Monday, June 6, 2022

Long-term fall-out of the Mahatma murder

(FirstPost, 27 May 2022) + The +topic of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948 still comes up regularly for discussion. Mostly this is +to embarrass the RSS and the party associated with it, the BJP, which was actually founded in 1980, that too as reincarnation of the Jan Sangh, wh+ich had equally been founded after the murder, in 1951. This then is the best-known long-term effect: the unrelenting allegation that anything s+melling of Hindu nationalism, and certainly the RSS, necessarily leads to such crimes. But are we missing something? + Chitpavan massacre The first conseque+nce of the murder was immediate: Godse’s own community, the Chitpavan Brahmins, was targeted for mass murder. The comparison with the mass kil+ling of Sikhs by Congress secularists after Indira Gandhi’s murder in 1984 is fairly exact, except that that massacre is well-known (even ecli+psing the memory of the larger number of Panjabi Hindus murdered by Sikh separatists in the preceding years) whereas this one has been hushed up.+ The New York Times first drew attention to it, reporting 15 killings for the first day and only for the city of Mumbai. In fact the killing we+nt on for a week and all over Maharashtra, with VD Savarkar’s younger brother as best-known victim. Arti Agarwal,+ who leads the research in “Hindu genocide”, estimates the death toll at ca. 8,000. On mass murders, estimates are often overdramatiz+ed, but here we must count with a countervailing factor: the Government’s active suppression of these data, as they would throw a negative li+ght on Gandhism. But research on this painful episode has now started in earnest, and those presently trying to get at the real figures include Sa+varkar biographer Vikram Sampath. Crackdown+ The secon+d consequence came right after: the Government’s crackdown on the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Their offices were closed down, their office-b+earers imprisoned for a year or so, their stocks of literature impounded. It clipped their wings for years to come. The Hindu Mahasabha lost it+s president Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, who went on to found the Jana Sangh. The HMS would never recover from this blow. Its last MP was to be Mahant+ Avaidyanath, best known as a leader of the Rama Janmabhumi movement and as Guru of present UP CM Yogi Adityanath, defected to the BJP in 1991.+ By cont+rast, the RSS did survive quite well, and even generated a whole “family” of like-minded organizations, including a new political party. In a nume+rical sense, it was to thrive; but in two other senses, it paid a high price. The t+hird consequence was a drastic change in the political landscape. After Partition, the Hindutva movement had the wind in the sails. All Cong+ressite assurances that warnings against Islamic separatism were mere British-engineered paranoia, had been refuted by reality. Gandhi’s pro+mise that Partition would only come over his dead body, had proven false. The new-fangled ideology of secularism stood discredited at its bi+rth. And yet, overnight, the Hindutva current was marginalized and Nehruvian secularism started its triumphant march. By his murder, Godse had s+mashed the window of opportunity of his own political movement. + Amputated backbone Finally, the fo+urth consequence would only materialize over the long term: the Hindu movement began to lose its defining convictions. Rather than continuing to +see India as an essentially Hindu nation, it bought into the secularist notion of a mere “Hindu community” juxtaposed to “minority communities” +that were endowed with equal rights and increasingly with privileges vis-à-vis the Hindus. When Jawahar+lal Nehru was widely criticized for having facilitated the Chinese invasion, the RSS halted the publication of a Nehru-critical serial by Sita Ram+ Goel in Organiser: Rather than clamouring that its guest author’s judgment of Nehru stood vindicated, it feared that if anything were to happen +to Nehru, the RSS would again get the blame. As the Gandhi murder had shown, it wasn’t necessary to be actually guilty to still incur the punis+hment, viz. by “having created the atmosphere” for the crime. The RSS bought into the secularist narrative that the Hindu ideology had caused t+he murder and started amputating its own ideological backbone. When in+ 1980 the BJP was founded, the party flag it adopted was significantly divided in orange and green, in the communal sense (no, not green for gr+eenery). Not only the nation was to be partly Islamic, but even the Hindu party itself. This prefigured Mohan Bhagwat’s 2018 statement that a Hindu Rasthra is not complete without Islam. The RSS founded within its ranks a Muslim Morcha, abandoning its founding belief in national unity for c+ommunal appeasement. It became the RSS family’s most successful member, not by spreading the national idea in the Muslim community but by serv+ing the latter’s sectional interests. Ind+eed, under Narendra Modi, minorityism, once the BJP’s bogeyman, became the party’s principle of governance. All kinds of schemes of state la+rgesse favour the minorities; no, not real minorities like Parsis and Jews, but the India chapters of the Christian and Muslim multinationals. I+n its publicity campaigns, the party boasts that it has done more for the minorities than Congress ever has. The 1990s’ eminently secular BJP slogan “Justice for all, appeasement of none” has been given up in favour of: “I am better at appeasement than you!” If Nathuram Godse had foreseen these consequences of the act he contemplated, he might have thought twice about going through with it. +
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Friday, May 13, 2022

Does India really need a Uniform Civil Code?

