Introduction to “The God Market: How Globalization is making India more Hindu”

Written by March 29, 2009 12:33 pm 26 comments

Update: The title of Meera Nanda’s upcoming book will be “The God Market: How Globalization is making India more Hindu” and not “God and Globalization in India” as previously reported. The book will be published by Random House later this year. This post contains the full text of the introduction, except for the chapter outline and personal notes.

Introduction: God and Globalization in India

Meera Nanda

India had its own “why do they hate us?” moment after the city of Mumbai came under attack in late November 2008 by a bunch of gunmen with links to terrorist outfits based in Pakistan. Many in India answered the question much the same way George Bush famously explained the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States: Islamic terrorists hate us because we are good and they are evil; we are free and democratic and they hate freedom and democracy. Some took this rhetoric even further and argued that we are good, free and democratic because we are a Hindu nation, and the Islamists hate us because we are Hindus.

This us-them divide was further linked to globalization, a word that got bandied about a great deal in the aftermath of Mumbai attack. Pakistanis hate us, many argued in India, because we are winning in the global economy, while they are a bunch of sore losers bent upon dimming the bright glow of our economic miracle. The terror attacks were seen as a conspiracy meant to destroy the confidence of global investors, slow down or even reverse the outsourcing of IT and other jobs to India, and stop the foreign tourists from coming.

Not only is India seen as winning the globalization race on the economic front, but on the civilizational front as well. As Robert Kaplan, a well-known foreign policy expert wrote in The New York Times shortly after the Mumbai attacks, globalization has led Indians to rediscover their glorious Hindu civilization, supposedly the source of its “vibrantly free” democracy, while Muslims of India and Pakistan are re-discovering their Islamic culture which has only encouraged them to withdraw into “beards, skull-caps and burkas.” This sentiment was echoed in India as well. As M.V. Kamath, a commentator well-known for his Hindu Right views wrote in The Organiser, while the “indestructible, incredible India, so cheerful and forgiving,” is busy sending rockets to the moon, its “sick” Muslim neighbor and many Indian Muslims are bent upon isolating themselves by “wearing skull-caps.. forcing women to wear burkas and otherwise refusing to join the mainstream.” In both cases, the excesses of the Taliban and allied extremists are being made to stand for all of Islam, while the accomplishments of India – but none of its failings — happily claimed for the glory of Hinduism.

In this narrative, India with its Hindu civilization is presented as the bright, forward-facing side of globalization, while Pakistan — and indeed, Islam itself – is made to stand for its dark, demonic and backward-facing underside. The world gets divided into two: the winners who have the right kind of civilizational resources to play and win in the global economy, and the rest who are deemed to be laggards, if not total losers.

India has joined this game of civilizational one-upmanship with great gusto. Out of the four BRIC countries that are projected to emerge as global economic powers by the middle of this century – Brazil, Russia, India and China – India is most aggressive about projecting its civilizational virtues in its quest for a Great Power status. Quite like the United States, India sees itself as the outpost of democratic capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance in a world full of religious zealots and terrorists.

WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT

This book questions this narrative that pits a virtuous, victorious and Hindu India against the evil designs of Islamic terrorists – or rather, to use the language of Hindu nationalists, the evil designs of all those who follow the “criminal Semitic creeds” including not just Islam, but Christianity as well. It is the thesis of this book that the growing liberalization and globalization of the Indian economy is not only compatible with, but is actually contributing to the growth of a virulent form of political Hinduism which is as wedded to the project of politicizing and universalizing a Hindu (or “Vedic”) worldview, as the Islamists and Christian fundamentalists are to maximizing the influence of their own respective faith traditions. The “us” is not the virtuous opposite of “them,” but rather a twin, who differs only in appearance and rhetoric, but not in ambitions and methods.

[smartads]

This book will show that underneath the rhetoric of free markets, democracy and secularism, India is undergoing a sea change in its political economy and political culture – a change that is being hastened and encouraged by the forces of globalization. We will examine the evidence for the emergence of what we will call the “state-temple-corporate complex” in India that is dissolving the pre-existing boundaries (such as they were) between the Hindu religious establishment, the machinery of the state in matters relating to education, the media, health etc. and the interests of big businesses and corporations, both Indian and multinational. (A note to the reader: since Hindus make up the vast majority of the people of India, it is Hinduism that will be sole focus of this book. Changes in the rest of the many religions of India will be acknowledged, but not investigated in any detail.)

Aided by this state-temple-corporate complex, a very ordinary, ritualistic – but very nationalistic — Hinduism is growing in the pores of the Indian society. Unlike most post-9/11 books that concentrate on the extremist or fundamentalist movements, this book focuses on the everyday Hinduism of ordinary Indians, especially those belonging to the new middle classes whose lifestyles, consumer tastes and aspirations are defined by the global consumer culture. The changing religious culture of the new middle-classes is important to understand for the simple reason they have been most receptive to global capitalism on the one hand, and to the siren songs of Hindu nationalism on the other.

This emphasis on everyday Hinduism stems from the fundamental assumption this book is based upon, namely, popular Hinduism is the soil in which the tree of Hindu nationalism is rooted, and Hindu gods, rituals and sacred texts are the nutrients that keep it growing. Hindu gods, myths and rituals by themselves have no necessary or inherent link to nationalism, or any -ism at all, including Hinduism itself, which some have argued is a modern invention. But they serve as readily available and dearly cherished cultural resources for mobilizing Hindu supremacist passions among the masses. As the national history, culture and destiny of India gets to be told and ritually enacted — over and over again, everyday — through the medium of Hindu gods and goddesses, the line between the worship of God and the worship of the nation is getting fainter by the day. India is not only witnessing a resurgence of popular religiosity, this religiosity is becoming indistinct from national and even civilizational self-glorification that openly demonizes Muslims and Christians and often verges on hubris. Backed by nuclear bombs and an ever-growing arsenal of sophisticated weapons, this hubris can spell disaster for the entire subcontinent.

