Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What have I done?

(Recently, people from several Hindu quarters have alleged  that I have done nothing worthwhile. More about that in a following post. But a group of Delhi citizens thought otherwise and organized a function in my honour on 13 January 2014. There they gave the participants the following survey of my work.)

Dr. Koenraad Elst


Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) grew up in a Catholic family, as the second of five. His father was a law scholar and civil servant, his mother a teacher turned housewife. He distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After school, he spent a few hippie years doing odd jobs while scouting the spiritualist world. Deciding to put his interests on a firmer basis, he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University where he discovered the true nature of India’s religious problems, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. He eked out a living with political journalism, mostly on a free-lance basis (e.g. as a correspondent for the Brussels business weekly Trends in 1992-95), sometimes as an employee (e.g. as foreign editor of the Antwerp-based weekly Punt in 2001-2002). He also contributed columns to Indian papers such the late Observer, the Pioneer and the weekly Outlook India. In 2011-13, he served as a research assistant in the Belgian Senate, following foreign policy.

His main focus has always been scholarship, as laid down in 25 books, many papers and numerous articles. Initially, his work received a decisive impetus from the philosopher Ram Swarup (1920-1998) and the historian-publisher Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003), later to evolve under divergent influences but mainly by his own lights. His doctoral thesis, when published in 2001, became an Indian best-seller.  

As an independent researcher he earned both laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, non-Sangh instances of Hindu activism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the Asian face of World War 2, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.

He underwent three life-saving operations, including a heart transplantation in 2007. Though walking with a limp, deaf on one side, heavily myopic and with an impaired sense of balance, he keeps his mind sharp as ever. He and his ex-wife have had four children, now grown up. He lives in a suburb of Antwerp.




Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict (Voice of India, 1990): Not a very good book, a typical first, but very necessary at the time. It showed that an unbiased Westerner, when relying on first-hand sources rather than on “secularist” intermediaries, could see for himself that the Ayodhya conflict resulted from one of the numerous temple destructions by Muslim conquerors. It restored the consensus view of only a few years earlier (abandoned only be “secularist” high-handedness), viz. that a Hindu temple had been forcibly replaced by a mosque. The book was presented to the world by L.K. Advani and Girilal Jain, together with Sita Ram Goel’s Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them, and thereby appeared on the cover of most Indian newspapers.   

Ayodhya and After. Issues before Hindu Society (Voice of India 1991): A first introduction to all the aspects of India’s religious conflicts. Critics might mention the author’s unfamiliarity with the sociological jargon that dominates the discourse on this subject. That is what makes this book so fresh and untainted. Most themes studied more thoroughly in later books are already treated here.

Negationism in India (Voice of India 1992): Based on a Dutch book review of Sita Ram Goel’s Hindu Temples, this publication grew into a meditation on the similarity between India’s official denial of the destructive Muslim policies in India, almost since the beginning of Islam, and other feats of history denial such as Holocaust negationism.

Indigenous Indians. Agastya to Ambedkar (Voice of India 1993): Part of this book is a first treatment of the Aryan homeland debate, now very much dated because of the many new developments in this controversy. Still relevant is the part about the various political uses of this debate, particularly to pit Indians against other Indians on the basis of an entirely false dichotomy between invaders and natives. It shows the similarities between European anti-Semitism and Indian anti-Brahmanism.  Original at the time, but fairly common knowledge now, is the revelation of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s harsh Islam criticism, of his important but confused history of the caste system, and of his opposition to the Aryan Invasion Theory. The Ambedkar chapter was also separately published as Ambedkar, a True Aryan (Voice of India 1993).

Psychology of Prophetism (Voice of India 1993): Seeing that Indians tend to display a shocking ignorance about Christianity and a great gullibility vis-à-vis the syrupy stories peddled by the missionaries and their “secularist” loudspeakers, the author put together a survey of some recent scientific Bible criticism for the Indian public. Given the mass of Bible scholarship by both Christians and post-Christians, it is still very incomplete, but covers some debunkers of the founding Christian myths. Special attention goes to the 20th-century scholars who diagnosed a psychological problem behind several prophetic careers, most sensationally that of Jesus. This culminated in the presentation of the work of Herman Somers, whom he befriended in person.

BJP vs. Hindu Resurgence (Voice of India 1997): One of his most important books, a twin volume of the collection of testimonies edited by Sita Ram Goel, Time for Stock-Taking. Whither Sangh Parivar? It takes stock of the relation between Hindu ideals and the actual performance of the RSS-BJP. The book was totally vindicated by the BJP’s terms in power in 1998-2004, when not even a token gesture towards Hindu demands such as a Common Civil Code or the resettlements of the Hindu refugees from Kashmir was made.

The Demographic Siege (Voice of India 1998): This booklet counters the soothing “secularist” propaganda by giving the true demographic figures and deducing from these an unmistakable procentual growth of the Muslim population in India. It concludes that in the mid-long term, the choice is between an Islamic take-over or a massive walk-out by born Muslims from Islam.  

Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate (Aditya Prakashan 1999): An overview of the debating points in the ongoing controversy about Indo-European origins. While a few points were wrong or have been superseded, most of the book remains valid. Its overview of the political use of the AIT and some of its linguistic arguments have not been repeated anywhere else ever since.

