An email conversation with Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha was on a lecture tour to some American universities.  Based on his tweets, I got the information that he was talking at three such institutions.  The first was at Stanford University, with the title “Eight Threats to Freedom of Expression in India”.  Given his past record, it was clear that his presentation would be that skies have fallen on the earth – okay, this is an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

So, I sent the following message to the organizer of the Stanford programme:

From: Ashok Chowgule [mailto:[email protected]]

Sent: 03 April 2017 9:27 PM

To: ‘[email protected]

Subject: RE your programme “Eight Threats to Freedom of Expression in India”

From:

Ashok Chowgule

Working President (External)

Vishwa Hindu Parishad,

India.

April 3, 2017.

Dear Ms Warren,

Pranam,

I am writing this letter to you not with an intention to ask you to cancel the programme, but to provide you with information that I thought relevant about the speaker, namely Ramchandra Guha.

He had announced the programme on his Twitter account, which is available at:

As of sending this message, there are some 298 comments to this tweet.  The comments, of course, are not from that many people, since some have posted more than one comment.  But, it would seem that there are some 200-odd people who have commented.  And, you will notice, that nearly all of them are negative as far as Mr Guha is concerned.

Based on my experience in reading him, and also viewing some of his talks, that he has nearly no empathy for the country that has educated him, as well as provides him with the necessary means of living.  And, this style of living is such that most people in India can only dream for their generation after next.

One of the programmes that I have seen is a talk in Canada titled: “Ramachandra Guha Ten Reasons why India will not and must not become a Superpower”.  The video is available at:

Mr Guha’s lack of empathy seeps through almost throughout his talk.

I presume you wish that the people who will come to listen to Mr Guha, and later on perhaps see the video that you would be uploading, would wish to be informed about what is really happening in India.  Given the background of Mr Guha, I would like to suggest that he is an incompetent interlocutor as far as India is concerned.

I am sure you will want your audience to get a total picture of what is happening in India.  So, at the risk of seeming to be impertinent, I would like to suggest to you, that you provide the audience with the information I have provided in this message.  And, do please share this message with Mr Guha, so that he knows that this information is provided to you.

Hope there is an interesting interaction in the programme.

I will be forwarding this message to some people who would be interested in what I have written here.

With warm regards and Namaste.

Yours truly,

Ashok Chowgule

I also forwarded the same to Berkley and Georgetown universities.  The subjects of the speech were different, but the point that I made, namely that Guha, having little empathy towards India would not be a good informant about India to the audience, would still be valid.

It would appear that at least one of the universities did forward to Guha the email that I sent them.  Enclosed is an email conversation that I have had with him on the subject. (Shri Guha’s mails are highlighted in blue, for ease of reading)


From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 11 April 2017 5:44 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Your mails

Dear Ashokji,

Your mails to the universities which hosted my talks in the US amused but mostly saddened me. The first because you were educated in the West (I was entirely educated in India, by the way), the second because the mails reflected a patriotism deeply inflected with paranoia.

Incidentally, all these talks have been delivered in many locations within India (one began life as a lecture in memory of your great compatriot Vijay Tendulkar, delivered in BJP ruled Mumbai), and all of them offered some sharp criticisms of the Congress Party and the Left. One was even titled ‘The Long Life and Lingering Death of the Indian National Congress”, and one was focused on how, by being mostly united and largely democratic, our Republic has defied the Western sceptics who wrote us off. But I suppose nuance and content do not matter much in the worlds you seem to touch. All that matter is that this particular Indian is not an apologist for Hindutva.

In sorrow, but with regards too,

Ram–
www.ramachandraguha.in

On Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 11:10 AM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear Ramchandraji,

Pranam,

With reference to your message.  It seems that since I was partially educated in the West (I did my eleventh standard in Belgaum, India) I should not have written the emails that I did.  I do not see the logic in this profiling.  Some fifteen years ago, Girish Karnad wrote to me saying that he was surprised that a person living in Kanchanjunga has accepted the RSS ideology.  I wrote to him saying that it is a matter for him to think that a person living in Kanchanjunga has accepted the RSS ideology.  I think a similar comment would apply to you in this case, don’t you think?

I also do not know why you have to highlight that the BJP was ruling when you gave a lecture in Mumbai.  I do not know what was the subject of the talk, and thus it is more intriguing that you have highlighted it.  (Incidentally, are you implying that Vijay Tendulkar is only my great compatriot, and not yours?)  As I said in my email to the organizers that it is not my intention to ask them to cancel your talk.  Contrary to what many of the so-called liberals did when they forced an American university to cancel a talk by Narendra Modi, or those who wanted Narendraji’s talk in Silicon Valley cancelled.

