Is India’s national anthem secular? – Koenraad Elst

Rabindranath Tagore

Koenraad ElstIndia’s national anthem merely expresses love for the nation through all its variegated landscapes and experiences—plus a veneration for the divine Guru. – Dr Koenraad Elst

India’s anthem, written by Rabindranath Tagore, opens by addressing the Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak or “commander of the people’s minds”, the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata or “dispenser of India’s destiny”. Who is this?

Before focusing on the Indian anthem and wondering to whom it is directed, I want to remind my readers of some fairly well-known facts concerning the anthems of a few other countries, and the unexpected overlaps between them.  This will lay out a framework within which we can evaluate India’s anthem.

God Save the Queen

Indians will probably know, if only from historical movies about the colonial age, Britain’s anthem, the oldest anthem in the world. The writer is unknown, but the attribution to John Bull ca. 1618 is common. It is addressed to God, but otherwise, it is all about the monarch:

God save our gracious Queen [c.q. King], God save our noble Queen, God save the Queen. Lead her victorious, happy and glorious, ever to reign over us, God save the Queen.

As you will notice, the focus is not at all on the people but entirely upon the monarch, in whom the ideals of victory, prosperity and good governance are embodied. This is the traditional monarchical scheme: the ruler as the embodiment of the nation.

Heil dir im Siegerkranz

Less well-known is that the same tune once provided the anthem to several countries, including even imperial Russia (1816-33). When devising national symbols, new nation-states just assumed that the tune of the venerable British empire’s anthem naturally and intrinsically was the melody of the national song. Prussia adopted it in 1795, and after its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, unified the German states (minus Austria and Switzerland) and presided over the founding of the German empire in 1871, it adopted as anthem the Prussian national song. So, this was set to the tune from God Save the Queen, but with the lyrics:

Heil dir im Siegerkranz, Herrscher des Vaterlands, Heil Kaiser dir. “Hail thee in victor’s laurels, ruler of the fatherland, hail to thee, emperor.”  It is not about God and only tangentially about the nation, but mostly about the monarch. Patriotism is lauded, but again only subordinate to the monarchy: Liebe des Vaterlands, Liebe des freien Manns, gründen den Herrscherthron, wie Fels im Meer, “Love of the fatherland, love by the free man, found the ruler’s throne like a rock in the sea.”

In 1918, after losing the Great War, the emperor had to abdicate and the anthem lapsed. As we shall see, the succeeding Weimar republic would choose a different one, ultimately more controversial.

Wilhelmus

While God save the Queen played a pioneering role in spreading the notion that a state needs an anthem, it was nevertheless not the oldest song to become anthem. That honour goes to the Wilhelmus, written ca. 1572 by Filips van Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde, mayor of Antwerp (the city where I presently live), in honour of Willem van Oranje-Nassau, the founder of the Netherlands. The tune had only recently been composed, 1568, and had served to animate the Huguenot (Protestant) defenders of Chartres in France against their Catholic besiegers. Ideally, after declaring independence from Spain, the country should have encompassed Belgium (including Antwerp), Luxemburg and a slice of France as well, but those territories were reconquered by Spain.

William of Orange never became king nor wanted to: the Netherlands became a republic and the head of state was a Stadhouder (“city-holder”, maintainer of the public sphere, effectively president-for-life). The Netherlands became the trailblazer of modern liberties, first adopted by England in founding the parliamentary rule, then the budding United States and France. Nevertheless, the monarchical mentality was so engrained that this song might as well have been written for a king. It is not about the nation or patriotism, it is about the person of William of Orange. (After Napoleon, when the Netherlands regained their Independence, the Great Powers gathered at the Vienna Conference insisted that the country become a kingdom, not to encourage liberal ideas elsewhere; so William’s descendants became queen or king of the Netherlands; which didn’t increase their power nor decrease their popularity.)

The song goes, in translation: “Wilhelmus of Nassau, am I of German blood.” (Explanation: the dialects that were to become Dutch and German then still formed a single continuum, the way Tamil and Malayalam did before parting company. They were called Duytsch/Dietsch, “folkish”, as distinct from Latin, used by priests and scholars, and when the names were later distinguished, they came to mean “German” c.q. “Netherlandic”/Dutch. Until ca. 1800, Dutch was regularly called Nederduytsch, “low-German”. Moreover, William’s hereditary fief Nassau did indeed lie in what became Germany. This expression explains why during the German occupation in World War II, this 1st stanza was avoided in favour of the anti-tyrannical 6th.) “True to the fatherland I remain until death. A prince of Orange I remain, free and fearless. The king of Spain I have always honoured.”

The song is written from William’s own viewpoint and reflects his profound dilemma between his loyalty to his suzerain, the king of Spain, and his God-given duty to his people. The central part of the very long song, the rarely performed 8th stanza, likens him to the Biblical king David, showing the Bible-solid Calvinist inspiration of its author. The better-known 6th stanza clearly subordinates him to God: “My shield and trust art Thou, oh God my Lord. On Thee I want to build, don’t ever leave me. May I remain pious, Thy servant at all times, and drive away the tyranny that wounds my heart.”

When the song was written, there was no notion of a national anthem yet. During the 19th century, a different song served as the anthem, and it was only in 1932 that the Wilhelmus was adopted. But meanwhile, its tune had been used to turn a different poem into a song.

In 1814, at the fag end of the Napoleontic occupation, Max von Schenckendorf wrote a poem expressing German patriotism: Wenn alle untreu werden, so bleiben wir doch treu, dass immer noch auf Erden für euch ein Fähnlein sei, “When all become disloyal, even then we remain loyal, so that always your flag will stand somewhere on earth.” It is a nationalist poem, ending in a pledge to the German Reich, which didn’t exist at the time, though its shadowy existence had only been abolished by Napoleon in 1806. The memory was still fresh, and as an ideal, it lived on. It illustrates, as do many of these poems and songs, how Christianity shaded over into nationalism, by likening the worship of “false gods” to the submission to foreign rulers.

The poem was soon put to music using the Wilhelmus tune. Then, more than a century after the poem had been recited and sung, it was adopted by the Nazi elite corps SS. In many contemporary sources, you will find it mentioned as SS-Treuelied, “SS Loyalty Song”. This is a symptom of a common hypersensitivity for anything associated with Nazism, especially in people with a Nazi-centric worldview (such as Leftists who have to hide their own crimes behind a maximized memory of WWII, when even Winston Churchill had to accept Josef Stalin as a good guy only for fighting the Nazis). In reality, the Treuelied owed nothing at all to National Socialism, any more than other much older symbols such as the Swastika or the “Black Sun” (a kind of 12-armed swastika, present on the Wewelsburg castle floor where the SS had chosen to install its headquarters). It will nevertheless still take some time before these symbols, tainted by association, can be completely healed and used again without complications.

The Wilhelmus, though, was never seriously affected. The Dutch have never considered disowning their anthem because of the late and temporary association with the SS. By contrast, another innocent song, or at least part of its lyrics, was demonized.

Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser

For his birthday in 1797, the Austrian emperor Franz was treated to a new song, with lyrics by leading poet Lorenz Leopold Haschka and music by the famous composer Joseph Haydn. When visiting England, Haydn had been enthused by the ready presence of a good song that everybody knew and that expressed their national togetherness. Though he was composer enough to compose his own tune, he too had been inspired by God Save the Queen as the model of an anthem. The lyrics too were somewhat modelled on the British text:

Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser, unsern guten Kaiser Franz, “God save emperor Francis, our good emperor Francis.” And it goes on about: “Long live Francis the Emperor in the brightest splendour of bliss! May laurel branches bloom for him, wherever he goes, as a wreath of honour”, etc. It is his well-being that counts, not the nation, though he is posited modestly below God.

Here too, the defeat of 1918 rendered the song without object, so the lyrics were replaced but the tune, after a decade of disuse, was revived in 1929. The lyrics had now become thoroughly republican, focused on the nation instead of the head of state, but with God still lurking in the background: Sei gesegnet ohne Ende, “be blessed without end”. It lapsed in 1938, when Austria was annexed by Germany.

