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Hindu Triumphalism and the Clash of Civilisations

This essay examines the emergence of Hindu triumphalism which openly and unapologetically celebrates its conception of "superiority of Hinduism over the alleged depravity of Semitic monotheistic religions", namely, Islam and Christianity. It focuses on the publishing house called Voice of India which has emerged as the most vocal source of Hindu triumphalism. It takes a closer look at who the VOI ideologues are, what they are saying, how they are making connections with the European New Right and how they are influencing the political culture of India.

SPECIAL ARTICLE

Hindu Triumphalism and the Clash of Civilisations

Meera Nanda

This essay examines the emergence of Hindu triumphalism which openly and unapologetically celebrates its conception of “superiority of Hinduism over the alleged depravity of Semitic monotheistic religions”, namely, Islam and Christianity. It focuses on the publishing house called Voice of India which has emerged as the most vocal source of Hindu triumphalism. It takes a closer look at who the VOI ideologues are, what they are saying, how they are making connections with the European New Right and how they are influencing the political culture of India.

Meera Nanda (nanda.meera@gmail.com) is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

We, the Indians, as Guru of all nations. Yes, I believe in that...

–A B Vajpayee Monotheistic creeds are creations of the outer and lower levels of the human mind. It is a sin to regard them as religions in any sense of the word...

–Sita Ram Goel, founder, Voice of India Every Muslim is a Sita who must be released from Ravana’s prison. We should help Muslims in freeing themselves from Islam...

–Koenraad Elst, a Belgian champion of Hindutva.

I
slamophobia is beginning to be recognised around the world as a new form of prejudice, right up there with anti-Semitism and racism. Its literal meaning is a phobia or an emotional dread of Islam. According to the Runnymede Commission of Britain that first defined the term in 1997, Islamophobia is based upon a view that Islam itself is so innately “barbaric, i rrational, sexist, violent and aggressive” that the followers of Islam must exhibit all these abominable behavioural traits.1 Islam’s teachings are reduced to divine commandments for m ayhem and violence against non-believers, and Muslims are reduced to automatons programmed to obey these dreadful commands.

There has been a rise of Islamophobia in India, as in much of the rest of the world. Outside observers find in India today a “general atmosphere of civilisational tension derived from a fear of Muslim radicalism” (Kaplan 2009). Anytime there is a terrorist attack – even when the targets are mosques and the victims are Muslims – it is assumed that it must be the handiwork of “Islamic terrorists”. It has become common in polite company to hear that “all Muslims may not be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”

– a statement that is not only insulting to Muslims but is also absolutely false. This writer recently found books on Islam displayed in the “War/Military/Islam” section of a posh bookstore in New Delhi, while books on Hinduism graced the “Religion/ Philosophy/Spirituality” section. All this – and far worse – passes as business as usual in India today.

Islamophobia is not new to India. Sheldon Pollock (1993) has convincingly shown that symbolic representations of Muslims as raksasa or asuras (demons) go as far back the 12th century retellings of Ramayana. In much of the Hindu nationalist writing, Muslims are treated as the evil other against which Hindus define their own identity: to borrow from Jyotirmaya Sharma (2007), “they are incomplete, uncultured and demonic” while “we are immortality’s children”. Such poisonous representations have had terrible consequences. According to the Sachar Committee Report (2006:11), Indian Muslims “carry the double burden of being labelled as ‘anti-national’ and as being ‘appeased’ at the same time. While Muslims need to prove on a daily basis that they are not ‘anti-national’ and ‘terrorists’ it is not recognised that

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the alleged ‘appeasement’ has not resulted in the desired level of socio-economic development”.

Hindu Triumphalism

While Islamophobia is not new, its expression used to be moderated by the so-called “essential-unity Hinduism” – the familiar rhetoric which proclaims that all religions are equally true. Indeed, Hinduism was proclaimed to be better than all religions because it alone accepts all religions as equally good and true (thus proving that all religions are not equally good and true after all). Even the most radical Hindu communalists occasionally said some good things about other faiths in order to show how big-hearted and tolerant their own faith is.

This essential-unity Hinduism, hypocritical though it was, is facing new ideological threats. A new triumphalism is emerging which does not hesitate to openly and unapologetically celebrate the alleged superiority of Hinduism over the alleged depravity of Islam, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Christianity as well. Because Islam and Christianity believe in only one god who alone is supposed to be true, these two monotheistic faiths are condemned as being inherently intolerant of those who believe in many gods. Thus, the Koran is blamed for inciting the faithful to violent jihad against non-Muslims, while the Bible is condemned for commanding the faithful to spread the word and convert non-Christians.

Once monotheism (belief in one god) is identified as the real source of intolerance and violence, Hindu monism (belief in one substance/reality/shakti which takes different forms), is declared to be the only religion which can be truly tolerant. Thus, the triumphalists claim, Hindus must become “gurus to the world” and lead it from its current age of darkness into a new light of spiritual brotherhood. So widespread and twisted this triumphalism has become that even Hindu terrorist groups like Sanatan Sanstha defend their agenda on the grounds that they are only “spreading [scientific] spiritualism as per Hindu dharma which is all inclusive and most tolerant… We are dreaming of an India that will show the path of peace to the world”.2 Their message to Muslims: we will bomb you and kill you to make you realise how tolerant and inclusive our s pirituality is.

The most strident expression of Hindu triumphalism comes from a group of writers associated with Voice of India (VOI), a New Delhi-based publishing house started by two anti-communists turned Hindu nationalists – Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003) and his friend and intellectual soul-mate, Ram Swarup (1920-92). Influential journalists writing for the mainstream media, including Girilal Jain (1924-93), Arun Shourie, S Gurumurthy and François Gautier have been associated with VOI either directly as published authors or indirectly as admired fellow-travellers (Gurumurthy). The VOI group has managed to attract a number of westerners. Koenraad Elst, a Belgian writer with links with European New Right is acknowledged as the intellectual heir of Goel and Ram Swarup. astrologer and ayurvedic doctor, David Frawley (aka Vamadeva Shastri), an American convert to Hinduism is among the best-known authors of VOI. This group has also attracted a number of non-resident Indian (NRI) engineers, computer scientists and

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other professionals who see themselves as Hinduism’s global brand managers.

While VOI authors have a keen following in Hindutva circles, they are by no means household names. And yet the ideas peddled by VOI are important to understand because they are beginning to resonate with the mainstream of public opinion in the country. Those who learn their Hinduism from Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and contemporary English-speaking exponents of “renaissance Hinduism” are already quite familiar with the themes of Hindu superiority that VOI builds upon.

Another reason to pay attention to these ideas is the time we live in. India is beginning to “taste prestige” on the world stage: whatever success it has had in the global economy has made the rest of the world sit up and take note of the nation. Consequently, the pent-up aspirations to be recognised as a great nation are finding a new expression. Hindu triumphalists provide religious justifications for such dreams of becoming a great power.

But above all, the ideas of VOI are important to understand because they provide liberal-sounding justifications for berating Islam and Christianity and those who follow these faiths. Whereas the late M S Golwalkar, the former Hitler-admiring chief, was partial to Nazi ideas such as “race spirit”, the new tribe of triumphalists speak in terms of liberal ideals of pluralism, tolerance and science which supposedly abound in Hinduism. The result is that while the hate-filled spirit of Golwalkar lives on, it is no longer expressed in a language borrowed from German or Italian fascism but rather in an assertion of superiority of Hindu dharma.

Unfortunately, scholars have not paid much attention to these developments: there is a grand total of three articles that look at bits and pieces of VOI’s agenda.3 In this essay, we will take a closer look at who these VOI ideologues are, what they are saying, how they are finding new recruits from the European New Right and how they are influencing the political culture of India. But before we do that, it will be useful to locate Hindu triumphalism in the larger debate over clash of civilisations.

India in the ‘Clash of Civilisations’

Hindu triumphalists take off from where Samuel Huntington, the author of Clash of Civilisations, signs off: they share Huntington’s cultural essentialism, but draw the battle-lines in a way that makes “Hindu India” a leading contender for civilisational supremacy.

In his deeply flawed but influential book Clash of Civilisations, which divides the world’s six billion plus people into seven core civilisations, Samuel Huntington argued that globalisation enhances “civilisation-consciousness”: Far from eroding cultural identities and creating a McDonaldised world as some fear, globalisation makes people more intensely aware and proud of their distinctive cultures. According to Huntington, there is no reason to expect that the increased interaction among people through globalisation of trade, investment, tourism and electronic communication should create a common world culture, because the very idea of a universal culture is contrary to human nature. Familiarity with other cultures, he argues, breeds contempt and disunity, rather than respect and concord because “people define themselves by what makes them different from others in a particular context….people define their identity by what they are not” (p 67). Thus as non-western cultures become familiar with western ways, they begin to accord greater – not lesser – relevance to their own civilisational identities. On this account, we should expect the world to become less unified, less western and more divided into civilisational blocks defined primarily by religions as it gets more globalised.

Huntington ascribes this phenomenon of growing disunity and clash of cultures to “second generation indigenisation” in nonwestern societies. What he means is this: as the economic power of the west declines vis-à-vis the rest, the attractiveness of its values, practices and institutions also begins to decline, or as Huntington puts it, “cultural assertion follows material success; hard power generates soft power” (p 92). Conversely, as the economic power of non-western societies begins to grow, they begin to trumpet the virtues of their own values, institutions and culture. While the first generations of modernisers believed that in order to become rich, their country will have to become like the west, the second generation of intellectuals and policymakers seek the secret of their success in their own culture:

Now, however, they attribute their dramatic economic development not to their import of western culture, but rather to their adherence to their own culture. They are succeeding because they are different from the west. ..The revolt against the west is being legitimated by asserting the superiority of non-western values (p 93),

Huntington admits (p 14) that of all the seven world civilisations, he is the least exposed to Hinduism. That is perhaps why he fails to give due importance to Hindu revival and to India more generally. He makes only a passing reference to Hindu revival in his list of countries witnessing a resurgence of cultural pride, including the resurgence of neo-Confucianism in west Asia, the obsession with Nihonjinron or Japanese-ness in Japan and re-Islamisation in many west Asian countries. Huntington does not rule out that India will someday join the ranks of “challenger civilisations”, but at the time of writing, he assigned India only a minor role of a “swing state”. Huntington saw the real challenge to the west coming from the “Confucian-Islamic connection” with China and North Korea allied with “Islamic” countries like Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Algeria to confront the west. He believed that India, along with Russia and Japan were to play the role of pawns between the US-dominated west allied with Israel, against the Chinese-Islamic challengers.

In matters of realpolitik, India has indeed shown great eagerness in playing the role of a pawn that Huntington assigned to it. On the perverse logic that the “enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend”, India is now firmly a part of the US-Israel alliance against the largely Islamic “axis of evil” nations. With the help from the US, it has sought to position itself as nuclear-armed bulwark against the Chinese power in Asia.4

But when it comes to the question of civilisational pre-eminence, Indians do not accept the minor role they have been assigned in Huntington’s scheme of things. On the contrary, they believe that in the post-9/11 world, “Hindu India” has valuable lessons to teach to the west about how to defeat Islam, because as S Gurumurthy put it in a somewhat dated but influential article (1994), “the Hindu society is perhaps the only society in the world that faced and then survived the Islamic theocratic civilisation”.

The underlying idea is that the world will have to learn Hindu values if it is to defeat “Islamic theocratic civilisation”.

