Some answers for a student of religious studies – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst

This is an interview given to a student of religious studies collecting material for her dissertation. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Q : You have written that a Hindu simply is an Indian Pagan. This raises the question: What is a Pagan, exactly? Or what is Paganism?

A : Strictly a “rustic”, “peasant” or “village bumpkin”, as opposed to the Christians in the Roman Empire who were at first mostly city-dwellers. The textbook definition since the 4th century is “a non-Christian”. After Islam became more familiar in Europe, it often came to mean a non-Abrahamist, or better, anyone who does not subscribe to prophetic monotheism. The category “Pagan” strictly includes both atheists and polytheists, but mostly it is only used for a type of religious people, excluding non-religious atheists and agnostics.

When the Muslim invaders brought the Persian geographical term “Hindu” into India, it came to mean “Indian by birth and by religion”, excluding those who were non-Indian or who were Indian but followed a non-Indian religion. In those days, people remained conscious of their original nationality for very long. When in the wake of the British, some Indian Zoroastrians settled in South Africa, they called themselves “Persians” though their families had lived in India for a thousand years. By the same token, the Syrian Christians counted as Syrians; but even if they counted as Indians, they would still not be Hindus, for they followed a non-Indian religion.

By contrast, all Indians without foreign links are Hindus: Brahmins, upper castes, middle castes, downtrodden, tribals, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins” according to the 8th-century Muslim chronicle Chach Nama), Jains. By implication even sects that did not exist yet, were Hindu upon birth: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, RK Mission, ISKCON. Today, “Hindu” is a dirty word, so they all try to weasel out of it and declare themselves non-Hindu, also to enjoy the legal benefits of being a minority. (Indeed, under the prevailing anti-secular Constitution, non-Hindus are privileged above Hindus.) They see Hinduism as a sinking ship, and being rats, they leave it. But I am not impressed by this. People should simply grow up and face facts: they satisfy the definition of “Hindu”, so they are Hindus, Indian Pagans. I don’t care what elephants think of being called elephants; since they satisfy the definition of “elephant” they are elephants. Period.

Since roughly 1980, the RSS family of Hindu nationalist organisations have tried to water this clear historical definition down by saying that “Hindu” simply means “Indian”. That would have been the pre-invasion usage, when Persian and Arabic were not tainted by Islam yet. But when the word was brought into India, it immediately differed from “Indian” by its religious dimension. Muslims and Christians are by definition not Hindu. But because the contemporary Hindutva leaders are not clear-headed—or brave—enough to face difference, they try to spirit the difference between Hinduism and Islam away by calling the Indian Muslims “Mohammedi Hindus”. And likewise, “Christi Hindus”. I think that is the summum of cowardice.

Look, I don’t claim to be brave. I just sit behind my computer screen. Writing articles that displease some people doesn’t require more courage than posting cheerful holiday messages on Facebook; it’s just words. It is nothing compared to a soldier on the battlefield running into enemy fire. Here in Flanders Fields, we are presently commemorating every event that punctuated WWI, a hundred years ago. When you read about those events, you come across unspeakable acts of bravery. So, compared to that, scholarship is nothing, even when a bit controversial. But conversely, when even words can intimidate you, when even a purely logical application of the definition of “Hindu” is too much, when even a word of disapproval by the secularists is too much, that is really intolerable cowardice. To be sure, even the secularists approve of a difference between “Hindu” and “Indian”, but the so-called Hindutva people now try to out-secularise the secularists by even denying that there is a separate religious category “Hindu”, different from the secular-geographical term “Indian”. They have come a long way from flattering themselves as being the “vanguard of Hindu society” to denying that there is even such a thing as a “Hindu Indian” different from a “non-Hindu Indian”.

Q : You have criticised both Christianity and Islam for being basically a set of superstitious beliefs. Yet many would claim to the contrary that there is a lot more superstition in Hinduism. For instance, while Christianity and Islam at least have a historical basis to many of their most important stories, this is less the case for the Hindu stories about various gods and goddesses, which are more akin to the stories about Greek or Egyptian gods. Furthermore, the practice of image- or idol-worship could itself be considered superstitious, since it leads the worshipper to fetishise the idol as a source of magical powers, or as a divine being in itself. What is your response to this?

A : The core beliefs of Christianity and Islam are superstitious. Or without bringing in any psychologising jargon like “superstitious”, they are, more simply, untrue. It is not true that Mohammed had a direct telephone line with God, and that the Quran is simply a collection of divine messages. It is simply not true that Jesus rose from the dead; just like all deceased people, he is not part of this world anymore. Much less is it true that he thereby freed mankind from sin (and thereby also of mortality, the punishment that befell Adam and Eve after their fall into sinfulness); levels of sinfulness or of human mortality had not appreciably changed in 33 AD. Yes, it is claimed by believers as a historical fact that Jesus resurrected or that Mohammed received revelations, but apart from the fact that the date given is realistic, the event is definitely not. And I don’t even go into the theories that Jesus or Mohammed never existed. Believing something that is flatly untrue, and moreover as the basis of your worldview, that is simply not the case with Hinduism.

As it happens, Hinduism is not one definite worldview. It is not based on one untrue statement, like Christianity or Islam. It is not necessarily based on a true statement either. Within the Hindu big tent, there are many traditions with their own doctrines. They have an awe for the sacred in common, but what counts as sacred is conceived in many ways. As the Rig Veda says: the wise ones call the one reality by many names. Among these traditions, the Upanishadic ones converge on an insight that is not historical but true, just as the Law of Gravity is not historical (its date and place of discovery happen to be known but are immaterial, as it is valid everywhere and forever). It is the Atmavad or doctrine of the Self, summed up in great sayings like Aham Brahmasmi, I am Brahma. That is the monist or Vedanta view, in parallel you have the dualist or Sankhya view, still within the Hindu big tent, the basis of Patañjali’s yoga. It is both rational and spiritual; Christianity and Islam cannot boast of anything parallel. But I agree that this is only the spiritual backbone of Hinduism, and that many of the beliefs and practices around it are not so rational. However, these don’t have the status that the core beliefs of Christianity and Islam have. You can safely discard them and still be a Hindu.

Q : You have questioned the conventional view that Siddhartha Gautama broke away from Hinduism and founded a new religion. Yet did he not deny the authority of the Vedas? And did he not reject the caste system, saying (variously quoted): “By birth one is not an outcaste, by birth one is not a Brahmin; by deeds alone one is an outcaste, by deeds alone one is a Brahmin”?

A : He did not go out of his way to deny the Vedas, and if he did it only followed the latter part of the Veda itself. The Jnanakanda part, the Upanishads, is explicit in declaring the Karmakanda part, the Brahmanas, as outdated. Shankara lambastes the Sankhya-Yoga school for never quoting the Veda. It was part—not the whole, but part—of Hinduism to ignore the Veda.

He did not bother about the caste system, which Buddhists in Lanka and Tibet also practised. Buddhism never changed the social system in China, Japan or Thailand because it had a spiritual agenda incompatible with a social reform agenda. If pursuing your own desires is already incompatible with pursuing Enlightenment, this counts even more for the immense job of structurally changing society. Either you do that, or you become a monk practising the spiritual path, but you cannot do both.

It simply accepted the social structures it found. Check the Buddha’s own life. Once his friend Prasenajit discovered that his queen was a Kshatriya only on her father’s side, so he repudiated her and their common son. The Buddha persuaded him to take them back, pleading for the older conception of the caste system, which was purely in the paternal line: same caste as father, mother’s caste can be any. Now, if he had been a caste revolutionary, as all Indian schoolkids are taught nowadays, this incident would have been the occasion par excellence to lambaste and ridicule the caste system. But he does no such thing, he upholds one version—the older one, for far from being a revolutionary, he was a conservative—of the caste system.

Or consider the distribution of his ashes after his cremation. They are divided in eight and given to eight cities for keeping them as a relic in a stupa. The ruling elites of those cities had staked their claim exclusively and purely in casteist terms, though this was a Buddhist context par excellence. After 45 yeas of Buddhism, they say: “He was a Kshatriya, we are Kshatriyas, so we are entitled to his ashes.” If Buddhism had been anti-casteist, then as bad pupils they still might have thought in casteist terms, but they would have used a non-casteist wording. Instead, they have no compunction at all in using casteist terms.

I have more examples, but to sum up: the Buddha was an elite figure par excellence. He mainly recruited his novices among the elite, and all the later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins, as would be the Maitreya, the next Buddha. He was not an egalitarian at all. Witness his initial refusal to ordain women, and when he relented on this, he ordered that even the senior-most nun would be subservient to the junior-most monk. So, the secularist-cum-Ambedkarite attempt to appropriate the Buddha for modern socialist causes is totally false. It is bad history par excellence.

Q : Regarding Islam, it seems that one of your foremost critiques of this religion is the Quran itself, which you view as (if I understand your position correctly) irredeemably fanatical and intolerant. Yet as you are surely aware, the Quran is a complex work which takes on different qualities depending on how the verses are interpreted, which verses are emphasised, whether a verse is considered as universal or contextual, and so on. Thus there are many Islamic scholars who claim, for instance, that armed jihad is only permitted in self-defense, seeing that militant verses are often accompanied by verses preaching restraint and forgiveness. So does the Qur’an really have to be problematic in itself? Is it not rather certain traditions—mostly Salafi—of interpreting the Quran which are a problem?

A : Let me clarify first that my fairly elaborate answers to your questions on Islam do not mean that I am especially interested in Islam. The Salman Rushie and the Ayodhya affairs forced me to study it more closely, but since the 1990s, I have only returned to it when current affairs dragged me back to it. As a subject, it has lost my interest because it is quite straightforward and all the important answers have already been given. The only meaningful debate that remains is on which policy vis-à-vis Islam will deliver both Muslims and non-Muslims from it as painlessly as possible.

Now, your very common position that “source text good, tradition bad”, or “founder good, followers bad”, or “prophet full of good intentions, followers misunderstood him”. (It is equally used in the case of Christianity: “freeing Christ from Churchianity” and all that.) Only by not reading the Quran, and especially the life events of the Prophet, can you say that. The magic wand of “interpretation” does not impress me. What interpretation do you know of that turns qatala, “slaughter”, into “restraint and forgiveness”? Moreover, Muslims and their sympathisers have had decades to “reinterpret” their scriptures, and what is the result? The Prophet’s biography, Sirat Rasul Allah, of which the authoritative translation by Alfred Guillaume is very literal and has been published in Karachi under Islamic supervision, is used by Muslims worldwide (their Quranic Arabic is usually not that fluent either), unaltered. Thomas Cleary’s Islamophile “translation” of the Quran does not meaningfully “reinterpret” the Quran, but simply leaves out the embarrassing parts; similarly a Dutch selective translation of the Sira that was recently published. The most-used English translations of the Quran are by Muslims, yet they faithfully translate that “war will reign between us until ye believe in Allah alone”. There, we are fortunate that their great respect for the Prophet’s every word prevents them from imposing their own false interpretations on it.

Jihad only permitted in self-defence? Pray, why did Mohammed order a (failed) invasion of the Byzantine Empire? Why did he attack the Meccan caravans who went about their business peacefully? When the Muslim army was defeated in central France by Charles the Hammer in 731, what was it doing there, thousands of miles from Arabia? Defending itself? These are just silly sop stories. As an intellectual spectacle, it is amusing to see the acrobatics of “enlightened” Islamophiles in exculpation of Islam.

The solution is simply to grow up. It is not so hard to outgrow childhood beliefs, though it does take an intellectual and social transition, especially in the intermediate period when you have to co-exist with relatives who still shy away from taking this step. But then, I am asking no one to make changes in his life and outlook that I haven’t been through myself. I had the exceptional good fortune of being in the middle of a nation-wide—largely Europe-wide, in fact—religious conversion. I was born in Catholic Flanders, a front-line of the Roman Church against Anglican England, Calvinist Holland, Lutheran Germany and secular-Masonic France. In the 1950s, society was still deeply penetrated by the Church’s all-seeing eyes. Everyone in my primary school went to church on Sundays, was baptised, had a Catholic saint’s name, etc. In the 1960s, this edifice started crumbling, with Vatican II as both cause and consequence. By the 1980s, this became the dominant narrative, and the conformists who had earlier gone to church because everyone did, now stayed away because everyone did. Today, practising Catholics are a small minority. The ex-Catholics are now the dominant group, until the next generation takes over, because they are not even “ex”, they simply have no memory of Catholicism. And all this without bloodshed, without destruction of the admittedly wonderful artistic heritage of the Church. (I still sing Gregorian plainchant under the shower.)

So, that is what I wish for my Muslim friends too. Make Islam un-cool. Outgrow it. And take it from me: there is life after apostasy.

Q : I would also like to ask the same question regarding Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the prophet of Islam. There are many hadiths attributed to Muhammad which certainly seem to us to set a bad example, but there are also many hadiths to the contrary. Is it not again simply a matter of emphasis and interpretation? For instance, consider this opinion by the scholar Hamza Yusuf, who was traditionally educated in the Maliki Madhhab. Do you consider his understanding of what Muhammad stood for as somehow Islamically illegitimate? 

A : I have toughed it out to listen through the Shaykh’s special pleading, but I really knew enough after the first sentence, where he names Karen Armstrong as his main inspiration. Hers is a rare extreme of special pleading, distorting everything of Islamic history to fit modern values. The rest of his narrative is the usual idealisation of the person Mohammed, as in his very special courtship with the widow Khadija (but with the false allegation that women before Islam had no inheritance rights, just when Khadija’s case proves the opposite). It is the basic conjurer’s trick: directing the audience’s focus to a few nice episodes in Mohammed’s life and keeping the rest out of view. That is why Muslims are more properly called “Mohammedans”: they are far more punctual followers of Mohammed than Christians are of Christ.

To be sure, Mohammed may well have had some positive traits. He was known as very reliable, and I have no quarrel with that. Whether Khadija chose him because of those traits, as amply argued here, is another matter: he was a good young toyboy for this mature lady, and like his poverty—he worked as a shepherd in the service of the Meccan townspeople—his age made him her inferior and thus less likely to claim lordship over the wealth she had inherited or augmented by her entrepreneurial skills. But even if it was a marriage made in heaven, with all manner of perfections accruing to the bridegroom, that doesn’t make him God’s spokesman. Shaykh may pontificate as much as he wants about Mohammed’s claimed virtues, that still does not make him more than the next man. He was neither the Son of God (as Muslims rightly hold against Christians) nor a prophet with a private telephone line with God—as Muslims believe; it is the heart of their religion.

Let’s cut short all the circumlocutions, let us cut out all the modern propaganda, and look at what the primary sources say. We can summarise Mohammed’s life story in a single sentence: he destroyed an existing pluralistic society—Polytheists, Sabians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews and Hanifs—and replaced it with a monolithic Islamic dictatorship. That is what the Islamic source texts themselves say. It is the height of ridiculousness that the multiculturalists in Europe, like their “secularist” counterparts in India, hobnob with Mohammed’s followers.

A lot also becomes clear when we know that most Arabs shook off Islam after Mohammed’s death and defeated the Muslim army. Unfortunately, they demobilised after that, the Muslim army came back and this time they securely imposed Islam. But the Arabs were the first victims of Islam. Mohammed practised robbery, extortion, abduction for ransom, rape, enslavement, slave trade, and the murder of his critics and of a resistant Jewish tribe. All those data are in the primary sources of Islam. There is no way that an Islamic court can declare them un-Islamic—short of saying that “Mohammed was a bad Muslim”.

