Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Since I rarely read novels, I will not seriously review the historical novel given to me, Urnabhih ("spider's web", Roli Books, Delhi 2014) by Sumedha Verma Ojha. Spy stories interest me more, but to save time, I prefer the film version, or at any rate I make do with it. In this case, however, I have enjoyed every para of this page-turner, though perhaps male readers will find it gives too much feminine attention to details. The heroine, Misrakesi, is a dancing girl employed as a spy under Pushyamitra, the spymaster who gets his instructions from Acharya Chanakya, the brain behind the throne of the new Samrat (emperor), Chandragupta Maurya. On p.161, I thought I had understood the plot, but no, it ends very differently.

As the author's name indicates, she comes from Bihar and was actually born in Patna, ancient Pataliputra, the setting of much of the story. A graduate in Economics, she used to be an Indian civil servant but now lives with her family in Switzerland.

As a historian, I am mainly interested in the degree of historical accuracy, but here I find that the author clearly has applied the same concern. As far as our knowledge reaches, the novel seems to paint a truthful picture of the incipient Maurya empire. Of course I can't vouch for all the types of flowers, perfumes and clothing items, not my field, but I reckon that there too, the author has been scrupulous. So, I unhesitatingly recommend this book.

The only drawback for the average reader is the many Sanskrit words. Some of them are explained in footnotes, which isn't really becoming in a novel, and most are not explained at all .For Indian readers, most of them will be understandable, but not all, and foreign readers are really lost. The solution, and here I hope the publisher reads this feedback, is to provide a glossary (no footnotes needed) containing all non-English words.

Read more!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Three views of Hindu activism


 Secular cum laude


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

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

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



The author’s ideological placement


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

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

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

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

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

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

Secularism in the Constitution

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

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

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


Hindu activism outside the Sangh

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

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

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



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

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

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


Emulating the Other

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

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

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



BJP secularism

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

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

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

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

Apology of the RSS

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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



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

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

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



A writer on Modi time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

BJP's excellent learning opportunity





The BJP's thundering defeat in Delhi was not due to any sudden merits of the Aam Aadmi Party, but to several problems inside the BJP itself. That much is not controversial. The debate is all about what exactly were the mistakes made.


1. Campaign strategy - We need not spend many words on the poor campaign strategy, contrasting with the campaign that brought Narendra Modi to power. It was disorganised and incoherent. It failed to excite the social media netizens, unlike the previous Prime Ministerial campaign where the netizens were gung ho about Modi being the PM and they watched each and every of his speeches. It also built on twenty years of neglect and confusion in the local BJP section.


2. Parachuting the CM Candidate - The parachuting of Kiran Bedi was not well received by the senior leaders of Delhi BJP as well as the volunteers who form the backbone of all BJP work. Kiran failed to excite them to work for her. Most of the active volunteers felt neglected by her as well as by the Delhi BJP leaders.


3. The rape issue -- The AAP not only built on old campaign tricks like promising freebies, but also had deliberately crafted a genuine appeal to each of the sections of society. In particular, it exploited the concern about women's safety far better than former police chief Kiran Bedi. While she belittled the widespread concern about rape, the AAP went all out to depict the BJP as the party that, while pontificating about the sacredness of women in Hindu tradition, failed to address this real-life concern.


4. Dustbin for Rejects - The BJP started becoming the dustbin for rejects from every corner. The rejects came in all shapes and sizes and with absolutely no adherence to the BJP ideology. So much so, it also included seculars like Shazia Ilmi who was seen obsessively campaigning against the BJP and asking Muslims to be more communal on television.


5. Wannabe Secularism - The BJP enjoys no real acceptance among the secularists and the minorities, but it keeps on craving this, even at the expense of its support base of Hindu activists. Kiran Bedi sought the usual certificate of good conduct from the secularists by declaring that since childhood she had rated all religions equal -- a statement not really offending the Hindu party workers but not generating any enthusiasm either. A candidate who lost his seat to the AAP, Rajinder Singh Sirsa, blames Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's statement on Ramzade vs. Haramzade (Rama's descendents vs. "bastards", meaning Muslims) for costing him the Muslim vote (Indian Express, 11 Feb.). The statement is unworthy of a Minister and in fact of any serious Hindu, but Sirsa is living in a fool's paradise if he thinks that without it he would have gotten the Muslim vote. Using their own brains, or following a pro-AAP advice ("fatwa") by the Shahi Imam, the Muslims overwhelmingly voted for the party best placed to defeat the BJP. In the same fool's paradise you will also find the BJP leadership that keeps on courting the minorities, not comprehending their long-standing determination to help defeat the BJP at all costs. Buffoons keep thinking that their own conduct can do something about this determination, but this only shows contempt for the minorities: it assumes that they have no agency of their own and merely react to what you do. 