Decolonizing the Hindu Mind. Political Development of Hindu Revivalism (Rupa 2001): The book version of most of his Ph.D. thesis, defended in 1998. A very thorough treatment of the Hindu movement since before its official genesis in the 1920s and until the very end of the 1990s. Unlike other Westerners, he has been able to get a real inside look in the Hindu movement. Even rarer, he has been able to shed the usual bias that dooms this line of research to a very jaundiced view and to laughter among future generations. He shows how “nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns”.

The Saffron Swastika. On the Notion of “Hindu Fascism” (Voice of India 2001): A very ambitious 2-volume book, of which the only shortcoming is that it could have been even more complete. It dissects processes of slander and its application to the media’s hostile treatment of the organized Hindu movement. It is the only publication in the world (except for its sequel, Return of the Swastika) to analyze and refute the now-common allegation that Guru Golwalkar in his book We (1939) proves to be some sort of Nazi. 

Gandhi and Godse, a Review and a Critique (Voice of India 2001): Worldwide the only complete analysis of the stated reasons why Mahatma Gandhi was murdered. It proves that by his act, assassin Nathuram Godse was an extremist, but in his criticism of the Mahatma, he expressed opinions uttered by many. Against common Hindu diatribes blaming Gandhi, however, it shows that Gandhi’s failure vis-à-vis Islam was really Hindu society’s failure. Also published in Dutch (Davidsfonds 1998, Aspekt 2009) and French (Les Belles Lettres 2004).

Who Is a Hindu? Hindu Revivalist Views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Other Offshoots of Hinduism (Voice of India 2002): Historically, the word “Hindu” means: an Indian Pagan, nothing more, nothing less. The Muslim invaders who brought this word into India and first used it in a religious sense (in Pagan Iran it had simple meant “Indian”), saw no fundamental difference between Brahmins and Buddhists, Tribals and Jains, Rajputs and Other Backward Castes, Lingayats and Sikhs. To them, all these groups had this in common, that they were bound for hell. So, it is not difficult to answer the question who is a Hindu straightforwardly. But because the “secularists” and other anti-Hindu agitators like to make simple things difficult, questions like “are neo-Buddhists Hindus?” have become politically meaningful, so a painstaking answer is provided.

Ayodhya: the Case against the Temple (Voice of India 2002). A very good collection of papers on the Ayodhya contention and on various topics that have come up in the Ayodhya debate: Ashoka vs. Pushyamitra, Harsha of Kashmir, the secularist whitewash of Aurangzeb, or the Bodh Gaya temple controversy. It also contains rebuttals of Romila Thapar, Sanjay Subramaniam, Richard Eaton, Yoginder Sikand, Amber Habib and of the first scholarly criticism of Sita Ram Goel, viz. by Mitsuhiro Kondō, a Japanese woman toeing the Indian “secularist” line.

Ayodhya, the Finale: Science versus Secularism in the Excavations Debate (Voice of India 2003): A survey of the “secularist” reactions to the Court-mandated excavations at the contentious site in Ayodhya, carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India and of which the findings favoured the Hindu claim. While the truth of the scientific findings is of one piece, it was fascinating to see how many different and contradictory lies were thought up by “secularists” unwilling to face the facts.

Return of the Swastika (Voice of India 2006): The  author takes up some further issues raised by the “RSS = Nazi” slander campaign, such as the common but wholly mendacious claim that Narendra Modi had the history textbooks in Gujarat whitewash Hitler’s record. He analyzes various exaggerations and pure myths pertaining to the Nazi connections to Hinduism. Developing the Golwalkar argument further, he also criticizes the RSS policy of falsely omitting We from Golwalkar’s “Complete” Works.  Following an oft-repeated pattern, two leading secularists criticized in this book, Meera Nanda and Sanjay Subramaniam,  have struck back with campaigns of slander, since they found themselves unable to reply on contents.

Asterisk in Bhāropīyasthān. Minor Writings on the Aryan Invasion Debate (2007): A collection of scholarly papers on the evolving Aryan homeland debate. One of them exposes the petty professorial politicking by leading Aryan Invasion champion Michael Witzel. For the rest, the author remains aware that most scholars simply don’t know the arguments for an alternative homeland, so he develops these further, esp. the linguistic argument and the argument from the astronomical data. He sets the record straight on the political use of the different positions in the debate.

The Problem with Secularism (Voice of India 2007): A collection of papers on Indian “secularism”. It contains rebuttals of cases made by Robert Hathaway, Mira Kamdar, Thomas Hansen, Ayub Khan and  implicitly by the artist M.F. Husain. It contains a remarkable psychological analysis of Mohammed’s Quranic trance.

The Argumentative Hindu. Essays by an Unaffiliated Orientalist (Aditya Prakashan 2012): A collection of numerous recent book reviews, scholarly papers as well as reports on the modus operandi of various “secularists” in India and in the Hindu-born diaspora. The title is an allusion to (and correction of) a book title by Amartya Sen, the subtitle to the description the author gave himself when participating in on-line discussions. The book contains veritable classics such as his paper setting the record straight on Thomas Babington Macaulay and his paper broadening the study of the Hindu movement to new non-Sangh groups. He also thoroughly analyzes several cases of “secularist” slander and censorship.


Books in which Dr. Elst had a hand

He has also co-authored or edited or co-edited a number of books, published in Belgium, the USA and India. Most important for the Hindu cause are these three:

Editor of The Prolonged Partition and Its Pogroms. Testimonies on Violence against Hindus in East Bengal 1946-64 by A.J. Kamra (Voice of India 2000): Details the massacres in the erstwhile East Pakistan. Even discounting the Partition massacres and the attempted genocide of 1971, the Muslim massacres of the Hindus in East Pakistan already surpass all communal massacres in India combined (while 1971 simply dwarfs them), yet were or are never referred to in the world media.

Co-editor of Gujarat after Godhra. Real Violence, Selective Outrage (Har-Anand Publications 2003, with Prof. Ramesh Rao): Collection of papers on the Hindu, Muslim and “secularist” reactions to the Gujarat riots (early 2002) provoked by the Godhra train massacre, and prematurely blamed on Narendra Modi and the Hindu movement.

Editor of India’s Only Communalist. In Commemoration of Sita Ram Goel (Voice of India 2005): Collection of a number of comments on or inspired by the historian-publisher Sita Ram Goel. 


Contributions to others’ books

Among the contributions to books edited by others, note these:

Several articles in the second edition of Ishwar Sharan’s The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (Voice of India 1997).

An article on an attempt to ban a book by Ram Swarup, in Sita Ram Goel, ed.: Freedom of Expression (Voice of India 1998).

Postscript to the Indian (Voice of India 1998) and the second American edition (Transaction, New Brunswick 2003) of Daniel Pipes’s The Rushdie Affair.

An introduction to Sita Ram Goel’s work, in Arvind Sharma, ed.: Hinduism and Secularism after Ayodhya (Palgrave, New York 2001).

A paper on the linguistics pertinent to the Indo-European homeland question, in Edwin Bryant & Laurie Patton, eds.: The Indo-Aryan Controversy. Evidence and Inference in Indian History (Routledge, New York 2005).

An paper on Christianity’s indebtedness to India, in P. Paramesvaran, ed.: Expressions of Christianity, with a focus on India (Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai 2007).

A paper of Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of the Manu Smṛti and his defective comprehension of Hindu thought and society, in Herman Siemens & Vasti Roodt, eds.: Nietzsche, Power and Politics (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2008).

A paper on humour in Hinduism, in Hans Geybels & Walter Van Herck, eds.: Humour and Religion, Challenges and Ambiguities (Continuum, London 2011).

A paper on recent linguistic developments pertinent to the Indo-European homeland question, in Angela Marcantonio & Girish Nath Jha, eds.: Perspectives on the Origin of Indian Civilization (DK Printworld, Delhi 2013).


Papers in periodicals

Among published papers, note especially:

“Ayodhya’s three history debates”, in Journal of Indian History and Culture (Chennai), September 2011. 

“The gatherings of the elders: the beginnings of a Pagan international”, Pomegranate (Equinox, Sheffield UK) 2012/1.


Dutch publications

Among his Dutch publications, the following are worth mentioning here:

Het boek bij het Boek (“The companion book to the Book”, Waregem 2009), one of his three Dutch books on Islam, consists of a number of reviews of books, films and public debates about Islam, and specifically about the Qur’an, collected from his journalistic output in 1992-2008. It is very lively and casts a candid look on unexpected angles of Islam, while laying bare the biases conditioning the mainstream commentators’ views of Mohammed’s religion.

The India chapter in Wim Van Rooy & Sam Van Rooy, eds.: De islam. Kritische essays over een politieke religie (“Islam: Critical Essays on a Political Edition”), ASP, Brussels 2010.

De donkere zijde van het boeddhisme (“The Dark Side of Buddhism”, Mens & Cultuur, Ghent 2010) notes that all religions are being criticized except Buddhism, which is only being idealized. So he asks a number of critical questions and goes over the Buddhist doctrines as well as over Buddhism’s historical record. His conclusion: in spite of some flaws, the over-all picture of Buddhism is not so dark at all. This book will be translated.

Heidendom in India: hindoeïsme en christendom, dialoog tussen vreemden (“Paganism in India: Hindus and Christians, Dialogue between Strangers”, Mens & Cultuur, Ghent 2014): about the ongoing relations between Hinduism and Christianity. The author shows that, despite diplomatic moves and a façade of dialogue efforts, the relation is essentially conflictual, with Christianity partly attacking and partly (to apply Rajiv Malhotra’s important concept: ) digesting Hinduism. In this conflict, Hindus are the weaker party because of lack of awareness and of strategy. 

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Monday, January 27, 2014

“Horseplay at Harappa” revisited


By far the best-known incident in the Aryan controversy of the last quarter-century is the cover-story of the Chennai-based Communist fortnightly Frontline, “Horseplay at Harappa” (2000). This article by Prof. Michael Witzel and Dr. Steve Farmer makes a whole drama of Dr. Navaratna Rajaram’s attempt to prove the existence of horses in the Harappan civilization, and then puts it in a larger context of politically motivated history revision.

