RISA's Token Hindus

This thread encapsulates the continuous attempts made by a section of the Western Academia to interpret, appropriate in ways that are convenient to them, ideas and developments that happen in the Hindu fold. They typically employ a reductive Western lens to analyze and 'deconstruct' events happening in the Dharmic world. Furthermore, they also act as gatekeepers, by not letting in the voices of practicing Hindus, and more importantly, any dissenting Dharmic. For example, the so-called 'RISA list' is barred to any practicing Dharmic who disagrees with this fabricated consensus, as Rajiv Malhotra does. Hence a person practicing dharma and coming from it is deprived of a seat at their own table where ostensibly, the freedom of speech is championed. On the other hand, we observe that token Hindus who are 'useful' for furthering this cause of western universalism are indeed welcomed at the table, and is one of the key talking points of this post.

A RISA list mail from Fred Smith was shared by Indrani:

Several people have asked me off list to compile the sources reported and to summarize the very preliminary findings from my question last week regarding an apparent convergence between followers of Vivekananda, even Gandhi, and the RSS.  I regarded these three as strangely matched bedfellows and wondered how to interpret it, if indeed my observations are valid at all. What I discovered is that Vivekananda, and even Gandhi, have been gradually appropriated into the culture of the RSS, and that this has been building for many decades. Also, however, mediate forces have emerged to both facilitate and transform this image. I was not aware, for example, that the well-known monument to Vivekananda found at the southern tip of India, at Kanyakumari, was constructed by the RSS in the late 1960s. (I visited it many decades ago and was not at that time aware of the politics involved in its construction.) For this and the activities of the Vivekananda Kendra regarding yoga, see Gwilym Beckerlegge, “Eknath Ranade, Gurus, and Jivanvratis: The Vivekananda Kendra’s Promotion of the “Yoga Way of Life,”in Mark Singleton Ellen Goldberg, Gurus of Modern Yoga, pp. 317-350 (OUP 2013). In addition to the citation in my original posting of the piece by Pralay Kanungo, seee his “Fusing the Ideals of the Math with the Ideology of the Sangh? Vivekananda Kendra, Ecumenical Hinduism, and Hindu Nationalism,” in Public Hinduisms, ed.  John Zavos, et al. pp. 119-140 (Sage, 2012). This excellent volume is worth our attention.

I am also struck by the way new but mediate ideologies are influencing the body politic and sectarian affiliations. An example is the influence of Lingayat gurus in Karnataka who seem to draw from both sides, from their own space in the middle, as well as from local political arrangements. For this, see Aya Ikegame, “The governing guru: Hindu mathas in liberalizing India,” in Jacob copeman and Aya Ikegame, The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives, pp. 46-63 (Routledge 2012). Her work is well worth following. I suspect that local configurations and affiliations are present in many states in India that most of us are unaware of.

John Cort reminded us of the posters and hoardings of a muscular macho Vivekananda in Gujarat as recently as this year, used as props by the BJP. Consistent with this, Adam Bowled noted, is a report in the Hindustan Times “that the BJP government in Haryana has appointed Dinanath Batra to guide a committee of educationists in Haryana. The accompanying photo shows Dinanath Batra in an (his?) office with a statue of Vivekananda in the foreground.” http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/rss-ideologue-dinanath-batra-to-guide-haryana-on-education/article1-1285430.aspx
Robert Zydenbos suggested we look at “an in-depth chapter on Vivekananda” in Hans-Joachim Klimkeit's _Der politische Hinduismus_ (Harrassowitz, 1981), which, Robert says, “is still the standard work in German on the subject.” Robert also suggests that Vivekananda’s appearance at the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893 has been overplayed by Hindu nationalists, at least from the European perspective. OK, go ahead, blame America :-)
I agree with Pankaj Jain and everyone else that it’s not a good idea for scholars to reduce Gandhi or Vivekananda to any political agenda. Jeff Long emphasizes this point: “We need to be careful to distinguish between these uses and the self-understandings of these figures in their respective contexts.” Nevertheless, such noble aspirations have not prevented these appropriations from becoming a regular feature of political practice in India. I agree that the search for a new indigenous hermeneutic and epistemology is a worthy endeavor, but the primary thrust of the efforts I have encountered are preoccupied with rejectionist discourse coupled with the use of highly selective evidence with which to build their theories, compounded with insufficient deep knowledge of both texts and the history of intellectual debate in India (for the latter, see the vigorous and readable work of Larry McCrea).
Several people on and off-list brought to my attention Jyotimaya Sharma’s recent book A Restatement of Religion: Swami Vivekananda and the Making of Hindu Nationalism (Yale University Press, 2013). but James Madaio does not believe that Sharma has adequately addressed how the right has “diachronically appropriated figures like Vivekananda into their rhetoric and 'mediascapes',” even as he demythologizes Vivekananda and neo-Vedantic inclusivism. Madaio notes, perceptively: “It does not seem a coincidence that the (often impassioned) issue of who Vivekananda was is anachronistically caught up in the right's (selective) appropriation of him and, in turn, the left's intellectual critique.”
Jon Keune mentioned the common ground between Gandhi and Hindutva. For this, see Arundhati Roy's introduction to the annotated edition of Ambedkar's annihilation of caste:
Amod Lele refers us to his master's thesis on the rise of state-sponsored Hindutva with Singapore's Confucian experiments:https://bu.digication.com/amod_lele/International_development
and his article, "State Hindutva and Singapore Confucianism as responses to the decline of the welfare state,” in Asian Studies Review 28 (2004): 267-82.
Other sources that list members noted were:
Joe Alter’s Gandhi’s Body and his many works on yoga and Indian masculinity;
chapters 3 4 of Peter van der Veer’s Imperial Encounters, in which he discusses Vivekananda’s rejection of muscular Christianity even if muscular Hinduism developed later;
Arafaat Valiani’s work on Gandhi, masculinity, and performative politics in Gujarat, Militant Publics in India: Physical Culture and Violence in the Making of a Modern Polity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011);
Anup Kumar points out that in spite of the high profile of the hard edge of Hindu nationalism, most Hindus still identify with a softer, gentler Hinduism, and that “we are dealing with our own cognitive dissonance in face of the renewed focus on Gandhi by the BJP.” Similarly, Raymond Williams reminds us that in the early decades of Indian immigration to the U.S., Vivekananda was extolled as the Indian spiritual exemplar countering western materialism. How times have changed!!
Finally, and most recently, this from the NYTimes a few days ago:

