Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Zinal conference


On 23 to 29 august 2014, the European Union of Yoga organized its 41nd annual conference in Zinal, Switzerland. The village of Zinal, originally just a hutment for cowherds, lies between the high mountains in the Navizance river valley at 1600+ metres. It is now a tourist village for skiers and mountain walkers, though the obligatory Swiss mountain architecture for all the houses still gives it an atmosphere that city-dwellers like us find very charming. In Europe it is about as close as you can get to the heights of the ashrams in the Himalayas.


The Union of Yoga

The board meeting only brought together the bigwigs delegated by the constituent national federations. They elected a new president, and other such official matters that need not concern us here.

Since I had gone unprepared and in complete ignorance of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to meet quite a few people I knew, such as Anuradha & Vinayachandra from Bangalore, who sometimes come to lecture at Ghent University, and Dr. Jacques Vigne, with whom I had corresponded but whom I had never met. There were sessions in English, French, German, Dutch and Spanish. Since such a small village does not have the infrastructure for holding all the sessions in one building, much walking between sessions was inevitable but made a pleasant closer interaction with the mountainous terrain inevitable.  

Nearly 400 yoga practitioners participated. They stood out as good-humoured and friendly. They easily recognized one another by their carrying a yoga mat. They all had some years of practice behind them and proved it by an excellent physical condition. The mountains were a fitting environment for them, for they were upright people striving upwards and pointing to heaven. Perhaps outside scholars might want to criticize their defective or controverted intellectual understanding of certain matters, but there is just no doubt about their earnestness and sincerity of purpose. For me they were the real heroes of the gathering, for the positive atmosphere they created lifted me above some of my limitations.

The conference theme was Patañjali's understanding of kriya yoga, i.e. tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana. For Western yoga circles, yoga mainly means the Yoga Sutra, sometimes with some Bhagavad Gita and Kashmiri Shaivism thrown in. Tapas, "heat", cognate to the root of "temperature", is rather straightforward in meaning: discipline, asceticism. Svadhyaya, literally "self-study", means in contemporary Indian usage the study of sacred texts, which was all new to many participants. However, it is also used in the sense of "focusing on a mantra". Ishvarapranidhana, currently always interpreted in a devotional and theistic sense, is rather controversial among specialists. Jacques Vigne made a convincing case that it means "immersion in aum", "surrender to the sound of silence".

In Europe, yoga means primarily hatha (“power”) yoga, i.e. asanas and pranayama. Though meant as a basis for meditation (and the teachers here mostly focused on meditation), the general usage of the word “yoga” tends to leave out the very essence of what constitutes yoga. On the other hand, a grounding in hatha yoga implies that those who take up meditation have already proven their commitment in the non-negotiable way of getting their bodies in shape. Moreover, while asanas are only a more recent support of meditation, one should not underestimate them. It remains amazing how the dedicated practice of asana can swiftly weed out bothersome mental attitudes like low self-esteem, fickleness, irritability, slothfulness etc. and get the mind ready for meditation. Some so-called spiritual activities may be stratospheric, but disciplining the body and the mind is very down-to-earth.

The notion of "liberation" (moksha, mukti, nirvana) was practically absent from the discourse. In India, I have often noticed that yoga gurus are treated like some kind of different species: they are liberated, we are not, we are still tied to the wheel of reincarnation. Here, most people were dedicated to their practice but not goal-oriented towards "liberation", nor was anyone present treated as "liberated". Yoga has always had an array of different goals. Originally, it was probably aimed at acquiring magical powers, and "yogi" was another word for "magic worker". Patañjali was the best-known representative of a movement of purification which, in terms of the Sankhya philosophy, clearly directed yoga practice to the goal of kaivalya, "isolation" (of consciousness from nature), i.e. concentrating consciousness in itself, liberated from all contents. From almost the beginning, this goal got fused with the doctrine of reincarnation: the end result of meditation is the stopping of the wheel of reincarnation. From about 1000 BCE, the Nath Yogis developed hatha yoga with the goal of sharpening the body, but with the goal of making it more fit for meditation. Today the beautiful people in Hollywood and such places have taken hatha yoga as a goal in itself, with no more profound goal than to get better muscle tonus or more appealing buttocks.  

But the use of yoga for goals other than liberation, nowadays criticized by traditional Hindus as a Western distortion, has a long history. When Buddhism became established in China, Confucian literati mocked Buddhist notions of reincarnation and liberation, but appreciated the art of meditation, which they integrated in their daily duty-oriented routine as jingzuo, "peaceful sitting", sort of "tuning their instrument" before going out into the world to perform their duty. If yoga is good, then it is good, no matter what the ultimate benefit. As a youngster, I practiced aikido, and I remember Kanetsuka sensei advocating the practice of zazen ("sitting meditation", sad-dhyana, zuochan). To a questioner who wanted to know what zazen was good for, he answered: "When the emperor of China asked Bodhidharma: 'What's the use of zazen?', he said: 'No use!' I don't wonder about the use, I just sit." It is in that spirit that most serious practitioners of yoga do it. 




The good thing about Westerners practising yoga is that they do it from a completely fresh perspective. None of the social burdens that Hinduism carries, and of which quite a few participants did have some sobering knowledge picked up in passing during their trips to Indian ashrams. Hindus like to advertise the great success of yoga in the West, yet some hold it against Westerners that their manner of learning yoga is insufficiently traditional, or is even “stolen” from India. That latest reproach is certainly unjustified, for the West has paid untold millions to import gurus from India -- admittedly only fair after a long and lucrative colonization. However, Westerners should acknowledge their Indian sources, which was no problem here.

Only a few participants were even aware of the political situation in India, the legal discrimination against Hinduism and the ongoing war on Hinduism. Nevertheless, a few teachers, unbeknownst to their audience, happen to be involved in work with major “communal” (= alleged to be religiously divisive) ramifications; eventhough none of that work interfered with their job as meditation teachers. One very impressive meditation teacher from Pondicherry is involved with the rebuttal of the anti-Aurobindo campaign by some American scholars, an entirely dignified scholarly job which will nonetheless earn him the label “fanatic” from his opponents.

A psychiatrist teaching meditation and remedial consciousness techniques is involved with the psychological deconstruction of some godmen. He has earned the wrath of some Hindus with his qualified support to attempts to psycho-analyze the Keralite guru Amma, but ought to get their massive support for his radical deconstruction of Mohammed, reducing him to a classic case of paranoia (viz. entertaining the delusion of divine chosenness). I could add that even far better known gurus involve themselves in “communal” causes, which is natural, as in the dominant media parlance, “communal” is simply a pejorative term for "Hindu".



(If you have more important things to do, please skip this part. It is merely a testimony of some personal evolution as a conquence of this Yoga Week.)

After practising yoga for some years, even earning a teacher’s diploma at the fairly young age of 28 (1987), I left the European yoga scene when I first went to India in 1988. Other people go to India for yoga, I went there to study, research and work, neglecting much of the yoga I had learned. Over the years I visited most sacred places in Varanasi and briefly stayed at some ashrams, like Prema Padurang’s near Chennai and recently the Mahayoga Ashram in Ujjain, but it was not at all what I went to India for. I never went to yogic centres like Rishikesh and Haridwar. In my home country, I went to see some visiting gurus and practised their meditations, but some medical mishaps made hatha yoga rather difficult (though with the benefit of hindsight, I simply should have been more persistent and tougher on myself). Friends and medical personnel insisted I spare myself, and I was all too willing to oblige. It is only a few years ago that I returned to the European yoga scene, with a somewhat handicapped body, to teach Indian Worldviews and the Development of Yogic Thought at two yoga teacher training programmes in Brussels and Bruges, and Sanskrit at an Ayurvedic school in Ghent.  

