Date: Thu, 26 Oct 1995 15:57:34 -0700
Query on perspectives regarding Non Resident Indian supporters of Hindu revivalism and related issues
A dialog on H-Asia list, 26 oct 1995
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Yvette C. Rosser)
My current research project is:
"An Ethnography of Non Resident Indians (NRI) Supporters of the BJP"- a discussion of the psychological and social variables which characterize the Non Resident Indians who support the socio-political perspectives of the BJP (and the RSS/VHP, etc.).
Several interesting observations have some to light:
Very few NRI's are neutral about this issue. They are either strongly opposed to it due to the communal message or they are very, almost militantly, pro-BJP. Since my project is an ethnography of BJP supporters, their perspectives are my focus. The NRI's to whom I have spoken have expressed strong opinions about the central issues as stated by the Bharatiya Janata Party, such as a uniform civil code, reparations for past destruction of Hindu shrines, elimination of untouchability and corruption, equal rights for women(?), "Hindusthan for the Hindus!" etc., etc.
This is most definitely a politically incorrect research project. I have gotten a lot of criticism from "progressive" Hindus who think this sort of project only serves to "give fascism a voice." Interestingly, my informants, who, though very enthusiastic about their pro-BJP political perspectives, nonetheless, prefer to remain anonymous and many do not want me to tell my "professors at the University" about their socio-political orientation.
Many NRI's support certain elements in the BJP message but reject its anti-Islamic rhetoric. Much like the now notorious slogan-- "Don't throw out the message just because you don't like the messenger." Others excuse the Islam bashing as politics as usual. This movement hs been variously called: Hindu Fundamentalism (said to be an oxymoron), Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Revivalism.
I have read Peter van der Veer's book _Religious Nationalism_ and _India's Agony Over Religion_ by G Larson. As well, I am reading quite a bit of the BJP type literature such as the BJP White Paper, Konraad Elst, David Frawley, and several other books and articles that deal with this topic including those by the visiting professor, T.N. Madan, for whose class, "Fundamentalism and Secularism in South Asia" I am doing this project.
I am very interested in ethno-nationalism and religious identity in South Asia. Last spring I did a research project on Sindhi nationalism for Dr. Robert Hardgrave's very informative class, "Ethno-nationalism in South Asia." My queries and interactions with many Pakistanis living in the West mirrored the response to this current project. "We are one unit. You should not study ethnicity in Pakistan. It will just divide us further." Sindh nationalists, however, were very ready to send me information and eager for me to study their culture as distinct from a Pakistani ethnee. I have received the same polarized responses from NRI's, that I should either immediately "drop the BJP project" as well those who want to speak with me at length and send me articles and send their friends to speak to me. As I said, many are quite vocal, while others are more furtive about their beliefs. Needless to say, there is no neutrality when it comes to ethno-nationalism among South Asian ex-patriots.
If any of you H-Asia scholars have comments about Hindu Nationalism, I would greatly benefit from your exchanges and hope that a thread will trace some of the main issues and orientations.
Here are some of the interesting topics that have arisen in the course of these interviews:
One of the most intriguing concepts is the "Semiticization of Hinduism." 1000 years of Islam, 300+ years of Christian missionaries, 100+ years of western style modernity/modernism, quazi-secular democratic government, these variables have definitely placed their mark on Hinduism's outward expressions. How has Hinduism, which is renowned for its resiliency, responded to these pressures? How has it changed through the centuries in order to adapt and survive? Is Hindu Nationalism the logical outgrowth?
When speaking with one of my informants, I asked him if this new politicized Hinduism wasn't a form of "Semiticization." He responded that it is better to co-opt a little bit and survive than to die a glorious death. He also said that the Semiticization paradigm was false. "There are plenty of models within Hindu scriptures (i.e. Mahaa Bhaarata, etc.) that extol direct action. Ahimsa is not the only path. Dharm Yudh is also part of Hinduism." He also stressed that secularism is not a South Asian model.
