Friday, November 10, 2006

Re: an argumentative indian- flawed i think

why the heck is blogger so flaky these days? lots of mailed comments just bounce back.

On 11/11/06, Rajeev Srinivasan <> wrote:
nov 10th, 2006

i have stopped reading anything written by amartya sen because it's not worth reading. i used to wonder why his economics somehow didn't jell, but now have realized it's shallow and mostly a hoax. his big thing about the 'kerala model' is completely false: there is no kerala model, it's a 'money-order economy' or 'cargo cult'.

he knows nothing about anything else. in fact, i know more history than amartya sen does. he's one of those potemkin facades -- with his nobel prize, his connections etc, he's able to impress people, but there is no substance behind it. he's one of those gentleman marxists, meaning he's the kind who sends off others to the gas chambers or the gulags.

according to him, the only good hindu is a dead hindu. for instance, he says that the greatest emperors in india were not hindu (he claims akbar and ashoka were the greatest). this shows his ignorance and bigotry: a. he's never heard of krishnadeva raya, rajaraja chola or chandragupta maurya. b. he likes akbar only because he was a mohammedan, despite the fact that he was mostly an opportunist, and not a liberal. c. he likes ashoka only because he was a buddhist, despite the fact that ashokan pacifism has been shown to be non-viable. just ask the afghans, buddhists forced to become mohammedans. or the koreans, buddhists forced to become christists.

if you want to read something worthwhile, here are some ideas:

naipaul: india, a million mutinies
davis: late victorian holocausts
danino: the invasion that never was

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Hello Rajeev,

                   I would like to know if you had the chance to read the book 'An Argumentative Indian' by Amartya Sen. I am reading it still, but a glance of the names index stunned me since I did not see the word 'sankara' or 'adi sankara' in the entire list. Similarly a cursory glance of the people who he thanked for contributing to his book shows that 90% were Bengalis…. Though it is a good book in a very few aspects, overall I felt that it is a book written by a typical western educated, Indian elite liberal  in whose view, everything what Tagore said is good and definitive. Sankara was the embodiment and perhaps the last GREAT argumentative Indian who revived Hinduism purely by reason and argument. Not mentioning him is a grea disservice. I think that he used this book to severely criticize RSS/BJP/VHP and anything to do with defending Hindu culture. I am planning to write a detailed critique of this book once I finish reading it, but thought of knowing what you think about this book. Thanks.





Ghost Writer said...

Naipaul's Million Mutinies is impressive no doubt - but his best work on India in my opinion is his second book - A Wounded Civilization.

Why? because in this book he speaks of the "defeat that is much older" - the reducing of the great civilization to dust - thereby causing the Hindus to withdraw into themselves, to be stymied. A wonderful work of genius. He spoke the following words at Brussels

siva said...

Here is a review written by N. S. Rajaram. Sorry no web link.


A disappointing cut-and-paste job that recycles old opinions, wrong
history and offers no new insights.

N.S. Rajaram

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History,
Culture and Identity by Amartya Sen (2005). Allen Lane (Penguin
U.K.). Pages: 409 + xx. Price £ 20 (HB).

The Argumentative Indian belongs to a category of books
that may be called celebrity production: it is not the content of the
book that makes it important but who says it. Among such 'authors' in
recent times may be counted scandal-ridden sports stars, fallen movie
icons and 'dynastic' leaders rising to the top through accident of
birth or marriage. These are rarely written by the putative author,
and often not even read by him (or her). The book is important
because the author happens to be important at least in some circles.

Ever since he won the Nobel Prize, the Marxist economist
Amartya Sen has been the oracle of the Left and especially of the
Indian secularist establishment. He can now be quoted as 'proof" of
how wrong the Hindutva people are on every count from the Harappan
horse to Gandhi's secularism. It becomes unnecessary to find facts or
present arguments: quoting the eminent author is proof enough.

What about the book? In the author's words: "The book
aims to be, at one level, an academic study done by a detached
observer, but at another level I am caught in the domain of my
subject matter." As it is impossible to judge the book on how
effectively the author is "caught in the domain of his subject
matter," the present review can only look at the claim of the book
being an academic study done by a detached observer. Seen in this
light, the book is neither academic nor detached. It is full of
factual errors and assertions that are demonstrably false. Some are
outright howlers.

A serious reader is likely to be offended by the book's
approach and even its tone. The condescension displayed towards the
reader borders on contempt. Running through the book is a politico-
social agenda of the Left. That is his prerogative. But it does not
excuse factual errors and blatant misrepresentation. This is
especially the case when it comes to history. Those with some
knowledge of the subject will see it as presumptuous— of using
celebrity to put forward shoddy scholarship.