The adoption of neo-liberal economic policies at home, and the growing linkages with corporate capital abroad, is aiding and abetting this fusion of faith with jingoism — this thesis lies at the heart of this book. In other words, Hindu nationalism does not exist in the realm of ideas alone, but is embedded in the dominant political-economic institutions of India Inc., the new India that dreams superpower dreams.

At the institutional level, popular Hinduism is riding on the coattails of the so-called “public-private partnerships” that are filling in the space vacated by the public sector as India comes under the sway of market reforms. The book will provide concrete evidence for the growing Hinduization of a whole variety of institutions run by the four-sided public-private collaboration we call the state-temple-corporate complex (or STCC for short). The four collaborators include: first and foremost, the elected representatives of the people along with the machinery of the government; two, the corporate sector, both Indian and foreign; three, the country’s dominant religious sector, made up of a loose network of Hindu temples (some of them stupendously wealthy), their management committees with powerful government and business representatives on their boards and the many well-connected gurus, yogis and swamis; and last but not the least, the representatives of political Hinduism, or Hindutva, who maintain fraternal relations with the Hindu establishment on the one hand and with the corporate players on the other.

This four-sided collaboration, this book will show, is responsible for openly or covertly smuggling in a jingoistic and yet deeply superstitious and socially conservative Hindu agenda into private and government-aided institutions of higher learning. In addition, public money for tourism and infrastructure projects is flowing into promoting pilgrimage to Hindu temples and other holy places, renovating and even directly subsidizing the building of new temples, ashrams and priest-training schools.

So pervasive and so utterly taken-for-granted is this institutional support for propagating Hinduism in the guise of promoting “Indian culture,” that even the formally secular agencies of the state openly indulge in it at tax-payers’ expense — and hardly anyone asks any questions. If “they” have their fanatical mullahs, “we” have the eager cooperation of the four main pillars of society, backed by the enthusiastic consent of ordinary people.

At the ideological level, globalization is fuelling the dreams of making India an economic and spiritual superpower – a science and technology superstar and world guru (or jagat-guru) rolled in one. Elated by India’s success in the global economy (such as it is), many players of the state-temple-corporate complex, along with influential opinion-makers in the media, have bought into the dreams of superpower-dom. A new self-image is being fashioned in which Indians are the Chosen People who have the “innate ability” to see and hear the Divine, and who are therefore endowed with superior reason and intelligence. This race of spiritual and intellectual giants, the myth goes, has long been besieged by dwarfs who believe in the Semitic conception of God which has been the source of all the evils in the world. The 21st century is supposed to be the Indian century, when India will awaken to its destiny and take its “rightful place” as a great civilization and a great power. Elements of this new mythology have already seeped into the public sphere and can be easily identified in conversations with educated, middle-class Indians, in media commentaries and in the religious discourses of popular gurus.

This Chosen People-Great Power myth is not a pipedream, but has real world consequences. This cultural narcissism is very much on display in the eagerness with which India has joined the US-led “axis of the enlightened” nations against the “axis of evil” nations which are mostly Islamic and therefore assumed to be fundamentally unenlightened and violent.

This entire arc of development – starting from India’s deepening links with the global economy, the increasing religiosity of the Hindu majority, the growing inter-penetration of popular Hinduism and the public sphere, all the way to Hinduism’s purported superiority over “Semitic monotheistic” civilizations and the prospects of secularism under the conditions of globalization — is the subject of this book.

GLOBALIZATION AND RESURGENCE OF RELIGION

On the surface, our thesis strains plausibility. For a great many years, notable social theorists have been predicting a decline – if not the death – of organized religions, nation-states and nationalistic feelings in the global village interconnected by markets, the internet and communication satellites. We, on the other hand, are asserting not only that popular religiosity and nationalism are growing in India as the country is getting more integrated into the world markets, but that the two are merging into each other and stoking the flames of intolerance — and even terrorism — against non-Hindu minorities.

At first glance, it does seem counter-intuitive that a closer integration with the rest of the world should encourage the kind of burst of religiosity and nationalism that India is experiencing. Wasn’t the global spread of free-markets and democracy supposed to “end history” by “replacing irrational desire of nations to be recognized as greater than others with a rational desire be recognized as equal”? That was certainly the gist of Francis Fukuyama’s bestseller The End of History which caused a great stir when it was first published in 1992. The self-correcting logic of the global market was supposed to replace the interest-driven and often corruption-laden policies of individual nation-states, and eventually purge the world of nationalism itself. National identities were supposed to give way either to supra-national identities (like the European Union), or to gently transmute into a postmodern “pastiche sensibility” that values a variety of life-style choices borrowed from all over the world, with no special attachment to any one national culture. What is more, global markets were supposed to moderate and secularize traditional religions, turning them into gentle “prosperity religions” whose role, as Alan Wolfe, a well-known American sociologist of religion put it recently, is “not to question the modern world’s riches but to bring them within the reach of everyone.” A world-wide outbreak of liberal democracy, pluralism, respect for difference, secularism, prosperity and international peace – that was the original promise of globalization.

What is happening in India shows that market forces do not necessarily secularize societies, or to put it other words, modernization and development do not necessarily lessen the hold of religious beliefs and practices on the lives of individuals, culture and social institutions. Even the supposedly secularized “prosperity religions” can happily co-exist with – and actively encourage – religionization of national identities.

Indeed, India offers a good example of how globalization promotes not secularization, but rather de-secularization of society, and how new technologies and institutional arrangements provide new opportunities for traditional religions to modernize themselves and penetrate deeper into the pores of the society. Despite the rhetoric of Timeless and Eternal Truth, Hindu dharma, like all other religions, is constantly adapting to the changing society and in the process, influencing the direction of change. What is noteworthy about Hinduism’s adaptation to India’s growing integration into the global market economy is how the Hindu establishment has given its blessings to – and in turn, benefited handsomely from — a highly rapacious form of corporate capitalism, while feeding a sense of innate Hindu superiority over the rest of the world.

