Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Subhas Bose vindicated

(Hindu Human Rights, Pragyata and Swarajya, April 2019)



General GD Bakshi is not just anyone. After retiring from the army, he became a well-known television face applying his military knowledge both to the  contemporary political debate and to classical cultures, e.g. the strategic aspect of the Mahabharata war. Everyone in India knows the story that on his very first day in service, in 1971, he was called to fight in the Bangladesh war,-- a Just War if ever there was one. It showed that sometimes, going to war is the lesser evil: in this case, it was the only practical way of stopping a Pakistani genocide that was making more victims per day than the whole Indian military intervention made.



Mahabharata for strategists

It is at several conferences on the Mahabharata, the classic on the theme of Just War (Dharma Yuddha), that I first met the general. There, his cold strategic look at the story was quite an eye-opener to historians like me, but a bit of a cold shower to more religious types.

For pious denouncers of arch-villain Duryodhana, whose refusal to give even five villages to the rival Pandava brothers counts as the proverbial example of unreasonableness, please consider the strategic angle. After their wedding with Panchala princess Draupadi, the Pandavas might well want the fusion of the Bharata kingdom with Panchala, meaning the conquest of the Bharata kingdom, and in that project, the five villages would acquire tactical value as offensive outposts.

Even Krishna, a common object of devotion, was not spared. As we know, Gandhari, mother of the slain Kaurava brothers, curses him as the real culprit of the war. After all, he as a prince of the Yadava tribe has egged the two sets of Bharata princes on to fight and massacre one another. Not surprisingly, it is the non-Bharatas who profit, with the throne of the Pandava capital Indraprastha falling to a Yadava prince, viz. Krishna's own grandson. So, though idealized and ultimately even divinized by the epic's pious editors, Krishna may originally have merely been a calculating strategist mindful of the Yadava tribe's self-interest. That at least is what the naked strategic data suggest.

It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that regarding the independence struggle too, General Bakshi brings down a pious legend featuring a canonized Saint.



Who achieved independence?

In the present volume, Bose or Gandhi, Who Got India her Freedom? (Knowledge World/KW Publications, Delhi 2019, ISBN 978-93-87324-67-1, 216 pp.), Bakshi takes on an important topic from recent history: what factor was decisive in achieving India's independence? The received wisdom, both in Congressite India and internationally, is that this historical achievement was the result of Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent agitation. But was it?

How do you wrest the sovereignty over a Subcontinent from a world power? The British-Indian empire was built on bluff and on the dividedness of the population against itself. This was not threatened by the initial Congress movement, which was just a talking shop of lawyers pleading for native interests within the British empire. By contrast, it had really been threatened by the Mutiny of 1857, when different communities rallied around the Sepoys (Sipahi, native soldier in colonial service) and came together to revolt against the British. And this gives the gist of Bakshi's narrative already away: the British were afraid of military revolt, particularly by the native mercenaries on whom they counted to uphold their imperial edifice, not of pious discourses and slogans.

However, the General does give the Mahatma a part of the honour. No doubt, the shift of Congress activity from lawyerly negotiations to agitation at the mass level was Gandhi’s achievement. He popularized the Freedom Movement. This is undeniable, but the point is: it is not what made the British decide to pack up and leave.

Look at it in more detail than is done in, for example, Richard Attenborough’s propaganda movie Gandhi. The Mahatma’s last campaign was not the camera-savvy Salt March or other events from before the Government of India Act 1935, the reform with which the British managed to renormalize the situation and regain control over political developments. It was the Quit India movement started in August 1942, which was a failure in every respect.

First off, it was based on an assessment of the world situation that seemed plausible in 1942 but turned out to be wrong: that the Japanese would win the war and chase the British from India. In that event, India would be in a better position if it was an independent Asian nation rather than a British colony (though, what about the independent Republic of China?). Second, it created profound dissensions in Congress, which was mostly reluctant to embark upon this adventure. Strategically, the British were at war and on the defensive, so they would not pull their punches in the repression of any “disloyal” agitation; and morally, many Congressites, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, were on the British side in that war. Indeed, it is mostly Nehru’s speech against Quit India that made the British decide he was essentially “one of us”, so that they started treating him rather than Gandhi as their Congress contact. Third, though intended to be non-violent, the movement soon lapsed into violence, depriving Gandhi of his moral high ground. Fourth, the British put the movement down brutally but efficiently. Fifth, the Congress leaders were imprisoned and neutralized while their rival Mohammed Ali Jinnah remained free to enlarge his influence. Sixth, when they were released, they were  demoralized and had lost credibility. Especially Gandhi, chief responsible for the movement, had been cut to size; he only regained his place in history by his martyr’s death.

After the Japanese capitulation on 15 August 1945, the Freedom Movement as such was nowhere to be seen. Paul Johnson and other historians who have lapped up the official version, with the Mahatma as the main motor of decolonization, write that if the British themselves hadn’t been kind enough to leave, it is unclear how independence could have come about, as the native dynamic for it had petered out.  But they have been tutored to be oblivious of the one factor that dramatically revived the Freedom Movement within weeks: the return (in chains) of the soldiers of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA)/ Azad Hind Fauz.



The INA

After the war had broken out on 3 September 1939, India’s politicians had to choose their camp. Jinnah’s Muslim League automatically sided with the British, and so did Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, mainly for tactical reasons: that way, numerous Hindu young men would get a military training and experience. The sympathies of Congress largely lay with the British, but they fell out over a procedural matter: the Viceroy had declared war without first consulting with Congress, their partner in administering India’s partial self-rule. So, while its political rivals were earning the Brits’ gratitude, they remained on the sidelines, never the best way to make the most of a war situation. The Communists, meanwhile, opposed the “imperialist war”, blaming it after the Soviet example on the “bourgeois democracies” France and Britain, rather than on Germany; it is only after the German attack on the Soviet Union that they made a U-turn, supporting what had become a “people’s war”.

One significant leader remained on his own: Subhas Chandra Bose, born in Cuttack in 1897. He belonged to the Congress’s Left wing but had been ousted as Congress president by Gandhi. As a response, in 1939 he founded his own party, at first intra Congress, the Forward Bloc. It would remain in existence after the war and be part of the Communist-led alliance that governed West Bengal for decades. In spite of being under house arrest in Kolkata, he fled to Afghanistan in January 1940, and thence to Moscow, where he hoped to get cooperation for military action against Britain. He was told that the Soviet Union was not at war with Britain, but their temporary ally Germany was.

Ideologically this did not pose a problem: Bose had always believed that India would need a few decades of dictatorship, which would administer the best elements from both Communism and Naziism. (Mind you, this is my own addition to the background sketch, General Bakshi purposely leaves the ideological aspects out of his consideration: some readers might object to Bose’s ideological choices, yet that doesn’t alter his strategic role in forcing the transfer of power, the actual topic of this book.) He had already lived in Austria intermittently in 1934-37 and even had a wife and baby daughter there. So he was brought to Germany, where at once he could raise an Indian army with 3000 Indians from among the British prisoners of war caught in Dunkirk, with the privilege of only fighting British enemy soldiers.

