began. They adopt a very stringent attitude towards what constitutes a legitimate H1B application, trying to weed out all those that don’t fit the “best and brightest” category or which feel like cheap labor. (Lots of people who came through companies like Infosys and Wipro may fit that description.) And then they ask those people (whoever is still on a visa or a green card) as well as their descendants to leave. Try to imagine this situation, and then reevaluate if identity politics is the only thing that matters.

    2. The Wire has bashed the BJP for virtually everything they’ve done since the dawn of time.

      It is possible that, in fact, the BJP has done everything wrong since the dawn of time.

      It is more likely that The Wire is basically Daily Kos.

      Better to just ignore them, they reach levels of partisanship that shouldn’t be possible. Even Swarajya prints articles critiquing Modi sometimes.

      1. You are being massively hyperbolic by using terms like “since the dawn of time”. The Wire was started in 2015, so if it produces articles that challenge the government’s point of view, naturally they are all going to be against the BJP.

        Have some perspective, dude! There’s lots to criticize the BJP government for, just like there’s lots to criticize the Trump govt for in the US, so engaging in such criticism isn’t necessarily a sign of partisanship.

        1. “Have some perspective, dude! There’s lots to criticize the BJP government for, just like there’s lots to criticize the Trump govt for in the US, so engaging in such criticism isn’t necessarily a sign of partisanship.”

          My main beef with The Wire is not that they criticise Modi but that they are too predictable. You can just train a bot to print their takes and it might match their articles word for word. So they stop adding any incremental value with their articles and enter into territory that is similar to advertising with repeated messaging. Isn’t that what propaganda is?

          This does not mean outlets with different leanings are any better.

          I have a dim view of journalists in general, who I think as a group have a really high self-righteousness to actual contribution ratio, even by Indian standards.

          1. I’ll be honest, I’ve only started reading various magazines (like The Wire) regularly since the Kashmir decision (which, though not an epiphany for me, was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to tolerating Modi and Co.)

            I take your point that The Wire, etc., can be predictably leftist (like Arundhati Roy), but when I watch most of our TV news channels, they seem to be propagandizing for the govt (as in, some things are just never questioned by the hosts and certain positions are unthinkingly considered “national” or “anti-national”; it’s like what Fox News does in the US.) So I’m just a little grateful for the existence of such magazines/webzines.

            Are there any objective Indian news outlets in your view? Who do not shill for the government or for the Left?

          2. I think the print does a good job. Its still a bit right leaning , but not the shill for the Govt. Newslaundry too which leans left, but still objective (as much as possible)

  12. One important point is that many “cultural-left” Indian activists are directly or indirectly paid by foreign organization to carry out the agendas (political, religious, anti-India etc.) of these foreign organizations.

  13. @Numinous
    I oppose all of this not just because of my libertarian views but because it does jack shit for Indians and for our future. For people like you, this may be an ego boost while you enjoy the good governance and liberalism of American institutions, but for people in India, it just keeps us mired in Third World conditions.

    I think you are being unfair to Modi. There is more to the man than just the superstar rallies and showmanship. Indians esentially trust the man to do something good for the country.

    I have broadly the same liberal temperament as you. I don’t hate the Hindu nationalists, but tend to view them with detached bemusement. I find many of the figures of Hindu right downright comical (for e.g. Yogi Adityanath and “sexy sanyasin” Uma Bharati). I cringe at every news of lynching in the name of cow protection. However I firmly believe Modi is the man India must turn to if it really has to take off. Among the current crop of leaders only he has the gumption to strike new ground.

    Modi has shown certain boldness which previous leaders lacked. Take the so called “surgical strikes” and bombing raid within Pakistan. Admittedly these military actions were hyped much more in scale than they actually were, and the actual damage done to terrorist infrastructure in Pak was probably zero, but the point is – it represented a paradigm shift in India’s approach to terror emanating from Pak. It gave a clear message to Pak and the world that it is not-OK to kill Indians. It can’t be business as usual. There will be a price to pay to kill Indians.

    In the past Indians simply wringed their hands and seethed in impotent anger when blood flowed in the streets of Mumbai in 26/11 attacks, or the parliament was attacked, or the trains were bombed (the list of terror attacks in India is just endless.). Indians had gotten used to the drill. After every terror attack, politicians will rage, army will be mobilized, talk of war will fill the air, and then some high ranking diplomats will come flying from US, and things will peter out. Business as usual! Modi has shown things can be done differently. This is the key to understand Modi phenomenon.

    1. I’m fine with retaliating to terror attacks, but we also need to think through the consequences. There was a good (albeit unsatisfactory) reason for our hand-wringing upon terror attacks back in the 90s and 00s: that a nuclear war could feasibly be the result, which would devastate our country (not to mention Pakistan.) Not retaliating, on the other hand, perversely won us brownie points from countries like the US, kept our foreign investments going, and continued Pakistan’s degeneration into a hopeless basketcase. We hoped to win the war (rather than focus on individual battles) through attrition rather than hotheadedness.

      And I believe that was a successful strategy. If you haven’t noticed, the frequency of terror attacks have decreased a lot, and the few that occur sporadically only indicate the impotence of Pakistani leadership. Frankly, we should all understand that the Pakistani establishment is a multi-headed hydra. Imran Khan has no control over terrorist attacks; if someone wants to mount one, they will do so regardless of his wishes. In these circumstances, does a jingoistic shock-and-awe strategy, emotionally satisfying though it may be, redound to our ultimate benefit? Short of conquering the entire country of Pakistan, I don’t see the terrorist threat from there reducing to zero. And I don’t want to keep taking potshots at NRIs, but they aren’t going to face the fallout of nuclear war; we who live in India will.

      (Other thoughts in a separate comment)

      1. There would be no nuclear war. Both Pakistan and India knows this. In fact, both countries strategies have been based on this assumption.

        For Pakistan its “we can do anything under nuclear umbrella, since if there is a war, major power will jump in , fearing that it might go nuclear, so we are safe” . For India its” Pakistan would not retaliate nuclearly, if there is conventional battle , since if Pakistan would mule going nuclear then major power will jump in, so we are safe”

    2. If we forget about foreign and terrorism policy, what kind of leader is Modi on the domestic front? Has he really established a basis for Minimum Government, Maximum Governance, as he claimed in 2014? Or has he taken the welfare state dependency engendered by our past Congress governments and taken it to a new level? Take the issue that apparently won him masses of votes in North India: LPGs for everyone. As a temporary measure, sure, that may be worthwhile, but how about reformign our country and building institutions that will ensure that a most people don’t need subsidized LPGs a generation from now? Far from building such institutions, he hasn’t given the slightest indication of understanding that we need them in the first place. He’s committed to the mai-baap form of government just like his predecessors (maybe the Vajpayee govt was a slight expection) were.

      He confiscated an entire country’s money-supply on a whim, because like the average Indian, he trusts urban legend more than scholarly study (“hard work” over “Harvard”.) And even if you don’t share my libertarian views, you can see what’s happened to the economy as a result of that. Still he shows no indication of understanding where we are and what’s needed.

      Lastly, we’ve discussed ad nauseum the topic of scientific illiteracy and politicians (including Modi) saying utterly stupid things. Those aren’t one-off incidents. These people really believe that India needs to go back to a Vedic Ram-Rajya or something, a place that had all the wisdom one could need without harmful western influences (like science.) They are even more reactionary than the sharia-mongers.

      OK, I’m done.

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