The recently concluded 1st Tamil Nadu Young Thinkers’ Meet (TNYTM) organised by India Foundation checked many boxes that suggest the evolution of democratic discourse in the state and at large, the nation. It had a chosen 50 participants from across various districts of Tamil Nadu below the age of 40 deliberating on understanding the current socio-political scenario and building a platform to develop an alternative to the prevailing discourse dominated by left-liberals. When an established writer like Ramachandra Guha questions “Where are the Right-Wing Intellectuals”, the topic does garner momentum from the already established “Left-Wing Intellectuals” and a chance to introspect for those who espouse the causes of the Centre-Right or Far-Right.
That’s where the complexity of the debate begins. In India, classifying ideologues as “Left” and “Right” does more than confuse the audience, it also misappropriates the intellectual property of those who do not align with either sides. In the TNYTM, it was fairly evident that liberal ideologies jostled for space with the conservatives, and yet it was under an over-arching umbrella of establishing a new standard of discourse that doesn’t get shaded by Nehruvian propaganda. Is this the new Right? It is too early to say. Do they offer a chance to ideate, express and engage without being the cheerleaders of the BJP government? Possibly so.
In sessions, on issues ranging from Tamil Culture to Social Intergration and Distributive Justice to India at 70, there was large evidence of the participants being openly critical of the ruling (State and Central) governments’ policies while simultaneously understanding the teething troubles of an economy trying to find its place on topics like free markets, affirmative action and aggressive foreign policy. Beginning with an inaugural talk by Dattatreya Hosabale (senior functionary from the RSS), TNYTM offered a chance to explore issues under a new light. Walter Andersen’s sentiment that the ‘RSS is most misunderstood and unnecessarily feared’ found validation in the modern and dynamic talking points of Hosabale’s speech.
The undercurrent of redefining what the Dravidian movement means in the current times, unburdening it of strong stereotypes including the anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindi call for action, truly set the tone for every session. Renowned Tamil Scholar Dr. G. Gnanasundaram and S. Ramachandran of South Indian Social History Research Institute offered insights into the evolution of Tamil society, its culture and movements over history. Extended debates on the prevalence and importance of North Indian languages in the Dravidian heartland, appeasement of local communities through manipulative popularization of classical literature of non-religious nature, and the more recent Cauvery issue as a harbinger of Tamil sentiment led to a serious rethink on the necessity of a third dharmic alternative in Tamil Nadu.
In a keynote address on “India at 70: National Influence of the Dominant Socio-Political Forces”, speaker Swapan Dasgupta (journalist and MP, Rajya Sabha) highlighted how the ‘Idea of India’ has been conveniently created and media-managed to only include the past 200 years of Indian history, forgetting the 2000 year old civilisation ethos of the nation. To a nation that has forever been mesmerised and easily bought by Western thought and science, indigenous traditions, philosophy and culture needs to be revived as a part of its own self-realisation. For the room full of engineers, lawyers, humanities graduates and entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, this struck a deep chord. Hence, it is imperative for a Right Wing discourse to exist that is simply not a binary to the Left Wing intellectualism.
Be it good governance, economics or policy making, it is the most opportune moment for India to develop a school of thought that is away from the rhetoric of freebies, crony-capitalism and short, unsustainable spurts of market growth. In a refreshingly candid session on the state of the economy, Shakti Sinha (Former Chief Secretary, Andaman and Nicobar) asserted the need to empower the private sector that is not the sum of large corporations. Governments cannot afford to let votebanks take the call on administration of national resources, just as large corporations should not be calling the shots on policy making. Irrespective of being on different ends of the Right spectrum, these were fundamental points that all participants could agree upon. That in itself promises the emergence and support for a school of thought that has long been promoted by the likes of Bibek Debroy and Arvind Subramaniam. If they are not intellectuals of academic rigour, who is?
In an illumining session headlined by R Jagannathan (Editorial Director, Swarajya) and V. Hari Kiran (Founder, Indic Academy), a resounding call was sounded to the young thinkers to take up serious research to develop and establish an alternative school of thought. Whether activism, art or authorship, the future of a healthy discourse depends upon cultivating a discipline for research that is established in Indic thought. The prevalent discourse of the Left already borrows heavily from Western ideas of politics, science and economy. A line of debate steering clear of bile, insults and empty rhetoric should mark the rise of Indic intelligentsia. It must be diverse and accommodative enough to portray the ideals of a modern, cultured and resurgent India. TNYTM has in its bearings the ability to propel the new discourse.
Interspersed through the two and a half days, there were multiple opportunities for the participants to share their initiatives on varied issues, including promoting spiritual learning in schools, measuring the accountability of media, checking forced proselytisation and legal battles to restore temple properties with the community. It shed light on the number of issues plaguing the causes of the Right Wing. It matters that events like TNYTM facilitate the knowledge and resource sharing for enabling such socio-political activism.
Participants of the TNYTM engaged in enlightening and sensitive discussions such as the ones on ‘social integration and distributive justice’ and ‘J&K, North East and its significance to the rest of India’. Right wing, in its current form, has been defined as being apathetic and irrationally aggressive on the issues respectively. The Meet gave the participants a chance to explore other vantage points while in discussions with Prof Vivek Kumar (JNU) and Ram Madhav (National General Secretary, BJP). It is the need of the hour for the Right Wing to break free of the stereotype of catering just to the savarna male identity and take along every demographic in its discourse.
TNYTM was a much needed beginning for the youth of Tamil Nadu to come together and chart a new course in unprecedented territory. It offers a possibility to inculcate the ideologies of Swami Vivekananda just as much as Thiruvalluvar and Subramania Bharathi. The Indic thought had suffered an unfortunate drop in its momentum over few decades in the past century. It is about time the cobwebs are dusted off, resurrect a new framework and firmly answer Guha’s burning question.
(Yashaswini is a former Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament and does research in public policy. Views presented here as strictly personal.)
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