This, then, was my first stay at Zinal. Since childhood I hadn't seen peaks like these, which proved a fitting setting for a Great Leap Forward. There was nothing sensationally new or deep in the yoga message, but the mere immersion into a large group of dedicated practitioners turned out to be just what I needed. The revolution took place on 29 August. Early morning, I took part in a session teaching the 24-verse prayer to the rising sun, interspersed with 24 physical sequences known as the Salutation to the Sun, a well-known exercise I had given up doing years ago. Resigned to being unable to do this anymore, I remained sitting on my chair during the physical part, at least the first few rounds. But then I decided to get up and give it a try. Though as expected, it was quite difficult and my bones were protesting, it kind of worked and I ended up doing it nine times. A large part was due to the inspiring influence of the no-nonsense Breton teacher Rodolphe Milliat.

Later that day, I had withdrawn into my room to handle an important phone-call with a publisher. When I came out, I happened to meet a lady from my own town back home, on her way to a meditation class. Though from there on, the road was steeply uphill, she was determined not to come late so she kept up a firm pace. Normally I would have given up, but considering the company, I didn’t want it said that I couldn’t keep up with a woman, so I toughed it out and we arrived together, though me badly out of breath. Friends who saw me, later told me they were surprised at my swift pace. I was relieved to find that my heart didn’t suffer any ill effects of this sudden effort, so I will henceforth have to double my speed. Her too, I have to thank for pushing me beyond my limits.

We went in and sat down for meditation. In my case, this is easier said than done: it takes a long and complicated manoeuvre to even reach the ground, let alone install myself comfortably enough for meditation. Nevertheless, I decided that this was the right day to stop sitting on chairs and familiarize myself with sitting on the floor again. To my great surprise, I could sit for an hour and a half, carry out the instructions and end up enjoying a deep meditation. This was very largely due to my being carried by the field created by the hundred or so meditators in the hall. I am very grateful to them all. It is probably a subjective impression because this occasion meant so much to me, but this meditation with Shraddhalu Ranade felt like a historic event, the kind about which you proudly say to your grandchildren: “That afternoon with Shraddhalu, I was there.”  

So, my years of sickness and excuses have ended. If you are in good shape, praise yourself lucky, but some of us set great store by recovering their lost health. I look back on years of combative publications that may have given my opponents the impression of a formidable enemy. Sitting in front of the computer is so easy, even I could do it. But in reality, I was a very sickly person, a cripple, making up for my physical limitations with some written outpourings. Certain limitations are here to stay, but now most have given way or are to give way to a regimen of hatha-yogic and other exercises.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hinduism and Paganism: (1) The Christian challenge



Numerous British and more largely Western neo-Pagans seek contact with Hinduism. They recognize a similarity, both positively and negatively, both in their own religion’s characteristics and in the misfortunes that have befallen it. The extermination in summer 2014 of all the Yezidis (Kurdish Pagans) on whom the Islamic State could lay its hands has reminded many Pagans as well as many Hindus of what their own ancestors have had to suffer. We will start with a major negative experience of western Pagans of Hindus, viz. the challenge of Christianity, before addressing the similarities in contents.


Extermination of Paganism

European Paganism was exterminated by Christianity. The result was more thorough than in the case of the partial Islamization of South Asia, but far less violent. Initially, the Christians were a small and vulnerable community in the mighty Roman Empire. They had no real option but to adapt to the prevailing religious pluralism and to the Law of the Land. They have no separate systems of laws like Islam and ancient Judaism. So they didn’t have a law system to impose and could leave a society intact all while subverting its religion.

Rather than overthrowing a polity, they chose to work through its established authorities. All conversions were welcome, but the most promising ones were those of the king and his confidants. In Rome, the conversion of emperor Constantine changed history, turning a minority religion into the official and ultimately the only permitted religion. In the case of England, for instance, Pope Gregory the Great decided on a mass conversion after he saw some handsome young British slaves at the slave market in Christian Rome. (Slaves in Christian Rome? A modern line of apologetics is that Christianity was disliked by the elites because it wanted to abolish slavery. Not true at all, though it limited slave-taking to the remaining Pagan populations. The nearest were  the Balkanic Slavs, hence the very word “slave”.) So he sent missionaries to work among the British elites and the royal court. Once enough of them were converted, or were at least turned favourable to the missionary effort, they in turn loaded the dice in favour of Christianity. Part of the deal in many countries concerned was that the Church would support the king against unsubmissive nobles, thus encouraging the centralization of power, or champion the ambitions of whichever nobles were most amenable to accepting the Christian message.

A very powerful factor was the monopoly on education which the first monasteries came to enjoy. This must ring a bell among present-day Hindus, considering the role of Jesuit and other Christian schools among the Indian elite. Another was the prestige of the Roman empire as more civilized and more advanced than what the Pagans could muster. Before and during the conquest of the Roman empire by the Goths, they embraced Christianity thinking this was an integral part in their advancement. That the Romans, for instance, built in stone rather than wood counted as an impressive innovation, but had nothing to do with Christianity. A similar thing is seen today: numerous Chinese and Koreans who migrate to the United States become Protestant overnight because they assume that this is a central element in becoming a real American. Among some Indian tribals, modern medicine passes as “Jesus medicine”, meaning “medicine coming from the same West as the missionaries”, though Jesus himself was an old-fashioned faith-healer who never used medicine. So, Christianity profited and still profits maximally from “merit by association”.


Christian subversion

One has to give it to the Christians that they were clever. They outwitted their opponents just as they are outwitting Hindus today. Thus, in the conversion of the masses, they made it a point not to destroy existing shrines: they replaced the central God-statue with a crucifix, but otherwise they allowed the masses to keep on visiting their old shrine, so that they would gradually attach to Jesus the aura of sacredness that they used to associate with their own gods. Many cathedrals were built on Pagan temples or open-air sacred places, but fairly rarely have Christians destroyed temples; only the “idols” in them. They adopted holidays and celebrations but gave them a new Christian meaning. They turned old Gods into Christian saints. They Christianized the procession, originally the triumphal march of a Pagan God, now a display in the streets of the sacred Wafer representing Jesus. They accommodated the idea of pilgrimage, mostly to a purported relic of Jesus or a saint, eventhough the Christian view made nonsense of the idea that you can go on pilgrimage to the Omnipresent One. Like today in India, they used inculturation as a mission strategy.

And it worked. At the elite level, Pagan religion disappeared. It is common nowadays to bewail the injustice to the Jews because they were forced to live in ghettoes; but the Jews were at least tolerated as a standing witness to the “truth of the Old Testament”. By contrast, there were not even ghettoes for worshippers of Zeus, Venus or Thor.

As the Dutch poet Lucebert wrote: “Everything of value is vulnerable.”  When a body dies, one of the first thing to degenerate and disappear is the brain, while the bones can last for centuries. The fabled secret traditions of the Druids were killed off by Christianity and remain forever unknown, but many popular practices and indeed also superstitions have survived till recently. The Middle Ages, though Christian at the elite level, saw the survival of numerous Pagan institutions and practices especially among the rural folk (both Latinate Pagan and Germanic Heathen mean “rural, rustic”). The Reformation in the 16th century delivered a body blow to the remaining Paganism, as Protestants started weeding out everything that was not Biblical, while the Catholics saw themselves forced to purify Catholicism and eliminate a number of practices that had come about as compromises with Paganism. A final blow was the Industrial Revolution, which saw the rise of an anti-religious mentality: it hurt European Christianity badly but it also flushed out the remaining Pagan practices among the common people.    