On these political motives, they show their ignorance, reliance on secondary sources and personal partisanship. Admittedly a heavy load of allegations, which I will have to discharge some day (except that much of it is already taken care of in the chapters on political motives and on VD Savarkar in my book Asterisk in Bharopiyasthan), but I will leave it for another occasion. Instead, a recent debate on the Aryan question has drawn my attention again to the substance of the Horseplay article: the deconstruction of the “horse seal” and of the Harappan decipherment thesis to which it serves as an illustration.

One implication of Rajaram’s decipherment is that the Harappan and even pre-Harappan societies spoke Vedic and were contemporaneous with the composition of the Vedic hymns. But in that case, the archaeologically well-attested Harappan civilization should show some sign of having been familiar with the horse, an oft-described animal in the Vedas. By now, the archaeological presence of horses in the archaeological record seems to have been established (vide Dilip Chakrabarti & Makkhan Lal’s new multi-volume work on ancient Indian history), but back then, Rajaram put his bet on an incomplete seal of which in his opinion the missing part showed a horse’s body.

What followed was slapstick involving the then-ongoing transition between complicated photography and digital photo manipulations: Witzel and Farmer accused Rajaram of having photoshopped his picture of the seal, a technology which he probably did not know yet. It was their mistake to think that any intentional visual manipulation had taken place. I have worked in the New Age sector long ago, a popular target for allegations of fraud by skeptics; so, having observed this problem very closely, I had to conclude that in the real world, there is far less willful deception than gullible self-deception.  Here also, it doesn’t require postulating any conspiracy to explain Rajaram’s wrong interpretation of the seal: there had not been any manipulation, he simply saw what he eagerly wanted to see. In reality, however, the incomplete seal could more logically be completed as a buffalo than as a horse.

When I myself first saw Rajaram’s “artist’s depiction” of the completed seal, in a pre-decipherment publication, I was struck by the unusual design, with the horse not in a normal posture but emphatically showing its hind part. Now, I can imagine a Playboy centerfold highlighting her posterior charms, but for a Harappan animal this is a bit odd. Still, I didn’t think anything of it, looking forward to Rajaram’s decipherment (with N. Jha), which reportedly was very promising. But when doubts were voiced by others, I was not surprised.

Unfortunately, when his decipherment came out, it was a disappointment. Like most decipherments, it made the Harappan seals too profound. Sumerian writing started as a commercial bookkeeping device, but in Harappa, apparently, they first used their script to eternalize their philosophical musings. Even mathematical formulas were read into it. Outsiders looking into the proposed decipherment named many different kinds of objections. The inevitable Michael Witzel remarked, for instance, that Rajaram’s reading of the well-known Shiva Pashupati seal was grammatically incorrect: Ishad yatta Mara (“The demon Mara tamed by Isha/Shiva”) presupposes that the agentive object is in the ablative (which would be true in Latin), but Sanskrit puts it in the instrumental case: Ishena yatta Mara. I was also unpleasantly surprised by Rajaram’s insistence that a symmetrical 3-shaped sign represented the well-known Aum sign – a shorthand for the rendering of the Aum sign in the Devanagari script, which is some 2000 years younger than the Harappan seals and grew out of the Brahmi script which didn’t have that particular Aum sign. Rajaram’s reply to the Frontline article, making yet another low-credibility claim for a horse depiction, only added to the atmosphere of ridicule.

Now, maybe these were just details and the decipherment could, with some amendments, still be upheld. But in that case, it fell to Rajaram to defend his decipherment. And this, to my knowledge, never happened.

What I would have done, is either to have stood by my decipherment, i.e. defended it, sought to improve on it with more evidence, compared it with other decipherments and shown how specific inscriptions are better accounted for by my own than by those other decipherments; or to have admitted defeat and publicly said so. This latter procedure is not some noble guideline, merely an application of the business principle of “writing off your losses”, limiting the damage. If you have the courage to acknowledge your mistake, you can again be taken seriously and, after a period of “delousing”, even hope to contribute something meaningful to the debate again. But that is not the course which Dr. Rajaram took. As for the other option, I have kept following this debate but have never heard from this decipherment again. Thus, Rajaram often collaborates with Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, also a decipherer and also a spokesman of the “Harappan is Sanskrit” thesis, and it would have been logical if the two had compared their readings and fought it out. But I, at least, have never heard of that.

At the time, the treatment which Rajaram received (or in another version, which he called upon himself) was so extremely humiliating that I admired the fortitude of the man to suffer it all without complaining. But then again, it may have been the haughtiness  that I have witnessed so often among internet Hindus: “I don’t have to convince those white critics”, “it is best to ignore them”, “we had better address the Hindu audience rather than those foreign interlopers”, “we should give history, appropriated by the scholars, back to the people”. Maybe so, but it is not the way to victory.   

The Horseplay in Harappa incident contributed immensely to the identification of Hindu history revision with superstition and fraud. It set the stage for the Hindu defeats in the history textbook controversies of India (2002-4) and of California (2005-9). For me, being mentioned there in passing added greatly to the “guilt by association” in the enemy camp’s rumour mills.

