12. About the Hindu critique of monotheism
12. About the Hindu critique of monotheism
This final text was written just recently, after I was given a copy of probably the first book containing a paper devoted specifically to a position taken by Voice of India, viz. its critique of m Monotheism. This was a central theme in the work of the late Ram Swarup and has remained so for those who have learned from him, including Sita Ram Goel and Arun Shourie, the authors specifically studied in the paper under consideration.
12.1. Portrait of the India-watcher as a young lady
In March 1998, a Miss Mitsuhiro Kondo, then a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of Tokyo, visited Voice of India’s publisher Sita Ram Goel for an interview. Mr. Goel has a reputation for readily grasping people’s motives and seeing through pretences, but he was quite forthcoming in freely sharing his thoughts with this unknown visitor. In any case, if you have nothing to hide, why not speak out to all corners? Many a Hindu Revivalist keeps foreign (meaning Western) interviewers at arms’ length, because most of them only come to collect ammunition for some defamation job. This young lady gave a more open-minded impression, which was partly justified but is also partly belied by the paper she ended up writing.
So, Mitsuhiro Kondo has written an overview of ‘the criticisms levelled by present-day Hindu nationalists against what they call variously ‘’monotheism’ or ‘’Semitic religions’, and to analyse the structure of their discourse as a logic of justification for hostilities’. As we shall see, her paper fails to make the crucial connection between the critique and the ‘hostilities’.1 It is an old dictators’ trick to associate criticism with crime and disorder, and too often we have seen secularists reduced to this sleight-of-hand of identifying rational criticism of Christianity and Islam with communal riots. She does not cite any evidence for such a connection. Has she ever met a rioter who gave his reading of a scholarly critique as his motive for rioting? Or even one who reads books to begin with?
Her paper is included in one of those over-numerous academic books on communalism and ‘nation-building in South Asia’. As a junior scholar, she may have felt obliged to toe the line laid down by the book’s editor, Prof. Mushirul Hasan, and senior contributors like Prof. Gyanendra Pandey.2 Maybe she tried to please her mentors by taking a more hostile line to Hindu Revivalism than she meant to. But we only have her text in the published version, and unfortunately we find that in essential traits, it is of one piece with the usual biased discourse of the Nehruvian secularists.
12.2. Many faces of Hindu Revivalism
In spite of undeniable mistakes, Miss Kondo scores one or two notches higher than most of India’s secularists and their Western loudspeakers. Thus, she takes the trouble to note (at some length) that the term ‘Semitic religions’ in this context means Christianity and Islam, but not Judaism. The recent crop of US-based Hindu-baiters are busy adapting their rhetoric to American conditions, where Jewish opinion carries a lot of weight, so they try to sow confusion around the ambiguous term ‘Semitic’: though hard-boiled pro-Islamic anti-Zionists themselves, they darkly hint that Hindu Revivalism, a long-standing ally of Israel, is somehow ‘anti-Semitic’. This new propaganda line hasn’t reached Tokyo yet, or the young researcher has commendably spurned the use of such cheap tricks.
She also admits that ‘the Hindu nationalist movement as we see it in India today is as old and deep-rooted as it is diverse in fonnll.3 Most secularists only mention the RSS and see all other tendencies as mere tentacles of that organisation, not so much as a tactic of ‘guilt by association’ but simply because they never did the mental exercise of distinguishing between the different tendencies within Hindu Revivalism. However, she loses sight of that initial distinction by lumping Sita Ram Goel and Arun Shourie with cruder variants of Hindu nationalism, e.g.: ‘( ) the Indian people - or the Hindu rashtra (nation) as they prefer to say’, - though the authors cited never use the term Hindu Rashtra, which is typical of Hindu Mahasabha discourse and commonly used. in RSS literature.4
Our Japanese scholar misses a turn rather badly when she compares Guru Golwalkar’s view of Islam and Christianity with that of what she calls ‘the Goel/Shourie group’. In her view, the former’s positions ‘bear a striking resemblance to, and at times are identical to’ those of the latter.5 Not quite. It is true that in criticizing Christianity and Islam, Golwalkar sometimes managed to address the question of the false truth claims on which these belief systems are based, as Goel and Shourie have consistently tried to do. But most of the time, Golwalkar (and even more so the RSS as such and most of its office-bearers) has gone on questioning the loyalty of Christians and Muslims, hammering at their foreign origins and ‘anti-national’ tendencies. He never busied himself with informing the Indian public about the findings of modern scholarship which undermine the core beliefs of Christianity and Islam, as Goel and Shourie have done in a respectable number of hefty volumes.
