Author: Jyotirmaya Sharma: asst. editor of the Times of India, a past lecturer at Oxford and Delhi, current member of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, etc, etc. The book: Hindutva, Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism Published by: Viking Penguin© Jyotirmaya Sharma, 2003 Review: Sharma is obviously a liberal well educated journalist with a huge stake in a secular, multi-cultural modern India, which although this in itself maybe a worthy endeavor, for Sharma it becomes a myopic crusade to root out a stereo-typical version of Hindutva which he conveniently, although not skillfully, constructs. I will limit the scope of this review to his treatment of Sri Aurobindo, although his commentary on Vivekananda and Dayananda also deserves consideration for the serious flaws it contains. In the book Sharma attempts to locate the "spiritual foundations" of militant Hindu nationalism in his portrayal of Sri Aurobindo as a Kshatriya firebrand, whose philosophy either indirectly or directly incited such outrages of civil law as riots in Mumbai and the demolition of the Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. He does place Sri Aurobindo in good company however as he aligns him with Vivekananda and Dayananda, but he mistakenly then lumps them all together with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as the conspiratorial spiritual founders of what he views as a reactionary fascist movement within modern India e.g. Hindutva. His assertions themselves take but a few paragraphs to deconstruct. From the outset he sets up Sri Aurobindo and the other members of his spiritual triad for a fall by weaving a straw man narrative of responsibility. This straw man artifice is ever so painful to see him construct, because it is so obvious that he has taken a single fragment here or there from the Master’s vast opus of luminous works, and entirely distorted their original meaning until they are twisted to fit snuggly into the warped conspiratorial thesis he proposes. Once his fall guys are constructed he is now able to unleash his own brand of neo-liberalist, patronizing activist agenda in which he promotes a distorted form of secularism ad nausea. His task is made easier as he caricatures all the main dominant interest groups and stakeholders in today’s India in stereotypes often seen in B grade Bollywood films. Oddly enough, his interpretation of Indian history only serves to hold events after 1947 as relevant to his narrative. Since the sheer complexity of Indian history is so overwhelming to the author, Sharma has chosen to consider only that which fits within the neat confines of his narrow vantage point. In other words, he makes the facts fit his theory. There is a danger however in practicing a form of reporting which skirts most standards a journalist would have to maintain to be taken as credible; namely, his arguments are easily refuted.Unfortunately, his standard of reporting would barely meet the standards of journalism for even such tabloid newspapers as the Sun or N.Y. Post. He appears to do almost no research into those he considers the authors of Hindu nationalism, and cherry picks exactly those aspects of their writing (no matter how far out of context) which would support his own ideological contentious argument. As for his arguments, they are not hard to demolish: In his accusations against Sri Aurobindo for instance, the sources Sharma checks are only ones in which Sri Aurobindo is quoted on the values of the Kshatriya, his protestations against the partition of the sub-continent or in supposed slights to Muslims (which as in his other quotes he places them squarely out of context). In doing this Sri Aurobindo’s words are fully distorted by Sharma as he, much like historians on the other side of the debate, not only misinterprets the great sage, but fails to fully understand that his thoughts on partition and its implications were recorded more than 55 years ago, and that given Sri Aurobindo’s highly insightful and probing style of cultural analysis, his view of the world in 2006 would certainly account for the enormous complexity besetting the subcontinent today, and it is a mistake to pigeonhole the present according to political and social agendas of the past .But what is even more damming in Sharma’s simplistic account of history is that nowhere in his book does he acknowledge that which comprises so much of the body of Sri Aurobindo’s social and political thought, which is a testimony to many of the cherished ideals of the Enlightenment (including secularism) and his valorization of its foundational values liberty, equality, fraternity. In fact, this fact appears so meta-complex for Sharma’s research capabilities or imagination that he ignores this in its entirety in his book.He either obviously did not have the time or inclination to check his source material well, nor embark on a critical examination of the biographies and beliefs of the people he portrays as central to his story. As such he entirely misses the overwhelming social message of Human Unity advocated by Sri Aurobindo.Sharma writes in the manner of a British trained neo-liberal journalist seeped in a western oriented secular value system and at times even appears to have a neo-colonialist agenda. He seems genuinely unaware of the great spiritual heritage in India and casts