La Marseillaise

After the French Revolution of 1789, the Revolutionaries who came to power were first of all nationalists. Today’s Leftists, who advocate open borders, demonize military service and laugh at nationalist propaganda, like to forget it, but on the said issues, they were poles apart with their French role models. In 1792, they devised a song, which in 1795 they adopted as anthem, wherein neither king nor God played a role (Ni Dieu ni maître, “neither God nor master”). The focus was fully on the nation, the tone combative: Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrive, “Let’s go, children of the fatherland, the hour of glory has arrived”. This set the template for a number of secular anthems in new states the world over. It was rich in energy and self-righteousness, but poor in wisdom.

The Star-Spangled Banner

The anthem of the USA was written in 1814, to the tune of an existing popular song from Britain, by Frances Scott Key, a lawyer who had witnessed a scene from the British-American War of 1812 from a rare vantage point: as a prisoner held on a British ship participating in a British naval siege of Baltimore. He had been impressed with the American flag on the tower of a coastal fort, and saw how after a night of fighting, it was still there is the morning. That, then, is the focus of the song: not God, not the ruler, only tangentially the nation (“the land of the free and the home of the brave”), but the national flag, plus the bravery of the American soldiers who defended it. It served as the semi-official anthem for a century, until in 1931 a law was enacted officially declaring it the anthem.

La Brabançonne   

The Marseillaise, “(the song) of Marseille”, named after volunteers from Marseille who had intoned the song while entering Paris, served as the model for the Belgian national anthem, La Brabançonne, “(the song) of Brabant”. This is the province where Brussels is located, somewhat like “Kashi” for “Varanasi”. That song has no God either, but peripherally it does venerate the king, as the country (1830) had to make its way in a world where the post-Napoleontic Vienna Conference of 1914-15 had installed a system of monarchical anti-Revolutionary regimes: …le roi, la loi, la liberté, “…law, king and liberty”. As an exceptionally liberal country, with freedom of the press and asylum for foreign dissenters, Belgium has its anthem contain the liberal phrase: het woord getrouw dat g’onbevreesd moogt spreken, “true to the word that you are allowed to speak without fear”. But the focus is on the nation itself and its territory: O dierbaar België, o heilig land der vaad’ren, onze ziel en ons hart zijn u gewijd, “Oh precious Belgium, oh holy land of the ancestors, our souls and our hearts are vowed to thee.”

Das Lied der Deutschen

At the end of 1918, Germany became a republic. A new anthem did not have to be devised. The lyrics had been available in a nationalist poem from 1841 by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, and since then it had been sung to the tune of the well-known Austrian Emperor’s Hymn. It was the time of German unification, and the song called on all Germans to put their loyalties to their own local states between brackets and focus on the then-fragmented Germany as a whole. Hence the song’s title: Das Lied der Deutschen, “The Song of the Germans”, or the Deutschlandlied, “Germany’s Song”. Foreigners usually know it through its opening line, Deutschland über Alles, “Germany above all”. This sentence had nothing to do with condescension towards non-Germans, only with a hierarchy between Germany as a whole and its parts: Germany above Bavaria, Germany above the Rhineland, etc.

It did not address a monarch, but the German nation. The liberal nationalists then in the forefront contrasted their own modern liberal and predominantly secular nationalism with loyalty to the erstwhile Holy Roman Emperor and the contemporaneous Austrian emperor. In the revolution year 1848, it represented a rebellion of the people against the transnational nobility. It is for this reason that in 1922, the Weimar Republic chose Das Lied der Deutschen as its anthem, marking a break with the Imperial Germany of the preceding half century.

Somewhat like Jana Gana Mana, the song situated the country geographically, not by listing its component parts (“Panjaba, Sindhu, Gujarata, Maratha…”), but by listing its borders, roughly: “Von der Maas bis and die Memel, von der Etsch bis an den Belt.” These are the borders, flatteringly but not imperialistically defined, of the German speech area with the French/Dutch, c.q. the Baltic, Italian and Danish speech areas during the mid-19th century. Note that then a unified Germany was still an ideal and its borders were still being debated: it was deemed desirable to include Austria and hence the border would be with Italy. Around 1920 too, the Etsch border with Italy was a realistic proposition, for it was the outspoken desire of the Austrian people to be included in Germany, as is clear from the massive majority that this proposal received in a referendum. (However, France as a victor in the Great War disallowed it.)

The song remained national anthem when the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, including when they occupied much of Europe in 1939-45. The latter circumstance gave the song a highly negative connotation. Outsiders reinterpreted the opening line as meaning: “Germany above every other nation in the world.” When Dutch children saw the British bombers fly over their country to drop their load over German cities, they inverted the sentence: Alles, Alles über Deutschland, “(Drop) everything on Germany”.

After 1945, the same anthem continued, or at least its melody. Of the lyrics, only the 3rd stanza has an official status. It carries the liberal bias of Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s unification movement: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland, danach last uns Alle streben, brüderlich mit Herz und Hand…, “Unity and Justice and Freedom for the German fatherland, for that let us all strive, fraternally with heart and hand”. The 2nd stanza is innocent but not deemed dignified enough to serve as an anthem, and the first is frowned upon as irredentistically seeking the restoration of Germany’s pre-1945 borders: with the loss of East Prussia, the Memel river is now hundreds of miles from the German borders, and with the definitive independence of Austria, Germany has lost all pretence of bordering Italy. Now, the listing of these borders has acquired a decisively imperialistic meaning which originally it did not have.

Many laymen think there is something Nazi about this song (as also about the Treuelied). These are not just tamasic Leftists who fill their empty minds with endless Hitler references in order to assure themselves of a moral high ground, but also the mass of people who are simply ignorant. However, the true story is just the reverse: it is politically liberal, pro-constitution, pro-democracy, and emphasizes the non-aristocratic, people-oriented angle of nationalism. It lays no claim to non-German lands and does not contain even a germ of hatred against other nations or communities such as the Jews. When all is said and done, it is just a song, set to the beautiful music by Haydn.

Jana Gana Mana

This survey of the trail-blazing European anthems, upon which all other anthems were modelled, indicates three possible foci: God, the monarch, and the nation. Traditional monarchies tend to have anthems focusing on the monarch, either putting him in the shadow of God (God Save the Queen, Wilhelmus), or presenting him as the highest authority by himself (Heil dir im Siegerkranz). Modern songs emanating from secular elites tend to avoid God, such as the French and German republican anthems, and they have a conspicuous absence of references to the head of state, who is simply one of us, one of the nation that is already being glorified.

In what category does Jana Gana Mana fall? What did it mean at the time when it was composed? In the rest of this essay, we will find out.

The song was written in 1911 by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore in a high Bengali bordering on Sanskrit. (Among his other poems, one more made it to the status of national anthem: Amar Sonar Bangla, “My Golden Bengal”, written in 1905, was adopted as anthem by Bangladesh in 1971.) In a multilingual country, it has the virtue of being understandable to every citizen with even just a smattering of education. It was first performed at a conference of the Indian National Congress.

The song was first performed with the status of the national anthem by Subhas Chandra Bose’s troops. Before his well-known leadership of the Indian National Army under Japanese tutelage in 1943-45, he had commanded a smaller army, recruited from among the Indian soldiers in the British regiments taken prisoner at Dunkirk, as part of the Nazi-German war effort in 1941-42. It was in Germany that men, for the first time, stood to attention for Jana Gana Mana as India’s national anthem.

The Bharata Bhagya Vidhata is not King George

The song is frankly nationalist to the extent that it glorifies the nation and its territory, of which it enumerates the provinces. However, it also addresses and glorifies the Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak, the “commander of the people’s mind”, who is at the same time the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata, the “dispenser of India’s destiny’. Does this refer to the country’s hereditary or appointed or elected ruler?