It is in Germany that Bose received the title Netaji from his men, “revered leader”, roughly the translation of Führer or Duce. It was in Hamburg, during the founding of the German-Indian Friendship Association, that his soldiers and well-wishers stood to attention for the first time for Jana Gana Mana as national anthem. While Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had humoured him with vague assurances of support, Bose’s meeting with Adolf Hitler was a cold shower. Hitler expressed his belief in the rightness of British (“Aryan”) colonization. When Japan entered the war in December 1941, and asked Germany for Bose after taking hundreds of thousands of Indian prisoners-of-war in Singapore, Germany transported him by submarine in early 1943, and he was now welcome to lead some 40,000 soldiers in the INA. This force had already been founded by expatriate Indians, notably by Ras Behari Bose, but now it needed a credible leader, and Subhas Bose was the right man for the job.

Bakshi informs us cursorily that from abroad, Bose also did what he could to contribute to the struggle within India, including the Quit India movement. Alas, the delivery of arms and other material which he arranged for, was often sabotaged by unreliable agents, and remained without sizable effect. His main claim to fame was and still is the INA.

Unfortunately, in military respect the INA came too late on the scene. It never controlled more of India than the Andaman and Nicobar islands and some border areas of the Northeast. When it seriously besieged the Northeastern cities of Imphal and Kohima, the momentum of the Japanese advances had passed, and the British-Indian army could take care of it. The INA still fought some battles against the British forces in Burma, but its historic chance in India had passed.



Bose’s afterlife

In the chaos of war’s end, Bose is said to have died during an aerial accident in Taiwan. That at least is the official version, but since the beginning already, it has been doubted. It was based solely on the eyewitness testimony of a surviving companion and lieutenant of Bose’s, whom British intelligence immediately suspected of merely having thereby carried out orders from Bose himself, who this way had staged his own escape. Bakshi is not into writing a biography here, so sensation-hungry readers will be disappointed to find that he merely gives a nod to Anuj Dhar’s eye-catching book India’s Biggest Cover-Up, 2012, which argues that Bose did indeed escape to the Soviet Union, where he was put in custody. Nehru was good friends with the Soviet leaders (to the extent that when in 1962 the Chinese, angry with Soviet manoeuvres on the Manchurian borders, decided to pin-prick the USSR, they invaded India), so it sounds plausible that they did his bidding, which was to keep Bose out of reach of India. Bakshi doesn’t evaluate such questions, because no matter what Bose’s ideology or personal destiny, one solid fact deserves to be established now beyond future doubt: his decisive role in achieving independence.

Indeed, all speculations on Bose’s personal life are dwarfed by the immediate effect of India’s exposure to what the INA had meant. In autumn 1945, a large part of India’s population immediately sided with the INA veterans upon their return (in chains) to India. The British gradually released the ordinary soldiers in batches, which already had a palpable effect, for as Nehru observed, these men were hard as nails and hated British rule. The eye was mainly on three tiop defendants. Their trial, in the Red Fort, was meant to send a message to the Sepoys never to be disloyal again. Coincidence would have it that they were a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh, which came in handy for the Congress narrative of a pan-Indian unity. Congress leaders buried their one-time diatribes against the INA and offered to defend them in Court.

From the Empire’s perspective, the trial really backfired. The people’s mood proved not to be just a fleeting sympathy but threatened to become a rebellion. A large part of this book holds the British military correspondence of autumn-winter 1945-46 against the light. It becomes abundantly clear that the British top brass, especially Viceroy Archibald Wavell and Commander-in-Chief Claude Auchinleck, were in a state of panic. They had received reports from the provinces, including their main recruiting-area Panjab, that their colonial troops could no longer be relied upon. Every Indian had become a nationalist, galvanized by the presence in India of thousands of Bose’s soldiers. Nobody was willing to accept the punishment which the British would normally have given to leaders who had taken up arms against the King-Emperor.

In proportion to the gravity of what from the British viewpoint was a crime, they should have been sentenced to death. Sensing that this would only trigger a revolt, Wavell and Auchinleck arranged for a reduced sentence to transportation for life, which moreover was at once commuted to a token prison sentence. To prevent any incipient unrest, they made sure that this decision was immediately communicated to the public. It became a staged trial with the outcome determined by extra-judicial considerations, a “show trial” but this time not to the detriment of the defendants, thanks to the emerging anti-British power equation in society.

But this was to prove insufficient, and the real gravity of the situation was yet to come to light. The British troops sent to India for the war against Japan were being demobilized and repatriated. More than before, the Empire was now dependent exclusively on the Sepoys. And in early 1946, in a number of Naval units, these soldiers bound by oath to the King-Emperor rose in revolt. This was the decisive pillar under the imperial structure: if it crumbled, it was curtains for the Empire.

A combination of repression and of moral pressure by Congress, committed to non-violence but also mindful of its own privileged relation with the British, managed to put down this Naval Mutiny. But only for now; the British rulers realized that they might not be so lucky next time. So they called on London to announce a date for independence. The last Viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, arrived in March 1947 with the one-point programme of organizing the transfer of power.





Other considerations

What Gandhi had not achieved in decades of campaigning, Bose’s INA achieved postumously in less than two years: making the British decide to quit India. And this, in fact, without firing too many bullets: if you radiate power, you often don’t have to use it. The court historians have always downplayed the role of the INA and attributed the merit for the achievement of independence to the Mahatma. But this legend was gainsaid by no less an agent that the British Prime Minister who effected the transfer of power, Clement Attlee. During his visit to India, he was asked what considerations had made him decide to decolonize India. He cited the military equation with the increasing unreliability of the troops, and as for Gandhi’s role, in his estimation, it was “m-i-n-i-m-a-l”.

As this book was going to the press, it so happened that official India was finally extending recognition to the INA. A handful of surviving veterans, nearly 100 years old, were driven in an open jeep in the Republic Day parade. When Westerners hear of Bose, they consider him as a mere Axis collaborator. For Indians, he is first of all a national hero, and the cruelties which made the German and Japanese war machines infamous, were not the doing of their Indian army units. These soldiers did not join their units to fight for some German or Japanese Empire, but for their own Motherland.

In India, some had fought with the British, some against them, some had taken different positions in succession, some had tried to stay on the sides, but at war’s end, it was agreed that everyone had done it for the best of Mother India. In some cases, that was a flattered assessment, but precisely in its flawed truthfulness, it showed the generosity of spirit of Indian patriotism. No one’s war record was scrutinized, for in India on 15 August 1945, the Second World War was really over.





Nationhood

In his introduction and his last chapter, General Bakshi also explores issues of nationhood, India’s unity and integrity, and India’s status as a civilizational state. It is interesting to see how a no-nonsense patriot thinks about the current political contentions.

Of course he rejects Gandhi’s and to some extent Nehru’s option for a defence without military strength. It is a state’s prime duty to protect its citizens, and this requires an army. As a NATO slogan from my young days said: “Peace through strength.” This is a truism, followed by most state leaders in history, and it is not India’s major claim to fame that its national Saint flatly denied it.

India’s integrity demands that the system of caste-based and communal reservations is phased out. This system has been instituted by the British as part of their policy of divide and rule. Since the Government of India Act 1935, and expanded in the Constitution of India 1950, it divides society in birth groups. Then it was in the name of “Imperial Justice”, now it is in the name of its more modern-sounding equivalent, “Social Justice”.

