For anyone who is familiar with the vast corpus of Christophe Jaffrelot's work on India, what strikes you when you meet him for the first time is his relative youthfulness. Jaffrelot has had a 25-year-long association with India and his first book on the growth of the Hindu nationalist movement, published in the mid-nineties, is arguably one of the finest scholarly works produced on this theme. His research interests also include the questions of caste and communal identity in India. His books include The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s and India's Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India.
“I started young,” says Jaffrelot, and smiles on being told that he looks young for one who has published so widely and prolifically on India. His first introduction to India was at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris, France's most well-known university for the social sciences, when he was 18.
He teaches at the same institute now where he offers courses on the modern history of India and the polity of South Asia.
“I was in my last year of high school, and my philosophy teacher was well-versed in Indian philosophy; I was attracted to these studies. I came to India soon after on my own. I was 20 and I really found the country, society and people interesting in many different ways,” Jaffrelot explains in his heavy French accent.
Jaffrelot argues that there has been a shift in the political centre of gravity of India towards the right, and he attributes this partly to the growth of global Islamophobia and the impact of economic liberalisation. About the sangh parivar, he says that for the past ten years or so it has had to deal with contradictions that it did not come across earlier, including the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's long-term agenda and the Bharatiya Janata Party's compulsions of realpolitik. He also sees the BJP succumbing to a normalisation process in Indian politics.
VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED