Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Pushyamitra was more "secular" than Ashoka

(Published as a chapter in K. Elst: Ayodhya, the Case against the Temple, Delhi 2003. A bad case of the political abuse of history concerns Ashoka, glorified by Jawaharlal Nehru as the emperor who was first bad and Hindu, then "converted" to Buddhism and became good. This wilfully distorting spin has led to the ignoring of an earlier testimony which suggests a different story.)  
Why Pushyamitra was more "secular" than Ashoka
Let us elaborate one example of pro-Buddhist bias in modern indologist scholarship. It has to do with a story of alleged Hindu persecution of Buddhism by Pushyamitra, a general in the service of the declining Maurya dynasty, who founded the Shunga dynasty after a coup d'état. This story serves as the standard secularist refutation of the "myth" that Hinduism has always been tolerant.
Thus, the Marxist historian Gargi Chakravartty writes: "Another myth has been meticulously promoted with regard to the tolerance of the Hindu rulers. Let us go back to the end of second century BC. Divyavadana, in a text of about the second-third century AD, depicts Pushyamitra Shunga as a great persecutor of Buddhists. In a crusading march with a huge army he destroyed stupas, burnt monasteries and killed monks. This stretched up to Shakala, i.e. modern Sialkot, where he announced a reward of 100 gold coins to the person who would bring the head of a Buddhist monk. Even if this is an exaggeration, the acute hostility and tensions between Pushyamitra and the monks cannot be denied." (Gargi Chakravartty: "BJP-RSS and Distortion of History", in Pratul Lahiri, ed.: Selected Writings on Communalism, People's Publishing House, Delhi 1994, p.166-167)
We need not comment on Chakravartty's misreading of Divyavadana as a person's name rather than a book title. Before considering the context, remark the unobtrusive bias in the assumption that the supposedly "undeniable" conflict between the king and the monks proves the king's intolerance. The question of responsibility is evaded: what had been the monks' own contribution to the conflict? When Shivaji had a conflict with the Brahmins (see Jadunath Sarkar: Shivaji, Orient Longman, Delhi 1992/1952, p.161, 165-167), all secularists and most Hindus blame the "wily, greedy" Brahmins; but the Buddhist monks, by contrast, are assumed to be blameless.
The story is given in two near-contemporaneous (2nd century AD) Buddhist histories, the Ashokavadana and the Divyavadana; the two narratives are almost verbatim the same and very obviously have a common origin (Avadana, "narrative", is the Buddhist equivalent of Purana; Divyavadana = "divine narrative"). This non-contemporary story (which surfaces more than three centuries after the alleged facts) about Pushyamitra's offering money for the heads of monks is rendered improbable by the well-attested historical fact that he allowed and patronized the construction of monasteries and Buddhist universities in his domains. After Ashoka's lavish sponsorship of Buddhism, it is perfectly possible that Buddhist institutions fell on slightly harder times under the Shungas, but persecution is quite another matter. The famous historian of Buddhism Etienne Lamotte has observed: "To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof." (History of Indian Buddhism, Institut Orientaliste, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988/1958, p.109).
In consulting the source texts I noticed a significant literary fact which I have not seen mentioned in the scholarly literature (e.g. Lamotte, just quoted), and which I want to put on record. First of all, a look at the critical edition of the Ashokavadana ("Illustrious Acts of Ashoka") tells a story of its own concerning the idealization of Buddhism in modern India. This is how Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyaya, the editor of the Ashokavadana, relates this work's testimony about Ashoka doing with a rival sect that very thing of which Pushyamitra is accused later on:
"At that time, an incident occurred which greatly enraged the king. A follower of the Nirgrantha (Mahavira) painted a picture, showing Buddha prostrating himself at the feet of the Nirgrantha. Ashoka ordered all the Ajivikas of Pundravardhana (North Bengal) to be killed. In one day, eighteen thousand Ajivikas lost their lives. A similar kind of incident took place in the town of Pataliputra. A man who painted such a picture was burnt alive with his family. It was announced that whoever would bring the king the head of a Nirgrantha would be rewarded with a dinara (a gold coin). As a result of this, thousands of Nirgranthas lost their lives." (S. Mukhopadhyaya: The Ashokavadana, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi 1963, p.xxxvii; in footnote, Mukhopadhyaya correctly notes that the author "seems to have confused the Nirgranthas with the Ajivikas", a similar ascetic sect; Nirgrantha, "freed from fetters", meaning Jain.) Only when Vitashoka, Ashoka's favourite Arhat (an enlightened monk, a Theravada-Buddhist saint), was mistaken for a Nirgrantha and killed by a man desirous of the reward, did Ashoka revoke the order.
Typically, Mukhopadhyaya refuses to believe his eyes at this demythologization of the "secular" emperor Ashoka: "This is one of the best chapters of the text. The subject, the style, the composition, everything here is remarkable. In every shloka there is a poetic touch.(...) But the great defect is also to be noticed. Here too Ashoka is described as dreadfully cruel. If the central figure of this story were not a historic personage as great and well-known as Ashoka, we would have nothing to say. To say that Ashoka, whose devotion to all religious sects is unique in the history of humanity (as is well-known through his edicts) persecuted the Jains or the Ajivikas is simply absurd. And why speak of Ashoka alone? There was no Buddhist king anywhere in India who persecuted the Jains or the Ajivikas or any other sect." (The Ashokavadana, p.xxxviii)
This just goes to show how far the idealization of Buddhism and Ashoka has gotten out of hand in Nehruvian India. When the modern myth of Ashoka as the great secular-Buddhist ruler is contradicted by an ancient source (one outspokenly favourable to Buddhism and Ashoka) which shows him persecuting rival schools of thought, the modern scholar (a Hindu Brahmin) still insists on upholding the myth, and dismisses the actual information in the ancient source as a "great defect". Moreover, the non-persecution of other religions, claimed here for Ashoka against the very evidence under discussion, was not unique at all: it was the rule among Hindu kings throughout history, and the Buddha himself had been one of its beneficiaries.
It is at the end of the Ashokavadana that we find the oft-quoted story that Pushyamitra offered one dinara for every shramanashirah, "head of a Buddhist monk". (Mukhopadhyaya: The Ashokavadana, p.134) Not that he got many monks killed, for, according to the account given, one powerful Arhat created monks' heads by magic and gave these to the people to bring to the court, so that they could collect the award without cutting off any real monk's head. 
At any rate, the striking fact, so far not mentioned in the Pushyamitra controversy, is that the main line of the narrative making the allegation against Pushyamitra is a carbon copy of the just-quoted account of Ashoka's own offer to pay for every head of a monk from a rivalling sect. Hagiographies are notorious for competitive copying (e.g. appropriating the miracle of a rival saint, multiplied by two or more, for one's own hero); in this case, it may have taken the form of attributing a negative feat of the hero onto the rival.
But there are two differences. Firstly, in the account concerning Pushyamitra, a miracle episode forms a crucial element, and this does not add to the credibility of the whole. And secondly, Ashoka belongs to the writer's own Buddhist camp, whereas Pushyamitra is described as an enemy of Buddhism. When something negative is said about an enemy (i.c. Pushyamitra), it is wise to reserve one's acceptance of the allegation until independent confirmation is forthcoming; by contrast, when a writer alleges that his own hero has committed a crime, there is much more reason to presume the correctness of the allegation. In the absence of external evidence, the best thing we can do for now is to draw the logical conclusion from the internal evidence: the allegation against Pushyamitra is much less credible than the allegation against Ashoka.
Mukhopadhyaya can only save Ashoka's secular reputation by accusing the Ashokavadana author of a lie, viz. of the false allegation that Ashoka had persecuted Nirgranthas. Unfortunately, a lie would not enhance the author's credibility as a witness against Pushyamitra, nor as a witness for the laudable acts of Ashoka which make up a large part of the text. So, Mukhopadhyaya tries to present this lie (which only he himself alleges) as a hagiographically acceptable type of lie: "In order to show the greatness of Buddhism, the orthodox author degraded it by painting the greatest Buddhist of the world as a dreadful religious fanatic." (The Ashokavadana, p.xxxviii). 
However, contrary to Mukhopadhyaya's explanation, there is no hint in the text that the author meant to "show the greatness of Buddhism" by "painting the greatest Buddhist as a religious fanatic". By this explanation, Mukhopadhyaya means that the writer first made Ashoka commit a great crime (the persecution of the Nirgranthas) to illustrate the greatness of Buddhism by sheer contrast, viz. as the factor which made Ashoka give up this type of criminal behaviour. There is a famous analogy for this: the cruelty of Ashoka's conquest of Kalinga was exaggerated by scribes in order to highlight the violence-renouncing effect of Ashoka's subsequent conversion to Buddhism. But in this passage, Buddhism plays no role in Ashoka's change of heart: it is only the sight of his own friend Vitashoka, killed by mistake, which makes him revoke the order. And it was his commitment to Buddhism which prompted Ashoka to persecute the irreverent Nirgranthas in the first place.
Buddhism does not gain from this account, and if a Buddhist propagandist related it nonetheless, it may well be that it was a historical fact too well-known at the time to be omitted. By contrast, until proof of the contrary is forthcoming, the carbon-copy allegation against Pushyamitra may very reasonably be dismissed as sectarian propaganda. Yet, we have seen how a 20th-century Hindu-born scholar will twist and turn the literary data in order to uphold a sectarian and miracle-based calumny against the Hindu ruler Pushyamitra, and to explain away a sobring testimony about the fanaticism of Ashoka, that great secularist avant la lettre. Such is the quality of the "scholarship" deployed to undermine the solid consensus that among the world religions, Hinduism has always been the most tolerant by far.

Read more!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning from the Rajiv Malhotra affair

Now that everybody had had his say on the "Rajiv Malhotra plagiarism affair", we can better discern the larger context that explains the different forces at work here.


The trigger was the discovery that seven passages in Malhotra's work, mainly in his book Indra's Net, had been lifted verbatim from unacknowledged work by others, chiefly Andrew Nicholson's book Unifying Hinduism. Not that Malhotra could be suspected of the usual motive of plagiarizers, for he quotes Nicholson a number of times and makes amply clear that he sees the case he is making reflected in Nicholson's work.  There had clearly been no criminal intent, just the lazy tendency to cut corners: why formulate anew what has satisfactorily been formulated by someone else?

Still, he could have been more meticulous about proper form, especially as this is a battlefield where any less than impeccable behaviour will be exploited and punished mercilessly. He himself has warned the members of his own internet list to acquaint themselves with the ways of the modern Kurukshetra, and here he has failed to apply his own principle.

So, certainly a lapse, but not more than that. The holy indignation which it evoked among people who had never even ackowledged Malhotra's ideas, cannot be explained by the limited seriousness of the "offence". Clearly, it had to do precisely with those unwelcome ideas, which could henceforth be put down as "the fantasies of a known plagiarizer". That way august professors could now invoke an academic-sounding pretext for not addressing the contents of his books. They could now strike their familiarly condescending airs and dismiss his contributions with a good conscience.

The plagiarism could easily be corrected without much ado in a new edition of Indra's Net, which Malhotra has prepared forthwith. There he has thrown the references to Nicholson out altogether, and demonstrated that Western Indologists can be replaced with Indian authors on Hindu tradition. He has used this affair to "decolonize" the book and turn the tables on his attackers.

Since I have been asked just what I think of plagiarism in general, let me add that I have little to add. Down with plagiarism, I guess, as far as my own writing is concerned. However, if other people choose to plagiarize me, I don't care. Effectively, I have been cited without acknowledgment in scholarly papers because the authors assumed that being seen in my tainted company would reflect badly on themselves. Well, if my ideas can only reach the public by keeping my authorship concealed, so be it. Go ahead.

Malhotra's historical role

Similarly, in the present context  I have been asked to give my opinion on Malhotra's character, and about his work before this affair erupted. That is too unwieldy a topic, but a few points.

To start with the former subject, his critics have apparently found out that he is quarrelsome, not only irritating Western academics but even his own supporters, now often ex-supporters fed up with his "antics". He is not the only Hindu who could profit from the Pañcatantra's chapter on the art of making friends. So yes, I do know some former supporters who have fallen out with his person but not with his ideas. The converse is also true: he has fallen out with Hindus who had offered help, e.g. in filming his lectures and debates and then putting the video on the internet, but reneged on their promise or done a lousy job. The life of a pioneer is full of irritants, and placid people wouldn't stay in this business for long,-- or wouldn't remain placid for long.

Perhaps it takes such a temperament to face the formidable challenges he has thematized for the first time. Alleged personal idiosyncrasies are at any rate of limited importance, and not the reason why he is controversial. How many passengers care about their airplane being the fruit of physical science centred on laws discovered by Isaac Newton, and that this Newton was a difficult man? Would they give up air travel if only that Mr. Newton were a nicer man? Mediocre people are good at inventing endless objections against people who really make a difference. In this case, moreover, making a fuss about his personality is yet another way of ignoring the topics he has raised.

It has also been held against Malhotra that he has no academic status. Outsiders, and Hindus more than most, go ga-ga over status. Wealthy Hindus will rather sponsor an enemy with status than a friend without it. Intelligent enemies approach a wealthy Hindu, flatter India a bit to put him in a good mood, and then take his money to finance hostile projects. Understandably they hate Malhotra for calling on Hindus to think more strategically. Anyway, many insiders to academe also take their own status very seriously. Yet, anyone with some experience of research can cite insiders professing far-fetched theories and outsiders who have made crucial discoveries. Malhotra has gained expertise through decades of hands-on research in more exacting circumstances than most, sometimes on topics that nobody had ever researched. Thus, his systematic database on the U-turn (the phenomenon that numerous Western individuals and entire disciplines have started with Indian inspiration, turned it into Western novelties and ultimately sold these back as Western inventions to India) has not been seriously developed except by him, eventhough it is a remarkable and large-scale cultural fact.

Do I agree with Malhotra? Firstly, we don't entirely work on the same subjects. Secondly, where we do, there are still differences, e.g. I think he gives too much importance to the ethnic factor; there is ultimately no difference between Indian and Western ways of thinking. Still, I acknowledge that the power equation between these two ethnic conglomerates has greatly influenced the history of Indology, and its consequences even in the present should be mapped out and addressed. And so on: every issue will have something to differ on, next to much about which we agree. None of this is unusual, it should all be discussed.

Yet, that precisely is at issue. In the "secularist" articles published lately, I have seen a lot of denunciations, ridiculing, misrepresentations, all really calculated to keep the topics raised by Malhotra out of polite conversation. The favourite tactic against Malhotra, easy to do from a position of power, is stonewalling. According to Malhotra, his accuser Richard Fox Young has wimped out of a debate with him, and now uses the detour of the plagiarism allegation to neutralize his work. I don't know the whole story there, and perhaps Young has another version, but as a general rule, serious debate is indeed being avoided. The first step of an establishment against a vocal opponent is always to deny him legitimacy, then to pretend that there is no real debate, only a querulant rebelling against established common sense. These mechanisms can be seen at work now against Rajiv Malhotra.

Malhotra's opponents

In the course of the present controversy, it soon became clear that the Goliaths lining up against our Hindu-American David (apologies for the Biblical parlance), fighting him with all the might of the academic establishment behind them, were not that impeccable either.

India's secularists have predictably jumped on the bandwagon. They too have always avoided discussing (and thereby highlighting) Malhotra's ideas, instead limiting their dealings with him to an occasional denunciation. But when others take the trouble of pulling a man down, they can always be counted on to start kicking him. The Business Standard's.Mihir Sharma took the opportunity to also attack Shrikant Talageri and Michel Danino. No match at all for these scholars, he hoped to implicate them in Malhotra's ill-repute and thus sideline their unrefuted findings. Danino sent in a reply putting Sharma in his place (incidentally showing that the Saraswati river, always ridiculed by the secularists as a "Hindutva fantasy", has been upheld by a whole procession of leading Western and Indian scholars since 1855) and detailing the slanderous elements in his discourse. For the rest, while the secularists are admittedly powerful, their very repetitive position does not merit further comment.

The man who should be conceived as the "victim" of the "crime", Andrew Nicholson, has strangely never complained of this plagiarism before. He joined the attack only when others invited him in and extracted complaints against Malhotra from him. Perhaps he felt inhibited because of his earlier implication in Hindu activism when he accepted awards for his now-famous book from the Hindu American Foundation and from the Uberoi Foundation. [PS: Upon checking, the HAF's approval did not amount to a formal "award".] Both are used to being called "Hindutva" but, having profusely published on Hindu activism, I know that Hindutva is only one specific tendency, represented by the RSS. The HAF groups a broader spectrum of Hindus mostly not linked to the RSS. (Likewise, Malhotra himself is only called "Hindutva" by people displaying either their ignorance or their bias.) By contrast, the Uberoi Foundation may genuinely be characterized as strongly "Hindutva", but Nicholson did not treat that as an objection.

Malhotra goes in counter-attack mode when he observes about Nicholson: "He also gladly accepted another award given by Uberoi Foundation, a very explicitly Hindutva organization. When it comes to duping Hindus and taking their money, he has done well as a ‘good cop’. His ‘good cop’ facade that had fooled me has now come off under the false pretext of being a victim." (Niti Central, 21 July 2015)

The original discoverer of the plagiarism was Richard Fox Young, associate professor at Princeton's Theological Seminary. It so happens that I met Young at last year's South Asia Conference in Zürich, and truth to tell, I had a rather positive impression of him: upright, erudite and a committed idealist. If Malhotra and Young hadn't been separated by religion, they might have been friends. Christian missionaries and their ideologues often have far more positive motives than Hindus are aware of. When Hindus, at least those not content with the comforting conspiracy theory that "missionaries are all CIA agents", ask me why those missionaries come all the way to India to convert people, I truthfully say: "Because they love you." Christians honestly think they do Hindus a favour by "liberating" them from their false religion.

