Monday, February 16, 2015

Three views of Hindu activism


 Secular cum laude


The French India scholar Christophe Jaffrelot has collected his recent papers in a hefty volume: Religion, Caste & Politics in India (Primus, Delhi 2010). I had hardly been following his work ever since I took a break from the contemporary period of Indian history to focus on the ancient period, but events pull me back from time to time, so I participated in the European Conference on South-Asian Studies  (Zürich, July 2014), and in the Primus bookstall my eye fell on this book. As I had already bought a few and the publisher, end of conference, wanted to get rid of his stock, he offered me a copy for free. In return, I agreed to review it.

In its 802 + xxxii pages, it deals quite thoroughly with many aspects of contemporary politics, particularly the rise of OBC and Dalit politics, affirmative action, the relation between religion and ethnicity and the ensuing conceptions of the Indian state, the genesis of Hindu nationalism, the conversion issue and its evolution over time (from Shuddhi to Dharma Parivartan and Ghar Wapasi, with Dr. BR Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism and the Meenakshipuram mass-conversion to Islam, and the so-called anti-conversion laws), the intra-Parivar relations between the rather diverse organizations federated around the RSS, the Ram Setu controversy (“Adam’s Bridge”, a rock formation between the mainland and Sri Lanka said to be a remnant of the bridge built for Rama), India’s version of democracy, and the foreign policy of India and of the Hindu movement, specifically the relations with the American world champion, with a Europe in decline, and with a rising East Asia.  Merely as an introduction to what contemporary Indian political life is all about, I would certainly recommend this book, brimful of data.

This book is a relief after reading the more usual secularist or South-Asianist accounts of Hindu nationalism. This guy generally knows what he is talking about, he has actually read or met the stalwarts of the Hindu movement, and many of his quotations are non-standard. For raw data, the book is indeed a must-read. Anyone unfamiliar with this debate might even be taken in that finally, the objective scholar of Hindu nationalism has arrived.



The author’s ideological placement


Jaffrelot does take a different line from most students of Hindu nationalism. Thus, he is one of the very few to note that the movement’s official ideology is Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism, studied by all RSS members yet conspicuous by its absence from most “expert” studies, apparently because it sounds too innocent, not fitting in the gory enemy-image they were constructing. Expertise on a movement without even acknowledging its official ideology, it only shows how uniquely abnormal Hindutva studies are.

Jaffrelot once related how everyone around him was simply describing it as “Hindu fascism” while he objected to this dismissive term as historically inaccurate. Thus, democracy as such was not questioned, and to the extent that the RSS’s (as opposed to the BJP’s) internal functioning honours the Leader Principle, it is gerontocratic and more inspired on native Guru worship than on the submission to  autocratic young men of action characteristic of the European interbellum. He admitted the RSS’s principled opposition to what was the first priority of the fascist movements, viz. the seizing of political power (p.189) underlying this contrast is the fascists’ valuation of the state as crucial actor versus Hindu society’s self-reliance with only a limited role for the state. Race thought too, in spite of the deceptive occasional appearance of the word “race” (then more general in meaning), failed to become central to Hindu nationalism; on the contrary, he notes that the central concept of Chiti (ca. Volksseele, “national soul”, p.172) logically favoured assimilation.

So, no “Hindu fascism” here. To others, the term “Hindu fascism” seemed unproblematic: it gave them a killer weapon against the Hindu enemy, provided an easy superiority on the moral plane, and socially brought them in the good books of the powerful Nehruvian establishment and its dupes at the helm of the “South Asia” departments. So, why bother about a trifle like “historical accuracy”?

To be sure, there is still something debatable with his otherwise judicious use of political categories as a consequence of his uncritical acceptance of anti-Hindu history. On p.311-312 we learn that Rama is “not that prestigious in the Dravidian South”, an estimation that shows the influence of the non-indigenous modern theory that Rama’s adventures are but a code for the “Aryan” conquest of the Dravidian South, supposedly resented in the South, with Ravana as a Dravidian king. In fact, Ravana was a Brahmin immigrant from the North and a relative of a Vedic sage, just as “Aryan” as Rama himself, and Rama made friends with the locals, leaving Ravana’s family in power in Lanka instead of occupying it.  