We can imagine the vainglorious Jawaharlal Nehru, as Prime Minister in the 1950s, feeling flattered whenever the crowds in front of him were intoning these words. But then, he was not seriously in the picture yet in 1911. At that time, the British king George V was India’s ruler. Moreover, he was to pay a visit to India only weeks after the song was first performed—at a Congress meeting where a proper reception for the king was central on the agenda.

By connecting these dots, the British press at the time, and many of its Indian readers, believed that Tagore composed the song in honour of the king. The claim proved particularly tenacious, and it is occasionally heard even today. Yet, the poet was to deny this, later in life even vehemently. But the first years, this correction did not reach the public.

The confusion in the British and British-Indian press partly came about due to the existence of another song by an Indian that did genuinely glorify the British king-emperor. This was Bâdshâh Hamâra, “Our King”, written in Urdu by Rambhuj Chaudhary, and it was sung on the same occasion but explicitly in praise of the monarch. At that time, Congress was still committed only to dominion status within the British Empire, so with King George as its legitimate ruler.

The mistaken belief that Tagore had wanted to praise the British king and thus further legitimize his rule over India had its bright side. It crucially helped in convincing the Nobel committee to award its 1913 prize for literature for the first time to a non-Westerner. Gitañjali, Tagore’s award-winning collection, is no doubt fine poetry, but to win the Nobel Prize, it was best to satisfy a preliminary condition. Tagore was deemed a loyalist of the colonial dispensation, and therefore a convert to civilization uplifting his own more backward countrymen. Now that was the kind of merit to be rewarded.

If questioned, the Swedes on the committee would probably not have opposed or condemned India’s nationalist movement. But at the same time, Europe in those days was abuzz with stories of murderous rebels and of brave colonials who went there to tame them. So, to actually give open support to a rebellious colonial underling would have been too much even for the well-meaning Swedish bourgeoisie. In these circumstances, the mistaken impression that Tagore had put his literary services at the feet of the British monarch came in handy.

Then who is the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata?

In a letter dated 10 November 1937, Tagore explained the true story:

A certain high official in His Majesty’s service, who was also my friend, had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Bidhata [Bengali pronunciation; “dispenser of destiny”] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.

Here Tagore already lets on the real identity of this Dispenser of India’s Destiny. As a scion of the Brahmo Samaj, which frowned upon the variety of god-figures from devotional Hinduism, he avoided mentioning by name any god. Yet, he leaves no one in doubt that he means the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind. This clearly refers to the Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita, who is there as Arjuna’s charioteer. He is worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu, who takes birth from age to age, whenever Dharma has weakened and needs to be strengthened.

Usually, only the first stanza is publicly sung. But if you read on or sing on to the third stanza, it all becomes clear enough. The iconography of Vishnu and Krishna (chariot, conch, the expression yuge yuge, “age after age”) is exuberantly sung there, and the singers describe themselves as yatri, “pilgrims”. King George, Prime Minister Nehru or any otherworldly ruler is absent, the entire focus is on Krishna, the guide and charioteer. He is said to “deliver from sorrow and pain”, which would be too much honour for a mere state leader; and to be “the people’s guide on the path”. Hail to the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata!

Is it secular?

For a republic that is always praised as “secular”, we might expect a secular anthem, somewhat like La Marseillaise or Heil dir im Siegerkranz. But whereas these two simply ignore religion altogether, Jana Gana Mana does at most have a passage that could be termed secular in the Gandhian sense, viz. an equally positive recognition of all religions by the state. India only calls itself secular since 1975, when Indira Gandhi’s Emergency dictatorship inserted the words “secular, socialist” into the Constitutional description of India as a “democratic, federal republic”. That makes these two words the only ones in the Constitution that did not go through a proper parliamentary debate. In the days of the Constituent Assembly, by contrast, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, explicitly refused to include “secular”. When, 28 years later, the term did get inserted, it had acquired the meaning “anti-Hindu”, yet most Hindus accept the term because they naïvely assume it still has the meaning “secular”.

That word was not in the air yet when Tagore composed the song, in 1911. But he did support religious pluralism. In fact, like most Hindus, he took it for granted as self-evident, not in need of being articulated as a separate doctrine. It was in his case vaguely the Gandhian idea of “equal respect for all religions”. Consider another unsung stanza, the second. To a superficial reader, this might give the impression of espousing religiously neutrality: “We heed Your gracious call. / The Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, / Muslims, and Christians, / The East and the West come together, / To the side of Your throne, / And weave the garland of love. / Oh! You who bring in the unity of the people!”

Indian Muslims and Christians still have a lot of un-Islamic or un-Christian feelings in them, inherited from their Hindu ancestors, adopted from their Hindu environment, or simply stemming from universal human nature. Thus, they generally have a strong attachment to their motherland, overruling their tutored orientation to Mecca, Jerusalem or Rome. In that sense, their attachment to India does bring them together with their Hindu compatriots. Most Hindus are not too serious about doctrines, they overlook the specific points which set Islam and Christianity against all other religions, and hence they tend to welcome all sects into the Indian fold.

But this stance is not reciprocated. The attitude that takes all sects to be one happy family, is emphatically not Muslim and not Christian, for these sects vow only hellfire upon all the others. The spirit of this second stanza is not also-a-bit-Muslim nor also-a-bit-Christian, it is not a bit of everything; it is thoroughly Hindu.

Also ran

When the Freedom Movement and later the Constituent Assembly deliberated upon the choice of an anthem, there were three candidates. Sare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara, “Of the whole world, the best is our Hindustan”, was an Urdu song by Mohammed Iqbal, composed in 1904. Having studied in Germany, he may well have been inspired by Deutschland über Alles, but with the wrong though now common idea that this means: Germany is superior to the rest. At any rate, his opening line said in so many words that India is superior to the rest. Whatever the merits of the lyrics and the melody, any choice for an Iqbal song came to leave a bad taste in the mouth when, shortly before his death in 1938, he became the spiritual father of the fledgling Pakistan movement. Nonetheless, it has never ceased to enjoy a certain recognition within the Indian Army.

Another option was Vande Mataram, “I salute thee, Mother”, meaning Mother India. It was drawn from a novel by Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Anandamath, “Abbey of Bliss” (1882). Covertly, the story appealed to its readers to rise up against the colonizers, at that time the British. But in its explicit narrative, it was set in an earlier age, when the occupiers against whom to revolt were Muslims. As was to be expected, Muslims and Nehruvian secularists objected.

Moreover, and perhaps even more decisively, Muslims proposed a theological objection: this veneration of the Mother Goddess, easily recognizable as the warrior-goddess Durga, was idolatry pure and simple. Only Allah should be worshipped, and to the extent an anthem with all its pomp and ceremony was acceptable at all (the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject it), it should emphatically not deify the nation nor any symbol or deity associated with it. Till today, Muslims regularly boycott public performances of Vande Mataram.

But in fact, Jana Gana Mana’s “dispenser of India’s destiny”, while not its past or present ruler, unambiguously signifies the divine Guide, the eternal Guru, Krishna. If Vande Mataram is “communal”, then so is Jana Gana Mana.

Nehru supported the Muslims in their objections against Vande Mataram, thus, in fact, misdirecting their attention and deflecting further scrutiny of Jana Gana Mana. But to give his own plea against it a less communal colouring, he took an entirely different line and objected that the song is too difficult to sing. Though this objection was disingenuous and had to hide another reason, it had a core of truth. In the functions where I have seen it sung, it was typically performed by a professional singer, while the public kept mum. In comparison, Jana Gana Mana is a pleasant and beautiful hymn that anyone can sing. As far as my opinion counts for anything, I think the Constituent Assembly made the correct choice.

Conclusion

Yet, it may have been a choice based on incomplete information. Clearly, most voting members were unaware of Jana Gana Mana’s third stanza. Alternatively, they may have considered it as not really part of the national anthem anyway. Or, they may not have cared for secularism anyway. At any rate, when including the third stanza, the song is emphatically God-oriented and Hindu.