(First Post, 13 May 2022, under the title: UCC can wait! First fight anti-Hindu discriminations in education and temple management) For decades already, you occasionally hear voices clamouring for a Uniform Civil Code in India. It is mentioned in the Constitution’s wish list, the Directive Principles. In 1995, the Supreme Court asked the Government about the progress towards this goal; in vain. This January, they summoned the Government again on this; let’s see. Today, 75 years after Independence, all matters pertaining to marriage, family and inheritance are still governed by separate law codes for Hindus, Muslims, Christian and Parsis. Are there good reasons to abolish this arrangement? India's ruling politicians clearly think not, for they have never challenged it. They wouldn't mind meddling in the Christian law system: ever since starting as a nervous minority in the mighty Roman empire, Christians have conformed to secular laws not of their own making. In Britain, France or the US, Christians and non-Christians obey the same laws, and nowhere have Christians reacted with an indignant movement of legal separatism. It is not the Christians who keep the politicians from enacting a UCC. Come the modern Republic, the Christian community would have been absorbed into a UCC regime along with everybody else, were it not for the Muslim community. What the politicians fear in case they were to enact a UCC is the reaction of the Muslim community. Unlike Christianity, Islam has a defining law system, the Shari'a. It prevails in most Muslim-majority countries, and in many others there are demands for introducing it. Mohammed was not a preacher whose reign was not of this world, like the Buddha or Jesus, he was the founder of a state with a law system. Abolishing it might provoke a reaction from every mosque and madrassa in the country. The theological reason is moreover strengthened by a personal reason: every individual Muslim cleric stands to lose a lot of power within his community if his area of expertise is made irrelevant. The BJP has already developed cold feet about implementing its hard-won Citizenship Amendment Act, which only very tangentially impacts the Muslims, so it won't have the stomach for implementing a UCC. It is too Islamophobic for that: "afraid of Islam". Most countries have a UCC as a matter of course. But would they support India if it introduces the same thing? Compare with the normalization of Kashmir's status in 2019. Save for Pakistan, all countries accepted this without any ado. Not only was it an internal matter, but it abolished something that they themselves would never accept either: a separate status for one of their provinces, excluding their citizens from owning property there. Yet, the international media still portrayed it as an anti-Muslim act of oppression, adding to their usual narrative of poor hapless Muslims being constantly persecuted by the ugly vicious Hindus. The issue was not important enough for swaying Governments against India, but regarding UCC this may be different. It is likely that both Indian and foreign media will raise a storm if the separate Islamic law is threatened; and that the ruling party is not ready to take this heat. Apart from the real reason, better-sounding reasons are brought up. It is often assumed that Hindus only demand a UCC because they fear that under Shari'a Muslims take four wives and outbreed them. On social media you do indeed encounter that argument, and secularists always seek out the weakest formulation of a Hindu position, some Twitter troll's outburst, to save themselves the trouble of answering the real Hindu case. So they make fun of this clumsy Hindu argument, distracting from more serious ones. It is true that the Muslim birthrate is always higher than the Hindu one, but in that, the right to polygamy is only a minimal factor. Monogamous Muslim households are still more procreation-oriented: because Islamic culture provides more immunity against Governmental birth-control propaganda and Westernized lifestyles, because the Islamic status of women is more resistant against women opting for a career instead of family, because the Islamic divorce arrangement (with the children entrusted to the father) encourages repudiated women to start a new family, and because of the Prophet's own exhortation to be more numerous. In countries with a UCC, the Muslim birthrate is higher too. Those who see that as a problem, will need to find other solutions. More problematic with this inequality is inequality. And this in two senses: Hindu and Muslim laws differ contentswise, but also differ in their relation to the state. Hindu law does not result from a decision by a clerical Hindu body, but from state intervention: the Hindu Code Acts 1955-56. A UCC was part of the modernization process of most countries: ancient feudal privileges for nobles or clerics were abolished. All citizens became equal before the law. This is a defining trait of secular states: equality before the law regardless of one’s religion. It is claimed ad nauseam that “India is a secular state”, but it isn’t. A UCC is not a matter of Hindu Rashtra or so, it is a requirement of secularism. Next time you meet a secularist, ask him what he has done for instituting a UCC. It is his job, not that of the Hindus. No premodern Hindu state had a UCC, and Hindus were fine with that. But Hindus have adapted to the modern age: it is discriminatory to treat Muslims as unfit for this modernization. So, long live the UCC. Is this a call to the Government to take up Civil Code reform forthwith? Not really. There are issues far more urgent, far more consequential for the life chances of Hindu civilization, and far easier to achieve. These issues are the complete abolition of the existing anti-Hindu discriminations in education and temple management. Any sensible leader will take up these issues first, rather than banging his head against the wall by implementing a UCC and provoking the foreseeable reactions. They are desirable in their own right for all who value equality. Moreover, they may give Hindu society more self-confidence and thus prepare the ground for, one day, a UCC.
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Monday, April 18, 2022

Sita Ram Goel: The man who exposed Nehruvian fallacies and won our hearts with his mind

. A 100 years ago, Sita Ram Goel was born in a poor family, and through his sheer hard work and intellect, exposed the hollowness of the Left at a time when it seemed invincible Koenraad Elst October 16, 2021 10:58:16 IST Sita Ram Goel: The man who exposed Nehruvian fallacies and won our hearts with his mind Sita Ram Goel was born on 16 October in the Haryana village of Chhara. Image Courtesy: On 16 October 1921, at 8:34 pm, in the Haryana village of Chhara, Sita Ram Goel was born. Though belonging to the merchant Agarwal caste, his family was quite poor but found sustenance in Vaishnavism and especially the devotional poetry of the local 18th-century Sant Garib Das. Possibly this is what made him such a friendly and generous man, always attentive to the needs of others. When growing up, he came under the influence of Arya Samaj reformism and of Mahatma Gandhi. During his student days he was a Gandhian activist. He obtained an MA in History from Hindu College, Delhi University. In the last years of the freedom struggle, he became friends with a group of young intellectuals with a great future, from Times of India editor Girilal Jain and philosophy author Daya Krishna to Planning Commission member Raj Krishna and arts tsarina Kapila Vatsyayana. But the most important and lasting influence was economics graduate Ram Swarup (whose centenary we celebrated last year), who in 1944-47 led the debating forum Changers’ Club. Though they were “progressives” at the time, we find in their pamphlets already some themes that would become prominent in Goelji’s writing career. In 1948, Goel had almost become a Communist Party member, but under the influence of Ram Swarup and of reading the communist classics, he swiftly evolved into an articulate anti-communist. In Kolkata he set up the Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia, which during the 1950s was the leading anti-communist think tank in the Third World. It published a series of factual studies about the atrocities and the dismal socio-economic performance of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic, much appreciated (but, to lay a nasty rumour to rest, never financed) by prominent foreign anti-communists and by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Chiang Kai-shek. Meanwhile, he rediscovered Hindu-Buddhist spirituality and also found the time to write several historical novels in Hindi, as well as preparing Hindi translations of classic works of philosophy and history. In 1957, he stood as an independent candidate on the Jana Sangh (later BJP) ticket for the Lok Sabha elections in the Khajuraho constituency. This was an arrangement with Chakravarti Rajagopalachari’s budding anti-Communist Swatantra Party, India's main opposition party in the 1960s. It had wanted Goel in Parliament because he had the mettle to stand up to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but the election gods were not favourable. In 1961, Goel published a series of articles critical of Nehru in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh weekly Organiser. It was discontinued on orders of the RSS high command, which feared a backlash against the RSS if anything were to happen to Nehru, as had been the case after Mahatma Gandhi’s murder. It was not the last time he got disappointed in the Sangh Parivar. In the 1960s and ’70s he left the political struggle behind to build up his own publishing business. But after retiring, in 1981 he started writing several series of articles in Organiser and its Hindi counterpart Panchjanya. These were then published as booklets by a new publishing outfit he created, first of all as a conduit for Ram Swarup’s books, but also for his own ideological writings: Voice of India. He opened the very first one, Hindu Society under Siege, with an analysis that said it all: “Hindu society is the only significant society in the world today which presents a continuity of cultural existence since time immemorial. Most other societies have undergone a traumatic transformation due to the invasion and victory of latter-day ideologies — Christianity, Islam, Communism. Hindu culture can meet the same frightful fate if there were no Hindu society to sustain it. This great society is now besieged by the same dark and deadly forces. And its beneficiaries no more seem interested in its survival because they have fallen victims to hostile propaganda. They have developed towards it an attitude of utter indifference, if not downright contempt. Hindu society is in mortal danger as never before.” Or in his Defence of Hindu Society (1983): “Hindus have become devoid of self-confidence because they have ceased to take legitimate, well-informed and conscious pride in their spiritual, cultural and social heritage. The sworn enemies of Hindu society have taken advantage of this enervation of the Hindus.” This outlines a task that would determine the remainder of Ram Swarup’s and Sita Ram Goel’s writings: Detailing the history and ideological motivation of Hinduism’s enemies, and showing the contrast with what Hinduism has to offer. This work is fascinating through its combination of fearless analysis of unpleasant questions with a passion for the benefits of ancient dharma and of the contemporary real-life Hindus. It takes up the ideological struggle so as to avoid the physical struggle, and is thus humane par excellence. As Goel’s son Pradeep said after Goel’s passing in 2003: “They won our hearts with their minds.” Goel himself would soon become a victim of this Hindu loss of nerve. In 1985, the RSS leadership again intervened to have his article series in their papers banned. This time it was Islam that they wanted to spare. Not because they feared a terrorist attack in revenge (they already had an anti-Muslim reputation), but because any Islam-critical writing might “keep Muslims from coming to us”. At the time, the Sangh Parivar still clamoured against “minority appeasement” in public, but in private the rot had already set in. Goel’s best-known work will remain his two-volume Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them? (1990-91). In it, he gives a very incomplete but already impressive list of nearly 2,000 forcible displacements of temples by mosques, of which not one has been challenged since. But its most important part is the summary and analysis of the theological justification of this centuries-spanning (and continents-spanning, think of Istanbul’s Aya Sophia or even Mecca’s Kaaba) record of iconoclasm. This was the key to understanding the Ayodhya controversy, but remark that in the Ayodhya campaign and its judicial proceedings before the UP High Court, it was kept out of view: The RSS-BJP campaigners preferred superficial emotions about the temple to a serious understanding of the theological background. Today, Sita Ram Goel’s work is without influence on government policy. Thus, his critique of the many falsehoods in the Nehruvian history textbooks have not made Narendra Modi’s Cabinet take up the need of correcting them. But his influence on the new crop of online Hindu media is profound. This outreach to the Hindu mind and to a new generation is an important step, but a civilisation under siege can ill afford to leave it at that.
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“I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting distorted history”

