Browncast episode 86: Harsh Gupta on Hindutva, Indian Economy, etc.

By Omar Ali 33 Comments

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

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In this podcast we talk to Harsh Gupta (@harshmadhusudan on twitter) , an investor in Mumbai (he has an MBA from INSEAD and is also a Dartmouth alumnus) who is bullish on India and its prospects and is (at least at this point) a Modi supporter. We talk about Hindutva, Indian economy, Indian Muslims and whatever else pops up. I had my share of “L’esprit de l’escalier” after this episode, but we hope to have Harsh back to talk about some of those thoughts 🙂

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33 Replies to “Browncast episode 86: Harsh Gupta on Hindutva, Indian Economy, etc.”

  1. The rise of baniyas (Amit Shah, the best example) in the BJP is a story in itself. Even the Brahmin has fiddled with multiple parties, but the baniyas have strongly stood behind the BJP, in their darkest hour. Even in the Congress heydays of 2004-2010, the BJP could match Congress expenditure through this committed votebank.

    Perhaps being a small and entrepreneurial (so natural target in Socialist India) community they always understood what it means to be a part of something bigger.

    It would be interesting going forward to see if this equation changes or stays the same, since more and more of “Big Business” now backs the BJP.

    1. I’ve always said that the rise of the BJP and Hindutva in general is a middle-caste consolidation phenomenon.

      Brahmins are only 4% of the population, dalits/tribals/etc are maybe 25 or 30%. Everyone else is “broadly middle” and represent the majority and the differences amongst them is disappearing fast. Urbanization does nothing but strengthen that effect.

      I can see dalits eventually make it into broadly middle caste as well if the economy were good enough. But that will take a LONG time… maybe 20 years. I hope it happens in my lifetime.

      If we can successfully get rid of caste, we may be able to turn around the 1000 year losing streak we’ve been on. Then we can truly unleash the power of this fully operational battle station young Skywalker!

      1. LOL, tell me about it, i have seen my dad’s generation turning from being caste nationalist to Modi-nationalist in a decade. And these are folks who a decade back used to poke fun and disdain on Hindutva. Ironically i was the first one to turn towards the right in a heavily socialist and Congressi family. And now when i am uneasy with right, my family has gone in full guns blazing ????

        An interesting aspect would be to observe what happens in a post Modi phase. Voting is a habit, so are these people real “converts” or will in time , politics returns to the mean.

        1. I’m uncomfortable with a section of “trads” on twitter. They seem to support some regressive social practices and they are also not right of center economically. The whole idea of Hinduism is to seek your own path, and I’m not sure why they are issuing commandments like Abrahamics. Though they can do little to change the larger Dharmic theological ethos that is centered around individual seeking. This “trad” movement seems to be much more of a social media phenomenon.
          Economically it is critical for India to pursue reforms to scale civilizational heights. Mainstream Hindutva is modernist in its orientation. Economically it is has demonstrated more appetite for economic reforms than the left parties, notwithstanding a few swadeshi jagran manch types. There is also a section of civilizationists who are both economically right of center and socially modernists while not rejecting the good aspects of India’s cultural legacy which is a healthy mix from India’s perspective. Harsh is in this category so is a good spokesman for it.

          1. This got me thinking, is there any data in the break down of centre liberal BJP supporters vs hard traditionalists?

          2. I dont; know if this article would be helpful

            https://theprint.in/opinion/new-voters-modi-bjp-poorer-majoritarian-but-not-as-religious/367095/

            To me one of the interesting findings is contrary to expectation there is a rise of “association” with the BJP/Hindu right within the general populace, which is independent of Modi. That Modi might be a catalyst but at least new voters now solidly believe in Hindu nationalism.Of course this will be tested only in a post Modi phase.

            But if its true Modi might become a sort of Nehru/Reagan type figure who made their ideology sort of de-facto ideology of their country.

          3. It’s not just a social media phenomenon. Large parts of the country believe in these things. Let’s be grateful this is being debated in writing online, as the alternative isn’t pretty.

            I wouldn’t worry about data, there is nothing that can be trusted. I also think sub-categorization of Hindu views isn’t useful. It’s best to deal with individual issues as they come up. For example, homophobia is still present, but I’m confident people who act in this manner can be turned to more accepting ways by showing their own history of acceptance. This might take a generation, but the transition will happen “peacefully.”

        2. Saurav, what would you say main, one or two reasons your elder generation went from caste nationalist to Modi nationalist?

          1. I come from an OBC family, we always had our “own” parties. Why would we be part of something larger if we have an exclusive group to toy with.Our numbers alone can swing elections. That was the thought process of my folks.