India’s anthem is not ruler-oriented like Heil dir im Siegerkranz. It is not ruler-and God-oriented, like the Wilhelmus, God Save the Queen, or Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser. It is not secularly nation-and-state-oriented, like the Marseillaise, the Star-Spangled Banner, the Brabançonne or Das Lied der Deutschen. It is emphatically nation-and-God-oriented, God in this case probably being identifiable as Krishna, or more abstractly, the idea of the Divine involving Itself in this world whenever Dharma requires it. The song does not commit itself to a specific political system, such as monarchy, by glorifying the ruler. It merely expresses love for the nation through all its variegated landscapes and experiences—plus a veneration for the divine Guru.

According to Rabindranath Tagore, and according to all Indian citizens who intone or honour his anthem, India is not complete without a heaven-oriented, sacred dimension. – Pragyata, 17 March 2017

» Dr Elst is an historian and indologist with MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. He lives in Antwerp, Belgium.

Sri Krishna showing his vishvarupa to Arjuna

Modi Government as an exponent of BJP secularism – Koenraad Elst

Narendra Modi on campaign in Mumbai for the Hindu vote

Koenraad ElstLike the previous BJP Government, the present one fails to live up to the oft-heard predictions of strident pro-Hindu and anti-minority policies. This is due to a phenomenon insufficiently realized by most India-watchers: a desire to live up to the norms upheld by the secularists and an interiorization of the disinterest in “outdated” Hindu concerns, not just among the numerous opportunists who have flocked to the new party in power, but even in the loyal core of the BJP’s personnel. Based on insider sources, this paper enumerates the data establishing the reality of “BJP secularism” and analyses the reasons for this emerging phenomenon. – Dr Koenraad Elst

A. B. VajpayeeA. B. Vajpayee’s NDA Government (1998-2004) heavily disappointed the experts who had predicted “all Moslims into the Indian Ocean” or similar doomsday scenarios—or rather, it put them squarely in the wrong. Hindu “fascism” as a threat to democracy? When Vajpayee narrowly lost a confidence vote, he meekly stepped down. War against Pakistan? Though Pakistan unilaterally invaded India (Kargil 1999), Vajpayee forbade the Army to strike at the invaders’ base across the border, and later opened a peace process, making symbolic concessions which Congress had always refused. Isolationism? He threw the Indian media market open to foreign media ownership, a move opposed by India’s entire political spectrum. The only “Hindutva” thing the NDA ever did was HRD Minister M. M. Joshi‘s clumsy overhaul of the recommended history schoolbooks, changing nothing dramatic and easily reversed. When the Government created a Chair for Indic Studies in Oxford (“saffronization!”), it selected an outspoken opponent for the job, in the vain hope of receiving a pat on the back from its declared enemies.

With the hindsight knowledge of historical reality, it would be embarrassing to reproduce the predictions by Indian and foreign experts. Today, anti-BJP discourse is less shrill, but still confidently classifies the BJP among the “Hindu Right”. This implies a prediction that once in power, the BJP would pursue distinctly pro-Hindu policies. However, in the light of our experience with the Vajpayee Government, it is no surprise that the present Government led by Narendra Modi fails to live up to this learned prediction, at least for now. (Of course, this paper will be updated by November as new developments take place.)

In spite of having a more homogeneous majority, it is reluctant to do anything pro-Hindu or perceivable as anti-minority. On the contrary, one of its first acts was to decree a new subsidy to Islamic schools. The stray Hindutva statements by loose cannon (Sakshi Maharaj, Niranjan Jyoti) were followed by retractions, condemnations by Government spokesmen, and indignant innuendos by Modi-friendly journalists (Tavleen Singh, Swapan Dasgupta). Public reconversions by the allied VHP, heavily publicized and demonized by the media, were promptly discouraged by the Government. Having learned from Vajpayee’s 2004 defeat, though, Modi does “keep the pot boiling”, does regularly throw crumbs of inconsequential Hindu symbolism to his support base, all while not formally changing anything.

However, if many BJP workers are disappointed with this Government, is not for what it does but mainly for what it persistently fails to do. Thus, it inducted no figures with a strongly ideological profile (Arun Shourie, Subramanian Swamy). Likewise, some public figures who had crossed the floor (e.g. Madhu Kishwar) were conspicuously not rewarded—a fact not considered here for disgruntled ego reasons but for illustrating the BJP’s lack of strategy: it doesn’t put people who have actually sacrificed for the BJP to any use, while awarding positions of influence to unreliable newcomers motivated by sheer opportunism. While some things on the Hindu agenda are either useless to Hinduism (e.g. declaring a “Hindu Rashtra”) and others would arouse violent protests for which the media are sure to blame Modi (e.g. a Common Civil Code, though “secular” par excellence), others are perfectly feasible and, moreover, turn out to be the most consequential for the flourishing of Hinduism.

In particular, the amending of Constitutional Articles 28 and 30, which (de facto c.q. formally) discriminate against Hinduism in education, does not take away any rights from the minorities, yet lifts an enormous burden from Hindu organizations investing in education and eliminates a major reason for Hindu sects (Arya Samaj, RK Mission, Lingayats, Jains) to have themselves judicially declared non-Hindu minorities. Similarly, eliminating the legal basis of the discrimination against Hinduism in temple management, with rich temples (but not mosques or churches) nationalized and their income pocketed by politicians or diverted to non-Hindu purposes, would give an enormous boost to Hindu religious and cultural life, without impinging upon the rights of the minorities. It has to be noted, however, and it buttresses my case for “BJP secularism”, that temple management is partly a competence of the States, and that BJP State Governments have not made the difference. At any rate, there are meaningful things a BJP Government could do specifically for Hinduism without endangering its non-religious agenda (development, cleaning India etc.) or its international standing, yet it chooses not to do them.

As for the Hindutva fits and starts of some BJP members, now considered extremists but in fact only representative of what the erstwhile Jan Sangh (1952-77, predecessor of the BJP) stood for, it should be easy to bring them in line around a more reasonable but still credibly pro-Hindu programme. It is here that the BJP is most conspicuously failing — conspicuous at least to insiders, for 99% of the outside literature about the BJP never mentions this phenomenon. Contrary to a consensus among academic and journalistic India-watchers, the supposed “Hindu extremist” party has no Hindu agenda. It relies on pro-Hindu workers to do the campaigning legwork, but once in power it cold-shoulders them, it publicizes and pursues an agenda of economic development only, and it tries to curry favour with the secularists.

The main reason is the long-standing deliberate lack of investment (pioneered by M. S. Golwalkar) in an intellectual and strategic vision of its own, the spurning of any analysis of the forces in the field and of the potential and limitations of the situation. It therefore also lacks competent personnel for the ideological struggle, e.g. for a textbook overhaul or, now, for nominating politically friendly new Vice-Chancellors. Consequently, most BJP leaders have an enormous inferiority complex vis-à-vis the secularists and, even when in office, try to live up to the norms laid down by their opponents.

This is hardly the impression created by most experts; but the primary data, the only source to which this paper pledges loyalty, tell a clear story: the present BJP is only termed a Hindu party in deference to the distant memory of its initial orientation. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 November 2016

» Dr Koenraad Elst is an indologist and historian from Belgium who publishes with Voice of India.

Narendra Modi in Faizabad

Supreme Court has defined secularism, not Hinduism – Prakash Nanda

Supreme Court of India

Prakash NandaThere cannot be true secularism unless all the religions in India are treated equally under Indian laws and politics is liberated from the hegemony—not necessarily influence—of religion. – Prof Prakash Nanda

A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court hearing the case of using religion during elections to seek votes asked a question on Thursday (28 October) that should have been asked a long ago.

In our public discourse, we hear a lot about “secularism”. But can secularism remain aloof from religion?, the Apex Court asked, saying “ it will be difficult to accept as a proposition that a political party should have nothing to do with religion and those who have something to do with it must cease to be political parties”. But this was not all. The Bench then went on to ask, “Secularism does not mean aloofness to religion but giving equal treatment to every religion. Religion and caste are vital aspects of our public life. Can it be possible to completely separate religion and caste from politics?”

While an answer to the ticklish question that the Supreme Court has asked will be different from different parties that have approached (are approaching, something the CPM did on Thursday) the Court, the most notable component of that question happens to be “secularism”. The Apex Court now defines secularism to be “equal treatment to every religion”, a definition that has eluded the political and intellectual consensus in this country so far.

In my considered view, the absence of a clear definition of secularism in our political parlance has created two problems. One, it has resulted in a situation where we witness “communal politicians” becoming “secular” overnight and vice versa, with everything depending on the political convenience of the parties and their supporters. Secondly, the way it has been practiced in India, secularism has been reduced to be essentially anti-Hindu but pro-minorities viewpoints or measures. And this has been systematically promoted by what is known as Nehruism, the Left-Liberal framework that dominates Indian public discourse. Ironically, “secularism” has been never defined by its political and intellectual champions in India. Though the 42nd Amendment in 1975 by Indira Gandhi’s Congress government did incorporate the word “secularism” to the preamble of our Constitution, it did not define what secularism was. Ironically, her Indira GandhiCongress party, which dominated the then Rajya Sabha in 1978, foiled an attempt to actually define secularism as “equal respect to all religions” by defeating an amendment bill to that effect, the bill that had already been cleared in the Lok Sabha during the Janata regime of Morarji Desai.

It is instructive here to note that in 1949, Nehru had said that “to talk of Hindu culture would injure India’s interests”. He had admitted more than once that by education he was an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim, and a Hindu only by accidental birth. In 1953, Nehru had written to Kailash Nath Katju: “In practice, the individual Hindu is more intolerant and more narrow-minded than almost any person in any other country.”

Of course, Nehru did the right thing by trying to remove some degraded practices within Hinduism, but the problem with him was that he was not bothered about the similar reforms in other religions. Nehru codified the Hindu personnel laws (concerning Hindus’ diverse customs, rituals and practices) in 1956, but he backtracked on doing so towards Muslim personal law. No wonder why J. B. Kriplani, a veteran socialist, opposed the Hindu Code Bill on the ground that the Nehru government was “communal”. Kriplani had told Nehru, “If you want to have a divorce for Hindu community, have it; but have it for Catholic community also. I tell you this is the democratic way, the other is the communal way. It is not the Mahasabhites who alone are communal, it is the government also that is communal, whatever it may say. I charge you with communalism because you are bringing forward a law about monogamy only for the Hindu community. You must bring it to the Muslim community. Take it from me that the Muslim community is prepared to have it but you are not brave enough to do it.”

It is under Nehruvian secularism that the Government appoints trustees to manages Hindu temples (and maths) of Viswanath, Tirupati, Puri, Nathdwara and Guruvayur. But the same Government considers it “communal” to do likewise in the case of masjids, churches and gurudwaras. Secularism of the Nehruvian variety says that it is “progressive” to denounce a Hindu swami for trying to influence his or her followers, but it is “communal” to raise finger at those who issue fatwas and hukamnamas.

As Arun Shourie has pointed out in his book Religion in Politics, “during the freedom struggle, if you looked upon a Muslim as being someone apart, as being someone other than just a human being like yourself, the “progressive” was bound to brand you “communal”. Today, unless you look upon the Muslim as separate, that is, unless you see him as a Muslim rather than as just a human being like yourself, the “progressive” brands you “communal”. Fifty years ago when a Hindu scholar by his deep study perceived and wrote about The Essential Unity of All Religions—the title of Bhagwan Das’ famous work—that was looked upon as Bhagwan Dashumanist scholarship at its best. Today when a scholar points to the identity of what is taught in Granth Sahib and what is taught in say, the Hindu Bhakti tradition, it is taken as proof positive of a deep conspiracy to swallow Sikhism”.

In fact, India today is much more divided than what it was at the time of partition in 1947, thanks to the perverse manner in which secularism or for that matter “the identity politics” is being practiced in the country. The victims of any crime or injustice these days are being seen in terms of their religions and castes, not as normal human beings who are all equal under Indian laws. What is worse, depending on their identities, both the victims and the guilty must get “different” treatments, if we go by the demands of the so-called secularists.

And these “secular” double standards are seen in the politics of the country.

In fact, the Congress manifesto in January 1989 for the Mizoram election promised to promote “Christian socialism”. It stated “As Christians, it is our bounden duty to proclaim the gospel. To fulfill this irreversible responsibility we need secularism in letter and spirit…. It is but reasonable that the Christian should lend support to the Congress.”

Similarly, in his book Communal Road to Secular Kerala, sociologist George Mathew has described how late Indira Gandhi wooed the Church to issue directives to vote in favor of the Congress lead UDF in the early 1980s. The Christian bishops appealed for support to only those candidates who believed in God, with an obvious reference to UDF led by the Congress. And we all know how the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the Supreme Court judgment on the famous Shah Bano case by bringing about a fresh legislation in the Parliament, with a clear motive to woo the Muslim electorate.

The moral of the story is thus clear. There cannot be true secularism unless all the religions in India are treated equally under Indian laws and politics is liberated from the hegemony (not necessarily influence) of religion. The Supreme Court has done well in providing a definition of secularism. In that sense, the ongoing case should be the referral point for defining secularism, not Hinduism. – FirstPost, 28 October 2016

» Prof Prakash Nanda is editor of Uday India, a national weekly, and Geopolitics a niche monthly devoted to defence, security and diplomacy. Previously he was a National Fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research.  He has also been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University, Seoul and FMSH, Paris.

Secularism of Congress

Has Modi Sarkar corrected these anti-Hindu inequities?

Muslim personal law in India is retrogressive – N.D. Nalapat

Prof M.D. NalapatAccording to Nehruvian secularism, the “majority” can do no right and the “minority” no wrong. Hence, when laws designed to bring some of the traditional practices of those professing Hinduism into the 20th century, any effort at ensuring a similar modernising exercise on the Muslim community was discarded. … Such forbearance, which Nehru thought would prevent a second partition, has in fact furthered the conditions for it, by separating citizens of India into two boxes—“minority” and “majority”—that are in practical terms meaningless. — Prof N. D. Nalapat

Since 1947, India has practised a form of “secularism” that has served as a time-bomb primed to explode and once again shatter into fragments the unity of the country. Nehruvian secularism is unique in that it discriminates against the “majority” community, placing restrictions on it that are absent in “minority” communities. In the first place, even within the maelstrom of identity, the terms “majority” and “minority” are misleading. Neither the Hindu nor the Muslim (nor indeed the Christian or the Sikh) faiths are monolithic. Within these hyper-broad terms, there exist huge differences, and indeed, across many points of each sub-community’s cultural matrix, commonality may be more with elements of other faiths than with their own. Not that such a mixing of traditions and cultures is in any way objectionable. Indeed, the very diversity of India is what promotes an overall unity within the country, expressed strongly, for example, in situations such as war. Such tolerance of diversity has been under test recently, and not by those claiming to be the inheritors of Nehruvian tradition and practices. Ongoing efforts to introduce changes in diet or dress or lifestyle through the coercive mechanism of penal law are damaging to the future of India, for it is the tolerance for diversity that keeps the country united. Not merely beef but meat of any kind is, in the view of this columnist, “against the order of nature”, where human beings are considered. But the matter needs to be tackled through social conscientisation, not through the police, but through social reformers. If Devendra Fadnavis would like every citizen in India to stop eating beef, or if Nitish Kumar wishes a similar abstinence from alcohol, that is their right. But they are overstepping the boundaries set by democracy when they seek to enforce their personal preferences on the rest of the population through the police. Moral policing, food policing, alcohol policing are creating an image of an India in the grip of those who mimic the Saudi “Muttawa” in their approach to lifestyles. The Supreme Court has thus far retained its assent for certain Victorian laws which have been cast aside even in the country of their origin, but it is hoped that the Apex Court will in future—if it errs at all—err on the side of freedom rather than on the preservation of the repressive superstructure of the colonial state that has been retained since the time in office of that globally renowned prince of democracy, Jawaharlal Nehru.