6. Belittling the Hindu party workers - Over the years, the BJP has morphed from a Hindu party into a largely free-market party occupying the niche left unserved the the different varieties of Nehruvian socialists. These classical economic-liberals pontificate against the Hindu-minded party workers to whom each one of them owes his position (for nobody would do the thankless campaigning job for a cold economy-oriented party without a cultural agenda). For instance, Sandipan Deb writes ("BJP needs to decide", Swarajya, 10 Feb.): "The government has been totally unnecessarily drawn into controversies by members of its own party or the extended parivar. Wackos completely unknown till now have been crawling out of the woodwork and making outrageous statements — about imagined past glories, about historical rancour, about they-did-it-to-us and now we will do it to them." Only a secularist would reduce the Hindu agenda to these grievances, and remember that on the secularist side, the BJP will not garner votes, only opportunist job-seekers.


7. The Hindutva wackos – On the other hand, the condemnation of these Hindutva “wackos” is well-deserved. They speak from their underbellies, they have some vague and undirected pro-Hindu feelings and want to redress some real or perceived injustices, but beyond that, they are perfectly clueless. They say things that are not at all rooted in Dharma, such as a threat to kill all those who leave Hinduism, as Akshay Maharaj uttered (the death penalty for apostates exists, but in another religion). The solution is to provide them with leadership and to rally them around a programme that is both reasonable and sufficiently pro-Hindu.


Since its foundation in 1925, the RSS has not seriously rethought its ideology, then already questionable but now also hopelessly outdated. Since its foundation in 1980, the BJP has only watered down the ideology it started with, and now only banks on a historical loyalty of its workers. It gives no direction or rallying-point to the “wackos”. About his opponents, BJP president Amit Shah asks: "What is its [AAP's] ideology? The sum of all grievances cannot be called ideology." (India Today, 16 Feb.) But what is the BJP’s own ideology? Does the BJP’s record of governance reflect any ideology?


Long ago, a party leader justified the effective phasing out of Hindutva (including the dropping of the Ayodhya demand after reaping its electoral dividends in 1991) by saying that a party doesn’t need an ideology, only good governance. This anti-political position has gradually elbowed out the Hindutva stance with which the party is still identified.


A very good thing about the Delhi defeat is that the BJP suddenly has to face the new situation that, since it is now such a visible enemy, the anti-BJP voters have given up on the luxury of fighting one another, and have united behind whichever party is in a position to defeat the BJP. This may be reproduced in any election to come, especially the national election scheduled for 2019. Henceforth, they need to get not 35% (they got 32% and still were completely routed) but 51%.


This all-out electoral struggle requires enthusiasm among the party volunteers. This in turn requires building a record of achievements that can be seen as pro-Hindu in their results, but that are perfectly democratic and secular. Case in point: abolishing the (by definition unsecular) inequality between the religions in setting up educational institutions and managing places of worship. These are far more important issues for Hindu society than declaring a “Hindu Rashtra”, and need not offend the minorities.  


If this is not done, defeat in 2019 becomes inevitable. But even that is a welcome eye-opener. Too many BJP people take for granted that they will be returned to power and use that perspective as an excuse for not delivering in the near future. Now they should realize that the present term in office is a unique window of opportunity that may never come back.


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Friday, February 13, 2015

The language question

My first-ever article in the Indian press was about the language question. In the Varanasi Pioneer, ca. December 1988, I sympathized with UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s controversial decision to abolish the English paper as requirement for the State’s Civil Service. It was seen as only a prelude to a general phasing out of the English medium, also in education. It was probably the last roar of Hindi pride and the last demotion of English till now, but from behind my Comparative Grammar of Hindi and Tamil, I loved it. After that, the trend became ever more pro-English.

In the English-medium schools, the reaction was predictably negative. Apparently, instead of handing in the essay they normally had to write every week as homework, pupils were now required to write a “letter to the editor” to defend English as medium of administration and education. At any rate, the newspapers were full of such letters. The story-line was mostly: “In this modern age, we need technology and progress, and this can only come about with English-medium education.” Really?



