The spiritual gift of India to the world has already begun. India's spirituality is entering Europe and America in an ever increasing measure. That movement will grow; amid the disasters of the time more and more eyes are turning towards her with hope and there is even an increasing resort not only to her teachings, but to her psychic and spiritual practice. -- Sri Aurobindo (from the message broadcast on the eve of August 15, 1947)

Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bhubaneswar is all set for Ekamra Utsav

Bhubaneswar: The temple city Bhubaneswar is all decked up to host the 10-day-long composite festival called the “Ekamra Utsav” from January 6 to 15 . Orissadiary Friday, December 30, 2005
Tourism minister, Surya Narayan Patro, said the festival which was being held for the first time in the city, would encompass a folk dance extravaganza, a flower show, an international food court, national rose convention and show, walking tours of heritage corridors, Mukteswar Dance Festival and a national handicraft and handloom expo.

Various components of this composite festival will be organised at different parts of the city, he said. The minister informed that the festival was being promoted by the state tourism department with active support from the textiles and handlooms department, development commissioner of handicrafts, Tisco and two state government undertakings — OCAC and OMC.

Elaborating on various components of the festival, he said a folk dance festival would be held every evening at Ekamra Haat from January 6 to 11 , in which folk dances of Odisha like chhau, ghoda nacha, naga nacha, paika akhada, sambalpuri, koya and ghumura dances will be staged. Similarly, a classical Odissi dance festival would be organised at the backdrop of the ancient Mukteswar Temple from January 12 to 15 . A walking tour of 1,000-year-old heritage sites in the temple city will be organised on 7 and 8 January and 14 and 15 January morning to offer the visitors an experience of walking through a different time zone.

The annual state-level flower show, being organised at Ekamra Kanan on 7 and 8 January coinciding with the Ekamra Utsav, will exhibit a wide variety of flowers in full blossom. In addition to it, an all India rose convention and show will be held from 14 to 16 January at Nalco Nagar. One of the major attractions of the composite festival will be the international food court being arranged at Ekamra Haat exhibition ground on 15 January, where a spectrum of Mexican, Thai, Italian, Lebanese, Korean and many other international cuisine will be served. Posco will also set up a stall offering South Korean delicacies while the Taj Group will bring an international chef to prepare Italian dishes.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Soul and Structure of Governance in india

Diplomatic testimony Punyapriya Dasgupta Although the author is annoyed at the state of governance in India, the book points in the direction of hope. Soul and Structure of Governance in india; Jagmohan, Alliance publishers, 2005, Deccan Herald » Book Reviews Sunday, July 17, 2005
Fifteen years as a Member of Parliament, five of them as a Cabinet Minister, after the publication of his My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir, Jagmohan has come out with his frozen tears — over a “national infirmity” that has infected governance in India. He is anguished and angered by the all-pervading and all-powerful three M’s and three C’s: money, muscle, mafia and crime, corruption, caste. Yet the book is not a pessimist’s testament. It is designed to radiate hope and point towards the realisation of that hope. Jagmohan unfolds a “blueprint” for a rekindling of India’s mind, re-awakening of her soul, redesigning her institutions and creating a leadership with a vision and a will. Those who have led India since 1947 are to him gods that failed. In his famous midnight oration Jawaharlal Nehru roused hopes for the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finding utterance in a new age. But nothing like that happened. Independent India failed to develop an inspired ideology of work. The governance started deteriorating sharply from the mid-sixties when populism made a deep intrusion in Indian politics.
“For winning elections and gaining or retaining power, reliance came to be placed not on honest performance but on deceptive slogans, not on principles but on personalities, not on long-term perspective of nation-building but on short-term personal or party gains.” It is time, Jagmohan fervidly argues, India took up in earnest the long overdue task of rebuilding its civilisational base with inspiration from the Vedas, Vedanta, Gita, Kautilya, Vivekananda, Aurobindo. The idea is reinforced with quotes from Voltaire, Max Mueller, Schopenhauer, Will Durant, Toynbee. In more concrete terms the goal is a culture of contemplation, contentment, compassion, balance and harmony. In his scheme of sociopolitical engineering Jagmohan assigns great importance to a properly empowered Lok Pal and a transparent law for freedom of information.
He is aware of the scope for scepticism and poses a question himself: Where is the guarantee that effective action will follow up information about any wrongdoing? And he answers: “India is poisoned at the heart and this contamination must be removed.” He believes that whatever should be done can be done. Jagmohan has a right to his optimism. He has achievements to his credit. He cleaned up Vaishno Devi in Jammu from the foot of the 13-kilometre climb to the exploitative management of the shrine. He stopped an incredibly materialistic Mayawati from commercialising the environs of the Taj Mahal. But he did not succeed in giving Delhi an aesthetic river-front. The Election Commission did not help him and the High Court did, but not as much as required. Jagmohan even lost his Lok Sabha seat in the 2004 election. A sadness was inescapable and yet he retained a surprisingly stubborn optimism which inspired this passionate pleading for reforms.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tomorrow's India lies in today's small towns

NS RAMNATH The Economic Times FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2005
CHENNAI: They may well be called tier-II cities or small towns, but they appear all set to lead the charge in the New Year. Having successfully lured IT and ITES companies to set up shop in their territories, Mysore, Coimbatore, Vizag, Nagpur, Bhubaneswar and Trichy, among others, will, sooner than later, be brandishing the power of youth and money. Call it the Y & M Factor, if you like. Or call it by whatever name you choose to. There is no doubt that this is a lethal combo which will push these tier-II towns on to centre stage. Can business, then, be far behind? Observers say the arrival of IT and BPO companies to tier-II cities and smaller towns will create a segment of young, high spenders in these places which will eventually drive demand for a range of products and services. Huge opportunities will open up for other businesses — from real estate to food and from retail and fashion to entertainment. The trend is already visible in sectors such as residential housing.

Friday, December 23, 2005

British imperialism was grounded on laissez-faire

IN PRAISE OF EMPIRES — Globalization and Order: Deepak Lal; Pub. by Palgrave Macmillan
Dares to question the current accepted shibboleths and is the first well-argued neo-conservative case for empires. Case for imperialism: S. L. Rao The Hindu Tuesday, Sep 06, 2005
This book by a distinguished scholar dares to question the accepted shibboleths of our times. It is highly provocative and will incense many. It is the first well-argued neo-conservative (Bush) case for empires and for the U.S. acting as a truly imperial power, without regard to world opinion. He justifies the American War in Iraq; argues that climate change is an untenable idea; is against the `woolly' imposition of human rights on disparate countries; is against the U.N. as a body with equal voting rights; and argues cogently that globalisation (which he says accompanies empires) helps imperial economies and improves the living standards of very many in the colonies.
His starting precept is that "Empires have been natural throughout human history." Empires are the international analogue to the domestic `Leviathan' (of Hobbes), providing the order necessary for social and economic life to flourish. Imperial powers despoil colonies, live there in person or allow them their own laws while paying tribute. To be effective they have to create a civil service, a legal code, and promote a lingua franca for communication and control. The Americans failed in Iraq by not doing these. He advocates incorporating natives into governance of empires, to temper revolts. Like Lenin, the author argues that empires benefit most citizens of the imperial power.
He says that applying self-determination led to the Second World War. He questions whether African peoples have benefited from self-rule as against imperial rule. An empire driven by materialism like the British is more effective than the American, driven by `cosmological ideas' like freedom and human rights. The U.N. constrains the freedom of the `Imperial American Republic' to act. For the failed or failing states of Africa and the Middle East, capital (not foreign aid) and foreign trade are the best responses.
British imperialism was grounded on laissez-faire, free trade, the gold standard and protection of property rights. Lal sees no alternative today to the classical liberal policy package of the Washington Consensus: sound money, balanced budgets, free trade and flexible exchange rates. He is against capital controls except for short periods. He is against any restraint on capital flows, including `volatile' short-term ones. He says that equality conflicts with liberty, and a true "liberal is not an egalitarian." Linking globalisation to empire, he concludes "globalisation has been good for the world's poor and has reduced global inequalities." He believes that NGOs, especially those combating climate change, have vested interests in their self-perpetuation because of vast funds they raise. He pooh-poohs any major and disastrous climate change.
He criticises the `American Empire' for promoting its domestic concerns for social welfare, human rights and democracy internationally. He argues: "If the United States had used its emerging economic and military power to prevent the rise of the Bolsheviks, had not made the botched Wilsonian peace of Versailles, and had directly sought to prevent the rise of fascism," we could have avoided the wars of the 20th Century. He considers the concept of universal human rights woolly and meaningless. At the corporate level he argues similarly that stakeholder capitalism (versus shareholder capitalism) is undesirable and managerial rent-seeking is what has to be prevented. He objects to corporate social responsibility for sustainable development.
For him, "liberal democracy is likely to be a frail flower in much of the world." Economic freedom and liberty bring peace and prosperity, not political freedom. Muslim countries may not become democratic but could establish economic liberty. "The U.S. through its imperium should be promoting globalisation which will lead to economic freedom. The promotion of the Wilsonian ideals of national self-determination and democracy will not necessarily aid this spread of the liberties that really matter." Lal is consistent but has many faults. Empire did despoil the economies of the ruled countries. The British Empire changed the historical and cultural self-concepts of Indians.
In recent years, historians have unravelled the falsehoods and distortions that enabled the British to rule a vast population. The British encouraged confrontation between Hindus and Muslims and census classifications rigidified caste. They neglected grassroots democracy of the panchayats, now being revived. Material well-being is very important but so is self-respect through political freedom. African self-rule did not result in economic progress because imperial powers created African countries that had little commonalities and with broken tribal linkages. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be aghast if equated in ideas with Lal. But the Empire was beneficial to India in some ways, creating a national identity, a common market, a national administration and an international language. Would there be a prospering India if the British had not conquered and ruled?