What do you think about the use of Raam Naam for political purposes? Some say that Ram and Hanuman are being used as a rallying cry to mobilize Hindus to violence and communalism: the "Raam Naam Uber Alles" syndrome. The BJP's tactics have often been compared to the rise of Nazism. Conversely, the BJP promotes many progressive issues. They are called at times fundamentalists, revivalists, neo-liberals as well as divisive hate-mongers. However they may be seen from various angles, they are now a political force with which to be reckoned. Though the shifting sands of political power in India may be difficult to predict, the electoral process has definitely given the BJP a voice and with new elections soon approaching, who can predict the outcome!?
These are just some thoughts and observations that are presented here in a none too coherent form for your comments and discussion.
Thanks for any wisdom and feedback concerning the involvement of NRI's with the BJP. Since it a natural response for individuals removed from their native culture to view it in a passionate and romantic fashion, the fact that many Hindus living in the West would view the Hindu Revivalist movement with nostalgia is not surprising.
Yvette C. Rosser
From: Allen Thrasher <email@example.com>
Some comments on Yvette Rosser's posting on this subject:
I wonder if the term "fundamentalism" is much use in this context (or in many others). It has a fairly clear meaning in Christian theology, referring to Protestants supporting certain tenets of classical Protestantism against theological modernism, e.g. the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the atonement, the inerrancy of the Bible. It comes from the vols. edited by R. A. Torrey at the turn of the century entitled "The Fundamentals." Extending it elsewhere is risky. Using the term except in a narrow sense also I think risks buying into certain sociopolitical agendas. Notably (to speak for myself) it is tossed around in the phrase "Islamic fundamentalism" by people whom I suspect want a global enemy to replace communism as an excuse to maintain the military-industrial (-intelligence-foreign relations) complex and their careers in full strength. It is also used (largely though not entirely by other people than the previous group) to slur social conservatives in the West with guilt by association with terrorist groups and very harsh regimes. I think the phrase "Islamic fundamentalism" in itself is a reasonable extension of the term applied in the context of Christianity, and that we have a fairly clear idea what it means, but for myself I distrust the baggage.
Whether it applies in the Hindu context is another question. Just what doctrinal or ritual fundamentals of Hinduism are the BJP or RSS defending, and against what? Their call for a uniform (i.e. totally secularised) civil code implies not the reversal but the extension of the post-Independence secularisation of the law of Hindu marriage and inheritance. As far as reported they are content with the current permissive law on abortion, which is regularly given in traditional Hindu texts as a textbook case of extreme sin. It is probable that they are using the Hindu card to keep uppity lower castes in place, but they don't call for the revivification of varnasramadharma and the legal enforcement of untouchability. If I follow Walter Anderson's book correctly, the R.S.S. "sincerely" (problematic word) wants a unified Hindu society including scheduled castes as equals. (Whether they can _effectively_ want it is another matter). Perhaps in the Indian context a "fundamentalist" would more appropriately be an ultra-orthodox brahmin who couldn't care less what Muslims do as long as they didn't bump into him and make him have to take a second bath (though he probably would want a ban on cow-slaughter).
So I think a phrase like "Hindu nationalist" or "Hindu chauvinist" would be more accurate for these movements than "Hindu fundamentalist." The early theoreticians of it, Tilak, Savarkar, Bankim Chandra Chatterji were heavily influenced by European nationalist thought of the 19th c., weren't they?
Allen W. Thrasher
The opinions expressed are not those of the Library of Congress, a U.S. government agency.
Ed. note: The work referred to above is:
Another set of readings on the term and the subject of "fundamentalism" is to be found in the volumes published in "The Fundamentalism Project"
Marty, Martin E. and Scott Appleby, editors
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Sugandha Johar)
With reference to Yvette Rosser's post, as a NRI, I believe that I qualify for your questions.
I claim I am a Hindu because I am nothing else - not a Muslim, Jew, Christian, et al.
Then again, I disagree with the notion of Hinduism as A religion. If we define a religion as a unique set of beliefs on spirituality, ethics morals etc - then to my knowledge Hinduism does not qualify for it. Depending on ones place in the geography of the country and in the socio-econommic spectrum, a Hindu seems to have different ideas, thereby refuting the basic definition of a religion.
Historically also, Hinduism was the name given by the westerners ( ie people to the west of the river Indus) to the various spiritual etc beliefs of the residents of the lands to the east of the Indus - so how can it be a religion?