Anyway, it follows that “the  notion of the ‘Hindu race’ was never used by the ideologues of the Hindutva movement as it would have introduced a line of cleavage between ‘Aryan’ and ‘Dravidian’”. While Jaffrelot correctly outlines the insurmountable difference between Nazi race theories and Hindu Nationalism, he attributes to the latter a belief in the Aryan-Dravidian divide because he assumes it is a historical reality that even the RSS could not deny. In reality, while the Hindu Nationalists before the 1980s mostly refrained from questioning the prestigious Aryan Invasion Theory, they never seriously interiorized this belief in an Aryan-Dravidian divide. Western observers, particularly those wedded to Ambedkarism, have projected Western assumptions about this divide onto the Hindu nationalists; not a very big deal, but it clouds their understanding of the Hiindu Nationalists’ worldview.

Though the secularists and their foreign allies are having a very good time while the Nehruvian sun shines (and now under incipient BJP rule, Nehru remains normative), they are bound to go down in great dishonour for their large-scale distortion of facts. With his greater respect for facts and accuracy, Jaffrelot will be more favourably remembered. That said, there is still a lot of Nehruvian prejudice here, though the untrained eye might often not notice it. Typically, its most striking appearances come in the company of  quotations from secondary sources, and there are also some conspicuous and telling omissions. While I am willing to give Jaffrelot himself the benefit of the doubt, he has clearly gulped down the influence from his Nehruvian friends and colleagues. If one is determined to get at the bottom of Indian communal relations, one has to free oneself from the reigning secularist paradigm. He has acquired sufficient primary knowledge of Hindu Nationalism yet misses the chance to develop a realistic and balanced account of the same, staying too close to the dominant hostile narrative.

Secularism in the Constitution

It all starts with the Constituent Assembly debates. In that first chapter, I learned that “Composite Culture is not Multiculturalism”. Indeed, India’s Founding Fathers, an ad hoc coalition of secular Jacobins (state nationalists around Jawaharlal Nehru) and Hindu traditionalists (who saw Indianness as essentially Hinduness), saw to it that India did not become a federation of communities. While not imposing Hinduism on the minorities, their formula facilitated a soft assimilation in which communal identity  would blend into a common national identity which mostly amounted to the Hindu legacy. That is why real secularists consider India as “essentially” a Hindu state, wilier but no better than the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Constituent secularists were not secular enough.

To locate Jaffrelot more precisely in the ideological spectrum, let us see what he makes of the much-invoked word “secular”. In the very first page of his introduction (p.xv), he lists as one of the four points of the “Nehruvian model” that it was and is “socialist”. He explicitly relates this to the Constitution, viz. to point out the effective socialism of the Nehruvians, but then admits that the word “socialism” was only “introduced in the Preamble in 1976”. It would have been only normal to admit the exact same thing of secularism. It is characteristic of practically all texts lauding India’s “secularism” that this inconvenient truth is omitted, and secularism is attributed to the unquestionable authority of the Constitution and its supposed author, BR Ambedkar. But it is characteristic for Jaffrelot as only a lukewarm secularist that in the next paragraph, he does bring himself to writing it, if only in passing. He repeats this same observation on p.170: “secular” was a product of the Emergency.

Yet, even he can’t bring himself to mentioning the really problematic part of this interpolation of “secular, socialist”. The  word “secular” was not part of India’s political parlance in the days of the Constituent Assembly, and even the Republic (let alone India itself) was not founded as a “secular” state. On the contrary, the Constituent Assembly through its chairman, BR Ambedkar, explicitly rejected the two S words. India became a “secular socialist” republic under the Emergency dictatorship  (1975-77) without proper Parliamentary debate. “Secular” is one of the few words in the Constitution that was enacted without democratic basis, and this is only fitting for a “secularism” which has always and unabashedly been despotic and anti-majority. There may be many things wrong with democracy, but it is not anti-majority. Indeed, that is precisely what is wrong with democracy, according to the secularists.


