(Text of the speech given by Dr. Koenraad Elst at India International Centre, 13 January 2014)
Vote of thanks
Let me start by thanking the many people who have tangibly helped me: with money, hospitality, logistical support, and information. No names here, firstly because it would be unfair to those I forget, secondly because in my case, I don’t return a favour by publicly associating people with my controversial self.
Chronologically the first company I need to thank was a Bangladeshi refugee family that had found safety in Varanasi, India. It was very difficult to get them to tell their story, it had to be teased out of them. They had been the victims of the petty everyday terrorism that Muslim mobs indulge in against non-Muslim minorities. As Prof. Saradindu Mukherji, present here, has amply documented, Hindus in Bangladesh are constantly subject to petty terror, a glaring contrast with the condition of the minorities in India. In the autumn of 1988, this family made me see that the communal conflict is very different from how it is portrayed in the media, then as now.
The next people I need to thank, are two Muslims, a lapsed one and a militant one. In 1988, Salman Rushdie published his book The Satanic Verses, which lampooned Mohammed, the founder of Islam. As the spokesman of the angered Muslims, the Indian politician Syed Shahabuddin demanded and got a ban on this book, the start of an affair which was to span the world and get a sizable number of Rushdie supporters and translators killed. In India, the ban triggered an interesting debate between secularists. Some diehard Marxists and anti-obscurantists, like the editor of the Communist fortnightly Frontline, N. Ram, stood by freedom of expression and opposed this return to the Dark Ages. Other secularists, however, like Khushwant Singh and M.J. Akbar, defended the ban, thus exemplifying the observation that Indian secularism stands for minority appeasement. To me, who stayed in India for the first time, it raised the question whether Indian secularism was secular at all.
The answer, with exclamation mark, came at the end of 1989 when I was stationed in Varanasi but briefly visited Delhi. In a bookshop in the publishers’ area of Daryaganj, I had bought the book History of Hindu-Christian Encounters. I read it at one stretch and dropped by the same bookshop the next day. I told the bookseller, Mr. Bhim Sen Uppal, a Partition refugee from West Panjab, still alive and present here, that I had mightily enjoyed the book. He informed me that, if I wanted, I could speak with the writer, who had his office just down the road. He phoned and was told that the writer would come in the afternoon. So I spent another hour scouting Daryaganj for worthwhile books, then went to the Biblia Impex office. There he was, smiling as usual: Mr. Sita Ram Goel.
Christianity and Islam
To Mr. Goel I owe my general orientation regarding India’s communal situation. He also introduced me to his mentor and friend, Ram Swarup. Together, they pioneered a well-founded ideological reply to the challengers facing Hinduism: first Communism, then Islam and Christianity, with Nehruvian secularism as their first line of attack.
I will not recapitulate their work except to summarize their views, which I have come to share, of the actual things that have to be done. Two separate issues have to be kept in mind: the record or balance-sheet of the aggressor religions vis-à-vis Hinduism, and their defining truth claims.
Firstly, Islam and Christianity have a very negative balance-sheet vis-à-vis Hinduism, which their apologists try to hide under a false rhetoric of symmetry and reciprocity. The facts of their historical guilt deserve to be better known and openly acknowledged. This negative record is based on their respective doctrines of the unbelievers’ place both in this world and the next. In the afterlife, both hold that the unbelievers are bound for hell. In this world, Christianity doesn’t formalize its low opinion of the unbelievers, but Christian rulers have drawn upon the Christian worldview to impose discriminating policies or worse on them. Thus, during most of Christian history, non-Christians were up for enslavement. There is a lot of attention for Christian anti-Semitism, and indeed the Jewish community was often at the receiving end of Christian aggression or discrimination, but the Jews were still relatively privileged. They at least could survive in their ghettoes, while there was no ghetto for Pagans or their Gods. Islam, of course, formally and thoroughly discriminates against the unbelievers in peacetime, as per shari’a law, and otherwise wages Holy War against them. This is a fact and deserves to be documented further, in the teeth of secularist attempts to hide it or deny it.
In assessing the balance-sheet of interreligious guilt, and finding that in the relations of Hinduism with Christianity and Islam, at least 99% of the guilt is on the Christian or Muslim side, Hindus should guard against the tendency to become self-righteous. Just document the past and connect the dots with Christian subversion or Islamic violence in the present. There is no room for smugness, as Hindus also have to set their own house in order in other respects. But as far as pluralism and tolerance are concerned, Hindus are entitled to derive pride from their record in pluralism and the art of “live and let live”. They have served as an example which Christians and Muslims have yet to learn to emulate.
Secondly, i.e. second in this enumeration but first and foremost in importance, the truth claims that define these religions happen to be false. Normally this should not be important; the Pagan religions which they displaced, never claimed the truth. They left truth to a special class of people, the philosophers, whereas religion was about devotion and was available to everyone. But Christianity introduced the novel concept that it possessed the truth, and that all other religions were “untrue”. Islam then emulated this attitude.
But what is this “truth” of Islam? Islam hinges on Mohammed’s self-perception as a hearer of God’s messages. These outpourings of his own subconscious were collected to form the Qur’an. His doings and his comments made when normally awake, constitute the Hadith collections. They are, together with the Qur’an, the basis of Islamic law, which requires Muslims to emulate Mohammed’s precedent behaviour. Thus, an Islamic court cannot possibly condemn the murderer of a dissenting writer, for he only imitates the Prophet himself, who had likewise ordered the killing of the poets who had lampooned or criticized him. So, Islam consists of the imitation of one human being who is elevated to quasi-divine status, but who was all too human and simply imagined his privileged line with God. Islam is a mistake.
