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Evolving A Strategic Framework for Indic Renaissance


Background

The default paradigm to understand India and Hinduism is Western in nature. Indian society, culture, and traditions have been studied using Eurocentric concepts. European constructs such as Secularism, Nationalism, Left, and Right continue to dominate the discourse in India.

For example:

  • Secularism imputes a negative tone to religion because of Europe’s experience with Christian brutality and religious persecution. Secularism was needed in the West, but the need for it did not arise in India. India’s experience has been positive. Pluralism is inbuilt in Dharmic traditions. Jews, Christians, and Muslims came to India and have co-existed with the Hindus (the natives) for thousands of years. So, using Secularism hides India’s Pluralism and weakens its manifestation.
  • Nationalism has a negative context in the West (and rightfully so) whereas in India it has its roots in the freedom struggle. So, the fear-mongering over Hindu Nationalism is misplaced and diabolical.

Marxist scholarship (much has been written about this) has alienated a large majority of the Indians from their own roots. Many are unaware of some incontestable facts about Hindu tradition. Identity is a very important social construct based on tradition. Alienated and deracinated, most Indians seek and gloat over Western countenances. Hence, India’s world view and world view of India remains disoriented.

Changing the paradigm

The process to alter the paradigm, i.e. create an Indic narrative, began a few decades ago, albeit on a small scale. The last few decades have seen the emergence of a fragmented ecosystem contributing to establishing an Indic narrative in academic, cultural, social, and economic spheres. There are remarkable books, articles, papers, and talks as an outcome. Many platforms have sprung up that act as a voice for curated scholarship on a variety of Indic topics. The emergence of social media has been a boon for this ecosystem. However, this ecosystem has not been able to change the narrative. They have been successful in challenging them, but not in changing them.

Let me give you a few examples to buttress my point:

Hindu Dharma continues to be attacked regarding its treatment of caste and gender rights.

  • On the question of caste, we have traced it back to western foundations, however, we have not been able to articulate Indic viewpoints based on facts from our scriptures comprehensively (i.e. reconstruction has not been achieved). The situation is not any different for gender rights and treatment of women.

Negationism of Islam’s destructive role in India

  • The Western scholarship continues to advance the “peaceful” nature of Islam whereas facts about its violent foundation stand ignored. For example, western academic scholarship continues to sing paeans about Aurangzeb.

Despite the discrediting of the Aryan Invasion of the Aryan Migration theory, the idea continues to maintain a foothold in the Indological mind space the world over.

The above Hinduphobic narratives are toxic, have a sound academic base, well-oiled machinery, and a power transmission system that effortlessly penetrates deracinated minds.

On the other hand, there have been very few occasions when Indic narratives gathered momentum and have shown to have a good beginning, much like a vaccine showing promise during the early stages of testing.

Let me give you two examples here:

  • Professor’s Adluri and Bagchi have emerged as a substantial force against perverted western interpretations of Mahabharata through their academic research on German Indology.
  • Erasing Hinduphobic content in California History textbooks was driven by Dr Kundan Singh, an academic scholar with expertise in constructing narratives based on research and analysis.

These three academicians have successfully ensured that the world takes notice of their viewpoints and by their respective work, have asserted and underscored the critical role of academic scholarship in advancing narratives about Indic culture.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this for ushering in the Indic Renaissance.

In my quest to decolonize myself, I have come across several colonial-era writings.

Amongst them, an essay titled “An Essay on the best means of civilizing the subjects of British India and of diffusing the religion of Christianity throughout the East” written by John Mitchell, a Scottish Missionary, in 1805 stands out because of the nature and impact of his work in the long-term.

The essay is essentially a strategy document on how to destroy India’s culture, economy, and society.

In terms of timeline, this essay stands between William Jones’s Orientalist writings of the 1880s and Thomas Macaulay’s writings of the 1830s and slightly ahead of James Mill’s racist interpretation of India’s history in 1817. This context is pertinent to understand how this influenced colonial rule over India.

This must be one of the earliest known SWOT analyses ever conducted on how to colonize and suppress the colonized.

John Mitchell adopted a very structured approach by performing a current state assessment of India and the colonial administration, identifying improvement opportunities and recommending specific actions for the colonial powers in order to extend their rule over India.

Here again, there’s a lesson to be learned for ushering in the Indic Renaissance.

Indic Renaissance

Indic Renaissance is a collective movement to preserve, protect, and promote Indic culture based on Indic civilizational thought. Many players are involved in articulating Indic viewpoints on variety of topics.

However, the movement suffers from multiple problems.

Even though the objectives are noble, there’s no institutional focus. There are no common objectives, much less focus. On the important question of Indic narratives, there’s difference of opinion amongst Indic scholars on the very basics. I have personally experienced it on various occasions when glaring disagreements on the question of caste or status of women came to the fore.

