Sixth Course, Session 7: Ramachandra Guha

Why does Ram Guha qualify for a ‘sixth course’ when recent big-wig visitors like Steven Colbert(entertaining but insubstantial) and John Negroponte (dull and insubstantial) do not?

Because Guha, as always, had polemical things of interest on his mind. He was here to speak about his latest book (reviewed here by Dilip) but most of the conversation revolved around the tension between being an activist or being an intellectual. I can’t quite put together a coherent review of his talk so I’ll instead list a series of soundbites that are either entertaining or worth thinking about and which (I think) together give a sense of what was said.

Note: Most of these are paraphrased.

1. I have moderate views, expressed in an extreme fashion. The older I get, the more moderate I become.

2. Students trained in America are much likelier to have the courage to take the interdisciplinary leaps required of environmental history.

3. Environmentalism is a modern phenmena produced by the Industrial Revolution and the nation state. To talk about Hinduism and ecology, or Christianity and ecology, is to speak in oxymorons.

4. Scholarship is full-time work, and so is activism. You can’t really be an intellectual activist. Yet, there are too many who proclaim to be just that in [India]…All of us have beliefs, ideologies, orientations. You need distance for scholarship.

5. The major cities in India – Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Bangalore – are having a transformative impact on the world. In fact, the ecological imprint of Bangalore is felt 150 miles away.

6. The curent state of the Ganga and the Yamuna today is directly a repudation of the claim that Hindus are ecologists.

7. When Medha Patkar testified before the US Congress, the World Bank withdrew from the Narmada Dam project and the Indian government became even more determined to make sure the project succeeded. Because, you see, India is fundamentally not a Banana Republic. The World Bank can coerce a Colombia or a Sri Lanka but never India – there is just too much nationalist sentiment in India.

8. Subaltern studies died when it was incorporated into the American academy.

9. 95% of the problems in India are caused by Indians. Forget about the World Bank and the WTO. Anyone who says these institutions are causing farmer suicides in Vidarbha is speaking utter nonsense. We have to look within for the answers. Because 95% of the solutions to India’s problems must also come from Indians.

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