A version of this appeared in DNA on Jun 15th at:

http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_parlous-state-of-temples_1396426

and here’s the pdf for the full page:

http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/15062010/14main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

The parlous state of Hindu temples in India

Rajeev Srinivasan believes government has no business running temples into the ground

There was shocking news recently about the collapse of the raja-gopuram of the Sri Kalahasti temple near Tirupati. This is no ordinary temple – it hosts one of the five important Saivite jyotir-lingas, each associated with one of the elements (earth, wind, fire, air and ether). The gopuram was built by Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar in 1516 CE, although the shrine itself is a millennium or two older. Most nations would treat such ancient monuments as a treasured part of its cultural heritage, but not India.

The 150-foot tower, a typical Southern-style vimana with intricate carvings, was damaged by lightning some years ago, yet absolutely nothing was done by the authorities. After the collapse, to add insult to injury, a report by a commission said the tower had “outlived its life”. Would this same logic apply to, say, the Taj Mahal – has that outlived its life? It is the business of the State to maintain its cultural heritage and artifacts. There are reports of similar damage to other temple towers, eg. at Srirangapatna near Mysore.

Then there was the news that the Kerala High Court lambasted the Travancore Devaswom Board for being corrupt and inefficient. The Court observed that Hindu temples are struggling“orphanages”, poorly maintained and falling apart; Hindus are orphans.

Furthermore, a Cochin Devaswom Board official got drunk and vomited within the temple precincts at the Siva temple at Vaikom, necessitating elaborate purification ceremonies. This is also no ordinary temple – a major Saivite shrine, it is also historically important. It was the Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924 that led the way to the dramatic Temple Entry Proclamation in Travancore in 1936. And the official’s ‘punishment’? He was promoted to Vigilance Officer!

All these events point to an abomination in the allegedly secular Indian State – there is no separation of Church (meaning religion) and State, as is the norm in modern nations. The State must be indifferent to religion, and it should not allow religious sentiments to color its actions — the true definition of the term ‘secularism’.

A Devaswom Board is an oxymoron. There should be no involvement of the State in religion, which should be left to individuals and religious groups. In fact, that is so with non-Hindu religions in India – they can run their own affairs with no interference from the government, except for largesse – such as Haj subsidies for Muslims, and Andhra’s own subsidies for Christians to travel to Palestine/Israel on pilgrimage.

On the other hand, Hindu temples are under the control of an interfering State, with disastrous results: they are being destroyed systematically by the rapine and pillage of the malign State. On the one hand, temple offerings are expropriated by the State; yet, the State does not even perform basic maintenance. The offerings, amounting to crores, from large shrines such as Tirupati or Sabarimala, are simply treated as general government revenue, and are not recycled to small, poor temples.

Traditionally, temples were the centers of the community, running cultural events, acting as a focal point for efforts such as water conservation, drought relief, famine avoidance, and so forth. This is in the racial memory of Hindus – and so we contribute whatever we can afford to the temple. The State has found it convenient to appropriate these funds. The pittance that a poor believer donates is grabbed and diverted by the Government!

The malice is obvious in Kerala where the State controls most of the temples through the Devaswom Boards, which, it is said, are infiltrated by atheists and anti-Hindus. It can be seen in the difference between Board temples and others. The latter, private temples belonging often a joint family, are thriving, while the Board-controlled temples are impoverished, falling apart, and finding their lands stolen.

I found this to my chagrin at my own family’s centuries-old temple, which we had handed over to the Travancore Devaswom Board about a hundred years ago. On my previous visit, about five years ago, the temple, while old, was thriving. Today, it is on the verge of being abandoned, thanks to indifference and possibly even malice on the part of the Board: an alleged renovation has been totally botched.

This is, amazingly, a continuation of a colonial-era crime – a British Resident named Munro, a missionary bigot, forced the Maharani of Travancore circa 1819 CE to commingle temple lands with government lands, with the result that a lot of those lands, essential to the income and running of temples, were alienated. Consequently, the 10,000+ temples in Travancore then have now been reduced to a mere 2,000.

