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Indian right doesn’t seem interested in advancing vetted scholarship: US-based Hindutva thinktank scholar

DD Kosambi
By Rajiv Shah
A top US-based Hindutva scholar, representing a prominent pro-Narendra Modi thinktank, has regretted that right-wing historians in India have failed to develop what he calls "alternate history or even a robust theology in academia, either within India or the West." In a well-researched article titled "Saving History from Historians", Murali Balaji says, there is in fact, a "general lack of interest by most Indian academics to pursue a robust Hindu theological scholarly agenda."
Approvingly quoting editor of the right-wing journal "Open" S Prasannarajan (‘Wrongs of the Right’, July 20, 2015), Balaji says, "The Indian right doesn’t seem interested in advancing vetted scholarship, choosing instead to promote ill-qualified political patrons to head influential humanities and cultural bodies."
The comment from Murali Balaji -- who is director of the Education and Curriculum Reform at the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the pro-Modi lobby group in US, which is known to have worked with organizations like the American Jewish Committee to counter "biases" against Hindus in US -- comes when the controversy surrounding appointment of Y Sudershan Rao as chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) refuses to die down.
Reddy declared recently that the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi issue was "not a historical problem but a political one", adding that “Leftist historians” refuse to accept that Ayodhya was the birthplace of lord Ram. Reddy, who was speaking at a seminar organised by the RSS-linked Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana at National Museum, Delhi, on the Ayodhya issue, said even walking through Ayodhya's "streets" was enough to "get a feeling of living in Ramayana times… You can’t call it a myth, that’s my experience,” he added.
Balaji, on the other hand, asserts, "While there are attempts underway in the US to develop a Hindu theological approach within the academic sphere, those efforts will take years to become a force in shaping a constructive Hindu narrative. Sadly, it will take much longer in India, owing to the dominance of Marxist intellectuals in universities."
Balaji complains, "The absence of a Hindu theology is why specialised Indologists such as Wendy Doniger, whose hermeneutical approach to Hindu texts is a tiny sliver of the expanse of scholarly approaches to Hinduism, have helped propagate the power/ privilege/hegemony paradigm that has served to present Hinduism within academia (and in textbooks) as a regressive, casteist and patriarchal way of life."
Criticizing Indologists such as Doniger -- whose book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" was withdrawn by Penguins following saffron protests -- for following the "racialized" German Indologists of yesteryears, Balaji says, they "have tried to re-create a Hinduism they see as authentic, and in doing so, have only entrenched long-held misconceptions about Hindu philosophy’s application to daily practice."
Balaji believes, these Indologists are all followers of well known Marxist historian of ancient India, late Dr DD Kosambi, whom he characterizes as "one of the most influential scholars of Hindu studies. Even as calling Kosambi a "giant of Hindu studies", Balaji says, others who followed him, including Romila Thapar "zealously ignored" Hinduism’s diversity.
Balaji believes, crux of the problem lies in the fact hat Kosambi was "influenced by two types of German intellectual approaches: traditional Marxism and German Indology", which "saw as closely linked to a mythical Aryan race despoiled by ruthless Brahmins."
In fact, Balaji adds, "Indologists such as Adolf Holtzmann Jr went so far as to claim that Buddhism was the natural precursor to German Protestantism until it was maliciously attacked and destroyed by a cunning Brahmin class."
Criticizing "German Indologists" for recreating a mythical Indo-German ideal, Balaji says, they "historicised and racialised" Indian philosophy while presenting their textual interpretations (including the claim of a ‘master race’ of light-skinned Aryans invading India) as historical fact." He adds, "Most German Indologists were not just against Brahmins, they were virulent racists".
"Scholars like Thapar have relied on the literal meanings of texts (or often relied on second- hand interpretations). More contemporary Marxist approaches to Hinduism look for the hidden meanings of texts (the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, as Adluri and Bagchee call it) -- particularly their agendas of oppression and religiously sanctioned hierarchy -- without actually knowing the surface meaning of the texts,” Balaji argues.
"They also continue to rely upon a reading of Indian society as an essentialised Hindu versus non-Hindu or ‘high-caste’ versus ‘low-caste’ dichotomy (or of caste as solely a Hindu issue), playing up the idea that India is beholden to unshakeable Hindu and Brahmin hegemonies," Balaji points out.
According to Balaji, "Indian Marxist frameworks over-rely on neo-Marxist ideas of false consciousness and the formation of permanently oppressed classes. Through this narrative, Muslims, Christians, Naxals, Adivasis, Scheduled Castes and women are constantly being held in a subaltern state by the invisible power of a coordinated Hindu elite."
Singling out "Diasporic scholars" like Vijay Prashad, Sunaina Maira and Prema Kurien for this, Balaji says, their view is "often skewed by their desire to create a Hindu/Hindutva bogeyman seeking to oppress and absorb non-Hindu Indians into a homogenised Indian Diasporic identity."

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