Angst of Prof David Ludden
Ashok Chowgule, President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maharashtra, India
Recently Mr Ram Madhav, spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, sought an invitation from The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (South Asia Studies section), John Hopkins University, Washington, and the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, to talk to a group of people to be organized by them. Both accepted his request and organized the programmes in end September, 2004, at SAIS and beginning October, 2004, at CASI.
As has happened in the past in similar situations, the talks by Mr Madhav provoked a protest from those who call themselves liberals, progressives, intellectual, academics, etc. It would seem that they are desperate that people do not hear what RSS is from the RSS itself, but are ever willing to give their own interpretation of the RSS. Thus, the people are expected to know what the RSS is from those who are opposed to the RSS. Can the people, then, not have anything but a jaundiced view of the organisation?
Many in the educated section of the society are long-standing members of the organisation. When they come into contact with members of their peer group, the latter are surprised to know that the RSS is something other than what they have been told to believe. The programme of disinformation by the self-professed liberals has started to unravel, and over the recent past the image of the RSS amongst those who did have the negative picture has started to change.
This situation is not to the liking of those who are in the programme of disinformation. Probably they are finding that their lies were being exposed, and thus had to face some serious questioning from the people at large. A most uncomfortable position to be in, since it would now mean that they would have to make an honest effort at justifying their utility to the society.
In this note, we would like to take the example of Prof David Ludden, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, to present what has happened in case of the protest against Mr Madhav. Not because we have any personal animosity against him. We have chosen him partly because of our previous encounter with him. And partly because he has put up on his website his response to Mr Madhav's talk at CASI, as well as six letters of protest against holding the programmes both at CASI and SAIS. We have not come across any other similar effort on part of anyone else. Of course, this does not mean that an attempt has not been made.
Prof Ludden's response is entitled "RSS Public Diplomacy" and is
It is not clear whether he actually attended the talk by Mr Madhav. Our doubt about his presence is based on his following statement: "The Q&A was sedate, as Atul Kohli complained to me later." There is also no indication whether he himself asked any specific question. However, he seems to have a near verbatim report of what transpired in the eighty minutes of the programme. There are many statements in his response that are included in quotes. At the same time it needs to be mentioned that an Indian weekly categorically states that he was present at the talk.
In his response, Prof Ludden approvingly quotes Mr Kohli as saying: "it
is a testimony to the liberal values of this institution (Penn) that it would
host a spokesman for such illiberal views." This is not in quotes, so we
do not know if these are the exact words of Mr Kohli. However, what is important
to note is that Prof Ludden, prior to the talk, has strongly protested against
the very liberal values that he claims that CASI has. But there are many twists
and turn to this story.
But this statement clearly contradicts an earlier letter (dated September 29, 2004) Prof Ludden, along with three of his colleagues, wrote to CASI. After giving the reasons why they think that Mr Madhav should not have been invited in the first place, in the very last paragraph the letter says as follows: "We hope that our letter will cause you to rethink your invitation to Ram Madhav and to the RSS."
We Hindutvavadis, being of simple mind, would read this as an intention to stop Mr Madhav from speaking. When someone asks another person to rethink a decision, it is a obvious sign that he disagrees with the decision and that it should be changed. Therefore, we Hindutvavadis conclude that Prof Ludden wanted CASI to cancel the programme.
Prof Ludden will say that what he really wants is a debate, and that Mr Madhav can be invited along with another person to give an alternate view point. We deal below with this perspective.
Seeming to have changed his mind on the position, Prof Ludden has to state a reason for doing so. It goes as follows: "It would be much more harmful to make the RSS and its supporters appear justified in believing they are victims of an organized campaign to repress their views."
Prof Ludden is trying to arrogate an aura of professionalism on himself! The reasoning for letting the RSS voice be heard has nothing to do with free speech or letting the people hear an alternate voice. Also, his past record clearly shows that he is part of an organised campaign to suppress the RSS views. This type of convoluted logice is a product of unprofessionalism in the first place. So, we are a little confused, to put it mildly, about where in the liberal spectrum Prof Ludden places himself. Perhaps Prof Ludden would like to enlighten us all on the subject. Our reading of what we know Prof Ludden has written would demonstrate that if it was upto him, CASI would not have invited Mr Madhav for the programme. Instead he would have had an opponent of the RSS to tell the listeners what RSS is all about.