            Add to that local rivalries with UC groups like Brahmin and Rajputs. The RSS was also seen as UC group more than a Hindu group. Of course it all changed with the first wave of “Hindu-zation” in the 90s , but politics returned to the mean in the 2000s again.

            Part of my family are still sort of Congress/caste party voters. But rapid urbanization (and watsapp) and OBC being a PM has changed the rest. Especially the younger lot who have no idea of the 90s and see BJP (mostly Modi) as messaih-ish. Smaller stuff like breakdown of OBC unity, intermarriage b/w OBC and UC etc also has contributed to a larger “Hindu” viewpoint.

    2. Re: Comments on Hindu-ness of baniyas made above and their support for BJP.

      We live in a world where knowledge and commerce are intertwined. So we are seeing more and more baniyas take up education seriously. This was not the case even a generation ago. So you’ll see more of them become academics and journalists and bureaucrats and such now.

      Over time you’ll start seeing enough ‘liberal’ baniyas akin to the ‘liberal’ brahmins. You can already see folks with Aggarwal and Jain surnames being all woke on Twitter.

      Nothing wrong IMO. Just how groups evolve and these woke folks will always be a small but vocal minority like they are among brahmins.

      1. Agree. One of biggest woke friend is Mittal. I joke that she needs to try harder,since she has to redeem her whole lineage. 😛

  2. Depends on what traditionalists means. As far as caste is concerned, Hindutva movement was always clearly anti-caste “One temple, one crematorium, one well for all Hindus in a village” was the RSS slogan. People who are casteist may prefer caste based parties or Congress because it is more of a status quo party. That is why BJP is the party with such a strong OBC PM. If I had to bet on it, India’s first Dalit PM would be from the BJP and he/she would be focused on his/her Hindu identity i.e. a Dalit Modi whom the upper castes will also happily vote for.
    On the economic front, I think the population at large is still socialist in its mindset. Even the middle class that has benefited from reforms wants freebies. Modi has to a large extent followed responsible welfarism i.e. welfarism that is focused on areas where there are positive externalities( electricity, toilets etc). Cutting middle class subsidies and freebies for example : cutting LPG subsidies for the middle class, he has now increased excise on petrol(when prices have fallen) etc. Shekhar Gupta referred to middle classes as Modi’s muslims i.e. they have nobody else they think they can vote for. The banias are really the most surprising in this regard, Modi bought in GST which is hated by the banias. Like Saurav asked, it is an interesting question why Banias are BJP’s muslims. Are Bania communities really the most committed Hindus? Are they the last to convert? For example, in Sindh the Bania middle class remained Hindu. Just a crazy hypothesis, is it because other religions vilify the rich and have strictures against charging interest for loans, whereas Hinduism allows you to worship the Goddess of wealth and isn’t against charging interest.

    1. @Southindian
      (Massive generalizations ahead)
      Banias are the most committed Hindus. Most willing to put their money where their mouth is in religious functions. Saw this when I used to go out with my father to get donations for our local (Durga) Puja. Banias are the most serious/emotionally involved Hindus. Their families bond around rituals with a sense of belief/authenticity that Bamans/Thakurs don’t have. I have found them much more strict in not eating garlic/onion/meat and such. I think Bamans are not that serious because they think that the one asking them is of similar religious merit so can be ignored. Banias are much more willing to listen and follow diktats.
      Another surprising observation was about Dalits, they go ballistic in religious functions(where they are now being allowed in). It is mind-blowing to see the amount of service (I will not name specific dalit caste as it is rigtfully considered offensive) the lowest dalit caste show in their attempt to get sanskritized/brahmanized. I have seen people getting crazily devoted to cow ‘seva’, spending all their time in langar, giving their kids Sanskrit heavy long names. I have atleast in one instance called out this stupidity but to Dalits perhaps for the very first time they are getting opportunity to belong and do (religious) community work. You can see the same in membership of bajrangdal which is almost completely OBC+ Dalit.

  3. I grew up in a Vania (same caste as Amit Shah in Gujarat, though Amit Shah is not Jain but Vaishnav) Jain household. My entire family has been pro BJP since the mid 1990s, outside of a few people. It’s interesting.

    Genetically, banias are very middling, as they are in caste power
    too. Though they were traditionally the lowest of the upper caste, given they got to wear the sacred thread, they are, for all practical purposes, middle caste. I, as one, cluster with S Indian Brahmins, non-dalit urban peasant castes of the NW of S Asia (not rural ones like Jats, Gujjars, etc. of course but more like the Ramaghiris maybe I suppose?), and S Indian Brahmins. Phenotype wise I can pass all over the subcontinent. Bania families in general, including mine, have a massive diversity of looks, given this middling position.