Governments have no business interfering in religion. It is a crime against the people of India for the government to ruin these cultural treasures, a common heritage of this nation.

815 words, June 12, 2010

Who lost India?

July 21, 2008

Who lost India?

By Rajeev Srinivasan

podcast at http://rajeev.posterous.com/podcast-of-who-lost-india-arti

One of these days, the New York Times will run a story titled “Who lost India?” Pundits will pontificate about what caused India to be irretrievably ‘lost’ – that is, it no longer functions as a viable and friendly ally of the West, particularly of America. Though they would deny it, the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement currently being shoved down India’s throat would have been the tipping point that did India in.

Given the parlous security situation in the neighborhood, as well as the various separatist movements gaining strength from external sources, this may well be the first step in the unraveling of India. That would be a disaster not only for India and Indians, but also for America, because India is just about the only friend it has in that giant arc from East Africa to Southeast Asia, full of failed and failing states. Adding India to that list is not going to help anyone.

What is not known to most Americans is the extraordinary goodwill that ordinary Indians have towards America. At a time when the US is regularly pilloried as anywhere between monstrous and appalling by large numbers of people, India is the country where the average person on the street has the most positive perception of America. A Pew Trust survey on global attitudes in 2006 showed this: Indians were the most pro-American, far more so than Chinese, Saudi Arabians, and Pakistanis, to pick a few American allies.

Perhaps that’s not such a big deal to Americans accustomed to basking in the sunshine of admiration and envy from all quarters, based on both hard and soft power. But consider this: India, with all its problems, is no banana republic. According to the widely followed reports from Goldman Sachs, India may well overtake the US as the world’s second largest economy by 2050.

Besides, odd as it might sound when you hear it for the first time, India is a lot like America. That is my gut feel after having spent half my life in India and the other half in America. There are many similarities, but the most striking one is the openness and friendliness of the people. Whatever you may think of their respective governments, it is a fact that the people of America and of India are warm, friendly and hospitable. This carries over into many things: plurality, tolerance for different ideas, innovativeness.

In fact, I’d be so bold as to claim that India’s core competencies are quite like America’s: fertile land, soft power, innovation. What India has lacked is the financial resources of a vast virgin continent and what’s been termed ‘strategic intent’ by management guru C K Prahalad – the ability to imagine itself as Numero Uno, and to act accordingly.

There are historic reasons to believe that superpowerdom for India is not a wet-dream. India was, throughout most of recorded history, the richest country in the world, astonishing as this may seem. According to economic historian Angus Maddison, India was the world’s largest economy from 0 CE to 1500 CE; China was its competitor towards the end of that period. Then the land was ravaged by colonialism, which destroyed many of the wealth-generating systems that had emerged over millennia, notably the innovative small businesses in textiles and light engineering goods.

Indian prowess in intellectual property is not given due credit: some of the greatest inventions in history came from there, including the Indian numeral system, the cornerstone of all mathematics; the context-free grammar of Panini from 500 BCE, which underlies all computing; the infinite series of Madhava from 1300 CE, which provides the underpinnings of the differential calculus and thus of the Industrial Revolution.

But these are in the past, one might say. What has India done lately? That is fair criticism. I am forced to ask you to take it on faith that, just as India appeared out of the blue in high-technology, it has the intellectual capability to be a partner in the knowledge economy of tomorrow. Sociologist Joel Kotkin remarked that “engineering is the oil of the 21st century”; and that is what Indians are strong at.

There are the ingredients, then, of a successful rapprochement between India and the US. Why hasn’t this worked for so long? There are many who share the blame; some of it can be attributed to the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the Nehru dynasty which lectured the US and propped up the comical non-aligned movement. America’s explicit support of Pakistan has also been an irritant; so has the derision made most explicit in the Nixon Tapes.

