Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why Perry Anderson is a bitter old man for Indian intellectuals?

By Naseer A Ganai

Before historian Ramchandra Guha started his talk in his first ever visit to Kashmir at a local newspaper, Rising Kashmir, office in Srinagar, a moderator had a word of caution: Please don’t ask anything about Kashmir. Guha insisted that he could be asked questions about anything except Kashmir as, he said, he was not an expert on Kashmir.

Subsequently, in response to a question about criticism of Indian intellectuals by Perry Anderson in his book ‘The Indian Ideology’, Guha described it as a “dishonest book by a bitter old man.” “I can explain point by point why it is dishonest. I have written in my book 60 pages on Naga insurgency, which are not sympathetic to Indian government and same is the case of Kashmir,” Guha said.

Castigating Anderson for never having visited India and describing his knowledge “abysmal” and his approach “colonial”, Guha questioned, “His book (The Indian Ideology) is based on five or six books including mine, but how does he use it?... I have described India in my book ‘India after Gandhi’ a 50-50 democracy. How can he accuse me of being an apologist?”

Since Guha was in Kashmir for the first time and once you are in Kashmir, and especially when you’re a respected Indian intellectual, you cannot avoid questions about Kashmir, and it doesn’t matter whether you start with a disclaimer that questions about Kashmir should not be asked for “I am not an expert on Kashmir.”

Guha faced Kashmir questions and he answered them as well. “India has a case on Kashmir and so does Pakistan,” Guha said. Talking about one of his interviews about Kashmir, and how a Pakistan-based newspaper misquoted him, Guha said, “Actually I had said India’s case on Kashmir is not constitutionally foolproof, Pakistan’s case on Kashmir is not foolproof; it (Kashmir) is a genuine dispute, there is genuine conflict where both sides have a case, but I was quoted in the headline itself which read ‘Indian historian says India’s case on Kashmir is not foolproof’.”

There is nothing wrong the way the headline of Pakistani newspaper as Goha did say India’s case on Kashmir is not foolproof. It is inexplicable to understand why Goha objects to the headline because he did say that India’s case on Kashmir is not constitutionally foolproof. It seems Pakistani newspaper should have used headline “Indian historian says India and Pakistan’s case on Kashmir is not constitutionally foolproof” to keep Kashmir discourse perfectly balanced.

In contrast, Perry Anderson doesn’t use weighing machine to balance his idea of history. He has a clear take on Kashmir issue as he talks of it being under the “longest military occupation in the world” with a “far higher ratio of repression than in Palestine or Tibet”.

Anderson accuses Indian intellectuals of teaching lesson of morality and humanity to the world but forgetting the same when it comes to their own government. He takes on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen who in 2010 criticised the then prime minister of India for welcoming Myanmar president. Sen had said, ‘As a loyal Indian citizen it breaks my heart to see the prime minister of my democratic country-and one of the most humane and sympathetic political leaders in the world-engaged in welcoming the butchers of Myanmar and photographed in the state of cordial proximity.”

Anderson ridicules Sen saying “if we turn to the Argumentative Indian, we find-in a footnote: ‘the Kashmir issue certainly demands political attention on its own.’ As Sen doesn’t mention Kashmir anywhere else in his book,Anderson has this sarcasm store for Sen, “Nor, we infer from that delicate parenthesis,” anywhere else either.” “Nobel prizes are rarely badges of political courage-some of infamy-so there is little surprise at a silence that, in one form or another, is so common among Indian intellectuals.”

Owing to the statements of most liberal intellectuals who want to balance that “India’s case on Kashmir is not constitutionally foolproof” must have “Pakistan’s case on Kashmir is not foolproof on its side” no one in Kashmir is interested to know what Indian intellectuals, barring few, have to speak about Kashmir.

Liberal Indian intellectuals don’t take position on Kashmir while as right wing historians trace linkage of Kashmir with India by quoting ancient Hindu scriptures. Such is the disinterest regarding Indian intellectuals that even when they talk about human rights abuses in Kashmir, they are not even trusted. It is because they have over the years devoted their energies to balance even the discourse on human rights violation in Kashmir by comparing disproportionate violence of the state with that of violence of non-state actors.

Over the years everything has been perfectly balanced by them. “What do you mean by Azadi?” Whose Azadi?  “Don’t you have Azadi?” they would ask when whole Kashmir was on streets in 2008 and 2010. “Don’t you participate in the elections? Is it not election a sign of Azadi?”

Now if you pose a counter ask why not elections held under British Raj were construed as sign of Azadi, they say don’t draw comparisons.  Had such interrogative questions come from the state, they would have been justified but it’s surprising when they come from ‘neutral’ observers and academics at a time when 112 boys as young as 12 year olds were killed in street of Kashmir in 2010.

Some intellectuals describe elections in Kashmir as some kind of a miracle as if elections are only unique to Kashmir. Kashmiris are voting, they would say, and it is a vote for India. The very participation of Kashmiris in elections, they would argue, is ample proof that there is no issue in Kashmir and it is settled for ever. If you counter them and say if you are so sure of elections, why not to try a plebiscite, they would accuse of sacrilege.

Some would go a step further and write books after books on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s arrest in 1953 arguing that Jawaharlal Nehru had nothing to do with it, that it was all local politics and Nehru was hurt the way Sheikh Abdullah was treated for 23 years. Anderson breaks all this mythology paraded as history and that is why it hurts Indian intellectual most. And that is why Anderson turns into bitter old man for Indian intellectuals.

Many in Kashmir believe that there is complete harmony in the arguments of Indian intellectuals and that of State-run institutions. Only the language of intellectuals is much more sophisticated.


No doubt Guha in his talk didn’t reduce Kashmir to a footnote in spite of the declaimer at the beginning. He didn’t hesitate to describe Kashmir as a “genuine dispute”. He explained it at length. But putting a disclaimer indicates there is reluctance to talk about the subject which brings forth uncomfortable questions. This reluctance is referred as silence of Indian Intellectual by Anderson.

Moreover, if Guha can write page after page in his book ‘India after Gandhi’ on Kashmir without visiting Kashmir, why should he deny the same privilege to Anderson and accuse him of ‘not visiting India’ and then writing a book on India?