Why growth requires greater equity

FRANCISCO FERREIRA & MICHAEL WALTON The Economic Times FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2005
In his recent review of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2006 — on equity and development — which was published in The Economic Times, (October 19), Arvind Panagariya levelled three criticisms which are worth addressing. The first criticism, that “greater equity does not guarantee less poverty”, was stated in terms of redistributions of income among top earners. Professor Panagariya says that “anyone well versed in the history of policy making in India would get chills at the thought of targeting income distribution”. But the World Development Report defines equity in terms of equality of opportunities, rather than of incomes, and the difference is not purely semantic. The report argues for policies that expand the educational, productive and political opportunities of the poor and excluded, whilst avoiding capture of public policies by influential interest groups at all levels. While very high income inequality levels may be inconsistent with equal opportunities, our main emphasis was not on income redistribution. The emphasis was on the losses to India from not giving millions of the poor in rural and urban areas the same starting chances as the wealthy had.
The second criticism is that a concern with equity motivated disastrous regulatory policies pursued in India from the 1950s to the 1970s, at great cost to the country’s poverty reduction process. We agree! Indeed, as Prof Panagariya acknowledges, the report noted that the “history of the twentieth century is littered with examples of ill-designed policies pursued in the name of equity that seriously harmed ... growth”. We argue (in Chapter 9 of the report) that one of the policy pathologies of past decades was the pursuit of growth-dampening policies in the name of equity, of which communist and populist economic policies are particular examples. Not only have these policies generally hampered growth and poverty reduction; they have also failed to deliver the kind of equity we advocate. The economic liberalisation of the last 20 years has unlocked enormous potential, and shown India’s capacity for sustained growth and poverty reduction. The need to allow markets to provide the right incentives for people to be productive has long been central to the bank’s advice, and indeed features prominently in last year’s World Development Report, on the investment climate. In this year’s report, we focused instead on the need to provide people with the opportunities and endowments they need in order to take advantage of those market incentives. The report provides various examples of policies that, by expanding the productive potential of the poor, could contribute to both equity and growth, and could make markets work for all. Poor people in countries such as India need both the incentives that markets generate, and greater opportunities to respond to them. That message is complementary — not inimical — to Prof Panagaryia’s indictment of wrong-headed, heavy-handed distortion.
Panagariya’s third criticism is that, by not questioning why households (and other firms) fail to invest in some mid-size Indian firms with high returns to capital, we show analytic weakness. But, as noted in the chapter to which he refers, capital markets in developing countries may fail to work for several reasons. There are various information flow problems and contract enforcement failures that prevent savers from lending to or investing in potentially highly lucrative enterprises. Savers may be unable to see how productive the investments really are or, even if they see it, may feel unsure that they can efficiently enforce repayment, given existing institutions. Banking spreads cause the opportunity cost of capital to differ between savers and borrowers. Loan administration costs mean that interest rates facing different borrowers can differ substantially. Tackling the profound market failures and political and institutional biases that both create inequality of opportunity and restrict market-based growth is surely central to India’s future development. The balance of the evidence in economics suggests that countries do best when they combine the power of market-based growth, with equitable access to its opportunities and rewards. (The writers co-directed the World Bank’s World Development Report 2006, on equity and development)

Religious identities should be irrelevant in public life

"FAITH NO BAR"- RELIGIOUS IDENTITY AND PUBLIC LIFE GYANOPROBHA
Mukul Kesavan provides yet another instance where the secularist insistence that religious identities should be irrelevant in public life fails. He argues that that when we ignore the religious identity of public figures, it desensitizes us to indices of success in overcoming religious prejudice and discrimination. When we ignore the Muslimness of Sania Mirzas and Irfan Pathans in our midst, we fail to note that "in one sphere of public life, competitive sport, religious identity is no obstacle to success".
Actually, secularists don't deny that religious identities are irrelevant in public life, but assert that they should be. For instance, secularists do not ignore the Hinduness (or the Hindutva) of the Sadhvi Rithambars, the Praveen Togadias and the Narendar Modis, nor the Muslimness of the Imam Bukharis. For secularists, it is precisely the religious identities of these public figures that provide the poisonous fuel for their political careers. This is perfectly consistent with the secularist axiom that religion is the root of all evil, and the expectation that religious motivations in politics can only do harm.
But this secularist belief in the essential harmfulness of religious motivations in public life is deeply one-sided, if not altogether mistaken, and not only in the way that Kesavan describes. Religious paradigms can be powerful resources for bringing human societies into harmony with nature, for curbing the rampant predatory greed and violence that characterizes modern economic life, and for the creation of a more socially just order. As long as secularists remain in denial about the powerful potential of religious ideology to do good rather than harm, they will continue to espouse the kind of secular idolatry that led to the pilgrimages to Lenin's mausoleum in the Soviet Union, and to the personality cult built up around Atatürk in Turkey even today. When religion is banished from the public sphere, it has a tendency to return there in pathological forms. Moreover, the critical transformative resources that religious ideologies can provide are no more available to deal with social breakdown.
I see the current intellectual ferment in the Islamic world (see discussions here, here, here, Tariq Ramadan's website, and the review by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books vol.52 no.18 - subscription required) as a welcome sign that the public role of religion in Muslim societies can be revaluated. A similar discussion should open up in India within the Hindu traditions (including Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism), because we should not let the Praveen Togadias and the Narendar Modis and the Imam Bukharis define the agenda for the public role of religion. GYANOPROBHA November 03, 2005

Wisest man, Worst poet, any takers?

  • The swadeshi movement was, from a Moderate point of view, a negation of the entire Congress project. As a partisan of the Moderates it gives me great satisfaction that Bengal’s greatest poet, Tagore, got it exactly right and her worst, Aurobindo Ghose, got it perfectly wrong.
Mukul Kesavan The Telegraph Sunday, May 29, 2005
  • We move on to Aurobindo, who, again, at times propagated ideas uncannily similar to Islam, as in the wish to return to a Golden Age where all was truth and righteousness. Then we come to Vivekananda, to this writer the most ambivalent, and hence most appealing, of the four.
Ramachandra Guha The Telegraph Saturday, April 17, 2004
These are unreasonable remarks from fairly reasonable people. And, similar impressions have gained wide currency over the years through such supposed expert comments. By ticking off the versatile legacy of Sri Aurobindo in just one sentence is certainly cruel to his memory. It appears that he is still standing before the bar of the High Court of History.

Everybody is eminently entitled to her views but what is questionable is the methodology. It has become a fashion, or almost a compulsion of sorts, to mention the name of Sri Aurobindo as an appendage to others. But, why bring in his name at all, if only to show him in bad light?

For the fact is that, the very project of comparision in this manner, is arbitrary. Sri Aurobindo’s work in the political sphere begins when Swami Vivekananda is no longer there. Tagore is almost a spectator in the sidelines and Gandhi is yet to enter into the picture. And again, the tenor of their work, so dissimilar.

Each of the great men like these has contributed to areas of specific significance which come to form our national mosaic. But in manufacturing the synthetic metaphysics of The Life Divine and composing the epic, Savitri, Sri Aurobindo’s genius is unparalleled, not only in India but also in the whole world.