Those days are past, though, and there are the glimmerings of a beautiful relationship. But the so-called Nuclear Deal has the potential to be a huge thorn in the flesh. The deal is a bad one. It is such a bad deal for India, and it is being railroaded through with such deceit and opaqueness by the Manmohan Singh administration, that it will almost certainly be revoked unilaterally by a future Indian government. Given the contours of the IAEA agreement, this will invite serious punitive sanctions on India.

The problem is that India is being sold a bill of goods. The deal is being sold to Indians as a guarantee of energy security and a harbinger of close co-operation with America. But it is obvious that this is neither; it is about non-proliferation, and about the bringing to heel of the one big nation that has challenged the apparently divinely mandated monopoly the P-5 have arrogated to themselves.

There has been a full-court press on India to accept the deal as the best and last deal India will ever get. This in itself is laughable, not to mention the assurances from many American worthies that this deal is “good for India” – as though they cared about India’s interests. It is clear that the champions of “cap, rollback and eliminate” who have lingered in Foggy Bottom through the Clinton and Bush administrations has now figured out, via a pliant Indian government, how to get the deed signed and delivered.

India is being conned into signing the NPT as a non-weapons-state, with no guarantee that anybody will supply uranium for the obsolete fission reactors India will buy at, undoubtedly, vastly inflated prices. India would be far better off investing its billions in emerging energy technologies, most notably solar, which is on the verge of a breakthrough. And India is nothing if not rich in sunshine. To give up its nuclear deterrent in the pursuit of a vague fission-based energy security is totally quixotic.

There really is no energy security in the proposed treaty. The version of the agreement that has been made public:

  • Does not give India any unique status, but is identical to the agreement with non-nuclear weapons states; thus India is treated on par with rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea
  • Does not guarantee fuel supply, but guarantees perpetual IAEA inspections
  • Does conform to US domestic legislation like the Hyde Act
  • Does not allow India, unlike the P-5, to unilaterally withdraw its facilities from intrusive inspections
  • Does not specify what “corrective steps”, if any, India may take in case of supply disruptions; to wit, there are no corrective steps

The net result of all this is that India will lose its strategic independence in terms of seeking a credible deterrent. Losing its small nuclear arsenal is not an option for India, which is threatened by two bellicose nuclear-armed neighbors: China and Pakistan. China has proliferated nukes and missiles to Pakistan. And Pakistan’s A Q Khan and his nuclear Wal-Mart, proliferating to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, are well-known.

Being unable to deter China in its adventurism, India will not also be able to adequately deter its proxies Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. The result of this is could even be an extinction of the India nation, as Bangladesh pursues lebensraum and detaches India’s Northeast as its fiefdom, China pursues the diversion of the Brahmaputra, Pakistan pursues the death by a thousand cuts, and Nepal’s newly emboldened communists pursue their Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor.

This is no way to treat a partner and an ally. In the long run, the US faces China, an implacable and ruthless foe. To subjugate the one nation in Asia that can match and counteract China, just to satisfy a bunch of non-proliferation fundamentalist Cold Warriors, and for the benefit of GE and Westinghouse, is plain folly. I don’t think America wants to lose India.

Rajeev Srinivasan considers San Francisco and Kerala his two homes.

1400 words, July 13, 2008

Any comments on http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/nov/05rajeev.htm can be posted here.

Democracy, subcontinent-ishtyle

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on what passes for democracy in these parts

 

I hear that General Musharraf has won the post of Pakistan’s President in a landslide victory. I haven’t followed the Musharraf extravaganza closely, I must admit, because I am not obsessed with Pakistan. Despite its being a serious nuisance, I don’t think Pakistan matters. It is a failing State with no self-image, or reason for existence, other than being ‘not-India’. They exhibit this periodically by destroying yet another bit of Indian civilization, most recently by blowing up a three-meter-high 7th century CE Buddha in Swat http://www.thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=10395

 

So it is immaterial if Musharraf remains in power or not, given the history of Pakistan’s civilian rulers (e.g. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who famously promised to even “eat grass” to get his country nuclear weapons). I am not enthused about Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto. I am reminded of Salman Rushdie’s cutting portrayal of Benazir Bhutto (he called her character “Virgin Ironpants”) in what may be his most insightful book, the under-appreciated “Shame”, about the absurdity of Pakistan.