It is in this aspiration for making India the jagat guru, the guru of nations, lies the distinctive Hindu-centric interpretation clash of civilisations. Indian civilisation-warriors fully share Huntington’s basic idea that each civilisation has an enduring, unchanging core which is formed primarily by religion: in their mind, just as “the west” is defined by Christianity, the civilisational core of India (or “Greater India” which extends over all of south Asia and much of south-east Asia) is defined by Hinduism. But while Huntington sees the major clash of civilisations as taking place between the “Christian west” and Islam (aided by the Chinese), Hindu triumphalists one-up on Huntington and pit Hinduism against both Islam and Christianity.

The real source of intolerance and other evils in the world, they insist, is not Islam alone but rather monotheism of the “Semitic” type (i e, of west Asian origin) which includes Christianity and Judaism as well. Their claim is that because Semitic monotheistic religions believe in only “one true god” for the whole world, they are innately intolerant of diversity and pluralism. (Judaism is exempted from this critique of monotheism because even though Jews believe in one god, their god is exclusively the god of Jews alone.)

In this reading, the clash between monotheism and polytheism is the most fundamental clash in the whole of human history. The two are locked in an eternal conflict because their very essence is opposed to each other: the essential instinct of Semitic monotheism is “exclusive and annihilative” while the essential instincts of Hinduism is “assimilative and inclusive” (Gurumurthy 1994). This clash was hidden from view while the world was busy fighting the cold war. But now that the cold war against communism is over and the “hot war” against “Islamofascism” is on, the civilisational conflict between the two conceptions of god takes on a new urgency. This war, Hindu triumphalists insist, has to be won by Hinduism because “resurgence of Hinduism is crucial for the regeneration of the planet” (Frawley 2001).

Voice of India: Origin and Politics

Let us call all those who dream of the global triumph of Hinduism “Hindu triumphalists”. Their own preferred self-description is baudhik kshatriya, or intellectual warriors. This term was coined by David Frawley (1997) to describe those dedicated intellectuals who can present a compelling vision of Sanatan Dharma to people all over the world to help them “break through limited and unspiritual beliefs towards a yogic vision of humanity”. Since their ultimate objective is to convince the rest of the world that Hinduism provides superior answers to the problems of the modern world, these intellectual kshatriyas are Hindu triumphalists. They share two noticeable features:

One, nearly all the prominent Hindu triumphalists are associated with the publishing house called VOI; and two, they are on the right of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

VOI was founded in 1981 by Sita Ram Goel, with encouragement from his friend and mentor, Ram Swarup. Goel has left many interesting details in his autobiography How I Became a Hindu which throw light on the origins and goals of this publishing house.

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Goel and Swarup traversed a political and intellectual journey that took them from their north Indian, middle class, Delhi University milieu first to Gandhian socialism, followed by atheism and socialism (Swarup) and communism (Goel). By 1950s however, Ram Swarup had succeeded in arguing his friend out of communism and both of them became ardent anti-communists. Ram Swarup worked for Democratic Research Service, an anticommunist think tank founded by Sardar Patel with financial support from the Birlas. He later joined his friend Sita Ram who had started a Society for the Defense of Freedom in Asia, which had many RSS sympathisers.5

Nationalism served as the bridge that took them from hardcore anti-communism to hardcore Hindutva. In his memoir, Goel writes of his search for a “positive frame of reference” against communism which he found in nationalism. By this time, Ram Swarup was already a committed Hindu nationalist. Both of them gave up party politics and took on the meta-political project of confronting the cultural foundations of Nehruvian secularism with a distinctive Hindu world view. While they continued to work with RSS, they were dissatisfied with the Sangh’s unwillingness to develop a “full-blooded Hindu ideology” and have it confront the three main “enemies” of India, namely, Islam, Christianity and Marxism.

Voice of India was born out of frustration with this “anti-intellectualism” of RSS. Sita Ram Goel started it in 1981 after he had retired from his other publishing venture.6 The express purpose was to “inform Hindu society about its own great heritage, as also the dangers it faces”, as Goel wrote in his memoir.

VOI brings out inexpensive and relatively well-produced books on history, science and philosophy, all with a clear Hindu supremacist spin. The official web site lists a grand total of 107 books, mostly in English but also in Hindi. It offers complete texts of 26 of its more popular books, especially the works of Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, Koenraad Elst and David Frawley on line as well.7 It has also started publishing Indian editions of works by Daniel Pipes, the well-known anti-Islamic American neoconservative.

The second feature that unites the VOI-affiliated triumphalists is they stand on right of the RSS. They have nothing but contempt for the old-guard of RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party who they consider to be too soft on Islam. They accuse RSS and the Sangh parivar of two fundamental weaknesses: one, that it is not fanatical enough, and two, that it is not smart enough. The two weaknesses are linked: RSS is not fanatical enough because it has not been “intellectual” enough. It is taken to task for imitating Christian ideas, failing to provide a sound defence of Hinduism in an open and un-apologetically Hindu idiom, and failing to “expose” the falsehood of Abrahamic religions in the light of Hindu thought.

In one of VOI’s agenda-setting volumes edited by Sita Ram Goel and titled Time for Stocktaking: Whither Sangh Parivar? this is how one influential critic, Abhas Chatterjee, expressed his frustration with RSS:

Secularists of every hue keep proclaiming the RSS to be a radical militant Hindu organisation. But conscious perceptive Hindus cannot but see that RSS has proved to be a paper tiger… On issue after issue, RSS

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starts with a roar, then shrinks into a whisper, then grovels and gives up,

defeated but careful to save its face by inventing excuses (1997: 49-50).

Such sentiments of disaffection with RSS are commonplace in the inner circle of the Hindu right. Views of Goel and Abhas Chattejee are so extreme that they make RSS look like a “conciliatory alternative”, as Walter Anderson calls it.8 It appears that even though the cadre of RSS are avid readers of the VOI literature, they tend to distance themselves from the Goel-Swarup camp in public “because of their extremist anti-Muslim tirades”, as Michael Bergunder (2004:91) has pointed out.