Hindu activism outside the Sangh

For another example of subtle bias, he chooses not to discuss the work of Sita Ram Goel, though he regularly uses it as a source.  He clearly knows of his work, and though (or rather, because) it is far more scholarly and compelling than the sensational sound-bites of the more visible leaders, it is simply not addressed. More generally, he seems unaware of a trend (but then, before 2010 it was only beginning) that ever more Hindu activism is taking place outside the Sangh. Like the Sangh itself, and like the secularists, he is effectively identifying all non-suicidal Hinduism with the Sangh. For the secularists, the logic is: “We have successfully blackened the Sangh, now let us use it to blacken Hinduism as such.” For the Sangh, the logic is: “Let us draw all of Hinduism to our very specific and modern organization, and bask in the borrowed glories of all Hindu great men.”

When polemically useful, secular columnists like to point out that Hinduism is not the same as the RSS, yet they celebrate every defeat of Hinduism as a blow for the RSS. In this respect, Jaffrelot shares in the narrow look of the secularists, who always use the term “Hindu” in whichever manipulative sense is most opportune. He clearly knows of enough data that should make him see through the manipulations of the secularists, yet fails to break with them and misses the chance to describe the true picture.

The Sangh is also an easy enemy. It doesn’t seek to defend itself as a matter of principle, and whatever polemical writings it puts out (e.g. around the Ram Setu) are caricatures of a premodern mode of thinking. So, for secularists suffering from laziness because of having enjoyed their hegemony for too long, it is tempting to single out the Sangh for attacks.



Sometimes Jaffrelot emulates the secularists in getting his facts plainly wrong. Thus, he complains of RSS killings of Marxist Communist Party activists (p.312), yet usually the killing is in the other direction. Like the secularists, he falsely presents the Muslims as a poor and vulnerable minority, rather than as the local arm of a worldwide movement flush with money and military resources. He always minimizes Muslim rioting, only starts describing it when Hindus start retaliating (as if they started it), and hastens to call it “retaliatory” (e.g. p.639).

Thus, he mentions an “unprecedented wave of communal riots of the 1990s” culminating in the “Gujarat pogrom of 2002” (p. xxiii). According to his own table of riot casualties per year (p;180), the year with the maximum riot death toll was not in or near the 1990s, but 1964. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, though triggering Muslim-initiated riots in many places culminating in a terror attack simultaneously hitting many different places in Mumbai on 12 March 1993 (setting the template for many later terror attacks), ultimately ushered in a period of relative calm when compared to the preceding two decades. The largest communal riot in post-Partition India took place in 1984, when Congress secularists took revenge on the Sikh community,  for the murder of Indira Gandhi, killing some three thousand. It was a real pogrom, with only perpetrators on one side and only victims on the other. Another real pogrom, the slaughter of Hindus by the Khilafatists in Kerala in 1920, is described here as “Hindu-Muslim riots” (p.189).

By contrast, the sizably smaller Gujarat riots were two-sided. A genuine pogrom was, however, what triggered them: Muslims setting a train wagon on fire, killing 58 Hindu pilgrims. In the original East-European setting, if 58 Jews got killed, that was called a pogrom, right? So, Muslims committed a pogrom, and then riots ensued; big riots but by no means “unprecedented”. And completely dwarfed by the treatment the Pakistanis gave the East Bengali Hindus in 1971, where the death toll was at least a million, the immense majority of them Hindus, with even the Bengali Muslims killed for anti-Hindu reasons (Sanskritic language and script, non-Muslim dress habits, non-Islamic linguistic nationalism, secularism). The average victimnof communal violence in independent South Asia is a Hindu, though you wouldn’t say it if you trust this book, let alone Indian secularists’ writings.


Emulating the Other

One of the contributions henceforth associated with Jaffrelot’s name is the theory that the modern Hindu movement emulates its enemies in crucial respects. This, he opines, is but a Hindu tradition. Shankara famously emulated Buddhism when he struggled against its influence, bringing Nagarjuna’s Buddhist idealism and Shunyavad (“doctrine of emptiness”) into Vedantic thought as Mayavad (ca. “illusionism”, the belief that reality is but a fata morgana of eternal and irreducible consciousness) and establishing a Sangha-like authoritative monastic order. Similarly, modern Hindu Revivalism emulated its then threatening Other, the Christian West. The Brahmo Samaj and Arya  Samaj interiorized the positive valuation of monotheism, of Revelation and of aniconism. The RSS brought in uniformism and nationalism.

