The first edition of the Tamil Nadu Young Thinkers (TNYTM) meet organized by India Foundation took to a flying start in Chennai, on September 30, 2016 with the inaugural session by Shri Dattatreya Hosabale (Joint General Secretary, RSS). Shri Hosabale’s talk, titled ‘Tamil Nadu- A Dharmic Responsibility Beckons’, touched upon how the dharmic traditions shunned hollow intellectualism, and always emphasized on well thought out and coordinated actions following thinking and ideation processes. He emphasized on the need to expand the scope of one’s thinking and include a vision for the revival of Tamil Nadu’s rich heritage and culture. Citing examples from Swami Vivekananda’s and Rishi Aurobindo’s works, he called out the myth of the Aryan invasion theory. Shri Hosabale reiterated that the dharmic responsibility lays equal importance on jnana, bhakti and karma. Shri Hosabale concluded by asking the participants to take up the role of being intellectual warriors and address the political, social, cultural and ideological struggles currently confronting our nation.
Day one of the TNYTM began with a keynote address by Shri Swapan Dasgupta (Rajya Sabha MP and Senior Journalist) on ‘India at 70 – National Influence of the Dominant Socio-political forces’. Shri Dasgupta questioned the origin, context and the appropriation of the term ‘Idea of India’. In his inimitable journalisticstyle,he drew narratives from Indian history since the 18th century that have shaped the modern debate, and pointed out to the stark differences between the approaches of the knowledge traditions in the West and in India. “Self-realisation coupled with national realisation is the only way to rescue people from social degradation”, he emphasized. Shri Dasgupta highlighted the dominant characteristics of the Indian traditions and lamented that the 1960s-80s was the “dark ages for the evolution of the Indian mindset”. He explained that a “wall” was being erected by the Nehruvian and Left schools of thought between pre-independence and post-independenceIndia. Shri Dasgupta remarked that India is at a political and intellectual cusp now and that Indology as a subject of importance needs to be revived by the Indian right. Shri Dasgupta ended by stating that many “Ideas of India exist and it is never just one Idea of India”.
‘Resurrecting Tamil Identity and Tamil Culture’ was the theme of the next session, addressed by Dr. D. Gnanasundaram (Tamil scholar and linguist). In his highly enlightening speech in Tamil, Dr. Gnanasundaram drew references ranging from Sangam literature to modern day Dravidian movements. He defined Tamil culture as having five important traits–logically understanding that the creation we see around us must have a creator, understanding that nothing lasts permanently, understanding that events of our lives are a function of forces beyond our control and that life as we experience is a process in continuum throughrebirths, understanding the importance of education, and having reverence towards our motherland. Dr. Gnanasundaram evocatively rendered quotes and verses ranging from classical literature to contemporary philosophies, and threw light on how Tamil has always co-existed with North Indian language(s), which was also popularized by poets, philosophers and writers of the classical age and much later Bhakti movements. He emphasized on the relevance and importance of Thirukural as an unparalleled treatise on social code of conduct. However, Dr. Gnanasundaram in no small amount expressed the need to retrieve Tamil language from the trap of politics and treat it as an empowering tool to access new portals of knowledge and development.
Post-lunch session was a panel discussion between Prof. Vivek Kumar (Sociology Dept, JNU) and Shri Ramachandran (Tamil research-scholar) on the topic of ‘Social Integration and Distributive Justice’. Prof. Kumar in his address emphatically touched upon how hierarchy in India has been time and again established through man-made order that defies free-will and no longer established on ‘division of labour’. He mentioned how caste discrimination and exclusion exists even today in at least seven institutions around us- judiciary, polity, bureaucracy, university, industry, civil society and media. He summed up his speech by noting that “caste system is not by default, but by design” and hence, self-representation is the only answer to the challenge of social integration. Prof Vivek Kumar also rejected the simplistic idea ofequating representation with reservation. Shri Ramachandran delved deep into the origin and context of the terms Pulaiyan and Valluvar, both now denoting sections of the Scheduled Castes community of Tamil Nadu; he narrated the significant departure from earlier traditions leading to current day aberrations. Shri Ramachandran traced the history of these communities through the times and presented a final comment that the Dravidian parties have misappropriated the caste identities for political reasons. The session ended with an invigorating round of questions and answers.