Rajiv's reply to this was thus:

  • Fred Smith is well known in Hinduism studies, and I have had many dealings with him and his students/cabal over 2 decades. I will give some background so readers have a context for what he says above. (This perspective I can offer is an example of "getting out of my comfort zone" numerous times.)
  • His position above is what Indra's Net criticizes as the Neo-Hinduism theory of Hinduism - i.e. looking for evidence to depict modern Hinduism as a political fabrication by Vivekananda, Gandhi, etc. to unite Indians against Brits, which later fell into the hands of the Hindutva to use against Muslims minorities.
  • If he were a good scholar, he would refer to my book and its counter arguments, and address my issues directly. But he cannot face that, so he simply ignores IN. He mentions various experts who I have already dealt with and criticized. So he gives a one sided view.
  • Robert Zydenbos, Gwilym Beckerlegge, Mark Singleton, Ellen Goldberg, Amod Lele - these persons he cites are especially nasty anti-Hindu persons I have dealt with before.
  • Pankaj Jain (named by him) was my follower/supporter for years; told me he got inspired by my work to leave IT and enter a career in Hinduism studies; got my help to enter Columhia U's MA program; got much mentoring my to understand the issues. But once he went for his PhD to Univ. of Iowa, where Fred Smith rules, he flipped sides completely - I was to be avoided in order to suck up to Smith cohorts. Upon entering the job market as a junior prof, he realized he was a nobody; so he started lobbying with the Hindu diaspora for support to boost his career. Many knew him from the earlier days, and stayed away, seeing him  as untrustworthy. But several went around campaigning for him seeing him as a goody-goody face to help us. Eventually most of these supporters also left him, and now he is sitting in a corner of the kurukshetra with nothing important to say. Neither here nor there - inconsequential.
  • Pankaj and Jeff Long are cited by Smith to make it seem he has also mentioned the "Hindu side" and hence he is balanced. But neither is strong enough or creative enough, so they are "useful" to serve in this role.
  • On Jeff Long, I refer you to three urls where we had prior discussions on him, right here:
  • Another product of U of Iowa Fred Smith was Makarand Paranjape, a prof of English at JNU who likes to presents a pro-Hindu tilt. He has had to dance between working w me and appeasing his academic sponsor Fred Smith. He has agonized over this, at times telling me that his open association with me has cost his standing with them, and they stopped inviting him every summer to give lectures in USA like they used to. That's what this "intellectual freedom" amounts to. In any case, Makarand has been largely on the sidelines of important debates for the past decade, and writes relatively non-controversial stuff. This despite the fact that his mentor at JNU was Kapil Kapoor, a no-nonsense, fiery speaker solidly on our side.
  • Fred Smith has crisscrossed both sides of Hinduism, presenting himself as insider or outsider depending on what best suits his interest in a given situation. He is now translating the last 5 vols of Mahabharata for the Univ of Chicago - this is planned to become the international standard on Mahabharata. (Its initial volumes defined the lens: [kshatriya] was translated as "feudal lord" and shudra as "slave". The editor James L. Fitzgerald said the text should be seen as "God's genocide". You get the picture. )
To join the discussion, please sign up on the yahoogroups site and follow the thread here.

Now on the subject of Swami Vivekananda who is the subject of much study as shown above, here's a paper by Rajiv Malhotra which was published in the official RK Mission book commemorating his 150th anniversary and released by the President of India.

There are multiple posts in the Rajiv Malhotra yahoogroups forum where practicing Hindus share relevant  and useful points of view on Swami Vivekananda's message from a dharmic perspective.

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