I am reminded of the story of a man called Antony Fisher. Antony came from a family of migrants – mine owners, military men, and politicians. As those of his time with a robust pedigree, he joined Eton and later graduated from Cambridge University. After graduation he joined the Royal Air Force, where he was grounded, following a flying accident.
Antony’s weakness was his love of the periodical – The Reader’s Digest. Every copy was read (and re-read) cover to cover, underlined, notes made thereon and many a times read out aloud to his family and friends. He had created a library of decades worth of the digest. In the April 1945 issue, The Reader’s Digest had published a condensed version of Austrian Economist Fredrich Hayek’s masterpiece, “The Road to Serfdom”. The Book was hugely popular and despite war-time paper shortages had gone for several re-prints. Still, it was incredibly difficult to get a copy of the book then. Fisher was alarmed by the victory of the Labour Party in the elections held just months after the Victory Day (day on which the Allies accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany), and the nationalization of industry, central planning etc. that followed. Fisher, deeply influenced by the ideas expressed by Hayek in his book, became set on meeting him.
As the story goes in late spring, early summer of the same year, Fisher took the ten minute stroll from the War Office (where he was then posted) to the London School of Economics were Hayek taught. Neither men being much for small talk, Fisher straightaway told Hayek that he agreed with what was written in his book and that he intended to join politics to set his country right. Fisher had already been politically active for some time and this seemed like a logical progression for him in his quest to “set his country right”. Hayek replied, “No you are not!”. Hayek’s stand was that society’s course would be changed only with a change in ideas. For this, one must first reach the intellectuals, the teachers, the writers, the journalists and opinion makers with reasoned argument. It will be their influence on society which will prevail and compel the politicians to follow. Fisher considers this as one of the most important days of his life and instead of going into politics, he continued to make an intellectual case for his worldview. About a decade later he founded the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), which is an influential right wing think tank and has been described as the most influential think tank in British history.
This is what the Indian right wing must aspire for.
Hayek’s views as far as the influence of ‘intellectuals’ on society is concerned, seems agreeable. Indeed, as Keynes so succinctly said, “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”
A practical demonstration of the power of intellectuals can be seen in India as well. Despite doing stellar social work since the 1920s, RSS did not manage to get political influence till as late as 2013. Contrast this with what the left ideology led ecosystem has achieved. Despite its focus on negatives, cultivating a defeatist mindset, at times even alleged support to an enemy country during times of war, a naxal terrorist movement, creating obstacles to several developmental works etc, the left has managed a strong hold on political power and the ‘establishment’ which is in play whether they are in power or not. Remember, eventually the politician will do what people want. It is the job of an ecosystem to convince people to want the right things. The Left understood this and the Right did not. As a result, despite 50-60 lakh members, a nearly 100 year pedigree, about 60,000 shakhas and decades upon decades of selfless service, RSS finds itself struggling as hard today as it did perhaps a quarter century ago to defeat the leftist narrative. So much so that even a powerful and influential swayamsewak like Ram Madhav is constrained to admit that “RSS is difficult to understand and easy to misunderstand.”
If this isn’t a scathing indictment of what a lack of a strong intellectual ecosystem can do to pulverize a social ecosystem (RSS) and a political ecosystem (BJP) however strong they may be, then I don’t know what is. In fact, unless there is a strong intellectual foundation for a political and social movement, their combined might will come to naught given enough time. Indeed it can be described as being on a treadmill, running to stay in the same place. At best, we can slow the outflow of our brothers and sisters from the Hindu fold, but we cannot reverse the movement till such time their hearts are not accessed via their minds. This is a losing battle unless the right wing opens on the intellectual front. Creation of an intellectual ecosystem is no longer optional, if India’s Hindu or Indic identity is to survive this century.