Voice of India: Four Aims

There are four distinct but inter-connected aims that seem to animate the literature VOI puts out. The first aim is to openly and unapologetically proclaim the superiority of Hinduism. Goel and Swarup offer a sweeping condemnation of Islam and Christianity as tamasika-rajasika (dark-passionate) religions that “draw upon dark drives of the unregenerate unconscious” and are suitable only for “lower” kinds of minds, while reserving for Hinduism the highest status of sattvika (pure or spiritual) religion.

The reason Semitic monotheisms are tamsik is because of their “defective and inadequate” conception of god. In Ram Swarup’s words, the god of Islam and Christianity:

...teaches them to persecute religions other than their own, both are dogmatic, fundamentalist and theological; both lack yoga...both seek outward expansion, both are aggressively self-righteous and both by nature know no true theory of peaceful coexistence (2000: 16).

The basic idea behind this assertion, which is also found in the writings of Swami Vivekananda and S Radhakrishnan, is as follows. The god of monotheistic religions transcends – that is, stands apart from, distant from – the material world of nature. This “God in the Sky” in not accessible to worshippers the way Hindu gods are. Because Hindus see god as the disembodied consciousness, atman, that pervades the entire universe, they can directly experience it by altering their consciousness through yoga. Christians and Muslims, on the other hand, can only have a “second-hand” access to their distant god through their prophets who act as god’s deputies or “proxies”.

Other unsavoury consequences are supposed to follow from monotheism’s “defective” idea of god. Because they believe in only one god, monotheistic religions, the Goel-Swarup duo argues, are inherently intolerant, violent and totalitarian; while spiritual-polytheistic religions like Hinduism which allow a multi plicity of gods within the One-ness of atman are inherently tolerant, non-violent and democratic. The idea is that belief in one god leads to belief in one truth, which leads to denial and suppression of all other truths, leading to “totalitarianism”. This view completely ignores theological and sociological resources that are amply available in both Islam and Christianity for tolerance, equality and brotherhood of entire humanity.

While convinced of the absolute superiority of their own faith, the VOI radicals feel they are unable to openly proclaim it. They find the philosophy of sarva dharma samabhava – the idea that one must accord the same respect for the religious faith of others as we accord to our own – standing in the way. To agitate against this idea is the second goal.

The militants of VOI are adamantly opposed to the idea that all religions deserve equal respect. Even paying lip-service to this ideal, as RSS and BJP do, appears like an unbearable betrayal of the Hindu cause to them. Hinduism, they assert, is not any ordinary religion, but rather contains the very essence of religion itself: it is sanatan dharma, eternal cosmic truth. To equate this “mother of all religions” with violent “creeds” like Islam amounts to equating dharma with adharma, the ways of the “devas” (gods) with the ways of the “asuras” (demons), the “higher” and “purer” spirituality with “darker” and baser human interests. The contemptuous and insulting tone is clear from the following statements of Sita Ram Goel (2000):

A serious mistake that Hindu society has committed is to keep on repeating the slogan of sarva dharma samabhava.... To entertain samabhava toward Islam and Christianity, by giving them the status of dharma is, to extend invitation to doom… These ideologies are not worthy of being called dharma in any sense of the word. Contrary to this, they are brimful of imperialistic expansion.

Another radical, Abhas Chatterjee, associates Islam with “spiritual degradation” and “demonic traits” and declares that equal respect for Islam would be tantamount to “blasphemy”:

Islam is out and out adharma… Sanatana Dharma makes ample distinctions between dharma and adharma, between spiritual elevation and spiritual degradation. Following a path of adharma of tamsik vrittis (traits of darkness) or asuri vrittis (demonic traits) can only lead a person away form the god of Sanatana Dharma. If anything can be considered a blasphemy in Hindu spirituality, it is to equate dharma and adharma (1997: 59,66).

The idea that Hinduism teaches that all religions are equally true and therefore equally worthy of respect is a modern invention. It was articulated first by Swami Vivekananda and later propagated by Sarvapalli Radharkrishnan and M K Gandhi who were reading western liberal ideals about tolerance into Hinduism in order to prove the superiority of their faith to their Christian critics and colonial masters. The old-guard of RSS and BJP has adopted the equality-talk because it helps them to opportunistically showcase the liberality and universality of Hinduism.9

But the Goel-Swarup wing argues that Hindus no longer need to please their erstwhile colonial masters and therefore it is time to give up this “psychology of imitation and surrender” as Sita Ram Goel calls it (2000:13). They declare the idea of sarvadharma samabhava is both un-Hindu and anti-Hindu.

Why un-Hindu? Because traditional Hinduism nowhere teaches that all religions are the same. As Frank Morales (2008), an American Hindu and a VOI author points out (correctly, it so happens), the Hindu tradition is very clear about the absolute truth of the Vedas and the inferior status of religions that do not accept the truth of the Vedas. Traditional Hinduism does have an attitude of live and let live toward different ways of worshiping god, but that does not mean that different ways were seen as equally good, equally true or equally worthy of respect.

But why is the philosophy of sarva dharma samabhava, the very heart of Gandhian secularism, anti-Hindu? It is anti-Hindu because it undercuts Hindu supremacy. Once we grant that all religions are equally true and equally worth of respect, Frank Morales explains, there is no reason why anyone should choose Hinduism over others, or why anyone should not choose Islam, Christianity, voodoo or any other religion. This obviously undercuts the Hindu opposition to conversions. This issue is also beginning to exercise NRIs who worry that they can offer no good answers to their children why they should prefer to stay within the Hindu fold. An even bigger issue that vexes the new right is that if Hinduism is seen as just one more religion, at par with Islam or Christianity, then Hindus can stake no special claim on India: In their book, Hinduism is not just a religion, but rather the national culture of India that all Indians, regardless of their religious faith, must respect and adopt.

The third aim of Hindu triumphalists is to “reconvert” Muslims and Christians to Hinduism which, in their view, is the original religion of all Indians, if not of all of humanity. They believe that rather than “appease” Muslims and Christians by pretending to respect their religion, Hindu intellectuals should debunk the truth claims of Islam and Christianity in order to “rescue” them from the “prison house” of their faiths.

