In Absentia

Where are India’s conservative intellectuals?

Romila Thapar is part of a generation of Indian historians who were influenced in varying degrees by left-wing or liberal thought BCCl
01 March, 2015

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THERE IS A PARADOX at the heart of Indian public life today: that while the country has a right-wing party in power, right-wing intellectuals run thin on the ground. This makes India an exception among the world’s established democracies. The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany all have a long lineage of first-rate intellectuals on the right, who continue to provide ballast to parties such as the Republicans in America, the Conservatives in Britain, and the Christian Democrats in Germany. On the other hand, while the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys political power in India, it can command the support of few well-known or widely published intellectuals.

The shortage became strikingly apparent last August, when Y Sudershan Rao was appointed the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. It has further manifested itself in the growing influence over school curricula of Dina Nath Batra. Rao’s publication list is meager—he wrote one little-noticed book 25 years ago, and has no publications in peer-reviewed journals. From the statements he has made since assuming office, it is clear he does not know the difference between fact and fiction, or between history and myth. Batra’s claims to scholarship are even more tenuous. He is of the view that when god made man, he placed the various strands of humanity in an oven—the strain taken out too early became the whites, the strain taken out too late became the blacks, the strain taken out at just the right time became the brown Indians, perfectly coloured and destined thereafter to rule the world.

The shortage of intellectual support for the Indian right grows apparent when activists such as Dina Nath Batra gain influence. SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP / Getty Images

Ramachandra Guha books include India After Gandhi and An Anthropologist Among the Marxists and Other Essays. He lives in Bengaluru.