Communalism in India
Through SACW, I caught a link to a long Pankaj Mishra piece on the origins of "Hinduism" in Axess, a Swedish magazine of the "liberal arts and social sciences."Mishra's piece appeared in an issue a couple of months back called India Unleashed. Thesame issue has an essay by Subash Agarwal, who also has a more recent piece written inthe wake of the Indian elections (results that disappointed him).Mishra has written on the subject of the misuse of "Hinduism" several times before. You can find a Feb. 2002 article from the New York Times here. And then anApril 2002 a two-part piece on the same topic, this time for the Guardian. He also wrote a piece for the Boston Globe in December 2002 on the same topic (no longer online). Andthen a Feb 2003 piece for the New York Times Magazine (via SACW), on theanniversary of the assasination of Mohandas K. Gandhi.These various essays use some of the same material over and over again. Mosthave one or two immediate anecdotes and first-hand interviews, while relying heavily onaccounts of the history of the RSS, V.D. Savarkar, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, Nathuram Godse, a small host of familiar suspects. Most essays also place the movementto take down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya at the center of the current history of theHindu right. Ayodhya casts the longest shadow for Mishra: one finds explanations of Ayodhya even in the pieces written in the wake of the February-March 2002 riots in andaround Ahmedabad, Gujurat.Don't get me wrong -- this is all good work. Mishra is performing a valuablefunction in educating western readers about the history and current status of communalism. But it gets a little repetitive. I'd been longing to see him approach thecommunal question somewhat more deeply, or with a fresh perspective.The most recent piece (in Axess) partially fills this demand; it has some surprisesin it even as it also rehashes. Most importantly, perhaps, Mishra writes approvingly of people like the poet Mohammad Iqbal (one of the patron saints of Pakistan), SwamiVivekananda (one of the sources of inspiration for the Indian nationalist movement), andAngarika Dharampala (a major figure in the Buddhist-Sinhala nationalist movement inSri Lanka). All were roughly contemporaneous -- they were active in the late 1800s andearly 1900s. Both Vivekananda and Dharmapala made a big splash at the WorldParliament of Religions in 1893. Most importantly, however, all were reformers andmodernizers. In Mishra's interpretation of Vivekananda in particular, the emphasis is onthe inspiration taken from the west, not on the personal connection to Hindu spirituality.Mishra posits a divergence between Vivekananda's approach to worldly sprituality andhis master's (Ramakrishna's) inward-looking mysticism. For Mishra, Vivekananda'sdesire to indigenize western civilization was secondary.This contradicts what some other recent critics have said about Vivekananda(most notably Meera Nanda, who is directly hostile to both Vivekananda and Gandhi).