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Lokvani Talks To Dr. Koenraad Elst

Niraj Mohanka

Koenraad Elst, Ph.D. is an Indologist from Belgium who has spent a lifetime studying India, her culture and current affairs.  Dr. Elst is most famous for his ‘Out of India’ theory, which advocates the case for India being the source of much knowledge in the ancient world, and he proposes that Indic ideas found their way into China, Iran and Europe.  He will speaking at the Satsang Center, Woburn Ma on June 15 at 5:00 pm.  For more information please contact Niraj Mohanka at NewDharma2001@gmail.com.

Dr. Koenraad Elst has written over 30 books in his three decades-plus career as a researcher and scholar.  Some major works of Dr. Elst are:

-    'Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars'
-    'The argumentative Hindu: essays by a non-affiliated orientalist'
-    'Communal violence and propaganda'
-    'The problem with secularism'
-    'The Saffron swastika: the notion of “Hindu fascism” ‘
-    'Still no trace of an Aryan Invasion: a collection on Indo-European origins'
-    'Who is a Hindu?'
-    ‘Decolonising the Hindu Mind’ , and
-    ’Indigenous India—From Agastya to Ambedkar’.

Dr. Elst’s works have set the stage for the West to re-discover India in a new light. This rediscovery of India may shed the historical Western prejudice against India and her culture.  

For Lokvani, Neeraj Mohanka had a chance to talk to him about his thoughts on the recently held elections in India.

Has the situation of Hinduism changed with Narendra Modi's election victory?

Yes and No. Psychologically it has changed a lot – Hindus are now more self-confident with the solid BJP victory and resounding defeat of other political parties (Congress, Communists, Aam Admi, etc.). In a sign of this massive defeat, Rahul Gandhi even lost his own family’s historical constituency in U.P.  Internationally today, India has more credibility with the peaceful exercise of the largest democratic election in the world and the dispelling of fears of violence/bias due to ‘Hindu Nationalism’.

According to Pankaj Mishra in the New York Times, we should be very afraid of the terrible things that the Hindu Nationalists are now going to do to India's democracy and its minorities. Are you?

No – and these pronouncements are starting to look laughable. All the claims about PM Modi being a threat to democracy could scare initially, but now the voters have 5 years of experience and know that he’s a strong leader promoting good governance. The monopoly of ideological power in the hands of Leftists is now lost and must be shared with the BJP and others.

Do you think the secular state is threatened in India?

This presupposes that India was ever a secular state – which is incorrect given the detailed stipulations in the Indian Constitution about how to manage people in different religious communities that in fact discriminates against Hindus (ex: Articles 25, 30 and others). One common civil code for all Indian citizens would be more fair, equitable, and actually secular, but this is unlikely to happen given the biased political environment.

You have worked on the question of the Homeland of the Indo-European languages, including Sanskrit: whether it has originated inside India or has invaded from outside some 3500 years ago. Why is that question of ancient history so politically sensitive today? Who cares?

Nations/civilizations have myths of Origin – some are based on outsiders, some on locals, and sometimes it’s a mixture. The tradition in India going back in all memory is that of a local origin of the civilization and that interestingly is also backed by all the evidence (literary, archaeological/hydrological, astronomical, genetic), but this view was superseded during Colonialism for political reasons (i.e., outsiders [White Aryans] brought the Vedic/Hindu Civilization and imposed it upon the locals [Black Dravidians] inventing an ‘Apartheid-like’ caste system of social hierarchy).  And the momentum of this interpretation exists. The result of this 200-year-old policy of ‘divide and conquer’ is very present in India today with the constant efforts to pit people against each other: North v South, Upper v Lower Castes, Tribals v Non-tribals, etc.  These divisions usually have no basis in fact, but they persist as useful political tools to keep people at each other’s throats. Until Ancient History is reinterpreted from the Indic perspective (and facts/evidence) and not the outsider’s perspective, these conflicts will remain.

Your first active involvement in Indian controversies was a book on the Ayodhya affair, in 1990. Back then, Ayodhya was the cause of lethal riots and the fall of governments. So many years later, it has still not been resolved. Your solution?

The solution is simple, allow the Hindu visitors/devotees of the site to build a temple and use the site. This is what is done in other countries – for example, in Lourdes, France the French government respects this ‘place of the Virgin Mary appearance’ and does not expect any historical/literary evidence from the French Catholic visitors. Likewise, many holy sites in Israel are allowed for followers of different religions and the Israeli government does not demand they produce historical evidence to back their claim. Nevertheless, the archaeological evidence has shown clearly the Ayodhya site had many layers of history and Hindu Temples were destroyed by Islamic kings perhaps repeatedly. The tradition of this being a site of Hindu pilgrimage has been continuous for thousands of years and should be respected – that is the simple, secular solution.

The Ayodhya affair also put the BJP on the map, catapulted it from 2 seats in Parliament to where it is now. What is Narendra Modi's role in bringing this controversy to an end?

The BJP profited politically from the Ayodhya issue but did not follow up on their promises. The Supreme Court of India started investigating this issue in 1950 and is still not done. Although the Kar Sevaks tearing down part of the Islamic structure in 1992 has been associated with the BJP, they had nothing to do with them; it was simply a spontaneous burst of pent-up frustration. The Ayodhya legal decision is now clear and should theoretically clear the courts in months, but that remains to be seen.

Why do you do this? What is your motivation? Why do you care?

Growing up in Belgium, I realized that the Flemish people (whom I am member of) were the majority of the population but discriminated against legally by the government in favor of minority groups. I had a sense of being an ‘underdog’ and later developed sympathy for the Hindus of India as likewise, a majority population that were underdogs.  Later in my study of world religions, I came to learn of the many key aspects of Hindu Dharma (yoga, meditation, etc.) that could help the world and so I also developed a sympathy for Hinduism.

What can people expect to learn from your talks? Articles? Books?

Learning can be thought of as adding new knowledge everyday or it can be clearing away misconceptions each day. I would like to think I am helping people everywhere remove misunderstandings and thereby understand the world better.

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