The three places to which I 'm linked by birth, origin and union — India, Britain as well as the United States — have now experienced revolutions at the ballot box. In each, an election has disclosed that coastal elites that were liberal, globalized stand from heartlands in open revolt in an incredible remove. The revolt does not look to the left for inspiration but to the right. Make no mistake: “ and “Liberal” left” are now said in the same breath as ” “tainted establishment and those with pitchforks and torches are nativists, nationalists and populists of each stripe.
In India, the conflict was lost by the left. However, this month, at what was described as “a conclave of thoughts” organised by the Hindu right, I was reminded of a basic truth: Winning isn't everything.
It has a great awareness of intellectual inadequacy, although an electoral mandate was won by the right wing in 2014. The conclave in Goa was about building what is often described on Indian social media as a “right-wing ecosystem” to counter the left’s alleged management of the news media and academia.
We came to the sleepy beachfront state — more familiar to me, a louche liberal, as a backdrop for raves than for heated conversation about Hindu civilization — to address exactly what the historian Ramachandra Guha has described as the “paradox” at the center of Indian public life: “While the country has a right-wing party in power, right-wing intellectuals run thin on the earth.”
The conclave was organised by the India Foundation, a think tank that “seeks to articulate Indian nationalistic perspective on issues.” It is openly supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and I was invited to the conclave by the party’s general secretary.
It was a ragtag coalition that accumulated in a sprawling resort, with a swimming pool plus a golf course. As well as the senior leaders of the B.J.P., there were right wing Twitter characters who'd taken to social media because of what they described as the “built-in bias” of the conventional news media; there were American Vedic pros who railed against a secular state that rejected its Hindu past; there were Muslim-baiters; there were pseudo-historians who've rewritten Indian history to meet the political needs of the present.
What all these folks had in common was an immense awareness of grievance against an establishment they were still defined by whose ideas, although they'd vanquished electorally. As the journalist Ashok Malik said while pointing out the right’s many successes, “Rather than confidently improve tomorrow’s program, the intellectual warriors of the right continue to be comfortable fighting the conflicts of yesterday.”
The targets of their fury are globally recognisable: the liberal elite, the news media, academia. In India, there is a double sense of affront, an added twist. It was not merely think tanks and elitism the New Right is reacting against, however an elitism that had the secret approval of the West, nongovernmental organizations, through its various newspapers.
“So if you are an embattled Hindu, and even an Atheist Indian,” Rajeev Srinivasan wrote in the right-wing magazine Swarajya, “you believe there's an entire constellation of powers having an adverse motive arrayed against you, which they have created a galaxy of sepoys, especially in media and academia.”
Historically, a sepoy” that is “ was an Indian soldier. It's turned into a favourite jibe on the right for an anglicised liberal elite that has been seen to be working against its state.
At first, it might appear that Shaurya Doval, who had coordinated the conclave, is part of such an elite. His dad had become the director of India’s internal intelligence agency. He grew up travelling the entire world. He spent ten years as a Wall Street banker and has a business degree from the University of Chicago.
But Mr Doval, in fact, represents a new pain that globalisation has wrought: the pain of ethnic loss. In America, he had a revelation. “The eureka moment,” he told me, “came who I am, and when I discovered the disconnect between what India is.”
It was not false. This disconnect; “foreigners inside their own land had been gloried in by the Indian elite,” Gandhi had called them. Even the present day state had in many ways been an expansion of colonial power. Here, in Goa, it was as in the event the whole venture that is intellectual was suspect. Many felt that Western ideas like freedom, secularism and liberalism of speech had been used cynically to maintain the energy of a cultural oligarchy. These exalted words were terms of maltreatment.
But that didn't mean the right wing had notions of its own. Mr Doval spoke of the need for “modern Indian state players” to make “a link” with “India’s civilizational ethos.” He felt as the modern state represented too sudden a break with all the continuity of old India India hadn't been able to unlock the potential of its young, dynamic citizenry.
But was it possible to reverse this procedure? Could modern India be remade to fit these sentimental yearnings? And did n’t all modernity represent a rupture?
The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which had, until recently, dominated politics since independence, was the supreme political achievement of an elderly English-speaking elite.
The writer Patrick French, who was also at the Goa conclave, said: “I’ve never blown off these people because I possibly could see they had a political future.”
And he was right.
As Nirpal Dhaliwal wrote this past year in the Indian site Daily O, “The West’s view of India is profoundly skewed by the fact that English-speaking Indians have historically come from highly privileged and secure backgrounds — people whose views must be the most distrusted because they truly are precisely the individuals most unsettled by India’s increasingly upwardly mobile populace.”
But all that was concluded now. What the ascendant right wing needed was something more than a sense of hurt. They desired thoughts.
It was exactly these that were in short supply in Goa. Mr Doval’s vision of “a deeper join” with old India was determinedly obscure. As with numerous utopias — “Make America Excellent Again”; the golden length of the Prophet Muhammad — it appeared to be a criticism of the present than an informed vision of yesteryear. I felt that what lay behind it were the passions of individuals who had felt marginalised in a nation where they were the bulk.
After the conclave, I drove to the airport using a small-time B.J.P. politician from Delhi. He said that his daughter had just started her first session at New York University when he heard I had been to college in The United States. It made me smile: The Indian revolution a familiar pattern. Its children wanted what those before them had had. One elite had been supplanted, but the marks of prestige were the same — it wouldn't be long before a new generation of sepoys was born.