Is Westernization India’s decline or development? Hindutva leadership is making that double-edged question the background theme of 2014 general election. By projecting Narendra Modi as their leader and Gujarat as their showpiece, they are suggesting that while Congress equals corruption, Hindutva means development.
According to the well-orchestrated press reports, on Thursday, 18 July 2013, on the eve of his departure to the USA, the BJP president Rajnath Singh told his audience in New Delhi, “English language has caused a great lot of loss to India. We have started forgetting our religion and culture these days. There are only 14,000 people left in this country speaking in Sanskrit.” He added, “ The Anglicization penetrated into youths in this country is dangerous.” RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat further fueled the debate on 22 July, when he lamented in Patna, that the “mad run” towards westernisation was responsible for “personal and national decay”.
Hindu temples and festivals are flourishing. TV gurus and godmen fly around the world in corporate jets. Hindutva is ruling in several states. It has governed the centre. And under Modi, it is preparing for such a capital intensive, super-high-tech, election campaign, as has never been seen earlier even in any Western nation. . . And yet, Bhagwat lamented, that as a nation “we decided to give up our tradition and run madly after western culture and way of living. This robbed us of moral concerns and ethical living and triggered personal and national decay.”
Whether the Hindutva strategy will succeed or boomerang at the polls will be decided, ironically, by India’s 16 per cent Muslim voters. If they follow Mulayam Singh Yadav and the “Third Front”, then the division of anti-BJP votes could make Modi the next prime minister. On the other hand, if Muslim leaders are able to quietly pressurize Mayawati and Nitish Kumar to back the Congress, then Modi will end up making Rahul Gandhi the next prime minister. This is what Advani fears.
Anglicization-Westernization is a double-edged sword in more ways than one: Advani’s instinct was that 12 months are too short a period for the nation to discuss a question as critical as the value of English. Therefore, Hindutva ought to first capture power and then sort out the question of principles. Premature discussion on Westernization will merely divide anti-Congress vote. For now, Advani has been overruled. Those at the steering wheel of the Hindutva movement have decided that compromising on principles has already cost them previous two elections: standing up for their core beliefs will re-galvanize their base. If it turns into a bumper crop of votes, then allies will follow.
The gamble may cost the BJP the next election, but the question they have raised merits sober thought. I for one agree that while Westernization has meant India’s development in the past, in future it will mean disaster. This is because the postmodern West has lost its intellectual and moral compass. It is a super luxurious Titanic, headed for a terrible crash. At the same time, India will become a great nation not by reverting to Sanskrit or Brahminism, but by recovering the compass that now even the West has lost.
Why Did Sanskrit Lose to English?
In the 1820s, the British East India Company decided to invest a part of its educational fund to build a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta and to employ Hindu pundits as teachers. The move was opposed by an eminent Sanskrit scholar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833). On 11 December 1823, he sent a strongly worded letter to the British prime minister, William Pitt, offering a detailed explanation why “the Sangscrit system of education would be the best calculated to keep this country in darkness”.
Roy opposed Sanskrit, he said, because it was a language that hindered the spread of knowledge. Roy went on to write, “But as the improvement of the native population is the object of the Government, it consequently [ought to] promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy [i.e., science] chemistry and anatomy, with other useful sciences which may be accomplished with the sum proposed, by employing a few gentlemen of talents and learning educated in Europe, and providing a college furnished with the necessary books, instruments, and other apparatus.” Strong protests from eminent Indians like Roy and Englishmen who had proven their commitment to build a great India simply summarized the point of view first advocated by Charles Grant (1746–1823). In 1792, Grant advocated Western learning, preferably in English language but mainly because at that time vernacular literature and printing press didn’t exist in British India. Grant’s proposal for English as the medium of instruction made the points that were used later by the Anglicists, Roy and Lord Macaulay. One of these arguments was that if education had to do more than prepare clerks for the Company, if its purpose was to build a nation, then the students had to be equipped to carry on independent enquiries into Truth. This would be best done in a language such as English, which abounded in intellectual resources. Access to English books would enable students to improve upon what their teacher may, or may not, have taught them.
Within months of Roy’s powerful appeal, Calcutta’s highly respected bishop, Reginald Heber (1783–1826), travelled through North India. His travelogue reinforced Roy’s reasons for opposing Sanskrit as the medium of education. This is how Heber described his visit to a class in Banaras Sanskrit College:
Under a grant ordered by the Parliament on the pressure of the Christian public [of Britain], and administered by a Christian Government, a professor lecturing on terrestrial globe, identified Mount Meroo with the North Pole, declared that the tortoise of the Hindu cosmogony supported the earth from under the South Pole, pointed to Padalon in the centre of the globe, and demonstrated how the sun went around the earth everyday and visited the signs of the Zodiac!
Hindutva can hate but it cannot deny that English education set India on course (potentially) to become one of the greatest nations in all of history. Yet, their deep concern, expressed by BJP-RSS leadership, is valid: thoughtless imitation of the West will destroy India even more rapidly than it is destroying the West itself. For example, no state university in the West can now teach that all men belonging to all castes or races are “created” with equal dignity and rights. Just as the German universities under Hitler taught that the Aryans are the most evolved race, all Western universities now teach that since everyone is evolving we are intrinsically unequal . . . the idea of equality is not Truth but an outdated social construct. No Western university teaches that adultery is sin because it violates our spouses’ dignity and our covenant with them. They all teach that because we are monkeys, it is alright to indulge in monkey business. That makes Rajnath–Bhagwat concern valid. However, their prescription is worse than the disease. Older, biblical education emancipated India because it believed that the human mind can and must know the Truth. Education was not merely a means to a job but a discipline for finding and acquiring life-altering truth. Blind Westernization will not liberate backward Bahujans, because the West has now lost its source of truth and morality. Our hope lies in finding the compass that guided the prophets of India’s transformation.
Published in the August 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine