Non-Left tanks’ turn to think - Quiet rise of foundations keen to mainstream nationalist policies

Source: The Telegraph      Date: 15 Sep 2014 16:18:38


New Delhi, Sept. 14: “Nationalism” was the key word and “mainstreaming nationalist thinking and policies” the operative phrase.

The India Foundation, India Policy Foundation and the Deendayal Research Institute are not half as well known as the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, not even in Delhi, a hub of advocacy outfits and think tanks.

Yet, the first three are stoked by a common mission, described by a political scientist as “creating a big space in India’s intellectual discourse” for the non-Left “nationalist stream”.

Now that India has voted a full-fledged government that the “nationalists” claim ownership over, these organisations — that straddle a grey area between being advocacy groups and think-tanks — have revved up to reclaim a space they believed was appropriated by the Left and the Left-of-Centre since after Independence.

Those associated with these groups proclaimed their outfits were independent of the BJP government. Yet their areas of research and study and the premises, deductions and conclusion fit in with the RSS-BJP’s world-view more often than not.

“We have nothing to do directly with the BJP’s activities. Ours is an outreach think-tank that connects with other global think-tanks,” said BJP MP and India Foundation director, Chandan Mitra. However, often the links go beyond ideological solidarity.

Take the Vivekananda International Foundation, also Delhi headquartered.

Of the RSS-BJP affiliated entities, this one hogged mind space when, in June 2014, it gave away two of its core team members, Ajit Doval and Nripendra Mishra, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office. Doval became Modi’s national security adviser and Mishra his principal secretary.

The India Foundation “lost” its founder, Ram Madhav, to the BJP where he was inducted as a general secretary.

Vivekananda Foundation’s editor and senior fellow K.G. Suresh, however, stressed the issue was not about individuals but “national interest”. “There is a prejudice against national interests as though the phrase is politically incorrect,” said Suresh, a former journalist, and picked on the “popular prisms” the chatterati and the literati used to view Jammu and Kashmir as an example.

“In the Left platforms, the discussions are inevitably about human rights violations by the security forces. Credibility is given to secessionist outfits like the Hurriyat Conference while subjects like the impact of Article 370 on women and its gender-discriminatory provisions are never discussed,” alleged Suresh.

He said “even” Congressman Shashi Tharoor’s late wife Sunanda Pushkar, who hailed from Jammu, had laboured the same point to try and legitimise his own contention.

The short shrift given to the non-Left was a constant gripe with this school.

Rakesh Sinha, a political science professor at Delhi University, recalled the tipping moment that firmed up his objective to get the non-Left its “rightful” place in polemics and policies.

An honorary director of the India Policy Foundation, he recalled a question he was asked by a panel of academics that interviewed him when he had applied for an MPhil at Delhi University in 1989.

“I was a topper in MA. Yet, the only question they asked was what is the difference between you and (Nathuram) Godse (Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin)? Perhaps the provocation was I was a member of the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS’s student wing) or that I had written a dissertation on (KB) Hedgewar (Sangh founder),” Sinha said.

“My answer was every signatory of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution is not Beant Singh. So every Hedgewar sympathiser is not a Godse adherent. I was stunned to know how little these professors knew outside the ideological space they inhabited and worse still, how they had straitjacketed the nationalist ideology in black-and-white terms. Unfortunately, after Independence, governments hugely patronised the Left-based discourse,” he said.

Another India Foundation director, A. Surya Prakash, whose core areas of interest were the working of democracy, Constitution and Parliament, amplified the point about Left intellectual domination.

When the Modi government grappled with the question of whether the Congress could legitimately claim the Opposition leader’s post because it was short of numbers in the Lok Sabha, it was Surya Prakash who did the homework and provided the background.

“The Left’s focus was on subaltern studies, medieval history. But because of its dominance in academe, bureaucracy and the media, and the Left’s contempt for bourgeois democracy, after Independence there were no studies on Parliament, the Election Commission, the Supreme Court or the state assemblies,” he said. Surya Prakash is using his stint in the foundation to “fill this big lacuna”.

In tangible terms, what does a BJP government imply for these places?

“Quite a lot,” conceded Atul Jain, an associate with the Deendayal Institute, that dates back to 1968. He said the institute would celebrate Jan Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay’s birth centenary in 2016 with “greater fervour” because of the Centre’s support. In real times, the RSS-BJP will use the occasion to spread their ideology to the unconverted the country over, said a Sangh source.

Sinha leveraged his position to help Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen renew her Indian visa from the home ministry. Taslima is likely to get a fellowship from his foundation to write her next book.