As for Christianity, we could still accept its notion that mankind had collectively incurred sin, given that this world of ours is far from perfect. But we cannot accept that this sinfulness is the cause of our mortality, as the Bible teaches, since guiltless animals also die. Much less can we accept that death and sin have been conquered by the resurrected Jesus. The human condition has not appreciably changed in 33 CE. From a Hindu viewpoint, even a resurrection would not even be a cosmic event altering the condition of all human beings in this vale of tears. Hindu godmen are reputed to have paranormal powers (siddhis), including leaving the body and entering another body, so this resurrection show is not all that unusual. For skeptics, Hindus may seem a bit naïve in accepting the yogis’ claims of special powers, but then this equally counts for worshippers of Jesus who believe in his resurrection. Let India’s “rationalists” challenge the central truth claim of Christianity: that a man died, subsequently came to life again, and thereby saved us all. Anyway, we have no real sign that an actual resurrection took place, for Jesus never behaved like someone who conquered mortality. On the contrary, his behaviour after 33 CE has been exactly like that of all dead people: he didn’t show up anymore. And as Saint Paul said: if Jesus didn’t resurrect, our faith is in vain.
Christianity, like Islam, is in vain. The defining beliefs of both traditions are false. Yet Hindus don’t like to say this out loud. “Your religion is false”: that is what Christians and Muslims routinely say to the non-believers. Hindus are not inclined to this kind of confrontational language, this hostility, and rightly so. You shouldn’t trouble people with your own convictions.
It is only when they themselves take the initiative to trouble you with their convictions, that you should ask them some questions. At that time, you will feel well served if you have been given some knowledge of the world’s religions, so that you know where the holes are in their false claims. Thus, even people who are not given to theological disputations might find it handy to know that Jesus himself predicted the end time, with his own Second Coming, within the lifetime of his audience. >But two thousand years have passed and it still has not happened. Such a blunder from God’s own Son is quite bad: after all, Jesus didn’t have to make some wild guess about the future, he only had to look into his own agenda to check when his Second Coming was planned. Christians will feel embarrassed when they find that you have bypassed their propaganda and gone to the source text, which reports that Jesus himself was mistaken in his prediction.
Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel always emphasized that the religion is the problem, not its followers. To the extent that you can classify the followers of a religion as one group, it is because they subscribe to this one religion. To talk about Muslims without implying Islam, is nonsense. Most of present-day Islamic Studies departments shun the “essence” of Islam (that would be “essentialism”, the basis of scientific thinking yet the gravest of sins for our postmodern Humanities) and focus on what has lingered or has insinuated itself in Muslim life that is non-Islamic. Islamic apologists and Islamophiles seize upon this intellectual fashion in the West as a diversionary tactic to pre-empt all meaningful criticism of Islam. Fortunately, traditional Islamic scholars are more forthright. For them, it is perfectly possible to distinguish Islamic from non-Islamic, to separate what answers to the essence of Islam from what is in conflict with this essence. The essence of Islam is simply what is laid out in the Qur’an and the Hadith, i.e. Mohammed’s beliefs and conduct.
Thus, is it Islamic to destroy the Rama temple in Ayodhya? Of course, for Mohammed had all non-Islamic places of worship in Arabia either annihilated or turned into mosques. With their own hands, he and his nephew Ali destroyed all 360 idols in the Ka’ba, until then a Pagan place of pilgrimage. Is raping Pagan women allowed? Yes, for Mohammed allowed his men to rape the Meccan women held hostage, and he himself forced Rayhanah into his bed after killing all her male relatives. Is killing critical or satirical writers permitted? Yes, for Mohammed had all critical poets and satirists killed, first by assassins in the still of the night, later when he had overpowered Mecca, by formal execution. No Muslim who imitates Mohammed’s conduct, no matter how much his deeds are labeled “un-Islamic” by media-savvy spokesmen, can be sentenced guilty by an Islamic court, for such a verdict would amount to saying that Mohammed himself was not a Muslim.
Yet, the fact that millions of Muslims do refrain from terrorism, rape or iconoclasm, has to be taken into account. Silly secularists will say that such people disprove the intolerant and violent nature of Islam. Not at all: the nature of Islam has been fixed since more than a thousand years, and it is not exactly lacking in violence or intolerance. But such enlightened Muslims do prove that Islamic indoctrination is not all-powerful. Muslims are by nature simply human beings, susceptible to all human tendencies. Moreover, in this modern age, they are just as much as others prone to the attractions of modern life and modern media. Islamic clerics may deplore it, but Muslims are quite susceptible to lapses from true Islam. There is nothing intrinsically Islamic about Muslims, at least nothing that the right soap cannot wash off. So, the Muslim masses are ready for their liberation from Islam. In India, Hinduism was good enough for their ancestors, it will prove good enough for them.
