by Sergei Akopov
In this essay I will discuss the philosophical, political, and cultural insights that we may gain through a continued debate on an existential approach to political ideology, and on ‘loneliness’ as one of its key concepts. In my previous research, I have attempted to open a wider discussion and show the connection between the ideology of sovereigntism and different forms of what I call “vertically” and “horizontally” organised loneliness. The ‘vertical’ management of loneliness anxiety is usually carried out through an enactment of statism and strong vertical power. By contrast, its ‘horizontal’ equivalent is more associated with non-state lateral transnational networking. There are also risks of a disbalance between the development of ‘vertical’ politics if loneliness arises at the expense of ‘horizontal’ politics, including risks for human freedom.
There are three specific themes that I kept in my mind while writing this article. However, before I turn to that, it might be useful to say about where the theme of loneliness came from in the first place. I started to work on this theme in 2018 before COVID-19 made social alienation and loneliness even more popular topic of study. I was originally inspired by my observations of key social characteristics of people who voted in favour of Russian sovereigntism. Sociologically speaking, many of those people had district features and experiences of political alienation and atomisation. For example, social opinion polls signalled that Russia’s 2018 elections and 2020 constitutional amendments referendum were heavily dependent on the mobilisation of elderly voters (77% of those who voted ‘yes’ were above 55 years old). At the same time, there is data that reveals higher levels of loneliness among Russian pensioners and senior citizens. Was it a pure coincidence that ‘lonely citizens’ voted in favour of further Russia’s ‘geopolitical loneliness’?
As I worked through the article in 2019 and 2020 I saw how the theme of loneliness ‘underwent a bit of a renaissance ’ within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Readers might consequently think that after the pandemic is over, the motivational force of a ‘politics of loneliness’ might lose its relevance. Instead, I am convinced that the pandemic has only ensured that manipulations of human loneliness anxiety are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Moreover, they will remain one of the core topics of human and consequently social life. Therefore, we should not underestimate the role of existential aspects of political processes, including the so-called ‘emotional turn’ in political science. Emotions like loneliness and anxieties about the ontological security of humans and states will not disappear. They will continue to shape ontological insecurities in our societies in even more sophisticated and complex ways. Further into our ‘digital era’, the human drive to get rid of loneliness will remain as vital as it has been since Plato and Laozi, but perhaps in different historical ways.
Theorising loneliness politically
Returning to the first potential step in my research program, we should build a firm theoretical framework whereby loneliness would be theorised within the web of other, what Felix Berenskoetter called supporting, cognate, and contrasting political concepts’. My synthetic novelty lies in theorising loneliness as a new concept in existential IR and political theory will, for example, require drawing deeper connections between loneliness and its opposites. While some say today that the opposite of negative loneliness can be a creative solitude, others instead consider that to be ‘intimacy’. We need to systematically explore political loneliness as a foundational concept and an umbrella term for empirical phenomena usually described as ‘social isolation’, ‘atomisation’, ‘marginalisation’, ‘silencing’, ‘uprootedness’, ‘commodification’, ‘silencing’, ‘оbjectification’ (or ‘subjectivation’ in terms of Michel Foucault), and so on. We also need to systematise already existing research on loneliness and its links to ‘supporting’ concepts like ‘identity’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘state’, ‘ontological security’, ‘subalternity’ (loneliness in a postcolonial perspective), ‘political power’, and ‘ideology’.
I see three blocks of such theoretical analysis.
The first corpus of literature I label as ‘psychological’, since loneliness is a political emotion, which requires taking into consideration the apparatus currently applied in political psychology. Here pioneers of psychological research on loneliness include, for example, Clark Moustakas, Ronald Laing, Ben Mijuskovic, Michael Bader, Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz.
The second ‘cluster’ of authors is focused more on the sociological and political dimensions of loneliness, which include works on ideology by Gregory Zilborg, Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm, Zygmunt Bauman, but also the governmentality and biopolitics of Foucault and Agamben. Here I would also put literature on ontological security studies in modern international relations, as well as contemporary research on the existential turn in IR. I would also include in this ‘political’ group case studies on particular geopolitical loneliness in different countries, like ‘taking back control’ during Brexit, ‘making America great again’ in the US under Trump, and so on.
The third block of ‘loneliness literature’ comes from philosophical and cultural studies, particularly its phenomenological and existential traditions. Before Foucault, the problem of human liberation from subjectification and commodification was considered by a number of thinkers. Søren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich, for example, looked at the religious dimension, which should never be disregarded when talking about loneliness anxiety as an existential reservoir for political ideology. Russian philosopher Nikolay Berdyaev explored four modes of loneliness in relation to human conformism and non-conformism. Jean Baudrillard addressed the issue of loneliness as a result of a replacement of reality with the so-called ‘simulacrum’. This idea was developed by Cynthia Weber in her notion of ‘state simulacrum’, by which she understood performative practices of imitation of state sovereignty through politically charged talks on sovereignty and intervention. That raises the problem of what ‘reality’ is, who is ‘the authentic subject’ in more general terms, and in Heideggerian and Sartrean terms ‘how can the individual live authentically in a society steeped in inauthenticity’.
I find these three blocks of literature vital since they should enable us to outline connections between loneliness anxiety and concepts such as ‘shame’, ‘trauma’, ‘ontological insecurity’, ‘collective identity’, ‘sovereigntism’, and ‘political exceptionalism’ (the latter as a consequence/condition of ‘geopolitical loneliness’).
The political manipulation of loneliness
As for critical scholars, our second step of research into organised forms of political loneliness should include, in my view, the deconstruction of the existing political manipulations of loneliness. With further ‘digitalisation’ of human life, including its ideological aspects through sophisticated technologies of surveillance, internet trolling, etc., human loneliness and self-objectification may only become more and more camouflaged under the guise of ‘digital efficiency and happiness’. Therefore, a cross-comparative study of ‘trickeries’ with human loneliness are required to uncover the mechanisms that underpin ideological legitimisations of power in different cultural contexts.
In my research, I have mostly focused on links between ‘vertical’ national politics of loneliness and ideology within Russian sovereigntism, comparing it, very briefly, with Brexit in the UK. I proposed three discursive models of vertically organised loneliness--historical, psychological, and religious—for the sake of illustrating the theoretical argument, not to claim that such models are either final or all-encompassing. However, links between loneliness and ideology can only be fully considered in the dialectics of (1) a comparative domestic perspective and (2) the implications they have for ‘foreign policy’ in countries that try to justify their geopolitical loneliness in world politics. I mostly concentrated on the ‘undertones’ of Russia’s loneliness in its domestic ideological configurations.
However, sooner or later, the domestic politics of loneliness may turn into ‘geopolitical loneliness’ in foreign affairs. In 2018, Vladislav Surkov, one of the former main ideologists of the Kremlin, repeated the slogan of Tsar Alexander III: ‘Russia has only two allies: its army and navy’ – ‘the best-worded description of the geopolitical loneliness which should have long been accepted as our fate’.
Beyond the politics of loneliness
Two areas that should be developed further are (1) how we can further develop non-vertical, lateral ‘transnational politics of loneliness’; and also (2) how we can demasculinise this ‘vertical politics of loneliness’. The first problem of the underdevelopment of horizontal ties of overcoming loneliness is aggravated by the resurgence of nation states and national borders against the background of COVID-19 vaccine nationalism, with the latter only very weakly resisted by supranational organisations like the World Health Organisation. Concerning the second question: how we can demasculinise the ‘vertical politics of loneliness’, a few things have to be considered. The first issue is to make more visible masculine practices that establish cultural hegemony and try to turn women into ‘nice girls’ (Ellen Willis) whose political role is passive, and whose freedom is taken away through mechanisms of the ‘management of female loneliness’ (with side-effects like the objectification and commodification of women).
Another important thing, in my view, is to ‘extract’ from our routines the ‘male gaze’ that monopolises our optics of loneliness studies. The same ‘male gaze’ also underpins and reinforces what Marysia Zalewski described as ‘masculine methods’, which might not necessarily be the best ones to reflect our reality. In my view, an alternative methodology of loneliness research can include the epistemology of interpretivism (including, for example Michael Shapiro’s postpositivist analysis of war films and photos). Another way to explore the horizontal politics of loneliness is by conducting autoethnographic writing (including fiction) and in this way building positive ties of solitude (and intimacy) together with colleagues across the globe.
Certainly, the 2022 military escalation of conflict in Ukraine only proves that the existential foundations of sovereigntism and its deep links with attempts to overcome ‘geopolitical loneliness’ anxiety both on the domestic and international arena must be considered very seriously. The analysis of political discourse and the ‘politics of loneliness’ during these events is to become a subject of new upcoming research. However, it is evident that we are entering a period when new ‘bubbles’ of ontological insecurities create the conditions for more complicated ideological manipulations with human loneliness anxiety. The new manifestations of sovereigntisms during the current international crisis are unfortunately only likely to provide a wealth of new empirical data for new analysis in the near future.
 S. Akopov. Sovereignty as ‘organized loneliness’: an existential approach to the sovereigntism of Russian ‘state-civilization’, Journal of Political Ideologies, (published on line October 25, 2021). DOI: 10.1080/13569317.2021.1990560
 L. Gudkov. ‘Kto I kak golosoval za popravki v Konstituciyu: zavershaushii opros’, Yuri Levada Analytical Centre, July 8 2020 https://www.levada.ru/2020/08/07/kto-i-kak-golosoval-za-popravki-v-konstitutsiyu-zavershayushhij-opros/, [11 November 2020].
 ‘Odinochestvo, i kak s nim borot’sya?,’ Russia’s Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), February 15 2018, https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=116698, [12 November 2020].
 F. Berenskoetter ‘Approaches to Concept Analysis.’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies 45 (2), 2016. p. 151
 B. Mijuskoviс Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology, and Literature. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2012.p. xl.
 For example, Subotić, Jelena, and Filip Ejdus. “Towards the existentialist turn in IR: introduction to the symposium on anxiety.” Journal of international relations and development, 1-6. 24 Aug. 2021, doi:10.1057/s41268-021-00233-z
 See, for instance, P. Spiro, ‘The New Sovereigntists: American Exceptionalism and Its False Prophets, Foreign affairs, 79(6), (2000), pp. 9-15; M. Freeden, ‘After the Brexit referendum: revisiting populism as an ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 22 (1), (2017), pp. 4-5.
 C. Weber, ‘Reconsidering Statehood: Examining the Sovereignty/Intervention Boundary,’ Review of International Studies 18 (3), (1992), p. 216
 A. Levi, ‘The Meaning of Existentialism for Contemporary International Relations’. Ethics, 72 (4) (1962), p. 234
. Umbach and Humphrey, ibid., p. 39.
 V. Surkov, ‘The Loneliness of the Half-Breed’, Russia in Global Affairs (2), March 28 2018, Available at: https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/book/The-Loneliness-of-the-Half-Breed-19575, [14 November 2020].
 C. Masters. 2016. Handbook on Gender in World Politics. Steans, J. & Tepe-Belfrage, D. (eds.). Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, p.322.
by Feng Chen
Ideology has been a central force shaping labour movements across the world. However, the role of ideologies in labour activism in contemporary China has received scant scholarly attention. Previous studies on Chinese labour tend to hold that in China’s authoritarian political context, ideologically driven labour activities have rarely existed because they are politically risky; they also assume that ideologies are only related to organised labour movements, which are largely absent in the country. In contrast to these views, I argue that ideologies are important for understanding Chinese labour activism and, in fact, account for the emergence of different patterns of labour activism.
By applying framing theory, this piece examines how ideologies shape the action frames of labour activism in China. Social movements construct action frames by drawing from their societies’ multiple cultural stocks, such as religions, beliefs, traditions, myths, narratives, etc.; ideologies are one of the primary sources that provide ideational materials for the construction of frames. However, frames do not grow automatically out of ideologies. Constructing frames entails processing the extant ideational materials and recasting them into narratives providing “diagnosis” (problem identification and attribution) and “prognosis” (the solutions to problems). Framing theory is largely built on the experiences of Western (i.e., Euro-American) social movements. When social movement scholars acknowledge that action frames can be derived from extant ideologies, they assume that movements have multiple ideational resources from which to choose when constructing their action frames. Movement actors in liberal societies may construct distinct action frames from various sources of ideas, which may even be opposed to each other. Differing ideological dispositions lead to different factions within a movement.