Some facts mentioned are, if true, rather problematic. Thus, concerning the Ram Setu, Indulata Das is credited with saying: “Insulting Rama is insulting India.” And the (partisanly hyphenated) “saintly” Swami Dayananda Saraswati is said to have asserted: “Sentiment is sacred”, and: “Sentiment does not ned logic.” (p.308) This is at any rate the position of many Hindu activists regarding the Ram Setu and other issues of established religious convention.

It is an odd reduction of traditional religious beliefs to pop psychology, worthy of religious sceptics. I doubt you will ever hear a Muslim describe the duty of pilgrimage to Mecca as a mere “sentiment”. It is at any rate a weakness bid, and an implicit admission that the belief in the rock formation between India and Lanka as a remnant of a bridge built for Rama’s invasion is beyond proof. Some things are unhistorical simply because they pertain to something else than history, and as such the convention of treating this rock formation as an inviolable sacred site could be defensible. But to assert that “NASA satellite photography has proven the rock-formation’s man-made origin”, as too many believers have done, is simply false.  



BJP secularism

It has been an interesting aspect of my particular reading experience that this has been a peep into a bygone age. Or at least, so it seems. When this book was compiled, the BJP had just lost its half-hearted bid to recover power which it had lost in 2004. Indeed, it slid further backwards, and the secularists congratulated themselves that they had defeated the dragon. Now, a “post-Hindu” India would develop, and in this secular utopia, the evil of Hindu nationalism would soon only be a memory. Such was the mind-set of the secularists in 2010: that this annoying and ridiculous Hinduism would now peter out beyond recovery. (Many secularists don’t care about Hinduism one way or the other, and not being of zealous temper, they wouldn’t go out of their way to either protect or destroy it; but their Muslim and Christian allies are there to provide the dynamic for its destruction.) At the institutional level, this prediction has proven spectacularly wrong: only one election later, the BJP enjoys a solid majority.

But that would only be a reversal if, as Jaffrelot has assumed all his career, the BJP really is a “Hindu fundamentalist” party. As I have shown in my 1997 book BJP vs. Hindu Resurgence, the BJP uses Hindu feelings and concerns among the electorate, but isn’t motivated to struggle for them. The BJP has two reputations among the supposed experts: one, that it is fanatically Hindu, and two, that it only uses religious “sentiments” to get into power. Or rather, into office, for “power” means the power to change things, to realize a plan, and the BJP time-servers don’t have any plan. They only want to enjoy the perks of office (starting with photo opportunities, the modern equivalent of trinkets) and be in a position to dole out some jobs or advantages to their relatives, thus gaining some prestige. There may be some ideologically committed people in there, the kind who write reader’s letters to Organiser (quoted here and there by Jaffrelot as illustration of how fanatically Hindu this movement is) but who don’t have the opportunists’ knack for climbing into office. 

So, the anti-Hindu power equation that formed the background of Jaffrelot’s book editing, may well still prevail. The BJP hands out goodies to the Muslim community, and this was the hallmark of the past Congress Government’s conception of “secularism”. After nine months, it has not taken up any specifically Hindu concern, though some points could quietly be realized without ruffling any feathers or antagonizing the minorities. Some BJP stalwarts told me, truthfully or not, that they don’t even know about the VHP’s 40-point “Hindu agenda” formulated before the 1996 elections. They let on that, at any rate, they had better things to do than to deal with these quaint Hindu matters.

The BJP still acts as if secularism is the dominant ideology. It tries to score points by proving how secular it really is. When the minorities raise a hue and cry about a Ghar Wapasi event (as if they themselves hadn’t treated conversions to their own religion as normal and desirable), the secularists treat it as a scandal, though they had always laughed off any Hindu concern about conversions – and then the BJP intervenes to call off the event. It goes on nominating secularists, esp. in the intellectual sphere. With its inferiority complex and its consistent refusal to develop its own worldview, it remains servile to hegemonic secularism. The few specialists on Hindu nationalism, including Jaffrelot, have failed to give a fair account of their chosen object of study by ignoring the secularist strand in this movement.

