Monthly Archives: December 2015

Take on Wahhabi Islam!!

Is Anyone Willing To Take On The Perversion Of Islam Caused By The Wahhabi-Saudi Combine?

By S IRFAN HABIB | 18 December 2015

On 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated militant attacks in Paris shook the world. The attacks, reportedly the deadliest in France since the Second World War, followed soon after many European countries had opened their doors to the traumatised and homeless refugees from Syria and Iraq, many of whom are Muslims. Although many nations in the European Union expressed discomfort with the decision, this was largely seen as a great humanitarian gesture on the part of the EU. Some even saw it as an expression of guilt for the West’s violent involvement in the ongoing conflicts for decades. Over the last month, countries such as the United States of America and Canada announced that they would be joining the European nations in granting asylum to refugees.

However, the path forward is unclear. Two fronts require serious action. The first and foremost challenge is the one that faces not only Muslim nations but all Muslims: to unambiguously confront the custodians of the Islamic faith, who have hijacked the narrative of Islam. The second is that in order to decimate the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, the West must shelve their strategic and economic interests in west Asia.

Islamic faith, as it stands now, has been vandalised. The vandals of the faith are the same custodians of the holy places of Islam who ganged up with the fundamentalist Sunni Muslim preacher Abdul Wahhab almost two hundred years ago. Wahhab believed that Islam should be returned to the original principles that were followed by the first three generations of Muslims, and rejected many common practices that the faith had come to include over time. The Ottomans, who controlled the region then, may be answerable for the many atrocities they committed during their rule, but the Islam they professed and propagated was based on the traditional heterodox Bektashi Sufi thinking, a dervish order of Islam. Their outlook was loose, and was accommodative of diverse local cultural practices. It is still practiced and venerated in the regions of the Balkans and the erstwhile Russian states in central Asia. The battle between the subsequent Wahhabi-Saudi combine and the Ottomans was not merely a fight for territorial control, but also a fight to save traditional Islam from the depredations of the combine. The defaced Islam peddled by the Islamic State and other fundamentalists today originated two hundred years ago, and mayhem and mass murders are the ugliest manifestations of this corruption.

To understand the criminalisation of Islam, we must delve into the rise of the Wahhabi-Saudi combine. The Ottomans perceived the emerging combine from Najd, the most backward region of Arabia, as a serious threat. Inspired by the 14th century scholar Ibn-Taymayya, who hated the Shias and Sufis, Wahhab also decried them to be grave worshippers. He also declared war against Greek philosophy, which inspired the Baitul Hikma (House of Wisdom), a major intellectual centre during the Abbasid period, to generate a huge corpus of scientific literature between the 8th and 11th centuries. Wahhab took this revisionism forward in his main work, The Book of Monotheism, laying down the framework of a sectarian and hateful Islam. The Prophet’s personality and his dedication to compassion and mercy were amputated from the body of Islam. Wahhab denounced his opponents, and all Muslims not willing to accept his views, as idolaters and apostates. He believed that all Muslims had fallen into unbelief and that if they refused to follow him, they should be killed, their women violated and their possessions confiscated. Shias, Sufis, and other Muslims—who were heretical according to his doctrine—were to be exterminated, and all other faiths were to be humiliated or decimated. With this awful dogma, the basis for the future Islamic fundamentalism, and ultimately terrorism, was laid.

Abdul Wahhab and his doctrine were challenged and repudiated by many scholars of Islam, who found it to be in conflict with Quran and with all the four schools of Islam. Even his family warned Muslims to be wary of him. His brother Suleiman accused him of trying to add a sixth pillar to Islam: the infallibility of Abdul Wahhab.

This terrible doctrine would have remained marginal, and an obscure part of Islamic history, had Abdul Wahhab not received support from Ibn Saud, the first monarch of the House of Saud and the founder of Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabi doctrine could be inducted into the mainstream only if the combine was able to wrest control of the holy places from the Ottoman empire. The Wahhab-Saud alliance initially conquered a few local settlements and imposed their doctrine on them. Their visceral hatred for the Shias led them to attack the Shia holy city of Karbala in 1801, killing thousands of people, wrecking and looting the tomb of Husain, the grandson of the Prophet. Their attacks continued during the 19th century, with a resolve to drive out the Bektashis, Qadiris and other dervishes out of the vicinity of Mecca and Medina. For over a thousand years, the Harmain (holy places) had been inclusive of all Muslims, with shrines for the Shia and other Islamic sects. However, this eclecticism and pluralism was an anathema to the Wahhabis, and they were committed to its eradication. The Islamic State today is inspired by this diabolical Islam of the 18th century. However, they are armed with modern methods of expansion and destruction, such as the internet, social media, and state-of-the-art weaponry.

The West is also deeply implicated in the promotion of this project. The British, already under stress due to the rise of nationalisms in their occupied territories, discovered in the Wahhabi-Saudi combine a potential ally in the fight against the Ottomans. The British collaboration finally led to the victory of the combine and the final takeover of the holy places in 1924. This nexus continued, and was even strengthened after the oil boom in the region in the 1970s. The business and strategic interests have blinded the Euro-American world, overlooking the Wahhabi zealotry and its global implications.

Once the Saudis became custodians of the Harmain, they acquired legitimacy and respect to speak for Islam. Of the Muslims who had been going for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, few saw through the Wahhabi-Saudi game-plan and the innovations they had brought about. Today, any deviation from the Saudi petro-Islam is seen as moving away from Islam itself, which I perceive as terribly farcical. There is a consensus among most schools of Islam that the Islamic State is a terrorist front that has nothing to do with the faith, but no one dares to question the Wahhabi-Saudi combine for inspiring and funding such criminal gangs in the name of Islam.

Neither Muslims nor the West can afford to beat around the bush any longer. An armed struggle against the Islamic State is unavoidable and must be relentlessly pursued. However, a more difficult and indispensable task today is to fight against the indoctrination and perversion of Islam. Unfortunately, I do not see any meaningful and sincere strategy being worked out at any level against this murderous frenzy.

Courtesy: The Caravan


CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND – The thrill of saying something vile

By Mukul Keshavan

For an Indian, one of the most instructive things about the response of the West to 9/11 is how swiftly large sections of its liberal establishment circled their wagons against Muslims. Instructive because this manoeuvre illustrates the extent to which Western democracies are based on majoritarian assumptions, assumptions that override the liberal values that in easier times are invoked as the distinguishing features of countries like Britain, France and the United States of America. Even more interesting is the way in which the case for the illiberal, coercive and even punitive treatment of Muslims is made, the way in which the demonization of Muslims as a matter of public policy is presented as a properly liberal project for all but soft-headed, bleeding hearts.

A short essay that illustrates this tendency perfectly is Christopher Hitchens’s review of Mark Steyn’s book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It which can be read online at this url: 17_1_urbanities-steyn.html. Steyn is a hawkish right-winger who argues in his book that the West, with the exception of the US, has surrendered to the jihadist tendency within Islam. Europe, in particular, with its doctrines of multiculturalism and its declining birth-rates, is doomed to be taken over by fast-breeding immigrant Muslims who see its woolly tolerance for the weakness that it really is.

