Meera Nanda against Hindu India and its friends – Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad Elst“Sita Ram Goel’s rejection of the Sangh, while having a strong ideological dimension in the mind of that hard-headed ideologue, was primarily … stemming from his many personal experiences with the RSS and its functioning. His very first objection to the Sangh was against its personnel, against their low intellectual and moral calibre. In all dealings with them, so he told me, there is some unpleasantness, some promise not kept, some trespassing against ordinary good manners, and often some ideological betrayal. In our first conversation, in 1989, he derided the RSS-BJP as ‘the biggest collection of duffers that ever came together in world history'”.

Voice of India’s true identity

Meera NandaMeera Nanda, the microbiologist turned philosopher of science, focuses her best work on a topic properly belonging to a science philosopher’s field, viz. the claim that Hinduism is a “scientific religion”. The claim has been made since at least Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century, and many English-speaking Hindus take it for granted even though they themselves have little grounding in science. I hope to give her refutation of this claim due consideration in the future, for it is truly important, being the highest-quality deconstruction of Hinduism’s most promising bid for a place in the modern world.

But some of her work is of lower quality, having only the anti-Hindu animus in common. Yet, Meera Nanda has done her homework fairly well and, with a few exceptions, avoids taking cheap shots. In a political sense, she could have afforded to, for no one who attacks Hinduism risks any censure for not getting his facts straight. It seems that her intellectual seriousness or even her conscience has prevailed: she didn’t want to be caught in the act of lying by even one informed reader. All the same, some serious inaccuracies have crept in.

Sometimes Meera Nanda ventures outside her own domain to attack other Hindu efforts to assure the survival of the Dharma. Her latest major essay in this category is “Hindu triumphalism and the clash of civilisations”, published in the influential Political and Economical Weekly (Delhi), 11 July 2009. She notes that it is only the third paper ever to focus on the pro-Hindu publishing outfit Voice of India. The first one was by the Japanese graduate student Mitsuhiro Kondo, who interviewed Sita Ram Goel, founder and mastermind of Voice of India. I wrote a comment on her work in Elst 2002. The second one, of which I hadn’t heard yet, is given as Reza Pirbhai: “Demons in Hindutva: Writing a Theology for Hindu Nationalism”, Modern Intellectual History, 2008, and which will get a reply in due time. The third is her own.

On personal details, she gets a few less important ones wrong regarding myself, but some pretty fundamental ones concerning the Indians involved. Writing in 2009, and after paying a visit to the Voice of India office, she doesn’t seem to know that Pradeep Goel, who managed the practical aspects of publication for over fifteen years, had passed away in 2005. She also writes about Abhas Kumar Chatterjee and others as if they are still alive. These are not just painful mistakes, but indicate a serious misunderstanding about the role of Voice of India today, viz. that it is now a thing of the past (italics ours). Secularist “experts” on Hindu activism have strictly ignored this centre of Hindu thought while it was active and only discovered it near or after its end, and that too only sparingly.

It is no surprise, then, that she gets the main things wrong as well. Thus, she associates Sita Ram Goel repeatedly with “Hindutva”. But to my knowledge, Goelji never ever applied the term “Hindutva” to his own thinking. Though a freedom fighter (i.e., in India, an activist in the anti-colonial freedom movement) in his youth, he often explicitly rejected the nationalist paradigm, especially in contexts where the Sangh Parivar was using it as a ploy to skirt around the difficult ideological issues. In RSS parlance, difficult ideological themes are systematically replaced with a simplistic dichotomy of Indian/foreign or national/”anti-national”. Thus, Babar as a “foreign” rather than “Islamic” invader, Communism as “anti-national” rather than any of the ideological things one could hold against it, the Christian mission as a “CIA vehicle” rather than a religious challenge.

Like most somewhat open-minded people, he was fully aware that the identification of Hinduism with India was becoming obsolete, with ever more Hindus settling abroad and forgetting their mother tongue, and with ever more Westerners adopting Hinduism formally or de facto. The present age is the worst moment in history to redefine Hinduism in terms of its geographical roots rather than its contents.

On balance, though, I think his rejection of the Sangh, while having a strong ideological dimension in the mind of that hard-headed ideologue, was primarily of a different nature, stemming from his many personal experiences with the RSS and its functioning. His very first objection to the Sangh was against its personnel, against their low intellectual and moral calibre. In all dealings with them, so he told me, there is some unpleasantness, some promise not kept, some trespassing against ordinary good manners, and often some ideological betrayal. In our first conversation, in 1989, he derided the RSS-BJP as “the biggest collection of duffers that ever came together in world history”. And in our last, in 2003 (in the presence of Prof. Saradindu Mukherji and Dr. David Frawley), he gloomily said: “Hinduism will not survive unless this RSS-BJP movement perishes.” And in between, he said things like: “The RSS is leading Hindu society into a trap.”

Hindu Society Under SiegeShe manages to accuse him of “Hindu triumphalism”, repeatedly. Like in the paper’s title, here it is the word triumphalism that catches the reader’s eye. That is about the last word I would have thought of when Sita Ram Goel’s work is mentioned. The almost opposite concept of alarmism would seem more appropriate. On the first page of his seminal booklet Hindu Society under Siege, Sita Ram Goel wrote: “But the death of Hindu society is no longer an eventuality which can no longer be envisaged. This great society is now besieged by the same dark and deadly forces which have overwhelmed and obliterated many ancient societies.”

As a loser, Meera Nanda quotes from Voice of India writers themselves only very sparingly, being all the more talkative about alleged “links”. Thus, she quotes from “Hindu terrorist groups like Sanatan Sanstha” (2009, p. 107) as saying much the same thing, but then alleges that “the most strident expression of Hindu triumphalism comes from a group of writers associated with Voice of India”. That is, more strident than “Hindu terrorism”. The Breivik quotes follow the same pattern: she cannot pinprick the critique of Islam given by Voice of India authors (there is no trace of it in these articles), so she just juxtaposes Voice of India with Breivik’s name and hopes readers will fall for it. Given the great demand for reassurance about Islam, and hence for ridiculing its critics, she may well have some success with what is contents wise an admission of weakness.

Meera Nanda shows her utter confusion, or her lack of scruples, when she tries to link Voice of India to the Nouvelle Droite. She claims that “they are finding new recruits from the European New Right”, though she cannot name any (and I as an insider can say that they are non-existent), and purports to name three cases of interaction.

One is an interview which Ram Swarup gave to Christopher Gérard (Brussels), editor of the second Antaios. It is true that Gérard was enthusiastic about Ram Swarup’s apology of Hindu polytheism, and for that reason he gave some publicity to him. But there were also deep differences, papered over in social contexts but nonetheless real. Thus, Gérard was a great believer in the Aryan Invasion Theory, while Ram Swarup opposed it. And Gérard was a great fan of Alain Daniélou, a bookish defender of Hindu traditionalism (as he conceived it, highly idiosyncratically) and of the caste system, while Ram Swarup stood in the native “tradition” of Hindu reformism. The interaction between Ram Swarup and Christopher Gérard, limited to a few meetings, did not go beyond a joint celebration of polytheism, a cause to which both of them were wedded before.

Incidentally, in describing Antaios, Meera Nanda commits several mistakes. She says it was “started by Mircea Eliade and Ernest Jûnger, both of whom had close connections with fascist movements in their native Romania and Germany respectively”. (2009:113) Yes, Ernst Jûnger was a Nazi in the 1920s, when it was an opposition movement repressed by the German police and being a Nazi took courage; he was also an anti-Nazi in the late 1930s when Nazism was in power and being an anti-Nazi took courage. That makes him a very different sort of anti-Nazi from Meera Nanda, who is always found on the safe side. As for Mircea Eliade: Wendy Doniger, the darling of the Nehruvian secularists for her anti-Hindu writings, held the Mircea Eliade Chair at the prestigious Chicago University. Shall we say that she was not averse to fascist connections?

Though Antaios had the same name as a paper founded by Jûnger and Eliade, it was not founded by them. Their paper folded and Antaios was founded anew by Christopher Gérard. He in turn folded it years before Meera Nanda wrote her piece. So the title is available, and a Croat has again founded a paper called Antaios. Oh, and one more detail: Gérard’s Antaios appeared in French, so Ram Swarup never read it.

The second case of interaction between Voice of India and the Nouvelle Droite which Meera Nanda alleges, is this: “Francois Gautier, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and more recently of Sri Sri Ravishankar, is another VoI author who had a long career with the French newspaper La Figaro, which has been described as the mouthpiece of the French New Right. Gautier is the brain behind the idea of creating a museum showcasing the Hindu ‘holocaust’ at the hands of Muslims.” (2011:113)

The only thing in common between François Gautier and the French Nouvelle Droite thinkers is probably that they are French. He has been in India for decades and is out of touch with developments in France. Yes, he has been a correspondent for Le Figaro for a while, but that was after the paper severed its links with the Nouvelle Droite authors working for its magazine ca. 1980. His museum of Muslim atrocities on Hindu society is the best proof of his non-connectedness to the Nouvelle Droite, which happens to be pro-Islamic and has nothing to do with the counter-jihad agitation now animating a new generation of European parties.