Koenraad Elst: “I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting distorted history” (interview by Surajit Dasgupta- 5 June, 2016, Swarajya) 5 In this exclusive e-mail interview with Swarajya’s National Affairs Editor Surajit Dasgupta, the Belgian Indologist and writer calls the bluff of leftist historians while urging Indian students of history to pursue the subject with more rigour and scientific temper. Excerpts: While Swarajya has published articles exposing how Marxist historians hound peers who disagree with them out of academic institutions, we have got news from different sources that you are finding it difficult to get employed even in Belgium. What precisely is the objection of your detractors? I do not wish to offer much detail here. Firstly, I am not privileged to know the details of decision-making instances that lead to my own exclusion. Even when sending an official “regret letter”, they would not give in writing the real reason behind their decision (as anyone experienced with job applications knows). Secondly, even though no law was broken, going into this still has the character of an allegation, and that requires proof. Some cases of deliberate exclusion or disinvitation were simply obvious, but my standards of proof are higher than that. So, I just want to close this chapter. Let’s not bother, everybody has his problems, and these career hurdles are mine. In fact, I have had quite a bit of luck in my life, including help from individual Hindus whenever the need arose (air tickets paid, hospitality etc), so any fussing about this boycott against me would be disproportionate. Let’s just assume I missed those opportunities because I was not good enough. Or karma, whatever. The topic in general is important, though. The Leftist dominance of the Humanities departments in India, often amounting to total control, results from the wilful and systematic “ethnic cleansing” (to borrow Madhu Kishwar’s term) of any young scholar suspected of pro-Hindu sympathies. Exceptions are the people who entered on the strength of ideologically neutral work, or of initially toeing the line, but coming out with pro-Hindu convictions only after getting tenure. This cleansing of enemies stems from the old Marxist mentality: a war psychology, treating everyone with a different opinion as an enemy inviting merciless destruction; and a boundless self-righteousness rooted in the belief of being on the forward side of history. Marxism is waning even in India, but that attitude is still rife among the anti-Hindu forces, both in India and among Western India-watchers. You refer to Indian Marxist historians sarcastically as “eminent historians”. Why that particular term? “Eminent historians” is what they call one another, and what their fans call them. When they don’t have an answer to an opponent’s arguments, they pompously dismiss him as not having enough “eminence”. So when Arun Shourie wrote about some abuses in this sector, he called his book Eminent Historians. It is also a pun on an old book about prominent colonial age personalities, Eminent Victorians. “Eminence” in this case refers to their position and relative glory. The Communists always made sure to confer position and prestige, as opposed to the Sangh Parivar, which fawns over people with position but doesn’t realize that those people have only acquired their position by toeing the anti-Hindu line. In a way, you have to concede that the Left has honestly fought for its power position. But half their battle was already won by the Hindu side’s complete absence from the battlefield. One example of the Sangh’s ineptness at playing this game. In 2002, the supposedly Hindu government of A.B. Vajpayee founded the Chair for Indic Studies in Oxford. The media cried ‘saffronization’. However, the clueless time servers at the head of the BJP nominated a known and proven opponent of Hindu nationalism, Sanjay Subrahmaniam, who thus became the poster boy for ‘saffronization’. This way, they hoped to achieve their highest ambition in life: a pat on the shoulder from the secularists. That pat on the shoulder, already begged for so many times, remained elusive, but the tangible result was that they had conferred even more prestige on an “eminent historian”, all while denying it to their own scholars. What would you tell your peers who say that the “Out of India” Theory (OIT) is a fringe theory? Of course it is a fringe theory, at least internationally, where the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is still the official paradigm. In India, though, it has the support of most archaeologists, who fail to find a trace of this Aryan influx and instead find cultural continuity. As for the situation abroad: most scholars assume the invasionist paradigm, but only very few also argue in an informed manner for the invasionist theory, not many more than those who argue against it. But anyway, this ‘fringe’ aspect doesn’t impress me at all. When Copernicus put the sun rather than the earth at the centre of the solar system, he was in a minority of one, very ‘fringe’ indeed; but he won the day. What is the evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory? First of all: there is no evidence in its favour. Archaeologists have spent a century of well-funded excavations looking for a trace, any trace, of the Aryans moving into India. Even the invasionists concede that “as yet” no such thing has been found. The new genetic evidence, while still immature, generally goes in favour of emigrations from India and, while leaving room for immigrations too, is emphatically failing to pinpoint an invasion coinciding in time with the hypothetical Aryan invasion. Meanwhile, the written record clearly points to an emigration scenario. That the Iranians lived in India and had to leave westwards is reported in the Rig Veda, a text thoroughly analysed and shown to support an “Aryan emigration” by Shrikant Talageri. It can equally be deduced from the Avesta. Even earlier migrations are mentioned in the Puranas. These are of course very mixed and unreliable as a source of history, but it is a bad historian who discards them altogether. Their core, later fancifully embellished, consists in dynastic lists. Keeping that ancestral information was the proper job of court poets, and they devised mnemotechnical tricks to transmit it for many generations. In this case, it too does convey a basic scenario of indigenousness and emigration. Finally, there is the linguistic evidence. Many Indians believe the hearsay that it has somehow proven the invasion. It hasn’t. But permit me to forego discussing those data: too technical for an interview. Of late, the Marxist historians have revised ‘invasion’ to ‘migration’. They say that there might not have been a war when the so-called Aryans arrived here, but they have no doubt that the ancestors of today’s North Indians, especially the upper castes, by and large migrated from Central Asia into India. In other words, the Marxists say that we Indians were originally not Indians—invasion or no invasion. Does this ‘revision’ satisfy you? Exasperated at not finding a visible trace of this invasion, conformist scholars have theorized an alternative that doesn’t require such visible remains: a migration under the radar. Often, when they try to give details, they still mean a military invasion rather than a gradual migration, since they bring in the military advantage of horses and chariots to explain how such a large and civilized Harappan population could be overrun by a handful of outsiders. But even if they genuinely mean a migration, it still amounts to the same scenario as an invasion, that the Vedic Aryans came from abroad and the natives took over the language and religion of the intruders. So, anyone who thinks that the migration theory is a breakthrough away from the invasion theory really shows he doesn’t understand the issue. ‘Migration’ effectively means ‘invasion’ but avoids the burden of proof that the more dramatic term ‘invasion’ implies. To be sure, it doesn’t much matter who came from where. The so-called Adivasis (a British term coined circa 1930) or ‘natives’ of Nagalim in the North East have settled in their present habitat only a thousand years ago; which is fairly recent by Indian standards. So, ironically, they are genuine ‘immigrants’ or ‘invaders’, yet no Indian begrudges them their place inside India. Many countries have an immigration or conquest of their present territory as a proud part of their national myth: Madagascar, Romania, the Siberian part of Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc. If the Indo-Aryans, or indeed the Dravidians (theorized to have come from Iran or even Central Asia), had really immigrated, that would then have been a pre-Vedic event, at least 3,500 years ago, and that time span ought to have been enough for integration into the national mainstream. So this ‘homeland’ debate ought to have been a non-issue, only of interest to ivory tower scholars. But different non- or anti-Hindu forces decided to politicize it. Abroad, these were the British colonialists, white supremacists in the US and Europe, and among them the Nazis, who considered the