some of great figures of the last century from within this tradition in the role of the exotic other.It is obvious that the gentleman is now on a career path past tenure, toward fame and success on the book circuit, and has seized the opportunity by reconstructing a narrative that requires little effort. He writes a story that in its seeming simplicity, would be easily swallowed and digested by those who are not in the know. The popular audience who would read the book (especially abroad) would most likely do so to "become informed" about Hindutva and the "Hindu/Muslim problem in India". It is indeed unfortunate that his readers are being sold such a highly misleading account of politics and communalism in modern India.In short the book casts a very negative pall on Sri Aurobindo and other respected figures in recent Indian history and does little to explain the true roots and causes of militant Hindu nationalism, explore the idiosyncrasies of secular Indian democracy, or for that matter to advance the cause of Hindu/Muslim unity. rich
Re: Jyotirmaya Sharma: Hindutva (revisited) by Jyotirmaya on Wed 16 Aug 2006 12:49 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link In your review of my book, I shall not comment on the personal invective you have hurled on me. All I want to do is to draw your kind attention to something recently written by Peter Heehs, who is probably the finest writer to have written on Sri Aurobindo and someone who is intimately connected with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. In an article titled `The uses of Sri Aurobindo: mascot, whipping-boy or what?', published in Postcolonial Studies, Volume 9, No. 2, 2006, Heehs says: "Like Parekh, Jyotirmaya Sharma grouped Aurobindo with Savarkar; unlike Parekh, he showed a detailed knowledge of Aurobindo's works, and presented a fairly balanced account of Aurobindo's politics." Need I say more???
Re: Re: Jyotirmaya Sharma: Hindutva (revisited) by Debashish on Sat 19 Aug 2006 12:07 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link Quoting one sentence from one writer on your "detailed knowledge" and "balanced account" of Aurobindo's works and politics respectively is hardly any recommendation. It is clear from the book that, as Rich Carlson has pointed out, your reading of Sri Aurobindo's social and political thought is either inadequate or misunderstood. Though Sri Aurobindo used "Hindu" ideas to voice some of his views in the Bande Mataram period, a perusal of his subtext everywhere should make amply clear that it was the synthetic idea of a growth towards cultural and subjective unity/hybridity that is his intent throughout. Hinduism (as any other religion/ideology) is not seen by Sri Aurobindo as a fixed and ahistorical construct lending itself to fossilized institutional politicization, but an evolving cultural/spiritual corpus needing to engage with "otherness" and modernity. His own work is exactly such an engagement. Debashish Banerji
Re: Jyotirmaya Sharma: Hindutva (revisited) by Rich on Sat 19 Aug 2006 07:35 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link Jyotirmaya, I have prepared a short response and a longer one which I am posting above to the article section. Of course my first review was one lacking any proper textual criticism. I have managed to do that now in some depth, which I have included in the larger review. Below is a brief excerpt from this review: I first should like to apologize for any and all remarks which may be categorized as a hurling of “personal invective” in my reviews of Jyotirmaya Sharma’s Hindutva, and for that matter for my review of Professor Kittu Reddy’s Karghil Essay and his History of India. Mr. Reddy has been a gentleman and a scholar and I am certain that Mr. Sharma is as well, as his response indicates. I can also add that both of you gentleman have been gracious in disregarding my personal polemic. The blog format is a new technology for me and I will be the first to admit my limitations in wielding it effectively, indeed my application has sometimes been stylistically challenged. That I was raised in Texas; certainly also does not help my sometimes pejorative style. If we are to accept the metric which Jyotirmaya uses by quoting Peter Heehs to substantiate his treatment of Sri Aurobindo I will end by quoting Heeh’s in his article for the publication entitled Life Positive April-June 2004, Although this publication is certainly not an academic journal he does clearly state the following: A journalist Jyotirmaya Sharma (in his recent book Hinutva: Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism) draws most of his quotations from edited compilations. In concluding he perpetuates the following anachronism: “The Maharishi (Sri Aurobindo) has turned pamphleteer of the Hindu rastra concept without being conscious of it”. It is certainly regrettable that proponents of Hindu Rashtra should selectively appropriate Sri Aurobindo’s works, even when he explicitly stated that he was opposed to the very idea. “We do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions” he wrote in 1909. “Under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole” It is equally regrettable that opponents of Hindutva should combine out of context snippets from Sri Aurobindo’s works in a distorted presentation that excludes key portions of his thought” (Heehs 2004)