Nevertheless, understanding the role of ideology in Chinese labour activism requires us to look into the framing process in an authoritarian setting. In this context, the state’s ideological control has largely shut out alternative interpretations of events. It is thus common for activists to frame and legitimise their claims within the confines of the official discourse in order to avoid the suspicion and repression of the state. Nevertheless, the Chinese official ideology has become fragmented since the market reforms of the late 1970s and 1980s, becoming broken into a set of tenets mixed with orthodox, pragmatic, and deviant components, as a result of incorporating norms and values associated with the market economy. From Deng Xiaoping’s “Let some people get rich first”, the “Socialist market economy” proposed by the 14th National Congress of the CCP, to Jiang Zeming’s “Three Represents”, the party’s official ideology has absorbed various ideas associated with the market economy, though it has retained its most fundamental tenets (i.e., upholding the Party Leadership, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Socialism Road, and Proletariat Dictatorship) crucial for regime legitimacy.
Correspondingly, China’s official ideology on labour has since evolved into three strands of discourse: (1) Communist doctrines about socialism vs. capitalism as well as the status of the working-class. (2) Rule of law discourse, which highlights the importance of laws in regulating labour relations and legal procedures as the primary means to protect workers’ individual rights regarding contracts, wages, benefits, working conditions, and so on. (3) The notions of collective consultation, tripartism, and the democratic management of enterprises. These notions are created to address collective disputes arising from market-based labour relations and maintain industrial peace. These three strands of the official discourse, which are mutually conflicting in many ways, reflect the changes as well as the continuity within Chinese official ideology on labour.
Framing Chinese labour ideology
The fragmentation of the official ideology provides activists with opportunities to selectively exploit it to construct their action frames around labour rights, which have produced moderate, liberal, and radical patterns of labour activism. To be sure, as there is no organised labour movement under China's authoritarian state, the patterns of labour activism should not be understood in strict organisational terms, or as factions or subgroups that often exist within labour movements in other social contexts. The terms are heuristic, and should be used to map and describe scattered and discrete activities that try to steer labour resistance toward different directions.
Moderate activism, while embracing the market economy, advocates the protection of workers’ individual rights stipulated by labour laws, and seeks to redress workers’ grievances through legal proceedings. One might object to regarding this position as ideological—after all, it only focuses on legal norms and procedures. However, from the perspective of critical labour law, it can be argued that labour law articulates an ideology, as it aims to legitimate the system of labour relations that subjects workers to managerial control. Moreover, moderates’ adherence to officially sanctioned grievance procedures restrains workers' collective actions and individualises labour disputes, which serves the purpose of the state in controlling labour.
Radical activism is often associated with leftist leanings and calls for the restoration of socialism. Radical labour activists have expressed their views on labour in the most explicit socialist/communist or anti-capitalist rhetoric. They condemn labour exploitation in the new capitalistic economy and issue calls to regain the rights of the working class through class struggle. Unsurprisingly, such positions are more easily identified as ideological than others.
Liberal activists advocate collective bargaining and worker representation. They are liberal in the sense that their ideas echo the view of “industrial pluralism” that originated in Western market economies. This view envisions collective bargaining as a form of self-government within the workplace, in which management and labour are equal parties who jointly determine the condition of the sale of labour-power. Liberals have also promoted a democratic practice called “worker representation” to empower workers in collective bargaining.
To make their action frames legitimate within the existing political boundaries, each type of activist group has sought to appropriate the official discourse through a specific strategy of “framing alignment”.
Moderate Activism: Accentuation and Extension
Accentuation refers to the effort to “underscore the seriousness and injustice of a social condition”. Movement activists punctuate certain issues, events, beliefs, or contradictions between realities and norms, with the aim of redressing problematic conditions. Moderate labour activists have taken this approach. Adopting a position that is not fundamentally antagonistic to the market economy and state labour policies, they seek to protect and promote workers’ individual rights within the existing legal framework, and correct labour practices where these deviate from existing laws. Thus, their frame is constructed by accentuating legal rights stipulated by labour laws and regulations and developing a legal discourse on labour standards. Moderate activists’ diagnostic narrative attributes labour rights abuses to poor implementation of labour laws, as well as workers’ lack of legal knowledge. Their prognostic frame calls for effective implementation of labour laws and raising workers' awareness of their rights.
