In August last year, Y Sudershan Rao was appointed chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, and Dina Nath Batra's influence on school curricula became more and more prominent. Both men have had influence over public policy, not due to their scholarship but to their long-standing connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which in turn has close ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party. According to Ramachandra Guha in our March 2015 cover story, the current government could have patronised scholars with research papers or books to their name, but that alternative was not available, because while India is currently governed by a right-wing party, there are very few right-wing intellectuals. In this excerpt from that article, he takes account of intellectuals in the fields of history, political science and economics to find that all but one are on the left of the political spectrum.
There is a distinction to be drawn between intellectuals and ideologues, who are more interested in promoting their political or religious beliefs than in contributing to the growth of knowledge. The writings of ideologues are rarely based on serious or extended research. There is a tendency to selectively invoke or suppress facts to buttress conclusions decided upon in advance. Of course, intellectuals are citizens too, with their own views on what constitutes a prosperous and just society. Their scholarship and writing does—perceptibly or imperceptibly—reflect their political views. The distinction between an ideologue and an intellectual is not absolute, yet is worth emphasising. For, unlike intellectuals, ideologues care little about the reception of their work by scholars. They wish to influence not so much the course of knowledge as the course of social or political change.
There are plenty of right-wing ideologues in India, active in our newspapers, television channels, and on social media, but very few right-wing intellectuals. This paucity contrasts with the preponderance of credible intellectuals in the centre or on the left of the political spectrum. If I was to draw up a list of the most highly regarded Indian historians of my generation, the names of Seema Alavi, Shahid Amin, Nayanjot Lahiri, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Janaki Nair, Chetan Singh, Upinder Singh and AR Venkatachalapathy would certainly figure. Although these scholars do not advertise which party they vote for, their published work makes it clear that their intellectual orientation is far removed from that prescribed by the RSS or proposed by the BJP.