There are no clear Indic positions on caste, gender rights, treatment of women, dating of Ramayana or Mahabharata etc. because a proper reconstruction has not been achieved. Also, some of these issues are present day concerns with changing societal morality. In such contexts the position of Indic culture and parampara needs to defined or re-defined.

Besides, there’s lack of adequate support structure to advance Indic narratives.

Advancing Indic narratives is a challenging proposition in the face of formidable Marxist ecosystem. So, there’s a greater need for coherence, cohesion and collaboration within the movement.

Indic renaissance will benefit from two critical lessons as mentioned previously.

Lesson 1:

Advancing Indic narratives must first recognize the critical role of academic scholarship in deconstructing colonial narratives and in reconstructing Indic viewpoints.

  • The academic scholarship will give the narrative the legitimacy it requires to challenge and then change the narrative.

Lesson 2:

Indic renaissance must be based on a structured approach to help deal with the complexities of building Indic narratives.

  • A structured approach will help clarify objectives, maintain focus, build coalitions, and advance Indic narratives emphatically.

It is in this context following the Strategic framework for Indic Renaissance.

Strategic framework for Indic Renaissance

Building narratives has two distinct, but related components:

1. Challenge existing narratives using deconstructive methodologies

  •  Deconstruction involves studying narratives that are Hindu phobia, analyzing and understanding the cultural, historical, political, and social context within which the narrative was framed. This will help in identifying the bias and mischaracterization inherent in the narrative that can be called out and challenged.
    (e.g.: Studying James Mill’s interpretation of Sanatana Dharma using Discourse Analysis)

2. Change existing narratives using reconstructive methodologies

  • Reconstruction requires studying Indic knowledge systems and building a legitimate version of Indic history and articulating Indic positions pertaining to the narrative.
    (e.g.: Reconstructing the Hindu basis of Thirukkural)

A 5-phase approach in advancing Indic narratives that will tie three key pieces of the framework together – Narratives, Objectives, and Coalitions is proposed as below.

Strategic Framework for Indic Renaissance

Phase 1: Define Objectives

Catalog narratives to build, define objectives and identify partners for each narrative. Evolving a strategy and implementing it to change the narrative is global in scope. We need to
be prudent in choosing relevant narratives to build (challenge or change), be clear in what we want to achieve for each narrative and be selective in building our stakeholders and partners ecosystem.

Defining objectives with stakeholders will help create a common view of opportunities and help establish the best path forward. Finalizing narratives, clarifying objectives, determining stakeholders will help us take the next step more confidently.

Anticipated takeaways:

  • Creation of a detailed master catalogue of narratives that is to be deconstructed and reconstructed.
  • A common view of opportunities
  • Ownership of narrative building
  • Clarity on funding mechanism and the longevity of the same (25+ years)

Challenges and open items:

  • We are not known to institutionalize our activities well. We need to organize ourselves better in order to succeed. Many Indic groups are operating today, there’s some collaboration, but ego issues and political bottlenecks need to be overcome.
  • Who drives the initiative to build a strategy?
  • Who needs to be included in this initial setup and how is it decided?
  • Can an individual be the owner of a narrative? Should it be an organization?

Phase 2: Build an Ecosystem

Once we are clear about what we want to pursue, we need to establish and/or build a scholarly ecosystem to provide a secure basis for Indic Renaissance.

A Scholarly ecosystem is the bed rock of Indic Renaissance. Building this ecosystem is key to moving forward with the strategy and implementation, irrespective of scope and scale of the effort.

Indic Knowledge system is vast. Mining such a vast repository requires specific areas of expertise. There are scholars who have developed expertise in specific areas as in Ramayana, Status of Women in Hindu culture, Dating of Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Aryan Invasion myth, Thirukkural etc. We need to pick experts based on narrative and its objectives.

An ecosystem consisting of scholars and academic institutions must be put in place so as to author academic scholarship on Indic narratives.

Indic knowledge systems, the texts and the traditions are best understood in its native form. This means we need scholars who are experts in Sanskrit. Capacity building in this area will be a key dependency in the long run.

Phase 3: Conduct a current state assessment /SWOT analysis

Building an Indic narrative is a tall order. The scholarship will provide the ammunition needed to challenge and change the narrative. Preparing the narrative is one part of the story, promoting and positioning it is a greater challenge in the face of adversity.

Narrative needs a well-oiled machinery and a transmission system to take it forward. Understanding the position of a narrative is important. We need to take a leaf out of SWOT analysis conducted by British in 1805. I propose a detail assessment of the following (not a comprehensive list) to determine how the ecosystem stacks up for or against each narrative and who the players are.

