Let me start by thanking the many people who have tangibly helped me: with money, hospitality, logistical support, and information. No names here, firstly because it would be unfair to those I forget, secondly because in my case, I don’t return a favour by publicly associating people with my controversial self.
Chronologically the first company I need to thank was a Bangladeshi refugee family that had found safety in Varanasi, India. It was very difficult to get them to tell their story, it had to be teased out of them. They had been the victims of the petty everyday terrorism that Muslim mobs indulge in against non-Muslim minorities. As Prof. Saradindu Mukherji has amply documented, Hindus in Bangladesh are constantly subject to petty terror, a glaring contrast with the condition of the minorities in India. In the autumn of 1988, this family made me see that the communal conflict is very different from how it is portrayed in the media, then as now.
The next people I need to thank are two Muslims, a lapsed one and a militant one. In 1988, Salman Rushdie published his book The Satanic Verses, which lampooned Mohammed, the founder of Islam. As the spokesman of the angered Muslims, the Indian politician Syed Shahabuddin demanded and got a ban on this book, the start of an affair which was to span the world and get a sizable number of Rushdie supporters and translators killed. In India, the ban triggered an interesting debate between secularists. Some diehard Marxists and anti-obscurantists, like the editor of the Communist fortnightly Frontline, N. Ram, stood by freedom of expression and opposed this return to the Dark Ages. Other secularists, however, like Khushwant Singh and M.J. Akbar, defended the ban, thus exemplifying the observation that Indian secularism stands for minority appeasement. To me, who stayed in India for the first time, it raised the question whether Indian secularism was secular at all.
The answer, with exclamation mark, came at the end of 1989 when I was stationed in Varanasi but briefly visited Delhi. In a bookshop in the publishers’ area of Daryaganj, I had bought the book History of Hindu-Christian Encounters. I read it at one stretch and dropped by the same bookshop the next day. I told the bookseller, Mr. Bhim Sen Uppal, a Partition refugee from West Panjab, still alive and present here, that I had mightily enjoyed the book. He informed me that, if I wanted, I could speak with the writer, who had his office just down the road. He phoned and was told that the writer would come in the afternoon. So I spent another hour scouting Daryaganj for worthwhile books, then went to the Biblia Impex office. There he was, smiling as usual: Mr. Sita Ram Goel.
Christianity and Islam
To Mr. Goel I owe my general orientation regarding India’s communal situation. He also introduced me to his mentor and friend, Ram Swarup. Together, they pioneered a well-founded ideological reply to the challengers facing Hinduism: first Communism, then Islam and Christianity, with Nehruvian secularism as their first line of attack.
I will not recapitulate their work except to summarize their views, of the actual things that have to be done. Two separate issues have to be kept in mind: the record or balance-sheet of the aggressor religions vis-à-vis Hinduism, and their defining truth claims.
Firstly, Islam and Christianity have a very negative balance-sheet vis-à-vis Hinduism, which their apologists try to hide under a false rhetoric of symmetry and reciprocity. The facts of their historical guilt deserve to be better known and openly acknowledged. This negative record is based on theound for hell. In this world, Christianity doesn’t formalize its low opinion of the unbelievers, but Christian rulers have drawn upon the Christian worldview to impose discriminating policies or worse on them. Thus, during most of Christian history, non-Christians were up for enslavement. There is a lot of attention for Christian anti-Semitism, and indeed the Jewish community was often at the receiving end of Christian aggression or discrimination, but the Jews were still relatively privileged. They at least could survive in their ghettoes, while there was no ghetto for Pagans or their Gods. Islam, of course, formally and thoroughly discriminates against the unbelievers in peacetime, as per shari’a law, and otherwise wages Holy War against them. This is a fact and deserves to be documented further, in the teeth of secularist attempts to hide it or deny it.
In assessing the balance-sheet of interreligious guilt, and finding that in the relations of Hinduism with Christianity and Islam, at least 99% of the guilt is on the Christian or Muslim side, Hindus should guard against the tendency to become self-righteous. Just document the past and connect the dots with Christian subversion or Islamic violence in the present. There is no room for smugness, as Hindus also have to set their own house in order in other respects. But as far as pluralism and tolerance are concerned, Hindus are entitled to derive pride from their record in pluralism and the art of “live and let live”. They have served as an example which Christians and Muslims have yet to learn to emulate.
