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Philosopical issues in indian identity and current version of history

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December 28 2011:

Today Dr. Swamy will be addressing The World Congress on Vedanta on "India's Identity" at the JNU campus.Below are points from Dr. Swamy's Keynote address.




•Since becoming free of British Imperialist rule in 1947, modern India’s ideological space had been for the subsequent four and half decades circumscribed by an essentially a pro-Soviet Union and Left--leaning socialist, secular and ostensibly democratic framework, Philosophical issues were also debated within that framework, termed loosely as “Marxist”.

•The Left-leaning intellectuals saw the Indian identity in a geographical and not civilisationally or philosophically, as of a peninsular area created as a by-product of British Imperialism and colonisation, as a multi-national, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual modern state. Any argument that India has an overriding civilizational identity was condemned as “communal” or “saffron”. They advocated that secular focus required that history and the social dynamics be interpreted as economics or materialist driven.

1. The renaissance in thought initiated by Bankim Chatterjee, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Dr. Ambedkar, and Mahatma Gandhi in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in harmonizing the material growth and spiritual advancement, was aborted after 1950 when the Soviet Union’s influence took hold in the academia and intellectual discourse. The Left version of Indian history was fundamentally no different from what Macaulay to Max Mueller had designed for a purpose.

2. But now a certain consensus is thus taking shape all over the world that material progress alone will not increase the feeling of well-being of a people. It has to blend with spiritual and implied moral values, that is values to make national development meaningful to the people.

3. Society of course as Swami Vivekanand observed, needs to eat and live tolerably well. Material progress is thus necessary, but it must not be an end in itself. We thus have to modify today’s Globalisation phenomenon accordingly.

4. This is a fundamental philosophical issue, and the premise of our true national identity— the development of an integral human empowered to pursue material progress and one who does not sacrifice spirituality or the basic values of inter-personal relationship, moral values and environmental concerns.

5. We Indians have however been waffling on the question of identity now for over six decades. Since Independence from colonial rule, in 1947 Indians have been grappling with the question of ‘who are we’? This as-yet-unanswered question represents India's identity crisis.

6. We have now to call for a closure on this subject. The failure to date, to resolve this crisis, has not only confused the majority but confounded the minorities as well. However, without a resolution of the crisis, which requires an explicit clear answer to this question, the majority will never understand how to relate to the legacy of the nation, and to the minorities.

7. Minorities would understand how to adjust with the majority only if this identity crisis is resolved. In other words, the present dysfunctional perceptional mismatch in understanding of who are we as a people, is behind most of the communal tension and inter-community distrust in the country. It also weakens India's integrity.

8. In India, the majority is the conglomerate Hindu community which represents about 81% of the total Indian population, while minorities are constituted by Muslims [13%] and Christians [3%].

9.Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and some other small religious groups, represent the remaining 3%.Though these groups are also considered minorities, but are really so close to the majority community in culture that they are considered as partners of Hindu society.

10. Unlike Islam and Christianity, these minority religions were born as dissenting theologies of Hinduism. They share the core concepts with Hindus such as re-incarnation, equality of all religions, and ability to meet God in this life. That they feel increasingly alienated from Hindu society nowadays is also the consequence of India’s identity crisis.


11. From a study of nations that remain united and contrasted with those which have disintegrated, it seems that the crucial element for national integrity is the concept of ‘who we are’ that the people within a geo-political boundary accept. This concept however has to be nurtured, renewed, continually enriched and given substance.

12. Such a concept however cannot be forced down the throats of a people as USSR and Yugoslavia demonstrates or allow the concept to derail a society as it did in Hitler's Germany. At the same time the concept cannot be amorphous, meaning all things to all men, and without a time frame for its acceptance.

13. Even in United States of America, a relatively young nation created by an influx of immigration from diverse countries, scholars have felt the need to define the identity of an American. Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington has penned a book titled Who Are We? [Penguin Books, India 2004] to define the American's identity as a “White Anglo-Saxon Christian who speaks English”. It seems contrived since majority of Americans are perhaps not ‘White’, but Huntington is emphatic.

14. However, Huntington's contribution is in seeing the two components of this identity that define it: Salience, which is the importance that the citizen attributes to national identity over the other many sub-identities. Second, Substance, which he calls as the “American Creed”, is what the citizens think they have in common, and which distinguishes them from others of other countries.