So, Christianization was mostly effected through subversion and mass psychology. Instances of the threat of violence included the forced baptism of the Frankish king Clovis’ soldiers (“head off or head under [the baptismal water]”), or the threats by the king of Norway which convinced the Icelanders to adopt Christianity. Instances of effective violence include the lynching of the Neoplatonist scholar Hypatia or the slaughter of thousands of Saxon nobles by Charlemagne. These were smaller affairs than the wars between Catholics and Christian “heretics”, such as that in the 5th-6th century between the Byzantine Catholics and the Gothic votaries of Arian Christianity, and in the 17th century the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants. One serious case of a Christian holy war against Pagans was the subjection of the Baltic area by the Teutonic Order in the 13th-14th century; but that was after Christians had developed the concept of Crusade mirroring the older Islamic concept of Jihad.


Christian strategic acumen

The practical impact of this assessment is that it won’t get you very far to remind your audience of the violent element in Christian history, such as the burning of maybe 50.000 witches in the 16th-17th century. That violence was certainly there, but not enough to explain Christianity’s conquest of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Even the Native Americans, who had so much to reproach the Christians for, turned Christian in large numbers. (Indians do well to remember that the fate of the American “Indians” was in fact meant for the people of the continent the Conquistadores had set out to reach, viz. “India”.) You will have to take into account other factors, such as:

(1) “merit by association”, viz. Christianity’s piggy-backing on a literate and materially more advanced culture, then in Europe like more recently in Asia; to which should now be added the propaganda linking Christianity with social causes and human rights;

(2) Christianity’s self-righteousness due to a belief in being the sole possessors of the truth, and the consequent contempt for non-Christians, a far more negative attitude than anything the Pagans could muster; or in other words, the unmatched power of hatred; as well as the consequent importance they attach to religious identity, which means the pressure to convert in a mixed marriage is usually on the Pagan partner;

(3) The Christian care to distinguish between Pagans and Paganism, which gave them a good conscience and strong motivation, because they believed they were loving the Pagans all while hating and demonizing Paganism, and that the effort to convert the Pagans was the supreme form of expressing their love for them;

(4) the Christian development of a sophisticated missionary strategy emanating from a goal-oriented strategic centre.

By contrast, Pagans have mostly been in retreat because:

(1) they have been on the defensive in material and “soft power” respects (though even where this applies less and less, such as in the Indian elite and in China, there are now numerous conversions to Christianity due to the other factors) and have successfully been demonized in matters of human rights;

(2) they don’t think of religion in terms of truth, so that Christianity might be a nuisance but not a “false” religion; believe in the good things claimed for Christianity; and don’t make sharp distinctions between the secondary aspects of the religion (which may be innocent or even laudable and are often borrowed from Paganism anyway) and its core truth claims, which are patently false; so that they consider conversion to Christianity as only a minor change which may often be justified;

(3) since they have comparatively little theological schooling and no catechism, they fail to distinguish between Christians and Christianity, and are easily duped by the existence of some fine Christians into thinking that the Christian truth claims must be innocent as well;

(4) the confused, unorganized, “me too”-imitative, uninformed and amateurish nature of their self-defence.

It happened to my European ancestors long ago, and I see it happening today in India. The Christian plan is to make the same destruction of Paganism happen all over India as well as the rest of the world. However, the rediscovery of the indigenous Pagan heritage among the natives of Latin America as well as those of Europe threatens to jeopardize their project, though as yet only marginally. They have a more acute fear of Islam, in spite of (or, on the contrary, proven by) their numerous gestures of reconciliation with Islam, such as the Pope’s apology for the Crusades, contrasting with their lack of apologies to the heirs of the far more unjustly treated Pagans.  


What to do after Christianity?

In Europe, at least, and to my knowledge also in Latin America, there is no direct or imminent threat of Christian violence. The battle can be won by consciousness-raising, which already happens automatically though it would benefit from a sharpening of its focus. Since the democratization of knowledge and of the scientific outlook, people have left the Churches in droves because they just cannot bring themselves to believing Christianity’s defining dogmas anymore. These ex-Christians (the majority of my own generation in the formerly very Catholic Flemish part of Belgium) are rarely tempted to turn back to the faith of their childhood, even on their deathbeds. Some Christian apologists find hope in demographics, asserting that the remaining Christian couples have more children (viz. just above the reproduction level) than the ex-Christian couples. True, but even of these born-again Christian couples, many children when growing up are just as susceptible to the temptation of scepticism as my generation was. After all, we have been there before: in the decades when Christianity decisively lost its majority, both the Christian birth-rate and the differential with the secularized minority were even bigger than now. I, for one, born in 1959, am the second of five siblings. Of my staunchly Catholic parents’ fourteen grandchildren, only six have been baptized – and that too is only a formality which doesn’t mean that they will be Catholics as adults. The last real hope of the Churches is the inflow of immigrants. In my country, the remaining Catholic churches are mostly filled with Polish or Congolese “new Belgians”. But there again, after a while many tend to conform to their ex-Christian environment. So, very much in contrast to India, where Christianity is making impressive gains, in Europe Christianity is largely a thing of the past.

That doesn’t mean these ex-Christians have lost the feeling for the higher things and immersed themselves in consumerism and sheer animality, as Christians tend to think. Nor are they without morality, which had unjustly been identified with being a Christian. But neither religiosity nor morals can be deduced from or made dependent on the defining dogmas of Christianity, which have been pin-pricked as delusional. Belief in Salvation through Jesus’ Resurrection cannot be revived, but that doesn’t mean the subtler dimensions have died. So now our job is to oversee the development of a new worldview and a different way of life, punctured by old-new rituals and celebrations. It is here that renascent Paganism in Europe seeks inspiration from Hinduism as the biggest and most developed surviving Pagan civilization.



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Sunday, August 24, 2014

An “eminent historian” attacks Arun Shourie

D.N. Jha’s “Reply to Arun Shourie”, dated 3 July 2014, was published in shorter form as “Grist to the reactionary mill”, Indian Express, 9 July 2014. It starts as follows: “I was amused to read ‘How History Was Made Up At Nalanda’ [28 June 2014, the Indian Express:] by Arun Shourie, who has dished out ignorance masquerading as knowledge – reason enough to have pity on him and sympathy for his readers!”

Shourie had charged him with fudging evidence to distort the historical narrative of the destruction of the ancient Nalanda-mahavihar. Jha therefore considered it necessary to “rebut his allegations and set the record straight instead of ignoring his balderdash”. Note the unscholarly language, and this at his advanced age. We are dealing with a verbal street-fighter who has been given a post as an academic. Further down, we see him belittling his opponent, typical for the nouveau riche who thinks the world of his own status. When Shourie doubts miracle-tales as historical sources, Jha does not justify his own use of the same, but plays up his academic status: “Acceptance or rejection of this kind of source criticism is welcome if it comes from a professional historian but not from someone who flirts with history as Shourie does.”



The article is, as usual in secularist polemics, an exercise in misdirection. Beating around the issues of history, Jha draws the reader’s attention away from those by indulging in nit-picking: “My presentation at the Indian History Congress, to which Shourie refers, was in 2006 and not 2004 as stated by Shourie. It was not devoted to the destruction of ancient Nalanda per se – his account misleads readers and pulls the wool over their eyes.” His entire presentation may have contained material for several more articles, but here Shourie has focused on one daring lie of Jha’s in the course of that presentation, viz. the claim that the disappearance of Nalanda University was due to Hindus rather than Muslims.