Secondly, i.e., second in this enumeration but first and foremost in importance, the truth claims that define these religions happen to be false. Normally this should not be important; the Pagan religions which they displaced, never claimed the truth. They left truth to a special class of people, the philosophers, whereas religion was about devotion and was available to everyone. But Christianity introduced the novel concept that it possessed the truth, and that all other religions were “untrue”. Islam then emulated this attitude.
But what is this “truth” of Islam? Islam hinges on Mohammed’s self-perception as a hearer of God’s messages. These outpourings of his own subconscious were collected to form the Qur’an. His doings and his comments made when normally awake, constitute the Hadith collections. They are, together with the Qur’an, the basis of Islamic law, which requires Muslims to emulate Mohammed’s precedent behaviour. Thus, an Islamic court cannot possibly condemn the murderer of a dissenting writer, for he only imitates the Prophet himself, who had likewise ordered the killing of the poets who had lampooned or criticized him. So, Islam consists of the imitation of one human being who is elevated to quasi-divine status, but who was all too human and simply imagined his privileged line with God.
Islam is a mistake.
As for Christianity, we could still accept its notion that mankind had collectively incurred sin, given that this world of ours is far from perfect. But we cannot accept that this sinfulness is the cause of our mortality, as the Bible teaches, since guiltless animals also die. Much less can we accept that death and sin have been conquered by the resurrected Jesus.The human condition has not appreciably changed in 33 CE.
From a Hindu viewpoint, even a resurrection would not even be a cosmic event altering the condition of all human beings in this vale of tears. Hindu godmen are reputed to have paranormal powers (siddhis), including leaving the body and entering another body, so this resurrection show is not all that unusual. For skeptics, Hindus may seem a bit naïve in accepting the yogis’ claims of special powers, but then this equally counts for worshippers of Jesus who believe in his resurrection. Let India’s “rationalists” challenge the central truth claim of Christianity: that a man died, subsequently came to life again, and thereby saved us all. Anyway, we have no real sign that an actual resurrection took place, for Jesus never behaved like someone who conquered mortality. On the contrary, Jesus’ behaviour after 33 CE has been exactly like that of all dead people: he didn’t show up anymore. And as Saint Paul said: if Jesus didn’t resurrect, our faith is in vain.
Christianity, like Islam, is in vain. The defining beliefs of both traditions are false. Yet Hindus don’t like to say this out loud. “Your religion is false”: that is what Christians and Muslims routinely say to the non-believers. Hindus are not inclined to this kind of confrontational language, this hostility, and rightly so. You shouldn’t trouble people with your own convictions.
It is only when they themselves take the initiative to trouble you with their convictions that you should ask them some questions. At that time, you will feel well served if you have been given some knowledge of the world’s religions, so that you know where the holes are in their false claims. Thus, even people who are not given to theological disputations might find it handy to know that Jesus himself predicted the end time, with his own Second Coming, within the lifetime of his audience.
But two thousand years have passed and it still has not happened. Such a blunder from God’s own Son is quite bad: after all, Jesus didn’t have to make some wild guess about the future, he only had to look into his own agenda to check when his Second Coming was planned. Christians will feel embarrassed when they find that you have bypassed their propaganda and gone to the source text, which reports that Jesus himself was mistaken in his prediction.
Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel always emphasized that the religion is the problem, not its followers. To the extent that you can classify the followers of a religion as one group, it is because they subscribe to this one religion. To talk about Muslims without implying Islam, is nonsense. Most of present-day Islamic Studies departments shun the “essence” of Islam (that would be “essentialism”, the basis of scientific thinking yet the gravest of sins for our postmodern Humanities) and focus on what has lingered or has insinuated itself in Muslim life that is non-Islamic. Islamic apologists and Islamophiles seize upon this intellectual fashion in the West as a diversionary tactic to pre-empt all meaningful criticism of Islam. Fortunately, traditional Islamic scholars are more forthright. For them, it is perfectly possible to distinguish Islamic from non-Islamic, to separate what answers to the essence of Islam from what is in conflict with this essence. The essence of Islam is simply what is laid out in the Qur’an and the Hadith, i.e. Mohammed’s beliefs and conduct.