I belong to a generation that, all over Western Europe, collectively walked out of the Church. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was only an elite that saw through the Christian myth. Moreover, the Church constantly revived: Christians had bigger families, and a very common scenario was that a free-thinking man married a believing wife and allowed her to raise the children in the ways of her faith. So, de-Christianization was an uphill struggle. But in the second half of the 20th century, it finally happened: the democratization of modern knowledge had created a critical mass of people who wouldn’t live by fairy-tales any longer. Whereas in the Communist countries, atheism was imposed from above, in Western Europe it gained ground spontaneously. The force of conformism, which earlier had retained many fence-sitters as church-goers, now started to work in the other direction: people felt funny if they still went to this strange sectarian ritual called Mass. Meanwhile, many ex-Christians turned out not to have discarded religion all while shedding their childish Christian beliefs. Quite a few of them took to yoga and related Hindu practices.
So, real-life experience teaches that it is possible to turn people away from the belief systems they have been brought up in. Or rather, you can’t do it for them nor force them to do it, but these people turn themselves away from their childhood beliefs, after having been exposed to knowledge. Thus, people have bloodlessly converted from geocentrism to heliocentrism. Once you know celestial mechanics and understand that the earth must be turning around the sun (in spite of appearances to the contrary), no amount of geocentric propaganda is ever going to make you revert to a geocentric belief. Once you see through the delusions that make up the defining beliefs of Christianity and Islam, no amount of preaching is ever going to make you believe their dogmas again. So, that is the war we are now engaged in: not with bombings and street riots, but with information. As Sita Ram Goel said: “Our only weapon is the truth.”
The Sangh Parivar and Hindu nationalism
Literally from the first time that I met Sita Ram Goel, and until the very last, sometime before his death in 2003, he was critical of the Sangh Parivar. He chided them for being mediocre, knee-jerk reactive, repetitive, and anti-intellectual. This was not a matter of mere temperament among the RSS leaders, but a deliberate choice since the beginning, and founded on a kernel of truth. As RSS activists are wont to say: “It doesn’t require a book to love your mother”, and similarly, a nationalist movement can be devoted to the Motherland without any ideology or media presence. So, like Mahatma Gandhi, the RSS worked on people’s patriotism and related fleeting emotions, whereas the Communists worked on people’s minds with lasting effect. That is why far fewer Communists have been able to change the face of India while the RSS with its mass of activists has always been impotently reacting to changes imposed by its enemies.
The boy-scout attire of the RSS, Western-colonial in inspiration, symbolizes the RSS’s juvenile political attitude compared to the adult world in which the Nehruvian secularists function. “Do well and don’t look back”, the boy-scouts say, and they don’t care if behind their backs the enemy is giving them a bad name. But to function in the modern world, reputation is important, and with no media presence, you leave the field to the enemy to establish for you a very negative reputation. The real-life consequences are very serious: many doors remain closed, many potential friends that should have flocked to your cause remain distrustful, everyone anyhow related to you always has to justify himself and has commensurately less room for maneuver. During the BJP regime of 1998-2004, refusal of the allied parties in the coalition to support any item of the specifically Hindu part of the BJP’s stated agenda was cited as the reason for not implementing any of it; but their mental association of anything Hindu with intolerable evil was the result of decades of anti-Hindu opinion-making, itself facilitated by the RSS’s decision not to practise any serious pro-Hindu opinion-making.
However, I would like to put this criticism in perspective. The RSS and its daughter organizations do get things done. During natural disasters, RSS relief teams are always first on the scene, a fact carefully hidden from the public by the media. During the Partition, RSS workers saved the lives of Congress politicians stuck in Pakistan, often only to find that these same politicians, once safely in India, condemned “the communal forces”, meaning the RSS. During the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir in autumn 1947, it was RSS workers who held the Srinagar airport until the army arrived to start its reconquest. During the Chinese invasion of 1962, the RSS through its services earned its exceptional presence at the subsequent Republic Day parade. During the Emergency, when numerous secularists came out in their true anti-democratic colours and made the Constitution declare India a “secular, socialist” republic, RSS workers defended democracy. Till today, the commitment of RSS workers is such that they risk their lives for being known as Hindu activists: in some regions, Communists or Muslims regularly kill RSS workers. So, there is no lack of courage or dedication among the rank-and-file of the RSS and its daughter organizations.
The problem is that this large mass of people, purportedly the largest NGO in the world, is not given proper direction. When you criticize the RSS, the answer you usually get from its spokesmen is that they have such great manpower, so dedicated, so disciplined – all true. But this mass of disciplined and dedicated workers is like a headless monster. It doesn’t know where it is going.
The RSS is like the traveler in a Chinese story. He stopped his chariot at an inn and said to another traveler that he was speeding towards the south. “But you won’t get there”, the other man said. “Why should I not get there? I have the newest chariot in the land”, our traveller boasted. “Still you won’t get there”, said the other. “But I have the best horses, and an expert charioteer”, said our man. “Why should I not get to my destination down south?” Pat came the reply: “Because you’re heading north!”
The RSS is also blinded by a kind of hubris, thinking that it is the leader and awakener of Hindu society. Objectively, it makes common cause with the secularists in identifying any Hindu activism with the long arm of the RSS. It therefore also thinks that because of its merits and its pivotal role, it is entitled to use people – one of Sita Ram Goel’s objections to it. But the main flaw he saw in the RSS was its docility, its herd instinct, all while pretending to give the lead. It never provided a realistic analysis of the forces in the field, nor even of the battlefield itself, the world in which contending forces have to function.