AIT as a cornerstone and eloquent illustration of their worldview. Inside India, first of all the Christian missionaries, followed by the non-Brahmin movement, the Dravidianists, Nehruvians and Ambedkarites, followed in turn by their western supporters. The AIT was used to break up Indian unity and pit upper castes against lower castes, non-tribals against tribals, and North Indians against South Indians. After this massive politicization, the partisans of Indian unity finally decided to give some feeble support to the fledgling Out of India (OIT) theory. Yet, scholars rejecting the OIT because of its alleged political use have no qualms about espousing the AIT, politicized since far longer, in many more countries, and not as a pastime of a few historians but as the basis for government policies. On the one hand, the unaffiliated or apolitical Indian student loves your theories; your passages are quoted widely in debates on ancient Indian history. On the other, you do not seem to get along well with the so-called right wing historians of this country either. You have written a blog against them. Well, I have nothing but good to say about some Indian researchers, both naturalized ones like Michel Danino and natives like Meenakshi Jain or Shrikant Talageri. But then, there are others too. Certainly the name P.N. Oak rings a bell? In the second half of last century, he spread all these theories that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple; that the Kaaba was built by Vikramaditya as a Shiva temple; that the Vatican (originally the Roman “Poets’ Hill”) is really “Veda-Vatika”; that my mother tongue, Dutch, is the language of the Daityas (demons), etc. The bad thing is that numerous Hindus have run away with these stories, and even some NRI surgeons and engineers of my acquaintance believe in diluted versions of the same. In a less extreme manner, this disdain for historical method is widespread among traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”. They frequently put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder. Many of these rewriters thought that with Narendra Modi’s accession to power, their time had come. I know, for instance, that many of them sent in proposals to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). None of these was accepted because they ignored the elementary rules of scholarship. Any student writing a thesis knows that before you can develop your own hypothesis, you first have to survey the field and assess what previous scholars have found or theorized. But these traditionalist history rewriters just don’t bother about the rest of the world, they are satisfied to have convinced themselves. Their horizon is not larger than an internet list of like-minded people. In itself, it is not a problem. People can learn. Unfortunately, they are too smug to do that. They actively misinform Hindus by claiming that the Aryan Invasion Theory has long been discarded. They also do a lot of harm to the bona fide historians with whom they get juxtaposed. So it is true that I have lost patience with them. Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, has there been an effort to revise the depiction of Indian history in academic curricula, which, many in India believe, is politically motivated? Has the Indian government approached you with the request of being a part of any such initiative? No, there has been no request at all. However, I myself have sent in an application to the ICHR, but that has run into technical difficulties, mainly to do with my foreign passport. So, the situation is and remains that institutionally, I have nothing to do with the Indian history scene. The version of history taught by the Nehruvians was politically motivated. The feeble Hindu attempt to counterbalance this (‘saffronization’) circa 2002 was confused and largely incompetent. Humbled by that experience, the BJP today is not even trying to impose its own version. Contrary to the Nehruvians’ hue and cry, allegations about the BJP’s interference in history teaching or more generally in academe are simply not true. We are only talking of changing some lines in the textbooks, and even that seems a Himalayan effort to the BJP. Yet, what is really needed is a far more thorough overhaul. Except for some scholars without any power, nobody is even thinking about this very-needed long-term job. “Many Hindu ‘history rewriters’ put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder. Like the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.” “Many Hindu ‘history rewriters’ put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder. Like the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.” Could the reason be that RSS-affiliated historians and you are not particularly fond of each other and this government is influenced by the Sangh? Sangh-affiliated historians would not need me to arrive at their positions or to devise a policy if called upon to do so by the present government. But again, I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting the distorted history propagated by the Nehruvians. I would welcome it if it happened, but so far the BJP, still begging to be recognized as ‘secular’, only has its eye on ‘development’. I am happy to report that there are some as-yet-insignificant private initiatives, though. Once they achieve results, there will be more to say on them. Would you say or agree that the Indian government, regardless of the political party that runs it, would be uncomfortable appointing or commissioning an academic who is perceived as being anti-Muslim? Certainly. Though it never had any problem with anti-Hindu candidates to even the highest post. Does the genesis of your problem with anti-left historians in India lie in the fact that on the issue of Babri Masjid, if you do not agree with the left, you do not agree with the right wing either? On Ayodhya, there has never been a conflict with any non-Left historian. To be sure, I have my disagreements on some minor points, but they have never been the object of a controversy. So, no, on Ayodhya, I may have minor and friendly differences of opinion with ‘right-wing’ historians, but no serious quarrel. In that debate, the longstanding quarrel has been with the “eminent historians”, their supporters in media and politics, and their foreign dupes. They were on the wrong side of the history debate all along, and it is time they concede it. In the case of the “eminent historians”, it is also time for the surviving ones to own up to their responsibility for the whole conflict. The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was on course towards a peaceful settlement, allotting the site to the Hindus and buying the militant Muslim leadership off with some typically Congressite horse trading. Not too principled, but at least with the virtue of avoiding bloodshed. It is the shrill and mendacious declaration of the “eminent historians” in 1989, amplified by all the vocal secularists, that made the politicians back off. Not only have they falsely alleged that no Rama temple ever stood on the contentious site, their more fundamental lie was to bring in history at all. Ayodhya belongs to the Hindus not because it was their pilgrimage site a thousand years ago, nor because of ‘revenge’ for a temple destruction effected 800 or 500 years ago, but because it is a Hindu sacred site today. No Muslim ever cares to go to Ayodhya, and in spite of being egged on by the “eminent historians”, enough Muslim leaders have expressed their willingness to leave the site to the Hindus. This whole controversy was unnecessary, but for the Nehruvians’ pathetic nomination of the Babri Masjid as the last bulwark of secularism. If all the archaeological findings from Ayodhya are arranged chronologically, what story of the disputed plot of land does one find? Did a temple of Lord Rama stand there, which Babar’s general Mir Baqi demolished to build the mosque? Or, did Mir Baqi find ruins on the spot? That a Hindu temple was demolished by Muslim invaders is certain, on that we all agree. But there is less consensus around, or even awareness of, the fact that this happened several times: by Salar Masud Ghaznavi in 1030 (the rebuilt Rajput temple after this must be one of the excavated pillar bases), by Qutbuddin Aibak’s troops in 1193, and by Mir Baqi on Babar’s behalf in 1526. “The Ayodhya site should belong to the community that holds it sacred. Muslims do not, and the Rama worshippers do. Case closed.” “The Ayodhya site should belong to the community that holds it sacred. Muslims do not, and the Rama worshippers do. Case closed.” What it was that was replaced by Babar’s mosque is not fully clear. I speculate that in the rough and tumble of the collapsing Delhi Sultanate, Hindus had managed to take over the site and started worship there, even though the building they used was a mosque imposed on the site. That was exactly the situation in 1949-92, and I think it also applied towards 1526. Babar destroyed a Hindu pilgrimage centre, a Hindu presence at the site, but not the Rajput temple from the 11th century of which the foundations were excavated in 2003. Was the temple’s demolition just an