English superiority?


In their book Bhâshâ-nîti / The English Medium Myth. Dismantling Barriers to India’s Growth, (Cinnamonteal, Gogol, Goa-India, 2014; Bhâshâ-nïti means “language policy”), Sankrant Sanu, Rajiv Malhotra and Carl Clemens address the thorny question of India’s effective official language. The first thing they do, is wipe the floor with the completely counterfactual myth that India benefits from having English as its elite language. Of the twenty richest countries, all have the mother tongue of the population as their official language and medium of instruction. By contrast, of the twenty poorest, most have a foreign language (viz. of their former colonizer) as official language and medium of instruction.

Colonial surveyors found that in native education, the teachers were more motivated than in English-medium schools, the environments were less dingy, and school attendance was higher. That is why the Anglicization of education, as advocated by TB Macaulay, was opposed by another party among the British administrators, the Orientalists. One of them wrote:

“By annihilating native literature, by sweeping away from all sources of pride and pleasure in their own mental efforts, by rendering a whole people dependent upon a remote and unknown country for all their ideas and the words in which to clothe them, we should degrade their character, depress their energies and render them incapable of aspiring to any intellectual distinction.” (Horace Wilson: “Education of the natives of India”, Asiatic Journal (1836), quoted p.26)

To be sure, the Orientalist party was equally part of the colonial establishment and equally wanted to impart English knowledge and culture. But at least they had enough common sense to do so through the native languages. They didn’t try to set up an obstacle between the Indian and his mother tongue. At any rate, their approach was not tried, and after Independence, the indigenous English-speaking ruling class generalized what Macaulay had only intended for an elite. The result is that millions of Indians, at home in neither their mother tongue nor English, are condemned to mediocrity, “incapable of aspiring to any intellectual distinction”.

By contrast, Technion, Israel’s world-class engineering college, uses Hebrew as its medium of instruction. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the Biblical language was not used as a live medium at all and had no vocabulary for modern items; today, first-class inventions are made through this language, adopted as mother-tongue by most Israelis. No concessions are made to foreign students, but they can first take the five-week intensive course of Hebrew. China and Japan work solely through the mother tongue. Some of their scientists do Nobel-level research without any knowledge of English. If India owes its significance in ICT to English, why isn’t Kenya, with a similar colonial history and linguistic situation, equally successful?

Speaking of which: Kenya can at least boast of a leading writer, Ngûgî wa Thiong’o, who switched from writing through the English medium to his native Gikuyu. His views on the language question (summarized on p.28-32) are entirely parallel to those of the authors. He was also cited to the same effect by the Marxist Hindi novelist and literature professor Kashi Nath Singh, whom I interviewed for the Flemish periodical Inforiënt (1989).

Ngûgî wa Thiong’o’s act of linguistic decolonization still awaits a counterpart in India, where the Arundhati Roys win foreign literary awards with their English prose. “The Empire writes back”, yes, but it is culturally becoming ever more a peripheral part of the Anglosphere. And, as the authors note, this self-humiliation and self-reduction to servile call-centre clerks is going to continue until all Indians are more at home in English than in their mother tongues. Among other things, it is the price for making the Indian public sphere a real democracy again, where everyone can participate in the public conversation on an equal footing. The only alternative to the linguistic suicide we are witnessing is the one advocated here: a return to a native language as official medium.


Sanskrit and geopolitics

Rajiv Malhotra concentrates on the place of Sanskrit the last two thousand years. As an official language, it spread from Purushapur to Pandurag (Vietnalm) and Prambanam (Java), and always coexisted with local languages, not threatening but enriching them. Desanskritization took place in several phases, mainly Islamization and Anglicization.

In the Constituent Assembly, the choice of Sanskrit as link language for government work and inter-state communication lost by one vote against Hindi, but now emerges again as the only alternative to English. Back then, it was advocated by Scheduled Caste leader BR Ambedkar and by Muslim leader Naziruddin Ahmad. By their communal affiliation, they already constituted live refutations of the usual argument that Sanskrit will be unacceptable to the ex-low castes and the minorities. (It must be admitted, though, that Indian and foreign agitators have worked hard to built opinion against anything which smells of Hinduism; and what have the Hindus done to counter this?)