A few people close to the RSS leadership recognize the problem, such as the late Dina Nath Mishra, MP for the BJP. During a conversation we agreed that the RSS was behaving “like a brainless dinosaur”, but he expressed belief in a solution just around the corner, viz. to “infuse a brain into the dinosaur”.
Another argument used in the Sangh’s defence is that, once in a while, it knows how to win elections. In 1998 and 1999, it achieved victory for the BJP, but the subsequent Government didn’t achieve anything for Hindu society. Hindus were legally as much second-class citizens in India during and after BJP rule, as before. The Atal Behari Vajpayee Government of 1998-2004 was spectacularly successful on the economic front (and I salute the then Cabinet Minister Dr. Arun Shourie, present here, for his decisive contribution to this success), but was totally passive on the ideological front. The only initiative it took was the history textbook reform but, necessary as this attempt at glasnost [Russian: “openness”] after decades of Marxist mind control was, it turned out to be a glaring failure. You cannot neglect scholarship for decades on end and then expect to improve on the slanted but nonetheless professional scholarship your enemies have produced.
So, the BJP has betrayed its ideological platform and the confidence of the Hindu electorate. As was said to Hannibal after he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Romans: “You know how to achieve victory, but you don’t how to use victory.” (Vincere scis, sed victoria uti nescis; in the end, he was defeated.) Since the BJP’s surprise defeat in 2004 and until the current Hindu mobilization, the enemy forces have poked fun at the Hindu activists for nine long years, reassuring themselves that Hinduism was in decline and would now hasten ever faster towards its hoped-for demise, making way for a “post-Hindu India”. Those who claim to be leaders of Hindu society should accept responsibility for this predicament. However, to put a more constructive spin on this factual observation of a defeat, Hindus can seize the next opportunity to show that they have learned from their mistakes. Past defeats need not be a big deal, on condition that they are used as a spur to improve one’s own performance.
Non-Sangh kernels of Hindu revival
Fortunately, this is a new age, where modern communications facilitate new forms of organization. Voice of India was the first such kernel of Hindu activism, but today there are many more independent centres of militant Hinduism. They are not all equally enlightened, but in the present phase, they have the merit of reflecting the plurality of approaches thrown up by Hindu society. Apologizing for lumping together units of very different quality and quantity, I enumerate a few:
- The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (“Committee for Hindu Popular Awakening”), is mainly known for its frequent calls for bans on all books, plays, paintings etc. that are deemed to “hurt Hindu sentiments”. This is a line I don’t support: telling the world that you want to prohibit whatever hurts your sentiments is for losers who can’t think up an effective counterstrategy. I rather remember with fondness how Sita Ram Goel edited a book called Freedom of Expression (1995), an application to the modern world of the robust Hindu tradition of free and frank debate. Great debaters like Yajñavalkya and Shankara would be ashamed of these Hindu book-banners, who give Hindu society the bad name of humourless touch-me-nots. But the HJS also profiles itself with positive attention for Hindu ritual customs and festivals, and generally distances itself from the RSS as too political and not religious enough.
- The Hindu Samhati (“Hindu solidarity”) of Kolkata was founded by a disappointed RSS Pracharak, Tapan Ghosh. He complained that even in the most radical Sangh Parivar wing, the Bajrang Dal, he was barred from raising the Islam problem. Yet on the ground, the problems created for the Hindus by Islam is becoming acute. Ghosh’s work is essentially the same as what the RSS used to be known for, only he really does it.
- The Centre Right India group in Bangalore, which does pro-Hindu media work, a field always and purposely neglected by the Sangh Parivar. Unfortunately, Hindu money-bags who like to boast of their business acumen, have never invested in pro-Hindu media. But fortunately, the new media make it possible to create digital avenues for news and views cheaply.
- Vijayvaani, a Delhi-based blogsite, even more nationalistic than the Sangh, and unforgivingly critical of weaknesses among the self-declared Hindu leaders. But while critical of the BJP, Vijayvaani now strongly supports Narendra Modi. Though I will repeat my analysis that “nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns”, I acknowledge that a sizable segment of Hindu public opinion still identifies Hinduism with India, and even rejects the Hindu diaspora as betrayers of the Motherland.
- The India Inspires Foundation of Indore, which similarly does pro-Hindu media work. The related ShivGanga movement, which I just got to know there, exemplifies self-organization among the tribals of Jhabua based on their native cultural resources, not really focused on the missionary challenge but collaterally eliminating the lure to convert to Christianity.
- The Hindu Human Rights group in London, explicitly inspired by the legacy of Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel.
- The Hindu Mahasabha of America, or the second life of the historically important but now near-defunct Hindu Mahasabha.
- Rajiv Malhotra’s Infinity Foundation, which makes expert use of the new media to reach ever more Hindus both in the diaspora and in India, and teaches them to think seriously and strategically. It develops a Hindu answer to the anti-Hindu machinations in the media and academe, both in India and in America.
- Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, the council of masters. It achieved a major diplomatic victory for Hinduism by concluding the Jerusalem Declaration (2008) with the Israeli Rabbinate, removing misconceptions about Hindu symbols such as the word Arya and the Swastika, and cementing an alliance between the major targets of the Christian mission. While it is good to have a platform of Hindu Acharyas separate from ideological organizations like the RSS, it is nonetheless conspicuous that its Sangh counterpart, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, has the cadre of workers needed to get things done.