What conspiracy thinkers fail to understand is the complexity of the human world. It is perfectly possible to have good motives yet become the cause of destruction of something good. In this case, Christians labour under the mistaken notion that Jesus died and was resurrected to save mankind from original sin, and that non-believers will miss out on this salvation. The  Jesus story is an appealing myth, but alas, it is not true. To sum up several centuries of Bible scholarship: it just didn't happen. So,Hindus don't need Christianity. Nonetheless, two millennia of ardent belief in the need to "educate all nations" has equipped the Churches with an impressive array of organizations and techniques geared towards conversion. With their strategic eye, Christian scholars have not missed the opportunity offered them by Rajiv's carelessness, to silence him. You can't blame fighters for fighting.

A different case altogether is the man who circulated an online petition addressing the publisher for the withdrawal of Malhotra's work, Jesse Ross Knutson. Among Hindus now, an article of his in a Communist paper is circulating, supporting the bid for power by the Maoïst guerrilla: "The Indian Government should surrender to the Maoists: an immodest proposal" (Countercurrents, 1 June 2010, Whatever merits the case against Malhotra may have had, it has now become impossible to sell it to the larger Hindu public, which knows in its bones what terrorism is. To have a spokesman for the terrorists, no less, among your self-styled enemies, means you must be doing something right. Compared to that, any alleged plagiarism is really a trifle.


Barring an unexpected development, the two main consequences of this affair will be the following. The establishment will go on treating Malhotra as a nuisance, now helped by the notion that "he is a plagiarist". But among Hindus, his stock will only go up. He is now more than ever the hero who takes on the might of the united anti-Hindu forces. The whole affair is turning out to have been excellent publicity for his theses and, materially speaking, for his books, especially his upcoming book on the politics of Sanskrit.

Read more!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mapping the Saraswati: A review of The Lost River by Michel Danino


(Vedic Venues 2012)


Michel Danino is a scholar of Jewish-Moroccan origin born in 1956 in Honfleur, France, and settled in Tamil Nadu since 1977. He is a practising environmentalist involved in saving forests, and editor and translator of several books by or concerning Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. In booklets published over the last two decades, he took up the revision of ancient Indian history where Aurobindo’s former secretary, K.D. Sethna (recently deceased at age 107) had left it. In The Invasion That Never Was (2000) he went over the classical arguments in favour of the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and found them wanting. In his view, there is no solid evidence for the official belief that the Vedas were written in 1500-1200 BC by a recently-immigrated people that brought the Indo-Aryan languages into India from the Northwest. In 2006, an updated French edition was brought out by France’s most prestigious classics publisher Les Belles Lettres. His latest book, The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvatī, has been published by Penguin, as mainstream as you can get.  Questioning the AIT may be off limits in JNU and Harvard, but sizable sections of the scholarly world are opening up to the possibility that the long-established theory may not be the gold standard after all.

In the 11 chapters and 357 pages of this book, Danino zooms in on a crucial section of the evidence body concerning ancient Indian history, both Vedic and Harappan, viz. the Sarasvati river. This river is mentioned in the Rg-Veda as a mighty sea-going river, but subsequently it shrank so that in the Mahabharata it appears as an ordinary river that runs dead in the desert. Even then it retained some of its Vedic aura, for Krishna’s brother Balarama went on pilgrimage to sites along the river including its locus of disappearance. The number and size of the city ruins along its riverbed warrant the renaming of “Indus civilization” as “Indus-Sarasvati civilization”. Danino surveys all the geological, archaeological and philological data pertaining to this river’s history in great detail.

In recent years, the waters of the debate have been muddied by Harvard Sanskritist Michael Witzel c.s. who have tried to identify the very use of the name Sarasvati in the term “Indus-Sarasvati civilization” with Hindu nationalism, and who have mocked the claim that the Sarasvati survives in present-day rivers, principally the Ghaggar in Haryana. In fact, as Danino demonstrates with a string of quotations from primary sources, this identification is the object of a wide consensus, starting in 1840 with H.H. Wilson, and including such paragons of Indologist orthodoxy as F. Max Müller and M. Monier-Williams as well as the on-the-spot explorer Aurel Stein. Even the “Hindu nationalist claim” that the river dwindled as a consequence of tectonic events causing the course of its tributaries Yamuna and Satlej to shift away from the Sarasvati basin, turns out to be quite old and mainstream, starting with R.D. Oldham in 1886. Indeed, the ancient geographer Strabo already noted that seismic instability caused changes in the course of major rivers in India.

So, Danino has every right to bypass and disregard the polemical atmosphere in which some champions of the AIT have tried to drown the Sarasvati evidence. Especially because the latest findings are only confirming the river’s importance in Vedic and Harappan history.

