Who is Ramachandra Guha?

Another member of the Khan Market Gang (Bengaluru Branch) has positioned himself to play a role of the victim.  Coming out on the streets to protest when there are prohibitory orders does demand that the state take suitable action.  Else the writ of the state will always be considered to be weak.

One such person is Ramachandra Guha who got himself arrested for two hours for making an illegal protest, on the streets of Bengaluru, against the Citizenship Amendment Act.  A person of Tamil ancestry, Guha was born in Dehradun (1958) and had his early life in the town, where his father worked at the Forest Research Institute.  Guha finished his school at the very elitist The Doon School, and then moved to Delhi to do undergraduate in economics at another elitist education institute, St Stephens College.  A third elitist institute, the Delhi School of Economics, awaited him for his masters.  And then a fourth, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkatta, where he did a fellowship programme on social history of forestry.

Given the state of the economy during the period of his studies, and the very limited opportunity to get an education just above basic, it can be well said that Guha has had a privileged life.  Except for The Doon School, an expensive private school, the rest of his education would be highly subsidized through the taxes collected from the people of Bharat, including the poor.

After this illustrious education experience, Guha made a smooth transition to become a historian on issues relating to the current affairs of Bharat.  And acquired for himself the aura of being an internationally famous commentator on what is happening in Bharat.

One of his forays has been to give a talk at the International Development Research Centre, Canada, in April 2010.  The title was: “Ten Reasons why India will not and must not become a Superpower”.  The total of 83 minute programme is available here.

The introduction at the link above says: “This talk will critically scrutinize the claims made on behalf of India, and in particular the belief, held by some Westerners and perhaps by many Indians, that India is a coming superpower. It will acknowledge the durability, against the odds, of India’s national unity and of its democracy. It will appreciate the recent surge in economic growth. At the same time, it will provide a critical analysis of the deep fault-lines within Indian society, politics, economics, and culture, to conclude that the talk of India’s imminent rise to superstardom is highly premature.”

Now, I do not know if the people of Bharat were ever asked if they would like to be considered to be a superpower.  Considering their priorities then, probably most would say that this can wait.  However, for the peer group of Guha (known as the Khan Market Gang) such talks are a means to earn a livelihood to maintain a life style that, even today, most of the people of Bharat would aspire for, but know that it is only their generation after next will realistically achieve.

In any case, I do not know if other countries that have already reached superpower status fulfil most of the ten conditions that Guha has set out for his motherland.  So, in the end, Guha comes out as a person with deep antipathy towards the nation that has provided him so much, and sees no obligation to give anything back in return.  He fits in well with the other members of the Gang.

Interestingly, the title also strongly recommends that Bharat must not become a superpower.  I did not know that the world needed a certificate from Guha for this purpose.

To really understand his journey towards this antipathy, I would like to quote a long portion from an article that I wrote on why I think that the frequently made comment that there is no intellectualism in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is without any merit.  The RSS was founded in 1925 to propagate an ideology that its founders had formulated.  It is called Hindutva, and it is based on the ancient Hindu civilisational and cultural ethos, but making it always relevant to the current needs of the people and the nation.  And it has gone about its task by being with the people, and receiving financial support from the people.  Not only has it shunned getting financial support from the government, it has experienced active opposition from various governments since its foundation.  It is only in the recent past that the opposition has been reduced.  My contention is that without a strong intellectual content, mere emotion would not have enabled the RSS to not only survive, but also to grow to its present status in society.

This article (dated August 2015) is available at: http://hvk.org/specialarticles/sangh/sangh.html

One of the important point that I made in the article was how the leftists in general, and Marxists in particular, weaselled their way to capture state institutes which are supposed to provide intellectual capital for society.  I have used three articles by Guha to explain my point.

“To explain my point, I would like my reader to read the following articles by Ramchandra Guha:

In Absentia (Date: March 1, 2015)

URL: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/absentia-ramachandra-guha-indian-conservatives

Some thoughts on the closing of the Indian mind (Date: July 19, 2015)

URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/ramachandraguha/some-thoughts-on-the-closing-of-the-indian-mind/article1-1370821.aspx

CAPTIVE IDEOLOGUES – History beyond Marxism and Hindutva (Date: July 26, 2015)

URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140726/jsp/opinion/story_18640785.jsp#.VbSyX-GuW1k

I am deliberately using one person to make my case, because I have had correspondence with him in the past, and I attempted to put across to him the Sangh world-view on certain matters.  And I met him once in Mumbai in a meeting lasting about two hours.  Some time ago, he requested me not to send him any messages, and my messages to him have stopped.  However, reading the comments on the articles that he has written, there seem to be sufficient number of people who are giving him perspectives that came to my mind.  (Provided, of course, he does read the comments.)

