Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Meera Nanda against Hinduism and its friends: (8) Voice of India's true identity

Meera Nanda, the microbiologist turned philosopher of science, focuses her best work on a topic properly belonging to a science philosopher’s field, viz. the claim that Hinduism is a “scientific religion”. The claim has been made since at least Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century, and many English-speaking Hindus take it for granted eventhough they themselves have little grounding in science. I hope to give her refutation of this claim due consideration in the future, for it is truly important, being the highest-quality deconstruction of Hinduism’s most promising bid for a place in the modern world.

But some of her work is of lower quality, having only the anti-Hindu animus in common. Yet, Meera Nanda has done her homework fairly well and, with a few exceptions, avoids taking cheap shots. In a political sense, she could have afforded to, for no one who attacks Hinduism risks any censure for not getting his facts straight. It seems that her intellectual seriousness or even her conscience has prevailed: she didn’t want to be caught in the act of lying by even one informed reader. All the same, some serious inaccuracies have crept in.

Sometimes Meera Nanda ventures outside her own domain to attack other Hindu efforts to assure the survival of the Dharma. Her latest major essay in this category is “Hindu triumphalism and the Clash of Civilisations”, published in the influential Political and Economical Weekly (Delhi), 11 July 2009. She notes that it is only the third paper ever to focus on the pro-Hindu publishing outfit Voice of India. The first one was by the Japanese graduate student Mitsuhiro Kondo, who interviewed Sita Ram Goel, founder and mastermind of Voice of India. I wrote a comment on her work in Elst 2002. The second one, of which I hadn’t heard yet, is given as Reza Pirbhai: “Demons in Hindutva: Writing a Theology for Hindu Nationalism”, Modern Intellectual History, 2008, and which will get a reply in due time The third is her own.

            On personal details, she gets a few less important ones wrong regarding myself, but some pretty fundamental ones concerning the Indians involved. Writing in 2009, and after paying a visit to the Voice of India office, she doesn’t seem to know that Pradeep Goel, who managed the practical aspects of publication for over fifteen years, had passed away in 2005. She also writes about Abhas Kumar Chatterjee and others as if they are still alive. These are not just painful mistakes, but indicate a serious misunderstanding about the role of Voice of India today, viz. that it is now a thing of the past. Secularist “experts” on Hindu activism have strictly ignored this centre of Hindu thought while it was active and only discovered it near or after its end, and that too only sparingly.

            It is no surprise, then, that she gets the main things wrong as well. Thus, she associates Sita Ram Goel repeatedly with “Hindutva”. But to my knowledge, Goelji never ever applied the term "Hindutva" to his own thinking. Though a freedom fighter (i.e., in India, an activist in the anti-colonial freedom movement) in his youth, he often explicitly rejected the nationalist paradigm, especially in contexts where the Sangh Parivar was using it as a ploy to skirt around the difficult ideological issues. In RSS parlance, difficult ideological themes are systematically replaced with a simplistic dichotomy of Indian/foreign or national/”anti-national”. Thus, Babar as a "foreign" rather than "Islamic" invader, Communism as "anti-national" rather than any of the ideological things one could hold against it, the Christian mission as a "CIA vehicle" rather than a religious challenge.

Like most somewhat open-minded people, he was fully aware that the identification of Hinduism with India was becoming obsolete, with ever more Hindus settling abroad and forgetting their mother tongue, and with ever more Westerners adopting Hinduism formally or de facto. The present age is the worst moment in history to redefine Hinduism in terms of its geographical roots rather than its contents.

            On balance, though, I think his rejection of the Sangh, while having a strong ideological dimension in the mind of that hard-headed ideologue, was primarily of a different nature, stemming from his many personal experiences with the RSS and its functioning. His very first objection to the Sangh was against its personnel, against their low intellectual and moral calibre. In all dealings with them, so he told me, there is some unpleasantness, some promise not kept, some trespassing against ordinary good manners, and often some ideological betrayal. In our first conversation, in 1989, he derided the RSS-BJP as "the biggest collection of duffers that ever came together in world history". And in our last, in 2003 (in the presence of Prof. Saradindu Mukherji and Dr. David Frawley), he gloomily said: "Hinduism will not survive unless this RSS-BJP movement perishes." And in between, he said things like: "The RSS is leading Hindu society into a trap."

She manages to accuse himof “Hindu triumphalism”, repeatedly. Like in the paper’s title, here it is the word triumphalism that catches the reader’s eye. That is about the last word I would have thought of when Sita Ram Goel’s work is mentioned. The almost opposite concept of alarmism would seem more appropriate. On the first page of his seminal booklet Hindu Society under Siege, Sita Ram Goel wrote: “But the death of Hindu society is no longer an eventuality which can no longer be envisaged. This great society is now besieged by the same dark and deadly forces which have overwhelmed and obliterated many ancient societies.”

                As a loser, Meera Nanda quotes from Voice of India writers themselves only very sparingly, being all the more talkative about alleged “links”. Thus, she quotes from “Hindu terrorist groups like Sanatan Sanstha” (2009, p.107)  as saying much the same thing, but then alleges that “the most strident expression of Hindu triumphalism comes from a group of writers associated with Voice of India”. That is, more strident than “Hindu terrorism”. The Breivik quotes follow the same pattern: she cannot pinprick the critique of Islam given by Voice of India authors (there is no trace of it in these articles), so she just juxtaposes Voice of India with Breivik’s name and hopes readers will fall for it. Given the great demand for reassurance about Islam, and hence for ridiculing its critics, she may well have some success with what is contentswise an admission of  weakness.