Extension involves a process that extends a frame beyond its original scope to include issues and concerns that are presumed to be important to potential constituents. Some moderate activists have attempted to extend workers’ individual labour rights to broad “citizenship rights”, which mainly refer to social rights in the Chinese context, stressing that migrant workers’ plight is rooted in their lack of citizenship rights—the rights only granted to urban inhabitants. They advocate social and institutional reforms for fair and inclusionary policies toward migrant workers. While demand for citizenship rights can be seen as moderate in the sense that they are just an extension of individual rights, it contains liberal elements, because such new rights will inevitably entail institutional changes. To extend rights protection beyond the legal arena, moderate activists are instrumental in disseminating the idea of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and promoting it to enterprises. This aims to protect workers’ individual rights by disciplining enterprises and making them comply with labour standards.
Liberal Activism: Bridging
Frame bridging refers to the linking of two or more narratives or movements that have a certain affinity but have been previously formally unconnected. While the existing literature has paid more attention to “ideologically congruent but structurally unconnected frames regarding a particular issue or problem”, “bridging” can also be understood as a means of “moral cover”. That is, it splices alternative views to the official discourse, as a way of creating legitimacy for the former. This is a tactic that China’s liberal labour activism has used fairly frequently. Liberals support market reforms and seek to improve workers’ conditions within the current institutional framework, but they differ from moderates in that their diagnostic narrative attributes workers’ vulnerable position in labour relations to their absence of collective rights.
Meanwhile, their prognostic narrative advocates collective bargaining, worker representation, and collective action as the solution to labour disputes. The ideas liberal activists promote largely come from the experiences of Western labour movements and institutional practices. As a rule, the Chines government regards these ideas as unsuited to China’s national conditions. To avoid being labelled as embracing “Western ideology”, liberal activists try to bridge these ideas and practices with China’s official notions of collective consultation, tripartism, and enterprise democracy, justifying workers’ collective role in labour disputes by extensive references to the provisions of labour laws, the civil law, and official policies. These are intended to legitimise their frame as compatible with the official discourse.
Radical Activism: Amplification
Amplification involves a process of idealising, embellishing, clarifying, or invigorating existing values or beliefs. While the strategy may be necessary for most movement mobilisations, “it appears to be particularly relevant to movements reliant on conscience constituents”. In the Chinese context, radical activists are typically adherents of the orthodox doctrines of the official ideology, either because they used to be beneficiaries of the system in the name of communism or they are sincerely committed to communist ideology in the Marxist conception. Unlike moderates and liberals, who do not oppose the market economy, radicals’ diagnostic frames point to the market economy as the fundamental cause of workers’ socioeconomic debasement. They craft the “injustice frame” in terms of the Marxian concept of labour exploitation, and their prognostic frame calls for building working-class power and waging class struggles.
Although orthodox communist doctrines have less impact on economic policies, they have remained indispensable for regime legitimacy. Radical activists capture them as a higher political moral ground on which to construct their frames. Their amplification of the ideological doctrines of socialism, capitalism, and the working class not only provide strong justification for their claims in terms of their consistency with the CCP’s ideological goal; it is also a way of forcefully expressing the view that current economic and labour policies have deviated from the regime’s ideological promises.
These three action frames have offered their distinct narratives of labour rights (i.e., in terms of the individual, collective, and class), and attributed workers’ plights to the lack of these rights as well as proposing strategies to realise them. However, this does not mean that the three action frames are mutually exclusive. All of them view Chinese workers as being a socially and economically disadvantaged group and stress the crying need to protect individuals’ rights through legal means. Both moderates and liberals support market-based labour relations, while both liberals and radicals share the view that labour organisations and collective actions are necessary to protect workers’ interests. For this reason, however, moderates have often regarded both liberals and radicals as “radical”, as they see their conceptions of collective actions as fundamentally too confrontational. On the other hand, it is not surprising that in the eyes of liberals, radicals are “true” radicals, in the sense that they regard their goals as idealistic and impractical. It is also worth noting that activist groups have tended to switch their action frame from one to another. Some groups started with the promotion of individual rights but later turned into champions for collective rights.