Indeed, this is the dividing line between the old guard of RSS and the young turks of VOI: Sangh parivar “reduces ideological confrontation between religions to a purely political confrontation between nations” but does not take the next step of debunking the truth claims of their “false” and “monstrous” doctrines, as Koenraad Elst put it (2001: 292). The new breed of baudhik kshatriyas believes that they should take up the challenge of first developing a clear understanding of what Sanatan Dharma teaches, and then expose the “true character” of aggressive ideologies with in the light of Hindu thought.

To add insult to injury, debunking Islam from a Hindu perspective is supposed to be good for Muslims because:

Muslims of Bharatvarsha would start returning to the Hindu fold only

when they realise how obnoxious a doctrine Islam is, how false and

fraudulent, how degrading and dehumanising, how unethical and su

perficial. History has bestowed a role on Hindu nation to help Muslims

discover that Islam is a prison house that deprives them of their free

dom of thought, powers of reasoning and qualms of conscience…

When, and only when, Muslims find out the reality of Muhammad and

his creed, they would start walking out of Islam and feel proud to join

their ancestral culture (Chatterjee 1997: 64-65).

What applies to Islam applies to Christianity and western culture in general. The consensus opinion of the triumphalist camp is that for too long, the west has lectured the rest of the world on human rights. It is time that Hindus should turn the tables and haul up the “Christian west” before the court of Hindu dharma.

The fourth aim is to create and propagate a global brand of Hinduism that is attractive to those who can no longer believe in the one god of the Abrahamic traditions but who are not willing to give up on spirituality. The VOI literature is replete with exhortations to India’s “global brand managers” to present a “futuristic” vision that is articulate and compelling, both to the western seekers of spirituality and to modern Indians who are looking for more rational alternatives to what the traditional pandits and pujaris have to offer.

There are three noticeable themes that figure prominently in the writings of the global brand managers: decolonisation, A ryanism and modern science.

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The leading thinkers of the VOI group – notably Goel, Swarup, Frawley and Elst – exhort Hindus to decolonise their minds. What they mean is that Hindus have to give up thinking in the conceptual categories derived from Semitic monotheistic view of the world, which in their mind includes Marxism and Nehruvian liberal secularism as well (The latter two are seen as merely secularised versions of Christian thinking.) Hindus are asked to turn the tables and put monotheism under a critical scrutiny from a Hindu perspective. They are exhorted to

…process and evaluate the heritage of these creeds and ideologies in terms of Hindu categories of thought… Hindus have to reawaken to the sublime spirituality of their own Sanatan dharma and base their evaluation of the other religions and cultures on its pristine premises. (Goel 2000: 14).

This is the Hindu right version of the post-colonial theory’s insistence on “provincialising Europe” and decolonising local knowledge. But while post-colonial theorists are motivated to empower the traditions of the oppressed and the outcastes, H indutva militants have truly sinister intentions of denigrating religious minorities.

The second goal of VOI is to prove that India is the original Aryan homeland, or that the Indus valley civilisation was Aryan, its language Sanskritic and its gods Vedic. VOI has gathered a stable of writers who have taken it upon themselves to provide “scientific evidence” to refute the existing academic consensus that the subcontinent was in fact settled by a complex intermixing of indigenous and migrating population groups. Each one of their purported proofs of the Aryans being the native sons of India has been shown to be false, if not actually a hoax. Yet, as Michael Witzel, the Harvard Indologist writes (2006:205), “VOI has successfully installed itself as a cottage industry where a slew of authors copy and refer to each other while churning out one book after another” on this theme.

The third theme has to do with producing a revisionist history of science aimed at finding nearly all the significant breakthroughs in modern physics, astronomy, biology and medicine to be presaged in the Vedas. This project is an extension of the basic idea that India was the cradle of civilisation where the Aryan sons-of-the-soil supposedly laid the foundations for all that is valuable in the whole world for all times. Books like In Search for the Cradle of Civilisation, co-written by two major VOI authors (Subhash Kak and David Frawley, along with Georg Feurestein) showcase India as the home of Aryans who are supposed to have already discovered most of what modern physics, cosmology and astronomy teach. The fantasies of Vedas as books of modern science have been shown to be without merit (Nanda, forthcoming).

The global brand managers of Hinduism have honed the art of using the language of liberalism and reason. Even when they pour their bile on Muslims and Christians, they do that in the name of teaching them tolerance; even when they promote a rather fuzzy spiritualism they do that in the name of promoting scientific temper. What we are observing here is the emergence of “ethnocratic liberalism” (Griffin 2000: 173) or “designer fascism” (Richard Wolin 2004) which drapes the cloak of liberalism over the khaki shorts of fascists. These monstrous hybrids have the potential to destroy liberal democracies from within because

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while they use the language of liberalism and even the procedures of constitutional democracy, they consider members of only one religious group – the Hindus – as the full and legitimate members of the civil society.

The problem is that the façade of democratic constitutionalism gives the Hindu right the legitimacy it needs in world affairs, while making it quite attractive to the educated, yuppie sophisticates. The fact that VOI has been able to attract relatively welleducated, professional Indians is a sign that its ideology is attractive to those who would perhaps never consider physically stepping into a RSS shakha.

The Hindu Right Meets the European Right

In recent years, VOI’s antipathy to monotheism has been bringing it in closer contact with European neo-pagans, some of whom are involved with extreme right causes.

The word “pagan” has many meanings but it is mostly used to describe “anyone who worships any god or goddess other than the Only True God of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions” (Kirsch 2004: 15). Contemporary neo-pagans see Christianity as an alien ideology imposed upon the polytheistic people of Europe 2000 years ago. They want to recover the lost gods and goddesses of Europe’s pre-Christian past because they see them as their own local gods, more embedded in the landscape and less male-oriented than the Christian god. While most neo-pagans are active in progressive causes like environmentalism and feminism, some are attracted to ultra-nationalist movements which are becoming more and more Islamophobic.