Ahmad swept away another frequently-heard argument against Sanskrit: “I offer you a language which is the grandest and the greatest, and it is impartially difficult, equally difficult for all to learn.” (p.92) Yes, Sanskrit is difficult, but it is difficult for all. I may add another consideration in favour of heavily grammatical, “difficult” languages. Among our neighbours, English and German stand as two opposite poles in language: very supple vs. very rule-bound. Once you have crossed the hurdle of learning German grammar, you can express yourself in correct German without making a fool of yourself. English, by contrast, is an endless learning process. Apart from its endless spelling problems, an instance of its ungrammaticality that form an insurmountable hurdle for numerous Indians, is the idiomatic use or non-use of the article (the, a), which in German is very regular and in Sankrit too – by not existing.

So, Sanskrit is the logical alternative as official language and unifier of India. For Indians, it is far easier to learn than English, and at least passive knowledge need be no more than a matter of years. The switch can be gradual, and is facilitated by ICT. 


Switch away from English


The hegemony of English is a product of state policy, to be remedied by state policy. The switch away from English should be effected through “pull” (legally favouring competence in Sanskrit) rather than “push” (forcing Sanskrit but leaving the advantage of English in place).

A distinction should be made between English-medium, leading to the creation of disconnected elite, and English as a foreign language, which should be learned as a school subject, like in other countries. But the switch would be welcomed by the general population, though the elites may resent this demotion of the foreign language they so painstakingly learned. They will, for example, say that the native languages still have a place for literature, but that science requires English – exactly Macaulay’s position. When put on the spot, they will plead for the “initiative to ‘preserve’ Indian languages for their cultural and literary value but keeping English as the econonomic, legal and technical language. This is foolish and short-sighted. Only dead artifacts need preservation in museums. For languages to grow and flourish, they must be linked to economic activity and vibrant knowledge production in all fields” (p.111) 

However, “change is always painful but we need to look at the multi-generational impact.” (p.112)As Mahatma Gandhi said: “[w]e can drive English out. All this is necessary for us slaves.” On the other side of this reform lies real independence.


Sanu, Sankrant; Malhotra, Rajiv; and Clemens, Carl: Bhasha-nîti / The English Medium Myth. Dismantling Barriers to India’s Growth, Cinnamonteal, Gogol (Goa), India, 2014.225 pp

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The Dharma Civilization Foundation’s Strategic Retreat


On 5-7 February 2015, the Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF) organized a brainstorm conference called “Strategic Retreat” in SVYASA outside Bengaluru. Coming in the first year of the reputedly Hindu government of Narendra Modi, it could not but serve as an occasion for guiding and correcting the thought informing the present policies. The organizers themselves had appointed someone to produce a professional report, so I can dispense with the details. Here only some conclusions.


1.       The name

As names go, and to the extent that they are important, the names of organizer and event were felicitous.

Dharma is a better and more substantive name than the geographically connoted Hindu. It is exceptional for a non-Indian to call himself a Hindu, but anyone could be a Dharmin. It is even better than the term Sanâtana Dharma, “eternal Dharma”, which is nowadays used as an indigenous name for Hinduism. Both the Bhagavad Gita and the Buddha have said that ”this Dharma is sanâtana”, so the composite name has ancient credentials. Yet, those authorities didn’t use it as a composite name, they just spoke of Dharma and then qualified it as sanâtana, eternal. So, the simple name of the religion Hindus practise, is Dharma. Literally “sustenance”, it effectively means “performing the role befitting your place within the whole”, “doing the needful to maintain the correct relation between the part and the whole”. It encompasses both observing a correct friendship with the other parts through morality (not merely vis-à-vis human beings) and realizing a proper relation with the sacred through rituals, prayers and festivals.   

Civilization is what Hinduism nowadays, like in the preceding millennia, amounts to. Recognizing this, as the founders of the DCF have done, is a great improvement over speaking of a “Hindu nation”. The RSS was born in 1925 during the heyday of nationalism, so in retrospect it is understandable that they tried to force-fit their vision for Hindu society in terms of the nation-state. But in the present, this choice has become indefensible. Hindu states in the past have rarely covered all of India. They were politically independent from one another, but belonged to the same civilization. So, it is better to speak of a Hindu civilization than of a Hindu state.

Strategic is what the Hindu movement has not been thus far. The name at least announced that this meeting was meant to strategize. Strategy implies knowing the battlefield, the Kurukshetra, with its challenges and opportunities. It further requires seeing through the enemy. This is sorely missing in the Hindu movement, which typically swallows the enemy’s own propaganda and does everything to please him. Strategy of course also presupposes knowledge of your own self, not in some spiritual sense but in the practical sense of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. And this in turn presupposes some knowledge of the other, as it is only the comparative perspective that allows you to estimate the magnitude of your strengths and weaknesses. So, here the Hindu movement has very serious shortcomings, so the conference was out to make a big step forwards.