Hitchens, who started his political life as a Trotskyist, decided after 9/11 that he had found a political project worthy of the rest of his life, namely, unrelenting opposition to the menace of fundamentalist Islam for which he coined a term, “Islamofascism”. He supported the American invasion of Iraq for many reasons, one of which was Saddam Hussein’s alleged alliance with al Qaida.

Hitchens likes Steyn’s book, agrees with its main arguments, finds it admirably tough-minded, and praises Steyn for his pioneering work in making people aware of the menace of Islamism. For Hitchens, Steyn makes an “immensely convincing case” for the imminent swamping of European civilization by Muslim migrants who breed much faster than the local white population. This quote from the book (chosen by Hitchens in his review) summarizes Steyn’s argument from demography: “Why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two’ In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography — except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em. The problem that Europe faces is that Bosn-ia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.”

Hitchens has a few reservations about Steyn’s conclusions: it’s a reductionist explanation of the Bosnian violence because it doesn’t account for Croation irredentism, and Steyn makes a Muslim-European clash seem inevitable because he mistakenly sees Muslims in Europe as a single monolithic community when, in fact, immigrant Muslims are hugely various. But Hitchens’s differences with Steyn are minor ones: he agrees that Muslim birth-rates are a portent of disaster because Islamists publicly proclaim their intention to take over Europe by outbreeding the natives and these statements feed the paranoia of far-right parties and their adherents. Hitchens is persuaded by Steyn’s main point that demography and liberal guilt (cultural masochism in Hitchens’s words) “are handing a bloodless victory to the forces of Islamization”.

Western liberals who can’t see this, argues Hitchens, are disabled by a knee-jerk, politically-correct reflex: “Any emphasis on the relative birth rates of Muslims and non-Muslim populations falls on the liberal ear like an echo of eugenics.”

The problem with this is that the reason the liberal ear responds the way it does is because Steyn, Hitchens’s hero, explicitly makes a eugenic prescription: “The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em (italics mine).”

To an Indian, this isn’t language that even the Bharatiya Janata Party would use in public. It’s the rhetoric of explicitly fascist parties: the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal. This ideological convergence in the ideas of the muscular European liberal and the militant Hindu fascist isn’t an aberration.

The one real disagreement that Hitchens has with Steyn, is his dismissal of Martin Amis as a Western surrender monkey rabbiting on about global warming, when the main threat to the world is overheated Muslims. Hitchens defends Amis’s credentials as a liberal soldier in the war against Islamism by offering the following quote from an interview with Amis in the London Times: “There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it’—to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering’ Not letting them travel. Deportation — further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children… They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs — well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.”

This little manifesto for persecuting Muslims is, for Hitchens, an admirable ability to think outside the liberal box. With that “Don’t you have it’” Amis is enjoying the thrill of saying something vile and simultaneously reassuring other white, non-Muslim people that it’s okay to think this way. But Hitchens sees this as a sign of intellectual courage, a recognition that extraordinary threats call for extraordinary responses.

To single out Muslims for special attention is fine because religious profiling is not the same as racial profiling. Muslims are a religious community not a race, the adherents of an “often ideological religion”, so it’s okay to want to do the things that Amis ticks off. Liberals shouldn’t make the stupid mistake of equating Muslims with dark-skinned Third-Worlders. Except that the man Hitchens has just quoted, Amis, makes an explicit connection between race and religion: you can’t start “strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan” without a racial profile or two in your head.

Towards the end of the review, Hitchens offers the West a ten-point programme for resisting Islamism. High on the list is this suggestion: “A strong, open alliance with India on all fronts, from the military to the political and economic, backed by an extensive cultural exchange program, to demonstrate solidarity with the other great multi-ethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism.”

In Hitchens’s bizarre world, the world’s largest pluralist democracy, home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world, would make common cause with the likes of Amis and Steyn whose prescriptions for saving civilization include systematic discrimination against Muslims, collective punishment, deportation and strategic “culling”. Hitchens argues that it’s important for liberals to stake out this rhetorical position because he doesn’t want anti-Islamism (his term for being anti-Muslim in a respectable way) to become the monopoly of fascists. Muscular liberals like Amis and Hitchens would deny them that space.

By a grotesque ideological sleight of hand, Hitchens would join the West to this great “multi-ethnic democracy” using arguments that are only used in India by parties that would, if they could, create an ethnic, Hindu supremacist state. This convergence is not an accident: by making prejudice respectable, by short-circuiting due process, by presuming collective guilt instead of affirming the presumption of individual innocence, Hitchens and Amis have become what they pretend to pre-empt.

It’s not a nice picture: Milosevic, Le Pen, Nick Griffin, Bal Thackeray, Praveen Togadia, Narendra Modi, Mark Steyn, Martin Amis and Hitchens bringing up the rear. Captions occur to me: Group Portrait with Rabies, perhaps, or Christopher and his Kind.

Courtesy: The Telegraph India


Maratha War History

Forgotten Indian history: The brutal Maratha invasions of Bengal

For medieval India history, incidents that don’t fit into an overarching Hindu versus Muslim narrative tend to be removed from popular discourse. The 1741 Maratha invasion of Bengal is one such example.
Shoaib Daniyal  · Dec 21, 2015 · 10:30 am
Forgotten Indian history: The brutal Maratha invasions of Bengal
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Road names often have a story to tell. In Calcutta, given its long continuous history, even more so.  One of those is the curiously named Marhatta Ditch Lane in Baghbazar in North Calcutta.

The lane refers to an actual ditch built in the 1740s along what was then the northern extremity of Calcutta. Its purpose? To stop the marauding bands of Maratha cavalry who were pillaging Bengal at the time.

In 1741, the cavalry of Raghoji Bhosle, the Maratha ruler of Nagpur, started to pillage western Bengal under the command of Bhaskar Pandit. Bengalis called these Marathas “Bargis” which is a corruption of the Marathi word, “bargir” (etymology: Persian) which means “light cavalry”. Malik Ambar, the celebrated Prime Minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate, had instituted the Deccan practice of guerrilla warfare, which at that time took the name bargir-giri. These swift hit-and-run guerrilla tactics became a part of the military heritage of the Deccan, being used to great effect by Shivaji and, eventually, by the Marathas against the hapless residents of Bengal.


In the 1740s, the bargir-giri of Bhosle’s army confounded the forces of Nawab Alivardi Khan, the ruler of Bengal. While the Bengali army tried its best and even defeated the Marathas in the few times they fought head-to-head, most of the time, the Maratha cavalry would simply skirt the Khan’s slow-moving infantry, being interested only in looting.

In the 10 years that they plundered Bengal, their effect was devastating, causing great human hardship as well as economic privation. Contemporary Dutch sources believed that the Bargis killed 4 lakh Bengalis and a great many merchants in western Bengal, writes historian PJ Marshal, “were permanently crippled by losses and extractions”.

In the Maharashtra Purana, a poem in Bengali written by Gangaram, the poet describes the destruction caused by the raiders in great detail:

This time none escaped,
Brahmanas, and Vaisnavas, Sannyasis, and householders,
all had the same fate, and cows were massacred along with men.