Ever since I started work on Indian history, I have had to reckon with bad company with whom I was willy-nilly associated. The enemy camp gloated over its artfully composed lists of purported “influences” on Hindu public opinion such as “PN Oak, Koenraad Elst, NS Rajaram…” And it is true that I had defended Rajaram in writing (articles in 1993, included in my book Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate, 1998, against Prof. Robert Zydenbos, who relayed the impression that Rajaram’s anti-AIT discourse had to be “Nazi” somehow, when in fact it is his own AIT that has solid Nazi connotations). Well, so be it. I stand by my writings on this subject, and remain confident that concentrating on the evidence is the way forward. The truth about the “Aryan” homeland question will shine through.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Modi, the RSS man


In the ongoing campaign to throw at Narendra Modi whatever dirt one can find, Ramachandra Guha (“Degradation of Discourse”, Times of India, 6 Jan. 2014) accuses him of yet another flaw: the use of foul language against political opponents. His article is illustrated with a photograph of Modi chatting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Now, maybe Modi has improperly called Rahul Gandhi a spoiled mama’s boy, which we all know to be untrue: from poor beginning, Rahul climbed his way up, and he only reached his present position by virtue of hard work. It is just slander to suggest that his family had anything to do with it. Yet, for foul language, the prize undoubtedly goes to Manmohan Singh. He has just recently accused Modi of being guilty for the post-Godhra riots; the allegation itself is worn-out, but the platform from where it was made, was higher than usual. Most people would rather be accused of a privileged birth than of responsibility for a massacre.

Singh thereby ignored and overruled several Courts that have acquitted Modi of any such allegations. We might expect such contempt of court from leftist agitators like Teesta Setalwad, herself embroiled in judicial proceedings for riots-related deceit, as it simply illustrates the usual self-righteousness of the left. We might also expect it from foreign press correspondents, babes in the wood who trustingly borrow from the less than truthful media accounts they are fed by their Indian sources. But such contempt of he judiciary is simply unbecoming of a Prime Minister.

So, others propose different allegations, this time based on reality. They say, for instance, that after all, “Modi is an RSS man”. Having been groomed in the RSS ranks, Modi will find it hard to refute that one.



In the 1990s, the prospect of the BJP coming to power led to some shrill reactions. It was going to throw a hundred million Muslims into the Indian Ocean, come down on women and Dalits, and more such horror scenarios. The “experts” concerned can count themselves lucky that this was just before the internet age, because today the quotations would come to haunt them. They would be laughed out of court for relying on their “secularist” contacts and parroting the dirtiest propaganda. At any rate, at august gatherings like the Annual South Asia Conference of Madison, Wisconsin, many professors grimly predicted the worst. Not that they were concerned about the prospective victims: the more the better, for they would only prove what a monster this BJP was.

Those few who sincerely wanted to minimize the damage which the BJP was sure to do, pinned their hopes on A.B. Vajpayee, the “moderate” contrasted with the “extremist” L.K. Advani. Alas, the specialist Prof. Paul Brass dashed all their hopes: “I think Vajpayee is a dyed-in-the-wool RSS man.” So, the man upheld in 2014 by Guha as a model of civility contrasting with the foul-mouthed Modi, was thought in 1996 to be another Hitler sure to work a catastrophe. That is why he ended up abolishing Parliament and killing all those millions when he served as Prime Minister in 1998-2004. Or, wait a minute, did he fail to do that? Was the consensus of the experts proven wrong by reality? Maybe the RSS is not such a predictor of inhumanity after all. (But it is true that Vajpayee in person thwarted Congress secularism in action when he helped Sikh taxi-drivers during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.)

All the same, Modi’s beginnings in the RSS did not stand in the way of his economic breakthroughs. They did not prevent his innocence in the post-Godhra riots, as certified by the courts. They did not even keep a number of Muslims from voting for him. The reason is that the RSS is not altogether evil.



The role of the RSS in saving Congress politicians’ lives  during the Partition, or holding the Srinagar airport until the troops arrived, thus making the reconquest of Pak-held territories possible (1947), or the RSS’s services in the defence against the Chinese invasion (1962), have largely been forgotten. What Modi has consciously experienced, however, is the RSS’s opposition against the Emergency dictatorship (1975-77). Many secularists like to ignore this episode because they themselves do not have such clean hands. Indeed, being naturally despotic, the Nehruvian secularists used precisely this intermezzo to insert “secular, socialist” into the text of the Constitution. The declaration of India as a “secular” republic, without a proper parliamentary debate, is thus the only part of the Constitution that is historically undemocratic.
Even closer in time is the frequent and large-scale RSS intervention in relief work after floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. While the relief work of a Mother Teresa or a Graham Staines is always highlighted (and their ulterior missionary motives purposely ignored), journalistic or academic publications on the RSS somehow always forget to acknowledge its charitable work.  

While the RSS has many mediocre and unimaginative people in its ranks (but committed and disciplined enough to do the abovementioned dirty work), it also has its success stories. Among these, Modi is no doubt one of the most spectacular.  Whether he will do anything to further the Hindu agenda remains to be seen. If Guha now praises Vajpayee, it is in the hope that Modi will emulate Vajpayee in only being a time-server who sets aside all Hindu concerns once power has been attained. But the amount of persistent slander that Modi has had to face for twelve long years, now culminating in a condemnation by the Prime Minister, may finally have convinced him of the utter viciousness that characterizes India’s “secularists”. With him, at last, there is a real chance that he will spite them by getting serious about Hindu interests.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Kozhikode Vedic conference

On 7-10 January 2014, a Vedic conference has been taking place at Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala, India. This is the town where Vasco da Gama first landed in 1498, thus starting the colonial entreprise in Asia. It was very well-organized and took place in the Gateway hotel. This is a very expensive place, but so far, I think every rupee spent was worth it.