Guha’s twitter introduction says that he is a lapsed Marxist.  I have not been able to find out when he lapsed, and I really do not see his writing to be any different from what a Marxist would write – though, perhaps due to the pressure from the social media, he does deviate from the party line once in a while.  But, he always seems to revert.  Given the way Guha admires the Marxists that are mentioned in the article, he does not seem to have taken the necessary steps to critically assess Marxist ideology.

In one of the articles, Guha talks about how in 2004 a senior minister took a senior journalist for lunch, where the minister asked for names for the ‘directorship of a prestigious centre of historical research’.  No names were given, so we just have to take Guha’s word that it was a prestigious centre.  Nor will we dwell much on why the views of a journalist (name unknown) were sought for the position, instead of doing a professional search.  It reminds me of the phone conversations that the ex-lobbyist, Nira Radia, had with journalists like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, etc.

What Guha says next is quite interesting – maybe amusing is the right word.  His name was rejected because he wrote critically about Indira Gandhi, and that of Partha Chatterjee (a ‘distinguished political theorist’) met a similar fate because the latter wrote critically about Jawaharlal Nehru.  Since we do not know the name of the institute, the nation has lost an opportunity to identify the Nehru-Gandhi sycophant who eventually made the grade.  And an opportunity to evaluate his professional contribution to the ‘prestigious’ centre.  Maybe Guha can let the nation know.  If nothing else, it would be interesting gossip.

In another article, Guha talks about his first job as a supposed academic at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata, a state funded institution.  He lets out that early into the job, in an interaction with a senior colleague, the latter assumed that Guha was a Marxist.  (Perhaps it was true at the time, and that Guha lapsed only some years later.)  Furthermore, he clearly says that this colleague was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and he did not seem to see anything wrong that a state institution is manned with card-carrying members of the communist party.

Perhaps inadvertently, Guha lets out that ‘(a)t least since the time of Indira Gandhi, the Central government has sought to undermine the autonomy of institutions that promote culture and scholarship.’  I do not know whether Guha wrote anything substantially about the undermining while it was happening.  What is clear is that he does not dwell on the effect of the undermining today, except to state that there was undermining.  He brings it up only in context of proclaiming that the RSS’ supposed attempt to undermine the integrity of institutions will lead to a disastrous situation.  As if we are presently in a land of milk and honey, where academic freedom reigns, and high quality professional research is being undertaken.

There are many other tit-bits that we can glean from the above three articles about how the Marxists used the state funded institutions to try and thrust their ideology.  He admits that the leftists were allowed to capture the state institutions where one would normally find intellectuals, and that this was done with a political objective in mind.  And he also says that only fellow-travellers had any hope of being admitted in the supposedly hallowed portals.

However, there is a common thread that even though it was a fact that the autonomy of the various institutes was undermined, the sycophants were actually quite competent in their field of work.  Not the best perhaps, but competent nevertheless.  But the reader just has to take Guha’s word that one can be competent and a sycophant at the same time.  For example, if post-independent history of India is not critical of the Nehru-Gandhi family, even where there is a legitimate reason, how can the history be unbiased?  Of course, hindsight is perfect vision – but a society can learn from its mistakes only when it is admitted that the mistakes were made in the first place.

At one place, Guha says: “Marxist historiography is a legitimate model of intellectual enquiry, albeit one which — with its insistence on materialist explanations — is of limited use when examining the role of culture and ideas, the influence of nature and natural processes, and the exercise of power and authority.”  How is it possible that a legitimate model is at the same time of limited use when it comes to applying it to so many different strands of inquiry?  Such statements, and many others, makes me conclude that Guha comes out as a confused person, drifting all over the place, and unwilling to admit that a major mistake has happened.  The articles come out as written by one who has a reasonably good command over the English language, but not so much on logic or reasoning.  Of course, I read it from my lens of being right-wing.”

Guha is completely free to have an ideology.  He is completely free to be a confused person.  But he should remember what the people of Bharat have done for him, and that his loyalty is to these people and not his ideology.

Additional reading

An email conversation with Ramachandra Guha (April 22, 2017)


(Featured Image Source: indianexpress.com)


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About the Author

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