The third is me. But I already said that, save for criticising Christianity, I have never espoused the typical agenda points of the Nouvelle Droite, not even when, long ago, writing for Nouvelle Droite publications. And here again, the opposite viewpoint on Islam is striking and significant. Luc Pauwels invited me to the Nouvelle Droite paper TeKoS precisely as a counterweight to the existing pro-Islamic tendency. Though Meera Nanda hopes to use the “New Right” as a bridge between Voice of India and the Islam-hating terrorist Anders Breivik, these champions of a “Euro-Arab alliance against the US and Capitalism” have strictly nothing to do with Breivik.

What then is the difference between Voice of India and the established Hindu Nationalist movement? According to Meera Nanda, “While Islamophobia is not new, its expression used to be moderated by the so-called ‘essential-unity Hinduism’ – the familiar rhetoric which proclaims that all religions are equally true. (…) Even the most radical Hindu communalists occasionally said some good things about other faiths in order to show how big-hearted and tolerant their own faith is.” (2009:107) Yes, and in fact, far more than she will give them credit for. Frequently, BJP leaders declare and the Organiser writes that terrorism has no religion, that the great religion of Islam is misunderstood by its critics and misused by its fanatics, that “Islam is more sinned against than sinning”, etc.

According to her, “This essential-unity Hinduism, hypocritical though it was, is facing new ideological threats. A new triumphalism is emerging which does not hesitate to openly and unapologetically celebrate the alleged superiority of Hinduism over the alleged depravity of Islam, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Christianity as well.” (2009:107) Yet, “the new tribe of triumphalists speak in terms of pluralism, science and tolerance which supposedly abound in Hinduism.” (2009:107) Her term triumphalism is as inept as could be: everything of value is vulnerable, and consequently Hinduism is no match for its challengers, just as Greek philosophy wasn’t. It has, according to Voice of India’s mission statement, only truth on its side. And whether Truth Shall Prevail, as India’s motto has it, remains to be seen.

Voice of India and Islam

Sita Ram Goel & Ram SwarupMeera Nanda describes Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel as “two ardent Hindu revivalists and anti-Communists”. (2011) What she does not write, is that they had been Leftists themselves in the late forties, and that Goel failed to become a Communist Party member only because of Sardar Patel’s crackdown on the party the very day Goel had an appointment at the party office. What she does not write at all is that their anti-Communist stand, brave and lonely in the fifties, has totally been vindicated by history. This she doesn’t want to know because she still has a soft corner for Marxism.

Indeed, she treats “anti-Communist” as a swearword. That is why she calls them “anti-Communists” even as late as 1981, not to speak of 2011. After the Chinese Communist invasion in India in 1962, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel knew that Communism’s chance to take over India had gone. To be sure, the Communist hold on the entire cultural sector kept on increasing, but political control was forever with centre-left dynasts. But let us not focus on them, let us focus on Meera Nanda. In respect of anti-Communism, now a historical subject, she is still a Stalinist.

Meera Nanda goes off on a tangent about the European Nationalist Right, about Jean-Marie Le Pen and such, who have nothing to do with Voice of India, not even with its European sympathisers such as myself. Then she turns around and asks: “One could ask: why we in India should care about these European racists?” (2009:112) Well, nobody in India paid them any attention, nobody there cares about them. It is only Meera Nanda who has them in mind. Like the medieval theologians who wondered about the earth being in the middle and the devil living in the earth, hence the universe turning around the devil, she is obsessed with European racism and drags it in where it has no place. Because she has no way of countering Voice of India’s case, she has to fall back on associations, and false ones at that.

Or, well, there is one thing she has to say in defence of Islam. By way of conclusion, she ends her article in the Economic and Political Weekly as follows: ““Monotheism does not automatically translate into totalitarianism and polytheism is not a synonym for tolerance, as the triumphalists would have us believe. Theology is not destiny. The (more or less) peaceful coexistence of many religions that India is justly famous for, is not a gift of Hinduism: all of India’s religions contributed to it in ways without compromising their religious beliefs. To forget their contribution is to forget the love and patriotism of India’s Muslims and Christians for their country.” (2009:114)

No, theology is destiny, if taken seriously. Of course ideas have consequences. That monotheism leads to intolerance has been admitted by Christians like Rodney Stark in his book One True God or Jan Assman in The Price of Monotheism. Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel are not the first ones to assert this, it is a matter of worldwide consensus. The great pioneers of monotheism, Pharaoh Akhenaten, Moses and Mohammed, all distinguished themselves by killing large numbers of dissidents. Fortunately, many Muslims are people first and Muslims second, they don’t take Islam very seriously and that explains their less-than-Islamic conduct.