Jha: “It was in fact focused on the antagonism between Brahmins and Buddhists, for which I drew on different kinds of evidence including myths and traditions.” At least he has the merit of pointing to a rhetoric that, that force of repetition from high pedestals, has by now almost become an established fact, viz. that Hindus themselves did to Buddhists what they allege Muslims did to them. Hindus have let this lie fester for decades, and at their own peril.

Jha: “In this context I cited the tradition recorded in the 18th century Tibetan text, Pag-sam-jon-zang by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor, mentioned by BNS Yadava in his Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century -- with due acknowledgement, although in his pettiness Shourie is quick to discover plagiarism on my part! (I may add that ‘Hindu fanatics’ are not my words but Yadav’s, which is why they are in quotes. How sad that one has to point this out to a winner of the Magsaysay Award!)” Jha did mention Yadava as his source in general, but his quoted phrase “Hindu fanatics” was such that it gave the reader the impression of being from the Tibetan original. Either way, both he and Yadava are plainly wrong when they use the anachronistic term “Hindu fanatics”, because the source text only calls them “beggars”. There is no indication at all that they acted out of fanaticism; instead, it is explicitly mentioned that they were angry at being mistreated by some Buddhist monks.

The crux of Shourie’s argument is that Jha, too lazy to go to the original source, merely quotes Yadava as an authority but omits to mention that Yadava himself considers the source untrustworthy. That is clearly dishonesty, and Jha has been caught in the act of committing it. Yet, in this article, Jha nowhere addresses the allegation that he himself has been dishonest, a central point of the article he claims to reply to. He even repeats the same trick: invoking Yadava as authoritative support for the Tibetan fairy-tale.  

Jha: “In his conceit Shourie is disdainful and dismissive of the Tibetan tradition, which has certain elements of miracle in it, as recorded in the text.” Correction: he is only dismissive of the use a Marxist historian makes of the. In the Ayodhya affair, Marxists, and secularists in general, dismissed the Hindu side’s claim (which was not even miracle-mongering, just tradition-based) as “irrational”. And that claim was also based on documentary and archaeological evidence, whereas this Tibetan tale stands alone, is from five hundred years after the fact, and is contradicted by other evidence.

Jha: “Here is the relevant extract from Sumpa’s work cited by Shourie: ‘While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he [Kakut Siddha] had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. (The Buddhists used to designate the Hindus by the term Tirthika). The beggars, being angry, set fire on the three shrines of Dharmaganja, the Buddhist University of Nalanda, viz. — Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storeyed temple called Ratnodadhi which contained the library of sacred books’ (p.92). Shourie questions how the two beggars could go from building to building to ‘burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex’.”

Shourie is perfectly right to question the verisimilitude of this story. At any rate, Nalanda University comprised more than these three buildings. Whether this Tibetan miracle-tale is true or not, it does at any rate not pertain to the wholesale destruction of Nalanda, though that destruction did take place. The whole university was flattened by fire (as archaeology can confirm), not just three shrines but the teaching and living quarters as well. If anyone could be tricked by the Tibetan tale into thinking that it pertained to this wholesale destruction rather than narrating some small incident, at least it should not be a historian.


Brahmin-Buddhist antagonism

Jha: “Look at another passage (abridged by me in the following paragraph) from the History of Buddhism in India written by another Tibetan monk and scholar, Taranatha, in the 17th century: ‘During the consecration of the of the temple built by Kakutsiddha at Nalendra [Nalanda] ‘the young naughty sramanas threw slops at the two tirthika beggars and kept them pressed inside door panels and set ferocious dogs on them’. Angered by this, one of them went on arranging for their livelihood and the other sat in a deep pit and “engaged himself in surya sadhana” [solar worship], first for nine years and then for three more years and having thus “acquired mantrasiddhi” he “performed a sacrifice and scattered the charmed ashes all around” which “immediately resulted in a miraculously produced fire” which consumed all the eighty-four temples and the scriptures some of which, however, were saved by water flowing from an upper floor of the nine storey Ratnodadhi temple. (History of Buddhism in India, English tr. Lama Chimpa & Alka Chattopadhyaya, pp.141-42).
If we look at the two narratives closely they are similar. The role of the Tirthikas and their miraculous fire causing a conflagration are common to both.”

Clearly, the two miracle-tales have a common source. A polemicist would boast that he has no less than two sources available, but a genuine historian would soberly realize that he can draw only on a single source, centuries removed from the events it claims to narrate. 

Jha: “Admittedly, one does not have to take the miracles seriously, but it is not justified to ignore their importance as part of traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of the collective memory of a community.” Notice the very different tune he is singing compared to the Ayodhya controversy. Back then, the whole mission of the “eminent historians” was to debunk the temple destruction scenario which they conceived as merely “part of traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of the collective memory of a community”. Here a sheer miracle story is not debunked, but on the contrary invoked as a decisive historical source.

Jha: “Nor is it desirable or defensible to disregard the long standing antagonism between Brahmins and Buddhists, which may have given rise to the Tibetan tradition and nurtured it until the 18th century or even later. It is in the context of this Buddhist- Tirthika animosity that the account of Sumpa assumes importance; it also makes sense because it jibes with Taranatha’s evidence. Further, neither Sumpa nor Taranatha ever came to India. This should mean that the idea of Brahminical hostility to the religion of the Buddha travelled to Tibet fairly early, became part of its Buddhist tradition, and found expression in 17th-18th century Tibetan writings.”

Another explanation for this Tibetan tradition of hostility could be that they heard how Buddhism had been mistreated in India by the Muslim invaders, and concluded that “Indians” or “Hindus” (the two terms were not yet distinct) had done it. Even today, when the communication distance to the West is far smaller than to Tibet back then, numerous Westerners who hear about something wrong in India assume it must have been the doing of Hinduism. But if the Tibetans really thought that Hindus had been anti-Buddhist to the point of destroying major Buddhist shrines, they were simply misinformed. A historian should not merely quote sources, he should also ask himself how pertinent those sources are, and especially whether they are trustworthy. The question of truth, though central to the Indian Republic’s official motto, goes unconsidered too often.

At any rate, there was no “long-standing antagonism between Brahmins and Buddhists”, if only because most Buddhist writers were born Brahmins themselves and partook of Brahminical culture. Buddhist institutions in India flourished under Hindu rule for 16 centuries, otherwise there would have been nothing of them left for the Muslim invaders to destroy. By contrast, when Islam appears on the scene, Buddhism disappears, and not on account of two Tirthika beggars. Cases of polemic between Buddhists and Brahmins may be cited, as also between different Brahminical schools and different Buddhist sects, but they were only the normal exercise of freedom of opinion. They cannot be equated to the Islamic destruction of Buddhism in Central and South Asia.



 Jha: “Acceptance of the two Tibetan traditions, the one referred to by me has been given credence not only by Yadava (whom Shourie, in his ignorance, dubs a Marxist!) but also by a number of other Indian scholars like R K Mookerji (Education in Ancient India), Sukumar Dutt (Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India), S C Vidyabhushana (Medieval School of Indian Logic), Buddha Prakash (Aspects of Indian History and Civilization), and many others. They were all polymaths of unimpeachable academic honesty and integrity. They had nothing to do, even remotely, with Marxism: which is, to Shourie in his bull avatar, a red rag.”