    It’s interesting how they support the BJP as it switches to a more pan-Hindu rather than pro-upper caste organization. Let’s not forget though, Gandhi was a Hindu Guajrati Vania (bania), and he is one of the most controversial figures among BJP followers.

  4. This idea that Punjabi Muslims and Punjabi Hindus are two different “civilizations” is extremely offensive (and stupid). Religion cannot be the only factor that distinguishes between civilizations. Otherwise you are implying that a UP Muslim and a UP Hindu are from two different “civilizations”. Language, food, clothing, etc are important common factors and explains why Punjabis in the diaspora are often great friends despite their different religions and different national origins. Language is one of the reasons why an independent Bangladesh exists. If Bengali Muslims were part of the same “civilization” with Punjabi Muslims rather than with Bengali Hindus, then why did United Pakistan fall apart?

    Partition happened for contingent political reasons not because of “civilizational” differences.

    1. ” If Bengali Muslims were part of the same “civilization” with Punjabi Muslims rather than with Bengali Hindus, then why did United Pakistan fall apart”

      Just a small counter question, if they were not part of same “civilization” why did Bengali Muslims agree to go with Punjabi Muslims in the first place?

      The answers are not cut and dry. Just like “civilization links” were not the reason for going along , similarly coming apart wasn’t either.

      1. TNT posited that all Muslims were a “nation” (and all Hindus were another “nation”) no matter their ethnic differences. The fear of Hindu Raj united all Muslims (at least those who supported the League).

        Once Pakistan was created though, we saw ethnic differences become more salient. Language was particularly important. Jinnah’s decision to have Urdu be the sole national language and his telling Bengalis that anyone arguing otherwise is a “traitor” obviously didn’t go over well with a culture which had produced Tagore.

        Ethnic fault-lines still exist in Pakistan (see the PTM) despite the state trying to impose a single identity based on Urdu and Islam. After 1971, the state doubled down on the “we are Pakistanis first” thing rather than recognizing that the only way to solve these issues is to genuinely respect all ethnic groups.

  5. This idea that Punjabi Muslims and Punjabi Hindus are two different “civilizations” is extremely offensive (and stupid). Religion cannot be the only factor that distinguishes between civilizations.

    i kind of agree with you that they’re not two civilizations. it’s very reductive.

    but “offensive”. OH SHUT THE FUCK YOU SMUG MORON. have you transitioned to being a 19-year-old nonbinary oberlin they with pink hair who “can’t even!”

    1. I am personally offended by people who attempt to tell me that my grandmother was from a different “civilization” than her neighbors in Agra all because of her religion. Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb is just as much my culture as it is that of a North India Hindu.

      You are no one to tell me what I can and cannot be offended by.

      1. “I am personally offended by people who attempt to tell me that my grandmother was from a different “civilization” than her neighbors in Agra all because of her religion. Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb is just as much my culture as it is that of a North India Hindu.”

        Wouldn’t that make you a Mohajir rather than a Punjabi?

        1. My paternal grandmother was from Agra. She married my paternal grandfather who was from Peshawar.

          My maternal grandparents were both Punjabi. My Nani was from West Punjab and my Nana was from Amritsar. All four of my grandparents were of Kashmiri origin originally. Even those ancestors who came from Iran went to Kashmir first before spreading out to other parts of British India.

      2. @Kabir
        Although I agree with you here but just to give you some of the irritation I feel (at your reluctance to think/fact-check/evolve) here are the ‘contingent political reasons’ (your words from open thread) for which you formed Pakistan:
        Quoting Jinnah (no need to reflect on your actions and choices, as for you everything unfavorable is perpetually out of context)
        ” The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature[s]. They neither intermarry nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects [=perspectives?] on life, and of life, are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, their heroes are different, and different episode[s]. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other, and likewise their victories and defeats overlap.”

        1. A) I didn’t form Pakistan. I wasn’t alive in 1947, thank you very much. I happen to have been born into a Pakistani family. I could just as well have been born into an Indian Muslim family. It’s just an accident of fate.

          B) What I meant by contingent political reasons was the failure of the Congress and the League to agree upon a compromise that would have reassured the Muslims of British India that they would not become second-class citizens in a Hindu Raj. Partition was not inevitable as the League had accepted the CMP, which would have left India united. It was Nehru’s remark that CMP could be re-negotiated in ten years that was the last straw for Jinnah, leaving him with no option but to call for a separate sovereign state.

