Journalists and pseudo-scholars must try harder if they wish to tarnish the image of Rajiv Malhotra

The issue never is with legitimate criticism towards an individual's works and ideas. It is with passing misrepresentations and abhorrent means of character assassination- with no academic and intellectual basis- as truth. And when an individual or a group stoops to such petty levels of discourse, they shall be vehemently questioned.

When it was announced that Rajiv Malhotra would be a visiting professor in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), an entire cabal of journalists, ‘academics’ and media houses began to hash out frustrated accusations which frankly, reflected a serious lack intellectual sincerity.

They hurled a plethora of allegations- ranging from questions on his understanding of the subjects to pronouncing that he only attacks scholars for their identity, to claiming that he plagiarised work from other scholars.

When allegations are as serious as that, a layman would expect some bit of truth and evidence to back it up. But all that we were provided by every person who made these unsubstantiated claims, was links to editorials that are bound to be rapped for poor research.

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Let us first take a look at the kind of things that were thrown at Rajiv Malhotra.

We must begin by examining the idea that Rajiv Malhotra is a man who criticises “real scholars” only because “they are foreigners”. This is an argument that stems from the deliberate misrepresentation of Malhotra’s concept of ‘Insiders and Outsiders’, where he refers to ‘Insiders’ as people who hold (in his own words) “loyalty towards the Vedic worldview”, while outsiders as those “who dismiss (or at least marginalize) the Vedas and look at the Sanskrit texts primarily through Marxist and postmodernist theories of social oppression and political domination.”

As part of this definition, he also makes it very clear that this categorisation has nothing to do with race or ethnicity because, he observes that westerners can often be insiders, while some Indian scholars have, in fact, owed their allegiance to Marxism and western philosophies.

But despite that, left-leaning “scholars” like Audrey Truschke will tell us that Rajiv Malhotra (having authored eight books on a number of varying concepts) is “best known for his identity-fueled attacks”. Journalists like Tavleen Singh will still limit his main work, to “denouncing real scholars because they are foreigners”. Such assertions not only certify a serious lack of comprehension skills, but they also show us how much people are willing to employ arguments they hear or read about from somewhere if it means they can defame the man, without analysing his works or critiquing what he actually stands for.

But let us not stop there, and understand Malhotra’s reasoning behind categorising people as “insiders” and “outsiders”. After all, people still argue that he is somehow trying to ‘shut down the voice of Marxists’ who offer a different perspective and that this ‘insider-outsider stuff is principally wrong’. Rajiv Malhotra even claims that he was not the first come to up with such a theory whereby lenses are grouped; he merely brought about a categorisation that is widely used in the academic circles, to the Indian context.

The concept of ’emic and etic’, as he says, groups people as insiders and outsiders, to explain social realities observed in religious studies, anthropology, psychology and a number of other social sciences. Therefore, such a theory is far from “biased”, “bigoted” or “unheard of”, for people to try and go after.

When this argument fails, the average leftist who is hurt by Rajiv Malhotra’s appointment as a visiting professor would call him a “plagiarist”. The general trend on social media has actually been, left-leaning ‘public intellectuals’ and leftist portals like The Wire and Quint waxing eloquent on how Malhotra is a ‘cheat’ and a ‘plagiarist’, followed by a link back to a piece on Scroll.in as if that backs up all their assertions.

The editorial on Scroll had a number of issues, least of which were its serious gaps in research and its strange likelihood to shy away from well-known details of the matter. Calling Rajiv Malhotra, “the Ayn Rand of Internet Hindus”, the piece only takes the version of Richard Fox Young: the man who runs a Christian seminary near Princeton University (contrary to what ‘scholars’ say about him being a “professor in Princeton”) and accused Rajiv Malhotra of plagiarising the work of Andrew J. Nicholson in his book, Indra’s Net.

Not only is this an example of shoddy journalism, whereby only an accusation is put forward, with an omission of Malhotra’s strong defence, but this also stands as an example of where these so-called ‘independent portals’ lend their leanings.

What all these journalists and scholars failed to take note of, was the genuine pettiness behind the “plagiarism row”. In his book, Indra’s Net, Malhotra makes 33 references to Nicholson over the course of 9 pages. But Richard Young’s (and Scroll.in’s) version dwells on the three times when it was paraphrased and not in quotation marks.

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Rajiv Malhotra very appropriately points out that no person with the intent to plagiarise one’s work would quote him 33 times in that very chapter. His response to the three occasions when it was not ‘in quotation marks’ was that he did paraphrase the quotes but while putting it in a ‘block-quote’, the changes in the font were not made apparent.

He goes on to cite letters between Nicholson’s publisher, Columbia University Press and his own publisher, HarperCollins, where they wanted HarperCollins to “fix copy-editing mistakes” because even Nicholson’s publishers acknowledged that this was a generic error in quoting and not the issue, that leftists and Rajiv Malhotra’s denigrators would like it to be. It is perhaps, for the same reason, that whenever Malhotra asked for Nicholson to take him to court, an arbitration or any neutral third party, he has shied away. It is of course, much more convenient to write articles on left-wing Indian websites and get cheered on by this vicious cabal.

The fact that ’eminent’ and ‘reputed’ historians like S. Irfan Habib and Audrey Truschke, activists like Kavita Krishnan would rather go by hearsay instead of using their own judgement, speaks volumes on the credibility of the content they put out.

This is not the first time Rajiv Malhotra has been on the receiving end of undeserved criticism, that was based more on rumour, than on reality.

During the Kerala Floods, Rajiv Malhotra sent his personal donations for the floods and asked people to ensure that the money was not being misused for illegal conversions that he had noticed in previously affected areas.

In the case of Kerala too, he did not just throw around allegations on the basis of public talk, like a few others love to do, but actually contacted a number of the organisations in the United States which were raising a lot of money for the floods. And he found that not a single one of them was able to guarantee formally that all of the money raised, would be used for secular causes with no relation and dependence on the victims’ personal faith. He found that only Sewa International was willing to formally guarantee the same. As a result, he went on to tweet, asking people to fund Sewa International because the money would not be misused to subject the victims to further undue religious compulsion, like many evangelical organisations, were doing.

However, that did not stop most of the self-proclaimed “secular” journalists from creating controversy around the request. Ironically, those who are supposed to fight for a ‘dissociation from religion’ (as they call themselves ‘secular’) were actually contending with Rajiv Malhotra’s warning of conversion activities and calls for accountability. Portals like NewsLaundry called him “divisive” and part of the “hate factory”, while repeat offenders called him “racist” and “communal”. Once again, since people actually understood what he meant, there was no possible justification for misrepresenting his side and indulging in inexcusable disparagement.

In truth, the frustration on part of the faction is totally understandable. After all, they did control the socio-political and cultural understanding of the country’s youth for so long.

And now, as they watch themselves losing grip over the Indian narrative, they feel the need to object to the appointment of professors who break the academic ecosystem that they so craftily devised through inbreeding in universities like JNU.

The issue never is with legitimate criticism towards an individual’s works and ideas. It is with passing misrepresentations and abhorrent means of character assassination- with no academic and intellectual basis- as truth. And when an individual or a group stoops to such petty levels of discourse, they shall be vehemently questioned.


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