It follows that I am sceptical of Muslims who call themselves “moderate”. First of all, the distinction between moderate and extremist Muslims is an invention by non-Muslim soft-brains, unknown in Islam, and firmly rejected both by ex-Muslims and by leading Muslims such as Turkish president Erdoğan. He calls it insulting to Islam to make such a distinction. At any rate, I will accept Shaykh’s interpretation as moderate the day I hear him say: “Mohammed was wrong. Don’t follow Mohammed.” If, by contrast, he still recommends following Mohammed, as every Muslim is expected to do, he is in fact telling us: do practise abduction, robbery, rape, slave-taking, beheading, stoning, for those are all things he actually did, not just displaying his charms to win Khadija in marriage, as you might think after hearing Shaykh’s narrative. Until he takes this distance from Mohammed’s precedent behaviour, he is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Q : Finally, I haven been impressed by many of your writings, which always allow the reader to follow transparently your train of thought—more than can be said about much academic literature, in my opinion—and which offer some thought-provoking conclusions on diverse subjects. I am not always in agreement with your viewpoints—and sometimes I simply don’t know—but all the same your method strikes me as a very refreshing example of how the history of religions can actually be studied. This is all the more interesting since you are, if I understand correctly, unaffiliated with any university and basically carrying out your research on your own. So my final question is: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same path? What type of literature would you recommend; how does one work with the primary sources; how many languages does one need to master? How many languages do you know yourself?

A : To start at the end: I have studied my mother tongue Dutch, other Belgian national languages French and German, and English; these I read and speak fluently. Afrikaans is really simplified Dutch, so I can also follow it effortlessly. Because of my studies, I can get around in Mandarin and Hindi, but claim no fluency. Persian I have largely forgotten. I also know a smattering of Spanish, and in my young days, I also browsed through the teach yourself books of the Celtic, Scandinavian, the main Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian), Serbo-Croatian and Turkish. I totally forgot about those, though I can still decipher written Scandinavian because of the closeness to my mother tongue, Dutch. But knowing something of the structure of the languages has proved useful in comparative linguistics and studies of the Indo-European language family. Among classical languages, my Latin was always good, my study of Wenyan (classical Chinese) and Sanskrit was thorough but I claim no fluency, alas no time to go deeply into them lately. I also studied Greek for two years, some Biblical Hebrew, and a smattering of Quranic Arabic, Sumerian and Sangam Tamil. The net result is that I know plenty of political and philosophical terminology and can place the concepts in their proper contexts, but I rarely use those languages as language. Thus, when I need to look something up in the Vedas or the Mahabharata, I scroll through the English text, and only when I come to the passage I was looking for I switch to reading the original. Life is short, and languages only interest me as entry to a world of thought. I am a historian and more and more a philosopher; philology has been a good basis but only as an instrument.

For born Indians, it ought to be a feasible minimum to familiarise yourself with Sanskrit. For doing Indian history or philosophy, it is simply necessary. For medieval history, you need to know Persian, and Arabic is a plus. In the US, they did a test: of two equally gifted groups of pupils, one took 8 hours of English, and one 4 hours of English and 4 hours of Latin. After a few years, the second group not only knew Latin, unlike the other group, but also had a better knowledge of English. Similarly, your knowledge of your Indian mother tongue will increase if you take out time to study the supposedly useless Sanskrit. It also promotes national unity, the convergence between the vernaculars, and also the phasing out of English, which you and I may find practical, but which to Indians is an anti-democratic imposition by the Nehruvian elite.

Whenever possible, you should go back to the primary sources. Thus, I am presently working on the history of early Buddhism, and I was initially surprised by the world of difference between the usual narrative peddled nowadays in schoolbooks and popular introductions, and the narrative revealed by the primary sources. Apart from the many errors that have crept into the modern narrative (mostly showing a strong anti-Hindu bias; see for example what I told you above about caste), the over-all conceptual mistake is the cardinal sin in history: the projection of modern concerns onto ancient developments. History is all about difference, the fact that “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

My being outside academe was not a matter of choice, but of being boycotted. Thus, my very first indological conference was the International Ramayana Conference 1990 at my own university, Leuven, and I defended the existence of a Hindu temple forcibly replaced by Babar’s mosque. One-third of the professors there were privately in support but publicly silent; one-third were furious at my daring to violate their safe space of rationality with such a silly and politically tainted claim; and the last one-third just didn’t have an opinion but were embarrassed at the commotion. The following years, I was boycotted and bad-mouthed throughout academe. But the fact is: I was right all along, as recent excavations and a court verdict have confirmed, and all those big-time professors were wrong.

The good thing about being on my own is that I don’t feel pressured to conform to the received wisdom. Thus, on Buddhism, practically all academics concerned swear by the paradigm “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good”. If I had been part of their circuit, I would probably have conformed to some extent to their view, at least to accept the narrative of “Hinduism and Buddhism”, as if these were two distinct entities on the same footing. Today I can just ignore their fairy-tale and state: the Buddha was 100% a Hindu.

I don’t advise anyone to take the path I stumbled upon. But if somehow it happens, at least you should enjoy its good side. Meanwhile, I keep hoping against hope that the present supposedly Hindu government will come to its senses and invest in scholarship, rather than parroting the narratives that several generations of secularist control over culture and education have established. In that endeavour, they will not only have to deconstruct all the harm done by the Nehruvians, but also the hare-brained alternatives presented by traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”, who think history means quoting from the Puranas. In the last half-century, a gap in Hindu scholarship has grown that will require energetic initiatives to fill. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 August 2016

› Dr Koenraad Elst is an historian. linguist and self-declared orientalist from Belgium who regularly visits India to study and lecture.

India's religious pluralism.

Ram Swarup and Hinduphobia – Koenraad Elst

hindu-hate

Koenraad ElstAs Socrates taught: evil is, upon closer analysis, a case of ignorance. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence. – Dr Koenraad Elst   

Let us consider what Ram Swarup said about Hindu-bashing, or what is nowadays called “Hinduphobia”. The word, though in existence since more than a century, was not yet in vogue as Hinduism’s ad hoc counterweight against the omnipresent propaganda term “Islamophobia”. But the phenomenon was already dominant in India and increasingly present abroad.

In fact, it was quite old. Several tribes of Muslims with a doctrinally motivated hatred for the Hindus, followed by the Portuguese Christians with a similar aversion, had actively persecuted Hinduism for centuries. They represent a permanent source of anti-Hindu violence that now takes the form of occupation of parts of the Hindu homeland by the Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh; of Pakistani incursions; of terrorism and of rioting. But while they bludgeoned Hindu society and inflicted huge human and material losses on it, they did not penetrate it or take control of its institutions.

Tribes of haters

The British, by contrast, could rule India with more limited violence largely outsourced to native sepoys, but their influence penetrated far more deeply. Firstly, they managed to pit several Hindu sub-groups against the mainstream: most obviously the Sikhs, for whom the status of separate religion was made of whole cloth, promoted as a social reality and underpinned at the scholarly level. In several booklets, Ram Swarup went against this colonial-engineered separatism by documenting how, as per their own scriptures and history, Sikhism was a self-identified sect of Vedic Hinduism.

The creation of bad blood between Buddhism and mainstream Hinduism only took the institutional form of keeping Sri Lanka and later Burma outside of British India, but was far more influential at the scholarly level. There, the underlying paradigm of all Buddhist studies and of Indian histories as instilled through the schools became: “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good.”  Even before 1947, “Christian missionaries (…) were presenting Buddhism (as they have been doing with Sikhism) as (…) a revolt against ‘Brahmanism’ and the “Hindu” caste system.” (Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions, p.519, originally 1991) They had no use for the Buddha, except for making him into a stick to beat Hindu society with. The Macaulayites and Marxists followed this example: “they tried to use their learning and position to undermine Hinduism (…) and show that there was little difference between Marxism and Buddhism. Now Communist historians are telling us that Hindus demolished Hindu temples.” (p.519) 

Likewise with the Dalits and tribals, who came to benefit from an incipient reservation system, and with the non-Brahmin Tamils. The then-popular Aryan Invasion Theory was used to pit them against the upper castes and the North Indians. The thrust of the exercise was invariably to put Hindus into the dock and make them feel guilty for their very existence. Needless to say, this caste-based discrimination with a good social conscience has only become more encompassing over the years, and the [Aryan Invasion] paradigm still is the official one.

But the second effect was even more detrimental to Hindu assertiveness: “The British took over our education and taught us to look at ourselves through their eyes. They created a class Indian in blood and colour, but anti-Hindu in its intellectual and emotional orientation. This is the biggest problem rising India faces—the problem of self-alienated Hindus, of anti-Hindu Hindu intellectuals.” (p.45) 

Then again, in numerical terms, this impact on Hindu society was still quite small even by 1947. Many millions in the countryside had never seen a Briton, less than 1% of the population spoke good English. If the Indian leadership had wanted, it could have undone this influence in a matter of decades.

Ram-SwarupA crucial factor here was the choice of language. Ram Swarup himself was quite at home with British culture and thought, being most influenced by British liberalism: Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell. In his case, this didn’t stop him from fighting for freedom from British rule, with active participation in the Quit India Movement. But for less independent minds, gulping down English influence would only end up estranging them from their Hindu roots, as it had done in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru. The vote in the Constituent Assembly’s Language Committee should have been crucial: 50% voted for Sanskrit, 50% for Hindi (which was given victory by the deciding vote of the chairman), and 0% for English. For the generation that had achieved independence, it was completely obvious that decolonisation implied abolishing the coloniser’s language. Yet by 1965, when this abolition was due to become effective, the English-speaking elite had gathered enough power to overrule this solemn commitment. Ever since, the influence of English and of the thought systems conveyed by it has only gone on increasing, and at some levels, India is becoming a part of the Anglosphere—hardly what the freedom fighter envisioned. Today, most Anglophone secularists are nearly as knowledgeable about Hindu culture as first-time foreign tourists who have crammed up the Lonely Planet’s few pages summarising India’s religious landscape.

Marx and Mao

Compare with China, not formally colonised but having been repeatedly humiliated by colonial incursion, yet now again proud and assertive. Of course it has retained its language, and adopting a foreign language as medium for education or the judiciary is simply unthinkable. Ram Swarup, who wrote several books criticising the record of Maoism, wouldn’t emphasise this, but it is one thing the Communists undoubtedly achieved: a clean break with the colonial age. Under the nationalist regime (1912-49), China was increasingly under Anglo-American influence, and the Christian missions could operate on a large scale. Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshi (who later was to give an award to Ram Swarup’s and Sita Ram Goel’s anti-Communist think tank Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia) was a Christian along with much of his family. By contrast, when Mao Zedong came to power, all missionaries were imprisoned, killed, or at best banished.    

On the other hand, by importing Marxism, China was opening itself up to another Western doctrine, and actively imposing it on its population. The same counted for those circles in India that came to espouse Marxism. Under Nehru, it started influencing the power-wielding circles, and from Indira Gandhi onwards, it achieved control over education policy and much of cultural policy. This ideology was “more Eurocentric than regular imperialism. It used radical slogans but its aims were reactionary. … Marx fully shared the contempt of the British imperialists for India. He fully subscribed to the theses of colonial scholarship that India was not a nation, had no history and was meant for subjugation. Marxism was Macaulayism at its most hostile. It blackened Indian history systematically. It gave to [the] Indian social and political system its own format, the one it had learnt from its European teachers. It saw in Hinduism not … a great spiritual civilisation but only communalism.” (p.45-46) 

Newer forms of Marxist or soft-Marxist thought (critics speak of “cultural Marxism”) remain entrenched in the Indian institutions, and are more powerful than ever in the relevant departments of Western universities. Their construction of Indian reality remains dominant and is more than ever spread to the new Hindu generations, leading to more culpabilisation c.q. sense of shame for Hinduism. 

Race to the exit

The trends unambiguously traced to colonial policies have not been reversed by the Nehruvian regime, but have instead been continued and magnified. Thus, the British policy of separating Hindu subsets from general Hinduism has continued with an affirmation at different times of minority status for Buddhism, Sikhism, the Arya Samaj, Jainism, Virashaivism and Sarna “animism”. In every case, the administrative separation was fortified with a change in discourse: the need for a non-Hindu identity was in each case buttressed by an increased blackening of Hinduism. This anti-Hindu attitude has even crept into Hindu organisations without the institutional ambition of minority status, e.g. the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) calls itself non-Hindu, except when it is canvassing for donations from Hindu communities.

When Ram Swarup wrote against separatism among the Sikhs, it was an interesting intellectual entertainment for his readers, but had no impact at all on policy-making. The Narasimha Rao government managed to neutralise armed Sikh separatism, but did nothing to change Sikh separatist thought, so that there remains a constant threat of its political revival. In a healthy society, we might expect power-wielders to listen to sages like Ram Swarup, but this was not the case; just as it is still not the case today.

As described in Ram Swarup’s booklet The Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity, the Ramakrishna Mission, besieged by the Communist-supported Teachers’ Union in its school network, felt compelled as a matter of survival to relieve this pressure. In India, by virtue of Article 30 of the Constitution, minority schools (and similarly, places of worship) are autonomous and immune from government take-over, whereas classification as Hindu makes them vulnerable to nationalisation. But the RK Mission did not try to have the discrimination against Hindu schools abolished, did not appeal to Hindu society, but did the dishonourable thing of trying to escape by seeking minority status, like a rat leaving a sinking ship. The Bengal High Court gave it the coveted minority status, then finally (or so it seemed) the Supreme Court denied it, entirely in accordance with RK Mission founder Swami Vivekananda’s assertion of Hindu pride. 

Superficial Hindus might jubilate that this was a victory for Hindu unity, but Ram Swarup warned that the Mission would now have to live down the anti-Hindu attitudes which it had come to espouse. Here again, some of its swamis make all the right noises for the respective audiences they address, sometimes calling themselves Hindu, but the “we are not Hindus” animus has not disappeared: when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won the state elections ending decades of Communist rule, the Mission asked her for minority status. And promptly it received her assurance that it would henceforth be treated as a minority, thus de facto overruling the “final” Supreme Court verdict. Ram Swarup always emphasised that institutional arrangements are unimportant in themselves, merely the materialisation of convictions and mentalities. If you want to stop the race to the exit, it is imperative to change people’s unfavourable impression of Hinduism. 

Down with conspiracy thinking

A final point for the attention of the rather hot-headed Hindu activists and polemicists. They always see conspiracies against Hinduism, e.g. the Aryan Invasion Theory was a “British concoction”, the Partition of India was “imposed by machinations by the British” who had “brainwashed” the Muslim League leadership. In this case, “Hinduphobia” is deemed to be an expression of an intractable “hatred” that for some reason (in the case of Westerners, “racism”) animates Hinduism’s numerous enemies. This fuming hot air in Hindu discourse puts off many neutral observers and produces Hinduphobes. But in all of Ram Swarup’s works, there is not a single example of this approach. 

For a single example, he describes a novel about the Buddha’s wife Yashodhara, Lady of the Lotus, by a well-meaning American, William E. Barrett. It has totally fictitious episodes about the couple’s visits to the quarters of the Untouchables: “They were revolted by the sight. They saw that ‘the traffic in the streets was, in the main, animal.’” And about the sight of hungry people: “Next day when they were in bed, light dawned on Siddharta that ‘No one has to be hungry … and no one should live as these people live.’” (p.527) In reality, the Buddha was not particularly interested in the difference between rich and poor, high and low; he taught that suffering was basic to the human condition in general. He did not propagate liberation from poverty, but liberation from the human condition. The socialist reinterpretation of the Buddha as a social rebel conflicts with the Buddha’s teachings. It is typical for the post-religious worldview to reduce religion to socio-economic considerations, i.e. to cultivate ignorance about the existential passions that have generated religions.   

The most interesting part of Ram Swarup’s account is: “The author was not hostile to India but he was doing his best to depict Hindus and their history as he knew it.” (p.528) This is crucial to understanding “Hinduphobia”: while some classes of people, say mullahs and missionaries, have an interest in blackening Hinduism, most people don’t. They just go by the information they have been fed. This American novelist has been fed the fable that the Buddha was a rebel against Hindu societal reality, so that is what he puts into his story: Buddhism social, Hinduism oppressive. As Socrates (translated into Hindi as Satyakām Sokratez by Ram Swarup’s friend Sita Ram Goel) taught: evil is, upon closer analysis, a case of ignorance. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.   

Dr Koenraad Elst is an historian. linguist and orientalist from Belgium who visits India to study and lecture.

hindu-phobia

Ambedkar on Gandhi: Dismantling the Mahatma – Anand Ranganathan

INDIA-POLITICS-RIGHTS-PROTEST

anand-ranganathanComparisons between great men are odious at best, but in the numerous interactions he had with Ambedkar, Gandhi comes across as a sophomore arguing with his dean—sometimes wide-eyed, sometimes a playground bully, unsure and disposed to bouts of arrogance; and then, as the last throw of dice, couching his ignorance with borrowed theological wisdom. – Prof Anand Ranganathan

It is not that we do not understand Ambedkar; it is that we fear him. Mahatma Gandhi was no different.