                Meera Nanda shows her utter confusion, or her lack of scruples, when she tries to link Voice of India to the Nouvelle Droite. She claims that “they are finding new recruits from the European New Right”, though she cannot name any (and I as an insider can say that they are non-existent), and purports to name three cases of interaction.

One is an interview which Ram Swarup gave to Christopher Gérard (Brussels), editor of the second Antaios. It is true that Gérard was enthusiastic about Ram Swarup’s apology of Hindu polytheism, and for that reason he gave some publicity to him. But there were also deep differences, papered over in social contexts but nonetheless real. Thus, Gérard was a great believer in the Aryan Invasion Theory, while Ram Swarup opposed it. And Gérard was a great fan of Alain Daniélou, a bookish defender of Hindu traditionalism (as he conceived it, highly idiosyncratically) and of the caste system, while Ram Swarup stood in the native “tradition” of Hindu reformism. The interaction between Ram Swarup and Christopher Gérard, limited to a few meetings, did not go beyond a joint celebration of polytheism, a cause to which both of them were wedded before.

Incidentally, in describing Antaios, Meera Nanda commits several mistakes. She says it was “started by Mircea Eliade and Ernest Jûnger, both ofwhom had close connections with fascist movements in their native Romania and Germany respectively”. (2009:113) Yes, Ernst Jûnger was a Nazi in the 1920s,when it was an opposition movement repressed by the German police and being a Nazi took courage; he was also an anti-Nazi in the late 1930s when Nazism wa in power and being an anti-Nazi took courage. That makes him a very different sort of anti-Nazi from Meera Nanda, who is always found on the safe side. As for Mircea Eliade: Wendy Doniger, the darling of the Nehruvian secularists for her anti-Hindu writings, held the Mircea Eliade Chair at the prestigious Chicago University. Shall we say that she was not averse to fascist connections?

Though Antaios had the same name as a paper founded by Jûnger and Eliade, it was not founded by them. Their paper folded and Antaios was founded anew by Christopher Gérard. He in turn folded it years before Meera Nanda wrote her piece. So the title is available, and a Croat has again founded a paper called Antaios. Oh, and one more detail: Gérard’s Antaios appeared in French, so Ram Swarup never read it.

The second case of interaction between Voice of India and the Nouvelle Droite which Meera Nanda alleges, is this: “Francois Gautier, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and more recently of Sri Sri Ravishankar, is another VoI author who had a long career with the French newspaper La Figaro, which has been described as the mouthpiece of the French New Right. Gautier is the brain behind the idea of creating a museum showcasing the Hindu ‘holocaust’ at the hands of Muslims.” (2011:113)

The only thing in common between François Gautier and the French Nouvelle Droite thinkers is probably that they are French. He has been in India for decades and is out of touch with developments in France. Yes, he has been a correspondent for Le Figaro for a while, but that was after the paper severed its links with the Nouvelle Droite authors working for its magazine ca. 1980. His museum of Muslim atrocities on Hindu society is the best proof of his non-connectedness to the Nouvelle Droite, which happens te be pro-Islamic and has nothing to do with the Counterjihad agitation now animating a new generation of European parties.

The third is me. But I already said that, save for criticizing Christianity, I have never espoused the typical agenda points of the Nouvelle Droite, not even when, long ago, writing for Nouvelle Droite publications. And here again, the opposite viewpoint on Islam is striking and significant. Luc Pauwels invited me to the Nouvelle Droite paper TeKoS precisely as a counterweight to the existing pro-Islamic tendency. Though Meera Nanda hopes to use the “New Right” as a bridge between Voice of India and the Islam-hating terrorist Anders Breivik, these champions of a “Euro-Arab alliance against the US and Capitalism” have strictly nothing to do with Breivik.

            What then is the difference between Voice of India and the established Hindu Nationalist movement? According to Meera Nanda, “While Islamophobia is not new, its expression used to be moderated by the so-called ‘essential-unity Hinduism’ – the familiar rhetoric which proclaims that all religions are equally true. (…) Even the most radical Hindu communalists occasionally said some good things about other faiths in order to show how big-hearted and tolerant their own faith is.” (2009:107)  Yes, and in fact, far more than she will give them credit for. Frequently, BJP leaders declare and the Organiser writes that terrorism has no religion, that the great religion of Islam is misunderstood by its critics and misused by its fanatics, that “Islam is more sinned against than sinning”, etc.

According to her, “This essential-unity Hinduism, hypocritical though it was, is facing new ideological threats. A new triumphalism is emerging which does not hesitate to openly and unapologetically celebrate the alleged superiority of Hinduism over the alleged depravity of Islam, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Christianity as well.” (2009:107) Yet, “the new tribe of triumphalists speak in terms of pluralism, science and tolerance which supposedly abound in Hinduism.” (2009:107) Her term triumphalism is as inept as could be: everything of value is vulnerable, and consequently Hinduism is no match for its challengers, just as Greek philosophy wasn’t. It has, according to Voice of India’s mission statement, only truth on its side. And whether Truth Shall Prevail, as India’s motto has it, remains to be seen.


Capt. Ajit Vadakayil said...

dear mr elst,

just read may 6th 2012 edition of THE WEEK.

check out what nonsense they have written against a Hindu god by the name of Shiva.

i have countered it in my blogsite.

you can read it by punching into google search LORD SHIVA, SHIVA LINGAM, DANCE OF SHIVA- VADAKAYIL.

after 800 years of slavery, we dont know and we dont care.

capt ajit vadakayil

Shankar Sharan said...

This part in Meera Nanda series is brillient. Her poverty of understanding reagrding VOI is best exemplified in this part.

It is sad, though, that Elst has concluded the VOI a matter of past now.

May be he is right, too.