That this became the central value of India’s Constitution, and not “Liberty” or so, provides an interesting parallel with the contemporary West, where “Social Justice” has become the justification for the craziest demands, and indeed for an expanding system of mostly birth-based (racial, gender etc.) quota. Yet in India, this did not originate in Marxist or quasi-Marxist sources like Antonio Gramsci or the Frankfurter Schule, but in another system of colonial domination, viz. British colonialism. The effect is nonetheless the same: endless dividedness, a variation on the Marxist model of class struggle.

It has logically been the Left that made itself the heir of this British system of reservations, and now champions quota schemes such as job quota for Backward Castes and the 2008 Right to Education Act. Today, little difference is left between the quota philosophy in India and in the US, except for the Indian oddity of the caste system. Bakshi proposes to make short work of this system and replace it with economically-based reservations. These would automatically favour the lower castes, which have more poor people, except their “creamy later”, those who have worked themselves up yet keep on milking the caste-based system and now have most interest in perpetuating birth-based reservations. With the introduction of the Aadhaar Card, a kind of identity card including one’s financial-economic data, this is now technologically possible.

But there, we have crossed over to the issue of “decolonization”. India wants to get rid of the remnants of colonialism, and one of these is the reservation system. The philosophy was that the benighted natives were naturally unjust and that the colonizer was needed as an impartial arbiter. Later, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty appropriated that role to itself. By now, India is mature enough to shake off such colonial-age solutions.

In parallel, another relic of the colonial age and its immediate aftermath is the lionization of Mahatma Gandhi as bringer of Independence and the concomitant downplaying of Subhas Chandra Bose’s contribution. That motivated legend is, after this book, no longer sustainable.

Read more!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Interview to Hindu Post




1.      Interview in Hindu Post



 (1st part, 25 June 2017)



Introduction by interviewer Adity Sharma

In keeping up with my advocacy of the Hindu cause, last summer, I wished to write on Hindu issues. But I wanted to write on something new, something I had not argued previously, and something that validated convictions I have held for a long time. I wanted to get a learned opinion concerning the ideological challenges that Hindu Dharma confronts today, and what its adherents and well-wishers are doing to address these challenges. So, I contacted Dr. Elst, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions. The topics of this interview span diverse areas of concern. The common thread that binds these topics however, is the need to recognize the grave ideological challenges to Hindu Dharma.

While many Hindus unabashedly decry media bias, academic predominance of a particular persuasion, or ethnic cleansing of the Hindu population in Pakistan, in Bangladesh and in Kashmir, these same Hindus often choose to remain irritatingly silent about exploring ideological root causes of these problems. Identifying the problem, but failing to exploring its underlying causes, will not yield the desired outcome. Perhaps this fear, or reticence, or hesitation to frankly name the culprit, stems from centuries of struggle with violent imperialist ideologies and subsequent decades of dominance of the anti-Hindu fascistic forces in all important spheres. Hence, I was very keen on learning Dr. Elst’s opinions on various issues. Aside from the brilliant late historians Ram Swarup, K.S. Lal, and Sitaram Goel, Dr. Elst is one of the few historians who has boldly identified Hindu Dharma’s ideological foes, and offered pragmatic solutions on confronting and possibly defeating these formidable foes. Now, of course, I am certainly not suggesting that all challenges to Hindu Dharma have ideological causes; some of these challenges can be ascribed to innocent ignorance and/or laziness. But Hindus absolutely cannot afford to continue ignoring the ideological angle.



Who is Dr. Koenraad Elst? (Adity Sharma)



Koenraad Elst is a self-described “Orientalist” from Belgium. That still is the neutral continental-European term for a graduate in “Oriental philology and history”, in his case both the Chinese and the Bharatiya section. He also studied philosophy, which explains his keen eye for ideological developments. His doctoral dissertation was about Hindu Revivalism, the ideological tendency from which the party sprang that is currently in power in Bharat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (“Indian People’s Party”, BJP). When he started his research, this was a marginal and vilified movement, its leaders even had to spend the winter of 1992-93 in prison. But when he defended his thesis, in 1998, the BJP had just come to power.

More recently, he surprised Bharatiya political observers by making the pro-Hindu case against the Hindu movement, and started focusing on ancient history and its relevance for modern politics. The Aryan Invasion Theory proved a much harder nut to crack than Hindus thought, but is nonetheless discredited among those few who have really studied the matter. Further, the ethnic components of early Hindu Dharma, the Mahabharata chronology, the genesis of Buddhism as an integral part of Hindu Dharma, etc.



The problem of “real” Islam



Adity Sharma: There are those (both intellectuals and lay-persons), who vociferously condemn Islamic terrorism, and the doctrine of “armed Jihad”. These individuals openly claim that countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia should be disbanded. But these same individuals fiercely affirm their Muslim identity, and aggressively assert that the terrorists have nothing to do with Islam. Do you believe that these individuals actually create hurdles in identifying Islam as the root cause of Islamic terrorism, because a devil’s advocate view can contend that the good Muslim has already identified and condemned the problem area in Islam? Hence, why denounce the entire belief system?



Koenraad Elst: They are the “good cops”, complementary with the IS “bad cops”. The other hand is a clenched fist striking, and this hand is preventing any defence against that strike. Whatever illusions these “moderate Muslims” may indulge in, they are but instrumental in the strategy of the radicals.

They make no difference to the truth of the matter, we can check the source texts for ourselves and see with our own eyes that the Jihadis strictly follow Mohammed’s precedent, which is the basis of Islamic law. No Islamic court can sentence them unless it has been bribed or forced to do so. So yes, these so-called moderates blur the picture and are eagerly believed by the non-Muslims, for reassurance about Islam is in great demand. Their personal interpretation, even if they mean it, makes no difference whatsoever to the contents of Islam.

From a human point of view, they present a special problem. There is a minority that simply practices religious dissimulation (taqiyya) and says anything strategically useful vis-à-vis the Unbelievers. But a very large group of born Muslims simply believe what they themselves are saying. They don’t know the source texts very well. From their parents and schoolteachers they have only learned a very selective and idealized image of Mohammed. They cannot imagine a conflict between the religion they have inherited from their beloved parents and the morality they have come to share with their Unbeliever neighbors. So when they hear the truth, it comes as a shock. At first they won’t believe it and react furiously. But a deeper crisis will set in once they start believing it and doubting their Islam.

But then, on the bright side, a change of religion is possible. Me too, I have come to doubt the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism. After some mental churning and internal struggle, and after half-way station of the type you just sketched (“the orthodox have misunderstood the founder!”), I have repudiated it altogether, as have millions of Europeans of my generation. I am not asking anything from the Muslims which I myself haven’t been through. And I can reassure the Muslims who come to doubt Islam: there is life after apostasy.

AS: In your talks and writings, including the Goa ‘India Ideas’ conclave in 2014, and a webinar with indiafacts, you suggested that Islam should be made unappealing to Muslims.  The question then arises, as to how exactly can Muslims be made aware of the true nature of their beloved faith?