According to Nehruvian secularism, the “majority” can do no right and the “minority” no wrong. Hence, when laws designed to bring some of the traditional practices of those professing Hinduism into the 20th century, any effort at ensuring a similar modernising exercise on the Muslim community was discarded. Since that time, much of the policies of the Indian state have had the unintended effect of distancing Hindus and Muslims from each other. Such forbearance, which Nehru thought would prevent a second partition, has in fact furthered the conditions for it, by separating citizens of India into two boxes (“minority” and “majority”) that are in practical terms meaningless.

An example is what is termed the “personal law” relating to marriage and divorce. In India, women who are born into the Muslim faith are subject to divorce in seconds, with all that is needing to be done by the husband being the repetition of the word “talaq” three times, in a manner wholly contradictory to the example set by Prophet Mohammad, who from the early days of his life treated women with the respect they merit as, among other virtues, the mothers of every human being on the planet. Despite the Wahhabisation that has continued in that country since the days of Zia ul-Haq, such a dismissive approach to the dignity and rights of a female spouse are absent in Pakistan. The personal laws as practised in India qualify to make this country among the most retrogressive in the world, a circumstance Shah Bano Begumwhich needs to change. At a minimum, Muslim women in India should be given the same rights in divorce proceedings as their counterparts in Turkey, the original home of the Islamic Caliphate, including in restrictions on the number of wives a man is legally entitled to wed. Islamic doctrine is meant to be dynamic, adjusting to changes caused by the efflux of time, and any Wahhabi-style effort to lock such doctrine into a static mode is to do disservice to its teachings.

Unfortunately, in India as in the US or the EU, “authentic” Muslims are regarded solely as those who are ultra-rigid in their views and practices. That only those with flowing beards and all-covering burkhas can be “good” Muslims, which is nonsense. Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister began his fall from popular favour when in 1985 he ignored voices such as those of Arif Mohammad Khan and went ahead with legislation to reverse the Shah Bano verdict of the Supreme Court of India. It is wrong to regard the fringe as representative of the Muslim community in India, exactly as it ridiculous to tar the whole of Hindu society with a brush meant for the Sadhvi Prachis. Triple talaq as practised in India goes against every human right of Muslim women in India. While equality under the law would be the ideal at the very least, what is needed is to bring divorce and marriage practices for Muslim women here in sync with those of Turkey, a country even the most diehard in the AIMPLB would find it difficult to denounce as “anti-Muslim”. – Sunday Guardian, 4 Septembeer 2016

Ban Triple Talaq

Perversion of secularism and the non-implementation of a uniform civil code – Nithin Sridhar

Nithin SridharIndia should have evolved an indigenous social and legal system rooted in Dharma. … Such a social and legal system would have developed unique responses to challenges that are unique to Indian society; would have been fair and righteous towards everyone, irrespective of their affiliations, and would have been, at the same time, firmly rooted in Indian civilization. But since we have already imported an alien system of secularism, it would do us good if we remove the prevalent perversions and implement it in its true sense by enacting a fair uniform civil code. – Nithin Sridhar

Dalai Lama Quote India is probably the only country, wherein the concept of secularism is most perverted, both in principle and practice. After Independence, India, first borrowed this alien principle without giving a thought regarding its necessity and applicability in Indian society, and then perverted it beyond measure to selectively implement it for petty political ends, with disastrous results.

Secularism in simple terms means “separation of State and Religion”. That is religious concerns will not dictate State policies and the State will not interfere in religious activities. This concept of secularism originated in the European society, necessitated by the constant struggle for power between the Church and the Monarchy. Secularism was thus a unique solution in response to unique challenges prevalent in Western civilization in general and European society in particular.

Since Indian civilization, being rooted in the concept of Dharma, wherein even a ruler is subjected to its tenets and answerable to his citizens, no dichotomy between religion and government ever existed. More importantly, the very concept of religion as understood in Western (Abrahamic) civilization is alien to India. Sanatana Dharma is not merely a religion bound by certain principles of faith, instead it is a way of life based on eternal principles that sustains all life—individual, social, ecological, and universal. Thus sacred as well as secular, social and political as well as religious and spiritual, all aspects of life derive their sustenance from Dharma. Thus, dichotomies like religion vs. science, state vs. church, etc., which were an important force in the European society, never even sprouted in India.

Yet, ignoring these realities of Indian civilization, the Indian leaders, after independence, first imported secularism into India and then perverted its tenets and selectively implemented them in appeasement of certain “minority” communities, all the while being discriminating towards the majority community. How else can one explain contradictory actions of various state and central governments during the last seven decades?

Let’s take the example of religious institutions like places of worship belonging to various religions. Various state governments, especially in South India have taken control over Hindu temples and are earning crores of rupees from them. This is a clear violation of secularism, which mandates no interference of governments in religious activities. Add to this is the fact that out of the crores that these state governments are earning from temples, only a fraction of the amount is set aside for the maintenance of temples, and the rest is diverted to the government’s coffers. How is it secularism? Now consider this, the same state governments have allowed a free functioning of churches and mosques without any state intervention in the name of “secularism”. Moreover, crores of taxpayers’ money are spent by some of the state governments to help minority communities to renovate and build their places of worship.

In other words, the state governments have encroached upon places of worship belonging to the majority Hindu community, all the while allowing churches and mosques a free run. They are, further, looting the money from the temples and then spending taxpayers’ money on the churches, mosques, and the like. This is how secularism—the separation of religion and government—is being practiced in India. But this perversion of secularism and discrimination against the majority is, perhaps, most visible in the case of religion-specific personal laws enshrined in our constitution, despite the fact that the Directive Principles call for the eventual adoption of a uniform civil code.

Hindu Code BillsThe presence of numerous personal laws goes against the very essence of secularism. Add to this, the fact that the way these personal laws have been enacted is completely discriminatory in nature. On the one hand, the Muslim community is governed by the laws which are largely derived from Sharia and Islamic jurisprudence. Similarly, Parsis have personal law rooted in their tradition. The Jews are not governed by any personal laws, but instead are governed by the dictates of their religion. Christian personal laws are also in sync with their religious tradition. On the other hand, the majority Hindu community is governed by secularized Hindu laws which are uprooted from Hindu tradition and practices. Though custom and usage have been deemed important in the Hindu personal laws, yet through passage of various civil laws like Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, etc. the rules governing Hindu marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. have been thoroughly secularized. Regarding the Hindu Code Bills of 1950’s, Dr. Parminder Kaur, Assistant Professor, Guru Nanak Dev University Regional Campus, Gurdaspur, writes in her article thus: “The Hindu Code Bills were a series of laws aimed at thoroughly secularizing the Hindu community and bringing its laws up to modern times, which in essence meant the abolition of Hindu law and the enactment of laws based on western lines that enshrined the equality of men and women, and other progressive ideas.”

Thus the Hindu community has been forced to shed its centuries-old customs and traditions, whereas minority communities like Muslims are freely allowed to retain their practices. Add to this the fact that Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, etc. all come under these Hindu personal laws, and thus are denied personal laws based on their own traditions and practices. It is a different issue that Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists share a common framework of Dharma with mainstream Hinduism and are deeply rooted in Indian culture and tradition. The point is just like various communities within mainstream Hinduism have their unique customs and practices, even Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists have their unique customs and practices, all of which have been discarded and replaced by secularized Hindu personal laws. This is a classic case of discrimination in the name of “secularism”.

The argument here is not that the present secularized Hindu laws are bad for the society, or that Hindus must imitate the customs and practices prevalent in Hindu society many centuries ago. The issue here is one of fairness and equal treatment. Either there should be a uniform civil code keeping with the true notion of secularism, wherein all citizens are treated as citizens, without reference to their religion in civil issues, or there should be as many personal laws as necessary to cater to various local customs, traditions, and practices. Even if one were to have a uniform Hindu personal law in such a scenario, then it must have enough flexibility and space to accommodate diverse local beliefs and practices among various communities, and these are to be framed after discussions with various religious authorities and community leaders from across the country and be rooted in Hindu religion and traditions. This is definitely not the case in the present scenario, wherein minority Muslims are allowed to follow religious principles, whereas majority Hindus, including Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists are forced to follow secularized personal laws.

