This is in response to Vijay Prashad’s review of my book, The God Market: How Globalization is making India more Hindu that appeared in the last issue of Himal.
So badly has Vijay Prashad distorted the basic theses of the book that I am left scratching my head and wondering if it is really my book he could possibly be talking about?
From where, I wonder, did he get the laughable idea that I am making the “rigid claim that globalization produces neo-Hinduism” –as if there was no neo-Hinduism or Hindutva before the economic reforms that started in India in the early 1990s. He clearly implies that I am suggesting that globalization manufactured modern Hinduism and Hindu nationalism out of thin air when he goes on to piously remind the reader that “neo-Hinduism is not a recent phenomenon, but has its roots in the 19th century.” He trivializes what I am saying by imputing to me this utterly simplistic, ahistorical and machine-like cause- and-effect relationship between globalization and the god market.
The reality is that I spend the bulk of the long first chapter in carefully tracing the Hindu nationalist critique of Nehruvian socialism and secularism in favor of a marriage between a Hindu renaissance and laissez faire capitalism. I bring to light the rather obscure history of how the Indian state got involved in managing the financial and other secular affairs of Hindu temples and pilgrimage spots. I directly challenge the pet peeve of the Hindu Right that the Indian state discriminates against the Hindu majority by showing how the state involvement in Hindu affairs has actually worked to the benefit of the majority religion. All of these pre-existing institutional arrangements have gone into making of what I call the “state-temple-corporate complex” which is now producing the astrologers, the vastu shastris and the purjaris who are taking care of the growing demand for religious services by the growing middle classes.
Had Vijay Prashad paid attention to what I am actually saying, he could not have possibly missed the many passages in the book where I repeat over and over again that “the process of domesticating and Hinduizing modernity did not start with the current phase of globalization” (p. 150), “the new market economy did not create the religious market – India always had plenty of choices when it came to gods, faiths and modes of worship” (p. 202), and that “The middle-class religiosity that revels in ritualism, idol-worship, fasts, pilgrimage …[was] not entirely absent from the cultural milieu of the educated middle-upper classes that came of age in the more ‘socialist’ or secular era. (p. 62).
Vijay Prashad dismisses as “off the mark” my thesis that religious institutions are benefitting from the de-regulatory policies of the neo-liberal state and are getting state subsidies and corporate funding in setting up deemed universities and tourist infrastructure to promote pilgrimages. He does not challenge even an iota of the massive amount of factual evidence that I provide in the book to demonstrate the new institutional arrangements which are emerging under the new economy. Rather he dismisses the thesis base purely upon his confidence that the non-Hindutva parties – “the left, the anti-communal section of the Congress, the Dravidian and Dalit parties” will be able to prevent the “state institutions from fully given over to Hindutva aims. “
His confidence in the power of non-Hindutva actors is touching, but misplaced. It is true that non-Hindutva forces he mentions are united against hard-Hindutva, or communalism. But they are by no means united against soft-Hindutva which shows up as the banal, everyday mixing up of public spaces with Hindu rituals. When it comes to adopting Hindu symbols and rituals in electoral campaigns and administrative matters including allocating land and infrastructure support for distinctively Hindu institutions, their record is not significantly different from that of the BJP.
Prashad piously chides me for “missing the fact that secularism is … a site of struggle.” But sadly, he has completely missed the point of my book that commercialization of public institutions, especially those in higher education, is creating new sites of struggle over secularism. Today, if any state government wants to promote Vedic astrology, priest-craft, yoga, Ayurveda and other Hindu sciences, it can simply let a private ashram , or a religious endowment to set up a teaching institute, deem it to be a university, get the UGC to recognize it, perhaps even give it land at a concessional rate and provide it with other subsidies — and let the “university” hand out degrees in all kinds of pseudo-sciences. I provide many such instances of “public-private partnership.”
If secularism is to mean anything in India, it has to take on the politics of soft-Hindutva. And this is where my book comes in: it is an attempt to examine the institutional arrangements that are promoting soft-Hindutva under the new regime of market-friendly, de-regulatory policies. Rather than accept Vijay Prashad’s hasty dismissal, readers are invited to make up their own minds by examining the documentary evidence the book lays out.
Feb 20, 2010
Meera Nanda is the author of The God Market: How globalization is making India more Hindu.
To read Vijay Prashad´s review of Nanda´s book, go here.