Intellectual Standards Organization



What Chetan Bhagat is to Indian writing in English, Ram Guha is to popular modern history. Unlike the Bhagat though, Mr. Guha is an ISO-certified intellectual where ISO stands for Intellectual Standards Organization, that august body to which I somehow someday hope to gain admittance. Hoping to get some tips and tricks, I sat through his interview on a popular English news channel, and I can say with confidence, I came away enriched.

Mr. Guha’s basic contention, which I am presuming is explicated further in his new book that he was promoting, was that India is more intolerant than at any time it has been since Emergency. Now I was tempted to say that the very fact that he is on saying this on TV contradicts his assertion of suppression of free speech, since at one point, he even brings up Pakistan and North Korea, to imply we are only marginally better than them. I also felt that pinning  Canada and Sweden as examples of what we should aspire to be in terms of a liberal society was rather silly, given that these two countries have nothing of the demographics, diversity and history that we have, and that Ram Guha, being a historian should know that most of all, but then I told myself “zyara bhavnao ko samjho” and moved on. Though really I could not move on, perhaps because I think of intolerance as a systemic problem in Indian politics and social life, not one for which one political party can be singled out for, a malaise which draws sustenance from poor protections for free speech afforded by our Constitution, which allows people to be arrested for forwarding cartoons or making social media posts, a Constitution which, surprise of surprises, Guha’s heroes, Nehru and Ambedkar wrote up.

But then what do I know? I am just a struggling author with no  bully pulpit, and no TV channel to promote my book.


After this, Mr. Guha rues the absence of right-wing intellectuals in the country, in a kind of Shatrughan Singha from Betaaj Badshah style: “koi jodidaar chahiye jiske saath hum panjaa lada saake”. He later mentions Dr. Bhagwati and then disqualifies him as a right wing intellectual because “He does not believe in the persecution of Muslims”, in one fell-stroke defining right-wing intellectuals with about as broad and as black a brush as possible, namely those that believe in genocide of minorities. Yes. Tough finding someone who is going to stand up and call himself “right wing” after that definition.

Now one would have thought that the hallmark of an intellectual, specially a self-professed liberal one, would be to eschew sweeping generalizations,and  instead recognize the uniqueness of multiple schools of thought and nuances, even the ones that he does not agree with. Alas, Mr. Guha uses “right wing” as a synonym for “Not like me” and by extension “Wrong by definition”. According to him, “right wing” implies RSS implies “a slavish obedience to the fascist ideals of Golwalkar”, and  if you identify yourself as right, you are all above the above by association. Such gross generalizations used to demonize the “other”, I presumed would have been rhetorical tools of  fundamentalists, not “liberals”.

This is not unique to Mr. Guha. Most of his fellow ISO-certified “liberals” are also extremely closed to any kind of signal outside their echo chambers, just as much as “right wingers” are. This becomes even more ironic when they then rue the absence of right-wing intellectuals, after working actively towards making sure such intellectuals are never heard in the public or in the academic sphere, denying them a stage to express their opinions or hounding them out of academic spaces. This the  distinguished men and women of the “liberal” persuasion can do, exerting as they do an almost absolute control of academia and mainstream media. Any attempt to break their control is considered intolerance, which is also why they believe social media has reduced the level of intellectual discourse, since in social media they can’t so easily silence the people calling out their inconsistencies, misrepresentations and outright falsehoods on a daily basis.

There were other eye-openers. I learned that identity politics is fine, as long as it is done on the lines of caste. I learned that Ambedkar, Gandhi, and Nehru were Guha’s heroes (ok I knew that before, having read his books), and though I wanted to do to Guha his Golwalkar move, namely read out what Gandhi thought about black people and imply that Guha is racist, since he just referred to Gandhi as his role model. I desisted from doing so, because I do not have the ISO certificate and the forum to do so. And because I think it is wrong to use this line of argument.