So great was the terror of the Bargi that, in a Gabbar-esque twist, lullabies were composed in which mothers would use the fear of a Maratha raid to get their children to go to sleep. These poems are popular amongst Bengalis even today. One of them went something like this:

Chhele ghumalo, paada judaalo bargi elo deshe 
Bulbulite dhaan kheyechhe, khaajnaa debo kishe?
Dhaan phurolo, paan phurolo, khaajnaar opay ki?
Aar kotaa din shobur koro, roshoon boonechhi 

A very inelegant translation:

When the children fall asleep, silence sets in, the Bargis come to our country
Birds have eaten the grain, how shall I pay the tax (to the Bargi)?
All our food and drink is over, how shall I pay the tax?
Wait for a few days, I have sown garlic.

The ditchers of Calcutta

Not only did the Bargis loot the countryside, but in a sign of their effectiveness, managed to raid the capital of Bengal, Murshidabad and even sack the house of one of the richest Indians at the time, the Marwari banker, Jagat Seth.

In spite of this, the Marathas never did attack Calcutta, in all probability being paid off by the British. The ditch, though, did serve to provide citizens with a nickname: ditchers, i.e everyone who lived south of the ditch, in “proper” Calcutta. Eventually the ditch was filled up and was made into what is now Upper Circular Road.

After a decade of pillage, the Marathas eventually stopped their raids after the harried Nawab, accepting defeat, handed over Orissa to Raghoji Bhosle.

Past through the lens of the present

Of course, as Aakar Patel points out in his column, this history of the Marathas is usually never given popular currency. The Marathas are often portrayed as a proto-national force, acting as agents of either India or Hindu nationalism. This is a common tendency and modern nations often construct myths where they extend themselves back into time. Many Pakistanis imagine that its Islamic nationalism existed during the time of Qutb-ud-din Aibak and many Indians think that a Hindu nationalism was furthered by the Marathas looking to set up a – to use Vinayak Savarkar’s term – “Hindu Pad Padshahi”.

Ironically, the very phrase “Hindu Pad Padshahi” is taken entirely from the Persian language, showing how seamless the transition was from the so-called Muslim Deccan sultanates and the Mughals to the so-called Hindu Marathas. And, of course, such a simplistic view of history must also leave out pillaging bands of Marathas attacking a predominantly “Hindu” West Bengal even as a “Muslim” Nawab struggles to push them out. Today’s India is so caught up with the binaries of “Hindu” and “Muslim” that it tends to see the past in those terms as well. But the past is a different country.

Note: an earlier version of this article referred to the existence of semaphore towers in Bengal being connected to the Bargi raids. This is incorrect and has been removed.


Donors Influence on academics – A case of University of Irvine

December 21, 2015

The Dharma Civilization Foundation is no fan of the work of Wendy Doniger, a University of Chicago professor and former American Academy of Religion president whose 2010 book The Hindus: An Alternative History was recalled by its Indian publisher in response to a lawsuit claiming it denigrated followers of the faith.

Nor does it care for the scholarship of Paul Courtright and Jeffrey Kripal, scholars at Emory and Rice Universities who explored issues related to sexuality in their respective studies of the Hindu god Ganesha and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a major figure in modern Hinduism. In an FAQ section on its website, the California-based Dharma Civilization Foundation criticizes “the application of Freudian analytical techniques to explain Hindu gods, goddesses and gurus” and says that the fact that many scholars of Hinduism are not adherents to the religion has “resulted in widespread incidence of misrepresentations of Hinduism, and mischaracterization of the traditions and practices within the Hindu fold.”

The foundation’s solution to what it sees as the relative lack of “authentic” voices in scholarship on Hinduism is to fund faculty positions at U.S. universities, including at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, and at the University of Southern California. But its gifts to establish endowed professorships at the University of California at Irvine have raised the ire of faculty and students who are concerned both about the ideological agenda of the foundation and the role it seeks to play in influencing the search process.

“While the administration has repeatedly stated that they have a structure[d] process in place to ensure only qualified individuals fill the chairs and promise us that the donors have no influence, they have yet to address what impact this will have on scholars at UCI to be associated with the type of political ideology that our university will inadvertently be giving a base to,” said Ali A. Olomi, a Ph.D. student and the president of UC Irvine’s History Graduate Student Association, which has started a petitionagainst the Dharma Civilization Foundation-endowed chairs.

“Nor have they addressed the fact that their procedure and policy does not protect individual professors from being unduly influenced by the donors as they have already done,” Olomi said via email. “DCF have tried to levy pressure on the family members of professors in an attempt to push their agenda. This is unacceptable.”

A representative of the Dharma Civilization Foundation called the father of a UC Irvine historian whose works focuses on India. The historian in question, Vinayak Chaturvedi, declined to comment for this article, citing his involvement on an ad hoc committee charged with reviewing the proposed chairs. The foundation’s founding chairman, Manohar Shinde, said he’d called Chaturvedi’s father to raise money for one of the UC Irvine chairs and that “it never even crossed my mind” to try to influence the thinking of the son through the father. “The bottom line is this: Dr. Shinde is involved in significant fund-raising efforts in Southern California and he’s made many calls to many people in a fund-raising context and that has nothing to do with influencing anybody,” said Kalyan Viswanathan, the foundation’s executive vice president.

But the Dharma Civilization Foundation has made no secret of its hopes to influence the search process for the endowed chairs it funds, stating in the FAQ on its website that “we must ensure that the university’s faculty search process recruits a professor who is eminently suited to fulfill the intention of the donor.” The foundation has proposed a list of candidates to UC Irvine, though Viswanathan said it has done so “with the understanding that it is just a proposal, and the selection will be done by the university.”

“We want to engage with the faculty in a friendly manner to see if they’re open for suggestions. There is no coercing here,” Viswanathan said.

In fact, Viswanathan added, “the chances are far greater that we will not be able to influence the search process. The university is a very powerful machine, a powerful engine.”

“They are able to, I think, successfully manage donors. They have a long history of doing it. We are very, very new in this space and we don’t anticipate that we will be offered the kind of influence that people are imagining that we are going to get.”

The Controversy at UC Irvine

In May, UC Irvine celebrated a $1.5 million gift from the Thakkar Family and Dharma Civilization Foundation to establish a chair in Vedic and Indian Civilization studies. The university subsequently announced another $4.5 million in gifts to establish three additional endowed professorships, one on modern India and India diasporic studies funded by the Dharma Civilization Foundation and two additional chairs on Jain and Sikh studies funded by individual families. All four gifts are under review.

“Since signing the gift agreement there have been some questions that have arisen and we want to fully investigate those before we proceed,” said Georges Van Den Abbeele, the dean of Irvine’s School of Humanities. These include “more detailed questions about the organization’s relation to other parties or interests in India and also questions about how we can conduct a search in terms of material that we’ve culled from their publications.”

The dean said he wants to be sure that the university can proceed with searches in a way that they “will be free of donor influence.”

“Input is one thing, recommendations are one thing, but anything that is an expectation of quid pro quo or even a kind of general perception that this is not an open search — that’s something that may be a little bit grayer but is a concern to me,” Van Den Abbeele said.

Inside Higher Ed submitted a public records request for the gift agreements on Friday and received an automated reply promising a response within 10 days. In the meantime, the university spokeswoman, Cathy Lawhon, declined to release the documents on the grounds that they are still being reviewed. The first of the four chairs, in Vedic and Indian Civilization studies, has been approved by the president’s office, according to Van Den Abbeele, while the others are still pending approval through the university’s formal procedures.