All writers may not be competent to perceive the nuances of poetry or philosophy. But then, they are expected to be honest enough not to beat someone with the wrong stick. It is only rarely that we read any independent assessment of Sri Aurobindo in the media. But his role is indispensable for the national regeneration everyone is hoping for.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mysticism vs. industrial competitive environment

SRI AUROBINDO
Letters on Yoga Volume 1 Section Four REASON, SCIENCE AND YOGA I - Reason and Yoga
I know it is the Russian explanation of the recent trend to spirituality and mysticism that it is a phenomenon of capitalist society in its decadence. But to read an economic cause, conscious or unconscious, into all phenomena of man's history is part of the Bolshevik gospel born of the fallacy of Karl Marx. Man's nature is not so simple and one-chorded as all that — it has many lines and each line produces a need of his life. The spiritual or mystic line is one of them and man tries to satisfy it in various ways, by superstitions of all kinds, by ignorant religionism, by spiritism, demonism and what not, in his more enlightened parts by spiritual philosophy, the higher occultism and the rest, at his highest by the union with the All, the Eternal or the Divine.
The tendency towards the search for spirituality began in Europe with a recoil from the nineteenth century's scientific materialism, a dissatisfaction with the pretended all-sufficiency of the reason and the intellect and a feeling out for something deeper. That was a pre-war phenomenon, and began when there was no menace of Communism and the capitalistic world was at its height of insolent success and triumph, and it came rather as a revolt against the materialistic bourgeois life and its ideals, not as an attempt to serve or sanctify it. It has been at once served and opposed by the post-war disillusionment — opposed because the post-war world has fallen back either on cynicism and the life of the senses or on movements like Fascism and Communism; served because with the deeper minds the dissatisfaction with the ideals of the past or the present, with all mental or vital or material solutions of the problem of life has increased and only the spiritual path is left.
It is true that the European mind having little light on these things dallies with vital will-o'-the wisps like spiritism or theosophy or falls back upon the old religionism; but the deeper minds of which I speak either pass by them or pass through them in search of a greater Light. I have had contact with many and the above tendencies are very clear. They come from all countries and it was only a minority who hailed from England or America. Russia is different — unlike the others it has lingered in mediaeval religionism and not passed through any period of revolt — so when the revolt came it was naturally anti-religious and atheistic. It is only when this phase is exhausted that Russian mysticism can receive and take not a narrow religious but the spiritual direction.
It is true that mysticism à revers, turned upside down, has made Bolshevism and its endeavour a creed rather than a political theme and a search for the paradisal secret millennium on earth rather than the building of a purely social structure. But for the most part Russia is trying to do on the communistic basis all that nineteenth-century idealism hoped to get at — and failed — in the midst of or against an industrial competitive environment. Whether it will really succeed any better is for the future to decide — for at present it only keeps what it has got by a tension and violent control which is not over.

New Lamps for Old

Sri Aurobindo
Indu Prakash August 7, 1893
If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into a ditch? So or nearly so runs an apophthegm of the Galilean prophet, whose name has run over the four quarters of the globe. Of all those pithy comments on human life, which more than anything else made his teaching effective, this is perhaps the one which goes home deepest and admits of the most frequent use. But very few Indians will be found to admit — certainly I myself two years ago would not have admitted, — that it can truthfully be applied to the National Congress.
Yet that it can be so applied, — nay, that no judicious mind can honestly pronounce any other verdict on its action, — is the first thing I must prove, if these articles are to have any raison d'etre. I am quite aware that in doing this my motive and my prudence may be called into question. I am not ignorant that I am about to censure a body which to many of my countrymen seems the mightiest outcome of our new national life; to some a precious urn in which are guarded our brightest and noblest hopes; to others a guiding star which shall lead us through the encircling gloom to a far distant paradise: and if I were not fully confident that this fixed idea of ours is a snare and a delusion, likely to have the most pernicious effects, I should simply have suppressed my own doubts and remained silent.
As it is, I am fully confident, and even hope to bring over one or two of my countrymen to my own way of thinking, or, if that be not possible, at any rate to induce them to think a little more deeply than they have done... The bare-faced hypocrisy of our enthusiasm for the Queen-Empress, — an old lady so called by way of courtesy, but about whom few Indians can really know or care anything — could serve no purpose but to expose us to the derision of our ill-wishers. There was too a little too much talk about the blessings of British rule, and the inscrutable Providence which has laid us in the maternal, or more properly the step-maternal bosom of just and benevolent England. Yet more appalling was the general timidity of the Congress, its glossing over of hard names, its disinclination to tell the direct truth, its fear of too deeply displeasing our masters.

The Doctrine of Passive Resistance

Sri Aurobindo
Bande Mataram 12-4-1907
ORGANISED resistance to an existing form of government may be undertaken either for the vindication of national liberty, or in order to substitute one form of government for another, or to remove particular objectionable features in the existing system without any entire or radical alteration of the whole, or simply for the redress of particular grievances. Our political agitation in the nineteenth century was entirely confined to the smaller and narrower objects...
Herein lies the superiority of the new school that they have an indomitable courage and faith in the nation and the people. By the strength of that courage and faith they have not only been able to enforce on the mind of the country a higher ideal but perceive an effective means to the realisation of that ideal. By the strength of that courage and faith they have made such immense strides in the course of a few months. By the strength of that courage and faith they will dominate the future.
The new methods were first tried in the great Swadeshi outburst of the last two years, — blindly, crudely, without leading and organisation, but still with amazing results. The moving cause was a particular grievance, the Partition of Bengal; and to the removal of the particular grievance, pettiest and narrowest of all political objects, our old leaders strove hard to confine the use of this new and mighty weapon. But the popular instinct was true to itself and would have none of it. At a bound we passed therefore from mere particular grievances, however serious and intolerable, to the use of passive resistance as a means of cure for the basest and evilest feature of the present system, — the bleeding to death of a country by foreign exploitation. And from that stage we are steadily advancing, under the guidance of such able political thinking as modern India has not before seen and with the rising tide of popular opinion at our back, to the one true object of all resistance, passive or active, aggressive or defensive, — the creation of a free popular Government and the vindication of Indian liberty.

Mazzini hated Machiavellianism

The Power that Uplifts SRI AUROBINDO
KARMAYOGIN : Vol.I. No.9 SATURDAY 21st AUGUST 1909
The one thing which Mazzini most hated and from which he strove to deliver the hearts and imaginations of the young men of Italy was what he summed up in the word Machiavellianism. The Machiavellian is the man of pure intellect without imagination who, while not intellectually dead to great objects, does not make them an ideal but regards them from the point of view of concrete interests and is prepared to use in effecting them every means which can be suggested by human cunning or put into motion by unscrupulous force. Italian patriotism previous to the advent of Mazzini was cast in this Machiavellian mould. The Carbonari movement which was Italy's first attempt to live was permeated with it.
Mazzini lifted up the country from this low and ineffective level and gave it the only force which can justify the hope of revival, the force of the spirit within, the strength to disregard immediate interests and surrounding circumstances and, carried away by the passion for an ideal, trusting oneself to the impetus and increasing velocity of the force it creates, to scorn ideas of impossibility and improbability and to fling life, goods and happiness away on the cast of dice already clogged against one by adverse Fortune and unfavourable circumstance. The spiritual force within not only creates the future but creates the materials for the future. It is not limited to the existing materials either in their nature or in their quantity. It can transform bad material into good material, insufficient means into abundant means.
It was a deep consciousness of this great truth that gave Mazzini the strength to create modern Italy. His eyes were always fixed on the mind and heart of the nation, very little on the external or internal circumstances of Italy. He was not a statesman but he had a more than statesmanlike insight. His plan of a series of petty, local and necessarily abortive insurrections strikes the ordinary practical man as the very negation of common sense and political wisdom. It seems almost as futile as the idea of some wild brains, if indeed the idea be really cherished, that by random assassinations the freedom of this country can be vindicated. There is, however, a radical difference.
Mazzini knew well what he was about. His eyes were fixed on the heart of the nation and as the physician of the Italian malady his business was not with the ultimate and perfect result but with the creation of conditions favourable to complete cure and resurgence. He knew final success was impossible without the creation of a force that could not be commanded for some time to come. But he also knew that even that force could not succeed without a great spiritual and moral strength behind its action and informing its aspirations. It was this strength he sought to create. The spiritual force he created by the promulgation of the mighty and uplifting ideas which pervade his writings and of which Young Italy was the organ.

The Awakening Soul of India

SRI AUROBINDO
KARMAYOGIN : Vol.I. No.2 SATURDAY 26th JUNE 1909

There is not the slightest doubt that our society will have to undergo a reconstruction which may amount to revolution, but it will not be for Europeanisation as the average reformer blindly hopes, but for a greater and more perfect realisation of the national spirit in society. Not individual selfishness and mutually consuming struggle but love and the binding of individuals into a single inseparable life is the national impulse. It sought to fulfil itself in the past by the bond of blood in the joint family, by the bond of a partial communism in the village system, by the bond of birth and a corporate sense of honour in the caste. It may seek a more perfect and spiritual bond in the future.
In commerce also so long as we follow the European spirit and European model, the individual competitive selfishness, the bond of mere interest in the joint-stock company or that worst and most dangerous development of co-operative Capitalism, the giant octopus-like Trust and Syndicate, we shall never succeed in rebuilding a healthy industrial life. It is not these bonds which can weld Indians together. India moves to a deeper and greater life than the world has yet imagined possible and it is when she has found the secret of expressing herself in these various activities that her industrial and social life will become strong and expansive.
Nationalism has been hitherto largely a revolt against the tendency to shape ourselves into the mould of Europe; but it must also be on its guard against any tendency to cling to every detail that has been Indian. That has not been the spirit of Hinduism in the past, there is no reason why it should be so in the future. In all life there are three elements, the fixed and permanent spirit, the developing yet constant soul and the brittle changeable body.
  • The spirit we cannot change, we can only obscure or lose;
  • the soul must not be rashly meddled with, must neither be tortured into a shape alien to it, nor obstructed in its free expansion;
  • and the body must be used as a means, not over-cherished as a thing valuable for its own sake.