KE: Yes, that is the million-dollar question. Some creative thinking and some practical initiatives among the younger generation will be needed. But I can already say this – brave ex-Muslims are showing them the way: people like Ibn Warraq, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Taslima Nasreen, Hafid Bouazza etc. At least the latter two, independently of each other, and no doubt others, have said: “What we need now is not moderate Muslims, but ex-Muslims.” So, Muslims will have to do it themselves, nobody can change their mind for them, but they already have a number of examples from their own ranks to follow.



The internet can greatly accelerate this process of increasing insight and liberation from Islam. You might object that today it is still successfully used by the orthodox to spread their beliefs and popularize Islamic teachings to a level unheard of in premodern days (when many nominal Muslims only knew a few rituals and Arabic phrases). But let me make a comparison from my own country. In the late 19th century, freethinkers set up the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movement. The Church was against this, considering it a crypto-worship of Nature, a form of Paganism. But seeing it was irresistible, it took control by founding the Flemish Union of Catholic Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The “godless Socialists” set up trade unions, and seeing trade-unionism as unstoppable, it co-opted the movement and set up its own trade-union. So the Church remained in control even when new social phenomena arose, and by the 1950s, Church penetration into all layers of society was greater than ever.

Yet, they could not stop it when most members lost the faith and walked out of the Church. Their youth movement and their trade-union still exist, but have not been Catholic anymore since decades, and don’t even call themselves Catholic anymore since ten years or so.

Similarly, the Muslims succeed nicely in capturing the internet and use it as an instrument to keep their flock together, but in the long run it will be their undoing. The proper scientific information about Islam is now readily available, and soon it will have more influence on the Muslim mind than the orthodox rearguard actions.

Another promising factor is material: the shift in energy winning and energy cost. The oil wealth is running out. I hesitate to highlight this factor, because it usually triggers two deplorable reactions. One valid for every optimistic sound concerning Islam, is passivity: “See, we don’t have to do anything, it all takes care of itself.” The second is that a frequently heard escapist explanation of the Islam problem is seemingly vindicated: “See? It’s all about the money. Religion has nothing to do with it, only the money.” Barroom philosophers feel very clever when they pontificate like this, but history has numerous cases where people act out of conviction against their monetary interests. Billionaire Osama bin Laden gave up a life of comfort and pleasure with his five wives in order to live as a fugitive in an Afghan cave because of religion.

Nonetheless, his convictions would have been less harmful if he hadn’t had the finances to support his terrorism. Islam has been punching above its weight because of all the free money it could invest in supporting Islamic causes the world over. This also ensured it of Western support, especially to Saudi Arabia and its cat’s paw, Pakistan. Being flush with money but not very creative, the Muslim world became an excellent market for Western products. Contrast this with Bharat: not rich but creative and development-oriented, and therefore seen as a rival.

Since the US has to displease the Muslims with its support to Israel, it compensates this by support to Islamic causes elsewhere: the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, the Turkish bid to enter the EU, or the Pakistani claim on Kashmir. Barack Obama even won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pro-Islamic speech in Cairo 2009. But with all this dwindling of the oil wealth, the political stature of the Muslim world is diminishing, and probably the pampered Saudis will rather use their bottom dollar to keep their fast-growing population happy than to finance mosque-building or terrorism.

Falling without natural resources need not be a drama, see South Korea. But the Islamic states’ record in creativity and inventiveness is such that they will probably have no answer to this inevitable impoverishment. So, most young Muslims will understand that Islam (as opposed to American imperialism or the “Zionist world conspiracy”) is keeping them back. Well, at least let’s hope so, for if everything continues as it now is, including the demographic differential between Hindus and Muslims, Islam will be Bharat’s majority religion by the end of the century. And what that would mean, you can ask the Hindus in Bangladesh.



AS: Late historians such as KS Lal, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel have made invaluable contributions to understanding the threat posed to Hindu Dharma by the monotheistic belief systems. Aside from your own outstanding analysis on the subject, are there any Hindu scholars who have followed in the footsteps of these historians?



KE: Yes and no. The work of a Bharat Gupt, Meenakshi Jain or a Michel Danino is more technical, more academic, less disruptive or visionary, but also much harder to ignore. SR Goel’s work was formidable, but easy to pigeon-hole: he was an MA of History alright, but not holding an academic post, making his living as a publisher, and he was a “Hindu communalist”. The corpus of scholarly work that is not anti-Hindu is growing, but it is still marginal.



Being an academic isn’t everything. If you are ideologically on the wrong side, your status is not going to help you. KS Lal was a proper academic, but at the end he was boycotted by all other publishers than Voice of India, and among academics, nobody quotes his work, though it was path-breaking. A towering personality in Bharatiya history-writing was of course RC Majumdar, and for long his work was required reading in all History Departments. But as the Marxist dominance became deeper, even this icon was challenged and boycotted as a fount of communal views of Bharatiya history. So the taunt that “you’re not an academic” is only a first, forward line of attack, made possible by a systematic policy of exclusion of non-Nehruvian viewpoints. Once you have manage to cross that hurdle, the real concern comes out: “You’re a communalist!”

I currently see better equipped young Hindu intellectuals come up, availing of the opportunities generated by the internet and creating alternative Hindu quality media, thus getting around the boycott of pro-Hindu views still observed by the mainstream media. But I can see as yet no reason to report that this welcome tendency has already percolated into the History Departments.





(2nd part: 4 August 2017)



The second part of my interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst, focuses on how Hindu Dharma has been defined when compared to other religions, and highlights a crucial mistake made by its adherents/well-wishers when attempting to represent an accurate picture in the face of a hostile and well-funded academe.

 


An Accurate Depiction of Hindu Dharma




AS: Hindu Dharma is often viewed as being incoherent, disjointed and scattered. When Hindu Dharma (also called Hinduism by Western Indologists, a term which unfortunately has gained currency even with practicing Hindus) is explained, it is often portrayed as being so undefined that it is difficult to call it anything at all. Some have even said that it is not really a religion, but a way of life or a hodgepodge of different rituals and philosophies. In your opinion, can Hindu Dharma be defined in a way that it can be portrayed as diverse but still united?



KE: The historical definition of the term “Hindu”, brought by the Muslim invaders[1], does not define a specific worldview and practice, as the definitions of Christianity and Islam do. “Hindu” is a geographically defined slice of Paganism, viz. all Pagan (=non-Christian, non-Muslim) traditions coming from Bharat (India). This means every possible belief or practice that does not conform to either Christianity or Islam. It includes the Brahmins, the upper and lower castes, the ex-Untouchables, the Tribals, the Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), the Jains, and many sects that didn’t even exist yet but satisfy the definition: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, ISKCon. I am aware that many now refuse to be called “Hindu”, but since they satisfy the definition, they are Hindu, period. Elephants are not first asked whether they agree to being called elephants either.



Hindu Dharma is much discriminated against by the Indian laws, and the secularists and missionaries have worked overtime to give it a bad reputation. It is disadvantageous to be seen as belonging to it, and is perceived as a sinking ship. So, honourless rats hurry to abandon it. Whatever else you may be, Adity, by merely being a Hindu, you do at least prove that you are not a rat.