- Baba Ramdev with his teaching of Hatha Yoga to the masses, and propagating collaterally a revaluation of Hindu identity. His campaign against corruption explicitly offered Dharma as an alternative. In the present election campaign, he made it clear that he supports Narendra Modi rather than the BJP. This may well be the attitude of numerous Hindus: skeptical of the BJP but galvanized by Modi.
Once more, I apologize for being arbitrary in selecting some organizations and in clubbing these strange bedfellows together in my list. I may add that even organizations formally belonging to the Sangh are asserting their own agenda, somewhat within the Sangh tradition of giving their top officers quite some freedom to take their own initiatives. Inside the Sangh, the RSS is becoming less important, the other organizations are becoming more independent. Thus, the VHP is, under the dynamic de facto leadership of Swami Vigyananda, a veteran of the Ayodhya demolition and present here, unfolding its wings worldwide. People loosely tied to the Sangh have started their own media ventures, once pooh-poohed by the Sangh. Thus, I was once interviewed for the TV programme India Tomorrow by Mayank Jain, present here and vaguely linked to the Sangh.
Moreover, acknowledged influence from outside the Sangh is on the increase. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when in 2003 the Gathering of the Elders took place, a kind of Pagan international which since then has been held every three years, so far always in an Indian city. It hosts Mayas, Maoris, Lithuanian Pagans, Yorubas, Lakotas etc. Convenor is RSS Pracharak Prof. Yashwant Pathak (USA), who was inspired to give a positive Pagan response to Christian and Islamic aggression by reading and then meeting Ram Swarup. The ideas came from outside the Sangh, but for the manpower and effort to get the whole conference going, we have to thank the Sangh.
In that sense, it is now no longer the need of the hour to criticize the Sangh. Anyone who feels called upon to serve the Hindu cause, is free to set up a separate organization. This is effectively forcing the Sangh to correct and improve its performance. So, the focus should not be for or against this or that organization, but on the Hindu cause. This is a time to forget the past and keep the common goal in mind.
Hindu prospects for power
Today, as we speak, conversations are abuzz with the prospect of the BJP led by Narendra Modi coming to power. He is presented as the saviour who can deliver where everybody else has failed and will fail.
Mind you, he is not there yet. The propaganda campaign against him by the secularists, their minority allies and their foreign media dupes, will go through a crescendo as Modi’s accession to power comes closer. Moreover, he has important enemies within his party. A large faction, including much of the old guard, consists of time-servers, whose highest ambition is to enjoy the perks of office, and who don’t want to rock the boat by raising controversial Hindu demands. Their dream is first to come to power on the strength of the pro-Modi vote, and then to “sacrifice” Modi in order to appease the allied parties, thus making one of their own the new Prime Minister. This way, they would have used the Hindu electorate to come to power, then to pursue un-Hindu policies, not distinguishable from those of the so-called secularist governments.
A proof for this assessment is the actual conduct of the last two BJP governments (1998-2004). Under Atal Behari Vajpayee, nothing pro-Hindu was done. The secularists and the world media had uttered all kinds of doomsday predictions if he BJP came to power, and they were all proven wrong. So far, so good: the grimly predicted “genocide of the minorities” did not take place because no Hindu ever planned such a thing in the first place. But something worse happened: not the fact that the BJP’s pro-Hindu policies failed to provoke the predicted communal conflagration, but the fact that there were simply no pro-Hindu policies to be reported. A critical majority of the BJP politicians behaved as opportunists, shunning any ideologically profiled policy. Others did entertain the thought of taking the initiative and raising specifically Hindu causes, but were intimidated by the opposition of the less Hindu-minded allies. Of course, the allies and the BJP time-servers merely reacted to an anti-Hindu opinion climate resulting not only from the machinations of the anti-Hindu lobbies, but also from the near-complete absence of a pro-Hindu voice in the public sphere. At any rate, many BJP politicians meekly toed the dominant line and shunned the Hindu agenda.
So Modi, or any Hindu political leader, will have to deal with inertial and even plainly hostile opposition from within his own ranks. Another problem is that his supporters are unusually person-centred. If Modi gets shot tomorrow, his support base will be in disarray. The policies he embodies would still be there and could still be pursued, yet much of the current enthusiasm is not directed to something abstract like “pro-Hindu policies”, but towards the person of Narendra Modi. Many historical battles, though virtually won, have ultimately been lost because the Hindu commander was eliminated. I hear numerous internet Hindus complain that the “Hindus are cowards”, as even Mahatma Gandhi said, but they are not. They have fought very bravely, and under Chandragupa Maurya or Vikramaditya, under Shivaji or Baji Rao, they were rewarded with victories. But too often they owed their defeats to other factors, esp. their mindlessness in not updating their strategy and in relying too much on the person of their commander.