In a recent lecture at the University of Ghent, Belgium, on the state of the art in Harappan excavations and the emerging picture of the "Indus" civilization, Cambridge (UK) archaeologist Cameron Petrie showed, next to his own map, a map of excavation sites used by Michel Danino in The Lost River, which Petrie called "a popular book". By this he did not mean that it was a bestseller nor that it was much read and quoted; it was too recently published to speak of sales figures nor of citation indexes; only that it was written by a non-academic, obviously tapping into the outdated impression that the questioning of the prevailing theory is only the doing of amateurs. Danino's map shows a high concentration of Harappan sites along the Ghaggar river, i.e. the remains of the once-mighty Sarasvati; but Petrie's map showed a paucity of sites in the same region. That looked like a serious anomaly. But the very next item in his talk reversed this impression. He reported on an as yet unpublished survey of Haryana by a Ph.D. candidate from Rohtak who during 2008-10 identified “hundreds” of unexcavated Harappan sites. The student’s map showed a concentration of "new" sites precisely in the "empty" Ghaggar region. Did it not dawn on Petrie that this finding made his own textbook map dated while Danino’s proved up-to-date? Of the 3781 Harappan sites identified so far, 2378 are located around the Sarasvati river, from Haryana and northern Rajasthan to the Cholistan desert in southwestern Panjab .

Petrie didn’t break the consensus among archaeologists that proof for the AIT is lacking. Prof. B.B. Lal, who had made his name in the 1950s and 60s by detailing our knowledge of the Painted Grey Ware and identifying it as characteristic of the invading Aryans moving deeper into India, later repudiated any claims of an Aryan invasion, noting that no archaeological trace of an Aryan invasion has ever been found or identified. Prof. Michael Witzel has likewise admitted that "as yet" no archeological evidence of an Aryan invasion has been discovered. Petrie himself, as a field archaeologist freshly returned from the recentmost excavations, agreed that he too had no sensational discovery to announce, of actual pieces of evidence for an Aryan invasion. So: as of 2011, after many decades of being the official and much-funded hypothesis, the Aryan Invasion Theory has still not been confirmed by even a single piece of material proof.

That said, AIT skeptics should accept the burden of outlining and proving an alternative scenario that can explain the “Indo-European” linguistic commonalities between South Asia and Europe, viz. an emigration from India. So far, nobody in India has taken this challenge: Indians are satisfied that Indo-Aryan language and culture did not originate outside India but don’t have the ambition to show or even claim that conversely, most European languages ultimately came from India. “Out-of-India Theory”, the term commonly used for the denial of the AIT, is a term virtually without object in India, applying only to the work of non-archaeologists S.S. Misra and Shrikant Talageri. However, as an honorary Indian, Danino does take it upon himself to discharge another obligation on AIT skeptics, viz. to refute the impression of a sharp discontinuity between Harappan culture and post-Harappan culture with a fresh review of the archaeological data.

Orthodox academics like Prof. Romila Thapar and Prof. Shereen Ratnagar insist that all the typical features of Harappan culture disappeared in the early 2nd millennium BC to make way for what Sir Mortimer Wheeler used to call “the Vedic Dark Age”. Danino details how among archaeologists, not just most Indians but also Westerners like Jean-François Jarrige and Jim Shaffer, a new consensus has emerged, viz. that the high Harappan age was followed by a localization phase, with a devolution of the more unitary culture into different local cultures. And even after the Harappan building style disappeared, ca. 1300 BC, many Harappan-attested elements persisted down to the historical age (1st millennium BC) and sometimes even down to the present. From the town-planning grids and measurement system to the motifs on Harappan seals and on the much later punch-marked coins, numerous types of material continuity are in evidence from early Harappan days. The tale of the Crow and the Fox, still told by Indian grandmothers and also retold in the French fable collection by Jean de la Fontaine, was already depicted on a potsherd from Lothal ca. 4500.

Danino’s argument, while unusually convincing because of the wide array of data mustered, is not really revolutionary. It is only in the noxious atmosphere imposed on the AIT debate by some shrill polemicists both in India and the US that the continuity between Harappan and post-Harappan cultures becomes a daring proposition. In fact, in cooler times many prominent scholars have spoken out to the same effect. Art historian Stella Kramrisch noted the similarity between the art of Mohenjo Daro and contemporary folk art. Already in 1931, Sir John Marshall observed that the Harappan religion must have been “so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism”.  By bringing all such findings together, Danino takes the case against an invader-induced post-Harappan rupture back out of the margins.    


Michel Danino: The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvatī , Penguin,  Delhi 2010.


