The Cultural Landscape of Hindutva and Other Essays – by Saumya Dey – Reviewed by Dr. Pingali Gopal – Part II
Saumya Dey, who writes with care, does thorough research, and offers extensive references, is a person who can effectively challenge the “Breaking India” forces. They are going to protest, and will become more aggressive; but with patience, we can push back these destructive forces and create a more conducive climate for the growth and flowering of Indic thought.
The Cultural Landscape of Hindutva & Other Essays: Historical Legitimacy of an Idea by Saumya Dey is available for purchase on Amazon.
In the first part, we reviewed the section on “Politics and Culture” from the book. Now, let us look into the section on “History”.
HISTORICAL NOTES — THE MYTH OF ISLAMIC SYNCRETISM
In the History section, the author deals with Islamic political and social dynamics leading to the creation of Pakistan, while deconstructing the popular secular narrative of “syncretism” during Mughal rule. This narrative is the one offered in our standard history books when presenting material on the Mughal Empire, especially so in the Bengal region.
The pre-colonial Muslim imperial system was not “syncretic,” by any stretch of the imagination, says the author. If by syncretism, we mean that the system allowed an unrestricted and consistently legitimate space to non-Muslims to project their faith and culture, we have to assert that it is both a false narrative and simply a feel-good story. The Mughal imperial system was of an “Islamicate” character. It had enforced a broad political and cultural hegemony of Islam which granted Hindus limited room for cultural self-assertion. There were concessions made to Hindus by a rare but extensively cited donation to temples; these were but small islands of relief in the sea of gruesome destruction.
In medieval Bengal, despite a shared culture and a common language, a population of converted Muslims expressing its literature in Bengali sought social and religious individuality – its attitude hardly “syncretic”. The textual evidence in many works suggested a contempt for the Bengali language, labeled as a Hindu tongue. They also had contempt for Hindu deities. The author details the stress and anxiety of Muslims in Bengal in this regard in his previous book, “Becoming Muslims and Hindus”.
The belief in the special moral endowment of Muslims, when combined with the average Indian Muslims’ search for social and religious individuality, carried the potential of developing into a quest for political sovereignty.
THE CREATION OF PAKISTAN
By the end of the colonial rule and in the run-up to independence, there was more than an explicit statement of not wishing to co-exist with the “ethically inferior” non-Muslims in a multi-denominational state. The Indian Muslim aristocracy feared that it will not be even remotely “special” in a post-colonial, democratic India, while the Muslims of East Bengal sought to preserve Islamic “individuality” they had acquired after centuries of effort. The two concerns naturally coalesced to demand an Islamic State, when on March 23, 1940, the All India Muslim League (AIML) passed the “Pakistan Resolution” demanding the creation of “autonomous and sovereign” Muslim states in the “North-Western and Eastern zones of India”.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was a pronounced and visibly hostile attitude among Muslims. The Congress, in its eagerness to appease, sought to pre-emptively concede communal representation for Muslims long before the Muslim League existed. Contrary to what people may believe, communal representation was not a brainchild of the British or the Muslim League, but in fact of the Congress.
Muslim supremacism and a right to parity with Hindus – were very much inherent in the Pakistan idea. One Muslim author argued, like much literature, propaganda, and pamphlets on similar lines, that it was binding upon Muslims to create an Islamic state since “it was a central tenet of Islam”. The ideological basis of Pakistan, Jinnah’s “two-nation theory,” on the other hand, was an attempt at revising Muslims’ minority status in India.
The Muslim elite adopted an exclusivist politics that drew its cultural logic from a hegemonic supremacy they had once enjoyed and the anxiety that its visible erosion caused them, says Dey. It eventually resulted in them creating, with the enthusiastic assistance of a large portion of the Indian Muslim masses, a sovereign political enclosure – the Islamic state of Pakistan.
SELECTIVE READINGS OF AMBEDKAR
There is a curious attempt to merge Islamic causes with “Ambedkarism” these days, a concept purportedly of “equality of consideration, equality of respect and equality of dignity”. A rather strong phenomenon of merging the Muslim cause with those of Dalits and the tribal population is presently underway in what can be only a carefully planned and crafted “Breaking India” strategy by inimical forces.