15. Paraphrasing Dr.Huntington, the ‘American creed’ is identified as (i) Anglo-Protestant work ethic (such as sticking to contracts, punctuality, word as bond, honouring IOUs etc.). (ii) Christianity-religious belief in God, in good being rewarded and evil being punished by Him. (iii) English language. (iv) Rule of law and equality before it. (v) Individualism and the pursuit of happiness.

16. Dr.Huntington quotes a 1931 judgment of the Supreme Court in which the apex Court held that US is a Christian nation, and hence he advocates that acceptance of that is part of the American creed. We shall apply the concepts of salience and substance to Indian identity.

17. Similarly, the British Prime Minister Cameron on December 17, 2011 was quoted by BBC as stating at Oxford that “ UK is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so”. Addressing a meeting on the 400th Anniversary of the King James’s Bible, he called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s “moral collapse”, adding the slogan “live and let live” has too often come to mean “do what you please”. Significantly, he also said that it was wrong to hold that “standing up for Christianity was somehow doing down other faiths”.

18. We in India today do not have to conjure up a contrived identity as Huntington valiantly had to do, or issue dictums as Cameron. A century ago, Sri Aurobindo declared [as reproduced in India’s Rebirth: Institut De Recherches Evolutives, Paris 1993]:“ I write for those who acknowledge reason but do not identify reason with Western Materialism; who are sceptics but not unbelievers; who, admitting the claims of modern thought, still believe in India, her mission, her gospel, her immortal life and her eternal rebirth”.

19. The battle to settle the answer to this question is on today between the Indian nationalist and the internationalist liberal. The latter deny that the Indians have an overriding identity of salience and substance.

20. Eminent philosophers and observers have also held so. India has thus always existed because of the Indian-ness [read: Hindutva as Substance of Huntington] of the people.“In all the fleeting centuries of history” holds Dr. Radhakrishnan in his work on Indian Philosophy, “in all the vicissitudes, through which India has passed, a certain marked identity is visible. It has held fast to certain psychological traits which constitute its special heritage, and they will be the characteristic marks of the Indian people so long as they are privileged to have a separate existence”.

21. Hindu-ness or Hindutva, judged by Huntington’s criteria, has been our identifying characteristic, by which we have been recognized world-wide. The territory in which Hindus lived was known as Hindustan, i.e., a specific area of a collective of persons who are bonded together by this Hindu-ness. That is the Substance.

22. The Salience of Huntington thus was given religious and spiritual significance by tirth yatra, kumbh mela, common festivals, and in the celebration of events in the Ithihasa, viz., Ramayana and Mahabharata. That is why all great mass movements in India have been inspired by spiritual persons, or by invoking spirituality as did Mahatma Gandhi when he made Ram Rajya as a goal, and Gita as the basis of his actions.

23. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, no Hindu chauvinist, acknowledged this fact in on two occasions: First in his 1948 Convocation Address to the Aligarh Muslim University wherein he averred that Hindus and Muslims have the same ancestry, and Second, in his foreword to one of Dr.Karan Singh books as follows: “It is significant to note that great political mass movements in India have had a spiritual background behind them”.

24. But the towering philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries have affirmed the cultural oneness of India. I can do no better than quote Dr.Ambedkar from his paper presented in the Department of Anthropology seminar of Columbia University in 1916, and titled “Castes in India, Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”[ published in Indian Antiquary, Vol XLI, May 1917, p81-85].

25. On page 84, he concludes as follows:

“Ethnically all people [may] be heterogeneous. [But] it is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture. It has not only a geographic unity, but it has over and above all a deeper and much more fundamental unity—the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end”


26. British imperialist inspired historians and their tutees, and the Communists in tandem, have propounded India as a multi-nation artificial construct and as an administrative by product of colonialism. This is the current version in our history textbooks.

27. The roots of Aryan-Dravidian theory, the racial basis of varna, the artificial construction of linguistic differences, and the Hindu-Muslim cultural divide have been fostered by them.

28. The Aryan Dravidian theory is centered on the Max Mueller thesis that the Rg Veda was written no earlier than 1500 BC, and that carbon-dating of Indus Valley’s Mohendajaro/Harappa first layer excavations place it as ending in 1500 BC. A pastoral society described in Vedas and a city civilization in the latter, could not be of the same people it is inferred.