Read more!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Steve Farmer's slander

On the occasion of the Rajiv Malhotra plagiarism controversy, Steve Farmer has issued several unprovoked allegations against me. I sent a brief reply on 17 July 2015 to his Indo-Eurasian Researh List. It was predictably not posted. As far as I remember, I sent 6 posts before, of which 3 were published. The three others were censored out on some pretext, including a link to my very positive review of Michael Witzel's book on global mythology. 

Dear listfolk,

Steve Farmer wrote:

"And Malhotra's Hindutva surrogates, many of them who we know he has funded in the past, including Vishal Agarwal, like Elst are now writing slanderous articles -- Agarwal ludicrously writing on a Facebook page that Nicholson himself is a plagiarist."

No, I am not "Malhotra's Hindutva surrogate": I was in this debate already more than ten years before I even heard of Malhotra. The statement is also untrue if it means (as it seems to) that I participated in the plagiarism debate at his request, let alone that he paid me for it. Incidentally, I award a symbolic euro to whomever can find a single profession of "Hindutva" in my work. There are many shades in the Hindu activism spectrum, and the neologism "Hindutva" represents only one of them, as I have amply documented in works of scholarship that, according to Steve, "nobody takes serious". My 1997 book BJP vs. Hindu Resurgence is specifically a critique of the Hindutva movement, only it was written from a close knowledge of this movement, not from the sort of biased ignorance that makes one an established "expert".

No, I have not written any "slanderous article" in this affair. In fact, I have not even written an article, only a few e-mails on lists.

That is already two lies on Steve's part, in just one sentence, only the part about me. As for Vishal, on Malhotra's own list he has detailed three more lies in the part about himself. That is no less than five lies in one sentence. Those who are so sensitive to intellectual improprieties can obtain an abundant harvest by scrutinizing Steve's work.

Lies are not the only unscholarly feature of Steve's writing. There is his fiercely partisan stance, not even willing to give the other side a hearing. And there is the conspiratorial mode of thinking. He just can't imagine that anyone would see through the plagiarism allegations without being Malhotra's paid agents. In the real world, people happen to form opinions; but in Steve's fantasy world, people who take his side are his "surrogates" or are in his pay.

Another person he has just now falsely accused of doing it all for Hindutva largesse, is Michel Danino. The many misdirected allegations have made Danino publicly summarize his case for the Saraswati river, and it is quite enlightening to see how the Saraswati has been discovered and acknowledged by a whole procession of Western mainstream scholars starting in the mid-19th century. All the laughter about the "cranky" and "right-wing" Saraswati I have seen on this very list over the years, stands exposed. 

That Steve carelessly throws around ill-considered accusations is not new. But what has surprised me in similar situations in the past, and now again, is how his (let's put it charitably:) impulsive conduct is not reined in by the seasoned scholars who are no doubt present on this list. They thereby become his accomplices in slander.

Kind regards,

Koenraad Elst

Read more!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Anything but a "Hindu" party

(This is chapter 1 from my book BJP vis-à-vis Hindu Resurgence, Delhi 1997. It shows how disappointments in the BJP government's lack of enthusiasm for Hindu causes is unwarranted: eighteen years ago, it was already clear. To be sure, me too, I had been hoping against hope.)

