Rajiv Malhotra & Francis Clooney SJ: Just friends or best friends? – Vijaya Rajiva

Teacher Icon“Malhotra wants to accommodate the enemy so to speak and is therefore a good candidate for Francis Xavier Clooney’s agenda. The ripple effect of these many discussions/debates on Hindu-Christian dialogue are Clooney’s great opportunity at further inculturation of the Hindu.” – Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Fr. Francis Clooney, SJTime was when the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus established in 1539 by Ignatius of Loyola) used every method to establish the ascendancy of Catholic Christianity over the globe. Hindu India will remember the infamous Goa Inquisition (1560) conducted by the followers of St. Francis Xavier against the hapless Hindus of Goa. Francis Xavier was also a founding member of the Society of Jesus and also the initiator of the Inquisition (1545). Everything ranging from ferocious torture to murder and mayhem were practiced in Goa (and elsewhere during the Inquisition) all in the name of the Holy Church. The book Breaking India (2011) by authors Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan also writes about the first of the Jesuits in India, Robert di Nobili (came to Goa in 1605 and settled in Tamil Nadu in 1606) who, in addition to claiming to be a scholar of Tamil, did not hesitate to fulminate against the paganism of the Hindus. The goal of Christianity in India has never changed: convert the Hindu pagans, harvest their souls, as the Pope said publicly in India. His comment was: in the first millennium Christianity spread to Europe, in the second millennium it spread to the Americas, and in the third millennium it will complete its mission in Asia. Since much of south-east Asia has become christianised, India alone remains unconverted. The present writer believes that this will remain so thanks to the devotion of the aam admi Hindus to their ancestral religion and thanks to the spiritual strength of the traditional acharyas, gurus, maths and so on.

Hence, the attempt of the Jesuit order to woo the elite of India is another aspect of their strategy. The days of large-scale conquests and violence are over. The soldiers of Christ are heavily into the phenomenon known as inculturation, started by Italian Jesuit Roberto de Nobili himself, the borrowing of native cultural habits and practices and in general ingratiating themselves into local culture. This inculturation was intended to subvert the native cultures by stealth. An example would be De Nobili wearing saffron instead of white and using Hindu words to describe Christian rituals and so on. And now, Hindu-Christian dialogue — one wonders what the purpose of this dialogue is?

An important aspect of the Jesuit order which needs to be mentioned: their commitment to scholarship. Francis Xavier Clooney represents that branch. He is a Jesuit, an accomplished scholar of comparative religion and has published several books and articles. He is currently a professor at the Divinity School at Harvard University (USA). He has impressed many Hindus by his knowledge of Tamil and the bhakti religious tradition of Tamil Hindus. Nevertheless, as a Jesuit and as a dedicated Christian his innermost and first priority is the conversion of pagan Hindus to Catholicism. Needless to say this is never openly talked about. The goal of the Jesuits (and of Christianity as a proselytizing faith) has never changed, despite the change in methods. Dr. Clooney is heavily into the process of inculturation. This is made possible by many intellectual Hindus who have been drawn into what is called interfaith dialogue.

Rajiv MalhotraThis was evident in the interfaith dialogue (so-called) in which Dr. Clooney participated, along with author/writer Rajiv Malhotra. This took place at the University of Massachusetts during the talks on Malhotra’s new book Being Different (2011) After Mr. Malhotra’s talk on his book, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, Dr. Clooney followed up with an approximately 45 minute talk mainly focused on Malhotra’s book Being Different. This book, according to the author, is about a game changer. Instead of being the object of Western scholars, Hindus must now view the West and the Judaeo-Christian tradition from the Hindu dharmic point of view. This is in itself not a novel idea and whether the contents have been appropriately handled will remain a question mark.

After Malhotra’s lecture, Clooney took the podium and the spectacle was extremely illuminating to any discerning viewer. Clooney’s strategy was to heap high praise on Malhotra, who during his own comments on Clooney’s talk, agreed with him! Clooney as mentioned above is a well-trained scholar and Rajiv Malhotra was no match for him, in a sense. The range of Clooney’s intellectual cogitation was impressive both for its subtlety and its delicate handling of contentious issues.

In addition , his manner was courteous, soft-spoken and well spoken (beware of the Greek who comes bearing gifts!).

Some samples of the exchange between the two men are revealing:

Clooney: This is not the first time that Hindus have looked critically at the West. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati and Swami Vivekananda did that. However, Rajiv has updated this in a sophisticated manner (read “improved” on it, with the former being unsophisticated Hindus!).