To outsiders, those traditions are especially Hindu which are typical for Bharat. Sun-worship or ancestor-worship are pretty universal and hence not that stereotypically identified as Hindu, though Hindu Dharma includes them too. But belief in reincarnation and karma (not the same thing), or Vedic fire rituals, or Vishnu and his Avatars, or Ganesh etc., and their temples, are. The Vedic tradition could be considered the backbone of Hindu Dharma, though this is a historically acquired position and not a necessity. Hindu Dharma existed before the Vedas. But it is one of the commonest manipulations to speak of “Hinduism” when specifically the Vedic tradition is meant, or vice-versa.

When you are looking for a tradition that can bring you the truth, no less, you have to go beyond the negatively defined category of Paganism or “Hinduism” and opt for a member of the Hindu commonwealth with a specific doctrinal content: Sankhya-Yoga, Vedanta, Kashmiri Shaivism etc. It is here that the investigation of ideas becomes important. While between Sankhya dualism and Vedanta monism there is ample room for discussion, there can, among rational human beings, be no discussion about the founding myths of Christianity or Islam being true. Once you apply your mind to them, they are obviously false. No, Jesus was not resurrected and did not deliver mankind from sin; and no, Mohammed did not communicate God’s word.



What is more obvious to an outsider than to a Hindu (though best articulated by Shrikant Talageri) is that today’s mainstream Hindu Dharma is a mixture of several historical contributors. One is the Vedic tradition embodied in the Brahmin caste, to the extent that Bharat as a punyabhumi (“land of spiritual merit”) coincided for some two thousand years with all the regions where Brahmin communities had settled. It originated among the Paurava tribe in Haryana along the Saraswati banks, and gradually “conquered” all of Bharat, i.e. kings who wanted their part of the Vedic civilization’s prestige invited Brahmin communities to settle.



With the fratricidal Mahabharata war in the -2nd millennium (my guess is ca. -1400), the Paurava expansion as a kingdom came to an end, and the Yadava tribe became dominant in the West. The episode where Krishna tells the villagers in Vrndavan to stop their preparations for celebrating the Paurava god Indra’s festival and worship the mountains, trees and cows instead (and where he holds up the Govardhan mountain as an umbrella against Indra’s wrath), encapsulates an important evolution within Hindu Dharma, viz. the shift from the Vedic gods to the Hindu pantheon we now know. Or to be more precise, the entry of already-existing non-Vedic strands of Hindu Dharma into the Vedic tradition. It also emphasizes the importance of nature-worship among Hindus, with its circumambulation of the Narmada, or its the pilgrimage to the river Ganga, the Kailash mountain, or the ice lingam in Kedarnath.



A third important contributor was the Bihari culture. I once knew a girl of the Dutch Hindu community (from Surinam but ultimately from eastern UP and western Bihar) who was a bit shy about her family name Bihari, because she had heard that Bihar was the most backward part of Bharat. So we went through Bihari history together. It turned out to be extremely glorious. Not only did the first great empires originate there, Kapila was from there – the founder of one of the two defining philosophies of Hindu Dharma, viz. Sankhya-Yoga, and venerated as the philosopher par excellence in the Gita. The first Upanishadic seers, starting with Yajñavalkya, ultimately the originators of the other great philosophy, Vedanta, developed their ideas at king Janaka’s court in Videha, i.e. northwestern Bihar.

Also from Bihar was Mahavira, leading light of Jain Dharma (Jainism). Finally, from the Sankhya tradition sprang Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), with Shakyamuni himself growing up in Kapilavastu, which had been built next to Kapila’s hermitage. To a large extent, all these visionaries perfected and systematized ideas that had already been present in the local Bihari culture, such as the idea of reincarnation and the practice of renunciation and meditation. Today Bihar is undergoing a bit of a dip, but it is the cradle of what has been called “the greatest achievements of the human mind”.

There are more contributors, but you get the idea with these. And to be sure, they had each its own emphasis but the characteristics overlapped, e.g. the Pandavas, who were Pauravas, equally went on pilgrimage to the Ganga, the Buddha ordered his followers to maintain the existing pilgrimages, etc. All of them were mixed in Hindu culture. And peacefully mixed, I dare to add. Non-violence is not this silly Gandhian fad of willingly offering oneself to one’s killer. No, it is a profound philosophy of allowing everything to be itself, of assuming that everything in existence has a reason for existing. So, Hindu Dharma is allowing each of these components to flourish.



AS: Would it indeed be more accurate to describe Hindu Dharma as a way of life rather than a religion? Does classification matter at all?



KE: Calling it a “way of life” is really mental laziness, or utter ignorance. “A” way of life it certainly is not, for it includes many ways of life. And ways of life automatically follow from believing in any given doctrine. Islam is a religion, but it is very much a way of life, recognizable from afar. If you see someone praying five times a day, holding a fast during the month of Ramadan, and going on pilgrimage to Mecca, you can safely bet that he is a Muslim.

But alright, what is meant by the phrase is that Hindu Dharma is not a belief system. There are a number of beliefs available, such as a more philosophical orientation towards the Colourless Absolute versus a more devotional attitude towards the Absolute with a specific face, i.e. the different gods. Yet, in practical life, there is a common ground between all these viewpoints. No Hindu is going to disrupt the Night of Shiva (Shivratri) only because he worships Krishna instead. By contrast, we frequently hear of Muslims disrupting Durga Puja in Bangladesh or even West Bengal.

Hindu Dharma is a commonwealth of beliefs and practices. The common ground for all of them is a respect for the sacred, an awe of the divine. Hindus know they can’t be followers of every deity under the sun, life is too short for that, but they pay their respects to every emanation of the sacred that they come across. Pious Hindus tend to greet every temple they come across, regardless of sect or deity. Muslims only greet mosques and Christians only greet churches, but Hindus greet all of them.

Naïve Hindus, silly New-Agers and “moron Swamis” assert that all religions say the same thing, which is brazenly untrue. But the core of truth in that statement is nonetheless that sacredness is present wherever human beings hold something in awe.

When Mahatma Gandhi said: “Ishwar Allah tere naam” (“Both Shiva and Allah are Your names”), he meant to sell the silly untruth that Islam and Hindu Dharma are equally valid; but nonetheless this much was true, that the worship of Shiva and of Allah stem from the same piety. If anything is wrong with Islam, it is due to Mohammed. As for Allah, He was this pre-Islamic deity, to the Meccans a moon-god comparable to Shiva, with three phases or “daughters”, the three goddesses Allat, Manaat and Uzzah.

Mohammed cannot be saved, at least not as a Prophet, but Allah is quite alright. I used to be a fan of the Grateful Dead song “Blues for Allah”, and I retained a soft corner for Allah even after dismissing Mohammed. Similarly, any Hindu who reads what Mohammed did to the Arab Pagans, or what his followers did in his name to fellow Hindus, will firmly reject him; but Allah is just another face of the divine.



AS: The California textbook controversy has been simmering for more than ten years now. This can be contrasted with success rates of other religious groups in being able to have school textbooks reflect their beliefs and history. Where in your assessment, are the Hindu organizations going wrong in history rectification?