The first non-personnel person I met here was, of all people, conference convenor Michael Witzel, Wales professor of Sanskrit at Harvard. For quite some time now I have taken my distance from the counterproductive Hindu habit of treating him as a hate figure. Feelings about persons stand in the way of a focus on ideas, and all these fulminations against Witzel or against Max Müller have not contributed anything at all to a solution of the Aryan debate. In fact, I had a rather positive impression of Witzel, and seeing the old man with his Japanese wife made all doubts disappear. I guess divorced men tend to admire couples growing old together.

AIT assumptions

Apart from a number of Nambudiri Brahmin as well as non-Nambudiri Keralite traditions, most of the conference concerned technical points of Vedic philology, with which I will not bore my readership. But one of the reasons for me to participate here was that I expected some speakers who assume an Aryan invasion to nonetheless give specific data that, when well considered, give “testimony against interest”, viz. support the Out-of-India theory. The same thing has happened at the Indo-European conferences I participated in during the past six months (Leiden, Louvain-la-Neuve, Münster and Leipzig): speakers who had never even considered the OIT innocently gave information that contradicted their AIT assumption and supported the OIT.

Many participants here never even think about Aryan origins. They study the Nambudiri traditions of transmission, the way the Vedas are taken to underpin the Shastras (lawbooks), or the distinctive interpretation by some medieval commentator. Those who bring it up, usually have learned it in university and never seen an occasion to question it. Those who, like Witzel, actually try to underpin it with arguments, are few and far between. There are only a handful of scholars competently arguing for the OIT, but on the AIT side, it is not really different.

T.P. Mahadevan wove the invasion narrative into his (otherwise very interesting) presentation about the genealogies of the Vedic seers and their descendants, so I asked him straightaway  if he had any evidence for the framework he was using. As expected, he admitted he had no evidence but “knew” that the invasion scenario just had to be true and that it had been certified by the linguists. Yes, in this debate, there is always someone else who has the evidence.

Finally the evidence?

Kanad Sinha, a young researcher from Jawaharlal Nehru University, presented a paper on the early Rg-Vedic Battle of the Ten Kings and of the use made by posterity of the antagonism between the seers for both contending sides, Vasishtha and Vishvamitra. Though he had announced during a conversation beforehand that his paper would give evidence for the AIT, I waited in vain for this evidence. He used the AIT-generated categories of “Aryan invaders” versus “natives” profusely to explain all kinds of later developments, but assuming the Aryan invasion framework is not the same as proving it. The 19th-century translator Ralph Griffith frequently refers to an Aryan invasion in his footnotes (taking every reference to “black” as referring to the skin colour of the natives, for instance), but you will scan his book in vain for any “proof” of this invasion. Sinha’s chosen subject at any rate concerned a battle whose parties were “already” based in India, so no evidence of the invasion could be expected.

If he had given any evidence for the Aryan invasion, his name would be made instantly. After all, at least 90% of his audience consisted of people who assume the same framework but have never seen any evidence for it. If specifically dealing with the Aryan question, they have generally conceded in writing that the Vedas contain no reference to an invasion, nor does the archaeological record. So they would applaud him if he came up with the long-awaited proof.

Is Kanad Sinha a bad person, as Hindu nationalists with a conspiratorial mindset are sure to allege? I, for one, did not have that impression. But like most youngsters in India, he has imbued a large dose of Aryan invasion propaganda, and he has been put off AIT paradigm and applying AIT-derived categories then subjectively fortifies their belief in the theory. As long as this approach doesn’t land them in consciously experienced contradictions, they think that they have “proven” the theory.  Lazy-minded Hindus, no doubt good at making money but thoroughly bad at analysing historical problems, have been saying for at least fifteen years that “nobody believes in the AIT anymore”, when the reality once more proves to be that one half of the scholars consciously uphold the AIT while the other half just assumes it without even knowing that it is being challenged.

Avesta younger than Rg-Veda

A British professor from Oxford, Elizabeth Tucker, read a paper on the worship of the waters in the Atharva-Veda and the Avesta. To explain water names like praskadvari and takvari, she first focused on the suffix –vari, which in the Rg-Vedic family books formed the feminine counterpart of the masculine –van, but in the later books became an independent suffix. For the Avesta, she did not find this ancient Vedic pairing. As for the water goddesses, this was a cult typical of the Avesta and the Atharva Veda but not of the family books, where another mythology prevailed, viz. of Indra releasing the waters by defeating the reptile Vrtra.

In both cases, the linguistics of -vari and the religious status of the waters, the situation in the Avesta differed from that in the family books but was the same as in the later Vedic literature. I deduce that the Avesta is younger than the family books but synchronous with the younger layers of the Vedas, as parts of a common Indo-Iranian culture. The AIT-necessitated scenario given by the speaker, viz. that there first was an Indo-Iranian culture with the worship of the water goddesses, which was preserved in the Avesta but lost in the family books and later revived in the Atharva-Veda, doesn’t hold water.

