Thursday, April 24, 2014

Swaminarayan Temple Vs Dalits, Chandrayaan, Nehru, Hindutva Ideologues and Aravindan Neelakandan's Axe Grinding

Quite a few responses to my last blog had asked why I objected to Aravindan Neelakandan delivering a lecture at IIT-Chennai and why I thought he was not academic enough. As luck would have it Neelakandan himself provided fodder the next day with his email to Jeyamohan. In that mail he tried to establish that Hindutva ideology boasts of stellar thinkers and that there is an intellectual tradition fostered by those thinkers. It is essential to debunk that mail and while doing so I'll establish the differences between academic and partisan thinking.

Swaminarayan Temple Vs Dalits

Neelakandan cited the case of Swaminarayan temple in Mumbai where courts granted Dalits (then referred to as Harijans) the right to enter the temple on the basis that it was a Hindu temple. He traces the court's decision, classifying Swaminarayan sect as Hindus, to what he claims Hindutva inspired definition of who is a Hindu. Ambedkar famously gave the negative definition of who is a Hindu, in the constitution, as 'one who is not a Christian or Muslim or a Jew or a Parsi'. Neelakandan contends that Ambedkar was inspired by Savarkar's writing that "only those who consider Bharat as their ancestral land, blessed land and the birthplace of his religion, are hindus". Thus drawing a tenuous connection he takes credit for providing the legal basis which the court used to allow Dalits to enter the temple.

A close perusal of the judgment shows that the cause and effect are incorrectly tied. The temple authorities did contend that the Swaminarayan sect were not Hindus and therefore could not be controlled by the Bombay Hindu places of worship act. The Bombay High court did not just blindly use the Ambedkar definition but rather it went to great lengths to establish that the Swaminarayan sect were indeed Hindus by virtue of the philosophy and tradition. There is nothing here for Neelakandan to take credit for. The court further went into Article 25 to establish equality as principle within practitioners of the same faith.

My itinerant research on this topic showed that the Untouchability Offences Act (UOA 1955) is very restrictive in scope. The act very narrowly says that if a temple allows Hindus of other castes then it cannot differentiate against Dalits. Time and again Jain and other temples have gone to court to claim exemption from the act with respect to admitting Dalits by saying that their temples admit only Jains and that they are not Hindus and as such Dalits cannot claim parity.

Temple entry movement is a long and cherished part of India's glorious freedom struggle. The Tamil Nadu Temple entry act of 1939, pre-dating the Ambedkar citation of Savarkar in 1941, signed by Rajaji was the result of Vaidyanatha Iyer leading an agitation for Dalits to enter temples. Savarkar and his Hindutva acolytes, then and now, try to embrace every religion born in India as Hindus to counter what they see as the inimical presence of Semitic religions. This all embracing politically convenient love for Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs is not true and is driven by ulterior motives.

How to balance religious freedom with civic rights is a contentious topic till today including a country like US. The Bombay High court admirably walked that tight rope and delivered a stinging verdict that was later re-affirmed by the Supreme Court. The case was decided on more than just simply saying "you are Hindus".

Taking a complicated case and presenting it shorn of its multi-layered dynamics is what a person with an axe to grind will do and Neelakandan does it with unflagging vigor.

The charm of Neelakandan is his pummeling the reader or listener with arcane facts and dazzling the receiver with a raft of augments that sounds reasonable and seemingly appears built on an edifice of facts and logic while he would be skating on very thin ice.

Neelakandan invariably takes a moderately strong case and conflates it with other blocks of overarching theory giving everything a panache of legitimacy borrowed from that one case where he could be arguably correct. Having started off with the Swaminarayan case he then proceeds to fantasies. He claims credit for raising the marriageable age of girls and even combating apartheid in South Africa. The Hindu Reform movement, that includes a very gentle intellectual like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, which spear headed many reforms concerning Hindu girls and marriage, including abolishing of Sati, had nothing to do with the likes of Savarkar or Hindutva. India's stand against apartheid was driven more by left wing leaning Indira Gandhi etc than due to any Hindutva ideologue.

Suraj Bhan and Ashok Singhal

Neelakandan exults that VHP President Ashok Singhal supported Dalit leader Suraj Bhan in excising uncharitable references to Dalits in ancient Hindu texts. This is true but it's nothing to be proud of. This is the kind of idea that a partisan hack would relish but no academician would even contemplate.  And even there he says that Singhal was ready to discard Manu Smriti because, in his opinion, it was written after the era of Pushyamitra. That some people were considered to pollute others by their mere shadow and that it was sanctioned by religious texts is not something to be bowdlerized and whitewashed. A tyranny that stretches over a millennia and to even today is not to be wished away by erasing history. I'll not belabor this further.

