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It is a historical moment to remind us that Jamia Millia Islamia, is a ‘Lusty Child’ of the Non-Cooperation and the Khilafat movements (which were launched under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and supported by Jamia’s stalwarts to fight against the colonial rule) has now completed its 100 years in 2020. To celebrate 100 years of Jamia, several programmes, seminars and conferences, Cultural activities and Qualies are scheduled to be held in the upcoming months. In this respect, on 16th Feb 2020, JTA ‘Multidisciplinary International Conference’ has organized an inaugural meeting to celebrate and commemorate 100 years of JMI. On the said occasion keynote speech was addressed by an eminent Gandhian leaning scholar and noted political theorist Prof. Bhikhu Parekh.

To be precise here, Prof. Parekh has produced large volume of academic literature on themes like India’s diverse traditions, colonialism, multiculturalism, Indian political theory, pluralism, diversity and Nehru’s national philosophy. Prof. Parekh’s works on Gandhi is considered as a seminal one and widely cited by Indian academics.

At the outset, he spoke on why our country lacks an academic rigor in both social science and natural science and not produced worthwhile works. For him, there is no dearth of talents in Indian students and teachers per se, but the intellectual and academic environment in India is not so institutionally supportive and conducive to produce academically powerful literature like western universities namely Oxford and Harvard has been doing. For Parekh, most of the Indian students and academics who are studying and teachings in western universities have had produced intellectually noteworthy works as a comparison to those academics (both in social science and natural Science) and students who are working in India in general and at Delhi in particular. For instance, Indian academic communities have not published articles and research papers in the academic refereed journals which have intellectual impact factors. Like others, Prof. Parekh has also underlined that institutional supports and academic environment to a large extent if not entirely, is responsible for the lacks of academic and knowledge productions in India. For instance, we have never seen the ‘serious education’ Ministers at the centre and state levels in our country who provided institutional supports and favorable ‘educational system’ to do kinds of social science in general and Indian political theory in particular. In other words, academic social science and knowledge productions (which is not supposed to be ‘derivative’ in nature as happened India, the point is also reminded by Partha Chatterjee in his works like- Nationalist Thought: A Derivative Discourse, 1987) is lagging behind in comparison to western countries not solely because our country lacks talented students and intellectual resources but due to lack of conducive environment and firm committeemen’s of our academic communities too. Due to the non-existent of academic freedom and intellectual autonomy, a section of left-leaning academics in India often put blame on the ruling establishment for creating a crisis of doing social science in India. The Hindu Right can be cited as a case in point here in this regard.  In this respect, Prof. Parekh has also accepted that the good recommendations made by the Knowledge Commission (mostly headed by eminent Indian academics created during Congress regime) were not taken seriously and implemented by the ruling dispensation. Unlike left-minded scholars, for Parekh Indian intellectuals are not completely correct when they blamed that due to the lack of ‘academic freedom’ and state interventions, it is not feasible to produce the kinds of intellectual works on contemporary issues in our country. In other words, attacks on academic freedom often unleashed by the Hindu Right are not the sole reason for not producing worthwhile academic works. This trend is not new therefore it (not producing worthwhile academic works and published research papers which can be recognized elsewhere too) could be traced earlier, shared by Prof Parekh with me and mentioned in his earlier works.

Elsewhere in his writings, Prof. Parekh mentioned that problems lie in broadly speaking around three questions. First, in India most of the universities mainly state universities teach political and social theory based on under-researched and not grounded in Indian social and political realities of our society. Indian students and teachers both have not to know classical languages along with modern English fully to read relevant texts closely which have been written by the noted scholars who meticulously researched particular topics. Due to the lack of skills, most of the Indian university students and even teachers depend upon the secondary sources and guidebooks. Secondly, Parekh argued that we have uncritically accepted the ‘National ideology’(based on socialism, secularism, equality, Industrialization and scientific temper) as propounded by Jawaharlal Nehru which was derivative and Eurocentric in nature. Finally, he mentioned about the lack of understanding on the part of Indian intellectuals as far as social and political realities of our country is concerned. For Parekh, the poverty of Indian political theory cannot be addressed entirely without overcoming these three complex problems. These points has been discussed by Parekh in his essay, “The Poverty of Indian political Theory” History of Political Thought, 1992. For instance, he has pointed out that Indian scholars have not contributed substantially to theorize concepts like multiculturalism, Minority rights, social justice, secularism and Indian state, etc. To elucidate the points in a bit details, Prof. Parekh writes,

 “Post-independence India has failed to throw up either a major political theorist or significant theoretical works on such subjects as social justice, the specificity of the Indian state, secularism, legitimacy, political obligation, the nature and structure of political argument, the nature of citizenship in a multi-cultural state, the nature and limits of the law, the ideal polity, and the best way to understand and theorize the Indian political reality”. (Bhikhu Parekh,  “The Poverty of Indian political Theory”,  History of Political Thought, Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn 1992, P-54).