We will sacrifice no ancient form to an unreasoning love of change, we will keep none which the national spirit desires to replace by one that is a still better and truer expression of the undying soul of the nation.

The Failure of Europe

SRI AUROBINDO
KARMAYOGIN : Vol.I. No.2 SATURDAY 26th JUNE 1909
Mr. Cecil sees in this ending of Honest John as Lord Morley the failure of Liberalism; and it must be remembered that the failure of Liberalism means the abandonment of the gospel of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as a thing unlivable, and that again means the moral bankruptcy of Europe. "Liberalism in any intelligible sense cannot last another generation. In a score of years the strange adventure on which the nations of Europe embarked in 1789 will be concluded, and we shall revert, doubtless with many and formidable changes, to an earlier type.
The principles of unchecked individual liberty and unrestricted competition have, to use the ancient phrase, been tried in the balance and found wanting. The golden dreams which so lately cheated the anxious eyes of men have tarnished with time. Their splendour has proved illusive and they have gone the way of other philosophies down a road upon which there is no returning. The old aristocrats have been swept away and some malicious spirit has given us new ones bathed in the most material sort of golden splendour. And Misery, Vice and Discontent stalk among the drudges of society much as they did before." Mr. Cecil like most Europeans sees that European liberalism has failed but like most Europeans utterly misses the real reason of the failure.
The principles of 1789 were not false, but they were falsely stated and selfishly executed. Europe had not the spiritual strength, nor the moral force to carry them out. She was too selfish, too short-sighted, too materialistic and ignorant. She deserved to fail and could not but fail. It is left for Asia and especially for India to reconstruct the world.

The Message of India

SRI AUROBINDO
KARMAYOGIN : Vol.I. No.2 SATURDAY 26th JUNE 1909
The ground gained by the Vedantic propaganda in the West, may be measured by the growing insight in the occasional utterances of well-informed and intellectual Europeans on the subject. A certain Mrs. Leighton Cleather speaking to the Oriental circle of the Lyceum Club in London on the message of India has indicated the mission of India with great justness and insight. We need not follow Mrs. Cleather into her dissertation on the Kshatriyas, whom for some mysterious reason she insists on calling the Red Rajputs, but it is true that the first knowledge of Vedantic truth and the Rajayoga was the possession of the Kshatriyas till Janaka, Ajatashatru and others gave it to the Brahmins. But the real issues of this historical fact are inevitably missed by the lecturer.
She is on a surer ground when she continues, "India's message to the world today she considered to be the realisation of the life beyond material forms. The East has taken for granted the reality of the invisible and has no fear. The recognition of the soul in ourselves and others leads to the recognition of the universal soul and the great word of the Upanishads: This soul which is the self of all that is, this is the real, this the self, that thou art.' Modern civilisation has lost sight of the fundamental law of self-sacrifice as conditioning man's evolution."
We have here, very briefly put, the triple message of India, psychical, spiritual and moral. India believes in and has the key to a psychical world within man and without him which is the source and basis of the material. This it is which Europe is beginning dimly to discover. She has caught glimpses of the world beyond the gates, her hands are fumbling for the key but she has not yet found it. Immortality proved and admitted, it becomes easier to believe in God. The spiritual message is that the universal self is one and that our souls are not only brothers, not only of one substance and nature, but live in and move towards an essential oneness. It follows that Love is the highest law and that to which evolution must move. Ananda, joy and delight, are the object of the lila and the fulfilment of love is the height of joy and delight. Self-sacrifice is therefore the fundamental law.
Sacrifice, says the Gita, is the law by which the Father of all in the beginning conditioned the world, and all ethics, all conduct, all life is a sacrifice willed or unconscious. The beginning of ethical knowledge is to realise this and make the conscious sacrifice of one's own individual desires. It is an inferior and semi-savage morality which gives up only to gain and makes selfishness the basis of ethics. To give up one's small individual self and find the larger self in others, in the nation, in humanity, in God, that is the law of Vedanta. That is India's message. Only she must not be content with sending it, she must rise up and live it before all the world so that it may be proved a possible law of conduct both for men and nations.

Well done, Chidambaram!

Sri Aurobindo
Bande Mataram: Calcutta, March 27, 1908
A true feeling of comradeship is the salt of political life; it binds men together and is the cement of all associated action... Chidambaram Pillai has shown throughout the Tuticorin affair a loftiness of character, a practical energy united with high moral idealism which show that he is a true Nationalist. His refusal to accept release on bail if his fellow-workers were left behind, is one more count in the reckoning.
Nationalism is or ought to be not merely a political creed but a religious aspiration and a moral attitude. Its business is to build up Indian character by educating it to heroic self-sacrifice and magnificent ambitions, to restore the tone of nobility which it has lost and bring back the ideals of the ancient Aryan gentleman. The qualities of courage, frankness, love and justice are the stuff of which a Nationalist should be made. All honour to Chidambaram Pillai for having shown us the first complete example of an Aryan reborn, and all honour to Madras which has produced such a man.

The knowledge of how to read a language has changed.

Romila Thapar in an interview with Santwana Bhattacharya
The Indian Express Wednesday, February 02, 2005
None of the social sciences are totally without bias. The difference between a good social scientist and a poor one is that the first is aware of the method he or she is using, discusses it and so makes it clear. But that awareness has to be there. In the old days it used to be called bias. But it is in fact the method.... So that small element has to be conceded in the social sciences. People now argue that it has to be conceded in the sciences as well. That science also works on the basis of preconceived ideas. Secondly, history is very strongly related to nationalism. Therefore, inevitably, nationalist ideology comes into play, at least marginally. The problem arises when political ideology totally colours the history being written-to that extent it ceases to be an independent history. Thirdly, the essential in all social sciences is the right to discuss. The moment you have someone saying we will delete these passages from textbooks and we won't allow any discussion on this...that is when one says this is not on.
  • Our political structures are liable to change, probably every five years. How to insulate the institutions, history writing and textbooks from this?

You must make a distinction between state textbooks and history writing. The two are not linked. History writing is not going to change every five years. The textbooks you use in state schools may change. This is why it is necessary for the present government to bring in statutes on these bodies that are concerned with state-sponsored textbooks. That will disallow every new government from bringing in a change in the body of knowledge.

  • This phenomenon is not confined to this country. A similar process is on in Italy.

Wherever there have been historical changes, people are going through this process. One of the most interesting cases is Germany-the books that were used in the schools in East Germany and the ones in the West and how you correlate the two. So these are problems that belong to a much wider world than ours. We have to treat them not as 'leftist vs rightist' historians and that kind of nonsense but as problems in how to treat a body of knowledge.

  • How do you create the right kind of dialogue between historians?

I think a dialogue is going on, continual dialogue. The history I was writing 40 years ago, it has changed in my own later writings. When I brought out my recent Early India (From Origins to AD 1300), it's in many ways different from the first books I wrote. My own understanding has undergone some degree of change and that is necessary. What one has to avoid, or point out continually as a professional historian, is the abuse of history for political mobilisation-done by presenting a point of view that is not historically valid from the premises.

  • You mentioned national identity. Post-independence, history in the subcontinent also had to deal with the idea of two nations...

The Indian subcontinent is more than two nations.

  • Our recent debates were marked by an exchange of allegations rather than facts. What does the common man, the receiver of history, make of this conflict? How do you even approximate to truth?

The discipline of history itself has undergone immense changes. We talk today not of the truth. People practising the humanities and the social sciences, we talk about understanding...and there are different ways of attaining that. This is not an arbitrary thing. It's not that X has a certain understanding, I have another and you as the public have to decide. There are mechanisms, procedures by which history is written today. These did not exist a hundred years ago. It was practised almost by instinct by certain very good historians. Today, we train our history students in techniques by which you analyse data. One has of late been battling with people who are not trained historians. If you say, 'To hell with all your historical rules and methods, I will pick up a text and interpret it the way I want and that's history', face up to it, the historian will turn around and question your method. It's really like the debate between astronomy and astrology where there is no conversation.

  • If there can be a European identity, an American identity, a Black consciousness, why not an Indian one....