The fear of Ambedkar is justified, for how can one man be so authoritative on every subject he ever professed a view on, be it Islam, Communism, Hinduism, history, theology, science, economics, politics, society, literature, law, foreign policy, education,  and  journalism. One may, admittedly, veer towards bombast and hyperbole while acknowledging this to be a non-human trait. After all, it is but a thin line that separates fear from worship. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is wrong at some point, or as the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell put it: I would never die for my beliefs, for I might be wrong. What, then, would one call someone who overwhelmingly defies these maxims?

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

There is no other way of saying this. Mahatma Gandhi was frightened of Ambedkar’s intellect. We have all been there before, trying to hold our icy core before an adversary armed with a blowtorch—that awful, gut-wrenching moment when he smirks and decides not to embarrass you with the truth, that you were found wanting, that you have been defeated. Defeated, some retreat into humility, others into hubris. Gandhi chose the latter.

Ultimately, greatness is judged not by how right you were but, rather, how wrong. Gandhi got it wrong more times than Ambedkar got it right, which was, in this author’s opinion, almost always.

Gandhi was a kind man, he was a good man, and therefore fallible. He was prone to vanity and narcissism. Ambedkar wasn’t. He wasn’t because every single day of his life he was made aware of the fact that the mediocre have inherited the Earth and control it. And on days he wasn’t made to feel worthless, his worth was patronised. Nothing came easy to Ambedkar, least of all his genius.

Granted, comparisons between great men are odious at best, but in the numerous interactions he had with Ambedkar, Gandhi comes across as a sophomore arguing with his dean—sometimes wide-eyed, sometimes a playground bully, unsure and therefore disposed to bouts of arrogance; and then, as the last throw of dice, couching his ignorance with borrowed theological wisdom because it was underwritten by those as ignorant as him. These are not charitable words, but then an assessment of Gandhi is rarely charitable if it is to be ruthlessly objective. And who else but Ambedkar to have assessed Gandhi like no one ever dared to before or after him.

Gandhi was not a liberal—his beliefs on societal structure, on economy, on a concept-state, on what Indians should eat or drink, would make even the most ardent of conservatives blush. His theories were based less on logic and more on a bizarre sense of faith-based entitlement that can only be described as an inseparable emulsion of homeopathy and spirituality. Gandhi was an intelligent and cunning god-man. He was made for India. He held her pulse, pumped her heart. Ambedkar, on the other hand, was the only true liberal this nation has produced in the last many centuries. Gandhi was a theologian pretending to be a politician; Ambedkar, a supreme scholar. Gandhi was a Social Darwinian; Ambedkar, a Darwinian. Gandhi said he would not “weep over the disappearance of machinery”; Ambedkar wanted an industrialised India. Gandhi could have ruled independent India had he chosen to for as long as he wanted; Ambedkar lost an election by some margin. Twice. Gandhi saw the village as India’s liberator; Ambedkar called it a cesspool and a den of ignorance. Gandhi’s self-confidence was buttressed by the blind devotion of his countless followers; Ambedkar’s stemmed from his ability to speak his mind, stand all by himself, and appease no one.

Gandhi had an army of men; Ambedkar was a one-man army.

Ambedkar saw through Gandhi. Worse, the Mahatma gauged this, but, like a stunned ostrich, pretended to hold fort, employing as bulwarks his minions who were also petrified of Ambedkar’s intellect.

India has forever been a land of such tragedies. The one who truly was a Mahatma fought a man pretending to be one, and lost. But he went down fighting. And how.

That Gandhi was dealing with a different kind of man should have become obvious to him after their very first formal extended meeting. The conversation, which took place on 14 August 1931, has been recorded for posterity and is revealing beyond measure.

Gandhi: “I understand that you have got some grievances against the Congress and me. I may tell you that I have been thinking over the problem of Untouchables ever since my school days—when you were not even born.”

Ambedkar: “It is true, Mahatmaji, that you started to think about the problem of Untouchables before I was born. All old and elderly persons always like to emphasize the point of age.”

Gandhi 0, Ambedkar 1.

Gandhi: “The Congress has spent not less than rupees twenty lakhs on the uplift of the Untouchables.”

Ambedkar: “The Congress is not sincere about its professions. Had it been, it would have surely made the removal of untouchability a condition, like the wearing of khaddar, for becoming a member of the Congress. No person who did not employ untouchable women or men in his house, or rear up an untouchable student, or take food at home with an untouchable student at least once a week, should have been allowed to be a member of the Congress. Had there been such a condition, you could have avoided the ridiculous sight where the President of the District Congress Committee was seen opposing the temple entry of the Untouchables. You might say that Congress lacked strength and therefore it was unwise to lay down such a condition. Then my point is that Congress cares more for strength than for principles. This is my charge against you and the Congress. You say the British Government does not show a change of heart. I also say that the Hindus have not shown a change of heart in regard to our problem, and so long as they remain adamant, we would believe neither the Congress nor the Hindus. We believe in self-help and self-respect.”

Gandhi: “It is really surprising that men like you should offer opposition to me and to the Congress.”

Ambedkar: “We are not prepared to have faith in great leaders and mahatmas. Let me be brutally frank about it. History tells that mahatmas, like fleeting phantoms, raise dust, but raise no level.”

Game over.

It would be wrong to suggest that Ambedkar hated Gandhi. Hate cannot cloud the judgement of a man as rational and detached as Ambedkar, for if it did, he would no longer be the guardian of these virtues. What Ambedkar employed, instead, was logic, through which, slowly, methodically, year on year, decade on decade, he dismantled Gandhi’s sainthood. There was no hate involved, just the brute force of reasoning and judgement. Ambedkar was unsparing and unyielding, and the Mahatma was only too glad to oblige.

When the Great War ended with the disbanding of the Ottoman Empire, Gandhi persuaded the Congress to support the Khilafat Movement—a violent agitation for restoration of the Islamic Caliphate deposed by the victorious British. Before long, he pinched his nose and plunged into the murky waters of religious appeasement and terror rationalisation in the wake of the ghastly anti-Hindu violence perpetrated by the Malabar Muslims (Moplahs) in 1921.

Ambedkar, who saw Gandhi’s advocacy of the Khilafat Movement as a pernicious political stunt—(“The movement was started by the Muslims. It was taken up by Mr Gandhi with a tenacity and faith which must have surprised many Muslims themselves.”)—viewed the Moplah rebellion as nothing but jihad. The Muslim agitators, he said, “preached the doctrine that India under the British Government was Dar-ul-Harab [The Abode of War; a place where the Muslims are not in power] and that the Muslims must fight against it and if they could not, they must carry out the alternative principle of Hijrat.”

Ambedkar continued, pulling no punches. “The aim was to establish the kingdom of Islam by overthrowing the British Government. Knives, swords and spears were secretly manufactured, bands of desperadoes collected for an attack on British authority. On 20th August a severe encounter took place between the Moplahs and the British forces at Pinmangdi. Roads were blocked, telegraph lines cut, and the railway destroyed in a number of places. As soon as the administration had been paralysed, the Moplahs declared that Swaraj had been established. A certain Ali Mudaliar was proclaimed raja, Khilafat flags were flown, and Ernad and Wallurana were declared Khilafat kingdoms. As a rebellion against the British Government it was quite understandable. But what baffled most was the treatment accorded by the Moplahs to the Hindus of Malabar. The Hindus were visited by a dire fate at the hands of the Moplahs. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, such as ripping open pregnant women, pillage, arson and destruction—in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and unrestrained barbarism, were perpetrated freely by the Moplahs upon the Hindus until such time as troops could be hurried to the task of restoring order through a difficult and extensive tract of the country. This was not a Hindu-Moslem riot. This was just a Bartholomew [reference to the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572].”

To Ambedkar’s horror, Gandhi laid the blame squarely on the Hindus. “Hindus,” said the Mahatma, “must find out the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have hitherto not cared for the Moplah. They have either treated him as a serf or dreaded him. They have not treated him as a friend and neighbour, to be reformed and respected. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or the Muslims in general.”

If such rationalisation wasn’t unpleasant enough, Gandhi went further, blaming everyone else for the Moplah barbarity but the Moplahs themselves. “The Government has thoroughly exploited the Moplahs’ madness,” he said. “They have punished the entire Moplah community for the madness of a few individuals and have incited the Hindus by exaggerating the facts. Malabar Hindus, like the Moplahs, are an excitable people and the Government has incited them against the latter.”

The outbreak, said Gandhi, “would not have taken place if the collector had consulted the religious sentiment of the Moplahs”.

That religious sentiment, as analysed by Ambedkar, was jihad. Indeed, Muslim leaders themselves agreed with Ambedkar. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the eulogised freedom fighter and a friend of the Mahatma, and one who had coined the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad”, justified the massacre of Hindus by saying that this was Islamic jihad and that according to the rules of jihad, those who help the enemy become enemies themselves.

Shockingly, Gandhi was conciliatory towards the Maulana. “I do not blame the Maulana. He looks upon the British Government as an enemy. He would defend anything done in fighting it. He thinks that there is much untruth in what is being said against the Moplahs and he is, therefore, not prepared to see their error. I believe that this is his narrowness, but it should not hurt the Hindus. The Maulana speaks what is in his mind. He is an honest and courageous man. All know that he has no ill will against the Hindus.”

“In spite of his amazingly crude views about religion,” said Gandhi, “there is no greater nationalist nor a greater lover of Hindu-Muslim unity than the Maulana”.

So here was Gandhi, a Hindu, schooling a maulana on Islam. He wasn’t done yet. He transmogrified next into a maulana himself, quibbling on Islamic sanctions just so he could venture into the minds of the men who Ambedkar had called barbarians and rationalise their barbarity. “Their [the Moplahs’] notions of Islam were of a very crude type,” claimed the Mahatma.

“Forcible conversions are horrible things,” counselled Gandhi. “But Moplah bravery must command admiration. These Malabaris are not fighting for the love of it. They are fighting for what they consider is their religion and in the manner they consider is religious.”

Then came the cruellest of blows—a plea to the Hindus to rationalise the bloodbath by taking recourse in dharma.

“Even if one side is firm in doing its dharma,” said Gandhi, “there will be no enmity between the two. He alone may be said to be firm in his dharma who trusts his safety to God and, untroubled by anxiety, follows the path of virtue. If Hindus apply this rule to the Moplah affair, they will not, even when they see the error of the Moplahs, accuse the Muslims.”

“I see nothing impossible in asking the Hindus to develop courage and strength to die before accepting forced conversion,” preached the saint. “I was delighted to be told that there were Hindus who did prefer the Moplah hatchet to forced conversion.”

“Even so is it more necessary for a Hindu to love the Moplah and the Muslim more, when the latter is likely to injure him or has already injured him.”

“Why should a single Hindu have run away on account of the Moplahs’ atrocities?”

This was sheer lunacy. The Mahatma was beseeching the Hindus to hold their ground even as they were being hunted down and butchered.

One could quote more, much more, of this utterly reprehensible apologia from the Mahatma’s playbook were it not so tormenting. Of little comfort is the fact that the saint continued to hold such views despite condemnation by men like Ambedkar. Decades later, while preaching to those affected by the pre-partition Hindu-Muslim violence, he said: “Hindus should not harbour anger in their hearts against Muslims even if the latter wanted to destroy them. Even if the Muslims want to kill us all we should face death bravely. If they established their rule after killing Hindus we would be ushering in a new world by sacrificing our lives. None should fear death. Birth and death are inevitable for every human being. Why should we then rejoice or grieve? If we die with a smile we shall enter into a new life, we shall be ushering in a new India.”

Ambedkar was incensed at Gandhi’s selectivity, more so of his stand on the Moplah Massacre.

“Mr Gandhi has never called the Muslims to account even when they have been guilty of gross crimes against Hindus,” said Ambedkar. “Mr Gandhi has never protested against such murders [of prominent Hindus like Swami Shradhanand, Rajpal, Nathuramal Sharma]. Not only have the Muslims not condemned these outrages but even Mr Gandhi has never called upon the leading Muslims to condemn them. He has kept silent over them. Such an attitude can be explained only on the ground that Mr Gandhi was anxious to preserve Hindu-Muslim unity and did not mind the murders of a few Hindus, if it could be achieved by sacrificing their lives.”

Ambedkar next turned to Gandhi’s behaviour during the Moplah massacre, a pogrom he had condemned in the strongest of terms earlier. “This attitude to excuse the Muslims any wrong, lest it should injure the cause of unity, is well illustrated by what Mr Gandhi had to say in the matter of the Moplah riots. The blood-curdling atrocities committed by the Moplahs in Malabar against the Hindus were indescribable. All over Southern India, a wave of horrified feeling had spread among the Hindus of every shade of opinion, which was intensified when certain Khilafat leaders were so misguided as to pass resolutions of ‘congratulations to the Moplahs on the brave fight they were conducting for the sake of religion’. Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Moslem unity. But Mr Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Moslem unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of the Moplahs and the Khilafats who were congratulating them. He spoke of the Moplahs as the ‘brave God-fearing Moplahs who were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious’.”

Another incident around the same time brought to light the differences between Ambedkar and Gandhi, underscoring further the gap that exists between objectivity and selectivity, and how the latter is used to devastating effect in politics. It was the publication of a pamphlet called Rangila Rasool, written as a retaliation for Sita ka Chhinala, a book penned by a Muslim that claimed Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, was a prostitute. Ambedkar stood for Mahashe Rajpal, the publisher of the pamphlet who was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic, Ilm-ud-din, this while Muhammad Ali Jinnah defended Ilm-ud-din in court, and none other than Allama Iqbal carried Ilm-ud-din’s coffin at the funeral.

Ambedkar was outraged at what was done to Rajpal; Gandhi was outraged at what Rajpal did. “I am no defender of the author of Rangila Rasool,” said Gandhi, adding that the book gave him “deep pain”. He called the book offensive and its author a mischief-maker. He wanted the law changed.

The law changed. In came the dreaded IPC section 295a, calling for punishing those who “hurt religious sensibilities”, and the India of the kind Ambedkar had imagined, an India proclaiming liberty and freedom of expression, changed forever. For the worse.

The dismantling of Gandhi’s sainthood by Ambedkar took a decisive turn in the late 1920s. It is revealing that of the 98 weighty volumes that make up the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar’s name doesn’t figure till the fifty-third. From then on, there is a veritable Cambrian explosion and Ambedkar features regularly and copiously—the build-up to the Poona Pact, the Temple Entry Bill, the state of the so-called Depressed Classes and, tellingly, Gandhi’s anxiety that Ambedkar, and not he, was the true representative of Dalits.

Gandhi couldn’t stomach the rise of Ambedkar. Time and time again, he tries to show Ambedkar his place, is patronising to the extreme, displays uncharacteristic rudeness, and gets into banal contests as to who truly represented Dalits. And right through their duels, one cannot help but imagine Ambedkar eyeing the Mahatma with a wry smile while steaming his glasses and massaging them with his tie-end. The battle was over even before it had begun.

Here is Gandhi, bristling with unease and envy. “I repudiate his [Ambedkar’s] claim to represent them [the depressed classes]. I am the representative of the depressed classes. Get a mandate and I may not be elected but Ambedkar cannot be returned.”

What Gandhi blurted out was true. He not only would have been elected, he would have been elected with a thumping majority, and on any seat he wished to contest. India was eating out of his hands. Ambedkar, on the other hand, would have forfeited his deposit. He lost two elections that he later contested. Fame and foresight are rarely bedfellows.

The Mahatma, meanwhile, was relentless. It was almost as though he was canvassing door-to-door. “I am speaking with a due sense of responsibility, and I say that it is not a proper claim which is registered by Dr Ambedkar when he seeks to speak for the whole of the untouchables of India.”

When a delegation of Dalits asked him, “To what extent can we consider you as our man,” Gandhi replied, “Since before Ambedkar was born, I have been your man.”

