[ Ashok Chowgule has taken the trouble of writing a considered response to my article in Sunday Times of India. I feel that this should be shared with a wider audience. Would love comments--Swapan Dasgupta]
By Ashok Chowgule
Swapan Dasgupta says that he has been disturbed, for quite some time, about "the marginalization of the Right from the liberal space." I
think most of what can be termed as Hindutvavadis would agree with this concern fully. They would also contend that this maginalisation is not something that has happened recently or without design. They would then contend that the internet has allowed them to go around this censorship and are able to express their views to a larger audience in their own disparate ways.
Swapanji's article does not specifically state that he is talking about
Hindutvavadis alone. He has peppered his articles with a few words on virtual jihadis belonging to the non-Hindu groups. However, I do not think I would be wrong if I say that a reader, educated and intelligent but not so well-informed on the issues of media, etc., would think that he is talking about the Hindutvavadis primarily. In giving specific examples (MF Husain, Prof Wedny Doniger) he has dealt with only those that the Hindutvavadis are concerned about. It may well be that the space constraint would not have permitted him to deal with other issues.
But a lay reader may not understand this limitation. And so I will deal
with this issue in the rest of my comments. Even if I wrong about this
presumption, my comments would be valid as far as the Hindutvavadis are concerned.
A disclaimer. I have not been appointed by other Hindutvavadis to be
their spokesman - I do not think such a post exists. There may well be
many Hindutvavadis who disagree with what I say. However, I do think
that there are many Hindutvavadis who would be agreeing with what I have to say. Those who don't, can tell me which point they do not agree with me and why.
As I had said in the beginning, I am in sync with Swapanji about his
concern of the marginalization of the Hindu Right from the liberal
space. According to me, this marginalization is a programme of those
presently occupying the position of establishment in the liberal space.
This space includes the academics and the journalists, particularly in
the English arena. And it is not restricted to India alone. My
experience of interaction with the academics and the journalists outside India convinces me that they are just as guilty of the exclusion programme as their Indian counterparts.
In stating the above, I am fully conscious of the exceptions to my
contention above. And these exceptions are in India and also outside
India. The rule, however, is exclusion, or at least an attempt to
exclude. Articles would be primarily by those opposed, or
unsympathetic, to the Hindu tradition and culture. Interpretations are imputed which a Hindu would find it difficult to understand or go
against what he/she has been brought up on.
Those who disagree would be immediately branded as a Hindutvavadi, as if that is a depraved term. In the process, no explanation is offered why the logic of the arguments are wrong or inappropriate. The strategy is a form of intellectual terrorism, whereby the proponent is intimidated into backing off from his views, irrespective of how strongly he/she feel that there is a logic in his/her argument.
I have also said that the internet has provided an excellent opportunity to the Hindutvavadis to bypass the censorship. It has also enabled the Hindutvavadis to reach out to those who think in ways similar to what they think, and in the process of exchanging notes have honed their arguments in an idiom and intellect that does stand to the scrutiny of the modern standards of expression. Internet has provided the community of Hindutvavadis to access information about the history and culture of Hinduism and India - information that the mainstream has hidden from them, and often set out in a perverted or factually incorrect way.
Thus, when the issue of MF Husain is taken up, the pictoral depiction of the objectionable paintings is presented by the Hindutvavadis, and a question asked if this does not go beyond the social norms of freedom of expression. Also, the pictorial depictions of parallel subjects of other religious traditions are juxtaposed side-by-side to buttress the charge of hypocrisy.
Swapanji gives an impression that the Hindutvavadis have aggressively
stormed their way into the internet in a way that makes the authentic
Hindus feel most uncomfortable with, or has made the "normal guy, with no rigid views and no insider information, runs away from political
engagement". He also thinks that in the process he feels that the
internet has been made "less appealing". I have taken the liberty of
paraphrasing Swapanji here, because he has used the various terms in a context strictly other than the internet. But I get a feeling that I am not too wrong in setting out what he feels on the subject.
The internet, by its very nature, an anarchic sector in the means of
communication. People can post what they want and in the way they
want - particularly where the forums are not moderated. Sometimes the comments are completely unrelated to the subject of the thread, and some use it to project their pet themes, which if dealt with would solve all the problems in the world. For example, someone can well say that take care of the growth of the population in the world and Islamic terrorism would be a thing of the past. Where the forum are moderated, one sees many posts which have been deleted by the moderator on account of fouling with the policy of preventing abuse - but the posts that are irrelevant are rarely deleted. The task of the moderator is a most thankless one, in such cases.
But, for those occupying the authentic intellectual space, it is
necessary for them to deal with the message and not just the idiom and the language. And in doing so, they should use the idiom and the
language that they say is the norm in civilized discussions. They
should set out their arguments on the basis of facts and not on the
basis of labels, even if they think that their opponent on the internet
has used such tactics.
In this context, I would like to present to Swapanji statements about Dr Praveenbhain Togadia, the General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, made by two different journalists. One of them wrote: "Togadia who grew up in an Ahmedabad chawl may never get to play tennis at the Delhi Gymkhana but being in the VHP has guaranteed him a place in a television studio." And the other wrote: "Should we allow (Dr Pravinbhai Togadia) to rush from studio to studio, fixed mongoose smile on face, semi-intelligible rhetoric already pre-rehearsed, and encourage him to make abusive statements?"
These are representative of the idiom used by many secularists who say that they are opposed to the ideology of Hindutva. In the first case, the journalist seems to contend that to be an authentic secularist one has to be able to play tennis at the Delhi Gymkhana, and perhaps growing in an Ahmedabad chawl would make the transition very difficult. In the second case, the use of an adjective like 'mongoose' is permitted if one is referring to a Hindutvavadi but not in other cases.
The use of such idioms has preceded the internet 'invasion' of
Hindutvavadis by a large period of time. I feel that they have set out
the standards that are acceptable to the secularists, and so many of the Hindutvavadis see nothing wrong in conforming to the standards. If this is correct, then surely it is wrong for the secularists to today
complain about the degeneration of the language and idiom.
The last sentence of Swapanji's article is: "Maybe the libertarianism of
the present will soon have to be replaced by an enlightened code of
conduct, and technology will enable the users of poison keyboards to be outed and shamed."
What exactly is the definition of englightened code? Do the two quotes above conform to the definition? And, most important,
who is to set out the code? I wonder if those occupying the space
called 'libertainism' are finding themselves being questioned by the
people at large, and they realise that they do not have any logical
answers to provide. And in the process, instead of dealing with the
issues raised by the internet Hindutvavadis, a new form of censorship is sought to be applied