I would like to continue, but I will stop here and look at a few other issues. y I always take great objection to the politics of BJP which include such stupid (I know it is a strong word, but I do believe justified in the light of the following ) tenets as reparations for past destruction of Hindu shrines. An archeologist, any number of cases come to mind whre the HINDUS for the lack of any other term have taken over - destroyed and carved their own icons on sacred places of the Jain and Buddhist. Are they proposing to give reparation for that too ?
Then again, I also very strongly opose the communal message of the BJP. And about their claims of equal rights to women - the less said the better. Given that my father is a keen supporter of BJP and other allied organisations, I have seen and sometimes have suffered from the attitudes of the followers which are anything but that. Rather than independent and equal women, their ideology espouses a strong woman (physically) and well educated etc so that she can carry out her appointed task in life well. The task being to procreate and look after the husband, kids and family. Then again, how can one reconcile their claims with their support for Sati. ( my father when questioned on this insisted that some women are so attached to their husbands, they really do want to die. When questioned how come in the entire known history of India there is not a single example of Sataa - of a man burning himself with his wife's body, neither he, nor his friends had no answer)
Before I go any further, I must congratulate you on your research project, however politically incorrect it may be, for it will give people like me an insight into what is it that makes supposedly rational and "progressive" Hindus identify with such propopganda.
"Semiticization of Hinduism."
Hadn't thought about it in this vein. Definitely needs a great deal of thought. I do not have any immediate reaction, but will keep you posted.
Use of Ram Naam for political purposes
Always found it very amusing. Seems to reflect the North Indian orientation of the BJP. I might be wrong, but I have always had the distinct impression that Raam has much less of a presence in the emotional existence of a person from south India than from the North. This is possibly also reflected in the success of this politics - much more in the North than in the South.
I find the same feelings that support Hindutva ideas among NRI's reflected in the personal lives of NRIs. At a time when there is a fair percentage of "Self negotiated marriages" (love marriages seems a strange nomenclature) in Metroplolitan India, most NRIs consider being able to ensure that their offsprings get married through the traditional arranged system a great achievement ( that is exactly how a large number have expressed their feelings to me when questioned! ). This then is also reflected in how the children are brought up and what values the parents try to impart to them. It would be interesting to see what this second genration thinks of the BJP. Do you have any data on this ?
From: Edward Friedman <FRIEDMAN@polisci.wisc.edu>
With reference to Yvette C. Rosser's program of research as posted:
The role of religion in the polity is one of the most important and understudied topics because no matter what you do you deeply offend many people. Just keep a comparative perspective in mind. How does one handle the Anglo-American Christian democracy of the Confederacy, the KKK, right up to today's Aryan Christianity in Ruby Ridge and elsewhere? How do Muslim democrats discuss Islamic revivalism? Look at the role of Shinto in Japanese fascism and the critical literature on that. Go comparative, just as you alreay are. Good luck. The topic is monumentally important for the survival of democracy.
From: PSudhir <email@example.com>
I read with great interest the original posting by Yvette Rosser and the responses from Allen Thrasher and Sugandha Johar on the subject of Hindu Fundamentalism and its reincarnation in foreign lands, and would like to make a few comments.
Allen Thrasher argues that it may be inappropriate to use the term "fundamentalism" to describe recent developments in the Hindu body religious and political. In one sense he is certainly correct. For, as Johar also points out, Hinduism is a protean creature, all things to all people, manifested in Puri's Jagannath as well as in the saffron smeared stone under the village tree, in the sacred waters of the Ganga, and even in Ganeshas on the banks of the Potomac who imbibe the 2% from the local Safeway. But this does not mean that Hinduism is not a religion, for if a religion is, inter alia, a way of situating human beings in a cosmos beyond their comprehension and providing ways to find wholeness in an alienating and alien world, then Hinduism too, in all its multitudionous incarnations, is a religion. But what is it ? Is there an essential Hinduism, a text that speaks for it ? It is in the process of inventing this classical, pristine, "tradition" of Hinduism at once pan Indian and which subsumes classes and castes, that fundamentalism is engendered. Indeed, in this sense of the return to an imagined classical tradition (which never exists unless it is invented), the various fundamentalisms are not very different. True, the term has acquired a pejorative connotation, but in a modernizing society, struggling to forge a secular worldview (not because secularism is alien to Hindu India, for after all in that classical past so often invoked in these discourses, there were also schools of rationalist, secular, materialistic philosophic thought, and, we should remember, statecraft often had to necessarily separate the sacred and the secular; but because the dominant paradigm, constructed and disseminated through great and little traditions, was always one that reproduced the social structures and the religious systems of Hinduism seemed to do this very well), the emergence of a religious fervor must seem monstrous.