Therefore, it is the very opposite of the truth to deduce that ‘the common structure between these two ideological currents [viz. Golwalkar and Goel/Shourie], separated by several decades as they are, highlights the core of the Hindu nationalist movement: ethnicism or exclusive particularism’.6 And it is likewise untrue that Goel and Shourie are playing a ‘role’ within a grand Hindutva strategy, viz. as Gamekeeper of ‘the hard-line position of ethnic exclusivism’.7
In sharp contrast with the repetitive-nationalistic and Indocentric approach of Golwalkar and the RSS, Goel and Shourie (and Ram Swarup before them) have developed a historical and philosophical critique of Christianity and Islam that has universal validity. It is part of continuum with Western and other foreign critiques of the said religions. The belief that Prophet Mohammed heard Allah’s very own message, or that Jesus was God’s only-begotten son who freed mankind from sin by his death and resurrection, remains false regardless of whether you study the matter in India or in Europe. The finding that Christians are using many means fair and foul in order to convert Hindus, or that Muslims have destroyed numerous Hindu temples, remains true regardless of whether you study the data in a dusty Hindu ashram or in an air-conditioned classroom in Tokyo. Neither the Japanese author nor her Muslim and secularist mentors in India have ever managed to pick a hole in the advanced criticism of Christianity and Islam.
Of course, the approach pioneered by Ram Swarup is ‘hard-line’ in the sense that it in not susceptible to change under the impact of changing political configurations. The BJP and RSS may decide one day that they need to build bridges with padres and mullahs, but that doesn’t alter the truth status of the latter’s belief systems. The Voice of India approach is unflinching in the same sense in which logic is sharper than diplomacy, or uprightness is tougher than compromise, or a diamond is hardier than mud. But that has nothing to do with harshness and hatred at the human level. I have rarely met such humanly warm people as the authors criticized by our scholar from Tokyo.
12.3. Postmodernism and the facts
But let us now focus on elements in her paper which are problematic. We need not make much of her gullible acceptance of Christian missionary image-building with ‘love and service’. if that was all there is to it, there would be no tension in areas of high Christian missionary activity, as any researcher into an ongoing conflict ought to understand. The thought that an aversion to a religion may be based on experience with that religion, or on verifiable facts about that religion, doesn’t seem to cross her mind.
And then, like India’s true secularists, she goes on to insinuate that the impression of ‘violent tendencies inherent in Islam’, is based on mere ‘cliches about jihad’ which are ‘bandied about’ by Goel and Shourie.8 This, then, is the most serious flaw of her whole argument: the willful confounding of perceptions and facts, of subjective and objective. The jihadic pattern is a central fact of Islamic doctrine and history, not somebody’s funny little cliche. The violent tendencies of Islam are not a propaganda bandied about by some querrulants, but a daily fact of life for Hindus in Jammu or Dhaka. It is simply impossible to understand Hindu Revivalism for people who are adamant about disregarding or denying these facts.