KE: Recently, there was another review of the textbooks, where the Hindus scored a small success. The “South Asia scholars” wanted to systematically replace “ancient India” with “South Asia”. Yet, the name “India” itself is ancient, and was used by the Greeks. Moreover, names are freely projected into the past elsewhere, e.g. “China” did not exist prior to 230 BCE, and even later was only used by foreigners, yet we call the Xia dynasty of ca. 1800 BCE “ancient Chinese”. “Africa” historically referred only to its northern coastal zone, and was again not used by the Africans, yet we speak of the dawn of mankind hundreds of thousands of years ago in “East Africa” as the “African dawn”. So, this zeal to obliterate “India” (Bharat) clearly sprang from this special anti-Hindu animus. Fortunately, enough scholars saw reason, and this proposal was scrapped.

Note however that “Hinduism” has still been replaced with “ancient Indian religions”. They don’t want to give any quarter to Hindu Dharma (Hinduism), not even its very existence. So, that is the battlefield you have to deal with: a seething hatred of Hindu Dharma among an academic vanguard, partly seconded and partly passively accepted by the rest of academe.

But in 2005-6, we saw the lowest ebb of the Hindu self-defence against this aggression. Hindus suffered an ignominious and wholly unnecessary defeat because of their own confusion. The cause was this animus among the relevant academics, and the smug contempt for or ignorance of the (very consequential) outside world among the American Hindus. A single proposed edit mobilized all relevant academics against the Hindus: their claim that the Aryan Invasion Theory had been debunked and laid to rest. When I saw that, I predicted at once that this would be defeated, and would prevent any meaningful progress on any other topic. And so it happened.

The common Hindu had been heavily misinformed by a few Hindu writers who had pioneered this counterfactual claim that the Aryan debate was all over and had been lost by the AIT. Though the anti-AIT evidence had indeed been accumulating, the dominant received opinion is still the same. Had the AIT been discarded, US Hindus would not even have needed to take a stand on this. Fact is that the battle remains to be won, and you really have to be a sleepwalker not to see this.

The Hindu parents then went to Court to challenge their defeat, and were defeated again. But Hindus are apparently so attached to their fantasy world, that my own reporting on this repeated defeat earned me angry mails from Hindus who actually claimed victory. Well, if the result had been victory, why did they go to court to challenge it? If you don’t even recognize the difference between victory and defeat, you’d better stay away from the battlefield. Fortunately, this time around they put up a more realistic performance. And if they scout and prepare the terrain well, they will achieve a real breakthrough next time around.





(3rd part, 15 September 2017)



This third instalment of my interview with Dr. Elst discusses whether Yoga has fallen victim to cultural appropriation, useful suggestions about what can be done to prevent such an occurrence, and why certain Hindu Gurus in US have delinked their teaching from Hindu Dharma & packaged it as universal.



Adity Sharma: The West has built up a large and lucrative industry that sells yoga to millions of people. But more often than not, this is dressed up as a universal practice, and Hindu Dharma rarely finds a mention. Some Hindus view this as a harmful tactic that is a blatant example of cultural appropriation.



Koenraad Elst: Most yoga practitioners I know here in Europe, personally or through the specialized media, don’t do any appropriation, and never hide its Hindu origins. Already the Sanskrit name of the exercises serves as a constant reminder of its exotic origins. They usually have a much idealized image of Bharat in their minds. Often you see them at the Pre-Paid Taxi stand outside Delhi Airport taking a cab straight to Rishikesh, never seeing anything of Bharat except the Ashram scene. But then they call their activity “yoga” and regularly invite experts from Bharat, e.g. at the annual retreat of the European Yoga Union in Zinal, Switzerland, a mountainous scenery looking like Manali or other places in the lower Himalayas.

On the other hand, I am aware that all kinds of psychotherapies, neuro-scientific theories and the mindfulness industry borrow heavily from Hindu traditions without acknowledging their source. Hindus are often so naïve as to think that the West has “also” come up with theories and practices similar to yoga (when in fact the West has been borrowing from the East since at least Pythagoras), or even to look in awe at Western “inventions” and “innovations” that really are not Western at heart. It is not impossible that traces of meditation practices originated in the West, such as the “staying in the now” practiced every day by the Greco-Roman Stoics, but there is very little of it, or it has been destroyed during Christianization. So, let’s be practical and accept that if we want to study meditation, we will have to borrow from Bharat.



AS: But perhaps the appearance of concepts such as yoga or meditation could potentially lead to a yoga practitioner embracing Hindu Dharma later on?



KE: That is a very common trajectory: people start with Hatha Yoga for health reasons, and then gradually they discover the deeper dimensions. But even the posture stage is only rarely disconnected from Bharat and Hindu Dharma, which already makes its presence felt through the Sanskrit names of the practices (postures, breathing exercises, meditations). But only in a minority of cases does this lead to an embracing of Indian local idiosyncrasies like dress, names etc. outside the strict yoga activity. And that is as it should be. Just as Indians should not ape the West by wearing Western dress etc. As they do now.



AS: Do you think Hindus can strike a balance between denouncing cultural appropriations, while simultaneously, reaping the benefits of Hindu Dharma entering into Western culture piecemeal?



KE: Frankly, I am not really busy with that question. Neither were the Rishis. I acknowledge the importance of the question, and it is a good thing that, in the wake of Rajiv Malhotra, more people are aware of this dimension and think twice before being flattered by Western interest in their culture. But life is short and my interest goes out more to issues of history and thought history, which happen to be important to Hindu Dharma’s present and future as well.


However, I don’t want to leave your question unanswered. So yes, I do think that Hindus can strike this balance with a relatively small intervention, viz. setting the record straight whenever Westerners are appropriating Hindu heritage, and seeing to it that their presentation of this Hindu contribution gets corrected.



AS: The 1960s and 1970s were marked by rebellion against the establishment in the US. This was also the time when Hindu gurus got rich on propagating certain Hindu philosophies to an eager and rebellious American public. And yet, Hindu Dharma itself remains a somewhat tolerated enigma in the U.S. Hindu Swamis/Gurus have done precious little to change this perception, and rarely, if ever, acknowledge the Hindu roots of the philosophies and practices they package as universal.



KE: They have played to the gallery, trying to satisfy the supposed expectations of the Western public. Thus, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi simplified his teaching to essentially a one-size-fits-all mantra meditation, thinking this was what the Western public wanted – seemingly unaware that such a simple thing was what beginners wanted, but ignoring the fact that after the initial stage, they also wanted to grow and progress. His fad about “hopping” and then “flying” would only evoke general skepticism if not laughter, and give yoga in general the bad name of flakiness and incompatibility with a normal sober outlook. Could no one have briefed him about this?



America has centuries of experience with weird cults, like the Unitarians, the Shakers, the Mormons etc. The good side of this in the present context is that the damage done by some Gurus’ weirdness remained fairly limited. Their sex scandals, too, were only an echo of what Americans had been through with Jimmy Swaggart and all those other Evangelical Christian preachers.

On the other hand, in 1970, Hindus could still benefit from a background atmosphere of sympathy for Hindu Dharma. By contrast, all  American kids growing up today have a deep hatred for Hindu Dharma instilled in them.

Some Swamis say themselves that yoga is not Hindu, and that they themselves are not Hindu, since they are “universal”. This is a form of hubris. It is humble as well as just practical to say where you come from. All that has made them what they are, is Hindu. The entire message they have to sell, and that Americans feel they need, is Hindu.

