Friday, June 29, 2012

The Uncertain Future of Hindus

Dr. Gautam Sen

(Prof Gautam Sen has formerly taught political economy at the London School of Economics for more than two decades.) 

Hindus have suffered a succession of setbacks in recent years, intensifying a retreat that dates back to the partition of India, indeed earlier. The electoral fortunes of their putative defenders seem to make little difference to their political circumstances. Their ethnic cleansing from Jammu & Kashmir continues unabated and the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh remains desperate, echoing the fate of Hindus earlier in Pakistan. Islamic terrorists are routinely attacking their places of worship within India itself. And elected political leaders have sought to crush one of their supreme spiritual leaders, the Kanchi Acharya. India’s religious minorities are also displaying a truculent assertiveness that underlines Hindu powerlessness and hints at yet darker times ahead. 

Yet, perhaps all is not lost and a measure of historical perspective is required to assess what is likely to happen in the circumstances Hindus encounter. Once Greek thought was virtually eradicated by the combined onslaught of the Germanic invasions and the upsurge of Christianity (which became seriously intolerant after 500 AD) it took almost another 500 years for the European Renaissance to begin re-discovering Greek logic and reason. The revival did not triumph wholly even after the Enlightenment and the intolerant barbarian supremacists are still with us right now. Islam had already joined Christianity in the race for world conquest and domination. It reached an apogee under the Ottomans in the sixteenth century, having swept aside much of the Christian Byzantine world earlier. The Islamic lust for political power and Christian quest for world domination remain an unfinished agenda and military conquest the principal instrument for its attainment.

This same catastrophe could befall Hinduism because the beginnings of their intellectual revival in the late 18thC have stalled since independence – a coincidence? In an act of perversity, the RSS self-consciously turned its face against intellectual endeavour when it was founded. Guru-ji thought Hindus needed to organise themselves and intellectual life a luxury that they could ill-afford. It is true that Hindus were disorganised and a remedy was essential, but the actual choice made was paradoxically stark since activism and thought are surely two sides of the same coin. The consequences of that fateful choice are still with us and the Hindu movement is simply not intellectually equipped to deal with the complex situation Hindus face today. Ironically, the movement was able to achieve political power by recourse to an issue outstanding from the medieval period while the world around changed so rapidly that they found themselves in quite unfamiliar territory. And too many people in the movement remain ignorant about basic issues in the wider world, wielding organisational clout to silence serious intellectual criticism. 

The imminent specific danger India faces is its de jure territorial disintegration, accompanied by the casting to the winds of Hindu society and what promises it may embed. This is already happening in significant areas of the Indian subcontinent, including the Indian Union itself. Hindus are also facing the most diabolical and sophisticated assault from the Church, both Catholic and the various Protestant denominations. The Church enjoys a huge presence in the global media and within India too as well as possessing huge economic and organisational resources. The Churches have cleverly insinuated themselves into the imperial ambitions of their Western home states, reinforcing the political support they receive from these states for their nefarious engagement with the weak and the poor of the third world. The resulting danger of subversion is visible in everything from the vicious campaign by Michael Witzel and his colleagues against Hindus in California to the way the Dalit movement has been seized and subverted by various Churches. The latter rightly perceive the Dalits to be the most promising vehicles for forcing the retreat of those who identify themselves as Hindus and demoralising them. 

This is a highly effective campaign, which most Hindu activists simply do not understand nor are they capable of comprehending in their current state of self-confident arrogance and blissful ignorance. Instead of the mostly tenuous cliches being peddled by Hindu activists everywhere one needs to read the history of Christianity with care. I would recommend Peter Brown’s, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Robert Bartlett’s, The Making of Europe in particular, for a start, to understand the immense longevity of their project for world domination. Islam remains their sole global rival. Hindus merely constitute a sideshow despite their supposed numerical strength, which is an oft-repeated empty fact that obfuscates by creating a silly sense of reassurance. 

Experience of most societies tells us that there is no point berating Hindu politicians and their associates for behaving in a self-serving manner. The standard textbook theory shows convincingly that politicians in open, pluralist societies act like selfish egotists. They achieve power by auctioning policies in exchange for cash and votes. There is a vast and persuasive literature that outlines how the process works, from the role that political institutions play in it to contrasting representational outcomes between majoritarian (India) and proportional voting systems. The latter empowers small political parties more than the former. There is no reason to expect that pluralist politics will lead to a different high-minded outcome in India. 

Politicians in all societies display the behavioural pattern required for their own survival. The espousal of conventional morality is only an aspect of their public relations and ideological sound bites are a means of communicating with their core supporters. These voters are the least likely to abandon them because they regard other alternatives as even less attractive. Thus, the actual policies implemented by political parties are designed to please voters who might actually defect to a rival. Of course there is a modest margin for truth and integrity in politics, but such principles are mostly honoured in the breach and have been marginalsed in India, more than in most other societies. Deceit and double-dealing are the norm in politics everywhere though Hindus perhaps excel in it unduly.