Some faculty are questioning why the university administration didn’t identify red flags regarding the gifts much earlier in the process.

“You didn’t have to do too much due diligence,” Catherine Liu, a professor of film and media studies at UC Irvine, said of the foundation. “I went right to their website and it immediately read to me as extremely ideologically driven” and of having “extreme right-wing notions” of shaping knowledge about India.

“As I understand it, the problem with these endowed chairs is that things moved forward without administrators taking time to consult with the faculty closest to the field of study,” said Brook Thomas, a Chancellor’s Professor of English at Irvine. “When they were finally brought into the loop and expressed grave concerns about connections of the donors with DCF, the process was so far along and the gifts so large … One of the four chairs was finalized, and a reception honoring donors for the other three planned. Only when the chair of the humanities called a faulty meeting to discuss issues facing the school did most of the faculty become aware of the possibility that the donors for the chairs were connected to a group associated with fundamentalist beliefs and a political agenda in India, and that those promoting that agenda would love to have their beliefs legitimated by having the University of California accept large donations associated with it. Many faculty were very concerned. That concern was registered.”

“The obvious question is: What would have happened if the faculty meeting had not been called at the time it was?” Thomas said via email. “The other obvious issue is why weren’t the faculty closest to the field of study consulted with and included in [the] process from the start?”

Van Den Abbeele, the humanities dean, said the academic entity that pushed for the chairs was the religious studies program, which does not have departmental status and which is directed by an expert on Western scriptures, not South Asian religions (the program director, Jack Miles, a distinguished professor of English and religious studies, referred questions to Van Den Abbeele).

“I should have been consulted but I would say that’s not even my biggest concern,” said Kavita Philip, an associate professor of history who teaches on topics related to South Asia.

“My primary concern is really academic freedom,” Philip continued. “Will my students be safe if they are not of the faith that the donors prefer to fund? Will faculty be safe if they don’t practice the kind of religious purity that the donors say they want to promote at UCI?”

The Foundation’s Perspective

Viswanathan, the executive vice president of the Dharma Civilization Foundation, said that Hindus have fallen behind other religious communities — including Christians, Jews and Muslims — in endowing professorships in the American academy. “So what has happened is the people who study Hinduism in the universities are largely located in positions and chairs which are funded by other sources, whether it’s a secular, liberal source, or a theological source of a different denomination or religion,” he said.

That matters, Viswanathan said, because “in a subtle way the source of funding does in fact impact the orientation of these scholars — even though by and large scholars will claim complete academic independence.”

“I’m saying something which will not go over well with the scholarly community because they do believe they are objective in their research and by and large they are objective and we want to promote that objectivity,” Viswanathan continued. “We are not against the objectivity of scholars but at the same time I think the sources of funding do matter in terms of how the chairs get set up and what kinds of scholarship emerges from those chairs.”

In an interview Viswanathan said the dean of the humanities at UC Irvine has been clear about the fact that faculty will control the search process to fill any new professorship. And he emphasized the risks that donors like the Dharma Civilization Foundation take — specifically the risk that the university might, in a professorial hire now or in the future, violate the spirit of the donor’s intention.

Then why, Inside Higher Ed’s reporter asked, make a gift at all?

“Here’s the thing,” Viswanathan said. “We hope that if an environment within a university is sympathetic to the intentions of the donor — and when I say that, when I say, ‘an environment that is sympathetic’ that means faculty, the administration … if they are sympathetic and they can align with the intentions of the donor, we think they ought to be able to support the process by hiring a faculty member who is appropriate to the intention of the donor. However, if the environment in a university is unsympathetic to the donor’s intentions, an environment is suspicious of the donor’s intentions, then the chances are that the university will not honor the donor’s intentions beyond a certain period of time. It becomes a very good question: Are we dealing with a sympathetic environment or an environment that is indifferent or an environment that is quite openly unsympathetic?”

Faculty, administration and the foundation all have different priorities, Viswanathan said, with the administration wanting to generate funds, the faculty wanting to preserve its academic independence and the foundation wanting “to influence the course of what these chairs really mean for the Hindu community in Los Angeles.”

“These are different interests, and if a balance can be worked out, if all the different interests can be suitably accommodated, I think it could be a great opportunity for everybody. But if these interests are thought to be antagonistic with each other, then things could break down.”


India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will reunite to form ‘Akhand Bharat’: Ram Madhav

TNN | Dec 26, 2015, 05.05 PM IST

File photo of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. (TOI)
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav has said that parts of India – including Pakistan and Bangladesh – which were separated 60 years ago, will reunite to form “Akhand Bharat” (undivided India).

“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) still believes that one day these parts, which have for historical reasons separated only 60 years ago, will again, through popular goodwill, come together and Akhand Bharat will be created,” Ram Madhav said in the interview to international news network Al-Jazeera.

He also said that as an RSS member, he also holds that view.

Ram Madhav, however, clarified that this will not happen through war, but through “popular consent”.

“That does not mean we wage war on any country, (or that) we annex any country. Without war, through popular consent, it can happen,” he said.
He also spoke about the issue of growing intolerance in India saying the returning of awards by artists and intellectuals is a bid to defame the government and in turn to demafe the image of India. He also said that the method of protest adopted by these intellectuals is wrong.

Madhav, an RSS leader, was deputed to the BJP after the general elections last year. He played an important role in Jammu and Kashmir elections and formation of a BJP-PDP coalition government in the state.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera about bringing peace in the region. “The only outstanding issue with regard to the Kashmir problem is the Kashmir under Pakistan occupation,” he said. “The Kashmir that is an integral part of India, it has been proved time and again that it’s an integral part of India.”

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ‘shakha’ spreads its wings to 39 countries

Anahita Mukherji | TNN | Dec 21, 2015

MUMBAI: Growing up on the outskirts of Pune, Girish Bagmar came from a family of Congress supporters. While he was fed up of UPA’s scams in 2014, he’s more inclined towards centrist politics than the right-wing BJP. Yet Bagmar, now based in Boston, sends both his sons to shakhas run by Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the overseas wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Many of his Indian friends in the US work for HSS and offered to take his children to the shakha. “I’ve never attended HSS shakhas. I send my children there so they can socialize with other Indian children and learn about Indian culture. Growing up in India, we learnt of our culture from our grandparents’ stories. I feel my children may be deprived of this; my mother cannot visit the US frequently,” says Bagmar.

USA is one of 39 countries where HSS runs shakhas, says Ramesh Subramaniam, Mumbai coordinator of RSS’s overseas work. He helped set up shakhas in Mauritius from 1996 to 2004 and now heads Sewa, a platform for overseas Indians to fund RSS service projects. He says HSS works closely with other Hindu cultural organizations abroad including the Chinmaya and Ramakrishna missions.
“We don’t call it Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh overseas. It’s not on Indian soil so we can’t use the word ‘Rashtriya’. We call it Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh as it unites Hindus worldwide,” says Subramaniam, adding that RSS’s overseas wing is bigger than its affiliate, Vishwa Hindu Parishad. RSS is the ideological parent of nearly 40 official affiliates including VHP and India’s ruling party, BJP.