The leading philosophical force behind the neo-pagan faction of the European New Right (called Nouvelle Droite in French) is Alain de Benoist (b. 1943), a prolific French philosopher-writer. De Benoist is credited with making fascism respectable again by breaking away from old-fashioned biological racism to a new designer fascism which speaks in the language of “ethno-pluralism”, and “right to difference”. Even though de Benoist writes entirely on European matters and has shown no interest in India or Hinduism, he comes very close the VOI world view: like his Indian counterparts, he blames monotheism as the mother of all the problems of the modern world.

The core of de Benoist-inspired New Right is that European people (or white races) like all people everywhere, have the right to live in culturally homogeneous nations, each rooted in its own distinct heritage of local gods, local landscape, local language and local customs. The New Right holds that the “right to difference” is more fundamental than any other right and must be protected against all ideologies of Americanism (or McDonald-ism), multiculturalism, global capitalism and socialism that erode cultural differences.

What sets the New Right apart from other anti-globalisation and nativist movements is its opposition to Christianity and promotion of a “pagan sensibility”. Just like the VOI anti-monotheists, de Benoist and his followers see all modern universalist ideologies like liberalism and socialism as rooted in Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism which they condemn as intolerant and even totalitarian. They believe that belief in one god makes Christianity and western ideas of universalism and egalitarianism as inherently “insensitive to Europe’s polytheistic pagan past and to the differing values and cultural standards of other people around the world”.10 (As a historical note, this critique of monotheism is frighteningly reminiscent of the Nazis condemnation of Judaism and the Jews. Nazi philosophers of Germanic (“Aryan”) religion held the Jews responsible for stifling the spiritual and mystical component of the original Gnostic or Aryan Christianity by enveloping it in a Hebrew law which was “spiritually sterile”, “crassly materialistic” and inherently unable to establish contact with the “cosmic life force that was immanent in this world” (Mosse 1964:44)). The only alternative is to revive a pagan sensibility which is tolerant of diversity, accepts that different cultures have different criteria of truth and respects nature as sacred abode of gods. These ideas of difference and sacredness of the earth are not very different from the core values of multiculturalists, eco-feminists and environmentalists, even though most of them would be utterly repulsed by the nationalistic uses they can be put to.

The radical right in Europe uses the slogan of “right to difference” a cover for its anti-immigrant, “Europe for Europeans” agenda. Le Pen’s Front National (whose slogan is “France for the French”) and similar ethno-nationalist parties in Austria, Belgium, Britain, Germany and Russia all claim to stand for the right of the “original communities” (read white Europeans) to retain their cultural differences.

One could ask: why we in India should care about these European racists? We have reasons to worry because European neopagans who are influenced by the philosophy of de Benoist and the New Right, are establishing working relations with the Hindu Right. Their numbers are not very large – at least not yet. But they serve as a bridge between Hindu and European nationalists, both targeting Muslims in their own countries.

One such admirer of the Hindu nationalism who has his other foot in Flemish nationalism in his native Belgium is Koenraad Elst. Elst is a protégé and intellectual heir of Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel. His interest in New Age and neo-paganism brought him to India where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Hindu revivalism which was later published as a popular book, Decolonising the Hindu Mind. In this book he advocates the tough line against Islam and Christianity favoured by the Swarup-Goel school.

Even as he was advocating hard line Hindutva, Elst was sympathetic to the European Right: from 1992-95 he served as the co-editor of TeKoS, the journal of the Belgian New Right. TeKoS has been described as “a sister organisation of [de Benoist’s group] GERCE and loosely associated with the Flemish extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party Vlaams Belang” (Bar-on 2007:102). Indeed, the editor-in-chief of TeKoS, Luc Pauwels, was one of the founding members of Vlaam Belang, the extreme right wing, anti-immigrant party of Belgium.

Elst claims that he has rejected the new right philosophy of de Benoist even though he admits that he occasionally attends their gatherings.11 Be that as it may, he remains deeply involved in anti-Islamic causes. He is a regular contributor to The Brussels Journal, a right wing blog which the Belgian government has repeatedly charged for fomenting racism and violence. The Journal

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has connections with Vlaams Belang which opposes the purported Islamicisation of Europe and demands deportation of immigrants who fail to assimilate into Belgian culture.

Going by his essays posted on Brussels Journal, Elst is using the writings of his VOI mentors to peddle the worst kind of Islamophobia imaginable. In one of his essays, he advises his readers that the best way to criticise prophet Mohammad is to “question his sanity”, to show that he was mad.12 For evidence he cites the writings of Swami Vivekananda, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel who argue that from a yogic perspective, the divine revelations of the prophet of Islam were “born form a deluded consciousness” fed by “sexual arousal” provided by his wife, Khadija – all products of the supposedly lower, animal-like centres of consciousness.

Apart from Elst, the Hindu right has many other European-American fellow-travellers. Some of the better known are: David Frawley (aka Vamadev Shastri), an American convert to Hinduism who teaches ayurveda and Vedic astrology in the US. Along with Elst, Frawley is among the best-selling authors of VOI; Francois Gautier, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and more recently of the guru Sri Sri Ravishankar, is a long-time India correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro which has been described as the mouthpiece of the French New Right; Christopher Gerard, a neo-pagan protégé of Ram Swarup who edits the journal Antaios which promotes polytheism. Antaios was started by Mircea Eliade and Ernest Junger, both of whom had close connections with fascist movements in their native Romania and Germany respectively. In addition, Elst has brought in a number of other European Indophiles and self-proclaimed Indologists who are sympathetic to the idea of India being the homeland of the Aryans.

The importance of the European-American fellow-travellers cannot be minimised for they bring a greater international visibility to Hindutva and at the same time, inject their own historical grievances and prejudices against Christianity and Islam into the Indian context.

The Jagat Guru Complex

Convinced of Hindu superiority and contemptuous of samabhava for other religions, the intellectual warriors go on to position Hindu India as the jagat guru, the guru to the world. They believe that the religious self-recovery of humanity in post-Christian and post-rational world will be led by a worldwide ascendance of Hinduism. Hinduism can provide a “more satisfying spirituality”, as Ram Swarup put it (2000:10), to a world that has outgrown monotheism and scientific rationalism.

There are two sets of mostly western audience they have in mind: the first is made up of the relatively secularised spiritual seekers who are looking for an alternative to traditional religions they have grown up with. The second set is made up of the neopagan seekers who are trying to connect with pre-Christian traditions. Both sets bring with them an assortment of those who are involved in environmentalism and other movements seeking alternative lifestyles.

To the first set, Hindu triumphalists offer the gift of “yogic spirituality”. To the second set, they offer inspiration for recovering

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the old gods. The message to the spiritual seekers is simply this: only Hinduism offers a direct perception of god. While the god of other religions speaks to mortal men and women through prophets, yogic spirituality can enable everyone to directly know god. Yogic spirituality promises to provide the “self-regulation” and “introspection”, qualities which other religions are supposed not to have. While prophets and mystics of other religions stumble upon spiritual insights by accident, Hinduism offers a “science” of spirituality. This assertion of the superiority of Hindu spirituality is based upon a host of questionable assumptions, namely, that visions induced by yogic practice are visions of the divine; and that this kind of yogic seeing is akin to scientific experimentation.13

Insofar as overtures to European neo-pagans are concerned, Ram Swarup took the lead, followed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the US-based magazine, Hinduism Today. Ram Swarup believed that Hinduism can help in reversing the “s piritual Semitisation” of European people because Hinduism “represents the most ancient tradition which is still alive. It has preserved in its bosom the whole spiritual past of humanity.”14 Without a pagan renaissance, he warned, the post-Christian Europe will be run over by Islam. These overtures have met with an enthusiastic response. The magazine Hinduism Today reports on the developing ties between Hindu groups and neo-pagans from Britain, Belgium, Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine.15

It is not clear how far the Hindu-Pagan bhai-bhai idea will go. In most European countries, neo-pagan movements are fringe movements with many diverse political agendas. Even though the right wing, anti-immigrant groups have absorbed the “Europe for Europeans” idea of Alain de Benoist’s New Right, they are beginning to identify themselves with the idea of a “Christian Europe” against Islam and Muslims. Neo-paganism has not led to the much hoped for growth of Hindu influence in western s ocieties – at least not yet.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride in the achievements of your own tribe is a legitimate emotion. But when pride is fuelled by prejudice against others, it becomes jingoism. Hind triumphalism is jingoism, pure and simple. It is in fact a very dangerous jingoism targeted directly at Muslim and Christian minorities at home.

There are many achievements of modern India – a working constitutional democracy in such a complex, multi-religious society as ours, for one – that all Indians can take pride in. If we want the world to respect us, we should showcase our democracy and work to make it better.

But by taking the entire credit for India’s religious pluralism for Hinduism and Hinduism alone, the triumphalists are destroying the very pluralism and tolerance that they as Hindus claim to cherish. In the name of teaching tolerance, they are sowing the seeds for intolerance, narrow-mindedness and even violence against those of monotheistic faiths.

The fundamental problem with Hindu triumphalism lies with its entirely self-serving and wilful denial that the great monotheistic religions of the world – Islam and Christianity – do have ample theological justifications for pluralism and tolerance. synonym for tolerance, as the triumphalists would have us B elief in one true god does not automatically mean an inability b elieve. Theology is not destiny. to live with those who believe in different and/or multiple gods. The (more or less) peaceful coexistence of many religions that And conversely, a belief in multiple gods does not automatically India is justly famous for is not a gift of Hinduism: all of India’s mean an equal respect for all gods: traditional Hinduism clearly religions contributed to it in ways without compromising with arranged the gods the modes of worship of different Hindu sects their religious beliefs.16 To forget their contribution is to forget and castes in a hierarchical order. Monotheism does not auto-the love and patriotism of India’s Muslims and Christians for matically translate into totalitarianism and polytheism is not a their country.

Notes Bergunder, Michael (2004): “Anti-Brahmanical and Morales, Frank (2008): Radical Universalism: Does Hindu Nationalist Reconstructions of Indian Hinduism Teach that All Religions Are the Same?

1 “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All”, Run-Prehistory”, Historiographia Linguistica, XXXI. (New Delhi: Voice of India).

nymede Trust, at www.runnymedetrust.org.

pp 59-104.

Mosse, George (1964): The Crisis of German Ideology:

2 “Hindu terrorist groups like Sanatan Sanstha…”,

Bharati, Agehananda (1982): Hindu Views and Ways Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York:

There is no such thing as Hindu terrorism,” An and the Hindu Muslim Interface (Santa Barbara: Grosset and Dunlap).

i nterview with Sanatan Sanstha’s Abhay Vartak, Rediff.com, 27 October 2008. Mitsuhiro, Kondo (2001): “Hindu Nationalists and

Ross Erickson). Chatterjee, Abhas (1997): “Response” in Sita Ram

Their Critique of Monotheism” in Mushirul Hasan Goel (ed.), Time for Stocktaking: Whither Sangh

3 The three articles are: Kondo Mitsuhiro (2001),

and Nariaki Nakazato (ed.), The Unfinished Agen-Parivar? (New Delhi: Voice of India).

Meera Nanda (2005) and Reza Pirbhai (2008).

da: Nation Building in South Asia (New Delhi:

4 See Vijay Prashad (2003).

Elst, Koenraad (2001): Decolonising the Hindu Mind: Manohar).

5 In How I Became a Hindu, Goel writes that of all

Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism (New

Nanda, Meera (2005): “Dharmic Ecology in the Age of the many anti-communist groups in India, mem-

Delhi: Rupa Press).