It is, of course, too soon to foreclose the possibility that the logic of the marketplace may yet help to moderate the Frankenstein of political Hinduism that the markets themselves are aiding and abetting. It clear that large-scale and violent self-assertion of religious identity (as over the issue of the Ram temple in Aydodhya), or massacre of innocents of the “wrong” religion (as in Godhara, Gujarat) is not good for the country’s global image and foreign investments. Since no one knowingly kills the goose that lays golden eggs, Hindu extremist parties and their supporters among the upper-crust may well learn to moderate their rhetoric and actions in the interest of maintaining the image of India as a place of peace and harmony. So far, however, the chances of moderation do not look good: Hindu-led violence is not declining but only being outsourced to local dals and senas, the many armies of this or that god or goddess, whose activities do not get the kind of international media attention that the attacks on Mumbai received.

All said and done, India is like a tightrope walker these days: one false step can throw the entire country and its economy can fall in utter chaos. The ever growing merger of Hinduism and nationalist sentiments increases the possibility of just such a false step.

THREE PARADOXES

There are three paradoxes of the growing Hinduization of the Indian polity that this book seeks to explore in fuller details.

The first paradox is that the state-temple ties are deepening in a country that takes pride in its secular democracy where the state is supposed to have no official religion of its own. India with its Godless Constitution is indeed an exception in South Asia, a region made up entirely of faith-based nation-states, including Islamic sates like Pakistan and Bangladesh, Buddhist states like Sri Lanka and Bhutan, and until recently, a Hindu state like Nepal. This naturally makes one wonder why and how India’s public sphere, including the agencies of the state, have come to be saturated with overtly Hindu symbols and rituals?

This book explains this paradox by focusing on the machinations of the state-temple-corporate complex that is filling the space left vacant as the state has begun to withdraw from its public-sector obligations.

In one sense, the existence of STCC is nothing new. The supposedly secular state of India has never shied away from celebrating Hindu religious symbols in the public sphere – all in the name of propagating “Indian culture.” Merchants and business houses, too, have a long history, going back many centuries, of sponsoring temples and monasteries devoted to their own chosen God or gurus.

But the current neo-liberal economic regime, this book will argue, is bringing the state, the business/industrial elite and the religious establishment in a much closer relationship than ever before. As the Indian state is withdrawing from its public-sector obligations, it is actively seeking partnership with the private sector and the Hindu establishment to run schools, universities, hospitals, tourist facilities and other social services. As a result, public funds earmarked for creating public goods are increasingly being diverted into facilitating the work of these private charitable institutions which bear a distinctly Hindu traditionalist bias. This, in turn, is helping to “modernize” Hinduism: many of the newly minted, English-speaking and computer-savvy priests, astrologers, vastu shastris and yoga teachers who service the middle-classes’ insatiable appetite for religious ritual, are products of this nexus between the sate, the corporate sector and the temples.

The second paradox that this book explores is apparent “liberalism,” and the post-modernist eclecticism and hybridity of Hindu nationalism. The kind of political Hinduism that has become the new normal in India differs from the much-derided “Islamofascism,” or the garden-variety Christian fundamentalism in the US in one significant detail: there are no equivalents of fatwa-issuing mullahs or Bible-thumping preachers among the more popular and influential figures of Hindu nationalists. Of course, Fatwa-like death threats, Taliban-style moral policing, terrorist attacks on Muslim and Christian communities, Vedic literalism in the guise of “Vedic science” and forced conversions all go on in India, but they are mostly outsourced to fringe and lumpen groups. The mainstream of political Hinduism, unlike the mainstream of political Islam, consistently presents its agenda in the liberal language of “real” secularism, democracy and tolerance, all of which are claimed to be Hinduism’s gift to the world.

By and large, the modern-day preachers of Hinduism are far too sophisticated to resort to the far cruder methods of mullahs and Bible-thumping ministers. Like a virus that replicates itself by using the biological machinery of the host cell, Hindu nationalism installs itself in the minds and hearts of ordinary people by using their deeply-held religious beliefs, dearly-loved rituals and festivals, and fondly-remembered myths, hymns and songs. What is even more insidious is how modern Hinduism has learned to present its deeply unjust, hierarchical and mystical worldview as the epitome of “integral” humanism, democracy and science. This shallow but shiny gloss of liberal-sounding vocabulary is how modern Hinduism is sold to the IT-workers, financial-sector employees and other white-collar service providers who make up the bulk of the new middle-class.

This kind of pseudo-modern Hinduism thrives on a strikingly post-modernist style of thinking which draws wild and unwarranted equivalences and analogies between pre-modern and modern conceptions of liberal democracy, tolerance, science etc. This great interpretive flexibility and hybridity of Hinduism is routinely admired by intellectuals and ideologues alike as a source of India’s purported tolerance and openness to modern ideas.

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But this book will argue that this eclecticism has served not to liberalize or modernize, but to deepen the hold of Hindu religious culture on the secular aspects of Indian society, including education, government administration, business enterprises and even the judiciary. Hindu eclecticism excels in transferring the attitudes of reverence, faith and enthusiasm typical of religious experience to secular institutions and ideas. The rituals of Hindu puja, for example, are transferred to the Indian nation which is literally represented as a Hindu goddess, Bharat Mata. The attitude of reverence reserved for religious teachers is transferred to scientific teaching and learning to the point that laboratories are treated as temples and temples as “occult laboratories”. The all-pervasive atman, or shakti of Hinduism becomes the “energy” of quantum physics and so on. Dominant ideas, ways of thinking and political projects give the appearance of being modern, but they retain the core of traditional Hindu worldview.

