The American business publication, Wall Street Journal dated March 30, 2017, carried an article by Sadanand Dhume (a regular columnist for the paper) titled “The Revival of India’s Identity Politics”. I responded to it in an article titled “Yogi tips the ‘liberals’ over the cliff” on April 14, 2017, published in a web-based Bharatiya journal, which is available at:
Prior to offering my critique, I had said that I am treating both the author of the WSJ article, and the article itself, as generic, since there have been many others who wrote on the same lines using the cut and paste technology to give an impression that it is a new article. And hence my response is also to be read as generic.
Six weeks later, on May 4, Dhume comes out with another article in the same publication titled “Who’s Killing India’s Secularism?” (https://www.wsj.com/articles/whos-killing-indias-secularism-1493920175). The introduction to the article says: “To beat Hindu extremists, India’s secularists need to champion equality before the law and accept that radical Islam is a problem.”
What Dhume seems to be saying is that if these ‘Hindu extremists’ were not around to be beaten (I presume he means in an election, and not physically), then Bharat’s secularists could merrily go about what they have been doing so far – champion inequality before the law, and not accept that radical Islam is a problem. Radical Islam should be dealt with on its own merit – namely the huge harm that it causes to the whole society, including those that say are the followers of Islam but are not radical. Also, radical Islam is a problem all over the world, even where the ‘Hindu extremists’ do not exist. If Dhume represents the quality of analysts that are employed by think-tanks in the USA, at least when it comes to issues relating to Bharat, then it is no wonder that the policy makers in that country have been so seriously misled that they thought that cancelling Narendra Modi’s visa in 2005 would actually be in the interest of the USA.
Maybe I am being harsh here. However, the reasoning that the behaviour of the secularists has to change because otherwise there will be a further rise of the BJP, is something that is often bandied around, and is really quite absurd. It also dilutes the effort to find an enduring solution to the flawed situation.
Dhume contradicts himself
In his latest article, Dhume goes all over the place and contradicts himself. For example, he says: “A country long synonymous with pluralism may end up marginalizing its 172 million-strong Muslim minority, the largest Muslim population in the world outside Indonesia and Pakistan.” Is it Dhume’s contention that prior to the advent of the present National Democratic Alliance (led by the Bharatiya Janata Party) in power three years ago, Bharat was synonymous with pluralism and that this state of bliss was shattered overnight? And that the Muslims were well integrated and are now under serious threat of being marginalised?
He then goes on to say: “For starters, secularists in the media and politics need to acknowledge that their model has failed.” So, can Dhume set out the parameters of this failed model? And, besides Dhume, do the secularists admit the failure? Did it need a rise of the BJP to the centre stage of Bharat’s politics to make the secularists realise that they were propagating a failed model?
Dhume says: “Mr. Adityanath’s elevation shows that the party has done a poor job of sidelining extremists who do not distinguish between the majority of peaceful Muslims and a radicalized minority.” This supposedly poor job has been an allegation of the secularists for a long time, and based on stray instances of violence which is very often a reaction to violence inflicted on the Hindus. But, Dhume does contend that the secularists have done a poor job in not recognising radical Islam is a problem. The secularists have all the time being claiming that the Muslims (even the peaceful ones) should not vote for the BJP, because the party is a threat to their well-being. So, if anyone is not making the distinction, it is Dhume and the other secularists.
At the end of the article, Dhume writes: “A retooled Indian secularism would recognize these deficiencies…. Secularists need to be tough on both terrorism and Islamism while nonetheless striving to ensure that Muslims are treated fairly as equal citizens. Unless they can find a way to do this, they should expect to give up more ground to the likes of (Yogi) Adityanath.”
There is no solution being offered. Instead of a rant against the BJP in general, and Yogi in particular, I wonder if the publication realises that its readers would be better served if a prescription for the way ahead was provided. Stating the nature of the problem is necessary. But that by itself is not sufficient to come out with enduring solutions.
Dhume’s past writings
As in the case of the previous article dated April 14, the Internet Hindus did seriously dispute much that Dhume wrote. In particular, they pointed out his past writings to contend that his knowledge about Bharat is cursory at best. Or they are based on interlocutors, even those based in Bharat, who are clueless about the happenings in Bharat at the socio-political level. The Internet Hindus contend that this situation is because the reference point of the secularists is what happens in Lutyen’s Delhi and the impact on the election fortunes of any political party. Rarely is there any discussion about what is good for the nation or the society.
One of his articles referred to is:
“Prime Minister Modi Won’t Fly”, The Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2010
The introduction to this article is: “Despite heading arguably India’s best run state, Gujarat’s chief minister should shelve his ambition to lead the country.”