Marxism is no longer what it used to be; its fall in the Soviet Union and decline in China are making themselves felt even in India at last. Some erstwhile Marxists do not like to be described as Marxist anymore. In the 1990s, Romila Thapar was mentioned in Tom Bottomore’s Dictionary of Marxism as a representative of Marxist history-writing without any discussion, but today she avoids the label “Marxist”. They may be telling one more lie here, this time about their own label, but some of them may genuinely have outgrown Marxism. I leave it to Jha and Shourie, and first of all to Yadava, to decide which description of Yadava is the correct one. But Marxism has conditioned the Indian history discourse, even through many who would reject the “Marxist” label for themselves. It will take time to undo its influence.

Worse is that here again, Jha repeats his lie. Yadava has explicitly written that the said Tibetan tradition is “doubtful”, but once more Jha cites him in its support. He insists on proving Shourie’s allegation right.



Jha: “Now juxtapose the Tibetan tradition with the contemporary account in the Tabaqat–i-Nasiri of Minhaj-i-Siraj, which Shourie not only misinterprets but also blows out of proportion. Although its testimony has no bearing on my argument about Brahmanical intolerance, a word needs to be said about it so as to expose Shourie’s “false knowledge” - which, as G B Shaw said, is ‘more dangerous than ignorance’. The famous passage from this text reads exactly as follows:

“He [Bakhtiyar Khalji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar. Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place. There were two brothers of Farghanah, men of learning, [Nizamu-ud-Din and Samsam-ud-Din] in the service of Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, and the author of this book [Minhajuddin] met with at Lakhnawati in the year 641 H and this account is from him. These two wise brothers were soldiers among that band of holy warriors when they reached the gateway of the fortress and began the attack at which time Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and the city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar” (Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, tr. H G Raverty, Calcutta, vol 1, 1881, pp.551-52).

“The above account mentions the fortress of Bihar as the target of Bakhtiyar’s attack. The fortified monastery which Bakhtiyar captured was ‘known as Audand-Bihar or Odandapura-vihara’ (Odantapuri in Biharsharif, then known simply as Bihar). This is the view of many historians but, most importantly, of Jadunath Sarkar, the high priest of communal historiography in India (History of Bengal, vol. 2, Dacca, 1948, pp.3-4). Minhaj does not refer to Nalanda at all: he merely speaks of the ransacking of the ‘fortress of Bihar’ (hisar-i-Bihar). But how can Shourie be satisfied unless Bakhtiyar is shown to have sacked Nalanda? Since Bakhtiyar was leading plundering expeditions in the region of Magadha, Shourie thinks that Nalanda must have been destroyed by him - and, magically, he finds ’evidence’ in an account which does not even speak of the place. Thus an important historical testimony becomes the victim of his anti-Muslim prejudice.”

I remember Sita Ram Goel himself pointing out to me that this passage is about Odantpuri, not Nalanda. So Shourie may have misidentified the institution here. But of course, a description of the Islamic sacking of Odantpuri implies nothing about other places not mentioned. Would the motives that led to the destruction of Odantpuri not have applied to Nalanda as well. We have it from the horse’s mouth, and now also from Jha, that the Islamic invaders sacked Odantpuri and killed every single inmate. We learn elsewhere that in the same military campaign (end of the 12th century), a thousand temples in Varanasi and many more religious institutions at other places were destroyed. Would it then, even without appeal to other sources, be so strange to assume that they did the same to other institutions, which were left unmentioned but nonetheless disappeared?  Would that not be far more likely than Jha’s contrived hypothesis that, after sixteen centuries of allowing Buddhism to flourish, Brahmins in their very hour of need suddenly turned against Nalanda?


Islam destroyed Nalanda

Jha becomes distinctly unpleasant when he starts throwing around allegations: “In his zeal, [Shourie] fudges and concocts historical evidence and ignores the fact that Bakhtiyar did not go to Nalanda from Bihar (Biharsharif). Instead, he proceeded to Nadia in Bengal through the hills and jungles of the region of Jharkhand, which, incidentally, finds first mention in an inscription of AD 1295 (Comprehensive History of India, vol. IV, pt. I, p.601). I may add that his whole book, Eminent Historians, from which the article under reference is excerpted, abounds in instances of his cavalier attitude to historical evidence.”

Notice the rhetorical sleight of hand: Shourie the non-historian has made only one mistake of historical fact, and yet Jha multiplies his invective as if it were a habit. By contrast, Jha the history professor has repeatedly been caught in distortions and manipulations in this debate alone, yet he reckons he can get away with those.  

But then Jha admits the very thing which secularists, and partly he himself, had set out to deny: “It is neither possible nor necessary to deny that the Islamic invaders conquered parts of Bihar and Bengal and destroyed the famous universities in the region.” So, next time the Vishva Hindu Parishad starts a temple reclamation campaign, it can cite Jha in support.

Jha: “But any one associating Bakhtiyar Khalji with the destruction and burning of the university of Nalanda would be guilty of gross academic dishonesty. Certainly week-end historians like Shourie are always free to falsify historical data, but this has nothing to do with serious history, which is always true to evidence.”

History may be true to the evidence, but Jha with his hair-brained reliance on a much later foreign testimony isn’t. Circumstantial evidence certainly still points to Bakhtiyar Khilji as the culprit, since we don’t know of another commander at that time and in that area. Not every event on his campaign was recorded. As all genuine historians know: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But even his name makes little difference for the larger debate that motivated Jha to his distortions. Numerous holy warriors of Islam displayed the same behaviour as Bakhtiyar Khilji because they had the same motive: the doctrine of Islam with its hatred of Pagans and their institutions. In spite of so much denial and so many distortions, secularists cannot alter that historical fact. Islam had the motive and the chance. Hinduism had the chance for sixteen centuries to destroy the Buddhist institutions but showed no interest because it lacked the motive. Islam, by contrast, appeared on the scene and immediately Buddhism disappeared. Islam is guilty.



Jha’s final word: “Shourie had raised a huge controversy by publishing his scandalous and slanderous Eminent Historians in 1998 during the NDA regime and now, after sixteen years, he has issued its second edition, from which the article under reference has been excerpted. He appears and reappears in the historian’s avatar when the BJP comes to power and does all he can to please his masters. His view of the past is no different from that of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their numerous outfits, consisting of riff-raff and goons who burn books that do not endorse their views, who vandalize art objects which they label blasphemous, who present a distorted view of Indian history, and who nurture a culture of intolerance. These elements demanded my arrest when my book on beef-eating was published, and they censured James Laine when his book on Shivaji came out. It is not unlikely that Shourie functions in cahoots with people like Dina Nath Batra, who targeted A K Ramanujan’s essay emphasizing the diversity of the Ramayana tradition; Wendy Doniger’s writings, which provided an alternative view of Hinduism; Megha Kumar’s work on communalism and sexual violence in Ahmedabad since 1969; and Sekhar Bandopadhyaya’s textbook on modern India, which regrettably does not eulogise the RSS. Arun Shourie seems to have inaugurated a fresh round of battle by fudging, falsifying and fabricating historical evidence and providing grist to Batra’s mill.”

Jha seems to suggest that publishing these allegations (which he doesn’t refute) was only safe with the NDA in power. Apparently the UPA would have done the Eminent Historians’ bidding and arrested Shourie for slander. Then again, maybe as an intellectual Jha found it below his dignity to appeal to the authorities, and preferred the proper medium of a debate. In that case, we would like to see his refutation.

