Prof Salvatore Babones. Image: Twitter
Last weekend, Prof Salvatore Babones, an American sociologist teaching in an Australian university, raised a storm in India when he said — first during an India Today event and later in an article in Firstpost — that Western intellectuals are largely anti-Hindu and they inherently resent the rise of India. He also defended India’s democratic credentials, calling it a “positive outlier”.
Prof Babones corroborated this by saying that India is the “only poor country” that has a well institutionalised democracy. “It is the only post-colonial country to have remained a democracy throughout its entire post-Independence history and it is the only well institutionalised democracy on the Eurasian continent between South Korea and Israel,” he said.
The backlash was expected. In no less than 24 hours, a report surfaced in the media, saying Babones was a “foreign agent”. In an era of Twitter and Facebook, when people invariably and largely make opinions based on the headline of an article, this was enough to damn Babones forever.
To vindicate my stand, I asked a couple of “well-educated” residents in my society about what they think when they hear the term “foreign agent”. The answer, almost unanimously, was: “anti-national” and “unreliable”. A couple of them also thought it refers to a “spy”!
Babones was damned. In reality, however, all he had done to become a “foreign agent” was that he had “worked with an Indian media company based in Uttar Pradesh”. When I met him over lunch on Wednesday, he laughed and said that his tenure with the India media firm was “for six months, or maybe even less than that”. He added, “They wanted to reach out to a wider audience in the West, and I advised them on that. Just that (laughed).”
The “foreign agent” story was a hit job. It followed the old communist toolkit: When you can’t take on your rival logically, then float stories questioning his character, integrity. Kill the messenger if you can’t kill the message! Leading the charge was the usual anti-India suspect — Dr Audrey Truschke, a so-called historian who today speaks on everything but history. She tweeted, “A reminder folks — know your sources, especially when it comes to the BJP and Hindutva. The most recent pro-Hindutva voice is an individual named Salvatore Babones, a registered foreign agent representing Indian interests.”
A reminder folks — Know your sources, especially when it comes to the BJP and Hindutva.
The most recent pro-Hindutva voice is an individual named Salvatore Babones, a registered foreign agent representing Indian interests.https://t.co/rc1PUe2nQ1 #Hindutva #BJP #India
— Dr. Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) November 8, 2022
One still wonders how Babones’ stint with a media company in India makes him a suspect. And how does this make his assertion about India’s democracy and the Western intelligentsia unpalatable.
But then the anti-Babones narrative follows an expected line. A London-based former academic had forewarned me when I forwarded him the link of Babobes’ Firstpost article: “Quite brave of Prof Babones, but his career would be in trouble now. The cancel culture lobby in the West will see him as a betrayer of the White world consensus and hound him badly.”
When I told Prof Babones about this, he smiled and said, “But truth has to be said. Again and again!”
But how did an American sociologist working in Australia get so enchanted with India? “I am a quantitative comparative sociologist. My interest in India didn’t come from fascination from Hinduism or Indian culture or the Western romanticisation of poverty, or even the Taj Mahal. My inspiration was entirely quantitative. What brought me closer to India was the fact that it was the world’s most outperforming, exceptional democracy, which ironically was vilified and called names for dubious reasons” he said.
According to the Associate Professor in the University of Sydney, “all the rich countries, with some exceptions, are democracies and middle-income countries are quasi-democracies, while all the poor countries are non-democracies”. India, from that standpoint, is a rare phenomenon. “It is the only poor country with a GDP per capita annual income of less than $10,000 that has a well institutionalised democracy. It is the only poor country that has remained a democracy since its Independence. And India is the only institutionalised democracy between South Korea and Israel. For real, homegrown democracies of India’s qualities, one has to go beyond $20,000 per capita GDP. That for me has been the most striking feature about India’s democracy.”
Prof Babones, however, doesn’t think India and the West, despite sharing democratic ethos, are natural partners. “They are fellow democracies, so there is a confluence of values. But it’s too romantic and naïve to think that democracies are natural allies and friends,” he said, emphasising that the cooperation between the US, EU and India is today driven disproportionately by defence sales. “It’s currently transactional in nature. But in future, I do see India displacing Western European nations to become the US’ main partner.”
But right now, things are far from being rosy, and the anti-India narrative has only added to the prevailing confusion. “Right now this narrative is confined to academia and journalism. But then in a low-information environment, as is the case in the West, the anti-India image being created in academia and journalism mostly gets filtered in the public sphere.”
Such is the low public information that most people in the West may recognise Narendra Modi, but if you ask them who the Prime Minister of India is, they might just be clueless, said Babones. “I have heard prominent Australians in the international affairs world calling him ‘President Modi’. It is this low-information milieu that worries him. “In a low-information society, a minuscule but deeply institutionalised voice sets the narrative for the entire society. Unfortunately, this voice in the West is inherently anti-India.”
Why does such an anti-India narrative prevail in the West?
Prof Babones sees it as a relic of the colonial past and “the idea that Hinduism is a heathen religion”. He said, “Even though most Western critics of India would be secular and atheist, that cultural aversion to non-Abrahmic faiths, particularly to Hinduism, remains strong. The second reason may be the romanticisation of Islam in the West. They would thus call India a fascist nation, which is an absolutely bogus and fake narrative, but not say a word on lack of democracy in, say, Saudi Arabia. There are so many people in the West wanting to be Lawrence of Arabia: While they would not want an Islamic caliphate for their own State, they romanticise it for Muslims.”
Prof Babones also called the Western intellectual class’ bluff on liberalism, especially vis-à-vis Islam. Giving the example of Prophet Mohammed, he said that the Western intelligentsia as a class doesn’t respect Prophet Mohammed out of reverence but due to sheer fear. “They believe Muslims are aggressive and prone to violence, thus they should not be provoked. Had they been true to their calling, they would have ideally expected Muslims to be peaceful and democratic, like the rest of us. They see Muslims as naturally violent and anti-democratic, and thus they prefer them to be ‘left alone’.”
“This is what I call the tyranny of low expectations. The nexus between the Western Islamic scholars and Muslim political Islamists is an unholy alliance. The real challenge for a democratic country like India will not be so much of Indian Islamists or the Muslim nations, but the unholy alliance between international Islamists and Western academics,” he said as he emphasised how India’s ties with the Muslim world has always been strong. “Actually India, more so today’s India under Narendra Modi, has good relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran. India doesn’t have any problem with the Muslim world. India has a problem with Western academia and journalists who often collude with global Islamists.”
As Prof Babones finds himself under assault from Western intelligentsia, which threatens to ‘cancel’ him, the malaise becomes all the more obvious. The anti-India, anti-Hindu rot is stuck so deep in the Western psyche that it would take a generation or two to make things change on ground. But the professor is hardly nonplussed. “I am a sociologist. I will continue saying and writing what my data and research suggest. And my studies suggest that Indian democracy is not a problem. The real problem is Western intelligentsia’s inherent anti-India, anti-Hindu prejudice.”
No over to the cancel culture lobby, led by Audrey Truschke, to resume its anti-India narrative making! For, the more these people shout and scream, the faster they are getting exposed.
Utpal Kumar is Opinion Editor, Firstpost and News18. He tweets from @Utpal_Kumar1. Views expressed are personal.
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Updated Date: November 11, 2022 16:24:29 IST
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Prof Salvatore Babones. Image: Twitter