Thus, is it Islamic to destroy the Rama temple in Ayodhya? Of course, because Mohammed had all non-Islamic places of worship in Arabia either annihilated or turned into mosques. With their own hands, he and his nephew Ali destroyed all 360 idols in the Ka’ba, until then a Pagan place of pilgrimage. Is raping Pagan women allowed? Yes, for Mohammed allowed his men to rape the Meccan women held hostage, and he himself forced … into his bed after killing all her male relatives. Is killing critical or satirical writers permitted? Yes, for Mohammed had all critical poets and satirists killed, first by assassins in the still of the night, later when he had overpowered Mecca, by formal execution. No Muslim who imitates Mohammed’s conduct, no matter how much his deeds are labeled “un-Islamic” by media-savvy spokesmen, can be sentenced guilty by an Islamic court, for such a verdict would amount to saying that Mohammed himself was not a Muslim.
Yet, the fact that millions of Muslims do refrain from terrorism, rape or iconoclasm, has to be taken into account. Silly secularists will say that such people disprove the intolerant and violent nature of Islam. Not at all: the nature of Islam has been fixed since more than a thousand years, and it is not exactly lacking in violence or intolerance. But such enlightened Muslims do prove that Islamic indoctrination is not all-powerful. Muslims are by nature simply human beings, susceptible to all human tendencies. Moreover, in this modern age, they are just as much as others prone to the attractions of modern life and modern media. Islamic clerics may deplore it, but Muslims are quite susceptible to lapses from true Islam. There is nothing intrinsically Islamic about Muslims, at least nothing that the right soap cannot wash off. So, the Muslim masses are ready for their liberation from Islam. In India, Hinduism was good enough for their ancestors, it will prove good enough for them.
I belong to a generation that, all over Western Europe, collectively walked out of the Church. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was only an elite that saw through the Christian myth. Moreover, the Church constantly revived: Christians had bigger families, and a very common scenario was that a free-thinking man married a believing wife and allowed her to raise the children in the ways of her faith. So, de-Christianization was an uphill struggle. But in the second half of the 20th century, it finally happened: the democratization of modern knowledge had created a critical mass of people who wouldn’t live by fairy-tales any longer.
Whereas in the Communist countries, atheism was imposed from above, in Western Europe it gained ground spontaneously. The force of conformism, which earlier had retained many fence-sitters as church-goers, now started to work in the other direction: people felt funny if they still went to this strange sectarian ritual called Mass. Meanwhile, many ex-Christians turned out not to have discarded religion all while shedding their childish Christian beliefs. Quite a few of them took to yoga and related Hindu practices.
So, real-life experience teaches that it is possible to turn people away from the belief systems they have been brought up in. Or rather, you can’t do it for them nor force them to do it, but these people turn themselves away from their childhood beliefs, after having been exposed to knowledge. Thus, people have bloodlessly converted from geocentrism to heliocentrism. Once you know celestial mechanics and understand that the earth must be turning around the sun, no amount of geocentric propaganda is ever going to make you revert to a geocentric belief. Once you see through the delusions that make up the defining beliefs of Christianity and Islam, no amount of preaching is ever going to make you believe their dogmas again. So, that is the war we are now engaged in: not with bombings and street riots, but with information. As Sita Ram Goel said: “Our only weapon is the truth.”
The Sangh Parivar and Hindu nationalism
Literally from the first time that I met Sita Ram Goel, and until the very last, sometime before his death in 2003, he was critical of the Sangh Parivar. He chided them for being mediocre, knee-jerk reactive, repetitive, and anti-intellectual. This was not a matter of mere temperament among the RSS leaders, but a deliberate choice since the beginning, and founded on a kernel of truth.
As RSS activists are wont to say: “It doesn’t require a book to love your mother”, and similarly, a nationalist movement can be devoted to the Motherland without any ideology or media presence. So, like Mahatma Gandhi, the RSS worked on people’s patriotism and related fleeting emotions, whereas the Communists worked on people’s minds with lasting effect. That is why far fewer Communists have been able to change the face of India while the RSS with its mass of activists has always been impotently reacting to changes imposed by its enemies.
The boy-scout attire of the RSS, Western-colonial in inspiration, symbolizes the RSS’s juvenile political attitude compared to the adult world in which the Nehruvian secularists function. “Do well and don’t look back”, the boy-scouts say, and they don’t care if behind their backs the enemy is giving them a bad name. But to function in the modern world, reputation is important, and with no media presence, you leave the field to the enemy to establish for you a very negative reputation. The real-life consequences are very serious: many doors remain closed, many potential friends that should have flocked to your cause remain distrustful, everyone anyhow related to you always has to justify himself and has commensurately less room for maneuver.