I came to know that Mr. Guha opposes a ban on alcohol imposed by Nitish, and instead favors high taxes, the principle being to price the poor out of the market. Realistically though, higher prices would not stop a drunk from drinking, it would just make him even more desperate for money and more prone to abusing his family and engaging in crimes. On the other hand, higher taxes would have no effect on the elites, who presumably wont care whether there is a cess of 120 pc or 150 pc on their Scotch. Not this should be of any concern. As we know, the elites never do bad things when they are drunk, and a number of pavement dwellers outside Best Bakery in Bandra can attest to that.

One would have thought, that a well-founded intellectual argument would either take the form of a libertarian  (government should minimally regulate adult activity) or the diametrically opposite, benevolent sarkar mai baap socialist one (government strongly regulates the activities of adults for public good, which if you support, also leads to, by extension, moral control, censorship and other assorted intolerance evils). However what is advocated by Mr. Guha is neither here nor there, which if I didnt know better, I would say simply stems from a belief that poor uneducated people should not be allowed to drink, hence making it more expensive would solve the problem, but elites like him should.

Overall though, I can say I learned a lot, if not on the certificate program for intellectualism but definitely on how to promote a book.

And honestly, right now with “Sultan of Delhi: Ascension” on the verge of release, that’s the skill I most need.

21 thoughts on “Intellectual Standards Organization

  1. There is no political philosophy here, only brahmanical arrogance. Most of India’s intellectuals suffer from same disease. That’s why a bhumihar landlord could pretend to be Marxist revolutionary w/o any shame. Right wing, left wing are meaningless when all of their leadership in India is just two castes

  2. I am not sure what your intellectual grouse against Guha is but you really did not have to bludgeon basic economics to do that.

    The economics of prohibition is rather well understood. Prohibition is a really bad idea. Crime typically increases because there is a new avenue for it. Alcohol consumption only marginally decreases. Corruption increases, taxes fall and all that. More importantly, safer forms of liquor get substituted with the more risky and potent ones. I mean if you are going to take the risk of consuming a prohibited substance , why not drink the one that gives you the most ‘kick’. And you do realize the people who pay the most penalty for all the above problems are the poor. More likely to get arrested,punished and essentially screwed for life. There is plenty of research about the prohibition time period from the US which tells you to lot more.

    The other alternative is to impose a ‘sin tax’ which Guha seems to be advocating. And this seems to work well with cigarettes and other such substances. There is a lot of evidence to indicate that high prices of cigarettes do discourage smoking. Sure the poor pay more to buy alcohol but at least it’s safer and legal compared to the alternative.

    Now you may argue that the social costs of liquor consumption are zero and hence that the government has no business in levying such taxes but that doesn’t seem to be the argument you make here.

    • my friend, please talk to a neighborhood cigarette seller and ask him how much has increasing cost of same affected his sales. He will tell you how many flats he owns

      • Take a look at ITCs quarterly cigarette volumes and get back to making hearsay replies to well rationalised points when you have data to back up arguments

      • This is perhaps true of many panshop wallahs and roadside snack sellers though not most of them have much property. If so what is the point?

  3. You have blinders on obviously. It was a good interview and sorry you lack the intellectual heft to ever be counted among them
    ta ta

  4. You are trying to make 2 points here.

    The first is that Guha was making weak arguments in that Barkha Dutt interview, as he often does on TV. Someone who argues Congress is dead because they lost elections recently clearly is projecting his own desires into what he sells as objective analysis. If you are any wiser, you wouldn’t have to read his books to know he is prone to such fallacious arguments. He does not represent the left. He sees himself as a victim of the left, and as sympathetic to right wing intellectual thought. But the consistent thing you will notice is that like a true pujari, he sets himself up as an arbitrator of all kinds of lofty thinking. His biggest fear seems to be not that either the left or the right will dominate the discourse, but that he will be ignored by Barkha Dutt. I can’t quite understand why he pines for Indian libertarian thinkers, when such thought did little to add to public discourse even in the US. I also think you missed the point he was trying to make about Bhagwati espousing secular values while prescribing right wing views for the economy.