The third paradox has to do with the manufacture of consent for privatization and trickle-down economics. The results of the 2004 elections clearly showed that the majority of voters who did not share in the gains of the new economy were turned off by the hoopla about “India Shining” and threw out the Hindu-nationalist led government. In a country where more than 700 million people still live on less than two US dollars a day and where the majority is seeing a worsening of whatever little there was in the name of public services like schools and hospitals, it is not easy to convince the masses of the virtues of free markets.

This raises the following question which this book tries to answer: How are the economic policies which require dispossession of the poor but give them precious little in return being sold to the electorate? What, in other words, are the ideological legitimations for the new economy which can make it acceptable to even those who are not benefiting materially from it?

The answer lies in what this book calls “superpower swadeshi” (lit. one’s own country, swa “one’s own,” and deshi, “country”.) India has performed a linguistic sleight of hand straight out of Orwell’s 1984: the Gandhian meaning of swadeshi as self-reliance and economic nationalism has been redefined as whatever will make India powerful on the world stage, or whatever will make India into a “superpower.”

The idea of India as a superpower in science and technology, an economic powerhouse and at the same time, a great spiritual guru to the whole world mobilizes the patriotic and even religious passions of even those who are actually losing out in the rush to privatize. After the long history of colonial humiliation, there is a great hunger among ordinary Indians to be respected — and even feared — by the rest of the world. The promise of superpowerdom seems to satisfy this hunger.

This “dream” of becoming a superpower, this book will argue, not only sells market reforms, but also promotes Hindu chauvinism which is openly targeted at Muslim and Christian minorities. Hindu chauvinism is built into superpower swadeshi because Hinduism plays a huge role in defining and glorifying what is swadeshi. The idea that Hinduism is “innately” more spiritual, more rational (even innately more computer savvy!), and more liberal than other religions is quite deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. The Hindu Right parties actively promote these ideas of Hindu superiority in their attempt to project India as the victor in the global clash of civilizations.

Overall, then, the aim is to look below the surface of the shiny but thin veneer of modernity represented by new shopping malls, fashion boutiques, car-dealerships, IT-parks and special economic zones cropping up all over the country. Underneath the gloss of globalization, there is a bubbling cauldron of faith, politics and big money creating a society with a deeply politicized religion and an equally religionized politics. In this society, age-old resentments against non-Hindu Indians, and age-old ambitions of dominating the outside world are finding a new, more self-confident – but potentially more dangerous – expression. It is this culture and its material foundations that this book has tried to describe.

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26 Comments

  • Good work, am looking forward to reading it.

  • What are the examples in India’s recent and past history that reveal the “age-old ambitions of dominating the outside world” ?

    Today’s tensions between Hindus and non-Hindus, specifically Muslims: Are they recent (19th and 20th century) developments ? OR Are they mere replay of age-old resentments Hindus harbored against non-Hindu Indians ? What are the examples from India’s history that prove that today’s disputes are nothing but continuity of resentments from ancient times ?

    • Meera Nanda

      It is a common misconception that Hindus only “react” on the basis of old resentments against non-Hindus, especially Muslims. There is a history of Hindu supremacy and triumphalism that often gets ignored. Since the reader wants the evidence for my claim of “age-old ambitions of dominating the outside world” in Hinduism, let me provide some evidence

      1. one has to start with the Vedas. what is the status of the Vedic revelation? Traditional commentators have alays held that Vedas were divine revelations of fundamental cosmic laws that are true for all times and for all people everywhere. Unlike the Abrahamic religions where God reveals his commands to a prophet, the Vedic “seers” were actually supposed to have “seen” the Vedic truths in their minds’ eye, and directly heard the sound of the revelations (thus vedas are called the Shruti.) (A very important point of difference: while the commandments the God of the Bible were mostly ethical, the Vedic shruti is metaphysical, i.e., it describes the nature of the cosmos. The laws of humans have to correspond to the laws of the cosmos– that is dharma. .)
      This point is very important: Later commentators in the Hindu tradition have interpreted this “direct seeing and hearing to mean that there was no human interpretation and therefore no room for error. Since the Vedic teachings were about the nature of teh cosmos, they were universally applicable.
      Now, there is a long tradition that finds its way into Bhagwat Gita and Manu Smriti which clearly lays out that all those traditions that do not accpet the Vedas are barbaric, fit only for the low-born. here is what the Manu Smirii says, Chapter 12, verse 95:

      ” all those revealed canons an evil doctrines that are outside the veda bear no fruit after death, for they are all based upon darkness”

      This idea is repeated in the Bhagwat Gita as well. I don;’t have a copy right now, but i can find you the verse later.

      2. This belief in the absolute truth of the Vedas was not merely a matter of belief: it informed the political outlook both at home and abroad.
      The system of varna was derived from the Vedic conception of the cosmos — that is well known. But propagation of varna actually provided the inspiration of Hindu expansion from the north of India to the south, and to South-East Asisan countries. The idea was simply this: in the beginning, all people everywhere were created out of the Brahman (either from the head, arms, legs, feet etc.). Those who forgot the varna, or interbred and created a confusion between varnas, were dasyus (dasas, untouchables etc.).
      only the land of Bharatvrata (in the north west of India) was the land where the varna was observed. Therefore the brahman born in that land had a universal duty to bring dasyus into the varna order.

      3. The idea that the Vedas are universally and eternally true was revived in the HIndu revival that took place through the 18-20th centuries.
      Bankimchandar and Vivekananda, fololwed by Aurobindo gave a concrete expression to “direct” seeing of cosmic truths through yoga. Hindu spirituality was declared to be the highest level of truth that simply enfolded and included the “lower” truths of all the world’s religions was established by these neo_Hindus.
      I invite anyone who doubts the utterly arrogant claims of Hindu supremacy to kindly read Vivekananda and Aurobindo.

      4. The idea of Hindu supremacy is very much a part of the teachings of neo-Vedantic gurus who preach in the US and other Western countries.