Ambedkar had some rather harsh things to say about Indian Muslims during his time that scholars have glossed over. In his work, “Pakistan or the Partition of India,” Ambedkar thought that an independent India with a large Muslim population would be an impractical idea. The extra-territorial loyalties of the Indian Muslims, seeing themselves as members of a universal Islamic brotherhood, were a concern for Ambedkar. The Indian Army as it existed then, he pointed out, was predominantly Muslim in its composition. Ambedkar thought that a Muslim-dominated army would not only be of doubtful loyalty but would be hard to control and discipline for a united India. He also saw a failure of Muslims in their efforts to reform too.
As Ambedkar saw, the Congress’s policy of making concessions to Muslims had only “increased Muslim aggressiveness”. This was because Muslims interpreted concessions as a “sign of defeatism on the part of the Hindus and the absence of the will to resist”. He pointed out the concern of Muslims in accepting a Hindu-dominated government since “to the Muslims, a Hindu is a Kaffir” and, consequently, “low-born and without status”. Ambedkar quotes the infamous remark by Maulana Mohammad Ali about Mahatma Gandhi to underline the degree of contempt that a Muslim might nurture for a non-Muslim: “‘However pure Mr. Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Musalman, even though he be without character”. No wonder, Dr. Ambedkar’s thoughts on these matters are buried or severely edited, both by Ambedkarites as well as by Muslims.
Islamists embracing “Ambedkarism” therefore allows them to defeat the “Brahmanical fascist” Indian state while posing as social progressives. Several radical “Ambedkarites” are unfortunately on the same page with the Islamists (on academic campuses like JNU at least), says the author.
EVANGELISTIC BASE OF BRITISH ORIENTALISM, AND THE ARYAN-DRAVIDIAN DICHOTOMY
“Orientalist” knowledge was mandatory to fully understand the histories, religions, and customs of the Asian peoples. The imperialists sought this knowledge to control or manipulate them competently. In fact, so eagerly did the colonizers seek “Orientalist” knowledge that Lord Curzon, that imperialist par excellence, termed it a “part of the necessary furniture of Empire”.
However, in people like William Jones, a certain theological bias never left these “Orientalist” labors. Throughout, he remained prejudiced in favor of his parent’s creed, Christianity. There was no question in Jones’s mind that Christianity was the only true religion. He was in fact searching for traces of Biblical stories in Indian scriptures.
Lt. Colonel Boden thought that “a more critical knowledge of the Sanskrit language” would serve as a means of converting “the Natives of India to the Christian religion”. He bequeathed all his property, worth £25,000, to the University of Oxford to establish the Boden Professorship of Sanskrit. The first “Orientalist” selected to occupy it was H.H. Wilson, a confirmed evangelist.
Later, Monier Williams succeeded him, whose strong wish was the conversion of India to Christianity. He wrote to his wife in 1864 giving the following reason for his obsession with the Rig Veda: ”It is the root of their (Indians) religion, and to show what that root is, is, I feel sure, the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000 years”.
Even the much loved and glorified Max Mueller spoke of understanding Hinduism to help the missionaries contest and destroy it. Mueller’s biographer, Nirad Chaudhary says that towards the end of his life Mueller tried to persuade the adherents of the Brahmo Samaj to declare themselves Christian.
Similarly, in the efforts of Caldwell, who with philological speculations claimed that Sanskrit and Brahmins were foreign to South India, we see the attempt to splinter India. He contended that “Brahmans had brought Sanskrit with them when they moved from the north to the south, along with a strain of Hinduism that emphasized idol worship”. The original Tamil religion had neither Sanskrit nor idols, he asserted. By the end of the nineteenth-century, this malicious “race theory” had become a settled fact – that Indian civilization had emerged in the wake of a military clash between invading Sanskrit-speaking Aryans and the losing dark-skinned aborigines, who in turn became the shudras and the slaves.
THE CULTURAL UNEASE OF NEHRU — A TURNING POINT WHICH DID NOT HAPPEN
Beginning with the Islamic invasions and stretching across the Mughal empire, East India Company and the British colonial regime to the present what we see, hear, and read is a persistent attack on our civilizational, traditional, social, and cultural values. Apart from the systematic economic plunder the plunder and evisceration of our history, our cultural values, and our ways and beliefs are what constitute the cultural genocide of India. The end of the colonial rule should have been a great point of redefining ourselves and starting afresh. Most other cultures, after the lifting of their colonial yoke, did so with amazing alacrity. The pride of the growing generations for their respective countries and cultures largely remained intact. Unfortunately, this did not happen in India. Nehruvian thinking, the left-leaning academia, and the media derived from the latter grew in cohesion to continue the same distortions and civilizational shaming of/from the past.