During the BJP regime of 1998-2004, refusal of the allied parties in the coalition to support any item of the specifically Hindu part of the BJP’s stated agenda was cited as the reason for not implementing any of it; but their mental association of anything Hindu with intolerable evil was the result of decades of anti-Hindu opinion-making, itself facilitated by the RSS’s decision not to practise any serious pro-Hindu opinion-making.
However, I would like to put this criticism in perspective. The RSS and its daughter organizations do get things done. During natural disasters, RSS relief teams are always first on the scene, a fact carefully hidden from the public by the media. During the Partition, RSS workers saved the lives of Congress politicians stuck in Pakistan, often only to find that these same politicians, once safely in India, condemned “the communal forces”, meaning the RSS.
During the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir in autumn 1947, it was RSS workers who held the Srinagar airport until the army arrived to start its reconquest. During the Chinese invasion of 1962, the RSS through its services earned its exceptional presence at the subsequent Republic Day parade. During the Emergency, when numerous secularists came out in their true anti-democratic colours and made the Constitution declare India a “secular, socialist” republic, RSS workers defended democracy. Till today, the commitment of RSS workers is such that they risk their lives for being known as Hindu activists: in some regions, Communists or Muslims regularly kill RSS workers. So, there is no lack of courage or dedication among the rank-and-file of the RSS and its daughter organizations.
The problem is that this large mass of people, purportedly the largest NGO in the world, is not given proper direction. When you criticize the RSS, the answer you usually get from its spokesmen is that they have such great manpower, so dedicated, so disciplined – all true. But this mass of disciplined and dedicated workers is like a headless monster. It doesn’t know where it is going.
The RSS is like the traveler in a Chinese story. He stopped his chariot at an inn and said to another traveler that he was speeding towards the south. “But you won’t get there”, the other man said. “Why should I not get there? I have the newest chariot in the land”, our traveller boasted. “Still you won’t get there”, said the other. “But I have the best horses, and an expert charioteer”, said our man. “Why should I not get to my destination down south?” Pat came the reply: “Because you’re heading north!”
The RSS is also blinded by a kind of hubris, thinking that it is the leader and awakener of Hindu society. Objectively, it makes common cause with the secularists in identifying any Hindu activism with the long arm of the RSS. It therefore also thinks that because of its merits and its pivotal role, it is entitled to use people – one of Sita Ram Goel’s objections to it. But the main flaw he saw in the RSS was its docility, its herd instinct, all while pretending to give the lead. It never provided a realistic analysis of the forces in the field, nor even of the battlefield itself, the world in which contending forces have to function.
A few people close to the RSS leadership recognize the problem, such as the late Dina Nath Mishra, MP from the BJP. During a conversation we agreed that the RSS was behaving “like a brainless dinosaur”, but he expressed belief in a solution just around the corner, viz. to “infuse a brain into the dinosaur”.
Another argument used in the Sangh’s defence is that, once in a while, it knows how to win elections. In 1998 and 1999, it achieved victory for the BJP, but the subsequent Government didn’t achieve anything for Hindu society. Hindus were legally as much second-class citizens in India during and after BJP rule, as before. The Atal Behari Vajpayee Government of 1998-2004 was spectacularly successful on the economic front (and I salute the then Cabinet Minister Dr. Arun Shourie for his decisive contribution to this success), but was totally passive on the ideological front. The only initiative it took was the history textbook reform but, necessary as this attempt at glasnost [Russian: “openness”] after decades of Marxist mind control was, it turned out to be a glaring failure. You cannot neglect scholarship for decades on end and then expect to improve on the slanted but nonetheless professional scholarship your enemies have produced.
So, to this extent the BJP did betray its ideological platform and the confidence of the Hindu electorate. As was said to Hannibal after he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Romans: “You know how to achieve victory, but you don’t how to use victory.” (Vincere scis, sed victoria uti nescis; in the end, he was defeated.)
Since the BJP’s surprise defeat in 2004 and until the current Hindu mobilization, the enemy forces have poked fun at the Hindu activists for nine long years, reassuring themselves that Hinduism was in decline and would now hasten ever faster towards its hoped-for demise, making way for a “post-Hindu India”. Those who claim to be leaders of Hindu society should accept responsibility for this predicament. However, to put a more constructive spin on this factual observation of a defeat, Hindus can seize the next opportunity to show that they have learned from their mistakes. Past defeats need not be a big deal, on condition that they are used as a spur to improve one’s own performance.
