Social Scientist. v 18, no. 207-08 (Aug-Sept 1990) p. 94.


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DISCUSSION / K.N. PANIKKAR*

Wrong Equations

The comments of M.S.S. Pandian on my Damodaran Memorial Lecture, addressed to a public and not an academic audience, delivered about three years back and recently published in Social Scientist, attribute to me an elitist bias and to my analysis a tradition-modernity framework. Although Pandian shares my general concern about communalism he disapproves of my historiographical practice and political project, as they are 'characterised by a kind of elitism.' His critique, however, is confined to the former i.e., to my reading of the intellectual history of colonial India. The latter, namely, the possible methods of intervention for effecting a rupture in the existing social consciousness and thus advancing the cause of radical politics has been overlooked. I would have been happier if Pandian had reversed his preference, as my efforts to trace certain strands of intellectual history was only to focus attention on what is contemporaneously possible.

In his enthusiasm for the popular, of which he seems to suffer from a romantic view, Pandian tends to equate elitism with the history of the elite, just as he does the popular with radical. Further, an elite-popular dichotomy and a binary opposition between these two domains also appear to be assumptions underlining his arguments. That such a dichotomous division of society for analytical purposes is not informed by Marxist methodology needs no reiteration. Its limitations for analytical purposes, even as a heuristic devise, should be obivious even to those who preach eclecticism as a surrogate for radical intellectual practice, r had indicated the theoretical inadequacy and conceptual confusion of such a historiographical perspective as early as 1983. (EPW, 13 Aug 1983).

Pandian's 'somewhat simplified summary' of my lecture which is understandably shorn of the several qualifications and elaborations in my arguments, is suggestive of a schematic and causally linked account, unintended in the original. The real import and purpose of the foray into historical antecedents have also been missed. This is clear from the consideration of the two themes he has picked up for special attentionóreligion and rationality, which he finds in my treatment as

* Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 8-9, August-September 1990



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