The three types of labour activism reflect the different claims of rights that have emerged in China’s changing economic as well as legal and institutional contexts. While the way that labour activists have constructed their frames indicates the common political constraints facing labour activists, their emphasis on different categories of labour rights and strategies to achieve them demonstrates that they did not share a common vision about the structure and institutions of labour relations that would best serve workers’ interests. The lack of a meaningful public sphere under tight ideological control has discouraged debates and dialogues across different views on labour rights and labour relations. Activists with different orientations have largely operated in isolation, and often view other groups as limited and unrealistic—a symptom of the sheer fragmentation of Chinese labour activism. Yet the evidence shows that, although they have resonated with workers to a varying degree, these three patterns of activism have faced different responses from the government because of their different prognostic notions. Both liberal and radical activism have been met with state suppression, because of their advocacy of collective action and labour organising. Their fate attests to the fundamental predicament facing labour movements in China.
 For this perspective, see J. Conaghan, ‘Critical Labour Law: The American Contribution’, Journal of Law and Society, 14: 3 (1987), pp. 334-352.
 K. Stone, ‘The Structure of Post-War Labour Relations’, New York University Review of Law and Social Change, 11 (1982), p. 125.
 R. Benford and D. Snow, ‘Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment’, Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000), pp. 611–639.
 S. Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
 R. Benford and D. Snow, ‘Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment’, Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000), pp. 611–639.
 D. Westby, ‘Strategic Imperative, Ideology, and Frames.” In Hank Johnstone and John Noakes (Eds.), Frames of Protest (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), pp. 217–236.
 R. Benford and D. Snow, “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.” Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000), pp.611–639.
by Anuradha Sajjanhar
As in most liberal democracies, India’s national political parties work to gain the support of constituencies with competing and often contradictory perspectives on expertise, science, religion, democratic processes, and the value of politics itself. Political leaders, then, have to address and/or embody a web of competing antipathies and anxieties. While attacking left and liberal academics, universities, and the press, the current, Hindu-nationalist Indian government is building new institutions to provide authority to its particular historically-grounded, nationalist discourse. The ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its grassroots paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have a long history of sustained Hindu nationalist ideology. Certain scholars see the BJP moving further to the centre through its embrace of globalisation and development. Others argue that such a mainstream economic stance has only served to make the party’s ethno-centric nationalism more palatable. By oscillating between moderation and polarisation, the BJP’s ethno-nationalist views have become more normalised. They have effectively moved the centre of political gravity further to the right. Periods of moderation have allowed for democratic coalition building and wider resonance. At the same time, periods of polarisation have led to further anti-Muslim, Hindu majoritarian radicalisation.
This two-pronged dynamic is also present in the Hindu Right’s cultivation of intellectuals, which is what my research is about. Over the last five to ten years, the BJP has been discrediting, attacking, and replacing left-liberal intellectuals. In response, alternative “right-wing” intellectuals have built a cultural infrastructure to legitimate their Hindutva ideology. At the same time, technical experts associated with the government and its politics project the image of apolitical moderation and economic pragmatism.
The wide-ranging roles of intellectuals in social and political transformation beg fundamental questions: Who counts as an intellectual and why? How do particular forms of expertise gain prominence and persist through politico-economic conjunctures? How is intellectual legitimacy redefined in new political hegemonies? I examine the creation of an intellectual policy network, interrogating the key role of think tanks as generative proselytisers. Indian think tanks are still in their early stages, but have proliferated over the last decade. While some are explicit about their political and ideological leanings, others claim neutrality, yet pursue their agenda through coded language and resonant historical nationalist narratives. Their key is to effect a change in thinking by normalising it. Six years before winning the election in 2014, India’s Hindu-nationalist party, the BJP, put together its own network of policy experts from networks closely affiliated to the party. In a national newspaper, the former vice-president of the BJP described this as an intentional shift: from “being action-oriented to solidifying its ideological underpinnings in a policy framework”. When the BJP came to power in 2014, people based in these think tanks filled key positions in the central government. The BJP has since been circulating dominant ideas of Hindu supremacy through regional parties, grassroots political organisations, and civil society organisations.