That Muslims love India is only Meera Nanda’s contention. In the last and only de facto referendum, the last election before independence, 87% of the Muslim electorate voted against India and in favour of the Muslim League and its programme: the Partition of India. While the Hindus voted for a multicultural India, the Muslims voted against India and against multiculturalism. That is a historical fact, and Meera Nanda cannot alter it. Today, most Indian Muslims are against a further Partition, but that is only because their leadership class has determined that the same mistake should not be made and that the Indian Muslims should seek to Islamize the whole of India. It is only on these terms that the Muslims love India in one piece.

As for the Christians, on p. 292 of Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, the only book of mine that figures in her bibliography and which I therefore assume she has read, I have written: “However, while Christian separatism is indeed a reality in the small and peripheral states of the North-east, in most tribal areas both native and foreign-missionary Christians have definitely accepted the fact of India.” Contrary to what she implies, we are well aware of Christian patriotism. The only way for her of overriding Voice of India is to falsely put words into our mouths.

Voice of India is only secondarily an Indian nationalist movement. It is first of all a civilizational revivalism. It attaches no particular importance to the differential degree of patriotism of the average Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Even if a religion fosters patriotism, as long as it troubles others and tries to impose upon them its irrational beliefs, we have to do something about it.

According to Meera Nanda (2011): “What distinguishes the VoI-brand of Hindutva — and pushes it into the global network of Islamophobia — is its staunch opposition to the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, the Hindu equivalent of multiculturalism. Hinduism, they assert, is not any ordinary religion, but rather contains the very essence of religion itself: it is sanatan dharma, the Eternal Cosmic Truth. To equate Hindu dharma, this mother of all Truth, with violent, materialistic and monotheistic ‘creeds’ like Islam amounts to equating dharma with adharma, the ways of devas (gods) with the ways of asuras (demons). (…) This equality is not acceptable to cultural nationalists: if all cultures are equal, how can they oppose the influx of what they see as inferior cultures? If all cultures are equal, how can they carry on their ‘consciousness-raising’ campaigns against The Quran and Sharia?”

We will ignore Meera Nanda’s confusion between nationalism, which only divides religions between national and non-national, and religion critique, which divides religions between true, false and every shade in between. What distinguishes Voice of India according to her is that it really practices religion critique (which, according to Karl Marx, is the beginning of all critique), whereas the RSS family only practices nationalism. The RSS, following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, asks people to suspend their power of discrimination and treat all religions as equal save to the extent that they are anti-national.

In reality, religions make truth claims and these can be judged. In particular, Christianity and Islam are based on truth claims which aren’t true. They differ by more than their country of origin, they differ by their beliefs. And these can be found wanting. It is only a common use of the human mental faculties which leads to the questioning of religions.

Islamophobia is, according to Nanda, based upon the view that Islam itself is so innately barbaric, irrational, sexist, violent and aggressive that “the followers of Islam must exhibit these abominable behavioural traits”. Indeed, “Muslims are reduced to automatons programmed to obey these dreadful commands”. (2009, p. 106) That is again a projection from the eye of the beholder unattested in Voice of India writing. It is, moreover, logically incompatible with the reconversion option advertised many times in Voice of India publications.

As she herself writes: “To add insult to injury, debunking Islam from a Hindu perspective is supposed to be good for Muslims because: ‘Muslims of Bharatvarsha would start returning to the Hindu fold only when they realise how obnoxious a doctrine Islam is, how false and fraudulent, how degrading and dehumanising, how unethical and superficial. History has bestowed a role on Hindu nation to help Muslims discover that Islam is a prison house that deprives them of their freedom of thought, powers of reasoning and qualms of conscience…. When, and only when, Muslims find out the reality of Muhammad and his creed, they would start walking out of Islam and feel proud to join their ancestral culture.” (2009:110, with reference to Abhas Chatterjee in S.R. Goel, ed., 1997: Time for Stock-Taking: Whither Sangh Parivar?, p. 64-65). Exactly. And what is wrong with “reality”? What problem does Meera Nanda have with it?

But such a stand does not make Voice of India popular, for it does not go well with the widespread trait of laziness: “It appears that even though the cadre of RSS are avid readers of the VoI literature, they tend to distance themselves from the Goel-Swarup camp in public ‘because of their extremist anti-Muslim tirades’.” (2009:109) At least we have it on her word that there is a deep cleavage between Hindutva and Voice of India.