Nehru, suffering from a major cultural disconnect with India, as evidenced from his books and letters, perhaps started all this. The Indian experience and conceptualization of the sacred and the divine made little sense to Nehru. Nehru linked religion to exploitation and the preservation of vested interests, strongly reflecting a Marxist influence. He wrote that religion is “closely associated with superstitious practices and dogmatic beliefs which are about uncritical credulousness, a reliance on the supernatural,” a Judeo-Christian description of religion rather than a description or understanding of Dharma. Despite a superficial familiarity with the Dharmic textual corpus, Nehru confidently made a negative assessment of the philosophy of the Upanishads, calling it “individualistic” and damaging to Indian society. Dey argues that this evaluation by Nehru of Indic religions and beliefs was another aspect of Nehru’s appeasement politics. Nehru demanded that President Rajendra Prasad not attend the Somnath Temple inauguration events, but he was more than eager to facilitate the Haj tours pouring hundreds of millions to transport thousands of Muslims to Mecca and back each year.
It was surprising that Nehru could make over-generalizations, like “Indian literature is very backward,” in the contemporary times of Tagore and Subramaniam Bharati. Nirad Chaudhari assesses Nehru not so kindly in his book, ‘Thy Hand, Great Anarch”. Chaudhuri had had the opportunity of observing Nehru while serving as private secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose. Chaudhary writes that Nehru had no direct access to the Indian mind and had a strong antipathy to traditional Hindu ideas and habits. Nehru was both ignorant of Hindu traditions and hostile to them.
Unfortunately, the history departments of our major universities with a left-of-center political bias made a symbiotic relationship with a Nehruvian dominant political ruling class to thoroughly disconnect the Indian student with dharma. The agenda has been to shield the pre-colonial Muslim dynasties from all infamy and promote the empirically untenable narrative of an assimilative and “syncretic” Indian Islam. Our politicians wanted the votes.
Liberals of the Nehruvian caste still dominate Indian media and academia. Hence, they scoff at Dharma but celebrate the “Islamicate,” relishing the kababs of Old Delhi and delighting a dastangoi performance.
The dichotomy of and the division between the “Right” and “Left” is a western idea having no bearing on Indic thought and Dharma. The Left borrowed its language freely and uncritically from the West and created severe distortions in the reading of our past. The Right of the Western world takes a distinctly aggressive posturing while countering the Left, a language which our traditionalists could perhaps never be comfortable with. Reading a few works of contemporaries like Roger Scruton, Jonah Goldberg, or a Ben Shapiro makes it clear that their language is imperfect to take on the left-liberal discourses in India.
Many of the conventional issues in the West raised by the Left, only to be challenged by the Right confuses us. As Hari Kiran Vadlamani says in his article, “Indic Liberal,” that “using the western framework to define ourselves (is) a unique form of (the) ‘Religious Left’ aspiring to become a ‘Liberal Right’. While Left is normally non-religious, (as a push back to the conservatism of the Abrahamic faiths), it need not be so with us. On the economic front, the necessity to provide equal opportunity to the poor warrants an understanding of the need for welfare measures, hence ‘Religious Left’ captures a socially & economically Liberal view.” Vadlamani notes that “…most of us by nature believe in free markets and limited government. Hence the term ’Liberal Right’ captures our aspiration both socially and economically. Socially, an Indic Liberal respects his or her past without needlessly glorifying it, promotes an outlook that respects tradition without being bound by it, keeps his or her religious practices in the personal domain or within the community, cultivates spiritual inquiry, and seeks to build an inclusive and non-discriminatory society.”
Our standard Left-secular-liberal-discourse went unchallenged for far too long or was so effectively squelched that it has had difficulty in being hatched anew. But we now have a rag-tag army of “social media” warriors and a small but growing band of intellectuals and academics talking back to the “left-liberal establishment” in a language invoking Indic values and Dharma. Dr Saumya Dey, who writes with care, does thorough research, and offers extensive references, is a person who can effectively challenge the “Breaking India” forces. They are going to protest, and will become more aggressive; but with patience, we can push back these destructive forces and create a more conducive climate for the growth and flowering of Indic thought.