And here is Gandhi displaying cringe-worthy condescension when confronted on the subject of “temple entry” by a cool and collected Ambedkar: “When you use derogatory and angry words for me, I tell myself that I deserved that. I will not get angry even if you spit on my face. I say this with God as witness. I know that you have drunk deep of the poisoned cup. However, I make a claim that will seem astounding to you. You are born an untouchable but I am an untouchable by adoption. And as a new convert I feel more for the welfare of the community than those who are already there.”

Ambedkar was beginning to get used to such patronising fluff. “I have no interest in the temples being thrown open to us,” he told Gandhi.

Things came to a head on the subject of untouchability, caste, and varna. Ambedkar’s views were well-known. He had honed them through decades of studying Hinduism. His thoughts weren’t meant to win political battles, but, rather, philosophical, even existential ones. The scholarship was astounding, as also seen later in The Annihilation of Caste and the Ranade Speech; each word a distillate of thoughtful reflection, each quote an exposition of philosophical depth. Gandhi stood no chance.

“The outcaste is a by-product of the caste system,” Ambedkar told Gandhi. “There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system. Nothing can help to save Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu faith of this odious and vicious dogma.”

The Mahatma’s responses exposed him wholly for what he was—an unintentional casteist bigot. “I do not believe the caste system, even as distinguished from varnashrama, to be an odious and vicious dogma,” he asserted. “It has its limitations and its defects, but there is nothing sinful about it as there is about untouchability, and, if it is a by-product of the caste system it is only in the same sense that an ugly growth is of a body, or weeds of a crop. It is as wrong to destroy caste because of the outcastes as it would be to destroy a body because of an ugly growth in it, or a crop because of the weeds.”

As for casual casteism, he spoke of Ambedkar thus, thinking he was giving Ambedkar a compliment: “His exterior is as clean as that of the cleanest and the proudest Brahmin.”

When asked by a Dalit delegation about his views on the varna system, Gandhi replied: “All occupations should be hereditary. Millions of people are not going to become prime ministers and viceroys.”

There was nothing sinful about the caste system. It was not a vicious dogma. It was wrong to destroy it. Said the father of our nation.

Indeed. Millions of people are not going to become prime ministers. A chaiwalah must remain a chaiwalah and his progeny must carry forward the family tradition of pouring a steaming cup of milk tea in a kullarh without spilling a drop.

Gandhi was an ardent, almost militant supporter of the caste system, not just early on in his life (when one could be forgiven for subscribing to uninformed opinions) but well into his mature political and spiritual avatar. “I believe that if Hindu Society has been able to stand it is because it is founded on the caste system,” he declared as late as 1921, by which time he had already anointed himself as the saviour of Dalits.

“The seeds of swaraj are to be found in the caste system. Different castes are like different sections of military division. Each division is working for the good of the whole. A community that can create the caste system must be said to possess unique power of organisation. Caste has a ready-made means for spreading primary education. Every caste can take the responsibility for the education of the children of the caste. Caste has a political basis. It can work as an electorate for a representative body. Caste can perform judicial functions by electing persons to act as judges to decide disputes among members of the same caste. With castes it is easy to raise a defence force by requiring each caste to raise a brigade. I believe that inter-dining or intermarriage are not necessary for promoting national unity. Taking food is as dirty an act as answering the call of nature. The only difference is that after answering call of nature we get peace while after eating food we get discomfort. Just as we perform the act of answering the call of nature in seclusion so also the act of taking food must also be done in seclusion. To destroy caste system and adopt western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation, which is the soul of the caste system. Hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder. I have no use for a Brahmin if I cannot call him a Brahmin for my life. It will be chaos if every day a Brahmin is to be changed into a Shudra and a Shudra is to be changed into a Brahmin. The caste system is the natural order of society. I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the caste system.”

A few years down the line, Gandhi watered down his love for the caste system a little (without abandoning it) and bestowed his tenderness, instead, on the varna system. Except that now his views became even more bizarre and bigoted. “I believe that the divisions into varna is based on birth,” he asserted. “There is nothing in the varna system which stands in the way of the Shudra acquiring learning or studying military art of offence or defence. The varna system is no bar to him. What the varna system enjoins is that a Shudra will not make learning a way of earning a living. There is no harm if a person belonging to one varna acquires the knowledge or science and art specialised in by persons belonging to other varnas. But as far as the way of earning his living is concerned he must follow the occupation of the varna to which he belongs which means he must follow the hereditary profession of his forefathers. The object of the varna system is to prevent competition and class struggle and class war. I believe in the varna system because it fixes the duties and occupations of persons. Varna means the determination of a man’s occupation before he is born. In the varna system no man has any liberty to choose his occupation. His occupation is determined for him by heredity.”

These, then, were the views of the self-anointed Redeemer of Dalits—that a Shudra could gain and dispense knowledge, fight in a war, do business, but he must earn his living through serving others. Reading, fighting, and doing business were to be his hobbies, nothing more.

One cannot but appreciate the herculean restraint Ambedkar would have had to exercise in the face of such theories. Gandhi had become the supreme test for ahimsa himself.

There was no way out. The Mahatma just wouldn’t admit he could be wrong, that he was building a house of cards while tormented by a sneezing fit. Sadly, his crude, unscholarly churnings only increased in their ferocity and obstinacy with time, even as he could see he was on thin ice. Hereditary varnashramadharma was Hinduism’s greatest gift to mankind, he said, while what Ambedkar desires, he complained, “is complete destruction of varnashramadharma of his imagination. Varnashrama to him means the essence of superiority and inferiority. I admit that today varnashrama does mean that, if it also means much more, but the evil of high-and-low-ness is represented by untouchability. When, therefore, the latter is demolished, varnashrama will be purged of the very thing for which Dr Ambedkar abhors it.”

This was nonsense, and Ambedkar told him as much. “I shall have nothing to do with varnashrama that would keep me and mine for ever at the bottom of the social scale.”

On caste and the cruelty of it, Ambedkar’s masterpiece, The Annihilation of Caste, remains unsurpassed in its literary distinction and sheer raw energy. It has the power to move mountains. But not saints.

“I have questioned the authority of the Mahatma whom they revere,” says Ambedkar of his invitees in the opening pages of The Annihilation. “They hate me,” he laments. They hated him, alright. His invite was cancelled at the last moment.

Step by step, page by page, Ambedkar lays out in astonishing detail the evil nature of the caste system and the ambivalence in Hinduism that propagated and preserved it. Next, he turns to the varna system and demolishes its logic with stunning analytical precision, while emphasising that “destroying caste would not destroy Hinduism”. It is the work of a scientist-philosopher. Never has clarity of thought jumped out from every paragraph, every sentence, so effortlessly.

Ambedkar understood, experienced, and witnessed that the varna system was inherently and irrevocably intertwined with the caste system. Only a congenital idiot would believe in the chaturvarna as an ideal form of society, he once said.

“The names BrahminKshatriyaVaishya, and Shudra are names which are associated with a definite and fixed notion in the mind of every Hindu. That notion is that of a hierarchy based on birth. So long as these names continue, Hindus will continue to think of the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra as hierarchical divisions of high and low, based on birth, and to act accordingly. The Hindu must be made to unlearn all this. But how can this happen, if the old labels remain, and continue to recall to his mind old notions? If new notions are to be inculcated in the minds of people, it is necessary to give them new names. To continue the old names is to make the reform futile. To allow this chaturvarnya based on worth to be designated by such stinking labels as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, indicative of social divisions based on birth, is a snare.”

What Ambedkar says next is crucial for understanding the intertwining of the varna and the caste, a point missed by some who support the varna and not the caste, or others like Gandhi who support both the varna and the caste. “Chaturvarnya is based on worth. How are you going to compel people who have acquired a higher status based on birth, without reference to their worth, to vacate that status? How are you going to compel people to recognize the status due to a man, in accordance with his worth, who is occupying a lower status based on his birth? For this, you must first break up the caste system, in order to be able to establish the chaturvarnya system. How are you going to reduce the four thousand castes, based on birth, to the four varnas, based on worth? This is the first difficulty that the protagonists of the chaturvarnya must grapple with. Modern science has shown that the lumping together of individuals into a few sharply-marked-off classes is a superficial view of man, not worthy of serious consideration. Consequently, the utilisation of the qualities of individuals is incompatible with their stratification by classes, since the qualities of individuals are so variable. Chaturvarnya must fail for the very reason for which Plato’s republic must fail—namely, that it is not possible to pigeonhole men, according as they belong to one class or the other. That it is impossible to accurately classify people into four definite classes is proved by the fact that the original four classes have now become four thousand castes.”

Gandhi, true to his nature, hung on till his last in claiming there was a distinction between varna and caste, even though to him both were hereditary cohorts. No amount of brilliant, methodical, and detailed reasoning provided by Ambedkar could convince him to think otherwise. Gandhi’s rebuttal to The Annihilation of Caste was predictable and lacking in intellectual depth. “Dr Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism,” began Gandhi, and then tried to counter Ambedkar’s arguments on the need for forgoing caste and forgetting varna. It was secluded and patronising in tone.

Ambedkar rebutted Gandhi’s rebuttal. “I am not in the habit of entering into controversy with my opponents unless there are special reasons which compel me to act otherwise. Had my opponent been some mean and obscure person, I would not have pursued him. But my opponent being the Mahatma himself, I feel I must attempt to meet the case to the contrary which he has sought to put forth.”

Yet again, Ambedkar was forced to channel all his energies into countering Gandhi, and yet again he did it with precision and aplomb, ending with words that continue to resonate long after they have been read. “The Hindus, in the words of Matthew Arnold, are wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. What are they to do? The Mahatma to whom they appeal for guidance does not believe in thinking, and can therefore give no guidance that can be said to stand the test of experience. The intellectual classes to whom the masses look for guidance are either too dishonest or too indifferent to educate them in the right direction. We are indeed witnesses to a great tragedy. In the face of this tragedy all one can do is to lament and say – such are thy Leaders, O Hindus!”

Ambedkar’s dismantling of the Mahatma was not linear or chronological in the sense that his rebuttals and critiques were not always immediate follow-up responses to Gandhi’s arguments. But Ambedkar made sure he never missed an opportunity to critique them in the strongest possible terms even if years had lapsed since they were uttered.

And it is then that one realises what Ambedkar was up to. He was preparing for posterity an enormous counter-balance resource against someone who, he knew only too well, was soon going to make the jump from a mahatma to a deity, the keeper of truth and purity of thought, a messiah who could not err. The entire world would fall at this apostle’s feet and any criticism of him would soon be considered blasphemous. Ambedkar was preparing us for that day. He even wrote a big fat book and titled it What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables with chapter headings that were self-explanatory: “Beware of Mr Gandhi”; “Gandhism: The Doom of the Untouchables”.

“Beware of Mr Gandhi” contains 14,075 words and each one of them speaks a thousand pictures. Ambedkar, as was his nature, charts out in piercing detail Gandhi’s political timeline beginning 1894, demonstrating beyond doubt that Gandhi was a fraud when it came to the Dalit cause.

In the next chapter, “Gandhism: The Doom of the Untouchables”, Ambedkar unwearyingly peels away all vestiges of Gandhi’s remaining credibility and his principles, leaving the reader breathless. From caste to varna to economy to hamlet utopia to industrialisation to class war to coercion to starvation blackmails to appeasement—the point-by-point exposé is unnerving, to say the least. Stop, Babasaheb, stop for the love of God, cries the reader; this is our Mahatma you are taking on, the great soul, the father of our nation, the saint who adorns our currency notes, the apostle who cannot be faulted. Stop, Babasaheb, I beg of you.

What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables is one spectacular demolition of Mahatma Gandhi, just as The Annihilation of Caste was of the proponents of varna and the caste system. Indeed, it could so easily have been titled “The Annihilation of Gandhi”. Some claim that the Congress banned this book, although one could find no evidence of this. In any case, very few know of its existence and even fewer have read it. Just as well because after absorbing its contents chapter and verse, one is forced to reflect on who really was this man we call “Mahatma” and the father of our nation.

Ambedkar had, of course, reflected on this very question for decades. In a rare radio interview to the BBC one year before his death, he explained the duplicitous core of the Mahatma with chilling lucidity. “I knew Gandhi better than most people because he opened his real fangs to me, and I could see the inside of the man. Gandhi was all the time double-dealing. He ran a paper in English and another in Gujarati, and if you read them both you will see how he was deceiving the people. In the English paper he posed himself as an opponent of the caste system and of untouchability and that he was a democrat, while in the Gujarati one he supported the caste system and professed all the orthodox dogmas that have kept India down all through the ages. Someone ought to write his biography by making a comparative study of the statements he made in these papers. The West reads only the English paper. Gandhi never wanted real upliftment of the Dalits. All he cared about were issues of absolutely no consequence to us like temple entry. Gandhi was never a reformer.”

“However strong and however filthy be the abuses that the Congress Press chooses to shower on me,” said Ambedkar once, “I must do my duty. I am no worshipper of idols. I believe in breaking them. I insist that if I hate Mr Gandhi and Mr Jinnah—I dislike them, I do not hate them—it is because I love India more. That is the true faith of a nationalist. I have hopes that my countrymen will some day learn that the country is greater than the men, that the worship of Mr Gandhi or Mr Jinnah and service to India are two very different things and may even be contradictory of each other.”

Yes, Gandhi birthed India in 1947 and so technically, he is her father. But whom does one call a father when honours are bestowed in the abstract?

Nations aren’t inspired through sharing ancestral genes; they aren’t shown the righteous path though gene-pool commandments. Nations need purity of the mind more than that of the heart. Nations need catharsis.

Ambedkar was not Gandhi. All his life he tried, but he could not touch in Indians that which Gandhi could, this thing called the soul. But Ambedkar touched something more important than the soul. He touched the mind.

Let there be no doubt. The real father of our nation is Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. – Swarajya, 14 April 2021

Prof Anand Ranganathan is the author of three novels, most recently The Rat Eater (co-authored).  He is a scientist who works in the area of Directed Evolution and Pathogenesis, with a special emphasis on Tuberculosis and Malaria. 

The intellectual war being waged against India – Gautam Sen

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Gautam SenContrary to popular perception, ingrained in the Indian national psyche of complacency, contemporary foreign attempts to seize control of India’s future trajectory is occurring mostly through indirect potential control. It is exercised by nurturing myriad collaborators within it though specific territorial assaults against its integrity. – Dr Gautam Sen

Intellectual hegemony has since time immemorial been a paramount vehicle for the exercise of political and socioeconomic power within society and between them internationally. A long line of intellectuals has observed the nature of the exercise of power, both political and personal, through the dominance of ideas. A recent history of the early Church by historian David Lloyd Dusenbery provides an authoritative account of the advance of Christianity through acrimonious debates over ideas propagated during the late third and early fourth centuries by major protagonists, like the anti-Pagan Firmianus Lactantius, a key imperial adviser to the first Christian emperor Constantine and the original progenitor Christian antisemitism. Another important Christian ideologue was the theologian and historian Eusebius of Caesarea to be followed later by the formidable late fourth and early fifth centuries trio St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo and another powerful ideologue of Christianity, St. Jerome.

In the modern world, the exercise of intellectual hegemony by the ruling order has been the subject of astute excavation by the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci and a host of formidable thinkers of the so-called Frankfurt School and others, some of the most revelatory among them, Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno as well as another pioneering French thinker, the highly influential Michel Foucault. A powerful post-modernist interpretation was subsequently unleashed by Jacques Derrida, who questioned and deconstructed the outward integrity of meaning in texts, his own oeuvre underpinned by the earlier work of the philosopher Edmund Husserl and the linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. Yet, only modest attention has been paid to the practical consequences of the exercise of ideological power in the contemporary world over India’s place in it. The very exercise of this ideological power has dictated the boundaries of the debate, impaling the discourse on India in terms of narrow concepts like secularism that constrain serious understanding of its extant societal dynamics.