Having said that, we all now have to adapt to the reality that this is a battle between Narendra Modi and the rest. Modi has gained the support of the masses because of his impressive success story as Chief Minister of Gujarat, but also because of his reputation as a tried and tested Hindu activist. Critics allege that in his twelve years as Chief Minister, he has done little that is specifically pro-Hindu. But first of all, containing corruption and furthering economic growth are two very Hindu achievements. Since Mahatma Gandhi, Hinduism has come to be associated with voluntary backwardness, and under Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist and bureaucratic policies, it even became synonym with extreme poverty. The ruling party rubbed it in further by naming its own dismal economic results “the Hindu rate of growth”. But this does not conform to what Hindu society was in antiquity: the envy of its neighbours, a proverbially rich and developed country. Nor does it tally with the successes of the Hindu entrepreneurs and professionals outside India, freed from the Nehruvian impediments. So, Hinduism stands for prosperity, and merely by his purely secular economic policies, Modi is indeed a Hindu activist.
In the more explicit sense, Modi has not done anything spectacular, if only because the main relevant competences are exercised at the federal and not at the state level. However, he has ably withstood a unique storm of blood libel from the secularists and the Islamic and missionary lobbies. Many Hindu nationalists would have buckled and become apologetic, trying to appease their critics. After twelve years of the most intense defamation, he knows in his bones just how extremely vicious the secularists can be. That is why he will not feel inclined to toe the secularist line once he comes to power.
A Hindu agenda for parties in power
Let us survey the most salient items on the Hindu agenda. Some of them are to be rejected forthwith, others are useful but hard to achieve in the absence of some preparation, others yet are very important though easy to achieve, while some are not on anybody’s agenda but deserve to be.
- Declaring Hindu Rashtra: many internet Hindus, or what Rajiv Malhotra calls “mouse-clicking activists”, declare in all seriousness that this would be the solution. But this is really a case of logocentrism (taking a word for the thing designated by it), mere symbol politics, and banging your head against the wall. This is sure to make you many enemies while getting you nothing of tangible value. The original Ram Rajya was not a “Hindu Rashtra”. Moreover, as Prof. Vir Bhadra Mishra, the Varanasi Mahant who used to be my landlord long ago (and who came in the news in 2006 when his temple became the target of Islamic terrorism and he calmed down a Hindu crowd eager for revenge), remarked to me: the status of “state religion” will only make Hinduism weak.
- Other purely symbolic moves may not exactly be counterproductive, but they show that you have wrong priorities. A few days ago I was in Indore and saw a statue of Deendayal Upadhyaya. I guess he deserves to have a statue somewhere, but I have a feeling that the energy spent on it, could have been used better. Similarly the giant statue of Sardar Patel in Gujarat, which is about as necessary as the many Mahatma Gandhi and Bhimrao Ambedkar statues: it is OK as a toy to keep the Hindu masses happy, but in an age of struggle, other things should be reckoned more urgent. Yet, at the same time, sometimes political symbolism is important. Thus, I once heard a Hindu nationalist pleading for renaming Delhi as Indraprastha, the city founded right here by Mahabharata hero Yudhishthira. This ancient-new name would constitute a statement heard loud and clear around the world.
- Probably the language issue will not be raised in the near future, yet it is fundamental. I will not give any specific advice on what to do, but let me sketch the problem, obvious to outsiders though maybe less clear in Hinglish-speaking Delhi. We are presently expressing ourselves in English, just as most events in this conference centre [India International Centre] are conducted in English, aur yeh toda afsos hai [“and this is kind of a pity”]. For the generation that had successfully concluded the freedom struggle and that laid down a language policy in the Constituent Assembly, it was obvious that free India’s link language could not be the colonial language. A vote was held to choose between Hindi and Sanskrit, which Hindi won with the narrowest of margins. This meant that Hindi would replace English for all official purposes by 1965. But when 1965 came, the memory of the freedom struggle and its nationalist fervour had dimmed sufficiently, while under Nehru the English-speaking elite had gained enough self-confidence to thwart the explicit choice of the Founding Fathers. Since then, English has completely elbowed out Hindi and the other vernaculars, to the extent that schools with the vernacular as medium of instruction are shunned and have come under pressure to switch over to English. A nation with a glorious literary tradition is now voluntarily turning into an underdeveloped country dependent on the former colonial language for all grown-up purposes, where virtually the whole next generation will be schooled through English as medium. The former Jana Sangh would never have accepted this. Remember that Madhu Kishwar has said: whether you succeed or fail in India does not so much depend on religious or caste background, but on whether you speak English or not. India cannot become a democracy unless every citizen masters the link language, in effect English (John Stuart Mill observed that a working democracy presupposes a common space of discourse, a linguistically homogeneous community). If India had been serious about either Hindi or Sanskrit, everybody would be familiar with that language by now, if only because so many words would be nearly or completely the same in the chosen language and the other Indian languages. Instead, you now have a linguistic “anarchy that works”, but at a high price for the lower classes. To be sure, this is a plea against self-interest: my Hindi or Sanskrit will never be as good as that of the native speakers, yet I am arguing against English because I care about the best interests of the Indian people, not of the visiting foreigner who feels so at home when he is being served in English. To sum up, I am merely giving my impressions about the problem, I leave it to Indians how to solve it. Older Hindu nationalists would, if given the chance, have phased out English and replaced it with an Indian language. The new generation of pro-Hindu politicians may think of digital translation technology to overcome the problem of multilinguism, or some other novel solution out of the box. But the problem must at any rate be tackled, the present undemocratic and humiliating dependence on a foreign language cannot continue.