One can try to take a sympathetic view, of course, and try to understand the new fundamentalism as the response to a rapidly changing world. But the Hindu fundamentalists ( recognizing that there is no single creature who answers to that name) are, in the process, seeking to create a world which has an alarming configuration, especially because this new world will resurrect an imagined community of Hindus, recovered through reading old texts and histories through "fundamentalist" glasses. The quest for the real past is difficult enough at the best of times, but the politics of religious revivalism which requires, in the Indian case, a dismantling of secular histories which have, only recently, been constructed with such difficulty, must compel any scientific historian to adopt a hostile stance. The historicity of Ayodhya is not at stake for the fundamentalist, for what is in the crucible is "faith" as defined in these new political and religious terms, inscribed not in texts, perhaps, but in the bricks that the militant devotees carry with such zeal to build their new Ram Rajya... a phrase which, pace Johar's argument, resonates through North and South, and alas, now carries a meaning so different from the one Gandhi invested in it so long ago, and it is in this redefined faith, in the new meanings given to old words, that the terror of fundamentalism lurks.
But yes, we need to learn all we can about why people turn to fundamentalism and I look forward to hearing more about Ms Rosser's study.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Yvette C. Rosser)
Some comments on Allen Thrasher's response to my query about the BJP:
>I wonder if the term "fundamentalism" is much use in this context
I agree, Hindu "fundamentalism" is not the appropriate term. Hindu "Revivalism" seems like more of the never ending cycle. . . which revival? Hindu "Nationalism" after all, is based on Hinduism which is a amalgam of ontological, cosmological constructs and philosophical dialectics in a rich mythological matrix. One wonders how there could be a call for Hindu Unification that wasn't inherently and by necessity so broad that it would consequently embrace non Hindus. This sort of talk, such as the "oxymoron of Hindu Fundamentalism," is very ironic and engaging, and it is due to the fluid and inclusive nature of Hinduism that this intriguing conversation, examining a political paradox, can occur.
More productive than a conversation on the concept of "fundamentalism" in Hinduism is a discussion of the concept of "secularism" found in the mutli-ethnic Indian context. Ashis Nandy has several good articles on this topic including "The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerence" published in _Alternatives_ XIII (1988). He speaks about the "long shadows of the Western Man" and the post colonial responses to this shadow. Nandy traces the history of secularism and then looks at it as an overlay on the complex socio-religious matrix of India. Nandy says, "The role of secularism in many societies today is no different from the crusading and inquisitorial role of religious ideologies."
T.N Madan has several treatments of secularism and its Indian paradigm: "Wither Indian Secularism" Modern Asian Studies (1993) and "Secularism in Its Place" The Journal of Asian Studies Nov., 1987. His forthcoming book which deals with this topic in detail is a great resource and theoretical masterpiece, "Modern Myths, Locked Minds: Secularism and Fundamentalism and the Religious Traditions of India" (forthcoming).
> Just what doctrinal or ritual fundamentals of Hinduism are the BJP or RSS >defending, and against what?
This is an interesting question. Defending against the "sea of Islam"? This anti-Muslim stance is what gives the Hindu Nationalists their politically incorrect reputation.
Some of their mandates are on the right, some on the left, some reactionary, some progressive. Once again, true to the Indian love of complexity and contradiction, their agenda curves around doctrine and embraces some things that are tradionalist and some that are modernist.
They are considered "right-wing" but these issues are not right-wing:
And yet "how can one reconcile their (progressive) claims with their support for Sati" as Sugandha Johar pointed out?
The participation of Non resident Hindus in the BJP is a particularly interesting phenomenon and it would be indeed fasinating "to see what (the) second genration thinks of the BJP."