AS: Why has this delinking occurred? Moreover, do Hindu Gurus/Swamis deliberately delink these philosophies and practices from Hindu Dharma, because of an inferiority complex? (An example that comes to mind is Deepak Chopra).



KE: In the case of Chopra, our analysis need not be very profound: he is a spiritual businessman, and will never take a principled stand if it comes in the way of his business success. A soft and conformistic stance gives him easier access to the Western audience, as well as to a large chunk of the Hindu diaspora. The factor “inferiority complex” plays a part too. It makes Hindu Gurus suddenly feel superior when they have exchanged Hindu Dharma for the American mainstream. But mainly it is a pragmatic calculation. They don’t expect most of the kind of people they attract, to be very interested in the intricacies of philosophy. Most of them have run away from Christanity, which is not just irrational, it is also demanding, morally and to an extent even intellectually. So they want something that is not too complicated nor too demanding. What they ultimately get is what they had wanted upon entry: an easy, watered-down version of Hindu Dharma.





(4th part, 15 January 2018)



Adity Sharma: In a blog post dated [December 14, 2014], titled: How I did not become a Hindu,  you mention the lack of enthusiasm you were shown when you expressed your interest in becoming a Hindu. This is quite regrettable, and you go on to give possible explanations. Given the professional zeal with which new converts are welcomed into Christianity and Islam, do you think the lacklustre Hindu attitude towards welcoming newcomers will impede Hindu Dharma’s growth in the long run? What next?



Koenraad Elst: Looking back on it, I don’t think it is a bad attitude. Belonging to Hindu Dharma is not a superficial thing, Hinduness has roots, and those you cannot acquire. It is different when you marry into a Hindu family and really come to share their lives. But a mere desire is not sufficient as an entry passport. In Europe, we know of a similar attitude among Jews: they shake their heads when they see someone who wants to throw in his lot with them, and they do a lot of enquiry and testing before they let an outsider in.



Only, today you have a situation with a heavy competition for converts. The Christian missionaries have penetrated far deeper into Hindu society than during the British period, and their psychological techniques have been perfected and are more differentiated towards every single community. They have done the hard work of what Rajiv Malhotra calls the Purva-Paksha, the study of the adversary as well as of the battlefield. Against that, Hindus are just babes in the wood. So, in changed circumstances, traditional attitudes may stand in need of change.

A very healthy and historically correct phenomenon is the Ghar Wapsi movement: living among Christianized villagers, winning their trust, and making them see how deep down, they are still Hindus and can re-awaken their Hinduness.



As for Indian Muslims, most are converts from Hindu Dharma under duress, and in this age of people rediscovering their roots, it is only normal that they go beyond the outer layer that was imposed on them. In fact, on present demographic trends, it is the only thing that can save Hindu society. Hindus will be a minority before the end of the century, unless enough Muslims quit Islam.



Then again, Hindus may get saved by circumstances that are not their own doing. Maybe all their yajñas are having an effect on macro-evolutions seemingly beyond our control, who knows? But again: I don’t like to say this because in practice it will only encourage laziness.

AS: Hindu temples have been found in China, Japan and as far north as Russia. Hindu Dharma was at one time a more universal religion which stretched beyond the borders of modern Bharat and encompassed diverse racial groups.

Today, Hindu Dharma is often portrayed as an “Indian Religion”, especially by many Indians themselves. How can Hindus work on transforming Hindu Dharma to a universal religion without offending the sentiments of those who take pride in the “Indian” nature of Hindu Dharma?

KE: There even is a movement, the RSS, that claims “Hindu” is merely a synonym for “Indian”. And that Indian Muslims are just “Mohammedi Hindus”. So, in that view, if strictly applied, all these PIOs are lost to Hindu Dharma, while all those Owaisis and Quraishis and Iqbals are Hindus. Once the RSS wanted to be a militantly Hindu movement, and the Hindu-bashers still describe it as that, but now it has degenerated to the point of denying that there even exists a separate category of “Hindu” at all. That is why the Narendra Modi government has never shown the least sign of being even aware of a “Hindu agenda”. Hiding behind safely secular-sounding “development” concerns, the Nehruvian agenda par excellence, they feign to ignore the specifically Hindu (not “Indian”) need to weed out the legal and factual discriminations against Hindus (as distinct from “Indians”). Very often, references to “India” rather than “Hindu” are a sign of cowardice, of trying to get into the sunshine of the reigning secularists.



Yes, “reigning”, for the BJP may be in power politically, but it still hurries to play by the rules laid down by the secularists. (However, I am happy to note that, even in the name of “India”, at least the security apparatus is given a freer hand than under Congress, and that crackdowns on Jihadi circles in places like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are no longer sabotaged.)

But back to your question. “Hindu” in the sense of “Dharmic” was at one time not confined to the Subcontinent, just like now. Manu says that the Greeks and the Chinese were at one time Aryas, but fell from that status by not observing the Arya practices. Disregarding the historicity of that statement, its point is that it doesn’t link Dharma to Indianness. Which is correct. India has been overemphasized by the objective circumstance of the freedom movement (but that was long ago) and then by Hindu eagerness to replace Hindu Dharma with an unassailably secular term.

AS: What advice would you give to young Hindu activists in the West, wishing to take up the Hindu cause? What issues are important; which ones are trivial/symbolic?



KE: I do not relate to Indian ethnic advocacy, because in that respect their history is not mine. But I venture to question it also on another ground: it gives them the chance to feel like activists all while forgetting the specifically Hindu agenda. They, inside and outside the RSS, are being led by the nose to “India” advocacy by the Nehruvians. You can feel brave fighting the long-dead colonialists, as re-enactors of the long-concluded Freedom Struggle. You can then dine out on the moral high ground that the Freedom Fighters enjoyed in their struggle against colonialism, and feel very smart (and assuredly popular among secularists) by telling blatant lies such as: “The wily British imposed Partition on India.” The result is that some Hindus are proud of successes scored by Bobby Jindal, a convert to Christianity. Well, if Jindal shows the way, go and convert to Christianity.



Those, by contrast, who want to take up the Hindu cause, would do well to distinguish between the Indian couleur locale and the essence of Dharma that can meaningfully be transplanted to a new environment. They would also do well to study the different strands in the host society, some of which are quite amenable to treating Hindu Dharma as an ally. What stands between Hindu Dharma and the millions of ex-Christians in the West is mainly the ugly reputation that the secularists and their Western allies have given Hindu Dharma. And the emphasis here is really on the Indian secularists, who in this case lead the dance with their Western dupes. On the other hand, Westerners are useful by tailoring new academic and mediatic techniques to the struggle against Hindu Dharma. But their motive is now largely, to live up to standards of hatred set by Indians and Indo-Americans.



There are of course Western sources of hate for Hindu Dharma too, esp. the Christian missions. But there again: they do not hate India, they only hate Hindu Dharma. With the nationalistic RSS analysis, you would have to welcome the missionaries. I hear many of these nationalists say that the many anti-Hindu Indians or PIOs are only “kissing the white a..” (their words, not mine). Well, they are completely anachronistic. There is no such thing today as a “white” animus against “India”, and if at all you could find one example in some barroom, it certainly has no political consequences. But there is a Christian animus against Hindu Dharma.