Some years ago the American Civil Liberties Union had pleaded on behalf of a neo-Nazi organisation that its literature not be banned. The argument of ACLU is that the banning would not prevent the Nazi thoughts from being available the followers of the organisation anyway - but those opposed to it would not be aware of what was being said. Hence, there would be no opportunity to present to the members of the organisation a different view point, and what the leadership of the neo-Nazis have said would go unchallenged.
It is also pertinent to recall a scene from the movie "Patton", based on the Second World War career of an American general by the same name. It shows the general sleeping on his bed with a book on his chest - presumably he fell asleep reading the book. His ADC comes in, gently takes the book away and slowly puts a blanket on the general, to make the latter comfortable. Then the camera pans on the book, and we see the title as "Tank Warfare by Field Marshal Rommel". (The Field Marshal was the German army commander who developed the Blitzkrieg strategy which bypassed the defence set up by the French Army on its border with with Germany.) The next scene shows the German and the American armies engaged in battle, and after a few minutes the Germans are retreating. General Patton is observing the scene through his binoculars, and giving some instructions to fine tune the plans set out. As the German Army retreats, General Patton exclaims: "Rommel, you b*****d, I read your book!"
(When we ran a draft of this article through a colleague teaching in one of the universities in the USA, he requested that the above paragraph be dropped, because the opponents of the RSS will say that we are equating Prof Ludden with General Patton and Mr Madhav with Field Marshall Rommel. We feel that the point that we want to make is very nicely explained using the above analogy. However, we would like to state that we do not intend to either insult General Patton or glorify Field Marshall Rommel.)
For Prof Ludden to properly take his agenda of anti-RSS forward, we would have thought he would have welcomed the opportunity provided by Mr Madhav to understand what the RSS is saying about itself to its supporters, and so have a proper rejoinder in place to demolish the RSS arguments. It is, therefore, baffling why Prof Ludden would object to CASI providing a platform to Madhavji.
In his letter (dated October 13) to the Indian magazine Prof Ludden says: "The RSS has solicited invitations to universities in the US, where people can subject RSS views to critical scrutiny without fear .. I can only hope that such public presentations allow some RSS sympathizers to see how inane RSS ideas are." On the face of it, Prof Ludden seems to agree with the ACLU strategy mentioned above.
If this is what he really believes, surely Prof Ludden should be actually organising, or encourage others to organise, many more visits of the RSS personnel to various universities. As it is, it would seem that the evil programme of the RSS has been exposed to members of only two universities - one of them a closed door meeting. A very large number of people are seemingly ignorant of the threat of the RSS to a civil society. So we once again fail to understand the angst of Prof Ludden.
But does Prof Ludden really want others to know what the RSS has to say about
itself? To understand his position on the matter, we can go back to our previous
encounter with him. This happened over a period of about three months starting
in December 1996. We have published our perspective of this encounter in an
article entitled "A Frustrating Dialogue", and it is available at:
It was in context of the 1996 edition of his book "Making India Hindu". In our article, we wrote about the book as follows: "Prof Ludden says the book was a product of five-hour weekly meetings during one academic year, a two-day workshop organised by him at his university in February 1994, and communication amongst the contributors as the book took shape."
We conveyed to Prof Ludden our impression about the content of this programme. His response is quite illuminating. In our article we wrote:"To our observation that Prof Ludden did not have anyone to present the pro-Hindutva perspective, he said that he and his colleagues had done 'a lot of reading of tracts' produced by Hindutva thinkers since the 1920s, and that they were 'inundated' with information on the BJP. Therefore, Prof Ludden felt that there was no 'need to invite anyone to represent the Hindutva perspective, because it was well represented already'. He also wondered what exactly they 'would have gained by hearing' a pro-Hindutva perspective. This would appear to be complete lack of academic professionalism. The obvious answer to this observation is that there was no need to invite anyone to represent the anti-Hindutva perspective, since they had an avalanche of information on the subject. One also has to ask what exactly was the gain by hearing the anti-Hindutva spokespersons. It would appear that the objective of getting the people together was some sort of bonding by the anti-Hindutva gang - a perfectly valid objective, provided it was stated as such."