Rajiv Malhotra was obligingly silent, presumably he agreed with this remark. He must believe that he is an improvement on Swami Dayananda and Swami Vivekananda! Since liberal theorists in India such as Jyotirmaya Sharma have written sneeringly about them, the least that Malhotra could have done was to modestly insert some remark about their great contribution to Hindu nationalism and the ongoing resurgence of Hindu thinking, not to mention their profound spirituality and writings on Hinduism. But that would go against Clooney’s agenda. To resume.

Clooney: Authors such as Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel have politicized the Hindu-Christian relationship. Rajiv does not do that. He is respectful of the differences and shows understanding (one can guess at Clooney’s target : authentic Hindus who resist Christian conversion methods!)

Rajiv Malhotra: I am not interested in “politicization”. I am interested in knowledge systems. (By this time any discerning listener must surely wonder where he is going with all this ready agreement with Clooney. What does this remark mean except that it is a hit at Hindu nationalism? Or at Hindutva? The intellectual and spiritual errors involved in this distancing of himself from both need to be pointed out.)

Being DifferentIn that one statement Malhotra distanced himself from the aam admi Hindu and Hindu nationalism. There were also some slighting references to the ignorance of Hindu gurus regarding Western thought. His eagerness to secure Francis Clooney’s endorsement for his book Being Different was all too obvious. It was also clear that the magic of the Jesuit’s flattery was working on him, slowly but surely.

This raises the question of why the intrepid author of the book Breaking India was doing his own version of a U-turn. That book clearly documents the insidious workings of Christian missionaries in India. It speaks about the first Jesuit Roberto de Nobili’s infamous methods. It talks about inculturation and so on. It recognizes quite explicitly that since the time of Max Mueller (the Indologist), the chosen enemy for Christianity was Hinduism.

Of course, the authenticity and strength of the book Breaking India also comes from the fact that the co-author Aravindan Neelakandan is a Tamilian and is knowledgeable about Tamil history, which constitutes a large part of the book.

Mr. Malhotra is economically independent and has over a period of time in the Hindu diaspora in North America done service to the community by establishing the Infinity Foundation and helping with other Hindu causes. He is articulate, intelligent and well read. Economic motives, the acquisition of wealth cannot be his agenda. Of course, as with any author/writer he would like to maximize the sales of his books. In his case, there is also an almost messianic notion of wanting to reach out to Hindus to empower them. Some would simply call it an ego trip. There is also the fact that he is an autodidact and therefore his excursions into Judaeo-Christian and Western thought are a novel exercise for him. In this exhilarating exercise he lost sight of many things.

Purva Paksha, the method he borrows from ancient Hindu intellectual/spiritual thought and claims to use, becomes simply an occasion for self advancement. Mr. Malhotra is no Shankara. Purva Paksha is not simply a “gaze” at the adversary, but is accompanied by a rigorous unflinching critique of the enemy, as Adi Shankara did, and alas, Rajiv Malhotra is unable/unwilling to do! Adi Shankara’s aim was to defeat, not to accommodate the enemy. As is well-known, Shankara’s efforts led not only to the creation of Advaita Vedanta, but to the clearing of the decks for the ongoing continuation of Hinduism. In Mr. Malhotra’s hands it becomes a distortion both of the method and its aims.

Malhotra wants to accommodate the enemy so to speak (although that is not his conscious agenda or so one hopes) and is therefore a good candidate for Francis Xavier Clooney’s agenda. The ripple effect of these many discussions/debates on Hindu-Christian dialogue are Clooney’s great opportunity at further inculturation.

And Rajiv Malhtora is entirely unprepared for this unequal balance of power, whatever his own subjective feelings about the importance of such events and the impact of his book. By putting forward his work as something different from what other Hindus are already doing and by a constant Straw Manrunning down of Hindu gurus that they are not prepared to debate with the West, Malhotra is in effect trying to advance, at the expense of Hindus. This contradicts his own well-meaning efforts at the empowerment of Hindus!

For Hindus, both in the diaspora and in the homeland, the lesson to be garnered from the Clooney-Malhotra discussions (euphemistically called Hindu-Christian dialogue) is that the tried and tested strength of Hinduism will endure. New fangled attempts are just that. They can be a fun read, but not to be taken seriously. The aam admi Hindu and the traditional acharyas, gurus, maths, etc. will continue their traditions. There are no signs that this will give way to what at present looks like the intellectual equivalent of Walmart’s attempted entry into Indian retail.