It is my contention that if there is anyone who wants to tell his audience about what is happening in India, he/she has to have an empathy towards India.  Empathy, I will also contend, is not being blind to the wrongs in the country.  Empathy is needed to give a proper perspective of what is happening.  I have said to the organizers that you have nearly no empathy towards India, and your speech in Canada is an example of it.  Also, I pointed out that the comments to your tweet announcing your lecture at Stanford would indicate that there are a lot of people in India who would subscribe to this view point.  I just wanted the organizers to know what I consider is your starting point.

You seem to suggest that because you have supposedly sharply criticized the Congress party, your talk on threat to freedom of expression today should be accepted by me without any objection.  My education, both in India and in the West, has equipped me to think about issues in a dispassionate manner.  Incidentally, Sadanand Dhume had tweeted, at the height of the manufactured debate on lack of freedom of expression asking how does one know about it – by reading five op-eds a week in the English media!

You are absolutely free to push your agenda at whatever forum is provided to you.  You may not like it, but there will be people like me who will dispute what you are saying whenever we feel that you are wrong.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 13 April 2017 9:25 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Dear Ashokji,

Thank you for your mail, and above all for your politeness. While you were merely chastising me (and my American hosts) with words, your fellow VHP activists were lynching our fellow compatriots in Alwar.

with best wishes

R. Guha

On Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 11:01 PM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear Ramchandraji,

Pranam,

Don’t you think that your comment ‘above all your politeness’ is rather patronizing?

Regarding the second part.  I think this is called whataboutery.  I also think that it manifests a syndrome that the Germans call vorbeireden, talking past the point.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 14 April 2017 6:26 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Dear Ashokji,

You are a busy man, so I would not expect you to read my books, but please do read this column of mine, based on my travels in January through our shared motherland:

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170204/jsp/opinion/story_133843.jsp#.WPDFgo4pDBI

And then tell me whether you still think I have no ‘empathy’ for the country I was born, educated, have always lived in and am continuously nourished by.

This is not a challenge, but a request. Please do read the link– it will take you 5-7 minutes.

with regards

R. Guha

On Sat, Apr 15, 2017 at 2:28 PM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear Ramchandraji,

Pranam,

The article in reference, according to the reading from my perspective, is like a travelogue.  It says nothing about your views on the socio-cultural aspects of our country, in particular its Hindu heritage.  I think that if one were to read only this article, one will not be able to make a judgment whether you have empathy for the country from a socio-cultural perspective.

In any case, my opinion is based on material in your lecture in Canada, and other writings.  I grant that I have my own biases, and I made my organisational identity very clear when I sent the messages to the various institutes where you were to speak.

As I said, it is entirely the prerogative of the institutes whom to invite to talk on a subject.  All that I wanted them to recognize that they should do due diligence on the speaker so that the listeners get information from a proper perspective.  For example, on the subject of freedom of expression, it is my strong opinion that you are not a person from whom the listeners will get the proper perspective.  Moreover, your alleged expertise and the fact that the supposed brand name the institutes carry, the listeners will think they are going to get a proper perspective.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 16 April 2017 4:59 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Dear Ashokji,

It seems clear that neither the Ambedkar who excoriated Hinduism in “Annihilation of Caste” nor the Bhagat Singh who wrote “Why I am an Atheist” would in your view have had the necessary “empathy” for India.

Am happy and honoured to be in that company. And lest we forget, in not equating “Hindu” with “India”, I have the Indian Constitution on my side, too.

with best wishes

Ramachandra Guha

On Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 12:36 AM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear Ramchandraji,

Pranam,

I like to apply the principle of the rule and the exception.  We in the Sangh parivar are working actively for the removal of casteism from our society – because it is the right thing to do.  At the same time, I trust you are aware of the observation of M N Srinivas that the politics of patronage, due to a policy of alleged socialism, would lead to contesting elections on the basis of dominant caste, and thus caste consciousness would increase.

Regarding Bhagat Singh.  I trust you are aware that Charvak is called a rishi in the Hindu civilisational studies.

For your information, I have read the following article of yours:

FANATICS AND HERETICS – The RSS remains close-minded and intolerant

Author: Ramachandra Guha

Publication: The Telegraph

Date: January 28, 2012

URL:    https://www.telegraphindia.com/1120128/jsp/opinion/story_15057174.jsp

And a critique of another of your artivle:

Historian Ramachandra Guha, lazy intellectualism, contrived, prejudiced — @TheJaggi

Author: R Jagannathan

Publication: Googleweblight.com

Date: February 15, 2016

URL:  http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.in/2016/02/historian-ramachandra-guha-lazy.html

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 17 April 2017 9:46 AM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

RamAchandra please, not Ramchandra. For once your manners let you down…

Jagannathan is what is known as a Modi Toadie. I am a historian (with no party or sectarian affiliation whatsoever).

On Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 5:36 PM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear RamAchandraji,

Pranam,

Please forgive me for the huge mistake that I made.  I have prostrated on the ground before I sent this message.  If you do not forgive me, I will have to commit suicide.  And I promise you that I will prostrate on the ground in front of you if we ever meet.  If I don’t, you can withdraw your forgiveness.

Re Jagannathanji.  Reminded me of the following quote:

Nikolay Valentinov recounts Lenin telling him, “Plekhanov once said to me about a critic of Marxism (I’ve forgotten his name), ‘First let us stick the convict’s badge on him, and then after that we will examine his case.’ And I think that we must ‘stick the convict’s badge’ on anyone and everyone who tries to undermine Marxism, even if we do not go on to examine his case. That’s how every sound revolutionary should react.”

Nikolay Valentino, Encounters with Lenin, London, 1968. Quoted in Arun Shourie, Eminent Historians, Delhi, 1998, p 209.

You seem to have learnt well in your formative years.

Anyway, you may be interested to know that Jagannathanji wrote, while he was with FirstPost, an article saying that Narendra Modi is another Jinnah.  He pulled it down in a day.  To the best of my knowledge, he has not written why he was wrong in his assessment.  And then, you may be interested in the following article of his:

Does the RSS have a future?

Author: R Jagannathan

Publication: Firstpost.com

Date: February 10, 2014

URL: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/the-aseemanand-fallout-does-the-rss-have-a-future-1379991.html

Again, I do not know if he has written an article saying he was wrong in his assessment.  Maybe he still believes that the RSS has lived way beyond its best-by date.  I will ask him, and if he replies, I will let you know.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 17 April 2017 5:51 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Your ‘crime’ is small; it is a common North (and East and West) Indian mistake.

Jagannathan was a MMS toadie before he became a Modi toadie. But the more important thing is that he has no scholarly depth or understanding. He is one of several journalists who regularly attack me, taking words and phrases out of context. None of them is remotely capable of writing a book based on serious or original research.

Although you do not consider me patriotic enough, I do not question your own patriotism. Your understanding of India past, present, future, may be different from mine; but I do believe that by your own lights you love for and care for our country. I wish therefore to share a genuine worry I have with you, which I have expressed in a recent interview of mine. Here I say:

“Narendra Modi is now a force of nature, a considerable figure, a man of enormous energy and ambition, and a popular leader across large parts of India. … I’ve often said that Narendra Modi would be well advised to take less advice from Amit Shah, because he [Shah] has a very ruthless approach to politics. Narendra Modi is a conflicted person, one part of Narendra Modi wants to leave a positive legacy, he’s a phenomenally intelligent man. He knows if he’s going to build a Ram Temple, history’s not going to judge him well. But if he can help generate economic growth, reduce poverty, and skill Indian citizens he will leave a positive legacy. One part of Modi wants to do this, he needs the electoral mandate, so he needs Amit Shah, who’s a masterful organiser, but Amit Shah’s whole approach to politics is instrumental and vindictive.One saw this during the UP elections, during the elections people focused on Modi’s remark about Shamshan Ghat and Kabristan – but actually a much more dangerous remark was Amit Shah’s Kasab remark, wherein he tried to be clever and say the opposing parties were like the 26/11 terrorist. The benchmark for viciousness, vendetta politics and name calling is being set by Amit Shah. This is his style of politics and in my opinion it isn’t good, even people and senior ministers in the party fear him. He inspires respect through fear not through achievement. On the other hand Modi is a mixture, he’s ferociously hard-working, he’s learnt enormously on the ground, you may not agree with his vision but he knows that there are many different dimensions to how India must develop – be it through the lens of energy policy or through the lens of economic policy. Whereas someone like Amit Shah’s only interested at winning at any cost and by whatever means.”

I do not ask for your reaction or response to this, but as you are a person of standing in the ruling Parivar, I thought I should share this with you.

Now back to the second volume of my Gandhi biography.

On Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 4:03 PM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear RamAchandraji,

Pranam,

Thank you for forgiving me.  My family will be happy to note that I do not have to commit suicide.