Apology of the RSS

Since even the least bad of the authors on Hindutva is partisan, the RSS should give an account of itself. Unfortunately, this is only being done at the level of hagiography. Regularly the RSS brings out another book full of self-praise, convincing only the already-convinced. Slightly more factual is ICT consultant and RSS veteran Ratan Sharda’s Secrets of the RSS. Demystifying the Sangh (Vishva Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, first edition 2011, second edition 2014). It contains many lesser-known facts and may be useful for giving a taste of the insider’s perspective. It counters media distortions and deliberate secularist lies, all while illustrating the secular-leftist mind-set. That said, we will have to give the writer some feedback on the flaws in his generally commendable book.

When I first heard of “Hindu fundamentalism”, I did indeed think of “secrets”. Unlike straightforward Muslim fundamentalism, the Hindu variety had to be something mysterious, like Hinduism itself. However, there turned out to be little mysterious about the Hindu-coloured nationalism taught at RSS gatherings, and nothing deep. RSS volunteers told me they had for years been practising drills and digesting sermons about patriotism, but been kept waiting to learn something non-trivial.

The present book culminates into a chapter that promises to deliver the long-expected revelation: “The ultimate secret” (p.205-207). Hardly three pages, for the secret is very simple: the people. RSS members typically have joined or stayed on because they got inspired by the dedicated selfless personalities of older RSS workers. The anti-intellectualism of the RSS is defended: ”While people and organizations supposedly equipped with much better intellectual armoury who ridiculed the RSS have fallen by the sides in the march of history, RSS has kept pace and grown with each stride. (…) Any movement must appeal to the heart to grow and succeed; and its participants must be motivated with live examples to drive them to give off their best with compassion.”  

Well, the Indian Communist movement, about as old as the RSS and equally spawned by the Bengal revolutionary movement, has not died yet, though the collapse of its Soviet and partly its Chinese backers has been a setback. After Modi’s accession to central power, the Communist Party of India has even decided to bring some Hinduism into its functioning. But with far fewer people at its disposal, its anti-Hindu subversion has had a bigger impact than the RSS’s pro-Hindu work. People’s hearts don’t need an organization, but their minds respond to one. The RSS’s anti-intellectual poser: “Do you need a book to love your mother?” can be turned around: “Do you need an organization to love your mother?” By contrast, to acquire a developed doctrine and the skill to take on the world through it, you need a structure accumulating and passing on the knowledge required. The Communists worked on people’s minds and indirectly acquired influence on India’s hegemonic secularism, effecting the transformation that the RSS deplores and hopes to counter.

Anyway, the reader will still like Guru Golwalkar’s formulation of the “secret” , here on p.98: “There are only two secrets of our work – First is that there is no secret. And second is, Kabaddi.” This is a native group sport requiring organization: “So much power was generated by this kabaddi, power that saved lives, honour and wealth of lacs of people during partition (...) Did we organize conferences or publicize our views? We only played kabaddi.”

The part about RSS “secretiveness” (p.208-215) contains only the usual accounts of media double standards, false allegations brought prominently but the exculpatory outcome buried or never even mentioned at all, the ostracism of dissenting voices from the institutions, and other typical tricks used against a helpless RSS. The author doesn’t seem to notice that the RSS comes across as an extremely slow learner, mostly taking the slander lying down and never developing a counter-strategy or acquiring the resources to turn the tables. But he documents how this situation started with a conscious choice by Gurus KB Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar to rely on the spoken word and face-to-face communication.





Sharda does mention Sita Ram Goel’s book Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them as the key to the Ayodhya affair (p.79 ff.), and that is already progress. But he does not go into Goel’s actual message: that Muslim rulers not only destroyed Hindu temples (that much is well-established, and his list of destroyed temples has often been denounced but never challenged) but did so as an implementation of Islamic doctrine. Plenty of Hindu ideologues acknowledge the fact of the destruction but give the soothing explanation that “some Muslims have misinterpreted the true, tolerant Islam as envisaged by its founder”. Goel upsets that sweet illusion. It is not just the secularists who ought to be shaken out of their false beliefs, but also the official Hindu movement. The RSS has accused really existing Muslims of misconduct but keeps on flattering Islam.