          You are quoting the famous statement of TNT (again out of context). A) I don’t agree with TNT. B) It was a rhetorical ploy to gain more concessions for the Muslims of British India. Presumably a “nation” was entitled to more rights than a mere ethnic or religious group. Interestingly it is only the Hindu Nationalists and the Pak Nationalists who believe in TNT. Nehruvian Secular liberals (in both countries) don’t. If TNT is valid, then Muslim-majority Kashmir has no business being part of a Hindu-majority country. India’s entire moral claim to Kashmir was based on being a secular nation and denying TNT.

          We have debated the reasons for Partition umpteen times on BP and I really don’t want to get into it again here, especially with someone who has shown themselves to have Hindu nationalist views (whether a BJP voter or not).

          1. “Partition was not inevitable as the League had accepted the CMP, which would have left India united. It was Nehru’s remark that CMP could be re-negotiated in ten years that was the last straw for Jinnah, leaving him with no option but to call for a separate sovereign state.”

            The CMP was unreasonable, leaving Nehru with no option but to call for it to be re-negotiable in 10 years.

            “Presumably a “nation” was entitled to more rights than a mere ethnic or religious group. Interestingly it is only the Hindu Nationalists and the Pak Nationalists who believe in TNT. Nehruvian Secular liberals (in both countries) don’t. If TNT is valid, then Muslim-majority Kashmir has no business being part of a Hindu-majority country. India’s entire moral claim to Kashmir was based on being a secular nation and denying TNT.”

            What’s wrong with a multinational state?

          2. Certainly an argument can be made that CMP was unreasonable. My point simply was that it was the last chance to keep India united. Nehru initially accepted it (as did the League) and then talked about it being re-negotiated. That is not the action of someone who is negotiating in good faith. When you feel that your opponent is not arguing in good faith, you have no choice but to exit negotiations–which is exactly what Jinnah did. Hence, we ended up with the separate sovereign state of Pakistan. There was nothing inevitable about it. If different decisions had been made in 1946, it would never have happened.

            I don’t believe in TNT but in civic nationalism. In my opinion, India should belong to all Indians, regardless of their religion (just as the US belongs to all Americans). The nation-state model presumes that each State can only contain one nation. If this nation is defined in an inclusive sense (as the “Indian” nation), there wouldn’t be any problems. It is when divisive criteria are applied (such as Hindu nationalism), that we have issues. The tragedy of Partition was that religion was the defining characteristic of nationalism. Even now there are a lot of people in India who feel that just as Pakistan is a self-consciously Muslim nation, India should be a Hindu nation–despite the fact that India’s founders chose to be a secular state.

            Multinational states haven’t worked out well in practice. Yugoslavia, for example, broke down into its constituent parts. The Bengali “nation” chose to secede from West Pakistan. This is why–in the Pakistani context– I don’t believe in referring to Pathans, Sindhis etc as “nations” but as ethnic groups. “Nation” implies the right to secede, which is obviously something that no state can countenance.

  6. Really enjoyable interview, especially the bits about the economy. It’s a pet peeve of mine that no party has any space for sustainable development in their manifestos, India will be looking at multiple climate disasters in the future unless steps are taken in this area now. This interview would have benefited from being a 3h Joe Rogan style rambling discussion, since there’s so much ground to cover and Harsh is clearly opinionated.

    I’m not sure I agreed with the bits about people of different religions being of different civilizations. But that does give the different groups an opportunity to ‘pivot’ to different orientations over time. Punjabi Muslims in 50 years time will be very different from say their Sikh counterparts across the border.

    My family (Tamil, but settled all over India) is generally apolitical, and there’s an even split between the BJP and non BJP supporting sides, though the former seems to be getting stronger since there’s practically no national alternative now. The folks back in TN are surprisingly pro BJP since they’ve had enough of the successive corrupt governments of the Dravidian parties

  7. I enjoyed this interview. One the reasons why it succeeded vs the one with M. Gautier one was Mr. Gupta seemed to know the key positions of the interviewers via twitter, and didn’t come in cold; not to mention he has similar arguments more frequently with a similar demographic. It seemed to me, that Gautier disagreed on the assumptions behind the questions, and responded combatively. Maybe he’s just a groggy person.

    I think Harsh Gupta is a strong candidate for bridging the understanding gap between “nationalists” and .. well .. those who seek to understand them.