The final and pivotal session for the day, ‘Dominating the Intellectual Discourse’, facilitated by Shri R. Jagannathan (Editorial Director, Swarajya) and Shri V. Hari Kiran (Founder, Indic Academy), strung together the reasons for failure in the past, present challenges, and possible way forward for an Indic and Dharmic narrative of the Right in the media. Shri Jagannathan quickly summarized the dogma of the Left still prevalent in today’s discourse and how different institutions like businesses, government and media have constantly supported their mutually self-serving narrative. Shri Jagannathan outlined the need to develop a long term strategy akin to how the Church operates in the West, support Indic scholars and preserve our heritage institutions, especially the temples. Shri Jagannathan recounted from personal experience on how the digital media is the only way forward. Shri Hari Kiran touched upon the need to understand the audience, operate from one’s own swadharma and follow a sound framework while propagating the Dharmic cause. He emphasized on the need to transform thinkers into scholars and stressed the importance of organizing committed individuals, nurturing networks and promoting platforms for Indic thinkers. The session was well received by the participants who further offered their views to propel the movement.
Day two of the TNYTM started with a little brainstorming and planning for the way forward. Participants suggested the formation of hyper-local groups based on relevant interests and causes, to take forward the activism. Many of the participants pledged to continue their support to activities like temple restoration, checking on forced conversions and presenting the Vedantic and Puranic knowledge to schools and colleges in a contemporary fashion. A few others promised to scale up their writing online to reach out to new media, audience and issues.
The first session for the day was headlined by Swami Mitrananda (Acharya, Chinmaya Mission Chennai) on the ‘Relevance of Bhagavad Gita to Gen-Next’. In an inspiring dialogue, Swami Mitrananda reiterated that the beauty of Hinduism lies in its universality. An under-confident, shaken, insecure Arjuna is a common affliction of the youth today and anybody can relate to the teachings of Bhagavad Gita to transform their lives. Through several examples from the Mahabharata, Puranas and the Ramayana, the participants delved deep into the subject of dharma and the challenges of following it in today’s complex scenarios. A key takeaway from Swami Mitrananda’s session was that “Hinduism’s greatest advantage is that contradictory points can peacefully co-exist, without the compulsions to annihilate any view point for the existence or growth of the other; he emphasized that such appreciation for and structure to promote and accommodate diversityhas to be converted into our strength.”
Shri Shakti Sinha (Director, Nehru Memorial and Museum & Library) opened the next session on ‘Understanding Economics and Good Governance’ to a thought provoking question on how to empower the private sector. Shri Sinha highlighted that the private sector was far larger than the sum of the large MNCs or big Indian industrial houses alone; it includes the informal and unorganized traders, vendors, farmers and so many others whose everyday meal dependent on their everyday sale. Through the interactions, Shri Sinha outlined the need for a National Water Policy and offered insights into the long-drawn battles over Cauvery between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Shri Sinha mentioned that to ensure that good governance is in place, one must question the status quo constantly, otherwise complacency sets in place.
In the valedictory session for the two day meet, Shri Ram Madhav (National General Secretary, BJP) addressed the participants on ‘J&K, North-East and its significance to the rest of India’. Shri Ram Madhav drew from examples of Chanakya and Chandragupta to highlight the need to have strong borders in order to secure our nation. Shri Ram Madhav stressed that in order to ensure that the people of J&K and North East do not succumb to separatist tendencies, and that they pledge their allegiance to India as a whole, the BJP focusses extensively on the development of these regions. While recounting the recent negotiations and political victories in the Northeast, Shri Ram Madhav explained the need to preserve and promote the local identities and cultures of the people there. Ranging from skill development to infrastructure programs, India has a long way to ensure equitable economic growth in these regions. Shri Ram Madhav urged the participants to travel to these states to get to know the people, their culture and their challenges. In a candid Q&A session, Shri Ram Madhav gave detailed replies on topics ranging from infiltration to proselytisation to rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits and more.
The TNYTM has arrived as a forum for youth from varied professional and personal backgrounds to ideate, express and set the standards for a new discourse of the Right in Tamil Nadu. The Meet had 50 Participants hailing from various districts within Tamil Nadu. A majority of participants had a technical or science background for educational qualification whereas the rest are constituted of graduates from social sciences, law and media studies. Over 60% of the participants are affiliated to NGOs belonging to the socio-spiritual space dealing with a range of issues- from free education to restoration of temples to promoting Indic teachings. About 40% of the participants run their own business or have founded organizations. Between the sessions, several participants made presentation on issues, on their areas of work and their experiences thus far. The participative and engaging nature of the sessions has led to extended discussions on topics of Tamil culture, social integration and narrative of the Right, both amongst the participants and also the speakers.