• Stephen Balogh

What the acadogmatics missed about India

I have remarked before about my experience of apparently learned publications offering precisely zero explanatory value because their implicit frame of reference is strictly two-dimensional at best (see https://www.baloghblog.uk/post/expert-explanatory-impotence). Perhaps I should reduce that to one dimensional to the extent that they tend to ride on the tramlines of a sub-Marxian take on the inevitability of history. Anything that runs orthogonal to it, or appears on a different plane, is utterly invisible to such a perspective.

I seem to remember one particular number of the esteemed publication International Affairs some two or three years ago that focused on the Indian subcontinent. So convinced did the apparent editorial line seem to be that non-Western states were destined to align themselves naturally to a twenty-first century international liberal progressivism, any little local difficulties with adjacent states or between religious groupings were discounted or ignored, despite the deafening cognitive dissonance entailed.

The dominant acadogmatics in their fragile naivety have never got its head around the ruling party BJP’s relentless promotion of Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”), let alone its consequences for those considered minority groupings, whether religious or ethnic. So the Indian government’s imposition of direct rule in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 was a rude awakening for many Western observers.

It is for this reason that a recent essay by Razib Khan entitled “Why the West lost India’s culture wars” in online platform Unherd is so striking because it upends this conventional narrative (https://unherd.com/2021/04/the-culture-wars-of-post-colonial-india). I hugely recommend anyone interested in geopolitics to read it.

Khan starts predictably enough by quoting Macauley on the creation of “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste” (bad) and going on to declare by contrast that “India is maturing, becoming culturally more self-confident, and shedding its post-colonial skin” (good).

So far, so predictable, but there is then a sharp twist, in fact two twists.

Firstly, in sloughing off not just the historical remains of Western imperial influence but also the 20th century Western liberal notions of modern statehood and the international cosmopolitan order that replaced them, Narendra Modi’s government has rekindled the traditional notion of Hindutva that carries a very specific sense of native identity for India and Indians. And it is not universal and multi-cultural.

As Khan relates, this has upset prominent figures such as author Arundhati Roy who might once have claimed to speak for modern India but who now find themselves somewhat alienated and stranded.

But here’s the second twist. Hindutva in its modern form sees not only Western imperialism as an historical curse to be expunged, but also the prior incursion of what it considers to have been Islamic imperialism. It is this that gives the action in Jammu and Kashmir, territory the subject of much Hundu-Muslim dispute over the years, a much sharper edge than merely the imposition of central government control on a collapsed regional legislature.

It is easy to see parallels between India’s evolving sense of statehood along non-secular, traditional lines and the radical desecularisation also in progress in Turkey. In another excellent Unherd article from summer 2020 (https://unherd.com/2020/08/the-end-of-secularism-is-nigh/), author and historian Tom Holland cites both countries as evidence of a move to a multi-polar world that is far from a series of homogeneous states crafted along the lines of a purely Western progressive concept of the world order. Indeed, as the title states, “The End of Secularism is Nigh”.

As Khan concludes: “The rise of Hindu nationalism and its political dominance in India seems here to stay. This will result in a native cultural ascendancy, and will lead to a negative response from the global Left, which has a substantial presence in the English-speaking middle and upper-class of the subcontinent… Instead of the great mass of the population being Westernised by the brown-skinned Englishmen, the great mass have thrown up their own leadership class, which has marginalised the Macaulay men. And the responding rage of the secular class has been heard round the world.”

Echoing what I wrote earlier, Khan’s article is well worth a read by open-minded lay students of geopolitics and acadogmatics alike. And perhaps by people who wish wish some concern to see how the distinction between Hindutva and non-Hindutva is judged and enacted.

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