Arthashastra. Wikimedia Commons
Marxist historians apply a paradigm, which had been developed in the West in its own historical situation, to India. In principle, there is nothing wrong with applying models developed in one part of the world to another for the insights they can produce, but it seems to have sometimes resulted in obfuscation rather than illumination in the case of India. The Right, for the Left in Europe, was constituted by the fascists, and fascism implies devotion to the State, even blind devotion to it. In India, however, the reality is different. If we talk in terms of a nation-state, the Hindu right is very enthusiastic about the nation, but has practically neglected the state. It is the idea of the Hindu Rashtra that is the focus of his attention, not the Hindu state. Even a cursory glance at the works of VD Savarkar, MS Golwalkar and Balraj Madhok will reveal the startling fact that the Hindu Right has paid very little attention to the state and that most of its attention has been reserved for the state. nation part of the hyphenation of the nation-state. It can be said that this was also true for Marx, who saw the state wither away. But then there was Lenin.
The neglect of the state, on the part of the Hindu right, may reflect a phase of the Hindu tradition itself, in which the study of Arthashastra, the classic work on statecraft, fell out of fashion after the 8th century as a result of constant attacks on its alleged Machiavellian realism by Jains, Buddhists, and Hindu liberals, according to Professor GC Pande. It is worth remembering that, in modern times, the British had no trouble getting hold of texts on dharmasuch as the manusmṛti, as soon as they began their rule in earnest after 1757, but the copy of the Arthashastra I was accidentally discovered in 1909 in Kerala. These facts epitomize the situation. Therefore, calling the Hindu right wing fascist is far from the truth; rather the opposite is true: that they have not paid enough attention to the state as an entity.
This is a limitation that Marxist ideas run into when applied in India. Another is next.
Left-leaning historians accuse the Hindu right of its attitude towards minorities, but such conceptualization of political organization in majority-minority terms is itself a Western import. It is based on the assumption that one can only follow one religion at a time. Furthermore, it has been uncritically applied to India. The European historical experience was characterized by the oppression of the minority by the majority; The Indian historical experience is also characterized by oppression, but it is the oppression of the majority by the minority, as during Muslim rule and British (Christian) rule, at least in the perception of the majority. That the direction of oppression was the opposite in India is a key element of the situation, one that is constantly overlooked and, when taken into account, realigns the entire dynamic of the situation.
Could it be that it is not Marxism but Orientalism, as exposed by Edward Said in his famous book with that title, that perhaps contains the key to understanding the Indian reality, historically and historiographically? That knowledge is related to power is an idea that is not alien to Marxist thought, but by restricting it to class categories, Marxists seem to have missed the big picture: that all production of knowledge is deeply connected to power and, in the case of India, especially related to the exercise of power by the British in India. Although the Marxists have the key, they do not apply it to the correct lock, the lock with which India is chained, because they were too obsessed with class distinctions rather than national distinctions. Although imperialism is fundamental to both Marxism and Orientalism, the Indian Marxists failed to arrive at the following fundamental idea, as expressed by Edward Said (1978):
I doubt it would be controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the late 19th century took an interest in those countries who was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. Saying this may seem very different from saying that an academic understanding of India and Europe is somehow tainted and impressed with, violated by, that crude political fact, and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism. (p. 11)
Imperial Indian reality has often been examined, perhaps even obsessively, in terms of Marxism; it still remains to be fully examined in terms of Orientalism.
The author, formerly a member of the IAS, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he has taught for more than thirty years. He has also taught in Australia and the United States and at Nalanda University in India. He has published extensively in the fields of Indian religions and world religions. The opinions expressed are personal.
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