The rest of his final allegation is an exercise in guilt by association. This is beneath the standards of an intellectual but proper for a political polemicist. We have already pointed that the allegation of “fudging, falsifying” etc., repeated here, is unjustified and applies more to Jha himself. Then he associates Shourie with the VHP-RSS penchant for banning books. In reality, Shourie as a crusader for civil rights and probity in public life has always been on the side of free and frank debate. The RSS, by contrast, is a lot more like Jha himself: never addressing issues but grandstanding on extraneous factors: status and the perceived interests of secularism in Jha’s case, patriotic indignation in the case of the RSS. He supposes that is is “not unlikely that Shourie functions in cahoots with people like Dina Nath Batra”: this is worse than empty speculation, as it is easy to verify that Shourie was not involved in these recent book-banning operations. Indeed, Jha himself has been targeted, so he knows from experience that those who persecuted him comprised Batra but not Shourie.

To sum up: like any stage magician, Jha indulges in misdirection. While he himself has been caught in the act of misquoting his source (Yadava), and repeats this act of dishonesty in this very article, he tries to offset his embarrassment by a flight forward, viz. heaping imaginary allegations and plain swearwords upon his critic.


Hindu passivity

But he will largely get away with it, and secularists will go on quoting his speech at the Indian History Congress as an argument of authority for their truly daring thesis that “not Muslims but Hindus destroyed Nalanda University” and that this was but an instance of the long-standing hostility between Brahmins and Buddhists. Since the record is not being set straight from any powerful forum, it may even become part of the received wisdom.

At the end of 1990, Sita Ram Goel and myself visited the VHP headquarters at RK Puram, Delhi. To some of their bigwigs (names available), I argued passionately that since they had been forced to make a historical case for their Ayodhya demand, and for other reasons too, they badly needed to invest in serious history-writing, rather than relying on either the output furnished by their enemies or the caricatures produced by incompetent Hindus of the PN Oak variety. Wise old Goel just smiled, knowing already what the effect of my enthusiastic plea would be. One VHP leader concluded the conversation by assuring me: “We will think about your suggestion”— the polite way of saying: “Drop dead.” As we left, Goel said: “You could just as well have talked to my wall.” The Sangh Parivar was determined not to invest in chicken but only in eggs; not to involve itself in building a Hindu worldview but to continue focusing on empty locomotion.

Today, 24 years later, no Hindu force has invested anything at all in rectifying India’s history. In about 2002, HRM Minister MM Joshi had the history textbooks rewritten, only to prove for all to see the incompetence of most people he picked for the job. (Notice, Prof. Jha, that Arun Shourie was not involved in this operation either.) The secularists had no problem in overruling this reform, and no Hindu force deigned to address the question: “What have we done wrong?” They only went on wailing about the daring injustice perpetrated by the secularists without ever wondering what they themselves could have done or could still do. Hindu moneybags who like to show off their commitment to Hinduism, finance large temple-building projects or sponsor their declared enemies, but never think of financing the research that Hindu society badly needs. And so, bad but highly-placed historians like DN Jha can go on rubbishing Hindu history.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dr. Hedgewar's Pathey (2)

"3.     Expecting help from others and pleading for it is a clear sign of weakness. This clearly reflects in behavior. So, Sangh swayamsewaks should fearlessly proclaim, “Hindusthan of Hindus”. Remove all narrow-mindedness. We do not say that others should not live here. But they should be aware that they are living in Hindusthan of Hindus. (Like others would realize if they were living there- that they are living in France of French people, or Germany of Germans, or Spain of Spanish people). Others cannot infringe on rights of Hindus here."

In the interbellum, there was no multiculturalism yet, the monolithic concept of the nation-state was in the ascendant. This was strengthened by US President Woodrow Wilson’s recognition of the “self-determination of nations” at the end of World War 1, which was applied in the redrawing of borders in Central Europe. A century earlier, or even just before the World War 1, multinational empires still prevailed. Some continued to exist, including the British Empire (though it had lost Ireland, which exercised its own right to self-determination), from which India wanted to break away.


There were four options to conceive India in term of nationhood. One was to deny the relevance of the “nation” concept altogether. This was the colonial view: India only had a population, which for the first time was forged into a political unit.


A second was to accept all people living in India as equally entitled to citizenship and to be reckoned as Indian nationals. This was and is the Nehruvian view. It presupposed the colonial view that India had never been a nation, but differed from it by considering India “a nation in the making”.


The third was that India was fragmented into many nations, of which the contours were uncertain. The Communists preferred this fragmentation, and many Western commentators likewise think that India shouldn’t be a unity. Long after Indian independence, Bhimrao Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar would call “every caste a nation”, as castes originated in separate tribes (“nations”) that got integrated in the expanding Vedic society, and as castes historically differed in a number of daily habits like dress, dialect (“Brahmin Tamil”) and cuisine.


One instance of this fragmented view of India as a nation was the Muslim League’s “two-nation theory”. It presupposed Western nationalism but defined “nation” such that the Indian Muslims constituted a separate nation. The other nation was the non-Muslims, and whether that was one nation or many, didn’t interest the Muslim League. When the possible contours of the post-Independence subcontinent became clear, viz. a Muslim and a non-Muslim state, the Communists also threw in their lot with the two-nation theory. The rationale for the claim of Muslim nationhood was that by every criterion (though not biological race), the Muslims differed from the non-Muslims. In those days, there was still a large grey area of Muslims who practically lived like Hindus, a phenomenon which the Tabligh (“propaganda”) movement tried to combat by “purifying” them into real followers of Islam. Today, however, the rationale of Muslim nationhood applies to a much larger percentage of the Indian (let alone Pakistani) Muslims. Thus, many more have interiorized the Islamic worldview through Madrassa education (supported by the Indian state), and many more have adopted Urdu as their language. Yet, the fast-growing Muslim community does not clamour for a second Partition, as it now understands that Islam would now be much stronger if the Pakistanis had remained with India, and because they have experienced that they can flourish very well in secular India.


The fourth is that only Hindus constitute the nation. “Hindu” here is broadly defined, and comprises all Indians who have their sacred places inside India. Muslims and Christians, however, are a kind of resident aliens. Hedgewar says in so many words that they can live in India, but that they should play no role in decision-making. They are just guests of the Hindu nation.


Critics will find it strange that the founder of the supposedly narrow-minded RSS admonishes his followers: “Remove all narrow-mindedness.” Nationalism in the beginning was a movement directed against foreign rule or multi-national empires, but also against local loyalties. It pressed upon the “backward” fellow-countrymen to outgrow these local or sectional loyalties and identify with the nation as a whole. (That is the meaning of Deutschland über Alles, “Germany above everything”: it does not originally mean “Germany above other nations” but, for instance, “Germany above Bavaria”.) An instance is the self-identification of the Hindus in the census, where the first decades saw the caste name as prime identificator give way to the category “Hindu”. When you ask RSS men for their caste, they will say: “Hindu”.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Modi government’s Hindu agenda


Narendra Modi’s accession to power has not entirely ended the international campaign against him, witness the petition (with most signatures found to be fraudulent) to Barack Obama to cancel Modi’s planned visit to Washington. It was floated by the Coalition Against Genocide, a platform of several dozen Muslim organizations and some Communist coattails, many of them funded by the Pakistani secret service ISI. It seems to irritate them that Modi is now playing with the big boys while they themselves can only bite his ankles. Indeed, the leaders of the BRICS countries have fully embraced him as one of their own, and the US President now has to hurry to mend the relations.

