This post is part of the CRI’s 1st year anniversary celebrations. We have launched a blogging festival where every member of the CRI Commentariat will participate and write on issues that affect their political outlook. Podcasts with Conservative intellectuals are also coming up, so stay tuned!
Intellectual Conservatism in India has been deemed unimportant and secondary to the pursuit of ‘popular culture’. The primary responsibility for this sorry state lies with the Indian Right itself. At some point of time after Independence, rather than blossoming in the new conditions, the conservative mind closed. The Secular Left, through its influence in state institutions, newspapers, journals and electronic media has set the agenda. This has its consequences, the most unfortunate being the reduction of the Right to a largely reactionary status. Hostility to Secular Intellectuals and aversion to statist Nehruvian policies largely constituted mainstream Indian Conservatism.
The most dominant strand of Indian Conservatism, the Hindu Nationalists have traditionally seen little value in intellectual discourse. This was natural considering the constituency they spoke to, the emotional religious right. Yet, I believe there was a bigger reason for this closing of minds. The hostile atmosphere and subsequent marginalization of the Hindu Nationalists after Independence forced them to create a counter-establishment. This closed counter-establishment metamorphosed in to Sangh Parivar. This marginalization, along with a defining credo of movement that ground level activism is a nobler pursuit than engaging in matters of mind, created an unhealthy anti-intellectual streak among the Hindu Nationalists. The Sangh Parivar than shifted its attention to something else, careful nurturing of a populist movement rather than building an intellectually vibrant and cohesive movement. It succeeded in creating a dynamic popular culture with religious imagery that had mass resonance, especially among the middle classes. However this popular culture without an intellectual framework has now atrophied. The conservative mind must open again for Hindu Nationalism itself an inheritor a reformist intellectual tradition, the 19th century Hindu reformist movement of Bengal. At the core of that tradition was an emphasis on social reform to create a basis for national re-generation. This national re-generation of India as a civilization has to be the sole focus of the Right. Religion has its place in this framework, yet it cannot be the cornerstone of it. For any success to be achieved in national re-generation, the project has to be inherently ‘political’, it cannot be religious.
The usual traditional orthodoxy and reactionary sectarianism of the cow-belt religiosity best re-presented by the likes of the VHP is not the dominant strand of conservatism that the lung power they deploy would suggest. Regressive reductionist arguments for a religiously purist state or justifications for caste differences cannot be allowed to find identification with conservatism. Religious fanaticism is religious fanaticism and there is nothing political or conservative about it. In fact, I am glad to observe that this brand of bigotry, for that what it is, has already been buried, both politically and otherwise.
In its place, an extra-ordinary shift is taking place. I believe the Hindu Nationalist mind is opening again. A less Nehruvian public space and a more self-confident Right aided by the prominence of the BJP is entering the intellectual space again. The man at the centre of this opening is Mohan Bhagwat, the current Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Mohan Bhagwat, being the most powerful Saffron boss in the country has to simply allow an environment where this energy can be converted into intellectual infrastructure: academic associations, philosophical societies, business foundations sympathetic to conservatism, think-tanks and other intellectual forums.
The conditions today, inherent in an economically dynamic society are leading this intellectual revival, still in its infancy. The particular shape this energy takes will depend on the individuals guiding it. The reason for my optimism is the belief that the revival will be guided by middle class professionals who bring in their own tradition of ‘civic virtue’ ,a quality which deserves a post by itself. New intellectual infrastructure with its own momentum and dynamism can re-define the traditional discourse of the Right and by default that of Indian polity itself.
I will end this post with a wonderful quote from the book, God is Back by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, “History is full of examples of the extraordinary intellectual energy that is released when closed religious communities open up and try to come to terms with the modern world”
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