Why Gurumurthy and RSS need a worldview

Dear Gurumurthy, Intellectually, you are far ahead of RSS colleagues who think the story of Shiva placing an elephant’s head on the decapitated Ganesha proves that ancient India had mastered plastic surgery. So let me contest your now-famous speech at the Vivekananda International Foundation.

Your underlying message was that we must develop an Indian way of looking at the world and not be slaves to foreign nostrums. Fine, but I know nobody who advocates being a slave to foreigners. You are setting up and punching a straw man.

Your underlying assumption, that there is a Western view as against an Indian view, is false. The West has a thousand conflicting views on every topic, including politics and economics. So does India. There is no single Western view and no single Indian view. The RSS may think it has a uniquely Indian view, but a thousand other schools of thought also present Indian interpretations of what works.

Some foreign ideas can be terrible. Maoism is one example. So is fascism, praised by RSS chief Golwalkar, who wrote: “Germany has also shown how… impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into a united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan.” The RSS has, thankfully, abandoned that view.

Just because some foreign ideas have proved bad, doesn’t stop the search for the best. Your speech praises demonetisation and GST, two policies first tried abroad. Keep looking for the best global lessons.

Your speech shows wide knowledge of foreign thinkers, yet you do not think that makes you their slave. So why allege that your critics, who have also read widely, are spineless slaves? Avoid the arrogant approach of Islamic fundamentalists and hardcore Maoists, who claim to have the only true knowledge, untainted by Western slave drivers. Why keep such bad company?

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to blow about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Bravo.

The RSS opposed the entry of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s. It was so afraid of India being blown off its feet that it sought to wall in its house and stuff its windows. I and a thousand other RSS critics are utterly unafraid of being blown off our feet, and utterly confident of absorbing the best from the world and rejecting the rest.

Rabindranath Tagore’s most famous poem seeks an India where “The mind is without fear, and the head is held high; where knowledge is free; where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls.” You are going in the opposite direction.

The latest Economist magazine relates how Tsinghua University, China, went from obscurity to global leader in science and technology. Mao, like the RSS, thought all good knowledge had to be homegrown, untainted by foreign thought. In his time, Tsinghua was an intellectual backwater. Then Deng Xiaoping came to power and decreed that tens of thousands of Chinese students must be sent abroad to absorb ideas and bring them back for use in China. That sparked Tsinghua’s (and China’s) rise. Far from being slaves, the Chinese used global knowledge for global dominance.

Your speech implies that India has just aped Western liberalisation and globalisation. Dead wrong. The Heritage Institute, a US think tank, produces an annual Index of Economic Freedom that placed India at 130 out of 180 countries. In its five categories ranging from fully free to fully unfree, India ranks as “mostly unfree.” Far from slavishly copying Western norms, India is light years away from them.

Truth is, India’s reforms since 1991 have never aped the so-called Washington Consensus. Netas have used jugaad to create a New Delhi Consensus. Its main elements are: 1.We have failed to create prosperity through pervasive government controls and must relax these somewhat.

2.We must retain enough controls to keep industrialists under our thumbs, ensuring that, with fake smiles and quaking knees, they give every budget 8 out of 10 marks on TV.

3. We must resist giving up subsidies, and create new ones to woo every vote possible vote bank.

4. Since liberalisation has ended bribes in decontrolled areas, we must make ever more money from the controlled sectors, to meet ever-rising (though illegal) poll expenses.

Every political party has followed this New Delhi Consensus since 1991. It owes nothing to Western thought and is entirely indigenous. It has produced much faster economic growth than before, yet creates many ills of governance and policy that anger the public.

The answer is not to turn inward but heed the advice of Gandhi, Tagore and Deng. You and the RSS should scour the world for the best ideas and harness them for Indian progress. I hereby pledge to donate one lakh rupees to any venture that helps the RSS seek knowledge from every corner of the globe.

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