Interpreting the impact of dominant ideas on the imputation of India’s place in the world requires a prior understanding of the nature and exercise of political power between societies in the international arena. The key terms that encapsulate international relations are the compulsion towards dominance, duplicitous “bad faith” and their inevitable corollary of treachery. The practical implications of such a depiction of world politics are its abhorrence of a political vacuum in international relations that unerringly predisposes the subjugation of the weak by the strong and deployment of force, in all its dimensions, to achieve dominance and primacy. Indeed, it is significant that the ancient Greek synonym for man was soldier and the Roman empire that succeeded it was principally defined by the exercise of military power, which always remained its preeminent characteristic. The entire history of the Western world since has been inspired by and informed by this Greco-Roman legacy, whether it is imperial Britain or the Nazis or the subsequent US imperium. Islamic empires also adopted the antecedent practices of the eastern Roman empire they replaced as well as the example of conquered Persia, the militarised imperial alter ego of ancient Greece.

Without sentiment and prevarication, it might be noted that for over a thousand and more years the Indian subcontinent has exhibited attributes of a political vacuum, of divided and warring statelets, unable to resist challenges from better militarily endowed and determined marauders from the north. As a result, India has long been a potent pole of attraction for conquerors, enticed by its vast human and natural resources. The contemporary Indian situation is not fundamentally different from its long historical past despite the establishment of an outwardly modern statehood, with its various accoutrements of power and autonomy, from political and socioeconomic institutions to military capability. Thus, contrary to popular perception, ingrained in the Indian national psyche of complacency, contemporary foreign attempts to seize control of India’s future trajectory is occurring mostly through indirect potential control. It is exercised by nurturing myriad collaborators within it though specific territorial assaults against its integrity are also unmistakably visible.

The profound underlying latent divisions of the Indian polity have been laid bare in recent years, with major political regions declining to acquiesce to full participation in all essential dimensions of a singular nationhood. Why this has happened is a fascinating but separate question, but its reality can hardly be denied, with regional political parties blatantly refusing to comply with their constitutional obligations of belonging to a single nation. Some of them are almost also asserting quasi de facto independence, with their political instincts also plainly articulating foreign ideological and accompanying extra national political attachments. The welcome accorded to vast numbers of illegal migrants and granting them citizenship rights in some states is a startling expression of this challenge to India’s sovereignty. The recent attempts of the dominant political dispensation at the Centre to enhance a sense of greater common national purpose and loyalty have in fact provoked further serious popular dissent and accentuated separatist sentiment. The fractious history of the Indian subcontinent has reared its alarming head with unexpected vengeance and de facto regional separatism threatens to become the espousal of a de jure posture for it.

In this context, it is vital to understand the wider global ideological edifice, in all its extraordinary sophistication and complexity, that underpins and fuels India’s national divisions. The key feature of the ideological thrust of foreign adversaries to subvert India in order to exercise control over its conduct is the determined and systematic repudiation of its moral legitimacy and historical identity. Indirect control is the aspiration since physical inroads are, for the present, only feasible at the margins on India’s borders though a major setback along them could precipitate a cascade in the shape of the assertion of independence by some already restless regions. In the meantime, the ideological assault against India continues relentlessly and the original roots of its constant and widespread hostile deconstruction can be traced back to India’s tutelage under British imperial rule and the critique of Hindu civilisation by, in the main, the Protestant Church. A basic overriding contention, repeated by its adversaries like China, even today, has always been that India is comprised by many nations and a racially-inspired Brahminical ideology has sought to impose the primacy of an earlier band of conquerors, the Aryans, who have no greater legitimacy to claim India than subsequent conquerors, the Muslims and the Europeans.

The intellectual warfare against India occurs from innumerable venues in academia and the media. Indian domestic intellectual life itself is largely an expression of an unreconstructed colonial heritage and domestic discourses a mere echo of well-established historical critiques of Indian civilisation. They are constantly being renewed, acquiring real substance and momentum from intellectual assaults from abroad. The critical modus operandi of ideological assault is still inspired by the original essentially Protestant critique and denunciation of the legitimacy of the moral integrity of the heritage of ancient India to which its people might look for their contemporary identity. The international media’s depiction of India, almost in entirety, and its offensive on it today adopts a simple strategy, which is to slander and libel without respite and ignore the truth and any alternative narrative that might contradict its own blatant fabrications. This global media obtains additional legitimacy for its serial disinformation campaigns by paying individuals who enjoy personal prominence in society and are willing to do the bidding of India’s adversaries for payment and other forms of social recognition.

The Western academic discourse on India is the bedrock for institutionalising a negative perception of it among dominant global elites who refract and diffuse the public’s ideological outlook. Such an ideological orientation has two important operational features that function with potent sublimity. They are wholesale psychological intimidation and occupation of the intellectual space and its denial to those who do not conform to the extant narrative of assault against India. The practical consequence of such a situation is the denial of opportunity to enter the academic world through openly discriminatory recruitment policies, curbing of professional advancement of dissenters, hampering their ability to sponsor seminars and curtailing the ability to publish, especially in prestigious journals. The intimidatory psychology arises from the sheer weight of the established canon and the existence of deified names who underpin the Western intellectual environment in its totality. Their effectively divine stature always pervades any intellectual journey, which sets the parameters of even plausible dissent. This intellectual climate may not necessarily be the direct source of specific challenges to India’s integrity and political identity, but it empowers hostile protagonists to question India and all its evil works by providing the counterpart of generalised covering fire. An expert on philosopher John Rawls or Jacques Derrida can call out India’s human rights record on caste, though it may be without intrinsic merit, because the shadow of Rawls and Derrida loom large in the background to legitimise them socially.

The examples of intellectual intimidation range from asserting one’s identity as a leading scholar on Jacques Derrida and using the legitimacy arising from it to engage in slander by illegitimately and deliberately misleading audiences. One Columbia scholar engaged in virtue signalling by hyperventilating on the predicament of Myanmar Rohingyas, implying the imperative of admitting them to India, supposedly en masse, while the academic simultaneously expressed angst over the alleged murder of a Muslim in India in a dispute over the consumption of beef. One cannot recall if the same scholar ever found occasion to express concern for the plight of ethnically-cleansed Kashmiri Pandits, subjected to rape and murder or indeed comment on the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. Another LSE scholar has asserted the flight of Pandits from J&K was due to actions taken by the then governor Jagmohan. The duplicity and dishonesty persist with little prospect of rebuttal because the established intellectual space denies access to challenges through institutional control over who can speak at seminars and conferences. Thus, egregious libel is spread under the cloak of the high scholarship of experts on intellectual life. The fulcrum of the discrediting of Indian society is the allegation of innate hierarchical caste racism, stemming from a “false religion” and the multitudinous resultant spin-offs of everything, from patriarchy to inequality, which are supposedly validated by a fundamentally unethical conception of social relations in the Hindu world-view.

There has grown a shrill and urgent recent cry of loathing at the path India has ostensibly embarked upon under the leadership of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. However, the entire discourse on the horrors allegedly unfolding in contemporary India are rarely identified empirically and examined in comparative historical perspective. Yet, academics in hallowed Western portals and public intellectuals have risen in virtual unison to denounce contemporary India’s supposed lurch in an appalling right-wing direction though, once again, the crimes alleged lack empirical pinpointing. Significantly, the academic chorus of faux intellectual hand-wringing seems to parallel a deeper historic unease among major foreign governments about the potential rise of India as an economic and therefore military power. It is easily forgotten that the current intense hue and cry about India long predates its ongoing political and economic dynamics. But the present multifaceted policy endeavours threaten the possible realisation of the goal of autonomy and military strength long sought by every post-independent Indian leadership that is apparently irking many abroad.

Intellectual life has always been an essential instrumental conduit in the pursuit of national goals of dominant powers, notwithstanding all pretensions to the contrary. The great strength of its contemporary manifestation is the sheer scale of the production of intellectual output that also institutionally integrates within it any critique of itself that presumes to question existing political order and societal arrangements. The latter phenomenon neutralises protest by also extending material and institutional succour to dissension. Thus, dissenters end up benefiting from complicit participation in institutions supervising intellectual labour that serve the larger goals of the state, including its traditional imperial ventures. The hapless individual from the third world only participates in this oversized intellectual enterprise by finding a feigned nonconformist niche that allows self-delusion about their ultimately comprador role. But they are in no position to challenge the grand narrative of the institutionalised intellectual colossus of the host nation. Once someone from the third world has stood in awe inside the Cambridge’s King’s College chapel or one of the grand libraries of Harvard or Oxford a thoroughgoing inner depersonalising is set in motion and nothing matters more to that individual than playing some bit part in this resplendent and indefinable eternal universe.

This Western intellectual colossus and its institutions are a full partner in imperial glory and propensity for genocide, undertaking research into deadly weaponry and engaging in espionage even as it permits a chorus of dissent at the margin. However, the radical denunciation of all things Indian by its own former citizens who espouse human rights, feminism, equality, religious freedom and pluralism to challenge the legitimacy of their erstwhile former nation are all functional to the real purposes of India’s foreign adversaries. It serves their goal of attempting to weaken the possible rise of India by discrediting purposeful governance in it. In the end, intellectual life remains an unavoidable adjunct of national goals for the dominant powers of the Western world. – Sunday Guardian Live, 5 June 2021

Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy for over two decades at the London School of Economics.

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Equal rights for Hindus – Koenraad Elst

Equal rights for Hindus

Koenraad ElstThe Constitution discriminates against Hinduism, and that this has large-scale consequences for the transmission of Hinduism to the next generation is one of India’s better-kept secrets. Most academics suppress this information and pretend loudly that India is a secular state, i.e. a state with equality of all citizens before the law. It is not, and it will be hard for secularists to object to a constitutional reform that would turn India into a true secular state, one in which no religion is discriminated against. – Dr. Koenraad Elst

One year ago, on Autumnal Equinox, 21 September 2019, Hindus organised a conference in Delhi devoted to the discrimination against Hindus in the Constitution, and, on this bedrock, also extant in India’s laws and effective policies. This was not a Sangh initiative (though VHP leader Alok Kumar was present and being honoured), rather it had been called to formulate demands addressed to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Formally, it was the work of an ad hoc group, the Equal Rights For Hindus Charter.

Some discriminations are rather academic and only consequential at several removes. Thus, the understanding of religious freedom as guaranteed in Article 25, especially the inclusion of the right to propagate one’s religion and thus to encourage others to convert, is tailor-made for the Christian mission. This interest group had successfully lobbied to ensure that the right to convert be included in the Constitution. It also fits the Islamic design to Islamise all of humanity, but the notion of conversion is foreign to Hindus and even more to Parsis. So, the constitutional right to convert seemingly creates a level playing field, counting for all religions, yet in practice it upholds a right central to Christianity and Islam but meaningless (except negatively) to Hinduism. It legalises the aggression by the foreign and conquering religions to the detriment of the indigenous religion.

At the initiative of the Scheduled Tribes, targets par excellence of the missionary efforts, several Indian states have enacted laws against forcible or fraudulent conversion (which according to the missionaries and their secularist allies are non-existent anyway). But these state laws can never acquire teeth as long as the Constitution guarantees the right to propagate religion. Thanks to this unshakeable guarantee, the missionary apparatus considers these anti-conversion laws as but an impotent scarecrow, useful only to underpin its own internationally propagated image of hapless victims being persecuted by an overbearing Hindu majority.

Education

The most consequential and effective discrimination is comprised in Article 30. It guarantees to the minorities (leaving the majority unmentioned) the right to found and manage educational institutions. This means that Hindu schools can be nationalised or subjected to other government controls from which minority schools are exempt. In the application of this discrimination, the Right to Education Act, enacted by the Congress-Communist combine in 2008, imposes a back-breaking burden on Hindu schools (putting hundreds out of business), and from which it exempts minority schools.

But before this too, the discrimination was already palpable. Thus, in the 1980s the Ramakrishna Mission’s schools in West Bengal were harassed by the Communist teachers’ unions and threatened with nationalisation. Instead of appealing to Hindu society to come to its rescue, and instead of challenging the discriminatory rules which made this hostile takeover possible, it dishonourably decided to abandon Hindu society and distance  itself from all other Hindu sects that invest in schooling. The Ramakrishna Mission approached the Court to get itself recognised as a non-Hindu minority, exemplifying the scramble for the exit from Hinduism.

The RK Mission failed in its attempt at de-Hinduisation, as had happened before already to the Sri Aurobindo Society: the Court had to admit that the respective founders, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, had explicitly stated that they were Hindu and had never intended to found a new religion. But the Arya Samaj at the Punjab state level, the Jains, and the Lingayats did succeed in getting recognition as non-Hindu minority religions.

The point is that Article 30 is a constant invitation to the Hindu sects to leave Hinduism. It tends to fragment Hindu society. Apart from the sheer injustice of this anti-Hindu discrimination, its power to trigger the fragmentation of Hindu society should be reason enough for pro-Hindu activists to do something about it. It also helps to confirm the state’s right to interfere in other fields of Hindu life, especially the places of worship, again unlike the minorities’ inviolable churches and mosques.

These two areas—education and places of worship—are extremely important in today’s world. In centuries past, children became Hindu by spontaneously absorbing the religion and culture because these were all around them. That is much less the case today. By contrast, formal schooling is far more important than ever before. Keep the teaching of Hinduism out of the schools (a requirement of enforcing “secularism”, but only on the Hindus), and it will enter the children’s minds less and less. Unknown makes unloved, and it makes Hindus unable to defend the choice for Hinduism to others and even to themselves. This way, they become easy prey for whomever wants to seduce them into abandoning their ancestral religion and entering other worlds and embracing other worldviews and ways of life. For Hinduism, removing these discriminations is a matter of life and death.

Abolition

The conference a year ago resolved to try and influence the government into finally taking up the problem of this Constitutional inequality. But it can be doubted whether anyone except the participants has even heard of it. For the Government, it has not made any difference. In 2018 there was a Private Bill by BJP MP Satyapal Singh, but both the party and the Government refused to take it up.

If the BJP and Narendra Modi had cared about Hinduism, they would have prepared the correct parliamentary procedures before acceding to power and set to work in 2014 itself. Failing that, they could have come to their senses in the next phase, and belatedly set to work anyway. Instead, while they may have done their job on the development front, they remained emphatically passive on the “communal” front. Many in there are just timeservers satisfied with enjoying the perks of being in government.

The slightly more principled types, of RSS provenance, had absorbed so much of secularist thought that the idea of recognising and abolishing anti-Hindu discriminations that were strangling Hindu life, just did not even occur to them. Instead, they take pride in outdoing Congress in minority appeasement, having replaced Hindutva with “BJP secularism” as their ideological backbone. Even independent activist Hindus tend to get carried away by minor issues and muster no more than fleeting attention to the main issue.

The problem here is that Hindus are suckers for tokenism. With superficial gestures, wearing Hindu clothes, and getting filmed visiting a temple here and there, BJP ministers can assure themselves of Hindu votes. A child’s hand is easy to fill, and Hindus will gladly believe that only economic issues are “the real issues”, while the reforms that would make a difference to the life and future of Hinduism are but “boutique issues” (to borrow the term that a Hindu actually used).

When put on the spot, BJP supporters defend the BJP’s actual performance against the ideals to which they were once committed, like “justice for all, appeasement of none”. They insist that the leaders “need time”: even after more than six years in power, without discerning any BJP intention to stray from the Nehruvian path of minority appeasement (for that is what maintaining the anti-Hindu discrimination amounts to), many are still not ashamed to say this, all while consistently remaining passive on the issues for which they supposedly needed that time.

What to do?

If you want to achieve any goal, you must be coldly realistic. Let us face the fact that there is very little commitment among even activist Hindus to abolish these discriminations. This is an instance of a situation with which leaders ought to be familiar. Some policies have popular appeal, but other policies, though the best-informed and most prescient leaders see how necessary they are, just don’t ring a bell among the people. Yet, if a leader explains the need for abolishing these discriminations, every parliamentarian of the BJP (and many others too) will fall in line. Many don’t think it is a priority, some had never thought about it, but no one will object to it.

This is all the more true because abolishing the Constitutional inequality between Hindus and non-Hindus is not hard to do. First of all, it may not even be necessary to amend the Constitution; possibly it is enough to approach the Supreme Court for an authoritative opinion. The judges may point out that the Constituent Assembly could not have meant to deny Hindus the rights they were giving to the minorities. At that time, Muslims and Christians were on the defensive, acutely feeling how that they were deemed guilty of the Partition massacres, and the just-concluded colonial exploitation. The Hindu members had no reason at all to enact discriminations against themselves.