  8. That was an interesting and long podcast. (Isn’t Harsh Madhusudan responding on this site?).
    I wish he weren’t so pessimistic about Indian Muslims (but then maybe that is realistic; I don’t know enough statistics to see how much religious Wahabi spirit vs Indian syncretic/accepting spirit there is in the broad Muslim community). I keep hoping that the end-game is that Indian Muslims become sufficiently liberated, happy in a growing economy, to integrate well with the broader Hindu society without giving up their religion (or maybe a moderated version of their religion).
    A second point was Harsh’s dismissal (I thought) of the question about why Indian “left-liberals” in the west are so viciously critical of Modi/BJP, and why “BJP” or supporters are not doing much to address it. Again, it’d be nice if people like him focus on winning many of them over. Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati aside, even people like Varshney are so viciously, and strategically anti-Modi and BJP. They probably can’t be won over. But many other ordinary anti-BJP liberals are convinced that Modi/BJP are bigots (wrongly and I think partly because of what they read in western press); they need to be won over by articulate, substantiated, nuanced argument. This is not happening. In part because they are just not reachable. Why the western liberal media, whose self-image consists of at least making a show of giving space for both sides of an issue, is giving space to likes of Rana Ayyub but no one from Indian “liberal right” (indic liberals) is another issue that has to be analyzed carefully rather than dismissed by people like Harsh.

    1. I don’t think he was pessimistic at all – at least not at an individual level. It’s really a leadership question within the Muslim community. Contrast this with the Hindu community. To me, that so many “Hindu” voices safely speak against the BJP / Modi is evidence that individual voices are independent and feel safe to do so. When influential people wear the badge of liberalism on the sleeve, and don’t have the guts to support UCC publicly, it reeks of hypocrisy, or worse, malicious strategic political decision. He mentioned that he will happily move on to more important issues if he hears more voices publicly supporting common sense liberal causes.
      As for your second comment about engaging with those critical of BJP – well, I think that’s exactly what’s happening here. Of course, it’s not happening at a large scale. One of the reason is that those steeped in the RSS / BJP life are not strong English speakers, and that is the language where the debates are published. It’s a mistake to think they haven’t had these debates in their vernacular languages. This is changing – and often the spokespersons of these views will not be people directly within “nationalist” organizations, but those who understand them and can articulate it to the rest of India (forget the rest of the world, for now).

    2. A second point was Harsh’s dismissal (I thought) of the question about why Indian “left-liberals” in the west are so viciously critical of Modi/BJP, and why “BJP” or supporters are not doing much to address it.

      Your assumption seems to be that there is no reason to criticize Modi/BJP and its policies and actions; that it’s all a smear campaign.

      That assumption is flawed, and you’ll need to cultivate the ability to critically analyze the faction you support. If you can’t do that, there’s no point in discussing and reasoning about anything. It’s all going to be a perpetual political battle; to the winners go the spoils.

      1. Numinous, would you be willing to share your views on a podcast?

        On Islam:

        What are your views on the way PM Modi praises Mohammed pbuh as a great spiritual master in public?

        What would you think if PM Modi made a speech about the spiritual heights of Mohammed pbuh, Hazrat Fatimah, Imams Ali, Hassan, Hussain, and the great muslim muraqabah Khwajas, Auliyas, Pirs, Faqirs and Sheikhs?

        Do you think PM Modi should implement uniform civil code around the country. PM Modi is under pressure from his muslim allies to deliver this quickly.

        What else do you think PM Modi can or should do?

        ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

        Economics:

        We all have our concerns about economic policy. But Congress is worse . . . wo what alternative is there but to go along with the BJP?

        This said, we “CAN” discuss our ideas on economic policy. Be curious to hear yours.

        ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

        Any other critiques of PM Modi?

        ++++++++++++++++++++++++

        Of course PM Modi is different from India’s non left more generally (AAP, Shiv Sena, VHP, RSS, BJP). India remains disfunctional in many ways although increasingly less so.

  9. About a third of India’s 230 million are allied with the nonleft. India has the largest number of liberal muslims in the world:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1VyL6MCmfI
    If Harsh Gupta is reading this. Saira Shah Halim (who is a panelist above) represents a large fraction of Indian muslims.

    Harsh, the following muslim Pirs (or Brahma Jnaanis) are undifferentiable from Arya, Bharatiya, Dharmic and eastern philosophy civilization and culture:
    —Pir Al-Hallaj
    —Pir Gareeb Nawaz
    —Pir Baba Farid
    —Pir Rumi
    —Pir Nund Rishi
    —Pir Kabir
    —Pir Mian Mir, Jahanara Begum and Dara Shikoh,
    —Maharashtran Pirs connected to Pir Kabir and his Ustad Ramananda of the Sri Sampradaya
    ——Pir Janardan Swami (Ustad of Ek Nath)
    ——Pir Shirdi Sai Nath
    ——Pir Hazrat Babajan
    ——Pir Tajuddin Muhammad Badruddin Baba

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