Tag Archives: Ashutosh Varshney

Whose Ambivalence – Modi’s or Varshney’s? Jyoti Punwani

Guest post by JYOTI PUNWANI

What is it about Narendra Modi that makes people suspend disbelief? Ashutosh Varshney in his Modi’s Ambivalence, Indian Express, June 28, actually considers it possible that the new Prime Minister has a chance of going  down as “one of the greatest leaders of independent India”.  Surely anyone qualifying for such a status must be acceptable to the majority of Indians? Last we heard, the magic of Modi had left almost two-thirds of the electorate untouched, not to forget the fact that he doesn’t exactly inspire respect among our largest minority.

Varshney makes some bewildering assertions in his evaluation of Modi’s first month as PM. From a “novel policy language for poverty alleviation”  to a new acceptance of Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation,  to his RSS-defying portfolio distribution,  Varshney sees signs of a new Modi, quite different from the man cursed forever with the burden of Gujarat 2002.

Continue reading Whose Ambivalence – Modi’s or Varshney’s? Jyoti Punwani

Should only Minorities be Worried over Mr Modi? Sanjay Kumar

(Photo Courtesy : ibnlive.in.com)

Guest Post by SANJAY KUMAR

By stealth, wealth, and media barrage a phalanx of powerful interests is trying to create a public opinion favourable to Mr Narendra Modi. It appears the entire privilegenstia of the country, the super rich capitalists, professional elites, entrepreneurs of the religion, top bureaucracy, including retired army men and police, upper castes, media pundits, even NRI academics, are united in their enthusiasm for Mr Modi. From Ratan Tata to Ramdev, people have been told how the man is the only saviour of a country in crisis. What exactly do this bunch of rich and privileged, but discontented people hope from Mr Modi as PM is important for the future of the country. The moot point here is the difference between declared intentions and actual motives. Perhaps even more important is the response of Mr Modi’s political opponents, because that indicates the kind of resources the country can fall back upon when confronted with the reality of him in power. The moot point here is a lack of understanding of the significance of the usual, non-Modi type politics for ordinary Indians. The stakes are high indeed. Far from what the phalanx and its ideologues claim, it is actually this politics which is their target, and which they wish to change under Mr Modi.

The most prominent charge leveled by Mr Modi’s opponents is that he is communal and divisive, and will alienate minorities. From Mr Lalu Prasad to Prof Amartya Sen, that appears to be the chief misgiving. If the charge against Mr Modi is so framed, then by implication it also appears to be asserting that if there had been no Gujarat 2002, Mr Modi and the kind of politics his party represents will be as good or bad as any other party politics. Are minorities’ misgivings about Mr Modi’s the only fact that the rest of Indians should worry about? Is the hesitation of minorities about him the only legitimate concern that may stop the man from reaching the PMO? Continue reading Should only Minorities be Worried over Mr Modi? Sanjay Kumar

Professors of Political Science and the Modi Phenomenon

Ashutosh Varshney has written yet another piece on the Modi phenomenon. This time he has invoked “the discipline of political science”, which he has “taught for two decades”, and underlined that it fundamentally disagrees with an “institutions-free” view of the rise of Narendra Modi. [See my response to his earlier piece here.] Before I examine Varshney’s ‘arguments’ about present politics, let me cite the following from nothing less than the American Political Science Review – a revealing chapter from the history of the discipline that he and I share:

Following World War I came the turbulence of the 1920s and 1930s. Communism and fascism rose to prominence as the world’s great powers fell to deflation and imperialism. Yet during this time of great political upheaval, political science became a study in irrelevance. Perhaps as a result of no longer sharing common theories and assumptions, the discipline fragmented and retreated inwards. Scanning the American Political Science Review from 1923 to 1936 for any sustained analysis of the great events of the day such as Mussolini’s march on Rome, Japan’s occupation of Manchuria, or even the Great Depression, one will come up empty. What one does find are, for example, reports of constitutional change in Estonia (Roucek 1936), predictions that the German administrative structure would stop Hitler becoming a dictator (Friedrich 1933), and analysis of the legal monism of Alfred Verdoross (Janzen 1935). [Mark Blythe, ‘Great Punctuations, Randomness, and the Evolution of Comparative Political Science’, APSR, Vol. 100, No. 4, November 2006. All emphasis added]

Perhaps this delusional business of waxing on the strength of institutions has been a professional pastime in the discipline but one could excuse the political scientists of the 1920s and 1930s, insofar as they were making the mistake for the first time. What do you say of someone who repeats the same error with ever greater self-righteousness, eighty/ ninety years down the line? And if this business of repeating the same error over and over again is something more than a pastime, if it is integral to political science, then all one can say is, so much the worse for political science! Continue reading Professors of Political Science and the Modi Phenomenon

The Pro-Establishment Intelligentsia and the Modi Phenomenon

For several months, I have been hearing Narendra Modi’s campaign speeches quite regularly, paying attention to his themes, rhetoric and imagery. As expected, he has vigorously attacked key political opponents — the Nehru-Gandhi family, Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav. But a systematic silence has also marked his campaign. Quite remarkably, Hindu nationalism has been absent from his speeches.

This is the opening paragraph from an article by an important US-based Indian political scientist, Ashutosh Varshney. This article, published in the Indian Express on 27 March 2014, under the caption “Modi the Moderate” has been now followed up by another piece in the same newspaper that somewhat modifies the earlier position, this time by “Hearing the Silence”. Strange that he did not hear the silence in the first instance, even after having listened to Modi’s speeches closely (‘paying attention to his rhetoric and imagery’). Not that he did not ‘hear the silence’ then. He did, but just two weeks ago, identified the silence as being about Hindu nationalism. In the second piece, the silence is apparently about  minority rights. How did he read the silence as one thing two weeks ago and as just the opposite two weeks down the line? What exactly was he reading?

Intellectuals generally take words very seriously. Words in their insularity, words in their most manifest meanings. But really, do words mean anything in and of themselves? One line of argument that derives from within the ancient Mimamsa tradition, for example, would argue that meaning lies in the way words are chosen, arranged and formed into sentences. There is something that happens in this process which Mimamsa scholars call ‘akanksha’ – or the expectation that this arrangement within a text generates in the reader of the text. The meaning that a text produces then, is a matter of a complex negotiations between the text and the reader – the bearer of akanksha. And since the reader is never one but many, the expectations that the text generates in different readers could arguably be many. Continue reading The Pro-Establishment Intelligentsia and the Modi Phenomenon