Dhume probably could not be blamed for this statement, which, in hindsight, does appear arrogant. However, his recent comment on this article is:
So, instead of introspecting what he wrote then, based on the knowledge that he should have acquired over the last seven years, he actually thinks he was being relatively nice to Narendra Modi in this article. If this be the standard of niceness, then one can imagine the ugliness that others would have written! Incidentally, Dhume has tweeted that, in 2010, only lunatics predicted that Modi would be the prime minister. Given that the Internet Hindus have been working for this goal, as part of the larger project of a resurgent Hindu society, the country, Bharat must be filled with lunatics!
Interestingly, Rupa Subramanya (who would be loathe to call herself as Internet Hindu, and the Internet Hindus would be loathe to consider her as one) pointed out to Dhume another article he wrote on Modi, namely:
“Go Go Gujarat”
Author: Sadanand Dhume
Date: January 20, 2011
He ends the article with something that the Internet Hindus would be proud of, namely: “By appealing to pan-Gujarati pride, he has largely transcended the caste equations that marked Gujarat politics in the 1980s and still define elections—and the flawed policies that flow from them—in much of India. In the end, most states can’t hope to replicate, at least not overnight, Gujarat’s entrepreneurial culture and sensible attitudes toward wealth creation. But other elements of the state’s model—strong leadership, anti-corruption efforts, a streamlined bureaucracy and a welcoming attitude toward business—can travel without damage across its borders. And Mr. Modi, Gujarat’s longest-serving chief minister, is proof that good governance can also be good politics. The sooner more states figure this out, the better it will be for India.”
But Dhume, even in hindsight, dismisses this with:
There is another article of Dhume which is more in line with talking about how the secularists in Bharat have been pampering the Islamists:
“The Trouble with Dr. Zakir Naik”
Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2010
The very first sentence (“If you’re looking for a snapshot of India’s hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Bombay-based cleric Dr. Zakir Naik.”) gives the essence of the article. In the article, Dhume pointed out that The Indian Express in the beginning of 2010, put Naik as the 89th most powerful person in India, ahead of Prof Amartya Sen. Later Dhume writes: Senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest last year as a “rock star of televangelism” who teaches “modern Islam” and “his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”
Dhume did tweet a reference to this article. However, the problem is that he did not pursue this line of inquiry, except for some stray reference now and then. Clearly he should have recognised that the system has become flawed quite some time ago, and not with the advent of the BJP in power in 2014, or the election of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Here is another example of not being consistent in his arguments.
A conversation with Kanchan Gupta
Going all over the place seems to be a feature of the way Dhume writes about issues. In April 2014, he had a twitter conversation with Kanchan Gupta, a senior columnist based in Delhi, and one who openly admits his bias in favour of the BJP. Gupta pointed out to Dhume that the latter’s position is that Modi should not be the prime minister of Bharat, which Dhume accepted as a correct reading of his position. Dhume also said that if he changed this position he would let Gupta know. However, after his article of March 30, Dhume has accepted that Modi was the best choice for the prime minister. But then he uses this judgement to say that Modi is spoiling his long-term image with the election of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
In the same conversation, Dhume pointed to Gupta that the latter had predicted the 2012 UP state elections wrong, when Gupta predicted that the BJP would win. Gupta said that he had publicly admitted that he was wrong. Dhume then tweeted: Brilliant! You “admitted” that you were wrong about BJP winning UP in 2012. (As though nobody would have noticed otherwise.)
But today, Dhume wants to pretend that nobody would notice the inconsistencies in his old writings and also in what he is saying today.
Dhume claims that because he has raised issues relating to cow vigilantism, the Internet Hindus have raked up his past articles, selectively, to project his anti-Modi pronouncements. Now, is this not a case of shooting the messenger, and not deal with the message, as pointed out by the Internet Hindus? And, if the articles are claimed to have been raked up selectively, then does it mean that Dhume thinks that he has been an unbiased observer of Bharat’s politics and dispassionately analysed Modi?
Moreover, Dhume thinks that there is a huge threat of what is called cow vigilantism happening after Modi became the prime minister of Bharat, and it seriously accelerated since Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. In an old tweet from October 2015, when there was the whole narrative about freedom of expression is under threat, Dhume wrote: “How do we know freedom of expression in India is dead? By reading eight op-eds and watching three angry TV debates about it every day.”
So, to answer Dhume, all that is needed is to appropriately paraphrase his own tweet. Dhume should disabuse his mind if he thinks that the Internet Hindus will roll over and play dead.
There have been a few other run-ins that Dhume had with others, which lend credence to my contention that he is going all over the place and also being inconsistent.