      5. Superiority of HInduism over “semitic monotheism” is an article of faith in the Hindutva discourse.

      6. HAving tasted success in economic globalization, Hindu nationalisits are seeking to establish the spiritual superiority of Hinduism.

      I describe this triumphalism in much details in my forthcoming book in chapter 4. you are invited to read it when the book comes out later this year.

      • Ms. Nanda,

        Thanks for your reply. Here is my attempt to summarize your argument. There were attempts from ancient Vedas to the recent Hindu revivalist movement to propagate ideas and ideologies that are claimed to be 1) universal and 2) superior to other ideas and ideologies.

        However, this itself is generally not considered to be as an “ambition to dominate the outside world”. For example, in the G20 meeting that is going on in this week, there are different blocks of countries that came up with their ideas and ideologies. France, Germany came up with a set of ideas (emphasizing regulation). America and Britain with another set of ideas (stressing on stimulus). China and India with a different set (stressing on expansion of IMF’s role). Other block of countries, surely came up with their ideas. Surely everybody must have argued that their ideas are better and should be accepted. In the end, a compromise was reached.
        The fact that the ideas of regulation propagated by France were accepted does not mean that France has “an ambition to dominate the outside world”.

        Everybody have their ideas and almost everybody thinks their ideas are better and preferable. However, there are three possibilities that I can think of
        1) If force or threat is used in disseminating ideas, that is surely an ambition to dominate
        2) If one is willing to let one’s ideas compete with others’ ideas in open space, that is not an ambition to dominate
        3) If ideas are spread through bribing or deceit (the so called soft power) that is a grey area. It may or may not be an attempt at domination.

        • Ajita Kamal

          Hi Krishna,

          If I may make one minor interjection, isn’t the analogy between a multilateral co-operation between nation states to discuss ideas and a unilateral religious movement off by a bit? But of course in your defense it can be argued that 22 countries do not represent the world! Anyway I don’t know what Meera Nanda’s position on the G20 is!

          • Hi Ajita,

            Yes, every analogy has its limitations. I have used the analogy here within its proper limits. The point I am making is that any country or movement can raise ideas and argue for them on world stage. Just the mere claims of wider applicability of ideas (ex: universality) or their superiority should not be labeled as attempts at domination. (If one thinks one’s ideas are not better, what is the point in arguing for them ?). One should decide whether there is an ambition to dominate or not based on how the ideas are being propagated to others. For example, is there coercion ? OR Are there attempts at genuine persuasion ?

            G20 countries may not represent the whole world, but they represent most of it, based upon wealth and population (80% – 90% depending upon who is counting)

          • Ajita Kamal

            I agree with the idea that we all attempt to spread our ideas. That is not my objection. The problem with the analogy is that there is a difference between an ideology with limited representative status in the world sphere (I mean the Hindu revivalists) attempting to spread their dogmatic view of reality, and a group of countries representing 80 – 90% of the world’s population (by your own estimate) rationally debating what can be done to solve the world’s problems. How is a political group representing the world’s people on the same scale as a small group of ideologues representing a relatively minor group?

            Of course this is just a matter of scale, technically, but reality is nuanced, not black and white. As you say, these things are settled with argument in the world stage. I’m not the one saying that a movement cannot “raise ideas and argue for them on world stage”. That is a postmodernist perspective that Kaafir below seems to be hypocritically arguing for when he says “All power and ego games by zealots of all kinds and all stripes, looking to enlarge their power spheres while rationalizing their actions”, while he does the very thing he is criticizing others for. (I don’t have the patience to debate that inane point of view, and I suspect, neither do you :) )

            I am neither defending nor objecting to your “domination” argument. You are confusing your debate with Meera Nanda with my positions. Whether the concept of “domination” is determined by the presence or absence of coercion is another argument entirely. I am merely suggesting that the particular analogy you used was disingenuous. If you had compared the revivalist movement to, say, the communist movement, the analogy would be much more appropriate. Again, Im not saying the analogy is inaccurate, merely that it exaggerates its objective.

          • “How is a political group representing the world’s people on the same scale as a small group of ideologues representing a relatively minor group?”

            Atheists are typically a minority in any country and over the world. Would you say the arguments of atheistic community in a country (a small group of ideologues) are not worth competing with the arguments of a political party (political group representing the people) ?

            Every group (in fact every individual) has (at least should have) the right to raise ideas and passionately argue for them. If you accept this, please justify your suggestion that particular analogy I used was disingenuous. If you don’t accept it, please explain why.

          • Ajita Kamal

            “Would you say the arguments of atheistic community in a country (a small group of ideologues) are not worth competing with the arguments of a political party (political group representing the people) ?”
            The conversation is not about deciding if ideological positions are worth competing with each other. You are adopting a straw man argument by misrepresenting my statements.

            “Every group (in fact every individual) has (at least should have) the right to raise ideas and passionately argue for them. If you accept this, please justify your suggestion that particular analogy I used was disingenuous. If you don’t accept it, please explain why.”
            I have already said that I fully endorse reasoned argument as a legitimate method of evaluating the truth value of ideas.

            Lets us look at the context of the analogy.

            Your argument is that since we agree that spreading one’s ideas by argument is legitimate, the analogy is good. But this is a diversion. You did not make the analogy to argue that point! Here is how all this started:

            “However, this itself is generally not considered to be as an “ambition to dominate the outside world”. For example, in the G20 meeting ….”

            The analogy was made to claim that both groups have an “ambition to dominate the outside world”, and not made to claim that spreading one’s ideas by argument is legitimate, as you are now suggesting. Therefore, the representative nature of the groups factors in. For one group it is the outside world, and the other group itself represents that world. There is a difference between dominating the “outside world” and being represented by that world. That is where the analogy is not entirely appropriate. In diverting attention to the issue of legitimacy of spreading ideas by argument (with which which I agree) you are creating a straw man.

            If you had simply argued for the rights of the revivalists to spread Hinduism, as I readily would for atheists and atheism, we would not be having this conversation.