We think that this attitude of Prof Ludden is quite in line with his overall thinking. We had sent him the interview of Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul, regarding the latter's perception of the ethos of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi movement - a perception that the founders of the movement would agree with in totality. Based on our exchange we wrote the following in our article: "When we pressed which part of the interview he was not particularly impressed with, the response from Prof Ludden was interesting: 'You can cite any number of people who agree with the RSS. So what?.....Citing one more supporter whose name is well known does not add weight to your legitimacy.' Here is a classic case of substituting English for logic, an art which the pseudo-secular leftists are particularly adept at. And they think they use this very effectively when they want to slide away from answering a difficult question. An appropriate response to Prof Ludden was: 'You can cite any number of people who disagree with the RSS. So what? Citing one more supporter whose name is well known does not add weight to your legitimacy.' We could not resist adding, 'Touché, we think.'"
We are particularly proud of the last sentence in the above paragraph.
In an article in the book he edited, namely "Making India Hindu", the author had contended that pro-Hindutva journalists have 'infiltrated the major national dailies in order to promote Hindu nationalism'. We gave statistics to prove otherwise. To this Prof Ludden responded as follows: "Your evidence is interesting but completely self-serving and idiosyncratic. If you could cite a study conducted by someone other than yourself or a member of the RSS, it would be more convincing." Prof Ludden also accused us of taking an unrepresentative sample.
At the time, we said: "(A) statement based on no evidence is perfectly acceptable to you. But (our) statement on the basis of a near complete sample of the major newspapers in Mumbai is self-serving and idiosyncratic. A study conducted by a member of the RSS is to be scoffed at, but a statement from an anti-Hindutva brigade must be held aloft for the whole world to see."
It would seem to us that Prof Ludden continues with his lack (or should we say bankruptcy?) of academic professionalism even today. In his present response he says: "Francine's argument that we had to hear him to learn about the RSS turned out to be quite wrong: we did not need to hear him to learn what he had to tell us: all that he said is in the RSS tracts, except for a few bits of trivia and dubious fodder for guesswork." (Francine is Francine Frankel, Director, CASI.) In the article in the Indian weekly, he comes out even more blunt than this. The article says: "But he found the whole talk redundant because everything Madhav said is in the books. 'So why listen to him? The RSS actions are sickening, its ideas are inane, its history is insane.'"
This lack of professionalism on part of Prof Ludden is further confirmed in the very next sentence, where he says: "If he had been a big-shot with a mind to engage others, that would have been different; and Francine's argument would have turned out correct. But as it was, he might as well have been a robot."
In the response, Prof Ludden describes Mr Madhav as follows: "Ram Madhav is a small-fry spin doctor -- or rather spin medical student or even orderly, I would say -- not a major force of any sort." This is like the strategy devised by Lenin which goes as follows: "First let us stick the convict's badge on him, and then after that we will examine his case. And I think that we must 'stick the convict's badge' on anyone and everyone who tries to undermine Marxism, even if we do not go on to examine his case. That's how every sound revolutionary should react."
If Lenin is observing the works of Prof Ludden from wherever he presently is, he would indeed be doing so with a very broad smile, and be happy that he still has students following his instructions very well indeed!
In the protest letter signed by Prof Ludden, one sentence stands out, namely: "If CASI wished to stage a political debate, or indeed offer equal time to a non-RSS speaker to make available to the audience an accurate account of the RSS and its crimes, then we might think the forum more appropriate." However, if one were to read Prof Ludden's response, it seems to us that the only questions asked of Mr Madhav were those that an opponent of the organisation would ask. It seems to us that a discussion/debate did take place and that those opposed to the RSS ideology did have sufficient opportunity to present their own perspective. So why the gripe?
Moreover, Prof Ludden is inconsistent in terms of himself following what he wanted CASI to do - namely have a non-RSS person so that a political debate had taken place. For his year long project in 1993/94, he did not see it necessary to give a RSS person an opportunity to present the RSS perspective on the issues under discussion. Has Prof Ludden heard the adage: "Do unto others what you would have others do unto you"?
If one were to see the comments of Prof Ludden about the talk by Mr Madhav, one wonders why does he protest so much. According to Prof Ludden, Mr Madhav did a hopeless job in presenting the RSS position and defending it, and that the members of the RSS are the scums of the earth. (Of course, he does not use these words, but the meaning is there for all to read.) Should he, then, not have been happy that the RSS has exposed itself in front of a selected audience, presumably one which is influential in the intellectual circles? Is he not demeaning himself by responding to such lowly people?