Secondly, if amending the Constitution still proves necessary, this need not be insurmountable. Many opposition MPs may support reforms amounting to more equality. Congress and other parties still have their eyes on the Hindu vote-bank: maybe they never would have taken the initiative for this reform, but they will hesitate to oppose it once it is there. And with the thumping majority that it has, the BJP needs very few votes from outside. What a luxury, which they and you will miss it when it’s gone.

The normalisation of the Kashmir situation was harder, needing lots of security precautions and triggering many negative reactions from the usual suspects. But the BJP was ready to take these challenges on, partly because it was a safely secular issue. Everybody knows the separate status of Kashmir was due to its character as a Muslim-majority state, yet the relevant laws did not mention religion. It could be framed in terms of national unity, a discourse in which the RSS and the BJP are more at home than in anything pertaining to Hindu aspirations.

Once religion comes into the picture, the going gets tougher. This was clear from the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) controversy earlier this year, about the welcome to be given to non-Muslims oppressed in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Here, the enemy had it easy to deduce BJP “fanaticism” from the obvious “inequality” between religions in the CAA. This inequality between oppressed communities and the oppressor community had its justification, but the mere mention of inequality counted as criminal to most outside observers. The episode ended as a publicity failure, a loss of face for the BJP government.

Well, here you don’t have to accept the burden of a word that triggers negative knee-jerk reactions. Here you don’t have to justify inequality, only to advertise equality. Who could be against equality?

That the Constitution discriminates against Hinduism, and that this has large-scale consequences for the transmission of Hinduism to the next generation is one of India’s better-kept secrets. Most academics suppress this information and pretend loudly that India is a secular state, i.e. a state with equality of all citizens before the law. It is not, and the good implication is that for secularists it will be hard to object to a reform that would turn India into a secular state, one in which no religion is discriminated against.

But

Of course, the secularists are going to resist this normalisation of India’s inter-religious relations. They will for the first time be put in a position of openly having to defend inequality, but some will find a way of stooping that low without getting a bad conscience. Thus, some will say that in order to achieve equality, a little bit of inequality is necessary. That is the principle behind America’s “affirmative action”.

So, they will claim (and we already have heard some professors, when pressed to pronounce on this, affirm it) that as a majority, the Hindus owe the minorities something. But in a secular state, there is no such thing as a minority: there are only equal citizens. To insist nonetheless on this point, they will allege that the American white majority has kept the black minority as slaves, ergo majorities commit injustice against minorities (an unjustified generalisation); ergo in India too the majority has oppressed the minorities.

Well, we have news for them: no, the Hindus have never oppressed Christians nor the Muslims. The reverse, yes. So, if inequality can be justified as a compensation for past injustice, then it is the Christians and Muslims who must pay compensation.

But we should not go that far. For the present and future, simple equality will do.

Conclusion

The achievement of equality is not the end. Once the state has created a level playing field, civil society has the task of using the opportunities that arise. Hindus will have to take initiatives. A religion that relies on state patronage will become weak.

Hindus should not want (and fortunately, by and large don’t want) to replace a system discriminating against them by a system where they can discriminate against others. Just equality will do, and then let the best principles and way of life win. But that very limited goal of equality is really necessary and is now becoming urgent.

After 2019 even more than before, BJP supporters smugly assume that they are natural election-winners, so that they can safely postpone any jobs till next term. Right now, the opposition is in relative disarray and not in a position to win against the BJP. But this can change. One of my farthest memories about Indian politics concerns the accession to power of the Janata Party, prepared by Jayaprakash Narayan’s mass campaign that galvanised the opposition against the seemingly invincible Indira Gandhi. In the coming years too, we might see the rise of a leader who manages to unite and motivate the opposition.

If the BJP loses power, many Hindus will rue the missed opportunities. What are the chances that an avowedly secularist government will care about justice for Hinduism and take the initiative to revise Articles 25-30? Crying and gnashing of teeth, that is what many Hindus will feel when they realise that the seemingly timeless window of opportunity has passed, and that an ever-shrinking Hindu society has little chance of ever bringing it back.

But it need not come that far. You still have more than three years to get the job taken up and finished. What have you done to persuade the BJP leadership to use the unique window of opportunity that still presents itself? – IndiaFacts, 22 September 2020

Dr Koenraad Elst is an author, linguist and orientalist who visits India often from his home in Belgium.

Charter of Hindu Demands


 

Ram Swarup: The greatest Hindu thinker since Sri Aurobindo – Aravindan Neelakandan

Ram Swarup

Aravindan NeelakandanWhether it is Dharmic darshanas, global Pagan revival, study of Western philosophies and theologies from Hindu perspective, study of language from Hindu framework or, resistance to monopolistic ideologies—Ram Swarup has gifted every aspiring Hindu with vision, values and tools for his or her search . – Aravindan Neelakandan

The globalised environment today has created both challenges and opportunities for local, natural cultures. Among such natural cultures and spiritual traditions, Hindu Dharma represents the largest and the longest-continuing traditions. In fact, Hindus are the last standing nation of such a natural culture and spirituality.

With predatory and monopolistic forces threatening such a theo-diversity-laden ecosystem as Hindu Dharma and society, how should Hindus respond?

How do Hindus interact with other cultures and be a blessing to humanity while being rooted in their traditions, and without insulating themselves?

The answer may well lie with the works of Ram Swarup, who should be considered and can be considered as the greatest Hindu thinker and seer after Sri Aurobindo.

In many ways, he carried forward the thinking and vision of both Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda into the future, meeting head-on the challenges of the present and showing the thinking Hindu the opportunities embedded in every challenge.

For many millennial Hindutvaites, Ram Swarup would be known as the mentor of Sita Ram Goel.

The duo was like Sri Krishna and Arjuna in the dharma kshetra of life and rashtra.

Just as Sri Krishna is far more than the charioteer of Arjuna and Gitacharya, though that is a core dimension of the avatar, Ram Swarup was the mentor and guide of Sita Ram Goel and the sattvic energy behind Voice of India, but he was also much more than that.

And it will benefit the Hindu society to go through these other dimensions of Sri Ram Swarup as his centennial celebrations commence this year. And with the Ram Swarup foundation, we will also understand and utilise the work of Sita Ram Goel better.

In 1981, through Voice of India, he published The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods.

By any reckoning, this work should be considered a milestone in both study of religions and the study of languages.

Here, Ram Swarup takes linguistics to a different plane entirely. The magnificent view that Ram Swarup shows here is not partisan to any sectarian group of humanity.

Though he has limited his study to what he calls the “Indo-European” languages, he points out that “if speech and meaning are deeply human phenomena and if they follow deeply-laid patterns of the mind and heart, then they must share certain common characteristics, however differently clothed, and certain truths must hold good for them all”.

Going through this book, one is immersed into the beauty of words and their meaning—where the perspective is deeply Hindu, and the phenomenon studied is universal.

The book has two parts. In Part I, he explores how words are formed and what creates the relation between a word and its meaning.

He states:

“The process of naming is complicated and deeply psychological. It operates at subconscious level. Different elements that go into making of a name—the referent, the sound, the meaning—all tend to coalesce in the mind so much so that it is difficult to separate them from one another. … The process of naming may also be too much forced or fanciful; it may not be keeping with the deeper wisdom of the mind.”

What Ram Swarup talks about is an important aspect which educationists who are working to provide science and technical education in mother languages should pay attention to.

For example, in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidianists have only one purpose in their attempt to create Tamil terms for science and technology; it is not taking the concepts to the child but to remove Sanskrit from the words they coin. But still, they must use the term “kanakku” for mathematics which in turn is derived from Sanskrit gana and ganitham.

Similarly, “botany” is “thavaraviyal”, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit sthavara.

Our tradition, from poet Kalidasa to sage Kumaragurupara, has handed over the relation between the word and the meaning as Shakti and Shiva and pure consciousness as the substratum from which the word and the meaning arise.

Sri Ramana Maharishi takes this further and hints at a roadmap for preserving linguistic diversity through this common spiritual matrix. In his famous Aksharamanamalaihe speaks of the non-dual union as the union of azhaku and sundaram—both being Tamil and Sanskrit terms for the same aspect: beauty.

In Part II of the book, Ram Swarup studies the names of gods. Here, he shows how humanity reaches its greatest linguistic possibilities in arriving at the names of the divine. Language, through the names of the divine, becomes a tool to elevate human consciousness to reach more “profound heights”.

The way Ram Swarup harmonises the spiritual elements in various traditions of the world is very important for every Hindu. He has provided a solid foundation for engaging in a proper dialogue with mutual respect for non-Hindu religions.

In discussing the names of the Vedic gods, he points out that all gods have multiple names and the knowledge of these multiple names is an important and holy knowledge.

Then he says:

“In all spiritual traditions, there is something analogous to it. The God of the Jews has many names. … But according to Jewish mysticism, God has also a secret name which should not even be uttered. Therefore, the Jews simply called it ‘the Great Name’ or ‘the Great Precious Name’ or just ‘the Name’. … Islam too admits of God’s Names though it denies His Forms. But the admission receives a certain narrowing at the hands of the more orthodox and faithful. … Socrates presents this idea in the language of understanding. He proclaims the awe, mystery and unknowability of Gods and their names but also tells us how these are ultimately names of man’s own intentions and meanings. … According to Hindu thought too, the names of Gods are not names of external beings. These are names of the truths of man’s highest Self.”

One can see how softly but sharply Ram Swarup creates a Hindu framework for the study of monopolistic religions—preserving whatever spiritual components they have and pointing out where the sublime truth is lost to rigidity inevitable to monopolistic theology.

His critique of the emergence of monopolistic rigidity traces to Paul who represented “a passionate attachment to a fixed idea which is closed to wider viewpoints and larger truths of life”.

To him, this was more an ideology than a spiritual idea. From the very early days to the present, this had worked in aid of imperialism. If rigidity and closing minds to larger truths of existence plague monotheism “polytheism too is subject to the despiritualizing influence of externalizing mind”.

As against these two, he points out that the Vedic approach “gives unity without sacrificing diversity … a deeper unity and deeper diversity beyond the power of ordinary monotheism and polytheism”.

Ram Swarup writes:

“God transcends every one of His Names; He also lives fully and indivisibly in each one of them. In one Name we should be able to see all the Names; in one God, we must be able to see all the Gods; otherwise, our knowledge of a God and His Names is not sufficient. We must also be able to see that a God exceeds all his Forms and Names, individually and collectively. The heart of a God is an enigma.”

Here is an interesting self-experiment for the inquisitive reader.

After reading the chapters on the names of gods in The Word as Revelation, one should read the science fiction short story The Nine Billion Names of God (1953) by Arthur C Clarke.

It will be rewarding to see how Ram Swarup’s framework transforms the way the short story gets internalised.

Another must read is On Hinduism: Reviews and Reflections (2000). Published posthumously, the book has eight long essays and contains his very early writing on Hinduism.

Here is an example of the alertness and conceptual clarity of Ram Swarup. One of the essays is “Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism“, originally published in July 1958.

Impressed by this essay, Rajaji wrote the following in Swarajya (21 May 1966):

“I read with great interest Sri Ram Swarup’s scholarly paper on the intimate connection, amounting almost to identity, between the Buddhistic philosophy and the Vedanta of the Upanishads. Hindu conformism sensed the danger lurking in a close identity with a school of thought which may well be misunderstood to be denial of God and soul. … Sri Ram Swarup’s paper explains how Hinduism saved itself from the dangers of its own philosophical dialectics through the cult of Bhakti and surrender. …”

Ram Swarup responded to this much later in a detailed footnote when he was updating the essay for a new reprint.

He wrote:

“[Rajaji] was a sage and a great spokesman of Hinduism. His views command our greatest respect. But I beg to make one clarification. Sri Rajagopalacharya agrees that there was a great affinity between the Vedanta and the Buddhist philosophy, but according to him Hinduism saw in it a danger at being misunderstood and identified with a school which denied God and soul; and it met the danger by developing the school of Bhakti and surrender. I believe Hinduism sensed no such danger and it did not panic into Bhakti and surrender because of any such danger. The fact is Bhakti and surrender even as a ‘school’ are older than Buddhism. … At no point there was any intention of keeping Buddhism ‘out of pale’. … [Hindus] protected Buddhism and defended it when it was threatened; they gave refugee to Buddhists when they were persecuted in Persia, Khurasan, Iraq, Mosul by king Gushtap and his descendants—in the same manner they are doing it at present to Buddhist Chakmas fleeing from persecution in Bangladesh.”

The importance of this response cannot be overstated. The idea that Bhakti movement was a reactionary movement against Buddhism and Jainism is one of the cornerstones of colonial and Marxist indology. It had been internalised by almost all scholars of Hinduism of that time. This continues to this day.

Well-meaning Hindu scholars too fell into this trap and spoke of Bhakti as a response to either Buddhist-Jain movements or Islamist invasion and persecution.

While Bhakti did allow a strong resistance movement against Islamist invasion, that was not its origin or motive. Nor did Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu or elsewhere emerge as a strategy or response to counter Buddhism.

Ram Swarup stands for eternity as the pioneering Hindu scholar, whose deeply penetrating Hindu insight identified this fallacy and cautioned students of Hindu Dharma against this.

Every aspiring young Hindu intellectual should also read his essay “Development in Huxley’s Thought: Hindu-Buddhist influences“, which is also in this collection.

This essay, running to almost 40 pages, is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to study Hindu influence on the Western philosophical traditions, particularly in modern times.

Here is Ram Swarup’s analysis of Aldous Huxley’s critique of Christian art.

“Despite non-representative Christian mystics like Eckhart, Tauler and Ruysbroeck, the profound inner mystic landscape and its elements could not find their expression in Christian art. Huxley observes that there is nowhere ‘equivalents of those Far Eastern Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who incarnate, in stone and print, the experience of ultimate reality.’”

Ram Swarup, pointing out that Huxley stops here and does not get into the deeper cause, analyses further:

“Christian artists were talented and innovative; they performed all the tasks set for them by their religion and fulfilled all its needs for what they were worth. … Similarly, they discovered important techniques like perspective and foreshortening by which they could portray the third dimension and render horizons and depth in space. … The fact is that Christian art failed at a deeper level. It failed not in execution but in conception and vision and this failure was at bottom failure of Christian theology in which mysticism is rudimentary and peripheral. … A deeper iconography needed the support of a deeper theology and vision. This explains why Christian art has no equivalents of Far Eastern Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as Huxley notices.”

Another important work of his which too was published posthumously is Meditations Yogas, Gods, Religions.

In the essay, “Gods, God, Unity, Unit” which deals with the origin of Hindutva, some striking parallels between what Ram Swarup puts forth and the way some pioneering neuro-psychological studies look at the evolution of religions, have been shown.

Ram Swarup proves to possess a perspective which, in hindsight, was more scientific and holistic than that of the Western psychologists.

Whether it is Dharmic darshanas, global Pagan revival, study of Western philosophies and theologies from Hindu perspective, study of language from Hindu framework, literary criticism, resistance to monopolistic ideologies, Dharmic ecology—Ram Swarup has gifted every aspiring Hindu with vision, values and tools for his or her search.

It is amazing that a person could do all these in one life.

There was no Internet then. He neither sought nor had any cult following as many have and seek now. He worked in solitude, his writing was his sadhana, his tapas, his yajna—the fruits of which shall always be there for generations of seekers.

Thus, among us lived a rishi. And he was born a hundred years ago. – Swarajya, 14 October 2020

Aravindan Neelakandan is an author, psychology and economics major, and contributing editor at Swarajya.