29. ‘Arya’, ‘Dravida’ were thus falsely given racial meaning.

30. More recently, Mr.Jonah Blank, an American journalist curious about this Hindutva, took a journey in 1991-92 from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka on the route taken by Lord Rama. He then wrote a book about titled: Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God—Retracing the Ramayana Through India [published by the well known Houghton Mifflin of Boston USA]. He writes: “India’s land may be ruled by aliens from time to time, but never her mind, never her soul..... In the end, it is always India that does the digesting" [p.217]. He concludes: “But somehow a nebulous sense of “Indianness” does exist, and it binds together Gujaratis, Orissans, to Nagas who might seem to have nothing at all in common. Perhaps it is this elusive, undefinable [yet very real] link that has allowed the sub-continent's multitude of races to live in some rough semblance of harmony for four thousand years”[p.218].

31. The next mischievous division is the varna’s colour/caste basis. Hinduism nowhere in its Sruti scriptures states varna is skin colour-based. Although varna means “colour”, it was used by the rishis, Bhrigu and Baradwaja, as an insignia colour. Thus if Brahmin is ‘white’, and Shudra is ‘black’, the Kshatriya is ‘saffron’ and Vaishya is ‘Green’!

32. Nor our languages are fundamentally different—Sanskrit vocabulary is common to all languages.Even Tamil has 40% or more words in common with Sanskrit. All our scripts are evolved from Brahmi script.

33. The recent DNA studies affirm that is Indians, i.e., Hindus+, Muslims and Christians are one indigenous people. Hindu culture and religion gives the geographical area its distinctiveness.

34. In the face of DNA evidence of all Indians, plus the reality established by modern science such as satellite imaging, of discovery of the walk trail of Sri Rama, Rama Setu, Sarasvati River, and the submerged Dwarka city, all held earlier as “mythical” to debunk the Vedas and Mahabharata, most independent scholars now have disowned the racial/migration theory of Aryans & Dravidians. Even the BBC and Romilla Thapar have now done so.

35. A social philosophy based thus on dharma is vitally needed at this moment in our history, because there is a dimension to the current national crisis, namely, the moral decay and the decline of character in our society which if not stemmed, will slowly poison to death our nation.

36. This decay and decline is visible in every aspect of our life—politicians defecting for office and cash, bureaucrats taking bribes, teachers selling exam questions, students passing by cheating, businessmen adulterating products, lawyers cheating clients, doctors betraying their patients etc.

37. Consequent to this decay is the wave of dangerous cynicism amongst the youth. A renaissance of values in society has thus to take place.


1. These then are the core task today: to know the philosophical and civilisational basis of our identity, through a correct perception of our history, and to reform our society on that basis.

2. To achieve such a reform and usher a renaissance, of course, requires a complete de-falsification in the current Indian history, rejecting that portion that has been deliberately contrived by British imperialists and their compradors, and to correct the currently perceived linkages to our past.

3. Thus unless we settle these philosophical issues and answer the factual questions arising in the current version of our history, clearly, finally, unambiguously, and authoritatively, as to who we are and what we were, the modern Indian nation will flounder, flip-flop, and generally be devoid of healthy patriotism, and hence under an intellectual existential siege..

4. Consequently, a de-falsified fact-checked history of India based on Indian sources which is devoid of gloss on the truth of our long civilisational experience and reality of Hindu, Buddhists, Islamic and Christian interactions, is vitally necessary.

5. I congratulate Professor Bal Ram Singh of U. Mass and Rajiv Malhotra for “being different”, and thus giving us a hope that such a history of India would be written by Indians for Indians.
Thank you for giving the salient points from Dr. Subramaniam Swamy's speech. permit me to say a few words in regard to my views on the various points (not in the same order, please).