Then again, though current developments make this analysis of Islamic doctrine necessary, the RSS has a point when it defends this non-interest in the contents of Islam as an existing Hindu tradition No one is asked to first prove the truth of his religion before being allowed to practise it: “Going by the same yardstick of scientific evidence, should critics of Islam doubt whether Prophet Mohammed did indeed hear words of God or Allah? (…) No Hindu should raise such doubts.” (p.47)

This book will fail to convince the critics of the RSS. The really controversial issues are insufficiently addressed. Thus, it is asserted that RSS volunteers suffered imprisonment for opposing the Emergency dictatorship (including the author, then a student leader agitating for democracy), but the Left exults in citing the many cases of RSS prisoners begging for leniency, and this allegation goes unanswered. The allegation that the RSS remained aloof from the freedom movement, however, is  answered with the detail about RSS volunteers’ participation in the Quit India agitation of 1942 (p.233-239) But that too will fail to convince because the critics will just ignore this book.

The two most common assertions in any introductory text on Hindu nationalism are that one of theirs killed Mahatma Gandhi, and that Guru MS Golwalkar was a Nazi. The standard answer to the first is to deny it (which is only technically true) and to the second, to deny that Golwalkar wrote the book in which some lines vaguely suggest a Nazi connection (a transparent lie). I have at length analysed both allegations and shown the first to be generally true but not causally related to the murder, and the second to be  false. But the RSS has never made any use of these analyses, so I note with satisfaction that Sharda does quote me in this regard (p.92, he even accepts my criticism of their general handling of history research, p.81). He refutes the general allegation of Nazi inspiration as at any rate impossible, for the RSS and its rules and culture were already in place when Adolf Hitler became known in India. In reality, it took its inspiration from Shivaji, secondarily from Sant Tukaram and Sant Ramdas, and among foreigners, from Giuseppe Mazzini.



A minor but disturbing phenomenon about this book, disturbing for the reader’s ease of reading, is the frequent mistakes against English usage, especially in matters of the article (the and a). Like in the Organiser, the author has clearly not deemed it worth his while to correct his language or have it corrected by someone fluent in English. This is illustrative for the RSS contempt for proper communication, for this way the reader will be less focused on the message and more on the language. Stunted language indicates stunted thinking. I am aware that English is difficult and that it ought not to have this central position in Indian life, but while it is there (due to Indians’ own volition), it should be used properly.

My opinion on the RSS? The common volunteers often do sterling work. Thus, the Gathering of the Elders is a beautiful example of international bridge-building with other pre-Christian communities, achieved by an overseas RSS office-bearer, Prof. Yashwant Pathak. A delegation from Arunachal Pradesh testified to me how a handful of RSS men had generated self-organization and mobilization for survival to the natives against the offensive of the Christian missionaries, and thus stopped conversions. A well-known journalist testified how in his district of Kanyakumari, the nervousness and fear of the Hindu community due to Christian aggression evaporated once the RSS became active there. This book lists and presents the many initiatives taken by RSS workers on the ground (p.149-169), of which I particularly want to praise the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. Older people have told me about the good work and even self-sacrifice by RSS workers to save Partition victims or to defend Srinagar airport until the Indian troops arrived. As this book documents, RSS volunteers have gone out of their way to save Sikhs during the 1984 Congress-engineered pogrom against them (p.177-179). So I refrain from calling the RSS a failure. My meetings with RSS foot soldiers have mainly been positive.

On the other hand, as SR Goel had observed, “the higher you go, the bigger the duffer you meet”. It is the leadership that fails, it is the head of the dinosaur that has little contents. The secularist capture of the institutions and of the dominant mentality, the once pro-Hindu Western intelligentsia’s turning against Hinduism (very relevant to India because it likes to emulate Western fashions), the growth of the minorities and the implanting of anti-Hindu thought among the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, have all taken place during a period when the RSS claims to have provided leadership to Hindu society. The cluelessness and inactivity on the Hindu front by the BJP ministers of the erstwhile Vajpayee and present Modi governments show the limited (or even reverse) effectiveness of the much-flaunted RSS grooming. The RSS has always refused to do what a leader does: take stock of the forces in the field, devise a strategy, and then implement it. This book cannot overrule that judgment.   



A writer on Modi time

Vamsee Juluri, professor of Media Studies at San Francisco University, exudes the enthusiasm that gripped most Hindus worldwide when Modi won the elections. In his book Rearming Hinduism. Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence (Westland, Chennai 2015), he praises not the RSS, but Hindu civilization.