          • “For one group it is the outside world, and the other group itself represents that world.”

            That is not quite true. Each country in G20 represents its people only, not the whole world. Each country (or group of like-minded countries) is arguing for its ideas against the ideas of rest of the world community.

            “There is a difference between dominating the “outside world” and being represented by that world. That is where the analogy is not entirely appropriate.”

            Ideas under argument are always represented by a group. If there is no group in the world that opposes those ideas, there is no need to argue for them.

          • Ajita Kamal

            If you go back to my initial comment on this thread, I was only pointing out that the analogy was “a bit off”. We have digressed much from there. But since you insist, here goes:

            Each country in the G20 does represent itself, but the format of the G20 is designed to help countries democratically agree on issues and form consensus. Eventually the entire group should decide on one course of action (at least in principle) through the democratic process. That is what they gathered to do. They voluntarily choose to get together and form an agreement with a common practical purpose in mind. That is why any reference to dominating “the outside world” in this scenario makes no sense. It is a recognition of a mutual purpose that is the motive behind the G20. Of course individual countries are trying to maximize their own economic gains, but they do so with regard to the interests of others in the common in-group as a consequence of the political process they have all agreed to. The final agreement is thus a common agreement.

            Religious ideology works nothing like this because its agenda is not common to all. The Hindu revivalists, the Christian missionaries and others, have unrealted agendas. The other groups being proselytized to are not part of the initial conversation. You cannot equate the consensus seeking at the G20 with the free spread of the ideologies of the revivalists, because the revivalists have already formed their strategy without seeking any consensus with the other groups. The others are out-groups (the outside world) that must be convinced and converted.

            At the G20, the purpose of the “meeting” was to decide on an agreement representing the entire world. The countries were represented in that descision making process. In the case of the Hindu revivalists, the purpose of the “meeting” was to plan how to approach and spread preformed ideas to the outside world. One group unilaterally made the decisions.

            Consider A,B and C in two different scenarios. In the first scenario, A, B and C have a common objective and so they come together and agree on a course of action towards that purpose. The fact that they came together for a common objective and agreed on one course of action, makes this a group process. In the second scenario A,B and C decide on different courses of action without common purpose or common agreement. They then each try to spread their own agenda through the rest of the alphabet (through dialogue, let’s say).

            Is the action of A in the first scenario, analogous to the action of A, B or C in the second scenario? Or is the action of A analogous to the action of B or C within each scenario? Of course it is the seond analogy that is the more accurate.

            This is the essence of my criticism of your analogy. If you had presented the second type of analogy, I would have had no problem with it. The actions of C,B and A are analogous within each scenario. But across scenarios, they behave very differently.

            My point about the disingenuousness of your analogy was to say that you could have picked two groups from within the same scenario- say comparing the Hindu revivalists to the Christian evangelicals or the “new atheists”- but you picked a misleading analogy on purpose to exaggerate your point. The obvious inclination must be to make a comparison with another religion. However, you surreptitiously ( and inaccurately) chose to make a comparison with the modern democratic process in order to appeal to our humanistic sensibilities. It was, as I said, “a bit off”.

            My objection to your analogy was meant to be a minor point initially and I did not ntend to get so defensive. It is now obcious that a more reasoned approach would have been to initially compare the two parts of the analogy rationally rather than to simply accuse you of presenting a bad analogy.

      • I just noted, much to my disbelief, that you made your promise to provide a “copy” of the verse to reader Krishna on April 3rd, six days ago. I think that is too long a time to provide a source, that too a source on which you make a serious conclusion.

        Anyway, you must be a busy person. I can understand that. I will still wait to be directed to the verse that you refer to.

      • Dear Meera Nanda,

        You said:

        ” all those revealed canons an evil doctrines that are outside the veda bear no fruit after death, for they are all based upon darkness”

        This idea is repeated in the Bhagwat Gita as well. I don;’t have a copy right now, but i can find you the verse later.

        I find it surprising that you have made your conclusions, and in fact authored an entire book, without first hand knowledge of the sources/evidences on which you base some of your conclusions.

        As you authored a book, I believe that you, like a true scholar, made a thorough study/review of your sources. Bhagavadgita verses are only a few lines long and I find it incredible that you cannot reproduce the single verse that you are referring to, particularly because you make a very serious conclusion based on this verse. You could atleast provide the number of the verse, and the chapter, to help your readers see for themselves. Otherwise, it is difficult to believe your conclusions, as long as they are based on sources that may not actually exist.

        By saying the above, I do not doubt your sincerity. You might not have had time to direct us to the “copy” you are referring to, my above arguments notwithstanding. But this is the age of the Internet and there are several Bhagavadgitas available online, at the click of a mouse.

        You could try Google Books for these:

        1. The Bhagavadgita by Eknath Easwaran

        2. The Bhagavadgita, Franklin Edgerton

        You can also search on Google for “Bhagavadgita As It Is” and “Srimad Bhagavadgita.”

        Now that you have several sources at hand, could you please direct me, and my fellow readers, to the verse that you are referring to. All you need to do is to give us the page number, or atleast the number of the verse. Or even better, give us the weblink to a page that contains the verse that you refer to. It wont take too long.

        I will be eagerly waiting for your response. Thank you :)

  • Few questions:

    The results of the 2004 elections clearly showed that the majority of voters who did not share in the gains of the new economy were turned off by the hoopla about “India Shining” and threw out the Hindu-nationalist led government. In a country where more than 700 million people still live on less than two US dollars a day and where the majority is seeing a worsening of whatever little there was in the name of public services like schools and hospitals, it is not easy to convince the masses of the virtues of free markets.

    – “Threw out” is a bit of an exaggeration, no? Since 145 and 138 were the seats won by Congress and BJP respectively. But I understand that political ideologues are supposed to exaggerate the win, like the newspapers going ga-ga over Obama winning overwhelmingly, which is true when considering the electoral votes but not so when considering the vote percentage of 52% to 45% – hardly overwhelming. But, whatever floats Ms. Nanda’s boat – we all have our delusions.