The BJP’s ideas do not necessarily emerge from think tank intellectuals (as opposed to local leaders/groups), but the think tanks have the authority to articulate and legitimate Hindu nationalism within a seemingly technocratic policy framework. As primarily elite organisations in a vast and diversely impoverished country, a study of Indian think tanks begs several questions about the nature of knowledge dissemination. Primarily, it leads us to ask whether knowledge produced in relatively narrow elite circles seeps through to a popular consciousness; and, indeed, if not, what purpose it serves in understanding ideological transformation. While think tanks have become an established part of policy making in the US and Europe, Indian think tanks are still in their early stages. The last decade, however, has seen a wider professionalisation of the policy research space. In this vein, think tanks have been mushrooming over the last decade, making India the country with the second largest number of think tanks in the world (second only to the US). As evident from the graph below, while there were approximately 100 think tanks in 2008, they rose to more than 500 in 2018. The number of think tanks briefly dropped in 2014—soon after Modi was elected, the BJP government cracked down on civil society organisations with foreign funding—but has risen dramatically between 2016 and 2018.
Fig. 1: Data on the rise of Indian think tanks from Think Tank Initiative (University of Pennsylvania)
There are broadly three types of think tanks that are considered to have a seat at the decision-making table: 1) government-funded/affiliated to Ministries; 2) privately-funded; 3) think tanks attached to political parties (these may not identify themselves as think tanks but serve the purpose of external research-based advisors). I do not claim a causal relationship between elite think tanks and popular consciousness, nor try to assert the primacy of top-down channels of political mobilisation above others. Many scholars have shown that the BJP–RSS network, for example, functions both from bottom-up forms of mobilisation and relies on grassroots intellectuals, as well as more recent technological forms of top-down party organisation (particularly through social media and the NaMo app, an app that allows the BJP’s top leadership to directly communicate with its workers and supporters). While the RSS and the BJP instil a more hierarchical and disciplinary party structure than the Congress party, the RSS has a strong grassroots base that also works independent of the BJP’s political elite.
It is important to note that what I am calling the “right-wing” in India is not only Hindu nationalists—the BJP and its supporters are not a coherent, unified group. In fact, the internal strands of the organisations in this network have vastly differing ideological roots (or, rather, where different strands of the BJP’s current ideology lean towards): it encompasses socially liberal libertarians; social and economic conservatives; firm believers in central governance and welfare for the “common man”; proponents of de-centralisation; followers of a World Bank inspired “good governance” where the state facilitates the growth of the economy; believers in a universal Hindu unity; strict adherers to the hierarchical Hindu traditionalism of the caste system; foreign policy hawks; principled sceptics of “the West”; and champions of global economic participation. Yet somehow, they all form part of the BJP–RSS support network. Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, has tried to bridge these contradictions through a unified hegemonic discourse. In a column entitled “We may be on the cusp of an entitled Hindu consensus” from September 2018, conversative intellectual Swapan Dasgupta writes of Bhagwat:
“It is to the credit of Bhagwat that he had the sagacity and the self-confidence to be the much-needed revisionist and clarify the terms of the RSS engagement with 21st century India...Hindutva as an ideal has been maintained but made non-doctrinaire to embrace three unexceptionable principles: patriotism, respect for the past and ancestry, and cultural pride. This, coupled with categorical assertions that different modes of worship and different lifestyles does not exclude people from the Hindu Rashtra, is important in reforging the RSS to confront the challenges of an India more exposed to economic growth and global influences than ever before. There is a difference between conservative and reactionary and Bhagwat spelt it out bluntly. Bhagwat has, in effect, tried to convert Hindu nationalism from being a contested ideological preoccupation to becoming India’s new common sense.”