A cursory reading on secularism in Bharat
If Dhume had even made a cursory reading of the way secularism is practiced in Bharat, it would have been clear to him that the only criteria that is required is that one has to be opposed to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in general, and the BJP in particular. Even today, Dhume would find that the label applied to the disparate parties that wish to come together to contest the elections against the BJP as a secular front. Secularism in Bharat does not relate to what the term actually stands for, but only in context of the position of the individual or group vis-à-vis the RSS.
He would have realised that a couple of sociologists, T N Madan and Asish Nandy, had written an article each suggesting that there is a flawed model of secularism in place. Such line of inquiry was not accepted by the mandarins of the secularism project, and the two had to tuck their tails between their legs and run. They were intellectually terrorised and dropped any further thinking on the line that they had started. In fact, one of them, Madan, was forced to write: “A couple of my critics have, however, jumped to the conclusion that, since I have reservations about secularism as presented in the prevailing discourse, I must therefore by a supporter of communalism. This is patently absurd.” [“Secularism and the Intellectuals”, Economic and Political Weekly, April 30, 1994.]
In the democratised discourse due to advent of social media, Dhume need not be afraid of an accusation of being a communalist or an Internet Hindu. The latter will loudly proclaim that they do not accept him as a member of their group.
A suggestion to Dhume
Considering that he occupies an important place in a USA based think-tank, American Enterprise Institute, Dhume has to make a sincere effort to be internally consistent in what he writes today, and also consider what he has written in the past. Since he has an agenda where truth has little role to play, I would like to make the following suggestion to Dhume, which will enable him to achieve his goal.
In your articles, I find that you do not make your case in an internally consistent manner. At the risk of being impertinent, I would like to suggest to you that meditation may have helped you to do so. Here is my suggestion.
Find a nice, clean and cool place. Place a mat on the floor, and sit in a lotus position. This is a required position for meditation to be effective. Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly chanting the word OM. Do it three times. It will relax your mind, and calm it down to think clearly. Then you can start your meditation about how exactly you will put out your case. Think about every point that you would like to make, and ensure that it does not contradict something else you may wish to say. Be ready with answers to the questions that will certainly be asked by the Internet Hindus. Make an assumption that these Internet Hindus know what they are talking about, since a lot of real scholarship has always been happening outside the mainstream institutes. You may not wish to acknowledge them in your writings, and continue to lace your article with adjectives that you are an expert in. But making the assumption will let you anticipate the questions, so that you are ready with your answers. All this will take some time – not much, and you may have to sacrifice an evening out with your friends for a beer or whatever. But it may work.
However, the process of meditation could lead to an epiphany – meaning, as defined in a dictionary, a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization. Something horrible (from your perspective) may happen – a thought may occur to you that perhaps your perverted case is cheating the readers of the publication that pays you to write for them, and that you should be truthful. You may well think that this will create a huge set of problems. People, including your employer, may well question your scholarship for having got this gyan (knowledge) only now, while you were expected to track the happenings on a real-time basis. If you want to brazen it out, you will have to prepare a really plausible explanation, rather than admit that it was just laziness and believing in people who you know had an agenda. Meditation could help you make the case.
Then there is a third situation that can arise because of the epiphany. You may realise that the story you will have to set out is really very convoluted, and that it is best to confess that you were wrong all this time, and that it was incompetence bred out of a belief that you would be able to get away with it. The advantage of this admission would be that you would be at peace with yourself.
So, the next time you write an article on what is happening in Bharat, you may wish to try what I have suggested. You can then choose which of the three alternatives above you are most comfortable with. And live with the consequence of the reaction from your publishers, your ideological colleagues, your peer group, and, most importantly, from your readers.
Yours in dharma,
Working President (External)
Vishwa Hindu Parishad,
Dhume should understand the ground below the feet of those occupying the intellectual mainstream is shifting, and to be relevant he really needs to do serious introspection. Perhaps in a moment of sanity, he did recognise the happening in his article “Despite their flaws internet trolls represent the democratisation of discourse in India” (The Times of India, December 18, 2015, ). It is well worth a read in full, particularly by Dhume, in the present context.
Like the scoundrels who pretended to be weavers of a magic fabric in the Hans Anderson fable “Emperor’s New Clothes”, the ‘intellectuals in Bharat pretended to weave a magical cloth of secularism. If a person does not see it, then he is quite simply stupid. In the fable, it took a young boy to point out that the scoundrels did not weave a fabric. In Bharat, it has taken the Internet Hindus to point out the flawed secularism that the ‘intellectuals’ tried to thrust on the people of Bharat.
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