No one is denying the identity of the Indian past. You can't. There was an Indian past. That is a given. The point is, how do you look at that past. How do you analyse it? How do you understand what identity that past gives you? This is where the difference lies. In the long run, I think the kinds of issues many of us are looking at have much more relevance to understanding the Indian identity than the obsession with just the Vedas and the Hindu identity.

  • That is another allegation. That you refuse to look at the Vedas and the Sanskrit texts as historical documents.

That is of course an absurdity. None of us could write our history without doing that. Some of the major histories of early India written in the last 50 years are based precisely on those sources. Unfortunately, very often it is they who cannot read the sources. They don't read sufficiently. Historiographically, they keep reverting to Vivekananda and Aurobindo and people like that.

  • But they do say new, scientific methods are not being taken into account.

It's the reverse that is true. It's they who are using the old tools. When you start talking to them about the new tools of analyses, they are lost. For them, their analysis of a Vedic text is simply the ability to read Sanskrit. The way in which the subject has evolved now, linguistic analysis of Vedic Sanskrit has thrown up all kinds of problems... explorations that are very interesting historically. But which they are unaware of. For them, the readings that existed in the nineteenth century are still valid. And they don't see that even the knowledge of how to read a language has changed.

  • You've been the target of personal attacks. There was a signature campaign against you when you received the Library of Congress honour.

I was startled by the fact that I was the icon of hatred. I kept asking myself, what had I done to deserve this? But I was absolutely overwhelmed by the kind of support I got. Initially from academics-not just from India or America, but literally all over the world-then the number of people in India who were incensed by the nature of the attack and wrote in my defence. I realised that I as a person was unimportant to the debate. In some ways, I was glad the issue had surfaced, that people were forced to think and clarify their position. Earlier people used to say we were exaggerating. But it became very clear there was an attitude towards knowledge which was backward-looking, to put it mildly.

  • Whether the BJP or the BSP, exploration of a historical identity has been crucial to politics/political empowerment.

You are right. Political empowerment is what every group is searching for-as such for rights to history. In the twentieth century, history moved from traditional elite groups to new groups that sought and gained empowerment. Groups that were treated as marginal are now slowly moving centrestage, which in fact enriches not only our understanding of the past but also the issue of identity. It comes back to that point. One of my problems with the nineteenth century concept of civilisation is that it locates a territory, gives it a language, a religion and everything is determined through that. Now if you take something like Indian civilisation, the great characteristic was that it was multicultural. You can't just say that my identity as an Indian is a Hindu identity and that's the end of it. For one, historically, identities keep changing. You cannot say 'this' is the Indian identity for all times. And then. There are other groups that have contributed to the creation of the Indian civilisation-whose past has to be conceded.

lesser known luminaries

INDIAN FREEDOM STRUGGLE: The Pathfinders from Surendranath Banerjee to Gandhi
By B. Krishna ALL THOSE WHO FOUGHT TO THE FINISH
Piyus Ganguly The Telegraph Friday, May 30, 2003
Any study of India’s freedom struggle is commonly woven around three stalwarts — Gandhi, Nehru and Subhas Bose. Krishna attempts a fairer estimate by taking note of the contribution of several lesser luminaries. According to Krishna, the movement can be split up into three phases:
  1. 1876-1904, which saw awakening of political consciousness under Surendranath Banerjee;
  2. 1905-20 witnessed the emergence of militancy with Tilak as its leader;
  3. 1921-47 belonged to Gandhi.
Banerjee heralded the first public protest on an all-India basis yet, as Krishna points out, his vision of independence, as that of most of his contemporaries, did not go beyond securing for Indians a greater share in the governance of their country. Krishna hails Tilak as the father of unrest together with Sri Aurobindo, C.R. Das and Bipinchandra Pal. He claims that Tilak blazed a new trial when he took up fearlessly the cause of the suffering peasantry in the famine of 1896 in Konkan in Maharashtra. Krishna is in his element while dealing with the extremists.
He is also good in his treatment of Gandhi, rightly dubbing the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement as a tactical error. He suggests tongue-in-cheek that the British were extremely lucky in having an uncompromising stickler for non-violence like Gandhi as their principal opponent. Of course, Gandhi displayed political astuteness on more occasions than one. As Krishna points out, he chose the vacillating Nehru as his heir and exploited his weaknesses to his advantage. Krishna draws attention to the dubious decisions of Gandhi. For example, Gandhi adopted a non-committal attitude towards the communal award instead of rejecting it outright. He also fought for the removal of untouchability, not abolition of the caste system.
Krishna however does not dwell too much on Gandhi’s role in the 1942 movement. But Gandhi’s ambivalence during the time had been no less significant in confusing the revolutionaries. Krishna writes in detail about the rift between Bose and Gandhi and Bose’s subsequent ventures. He thinks Bose’s was a posthumous victory. The INA triggered a revolutionary upsurge which finally prompted the British to leave. To quote Alistair Lamb: “The agitation against their trial...seemed to suggest that the British could not rely much longer on the Indian forces to keep India under British rule.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Three pivotal moments that shaped early nationalism in India

STORY OF THE CONGRESS MUKUL KESAVAN The Telegraph Sunday, May 29, 2005
A hundred and twenty years after it was founded, the history of Congress nationalism as taught in classrooms and written in textbooks remains an implausible story. Implausible need not necessarily mean untrue: there are many unlikely occurrences in real life that are undeniable, but it is the business of historians to “normalize” historical events by supplying us with causal explanations that persuade, that seem reasonable, that allow the reader to suspend disbelief. On this score, the histories of Congress nationalism (there are several) do poorly. Far from imposing order on the press of events, narratives of nationalism often endorse exotic, unlikely explanations that seem rooted in teleologies of one sort or another, rather than an empirical, materialist understanding of history. To illustrate this point, let us look at three pivotal moments in the early history of the Congress:
  • its foundation in 1885,
  • the indictments of colonial exploitation authored by R.C. Dutt and Dadabhai Naoroji, both leaders of the Congress, at the turn of the century,
  • and the Moderate-Extremist split at Surat in 1907.
The origins of the Congress are generally located in the provincial associations that pre-dated it, such as the British Indian Association, the Indian Association, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, and so on. The fact that leading members of these associations sometimes participated in the early meetings of the Congress seems to bear out this view. More generally, the liberalizing tendencies of Lord Ripon and the institution of local self-government are seen as the context in which a new middle-class engaged with early nationalist politics. But this view of the party’s origins doesn’t explain the spectacular success of the early Congress compared to the deserved obscurity of the provincial associations from which the Congress was allegedly sprung. I’d argue that the clue to the Congress’s success lies in the redundancy built into the organization’s name: the Indian National Congress. The Congress was successful because it was the opposite of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha: it was not provincial — it began life as an all-India organization that presumed to speak for the subcontinent. It was Indian and just in case you had missed the point, it was also national. Later, the name of its chief committee underlined its extraordinary ambition: the All-India Congress Committee.
The origins of a party that sought to represent All-India are unlikely to be found in the minutes of provincial associations. In its emphasis on pluralism, in its attempt to replicate within its ranks the census diversity of India, the origins of the Congress are much more plausibly found in the Durbar of 1877, a gathering of the human species of India that greatly impressed one of the Congress’s early notables, Sir Surendranath Bannerjee. The creation of the Congress had little to do with nascent public opinion or local-self-government: Ripon was a dead end; it was the conservative Lytton who, unwitting, showed India’s babus the road ahead, by organizing the Durbar which supplied them with a precedent, a provocation and a mirror image. The raj gave Indian nationalism its start in life, but once it realized what it had done, it did everything to smother this Frankenstein. Within two years the Viceroy was denouncing the Congress with a fury that seemed disproportionate to the threat, given that this was an organization that met once a year and passed critical resolutions amid protestations of loyalty. But the raj was run by grown men who recognized the Congress for the threat that it was even before the Congress appreciated the threatening novelty of its rhetoric. It did three things right: its resolutions were resolutely pan-Indian, its membership conspicuously diverse and its petitions were underwritten by a fierce, systematic and brilliant critique of Britain’s economic exploitation of India.
Which brings us to our second pivotal moment in nationalist history, the precocious dissection of British rule by the leaders of this young organization. The sophistication of Dutt’s and Naoroji’s economic critique led some Marxist historians to formulate the fantastic thesis that they were ventriloquizing for a “nascent” bourgeoisie, that they were proxies for a ghostly class of unborn capitalists. This recourse to the far-fetched explanation isn’t exceptional in histories of Indian nationalism: it is something of a tendency. The plausible explanation for their critique is straightforward: the Congress recognized that its claim to speak for the nation was thin. It had no organization, no mobilizational ability and no plebeian members. It got around this in two ways. By seeking out members from every community, the Congress tried to prove it was representative of India’s diversity. Also, realizing that the template of European nationalism wouldn’t fit a subcontinent as diverse as India, men like Naoroji and Dutt tried to replace the identity politics that supplied the ballast of European nationalisms (blood, soil, faith, history) with secular grievance: by demonstrating that British rule hurt all classes and communities, they laid the ground for a properly anti-colonial nationalism.
This brings us to the third of our pivotal moments, the 1907 split between the Extremists and the Moderates in Surat. There is no credible accounting for this split. There are two theories on offer. The extremists are either more radical (and therefore more representative of the People) than the Moderates in their willingness to use force and a fierier rhetoric or there are no real differences between the two tendencies, and the split is merely an organizational struggle between two factions of a middle class party dominated by professional men. So the Extremists either represent a different, less middle-class social constituency from the Moderates (who, on this reading, turn into spokesmen for a haute professional class) or it’s a factional struggle for power waged under rhetorically useful labels. Neither explanation seems to work. The idea that Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Bepin Chandra Pal represent a social class different from that of Gokhale, Surendranath Bannerjee and Badruddin Tyabji is silly. Equally, the airy downgrading of this fight that nearly tore the Congress apart, to the level of a factional dispute amounts to an abdication of historical responsibility. On a third view, the Extremists represent a Hindu tendency, a regrettable early diversion into the murk of communalism from the clear waters of nationalism. For the secular historian, this communal tendency is the cue for a new master narrative, the history of communalism.
The plausible explanation, I think, goes like this. The dispute between the Moderates and Extremists is not a clash between political moderation and political extremism, or nationalism and communalism. It is a conflict between proponents of two different sorts of nationalism. The Extremists take their cues from handy versions of European nationalism, based on the idea of a homogeneous People seeking self-determination and self rule. Inspired by the central European nationalisms of the mid-19th century, Lal, Bal and Pal saw no difficulty in appealing to a larger constituency in the name of an agreed history, a revived culture and a resurgent People. The Extremists are best understood as Orthodox nationalists.
The Moderates disagreed with this view not principally out of timorousness or loyalism, but because they saw the impossibility of achieving an Indian consensus on history, culture and the idea of a People. They had gone to great lengths to create a pan-Indian party powered by a sense of anti-colonial grievance (it is no coincidence that the great critiques of colonial exploitation are written by Moderates) and they were determined not to risk that achievement on the altar of a Mother India derived from Hindu iconography. The moderates are best understood as Radical nationalists, who brilliantly imagined into existence a pluralist nationalism. The split in 1907 was not a dispute about class or political mobilization: it was a fundamental disagreement about the premises of Indian nationalism and the split occurred because there was no middle ground to occupy. The swadeshi movement with its Ma inspired narodniki, was, from a Moderate point of view, a negation of the entire Congress project. As a partisan of the Moderates it gives me great satisfaction that Bengal’s greatest poet, Tagore, got it exactly right and her worst, Aurobindo Ghose, got it perfectly wrong.
The split left unresolved the question of nationalist political action. How was the Congress to challenge the raj if revolutionary terrorism and constitutional petitioning were both cul de sacs? Annie Besant and Tilak tried to answer the question through their Home Rule Leagues, but the Congress had no categorical answers till the arrival of Gandhi in 1915. Gandhi’s takeover of the Congress is properly seen as a milestone in that party’s history. Unfortunately his oddness and celebrity have encouraged historians to underestimate the degree to which he was shaped by the Congress that he inherited. We need a narrative of nationalism that returns Gandhi to the history of Congress nationalism. For too long, Gandhi has been Indian nationalism’s Extra-terrestrial. One of the tasks of a credible history of nationalism is to supply him with earthly origins.