As Dasgupta lucidly attests, the project of the BJP encompasses not just political or economic power; rather, it attempts to wage ideological struggle at the heart of morality and common sense. There is no single coherent ideology, but different ideological intentions being played out on different fronts. While it is, at this point, difficult to see the pieces fitting together cohesively, the BJP is making an attempt to set up a larger ideological narrative under which these divergent ideas sit: fabricating a new understanding of belonging to the nation. This determines not just who belongs, but how they belong, and what is expected in terms of conduct to properly belong to the nation.
I find two variants of the BJP’s attempts at building a new common sense through their think tanks: actively political and actively a-political. In doing so, I follow Reddy’s call to pay close attention to the different ‘vernaculars’ of Hindutva politics and anti-politics. Due to the elite centralisation of policy making culture in New Delhi, and the relatively recent prominence of think tanks, their internal mechanisms have thus far been difficult to access. As such, these significant organisations of knowledge-production and -dissemination have escaped scholarly analysis. I fill this gap by examining the BJP’s attempt to build centres of elite, traditional intellectuals of their own through think tanks, media outlets, policy conventions, and conferences by bringing together a variety of elite stakeholders in government and civil society. Some scholars have characterised the BJP’s think tanks as institutions of ‘soft Hindutva’, that is, organisations that avoid overt association with the BJP and Hindu nationalist linkages but pursue a diffuse Hindutva agenda (what Anderson calls ‘neo-Hindutva’) nevertheless. I build on these preliminary observations to examine internal conversations within these think tanks about their outward positioning, their articulation of their mission, and their outreach techniques.
The double-sidedness of Hindutva acts as a framework for understanding the BJP’s wide-ranging strategy, but also to add to a comprehension of political legitimacy and the modern incarnation of ethno-nationalism in an era defined by secular liberalism. The BJP’s two most prominent think tanks (India Foundation and Chanakya Institute), show how the think tanks negotiate a fine balance between projecting a respectable religious conservatism along with an aggressive Hindu majoritarianism. These seemingly contradictory discourses become Hindutva’s strength. They allow it to function as a force that projects aggressive majoritarianism, while simultaneously claiming an anti-political ‘neutral’ face of civilisational purity and inter-religious inclusion. While some notions of ideology understand it as a systematic and coherent body of ideas, Hodge’s concept of ‘ideological complexes’ suggests that contradiction is key to how ideology achieves its effects. As Stuart Hall has shown, dominant and preferred meanings tend to interact with negotiated and oppositional meanings in a continual struggle. Thus, as Hindutva becomes a mediating political discourse, it may risk incoherence, yet defines the terms through which the socio-political world is discussed.
The BJP’s think tanks, then, attempt to legitimise its ideas and policies by building a base of both seemingly-apolitical expertise and what they call ‘politically interventionist’ intellectuals. Neo-Hindutva can thus be both explicitly political and anti-political at the same time: advocating for political interventionism while eschewing politics and forging an apolitical route towards cultural transformation. However, contrary to critical scholarship that tends to subsume claims of apolitical motivation within forms of false-consciousness or backdoor-politics, I note that several researchers at these organisations do genuinely see themselves as conducting apolitical, academic research. Rather than wilful ignorance, their acknowledgement of the organisation’s underlying ideology understands the heavy religious organisational undertones as more cultural than political. This distinction takes the cultural and religious parts of Hindutva ‘out of’ politics, allowing it to be practiced and consumed as a generalisable national ethos.
 Nistula Hebbar, “At Mid-Term, Modi’s BJP on Cusp of Change.” The Hindu. The Hindu, June 12, 2017. https://www.thehindu.com/thread/politics-and-policy/at-mid-term-modis-bjp-on-cusp-of-change/article18966137.ece
 Anuradha Sajjanhar, “The New Experts: Populism, Technocracy, and the Politics of Expertise in Contemporary India”, Journal of Contemporary Asia (forthcoming 2021).
 Deepa S. Reddy, “What Is Neo- about Neo-Hindutva?” Contemporary Southeast Asia 26, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 483–90.
 Edward Anderson and Arkotong Longkumer. “‘Neo-Hindutva’: Evolving Forms, Spaces, and Expressions of Hindu Nationalism.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 26, no. 4 (October 2, 2018): 371–77.
 Stuart Hall, “Encoding/decoding.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks 16676 (2001).