All these Academics and all their Might: A Rejoinder from an Academic

First published by Swarajya, December 16, 2015

Déjà vu in the Indian context could have some karmic connotations, if you think about it, but also lead us into musing about samskaras and vasanas. For what else can explain the new petition, or signature campaign, to warn Silicon Valley CEOs of Narendra Modi’s bona fides by the 125 or so signatories with academic affiliation? Their concern, initially, in that petition is about “privacy” in the digital future. But that is just a fig leaf to cover their other, extraneous complaints, which go all the way from the time he was denied a visa to travel to the United States, to bans on some NGOs, to academic freedom, and to the appointment of “under-qualified” people to head some academic institutions in India. The kitchen sink is also there somewhere, but the washing of Indian plates in American sinks has long been the hallmark of these self-appointed overseers of Indian mores, morals, and research methodologies. They have had it their way for a long time, and any time their fortunes are threatened they come out waving their official designations and academic affiliations as if that will scare people into rethinking their vote and their democratic futures.

But all of this has happened before. Many readers of Swarajya will not remember what transpired when the first NDA government took office in 1996 and till the time they lost the general election in 2004, but for those of us who have been involved in these matters and sought to understand this visceral antipathy of these academic worthies to the Sangh Parivar, and to matters Hindu and Hinduism, this is indeed déjà vu all over again: the 88,000th petition, equaling the number of times one is reborn, and as long as the Mahabharata! It is not as if these petitions have not had traction or consequences: the US denied Mr. Modi a visa for nine years, and the NYT must have published some 90 editorials in a scorched earth policy to annihilate the “demon Modi” and the parivar he belongs to. But democracy is messy, and the 125 academics chafe and have been in a churlish mood since Narendra Modi carried the BJP to an immense electoral victory in 2014.

Since then they have seen the man they love to hate travel the world wooing not just the Diaspora Indians but world leaders – from Japan and Australia to the US and Germany, and from Beijing and Dubai to Tokyo and Brasilia – and they have seen him morph from the ogre they caricatured him as to a pragmatic, energetic, thoughtful and charismatic leader who has more Twitter and Facebook followers than their beloved “secular” (but seriously and serially corrupt) leaders who ensured their hurly-burly life of publishing in the US and pontificating in New Delhi. They fear that the vast and deeply entrenched network of nepotistic academics and graduate students they have constructed and belong to, and the close connection to the political establishments in Western capitals and in New Delhi they have may begin to fray, and that their lucrative book deals, their flying hither and thither, and their monopoly over awards, certificates, and medals may begin to wither away.

They were very sure of the state of their estate, and the moral pedestals they had climbed on to but now when they don’t get invited to join think tanks and committees that decide the fate of Indians and government policy, and when their carefully constructed diatribes against “Hindu nationalism” is mocked and laughed at by millions of Internet-savvy Indians, they reconnect with their network of naysayers to create as much confusion and conflict as they can, hoping that something will give and someone will do something extreme so that they can regain confidence in their own abilities to read and guide Indian reality.

This “Nehruvian” establishment with its long heritage, and vast and intricate networking, has played havoc with the lives of Indians, and kept India a beggar state – corrupt, bereft, and broken. These academics, wedded to their various continental theories, and fed by a moth-eaten command economy, have been the sepoys doing the battle for a variety of non-Indian actors who have sought to keep India from discovering its potential. The scandalous state of Indian society – its broken roads, its unlettered citizens, its vast armies of unemployed youth, its porous borders bleeding money and breeding new electorates, its corrupt governments and vulgar politicians – has never really bothered these academics who, for all purposes, simply used its history and culture merely as the “data set” for manufacturing caricatures of Indians’ beloved ideas, ideals and heroes. It is how they have earned their artisan breads and their vintage wines – by feeding their students and their colleagues the suppurative Indian body in exchange for their tenures in top tier American academic institutions.

Now, in a long time, we have a man at the helm of affairs, who actually comes from the class and caste background they have always fought on behalf of, if you were to go by the claims they make in their scholarly theses. Alas, he is not putty in their hands, nor does he feed them the largesse in the big troughs they have always supped from in New Delhi. Therefore this anger and pouting, these lies and innuendoes, these selective bits and pieces of misinformation, and this crying wolf.

We doubt that Silicon Valley leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators will pay much heed to what these academics are saying but they also know that they have to be wary of falling into the traps set by these minders of Indian matters. Social media can be used to shame and frame, and they want to be on their attentive best when they meet with the man, who they know instinctively is good for India, despite all of his own personal baggage and the shortcomings of the Indian systems. There was no Facebook or Twitter till 2004, and so the ammunition these academics had gathered and stored in those days could and was used to more effect. Now, they know that it is they who are in search of their own identities in their cushy and lofty offices in American academe, and that those they mocked and derided have found the means, some of it crude, to beat back these “experts” if not at their own game, in a game that offers a more level playing field.

We do live in dangerous times, and partisan fervor can quickly lead us down paths that can only lead to more conflict. Asking these academics to be thoughtful and attentive, to shed their partisan garb, and to join hands in making India a livable, healthy, energetic, and sound state is however a waste of effort. We can only hope that they will mend their ways, but we should surely not bet much on that happening.

Their petition will, however, not get a quiet burial, and so battle on we should.

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