How did the Marxist intellectual Meera Nanda find employment with the Christian Templeton Foundation? Why, she led them to believe that she was a scientist and philosopher of science, sharing with her prospective employers a proven anti-Hindu animus. I do not doubt her competence to do whatever it is that microbiologists do. She has certain scientist’s skills, but she doesn’t have the mind of a scientist. She has the mind of a believer, or at least of a politician who wants to keep the believers happy. By contrast, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel had the real scientist’s mind. They questioned. In particular, they questioned the beliefs which are so obtrusively propagated, those of Christianity and Islam. They had no patience with the unscientific assumption that all religions can be equal. Of course truth and untruth are not equal (italics ours).

“Once they got rid of the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, VoI militants declared an open war against Islam.” This of course is Meera Nanda the liar speaking. No Voice of India author has ever hurt a hair on the head of any Muslim. By contrast, many Muslims have been killed by politicians who praise Islam. Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama or David Cameron have never said a bad word about Islam, but their bomber pilots have killed a great many Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. The less Islam criticism, the more Muslims get killed. – Koenraad Elst, May 2012

» Read the complete set of articles at Dr. Elsts’ blog.

» Many Voice of India books can be accessed at Voice of Dharma

4 Responses

  1. A small correction. Elst claims that Ram Swarup did not read Gerard’s article because it was in French. This is not correct. I (Rajaram) translated it into English at Ram Swarup’s request. This was about a year or so before his death. My English version was also published but without credit to me as often the case in India. (I am not complaining, only people who use an article should know the source.)


  2. Excellent article by Dr. Elst! He knows the history and background well and is a good person to rebut Meera Nanda. A couple of years ago when I first started writing for Indian publications I came across an article by her in The Hindu on the philosophy of science. I replied rebutting her but I don’t believe they published it.


  3. In the winter of 1895-96, Swami Vivekananda met Nikola Tesla and asked him if he could show that what we call matter is just potential energy. The swami said, “I am to go and see him next week to get this new mathematical demonstration,” (10) which apparently never came. It is probably unfortunate that Tesla didn’t get it shown, because if relativity theory had arisen out of a suggestion by Swami Vivekananda, the history of modern physics might have looked very different. The notion that what we see as matter is just potential energy was published as an appendix to Einstein’s relativity paper ten years later, in 1905.

    “The swami said, “I am to go and see him next week to get this new mathematical demonstration,” (10) which apparently never came. It is probably unfortunate that Tesla didn’t get it shown, because if relativity theory had arisen out of a suggestion by Swami Vivekananda, the history of modern physics might have looked very different”

    The above lines confirms Dr Rajarams premise.

    This is from John Dobsons e book . John Dobson was an amateur astronomer ( not a highly qualified, but he designed the Dobson telescope for amateurs, which is very popular with amateurs as well as some pundits.

    This is the web site of the book.

    John Dobson lived like a monk in RK Mission. He quit RK mission and went on his own after he developed the telescope. He is no way connnected to RK mission controversy. His book ” Advaita Vedanta and Modern science” is a decent attempt.


  4. My view of Meera Nanda is that she is mainly an anti-Hindu polemicist and pop philosopher who got a grant from the Templeton Foundation by mouthing platitudes which they like to hear. She is not much of a scientist, just has an advanced degree in microbiology but no teaching experience or research publications.

    Like all polemicists with tunnel vision, she has a one-track mind and has a tendency to go off track and get out of her depth. I have not had many dealings with her though she has mentioned me and denounced me. She is also the fabricator of the story that I claimed Swami Vivekananda had anticipated quantum theory (which she doesn’t know). But it seems to have been picked up by physicist Alan Sokal who repeated it without checking. (Like Nanda, Sokal is also more polemicist than scientist though a much better scientist than Nanda.)

    I have worked on the mathematical side quantum theory (probability, path integrals) and now on the foundations and results like Bell’s Theorem and experiments. The first paper I wrote as an undergraduate in India related to similarities between Schrodinger’s equation and Laplace’s equation. (I am not claiming it was good!) I have lectured on these topics worldwide, including Cambridge (England and Massachusetts), Chicago, London, etc. Nowhere have I mentioned Vivekananda in the context of quantum physics. Sokal probably picked up Nanda’s charge simply because it suited his purpose. I doubt though that Sokal is an outright fabricator like Meera Nanda.

    It is a matter of record that Vivekananda believed that matter and energy were one and the same. This came from his belief in Vedanta (advaita) and not Einstein’s relativity which didn’t exist at the time. But he did ask his follower, the scientist Nicolai Tesla to prove it scientifically. Tesla couldn’t.


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