Does anyone have any data on this topic? I know from the second generation Indians that I have met, though there may be the ABCD syndrome, there is a deep respect for their Hindu roots. How will this play out as they bcome more politically aware?
Thanks for this message and for several very useful posts that I recieved off the list. Your comments have been most instructive.
Yvette C. Rosser
Ms. Rosser's usage of ABCD above may mystify some H-ASIA readers. ABCD stands for American Born Confused Deshi (Desh = home country, i.e. Indian).
From: Michael J Sullivan <email@example.com>
For a comparative focus, John Esposito's _The Islamic Threat?_ addresses the problems associated with the concept "fundamentalism." His main argument is that the term does not allow one to see the complexities in the relationship between Islam and politics in the Middle East. His book is wonderful to use in the classroom, simply for the fact that it shows the complexities of Islam and politics in the Arab world. He prefers the term Islam revialism.
His book also raises two interesting issues on how the term "fundamentalism" is used in the West and the Middle East. First, he criticizes Western commentators for applying the term to demonize Islam as the enemy. He is overtly concerned about the political project associated with the term within European and North American countries.
Second, and perhaps more interesting, he explains how various anti-islamic fundamentalist governments (e.g., Egypt) use the term Islamic Fundamentalism. In this sense, the term is indigenous to the region. These governments use the term to thwart domestic Islamic fundamentalist movements and to bolster their relationship with European and North American powers. One tension in Esposito's argument is how to account for the rise of extremist Islamic organizations within his conceptual framework of Islamic revialism. That is, does the use of the term Islamic rivialism, while stressing complexity, downplay the important role that extreme Islamic groups have in Middle Eastern societies and within politics. A narrow use of the term fundamentalism, despite its intellectual baggage, still seems to capture the essence of these extremist organizations, especially their use of violence to achieve ideal political, cultural and economic goals. In this sense, fundamentalism should be conceptualized to exist in all religions and in all countries. It is not a monopoly of the West.
While I have limited knowledge on the rise of "fundamentalist" Hindu political organizations, Esposito's argument can offer insights to the increasing importance of extremist religious organizations throughout Asia. (If I recollect correctly, his book has a short discussion of Islam in India). Once one goes beyond the baggage associated with the term, one must come to grips with 1) how indigenous actors in the region use the term and 2) the use of violence as a means to achieve "ideal" political, cultural and economic goals. It is quite apparent that political elites, in particular, are using the term fundamentalism to describe such movements. Indonesia and Malaysia have been incorporating more moderate Islamic thinking into their ideologies. They emphasize the "friendliness" (i.e., non-violent aspects) of Islam. Chinese propaganda and academic literature now uses the term "fundamentalism" to describe extremist organizations associated with Islam. The political elites in these three countries fear that indigenous extremist Islamic movements could threaten their political rule and modernization projects.
In the Indian case, how are political actors themselves describing the rise of these political organizations? Is the term fundamentalism used at all? Does describing these political organizations as "nationalist" or any other term, in order to avoid the baggage associated with the term fundamentalism deemphasize their use of extremist measures, such as violence, to achieve political ends? These questions are crucial as one struggles with the validity of the term fundamentalism to depict religious-based organizations throughout Asia.
Michael J. Sullivan
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Yvette C. Rosser)
With reference to Edward Friedman's comments:
>The role of religion in the polity is one of the most important and
The topic of Hindutva in Indian politics may also be deeply offensive to those peripheral to the religious groups in question. The disdain with which the occi-centered academy, both in the West and in India, view Hindu "Nationalists" at times seems like Hindu-phobia. As if somehow proscribed by polite scholarship, no serious consideration or historical context is allowed the demands and perspectives of Hindu "Nationalists" (*self ascribed as "Hindu Revivalists" -BJP, RSS, VHP, etc.- called "Hindu Fascists" by most of the Indian media, and social scientists at JNU and other Western scholars) . Books such as _Anatomy of a Confrontation_ ed. S. Gopal, give excellent critiques of the Babri Masjid - Ram Janmabhumi Issue and offer in-depth and well stated descriptions and analyses of the current political situation in India. However, in the index of this informative text there is a reference to Goebbels but not to Sita Ram Goel, an author from whom the Hindu Nationalists take inspiration.
