Browncast: Chris Iwanek, India-analyst from Poland

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Krzysztof IwanekIn this episode Mukuna and Omar talk to Krzysztof Iwanek (aka Chris), who heads the Asia Research Center in the War Studies University in Warsaw, Poland. Chris also writes regularly for “The Diplomat” and is writing a book about the Ram Rajya Parishad Party (a small traditional Hindu party in India). We talk about Indian politics, his research and whatever else comes up..

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

20 thoughts on “Browncast: Chris Iwanek, India-analyst from Poland”

  1. Somebody need to be more critical of foreign correspondents when they raise caste issue & should force them to equate ethnicity politics with caste politics –

    Would it be correct for nation states to force assimilate all ethnicities, not allowing them to have their own distinct ways of life ? Why Caste should be looked at any differently from Ethnicities ? Why oppression should be looked at from caste lens & not from socio-economic lens ? Does looking at oppression from caste lens bring any benefit to addressing the oppression & if it does not then why focus on caste instead of conditions of oppression ? etc…

  2. Mukunda 34.30 “Indian constitution basically outlawed caste”
    This is wrong. Indian constitution only outlaws public expression of caste discrmination ; nowhere it outlaws caste.
    That Caste based reservations conflict with this no caste discrimination is a different matter
    On the whole Iwanek’s assessments on caste politics are correct I think

    I thought Chris is no Indologist – that is partly wrong. he has some grounding in indology early in his career, even though he has moved onto study modern India more

    1. Yea, Mukunda’s statement quite startled me as well.

      Abolishing ‘untouchability’ and caste discirmination isn’t the same thing as abolition of caste in the strict sense.

  3. It would have been perfect if Krzysztof was asked to articulate in his native Polish or Hindi. Many bits are distinctly jerky in the English tongue and come across as disjointed. I don’t think either of the interviewers are comfortable in Hindi or Polish :-).

    One of the things to note is that the impression of Hindutva is distinctly different in the non-Anglophone world. Only if Indians are taught to internalise this!! Most Indians read Anglophone commentary and form an erroneous self image. There is an African view, an Arab view, an European lens and others…..

    1. interesting point. I’ve noticed that non-anglo westerners are more understanding of the impulses that lead to hindu nationalism or ethno-nationalism. It would be refreshing for indians to discard the anglo-american political tropes. Leads to stupid things like transposing BJP—-> US Republicans; Modi——->Trump.

      1. @girmit

        Our colonial masters only encountered Islam when they were well into their overseas quests. They never had to resist any of the Moor/Ottoman depredations unlike some of the Southern Europeans or the Slavs. Therefore this rose tinted view is a English specialty – from whence it jumped across the pond to the Americans. Wait till the M percentage crosses 10% in this cosy club.

        My Italian, French or Serbian colleagues nod their heads like Hindutva is the most natural thing in the world. Of course they are not very much into its anti-caste character. But talk of Hindutva = fascism is just water off the duckś back.

        1. Only in major anglo countries SJW and Islamist-leftist types have a free hand in trying to shape public outcries and issues. Latest tiff with China over Uyghurs is a very different matter – that is partly to do with changing international power rivalries , western establishments are uneasy with the swift rise of China to great economic power and more of the same to come within a decade . So, Uyghur issue presents a good foil , even though Muslim countries like Pakistan are going head over heels to proclaim Chinese innocence and completely exculpate China

  4. Kushal Mehra on his Twitter feed is up in arms against Iwanek’s views. (I haven’t listened to it yet.)

    Says that he gets the Hindutva motivations about caste wrong, and that they are actually against it.

    I only partially agree with Kushal. The Hindutva crowd does pay lip service to the idea of no caste discrimination, but if they had to put their money where their mouths are, they’d advocate for large-scale caste mixing, socially and maritally. I haven’t seen them do that yet. Their emphasis on adherence to traditional Indian values just means that our social structure will be set in stone. Our practices of filial obedience and arranged marriages means that the castes won’t mix, etc.

    1. put their money where their mouths are, they’d advocate for large-scale caste mixing, socially and maritally.

      Is there a group in Indian politics advocates for this?

      If is it fair to hold the only party with a 2 term “backward caste” leader at its helm to this standard?

    2. “The Hindutva crowd does pay lip service to the idea of no caste discrimination, but if they had to put their money where their mouths are, they’d advocate for large-scale caste mixing, socially and maritally.”

      How does one even achieve this without significant state coercion?

      I can understand that people who have got the wrong end of the deal will necessarily want to tear the system down. I also understand the rhetorical value of such statements.

      But caste mixing is not going to happen in a generation and if it does then I don’t think we can perceive the unintended harmful consequences of it. I find the whole talk of annihilation of caste to be very juvenile.

      A better approach would be dissolution of caste over time, which is already happening with the support of both the right and the left.

      Exogamy rate 50 years ago used to be 99%. It’s 95% today. That’s a 5 times increase. Might be 90% in 50 years time. Such a rate is enough for a thorough mixing of the population in 200-300 years. Will happen faster if exogamy rates keep increasing.

      Your mileage may vary but that seems reasonable to me. Certainly better than setting up a government marriage bureau to ensure mixing.

      Socially, IMO the much larger axis of discrimination is class, even gender than caste. Those are what need to be addressed.

      1. I agree with the last part of your comment. Class and gender would be higher priorities in my book too, and addressing differences on those axes (though not without much state coercion; I’m still a libertarian) would go a long way toward addressing caste differences as well IMO.