Hindutva” in The Wrongs of the Religious Right Frawley, David (2001): Hinduism and the Clash of

bers of RSS and Jan Sangh (the forerunner of

(New Delhi: Three Essays Collective) C ivilisations (New Delhi: Voice of India).

BJP) were “always sympathetic, friendly and

helpful for our work, and who wanted us to place – (2007): “Trading Faith for Spirituality: The MystiIndia’s interests above everything else”. fications of Sam Harris”, Butterflies and Wheels,

– (1997): “A Call for Intellectual (Bauddhika) Kshatriya” in Sita Ram Goel (ed.), Time for Stock

6 His other publishing venture, Biblia Impex India http://www.butterfliesandwheels

taking: Whiter Sangh Parivar? (New Delhi: Voice

(also Aditya Prakashan) is now managed by his – (forthcoming): The God Market: How Globalisa

of India).

son, Pradip Goel. tion Is Making India More Hindu (New Delhi:

Goel, Sita Ram (1998): How I Became a Hindu (New

7 www.geocities.com/voi_publishers.htm R andom House).

Delhi: Voice of India).

8 Quoted from Koenraad Elst (2001:260). Elst ex-Pirbhai, Reza (2008): “Demons in Hindutva: Writing

– (1999): India’s Secularism: New Name for Subver

presses surprise that “acclaimed experts” have a Theology for Hindu Nationalism”, Modern

sion (New Delhi: Voice of India).

failed to notice “the existence of strong dissatis-Intellectual History, 5, 1. faction with the Sangh Parivar among the sup

– (2000): Defense of Hindu Society (New Delhi:

Pollock, Sheldon (1993): “Ramayana and Political Importers of Hindu revivalism” (p 254).

Voice of India).

agination in India”, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol 52, 9 See Agehananda Bharati (1982) for a succinct May: 261-97.

Griffin, Roger (2000): “Interregnum or Endgame? The c ritique.

Radical Right in the ‘Post-fascist’ era”, Journal of

Prashad, Vijay (2003): Namaste Sharon (New Delhi:

Political Ideologies, 5, pp 163-78.

10 Quoted from Tamir Bar-on (2007). LeftWord). Gurumurthy, S. (1994): “Semitic Monotheism: The

11 Apart from general discomfort over finding old-Sachar Committee Report (2006): Social, Economic

Root of Intolerance in India”, NPQ (New Perspec

style fascists and Nazis with “tainted” pasts in the

and Educational Status of Muslim Community

tives Quarterly), Spring: 47-53; available on the

New Right circles, Elst gives two India-specific reaof India: A Report (New Delhi: Government web site of BJP, www. bjp.org.

sons for dropping out of de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite of India).

Huntington, Samuel (1998): Clash of Civilisations and

(ND). First, even though he shares the neo-pagan-

Sharma, Jyotirmaya (2007): Terrifying Vision: M S Gol

the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon

ism of ND, he finds De Benoist and the rest of Euro

walker, the RSS and India, Penguin/Viking.

and Schuster).

pean neo-pagans lacking a “credible philosophical

Swarup, Ram (2000): Hindu View of Christianity and

Kaplan, Robert, D (2009): “India’s New Face”, Atlantic Islam (New Delhi: Voice of India).

and religious backbone”. He says he prefers the Monthly, April.

modern Hindu thinkers, whom I had read, such as Kim, Sebastian (2005): In Search of Identity: Debates Witzel, Michael (2006): “Ram’s Realm: Indocentric Rewritings of Early South Asian Archeology and “solid philosophical and religious grounding of

Sri Aurobindo, or whom I knew in person, particu-on Religious Conversion in India (New Delhi: History” in Garett G Fagan (ed.), Archeological

larly Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel.” Secondly, O xford University Press). Elst claims he broke off from ND over differences Kirsch, Jonathan (2004): God and the Gods: The

Fantasies: How Pseudo-Archaeology Misrepresents over the “Aryan” question. He accuses the main-H istory of the War between Monotheism and

the Past and Misleads the Public (New York: stream of European New Right to be too wedded to P olytheism (New York: Viking Compass).

Routledge). European superiority and as a result, too wedded Miller R E (1987): “Modern Indian Muslim Response Wolin, Richard (2004): Seduction of Unreason: The to the European origin of Indo-Aryans. Elst, as the to Pluralism” in Harold G Coward (ed.), Modern I ntellectual Romance with Fascism, form Nietzsche

rest of the Hindu Right, is a firm believer of the Indian Responses to Religious Pluralism (Albany: to Postmodernism (New Jersey: Princeton Univertheory of India being the original Aryan homeland. State University of New York). sity Press).

12 Koenraad Elst, “Lessons to be Learned: How to Criticise the Prophet”, at http:///www.brusselsjournal.com/node/806

13 For a critique see, Meera Nanda, “Trading Faith

For the Attention of Subscribers and

for Spirituality: The Mystifications of Sam Harris” Butterflies and Wheels, http://www.butterflie-Subscription Agencies Outside India sandwheels.

14 “Sri Ram Swarup on Europe’s Pagans”, Hinduism

It has come to our notice that a large number of subscriptions to the EPW from outside the

Today, July 1999. 15 “A Cyrillic Catechism” Hinduism Today, August

country together with the subscription payments sent to supposed subscription agents in India

1997; “Potent Pagan Powwow”, Hinduism Today,

have not been forwarded to us.

October 1998; “Europe’s Ancient Nature Worshippers, the Pagans, Call for a Hindu Alliance”,

We wish to point out to subscribers and subscription agencies outside India that all foreign

Hinduism Today, February 1991. “The Roots of E uro

subscriptions, together with the appropriate remittances, must be forwarded to us and not to

Americans”, Hinduism Today, September 2002. 16 See R E Miller (1987) and Sebastian Kim (2005).

unauthorised third parties in India. We take no responsibility whatsoever in respect of subscriptions not registered with us.

References

MANAGER

Bar-on, Tamir (2007): Where Have All the Fascists Gone? (Burlington: Ashgate).

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