the great car-owning democracy

Not libertarian but anti-social: It is about the rise of the anti-social elements who believe they should be allowed to do what they want, whenever they want, regardless of the consequences.
George Monbiot The Hindu Wednesday, Dec 21, 2005- Guardian
I believe that while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the U.K., the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold begins on the road. When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become. The car is slowly turning us (the British), like the Americans and the Australians, into a nation that recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people's actions.
It is strange to see how the car has been overlooked as an agent of political change. We know that the breaking of the unions, the dismantling of the welfare state and the sale of council houses that Margaret Thatcher pioneered made us more individualistic. But the way in which the transition from individualism to the next phase of neoliberalism — libertarianism — was assisted by her transport policies has been largely ignored. She knew what she was doing. She spoke of "the great car-owning democracy," and asserted that "a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure." Her road-building programme was an exercise in both civil and social engineering. "Economics are the method," she told us, "the object is to change the soul."

Forcing any law on any community not possible

Imposing a uniform civil code a complicated issue: Law Minister
Staff Reporter The Hindu Wednesday, Dec 21, 2005
NEW DELHI: Stating that imposing a uniform civil code in the country was complicated and it was not possible to force reform on another community unless it was ready for change, the Union Minister for Law and Justice, H.R. Bharadwaj, said on Tuesday that it was important to preserve the diversity of India.

Speaking after releasing "Education: A Mission in Jeopardy" -- a book by Supreme Court advocate M.P. Raju here in the Capital -- Mr. Bharadwaj said there were different communities in India and it was not possible to force any law on another community. "However, where there are problems we should have legislation, which has begun in right earnest. We are working to remove discrimination against women from laws. We recently had an amendment to the Hindu Succession Act as it discriminated against women," he added.

Talking about the question of reservation in private schools and colleges, Mr. Bharadwaj said: "We should avoid controversy wherever it is possible. Education is the basic norms and it is what makes a man a human being after training the mind. I think dharma is to teach righteousness. The norms of education should be such that even a poor man gets it."

The experiences of mystics down the ages

Indian Religions: The Spiritual Traditions Of South Asia Edited by Peter Heehs GROWTH OF BELIEF SYSTEMS Madhumita Bhattacharyya The Telegraph Friday, September 20, 2002
Spanning four millennia, this anthology attempts to provide an introduction to the religious movements of south Asia. The Hindu, Sufi, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain religions are explored through scripture, poetry, philosophy, hymn and sermons. The development of belief systems, shifts in thought, the major proponents and modern mystics are all covered, from 3500 BC to 1990 AD, in almost 200 extracts. The result is a 500-page “introductory reader” and a layman’s guide to spirituality in the Indian subcontinent. Indian Religions edited by Peter Heehs is not an in-depth look. It could not have been one given the vastness of its scope.
The volume is both well-researched and organized. Heehs has structured the book lucidly, first outlining the major belief systems originating in the subcontinent — Vedic, Vedantic, Jainism, Theravada Buddhism, Samkhya and Yoga — in the section titled “Foundations”. Having established the basic operating tenets and principles in brief introductions to each, Heehs then includes a number of extracts from the scriptures and literature.
The translations have been chosen for their “readability” in English and relevance (including a few from W.B. Yeats, Sri Aurobindo). They focus mostly on the experiences of mystics down the ages, rather than the didactic teachings of scriptures. In, “Developments”, Heehs outlines the theological structures based on the foundations he had already addressed: the Bhagavad Gita, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Tantras, and the Puranas. Heehs gives little space to the final category in this section, because “dharma” is not relevant to his exploration.
While the tenets of Buddhism are well developed and presented here, the study of the Bhagavad Gita remains vague. Part Three, titled “Elaborations”, is too rushed and Heehs does not do justice to the historical work of any of the philosophers he includes. By contrast, he spends much time and space on bhaktas in Part Four, “Reformulations”. In the chapter titled, “The Bhakti Movement”, in keeping with his stated aim of discussing direct personal experiences with divine forces rather than intellectual discourse (as discussed in the editor’s introduction), Heehs goes into great details while dealing with figures such as Mirabai and Chaitanya, which makes for interesting reading. He however admits not knowing how much truth there is to the legend.
A significant hole in this anthology is the limited mention of Islam. Two chapters on Sufism are hardly sufficient in an edition on Indian religions, though the concentration here is on traditions that have evolved in the country itself. Heehs includes one chapter on the development of Sufism and another on “Popular Sufism” where the works of six Sufi thinkers are highlighted.
The fifth and final section on modern developments is divided into two parts. In the first, “Twelve Mystics of Modern India”, Ramakrishna and Krishnamurthi, Sai Baba of Shirdi and Sri Aurobindo, all find mention. The concluding chapter, “Four Mystic Poets” includes Rabindranath Tagore, Bhai Vir Singh and Subramania Bharati. Between the concluding sections, two Sufi thinkers find mention — Hazrat Inayat Khan and Muhammad Iqbal.
Little attention has been paid to the sociological factors that have led to the development and spread of religious systems. Although outside the scope of the book, but a brief mention of these forces would have provided a useful context. The wisdom of attempting to include so much in such a confined space is, however, debatable. Indian Religions can be of use to only beginners.