It is thus essential to look evaluate the path etched by AdiShankaracharya to devise an intellectual ecosystem. AdiShankara lived in a time when the country was again at similar ideological crossroads. He used the path of reasoned debate, to firmly re-establish the Dharmic identity of India by taking what is best from other philosophies and showing its compatibility to Vedantic thought. In fact, he is the Proof of Concept (if one was ever needed) that societal changes are the result of a strong intellectual ecosystem. AdiShankara concentrated on creating bhashyas on three principal Dharmic texts: The Upanishads, The Brahmasutras, and The Bhagwad Gita.
The Upanishads are the epitome of Vedantic thought and outline the crux of Indic philosophy. Through a commentary on the principal Upanishads, AdiShankara first created a strong intellectual base. This is called Shruti. The Brahmasutras are a text that reconciles apparent disagreements between various Upanishads and Shankara’s commentary on it was necessary to create a strong rational, argumentative, and logical basis to the lofty ideas developed by the Shruti. This commentary is called Yukti. Now that philosophy is clear, and it has been given a strong rational basis, how does one experience the highest truth? For this, we have the Bhagwad Gita, the commentary on which is called anubhuti.
The RW ecosystem will also only be created by following this structured path of Shruti, Yukti and Anubhuti. The RW will need a friendly, well funded policy research arm that will first decode and crystallize what an Indic identity is. A lack of unified identity among Hindus is a key reason why our customs, festivals and culture can be easily meddled with and appropriated by outsiders.
It is a safe bet to assume that the idea of what it means to be a Muslim or a Christian across the world will have many similarities, unlike the vagueness in our Indic family. But there is a simple, direct, common denominator within all Indic identities that this intellectual system must identify. There is something that binds me to a Kashmiri Pandit, to a Buddhist Bhikshu, to a Jain monk, to a Sikh granthi, to a Namboodri priest, to caste leaders across castes, to an East Indian, to a South Indian. What is that? That needs to be defined clearly.
When a Jallikattu is banned, I feel the same pain as I am sure my Tamil family feels when Dahi Handi was regulated in inches and feet. When Durga Pooja is banned, I felt the same pangs as I am sure my Bengali family felt when Diwali was banned. My eyes well up when I read of the atrocities meted out to Sikh gurus, as I am sure my Sikh family feels when the torture meted out to Chhatrapati Sambhaji is narrated to them. It is this common thread that this proposed Policy Institute must first identify and define.
The next step will be to make a logical and rational case for the Indic worldview in all matters of policy, where foreign, monetary or fiscal. ‘Why is our way the better way’ will be the crux of all research within the boundaries outlined in the Shruti. There will be regular papers, books, presentations, studies, surveys conducted by fellows of the Institute. The work would be subject to peer review, criticism, blind refereeing, etc as is required of serious, independent intellectual publications. The Fellows will ensure that only the most critically defend-able argument for our world view is put out for public consumption and debate.
Finally, the goal of the Institute will be to conduct policy research scholar programmes where subject specialists are cultivated. The idea would be to flood the market for ‘talking heads’, with those of the Indic worldview. Create students, who will become teachers and influence the public at large. A large enough contingent of public intellectuals will be needed to digest the Indic worldview for easy public and journalistic consumption.
This three pronged strategy will have to be carried out with deliberate intent and well financed backers. No more will the adage “as much as one can, as much as possible” be enough in the face of the sustained, well financed and incredibly well organized opposition India faces today. The Institute will do a great job of bringing people with disparate views on specific issues but common goal of an Indic renaissance together. A unified Indic intellectual resistance will be impossible to beat and we can be absolutely confident that it will take no longer than 15 years at best to reverse a great deal of brain washing that has been inflicted upon us. India is a young country and what we need to do to harness the power of our youth is to facilitate and help our youth to think for themselves and grow up with the pride of belonging to the best culture and a glorious heritage.
In conclusion as Keynes so famously explained that people are going to be influenced by some defunct economist. I humbly submit, that if people are going to get influenced by defunct economists anyway, let that economist be ours.
Time is running out.