- Make the populist reservation system evaporate, as it was always intended to do, even by Dr. Ambedkar. Right now it pits caste against caste. It brings out the worst in people, who vie with each other in cornering the maximum of benefits for themselves. Everybody tries to utilize the nation for the benefit of the community. Like many items on this list, pulling this reform off will require the utmost of intelligence and diplomacy, for the missionaries (who are now falsely clamouring worldwide that reservations privilege the “Hindu Dalits” over the “Christian Dalits”) and the neo-Ambedkarites are lying in wait to accuse the Hindu activists of caste oppression. First gain some experience, perhaps you will need to take small and measured steps, but ultimately all citizens regardless of their provenance should enjoy the same rights.
- Bring the laws pertaining to ethics more in line with Hindu tradition. An issue now in the limelight is homosexuality and the Victorian law against it, still on the statute books. This law may be useful as a protection against the predations by foreign tourists in places like Goa, so I understand why many Hindus applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it. But it is equally true and relevant that Hindu tradition has a different view. The law codes hardly mention the matter, and at most impose a token penalty, nothing like the stoning prevalent in the Muslim world. The ancient Hindus effectively pursued a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (as Sandhya Jain, present here, has observed). Less prudish than today’s Hindus, and quite pluralistic in marriage affairs, scripturally recognizing no less than eight different types of marriage, they nonetheless withheld from homosexual unions any form of public recognition (as implied in ‘”gay marriage”, which the VHP of America has opposed); but they did not prescribe repression either. The philosophy of ancient Hinduism, as of some other ancient civilizations, was: as long as it is done in the shadows and doesn’t upset society, we prefer to ignore it. Of course, even the law codes make room for reforms, so Hindus must decide for themselves whether they want this scriptural approach or a newer approach to this question. But at any rate, Hindu tradition is a good and nuanced guideline.
- A similar Victorian law prohibits euthanasia, on the basis of the Christian view that only God has the power over life and death. Hinduism has a less absolute view of life and death, and while rejecting emotional suicides among youngsters, like Romeo’s and Juliet’s, it allows aged people and renunciates to walk gently into the night. Thus, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar fasted unto death in 1966 when he felt his time had come. When Vinoba Bhave did the same thing in 1975, all while Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid him a visit on his deathbed, secular editorialists were screaming that Bhave was violating the law of the land (as if this is an unquestionable God-given authority) and should be imprisoned and force-fed. While this is not a prominent issue at the moment, it would prove the Hindu bona fides of a Government with the power to reform laws, if it replaced the Christian approach inherent in the present law with a more understanding Hindu approach.
- Protecting the Hindus abroad. The problem of the harassment and persecution of Hindus must certainly be pursued more actively than has hitherto been done. The Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh now know only that their country’s Government will at best look the other way while they are being tortured by their Muslim neighbours, and that the Indian Government will not interfere on their behalf either. If it turns out that nothing can effectively be done for them, then bring the Hindu minorities to India. Just like any Jew can immigrate into Israel, any Hindu must know that he can find a home in India. And if the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants are sent back, there will be room enough for the Hindu newcomers. But that should only be plan B. The best course is to make life safe for them even in Pakistan and Bangladesh, so that they can be the core of a renewed Hinduization of those countries, or rather, those parts of historical India presently under Islamic occupation.
- Building the Rama temple in Ayodhya. Or rather allowing and facilitating its construction, though the state should not be involved as such. Hindus need not be apologetic about it: what is more normal and less objectionable than Hindus building a temple at a Hindu sacred site, where millions of Hindus but no Muslims go on pilgrimage? Moreover, the Hindu case for the Rama temple (or rather, the scholarly case) has survived a 20-year-long storm of ridicule and denunciation, only to be proven right in the end. The world media and the professional India-watchers in Western universities had all the while parroted their Indian secularist contacts and ridiculed the Hindu position. As Dr. Meenakshi Jain, present here, has documented, when the case was finally taken up by the Court of Justice, the “eminent historians” had to admit under oath that they hadn’t studied the matter, that they were not qualified, that they had not visited the site, all while they had pontificated against the old consensus that the mosque had forcibly replaced a temple. So, Hindus can now hold their head high when building the temple, while the secularists have only covered themselves with shame. But under the separation of powers, it may be a welcome circumstance that a possible Hindu Government does not have to get its hands dirty on this, as it is the Court that has decided in favour of the Hindu claim.
- Change the power equation in education and in the intellectual sphere in general. Since education is partly a competence of the States, BJP or other pro-Hindu State Governments could contribute to a less anti-Hindu climate in the world of teaching. They have the power to take initiatives with long-term consequences. Thus, I applaud the creation of a University of Sanchi by the Madhya Pradesh Government as a fitting reply to the Nalanda University, a Leftist-controlled reconstitution of what was the biggest university in the world when it was destroyed by the Islamic invaders in 1194. (As these were Buddhist sites, let me remark in passing that the Leftists have falsely portrayed the genesis of the Buddha’s sect as a revolution against Hinduism, a propaganda story which Buddhologist Dr. Lokesh Chandra, present here, will easily pin-prick.) Any smugness or unconcern about education is misplaced here, for it has become vitally important. In the old time, Hindu culture was in the air, any illiterate Hindu child acquired it just by breathing. But now, education interferes with this natural process and pits many Hindu-born youngsters against Hinduism. Indeed, that is largely how the secularist class has come about. So, textbooks introducing Hindu tradition have to be crafted or improved, and taught to the new generations. There is also a problem of what personnel is nominated. Since about 1970, the Left has dominated the Humanities, and wherever possible, it has blocked access for anyone reputed to have pro-Hindu leanings. If you want to understand the custom of untouchability, it is best to observe the Leftists and the way they shun every contact with rival convictions. Under the Leftist principle of reservations, the victims of untouchability must be compensated with preferential nominations, so now the pro-Hindu candidates should massively be recruited. But since the anti-Hindu indoctrination has been quite massive, the quota for pro-Hindu nominations cannot even be filled up. So, the best is simply to forget about these reservations and let things take their natural course. Objective scholarship (slandered as “pro-Hindu”) cannot artificially be ordered to come into existence. It has to be crafted by hard work, and then, gradually, a new generation will come up with a more truthful understanding of history, society and worldviews. But Government can at least play a role in unblocking access and preventing Leftist censorship.
