Indology conference 2015 - No due diligence done: Prof Stietencron being honored at Rashtapati Bhavan.

Please follow today's twitter thread discussing this event where this scholar is to be honored.

Request 1: Dont look for bad "person" please. By now you ought to be able to evaluate scholarship.

Request 2: Dont even say he does "bad scholarship". The bowler on the opponent team who gets our batsmen out quickly, cannot be called a bad bowler. He is a great bowler for HIS team. Similarly, many Indologists I critique are good at their job for their civilization. But the basic lens, assumptions, framework, etc used are Western. They are entitled to use their lens. But our leaders should know better, and not simply eat out of their hands.

Prof Stietencron is a figure mentioned in Indra's Net as a pioneer of Neo-Hinduism.  
(two paragraphs from Indra's Net are shown below)

This means his work is based on the assumption that Hinduism is falsely considered to be intrinsically unified. Until recent centuries, he claims, the various streams were not only separate but in mutual conflict. Only recently were these streams brought together into a single philosophy and made to look unified.

In other words, Neo-Hinduism considers our tradition to be a synthetic unity and not an integral unity. The synthesis, according to them, was done recently. This is a big deal for us to understand and contest.

Request 3: Do NOT mix this issue with the history of the name "Hinduism". It does not matter what people called it earlier, or whether they even had any name for it. The issue being discussed by him and me is whether there was a philosophically unified set of ideas across the spectrum we now call Hinduism. If your name changes, it does not mean you are not the same person. After 20 yrs of explaining the basic point I continue to get stupid issues raised like: "Hindu name is new because ....; and therefore, ...." Please focus on what this thread is about, what Stietencron's thesis is, what Neo-Hinduism thesis is.

I am attaching one of his papers referenced in IN. You cant blame his rigor, level of intensity or hard work. The question to ask is whether he exaggerates differences and downplays underlying unity. Does he fail to see the integral unity at the foundation?

To understand the issue from my viewpoint will force you to read IN. Only those who have done so may genuinely contribute to this thread. We are not looking for personal "opinions" or blaming his intentions, or any such generic level of discussion.

Due diligence: I cannot believe the GOI did proper due diligence in this situation, before creating a major Indology conference behind closed doors with some select few voices invited. They might now be claiming due diligence out of defensiveness. This is GOI's very formal and official stamp of approval on Western Indology.

Purva-paksha and uttara-paksha on Stietencron would require GOI to read my critique and address it alongside his work. Otherwise it is one-sided propaganda and awe of a white man just because he is a Sanskrit scholar. Our inferiority complex is so deep towards any Westerners who seems to say a few words of praise for us, who worked hard to study us, etc.

Our purva-paksha tradition does not permit making evaluations based on the personalities of the parties; this must be done strictly on the merits of the intellectual positions they adopt. If GOI claims to have done purva-paksha, can they please publish it as its our civilization and we must be parties to it?

In any case, it would be a better scholarly event if the opponent voices that have critiqued Steitencron were also allowed to discuss their response. I was not even aware of such an event until someone told me on twitter.

Dilemma: Am I wasting my life producing hard research works if the authorities simple do not care to read it? Ironically, many of the persons involved in making such decisions know me and appreciate my work privately. But have they read it? And what happens in "official" decision making?

I mean no disrespect, but merely wish to raise issues articulated in IN. These deserve a hearing before the Neo-Hinduism voice gets GOI blessing.

Petitions are alright but much more is needed

I saw a petition by a group of pro-Hindu scholars giving their critique of the leftists. I signed it even though I was not asked to be involved in drafting it or even made aware of it ahead of time. But I also posted the following comment:

"I have spent the past 25 years on a full-time basis to pursue this research and writing that would correct our history. Scholars on our wavelength need to come together not just in petitions, but also in the kurukshetra supporting those among us who fight the tough battles with their necks sticking out, and without any official support or protection."

In private emails I explained that it is not enough to complain in the abstract about "those people". Why have our people not produced book-length purva-paksha on "those leftists" one by one? There is little game-changing impact long term by merely putting out short pieces that have a limited shelf life. Take the top few scholars on the other side, and each deserves a comprehensive response point by point. Each such book ought to be designed to ignite a debate on that particular scholar's work and provide ammunition for our side. Why is this not being done by more scholars?

'Invading the Sacred' did this type of analysis, and Vishal has followed up with a subsequent one of his own. BI, IN and my forthcoming book each takes on a mighty opponent cabal and gives my responses in considerable detail. Shourie did this in his book 'Eminent Historians' - he took a few top Indian historians by name, and went through their writings in detail, quoting specific issues and giving his responses. Why have more Hindu scholars not done this? 

To topple a hegemonic discourse that has become established and robust, one must do heavy lifting scholarship. This is very hard work, requires personal risk and sacrifice. It cannot be muddled up with political correctness or "feeling good". The kurukshetra involved very heavy weaponry and dont go to battle with small arms.

On top of this, when someone like me does this kind of work, I find myself alone and often sidelined rather than supported. Why is that? Instead, people who ought to support me bring me "homework" to do this or that task, as if I am a Google-driven drone waiting to get commands I must respond to.

Worst of all, there are isolated camps of Hindu scholars each doing their own thing, often excluding each other. There are both individual rivalries as well as certain institutions that have a policy of excluding those who are not formal members of their "group-think" apparatus.

