On intellectual arrogance and egoism


Kshirod Nag

kshirod nagTo engage with the 'three responses' by Nivedita Menon, Partha Chatterjee and Sudipto Kaviraj to Perry Anderson's Indian Ideology (Verso, 2013) is quite an interesting exercise. Not exactly for any rich content or explanations by these 'acclaimed' intellectuals of our times, but more for the kind of approaches they have adopted to 'attack' Anderson's writing. Their approaches would certainly make a typical Indian very happy, one who can't tolerate if the 'idea of India' is to be called a recent phenomena, if Gandhi is referred to as a misleading figure and a 'religious-politician' (my expression), and if the Nehruvian era is considered to be the founding principle for perpetuating the 'draconian democracy' in India. Even the typical Indian can't be silent, if allegations are made against its intelligentsia for foregrounding the same spirit of Gandhi and Nehru, for producing hegemonic literatures. 

The 'three responses' have accused Anderson for not being ethical in his intellectual pursuits, for not citing 'expected' references in his book and for claiming himself to be original in his propositions, or a 'plagiarist' (Menon's implicit expression). As per the 'responses', a large part of Anderson's arguments had already been made by the Indian intellectuals prior to his analysis on the subcontinent. In this regard, the 'three responses' have specifically celebrated the contributions of- a) Sub-altern studies, b) Dalit and Bahujan literatures and c) Marxist literature. Then, how can Anderson be original? Further, it is said, Anderson has made some statements out of ignorance on the issues of communalism and AFSPA. So many adjectives are added to Anderson's credit, such as, 'ignorant', 'childish', 'unethical', ethnocentric, patroniser' and even a saviour/apologist of colonialism (British imperialism).

On the question of originality

 The conceptual categories used by the Indian intellectuals like Ranjit Guha, Gyanendra Pandey, Dipesh Chakravarthy, Partha Chatterjee and others (Subaltern studies group) to study Indian society, are European inventions. Hence, those concepts are derivative in nature. The term 'subaltern' itself is a product of a European, Antonio Gramsci. The concepts like 'bourgeoisie', 'dominance' and 'hegemony', which are so popularly used by this group, were born in Europe and were tactfully utilised by these people with little modification in India. The subaltern scholars like Ranjit Guha and his associates, almost all of them settled in the USA (a capitalist nation), are huge critics of European union in general and Britain in particular and the reason behind that has political underpinnings (the academia is political). The projects they undertake are sponsored and financed by the government of USA and one of the projects they are curiously involved with is 'Subaltern Studies' to thrash 'European version of Imperialism', notwithstanding the local South Asian problems (caste, culture and religion). Even when they do talk about the local problems, they end up blaiming colonialism as the main culprit. 

 On the question of Patronisation on Ambedkar

Nivedita Menon, (a self-proclaimed Marxist Feminist) in her allegations against Anderson, has mentioned that Anderson has patronised Ambedkar by praising his intellectual upbringing in British Columbia and London School of Economics. Menon's allegation reminds me of Indian intellectuals and politicians patronising Ambedkar, which is, in fact, a very recent phenomena. The political and academic articulations of Dalits and Backward Classes have put moral pressure on 'others' to talk on the local issues (till the 1990s, 'others' were reluctant to talk about caste). Even today, the so-called Marxists and liberals accuse the Dalit movement inspired by Phule-Ambedkar as an identity based divisionary politics. Nevertheless, it is good to now see both intellectuals like Menon and political parties like BJP cherishing Ambedkar and his legacy in contemporary times. However, this needs to be understood as the politics of patronisation and appropriation.



 Kshirod Bihari Bharat Nag is pursuing PhD in Sociology from JNU, New Delhi. He is working on Dalits, politics and Public Sphere in contemporary India. He also takes interest in other pertinent issues like gender, religion, culture, etc. He is basically from Odisha.

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