    – “less that two dollars a day” – is that taking into account purchasing power parity, or is that figure of $2 meant to tug at the heartstrings of your American and NRI readers, leading them to tug at their purse-strings?

    My other question is regarding the temple management. From what I’ve read, the temple money goes to the government as they manage the temples, and doesn’t remain with the temple. Is that correct? Does the money collected by the government from a temple come back to the same temple? How does it compare to other religious places of worship and their management? Is the handling of all places of worship, irrespective of religion, the same (as it should be in a secular democracy)? That part is not quite clear.

  • Ajita Kamal

    The focus on the semantics is a slight distraction, don’t you think? Meera Nanda’s point stands. The Congress- BJP split was 114 – 182 in 1999 and became 145 – 138 in 2004. That is a net difference of 75 seats- a significant reversal clearly indicating public disapproval, which was Meera Nanda’s point.

    In the context of globalization, why should the evaluation of purchasing power be restricted to local produce and goods? The context here is not absolute wealth, but wealth disparity in the global marketplace. The fact is that India has 76.5% (828 million people- Meera’s estimate was conservative) of the world’s population living on less than $2 a day. This is more than the number in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of course times have been very good for the rich. But the argument being made is that the new paradigm that was supposed to accelerate the demise of poverty has actually slowed it down. That is, poverty was dropping at a faster rate before India opened up its markets in 1989 than it is now.

    Here’s the source: http://www.nowpublic.com/world/number-poor-india-has-gone-world-bank

    “…the poverty rate — those below $1.25 per day — for India had come down from 59.8% in 1981 to 51.3% by 1990 or 8.5 percentage points over nine years. Between 1990 and 2005, it declined to 41.6%, a drop of 9.7 percentage points over 15 years, clearly a much slower rate of decline.”

    I want to stress that I am not arguing for or against globalization based on this data. All Im saying is that Meera Nanda’s assessment that the poor are less easily convinced of the virtue of free markets when the rate of betterment of their lives has actually slowed because of globalization, is valid.

    BTW, in the article cited above, note the world bank statement at the end presenting a clearly dishonest interpretation of the data.

    • BJP lost last time because common man who didn’t get benefits voted out. Pramod Mahajan played a key role in making the BJP overconfident with the “India Shining” campaign that backfired because the grassroots workers of the party were put off. Now that he has gone, the party stands a better chance.

      If you look at ground realities, barring some regular scams that happen with anyone, there was a lot more development during BJP regime than there was during any other recent regime.

  • Ajita: why mention the amount in dollars and not in rupees, so that it is better understood by Indian readers and more relatable? I also don’t get your point – is PPP when mentioning such monetary numbers not important/necessary?

    • Ajita Kamal

      I do get your point about the amount in dollars, but that is not something that was invented here. It is a commonly used international marker.

      You are definitely right about purchasing power in general because for $2 in India you can buy local produce and eat well for a day. I was just implying that in the context of globalization the purchasing power is extremely low- think Macbooks and X-box 360s.

      Of course you are correct that we cannot think of $2 a day in India as the same as $2 a day in a developed country, as most of these studies tend to do. So I see your consternation at the idea.

  • “There is a history of Hindu supremacy and triumphalism that often gets ignored.”

    Yes, so true, Ms. Nanda – thanks for showing us the light!! And that Hindu supremacy needs to be supplanted by the supremacy of “atheism”* by its zealous warriors who have the monopoly on “truth” today and rest all are wrong. “We shall not rest till our utopia of a rational world with no trace of religion, is established on the earth, and all our actions stem from knowing that we are right and anyone who opposes us is wrong and an enemy.” ;)

    It’s the age-old “you’re with us or you’re against us” in a new garb that has served mankind so well in dividing people. Never fails.

    All power and ego games by zealots of all kinds and all stripes, looking to enlarge their power spheres while rationalizing their actions. I’m off to the Himalayas to meditate as these stupid, immature and insane games don’t interest me. Someone singing in 1971 had all your numbers: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – and the song was ‘Won’t get fooled again.’

    * anti-theism actually, going by words and actions, but that doesn’t sound so cool, and has a negative connotation.

  • “..while he does the very thing he is criticizing others for.”

    I wasn’t aware that there’s a group of “blog commenters” jostling for a space in the power market. :)
    Actually, a more fitting and obvious comment would be that ‘Ms. Nanda is doing the very thing she’s criticizing others for’.

  • @meera nanda

    Hinduism is by definition more rational because it does not encroach upon the public sphere. It has no church and hence it has no historic state vs church antagonism. in contrast, secularism is itself the reaction to the tyranny of the church. Islam till date has no idea of secularism. No wonder, terrorists like Geelani openly exclaim of making a Afghanistan in Kashmir for “democracy, secularism have no place in Islam” [see interview rediff.com during the Amarnath crisis]

    The Bhagavad Geeta 2.45 states trai-gunya-vishaya veda nistrai-gunyo bhavarjuna
    nirdvandvo nitya-sattva-stho niryoga-kshema atmavan. Clearly, the Geeta demands of the sadhaka to transcend the vedas. The Gita itself says “to the enlightened man, the scriptures are as useful as is a well during floods”

    Have u not read the Mundaka Upanishad,

    Of these the lower comprises the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Veda); the science of pronunciation, the code of rituals, grammar, etymology, meter, astrology, and various other sciences. Then there is the higher knowledge by which is attained that Imperishable – Brahman.” [1.i.5]

    Similarly, Shankara in his Adhyasa Bhasya [introduction to the brahma sutra bhasya] considers the scripture itself to be in the domain of avidya

    Finally, The Veda is not an incorruptible revelation BY a prophetic messiah. In the words of Aurobindo “The vedas were heard by the man who had made himself previously fit to receive the impersonal knowledge.” Thus, revelation is not scripture centric and one unique historical event. The seers affirm that the truth of the veda can be realized and received by any individual

    You cannot ignore the terrorism and the demographic siege launched by Islamists and missionaries. These two are not peace loving religions, they have a history of bloody jihad and inquisition. Complaining of Hinduism’s unjust heirarchy seems unfair when you have the devastating hierarchy of Believer male, female and Dhimmi (second rate subject) in Islamic theology. Have u not read the Islamic slave system in India or quranic verses like 33.51 which condone raping of enslaved women, something which Manu explicitly denies!