The most obvious achievement of this book is to launch into public usage the term Hinduphobia. While I am against this use of psychiatric-type terms for cultural-political positions, it has the merit of adapting the now-current term Islamophobia to the situation of Hinduism, which is far more unfairly treated. While Islam benefits of a very positive prejudice among politicians and in the media, prompting them to twist any negative news facts including frequent and large-scale terrorist acts into occasions for taking and expressing pity on the poor hapless Muslims, Hindus don’t even have to do anything to earn plenty of hostile stereotypes and plain abuse, while their genuine victimization in countries like Bangladesh goes unmentioned.

The book dilates upon the positive sides of Hinduism and the values it instils: “You will not forget that somewhere, somehow, your grandmother taught you, even if your science teacher didn’t, that your pleasure cannot be truly pleasurable if it is rooted in the pain of another living being.” (p. 171)

The most prominent target of the author’s criticism is Wendy Doniger’s book An Alternative History of the Hindus. It is falsely called “alternative”, for there is no official history with which it contrasts. On the contrary, it creates the same negative account of Hindu history as the British colonizers and the Nehruvian hegemons did. It is also full of errors and in the US such a flippant collection of faux witticisms would be unthinkable as an account of the more established religions.

A somewhat negative point is the author’s heavy reliance on Edward Said’s unjustly influential book Orientalism, elsewhere exposed as conspiratorial and full of errors, as well as pro-Islamic and thus by implication anti-Hindu. This serves to underpin a heavy anti-Westernism, of which I have become increasingly sceptical. It is usually an escapist focus for those who want to avoid the demands on themselves of so-called “Western” scholarship and the challenge of Islam, apart from the actual criticism being partly wrong on facts, e.g. on the pro-Islamic role of the colonizers (cfr. The British alliance with the Muslim League against the Hindus) who are falsely depicted as neo-crusaders. On the other hand, Juluri explores new trails of anti-Western criticism, and these are rather sensible Thus, he finds that the Western mind easily projects violent scenarios and explanations on natural processes, e.g. in evolution theory. But Hindu experience is that life is only to a very limited extent a struggle, and mostly a matter of cooperation and harmony.  

All the same, this book is a milestone. It is lucid, pleasant, well-written, liberal in the good sense of the term, in tune with the scientific worldview all while avoiding narrow scientism, and speaks the language of contemporary culture all while being informative about and respectful of tradition. It is not “Hindu Nationalist”, just Hindu, and proud of it.


Vraja said...
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Vraja said...
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Vraja said...

You consistently claim that at the leadership level of the BJP there is little desire to implement the desires of their Hindu polity for change. You say that they are content to gain office and then do as little as possible to mollify specifically Hindu concerns, so as not to agitate wealthy and powerful anti-Hindus (Muslims and Christians) and devoted nonreligious secularists.

While this may be true for some, it is not necessarily true for all that there is no strategy to implement changes in the future. There may indeed be a strategy, but maybe they believe it wiser to wait a while, so that Modi and the BJP who have been thrust so suddenly into the international limelight, are less of a concern. We should know that there are very powerful motivated agenda driven influencers who can direct massive media attention, and who should be well understood to be looking for reasons to create a faux media tempest to create concern and consternation in the secular, Christian, and Muslim world, over "Hindu Fascism."

Moving too soon would be a tactical mistake, even if as you rightly point out the actions would only be to make things right, i.e. giving Hindus the same rights given to Muslims and minorities in India, which were stripped from them by the anti-Hindu establishment which had been in league with powerful secular (communist), Christian, and Muslim forces, outside of India from the early days of Indian statehood. Anything which can be construed as pro-Hindu by those forces who are still very much invested in India, is going to be amplified throughout the world as an "I told you so!"

The only reason it hasn't been worse in the western media in regards to demonization of Modi and the BJP is because American leadership has embraced them as partners. That sent a signal to the corporate mediaopolis that Modi and the BJP are "one of us now." That has kept the anti-Hindu forces at bay. But given an excuse they will jump on it and use their influence to try to get the American political leadership to condemn "Hindu extremism." Since that is the most rational tactical move they can make, it should be seen as something they realize and are waiting to do.