The email I had sent to the organizers of the Standford University programme is to inform them that it is my opinion that you have very little empathy towards India, and hence you will not be able to inform them about what is happening in our country.  That is, provided the organisers do want to know, and that they think that they should organize a programme that their audience would come out better informed.  And as a sample of why I have my opinion about you, I gave a link to your Canada speech.  The organizers are free to invite anyone they wish to do.  But then they should be prepared to get feedback about what at least some of the people think about their agenda.  And that is why I requested them to look at the comments on your tweet.

Incidentally, in an address to the national level VHP karyakartas, Bhayyaji Joshi, the Sah Sarkaryavah of the RSS, said that India does not aspire to the be a super-power but a responsible and accountable power.  I thought this was beautifully stated, and a measure to evaluate all countries, big and small, in their role in the community of nations.

Regarding your quote.  Is it about Amit Shah and really not about Narendra Modi?  When L K Advani came into greater prominence in the BJP, the ‘intellectual’ crowd started to project Atal Bihari Vajpayee as moderate.  In fact the latter was said to be the right man in a wrong party.  (In this context, I had attended a programme organized by a Sangh unit and which was honouring Atalji.  Nani Palkhiwala was the chief guest.  Naniji made the right man in a wrong party statement.  In reply, Atalji said that this is like saying the fruit is sweet, but the tree is rotten.  He added that this is botanically not possible.)

With the rise of Narendraji, Advaniji became the moderate, and he was anointed as the tallest leader of the BJP.  And that the BJP was so heartlessly ungrateful to him by not making him the face of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign.  In a message prior to the 2014 elections, you had asked why Shivraj Chouhan or Raman Singh should not be considered instead of Narendraji, since these two persons were also elected thrice as chief ministers of their respective states.  In the end, the ‘liberals’ wanted anyone except Modi.

I had said before that I would like to follow the rule not the exception.  So a paragraph here or there is not going to influence me when I look at the total body of evidence.  Within the Sangh I have different perspectives on maybe some 5% of the issues that they are taking up.  I express my perspective with confidence that they will be taken with due seriousness.  The Sangh perspective may not change, but they know that whatever I have said is with the full interest of the ideology of the Sangh at heart.  I enjoy my work with the Sangh.

I recently wrote the following article:

Yogi tips the ‘liberals’ over the cliff

Author: Ashok Chowgule April 14, 2017

http://www.hindupost.in/politics/yogi-tips-the-liberals-over-the-cliff/

I have used an article written by Sadanand Dhume to offer my comments.  The article and the individual, I have stated, are used in generic terms.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 18 April 2017 4:24 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Dear Ashok ji,

Thank you for your mail.

Since you are still so upset and obsessed about that speech I made in Canada, let me alert you that (as always) I first outlined my views in the Motherland, in a cover story for Outlook a full two years previously. And I agree with the remarks of your colleague that India should be a responsible and accountable power.

I wish you well in your endeavour to humanize the Sangh.

Thank you for your time.

Ram


The last message indicated to me that he did not want to continue the conversation, and so I have not replied to it.  I wanted to send him the following:

QUOTE

My perception of your Canada speech would not have been different even if you had expressed these views in Timbuktu.

Since you agree with what Bhayyaji said, I hope it will be your theme in the future, instead of talking about super powers.  And I also hope you will also dwell on what I have said, namely: “I thought this was beautifully stated, and a measure to evaluate all countries, big and small, in their role in the community of nations.”

RE your comment: “I wish you well in your endeavour to humanize the Sangh.”  Don’t you think this too is patronizing?

UNQUOTE

There was also a following brief side conversation:


Sent: 17 April 2017 9:48 AM

To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Please see this article:
https://thewire.in/124685/rss-hindutva-nationalism/

On Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 8:40 PM, Ashok Chowgule <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear RamAchandraji,

Pranam,

There is nothing new in this article.  These allegations have been made in the past, and they have been responded to.

Incidentally, the chief promoter of The Wire is an expatriate, Siddharth Vardarajan, with no present institutional financial support.  He was earlier the editor of The Hindu.  Of course, his wife has an institutional financial support, namely Delhi University.  Since a man working at such institutions can support his wife, the other way round will also be possible.  I know this expatriate has a lucrative deal going with the Rajya Sabha TV, along with at least one of his partners in The Wire, M K Venu, whose conversations with Nira Radia are in the public domain.

Siddharthji is one of the many expatriates in Lutyen’s Delhi who have deep antipathy towards India.  Yet, they insist that the people of India pay them to live their lifestyles.  These expatriates only competence is that they live in Delhi, where they can spend one-third of what they would do in their home countries.  And in their home countries they would have to work really hard to make a living.