- Abolishing the special status of Kashmir and its Constitutional guarantee (Art. 370), as also of Nagaland and Mizoram. This might be opposed by local political parties, but should be in the interest of the minorities in the rest of India. It ought to be feasible to get their support for this reform. Unlike the Vajpayee Government, a new Hindu Government should at any rate resettle the Kashmiri Hindu refugees in Kashmir, thus making the province multi-religious once again,-- a secular move par excellence.
- A Common Civil Code has been a long-standing demand of the Jana Sangh-BJP, and therefore it is deemed a “communal” demand. However, anyone outside the ambit of Indian secularism, anyone who can see through its veil of fallacies, would call this a secular demand. Indeed, it is enjoined in the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution. To be more precise, the Nehruvians sidelined this demand by only giving it a place among the non-enforceable Directive Principles, but at least it forms part of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has asked the Government to report on its steps towards a Common Civil Code, a request gone unanswered by the past two Congress Governments. Equality of all citizens before the law regardless of religion, hence a Common Civil Code, is a defining trait of all secular states. Yet, the secular parties justify their tacit support to the continuation of religion-based Civil Codes with the fear that abolishing them would provoke an enormous wave of protest. And this has a semblance of truth to it: a threatened abolition of the Islamic Civil Code would probably trigger fiery sermons in the mosques and a vast Islamic protest movement. Any Hindu Government taking up this issue should realize it is playing with fire, and that it will at any rate get the blame for whatever untoward happens as a consequence. Moreover, this is more a secular than a Hindu demand. In the past, Hindus had legal pluralism: just as different communities practised different religious traditions, they also practiced different societal customs. It was therefore deemed only logical if a new, foreign-originated community would also introduce its own law system for itself. By contrast, it is secular modernity that does not tolerate this legal pluralism, but imposes equality before the law on all citizens. Therefore, Hindus have to prepare the ground by creating public opinion and making the secularists own up to this very secular project: a Common Civil Code. I suggest that this issue is only taken up after the Hindu activists have gained some experience in law reform; in particular, after they have successfully piloted reforms that are far more important to Hindu society, viz. the following two.
- Bringing the temples under Hindu control. Whereas mosques and churches are inviolable for the envious grasping fingers of the politicians, Hindu temples are frequently nationalized and financially plundered by corrupt secularists. The solution is not to abolish these privileges for the minorities, but to extend them to the majority. Here and in all fields, anti-Hindu discrimination should be abolished. A justification brought up by the secularists for interfering in the management of Hindu temples is that the temples’ own managers are incompetent or corrupt. Where genuine, this problem can be remedied without any outside interference. In Gujarat of all places, a training programme for temple managers has recently been set up, with the first batch of graduates typically being hired by overseas temple. This constructive solution points the way forward. The law should require competence and transparency from temple managers, but otherwise Hindus should be master of their own places of worship.
- Most important of all is to abolish discrimination against the Hindus in education. Changing the much-contested Article 30 of the Constitution may not even be necessary. This Article confers educational rights on the minorities without saying anything about the majority. If it had not assumed the same rights for the majority, it would not have passed in the Constituent Assembly. Yet, gradually the secularists managed to impose the interpretation that the minorities were given rights withheld from the Hindus. That is why the Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission went to Court to have themselves reclassified as non-Hindu minorities: in order to safeguard their network of schools from nationalization. But perhaps the original egalitarian interpretation was the correct one. The Government could approach the Supreme Court for an authoritative reading of this Article. If the verdict is favourable, a major Hindu-friendly reform has been achieved without even changing the Constitution. If not, then this Article does have to be changed, but it can be done without affecting the minorities at all. So, such a reform could be achieved without conflict.
These are some things to be done, if the reputedly pro-Hindu politicians intend to fulfil the expectations of their supporters. Some political plans that Hindus think up, are not realistic and will never come to anything. Others are necessary but for the inexperienced Hindus they are a bit hot to handle and require some preparation. A few reforms, and coincidentally the most important ones, can and should be introduced as soon as the political possibility presents itself. Thus, reforms really affecting the Hindu masses are the abolitions of the existing anti-Hindu discriminations in education and in temple management. These issues do not concern the minorities. Let Hindus, as much as Christians and Muslims, henceforth control their own establishments of education and of religious practice. That would be a minimum requirement of a Government deriving its legitimacy from the pro-Hindu vote.