The 39 countries where shakhas are held include five in the Middle East where outdoor shakhas are not permitted and are replaced by gatherings at people’s homes. Finland has only an e-shakha where activities are conducted via video-camera over the internet for people from over 20 countries living in areas where HSS units are absent.
“The diaspora’s longing for a connection with ‘Indian culture’, ‘history’ and ‘traditions’ in a context in which they are a minority that is not represented in the mainstream, provides a ready social basis for the RSS,” says Subir Sinha, academician at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

“While Nepal has the largest number of shakhas outside India, US comes second with 146. We are present in every state of the US. We have shakhas in cities like New York, Washington DC, Seattle and Miami,” says Satish Modh, who has been associated with RSS work abroad for over 25 years. While shakhas in India take place in open maidans, in the US, most shakhas are held in university campuses on hired parking lots, says Modh.
Most overseas shakhas are held once a week. In London, they are held twice a week. UK has 84 shakhas.
“The sangh parivar got a boost in the UK under Blairite ‘multiculturalism’ in which culture was identified with religion and religion with its most hardcore version,” says Sinha.
The first overseas shakha is believed to have been on a ship. “In 1946, two swayamsevaks, Manekbhai Rugani and Jagdish Chandra Sharda were travelling from Mumbai to Mombasa (Kenya). Neither knew each other. One saw the other performing the right hand ‘namaskar’ and figured he too was from RSS. They held the first shakha together on the ship. The first shakha on foreign soil was in Mombasa,” says Ramesh Mehta, a senior RSS member whose home in suburban Mumbai has played host to overseas sangh leaders for 30 years. RSS’s Kenya wing, earlier called Bharat Swayamsevak Sangh, spread its ideology to neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, and later to parts of South Africa and Mauritius. RSS sent Mehta to Zimbabwe and Kenya to set up shakhas.

“Many swayamsevaks in African countries had the option of moving to the UK once those countries gained independence. Haribhai Shah, a swayamsevak who moved from Mombasa to Birmingham, began UK’s first shakha,” says Mehta. The sangh celebrates 50 years in UK next year.

“Currently 25 pracharaks and over 100 vistaraks work towards spreading shakhas overseas,” says Subramaniam. Pracharaks dedicate their lives to RSS and don’t marry. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi became a pracharak in the 1970s. Vistaraks dedicate less than two years of their lives to RSS and are usually students. Pracharaks from Tamil Nadu propagate HSS in Sri Lanka.

While RSS insists it is not anti-Muslim, Sinha points to RSS support for far right parties in England like UKIP which has been criticized for Islamophobia. “By linking with political parties, RSS has a disproportionate influence on those parties. RSS and affiliates campaigned heavily to defeat UK’s legislation to end caste discrimination,” says Sinha.

RSS insists its overseas activities are largely cultural and include working for the development of the countries where swayamsevaks live.

While khaki shorts are the RSS trademark in India, the uniform abroad comprises black pants and a white shirt. ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jay’ is the chant at shakhas in India; abroad it is ‘Vishwa Dharma Ki Jay.’

Jhulay Lal’s full circle



During a trip to India in early 1984 (my first and last), I was a second-year student at a college in Karachi. My fellow travellers on that trip were three friends, all of them Sindhi-speaking. We had travelled to Mumbai (then called Bombay) for a vacation.

We stayed in low-rent hotels in Mumbai, Poona and Goa, even though one of my Sindhi friends had some distant relatives in Mumbai.

But it turned out that the relatives were not relatives at all. To begin with, they were Hindu. They had been neighbours of the friend’s family in Sukkur before the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and had migrated to India in March 1948.

We visited their home (an apartment) during the tail-end of our trip. In their drawing room was a huge painting of a bearded man sitting on a lotus flower in the middle of a river surrounded by a school of fish that seemed to be swimming in a circle around him.

I asked the family about the image. They told me that the man was Jhulay Lal who was the patron saint of Sindhi Hindus. I was told every Sindhi home in India had a picture of him.

Two years later, I was travelling across the interior Sindh with another group of friends. We were all members of a progressive student outfit at our college.

Our plan was to drive up to the town of Dadu and try meeting Sindhi scholar, GM Syed, who was reported to be under house arrest there. Though I was opposed to Syed’s political aspect of Sindhi nationalism, I was, nevertheless, a great admirer of his more scholarly work, especially of his book Religion and Reality in which he had painstakingly charted the centuries-old evolution of Sufism in the Sindh region.

I believe he did mention Jhulay Lal in passing in his book, but I wasn’t sure because I had read it in 1983 during my first year in college. No, it wasn’t part of the curriculum.

Our group of student activists was unable to meet Syed. He was not in Dadu. On our way back to Karachi, we stopped at a rickety eatery in a village in the Sanghar District. As we entered the place for a cup of tea and some cigarettes, the first thing I noticed on a mud wall was a poster. It was of Jhulay Lal!

Paracha unearths some astounding facts about the revered saint’s life

I had forgotten about him. But it was the same image I had first come across in a Mumbai home. A man with a flowing white beard, sitting on a lotus flower in the middle of a river and surrounded by a couple of silver fish.

But there was one difference. In the image of his that I had seen in Mumbai, he was holding a rosary whose beads had tiny inscriptions carved in the Sanskrit language. But in the poster at the eatery, he was holding and reading the Muslim Holy Book.

Intrigued, I asked a Sindhi friend of mine in the group, who the man was. ‘Arey Paracha Sain, tum ko nahi pata? Yeh Baba Shaikh Tahir hai …’ (You don’t know? He is Baba Shaikh Tahir).

I told him that I had seen an image of him in the home of a Sindhi Hindu family in India and that they had called him Jhulay Lal. The friend began to laugh at my confusion. He excused the others in the group and drove me some 50km away from the village to a small, dusty town called Udero Lal.

In this town, he took me to a beautiful and spacious white shrine with prominent domes. Here is where Shaikh Tahir was buried, I was told. He then made me meet one of the keepers of the shrine. The keeper was a Sindhi and could not speak any Urdu. But somehow he could speak Punjabi fluently!

He told me that the shrine was constructed in the 17th century, 1684 CE to be precise, according to Din Mohammad Vai’s Tazkirah-i-Mashahir-i-Sindh.

The keeper claimed that Shaikh Tahir was born a Hindu but converted to Islam as a teen. His Hindu name was Udero Lal. The shrine is frequented by Muslims as well as Hindus of Sindh and the group of keepers that look after the shrine, also includes Hindus.

Another fascinating aspect of the shrine was a slight room that held a steadily burning flame. The flame has been kept burning by generations of keepers for over 400 years now. The keeper I was talking to, didn’t know exactly why.

The keeper informed me: ‘Udero Lal was an upright man with a strong strain of inner spirituality. It was because of him that the Hindus of Sindh were different because they did not practice the caste system …’

This seems to be correct. Famous 19th century British traveller, Richard Francis Burton, in his writings that he authored during his long stay in Sindh in the mid-1800s, wrote: ‘Hinduism in Sindh is mixed and has adopted many aspects of Islam and Sikhism. The Hindus (of Sindh) often become followers of Muslim saints here …’

Impressed by Lal’s spiritual disposition and work against the caste system, a Muslim Sufi saint from Multan is said to have converted him to Islam. ‘This is when Udero Lal became Sheikh Tahir,’ the keeper had told me.