The strange thing about the BJP is that its voters consider it a Hindu party, its enemies denounce it as a Hindu party, but the party will call itself anything except a Hindu party.
Unlike most critics of the BJP, who tend to make their point by quoting sources openly hostile to the party, we should prove our case by going to its own formulations of its ideology. To summarize the ideological positions of the BJP and its former avatar, the BJS (Bharatiya Jana Sangh), from authentic sources, we will reproduce the brief professions of ideological commitment given in the Constitutions of the BJS (1973) and of the BJP (1992). The summary given in the BJS Constitution under the heading "Aims and Objectives in Brief", a programme to which all BJS party members pledged their loyalty, are as follows (we give it in its entirety, but change the order so as to group the different points under headings of our own making):
1) Cultural nationalism: "Political, social and economic reconstruction of the country on the basis of Bharatiya Sanskriti [= culture] and Maryada [= "limit", ethics]. Protection and promotion of the cow. Use of Hindi and other Pradesh [= provincial] languages as official languages in their regions. Changes in the judicial system to suit the genius of India and fit in with present-day conditions."
2) Political nationalism: "The establishment of a unitary government and decentralisation of political and economic power. Establishment of Akhand Bharat [= undivided India including the Pakistani and Bangladeshi territories]. Complete integration of Kashmir. Liberation of territory occupied by China and Pakistan. A foreign policy based upon enlightened self-interests of the country. Modern-most military armaments."
3) Social concerns: "Protection of the fundamental rights of the individual and the promotion of interests of the Society. Guarantee of the fundamental right to work and livelihood. Upholding establishment and protection of the tiller's right to ownership of land. Ceiling on agricultural land and redistribution of land. Eradication of untouchability. Elimination of corruption. Free education up to middle class. Facilities for medical care and social security."
4) Economic programme: "Encouragement to small mechanised and rural industries. Nationalisation of basic industries. Curbing monopolistic tendencies in the economic sphere. Determination of minimum and maximum expendable income. Worker's participation in the profit and management of the industries. Stabilisation of prices." [Reproduced in Bharatiya Jana Sangh Party Documents 1951-1972, vol.1, p.222.]
Under headings 1 and 2 we certainly find a nationalist programme, considerably more radical than anything stated by the later BJP. Under headings 3 and 4, we do not find the "rightist" policies which the leftists always attribute to the Hindutva forces, but a typical social-democratic programme. But either way, what we do not find, is an explicitly Hindu orientation underlying this programme. One may argue that in its practical application, Hindu social philosophy boils down to an "integral humanism" of which this programme is the logical explicitation; but even then, there should be no reason to be so modest (not to say secretive) about the Hindu source of this orientation.
The BJP defines its ideology as follows:
"Article II: Objective. The party is pledged to build up India as a strong and prosperous nation, which is modern, progressive and enlightened in outlook and which proudly draws inspiration from India's ancient culture and values and thus is able to emerge as great world power playing an effective role in the comity of Nations for the establishment of world peace and a just international order.
"The party aims at establishing a democratic state which guarantees to all citizens irrespective of caste, creed or sex, political, social and economic justice, equality of opportunity and liberty of faith and expression.
"The party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
"Article III: Basic Philosophy. Integral Humanism shall be the basic philosophy of the Party.
"Article IV: Commitments. The Party shall be committed to nationalism and national integration, democracy, Gandhian Socialism, Positive Secularism, that is 'Sarva Dharma Samabhav', and value-based politics. The party stands for decentralisation of economic and political power." [Constitution and Rules (as amended by the National Council at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on 2nd May 1992) of the Bharatiya Janata Party, p.3-4. "Sarva-Dharma-Samabhava" is a Gandhian slogan meaning "equal respect for all religions".]
Upon joining the party, every BJP member makes the following pledge:
"I believe in Integral Humanism which is the basic philosophy of Bharatiya Janata Party.
"I am committed to Nationalism and National Integration, Democracy, Gandhian Socialism, Positive Secularism (Sarva Dharma Samabhava) and value-based politics.
"I subscribe to the concept of a Secular State and Nation not based on religion.
"I firmly believe that this task can be achieved by peaceful means alone.
"I do not observe or recognize untouchability in any shape or form.
"I am not a member of any other political party.
"I undertake to abide by the Constitution, Rules and Discipline of the Party." [Constitution and Rules, p.19.]
I have taken the trouble of quoting the BJP's explicit statement of its political objectives and methods in full, because these official self-declarations and the received wisdom about the BJP are miles apart. These statements can be used as counter-evidence by those who are concerned about the slanderous descriptions of the BJP as "Hindu fundamentalists" standing for "preservation of caste oppression", for a "theocratic state", for "communal violence", if not for "fascism". However, while comforting for those who try to prove that the BJP is a nice secularist party, the cited official statements of the BJP party-line are somewhat worrying from a Hindu viewpoint. Indeed, the word "Hindu" does not figure in them at any point.
Moreover, like in the Indian Constitution, there is nothing typically Hindu about these BJS/BJP programmes. The BJS text still contained some Sanskrit words which could have been replaced with English terms without loss of meaning, but the operative term is Bharatiya, "Indian"; the BJP can do without the Sanskrit altogether (except for one problematic expression, cfr. infra). These manifestoes are entirely in the tradition of Western liberal-democratic nationalism, and most of the expressions used can be found in texts of the American and French Revolutions or the speeches of 19th-century liberal nationalists like Lajos Kossuth or Giuseppe Mazzini. Not that this is objectionable in itself, but from a party claiming "Bharatiya culture" as its inspiration, this wholesale borrowing from the West is not very promising.

The term integral humanism, the BJP's official ideology, was introduced in Sangh ideology by Deendayal Upadhyaya, as a social doctrine based on Hindu instead of Western thought. It was given a universalist rather than a "national" name, which in principle I consider a good thing; "Western" ideologies like liberalism and socialism have not been labelled after their country of origin either. At the same time, a nagging suspicion remains that the term was chosen and promoted as yet another attempt to acquire a "secular" identity.

Read more!