In order to, as you say Mr. Friedman, "keep a comparative perspective in mind," it would seem that the voice of the right-wing Hindus must also be heard while studying Hindu "Fundamentalism." This group, the "Sangh Parivar" has become a voting block with which the government of India must contend. Scholars of India must recognize that these Hindu Nationalist groups are gaining power and growing, and most importantly, changing and mutating as they gain power. They can not just be summarily dismissed when their message is so appealing to millions of Indian voters.
Responding to PSudhir's message:
>True, the term (fundamentalism) has acquired a pejorative
It seems as if the topic of Hindu Nationalism is a highly taboo subject in contrast to Islamic or Christian fundamentalism, which is more easily analyzed within their respective cultural contexts. In the treatment of Hindu Nationalists, South Asian scholars, more so even than Western scholars, sharply criticize the political platform of the BJP and other like groups (Sangh Parivar) without much discussion. Scholars rarely provide an objective or adequate enough presentation to analyze the "Sangh's" social agenda much less take the time to situate them historically or critique them through the lens of social theory. The use of the ancient symbol of the swastika and the use of the word "Aryan" are given as proof that the BJP are latter-day Nazis, this of course, is taking the symbols out of their cultural context, just as the Nazis did. Swastikas and Aryans have a completely different meaning to a Hindu Nationalist in the 1990's than a German Nationalist in the 1930's. These terms were appropriated and manipulated by Hitler, et al, and given alternative, political meanings. Their indigenous use by any Hindu organization inherently contains a totally different symbolic reference that is part of the religious culture and are not redefined in foreign terms, borrowed into the lexicon.
In this critique of contemporary scholarship, I do not intend to champion the BJP/RSS/VHP position, I simply would like to point out that they do have a socio-political position that is not a direct analogy to Nazism. The seemingly exclusivist rhetoric of groups like the BJP is tied up in the complex definition of "what is Hinduism" and is not parallel, step by step from the rise of the Brown Shirts to the SS to all out war and atrocities and genocide. It would seem, through my neophyte eyes, that the genre of scholarship reflects the subject and they are both reactionary.
As PSudhir said:
The part of the Hindu "Fundamentalist" rhetoric that is alarming is their anti-Islamic stance. In this capacity they stand to the far right of most scholars and politicians. But many of their complaints could be solved by a Uniform Civil code which progressive and left-leaning scholars and public servants also advocate. (the Catch- 22 of Indian politics. . .)
>the politics of religious revivalism which requires, in the Indian case,
It would seem, by reading the recent work of Indian scholars such as Ashis Nandy and T.N. Madan, that secularism, as it has been politically manipulated in the Indian legal system, is already under attack and an analysis of secularism is in full swing in order to create a new paradigm more applicable to pan-Indian civilization and more appropriate for the pluralistic realities found there. Hindu "Fundamentalism" should be seen as just another part of this reordering and self-analysis and not as a horrid threat to the guiding principals of secularism as they are adapted to Indian realities.
>(it is) in the new meanings (. . . ) that the terror of fundamentalism lurks.
Only an honest academic treatment, not apologist, not virulently hostile, will help to dispel this terror. The BJP is like any other political party, once in power their message has begun to dilute. The political exigencies of the of the democratic process become a reality and their fundamentalist message has become less so. In fact, they are now fully engaged in coalition building and toning down their Hindutva propaganda, in order to promote their social agenda. It will be interesting to see how far to the center they will swing.
One item that irks the Hindu "Nationalists" also called Hindu "Chauvinists" is the media coverage and the response in academic circles. They feel that Hindus are being held to a higher standard that other groups. I have heard it repeated over and over again that, "We Hindus destroy one mosque and the world cries out in condemnation yet dozens [some say hundreds] of temples in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangla Desh, even England were destroyed by irate Muslims in response to the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Are we Hindus required by law and popular opinion to be docile and acquiesce to all abuse without a response? Why is it when we take radical action in one instance, the world is aghast, but when Muslims burn Hindu villages and destroy Hindu shrines it is parenthetical?" They also complain about the "moth-eaten form of secularism" that characterizes the Indian legal codes.