He said despite this, Hindus of the area continued to revere him, and so did thousands of Lal’s Muslim devotees.

On our way back to Sanghar, I asked my friend, why Sheikh Tahir continues to sit on a lotus flower in the middle of a river in all of his images. The friend had responded by saying that Hindus of Sindh believed that he had emerged from the River Indus. He added that the Muslims began to believe the same when they saw palla fish (indigenous to Indus), circling a small shrine of Lal that is located on an island in the middle of the river near the city of Bhakkar (in South Punjab).

Interestingly, in Bhakkar, Jhulay Lal is called Khwaja Khizar. In 1991 while editing an article written (on the Bhakkar shrine) by a French anthropologist for the English weekly magazine I used to work for, I learned that indeed, schools of palla did go in circles around the tiny island. But he added that this was due to the mating and feeding cycles of the fish. So, in a way, ancient Muslims and Hindus of the region were explaining a purely natural and scientific phenomenon through mystical imagery.

Jhulay Lal is not as major a Sufi saint in Sindh as are the great Shah Latif and the mighty Lal Shahbaz. Yet, it was Jhulay Lal who ended up on the walls of Sindhi-speakers in India. I’ve always wondered why.

This inquiry of mine finally came to a full circle when I got the answer only two years ago in the Michel Boivin and Matthew Cook edited book, Interpreting the Sindh World.

In an essay (for the book) on the saint, L. Parwani suggests that when hundreds of Sindhi Hindus migrated to India during Partition in 1947, they felt spiritually alienated in India because they could not relate to the forms of Hinduism practiced there.

Parwani informs that after noticing this, one Professor Ram Panjwani, a Sindhi educationist, began a hectic movement among the Sindhi Hindus in India to revitalise Jhulay Lal as their main deity. He succeeded, and to this day most Sindhi Hindus in India revere a saint that their elders had brought from Sindh.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine December 20th, 2015

‘The RSS has become far more political over the last two decades’: US academic Walter Andersen

The co-author of the landmark work ‘Brotherhood in Saffron’ discusses the Babri demolition, claims of intolerance and the relationship between the RSS and the BJP.
Ajaz Ashraf  · Today · 10:30 am
'The RSS has become far more political over the last two decades': US academic Walter Andersen

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Walter K Andersen is co-author of The Brotherhood in Saffron (1987), arguably the most authoritative book on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, based as it was on interviews with the Jana Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and RSS pracharaks. He is currently the director of the South Asia Studies Program, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns  Hopkins University, and is in the midst of writing his second book on the RSS and the BJP.

In this telephonic interview with Scroll, Andersen speaks on what the demolition of the Babri Masjid signifies for Hindutva, the tension between the RSS and the BJP, the increasing political orientation of the RSS, the need for the Sangh to crack down on the hardliners, and whether violence is implicitly built into the Sangh projects. Excerpts:

On the 23rd anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, what do you think it signifies for Hindutva as a philosophy and as a movement?
It is a difficult question. To be quite frank, the revision of what is alleged to be a mosque back to a temple has always been an element of Hindutva, though never a major one. It is hard to judge the issue because the major voices of Hindu nationalism – the RSS and the BJP – have put it on the backburner.

But they seem to be bringing it back in preparation for the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2017. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently spoke of building a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.
As far as I understand, it wasn’t an issue in the recent Bihar election. Some in the RSS say that one of the lessons about the Bihar election was that the issue of development was better articulated by Nitish Kumar than the BJP. If that is the case, then development is going to be the primary issue (in the UP election.)

Nevertheless, 23 years later, what does the demolition of the Babri Masjid signify today?
I think it was a great mistake. This is because I think it generated antagonisms that were unnecessary. There were talks of working out a solution, but then, as you would know, it got wrapped up in politics. It was an event of its times. What does it signify now? There are obviously people who think the issue is important – for instance, there are voices in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena who say so.

But, as far as I can tell, the major figures in the BJP have shied away from the issue. An issue becomes an issue in a political context. The last significant political context was Bihar and it wasn’t an issue there. RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has referred recently to building a temple and the press notes that senior BJP figures are distancing themselves from this statement, simply saying that the idea of a temple might be considered, but without spelling out when. As with the reservation issue on the eve of the Bihar elections, this statement by a senior RSS figure is another demonstration of the lack of close coordination between the RSS and the BJP.

Well, the [Uttar Pradesh] election is still a year away and it may become an issue. But I tend to be sceptical. As far as my reading of the BJP goes, the lesson learnt from Bihar was that the Indian voter is far more concerned about development, jobs and security than what he or she believes about religious issues.

While the Ram Janmabhoomi movement triggered the BJP’s rise, it also sharpened opposition to it. Do you think….
It is not actually true. The BJP’s rise started before the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

But it became spectacular thereafter.
The BJP’s rise started with the collapse of the Congress in much of the Hindi heartland, where it picked up high caste votes which used to go to the Congress.

Yes, but the BJP began to attract the votes of the upper castes because of their disappointment with the decision to implement the Mandal report, which provided reservations to Other Backward Classes in government jobs. The BJP was able to attract these votes spectacularly through the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
Sure, the Ram Janmabhoomi was an issue and it certainly helped the BJP initially. But whether it was the main issue, I would want it to be debated.

Mandal galvanised sections of lower castes into opposing the BJP, as it happened in Bihar in the 1991 Lok Sabha election. Didn’t the rise of the BJP, therefore, also sharpened opposition to it?
The RSS as an organisation has always been opposed to caste. On this they and the communists are on the same page of music. They quieted down in the early 1990s because caste was an important issue among the OBCs, since they were major beneficiaries of Mandal. This wasn’t very unusual.

But what is more interesting in today’s political context is that Bhagwat was quite outspoken on the caste issue at a very sensitive time of the Bihar election. He said reservations had to be relooked, re-analysed. Obviously, everyone interpreted it as opposition to reservation, which it wasn’t at the end of the day. To my mind, the more interesting aspect was that his statement was a signal that development is more important than caste or religion. All the polls, in fact, consistently show that. You do have fringe elements who speak in a different language. But all polls show they are on the margins.

Do you mean all those who speak on the issues of caste and religion are on the margins?
Certainly those who speak on the issue of religion are on the margins, but also, to an extent, those who speak on caste issues.

As a person who has studied India but who is American and lives in the USA, what is your reaction to what people call the growing intolerance in India? Do you find this phenomenon worrying?
I have lived and been coming to India since I was 18 or 19 years old. I have always found in India a degree of intolerance. There is this wonderful book which came out two years ago, written by Indian journalist Gautam Adhikari, who lives in Washington, on the issue of intolerance in India.  He goes into the roots of the intolerance issue. Much of it is because of the extraordinary plurality that one finds in India, leading to one group trying to take an advantage over another group.

I saw a study that came out recently in one of the newspapers that communal incidents are less this year in comparison to the past year. I don’t know what that study tells you one way or the other. As far as I know there is no systematic study which tells you whether intolerance in India has grown or become less in the present times.

But you certainly have a great deal rhetoric coming from BJP leaders who seem to privilege intolerance.
But this kind of rhetoric has been there before. For instance, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power, there was a great deal of rhetoric similar to what is being heard today.