Non-Sangh kernels of Hindu revival
Fortunately, this is a new age, where modern communications facilitate new forms of organization. Voice of India was the first such kernel of Hindu activism, but today there are many more independent centres of Hinduism. They are not all equally enlightened, but in the present phase, they have the merit of reflecting the plurality of approaches thrown up by Hindu society. Apologizing for lumping together units of very different quality and quantity, I enumerate a few:
- The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (“Committee for Hindu Popular Awakening”), is mainly known for its frequent calls for bans on all books, plays, paintings etc. that are deemed to “hurt Hindu sentiments”. This is a line I don’t support: telling the world that you want to prohibit whatever hurts your sentiments is for those who can’t think up an effective counter strategy. I rather remember with fondness how Sita Ram Goel edited a book called Freedom of Expression (1995), an application to the modern world of the robust Hindu tradition of free and frank debate. Great debaters like Yajñavalkya and Shankara would be ashamed of these Hindu book-banners, who give Hindu society the bad name of humourless touch-me-nots. But the HJS also profiles itself with positive attention for Hindu ritual customs and festivals, and generally distances itself from the RSS as too political and not religious enough.
- The Hindu Samhati (“Hindu solidarity”) of Kolkata was founded by a disappointed RSS Pracharak, Tapan Ghosh. He complained that even in the most radical Sangh Parivar wing, the Bajrang Dal, he was barred from raising the Islam problem. Yet on the ground, the problems created for the Hindus by Islam is becoming acute. Ghosh’s work is essentially the same as what the RSS used to be known for, only he really does it.
- The Centre Right India group in Bangalore, which does pro-Hindu media work, a field always and purposely neglected by the Sangh Parivar. Unfortunately, Hindu money-bags who like to boast of their business acumen, have never invested in pro-Hindu media. But fortunately, the new media make it possible to create digital avenues for news and views cheaply.
- Vijayvaani, a Delhi-based blogsite, even more nationalistic than the Sangh, and unforgivingly critical of weaknesses among the self-declared Hindu leaders. But while critical of the BJP, Vijayvaani now strongly supports Narendra Modi. Though I will repeat my analysis that “nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns”, I acknowledge that a sizable segment of Hindu public opinion still identifies Hinduism with India, and even rejects the Hindu diaspora as betrayers of the Motherland.
- The India Inspires Foundation of Indore, which similarly does pro-Hindu media work. The related Shiv Ganga movement, which I just got to know there, exemplifies self-organization among the tribals of Jhabua based on their native cultural resources, not really focused on the missionary challenge but collaterally eliminating the lure to convert to Christianity.
- The Hindu Human Rights group in London, explicitly inspired by the legacy of Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel.
- The Hindu Mahasabha of America, or the second life of the historically important but now near-defunct Hindu Mahasabha.
- Rajiv Malhotra’s Infinity Foundation, which makes expert use of the new media to reach ever more Hindus both in the diaspora and in India, and teaches them to think seriously and strategically. It develops a Hindu answer to the anti-Hindu machinations in the media and academe, both in India and in America.
- Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, the council of masters. It achieved a major diplomatic victory for Hinduism by concluding the Jerusalem Declaration (2008) with the Israeli Rabbinate, removing misconceptions about Hindu symbols such as the word Arya and the Swastika, and cementing an alliance between the major targets of the Christian mission. While it is good to have a platform of Hindu Acharyas separate from ideological organizations like the RSS, it is nonetheless conspicuous that its Sangh counterpart, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, has the cadre of workers needed to get things done.
- Baba Ramdev with his teaching of Hatha Yoga to the masses, and propagating collaterally a revaluation of Hindu identity. His campaign against corruption explicitly offered Dharma as an alternative. In the present election campaign, he made it clear that he supports Narendra Modi rather than the BJP. This may well be the attitude of numerous Hindus: skeptical of the BJP but galvanized by Modi.
Once more, I apologize for being arbitrary in selecting some organizations and in clubbing these strange bedfellows together in my list. I may add that even organizations formally belonging to the Sangh are asserting their own agenda, somewhat within the Sangh tradition of giving their top officers quite some freedom to take their own initiatives.

tobe continued