So, this is a modest case of a scholar who assumes the AIT but presents data that are more logically explained by the OIT. By contrast, not a single speaker managed to prove the AIT (which most didn’t think necessary anyway), let alone present data that were force-fitted into the AIT but somehow fit the OIT better.    

Postscript: Why the AIT won't go away

(In reply to a very good question, I quickly formulated the following comment:)

The AIT is not going away because (1) it is not felt to be problematic, and (2) there is no credible alternative, or at least it is not brought home to the scholars.

(1) You can continue to assume the AIT paradigm because, practically, society encourages you to do so, in the West because of inertia, in India because it is still politically useful to various powerful group interests; and theoretically, because the time concerned is distant enough so that any errors following from a wrong theory are not too intrusive.

(2) Hardly any alternative is available. Most of the available OIT literature is polemical, questioning the established narrative rather than telling its own narrative. (I take is as a priority now to sit down and produce such an independent and innovative narrative of ancient Indian history.) Of these, there are hardly a handful of admittedly polemical pro-OIT publications I could recommend, and these rarely circulate in the channels which scholars read. Most pro-OIT publications mix truth with untenable propositions (e.g. a very high chronology) and factual observations with shrill language, often arrogant and abusive. This puts neutral and competent observers off. Often they are also conspiratorial, of one piece with Edward Said's conspiratorial work Orientalism, viz. pretending that all Asian Studies scholars of the past two hundred years were but servants of a grand imperialist project. If you want the Aryan debate to go anywhere, OIT writers have to observe a complete moratorium, without ifs and buts, on references to the last two hundred years. No more Max Müller or Michael Witzel! When you are asked to describe a tree standing across the road, you don't start talking about the glasses through which you see the tree; and when discussing the Aryan question of some four thousand years ago, you don't start talking about the way the ancient past was approached in the recent past. There are exciting discoveries to be made about the ancient past, and only losers prefer to focus on the drab and well-known colonial and Nehruvian history.

Having spent time in the real world, interacting with real scholars, I know the real situation, which is that the AIT is still taught from all the important platforms. People who tell you diferently, live in a fantasy world and only interact with village bumpkins who accept their word for it; so as feedback they ultimately only hear their own opinions. Fortunately, we can ignore recent history including these Hindu will-o-the-wisps, and start work on the really available testimonies to ancient history.


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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gandhi the Englishman

 (The Pioneer, 1 January 2014)


Shortly before independence, Mahatma Gandhi asked Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to step down as candidate for the Congress leadership and hence for the upcoming job of Prime Minister. It was the only way to foist Jawaharlal Nehru on India, as Sardar Patel would easily have gotten a majority behind him. Yet, Nehru was overtly Westernized and known to be in favour of industrialization and modernization, while Gandhi was reputedly opposed to this approach.

Was Patel’s outlook not more capable, more popular and more Gandhian? With the benefit of hindsight, we can moreover say that the choice for Nehru ultimately led to the festering Kashmir problem, to proverbial socialist poverty, and to the communalization of the polity. Yet, when Gandhi made his fateful pro-Nehru move, he tried to minimize its importance and laughed it off: “Jawaharlal is the only Englishman in my camp.” This was a most curious reason, as Gandhism was popularly taken to imply a choice for native culture and against Westernization. But then, Gandhi himself was not really a votary of Gandhism.



Superficially, of course, with his spinning-wheel, he seemed to be the colourful paragon of Indian swadeshi (native produce) ideals. But there already, the problem starts. Indian culture had never opted for willful backwardness. In its time, the Harappan culture played a vanguard role in industry and trade. When you compare the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, you find decisive technological progress: Arjuna has abandoned Rama’s bow and arrow (not to speak of Hanuman’s mace, the primitive weapon par excellence) for a sword and a chariot. Jokes about Hindus highlight their uptight and greedy nature, but none would question their entrepreneurial skills. Indeed, Indian emigrants to more libertarian countries, and now also the native Indians relatively freed from socialist controls, have surprised everyone with their economic success.

It is the British who de-industrialized India, thus dooming it to backwardness and poverty. In order to give some justification to their policy, they fostered the idea of a “spiritual” India, uninterested in material progress. Gandhi proved to be a faithful propagator of this British notion. He also tapped into an anti-modern fashion in the West, where some intellectuals got tired of industrialization and set up autarchic communes.

Although Gandhi led the Freedom Movement, he was also a British loyalist. He volunteered for military service in the Boer War and in the suppression of the Zulu rebellion, and recruited for the British war effort in the First World War. From 1920 onwards, as the formal leader of the Indian National Congress, he got crowds marching but didn’t achieve much in reality. He let his enthusiastic foot-soldiers down. Initially, it was still possible to be both pro-British and pro-Indian, e.g. Annie Besant’s Home Rule League aimed for autonomy (swaraj) within the British Empire, on a par with “grown-up” states like Canada and Australia. In 1929, however, Congress redefined its goal as “complete independence” (purna swaraj). Mass agitation highlighted and popularized this goal, but Gandhi’s subsequent conclusion of a far less ambitious pact with Viceroy Lord Irwin betrayed his own pro-British feelings, not shared by his disappointed younger followers. In 1927, he had indeed blocked a similar resolution for full independence, pleading for dominion status instead. From 1942 onwards, as India’s independence was being prepared, he was relegated to the sidelines. When Prime Minister Clement Attlee finally announced the transfer of power, the memory of Gandhi’s mediagenic mass campaigns was only a “minimal” factor, as he confided later in an interview.