Ambedkar and Arun Shourie

I've read parts of Arun Shourie's 'Worshipping False God's', a scathing vitriolic attack on Ambedkar. Shourie repeatedly contrasts Ambedkar with Gandhi and casts the former mostly as an eager collaborationist with the colonial regime while the latter fought it. There is more than element of truth in that. But Arun Shourie is just an English speaking suave Magsaysay award winning journalistic version of Neelakandan himself. The Gandhi versus Ambedkar struggle was of epic proportions and too complex. Ambedkar, like Jinnah, resented Gandhi's overweening piety and above all his attitude to re-interpret Varnashrama without attempting to discard it completely. Ambedkar, justifiably, felt that most of the Congresswallahs, many of who were upper caste, will at the first available opportunity revert back to the original Varnashrama. In fact when Nehru wanted to pass the Hindu Code it was his fellow congressmen that opposed him most.

I saw this on a FB post.
Ambedkar resigned as Law minister largely disgusted by the obstruction within Congress for passing Hindu Code bills. Rajendra Prasad and few others were instrumental in weaseling out of having to pass the bills. Prasad wrote to Nehru that the constituent assembly lacked the mandate to pass such a bill. Nehru then took it upon himself vowing to campaign on it in India's very first general election and campaign he did. Having won the mandate Nehru then worked like a master legislator to pass the reforms in four bills. It is a legislative accomplishment that can only be compared with what Lyndon Johnson would do nearly 14 years later for the Civil Rights Act in US Congress. Unsurprisingly Neelakandan forgets to credit Nehru for passing that but cheerfully takes credit for what it aided in accomplishing through the courts in the Swaminarayan temple case.

Today Neelakandan and others are eagerly embracing Ambedkar out of a shared animosity towards Gandhi and out a desire to fashion unified Hindu front as a rampart against the Semitic religions. Ambedkar, conveniently for the Hindutva brigade, espoused a lot of anti-Islam views and even subscribed to the two nation theory. A recent wall poster by a Hindutva group thanked Ambedkar for restricting reservation system to only Hindu Dalits.

Neuro-theology - Murali Manohar Joshi

Neelakandan nonchalantly claims that Hindutva thinkers were the ones who took Gandhian ideas to its next level. Gandhi, as a thinker, comes under withering criticism and is in fact blamed for the many ills of post-independence India especially with regard to partition, by Hindutva ideologues. Having criticized a man as responsible for India's problems Neelakandan takes credit for taking his ideas to the next level.

The likes of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, K.R. Malkani and others are known for vacuous opinions that masqueraded as 'theories'. Not satisfied with presenting them as thinkers Neelakandan proudly presents one Ram Swarup as the precursor of what is now known in the west as neuro-theology. Neuro-theology is patented pseudo-science. It is Hindutva brigade that often takes umbrage at Indians citing Western sources as validation and he now writes in the vein of 'even the Westerners themselves...'. I guess that being a precursor of even a pseudo-science is worth taking pride only by a partisan ideologue not an academic.

Murali Manohar Joshi became the butt of widespread ridicule when he sought to make astrology a degree course. Neelakandan refutes that and repeats his favorite anecdote of Joshi asking Kasturirangan of ISRO if indeed, as he said in a speech just then, that India could send a probe to the moon at low cost and if so that he, as minister, will support it fully. The implication in repeating the episode is that Joshi, far from being a atavistic pseudo-scientist, was a man of science.

Chandrayaan mission was a great achievement of India's science establishment but there is no proof of Joshi having done anything concrete beyond a good natured banter. ISRO, like every other institute of science and research that India takes pride in, was due to the efforts of Jawaharlal Nehru. It was Nehru, inspired by the Soviet example, partnering with India's scientific geniuses like C.V. Raman, Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai who ushered in an era of government funded premier science institutes. ISRO's moon launch was an achievement that was many years in the making and most of which were under the auspices of Congress regimes. In the least one can say that BJP government just happened to be in power to provide the final round of funding and public support. Americans thank JFK for moon landing not Nixon in whose presidency it actually happened.

The old saw, of Indian science containing miracle cures that Western science only recently discovered, is brought out again by citing Dr Mashelkar's article 'Blending traditional wisdom and modern science'. Mashelkar, Director General of CSIR, recycled an old speech of his as an article in honor of Joshi's 75th birthday. This is just sycophancy. The article contains the usual worthless shibboleth of greatness of ancient Indian science. Every culture and every civilization had strains of science and discoveries. Mashelkar proudly declares that CSIR is the 'largest chain of publicly funded  industrial R&D centers in the world'. He is proud that Indian texts spoke of acetylcholine receptors for rabies before T.L. Lentz wrote of it in the premium scientific journal 'Nature'. Yet, there is not a single modern day cure for any major disease that we can credit the CSIR for. India is in the midst of a contentious battle in the WTO for its blatant plagiarism of western medicines using 'process patents' as opposed to 'product patents' thats widely used.