Prof Ludden complains that that with the invitation given by SAIS and CASI, has enabled the RSS to gain credibility, and perhaps this will enable them to get an invitation for the Oprah Winfrey show next! (We did not know that Ms Winfrey carefully monitors programmes of SAIS and CASI to decide whom to invite on her TV show.) However, given the Prof Ludden's summary of what transpired at the meeting, it would seem that the RSS goofed up on the opportunity. So why should Prof Ludden worry? Or, does he know something which he is not telling others?
A similar point is also made by those who wanted both SAIS and CASI to cancel the Mr Madhav's programme - namely that somehow this would add to the stature of the RSS. One of the protest letters says: "Either CASI has chosen to overlook the historical record of the RSS, or it has not thought through the ramifications of offering an official RSS representative an open invitation to a U.S. university, which will only put a U.S. stamp of approval on its campaigns."
There is a huge leap of imagination here. Invitation to two U.S. universities means that ALL the universities in the U.S. have given a stamp of approval. Moreover, does this mean that a university approves the agenda of everyone whom it provides a platform to explain their point of view? We Hindutvavadis think that this is not correct - but then we do not understand the intricate workings of academics.
By the same logic it would seem to us that these academics would conclude that in protecting the neo-Nazis right to publicly express their views, the ACLU is endorsing the ideology of Nazism.
Prof Ludden says he did not prevent Mr Madhav from speaking at CASI - but his messages clearly prove that he did. That he failed is not the issue. He seems to appreciate CASI's liberal attitude, but he himself displays an illiberal attitude. There is also a certain amount of crassness in his writings, which we think is not appropriate for a person who occupies the position he does.
It is patently clear that Prof Ludden has an agenda - and he is fully entitled to have it. A civil society has to allow for such a freedom if it is to remain a dynamic institution. What is required of him is that he should state this agenda up front, so that the people who read and hear him are aware where he comes from. Prof Ludden is not any ordinary individual - he is employed by the University of Pennsylvania, and his position is supposed to carry a certain amount of respect in society. He is expected to be unbiased and teach after doing a thorough research on the subjects of his interest. It is his words that will influence the way regular people will think. And if he is not doing his job properly, the people at large will be misled into believing something that is not true. Can a civil society tolerate this situation?
We are always amazed at the type of censorship that the academics apply when it comes to making the voice of the RSS heard directly. Perhaps the objective is to indulge in a form of intellectual intimidation, so that others would be cowed down and not host programmes of the type that Mr Madhav was invited to. We believe it was Lenin who said: "We must encourage energetic action and large-scale terror against the counter-revolutionaries especially in Petrograd as decisive example." So, once again, we see an application of a strategy honed to perfection by an ideology that the RSS is actively opposed to.
When the author of this note was ten years old, he started to write a letter to his sister with the following opening sentence: "Please open the envelope carefully so that you can keep the new stamps in your collection." Upon finishing the sentence, the author felt like a right idiot. The only way his sister could read the warning was to open the envelope in the first place! So he threw away the paper, and wrote the warning on the envelope itself.
It would be appropriate if Prof Ludden does what the ten-year-old did - dwell on what he has written to ensure logic and consistency. Is this really too much to expect?
We think that the University of Pennsylvania has a duty to its students, who are surely eager to receive good value for the money that they are spending. We think we have established that Prof Ludden does not does not fulfil the requirements of sound academic professionalism, since his students are not getting a complete picture on the subject of Hindutva from him. Therefore, we think that the university should take appropriate action so that the students are not in any way cheated.
We are not asking for the removal of Prof Ludden from his post - a Hindu takes such an extreme position only when all other remedial methods have failed. There may well be some ways that Prof Ludden makes a useful contribution to the society. We do not know whether this is a fact, since the only thing we have read about his writings is those relating to Hindutva. All that we are asking the university to ensure that he does his job properly. If he still persists in continuing with his biased agenda, it is the duty of the university to inform the students of this position. And it is the duty of the university to provide an alternative viewpoint on the subjects taught by Prof Ludden.