    • Ajita Kamal

      “Hinduism is by definition more rational because it does not encroach upon the public sphere.”

      I think one of my neurons just committed suicide, but I enjoyed the laugh nevertheless.

      • http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/politics/bogey.html

        An interesting dissection. And so we have to beleive that Meera Nanda has telepathic powers :-) See I am a very superstitious Hindu.
        Anyway most people who claim to have a rational outlook do not really have it. On closer examination they are just like superstitious people. The only difference is that, they are in a different part of the “spectrum of superstition” and argue like a frog in a well that theirs is better. In this case it is Atheist-Marxist. In case you did not know, the reason why you criticize Hinduism more is because, Marxism is an ideological cousin of monotheism and hence there is a feeling of kinship with Christianity and Islam.

        • Ajita Kamal

          “Anyway most people who claim to have a rational outlook do not really have it. On closer examination they are just like superstitious people.”

          Yes, rational people are the same as superstitious people. Also, the moon is made of white chocolate.

          “The only difference is that, they are in a different part of the “spectrum of superstition” and argue like a frog in a well that theirs is better.”

          You haven’t offered to describe what we rationalists DO believe in, just dismiss it as also superstition. So let me tell you what most rationalists believe in. We generally believe that we must approach observable events using reason and logic. This is a position that takes into account the history of human ideas and beliefs, and combines with the teachings of all the world’s religions, sciences and philosophies. It is far from being the view of a frog in a well. Religions and superstitions, however, are truly frogs in a well. They are sets of beliefs that evolved in a single limited geographical location. They have evolved mechanisms that prevent their believers from abandoning the labels, thus ensuring that they will stay forever in the well, unless they decide to muster up the courage to take a peek at what’s outside.

          “In this case it is Atheist-Marxist. In case you did not know, the reason why you criticize Hinduism more is because, Marxism is an ideological cousin of monotheism and hence there is a feeling of kinship with Christianity and Islam.”

          This is just hilarious. You should try telling this to the millions of Christians who suffered under Stalin, or to the Catholic Church which preached against Marxism through the entire 20th century, or to the millions of Christians in America and Europe who believe that Marxism is the devil’s religion. Wow, Hindus will go to any lengths to claim special status for their particular form of delusion. The truth is all religions are little more than institutionalized superstition. You can fight it out among yourselves which one is the most bonkers.

  • Namasthe Meera: Very thought provoking Article. Congratulations.

    Meera, when I wrote and published the book AM I A HINDU? in 1988, including members of my family were extremely critical of what I was doing. Today, from the numbers of copies of my book selling every where and rave reviews the book received from many magazines and newspapers, I have to agree with you that Globalization is making people deeply interested in HINDU CULTURE. Of course people are not only interested in my book but anything and everything which is connected with HINDU CULTURE.

    I am using the word HINDU CULTURE instead of Hinduism, since Hinduism a CULTURE and not an organized religion like Islam or Christianity.

    I do not think anyone is MARKETTING HINDU CULTURE. Since the concept of UTMOST FREEDOM OF THOUGHTS and ACTIONS is the cardinal principle of HINDU CULTURE, people are drawn to HINDU CULTURE, like honey bees are drawn to a fully blossom flower.

    Hinduism never forbids any one to question its fundamentals. One side, in Hinduism, you may come across people worshiping pests like rats, and still on other side you will come across concepts parallel to Quantum Physics and Neil’s Bohr Theory of nuclear structure and reactions. On one side ADVAIDA [There is ONLY one] philosophy is discussed and promoted, still on other side DWAITA [two--duality] philosophy is discussed and promoted. Hinduism never ever banished any one, since he or she wrote a wrong scripture or did not observe a particular ritual.

    Even an atheist can condemn HINDU CULTURE in the market and still proudly proclaim he or she is a Hindu.

    In fact the CHARVAKA philosophy or NASTIKA philosophy, [existed during the Vedic period] founded by CHARVAKA rejected the existence of God and considered religion as an aberration.

    Voltaire in Essay on Tolerance wrote: “ I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.”

    Barring all the things fanatics are doing, HINDU CULTURE is the symbolic representation of what Voltaire wrote.

    Hindu scriptures never ever proclaim monopoly on GOD, TRUTH or SALVATION. Anyone even atheists who search after truth will finally merge with truth or attain self realization. All these things are making people very much attracted to Hindu Culture.

    Once again thanks for a very thought provoking book and article. I look forward to reading the book when it is published.

  • 1) “Like a virus that replicates itself by using the biological machinery of the host cell, Hindu nationalism installs itself in the minds and hearts of ordinary people by using their deeply-held religious beliefs, dearly-loved rituals and festivals, and fondly-remembered myths, hymns and songs”.

    2) “popular Hinduism is the soil in which the tree of Hindu nationalism is rooted, and Hindu gods, rituals and sacred texts are the nutrients that keep it growing”

    These two metaphors characterize Hindu Nationalism in two fundamentally opposite ways.
    While both trees and viruses co-evolved with mammals, viruses are a problem to be eliminated. They are for their own good, they don’t do any good for their hosts. Whereas trees are not only beneficial for humans, they are absolutely necessary. As long as the soil with nutrients is there, some or the other tree will grow.
    So if one believes in the 2nd metaphor (and also believes the existing tree is problematic), one has to come up with a way to replace the existing tree with a new one or a way to transform the existing one into a new form.