The world is indebted to that great thinker Karl Marx for his definitive critique of capitalism. But his entire philosophy cannot be readily accepted since much of it is a mix of various disparate elements which cannot be fitted into the history of many societies.
One of these which is significant both for Indian Marxism and Hinduism is his Humanism.
Marx's Humanism derives from the ancient Greek sophist, Protagoras, for whom man is the measure of all things. Marx took this over so seriously that both the divine and the natural worlds were excluded from his thinking. Hence, in his article on India he says:
?…man the sovereign of Nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Hanuman, the monkey, and Sabala the cow?.
(The British Rule in India 1853, Selected Works of K. Marx and F. Engels, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, vol. 1., p. 493).
This emphasis on man as the sole agent in the universe, as the central focus of Marx'shumanism, obviously made him insensitive to the dimensions of Hindu thought and practice. The Indian Left inherits this insensitivity and would explain much of their hostility to Hinduism. After all, if social justice is their key issue, then the work of 19th century Hindu reformers and of course, the landmark efforts of Mahatma Gandhi (who remained a Hindu to the end of his life) at social justice and the welfare of the masses, should compel the Indian Marxists to desist in their attempts at demonising Hindu efforts at social reform.
The Hindu right (as it is pejoratively called by the Indian Left), the Sangh Parivar has declared the eradication of casteism (especially untouchability) as the major plank in their platform. The uplift of the masses is also on their agenda. Their attempt to establish model villages, minus casteism and social disparities is to be applauded. Nevertheless, both the Indian Left and Indian intellectuals in India and in the diaspora are dismissive of such efforts, the intellectuals, of course, engaging in arm chair criticism but not doing anything themselves other than chatter.
The Organiser (Independence Day Special, dated August 17, 2008) is a treasure trove of various Hindu groups and organisations that are currently engaged in social work of all kinds. They are too numerous to mention here and the reader is directed towards that issue to understand the range and depth of that effort. One item can be singled out, that of the Hindu Swami who travels to villages to teach Yoga and Ayurveda. Not only does this benefit the villagers, but it also preserves ancient knowledge. Both Yoga and Ayurveda are highly prized for their health benefits in the rest of the world, except perhaps in some Islamic countries, like Malaysia, which recently banned Yoga for Muslims since this might turn them towards Hinduism!
Why does the Indian Left turn a blind eye towards these movements? Not only because of partisan politics or the fear that this would lead once again to caste/class domination, but because of the distorted Humanism of the Marxist tradition. It must be recalled that in the Bible man is given dominion over all nature. This is a hierarchical mode of thinking, unlike the democratic equality of all living beings which is central to Hinduism.
The Hindu worship of the cow can be interpreted in profound ways as symbolic of this equality of life in the universe, which is the central category, in which man is but one aspect. Or, it can simply be viewed as affection for an animal as the giver of much bounty to humans: milk and dairy products. (As for the issue of the slaughter of cows, which seems to drive both Indian Marxists and Muslims insane, it can be pointed out that vegetarianism is not a bad thing after all. Good for one'sphysical health, if nothing else).
In the Christian/Islamic/ Marxist traditions, man alone is sovereign. The natural world is naturally inferior (Of course, there is also a somewhat limited view of the Divine also). Hence, for the Indian Left, any movement towards social justice which is not within their purview, their ideology, is suspect. Likewise, any worship is suspect, and not just because Marx famously declared religion to be the opium of the masses! The bowing down to Hanuman, the monkey, and Sabala the cow, is the suspect.
This arrogant assertion of the supremacy of humans eventually would lead to the cruel mass persecution and killing of all humans associated with nature worship. The official history of both Christianity and Islam are testimony to this. In their limited world view Paganism and the worship of Nature are to be excorciated. Hence, the sublime Gayatri, the invocation to the Sun, from the Rig Veda, is looked down upon. Marx, may be excused for his ignorance of Hindu culture, even though by then there was enough German scholarship on Hinduism. He was after all, a child of the European enlightenment, living in distant Europe.
But Indian Marxists have no such excuse. Both the importance given to Nature as Prakriti and the profound philosophy of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the lofty monism of the Vedanta, are all readily available for the Indian Marxists to peruse and comprehend. Nevertheless, they reject it all in toto. It may be mentioned here in passing that (curiously) many of them celebrate Christmas!