Ram Swarup's Books


Founding a Hindu Rashtra, not just a temple – Virendra Parekh

The bhoomi poojan is an occasion for all of us to invoke Ram to be our unifier and liberator. Let Ram, who united the royalty and laity of his kingdom with tribals in forests and mountains in distant lands, bring together estranged brothers in his homeland. Let Ram, who liberated Sita from the bondage of Ravan, liberate us from the bondage of the past and lead us to Ramarajya. – Virendra Parekh

The bhoomi poojan of Ram temple in Ayodhya is a major landmark on India’s journey towards the Hindu Rashtra. We are indeed blessed to witness this historic moment. To grasp its true significance, one has to view it in a perspective of centuries. The last millennium, which opened with wanton destruction of Hindu temples by Islamic invaders, ended with a powerful popular movement to restore the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya. The current one opens with the foundation laying ceremony of that grand temple. No wonder the country is celebrating it as a grand festival of civilisational reaffirmation and resurgence.

To be sure, the challenges before the Hindu civilisation, which remain multiple and serious, would not disappear with the reconstruction of the Ram temple. The reconstruction, however, signifies Hindu society’s determination to overcome these challenges and also holds out an assurance of its success in this noble endeavour.

For centuries India has been struggling to retain its civilizational identity. It has been a battleground of two civilisations (Hindu and Islamic) for the last one thousand years and three civilisations (Hindu, Islamic and Western) for nearly three centuries. Muslim invaders were interested not just in enjoying India’s fabled wealth and power, but also in driving out Hinduism (“kufr”) and establishing the “only true religion”. Chronicles of their court historians testify to that. The Britishers, too, were not as neutral or indifferent in civilisational issues as it may appear at first sight. Macaulay’s famous minutes leave no doubt on that score.

India did manage to retain her identity through these turbulent centuries, but it could not defeat the invading civilisations. It could neither absorb them fully through assimilation nor throw out what could not be assimilated. This inability to reject what it could not digest was the essence of foreign conquest. Even today, it has not gained that freedom in full measure.

The unresolved tussle resulted in a civilisational stalemate. This stalemate, as Girilal Jain pointed out three decades ago, lies at the root of crisis of identity faced by our intelligentsia over the last hundred years. Are we an ancient civilization under assault from predatory forces or a hotchpotch of innumerable identities struggling to become a nation? Should we cherish our culture as a unique and invaluable asset or cut it asunder as burdensome deadwood from the past?

The foreign rule over the centuries, meanwhile, divided our intelligentsia into broadly two groups. A large part of it, which wanted to enjoy wealth, power, prestige, status and position decided to collaborate with the ruling class by offering to serve it. A small part of the intelligentsia stuck to its roots and refused to join the rulers. It was driven out from the corridors of power, but its voice could never be completely silenced.

Members of the former group learnt Persian and Arabic, took up jobs under Muslim rulers and adopted their mores and manners. The British Raj was much wider, stronger and more uniform. Most members of the groups which had earlier collaborated with Muslim rulers now donned the new attire with alacrity. Thousands of Hindus took to English language, dress, manners and even ideas, ideals and thought processes. They came to view themselves as partners of the rulers rather than the ruled. Nehrus are a good example of this class. This rule—collaborate with rulers if you want to come up socially—remained in operation even after independence.

It was this class of Anglicised brown sahibs, with a history of serving successive foreign dispensations that formed the dominant elite at the time of independence. With Jawaharlal Nehru as its guiding star and spirit, it sought to remake India into a Western image. Indian state under Nehru became a powerful agency for propagation of Western ideals and institutions.

A word here about Communists is in order. In India, the Western civilization is represented not so much by Christianity as by Communism. Some Christians may appreciate the religiosity (not the religion) of the Hindus. But the Communists’ contempt for Indian philosophy, religion and civilization is deep, absolute, and uncompromising. They could think of no greater calamity than India returning to its Hindu ethos.

To continue with the story, the dominant left-leaning elite sought to mould India into a non-Hindu entity. It used secularism to repudiate the Hindu ethos of India and socialism to humiliate the weal-creating business class and subordinate it to the benefit of an ever expanding rapacious neta-babu combine. Under its aegis, Hinduism came to be viewed as synonymous with superstition, inequality and exploitation. Nationalism became suspect and invoking India’s ancient civilization was branded as communalism.

Ram Janmabhoomi movement was Hindus’ reaction to this soulless, rootless un-Indian state that had scant regard for their concerns and sentiments. The overnight conversion to Islam of Meenakshipuram village in Tamil Nadu in 1981, Khalistani terrorism in Punjab, the overturning by the Parliament of the Supreme court judgment in Shah Bano case and fanning of separatism in J&K left Hindus deeply worried about their future in their homeland. That is why the opening of padlocks at the shrine at Ayodhya in 1986 and shilanyas at the sight in 1989, meant to be minor diversions, became historic turning points. Ram came to occupy centre stage of the public discourse.

Like a subterranean river bursting out in a desert, Hindu awakening broke out into the open and carried away everything before it. All attempts to smother it failed. This was the sentiment that saw BJP under Narendra Modi win absolute majority in Lok Sabha elections twice in succession. The civilizational stalemate that Girilalji spoke about is beginning to resolve in favour of the Hinduism. The left-leaning intelligentsia which dominated the public discourse has lost its political clout. Narendra Modi is the most visible and powerful symbol of this transformation. No wonder the dispossessed intellectual elite regard him as a mortal enemy.

The nature of the Indian state is changing. Nehru as prime minister sought to prevent President Rajendra Prasad from attending the Somnath temple renovation ceremony. Modi as prime minister is going to lay the foundation stone himself. We have indeed come a long way.

The reconstruction of Ram temple is not directed against the Muslims. The dispute is not between Hindus and Muslims but between those who respect India’s civilizational ethos and those who wish to destroy it. A Shia organization was among the first to announce donation for the temple. Pakistani author Tarek Fatah has consistently supported the cause of the Ram Janmabhoomi. On the other hand, Sharad Pawar was determined not to attend the ceremony even if invited. Left to himself, Mani Shankar Aiyar may perhaps erect the Babri mosque again at the spot.

An overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent are descendants of Hindu ancestors. In their veins also flows the blood of Vedic sages and saints of yore. Vicissitudes of history tore them away from their parent society. The temple reconstruction is an occasion for all of us to remember this blood relation between India’s two major communities. With silent endorsement of the temple reconstruction, Indian Muslims can bond again with their parent society. Millions are doing it already.

We may wish that all this should have happened twenty, thirty, fifty years ago. But history or Mahakal moves at his own pace. He cannot be pushed from behind; nor can his march be thwarted by trying to block his path.

The bhoomi poojan is an occasion for all of us to invoke Ram to be our unifier and liberator. Let Ram, who united the royalty and laity of his kingdom with tribals in forests and mountains in distant lands, bring together estranged brothers in his homeland. Let Ram, who liberated Sita from the bondage of Ravan, liberate us from the bondage of the past and lead us to Ramarajya.

› Virendra Parekh is an editor and senior journalist in Mumbai.

PM Modi at Bhumi Puja (5 August 2020).

Ram Mandir silver foundation brick (5 August 2020)

PM Modi completes Ram Mandir bhumi puja (5 August 2020).


VIDEO: The Calcutta Quran Petition – Smita Mukerji

Sita Ram Goel

Buy the book here, read it online here, and see the Wikipedia article here.


Koenraad Elst: A maharathi without a rath – Shankar Sharan

Koenraad Elst

Shankar SharanIt is so strange even by common sense, not to say political-intellectual sense, that Hindutva quarters did not see the need to make Dr Elst’s stature influential or at least more visible. Elst is personally known to many tall Hindutva leaders, who are directly in power for decades. But it never occurred to anyone to set even a little ground beneath his feet, so that he could continue to work comfortably. – Prof Shankar Sharan

Koenraad Elst has coined two evocative terms to help understand Indian socio-political situation: “Negationism in India” and “Decolonizing the Hindu mind”. These are also the names of his two most important books published in 1992 and 2001 respectively. Going through just these two books one can understand his great contribution to current Indology. Yet his assistance to the Hindu side on the Ayodhya debate is as significant, though surprisingly little known even to Hindutva leaders.

In fact, the Ayodhya issue changed the course of Koenraad’s life. He was incidentally in India when the controversy erupted on the national scene. He observed the falsehood being spread by eminent Marxist historians and liberals in Indian media, and could not resist the urge to fight it out. The common adventurer in this European young academic decided to take it on, even without any support. Except that Sita Ram Goel decided to publish his first book: Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict (Voice of India, 1990).

It was also the first book on the dispute based on first-hand sources written by an unbiased Western scholar. Koenraad rebutted the false claims of the Marxist historians, then actively campaigning for the Muslim side, or put better, against the Hindu side. The book was released by none other than L.K. Advani and Girilal Jain, then the most important figures in politics and media respectively. Advani at the time was the Hindutva hero, after his recently concluded famous Rath Yatra that put the Ram mandir in Ayodhya on the national agenda.

However, as it became clear later painfully, Koenraad had inadvertently put his career and by implication his life on line to defend the Hindu position on Ayodhya and other related issues. Hindu leaders and organizations happily used his hard research, data, facts and arguments he marshaled. But hardly thanked him and, more importantly, never provided some succor to compensate the hardship he invited upon himself by just becoming the friends of Hindus.

The situation has not changed since. Although today Koenraad is an internationally recognized Indologist, well known to all organized anti-Hindu forces. He is even feared by many left-liberals. No Indian left-liberal or Islamic apologist is ready to face him in any standard debate on Ayodhya or on issues related with the theory and practice of secularism in India. For the same reason he has also been denied academic situations in the Western world, mostly controlled by left-liberals. The unstated reason everywhere is the same: he is a supporter of “Hindutva forces”, by itself deemed as a bad entity.

Yet, the very Hindutva forces never invested even in his well-being, let alone thanking and celebrating his scholarship. A first rate scholarship that put leftwing superciliousness in place. Hardly any Indian left-winger or secularist ever took up Koenraad’s works to find faults, though they all know its weight. Initially they tried even to deny his existence, saying that Koenraad Elst is a fictitious name created by cunning Hindutvawadis to give their “lies” a Western support! An uber-secularist Khushwant Singh also fell for this propaganda, until he by chance met Koenraad in real flesh. This kind of denial attempt by the left-liberal powerhouses in India was also a revelation of their puerile scholarship. By the same token, it was also a left-hand recognition of Koenraad’s prowess.

That is why it is so strange even by common sense, not to say political-intellectual sense, that Hindutva quarters did not see the need to make his stature influential or at least more visible. Koenraad is personally known to many tall Hindutva leaders, who are directly in power for decades. But it never occurred to anyone to set even a little ground beneath his feet, so that he could continue work comfortably. The work which benefited the Hindutva leaders themselves. His scholarly contribution on the Ayodhya controversy is just a case in point.

The VHP and BJP were campaigning for Hindu claim over the disputed Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid site for years. Yet they did not collected hard evidences to be used in court for their claim. The campaign was largely emotional, based on traditional lore. It was important but where a court was hearing the matter and the issue was debated in media and academia, such an approach was hardly winnable. It was Koenraad, encouraged and helped by Sita Ram Goel, who took upon himself to present a systematic case for Hindus with authentic historical and logical evidences. This was his second book Ayodhya and After: Issues before Hindu Society (Voice of India 1991), a first introduction to all aspects of India’s religious conflicts.

Thus, Koenraad Elst was one of the rare individual scholars who put paid to the pretensions of eminent Marxist historians. Soon they started dragging feet because they depended on the mere emotionalism of the Hindu forces, and were sure to win the thinking classes by flaunting their high academic chairs. Koenraad, Sita Ram Goel and also some others such as Arun Shourie, Swapan Dasgupta, etc. challenged them on facts, arguments and historical method. Thence the Marxists changed their tune, fled the court contest and finally also the arbitration the Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar had constituted to resolve the issue on evidence.

It would be ungrateful if we do not recognize the role Koenraad also played, indirectly, in Hindus winning the Ayodhya court case. The archeological evidence, after the Allahabad High Court ordered the Archeological Survey of India to dig into the site, further corroborated the contentions of Koenraad and Sita Ram Goel presented in their books about temple destructions.

This long prelude is necessary to explain the importance of his new book, Hindu Dharma and the Cultural Wars (Rupa, 2019). It may be useful to evaluate the book, as it helps to understand the continuity of his concerns and consistency ever since he voluntarily took up the case of Hindus vis-à-vis their opponents in politics and academia.

The articles in this book are on diverse issues, all combined make the outline of a cultural war presently raging which Hindus are compelled to fight. Yet they are ever so reluctant to fight, as the articles about the BJP and their governments in this volume also indicate. Many Hindus, including their leaders, are not ready yet to even acknowledge that there is such a war going on. Even as they are feeling the heat of the war for a long time. This strange apathy is also addressed in some articles in the collection.

Book Contents

Some new insightful pieces in this collection of 25 articles are: Hindu Fearlessness through the Ages (pp. 1-6), A Diversity of ‘White saviours’ (178-194), Debating the Hindu Right (43-46), The Modi Government as an Exponent of BJP Secularism (39-42), Hindus Need Dharmic Awakening? Rather, the BJP needs Dharmic Awakening (72-74), Academic Bullies (152-167) , and The RSS in Western Media (127-133). For a new reader every article would be a novelty and provide food for thought. They all combined make the title meaningful, suggesting that the Hindus are in the midst of a cultural war. Even though many highly educated Hindus are blissfully unaware of it.

That makes this book rather more valuable. The author himself said it is a “very good book”. Should Hindu organizations study and propagate it seriously, a great need of the time may be fulfilled. The need of making uninformed Hindus aware of the dangers they are facing. The Modi government in power has not thwarted it. At best the dangers seem subsided or waiting at a distance, but they are very much alive and focused.

Take, for example, any issue discussed in the book. Yoga, Ramakrishna, Saint Thomas, Golwalkar, Aurangzeb, Macaulay, Hinduphobia, nationalism, or even Ayodhya. The daily discussions, observations and comments about it in our prestigious media are found invariably opposite to the hard realities, past or present. They tend to take, as a rule, an anti-Hindu and pro-Islamic or pro-church stance. Sometimes even knowingly so. What this shows, if not that many leading Hindu intellectuals are fighting from the enemy side? They even take pride in being “liberal” and more “fair” to others. Totally oblivious of the dire results of such a naïve Gandhian stance in the recent past, as in Bengal and Punjab during the years 1947-48 or in Kashmir since 1989 onwards for more than a decade. Not to speak of the great devastation the Hindu society earlier suffered during centuries of barbaric Islamic onslaught.

Being increasingly ignorant of the un-natural calamities that fell upon Hindus, past or present, is the hallmark of Indian academic discourse in independent India. By extension of our media too. As a result, they simply deny there is any cultural war going on. If at all, they say it is the “minorities” who are at the receiving end. Any single day a prestigious Indian English newspaper would reveal a score of evidence in its coverage, headlines, comments, op-ed articles, and even in selection of pictures or data or words. Not only they summarily speak a different tune, from the concerns expressed in this book of Koenraad, but also definitely ridicule it in more or less open manner.

Therefore, the problems the Hindu society is facing on cultural fronts are as acute as ever. In fact, the BJP securely in power has somewhat lulled many in the Hindu movement. All the while the enemies of Hindus are relentlessly playing the victim card, and getting rewards, even more easily. Any event of significance, be it the legislation for banning triple talaq, or the hearing on Ayodhya in the Supreme Court, or abrogation of Article 370, or meeting of the RSS chief with an Islamic leader, or even just BJP winning an election is used as a common indicator of the “hurt” non-Hindus are feeling regularly. This refrain is articulated and propagated more regularly and forcefully by Hindu liberals than a Muslim or Christian writer. In no case, such as mentioned above, a left-liberal Hindu would even care to give a voice to a single Hindu hurt, as if such a hurt is non-existent or irrelevant.

This makes the Koenraad book much more noteworthy. It brings to light some still hidden truths about the history of the Hindu society. It also challenges many wrong notions entrenched in its intellectual classes. At present is a golden opportunity because influential Hindu organizations in India could use such works to awaken sleeping sections of our country, reeducate the misinformed sections and correct the wrong notions wantonly propagated by misinformed or misguided intellectuals. Not only the Hindus but at least a section of Muslims also mouth falsehoods due to plain ignorance.