These are just some observations from my initial reading of the materials and discussions with NRI defenders of Hindu Nationaism and are in no way meant as a condemnation of any individual scholar, or my final analysis. (These opinions in no way reflect the views of my academic institution!)
I invite comment, on and off the list.
Yvette C. Rosser, The University of Texas at Austin
From: Rajagopal Vakulabharanam <RVAKULAB@macc.wisc.edu>
With reference to the previous posts on Hindu revival or "fundamentalism", may I offer three thoughts on the subject? I cannot promise that I will be fully coherent as it is just a set of thoughts that I am quickly putting down on my terminal screen.
1. To begin, just so that you can read where I am coming from, I have been involved in this issue (communalism) not just intellectually, but in a limited way (limited by what one can indeed do about the issue from here) as an "activist." Having said that, let me begin by saying that my first concern is to do with the lack of materiality that academic approaches sometimes force on us. I am referring to one strand of the discussion - the very originary debate on "what we may call fascist and/or fundamentalist?" I have always used the first word and never the second in the context of the Hindutva movement, simply because the West and its relation to Islam has already loaded the latter term and refuses to be flexible. The former, "fascist", in spite of its gravity, still remains a flexible word. In our effort to characterize any social formation as fascist what do we attend to in our quest for evidence: exclusionary identity based supremacist ideology? (Evidence for which is to be found in the clear construction of the "other" as in Nazi Germany's jew, the KKK's black american, and RSS/VHP's muslim), structural aspects of organization (such as cell like formations with clear control and command structures evidence for which may be found again in Nazi Germany and the RSS shaka formations)? or the actual activities of group and its conduct in the public sphere? The problem that any of us academicians will face in trying to sort out the evidence and arrive at conclusions is that there are multiple slippages between the three "levels" I identified above, because the first two "levels" can never produce "conclusive" categorization. This is further compounded by the fact that any talk of fascism immd. also means a comparison with Nazism. For me, **fascism is not Nazism**, the latter being a particular manifestation of a broader category called fascist ideology and practice. I agree that many secular intellectuals make this mistake of an easy comparison between Nazi Germany and Hindutva's Bharat and that the Indian fascists use this "error" to discredit their opponents. Returning to the point of slippage and the lack of conclusive evidence when evaluating the first or the second "level" we are thus left with looking for actual material actions - the third "level" - for evidence. This third "level", is in so many ways useless again, becoz by the time we have conclusive evidence of a groups fascism it may indeed be too late for too many!! This is what I mean by academic immateriality - in discussing the problematic aspects of calling BJP and BJP supporters fascists - what surprised me in Rosser's note was that the 2000-3000 odd muslims slaughtered to death over the last five years by the Sangh parivar was not even mentioned as something worth considering - we were after all stuck in the discursive domain. For me, the bits and pieces of "inconclusive" evidence of the first two "levels" when combined with the material act of carrying voter lists thru the streets of Bombay, Surat and Ahmedabad to identify and kill, the acts of rape of muslim women, so as to "impregnate and produce the non-muslim," the stripping of men on the roads of many Indian cities to check on circumcision and then to kill, all put together leave me little time to decide - and decide we must! And of course the BJP supporters here have neither killed nor do they espouse a open support for killing - it would simply be uncool to do so in the American context - you can't be a damned professional and say you support violent purges. The number of BJP supporters in the US who have told me that they don't condone the violence but in some later point in the conversation arrive at the thesis of "they (the muslims) had to be taught a lesson" is simply amazing.
