The day the Ayodhya Ram Mandir was consecrated, 22 January, was also the birthday of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian communist leader (1891-1937) who wrote extensively on social theories while being imprisoned.
His Prison Notebooks are celebrated in left-liberal circles, most extensively in the humanities and liberal arts departments of academia. The woke movement, which prides itself on having “critical consciousness” (and hence being woke instead of being asleep), again stems from Gramsci.
An extraordinary independent scholar, James Lindsay, brilliantly brings forth various aspects of this movement. In the present world, Gramsci’s followers dominate academia, media and the elite echelons of society. It would be fair to say that the ideological progenitors of Gramsci rule the United States and Canada.
Futurologist Sohail Inayatullah talks about the world being run on myths. What exactly is the Gramscian myth and how does it differ from the myth of Sri Ram in painting the future?
A shift to a “new culture” is what Gramsci holds as the solution to injustices in the world. Any cultivation of this new culture requires the diminution of dominant cultural groups in a society and the sponsoring of the marginal groups. One can see the seeds of the oft-repeated DEI (diversity-equity-inclusivity) programmes in Gramscian ideology.
Isn’t it a good thing? Isn’t left liberalism that talks of grand values a good thing? Shouldn’t we, uniformly, all join the stream of universal good values?
These questions are not special to left liberalism but generic to any imperialism of the past. The conservative Jewish thinker Yoram Hazony has demonstrated it convincingly in his award-winning book The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books, 2018).
The selling point of the Roman empire was Pax Romana, the Roman peace. Don’t you think peace is a good thing? The Abbasid caliphate, second of the two great dynasties of the Muslim caliphate empires, formalised and formulated all canons of Islam, promising salaam (peace).
The British empire was all about white man’s burden to uplift the ethical standards of the non-white people everywhere in the world by offering them the Christian truth. Lord Curzon proudly proclaimed (1905) in Kolkata, the then-capital of British India, "the ultimate ideal of truth is to a considerable part a Western construct." Don’t you think that truth is a good thing?
Communism wanted to have a communist globe in the interest of equality. Don’t you think that equality is a good thing?
What all these grandstanding ideas do is hide the reality of injustice with catchy slogans and group identities, while some shrewd politicians grab power exploiting those group identities.
What are the consequences of this cultivation of the Gramscian myth in society? Claudine Gay, a barely mediocre scholar with a questionable legacy was the president of the best university of the world. While drawing an astronomical salary close to $1 million for a professor, she peddles herself as a victim.
This is not an isolated example. Gad Saad’s The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense (Regnery Publishing; 2020) has discussed extensively how victimhood has become a way of life in the US. Since, in the Gramscian myth, one needs to belong to some 'victim' group for authenticity and prestige, it has become a recurrent theme in the society for everyone.
As everyone is looking to become a victim, she needs to find an aggressor necessarily, which increases the chances of conflict and disharmony in society. It is no wonder that intolerance has, self-admittedly, has gone up on the US.
A Wall Street Journal/NORC survey finds that the value of tolerance for others is now considered very important only by 58 per cent of Americans — down from the corresponding figure of 80 per cent four years ago.
It is equally important to remember that the US is one of the richest countries in the world but has managed to cover up social unrest after spending lavishly on welfare programmes.
Therefore, it is doubly dangerous for any country with lesser means to embark on the path of adopting the Gramscian myth, for they would not be able to use the power of riches to cover up social unrest.
To someone who keeps an ear to the ground, it would be obvious that the Gramscian myth holds no good prospect for a sustainably peaceful society. What is the alternative, then?
22 January 2024 is an important day for the Indic civilisation and the rise of the Indic values. In general, Indians are excited to celebrate the story of Sri Ram. How exactly is this myth different from that of Gramsci?
First and foremost, group identity is not important to judge someone, but individualistic work is what one should be proud of. We see Sri Ram not casting any blame on any general rakshas (a group identity) but chose to anoint one from the same family of Ravan as the successor of Ravan after his victory in Lanka. Ram felt connected with people from different 'jati' identities like Guhaka or Shabari because of their karma.
Ashutosh Varshney, a staunch critic of Hindu nationalism, had to concede that Hindu nationalism does not want Muslims to be excluded even though they want them to nullify separatist tendencies and accept the core of Indic culture (Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy. Penguin Book, 2013, Pages 103-4).
The presence of Iqbal Ansari, a petitioner in the Babri Masjid case, at the inauguration of the Ram Temple shows this attitude of Hindu nationalism that seeks to extend beyond group identities.
Secondly, Sri Ram was perhaps one of the greatest victims of injustice. He was banished from the kingdom at the moment of his coronation for no fault of his. When Ram finds his dear wife missing, at that moment of weakness, he was lamenting all these (he was shown to be a human after all) only to his most-cherished brother, but never to anyone else.
This story demonstrates that invocation of victimhood is no solution to problems of social harmony. It is the acceptance of one’s own identity and positive karma that makes society peaceful and prosperous in a sustainable way.
Hindu nationalists did not claim to be victims but got vilified for their just demand. Still, they have worked their way patiently through the legal means for reclaiming the temple.
I have shown in my book The Majoritarian Myth that western social theories offer no solutions to the problem of securing a sustainable peaceful society. It is the idea of dharma that can secure this through the pursuit of satya and ahimsa. The myth of Sri Ram is an ultimate guide to take us in that direction.
Kausik Gangopadhyay is Professor at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode and author of a recently-published book, The Majoritarian Myth: How Unscientific Social Theories Create Disharmony.
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