  5. Sumit, Prats:

    Perhaps you misunderstood me. Neither was I trying to say that eliminating the caste system was easy nor was I trying to imply that previous center-left governments had done any better on this account.

    I was just trying to compare the actions of the Hindutva crowd against their professed ideals, at least if Kushal’s ideals are emblematic of that crowd. It feels not just to people like this Polish guy but also to someone like me who grew up in this society that the Hindutva adherents are not particularly serious about “annihilating” caste but rather pay lip service to win political support.

    I think it’s perfectly fine to not want to annihilate caste. Though it is antediluvian by classical liberal standards, it is the bedrock of Indian society and there may be significant strife if people in power tried to actively mess with it. I just want peoples’ actions to be consistent with their words and not get sensitive when someone (like a foreigner) points out what’s really going on.

    1. ..Though it is antediluvian by classical liberal standards..

      You are just bullshitting by defining liberalism as solely the function of a person/ideology’s distance from caste.
      Classical liberalism lays emphasis on liberties with a big emphasis on economic freedom. In John Locke’s world, this meant the ability to form merchant/labor guilds with whatever basis they may be – of religion, kinship or sect. He also advocated against religious uniformity and social fiat – implying that they would a hindrance to societal stability in the long run.

      Varna is the perfect expression of Locke’s ideas in the Asian sphere. To paraphrase it, varna/jati is perfectly within the bounds of normative classic-liberal permissiveness that Locke sought to achieve in Europe.

      I just want peoples’ actions to be consistent with their words

      Really? Holding native philosophies to exacting literal statements is one of the classic responses of deracinates. Nobody uses these yardsticks when evaluating political ideologies in Europe. Hitler and Nazis should be held as models of Christian religious reform – because they literally carried out the objective content in the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Yet barely anyone throws muck on these so called “Enlightenment figures”.

      ….not get sensitive when someone (like a foreigner) points out what’s really going on….

      Your superficial grouse is that brown guys aren’t accepting the criticism of the white guy. Kushal is telling you that not only is the white guy wrong, but also that the white guys do not apply the same standards to other white guys.

  6. interesting point. I’ve noticed that non-anglo westerners are more understanding of the impulses that lead to hindu nationalism or ethno-nationalism

    I would bet, *especially* Eastern Europeans like Mr. Iwanek. Eastern European people are really *hyper* nationalistic, if you look at public opinion surveys (in the main), and so they’re probably going to be more understanding and appreciative (and probably more objective as well) at the forces that drive religious and ethnic nationalism in other parts of the world.

    For what it’s worth, I really liked Mr. Iwanek and thought this was one of the better Brown Pundits dialogues. I’m opposed to Hindu Nationalism as a political movement (not that I disagree with everything they say, but certainly I disagree with most of it) but I think the way it’s described in the Anglo-American mass media is usually really stupid and says more about liberal-progressive hangups than anything else. So, I appreciated Mr. Iwanek’s neutral, “objective” stance in describing it, and I learned a lot about the Ram Rajya Parishad about which I was previously unaware.

    1. Yes, I liked his take on nationalism. I’d even say that Congress vs BJP is a false dichotomy. Its just nationalism 1.0 and 2.0 (more coherent). Core consituencies of the former have migrated to the latter. Neither are my cup of tea, and I think based on past comments of yours we may overlap in certain views, in as much as I see progress coming from smaller, more robust adminisrative units (who’s cultural distinctiveness is a rallying point for that resilience and unity of purpose). If anything, the refinement of indian nationalism towards hindu qualities is inevitable and probably a precondition for more interesting regional counter-movements.

      1. Yes, I really liked his quotation (although I guess it was not original with him), that “nationalism seeks the preservation of communities, conservatism seeks the preservation of institutions”. I think that’s about right, and I say that who’s by no means opposed to nationalism: I think it’s a good ideal to aspire to *in a context where it’s feasible*. Poland is a natural nation-state (it wasn’t always, but it is now): so is Bangladesh. The United States, obviously, is not. Whether India is a natural nation-state or a multinational one is one of the topics where the BJP and its critics disagree, I guess.

        1. The United States, obviously, is not.

          Strongly disagree, but then I’m a libertarian. If any entity that has the ability to muster up the loyalties of millions of its people to fight and win global-scale wars or muster up the resources and skills of its people to travel to the moon or create a global-scale communication network cannot be called a nation-state, I don’t know what can.

          We can perhaps distinguish ethno-nation states like Poland or Bangladesh from creedal nation states like the US. In this, the US was sui generis from the Revolution up to the end of WW2, but since then other Anglo countries have arguably become creedal in the same way. India is somewhere in between; aspiring to be a creedal nation state while being mostly an ethno one on the ground.

          1. I do think that the US is more coherent as a nation than India, through language and also through ethnicity. I realize the standards for what is american are somewhat different regionally, but a vaste swathe of the country has a strong core of british folkways, or germanic ones intentionally anglicized. If anything, the anglo people across countries are a nation. The ease with which a small town person from kentucky can mingle with an australian or someone from the north of england is greater than with a NYer. (yes, im presuming all to be white )

          2. @Girmit and Numinous:

            I think you’re correct that the US is much more cohesive than India, in a couple ways. Most obviously, all US states have English as their majority language and working language. For that matter, the large majority of American *people* (78%, and was higher in the past) have English as their mother tongue. The economic and human development gap between US states is also much smaller than the gap between, say, Kerala and Bihar.

            America has lots of racial and ethnic division, as well as insane gaps between rich and poor, and an increasingly polarized political environment, but those divisions don’t really follow state lines, which means that the different states have more in common with each other (in my opinion) than Indian states do.

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