Ishwar Chandra VidyasagarMore importantly, there was no necessity to secularize Hindu laws and Hindu society to usher in positive changes that were necessary, according to changing times. These positive changes could have been evolved from within Hindu tradition and culture itself. Hinduism has always been an evolving religious tradition. The presence of numerous smritis, dharma shastras, and many other texts, with each putting forward different viewpoints suitable to their own time and space, is the best evidence regarding flexibility and continuous evolution of Hinduism. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who was instrumental in bringing in the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act of 1856, accomplished it by putting forward evidences, illustrations, and arguments from within the Hindu tradition. Thus, genuine Hindu personal laws, suitable for present times, rooted in values like righteousness, duty, fairness, equal opportunity to women, etc. could have been easily evolved from within Hindu philosophy and culture, through a consensus arrived after discussions and debate among various religious authorities and representatives of various Hindu communities belonging to different geographical regions. But, short-sightedness and a romance with western ideals and systems of governance, made our Indian leaders ignore Indian ideals and models present within Indian civilization.

This import of secularism, and later its perversion in the form of discriminating personal laws, have done not much good for the minority communities, especially women of those communities, either. Polygamy is prevalent and legally sanctioned under Muslim personal laws, whereas it is prohibited for everyone else. A Hindu woman has an absolute right over maintenance from her husband upon divorce, but a Muslim woman will not get maintenance beyond the period of iddah. Similarly, the grounds of divorce have been detailed and the elaborate legal process have been thoroughly established in the case of Hindus and Christians, but a Muslim woman could be divorced merely by a repetition of “talaq” thrice by her husband. The Hindu undivided family gets tax rebates, but others are bereft of this benefit. Similar discriminations exist in the case of adoption laws as well.

The gist is the perversion of secularism which has resulted in non-implementation of a uniform civil code, which has not done any good to anyone. On the one hand, the Hindu personal laws have ushered in equality and fairness in certain spheres of social life in Hindu society, but have done so at the cost of uprooting Hindu society and the legal system from the foundations of Dharma, which is bound to have adverse effects over a long-term. On the other hand, presence of separate personal laws for minority communities has kept them away, especially Muslim women, from gaining any benefits that are available for Hindus.

Ideally, India should have evolved an indigenous social and legal system rooted in Dharma (righteous duty) and Indian civilization. Such a social and legal system would have developed unique responses to challenges that are unique to Indian society; would have been fair and righteous towards everyone irrespective of their affiliations, and would have been, at the same time, firmly rooted in Indian civilization. But since we have already imported an alien system of secularism, it would do us good if we remove the prevalent perversions and implement it in its true sense by enacting a fair uniform civil code. – IndiaFacts, 9 July 2016

» Nithin Sridhar is an editor at IndiaFacts and writes on politics, religion, and philosophy from Mysore. He tweets at @nkgrock.

Nehruvian Secularism

Shah Rukh Khan Quote

Yoga is the basis for a true idea of India – David Frawley

Surya Namaskar

Dr David FrawleyYoga with its integral and unitary view of life is in many ways more progressive, global and universal than any other philosophy or ideology today. – Dr David Frawley

Today two different ideas of India are struggling with each other in a cultural war that is likely to continue for some time.

The first can be called the “Nehruvian idea” of a modern post-independence India as a multicultural, secular, socialist state striving to be culturally neutral and socially progressive. The predominant thinkers behind it are from the Left, including a number of Marxists.

The second or what could be called the “Bharatiya idea” is that of India as a great ancient civilisation and perhaps the most important spiritual culture on the planet. We could also call this “yogic India”. The predominant thinkers behind it follow traditional spiritual and cultural practices and include many gurus and swamis.

There has been some overlap between these two ideas of India; particularly during the independence movement in which India’s ancient heritage was evoked to awaken national pride. Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of India was much more traditional than that of Nehru.

The Nehruvian idea is that of the Congress. It is unusual in two ways. The first comprises the embracing of socialism—a term Indira Gandhi added in the Preamble to the Constitution in 1976—at a constitutional level. Today socialist states have all but disappeared and appear to be an anachronism from the 20th century.

The second is its idea of secularism, which includes special restrictions and taking of revenue from the Hindu majority but not minorities. This kind of anti-majority secularism is not found in other countries.

The yogic or “Bharatiya” idea is the main inspiration of the ruling BJP. The current Narendra Modi government at the Centre has proposed a number of initiatives for honouring India’s older culture. Its effort to replace Marxist interpretations of India’s history with views that better acknowledge the region’s spiritual and dharmic ethos is often criticised.

Other such initiatives include promoting pilgrimage to sacred sites in India that are predominantly Hindu and Buddhist. Votaries of the Nehruvian idea regard these changes as a dangerous imposition of Hindu values upon the secular state.

Narendra Modi 2015Yoga Day and promoting yoga

A major part of the BJP’s traditional cultural agenda comprises promoting yoga, dramatically portrayed in the International Yoga Day last year and the worldwide celebrations the accompanied it. The promotion of yoga this year includes new government proposals for yoga training in the schools, and to develop yoga teachers at various levels from exercise teachers to masters of the yogic philosophy and meditation. Such an initiative is unique in the world today.

The fact is that if one travels outside of India, he would realise that it is the yogic idea of India that people are most aware of, along with India’s great gurus. Few people know much about Nehru and generally look at him in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi. There is a fear about India’s spiritual traditions and their growing global influence.

India’s yogic culture has spread worldwide since Swami Vivekananda opened it to the world in Chicago in 1893. It now embraces all aspects of yoga, including bhakti or devotion, with the popularity of kirtan as a musical form in the West.

It promotes mantra and meditation, yogic philosophy and the study of the Yoga Sutras. Yet it also includes Ayurvedic medicine, Sanskrit, and Indian music and dance. Many individuals outside India have devoted their lives and resources to following these teachings.

Yoga Day is the Modi government’s most visible initiative supporting and reclaiming India’s traditional culture and presenting it to the world. It shows that the older spiritual idea of India is still strong and is undergoing a resurgence. Yoga Day is likely to continue as a major event for India and the global yoga community for years to come.

We should note that yoga with its integral and unitary view of life is in many ways more progressive, global and universal than any other philosophy or ideology today.

Yoga is the basis for the true idea of India. It is not a political concept, but the exploration of consciousness as the main cultural value of the country, and goes back thousands of years. – Daily-O, 20 June 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedacharya and includes in his unusual wide scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the oldest Rigveda. Tweet him at @davidfrawleyved.

President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurates Yoga Day at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, 21 June 2016

Narendra Modi

Yoga exponent Ramdev, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi, Manoj Tiwari and others practice Yoga during a yoga camp ahead of the International Yoga Day on June 21, at Rajpath in New Delhi on Sunday, June 21, 2016

Richard Rahul Verma

Yoga teacher training in Rishikesh

Modi Sarkar has done nothing to correct civilisational issues – Sankrant Sanu

Narendra Modi

Sankrant Sanu

As the government is heads-down on economics, it has taken the view that growth will solve all problems, including that of the conversion war. I believe this view is naïve, and not based on a comprehensive study of the issues and the resources deployed against small communities. … In most cases, it hasn’t even understood the problem or even started a dialogue towards a solution. Often it has taken steps in the exact opposite direction. Overall, its civilisational grade is barely a D. Is it assuming it will work on civilisational issues in its second term? That would be a mistake it’s made before. Can we expect any real action from it in the remaining time? – Sankrant Sanu

India MapReport cards on Narendra Modi’s two-year-old government are all over the place. But, hardly anyone has looked at its performance on civilisational issues. True, there has been some sniping from usual suspects on so-called incidents of intolerance, but these have nothing to do with government actions or policies.