But our aspiring secularist is clearly uncomfortable with facts, as is evident from her diagnosis of the Hindu ‘use and abuse of ‘’historical facts’‘. Like all secularists, but with even less camouflage, she has to make do with insinuations that something is wrong with the ‘historical facts’ (quote marks hers) cited by Hindu authors, because she is unable to prove any of them false. She can do no more than notice how ‘the destruction of temples, the compulsory conversion and persecution by Islamic rulers, and so forth, are held up for all to see as attesting to the ‘’essence of Islam’, all but eclipsing the equally historical ‘’fact’ that Islam and Hinduism have enjoyed a peaceful coexistence in many parts of the subcontinent’.9
Notice how she keeps on putting the word ‘facts’ in quotation marks, even when referring to something which she herself clearly believes to be factual, i.c. the ‘peaceful coexistence’ of Islam and Hinduism. That is post modernism for you: there are no facts, only constructs. She condemns herself to misunderstanding the Hindu movement which she claims to be studying because she refuses to acknowledge its basis in factual experience, replacing it all with subjective impressions and sheer propaganda. Thus, ‘present conditions in India give all this talk of violence and menace by alien cultures and religions a certain appeal to the ordinary people’, while ‘the critique of Pakistan is fed by concrete images of the military power of Pakistan affecting the daily life of the people of India’.10
Why not admit straightaway that the violence suffered by Hindus from Pakistan-sponsored terrorists is a plain fact and therefore also a legitimate Hindu concern? Either there is something fishy about the ‘facts’, and in that case an author conveying an opinion about them to the readers should spell out clearly how these claimed ‘facts’ are in dissonance with reality. Or alternatively, if no fault can be found with these ‘facts’, they should simply be treated as facts. Finally, if an author has no time or space to verify and discuss the reality of the alleged facts, a humble admission should be made that it is simply too early for him or her for a serious evaluation of policies and discourses based on them. But the entire corpus of secularist writing on the Hindu Revivalist position vis-a-vis Christianity and Islam violates this simple rule.
12.4. Criticism and violence
In four whole pages devoted specifically to the ‘violence’ aspect of the Goel/Shourie critique, Mitsuhiro Kondo’s text meanders around the definition of ‘Hindu nationalism’ (a term which she finds more appropriate than ‘Hindu fascism’ or ‘Hindu fundamentalism’), but shifts her attention from the said authors altogether to focus on Veer Savarkar’s much-discussed booklet Hindutva (1923) instead. And while Savarkar was all for ‘militarization’ of the Hindus (which is not the same thing as sheer ‘violence’, but let that pass), even then she doesn’t manage to show any link between Hindu nationalist doctrine and its alleged violent edge.
So, we are left with no choice but to conclude with a rather different kind of quotation. As a Japanese, Miss Kondo informs us that she or any of her compatriots is ‘too close ideologically to the Indian (… ) to claim that the Hindu nationalists’ critique of ‘’monotheism’ is completely and radically different from the consciousness that informs the everyday religious, cultural, political and economic life of Japan’.11 So, both Hindus and Japanese are too sane and mentally relaxed to get obsessed with the unicity of God and the need to destroy His multiplicity among communities who have not yet been infected with that obsession.
And finally, we learn that ‘the fundamental rationality of the ideology of Hindu nationalism has, at least in part, already won for itself the approval of history’. Indeed: ‘As many scholars have pointed out, it would be far off the mark to dismiss the Hindu nationalist movement as a merely ‘’reactionary’ or ‘’fanatic and deviant movement of the poor or deprived brainwashed by grotesque teachings’.’12 If any expression could sum up what animates Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie and related authors in their critique of monotheism, it would precisely be their caring concern for fellow human beings ‘brainwashed by grotesque teachings’.
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, in Mushirul Hasan and Nariaki Nakazato: The Unfinished Agenda. Nation Building in South Asia, Manohar, Delhi 2001, p.79. ↩
She even praises Gyan Pandey for his ‘clear, terse prose’ in which he berates the Hindu nationalists for differing with Mahatma Gandhi (Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.92). My own opinion of Pandey’s insight into Hinduism is less deferential. I recall a column of his in the early days of the Ayodhya controversy, where he argued that reclaiming the Rama-Janmabhoomi site would be similar to claiming Sri Lanka on the plea that Rama had taken possession of it. In fact, one of the central messages of Ramayana lore is that Rama refused to take possession of Lanka: after liberating his wife Sita, he left the Lankans to their own devices and handed over the throne to Ravana’s brother who was the only member of Ravana’s family to survive. This is not a peripheral detail but a highly significant application of the Hindu theory of sovereignty: all nations and communities, even conquered states, should be given their autonomy and the freedom to maintain their own mores and traditions (svadharma). This contrasts favourably with the Islamic approach of imposing Islam and suppressing (or at least gradually suffocating) the native culture. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.79. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.84. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.88. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.88. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.95. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.81-82. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’ in Mushirul Hasan and Nariaki Nakazato: The Unfinished Agenda, p.83. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, P.84-85; emphasis added. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, p.97; emphasis in the original. ↩
Mitsuhiro Kondo: ‘Hindu nationalists and their critique of monotheism’, P.97. ↩