A prominent BJP leader (anonymous) spoke with me yesterday that he has examined how the Congress over the past 50 years evolved and mastered a complex and sophisticated mechanism to nurture intellectuals on their side. They even supported writers who are not officially affiliated with them, but whose ideology is broadly aligned. They had multiple forums, platforms and mechanisms, some official but many unofficial, to create a large army of intellectual kshatriyas on their side. He said that when he tried explaining this to his party, there was no appreciation for such a need, much less any commitment to do this. It seems our people want the result and output, but are not investing in the trees that bear such fruits.

He also pointed out that Congress not only tolerated dissent by free thinking intellectuals, but in fact actively encouraged many views just to create a vibrant atmosphere (or at least make it seem so). A non-researcher/writer is never respected as a leader by others who are solid researchers. Its like only a medical doctor can lead a medical establishment, only a military man can lead an army. Appointing political ideologues to run intellectual movements is what is being tried again and again, but this always fails.

So a solid purva-paksha of the leftist side must also examine their formal and informal institutional mechanisms. This is much harder work than making a few speeches, blogs and petitions.

Also, I find some of the "activists" involved in our movements to be working on both sides. One of them saw me at a literary fest last year, and walked away because various leftist scholars were present in the lounge. Later, he approached me very privately when nobody was watching, and apologized. He said he did not want to "alienate the mainstream" by seeming "controversial". I find this disgusting, and told him to get lost. Another similar person I had approached this past summer when I was being unfairly accused, and he wrote back saying that "it is not my style to get involved in public", but that privately in his heart he was with me. This is hypocrisy and duplicity. Yet such persons line up to be counted as pro-Hindu activists when it suits their interest. Many are merely mercenaries looking for the latest travel sponsorship or other form of patronage. In this respect they are the same as the leftists - opportunism taking priority.

I propose the following principles as discussion points to bring our intellectual voices together in a constructive manner:
  1. There should be a Hindu Literary Festival (maybe with a better name) held annually, where all pro-Hindu scholars (and some purva-pakshins we have criticized) get invited. Nobody with serious credentials as a writer should be excluded. Note that "literary" means these ought to be producers of knowledge in extensive written works, not celebrities, netas, speech-makers, or old guard who are not active producers now. A few celebrity/neta names are ok to include so as to attract media attention, but not too many. This line of work should become professionalized and not some loose hobby to "feel good".
  2. The core home team must consist of researchers and writers with a proven track record. Then come bloggers and mouse-clicking activists, and others in the parade. But dont let this latter category upstage the researchers-writers, because any intellectual movement must be founded on tough scholarship and not on self-serving noise-making.
  3. Like NATO in military and the leftist scholars in the intellectual battlefield, there must be a pact that an attack on any one in the core team is an attack against all. Everyone must be required to stick their necks out and fight back. Every army worth its salt has a policy not to leave a wounded soldier behind, no matter what the cost to protect him. Otherwise morale would be low and everyone would be risk averse, fearing that if he got hit then his own cohorts will abandon him. An army that abandons its own wounded will surely lose. I felt like an abandoned wounded soldier last summer when I had to call fellow Hindu writers and almost beg for support. There was no standing support system like the leftists have. When I fight at great risk and cost to my personal life, everyone wants to share in the results, and they even claim credit. But when its their turn to help me, many of them refuse. (I am grateful to the large number who DID help me. I am referring to the larger number who refused, by citing various excuses.) I have faced this type of betrayal numerous times in the past 25 years. This is why I do not trust certain people, even  if they publicly pretend to be great dharmic/nationalistic people.
  4. Collectively we must try to produce 5 solid books annually that are each a purva-paksha on a prominent opponent individual, school of thought or institution. Maybe we will start with fewer in the initial years, but we can grow our quality and capacity. Each such book requires a long term research project by whosoever takes it up. Important to avoid "quick" works that we already have too many of. Each such book is a milestone that must be supported by our community in various ways. Otherwise, you are not nurturing the hard working type of person we badly need on our side.
  5. Let us have a Hindu Writers Guild. These would be folks who may not necessarily be writing book-length research works (yet), but who commit to write 5-10 articles/blogs annually as part of their team work. Every few months we would pick an important issue or topic of relevance, and the members of the guild would each write in their own name and voice to contribute to it. Besides posting these on mainstream media outlets to the extent possible, these would also get compiled on a special site we would maintain with a professional web management team. Look at the big stories we faced in 2015. How little coordinated writing there was. Contrast this with the way the leftists put out a tsunami of media presence in each case. We have random individuals while they have experienced organizations. We must learn from them in this regard.
  6. Develop a formal consensus on the minimum set of positions we share in order to be members. In other words, what is the common set of ideological positions required ti be an "insider"? I find that too often we base our evaluation on someone's personality and being "a nice person", rather than on a substantial position. (For instance, 2 years back a major book whose ideological positions would fail my core requirements, was promoted across India by a prestigious Hindu body. They had not done due diligence. When I pointed out the serious  issues, it created animosity towards me, and hence they continue to avoid me. Our movement is too much a matter of being in the good books of gatekeepers. This should change to ideological alignment and not personal relations.)
We do not have broad forums for such meta-level discussions. Reacting to one episode at a time does not comprise strategy. It is fire-fighting at best. Please note that my intentions in writing this are constructive. It is because I deeply care and I am so thoroughly invested in this cause that I write this way. I hope there wont be petty personal attacks on me by Hindus who feel we cannot have such brainstorms openly. Such closed minded attitudes are what alienate serious intellectuals. We are on solid ground given the strength of our civilization. This type of discussion is what the purva-paksha tradition is meant to do for us.