But there is a difference. Under Vajpayee the BJP didn’t have a majority of its own and everyone thought its allies would restrain the National Democratic Alliance government from going beyond a certain point. It is not the case now. This lack of restraining influence on the BJP worries a lot of people.
But this is not true. For one, the BJP does not control the Rajya Sabha and it is a long way from doing so. It controls just about one-third of the states. It has tried to have what it calls competitive federalism, to provide more power to the states. It lost in Bihar. It doesn’t have the significant state of UP under its control.  And then you have the free press, which has a restraining effect on the BJP.

What you have here are issues of value. For instance, I don’t think anyone can think of imposing Emergency on India. That is because there is a general sense among Indians that the Emergency was a huge blunder and shouldn’t be allowed to repeat. There is a realisation that democracy is the best protection for the civil liberties of the people.

So you feel there is no reason to worry about intolerance?
No, I am always worried about intolerance. Whether it has grown, no one knows. What I am saying is you have had a significant level of intolerance in India from the very beginning. Is that unusual in a plural society? No. Look at the US. It is only now people are becoming more aware of racism. Does it mean you didn’t have racism before? No, you had racism in the past. It is only now that it is becoming more of an academic and journalistic issue. People now know of racism because of better communication, because they know of racist incidents. And that is a good thing. At the end of the day, these are basically law and order issues. Whether it is the federal or state governments, they have to do a better job of ensuring there is no violence connected to differences of opinion. The real issue is of law and order, where there has been some major deficiencies.

True, but whether it is the movement for the Ram Janmabhoomi or ghar wapsi or cow-protection, why is it that violence seems implicitly built into the RSS programme?
There are groups associated with the RSS which have a propensity for violence. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal are the best examples of what I am saying.

But both the VHP and the Bajrang Dal belong to what is called the Sangh Parivar.
The Sangh Parivar organisations are relatively autonomous. That is why they haven’t fallen apart as most organisations in India seem to have. Take the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh – it has a very socialist agenda and was very much opposed to the government’s suggestions for reforms on the land issue. On one issue after another, the BMS has had differences with the government. These differences indicate autonomy. These different organisations work together, try to iron out differences, but there have been cases when they haven’t managed to.

But what is the source of VHP’s attraction for violence?
The VHP was meant to organise the ecclesiastical establishment of Hinduism – for instance, pandits and sadhus, etc.  They have very distinct Hindu ideas of how the world should progress. Do they represent the majority Hindu opinion? No. In my opinion, they do not represent the opinion of even a majority of RSS and BJP members. At least the BJP realises that this (violent religious movements) does not get them votes. In 2014, they got the votes because of Modi and development, as it was the case in Haryana and Maharashtra. It fell down on the development issue in Bihar and lost.

In your book, The Brotherhood in Saffron, you say the RSS was opposed to the non-violence creed of Gandhi. What were the reasons for its opposition to Gandhi?
That is an old strain in Maharashtra politics. Mahatma Gandhi was never very popular in Maharashtra. VD Savarkar represented a certain strain that said that if Hindus were to be independent, they needed a revolution. There were many there who felt Gandhi was on an incorrect path. When Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a member of the Congress, he too thought that there needed to be a strong, assertive anti-British struggle.

But, by and large, that view has been abandoned by the contemporary Sangh Parivar. When Vajpayee and LK Advani sought to restructure the Jana Sangh (which became the BJP), they adopted Gandhian socialism as one its central planks. Gandhian socialism was an unusual combination, for Gandhi was not a socialist. They continue to focus on Gandhian thought and the value he represented. So, to be frank, their opposition to the non-violence creed is no longer important.

But even in your book the description of the RSS drill with lathis conveys the impression that the RSS is enamoured of violence.
The use of lathi goes back to the formation of the RSS. Both the lathi and the khaki uniform of the RSS were the copies of the police uniform. Some youth groups in the 1920s too adopted it. It was something like an Indian version of the boys scout. Was the lathi meant for violence? I think it was to signify the importance of physical fitness. The RSS has expanded tremendously now, but the region where I studied them, its members were largely middle-class business people. They are the last ones to engage in violence, to do kushti, in which a completely different class of people engages. Does the possession of lathi indicate violence? I don’t think so.

But there has been a series of commissions of inquiry which have implicated the RSS in communal riotings.
Which commissions of inquiry?

Right from India’s first major communal riot post-Independence in Jabalpur to places in South India to, why, even Gujarat in 2002. How do you see that? Also, in your book, you write that one of the reasons for establishing the RSS was to protect Hindus from Muslims in communal riots.
Yes, it was a factor behind the formation of the RSS. There was a series of riots in the 1920s because of economic depression. Nevertheless, it was a reason. The major reason why [RSS founder KB] Hedgewar built it was to oppose the colonial rule.

But now that India is independent, the security forces are predominantly Hindu, and riots increasingly appear as state pogroms against the religious minorities, isn’t the RSS’s fear of Muslims or Christians unfounded?
Of course, it is. India is very complicated, and to divide India into Hindu, Muslim and Christian is basically illegitimate. If Hindus are divided into linguistic groups, so are the Christians and Muslims. So what we are talking about is the various conglomerates or groups that interact with each other. There was a communal issue before Independence because the British imposed a Muslim-Hindu division of the subcontinent – that is, Pakistan and India. You also had in the 1890s and 1890s a struggle between Hindus and Muslims to establish dominance in the Ganges belt, in what is Uttar Pradesh and Bihar now. You had Hindus calling for Hindi in the Devanagiri script to replace Urdu. You had a lot of violence then, because the issue got entangled in the larger Hindu-Muslim question.

However, other [communal] issues tend to be localised and arise because groups, for one reason or another, tend to have something against each other. So far, I have yet to see a very good analysis on this issue. To some extent, Paul Brass and Ashutosh Varshney have done some good studies. Brass argues that you have people all over who have something to benefit from violence, and it doesn’t matter whether they are Muslim or Hindu or whoever. They use violence because they gain from it. Varshney argues somewhat differently – when groups cease to interact with each other, they lose a kind of solidarity they had, as it often happens in urban areas.  This means that Hindu and Muslims group don’t have means of mediations when they have disputes. He argues that this has become a sociological factor.

My wife is Indian She has a factory outside Gurgaon, in Manesar. Her factory has 60% Muslims and 40% of Hindus, largely from one district in Bihar – Madhubani. They get along beautifully with each other. From what I have seen there is that you have the beginnings of class sentiments. I think it is taking place elsewhere in India as well. Class has started to replace religion as an identity among the working class in urban areas. It will be an interesting development if this government increases urbanisation and manufacturing. You will then have a large number of people drawn from the countryside to the city and working together. It will be interesting to see how it will affect them.

But we also have rhetoric stoking fears of Muslims and Christians outstripping the Hindu population. The RSS passed a resolution to this effect in Ranchi a month ago.
(Laughs) It will take thousands of years for Hindus to be outnumbered.

What is the source of this fear?
Such comments come from the VHP.

No, it was at a RSS meeting that this fear of Muslim demography was expressed and a resolution passed.
It isn’t that the leadership of the BJP and the RSS are not concerned about the issue of violence. I wrote a piece on this subject in The Times of India. My contention is that the hardliners in the BJP and the RSS are not listening to the senior leadership. They are doing their own things. One of the problems is that neither the RSS nor the BJP has developed a strategy to marginalise or punish them for the way they speak. At some point, they have to.

