In New Jersey, where Rajiv Malhotra, an Indian-American public intellectual, and I live as near neighbours in the town of Princeton, all vehicles—from clunkers to limos—have to undergo a periodic diagnostic test of their roadworthiness. Electrodes are attached to the vehicle’s engine, some sort of hose stuck into its tailpipe, and a sticker slapped onto the driver-side window if it passes. Drive without one and you could get pulled over and fined. The test has relatively little to do with the octane, high or low, of the gas you buy at the pump. It's about how your vehicle measures up when a diagnostic test is done in conformity with New Jersey’s minimalistic safety standards. Is it a hazard on the highway or not?
On and off for the past four years, I’ve been doing a similar test on Rajiv Malhotra’s oeuvre. My interest was drawn to two books in particular, Breaking India (New Delhi: Amaryllis, 2011) and Indra’s Net (New Delhi: HarperCollins India, 2014). It was because I found Malhotra’s “thinly religionised” Hindutva nationalist ideology odious that I read him attentively and attempted, unsuccessfully, to engage him in the time-hallowed ways of academe. I tried to do so through a co-authored critique of Breaking India, Studied Silences: Diasporic Nationalism, “Intellectual Kshatriyas” and the Hindu American Critique of Dalit Christianity’s Indianness, in a book that I co-edited.
After Breaking India I moved on to Indra’s Net, but as I was reading both books ever so closely, a collateral concern about their roadworthiness on the highway of knowledge (excuse the metaphor!) gnawed at the edges of my awareness. I could sense that it wasn’t only because of low tire-pressure that Malhotra’s books seemed to lurch and thump along. However, it was only after I plugged SafeAssign (a plagiarism detection software) into the tail pipe of Indra’s Net—the book I had singled out for an especially thorough inspection—that I found irrefutable confirmation of the plagiarism I had suspected all along.
In his recent book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (New York: Riverhead Books, 2015), Jon Ronson explores how Twitter has become every digital terrorist’s favorite weapon of “mass online destruction”. Still, one doesn’t publicly “shame” a person like Rajiv Malhotra on social media as I have attempted to, without trepidation. Done carelessly, it could be ruinous—as it has been for several victims who have been wrongly maligned in the past, as Ronson illustrates in his book. It was imperative to level such a charge only after doing my homework as meticulously as I could and I did, both for Malhotra’s sake and mine. After all, I did not want to bear false witness against him or set myself up for a nosedive into obloquy. When various iterations of the SafeAssign test led to the same conclusion regarding the text of Indra’s Net, I went ahead and pressed the tweet button on Twitter back in early July this year. Using the hashtag #Message4Rajiv, I adduced seven examples of the evidence (adding an eighth later) I had culled from Malhotra’s books in a series of more than sixty-six consecutive tweets, all of which were numbered.