If candid rebuttals and correct information could be disseminated with equal seriousness and regularity, the tide of the cultural war can be turned successfully. That is the opportunity at hand. Are the so-called organized Hindutva forces up to it? It remains to be seen. Meanwhile individual Hindu warriors may rejoice that one of their inspirations—a maharathi—is still fighting the battle, despite being without a rath. This seems an apt imagery to depict Koenraad Elst, the Belgian scholar and orientalist. Through his scholarly contributions he has been fighting for Hindus with his two bare hands—without weapons customarily available to those on high academic chairs. Grateful Hindus must salute the rare warrior on completing his 60 years recently! – IndiaFacts, 21 December 2019

Dr Shankar Sharan is Professor of Political Science at the NCERT, New Delhi.

Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars


The place of Mahatma Gandhi – Sita Ram Goel

M. K. Gandhi

Sita Ram GoelWhat is relevant in Mahatma Gandhi … is not his failure in solving the Muslim problem but his success in re-affirming the language of Sanatana Dharma which had been revived during the Swadeshi Movement. – Sita Ram Goel

Introduction

The language of British and Christian imperialism had stood fully exposed for what they were in essence by the time the Swadeshi Movement swept forward after the Partition of Bengal in 1905. The language of Islamic imperialism had revived but was not resounding enough as yet to ring bells in the minds of national leaders. And the language of Communist imperialism had not yet appeared on the scene.

The last two languages came into their own by the end of the twenties. The freedom movement had to feel their full blast by the middle of the thirties. The leader who had emerged in complete command of the freedom movement by that time was Mahatma Gandhi. And his role vis-a-vis these two languages has been a matter of controversy.

Mahatma Gandhi showed the same understanding of the languages of British and Christian imperialism as had been shown earlier by the leaders of the Swadeshi Movement. There were indications in his writings and statements that he suspected the language of Communist imperialism as something sinister, though he started faltering when this language became the language of Leftism in the mouths of Pandit Nehru and the Congress Socialists. But his response to the language of Islamic imperialism was not at all what could be expected from a man of his instinctive perceptions.

His failure vis-a-vis the language of Islamic imperialism can be explained in various ways. But the fact remains that this failure made the Muslims more and more aggressive and created a lot of resentment in a section of Indian nationalists. These anti-Gandhi nationalists have not been able to get reconciled to his role even after his death in very tragic circumstances. On the other hand, all sorts of Hindu-baiters have been invoking his name and fame to put Hindu society in the wrong.

Mahatma Gandhi in hostile lands

The Leftists had no use for Mahatma Gandhi during his life time. They had hurled their choicest swear words at him. But the Mahatma dead seems to have become an asset for them. Not that they have revised their estimate of his role in the past or acquired any respect for him in the present. They are only using him as a stick to beat Hindu society into shame.

Muslims, too, have staged a similar volte-face. They had opposed him tooth and nail during his life-time. The language which their press had used for him provides a study in pornography. But after his death, they have been holding him up in order to harangue Hindu society. Not that they have changed their opinion about him or imbibed any of his teachings. They are only using him as a device to put Hindu society on the defensive.

The Gandhians present a very curious case. They claim to have inherited the message of the Mahatma. But the only people with whom they feel at home are Hindu-baiters. They avoid all those who are not ashamed of being Hindus or who take pride in Hindu history and heritage. They suspect that “Hindu communalism” has been and remains India’s major malady. The only point to which they never refer is that Mahatma Gandhi was a proud Hindu with a profound faith in Sanatana Dharma and that a reawakening and rejuvenation of Hindu society was his most important preoccupation.

The Hindu-baiters highlight the fact that the Mahatma was murdered by a Hindu. But they hide the fact that it was the Hindus who had always rallied round Mahatma Gandhi, who had adored him throughout his life, who had followed him as their leader and who had stood by him through thick and thin. It is tantamount to insinuating that Hindus have done nothing in the whole of their history except murdering the Mahatma. The only parallel is provided by the Catholic Church which has known the Jews only as murderers of Jesus.

This exercise in employing the name of a great Hindu to malign Hindu society has succeeded because whatever nationalists have come forward to lead Hindu society in the post-independence period have chosen to ignore all facets of the Mahatma’s life and teachings except one, namely, his handling of the Muslim problem. They have meditated, one must say rather morbidly, on the one mistake he made in his life, namely, his understanding of Islam. They have never taken into account the sterling services he rendered to Hinduism and Hindu society in so many spheres. The only thing they remember with resentment is his failure in one field, namely, his final inability to prevent partition.

Two significant facts

The anti-Gandhi nationalists have never tried honestly to face the fact that it was he and not they who had stirred the minds and hearts of Hindu masses. It was he and not they who had mobilized Hindu society to make sacrifices in the service of the motherland. Nor have the denunciations of anti-Gandhi nationalists succeeded in doing the slightest damage to his stature. In fact, his stature has risen higher with the passing of time. He continues to be cherished by Hindu masses as one of the greatest in their history. Reverence for him in the world at large has also continued to grow. He is now regarded as a profound thinker on problems created by an industrial civilisation and a hedonistic culture. Hinduism has gained abroad because Gandhi is known as a great Hindu.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the failure which the Mahatma met vis-a-vis the Muslims was truly of startling proportions. Hindu-Muslim unity was a goal which he had pursued with great dedication throughout his life. He had paid high tributes to Islam, its prophet, its caliphs and its scriptures. He had espoused the cause of Khilafat in order to win Muslim hearts. He had befriended even questionable characters like Mohammad Ali {Jinnah] because the latter enjoyed the confidence of Muslim masses. He had gone out of his way to humour Jinnah who was always cold and quite often nasty in his manners. He had ignored the invectives that were hurled at him by the Muslim press and politicians. He had even advised the British to hand over power to Muslims and quit. he had always frowned at all efforts to organise Hindus in order to call the Muslim bluff. In short, his policy towards Muslims had been full of appeasement at the cost of Hindu society. But nothing had helped. Muslims had continued to grow more and more hostile.

If we put these two facts together, we can perhaps draw some worthwhile conclusions. First, it follows that Hindu society responds only to a call which is deeply religious and cultural. Anti-Gandhi nationalists have failed to move Hindu masses because their appeal has been purely political. These nationalists have drawn most of their inspiration from the modern West and not from India’s own great past. Secondly, there must be something very hard in the heart of Islam so that even a man of an oceanic goodwill like Mahatma Gandhi failed to move it. He succeeded with the British by making them feel morally in the wrong. He succeeded with such sections of Hindu society as had nourished some grievances of their own and had tried to turn away from the freedom movement. It was only the Muslims with whom he failed miserably.

In justice to Mahatma Gandhi

There is no doubt that Mahatma Gandhi’s failure vis-a-vis Muslims was great and has had grievous consequences. But the failure can be attributed to him only in so for as he was at the helm of affairs during that particular period of Indian history. It is highly doubtful if Hindu society would have been able to prevent partition even if there had been no Mahatma Gandhi. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Hindu society would have failed in any case. In fact, the seeds of that failure had been sown long before Mahatma Gandhi appeared on the scene.

The first thing to be done in this context is to put straight the record of the freedom movement and find out how Hindu leaders who preceded Mahatma Gandhi had functioned vis-a-vis the Muslim problem. For, although the Mahatma dominated the freedom movement for more than twenty-five years, he had appeared on the scene when thirty-five years had already passed since the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the first leader to start sabre-rattling on behalf of his community. That was a year or two after the Congress came into existence. There is no evidence that any Hindu leader called his bluff at that time or at a subsequent stage. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of how Hindu leaders tried to appease the bully. To top it all, Hindus contributed quite a lot of money towards the establishment of his Anglo-Oriental Mohammedan College at Aligarh which was to become the main seat of Muslim separatism at a subsequent stage. Mahatma Gandhi was nowhere near the scene.

The Swadeshi Movement was the next step in the struggle for freedom. It was immediately followed by the founding of the Muslim League. Muslims not only boycotted the movement but also let loose an orgy of riots which were particularly violent and beastly in Bengal. But there is no record of Hindu leaders coming forward to beat back the aggression. The only Hindu response to this Muslim mayhem was to hail Siraj ud-Daulah, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan as national heroes. Again, Mahatma Gandhi was not on the scene.

Then came the Lucknow Pact of 1916. Muslim leaders had made no secret that pan-Islamic causes rather than patriotism had made them move towards a joint front with the Congress. But no Hindu leader cared to look into the motivation of Muslims. Only a slight gesture from the Muslim League was enough to elicit an enthusiastic response from the Congress. Hindu leaders conceded not only separate electorates to Muslims but also one-third representation in the Central Assembly to a less than one-fourth of the total Indian population. It was Lokmanya Tilak and not Mahatma Gandhi who was the leader of the Congress at that time.

Once the legitimacy of the pan-Islamic cause was recognised by the national leadership, it was only a short step to the Khilafat agitation. The meeting that was held on June 1, 1920, under the auspices of the Central Khilafat Committee, in order to solicit Congress support for the Sultan of Turkey, was not attended by Mahatma Gandhi alone. Leaving aside Motilal Nehru. Tej Bahadur Sapru and Jawaharlal Nehru, whose support for all Islamic causes was always a bygone conclusion, the others who sat by the side of Mahatma Gandhi in that crucial meeting were Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Satyamurti, C. Rajagopalachari, and Chintamani. The proceedings of that meeting exist in cold print. Some of these Hindu leaders did oppose the proposal for a Non-Cooperation Movement to be launched simultaneously with the Khilafat agitation. But no one pointed out that the national movement should have nothing to do with a pan-Islamic platform. The same story was repeated at the Special Session of the Congress at Calcutta in September that year and at its Annual Session at Nagpur in December. Later on, Swami Shraddhananda was to be lionised for lambasting the British Government from the steps of the Jama Masjid at Delhi. He was speaking in support of the Khilafat agitation.

The Congress and the Muslim League never came together again at an all-Indian level after this brief period of six years which ended with the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement in February 1922. Muslims made no secret of their belief that they had been betrayed by Mahatma Gandhi. They let loose another orgy of riots all over the country. It was in the midst of this bloodshed, and while Mahatma Gandhi was behind prison bars that Deshbandhu C.R. Das led the Bengal Provincial Congress into signing a Hindu-Muslim Pact which permitted Muslims to kill cows during their festivals but forbade Hindus from playing music before the mosques!

Justice demands that anti-Gandhi nationalists review Hindu history vis-a-vis Islam and lay the blame where it belongs. They will soon find out that Mahatma Gandhi was neither the first nor the last to accord the status of a religion to Islam, the dignity of a deity to Allah, the aura of an avatar to Muhammad, the sanctity of a scripture to the Quran, the holiness of saints to the Sufis, the majesty of a place of worship to the mosque and the rights of a minority to the Muslim millat. Most Hindus are still chanting sarva dharma sama bhava vis-a-vis Islam in the face of Muslim fanaticism, though over three decades have passed since the death of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Mahatma’s Failure: A failure of Hindu society

There is ample evidence in the Mahatma’s writings that he could see quite clearly the pattern of perverse behaviour on the part of Muslims. That was at the back of his statement repeated several times, that an average Muslim was a bully and an average Hindu a coward. But he refused to believe that this pattern was derived directly from the teachings of the prophet.

That, however, is the story of Hindu society in its centuries-old encounter with Islam. Hindu society has always viewed Islam through the eyes of its own spirituality. Islam had shown its full face to Hindu society quite early not only in the devil dance of its swordsmen but also in the pronouncements and prolific writings of its mullahs, sufis and historians. But Hindu society had all along failed to draw the right conclusions. It had continued to regard Islam as a religion. The folly has persisted till the present time.

Modern Hindu and Sikh scholars have done something worse. They have presented Islam not only as a superior religion but also as a superior social system. This is obvious in hundreds of books written by them about the nirguna saints like Kabir and Nanak. These saints alone had the courage to question the exclusive claims of Islam while they sang in the advaitic tunes set by ancient Hindu spirituality. Islam had no impact on their teachings. But modern scholars have paraded these saints as monotheists who were in revolt against the multiplicity of Hindu gods and goddesses, as iconoclasts who were against image worship in Hindu temples and as social reformers who denounced the so-called caste system under the “influence of an equalitarian Muslim society.” The saints have thus been turned into tawdry social reformers. Falsehood can go no farther.

The relevant in Mahatma Gandhi

Sri Aurobindo has said in his Uttarpara Speech that India rises with the rise of Sanatana Dharma. Mahatma Gandhi proved the aptness of this observation. What is relevant in Mahatma Gandhi, therefore, is not his failure in solving the Muslim problem but his success in re-affirming the language of Sanatana Dharma which had been revived during the Swadeshi Movement. I give below a few specimens.

“The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it will require centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom.” (Hind Swaraj, Chapter IX)

“I believe that the civilisation India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world. Nothing can equal the seeds sown by our ancestry. Rome went; Greece shared the same fate; the might of the Pharaohs was broken; Japan has become westernised; of China nothing can be said; but India is still, somehow or other, sound at the foundation.” (Ibid., Chapter XIII)

“Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after truth and if today it has become moribund, inactive, irresponsive to growth, it is because we are fatigued. As soon as the fatigue is over, Hinduism will burst forth upon the world with a brilliance perhaps never known before.” (Young India, 24-4-1924)

“What the divine author of the Mahabharata said of his great creation is equally true of Hinduism. Whatever of substance is contained in any other religion is always to be found in Hinduism, and what is not contained in it is insubstantial or unnecessary.” (Ibid., 27-9-1925)

“Hinduism is like the Ganga, pure and unsullied at its source but taking in its course the impurities in the way. Even like the Ganga it is beneficent in its total effect. It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is retained everywhere.” (Ibid., 8-4-1926)

“Our sages have taught us to learn one thing: ‘As in the Self, so in the Universe.’ It is not possible to scan the universe as it is to scan the self. Know the self and you know the universe.” (Ibid.)

“Now when we talk of brotherhood of men, we stop there and feel that all other life is there for man to exploit for his own purposes. But Hinduism excludes all exploitation.” (Ibid., 26-12-1926)

“Hinduism insists on the brotherhood of not only all mankind but of all that lives.” (Harijan, 28-3-1936).

Such sayings of Mahatma Gandhi about Hinduism can be multiplied. He affirmed, again, and again not only the fundamentals of Hindu spirituality but also the framework of Hindu culture and social life. He valued “the spirit behind idol worship” and declared his determination “to defend with my life the thousands of holy temples which sanctify this land of ours.” For him cow protection was “the dearest possession of the Hindu heart” and “no one who does not believe in cow protection can possibly be a Hindu.” The sacred thread had a deep meaning for him because it was “the sign of the second birth, that is spiritual.” He believed that varnashrama was “inherent in human nature, and Hinduism had simply reduced it to a science.” He wrote several articles in defence of the “much-maligned Brahmin” and had not a shadow of doubt in his mind that “if Brahmanism does not revive, Hinduism must perish.” There was no symbol of Sanatana Dharma which did not stir him to the depths and which he did not trace back to its inner and eternal spirit.

And he served Hinduism not by words alone. His whole life was an uninterrupted hymn to Hinduism. He rendered many sterling services to Hindu society. He staked his life in order to free Hindu society from the stigma of untouchability. He wanted the Hindus to shed fear and be brave. By all accounts, his place should be secure in the mainstream of Indian nationalism.

There was no lack of Hindu leaders during the Mahatma’s life-time who appealed in the name of political patriotism. They left Hindu society cold and unresponsive. Nor has a purely political approach to Hindu society succeeded after the passing away of the Mahatma. The one lesson we learn from the freedom movement as a whole is that a religious and cultural awakening in Hindu society has to precede political awakening. The language of Indian nationalism has to be the language of Sanatana Dharma before it can challenge and defeat the various languages of imperialism. The more clearly Hindu society sees the universal truth of Hindu spirituality and culture, the more readily it will reject political ideologies masquerading as religion or promising a paradise on this earth.

Mahatma Gandhi stands squarely with Maharshi Dayananda, Bankim Chandra, Swami Vivekananda, Lokamanya Tilak and Sri Aurobindo in developing the language of Indian nationalism. His mistake about Islam does not diminish the lustre of that language which he spoke with full faith and confidence. On the contrary, his mistake carries a message of its own. – Pragyata, 1 October 2019

This excerpt is taken from Perversion of India’s Political Parlance by Sita Ram Goel 

M.K. Gandhi Quote