Incidentally, I am told that to apply for a US citizenship, there is an item asking for a declaration whether the applicant has been associated with any communist organizations in the past.  I wonder what Siddharthji filled in this part of the application.

Namaste.

Ashok Chowgule

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 17 April 2017 8:50 PM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Now you are adopting the Plekhanov model!

Do read my other mail (about the BJP Party President) even if you don’t respond to it.


I think the quality of the so-called intellectuals in India is abysmally low.  As I have said before, I carry my own institutional bias when I say something like this.  This conversation is being provided to the readers to decide for himself/herself whether I have merit in my allegation.

Postscript

After the article was published in HinduPost, Ramachandraji sent me the following message:

From: Ramachandra Guha [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 23 April 2017 9:36 AM
To: Ashok Chowgule
Subject: Re: Your mails

Making a private email conversation public without the permission of your correspondent is profoundly unethical.

To which I responded:

From: Ashok Chowgule [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 23 April 2017 10:14 AM
To: ‘Ramachandra Guha’
Subject: RE: Your mails

Dear RamAchandraji,
Pranam,

On the subject concerned, neither you nor I are private persons.  I sent my message to the organizers of your programme in my capacity as a very senior office bearer of VHP.  And I made some points on a person who was at the programme based on his supposedly public intellectual capacity.  You represent a group of people who I think have deep empathy towards India. And the tragedy is that the people of India have financed your education
which you have used to give yourself a false aura of being knowledgeable about India.  You continue to make a living off the people of India, but have no loyalty to them.

And one who claims to be a lapsed Marxist but is willing to give a grant of nearly Rs 2 crores to an organsiation that has been started by a hard-core Marxist, is no authority on ethics.

Namaste.
Ashok Chowgule

(Note for clarification:  The grant was given not by RamAchandraji himself, but by Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation, in which he is trustee.  Please visit the website of the foundation: http://ipsmf.org/
to know more about the foundation, its other trustees, as well as the donors.)

About the Author

Ashok Chowgule
Working President (External), Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bharat.
  • truth prevails

    Extremely sad that a man of Ram Guha’s stature has to go outside India to try to preach why India must remain a downtrodden state & a failure!
    Perhaps the time has come for introspection as to why India has been at a low ebb for so many decades and why there is fear amongst those (leftists included) who were instrumental in ensuring this dismal state. The recent flow and growth that will lead to a zenith, making India an even bigger superpower than it is today, is indeed scaring those who betray their motherland & speak about her in a negative way…

    • yaji

      The problem is that Ram Guha is being treated as a man with Stature whereas his entire claim to being a historian is being a boot licker of Nehru-Gandhi clan and peddling falsehoods with zero remorse. Unfortunately these guys get a platform to perform their drama allover because it is their ilk who occupy positions that matter to give these guys such openings.

      And this same guy is now chief of BCCI…speaks volumes about the whole rotten system in India

      • Bharathi Suta

        Absolutely. This Guha started off as a “cricket historian” whatever that means. In India, a lot of people know a lot about the history of Cricket, and Guha was one of them. Next, he started writing mythology about Gandhi-Nehru, and became a boot licker of that clan as yaji says. That was his shrewd move to gain stature among the powers that be. He is no historian. The joker does not even probably know the century that Shivaji was born!

        • yaji

          as long as he knows when Aurangazeb was born, it suffices his needs. Shivaji was just a small time war lord as per these left lib historians and given a choice they may even label him a tyrant worse than Aurangazeb but unfortunately for them there are folklores and also a community who worship Shivaji who will not tolerate such things said openly so he is keeping quiet.

          Bharathi always had this misfortune of her children being traitors many a times in history and he is one such child.

  • Satish N

    If west hosting these mediocre LW ( Liberal a misnomer as no Leftist can never be Liberal) BreakIndia forces of all hues, its the mistake of successive Indian Governments and more so, Nationalist ModiGov. Why?
    For US funds, Corporates there is no better market than India now, but Indian bureaucracy fed Govt behaves as if FDI alone runs this Nation and so we surrender to MNCs. But FDI is just 8% of our NDP as our Nation run by domestic savings in different forms. So take a leaf out of China’s FDI policy… China allowed FDI with one condition, don’t speak on our human rights (violation), MNCs mouthshut.

    With all the advantages now, India can put a simple condition, dont engage, sponser, nurture BreakingIndia forces. Simple! these sootiyas go out of job, die naturally. Don’t underestimate, US corporates’ hold over UScongress. Address the root of the problem. But alas, Modi not listening to our own Economists Gurumoorthy, RVaidyanathan but UPA Babus.