Truschke’s supporters are also going round in circles

In the context of the controversy that Audrey Truschke, Assistant Professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in the USA, created by her abuse of Shri Ram and Laxman, there was an interesting side conversation involving Sadanand Dhume.  He tweeted:

Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) tweeted at 7:57 AM on Sat, Apr 21, 2018:
Indian elites are also generally much less religious than most Indians. In my experience (entirely anecdotal), Macaulayite Hindus are usually less connected to faith—and so less prone to defend it—than, say, many of their Pakistani Muslim peers.
(https://twitter.com/dhume/status/987518106623971333?s=03)

(Before I proceed further, I would like to clarify, as I had done in some of my articles in the past, this is not a critique of Dhume personally, but of a whole set of people who are presently thinking in the same way as he does. Thus, to me, Dhume refers to a general class and not an individual.)

Exactly who are these Indian elites is not really defined.  For the Hindutvavadis, Macaulayite Hindus are those who have no emotional connection with the history and civilisation of Bharat.  As per the Marxist line, as propagated by Romilla Thapar and other Marxist historians who have captured state institutes so that they can make a living, there is nothing that we can be proud of in our past, and so it is not worthwhile to study it.  They do not take into account Hindu civilisation is the oldest surviving civilisation. Even our vandalised monuments have a life because what originally stood there is part of our living consciousness.

Ever since the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi movement came to the centre stage starting from a little prior to 1985, and along with the the unifying force of the Maryada Purushottam, what was at the sub-conscious level has come to the fore, and Hindus, both young and old, started to express their pride in being Hindu. The Marxist interpretation was mouthed only to be able to pass an exam, but the real civilizational ethos is what people lived by.

Dhume’s contention did not go unchallenged even by those who are part of his social reality – that is those he who would meet and speak and behave in a way that he is socially comfortable with.  The exchange of conversation went as follows:

Amish Tripathi (@authoramish) tweeted at 8:05 AM on Sat, Apr 21, 2018:
True. But there is a new generation of Indians. Who are deeply liberal, in line with our ancient culture. But at the same time, will defend our culture from racist white-supremacists like @AudreyTruschke and her deliberate lies (or more likely, lack of knowledge of our Texts)
(https://twitter.com/authoramish/status/987520283987804160?s=03)

Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) tweeted at 8:22 AM on Sat, Apr 21, 2018:
I would argue that you, and a few others who straddle Western learning and Hindu piety, remain the exception rather than the rule. Many in this new generation have little knowledge and plenty of rage. And they are not liberal by any yardstick.
(https://twitter.com/dhume/status/987524464815591426?s=03)

Amish Tripathi (@authoramish) tweeted at 8:31 AM on Sat, Apr 21, 2018:
If that were so, why would my books sell in big numbers, including in Indian languages? I would argue that most young Indians are instinctively liberal & proud. They want to hear liberal modern messages. But from our own Indic and rooted voices. The won’t tolerate Elite put-downs
(https://twitter.com/authoramish/status/987526632935247872?s=03)

Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) tweeted at 8:36 AM on Sat, Apr 21, 2018:
I can’t answer that. But surely you don’t believe that everyone who reads your books is deeply knowledgeable about Hinduism, and conducts their arguments with tolerance, civility and good spelling. 🙂
(https://twitter.com/dhume/status/987527896205025280?s=03)

HindolSengupta (@HindolSengupta) tweeted at 2:32 AM on Sun, Apr 22, 2018:
As the person who wrote the first book on Hinduism to win the Wilbur Award in America – a book written in English – I would still not say that knowledge of English spellings is a criterion. The moment that becomes a filter already a lot of indigenous knowledge is being bypassed.
(https://twitter.com/HindolSengupta/status/987798671587758084?s=03)

HindolSengupta (@HindolSengupta) tweeted at 2:36 AM on Sun, Apr 22, 2018:
I agree with @authoramish that across more than a 100 lectures in India and America now, even today I am lecturing at the University of U-Champaign, I have found my readers and listeners to be open, liberal but also irritated by decades of being sniggered at.
(https://twitter.com/HindolSengupta/status/987799772848447488?s=03)

HindolSengupta (@HindolSengupta) tweeted at 2:39 AM on Sun, Apr 22, 2018:
I don’t deny that sometimes anger and lack of articulation leads to problems but it is a two-way street issue. In most cases if people are listened to and spoken to with respect, they are open-minded, liberal, and ready to embrace supple POVs.
(https://twitter.com/HindolSengupta/status/987800391034208257?s=03)

What Dhume is essentially doing is to appropriate generally understood favourable terms (liberal, progressive, secular, etc.) for himself and others of his own ideological disposition, without really defining what the terms actually mean.  This strategy of argument by labels was exposed by Sita Ram Goel a long time back. And Arun Shourie had explained the modus operandi as follows:

Nikolay Valentinov recounts Lenin telling him, ““(Georgi Valentinovich) 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.

Dhume may or may not be a Marxist, but he has learnt their methods quite well.  He did have an opportunity to meet and study the non-‘elites’ at least three times through the Ideas Conclave that India Foundation, a Sangh promoted organisations, had organised in Goa.  He was present, as a speaker and/or a moderator. And during these programmes he also heard many of those whom he calls illiberals speak and contibute to debates.

It is interesting that prior to the last Lok Sabha elections in May 2014, Dhume had tweeted:

Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) tweeted at 8:51 AM on Wed, Jul 17, 2013:
@Guri02 I agree that some Modi supporters are indeed lunatics, but many more strike me as normal, decent people seeking better governance.
(https://twitter.com/dhume/status/357339255841886213?s=03)

Even though during this period, Dhume was convinced that Narendra Modi would not become the prime minister, his mind did not seem to be fully clouded.  But today, he wants to project that those supporting Modi are, as a rule, lunatics. And when Amish Tripathi challenged him, he had to first admit he does not know, and then shift the goal-post.  However, Hindol Sengupta came out in support of Tripathi, and explained the situation that exists today. I am not sure whether Dhume will understand the change that has been happening, but one has to live in hope.

Dhume immediately followed up the above 2013 tweet with the following:

Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) tweeted at 9:09 AM on Wed, Jul 17, 2013:
@Guri02 Some of the most abusive folks here happen to support him. But this can’t plausibly account for more than a fraction of his support.
(https://twitter.com/dhume/status/357343686390067202?s=03)

Dhume is employed by the American Enterprise Institute, a supposedly conservative think-tank, based in Washington.  He is probably expected to inform others within the institute, and the readers of what they publish and listeners of their programmes, about what is happening in Bharat from a socio-political perspective.  Given his writings in the recent past it seems to me that he is not doing the job professionally. I hope he takes the comments to his tweet, and not just by Tripathi and Sengupta, in a constructive manner, and does not dismiss it all as rantings of a ‘Hindutva Troll Army’.

It would be constructive for Dhume to revisit his own article from 2015, where he said:

So instead of fantasising about making a country of 1.2 billion people look more like the sanitised confines of an Ivy League college seminar room, here’s the real question worth asking: Would India be better off if its national discourse looked more like it did before the advent of social media? For anyone interested in broadening the boundaries of free speech, the answer, quite simply, is “no”.

Issues before the society will get resolved when there is an informed discussions.  He would serve the society well if he sifts the wheat from the chaff, and engages with the normal people of Bharat.  He will find that the experience of Tripathi and Sengupta is the rule and not the exception.


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About the Author

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