I am writing in response to Ananya Vajpeyi’s article, India’s Modillectual Movement, which was carried by your newspaper some days ago.
I found it very ironic that Ms Vajpeyi who authored The Righteous Republic tries to claim a moral high ground by attacking Narendra Modi.
The title of Ananya Vajpeyi’s book declaring India as a “Righteous Republic” and the arguments she makes therein, confirm that she is a staunch Indian nationalist who promotes a hegemonic understanding of Indian nationalism. Her main argument in The Righteous Republic is that the so-called makers of modern India like Nehru, Ambedkar were primarily inspired by ancient Indian political thought and not by Western political tradition in their struggle to liberate what was to become the modern state of India.
This line of thought has long been advocated by right-wing Indian intellectuals, which has blindly privileged ancient Indian tradition and political philosophy. This route has also been taken by the so-called left-liberal intellectuals in India, who tend to privilege ancient Indian tradition as the authentic Indian national self, and as the fount of imagination for Indian anti-colonial resistance.
Upper caste Indian writers like Ms. Vajpeyi, who claim to be left-liberal, have been actually the force behind the construction of the grand Indian national narrative. Not surprisingly, when a towering historian like Perry Anderson critiqued the Idea of India and unveiled the fallacies of the Indian national project, Ananya Vajpeyi wrote an apologia in honor of Indian nationalism and rejected Anderson’s nuanced scholarly critique as simply a case of White Eurocentricism.
Thus, the Indian cultural elite, or call it the CSDS crowd, like Partha Chatterjee, Ashish Nandy, Rajiv Bharghava etc, who consider themsleves as left-liberal or secular, and newly-emerging voices like Ananya Vajpeyi, in their zeal to give agency to the “Indian nation,” often tend to promote the idea of a proto-Indian nationalism, which traces its roots to the so-called great Indian tradition in ancient India, and as such not as a nationalism that emerged as a modern phenomenon in the colonial encounter. Thus, these so called liberal and secular intelligentsia provide succour to the Hindu nationalist projections of so-called ancient India as India’s golden period.
The only difference between Ananya Vajpeyi’s and right-wing writer Arun Shouri’s discourse is that Vajpeyi privileges ancient Indian tradition or the Hindu tradition and reads it as Indian, whereas sangh parivar intellectuals call it a plain Hindu tradition. Modi’s rapid mainstreaming and rise to stardom has been only possible in the wake of an Indian nationalist intellectual project which has branded itself secular and constructed the idea of an India as a syncretic civilization but at the same time refused to see that the core of the Indian civilizational idea has been Hindu, which has been rendered as hegemonic to the extent that it is taken for granted as “secular.” Not surprisingly, national imaginings of Indian nationalists, be it the case of the so-called secular India as a civilizational entity or Hindu nationalists idea of an Akhand Bharat, overlap in the case of borders of an imagined historic India.
Ananya Vajpeyi, who in her search for an authentic Indian national self, privileges Indian Hindu tradition as the main source of inspiration for the makers of Modern India, is only affirming the Hindu nationalist ideas of Indian cultural nationalism. This also exposes the shallowness of the Indian intellectual class, who talk endlessly of Indian secularism, an idea that serves to mask the dominant Hindu ethnos of Indian nationhood.