Rajiv Malhotra, appointed honorary professor at JNU’s Centre for Media Studies, has also been accused of propagating fake news.
New Delhi: A recent viral video clip had two men making some incredulous claims. They debate a business pitch that involves approaching billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and promising to transfer some of their wealth from this life to their “next lives”.
The proposal, which the two men call Interlife Reincarnation Trust Management, is to help billionaires who may be “born poor” or in “some African country” in their next lives.
On 30 October, the man at the heart of the ‘business’ proposal, tech millionaire and Right-wing ideologue Rajiv Malhotra, was appointed as the honorary faculty to the foremost liberal arts institution in the country, Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU, in the national capital.
The Indian-American author, who studied physics at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College and has a degree in computer science from Syracuse University in the US, is known for his fervent tweets on the multiple goods of Hindutva.
Malhotra’s website claims he retired from Silicon Valley at 40 to pursue philanthropy, research and public service. He established an NGO, Infinity Foundation, for this purpose in 1994.
According to his website, he is the “man behind the thought revolution” and has conducted “original research” in a variety of fields and influenced many other thinkers in India and the West.
The author of books such as Academic Hinduphobia, The Battle for Sanskrit, Indra’s Net and Breaking India has, however, been accused of plagiarism.
His claims of original research came under question in 2015, when historian Richard Fox Young accused him of repeatedly failing to acknowledge sources.
According to a report on Scroll, Malhotra did not deny the charges, but said the academic standards demanded by Young were too high.
Known to be close to the RSS leadership, the US-based Hindu ideologue heads Infinity Foundation, which claims to be working on the broad fields of “wisdom and compassion”.
Malhotra has garnered a massive online following by professing to be a proud Hindu warrior. He has 1.78 lakh followers on Twitter and 6 million likes on his official Facebook page.
He upholds what he claims is Bharatiya sanskriti, questions other religions and liberals, vociferously supports the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and takes on anyone disagreeing with him. His tweets can be acerbic and contain loaded reports posted by little-known websites.
He reserves special contempt for those on the Left and foreign historians such as Wendy Doniger, whom he accuses of viewing Indian culture with a “Marxist and leftist lens”.
His online presence, however, had led him to be mired in one row after the other. During the Kerala floods, he tweeted communally charged content.
“Please donate to help Kerala Hindus. Christians & Muslims worldwide are raising lots of money to help mainly their own people and agendas,” he had tweeted, before deleting his tweet.
A picture retweeted by him stated that of the about 25 lakh temples in India, men were not allowed in six and women in five. Pegged on the Sabarimala row, the post sought to question why some “intellectuals” had no issue with the fact that over 3 lakh mosques did not allow a single woman inside.
ThePrint could not independently verify the claim or the figures cited.
In one of his lectures, uploaded on his official website, Malhotra talks of how school textbooks and the education system in India are filled with ‘anti-India’ content.
“Even the UPSC exam is full of hatred against India,” he says in the video. “People are attacked in academic circles if they go out and talk about Vedas. Go to IIT-Madras, it’s very difficult to say there is no separate Dravidism.”
He adds, “Colonisers did not want us to read Arthashastra and our own Vedic texts. We were not taught political thought, because had we been taught we would have revolted.”
‘Another nail in the coffin of Indian higher education’
His appointment as an honorary professor at JNU’s Centre for Media Studies has triggered criticism.
Author and Indologist Audrey Truschke, the assistant professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University, US, tweeted, “Another nail in the coffin of Indian higher education: Hindutva ideologue Rajiv Malhotra – a hate monger, plagiarist, without academic credentials, best known for his identity-fueled attacks on scholars – has been appointed an honorary professor at JNU.”
In a series of tweets, she pointed out instances where Malhotra quoted the satire portal The Onion as a legitimate source of news, including to claim that western historians had admitted that the Greek civilisation was fabricated.
“This shows the low intellectual level that we have come to,” journalist and columnist Tavleen Singh tweeted on his appointment. “I was once persuaded briefly that Malhotra was a serious scholar. In fact he is a pamphleteer who would not be considered a scholar except in India. Bad luck JNU.”
Historian S. Irfan Habib said JNU “didn’t deserve this insult”.
“A pretender, a plagiarist and Hindutva proponent Rajiv Malhotra appointed honorary visiting professor at JNU,” he tweeted.
Malhotra subsequently challenged his critics to an open debate. “I challenge Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock, @Ram_Guha to have an open conversation on camera where we can share, agree, disagree freely,” he tweeted.
The Malhotra fans
For all the flak he receives, Malhotra has his backers in the Indian Right.
Retired Army officer Major General G.D. Bakshi is often found praising Malhotra. In a recent tweet, Bakshi shared a link of Malhotra’s speech at India Gate during the 75th anniversary of the Azad Hind government.
“An excellent and succinct speech By Rajiv Malhotra on the eve of the…,” Bakshi tweeted.
Vivek Agnihotri, the filmmaker who courted controversy because of his book Urban Naxals, expressed happiness over the appointment.
“The entire ecosystem of bigots is rattled with the appointment of @RajivMessage and that indeed is the best news today. Congrats Rajivji,” Vivek Agnihotri tweeted after Malhotra announced his appointment.
Malhotra also has a separate twitter handle called Rajiv Malhotra fans.
JNU refuses to comment
Officials at JNU refused to comment on Malhotra’s appointment. Calls to the head of department, Centre of Media Studies, Heeraman Tiwari, went unanswered.
But the university rules say that a person appointed honorary professor “should be a scholar of nationally and internationally recognised eminence and his or her contribution should have made a difference to the discipline or to society”.
Approval of at least four experts in the field that the person is going to teach in is important for the appointment. Once approved, the name is sent to the executive council for approval.
In Malhotra’s case, however, members of the council told ThePrint they were not aware of the appointment.
Some students said Malhotra’s appointment was one of the many vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar was making in keeping with “his whims and fancies”.
“Malhotra is accused of plagiarism, it is such a big charge,” said JNUSU president N. Sai Balaji.
“How can the university appoint someone facing that kind of charge as an honorary professor? It is clearly the administration’s agenda to bring people from a certain ideology into the university.