Nehru was enamored and inspired by the Soviet model and communism in general. Nehru saw India, a country of depressing poverty and a very large section of the population mired in feudal backwardness, as akin to Czarist Russia. In the 50's there were few who were not impressed by the strides being made by Soviet Russia, especially with respect to its industrialization and advances in science. For all his admiration of Communism and Russia Nehru, like his mentor, Gandhi,  roundly rejected their violent means. To tag Nehru with Stalin's name is sheer partisan propaganda that has no bearing in history.

Jeyamohan and Neelakandan

Jeyamohan had once called Neelakandan as one who spews Hindutva hatred. This email by Neelakandan was prompted by Jeyamohan castigating Hindutva ideologues as intellectually empty. Having said that Jeyamohan published Neelakandan's email without comment or argument leading it open for debate as to whether he takes back what he wrote or is just providing space for a protege to disagree. I've come to believe that Jeyamohan moderates his Hindutva stances conveniently depending on situation and Neelakandan is a useful foil for Jeyamohan to present himself as the saner version of blatant hatred.

A partisan dilettante

What can we say in conclusion? Each of the sections above can be written at length with even more depth and even more decisive debunking. This is only to substantiate where I am coming from when I chided IIT for inviting Neelakandan to speak. Almost every time I've found that he cherry picks facts and stitches his own fantasy cloth. He is a skillful propagandist who knows that cherry picked facts and half truths are more effective than blatant lies.

My grouse with Neelakandan is that he not only selects facts but that he intentionally whitewashes the contexts often. Failure to contextualize or look at the broad picture or blur the subtle multi-layered complexities are all what make him, in my eyes, as unfit for any academic discussion. A caveat here about the word 'academic'. By the word 'academic' I don't just mean having a degree or a PhD. Most notably, Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, is now considered, as a conservative host put it effectively, a polemicist rather than as an economist. I use the word 'academic' in a catch all manner for anybody capable of reasonable debate with an honest intention to strive for seeking truth.


1. Neelakandan's email to Jeyamohan
2. Swaminarayan temple case - Bombay High Court -
3. Swaminarayan temple case - Supreme Court -
4. Temple entry and the untouchables offense act - Includes several cases, especially by Jains, pf temples filing law suit claiming exemption on the basis they were not Hindus
       a) Case of Bhaichand Tarachand - Jains vs Dalits -
5. Tamil Nadu Temple - 'Reliving the historic temple entry' - 'The Hindu' news article -
6. Dr Mashelkar's article in honor of Murali Manohar Joshi's 75th birthday -
       a) Original speech delivered in 2001                                                                                                     
7. Neuro Theology -


Bala's blogging said...

"A recent wall poster by a Hindutva group thanked Ambedkar for restricting reservation system to only Hindu Dalits."

This is exactly what aravindan neelakandan is arguing against. The essence of this mail to Jeyamohan is when Leftist idea is discussed with Hindutva, The tendency for people is show Romila thapar on one side and show the wall poster guy on the other side.

When you debate between left and right you wont show CPM wall posters in auto stand on one side, Will you?


Anonymous said...

chandrayaan name itself was given by vajpayee.bjp started all the preparatory work and funded chandrayaan and mangalyaan.if you give credit for nehru then give credit for Macaulay and the british becoz they provided this so called modern education which is based on science and mathematics.dont act like a hot headed fool.what the left and so called nehruvian sociologists gave india was a putrefying theory on aryan dravidian divide. dont bat for congress which corrupted spoiled and rotted this country for more than 65 years.

Raja M said...

I commend you for the energetic rebuttal of dubious arguments advanced by people such as Aravindan Neelakantan. It is a worthy cause.

However, I do find that, your writing has a good measure of what you so fervently proclaim to despise.

For example, I quote the passage below:
"Failure to contextualize or look at the broad picture or blur the subtle multi-layered complexities are all what make him, in my eyes, as unfit for any academic discussion. A caveat here about the word 'academic'. By the word 'academic' I don't just mean having a degree or a PhD. Most notably, Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, is now considered, as a conservative host put it effectively, a polemicist rather than as an economist."

In passing, you declare that Paul Krugman is not an academic. In support of your declaration, you provide reference to a conservative talk show host. Is this an elevated level of discourse? By most, it would be considered as baseless slander.

If you disagree with Krugman, make your case, as to why he thinks that he is not interested in truth. He has written extensively. In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, Krugman correctly predicted and passionately argued for a stimulative economic policy even at the expense of increasing short term deficits. He rightfully ridiculed the 'Deficit-scolds'. It was a foregone conclusion among conservatives that Obama's policies would result in runaway inflation, terrible devaluation of the dollar, and to a $10000/oz gold/silver prices. What happened? None of that turned out to be true.