odd event, or was it the necessary materialization of an ideology, repeated many times and in many places? When Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghori and his lieutenants conquered the entire Ganga basin in 1192-94, they destroyed every Hindu temple they could find. Only a few survived, and that is because they lay out of the way of the Muslim armies, in the (then) forest, notably in Khajuraho and in Bodh Gaya. But all the Buddhist universities, all the temples in Varanasi etc were destroyed. Ayodhya became a provincial capital of the Delhi Sultanate, and it is inconceivable that the Sultanate regime would have allowed a major temple to remain standing there. So, the narrative propagated by the Sangh Parivar, that Babar destroyed the 11th century temple, cannot be true, for that temple was no longer there. When Babar arrived on the scene, Hindus may have worshipped Rama in a makeshift temple, or in a mosque building provisionally used as a temple, but the main temple that used to be there had already been destroyed in 1193. See, Ayodhya’s history becomes more interesting once you discard the lies of the “eminent historians” as well as the naïve version of the Sangh Parivar. The controversial part lies herein, that the persistence of the temple all through the Sultanate period would have implied a certain tolerance even during the fiercest part of Muslim rule. In reality, the demolition of Rama’s birthplace temple was not an odd and single event, but a repeated event in application of a general theology of iconoclasm imposed by the Prophet. Was it a temple of Lord Vishnu rather? Or, were they quite a few temples of one or more deities built in different periods by different kings? In her 2013 book Rama and Ayodhya Prof Meenakshi Jain has detailed all the scholarly evidence and the debate around it, including the embarrassing collapse of the “eminent historian” case once they took the witness stand in Court. She shows that the Rama cult had already left traces more than 2,000 years ago. Attempts to make Rama worship a recent phenomenon were just part of the sabotage attempts by these historians. Also, the site of Ayodhya, though probably older, is at least beyond doubt since Vikramaditya in the first century BC. All indications are that the disputed site was already visited by pilgrims as Rama’s birthplace well before the Muslim conquest. So, this was a longstanding pilgrimage site for Rama. Against the utter simplicity of this scenario, anti-Hindu polemicists of various stripes have tried all kinds of diversionary tactics: saying that Rama was born elsewhere, or that the temple belonged to other cults. This Vishnu-but-not-his-incarnation-Rama theory, or the claim of a Shaiva or Buddhist origin, were some of those diversionary tactics; they are totally inauthentic and artificial. Alright, among historians we can discuss every possible hypothesis. But from the very relevant viewpoint of Islamic iconoclasm, all these distinctions don’t matter: all those sects were false, leading men astray, away from the one true religion, Islam, and therefore they all, and certainly their idols and idol houses, were to be destroyed. Whatever be the true story, which community do you believe has a greater right of ownership over that disputed site? The community that holds the site sacred. Muslims go through all this trouble to travel to faraway Mecca, why don’t they go on a cheap and easy pilgrimage to Ayodhya instead? It seems they have made their choice. So let us respect their choice, and also the choice of the Rama worshippers who do care for Ayodhya, by leaving the site to the latter. Case closed. Do you hate Muslims or Islam? No, I do not hate Muslims. They are people like ourselves. Having travelled in Pakistan and the Gulf states, I even dare say I feel good in Muslim environments. And if I desire the liberation of Muslims from Islam, that is precisely because I like them. Suppose you discover that a friend of yours still believes in fairy tales: wouldn’t you consider it your duty to set him straight and confront him with the true story, precisely because he is your friend? And I do not ‘hate’ Islam either. If a teacher uses his red pencil to cross out a grammatical mistake in a pupil’s homework, we do not say that he ‘hates’ the mistake. He simply notices very dispassionately that it is wrong. The use of the word ‘hate’ in this case stems from an attempt to distort the debate and misrepresent the argument by means of emotive language. The belief that someone heard the word of God, dictating the Quranic verses, is just one of the many irrational and mistaken beliefs that have plagued mankind since the beginning. I have been part of a massive walk-out from the Church. For intellectuals, the decisive reason was the dawning insight that Christian belief was irrational. But for the masses, it was mainly that it was no longer cool to be a believer. People started feeling embarrassed for still being associated with this untenable doctrine, and are none the worse for having left the beliefs they were brought up in. I wish Muslims a similar evolution, a similar liberation. I do not wish on them anything that I have not been through myself. How do you view the recent terrorist attack on Belgium? To what extent do you think is migration from Islamic countries responsible for terrorism on European soil? As Ché Guevara said, a guerrilla fighter is among the masses like a fish in the water. In this case, the jihad fighters had found safety and comfort in the Muslim community. So the demographic Islamization of some neighbourhoods i000n Brussels (due to our own silly policies) has indeed played a role. But I expect you to retort that there were also other factors, and that is true. How do you react to the Muslim refrain that the terrorists in their community are a creation of America and NATO’s flawed foreign policy and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc? It is simply not true that Ghaznavi or Aurangzeb took to jihad and iconoclasm in reaction to British colonialism or American bombings. They were inspired by an older source—the Prophet’s precedent, Islam. However, it is true that many contemporary jihad fighters have indeed been fired up by a specific circumstance—western aggression against Muslim countries. Assenting to Quranic lessons about jihad is one thing, but actually volunteering for jihad it quite another. In most people, it needs a trigger. The illegal invasions of Iraq or Libya, or footage of an Afghan wedding bombed by American jets, provided such a trigger. I am very aware that being bombed is just as unpleasant for wedding guests in Kandahar as for commuters in Brussels or Mumbai. Right now, even little Belgium has five bomber planes in Iraq as part of the US-led war effort against IS. These bombers must already have killed, along with some jihad fighters, more civilians than were killed in the terrorist attacks in Brussels. In Belgium, I have drawn some attention with my defence of the Syria volunteers: young Muslims grown up in Brussels or Antwerp and going to fight for the Islamic State. Our politicians call them ‘monsters’, ‘crazy’ and other derogatory names, but in fact they are pious idealists. They may be misguided in their beliefs, and I daresay they are, but they do have the courage of their conviction. Without any pressure on them, they volunteer for putting their lives on the line in the Syrian desert. You cannot deny them bravery and self-sacrifice. The western invasions and bombings in Muslim countries have brought nothing but misery, and I have opposed them all along. What the Muslim world needs is not more civil wars, sectarian wars, foreign military interventions, which all serve to polarize the minds, to freeze them in existing antagonisms. What it needs is a thaw. Here again, I speak from my own experience: the post-war climate of peace and prosperity in Europe has allowed a genuine cultural revolution, an emancipation from the stranglehold of Christianity. The Muslim world will only evolve if it attains a modicum of peace and stability. Note that the military interventions have nothing to do with Islam criticism, nowadays slandered as ‘Islamophobia’. On the contrary. Without exception, all the politicians ordering interventions in Muslim countries have praised Islam, calling it “the religion of peace” that is being ‘misused’ by the terrorists. Not a single word of Islam criticism has ever crossed their lips. A legitimate Islam critic like the late historian Sita Ram Goel has never harmed a hair on the head of a Muslim. Islamophiles such as these politicians, by contrast, have killed many thousands of innocent Muslims. How would you advise Indians to fight terrorism? Security measures and repression are neither my field nor my favourite solution, but I understand that sometimes they are necessary. So I want to spare a moment to praise the men in uniform who risk their lives to provide safety. However, this approach won’t provide a lasting solution if it is not accompanied by a more fundamental ideological struggle. That is what I am working on.
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Why ISIS targeted Brussels