2. Of course, there are multiple escape routes available at any one point in time provided by the structures of real-politic for the supporters in both India and here. The BJP remains a "parliamentary party" that is committed to constitutional change never physically linked to the VHP - except by the virtual ease with which individuals move between the two organizational forms. A manifesto that has "some progressive" concerns in it - the Uniform Civil Code (somebody already pointed this out as meaning an extension of "Hindu" law that was more or less normalized as Indian law), wiping out of caste etc... How do we deal with these "progressive" elements? If we may draw a lesson from past experiences with fascism, then we must see the link between fascist politics and its use of populist platforms. Can I promise the working class jobs and remain fascist? Yes, I can. The UCC debate in India is being prepared as such a real-political populism for the next election. There is hardly any debate as to what it would mean and any effort to discuss it constantly seems to throw up a short answer - muslim personal law must go. The efforts of so many women's groups across the country who have done work on multiple fronts - muslim womens marginalization thru the triple talaq clause and polygamy and the Hindu and Christian woman's situation with a proliferation of dowry deaths - to veer away from the UCC debate and frame it as an issue of Gender justice has been received by sheer silence from within the BJP camp. To shift the focus and discuss gender justice would mean to lose the whipping horse. To evaluate these "escape hatches" all one needs to do, even in the US is to dig deep enough - look at a member of the "Friends of BJP" organization and look for family links both here and back at home - see if the RSS enters the picture or pick up an organization like the Hindu Student Council (HSC) and see if the head honcho student is linked upwards thru family structures and you will move easily from HSC to VHP of A to BJP supporters.
3. Sudhir and Sugandha already mentioned this but the theme of "semiticization" of Hinduism has at least some face validity. The validity comes from within the principle of centralization - central texts, central icons etc. What is important here is, as has been pointed out, to work from the position that "Hinduism" as a unified entity is a extremely recent construct - one mutation arriving with colonialism and another with a nationalist politics (from Tilak onwards) that has culminated in the recent centralization of the religion. In studying this subject the central question is how do we ensure we ensure the space for those at the ground level who still resist and refuse even today to be integrated with the idea of being "Hindu" - I am here talking of so many Dalit texts. I remember more than a couple years ago when I posted an article called "Hindu or Sindhu?" by Bharat Patankar (an activist from Sangli district of Maharashtra) which clearly took on the task of aggressively constructing an alternate "mythography" of what "we" are - by promoting a story that had Bali as a hero as against Rama, saying we are "Sindhu" not "Hindu" and we follow the traditions of Bali who was the last valiant hero who fought Brahmanism, the responses were fascinating. The Hindutvavadis quickly tried connecting up the story to a normalized form of their central texts and when that didn't work turned abusive and slowly silent. The rear guard action for the Hindutvavadis came from the "liberals" who accused me of making the mistake of fighting one myth with another - Rama against Bali (I hadn't even written the article) and forgetting "objective" history - I was told "please don't make more myths up!" I even today ask - doesn't the normalization of the Rama myth as history (what else is RJB/Ayodhya) make the liberals ask the same question - how come standards of history arrive only when "alternate" myth making demands its space. I think I have strayed all over the place by now!!
Having put down a set of not so coherent thoughts I want to wind out asking a couple of questions. What does it mean to do a "ethnography of BJP supporters?" I am not so worried about the political incorrectness of the subject but about the mode of doing such an ethnography. (A) For me it is crucial that any such study does not draw an artificial line that breaks the BJP/VHP/RSS and its activity in India and the activities of BJP/VHP supporters in the US. The distinction in my mind is a convenient one that the BJPites here use constantly. (Recently VHP of A has gone on record claiming that they are in no way connected to VHP of India!!) And we must not fall into that trap. An entire politics that "looks eastward across the Ocean" cannot be held in isolation here but instead must constantly be studied as being part of what is happening in India - simple geography obfuscates! (B)Any ideological structure makes sense, has coherence and that it why it works. In investigating the BJP supporters sense making structure we can easily write 30 pages on their "coherent" world view. The important question for me is that "critical scholarship?" What makes for critical scholarship is to put that coherence in tension. If the task then is to do just that - put the coherence in tension- then the study will for me be a valuable one. For instance, if Rosser in Utexas Austin, studies the BJP supporters, for me the important task is to also find the people who will provide the necessary tensions in the reading at the same moment locally. Here is a suggestion... there is a group on campus that you maybe aware of - SAPAG - South Asian Progressive Action Group and they have an enormous amount of experience dealing with the supporters regularly... maybe you can dig them out and see how they have responded for the past 4 years on campus. Or maybe a recent talk I heard from Vijay Prashad of Cornell that took as its task an exploration of "what produces the conservative Indian immigrant mind!!" is a good tension producer for a study such as the one Rosser plans!!!