While the Republican Congress dithered, and did not act, the Feds picked up the baton. They kept the interest rates lower, implemented Quantitative Easing policies, and pursued an expansive monetary policy to weather the storm.

We have a text-book example of how countries that followed the 'austerity path' did compared to the countries that did not. US, thanks to the divergence of the policy positions of their central bank and the legislative branch, had a middling outcome.

Passionate debate is essential for academic rigor. Krugman consistently provides the models on which he bases his predictions. You can disagree with the models, but you better be good enough to defend your position.

Yes, Krugman does not suffer fools well.

You started arguing for scientific, objective debate. You end the article with, a squishy definition of an academic - one who is interested in the Truth. What a squishy definition of an academic. Who decides that, someone is or is not seeking the truth? On what basis? By that measure, I am sure Murali Manohar Joshi is seeking the Truth by investigating astrology!

sammuvam said...

A timely and deserving article calling out the academic disguise of Aravindan Neelakantan, albeit ending in a slanderous note, comparing the likes of Neelakantan to Paul Krugman.

After having written such a thorough article, but yet making a passing statement without substantiation about Paul Krugman sounds very much non-academic to me.

A well-written article though, thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

nehru and stalin:...please see and "It will be of considerable interest to quote the opinion of Mr. Churchill. In his Memoirs Churchill records a conversation with President Benes, which is of great historical importance and deserves to be given in full. He writes:

When President Benes visited me at Marrakesh in January 1944, he told me this story. In 1935 he had received an offer from Hitler to respect in all circumstances the integrity of Czechoslovakia in return for a guarantee that she would remain neutral in the event of a Franco-German war.. . . In the autumn of 1936 a message from a high military source in Germany was conveyed to President Benes to the effect that if he wanted to take advantage of the Fuehrer’s offer he had better be quick, because events would shortly take place in Russia rendering any help he could give to Germany insignificant.

While Benes was pondering over this disturbing hint, he became aware that communications were passing through the Soviet Embassy in Prague between important personages in Russia and the German Government. This was a part of the so-called military and old-guard Communist conspiracy to overthrow Stalin and introduce a new régime based on a pro-German policy. President Benes lost no time in communicating all he could find out to Stalin. Thereafter there followed the merciless, but perhaps not needless, military and political purge in Soviet Russia, and the series of trials in January 1937, in which Vyshinsky, the Public Prosecutor, played so masterful a part." (Churchill, The Gathering Storm, pp. 224-225.)

This very authoritative statement should dispose of lies and slanders about the Moscow trials.




"Close observers are of the opinion that there was a big conspiracy against the Stalinist regime and that the trials were bona fide.( 'genuine'). It also seems to be established that there was no mass support behind the conspiracy and that the reaction of the people was definitely against the opponents of Stalin"....Nehru...

Anonymous said...


Death of Marshal Stalin

March 5, 1953
By Jawaharlal Nehru

The Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs (Shri Jawaharlal Nehru):  

When we think of Marshal Stalin, all kinds of thoughts come to our minds, at least to my mind, and the panorama of history for the last 35 years passes before our eyes. All of us here are children of this age and have been affected by it in many ways. We have grown up not only participating in our struggles in this country but participating in another way with the mighty struggles that have taken place in this world, and been affected by them.

And so looking back at these 35 years or so, many figures stand out, but perhaps no single figure has moulded and affected and influenced the history of these years more than Marshal Stalin. He became gradually almost a legendary figure, sometimes a man of mystery, at other times a person who had an intimate bond not with a few but with vast numbers of persons. He proved himself great in peace and in war. He showed an indomitable will and courage which few possess, but perhaps when history comes to be written many things will be said about him and I do not know what opinions, what varying opinions, subsequent generations may record, but every one will agree that here was a man of giant stature, a man such as few who had molded the destinies of his age, a man – although he succeeded greatly in war – who ultimately would be remembered by the way he built up his great country.

I do not know what the future will hold, but undoubtedly even though Marshal Stalin has passed away, because of the great hold he had on peoples’ minds and even hearts, his influence and memory will continue to exercise peoples’ minds and inspire them.
Marshal Stalin was something much more than the head of a State. He was great in his own right way, whether he occupied the office or not. I believe that his influence was exercised generally in favour of peace. When war came he proved himself a very great warrior, but from all the information that we have had ,his influence had been in favour of peace.


Anonymous said...

The problem with India is that We do not have strong enough civic leaders to eradicate the caste system. Through vote bank backchannels poiticians want to keep the high caste:dalit equation intact. Constitutionally, caste system discrimination is illegal, socially it is a normal way of Indian life! Such double standards mean We are ready to accomodate cleanliness and dirt as a balancing tradeoff fashion