(DailyO, .26 March 2016; Courtesy of Mail Today.)

 March 22 is henceforth an iconic date in Belgian history. Bomb attacks in the departure hall of the Brussels Airport and at the Maalbeek underground station near the European Parliament building killed dozens of people. I have been hundreds of times at these locations, and must count myself fortunate that I was’t there at the wrong time.


Is there a reason why Brussels was singled out for bomb attacks claimed by the Islamic State? Yes, there was, and we in Belgium felt it was only a matter of time before such a thing would happen — though the actual event still came as a shock. In fact, several reasons.

Militants of the Islamic State, the self-styled caliphate, are acutely aware of Islamic history, and that contains one reason, dim to us but very vivid to them. ISIS statements about the attacks identify the victims as "crusaders", 0and Belgium is indeed strongly identified with the crusades. The First Crusade was led by the proto-Belgian earl Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first king of Jerusalem in 1099; his equestrian statue adorns the highest place of Brussels, next to the Royal Palace.

The Crusader elite corps of the Knights Templar had a tactical alliance with the Assassins, a Shia militia dedicated to fighting the (Sunni) Caliphate. Today, the neo-caliphate (ISIS) is continuing that thousand-year-old struggle against both Shia and Crusaders.

The second reason is the symbolic value of Brussels as containing the headquarters of both the EU and NATO, incarnations of armed infidelism. The caliphate is at war with these entities, and Belgium is among the Western nations bombing the Iraqi part of the caliphate.


Many Leftists have transferred their old sympathy for Cuba and Vietnam to the Islamic challengers of Western imperialism. Therefore, they tend to minimise the seriousness of terrorism by alleging, not incorrectly, that even a small country like Belgium has already killed more Arab civilians (apart from caliphate fighters) than have died in any of the terrorist attacks on Madrid, London, Paris or now Brussels. Being killed on the way to work by a sudden bomb explosion is exactly as bad in Mosul as it is in Brussels, so "Belgians shouldn’t complain."

The third reason is the relative laxity of the Belgian authorities. Within Belgium itself, when compared to the second city, Antwerp, the administration of Brussels counts as undisciplined, chaotic and corrupt. The over-all Belgian standard is not so good either, as the security forces are badly underfunded. For decades, whenever budget cuts have been considered, the Army has served as a milch-cow. Soldiers are not expected to complain, but the result is that today they are ill-equipped to deal with the terror threat.


Within the calculations of the ISIS strategists, the fourth reason, at least explaining why it happened now, is that it had to happen fast. Last week, Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor of the cell that carried out the Paris attacks in November, was arrested in Brussels. The Belgian government was triumphant and expected to extract important information from the terrorist.

For the very same reason, ISIS feared that its plans for further actions would become known, so it preponed the bomb attacks that have now taken place. That explains why they targeted easily accessible places: ISIS showed that it could fast adapt to the constraints of the new situation and still achieve a very tangible and sensational result.

But the most controversial and politically charged, is the fifth reason. Using Brussels as a staging-ground for preparing attacks in Madrid, Paris or Brussels itself is fairly easy, because the militants can always count on a large population of sympathisers.


As Ernesto Ché Guevara wrote, a guerrilla fighter is among the masses like a fish in the water. In the Muslim neighbourhoods of Brussels, there is a strong anti-system feeling, and even moderates will never betray a member of their own community.

Take the case of Salah Abdeslam, whom it took four months to catch. He had not been roaming as a fugitive, but lived in hiding with an extremist family in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. His brother, who lived nearby, had told the police he hadn’t heard of Salah and feared he was dead. Yet, he and many in the neighbourhood knew Salah’s whereabouts, but nobody spilled the beans.

The Belgian population frowned when it learned of this display of disloyalty. This formed part of a long-running and far-reaching debate on immigration, ethnic relations, religious pluralism and the secular state. At any rate, in a realistic assessment, Brussels had it coming. Belgium’s home minister, Jan Jambon, had warned last week that the latest catch of a terrorist did not mean that the terror threat had died down. He was proven right sooner than he expected.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A "union of states"

A "union of states"

 (First Post, 12 Feb 2022)

According to Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, “India is described in the Indian Constitution as a union of states and not a nation. One cannot rule over the people of a state in India. Different languages and cultures cannot be suppressed. It is a partnership, not a kingdom.” Let’s see about that.

The terms “union” and “state” (in the Hindi text: rājyon kā saṅgh) are quite vague, especially for a juridical document: both can have several interpretations. A "union" can mean a federation, which is a sovereign state dividing itself in autonomous provinces; or a confederacy, a permanent alliance of sovereign states; and everything in between, with history often showing an evolution from the one to the other. Thus, Switzerland is effectively a federation but called itself at its founding Confederatio Helvetica. An effective confederacy at present is the political structure of the Eurasian landmass's western subcontinent, the European Union. As the Brexit has demonstrated, though to much surprise, a member state of the EU retains its sovereignty, including the defining right to secede. By contrast, the Indian Republic does not confer on its lower political units this right of secession.

A "state" usually means a sovereign country, but it can also mean a province within a country. It is very common for this class of words not to have a fixed meaning in regard of its dimension of sovereignty, e.g. "land" in German means a province, in Dutch a sovereign country, and in English it has no political meaning, merely signifying any non-maritime region. When appearing in a legal text, such words first require a definition. From the wording in India's Constitution, one can deduce that here the word “state” (rājya) means the political level below full sovereignty.



Trivially, today's Indian Republic is geographically the sum total of its states. Yet historically it is not correct to imply that India has come about by uniting pre-existing states, as "union of states" might suggest. It came into being as a successor-state to British India. Yes, much of its present territory consisted of theoretically independent states before the Transfer of Power in 1947,  the Princely States. But these did not negotiate with British India as equal partners who then decided to merge. Instead, by signing the Instrument of Accession, they gave up their (already theoretical) sovereignty to be absorbed into the Republic.