 

Sharif was dour and the ISI kept him in the dark about what was really going on. Benazir, on the other hand, has always been colorful. Charming and shrill by turns, she ran circles around the pallid and stuffy old men in Delhi last time around, and they would be no match for her if she comes back to power again.

 

It is even possible that Musharraf is better from an Indian perspective than these mercurial civilian characters. Musharraf is a dependable, single-minded, and known, villain. Besides, Musharraf he has done a great deal for his country under trying circumstances. He has run with the hare (the Taliban) and hunted with the hound (the Americans) in a breath-taking display of sleight-of-hand. He has managed to turn a serious situation (Richard Armitage threatening to bomb Pakistan “into the Stone Age” after 9/11) into a cornucopia of American and Saudi largesse.

 

This is much more than can be said of India’s ruling politicians. None of them has done anything for India so far as I can see. Anything positive that happens in India is despite the so-called leaders: wherever they have ceased to interfere, Indians have done well. There is a clear ‘Leadership Penalty’ which is a continuing variant of what I once called the ‘Nehruvian Penalty’ http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/jan/14rajeev.htm . For the latest example of pork-barrel politics, see the BBC’s September 26 report “India job scheme ‘disappointing’” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7005985.stm on how the much-ballyhooed rural employment scheme is a huge waste of money.

 

India suffers mightily from lousy leadership. A strutting Musharraf, short-sighted and tactical commando though he might be, is doing far more in his national interest than the politicians in India are in theirs. So maybe Musharraf deserved to win his election. After all, who are his biggest opponents? Lawyers! Surely Shakespeare had a point when he suggested, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. (Note to the humor-impaired: I am not suggesting any violence, merely quoting the bard.)

 

Or maybe Musharraf used some good old strong-arm tactics. Perhaps he pulled out more of that make-believe stuff that he has copyrighted (see my column “Musharraf’s Theater of the Absurd” http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/jul/10rajeev.htm ). Anyway, I guess we may be in for some more years of Musharraf. India’s journalists must be pleased, especially the guy who promised Musharraf a few years ago that he and his fellow journalists would deliver a government in India that would be to Musharraf’s liking.

 

Over in Dhaka, the military rulers are still rather popular, as they have put an end to the Two-Begum Circus. Both of them were extremely corrupt, and in the case of Begum Zia, a fundamentalist bigot. Being rid of two such characters is, not surprisingly, a relief to the person on the street.

 

In Nepal, the Communists are carrying on with their usual little charades: pretending to be interested in elections, just so they can buy time to build up their armed power to eventually take over, line up their opponents and shoot them, just as all Communists have done whenever they came to power anywhere.

 

Now let’s move to that other stronghold of democracy in the Indian subcontinent, Bangalore. If Musharraf is a Three-Ring Barnum and Bailey Circus, namma own Deve Gowde is a most innovative Cirque du Soleil. The man is brilliant at coming up with new and unusual excuses for not vacating the chair. I particularly admire his chutzpah and epidermal fortitude. Most rhinoceroses would be put to shame.

 

The fact, to not put too fine a point on it, is that the JD(S) simply reneged on its agreement with its coalition partner, which they had done previously too. There must have been a number of calculations behind this behavior – and I can only conjecture about them. One is that Deve Gowda expected to get into an alliance with the Congress and continue to rule Karnataka. Another is that he expects to do well in a mid-term poll.

 

The third is that Deve Gowda is merely thumbing his nose at the BJP, telling them in so many words that they are paper tigers who can be betrayed at will. This should be cause for concern for the BJP, for such a perception, if it is widespread, spells ruin for it in various elections to come, including a possible national general election.