akhand Bharat

VHP tells Advani to take sanyas OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT The Telegraph Wednesday, June 15, 2005 New Delhi, June 14: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has asked L.K. Advani to take “sanyas” (retirement) from politics for “insulting” the country with his remarks on Mohammed Ali Jinnah. A special resolution, adopted by the VHP on the first day of the two-day meeting of the kendriya marg darshak mandal — its highest decision-making body — in Hardwar condemned Advani’s Pakistan visit and congratulated the BJP for “rejecting” the observations he penned on Jinnah on his visit to the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum in Karachi on June 4. “The manner in which Advani insulted India on Pakistani soil and remained adamant on his stand, the only option available to him is to take total sanyas from politics,” VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia said, reading out the resolution. It accused him of “betraying” India in an “enemy country” and asked him to come clean on what “selfish interest” prompted him to do so. The outfit wanted to know who Advani’s idol was, Veer Savarkar or Jinnah.
The resolution asserted that the creation of Pakistan was to date “unacceptable” to every “patriotic” citizen. It said: “From sage Aurobindo to the new generation, everyone is committed to the cause of akhand Bharat (greater India). By describing Pakistan as an unalterable reality of history, Advani has insulted crores of patriots, including Aurobindo….” The VHP took exception to Advani describing the Babri demolition as the “saddest day of my life” and reminded him of how he had repeatedly referred to the mosque as a “de jure, de facto temple”. The resolution said his words had not only “blackened” his Ram rath yatra but also insulted the sentiments of the 85 crore Hindus involved in the temple “agitation”.

Every Hindu decides what is Hinduism

PREHISTORY OF HINDUTVA - The space for each Hindu to decide what Hinduism is must remain: Politics and Play Ramachandra Guha ramguha@vsnl.com The Telegraph Saturday, April 17, 2004
In June 2002, just as the riots in Narendra Modi’s home state had finally run their course, I was visited in Bangalore by G.N. (Ganesh) Devy, a sterling representative of another and better Gujarat. Devy was for many years a professor of literature at M.S. University in Baroda, and won a Sahitya Akademi award for his works of criticism. But when his career was at its height he chucked it up to become a social worker. His inspiration was a Bengali matriarch named Mahasveta Devi, who had once been a teacher of literature herself. Like Mahasveta, Ganesh Devy became a champion of that most oppressed and least understood segment of Indian society, the adivasis. For the past decade, Devy has worked tirelessly at recovering and celebrating adivasi art, culture and language. In a more practical vein, he has sought also to intervene on their behalf with the state, to seek justice for nomads unfairly stigmatized as “criminals” and for slum-dwellers thrown out of their homes.
I have known and admired Devy for a long time. When he came to see me in June 2002, he asked to be taken to the home of another admirer of his. This was M.N. Venkatachaliah, the former chief justice of India. Venkatachaliah had just then submitted the report of a constitutional review committee of which he was the chairman. Those who appointed him to this job knew him to be a devout Hindu. But perhaps they did not realize that he was also a man of independence and integrity. Thus the report he finally turned in recommended the retention of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, rather than its radical overhaul, as the ruling coalition had probably hoped for. And, unlike most other such appointees, he quit his government bungalow in Delhi the day he demitted office.
After leaving Delhi, Venkatachaliah returned to his ancestral home in the old Bangalore locality of Basavangudi. It was there that, with me as a silent witness, Devy told the jurist of the happenings in Gujarat. Beginning with the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, he then narrated the incidents by which that act was avenged. He spoke of the torching of homes in Vadodara, the killings of women and children in Ahmedabad, and the attacks on the shops owned by Muslims in the interior. At first Venkatachaliah listened quietly, but then he broke out, in anguish: “No, no, Devy! That is not Hinduism!” It was not the jurist’s Hinduism, certainly, nor Devy’s, nor (I hope) mine. But, as the social activist reminded the judge, those avengers of the Godhra outrage certainly saw themselves as Hindus, acting on behalf of what they understood to be Hinduism.
The judge and I were deeply moved by Devy’s account, although, unlike him, we were experiencing the pain and the shame only at secondhand. His own feelings ran far deeper still. As we were leaving, Devy told Venkatachaliah to use whatever influence he still had in Delhi to ask for a CBI enquiry. As he put it, in a flash of bitter and evocative sarcasm, “Sir, we need to know from the CBI — was Gandhi really born in Gujarat?”
I was reminded of that conversation when reading Jyotirmaya Sharma’s recent book,
Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism.
This presents a prehistory of the most influential political movement of contemporary India. It does so through a careful examination of the ideas of four patriotic Indians: Dayananda Saraswati, Aurobindo Ghose, Vivekananda and V.D. Savarkar. In Sharma’s view, what binds this quarter of thinkers is their “systematic marshalling of a Hindu identity in the service of Indian nationalism”. He identifies some crucial, one might say foundational, ideas common to all four. Thus there is a common privileging of the Vedas as constituting the authentic texts of Hinduism, to be upheld over and against locally valorized myths and legends. There is a common desire to build a unity among the “original inhabitants” of Aryavarta, in an assertion of a race-based nationalism that bears a marked similarity to German ideas of the “volk”. There is the downgrading of the feminine, and a corresponding glorification of the masculine, and of violence, seen as necessary to overcome the temptations of competing faiths. There is the pervasive suspicion of the outsider, this combined with a penchant for conspiracy theories in which Hindus are the victims of the scheming foreigner. There is a partiality for abuse and invective, to be expected in a totalizing ideology in which, as Sharma points out, “there was little scope for moderation or compromise”.
An excavation of the intellectual genealogy of Hindutva is long overdue. What makes Sharma’s book especially notable is that he is no Marxist secularist, but a Hindu steeped in his own cultural and religious tradition. A scholar of Sanskrit, he is as comfortable in Gujarati and Hindi as in the language of Mill and Macaulay. But he is also a trained political philosopher, trained to examine and analyse the genesis of political ideas and their consequences. Fortunately — since political philosophy can at times be a science even more dismal than economics — he also has a gift for communicating complex ideas in lucid prose.
The book starts with Dayananda Saraswati, a thinker who was singularly devoid of doubt and irony. His “philosophy left little room for conversation”. He opposed idol worship, but his own god — abstract, formless, yet all-knowing — seems disconcertingly like Allah. We move on to Aurobindo, who, again, at times propagated ideas uncannily similar to Islam, as in the wish to return to a Golden Age where all was truth and righteousness. Then we come to Vivekananda, to this writer the most ambivalent, and hence most appealing, of the four. On the one side is his celebration of masculinity: Sharma quotes a passage in which the Swami is dismissive of Chaitanya for promoting a form of Krishna worship through which “the whole nation has become effeminate — a race of women!” On the other side is his keen interest in other faiths. While holding Hinduism to be the “mother” of religions, Vivekananda can yet spot qualities to admire and honour in Christ, the Buddha, and in Mohammad too.
The book ends with V.D. Savarkar, who actually coined the term “Hindutva”, and who was unquestionably the most hard-headed of the quartet. The rhetoric of revenge and retribution is palpable in his work. Savarkar hated Islam, if only to emulate it. He wished to put Muslims in their place — to make them, as he said, “behave as good boys”. That indeed is how minorities were treated by Islamic states: allowed to exist if they were subdued and deferential, but crushed if they spoke up for their rights. Interestingly, of the thinkers profiled here, Savarkar was the most opposed to the divisions of caste. For he sought to build a unified “qaum”, or community, of believers, thus to more effectively take on the qaum of Islam.
I think this book would have been complete if it had ended with a chapter on the life and work of the long-serving head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, M.S. Golwalkar. Sharma sees Golwalkar as merely an “intelligent pamphleteer”. Certainly his ideas were not as original or interesting as Dayananda’s or Savarkar’s, but they were greatly more influential. Golwalkar was to that duo what Stalin was to Marx and Lenin: the vulgarizer, but also the great popularizer, of the faith. Mao and Ho Chi Minh and our own E.M. S. Namboodiripad learnt the catechism of communism from the summaries provided by Stalin. Likewise, the men who now rule India learnt how to hate and revile the “Other” from the speeches delivered by Golwalkar.
The anthropologist Verrier Elwin once called the Baptists the “RSS of Christianity”. The sangh parivar has done to Hinduism what the evangelicals have done to Christianity — reduce an alive, supple faith to a set of absolutist dogmas. Indeed, the damage in this case is even greater. For Hinduism has always been the most decentralized of religions — with no church, no holy book, no central committee, in a word, no authorized interpreters. It is this autonomy that the Hindutva movement seeks to destroy. It is for us to ensure that they do not succeed. For, as Jyotirmaya Sharma observes, “Every Hindu decides what is Hinduism. That space ought to remain inviolable. It is a space worth living and dying for.”