Retreat is an ambiguous word when coupled with “strategic”. A strategy session inside a yogic retreat centre could be called “Strategic Retreat”, as was the case here. But “strategic retreat” is more usually understood as a step backwards which gives you a strategic advantage  The French call it reculer pour mieux sauter, “stepping backwards to leap all the better”. Thus, in WW2, when the Germans invaded, the Soviet generals advocated a strategic retreat, but Stalin forbade it, and millions were killed or imprisoned. Later in the war, the Germans had to retreat, and their generals planned an orderly regrouping in more defensible positions, but Hitler forbade further retreats, again with millions of unnecessary victims. So, sometimes a strike forward weakens your position on the battlefield, and a strategic retreat is then advisable. In this case, a retreat was needed, because the Hindu movement sometimes behaves like a headless chicken, and in the Modi government too, we see signs of disorientation.

On the other hand, the time has never been as right as now to strike out. With a nominally Hindu government in power, the usual Hindu wailing can be replaced with the desired reforms. That is why the speakers were asked to make their conclusions action-oriented. Unfortunately, while the speakers knew what they were talking about and realized only too well what legislative reforms are needed,  is to be seen whether this vision will translate into political will at the decision-making level.



Compared to the very mixed quality I have witnessed at earlier Hindu conferences, here there was some genuine quality control. Participation was only by invitation, and most speakers were (former) vice-chancellors, professors or professional educators, with a few who were strictly speaking amateurs but had proven themselves as medical doctors or ICT specialists. The work rhythm was intense (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.), the focus high and consistent.

Still, some speeches were again only descriptive rather than action-oriented, starting with an overview of the Vedic tradition and its many auxiliary sciences. A bit of the usual self-praise was not absent either. To be sure, it is very true that the education the Indian youngsters get is still very Eurocentric and downplays or ignores the numerous Indian achievements. But it will not wash to emphasize India’s achievements by belittling others’ achievements. I can alas testify that this tendency is very marked among vocal internet Hindus, but here it was confined to one excursus within one speech. The speaker was a meritorious professor of physics and mathematics, and within his field he informed us of many relevant developments I had not heard about yet; but when he ventured into history, he went badly off track.

He lambasted Greek mathematics and started arguing that the Greek mathematician Euclid had never existed because there were no ancient copies of his book. Whether the author of his book was really called Euclid is up for speculation, just as Chanakya’s real identity is uncertain; but the book was written by someone, and in Greek. Euclid’s work was consistent with the then state of Greek mathematics as attested by numerous sources, and is cited by many in the subsequent centuries. History is more complex than this reliance on only contemporaneous documents and often has to effect its reconstruction of the past through deduction from secondary sources. By the professor’s improvised criteria, the Vedas, which were transmitted orally, are not older than Sayana’s late-medieval commentary on them. The fact that the Mahabharata and many other sources mention them, is no proof by his standards: it may have been a myth or a container term which was given body only later. This mentality of asserting one’s own civilization’s worth by denying or belittling the merits of others is typical for the vengeful mentality of colonial underlings. Decolonization would consist in drawing self-confidence from one’s own history of achievements and looking with equanimity and fellow-joy upon the successes of others.

But that was the only false note, to which I as a history researcher have perhaps devoted an exaggerated attention. Otherwise, it was a feast of information and positive perspectives. Many people came to speak of their own initiatives and the way they had organized things and achieved a revalorization of Dharma in educational method as well as contents.

I was particularly touched by the session on national language. I have always attached great importance to this topic and observed the negative effects of the role of English in India. With facts and figures, it was shown how India could do far better if it followed the example of all the countries that do science an self-government in their own languages. The speakers had also devised a workable scheme to effect the switch from English to Sanskrit and the vernaculars. I had practically given up on this issue because so many policy-makers and even friends active in the Hindu movement had simply accepted the hegemony of English and dismissed all the “useless and unrealistic” ado about the language issue. But here it raised its head again, fresh and alive as ever.        



Quite a few speakers dealt with the problems they had encountered. Many educational institutions are willing to give more attention to Hindu traditions, but ask: “Where are the materials?”, and especially: “Where are the people who can teach them?” The secularist establishment’s decades of wilful neglect has created a yawning gap of missing competence.