Has Mr. Malhotra set up only a straw man, the non-existent uninformed Hindu of his imagination, in order to demolish this straw man, and thereby highlight his own albeit limited work? And is Francis Clooney attempting the impossible, the destruction of Sanatana Dharma? – Haindava Keralam, Dec. 20, 2011

» Dr. Vijaya Rajiva is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university. Her academic training is in Philosophy, Political Science, Political Economy and History.

5 Responses

  1. Swami Vivekananda exerted soul force in re-generating India. Sri Aurobindo says that this force is still at work on India. Swamiji’s work is not about polemics…it’s about anubhooti, individual experience, of spiritual verities.


  2. Rajiv Malhotra knows that in the present trajectory of the world, praise from western sources means more than Hindu praise!


  3. […] in the recent talk at Harvard university and which the present writer has critiqued in an article “Rajiv Malhotra & Francis Clooney: Just friends or best friends?”. Malhotra being an autodidact needed to consult with Clooney, in addition to his committment to […]


  4. […] writer has previously critiqued this event (which took place at Harvard University) in the article “Rajiv Malhotra & Francis Clooney SJ: Just friends or best friends?” on this […]


  5. The case of Rajiv Malhotra is a very curious story.

    Some years ago this wealthy telecommunication entrepreneur was promoted as a Hindu spokesman in the US when he took on Wendy Doniger of Chicago University’s Divinity School and her gang of academic perverts.

    His good work was much appreciated. But he made a big mistake when he rushed to India to defend Nithyananda when he was caught on film in bed with an actress. The whole show and what followed with Malhotra was a scandal and a disaster.

    First Nithy ran away. Then when Malhotra caught up with him in Haridwar, elaborate denials of wrong doing were made on a series of videos. Then when it was established that the sex video was genuine (later confirmed by the police), a new defense was made claiming Nithy was “experimenting with tantra”. This too didn’t work and in fact only showed up Malhotra as a shyster advocate. Then the caste card was played and it was claimed that Nithy was being persecuted by upper caste Hindus because he was a Dalit. This failed as Nithy’s caste, Mudaliar, was known to everybody in Tiruvannamalai. Later both would claim it was a Christian conspiracy to defame a Hindu holy man. But it was too late. What did “Christian conspiracy” mean anyway? That the Christians got the videos made through the agency of Lenin Dharmananda who admits planting the camera in Nithy’s bedroom? Even if Lenin was Christian or a Christian agent, the videos remain a valid record of events. They are not doctored though they are edited with the “boring parts” removed.

    Malhotra also misled Swami Dayananda and the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha on the whole issue in an attempt to save Nithy’s place at the august acharya table. What does Nithy have to do with this Hindu Sabha anyway? He has no guru and no diksha. He represents no recognised Hindu sampradhaya. He has no authority to wear gerua (kavi) or to give mantras. What he does have is a charming smile, a glib tongue, and a kind of animal energy that gives the ladies a buzz. That is more than enough to become a successful godman in today’s India.

    What was Malhotra’s interest in the Nithyananda affair? It remains a mystery. And Malhotra showed himself to be grossly ignorant of sannyasi discipline and traditions. Sannyasis in gerua cloth don’t practice yoga or tantra. It is strictly forbidden to them even if the practices in themselves are valid and used by other sadhaks.

    Malhotra then went back to writing. He wrote Breaking India which got consistently bad reviews. Now he has produced Being Different and is on an elaborate and costly campaign to publicize the book, even approaching the President of India.

    Rajiv Malhotra is a rich businessman who wants to be recognised as a scholar. Many rich men have this obsession. Making money is not enough for them, their intellectual abilities much also be recognised. So in desperation he has run to the Jesuits for recognition. The Jesuits! And Clooney, the current Jesuit interlocutor with Hindus, has recognised him as “sophisticated” and “non-political”.

    How sad!

    This is not recognistion. This is a patronising pat on the head by a very clever Christian operator who is exploiting Malhotra’s overweening desire for recognition for his own ends. And Malhotra is so foolish he has accepted the pat as equivalent of a Nobel Prize for literature!

    Rajiv Malhotra must understand that recognistion for his work must come from his Hindu peers, not from the enemy camp.

    A Jesuit’s recognisition is worse than a bad review. The fact that Clooney tries to dismiss the monumental work of Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup is proof that their work is great work and should be read (as Malhotra has read it but is too small a man to admit).

    Does Malhotra know that a leading Hindu intellectual and author, Arun Shourie, regarded Sita Ram Goel as his guru and publicly acknowledges his debt to Goel? (This writer also has a debt to Goel. But this writer is not an academic or scholar so his praise doesn’t count here.)

    Why hasn’t Malhotra taken his book to Arun Shourie for review? That would have some meaning for Hindus in India.


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