An acceptable role of religion in modern Indian society

Hinduism in Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender and Sampraday Edited by Antony Copley, Oxford, ACROSS THE THIN SAFFRON LINE Suhrita Saha
The Telegraph Friday, December 19, 2003
The constitution framers laid down a secular path to India’s development right from independence. But far from being a matter of private faith, religion today is an essentially public affair. The rise and consolidation of Bharatiya Janata Party in national politics lends credence to this view. Instead of being a limited religious ideal, Hindutva is fast transforming into a powerful tool. But what exactly should be the desirable and acceptable role of religion in modern Indian society? This is the question this book tries to address. The first few essays analyse the influence of Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghose and Dayanand Saraswati on the rise of Hindu nationalism. The later essays deal with more contemporary Hindu social reform movements.
It is interesting to note that the same socio-cultural and intellectual conditions gave birth to both the secular freedom struggle and Hindu nationalism in India. There were overlaps, of course: the voices of Hindu traditionalism within the Congress were the likes of Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malaviya. But secular nationalism linked itself broadly to a liberal and universalist outlook and stood for territorial rather than ethnic claims, while Hindu nationalism placed community over individual and was ostensibly committed to a cultural, ethnic renewal. In doing so, the later avatar of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, almost appropriated nationalistic figures like Vivekananda and Aurobindo Ghose. As a consequence, their distinctive reformulation of Vivekananda’s idea of seva is made to give licence to the kar sevaks of Ayodhya.
Many scholars have taken up the relationship between religious reform and religious nationalism in India. Therese O’ Toole shows how the symbol of cow protection was used to bridge the divide between Hindu reformism and conservative Hindu nationalism. Between the late 19th century and independence, cow protection was associated with movements for Hindu reform, and it also came to be used emblematically in the assertion of Hindu nationalism. Such formulations often clashed with the Congress brand of liberal nationalism, yet they also sometimes merged as being both sacred and secular. But by playing on modern and secular reasons for protecting the cow; the symbol of cow ultimately lost its religious appeal and Hindutva had to find a new symbol: “the good old Lord Ram”.
Feminists have addressed the question of whether the public expression of religion is strictly a male prerogative. Hiltrud Rustam takes up the story of the delayed but eventual setting up of the Sarada Math. The idea of a math run only by female ascetics who give samnyasa to other women and interpret Hindu dharma, is in itself revolutionary, and a symbol of liberation from an oppressive patriarchy and domesticity.
Mata Amritanandamayi’s mission is yet another contemporary religious movement which transcends all sectarian, patriarchal loyalties to either Vishnu or Shiva. Maya Warrier shows that this mission lays emphasis on bhakti and seva. With the Mother’s blessings, ten million middle-class followers seek a different set of values, from a materialist and urban culture to one that leads through social service to a higher spiritual plane.
Antony Copley’s edition captures the various dimensions and nuances of Hinduism, its interface with reform movements, religious nationalism and women’s emancipation. It could prove to be an immense help for scholars of sociology, theology, history, as well as for the informed non-specialist reader.

The family is held together by hierarchy

Shall the twain meet? Can we conceive of a modernity which is not Western but evolves from the matrix of Indian culture, asks MARTIN KÄMPCHEN The Statesman Jan 23, 2003 (The author is a German Tagore scholar and freelance writer based in Santiniketan.)
One of the most fascinating and troubling aspects of Indian life is the co-existence of pre-modern and modern mindsets and lifestyles. One does not seem to influence the other. Pre-modernity does not merge into modernity. The invisible wall dividing the two seems impenetrable. What makes this wall so strong? Scholars may give many reasons, relating this intransigence to the power of tradition, to the strongly felt need for identity of each group in a highly diversified society, or to colonialism which has created an aversion to modernity.
Having lived in this country for nearly 30 years and mingled both with the upper and lower strata, I’ve reached a conclusion: Modernity and pre-modernity coexist because of India’s strong family bonds. Critics bemoan the weakening of the Indian family system; its breaking up into nuclear units; weakening of morals, especially of the erosion of selflessness which allows to put family interests before the individual’s. And it’s always “the West” with its selfish individualism which is seen as the corruptor. Even the vulgar Bollywood film extols in its incongruent ways the family values of Hindu society.
  • The family is held together by hierarchy.
  • There’s no room for equality in a traditional family set-up.
  • The “higher” and “lower” is determined by seniority, or by the proximity of relationship.
  • The entire cosmos is kept functional by the way each member knows his/her position in relation to the others.
  • There can be no serious challenge to authority because traditionally authority is determined by extraneous factors, such as age, gender, and kinship, or sometimes by ritual authority, but not by such vague concepts as knowledge, experience, or wisdom.
  • The assumption is that with age, knowledge, skill and wisdom increase as well.
  • The hierarchy and non-equality of the Indian family is, I wish to emphasise, mostly a comfortable one.
The family is a launching pad for life in the wider world. The elder generation envisages a life beyond child rearing, and the younger generation beyond family bonds. With this mindset, Western youths become independent, mature for practical life and resistant to the perils of a competitive wider social life much earlier than their Indian counterparts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Let Every Truth Become Suspect

PM's speech questioned the certitudes of history
Harbans Mukhia The Times of India Saturday, July 23, 2005
History in the end gives you a way of looking at things. Ways, in fact, with no finality and no ultimate objective truth vesting in any of them. Time was when the predominant perspective was constituted in adversarial categories: Class versus class, imperialism versus colony, dark versus white races, one religion versus another, and more recently women versus men, or for that matter, continuity versus change. Each of the categories comprised a complete unity in itself standing in total opposition to its other, with no shared spaces between them.
But times change and so does one's historical vision. Today, the certitudes embedded in the oppositional categories have become vulnerable and interaction in lieu of opposition has become a far more seductive proposition. Prime minister Manmohan Singh's speech at Oxford is indeed attuned to this interactive perspective, regardless of whether or not he is keeping abreast of developments in the academic discipline which is not his own.
The significant mutation that has occurred does not quite eliminate the old antagonisms between imperialism and colony, between continuity and change and does not wish away the exploitation that had hitherto explained history. But the relationship has begun to be seen as a process in which both sides affected each other deeply. And this happens independently of the intentions of either side. Karl Marx's famous observation about the enormous suffering being inflicted on Indian people by the British colonial regime, yet breaking down the shackles that had kept India in a state of complete stagnation for all its past, is derived from a very flimsy knowledge of Indian history; it makes a methodological departure in looking at historical processes not in terms of intentions of dramatis personae but in terms of the results of their actions, or objective results as devout Marxists will fondly describe it.
It, therefore, becomes unimportant that the British built the railways with the intention of intensifying their exploitation of India (Did they ever claim that the railways were built to promote national integration?) or that they introduced English language education to create a stratum of babus for keeping the costs of running the admi-nistration low; what remains important is the long-term consequences of these actions. One of the effects of the changing perspective on history is that the decline and fall of empires is seen not so much as the result of a catastrophic collision with an outside force but as a culmination of acculturation within.
Thus the Mughal empire collapsed not because of the dogmatic religious policy of Aurangzeb and the devastating Hindu reaction to it, as Jadunath Sarkar had taught us, nor owing to the rebellion of the impoverished peasantry against the ever-exploitative state, as Irfan Habib had so eloquently argued in 1963. It collapsed when the mansabdars and zamindars, integrated within the empire, mobilised resources thus obtained and sought to carve out their own independent regimes, much as deputy CEOs of corporate organisations set up their own businesses today.
Much of the parent institution inheres in the new set-up even when new mores and methods evolve. The leaders of India's freedom struggle, too, had mobilised organisational, legal, ideological and intellectual resources imbibed from their education in England to bring the empire to its knees. The issue is not of continuity versus change but one of continuity and change.
Historians today have raised serious questions about the earlier dividing lines, in particular 1765, that had marked the traditional date for the onset of colonialism. They visualise the decades bet-ween 1750s and 1830s as a period of flux when a lot of adoption, adaptation and appropriation of each other's assets and values occurred. William Dalrymple has also shown, with great diligence, the same phenomenon in the cultural arena in the same period in his White Mughals.
Indeed, the very title of his book seeks a shared space between two opposing categories. The British dominance in the relationship is dateable to a long century after this period. The institutions that still run a major part of India's political, judicial, military and bureaucratic administration and even its economy and academia were also created in this period, accompanied at the same time by the highest intensity of exploitation.
Manmohan Singh's Oxford speech thus has the finesse of not counterposing one aspect of the consequences of colonialism in India against the other, but taking all of it as an ensemble the way Marx had done in 1853. Knowingly or unknowingly, the PM was also treading the path that historians of various hues have been exploring recently. As the eminent Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, said: "Har haqeeqat majaaz ho jaaye" (Let every established truth become suspect). It is only through this self-questioning that we shall be able to renew ourselves. The writer was professor of history and rector at JNU.