So, looking from afar, all seems well. Inside the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, however, trouble is brewing. Many party workers and numerous voters are disappointed because the Hindu party they had worked for, delivering a landslide victory, turns out to be a secularist party again, a Congress B-team. Some face-saving gestures are being made to keep the Hindu electorate happy, like Minister Sushma Swaraj offering worship in a temple while on visit to Bangladesh, or the speech on communal violence by its MP Yogi Adityanath. That is of course better than the preceding Congress government with its aggressive minorityism. But in substance, this government, like its predecessor under AB Vajpayee, is not serving the Hindu cause at all and is still making every effort to please the secularists and the minorities. In this effort, donating a fortune to the Madrassas was a good beginning, Hindu schools should not hope for such a present. For many years the BJP has been doing this, e.g., the usual attendance at Iftar parties, declarations seconding the myth of Saint-Thomas bringing Christianity to India (which even Pope Benedict has denied), by-passing deserving candidates to award posts to known enemies in order to look “secular” etc., all in vain. No medium has ever reacted by describing the BJP as “the party that has shed its Hindu fanaticism to embrace secularism”.

Normal people would draw from those experiences the lesson that appeasement doesn’t work: no matter how deep the BJP crawls before the secularists, the media in India and abroad will still describe the party as “Hindu fanatics”. But no, the BJP keeps trying to play by the rules laid down by its enemies. Even after an electoral landslide victory, they insist on remaining subservient to the views upheld by their secularist critics.



The disgruntled voices in the ruling party say, first of all, that even in Gujarat, Modi did nothing specifically pro-Hindu, though he proved an excellent administrator and at least kept the enemy out of power. He did not bow down to the secularists, as by wearing the Muslim skullcap  (the crown of hypocrisy) during Eid, or by taking the guilt for the post-Godhra riots upon him. That was already enough to make him insufferable to the secularists; like spoiled children, they were very indignant that someone dared to thwart them. it also made him the Hindu-Hrdaya-Samrat, “emperor of the Hindu heart”. But he did not do many pro-Hindu things.

However, he built a lot on groundwork laid by the VHP and VKA, who practically stopped conversions to Christianity in the tribal belt, a tangible result for which the BJP has taken the credit. The infighting in the family of RSS organizations goes against the image of a purpose-driven monolith which both they themselves and their secularist enemies have built so carefully, but it is a sizable phenomenon. It is fought with dirty means, and my informers even had some murky stories to tell, such as cases of blackmail and the kind of doings that make blackmail possible. It seems that the “party with a difference” is not above all-too-human tendencies. A visible result is that the lucrative BJP has grown at the expense of the more old-fashioned members of the family, esp. the mother-organization RSS.

In Modi’s Gujarati days his power was conditional and his ideological low profile understandable, especially because he constantly had to ward off the attacks by the secularists. But what turns out now that he is answerable to no one and can fully spread his wings? As yet nothing ideological has been done, there is no sign that the Leftist influence in the cultural sphere will be countered, or the missionary dominance in education, or the anti-Hindu slant in Bollywood, or the gross communal inequality in the management of places of worship at the expense of the Hindus. Everything points to a continuation of the secularist regime. The very important field of history was expected to become a cultural battlefield once more, but instead the BJP classed it as an unimportant terrain fit for hand-outs to aged servants of the Sangh.

My sources also say that Modi is surrounded by crooks, or rather, that he has surrounded himself with crooks. That Smriti Irani (to whom they attributed a rather inglorious biography) was nominated while more deserving people were not, they see as typical of the anti-ideological orientation of the new leadership. The younger generation of BJP activists has never heard of a Hindu agenda, neither the 40-demand document of that name issued in 1996 by the VHP (an organization of which they speak dismissively) nor the very concept of specific policy items of importance for the Hindus, such as bringing equality in education and temple management, or a Common Civil Code. So, don’t expect that Common Civil Code, no expulsion of Bangladeshi infiltrators, no implementation of any serious item of concern to the Hindus. According to them, this is becoming another Vajpayee government, with only some pro-Hindu make-believe gestures as difference, but at heart the same.

Its beneficiaries will, of course, invent all kinds of excuses for not changing the status-quo and merely enjoying their time in power. Thus, they will say that economic concerns now top the agenda, even falsely adding that it is the economic promises that have won them the elections (eventhough a sterling economic performance could not prevent them from losing in 2004), and that Hindu concerns will come later. Having observed the Hindu movement for 25 years now, I have heard these promises numerous times, and I know by now that they come from people who don’t mean business. In the past, it used to be said that the BJP cannot achieve anything meaningful now because it doesn’t have a majority. Well, today it has a strong PM and a strong majority, and still no BJP man of consequence is saying: “Now! The time is now!”

A few days ago, Modi gave his Independence Day speech, and some veterans of the Hindu movement complained that he hadn’t raised any Hindu concern. Of course it was the occasion for a fatherly feel-good speech uniting all communities in the nation rather than addressing some sectional interest. Then again, some national concerns are very much Hindu concerns. Thus, Modi (or any PM on that day) had to call for national unity, and everybody would applaud that. Yet, national unity also means that Kashmir is integrated with India, hence the abolition of the divisive special status of Kashmir (Art. 370). It also means that all discriminations between citizens regarding education be abolished, hence the Constitution’s Art. 30 (which discriminates against the majority) should be reinterpreted or rewritten. And in means that the management of places of worship should obey the same rules regardless of religion, and that family law should apply equally to all citizens, hence a Common Civil Code. So, a good part of the Hindu agenda could be implied in the hollow phrase “national unity”.    


Sterner stuff

The critical view of the fledgling Modi government is only one version, but one from the inside, and from people whom I've heard praising Modi only half a year ago. Mind you, they were praising Modi, not the BJP. Like Baba Ramdev, numerous people make that distinction. They would not have come out on election day to vote for the BJP, but now that they had a chance to bring Modi to power, they did. But what they got was not a Modi government, but a BJP government with Modi as its figurehead and otherwise the uninspiring BJP culture. Until their assessment is contradicted by new events, we’d better assume that where there’s smoke, there must be some fire. Especially since what we learn through the media does not contain any evidence for the opposite view.

Then again, we should not give up hope too soon that Modi all by himself will make a difference for the better. He has, after all, been hardened by 12 years of unprecedentedly intense hate campaign by the secularists. Mostly, the reaction of BJP leaders to the slightest whiff of secularist criticism is to buckle under, to jettison even the least association with anything Hindu, and to go out of their way to prove how secular they are. Modi has not done that. So, maybe he is made of sterner stuff, and maybe he has a secret plan for furthering the Hindu agenda sometime soon. He was groomed in the secretive RSS culture, where they like to keep ordinary people in the dark all while holding up their sleeves some very clever strategy. Well, let’s see it.

Outside New Delhi, the radiating effect of having Modi in power has been very positive. It has not only been applauded by the stock exchange, far more important is that it has filled Hindus and Hindu activists of all persuasions with more self-confidence. An activist of the group Hindu Human Rights in London reports: “I’m seeing many more Hindus active and assertive than before, when all you saw was depression and negativity.”  If we look at the larger picture, so far the trend is good. It is when you focus on politics and the BJP’s functioning, and especially when you look at the details known only to insiders, that you become aware of a problem.    

A historian advises not to lose hope in Modi too soon: “I believe in three principles, cultural justice (i.e. Hindutva), socio-economic justice (non-elitism, egalitarianism and some kind of "socialism"), and integrity (strict anti-corruption), and I did not think the BJP represented the second and third criteria at all.  In fact, the BJP, I felt, was as corrupt as the Congress, and as much represented powerful elitist and Westernized capitalism (America, Ambani, etc.) as the Congress did. But while I had just as much scepticism about the Hindutva of the BJP as a whole, I somehow felt that Modi at least was a committed Hindu. I do not know whether we can give up on his Hindutva as yet. After all, his unapologetical continuance of refusal to perform pseudo-secular acts such as donning fez-caps and celebrating Eid, although this is generating him much negative publicity in the secular press and media, and he has little to lose by performing them, may (although only symbolically so) still indicate an uncompromising Hindutva. And I am told he has brought missionary activity in Gujarat to a grinding halt. So I feel we should wait a while longer before giving up hope on Modi at least in the Hindutva field. Yes, his choice of people till now seems lamentable, but isn’t it early days yet?”



