Home » News » Opinion » For Entitled Academics, Vikram Sampath is Not the Chief Problem, It is Modi and BJP
6-MIN READ

For Entitled Academics, Vikram Sampath is Not the Chief Problem, It is Modi and BJP

The new discourses are not for the sake of revisiting the established narrative, but to benefit Modi and the Sangh Parivar, the wise ones believe, writes Chandrachur Ghose. (In pic: Vikram Sampath's book, Savarkar: A Contested Legacy)

The new discourses are not for the sake of revisiting the established narrative, but to benefit Modi and the Sangh Parivar, the wise ones believe, writes Chandrachur Ghose. (In pic: Vikram Sampath's book, Savarkar: A Contested Legacy)

Typically, the established now attempts to reduce the emergent to specific labels like ‘RSS-sponsored’ or ‘dishonest’.

Vikram Sampath is not the primary problem of Audrey Truschke, a mere cog in the wheel. The chief problem is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. But Truschke and the wheel knows that they cannot take down Modi in an electoral battle, at least not any time soon. Hence the desperate attempt to discredit and punish Sampath and turn him into a lesson for others of his ilk.

Sounds like an oversimplification? Let me explain.

Shashi Tharoor put the central problem very succinctly at the India Today Conclave in October 2021 that ‘in India history was pressed into the nation-building project’. For decades, thus, interpreting and narrating history remained the sole preserve of academics and institutions ‘pressed into the nation-building project.’ Now, don’t ask who defined and structured this nation-building project. The project ensured that over the decades, institutions and historians associated with them became the holy standards of writing history. They functioned completely out of public sight, with no one any wiser about what was going on in the inner confines of these organisations, the sanctum sanctorum of the ‘nation-building project’. Some of the sordid tales of the happenings inside the high towers have been recounted by Arun Shourie in his Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud and don’t need a retelling here.

So strong, however, was the fortification that even Shourie’s scathing exposé turned out to be nothing more than a scratch on the surface. The holy names, in reference to whom, and with whose approval the next generations of holiness were constructed, remained intact. Theirs was the received knowledge, not to be questioned, if at all, outside the doors of a seminar hall. Generation after generation grew up receiving this knowledge unquestioningly, only because they were told that it emanates from Dr So-and-So and was not to be disputed. They, in turn, after being rewarded with academic degrees for the loyalty, churned out tomes that informed the person. And thus went on the cycle for more than six decades.

While the Hindu right-wing emerged as this narrative continued to be constructed and disseminated, the wise ones of the establishment cautioned, with some degree of correctness, that there was no matching intellect on the other side.

The advent of the social media, however, shook this belief all too suddenly and violently. The cyberspace was crowded by the ordinary masses and the unimaginable started happening. The high priests and priestesses of the establishment were suddenly facing questions from the ‘unqualified’. The oligarchy of knowledge management in the ‘nation-building project’ started facing the grave risk of democratisation. The process was undoubtedly chaotic and painful. But no one had the antidote. No one of the established order was prepared for this onslaught. The most they could do was complain and whine that non-historians, or even worse non-intellectuals, were attempting to revise the correct history to suit their political leaning.

Since this process was concomitant with the rise of Narendra Modi who ultimately won the political battle, riding on this plebeian wave of questions, anger and criticism targeted at the established order, both were seen as reinforcers of one another. As long-suppressed issues exploded in the public space and new crises were manufactured to show the new regime in an extremist light, strong debating voices emerged, well-articulate and more informed. Running down right-wing historians like Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup was not enough anymore. Social media had changed the game. New voices and arguments swarmed Twitter, Facebook and YouTube amongst others. The new school of intellectuals could reach out to people with their arguments, as never before. They didn’t have to depend on print or electronic media to give them space.

The collective impact of these voices was that it created a new ecosystem. Although this ecosystem hasn’t really been a supporting intellectual prop for the new regime, it has effectively created a hurdle for the conventional school of historical narrative, which is struggling to get back on its feet. It is, however, undeniable that in doing so, this transition has reaped political benefits for the BJP. It has created a new intellectual framework around the ideology of the party, which had been missing even in the past decade, although in a very diffused manner.

The reaction from the entitled academics, who have for long been a part of the ‘nation-building project’ and continue to be its flagbearers, has been to link every new strand of narrative with the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or the larger umbrella of what they call the Sangh Parivar. It is therefore almost unmissable that in their attack on the icons of yore, who are re-emerging in the public discourse after being suppressed for decades, their primary target is Modi. The new discourses are not for the sake of revisiting the established narrative, but to benefit Modi and the Sangh Parivar, the wise ones believe. Thus, Modi is the representative of the mercy petition-writing communal Savarkar or the ‘Nazi lover’ fascist Subhas Bose. By extension, if the Modi government has to be stopped, these new strands of discourse must be stamped out at a very early stage.

Opinion | What is Common to Audrey Truschke and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Vikram Sampath is one of the most qualified intellectuals of this new school of narratives that believes in taking a fresh look at existing evidence and in bringing forth formerly unutilised or unexplored material. He is one with an impressive academic background and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Running him down as a non-intellectual or a non-historian, or as an RSS historian with unscientific views is not going to work. Therefore, other means have to be adopted, including branding him as an intolerant right-wing historian (and compel him to step down as the organiser of the Bangalore Literature Festival) and most recently as a dishonest academician. So deep-seated the unease is among the votaries of the old school that one leading anchor in a national news channel, perhaps at his wits’ end, introduced Sampath as an author and a historian in contrast to a professor from the Jawaharlal Nehru University who he labelled a ‘professional historian’.

The battle, therefore, is between a new narrative by emerging voices which are able, reasoned and forceful and the school of thought that has so far dominated unchallenged the intellectual firmament. Typically, the established now attempts to reduce the emergent to specific labels like ‘RSS-sponsored’ or ‘dishonest’. What is clear is that this new trend, which is still in the nascent stage, will gain in strength. More and more non-academicians and non-historians will join the force and keep presenting newer points of view. What remains to be seen is whether the old elite responds to this on the basis of their merit or on the basis of their obsessive fear of the right-wing, which compels them to see Modi’s face in every debate. The latter can’t be anything but a self-defeating approach. What the ‘professional’ historians need to keep in mind is the sane advice of Edward Said, who has extensively argued in favour of public intellectuals who more often than not succeed in calling out the entrenched interests of ‘experts’.

Chandrachur Ghose is author of the upcoming biography Bose: The Untold Story of an Inconvenient Nationalist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

Read all the Latest News, Breaking News and Assembly Elections Live Updates here.

first published:February 17, 2022, 13:57 IST