The Indian Left can be commended for their advocacy of social justice (in passing, it may be pointed out that social work is not the provenance of only the Left). But their refusal to work with the ethos of India is short-sighted. Their efforts will ultimately go no where, since Hinduism is here to stay. The advice to them is: work with the Hindu movements for social reform.
Common sense should tell the Indian Left that an outmoded Humanism which focuses entirely on the human species is pass?.
The Indian Left and its allies routinely focus on the drawbacks of Hinduism, even though they try to conceal this attack by claiming that it is Hindutva rather than Hinduism that is the target of their attack. The fact that they conflate the two can easily be demonstrated, and the motive is also present. It is a political agenda, animated by their shortsightedness and their reading of history and culture.
Both the monotheistic faiths (Islam and Christianity) are homocentric and androcentric and cannot comprehend the connection between Nature and the possibilities of living in proximity with Nature while at the same time setting up an acceptable social order. Hindu saints and sages have, down the ages, exalted this connection and in our own times we have the example of Mahatma Gandhi who tirelessly wrote about Ramrajya, the ideal social order which he called the village republic. It may be relevant to point out that Gandhi remained a Hindu to the end of his life. Despite many efforts to convert him to Islam and Christianity he did not convert. In his autobiography he tells us that both Muslim friends and Christian friends tried to convert him to their faith, but with no success. His reply was: I have yet to understand my own religion! He narrates the story of how a Christian preacher tried to physically remove his Tulasi beads from his neck, using the argument that it was idle superstition. Gandhi'sreply was firm: To you it may be superstition, but my mother placed it round my neck and hence it will stay. Vande Mataram!
The village republic would be a non-violent, non-hierarchical, non-exploitative community with gender equality and social equality all round, and it would live in close proximity with Nature.
The possibilities of the Ramrajya are endless. The Indian Left needs to cooperate with the ethos of the country, rather than try to impose a foreign importation on the Indian body politic. It has not worked so far and will not work in future. The majority of Hindus continue in their faith. Most also have absorbed and internalised the values of secularism and democracy, the obvious explanation for India'sstability as a democracy, especially in contrast to some of its neighbours. Minorities continue to be respected. As the Muslim journalist MJ Akbar himself has remarked: Only in India have Muslims enjoyed uninterrupted democracy for 60 years (see the article of the same name on his blogsite).
As for the Christian community it too has enjoyed the same. The recent outbursts from Hindus against the abuse of this hospitality and tolerance is understandable, even though one may not accept this response in the form it has taken. Christian fundamentalist groups have certainly gone out of their way to denigrate the Hindu religion in outrageous fashion. So have some Muslim artists. And their belated apologies and explanations ring hollow and are unconvincing. And the Left and its allies tirelessly continue to demonise the indigenous religion of the subcontinent. Abroad, especially in North America, are such groups as the campaign to Stop Funding Hate (SFH), organised by the Indian Left in the diaspora (names such as Biju Mathew and Vijay Prashad come to mind). Both are gifted, talented people (Prashad is an academic with publications to his credit) but seem, in turn, to be motivated by hate for the indigenous religion.
The caste system has already broken down and will in due time pass away. The identity politics introduced by the monotheistic faiths and encouraged by the Indian Left may or may not have a sinister motive. The Indian Left continues to have uncomfortable allegiances to extra national entities. Some Dalit writers, though not all, have called for the balkanisation of India. Two contrasting writers can be cited here. V. Rajashekhar for balkanisation and CB Prasad for the united Indian state. The tribals want the basics of development, not politics as usual and it is well known that since the time of Nagaland the Christian interest in tribals has not been entirely altruistic.
Despite all the problems cited above, this writer continues to be hopeful of the much maligned; ?Hindu right ?as it is has been labelled. The endless inventiveness of the Indian Left in using terms of abuse such as ?fascism? are well known. The upside is that this term has been so misused that it has lost all credibility in the present context. The Sangh Parivar seems to be diligently on the path to social reconstruction, in the best traditions of the saints and sages of India. This is not to say that there have been no missteps (and one understands that they are being presently corrected), but the determination to carry on the best that Hinduism has to offer India and indeed the world is there.
As I have said earlier in other essays, India has been through two back to back Occupations lasting a thousand years and the country has emerged intact. Hopefully, the Left and its allies will not continue to try to sabotage this enterprise. Such an act on their part will not succeed, and it will only delay, but not derail the Hindu effort.