This is why what is missing in India is a consensus on obvious national interests, although that is not a non-issue even in large, mature democratic societies like the US. But in India everything is up for grabs and the lack of a national consensus has worsened in the past decade or so of the supposed Hindu upsurge. It is so bad that the police in Bihar and UP are alleged to have actually escorted bombers through their areas of jurisdiction to their targets in Delhi. Also, note there are virtually no successful prosecutions of terrorists (except that they get executed rather than arrested in J&K, as it should be). The accused from the Mumbai blasts remain unpunished and the notorious film star that helped them remains a high profile public figure, adored by millions of Hindu fans! The reason for this dismal situation is largely due to the fact that national consciousness is weak in India. In most societies, historically, such a consciousness was created by the state and ruling elites (see Linda Colley’s, Britons for a revealing illustration). 

In India anti-national forces, especially the Left and the Muslims and increasingly the Church (as distinct from traditional Indian Christians who are patriotic members of the Indian air force and navy in particular) have made sure that any move to advance a national consciousness is instantly labeled communal and anti-secular. Foreign governments, especially the US, have had a major role in this successful attempt to keep India divided in the past. The US government may now be changing its priorities because of geopolitical reasons, but the Church is unlikely to allow Indians to learn patriotism since that would contradict their proselytising activities - whatever would happen to their potential converts? 

Apart from the routine deceit of politicians, large political systems suffer from collective action problems owing to the difficulty of aggregating opinions and articulating policy arising out of it. This is primarily a technical issue, worsened in the Indian case by manifold social, regional, ethnic and caste divisions, with all these faultlines being assiduously cultivated by India's legion enemies. By contrast, Muslims have reaped huge political dividends by overcoming this potential collective action issue and managing to vote as a bloc. By controlling anything up to 125+ Lok Sabha seats, where their votes determine who will win, they can pretty much dictate to candidates. But Islam, historically, has had a tradition of the mosque organizing political life and, in the Indian case, the votes of their illiterate constituency. Can you imagine a similar organizational nodal point for Hindus? 

India’s mediocre leaders unfortunately chose a parliamentary system of government in 1947 because they failed to look beyond their noses, i.e. beyond Westminster in the UK. Large societies need presidential systems of government to prevent small groups (read minorities in India) having a veto over the political system. Since the President’s constituency is national recalcitrant minorities of whatever shape, whether religious, regional or indeed purely sectional would therefore find it more difficult to veto policies held by society at large to be in their common and therefore national interest. 

There are variants of a presidential system to choose from and it would have the great additional merit of forcing the issue of their identity on Hindus and indeed propelling some sort of national awareness, even if that doesn"t automatically mean patriotism. I fear this highly desirable outcome is now beyond reach. Nor is it any longer possible to have the kind of presidential authority parliamentary leaders with large majorities can enjoy temporarily. Eventually, the forces of division assert themselves because of the very imperious "presidential" behavior that the temporary primacy of a parliamentary majority may allow the Prime Minister in a parliamentary system. This is exactly what happened to the victorious Indira Gandhi after 1971.

Is it possible that the BJP will announce that it would agree to fight the next national general election on this constitutional issue alone and guarantee that it would then immediately announce an election for an Indian president? Perhaps they could even offer, as a gesture of goodwill, to abstain from putting up a candidate of their own in order to encourage others to support the idea of a Presidential system of government. Of course such a change will require other complex constitutional arrangements to be put in place, involving the distribution of powers between a President and the legislature as well as India’s regions. There are many such models of government internationally that could guide a unique Indian solution. I believe this prospect would galvanise the country and an electrifying election would occur, with many ordinary and prominent people campaigning for such a constitutional transformation. 

Let me finish with a small ray hope. While the forces seeking to cut India down to size seem potent there are some countervailing factors. There is growing Hindu anger and despair that can be organized though not by the present discredited Hindu politicos, who are, alas, beyond redemption. Urbanisation, which is proceeding apace in India, is connected to this sense of Hindu outrage because it tends to replace an essentially parochial consciousness with a more national perspective. Even so-called ‘backwards’ develop a more national sense of their being once they are educated beyond high school; actually two years in higher education seems to do it. This is why the disgraceful HRD minister wants reservations in premier institutions, but is careful to ensure that little education takes place at lower levels at all; nearly nil in much of UP state schools, for example. Both the Muslims and uneducated Hindus need to be kept that way for India’s current thieving politicians to survive and live like kings; just look at life styles of OBC and Dalit leaders. 

Finally, barring the presidential alternative, which would be a huge step forward at an institutional level, a minimum of good governance can be a vote winner. This seems unlikely to become a political platform because virtually all politicians have their snouts in the trough, secular and otherwise. But look at how the people of Goa and Punjab reacted to the upright and efficient General Jacob, who, by the way, has been treated poorly by the powers that be ever since, almost certainly because he proved so popular. 

When President's rule ended and elections were called in Goa, people took to the streets with the slogan that they preferred to be ruled by Jacob instead!! The good General used to stand outside government house at 8.30 am, looking at his watch and listing who was coming into work on time! By the way, he is also India's greatest military hero since Shivaji, but the Arab lobby made sure that he was not Bharat Ratna because he is Jewish. In 1972 a British military commentator described his victory in East Pakistan as one of the six greatest military triumphs of the 20th century, truly a period of gigantic wars.

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