The Hindu card

We should not build too heavily on the optimistic expectation that “it is still early days” and that “after a few years of preparation”, at the end of the rainbow, the BJP will suddenly draw its Hindu card at last. The default position for the BJP is to do nothing in this regard, and without someone seriously shaking the tree, still nothing will happen. Thus, on temple management, BJP state governments have not taken any initiatives that would differentiate them from Congress governments. From BJP-ruled states, I hear time and again that government-controlled temples are not being restored to a management board appointed by the temple community itself. The culture of excuses to justify doing nothing is in evidence there as well, e.g. the transfer of responsibility for certain temples from the erstwhile feudal rulers half a century ago is still cited as reason for not privatizing the temple management (and so, continuing to pocket the temple income). Therefore the benefit of the doubt is misplaced here. When you see the BJP do nothing in a certain respect, expect it to do nothing tomorrow either, unless forcefully shaken from its slumber.

For a brief moment, see it purely in terms that politicians understand: how to assess the BJP’s hold on power? It is not as secure as it seems. Still playing by the rules set by their enemies, they are downplaying their cultural identity and betting on societal consensus issues such as countering rape and protecting the girl child (incidentally two items already on the VHP’s Hindu Agenda back in 1996), and most of all on material “development”. As if to say: “Look what good secular boys we are, we swear by development!” Of course all these things should be done, and after the immense damage done by Nehruvian socialism, we do indeed want Modi to give India some of his development magic. And yet, they are living in a fool’s paradise if they think development will reap for them another electoral victory. (Anyway, it will be a sad day for India when mere development can win you the next election.)

Yes, Modi is a capable administrator likely to get India out of the economic slump and make us forget the UPA-pioneered “secularist rate of growth”. But remember 2004: India was shining like never before, political observers and astrologers alike predicted the BJP’s return to power, but still the voters sprang a surprise on the BJP by electing its opponents to power. In 2009, the BJP showed its most secular face, “yet” it was routed even further. In 2013, however, a man fiercely hated by the secularists was made the prime-ministerial candidate, much against the wish of the party bigwigs, who toed the secularist line. That was the signal the Hindu voters needed: they turned up in massive numbers and voted Modi into power. They did not vote for development, what they said in the voting-booth was: “Down with Nehruism!” So if the BJP now proves to be merely the party of development and not the alternative to Nehruism (which is not only socialism but especially this so-called secularism), it will lose the next election.

During Vajpayee’s rule, this was already foreseen by the late party prominent Pramod Mahajan. I am not sure he cared about Hindu principles, but at least he knew their political effect. So, when the other leaders cited the unwilling allies as a reason for not adopting specific Hindu points (Ayodhya, the status of Kashmir, a Common Civil Code) into the government programme, he insisted that these points be made an issue at least in the last year before the election. If the allies would then still be unwilling, he thought the BJP should stir up some commotion and even bring down its own government over these points. That way the Hindu agenda would be unambiguously at the centre of the next electoral campaign, and the BJP would be identified with it in spite of not having done anything for it. But the Hindu card was not played, the BJP clung to its position in power and its non-ideological programme, and naturally it lost the elections. The problem was then, and still is, that BJP folks have lapped up the secularist story that “Hinduism doesn’t pay”.


A Hindu lobby

Time is running out for the Hindus, and if the relation between the religions, presently at the disadvantage of the Hindus, doesn’t start changing now, it will never happen. Therefore a plan B must be devised.

When looking at this situation from the outside, one has to think of the remedy devised in similar situations abroad. When the “radical” Trotskyites were a force in British politics, they were nonetheless not strong enough by themselves, but the “reformist” Labour Party was. So the Trotskyites maximized their influence by devising an “entryist” policy and forming a lobby inside the Labour Party: the “Militant Tendency”. This tendency made the Labour Party, for better or for worse, embrace rather radical Leftist policies. When American conservatives were dissatisfied with the wobbly unprincipled policies of the Republicans, they formed a conservative pressure group to influence Republican policy choices or get favoured Republican politicians elected. I am of course not recommending the contents of the Trotskyite or the Tea Party’s outlook, but their political tactic of creating a channel of focused pressure may be worthy of emulation.

Since nobody inside the BJP leadership is guarding the party’s foundational principles, and since individuals are too weak to make themselves heard, a similar lobby-group will have to do it. In 1922, the Hindu Mahasabha was created as a guardian of Hindu interests. In 1951, tainted by the murder of the Mahatma by one of its members, it was replaced by the Jan Sangh, which was never tempted to stray from its Hindutva ideology by a stint in power. In 1977 it merged in the Janata Party, and in 1979, it was refounded as the BJP. For some years, the BJP was controlled to some extent by the RSS, which itself was ideologically unimaginative and stagnant, but at least somewhat principled. Because of its growth and its recruitment in modernized sections, however, the BJP moved ever farther out of the RSS ambit. By the time it came to power (1998), its ties to its mother organization had thinned sufficiently for taking initiatives that were unthinkable a few years earlier. Thus, the introduction of foreign media ownership, unwanted by the Indians in general and never countenanced by the Congress or the Left, would never have been allowed by the Swadeshi-minded RSS. The ideology of the RSS already came in for criticism in the past, and is now also quite out of date, but it has little influence anymore on the BJP.

So, there is a vacuum. The vacancy for a viable ideological spine badly needed by a party that has lost the purpose for which it was founded, is wide open. Such a lobby-group is technically easy to set up, with modern networking possibilities over the internet sharply contrasting with the person-to-person communication favoured by the RSS. But if a Hindu pressure group needs to be set up, then it has to be professional with the right type of competent and committed people, not a bunch of angry frustrated “internet Hindus” whose shrillness and shouting would only backfire and make things worse. It should be loyal to Dharma rather than to a specific organization or “family” or organizations. And it could oversee an evolution and actualization of Hindu political thought.

The RSS was founded in 1925 and its thinking has hardly evolved since then. Its “nationalism” is coloured by its genesis within an anti-colonial struggle as well as by then-popular European notions of a monolithic nation-state. It still glorifies Guru Golwalkar who died back in 1973, and has not produced any original ideologues ever since. The BJP has grown out of the Golwalkar worldview, and in theory it swears by the “integral humanism” of Deendayal Upadhyaya (ca. 1965). Of this system, the name is the most important thing, as it amounts to a modern reformulation of the word Dharma. However, the party’s undeniable evolution, while modernizing its economic views and its PR, has mostly meant its growing away from ideology altogether.

The evolution of technology and of Hindu society itself has now created the right chance to remind the party of its raison d’être, all while adapting this original sense of purpose to the conditions of the present day. The contours of this new Hindu lobby are already taking shape in the proliferation of Hindu initiatives that owe no allegiance to the Sangh Parivar. It is up to the Hindus themselves to develop the instruments ensuring that the present opportunity is not wasted by time-servers who still function within the Nehruvian paradigm even while being cabinet members in a “Hindu nationalist” government.

(Centre-Right India & Bharat-Bharati, 18 Aug. 2014)

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