It’s politics, stupid

The hounding of Sheldon Pollock has little to do with academic or intellectual standards

By: Express News Service | Published:March 4, 2016 11:02 pm
Sheldon Pollock Sheldon Pollock

As the manufactured uproar over seditious anti-nationals on campus threatens to die out for lack of evidence, the baton has been passed to the non-issue of academics who have the temerity to be Indologists despite being born elsewhere. Rohan Murty stands like a rock behind Sheldon Pollock, in the face of an online petition for his removal from the helm of the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI). Signed by 132 Indian teachers and thinkers, it does his reputation no damage. On the contrary, it signals the dangerous willingness of Indian academics to surrender their freedoms to political interests.

Pollock is perhaps the world’s most active publisher of classics from the antiquity of South Asia. He is the thread of continuity with the pioneering Clay Sanskrit Library of the NYU Press, which he had also headed, taking over the reins from the redoubtable Richard Gombrich. Both libraries carry forward the tradition of the original exemplar, Harvard University Press’s Loeb Classical Library, which set the template for high-quality parallel texts of the world’s classics.

Pollock’s intellectual bloodline is extraordinary, but his detractors find him inappropriate for other reasons — a lack of sympathy with Asian values which are irrelevant in our times, and a distressing willingness to stick up for the freedoms of Indian academia, including JNU. The petition moved by Ganesh Ramakrishnan of IIT Bombay insists that the MCLI should be guided by scholars “steeped in the intellectual traditions of India”, and “imbued with a sense of respect and empathy for the greatness of Indian civilisation”. The criticism seems political rather than academic or intellectual, and the petitioners go on to demand that the MCLI should follow the philosophy of Make in India, and work towards autochthonous authenticity and develop a “Swadeshi Indology”.

Such a thing does not exist because Indian academics, like the worthies who have signed the petition, have no stomach for dead languages, preferring more lucrative careers in streams with better funding and prospects, such as engineering and technology. It is presumptuous of them to now try to prescribe methodologies and human resource guidelines for the MCLI, which has ably taken forward the work of making available classical texts that are disappearing from public memory, to be replaced by myths about them. As Murty has pointed out, the timing of the petition gives the game away. Pollock has been at the helm for six years, but his credentials are being questioned only now, after JNU.

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  1. S
    Sanchayan Sarkar
    Dec 29, 2016 at 7:30 am
    I am immune to this sinuous perversions. I am not a indology scholar but I have read the Death of Sanskrit and the Battle for Sanskrit and I must say Pollock has the tendency to plant the seeds of atrocity while elevating praise for the literature. I am thinking of writing a program on Pollock's writings and the implicit bias against Sanskrit. So when I read this article, I burst out laughing.
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  2. A
    Ajoy
    Mar 5, 2016 at 1:57 pm
    The author whose name doesn't get revealed is trying to take the line of argument which is fashionable in humanities circle-that of condescension for sciences and engineering, without ever understanding why smart Indians stopped opting for humanities. These worthies never looked in to their own work, never questioned how slanted their view points became, how stagnant was their scholarship. In a country which is largely poor and deprived, these cheerleaders of poverty did all in their might to deepen the fault lines and give intellectual basis for the ideny politics. They get irritated when the JNU politics is questioned. They get slighted when as a tax payer we demand that students do their first duty well-that is to study. We can’t have politicians being put on subsidised education. But this simple issue is perhaps beyond the comprehension of these worthies. When Narendra Modi gets denied of Visa by an orchestrated campaign, no one demurs-its cause of celebration. When congress gets Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka in to school text books-its ok. When brutal macre of 76 CRPF jawans get celebrated, it is ok with these worthies, who chose to write in comfort of getting their children back home from schools without fearing them being kidnapped and taken in as child soldiers. The IITB peion fears that when such people or such ecosystem does translation of clical texts, what would be the outcome? With discrediting of JNU and its ecosystem to which the author ostensibly belongs to, one fears for addition to the confusion by the cohorts of JNU and awardwapsi brigade. This article just shows how rattled is this ecosystem which parasitically thrived on taxpayer’s money and pla cheer leaders to LWE and secessionism. This gang of cheerleaders who take pride in running down the insutions of democracy and judicial remedy find faults with not just encounter killing of a LeT fidayeen but also execution of Yaqoob, Maqbool and Afzal after following due process of law. They have in fact no tolerance to the fact that an alternative narrative which unmasks their manufactured interpretation of history, religion and society. With emergence of Ishrat truth, many of these votaries of liberal thinking are surely to get exposed. This IITB peion has rattled these worthies as they are only used to point fingers and conditioned to unquestioned servility to their opinions. Don’t yet derive cold comfort from what Rohan does.
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