Enclosed is my list of critical civilisational issues for the government to address. Most of these are not issues that BJP had on its manifesto. Hence, some would say it is unfair to judge it on this criterion. However, this is a party that claims in its manifesto “(civilisational) roots provide sustenance to its people” and the need to pick up the civilisational threads. The BJP 2014 Manifesto stated:

What is needed is to take lessons from history, recognise the vitality and resilience of India, the power of its world-view and utilize its strength, which drove it to glorious heights and analyse its weaknesses, which led to this abysmal fall. Pick up the thread from the point where the continuum of our civilisational consciousness was lost and reorient the polity in consonance with those strong points of Indian psyche which will be the engine for our future glory.

For such a grand goal, the manifesto itself is sparse on how to get there. So I’ve put forward my own list of issues that are minimally necessary for civilisational aims:

1. Repeal RTE, Dismantle Religious Discrimination in Education

One of the legacies of partition and the constitutional debate that followed was the insertion of articles that safeguarded the rights of religious minorities. This is natural; rights of minorities should indeed be safeguarded. What this means in a secular state is that minorities would have same rights as that of the majority, without discrimination.

However, through successive interpretation and consistent encroachment by the state on the private domain, this right became one where religious minorities in India came to enjoy special rights, the right to non-interference by the state, that the so-called majority did not. The constitution became communal. The RTE act, with its draconian interference in the private domain, made this situation worse.

As a result Hindus, and only Hindus, don’t enjoy the right in India to run their own educational institutes without interference. Besides cutting the civilisational roots, this provision also leads to cutting of branches.

Since being declared a minority became the only way to safeguard rights, it created a centrifugal force with more and more groups wanted to be “declared non-Hindu.” Sikhs groups called it discriminatory to be clubbed with Hindus, and even the Ramakrishna Mission tried to declare itself non-Hindu to preserve its independence.

State discrimination based on religion on the right to run educational institutions would be completely illegal in a secular state such as the US, which India claims to be. Indeed even now, many European countries, such as Germany, continue to favour the majority religions and collect taxes to pay (majority) Christian Churches.

The BJP has often labeled Congress’ practices as “pseudo-secularism” but dismantling this religious discrimination forms no part of its charter. The BJP could argue that it does not have the requisite numbers to make changes; it should ponder how the UPA managed to pass the RTE act, with BJP support.

There was a time when India was the top of the education world, when Chinese travellers like Hiuen Tsang spent years gathering its knowledge riches. We need to decontrol and end educational Hindu Human Rightsdiscrimination to restore our place.

2. Restore Hindu Control of Temples

Article 26 of the Constitution allows every religious denomination to manage its own affairs in the matter of religion. However, here too the state intervened by taking over major Hindu temples.

The government confiscates the donations that Hindus make to their temples. In effect it’s a Hindu tax, a neo-jaziya. To add salt to the wound, state governments fund the repairs of churches and other religious places through these funds.

Again, this interference, state discrimination, and state funding of “minority religions” would all be illegal under the US constitution. No tradition can flourish if its own government doesn’t allow control of its institutions. Temples are the center of Hindu cultural life and traditions. They must be restored to the community. Modern systems can be setup for community-based controls of the temples.

3. Curb Conversion War

India faces a multi-billion dollar conversion war that seeks to erase its traditions. Tehelka documented how the Joshua project, a sophisticated operation had been setup to target India for conversion.

…a large-scale intelligence operation that brought together American strategists, theologians, missionary specialists, demographers, technologists, sociologists, anthropologists and researchers to create the most comprehensive people group profiles in the 10/40 window….

This conversion war is asymmetric in nature. While Baptists sent mission upon mission to convert Nagas, no Nagas would convert the Baptists. The asymmetry manifests in religious doctrine, in intent, and in funding. It is not a level-playing field and the state must step up to protect is indigenous cultures.

The human rights regime that enables the conversion war is also asymmetrical and must be contested. As African scholar Makau Mutua pleads:

The rights corpus not only forcibly imposes on African religions the obligation to compete—a task for which as non-proselytizing, noncompetitive creeds they are not historically fashioned—but also protects the evangelizing religions in their march towards universalization … it seems inconceivable that the human rights regime would have intended to protect the right of certain religions to destroy others.

The BJP government has done some generic work on sending notices to NGOs who were in violation of FCRA laws, but is otherwise oblivious to this issue.

I also hear from the grapevine the BJP is kowtowing to the Vatican faction of the Catholic Church and ignoring clergy and laity groups that want more local accountability and control. The Church manufactures local saints to aid in conversion. The PM’s proposed Vatican visit for Mother Teresa’s sainthood can hardly help.

4. Develop Indian Languages for Technical and Higher Education

As I set out in my book The English Medium Myth, no major country has become developed on the basis of a foreign language. Of the 20 top countries in GDP per capita, each of them has science, technology, medicine, business and law in the languages spoken by the masses. Of these only four are English-based. Yet the entire higher education and professional setup in India is English-medium. This discrimination extends to law courts where most Indians cannot even plead in their own languages in state High Courts, let alone the Supreme Court.

This English apartheid is a huge barrier to development for the majority of people in the country. Every child should be able to study to the highest level in their own mother tongue. I have set out a clear policy proposal for this. This is the only way to have Skill India, or Digital India work for the masses. Enabling Indian language ecosystem will catapult our economic development and civilisational rejuvenation.

The BJP government has made half-hearted attempts in this direction. It needs a sustained focus. Ministry of Human Resources Development’s launch of the bharatvani.in portal [portal doesn’t open] is a baby step in this direction.

5. Ram Temple/Ram Setu

I have put this on the list because they form part of BJP’s manifesto. However, though they have emotional and symbolic value, they are unlikely to make a major difference in terms of civilisational trajectory. As far as I can tell, nothing has been done on the Ram Temple issue and Ram Setu is in abeyance.

Hindu boy with a swastika drawn on his head during a upanayana ceremony.6. Saffronize

The government is too apologetic to charges of “saffronisation”. Those who either have little civilisational appreciation, or would even like to see it completely erased, use the charge to stymie change. Don’t fall for it.

The government should unapologetically saffronise. Contrast with the actions of the UPA or the Communists in power. They steam-rolled on with their agendas, denigrated our civilisational roots and produced extremely toxic textbook material that whitewash all other crimes but those of despicable Hindus. Some of this was tracked in SM with the Twitter tag #SaveOurChildren.

The UPA and communists also stuffed institutions with their ideological cronies, some of this within months of coming to power. BJP has been lackadaisical in this regard. We must not suffer from the Prithiviraj Chauhan syndrome of letting go with the upper hand.

There are other initiatives of the government that are civilisationally relevant. Ganga Rejuvenation has a capable minister in charge, Yoga Day has also been a successful initiative of the government though it seems too willing to water it down and “secularize” it rather than stick to the authentic tradition. The setting up of the Ayush ministry is also a good step, though I view the Ayush ministry’s collaboration with WHO for certification a complete disaster. India should retain certifying authority internationally, as China does for Chinese medicine and Japan for many martial arts. Further, within India, it is important that certification does not kill the traditional ecosystem of Ayurvedic and natural practices.

The government has made economic growth a priority. Indeed, its biggest action has been its steps to clean up governance. The feedback I hear from the business community is that, for the first time, there is a policy-driven and business-friendly government, where you do not have to give bribes to get things done. This is commendable.

However, as the government is heads-down on economics, it has taken the view that growth will solve all problems, including that of the conversion war. I believe this view is naïve, and not based on a comprehensive study of the issues and the resources deployed against small communities. The conversation must start today.

It would be too much to expect the government to tackle all these issues in two years that it has been in power. However, in most cases, it hasn’t even understood the problem or even started a dialogue towards a solution. Often it has taken steps in the exact opposite direction. Overall, its civilisational grade is barely a D. Is it assuming it will work on civilisational issues in its second term? That would be a mistake it’s made before. Can we expect any real action from it in the remaining time? – Swarajya, 31 May 2016

» Sankrant Sanu is an author, entrepreneur, and researcher based in Seattle and Gurgaon. His areas of interest include religious and cultural studies, history, and technology.

Narendra Modi