For better understanding, consider the contrast with the European Union. The EU consists of sovereign member states with their own political history, mostly with active nationalist movements that went as far as to foment war against each other. It took the horrors of two World Wars and the common fear of the Soviet Bloc to make them water down their sovereignty step by negotiated step in a common ever-closer union. Each state retained the right to veto common decisions, so that these required a consensus. In India, by contrast, in vital matters the centre can overrule the states.


A great advantage of having a united federation of semi-autonomous states rather than a conglomerate of sovereign states is that it dedramatizes what would otherwise become a cause for war: the redrawing of boundaries between the states. The reorganization of the Northeast into the "Seven Sisters", the creation of Andhra Pradesh in the 1950s or the Panjabi Suba in the 1960s, or the more recent bifurcation of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are the stuff that elsewhere wars are fought over. Yet under the umbrella of India, they became mere administrative procedures. Though pooh-poohed by Rahul Gandhi, the existence of a national level above the affected states is highly beneficial.


One thing Eurasia's southern and western subcontinents have in common is that in their founding statements they avoid the term "nation" to refer to themselves. In Europe this would be a denial of history, where nationalist passions and considerable blood-letting were needed for the unification of Italy and Germany, the independence and unification of the Yugoslav states followed later by this federation's disintegration, etc. The project of countering these old nationalisms with a new EU nationalism has only lived in a small Rightist fringe; the “nation” counts as but a relic from history. In India, by contrast, the idea of defining the Subcontinent's population as a nation has been alive in the Freedom movement, which was influenced by the contemporaneous European nationalisms, most explicitly through VD Savarkar's translation of Italian nationalist thinker Giuseppe Mazzini.


Indians have debated whether they form a nation, and if so, what kind of nation. The Nehruvians claimed India was a new nation, with Mahatma Gandhi as "father of the nation", and in need of "nation-building". This is in complete denial of history, when a sense of Indianness existed for millennia. So Gandhi himself had considered India an ancient nation with himself as its grateful son. The Muslim League applied the Ottoman division into millets, "nations", meaning religious communities treated as political units. The Left mostly preferred a fragmented India and invoked the European equation of nation with national language, e.g. the Bengali nation. Prakash Ambedkar thought that the attributes of nationhood apply to the castes: "Every caste a nation."

The present Sangh Parivar effectively espouses Gandhi's view (the asli Gandhi, not the naqli Gandhi who triggered this debate) that India is an ancient nation which includes every Indian. Nowadays it downplays its original Hindu identity and emphatically calls itself nationalist, forever intoning the mantra “unity”. But in an earlier stage, under MS Golwalkar, it taught that only Hindus (in the broad sense) form the nation, while the Muslims and Christians are mere guests. The reason was that only Hindus could boast of a civilizational continuity, whereas Christians and Muslims had historically rejected the culture they found here, or from which they converted, explicitly wanting to replace it with their own.


The main problem with asserting an Indian nationhood, as per Rahul Gandhi, is its diversity. This is a false problem, merely a higher magnitude of what every country has to deal with. Moreover, it is part of the genius of Hindu civilization that it can deal exceptionnally well with diversity. While there is always room for improvement, the present federal structure takes care rather well of the needs of its diverse demographics. All the way from Brussels, I dare say that in terms of a political structure doing justice to its own motto of "Unity in diversity", the European Union had better learn some lessons from the Indian Republic.



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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Questioning the Equality Statue



Questioning the Equality Statue


(First Post, mid-January 2022)



On 5 February 2022, the revered Prime Minister, Sri Narendra Modi, unveils a giant five-metal statue of the 11th-century founder of the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (“qualified-non-dualist conclusion-of-the-Veda”) philosophy and Ācārya of its concomitant Bhakti (“devotion”) practice, Śrī Ramānuja. Though the preceding philosopher Śaṅkara with his Advaita Vedānta (“non-dualist conclusion-of-the-Veda”) is better known internationally among intellectuals, in India he is more revered for his path-breaking organizational work in monasticism and temple worship, while it is Ramanuja whose devotional theism is far more entrenched in Hinduism’s religious orders and popular culture, including its variations in sects like the Nanak Panth (Sikhi) or the Swaminarayan community. In living Hinduism, which has many leading figures, he may not be such a household name as Shankara or Swami Vivekananda, but arguably his influence reaches the deepest.


This is a joyous occasion, we have no reason to minimize it. But, as is my wont, I leave it to others to applaud this event; I would rather offer a few critical observations.



1.    Gigantism

The Ramanuja statue is one of the largest in India, reportedly 216 feet high, standing on top of a 54-feet pedestal. It follows the trend set by Sardar Patel's statue in Gujarat, to which even overflying airplane pilots draw the attention of their passengers. But what purpose is served by this?

In the case of a political figure, one can understand that the public square is where he belongs. So, a century and more ago, national authorities strengthened their self-justification in the public's mind by visually commemorating those who had been pillars of their establishment. For a philosopher and religious leader, this overwhelming physical presence is less appropriate.


Secondly, making a statement about your ideological sympathies by means of a statue towering over the street view is rather obsolete, since our visual life has mostly gone into cyberspace. Statues belong to a past century, nowadays you can produce far more impressive images online.

Thirdly, why the gigantism? The best Hindu temples have an intimacy about them (as struck me especially in Ujjain’s HarSiddhi temple or in the present Kashi Vishvanath), and even the biggest ones are divided in compartments that reproduce this intimacy. They are meant for visits by families at times convenient to them, not for congregational worship fixed on Friday or Sunday. And they are meant for pilgrims, not the mass tourism that giant statues aim for.


A few years back, I was in Haridwar and Rishikesh, where a flood of the Ganga river had wrought some destruction, washing human constructions away. This included a recent giant statue of Shiva. The locals told me that this was Ma Ganga's way of showing her disapproval for this gigantism. A god doesn't need this kind of emphasis on his intrinsic greatness. In a way, it is disrespectful to his divine character. If you must, then make a giant statue of Patel, who after all cemented the Indian state, the ultimate authority sanctioning all these monuments. But Shiva can do without this, and so can Ramanujacharya.



2.   Trinkets

Whenever anything is done for religion, Leftists sourly object that the money had better been spent on prosperity-enhancing initiatives for the masses. Dharma-oriented people can take a leaf from the Leftists’ book and wonder whether the money spent on the statue (and to be spent on its upkeep in the future) could not have served a better purpose. Thus, local temples or Dharmic associations connected with those temples could have deployed more activity in the field of education, a field where Hindus are painfully absent compared to the Christian missionaries.

Since Modi came to power, many people have noticed with increasing consternation that several consequential legal anti-Hindu discriminations which could finally have been abolished by the BJP’s comfortable majority in Parliament, are on the contrary being perpetuated. The BJP not only left the existing inequality between Hindus and the minorities (who are given privileged autonomy by the Constitution, esp. Art.26-30) in school and temple management intact, it has actively thwarted attempts to correct this glaring inequality. When in 2018 BJP MP Satyapal Singh tabled a Private Bill to abolish these discriminations, it was not just cold-shouldered by his party; he was given a minor Minister’s post (bought off?) and nothing was heard of his proposal again.