It is a curiously anachronistic book— its history is
almost entirely a colonial byproduct, with a Marxist leavening. It is
written for a Western audience, supposedly to correct the stereotypes
about India, but these stereotypes no longer exist in the West. They
are now the staple of the Indian secularists and a small intellectual
clique in Western Indology circles and the media. These are the ones
who will swallow this book with relish, though the author doesn't
seem to think much of their intelligence.

When we get to specifics, he repeats old discredited
arguments, but with a shift in language. Aryan invasion theory is
retained; Aryans become 'Sanskritic' but remain a chip of the Indo-
European block and the Vedas and their language are of non-Indian
origin. Dravidians become 'Non-Sanskritic.' Harappans become non-
Sanskritic, though the word Dravidian is studiously avoided. This is
subterfuge, not scholarship.

This brings up the much-flogged Harappan horse and its
supposed fabrication. His authority is the discredited Frontline
article by Witzel and Farmer in the October 13, 2000 issue, without
noting the responses that appeared in the same newsmagazine (not a
scholarly publication) in a later issue (November 24), that
thoroughly demolished their claim by producing additional evidence
and also highlighting its irrelevance to the central issue of the
Vedic-Harappan connection.

Since Amartya Sen and amateurs like Steve Farmer (though
not real scholars) continue to hold forth on the absence of the horse
in Harappan remains (including Mohenjo-Daro), here is what John
Marshall wrote in his Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization (Volume
2, page 654): "… the Mohenjo-daro horse, and the example of Equus
Caballus of the Zoological Survey of India, are all of the type of
the "Indian country-bred… " "

The whole thing is a non-issue since the Rigveda
describes the horse as having seventeen ribs. This is true of the
native Indian variety and not the Central Asian, which has eighteen.
Astonishingly, the author makes no mention of John Marshall's three-
volume magnum opus on the Indus Valley (or the Harappan) civilization
while enthusiastically embracing the likes of Steve Farmer. So much
for the book being academic and detached.

Farmer's co-author Michael Witzel was so embarrassed when this howler
was made public that he was forced into the
preposterous 'explanation' that horse remains found by Marshall and
other archaeologists were introduced later. How about the anatomical
differences between the Indian horse and the Central Asian variety
supposedly introduced by the invading Aryans? Easy. The number of
ribs is not a genetically heritable trait. In other words, horses
shed a rib when they enter India. This should give an idea of the
historical worth of the book.

The book abounds in such howlers. According to Sen: "Mahatma Gandhi
was staunchly secularist in politics" and insisted on "effective
separation of the state and the religions." To maintain this fiction,
there is no mention of his sponsorship of the Khilafat, let alone the
horrors of the Moplah Rebillion that followed. It is no wonder that
the word 'Jihad' is nowhere to be found. It cannot be blamed on

To maintain such demonstrably false positions, the author selects
sources that fit his anti-Hindutva line regardless of their merit
while ignoring those that fail to serve his purpose. Arundhati Roy is
mentioned, while V.S. Naipaul is not. M.N. Srinivas, India's greatest
sociologist, finds no mention while nonentities like Praful Bidwai
are lauded. Meera Nanda who has been shown to be ignorant of works
she was attacking (including this reviewer's), are cited while
primary works like those by John Marshall, B.B. Datta and A.
Seidenberg are nowhere to be found.

Faced with such tactics—they don't amount to a methodology—it is
impossible to take seriously the author's claim: "…an academic study
done by a detached observer." It is not even a polemic but an anti-
Hindu tirade based on secondary sources and discredited assertions
presented as methodology.

No less disappointing is the author's cultural insensitivity; it
borders on the philistine. Like most of his ilk he knows no Sanskrit
though by giving a list of diacritical marks he tries to give the
opposite impression. His discourses on Indian culture draw heavily on
Satyajit Ray's movies. There is no mention of Bharata's Natyashastra
or Tyagaraja's music. His excursions into philosophy are at a similar

In summary, the book is essentially a cut-and-paste job put together
from Left leaning sources including earlier lecture notes of the
author himself. There are no insights or even any mention of exciting
new developments like the Sarasvati River, population genetics or the
impact of climate change— the fields in which we are seeing the most
significant advances. It is an anachronism that might have made an
impact had it appeared thirty years ago when little of this was known
and the political climate was more congenial. But then Amartya Sen
didn't have his Nobel. He now has a Nobel but world has passed him by.

N.S. Rajaram is a historian.

nizhal yoddha said...

rajaram really does go at sen hammer and tongs, doesn't he, siva? i had posted this review here some time ago, glad to have my memory refreshed. this is a really rude and cutting -- and accurate -- review.