You mean they have to crack down on the hardliners.

But, really, I’d find it amazing that the RSS is going to crack down on the hardliners.
You don’t think so? Well, ghar wapsi is an apt example. It is an issue which goes back to the 1980s and 1990s, when both Muslims and Hindus were converting each other. That in itself was not anything unusual. But what is unusual in this case [the ghar wapsi movement of last year] that a particular RSS pracharak who made a big thing of it had many people in the RSS very, very disturbing. He was told to stand down. And I am told he had a nervous breakdown as a consequence of that. It is easier to ask a pracharak to stand down. But it is so much more difficult to deal with people, say, in the Bajrang Dal. The RSS and the BJP have to come out and do something about the hardliners.

They have used the fringe elements to come to power, so how do they crack down on them?
The fringe groups did not bring Modi or the BJP to power. Modi came to power because of the corruption and the fact that economy wasn’t doing sufficiently well to benefit millions of young people who had come into the job market. It wasn’t religion, which was at the bottom of the heap – and still is.

In your book, you also locate the birth of the RSS within the context of Hindu revivalism, which you say was a response to restoring a sense of community among the Hindus who felt alienated or whose moral certitudes were threatened because of colonial experiences. Do you think the RSS has restored to the Hindus a sense of community?
Of course not, though its goal is to restore a sense of community. There are forces which are much bigger than the organisation which have had an impact, forces such as urbanisation, industrialisation, modernisation, spread of education, mobility, communication, all these have tended to link the country together far more than religion. It is not religion which gives people the sense of community, but it is the democratic system which gives people the sense of participation. The country has to grow economically at a much faster pace than it is. Otherwise what you are going to have is massive disillusionment, which is what happened when Indira Gandhi declared the state of Emergency.

Philosophically, the RSS rejects the idea that the conflict of interest is inevitable in society, and that social change happens through cooperation, not conflict. Does it not make it an organisation that supports status quo?

Well, it was Deendayal Upadhyay who thought so.

Yes, but his Integral Humanism is what the BJP subscribes to.
They do and they don’t. Integral Humanism had this view that strikes were not legitimate. However, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has, for long, used strikes. Yes, you have a kind of philosophical genuflection. But it hasn’t been so in practice.

The RSS-BJP has grown phenomenally over the last decade. But this expansion has had an impact on it, in the sense it has made it more difficult for them to come to a consensus. The land bill is a case in point. You had BMS and, in a sense, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and KN Govindacharya come out to say that the land bill is bad for the working man.

This kind of dilemma they have not faced before. It is the subject of my next book. It has become such a large organisation, with various interests in it, that it would be interesting to see whether it holds together with these forces playing back and forth.

Do you think it is coping well?
In terms of reconciling these varied interests, I would say the jury is still out.

Philosophically again, the RSS believes isms such as communism and capitalism are not relevant to India, and that it should turn to Hindu thought to work out a system suitable to its ethos. Do you think…
That also flowed from Integral Humanism. Modi is pro-west, pro-capitalist and you have the old Swatantra types, not in the sense of individuals but in terms of ideas, who have come into the party. When my book came out 25 years ago, it was perhaps legitimate to say that the RSS-BJP was far to the left of the Congress. But that is no longer the case. Over the years, they have attracted more people from big business. They always had the support of owners of small business, who, as anywhere in the world, can be very radical in their politics.

So what you are saying that a lot of their old ideas are old and perhaps forgotten.
They have people who still subscribe to them, but they have to debate these old ideas in a way they never had to before. And that is because India has changed. India’s economy has grown by five times since the market reforms were introduced. India is a different place. Every time I go back to India, it seems to be changing.

When were you here the last time?
Three weeks ago. I go to India three, four times every year.

Did you meet people in the RSS and the BJP?
I did, yes. It was part of my research.

So what was their reaction to Bihar and other challenges they are facing now?
There was concern over losing Bihar. One thing I kept hearing was that they said they were focusing on wrong issues. For instance, the focus on caste. It was the first election in Bihar where most of the BJP candidates were OBCs. The second part of that was that they did not campaign with local leaders. These were the issues I heard discussed in the RSS, particularly among the BJP types. There was the sense that they had a wrong set of issues, if not a wrong set of candidates, by which I suppose they meant that more tickets should have been given to the higher castes.

Did you get the sense of BJP leaders being worried about the centralisation of authority in Modi?
Some people are concerned about that, yes.

In your book, you say certain elements of the RSS belief system do justify the critics’ charge that it has a fascist orientation. What are these elements?
In terms of the European model of fascism, it is not a fascist organisation. The European idea of fascism is to invest special power in the leader. But this the RSS doesn’t subscribe to it, as it stresses on the collegial. This is where Modi is different. He stresses on the individual than on the collegial. It was an issue in Gujarat when he was the chief minister. It is an issue today, to an extent.

A lot of people also perceive the RSS chief as having a veto power over government decisions even though he doesn’t hold a constitutional position. How do you look upon this phenomenon?
To be very frank, I don’t know. When I asked them about this issue over the last six months, their answer was that they weren’t political. But they are becoming increasingly political. When I wrote my book, you could say they were suspicious of politics as a vocation. (The second RSS sarsanghchalak MS) Golwalkar certainly had. There is a certain strand in the RSS which still thinks that way. But, by and large, particularly after Balasaheb Deoras became the sarsanghchalak, they have a notion that is far more amenable to playing a part (in politics). That is because they have a wide range of affiliate organisations – for instance, the VHP and the BMS – dealing with issues which touch upon politics.

The biggest change since the time I wrote my last book is that the RSS has become far more politically oriented than it was before. This does worry some of them. Mohan Bhagwat has himself reminded members that they must remember that their primary loyalty is to the RSS and not to the government. By this, I think he means the RSS has a function to perform that is separate from what the government does.

Have the functions of the RSS changed from the time you wrote your book?
Well, most of the affiliate organisations did not exist. And those that were there were relatively small. They are huge now. For instance, the BMS is the largest trade union, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is the largest students group. Many of its affiliates are engaged in activities that impinge on politics. Why, a few months ago, you had a meeting in Delhi where senior government figures made their presentations. Those who were participating in these meetings, as I understand, were members of affiliate organisations. They did not belong to the RSS. They are the ones who have interest in policy making because that impacts on what they are doing.

So you do see tension between the government and the RSS.

How would you grade that tension? Is it becoming a problem?
Obviously, it is a challenge. The reason why you are having these meetings is to try work things out. Of course, the RSS remains important to the BJP. They still provide the cadres in election times, advise them, and indirectly help the BJP in fund raising. But it is also true that the BJP has started to develop its own cadre base. Should the BJP succeed in developing its own cadre, it would become less reliant on the RSS for help in terms of election campaign. It will be interesting to then see the relationship between the two organisations.

How do you compare Modi with Vajpayee?
For starters, Modi claims to look upon Vajpayee as a political guru and has an enormous respect for him. But the difference between the two personalities is that Vajpayee was more collegial and more willing to reach a consensus than what Modi was as chief minister. This feature in Modi is less so now as being prime minister is altogether a different ballgame.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.