    Secondly, I understand watching Guha talk like an idiot makes you think, you can holdforth like that. And you may be right. Consequently you wish Barkha interviewed you instead. I sympathize with that.

    Maybe you should carefully think about, whether your hatred against the liberals is because they ignore you or because you are a true believer in the rightist cause. Some of your arguments sound like the ones Dalits make when they want to be treated well by the Middle Class. Except, of course you are trying to move from middle class to the elite sections.

    Let me conclude by stating a bitter truth. India is ruled by the guys from St. Stephens. Guha studied there. I doubt if you even went to the Presidency college. So, very few people will buy your books, no matter how well you write. YOU ARE FUCKED. LIVE WITH IT.

  5. Barkha Dutt interviewing Ram Guha. Cosy club.
    Barkha Dutt in a tete-a-tete with Priyanka Gandhi. Such a sweet love fest, it looked like two schoolgirls discussing their love lives. Watching that show on TV gave me a sugar rush.

    Ah, such an intellectual “safe space”. Gadflies and challengers NOT welcome.
    You cannot be an intellectual, unless you have the “right” kind of opinions, and you”ll do well to remember that here the left is right, and the right is wrong.

    Another thing to observe is that barring few exceptions, these ” ïntellectuals” are almost invariably liberal arts educated. Recalling quotation that stuck to my mind years ago:

    “The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship”. Robert A. Heinlein

    One of our liberal arts educated presstitutes actually had something to say about this:

    • Sir P B Medawar wrote (about social sciences)

      “If a broad line of demarcation is drawn between the natural sciences and what can only be described as the unnatural sciences, it will at once be recognised as a distinguishing mark of the latter that their practitioners try most painstakingly to imitate what they believe — quite wrongly, alas for them — to be the distinctive manners and observances of the natural sciences. Among these are: (a) the belief that measurement and numeration are intrinsically praiseworthy activities (the worship, indeed, of what Ernst Gombrich calls idols quantitates); (b) the whole discredited farrago of inductivism — especially the belief that facts are prior to ideas and that a sufficiently voluminous compilation of facts can be processed by a calculus of discovery in such a way as to yield general principles and natural-seeming laws; (c) another distinguishing mark of unnatural scientists is their faith in the efficacy of statistical formulae, especially when processed by a computer — the use of which is in itself interpreted as a mark of scientific manhood.1”
      Another appropriately telling remark
      “the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not.”
      Our Professors of Economic, History and other subjects which used to come under the rubric of Arts need to be told this. As well as the gullible public. As for the TV celebrities they will never give up their delusions!

  6. Guha a brahmin? How people turn everything into caste (regarding one comment I read above). On the article bong, you are hindu Tarek Fatah or a subramaniam swamy..a bangali tiger. You shouldn’t have wasted writing novels. You have a calling. We need that jawa-gunda blood 🙂

  7. Omg Guha and B Dutt in one interview. How much more R sponsored anti India anti Hindu can this get 😆. Maybe they could have slaughtered a cow in Kashmiri Qurbani style and feed it to Wani and Kanhaiya Kumar while displaying MF Hussain Portraits.

  8. Hi Arnab,
    I always look forward to the insight and humor you offer through such articles. This time though, I can’t see if you are trying to make a point, or simply state that Guha is misguided.
    Are you saying ban on alcohol is a better option than increase in taxes?
    From what I’ve read of his works, his opinion, that the Constitution needs to be improved upon, is very obvious. Yes, his admiration for the makers of post independence India is apparent, every time he writes or speaks.
    In the interview, he states that impositions on freedom of speech are rampant regardless of which party is in power. So, from what I read here, you agree with him over that.
    I don’t mind you making fun of him as a pseudo intellectual or whatever else. But if you don’t have counter arguments and your rationale for them, it just comes across as a piece ridiculing a person. I know this blog has more depth than that.

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