Hindu places of worship are not autonomous, they are subject to or constantly threatened by nationalization and the siphoning off of their funds towards secular or even anti-Hindu purposes. This is highlighted by the race to the exit of the Hindu community by sects that want to invest in education and fear such government take-overs, such as the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission or the Lingayats. Similarly, Scheduled Tribe communities who have a status in a grey zone part Hindu part separate, are embracing the non-Hindu side, affirming their local identities as Donyi-Polo (Arunachal Pradesh) or Sarna (Jharkhand), because they gain from a cool “aboriginal” identity and have everything to lose with a demonized and discriminated-against Hindu identity. The alternative to leaving the sinking ship of Hinduism is to remain loyal, but of such loyal Hindu temple associations I hear from local primary sources that they sometimes contemplate initiatives in education but call these off because of this same fear of a hostile take-over. Instead of glittering statues, they could use extra funds to finance their juridical defence under the present power equation; or better still, a BJP-piloted abolition of these discriminations so as to lift this fear.

Instead, apart from giving privileges to the minorities in the vain hope of catching their votes (or in the equally vain hope of a pat on the back from his revered  secularists), Modi has merely made a number of empty Hindu gestures. These include highly televised temple visits, conspicuous public works in Ayodhya and Kashi, or the recent unveiling of a Shankara statue in Kedarnath. But the legislative jobs for remedying the second-class status of the Hindus in India, which only his government is in a position to do, he has left undone. As a former confidante of Modi’s told me, the BJP merely wants to “keep the pot boiling”, throw Hindu-looking crumbs to the Hindus to earn their votes, yet give them nothing substantial.

The highly mediagenic unveiling of the Ramanuja statue follows the same pattern. Hindus love all the pomp and circumstance, regardless of whom it is dedicated to (hence no eyebrows were raised when Modi recently gave glittering presents to the dargah of the anti-Hindu ideologue and invasion-facilitating spy Muinuddin Chishti in Ajmer). Short of a high-powered campaign to raise their awareness of the discrimination they suffer, they won’t be up in arms about the disappointingly superficial performance of their Hindu government. Even if the BJP itself can’t convince the Hindu voters of any pro-Hindu commitment, it can count on the media: they will seize on any appearance by Modi in a religious setting to clamour indignantly that he is pursuing a Hindu Rashtra, an unearned reputation that only makes him more popular. It merely confirms him as the Hindu Hrdaya Samrat (“emperor of the Hindu heart”). Hindu jubilation after receiving yet another trinket only proves that a child’s hand is easy to fill.




3.   Egalitarianism


When honouring Ramanuja, the Government has taken care to give an ideologically useful name to the new monument: it will go by the name “equality statue”. In the 1960s the Jan Sangh, earlier incarnation of the BJP, veered into Socialist territory, rather explicitly in the case of leaders like Nana Deshmukh (whose slogan vikās/“development” is still central in Modi’s speeches), AB Vajpayee and trade-union leader Dattopant Thengadi, and even after the liberalization of the economy since the 1990s it hasn’t really vanished. In all three, this Nehruvian economic view went hand in hand with a choice for secularism: in both realms they simply followed the dominant ideology.

This is still the case today: the BJP, portrayed worldwide as fanatically Hindu, is in fact ideologically weak and ever-weaker. It has no ideological backbone and therefore turns with the reigning wind, or even dances to the tune played by its declared enemies. It has no self-respect but is a dedicated follower of fashion. Now, an international ideological fashion that even India can’t escape, is absolute egalitarianism.

So the great Sri Ramanuja is instrumentalized in the BJP’s egalitarian re-profiling. It emphasizes that Ramanuja assured everyone regardless of caste that he could achieve Liberation. Anyone can develop and cultivate devotion (Bhakti) to a God and intone His name as a Mantra.

This insight wasn’t all that revolutionary: none of the classics on Yoga (Katha Upanishad, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Vasishtha, Shiva Sutra etc.), demanding though they may be in terms of Sadhana discipline, excludes anyone from the spiritual path. Thus, one of the most constant inequalities in society is that between men and woman, yet already in the Mahabharata the nun Sulabha defeats king Janaka in debate with her argument that “the Self (Ātman) is not gendered”, so that women are equally fit for yogic achievement.  

It is claimed that some Brahmin circles did transpose the inequalities in society to the spiritual realm. If so, it was but an intermezzo in Hindu Dharma’s long history, always counterbalanced by the view that the Self is nirguna (“without qualities”) and neti-neti (“neither this nor that”). Indeed, that the worldly inequalities do not apply to the yogic sphere is the more orthodox, more Vedic position. Whatever else may be up for criticism in the Arya Samaj, its endeavour to root its egalitarian reformism in the Vedas has a basis in fact.

And yet, though this same age-old position was expressed by Sri Ramanuja, the modern-sounding name “equality statue” is infelicitous. It is unlikely that he had ever heard of egalitarianism, and it certainly wasn’t what occupied his mind. He concentrated on the Supreme, as did the many Bhakti sects centred around variations on his worldview. I suspect that his assuring all men of Liberation provided they do the right Sadhana made no difference to their societal status.

The Leftists, whom Modi has been imitating in his zeal for secular social justice, won’t be impressed. When Karl Marx and the first trade-unionists took their stand in then-Christian Europe, they faced a similar ideological obstacle: the Church instilled in its flock the sense that vis-à-vis God they were all equal. They all had an eternal soul, tainted by eternal sin, but capable of faith and of receiving God’s grace, regardless of their status in society. That was what Marx called the “opium of the people”: the belief in some higher realm endowed with equality which made socio-economic inequality bearable. As St Paul wrote: there is neither freeman nor slave, for all have been freed in Christ – but this was a poor consolation for the slaves, for it made no end to worldly slavery.

For the present purpose, the situation in Vedanta is not substantially different from that in Christianity. Yes, in a yogic perspective, all are equally endowed: man and woman, rich and poor, master and servant. But their spiritual progress doesn’t make them leave the class they belong to. It may Liberate them from their limitations, but not from their societal category. It doesn’t make them equal in any worldly sense.  



The statue of Sardar Patel, who like Otto von Bismarck in Germany was the “iron man” and the unifier of his country, is sensibly called the “Unity Statue”: his main legacy is indeed India’s unity. In Ramanujacharya’s life, equality is only an incidental aspect of his prescriptions for spiritual progress. Commentaries and papers have been written about him in the intervening nine centuries without dilating on equality. The pursuit of equality is a typically modern phenomenon, alien to Jesus and Paul, and just as alien to Ramanuja.

We've often seen Hindus make flattered claims to modern equality, only to collapse when critically questioned by outsiders. They may find themselves very clever in projecting this contemporary value onto their ancient tradition, but others see through this ploy. That's why we warn them to think twice before making such claims. Neither the Buddha, another much-acclaimed purported egalitarian, nor Ramanujacharya had the power to change lay society. They could influence their followers’ minds and organize their monastic orders, but that was the extent of their reach. From a modern perspective, a certain amount of equality was incidental to their real purpose, but this purpose was not equality. Contrary to what Ramanuja’s statue’s name might suggest, his goal was not equality but Liberation.

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