  • Academia
  • Media
  • Politics
  • Legal
  • Popular Culture
  • Social Organization
  • Technology
  • Private Sector

SWOT Analysis (performed for each narrative) will help us understand:

  • Our strengths so that we can leverage them going forward
  • Our weakness so that we can work towards overcoming them
  • The opportunities present so that we may take advantage of them
  • The threats so that we find a way to deal with them

The assessment must be global in scope and driven by objectives for each narrative. SWOT analysis will act as a feasibility study of Indic Renaissance.

Phase 4: Determine Target State, perform gap analysis and identify actions

This is an important phase to align the interests of a fragmented Indic ecosystem. Based on current state assessment (SWOT analysis), we can gauge the possibilities of short, medium and long-term goals.

Detailing our end goal for each narrative in the master catalogue and documenting current gaps in meeting that goal will help us determine specific actions that need to be taken to position and promote Indic narratives. The goal of Indic renaissance must be to reclaim and sustain the narrative. So, target actions must ensure the narrative is sustained forever while dealing with threats and challenges along the way.

Furthermore, it will help in clarifying dependencies (e.g: required scholarship, roles and responsibilities, funding needs, stakeholder requirements etc.) and prioritizing actions.

The target actions may depend on the narrative in question.
For example, the position and promotion of Aryan Invasion Myth may be more important in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, than say in Nagaland or Rajasthan. To that effect, the actions required in Tamil Nadu and Andhra for changing the Aryan Invasion narrative may be different from what is required in Rajasthan or Nagaland. In Tamil Nadu, leveraging the popular culture may be more important in advancing Indic narratives, so media and movie ecosystem must be developed.

Thus, the actions and stakeholders required depends on the narrative in question.

Of course, there may be common needs across the spectrum, such as changing the academic curriculum.

Challenges and open items:

  • Building the required leadership at multiple levels to help with implementation going forward. To that effect, identifying leadership roles, socializing, and confirming the same will help ensure ownership and accountability (governance) going forward.
  • Obtaining buy-in from all stakeholders will help avoid bottlenecks during implementation in the future.

Phase 5: Develop a Roadmap

An Indic Renaissance to reclaim the narrative will span multiple decades. An initiative of this nature requires strong leadership and a practical approach. A prudent way is to organize it by short-term (~5-10 years), medium-term (15-25 years) and long-term goals (25+ years).

A roadmap must highlight how we plan to achieve our goals that we detailed in the target state (previous phase). Sequencing of actions (at high-level) will help us time-box our activities. A detailed plan will be an eventual outcome of this exercise which will include granular timelines.

Here are some guidelines to build the roadmap:

  • Recognize existing initiatives / in-flight activities within the ecosystem (e.g.: Deconstruction of German Indology, the deconstruction of Aryan Invasion myth) and align with future initiatives.
  • There are fundamental capabilities that may need to be built upfront (e.g.: building a scholarship ecosystem for a specific narrative – AIT/AMT or Caste System or Building a Dharmic economic model, building up written and spoken knowledge of Sanskrit).
  • Understand current threat perceptions (from SWOT analysis) to the Indic narratives to better prioritize actions (from Target State definition).

Conclusion

Evolving strategy requires foresight. It’s a team effort. At this point in time, we do not even know what that “team” is. We have never attempted to organize ourselves in the past much less evolve a coherent strategy. There have been no common objectives, there’s no precedence to rely or learn from.
There are many questions, difficult ones inclusive, for which we do not have answers.

This makes it even more challenging to arrive at a strategy. But that must not stop us from thinking about it.

Hence, framework for developing a strategy based on the problem domain and leveraging contemporary methods of analysis are suggested. Framework offers a structure with which a strategy may be developed. Framework will guide in expanding and deriving something useful. It will help us find answers to the right and difficult questions.

Evolving a strategy will give us an institutionalized mechanism to reclaim the narrative, revitalize our intellectual pursuits and spirit of enquiry and help advance Indic tradition throughout the world. Winning the narrative war requires a cohesive and collective effort from the Indic side. We have to organize ourselves better, anchor and pivot academic scholarship in order to usher in the Indic renaissance.

References

  1. Adluri, Viswa and Bagchi Joydeep, Nay Science: A History of German Indology. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  2. Elst, Koenraad. Decolonizing Hindu Mind. New Delhi: Rupa, 2005.
  3. Frawley, David. What is Hinduism? A Guide for the Global Mind. New Delhi: Bloomsbury, 2018.
  4. Kanagasabapathi, P. Indian Models of Economy, Business and Management, New Delhi: PHI Learning, 2012.
  5. Mill, James. The British History of India, Vol 1. Forgotten Books, 2012.
  6. Mitchel, John. An Essay on the best means of civilizing the subjects of British India and of diffusing the religion of Christianity throughout the East, 1805.
  7. Singh, Kundan. Personal Communication, 2020.
  8. Shourie, Arun. Secular Agenda. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1993.
  9. Shourie, Arun. Missionaries in India. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1993.
  10. Viswanathan, Kalyan. Personal Communication, 2020

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