Being a loyalist of a world-spanning empire, Gandhi was at least immune to a rival Western fashion: nationalism. His opponent Vinayak Damodar Savarkar took inspiration from small nations seeking their nationhood, like the Czechs and Irish wanting independence, or Germany and Italy forging their unity, as exemplified by Savarkar’s translation of Giuseppe Mazzini’s book championing Italian nationalism. His “Hindu nation” was numerous enough, but centuries of oppression had given it the psychology of a defensive nation. Gandhi, by contrast, had the outlook of the multinational empire. That helps explain why in 1920 he could become enamoured of the Caliphate movement, defending the Muslim empire from which the Arabs had just freed themselves. It certainly explains his incomprehension for the founding of Hindu nationalist organizations (Hindu Mahasabha 1922, RSS 1925) in reaction against his tragicomical Caliphate agitation.



In his youth, Gandhi had been influenced by Jain and Vaishnava saints, but as an adult, he mainly took inspiration from Christian writers like Leo Tolstoi and befriended Westerners like architect Hermann Kallenbach. His name was elevated into an international synonym of non-violent agitation by American journalists. It is logical to suspect a direct transmission from the West for his voguish doctrines, like this political non-violence or his slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava, “equal respect for all religions”.

The marriage of non-violence and political agitation seems an innovative interpretation of Hinduism’s old virtue of Ahimsa. But Hinduism had tended to keep ascetic virtues separate from Raja Dharma, a politician’s duties. When the Jain Oswal community decided to opt for uncomproming Ahimsa, it gave up its Kshatriya status and adopted Vaishya dharma, the bloodless duties of the entrepreneur. The personal practice of virtues was always deemed different from the hard action that politics sometimes necessitates. From the start, Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence was tinged with the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice, of being killed rather than killing. Not that many Christian rulers had ever applied this principle, but at least it existed in certain Gospel passages such as the Sermon on the Mount. When, during the Partition massacres, Gandhi told Hindu refugees to go back to Pakistan and willingly get killed, he did not rely on any principle taught in the wide variety of Hindu scriptures. But in certain exalted Christian circles, it would be applauded.

This is even clearer in Gandhi’s religious version of what Indians call “secularism”, i.e. religious pluralism. This was a growing value in the modern anglosphere. Within Christianity, Unitarianism had set out to eliminate all doctrinal points deemed divisive between Christians, even the fundamental dogma of the Trinity. On the fringes, the Theosophists and Perennialists sought common ground between “authentic” Christianity, Vedicism and “esoteric” Buddhism as expressions of the global “perennial” truth. Gandhi’s contemporary Aldous Huxley juxtaposed the goody-goody points of all religions in a book aptly titled The Perennial Philosophy. Outside the West, this trend was imitated by progressive circles, such as the Bahai reform movement in Iran, harbinger of modern values like egalitarianism and internationalism (e.g. promotor of Esperanto, the linguistic embodiment of the globalist ideal). In India, the British-influenced Brahmo Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission had promoted the idea of a universal religion transcending the existing denominations. Hinduism had always practised pluralism as a pragmatic way to live and let live, but these movements turned it into an ideological dogma.



So, Gandhi’s religious pluralism, today his main claim to fame, was essentially  the transposition of a Western ideological fashion. Of Vivekananda, it is routinely claimed that he was besieged by alternative religionists as soon as he set foot in the USA, and that this influence coloured his view and presentation of Hinduism. Gandhi’s worldview too was determined by Western contacts, starting in his student days in England, when he frequented vegetarian eateries, the meeting-place par excellence of various utopians and Theosophists. It must be emphasized that he borrowed from one current in Western culture while ignoring another, viz. the critical questioning of religion. Historical Bible studies had reduced Jesus to a mere accident in human history, neither the Divine incarnation worshiped by Christians nor the spiritual teacher venerated by many Hindus. In the pious Mahatma, this very promising rational approach to religion was wholly absent.   

Hindus themselves are partly to blame, having long abandoned their own tradition of philosophical debate, embracing sentimental devotion instead. This has led to a great flowering of the arts but to a decline in their power of discrimination. Great debaters like Yajnavalkya or Shankara would not be proud to see modern Hindus fall for anti-intellectual soundbites like “equal respect for all religions”. Very Gandhian, but logically completely untenable. For example, Christianity believes that Jesus was God’s Son while Islam teaches that he was merely God’s spokesman: if one is right, the other is wrong, and nobody has equal respect for a true and a false statement (least of all Christians and Muslims themselves). Add to this their common scapegoat Paganism, in India represented by “idolatrous” Hinduism, and the common truth of all three becomes unthinkable. It takes a permanent suspension of the power of discrimination to believe in the syrupy Gandhian syncretism which still prevails in India.

The Mahatma’s outlook was neither realistic nor Indian. Not even the Jain doctrine of Anekantavada, “pluralism”, had been as mushy and anti-intellectual as the suspension of logic that is propagated in India under Gandhi’s name. It could only come about among post-Christian Westerners tired of doctrinal debates, and from their circles, Gandhi transplanted it to India.  


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