KE: I do not want to leave this subject without mentioning the sterling work of Vishal Agarwal. By profession a medical engineer, he is also a qualified Sanskritist and a volunteer in community work in Minnesota. In Sunday classes for children and youngsters, he teaches them all about Hindu tradition. All those circles preserving your Tamil or Konkani language are fine, but your grandchildren will be speaking English anyway, so it is better to get ready for a Hindu Dharma in English (or Spanish or whatever). The central thing to be maintained is not the language, these things come and go, but the Dharmic contents.



AS: This is a personal observation, so it may be slightly exaggerated. While a liking for the arts is certainly healthy, high school and college-age Hindus in the West however, seem overly obsessed with the latest mediocre Shahrukh Khan movie or holding elaborate Bhangra competitions. Hindus have these Desi and South Asian clubs/societies that hold frivolous events high on Bollywood dance numbers, and extremely low on presenting and promoting any genuine understanding of Hindu Dharma to fellow students. This is in sharp contrast to the activities of other religious organizations on campus. The Muslim Students Association for instance, not only lures people with free food, but often holds events aimed at dispelling common misperceptions about Islam. What could be the reason(s) for this lackadaisical attitude?



KE: Let us first of all face the fact that this lackadaisical attitude exists. Many Hindus either do not realize that they are on a battlefield, attacked by hostile forces, or try to forget this with an artificial attitude of carefreeness signalled by a silly preoccupation with Bollywood. This voluntary superficiality reminds me of African chieftains giving up their land for some cheap trinkets the European traders gave them. The Europeans found that in Bharat (India) this approach didn’t work: the natives there did know the value of things, having in fact been the very originators of jewelry. But when it comes to the world of ideas, anglicized Hindus do settle for trinkets, like the Gandhian muddle-talk about all religions saying the same thing.



Some factors make it worse today than in the past, though. It is precisely because there is a conflict, an attack on Hindu Dharma requiring Hindu alertness to it, that Hindus are rewarded for being supercilious or lackadaisical, and punished for being politically conscious.

Another scene I am reminded of, is the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s movie Empire of the Sun. In 1937 in Shanghai, the Westerners in the Anglo-American concession are busy with celebrating carnival and cultivating a frivolous attitude, while the Chinese are all tense and up in arms about the incoming Japanese attack. The Chinese care about their country and what happens to it, while the Western expatriates are trying to look away from it. Well, the “Hindu fanatics” care about their Dharma (which by the way implies caring about India too), while the “moderates” and “secularists” with all their Bollywood frivolity are trying to look away from it, even from the needs of their ancestral country, besieged by various anti-Hindu “breaking India” forces, the very India behind which they take umbrage to sound secular.



Consciousness-raising is the only thing you can do against it. This will not come ramping up from some event, like an Islamic terrorist attack on Hindus or on American targets. Experience teaches that people accustomed to looking away from a problem, keep on looking away even when they themselves get impacted.



AS: Notwithstanding his anti-immigration stand, could the present Trump presidency bode well for Hindu-Americans?



KE: I am not aware of structural problems for the Hindu-Americans, except that any sign of Hinduness is attacked by the authoritative India-watchers in academe and the media. Or, yes: in case you hadn’t noticed, the Hindu community itself is targeted for elimination. Not that anyone will get killed, but conversion and “love jihad” may do the job. Both only have a chance with Hindus who have essentially already left Hindu consciousness even if sheer inertia still makes them belong to a Hindu family. In the short run, some timely paternal advice may save the day, but the only meaningful thing you can do against it in the long run is to revitalize a consciousness of the Hindu traditions.



Trump has made some anti-Muslim statements, and this has endeared him to many Hindus. Keeping the war-monger Hillary Clinton out of the White House was certainly desirable, but Trump’s views on Islam are crude, a bit like the view of the more radical strands in the Hindu movement. I admit he is showing a capacity for learning, and on Islam too, he has advanced. But then he has to come from far: when Jihadis made a murder attempt on Islam critics Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, he said it was the critics’ own fault. I suppose he is the lesser evil. His statement that we should stop Muslim immigration until we find out what it is all about, is typical for an uneducated anti-Muslim attitude that many Hindus share: they vaguely feel that something with Islam is not right, but have no clue what it is.

To be sure, it is to be welcomed that the next President will not repeat Obama’s soothing lies about Islam. But if he does not handle the issue well, he may discredit Islam criticism, which has already been slandered and criminalized so much.

AS: What books/authors would you recommend to Hindu activists to better advocate for Hindu causes?



KE: One book I will summarize for you: the Sunzi Bingfa, “The Method of Warfare by Master Sun”. It says that those who know themselves as well as their adversaries, are bound to win. That describes the Christian missionaries, and to some extent the Muslims. The latter’s knowledge of Hindu Dharma is not very deep, but at least they know everything that is strategically important: that many powerful Hindus can be bought, or are eager to curry favour with the Islamic bullies (and the more bully the latter are, the more eager the Hindus are to please them), or are unwilling to defend Hindu causes and tangible Hindus such as the Kashmiri Pandits. It also says that those who know neither themselves nor the adversary are assured of defeat. That mostly describes the Hindus. Their knowledge of their own traditions and situation is poor and, among decision-makers, only sliding further backwards. Their knowledge of their enemies (the “Purva-Paksha”) has always been poor.



Master Sun also speaks of the art of spying. To gain knowledge of the insides of the enemy camp, there is no alternative to infiltrating it and directly getting that knowledge. It cannot be had by divination, he says, or translated to the present: it cannot be gained by empty rosy assertions about them, nor by pontificating metaphysical claims such as that “all religions say the same thing” – not the result of an actual study of all religions, but a smug and lazy projection of Hindu views onto the other religions. If you go on like this, you will be defeated.

However, an important positive trend must be noted, though not thanks to any purposeful Hindu action: the internet. It is amazing how the internet has changed the situation to the advantage of the Hindus. It has broken through the enemy monopoly on the spread of information and opinion. When they attack you, you can defend yourself on social media, your statement can reach all those interested, and mainstream media find it hard to ignore your stand. Secondly, it is highly visual and validates the strong visual component of the Hindu worldview. Thirdly, it replaces reading culture by oral culture, with which most Hindus are more comfortable. The usual RSS retort to a book presentation, “Can’t you summarize this into a small brochure?”, bespeaks not just the lack of intellectual culture among the RSS people themselves, but is in fact a realistic assessment about the limited reading culture of the Hindus in general.

On books, the Voice of India authors’ list is already a good start. We’ll talk again when you are done with those. Thank you.



Conclusion

Adity Sharma: I would like to conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to Dr. Elst, for not only agreeing to the interview, but also for providing detailed answers. Dr. Elst’s anecdotes, his vast reservoir of knowledge, and the sincere advice, cultivated from decades of study of Hindu Dharma and observation of the Hindu movement, are all invaluable to the Hindu cause, and indispensable tools for any Hindu activist wishing to earnestly work for the Dharmic cause. These straightforward observations should not merely be relegated to the intellectual realm, but if applied to the problems Hindus are currently confronting, can go a long way in preserving, protecting, and propagating Hindu Dharma.



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