The Modi government would like to appoint vice-chancellors of its own choice, less hostile to Hinduism than is mostly the case. But it can hardly find the right people: Hindu-minded, competent, yet part of the academic establishment. That is the result of decades-long Nehruvian hegemony and exclusion of anyone suspected of pro -Hindu leanings, you say? True, but it is also the fruit of decades of neglect of knowledge production by the Sangh Parivar, which took it lying down and never so much as considered a counter-strategy.

Now is not the time to bewail past failings, you say? It is not as if looking past failings in the eye takes much of the time needed elsewhere. This sudden taste for action precluding introspection is but one of the many excuses the Sangh leadership invariably gives on such occasions. It has never learned from the feedback from reality. Indeed, if there is one thing constant in their history, it is the stonewalling of feedback.

On the contrary, it is the lessons from reality that spur us on to action. This retreat threatened to peter out in a non-committal closing session, but then the recurrent complaint inspired a mild little intervention into legislative reality, for scholars an unusual move. Speaker after speaker had noted the hurdle created for Hindus (as opposed to the minorities) to teach Hindu history, which is treated under the header “religion”, or to impart values. Some of them had thought up ways around this but obviously this would only work for their private little initiatives and consumed a lot of energy.

This situation is simply not right, and should be redressed. Now that there is a government claiming some kind of commitment to Dharma, or even just to genuine secularism and fairness, nothing should stand in the way of amending the laws and the articles of the Constitution that stifle dharmic education. These are particularly Art. 28, which prohibits the imparting of “religion” by schools or institutions partly or wholly subsidized by the state and Art. 30, which ensures the “right of minorities to establish educational institutions”. It doesn’t mention the majority but is usually interpreted as withholding the same right from the majority. This is the main reason why the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission, the Lingayats and the Jains have demanded (and usually acquired) minority status, so as to immunize their institutions from interference by the authorities. The article as it stands or as it is usually interpreted in the most tangible reason for Sampadayas to leave the Hindu fold. It is by definition anti-secular.

A resolution was then swiftly drawn up:  

“We, scholars gathered by the Dharma Civilization Foundation at Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Sansthan on 7 February 2015, request the Government of India to start a process of revising Articles 28 and 30 of the Constitution, so that equality shall be achieved between all religions regarding the right to establish educational institutions and impart the teaching and research on all religious and linguistic systems and traditions.”

A discussion developed about the desirability of this resolution. I myself contributed to the debate by defending the resolution with reference to the myth of Augias. His stable had to be cleaned within a day by Achilles, who realized that the labour would take years. He took a nearby river and changed its course so that it would wash through the stable and clean it forthwith. All these little initiatives to impart values and teach Hindu tradition are like attempts to clean the Augian stable with a toothbrush, while legislative reform can clear all these problems at one stroke. Or if you prefer a Vedic myth: the waters were withheld by a dragon, who imposed increasing drought on suffering humanity, but then Indra slew the dragon and released the waters. Can a BJP Prime Minister become this Indra and release the waters of educational rights, withheld by the secularist dragon, over the Hindus?

This resolution was voted on and accepted by an overwhelming and enthusiastic majority. There were two dissenting voices. Their rather lame arguments were that scholars had no business in trying to influence politics (as if democracy doesn’t imply that any citizen, even a scholar or gathering of scholars, can voice his opinion), and that it would be humiliating for scholars to issue a resolution only to find it ignored. Well, that is a chance to be taken, that is life: not all your desires will be fulfilled, but you have a right to try.

Admittedly, the latter argument gave voice to a realistic apprehension, for it is very possible that in spite of the fears feigned by the secularist media, the BJP once in power will remain stone-deaf to any demand that smells of Hinduism and threatens to be decried by the still-holy secularists. This would mean that their decades of pro-Hindu posturing stand exposed as insincere.  Among Indi-watchers, the BJP has two conflicting reputations: of religious fanatics, and of cynical power-seekers who merely use religion to collect votes. So far, the second one seems much closer to the truth. But the BJP now has the chance to refute it.

The resolution is eminently reasonable, voicing a demand of justice, and addressing a problem that only affects Hindus but without framing it in terms of Hindu politics, merely in terms of secularism and equality. Even the strong pro-economy and anti-religion faction in the BJP cannot object to it. At least, not sincerely. 


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