 

The final, and most damaging, possibility is that Deve Gowda expects that there will be no negative consequences to his actions because the public is an ass. Such a person who cavalierly abandons any commitment expects to brazenly go to the hustings and make promises galore. This implies complete contempt for the intelligence, not to speak of the memory, of the masses. This level of derision is a very poor advertisement for the peculiar animal known as ‘democracy’ that prevails in India.

 

The UPA has been especially responsible for the perversion of democratic ideals in India. I am beginning to forget the list of elections they have messed with: Jharkhand, Goa, Bihar… There is a sense that the Congress’s definition of “democracy” is close to a dictatorship, just as its ally the Communists have defined “democracy” as “one man, one vote, one time”. Add to the volatile mix regional parties which often have a single-point agenda: of hijacking the national interest for their own, narrow, regional interests.

 

India, and its neighbors, are giving democracy a bad name. Or maybe not. In none of these nations has democracy been anything more than a charade and a hoax. The correct name for what goes on is “kleptocracy” – rule by thieves. Or perhaps it is even “kakistocracy” – rule by the very worst possible people.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the Robert Sewell book, quoting Portuguese and Persian envoys, about the splendor of Vijayanagar. This book should be made compulsory reading for all high school students in India.

An electronic version can be downlooaded for free from http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3310

which is where I got this excerpt from as well.

I suggest you circulate the book widely. It is a good antidote to the re-toxified textbooks in India.

Excerpt:

A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar

CHAPTER 1

Introduction

Introductory remarks — Sources of information — Sketch of history of
Southern India down to A.D. 1336 — A Hindu bulwark against Muhammadan
conquest — The opening date, as given by Nuniz, wrong — “Togao
Mamede” or Muhammad Taghlaq of Delhi — His career and character.

In the year 1336 A.D., during the reign of Edward III. of England,
there occurred in India an event which almost instantaneously changed
the political condition of the entire south. With that date the volume
of ancient history in that tract closes and the modern begins. It is
the epoch of transition from the Old to the New.

This event was the foundation of the city and kingdom of
Vijayanagar. Read the rest of this entry »

This column is at http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/13rajeev.htm

There is no point in my reposting it here (unless rediff had edited something out, which they don’t seem to have done.)

I have been intrigued by some of the comments on both parts of this column. Let me say that I was merely celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the southern states. I wasn’t looking to put northern India down: if I were, I’d come straight out and say it, I wouldn’t beat about the bush and be coy. No, I was just observing that the southern states have managed to blunder along and now seem to have a teeny-weeny advantage in a globalized world.

As for language, I have mellowed a bit in my old age, but I have been quite um… shall we say, forceful, in the past on this topic. You can find four previous columns of mine here, and no, I am not going to rehash those arguments. You can believe whatever you want, and that’s fine with me, I am not trying to ‘convert’ anybody:

http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/sep/13rajeev.htm

http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/oct/05rajeev.htm

A small point of fact: there are nineteen or so national languages in India, every one that is printed on a rupee note. They are *all* defined as national languages in the Constitution.

Two languages get a special mention, as ‘official languages’. These are English and Hindi.

Anybody who is not convinced about the economic might of India should really read the voluminous tables in Angus Maddison’s book, which is available for free download on the Web.

Anyone who isn’t convinced of India’s tremendous contributions to intellectual property development should read an old column of mine and follow up on the links:

http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/aug/16rajeev.htm

The South, ascendant

November 2, 2006

The South, ascendant

http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/08rajeev.htm  

Rajeev Srinivasan on the rise of Southern India

I recently landed in Trivandrum, in the midst of a light rain-shower: the northeast monsoon is active in Kerala. The plane described a wide circle out to sea and then made its descent and I was reminded once again that Trivandrum is, just as San Francisco is, a dramatically beautiful airport to land in, as you make your final approach over the water. The knife-edge-straight beach stretches as far as you can see, with just a cove here where fishing-boats shelter, and a breach there where a stream’s delta fans out.

Read the rest of this entry »