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Debate with Vijay Prashad

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Besides agreeing with Vijay’s statement about going Zara Dhire Se, there is also the fact that the themes of dialogue might explode, so that each response would have to be larger than prior ones just to address everything on the table every time. Therefore, I suggest that we structure the dialogue into a manageable number of distinct (while overlapping) themes. We could either take each theme one at a time (say a month each, for instance). Alternatively, we could go on multiple themes in parallel, but with each individual post addressing one specific theme to keep the focus. What do you think of the following as a potential list of themes that would enable us to better structure the dialog? This list is just to put something on the table (in no special order):

1. Discussion of Categories

This includes examining left/right and alternatives. The category of religion needs to be discussed. What is “Indic” and is it useful? Is secularism contingent upon the category of religion, and what might be equivalent in Indian traditions? I have a lot of problematic categories that are rarely being questioned by South Asianists but are simply used as universals. This theme allows open and creative exploration of these matters.

2. Indigenous Indian liberation theories, practices and hopes

Here we could discuss the past, present status and future potential for liberation from within the Indian systems, without need for Ford Foundation’s $50 million/yr funding in India (which is equivalent to over $500 million/yr in US terms), or for that matter, from any other foreign sources. What are some resources available, what new inputs/changes are required, etc.? Liberation Hinduism would belong here. Does/should the Indian Left have a monopoly on the category of “progress”?

3. History-centrism

We agree that each faith has both kinds (a point made in my Sulekha essay on this topic). But exceptions do not prove the rule. The key distinction is in terms of the public consensus as that enjoys legitimacy (as opposed to persecution/denigration). The fact is that the Meister Eckharts (and their Sufi equivalents) were almost always hounded in their times, and only centuries later rediscovered, often after westerners had dipped deep into Hindu-Buddhist traditions and retroactively projected on to their own historical identities. This is also an important theme in uncovering the dynamics in India: Is Hinduism becoming history-centric, and what might be the consequences, and how might one view Hindutva in this context? Are there potential bridges between non history-centric peoples across faiths? It opens up new ways to do comparative religion. It includes examining itihas as a category that is distinct from history.

4. Power and Knowledge in India related studies

Not only is this a very theme one for both of us, but it seems we agree on many things here. I would bring the Guha comment as part of this. This theme should include many things, such as: (i) western institutions, (ii) Indians in western institutions (elitists and resisters), (iii) Indian NGOs funded by western institutions, (iv) Indian media and activists impressing the whites – including as pets, patients, children, sepoys, chowkidars, etc., (v) role of “theories” as indirect colonization mechanisms, (vi) Hinduja and other Indians’ funding of projects, (vii) the role of English language (historical, present and future), (viii) role of the economy/marketplace of symbols, (ix) curriculum/research biases, (x) racism, and (xi) recommended solutions (which we both have for discussion).

5. Globalization and Indian political economy

It seems we cannot decouple these themes, as globalization is here whether one likes it or not, and the question is what kind of globalization there should be. Since isolationism is not a serious option, one must negotiate globalization vigorously, and hence, the Indian political economy must be located alongside the issue of globalization generally. We must not ignore the role of multinational religious enterprises alongside commercial MNCs. I was glad to read Madhu Kishwar’s recent criticism of WSF NGOs in Indian Express on NGOs as MNCs.

6. Patriotism/Nationalism 

I see these are distinct: defensive and offensive, respectively. But we should discuss what alternative grand narratives compete, both pro and anti, and what we each feel about the meaning of India going forward.

Please let me have your changes to this so we may proceed. We may periodically take stock, modify, perhaps get a third party to summarize each theme.

Published: January 23, 2004