To address the poverty of Indian Political theory, Prof. Parekh asserts that it requires hard labour and talented minds who must aware about western traditions of theorization and command over the Indian social and political reality.  To explain the point further, he says

“Political theory does not develop in a vacuum.  It requires bold and talented minds and a love of theoretical understanding for its own sake. It also requires challenging material, intellectual self-confidence, a climate of tolerance and fearlessness, a relatively firm political reality, the theorist’s ability to get a critical purchase on it, and his stable moral and emotional relationship to his environment. In the absence of all or most of these conditions, such a politically sensitive and existentially based form of inquiry as political theory cannot flourish”. (Bhikhu Parekh, “The Poverty of Indian Political Theory”, P- 60).

In short, Parekh says that the concepts and categories developed in the West have not been tested empirically, keeping the Indian socio-political reality in mind. And hence, our academics have failed to highlight the ethnocentric bias of western theory and concepts. Besides, we do not take each other works seriously and even comment on the works produced by Indian scholars, underlined by Prof. Parekh in his article. To sum up, Parekh seems to emphasize that still we have not addressed the poverty of Indian political theory and have not so far produced something original in nature in this respect. However, for Prof. Rajeev Bhargava, a noted political theorist (Bhargava, what is Political theory and why do we need it, 2010) and in his works others have underlined that Prof. Parekh is not entirely true when he says still we have not produced worthwhile theory in India. According to  Prof. Bhargava intellectual scene had begun to change since the late 1980s and 1990s when Indian scholars mainly  Delhi centric have had started to produce works on nationalism, democracy, secularism, multiculturalism, social justice and reservations which got Indian flavor and empirically sensitive to our social context.  However, Parekh concerns of under-theorizations of Indian political reality and commitments to produce something original academic political theory in India, needs to be taken seriously in the times to come. In short, Parekh during his lecture and in his earlier writings as mentioned above has rightly reminded that Indian scholars and researchers must learn enough skills and take the challenge to produces academic-oriented knowledge which have to be rooted in specific Indian history and political reality rather than simply reproduce or uncritically accept those categories and concepts produced by western scholars for their own society.

While extending thanks to Prof. Parekh, and JTA, Vice-chancellor of JMI, Prof. Najma Akhtar has said, it is great pleasure for all of us that we are celebrating and commemorating 100 years of Jamia. Prof. Akhtar has mentioned that in the next two days of conferences (on 17th and 18th), pepper presenters will reflect and highlight the contributions made by Jamia’s founders especially Mahatma Gandhi and their contributions on a range of issues.  While extending votes of thanks to the respected speakers and audiences, Dr. Irfan Qureshi, a faculty member of Jamia, said that 100 papers will be presented in the next two days in which nerly about 60 percent of the papers will be presented by females. On the said occasion, scholars have been invited across the world to shares their thoughts on the range of issues.  Apart from that there will be also a session on Indian Constitutions, Secularism, Rights of Citizen and their duties, on18th as underlined by Dr. Irfan.

After  an inaugural meeting was over Prof. Najma Akhtar (VC of Jamia) and Prof. Parekh along with students and teachers have visited  to see the Munshi Premchand Archives and M. F Husain Art Gallery (to note both archives and Art Gallery were established during the tenure of Prof.  Mushirual  Hassan, a renowned historian and former vice-chancellor of JMI) where photographs, paintings, testimonials, speeches and manuscripts and old tables related to Jamia’s stalwarts like Dr. Zakir Husain, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mohammad Mujeeb,  Dr. M. A. Ansari, Mohmmad Jauhar Ali, and Gandhiji, etc., are displayed for audiences.

 The Author is a research scholar University of Delhi 


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One Comment

  1. Very interesting article. A few observations. Given the vast number of technological innovations that all of us now on Earth are more or less ‘rookies’ in using, newcomers to, don’t really understand the full implications or possibilities of, and are perhaps unwitting victims of as well as beneficiaries, contemporary political theory has an unprecedented context and opportunities to consider.

    So in that sense, it’s a whole new field, waiting to be ‘discovered’, explored: The practical meshing of modern communications technology with more traditional political theory concepts. And in the case of any particular country, taking into account the unique characteristics of place and history etc.

    To try to create workable practical coherence between financial and political systems and considerations, while retaining the ideal goal of harmony with the biosphere, gives unlimited opportunities for academic exploration and illumination.

    The situation when it comes to the entire field of science is quite varied, but in western science, if we can use that loose terminology, some notable voices have spoken out about serious problems at the heart of the matter, with the peer review system. Here’s a link chosen at random that gives numerous quotes in that regard.

    https://operationdisclosure.blogspot.com/2018/03/science-is-broken-peer-review-process.html

    Sometimes the quantity of ‘expertise’ with a fancy resume is not at all indicative of the quality. Paul Craig Roberts, a public intellectual who I confess to admiring, has somewhere written – to paraphrase from memory – that in his opinion there are only a handful, if that, of economists in the west that have a really profound grasp of economics.

    So while certainly there is and has been much good scholarship and science in the west, there’s also a lot of mediocrity.

    This is especially the case when military or corporate agendas are at work, and funding the research. What suffers especially is research that is casting a negative light on the intentions and interests of those institutional complexes. Dr. Robert Becker, author of Body Electric, described the fate of the intrepid researcher who tries to do independent work that is unwelcome to the powers that be: They have difficulty getting funding; If they even so manage to do their work, they have difficulty getting published; And if after all that they get published, they may get blacklisted, etc.

    There is an opportunity and need for scholars in every country now to do high quality integrity based work towards illuminating the new circumstances we are all strangers to.