Therefore, even if there is no strategy by the BJP, that should be their strategy. Go very slowly. Do next to nothing for a while. Only make changes which set things right, which gives Hindus equal rights, and most importantly make sure a media strategy and actual plan of action is in place before you go ahead and do anything. Also very important is to use your international resources, i.e. Hindu NGOs. Groups like BAPS and ISKCON have a lot of resources to influence the Hindu diaspora, which in turn have a lot of influence in corporate and political spheres. There are other Hindu groups which have more influence among wealthy and powerful non-Hindus in their various yoga organizations. They can all easily be used to help create a favorable environment in business and political circles, which translates to media influence.

Gururaj BN said...

RSS is the most demonised organisation in India. Few if any, its critics have actually seen the Shaka performance in the mornings or evenings. Apart from the ritualistic prayer to end the day's shakha, they mainly play Kho Kho or Kabaddi, and play sedentary games and quizzes with a nationalistic touch. Rarely does anyone deliver any lecture on Hindutva, equivalent of Khutba delivered on Fridays in mosques in India. Take a look at the young faces who come and participate. One doesn't see the zeal or fanaticism that marks a Muslim emerging out of mosque on any Friday afternoon. RSS is an intellectually tired organisation. Apart from "Sheel, and sanghatan" does it have any other obsessions? In terms of physical threat to followers of other religion, it seems about as aggressive as a cow without horns!

Raman Sehgal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raman Sehgal said...

Dear Dr. Elst,

Kindly reply on two queries :

1. The reference for the following :

Yatra vedaa aveda, meaning when the Vedic seeker of Truth finally realizes the Truth, the Veda (in the sense of the book/mantras) itself must be discarded.

2. Is this verse of Vishnu Purana true (mention of Hindu):

Aasindhu sindhu paryantaa Yasya Bharata Bhoomika
Pitrubhu Punyabhuchaiva Tavai Hinduriti Smritah

‘Those who regard this land of Bharat spread between river Sindhu (in the north) to the ocean as their Pitrubhumi – Fatherland and Punyabhumi – Holy land are called as Hindus’.


Koenraad Elst said...

@Raman Sehgal:
1) that the Veda is a ladder to reach the roof and loses its importance once the roof is reached, is already the Upanishadic viewpoint. The gods have no use for he Vedas.
2) The word "Hindu" inside India is younger than the Vishnu Purana; or conversely, the VP is younger than we thought.

Vraja said...

@Raman and @Koenraad

That verse you quoted is not from the Vishnu Purana, it was created by Sarvarkar, and he says as much in his book Hindutva. It was created to express his view that the word Hindu is not a religious term, that instead it is a geographical one, like I said in a previous comment, the word Hindu comes from the Persians, and he also taught that. Here is the page from his book at

S.N, Hebbar said...

I am not a fan of Jafrelot as he is prejudiced against Hinduism. But seeing your review I searched internet for purchase of his book. But the price is heavy. I thought a while and decided investing so much money to read his book is not worth.

Karthikrajan said...

@vraja: Americans have embraced modhi as one of their own ?? Haven't you seen that negro monkey obama's parting shot:"india will grow if it doesn't splinter on religious lines", and his speech on prayer day "religious intolerance in india would put mahatma to shame" ? Are these directed at sonia gandhi ?
Americans care only about money and mischief. They will collaborate with business houses to make money , and with media houses to tarnish modhi's secular image to boot them out in the next election.
Modhi has to act like a true secularist. Going to a christian gathering and preaching against religious intolerance is fine. but shouldn't he have also warned that there is no place for religious dogmatism in india, and that targeted conversions will be stopped, and that free speech also includes genuine criticism of religions ?
He never opens his mouth to set the record straight whenever hindhuthvaa members issue supposedly controversial statements, making him suspicious in the eyes in those hindhus who brought him to power. People have started ridiculing him, equating him with the 'moun muni' ManMohan singh.
As KE points out, by now he should have taken all non-controversial legislative action like freeing hindhu temples, allowing hindhu religious schools etc. Media will keep barking, they never stop their bark, but delaying such actions will raise suspicion, now that major assembly elections are over. UP, bihar, WB can't be taken easily by bjp, so why wait ?