  • Hindu religion is not a 'unifying' religion; its essential nature is divisive and its emphasis on 'each one for himself/herself'. (This will be understood more clearly by the svargārohaṇa’ of the pāṇḍavas in mahābhārata; yudhiṣṭhira was the only one who did not bother to look back for the welfare of others who followed him and it was he alone who could succeed in ascending to the heavens in the physical body. Others had to 'die' before reaching there.
  • By creating the majority consciousness in the people (even assuming such a task is successfully completed, somehow) what will happen is a heightened frenzy about religion; we will not get 'national feeling', a feeling of "belonging to one country and one nationality" will still elude most Indians. Religious antagonism will increase and so will internal strife and religious extremism.
  • US and/or UK may have proclaimed that they are 'christian' nations but afaik, those are one-off events and those countries do not require their minorities to adjust to the majority or to imbibe that most/many of the minorities were originally from the same stock (as it is not applicable to those countries).
  • The problem in India is that all through our struggle for Independence, it was not a national feeling which was fostered but the feeling of animosity towards a commen foe (the British) which was engendered and nurtured to the fullest extent. The call by Gandhi "Quit India" epitomises this sentiment, imho.
  • While some of the stalwarts like Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and a few others advocated social reforms as a necessary pre-condition for demanding freedom from British rule, Gandhi and others of his ilk did not listen to such sage advice. The position can be described no better than in the following words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (a bete noire for many members here, possibly):—Ranade never received the honours of apotheosis as these great men of India today are destined to receive. How could he? He did not come with a message hot from Senai. He performed no miracles and promised no speedy deliverance and splendour. He was not a genius and he had no superhuman qualities. But there are compensations. If Ranade did not show splendour and dominance, he brought us no catastrophe. If he had no superhuman qualities to use in the service of India, India was saved from ruin by its abuse. If he was not a genius, he did not display that perverse super-subtlety of intellect, and a temper of mind which is fundamentally dishonest and which has sown the seeds of distrust and which has made settlement so difficult of achievement.

"There is nothing exuberant and extravagant in Ranade. He refused to reap cheap notoriety by playing the part of an extremist. He refused to mislead people by playing upon and exploiting the patriotic sentiments of the people. He refused to be a party to methods which are crude, which have volume but no effect, and which are neither fool-proof nor knave-proof, and which break the back even of the most earnest and sincere servants of the country and disable them from further effort. In short, Ranade was like the wise Captain who knows that his duty is not to play with his ship clever and masterful tricks, just for effect and show in the midst of the ocean, but to take it safely to its appointed port. In short, Ranade was not a forged bank note and in worshipping him we have no feeling of kneeling before anything that is false." (Mahadev Govind Ranade - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

  • The shape of things to come was foreseen by Sir C. Sankaran Nair, and I quote from his book "Gandhi and anarchy"

"The severe simplicity and austerity of Mr.
Gandhi's life combined with his appeal to the
principle of 'Ahimsa' (non-injury) inherited from
Buddists and now ingrained in Hindu life, has
secured him the support of the Hindu masses
and particularly vegetarians. His support of
the caste system has won over the higher
classes and the reactionary elements of Hindu
society to his side. The caste system is entirely
opposed to the ' Ahimsa' (Non-injury) principle.
The former has dedicated one of the main
castes to death. Its function is to kill and be
killed. It is also the function of some of the
sub-castes of the lowest caste or class to
slaughter animals. His indiscriminating support
of the extreme Khilafat demands has ensured
the Mahomedan support. Islam is more oppo-
sed than the caste system to "Ahimsa." The
trouble with the Hindus over the slaughter of
cows is due to this difficulty. Some politicians
who naturally desire to use him and the influ-
ence he has acquired for putting pressure on the
Government to concede further reform, also
have joined him. But I am satisfied he is using
them all to further his own ends. An attempt
in which he is bound to fail. His success i, e.
the success of the reactionary forces in India to
obtain what they call Dominion status or Home
Rule, but, which really means their rule, will
not only lead to bloodshed and anarchy and
the dismemberment of the Empire ; but to the
triumph of a reactionary policy, social, moral
and economic, against which the democratic
policy of the recent reforms and the Legislative
Councils is an emphatic protest. "

The fractious character of Gandhi's methods to win freedom and especially his advocacy of "disobedience" as an effective method of achieving that, have gone down the Indian psyche - through aping of leaders by successive generations of Indians - into a sort of national trait itself; if you obey law or rule you are not patriotic, but if you flout rules and laws, you are a national hero like Gandhi himself. With such mindset how can we have any national unity or national consciousness in this country?

  • What we have to do urgently is to make this a really secular country in which religion, caste, etc., should not be a consideration at all. Population control deserves maximum attention of the government. Obedience to law and order and strict enforcement of civic discipline should also be considered as a priority item.

But I am very doubtful whether the way this nation has grown old (67) already, will now permit any of these. The alternative is to experience the inevitable results of the karmas so far - viz., instability and eveentual disintegration.
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