Exaggeration Leads to Exaggeration

img1 Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
30 Nov 2020

Political pressure in one direction invites a reaction in the opposite direction:

A central thesis of the great historian Arnold Toynbee is that every political force that goes to excess gives rise to a rival, or strengthens it if it is already there. Thus, Alexander gathers strength by resisting the Persian pressure on Greece and goes on to crush Persia itself. Rome emerges powerful through its struggle against Hannibal and Carthage; she destroys Carthage and dominates the Mediterranean for centuries. Modern Europe rises under Islamic pressure from Asia and Africa and goes ahead to world conquest. 

Though Toynbee is no more with us to interpret today’s events, we may see in the sturdiness that China has built up and the resurgence of the Middle East countries the belated response of the areas concerned to colonial exploitation. It is very hard to predict what lies ahead for us when Africa awakens. The population of Nigeria alone will be higher than that of the whole of Europe by the middle of the century.

The exaggeration of Capitalism today is a reaction to the exaggerations of Communism of the last century:

Toynbee says, the Mongol expansion westward into Russia and beyond explains the eastward Russian expansion deep into Mongolia and beyond. He sees a similar norm operative in other social fields as well. Exaggeration on one side invites exaggeration on the other. The post-Reformation radical religiosity and lengthy religious wars stimulated secularist thought in western society which went into excesses during the French and Russian revolutions. Excesses led to excesses. The excesses of Communism last century have led to the reaffirmation of Capitalism today in the most sophisticated and vitiated form. 

Similarly, the general concern in the post-colonial era for weaker nations, smaller communities, fragile individuals like the handicapped, women, migrant workers and for ‘minorities’ has evoked a resistance, as we can see, in the aggressive self-assertion of ‘majority’ communities in the US, EU, India other places and given rise of macho figures like Trump, Duterte, Putin and Xi.  

The blessings of Secularism, its fanatic exaggerations:

The development of the concept of Secularism in the West gave us many positive values: the separation of church and state, democracy, equality before law, right to participation in decision-making, freedom of expression, basic human rights, equal access to economic opportunities. The same concept developed anti-religious forms too, not rarely of the extreme type, as it happened during the French Revolution. People like Marx, Freud and others had their own interpretation of religion as alienation, a natural instinct for softening painful realities, or opium of the oppressed people; plain escapism, illusion, a useful emotion or a search for solace and inwardness. 

These exaggerations have made a negative impact on society. In parts of the world, religion has been replaced by loyalty to one’s nation, ethnic group, ideology, or party; or even to one’s own business group or plain self-interest.  In which case, morality comes to mean merely serving any of these interests. 

During the Cold War the Communist societies were considered aggressively ‘atheistic’; and democratic nations claimed to be defenders of religious freedom and cultural diversity. Such hollow claims were exposed with the fall of the Berlin Wall, when democratic nations that opted for crude capitalism proved to be as materialistic and godless as the erstwhile Communist societies. Some thinkers like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins were not embarrassed to become eloquent propagators of ‘militant atheism.’  

Fundamentalist response to Secularist exaggeration, fundamentalism in various forms:

Other secularists went even further. They ridiculed sacred writings and prophetic personalities associated with religious traditions. Religious believers became restless. Finally, a reaction came to provocations like Satanic verses of Salman Rushdie, Danish cartoons on Mohammad, and the burning of the Quran. This time the reaction was not expressed in words only, but in violent deeds. The re-publication of Danish cartoons by Charlie Hebdo in 2015 led to the killings of 130 people in Paris, and other violent incidents of late.  The defence of the caricatures by Macron, the French President, aggravated tension between France and the Islamic world, an anxiety yet to be resolved. 

Radical ‘fundamentalism’ is a reaction to radical secularism. Hans Kung says, the word ‘fundamentalism’ has assumed of late a wider meaning: a fanatic loyalty to one’s own community invoking the scriptures or tenets of one’s tradition; refusal to listen to other points of view including proposals of modernity and science; hostility to other communities to the point of violence; attitudes that are exclusive, authoritarian and repressive (Kung 1995:641). Fundamentalism, in this sense, is fast emerging as a universal phenomenon: Hindutva groups against Muslims and Christians; Muslim radicals against minorities where Islam is dominant; similarly with Buddhists; Confucians in China manifesting a majoritarian attitude towards the non-Han Chinese like Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Mongols. 
Exaggerations keep mounting on both sides:

Though the present form of religious fundamentalism rose as a reaction to the radical and insensitive secularism of the West that went on to mock religion, it acquired greater intensity in the Middle East where it got mixed up with nationalist self-assertions, historic memories, colonial wounds, ethnic strife, and the feeling that their natural resources were being exploited by dominant nations. George Bush’s declaration of War on Terror after 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, interventions in Afghanistan and Syria, unilateral regime changes, proxy wars, and ethnic tussles have only gone on to aggravate the anger.  

Taj Hashmi argues that a committed enemy that feels wronged and humiliated is bound to grow stronger and stronger. Every blow adds to his strength. In an asymmetrical war, the weak feel justified to strike back in unexpected places and in unexpected ways (Hashmi 20). Unfortunately, it is poor civilians that fall victims to this form of erratic response. This paper is an invitation to sober thinking on both sides, perceptive interpretation of recent tragedies, respect for each other’s treasured values, and encouragement to processes that will put a stop to this vicious cycle. 

India has to be rescued from the path of exaggerations, fanaticisms:

Indians usually take the Middle Path that Buddha suggested. Many ideologies of the Right and Left that went to extremes in other parts of the world, kept to moderation in India. Our Founding Fathers showed amazing ability to recognise differences among themselves, and at the same time work for the emotional integration Indian society. No doubt, the recent trends in the Middle East, including oil wealth and Islamic self-assertion, have influenced different communities in India in different ways. In these sensitive times, we need to take extra pains to make sure that we do not opt for the path of exaggerations in one direction or the other. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. 

Many see in the disastrous Bombay blasts a response to the destruction of Babri Masjid. The tensions between communities mounted. The solutions that Modiji has brought to the problem with Kashmir-alienation and temple-erection in Ayodhya have further widened the distance between communities in India. Our leaders seem to be misreading the world situation, isolating India in an Islamic world, moving out of the RECEP to which even our Quad allies like Australia and Japan have renewed their loyalty, being excited about “Namaste Trump” programmes when the leader was already on the way out. When will a sense of realism, relevance and responsibility return to our national policy-makers? Jaishankar expressed anxiety about being part of the global trade. If atmanirbhar seeks merely to give protection to inefficiency, low quality, poor planning, diversion of money into hands of BJP-supporting Billionaires, our future is going to be bleak. 

“Backward leap” is a poor strategy: Exaggeration reaches a climax:

When Mao was becoming unpopular, he launched the great “Forward Leap” in whose cause millions of Chinese perished. An unsure leader always comes forward waving an ‘irrational’ flag. Modiji came for the Bihar elections roaring “The Opposition will not say ‘Jai Shri Ram’” as though that was the most serious national crime. He changed the tone immediately, because he saw that there were no takers. But he finds it impossible to move away from the Hindutva cause to which he has given his life. The great gift he took to Uganda a couple of years ago were a few cows. During a Nepal visit he donated a paltry sum (less than what the BJP spent on purchasing an MLA in Karnataka) to link Janakpur with Ayodhya. He is at his best when promoting causes like Ayurveda, yoga, and cows…recently, toys! 

His Lieutenants at the national and state levels keep fully in tune with their adored leader. We hear of nothing else these days but the next Kumbha Mela, Love Jihad laws in UP, Cow Cabinet in MP, temple restoration initiatives in hundreds of places. All national programmes pale before pujas, yathras and melas. Resources are readily available. UP, MP and other states have allotted huge sums to cow-shelters, while farmers starve and children die.  Rajasthan has a Government Department devoted to cows, in addition to a Cow-sewa Commission and Cow Conservation Directorate. Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s main complaint against the Congress was they had not built the cow-shelters they had promised to do. Everyone knows that the entire cow-budget is a hidden way of diverting money. Unfortunately, our leaders have lost touch with human realities, and India’s per capita income has sunk lowest, close to Cambodia and Myanmar!

The dream of the Hindutva leaders was to “take back” the country 8,00,000 years to the era when Rama is believed to have ruled in Ayodhya. Indeed, we have made a major “backward leap” during the six years that BJP has been in power. They have not promoted Hindu philosophy, ethical codes, or social wisdom. They have doled out dozes of obscurantism to the masses and thrust dozens of cows onto the roads. What few realize is that the cow-slaughter ban was aimed only at crippling the poor Muslim’s economy who depended on cow trade alone. He is daily under threat with cow-related issues, while high profile beef-exporters earn crores.

If obscurantism is turned into a religion and thrust upon the masses (Dalits, tribals) to keep them blind and content, the upper castes can have a free ride to scientific education and better jobs. Indian students, numbering 1,93,124, contributed $7.6 billion to US economy in a year.  The lower castes and tribal people are invited to worship Hanuman, and Hanuman temples are multiplying in the tribal belt. The higher deities are for the higher castes. There are very few who can see through this pedagogy of mass-deception. The humbler members of society are doomed to be deceived and “used”. 

A change is urgently needed:

It is good that we listen to a genuine Hindutva-sympathizer, Koenraad Elst, a Belgian scholar, who says that for nearly a millennium Hindu society has been humiliated through the political, ideological, and psychological domination of Muslim and European powers (Elst 9). We sympathize with this society. He goes on to argue that the Hindu consequently has developed an ‘inferiority complex’. Mr. Modi himself confesses that he had to work hard to get over it. Elst refers even to a measure of ‘self-hatred’, which, of course, is self-created, by taking a path of poor performance, as we have seen above. But, then, he points out the reason: mediocre minds control the Hindutva movement (Elst 234). There is an excess of intellectual poverty, and no evidence a critical think-tank…no realistic outlook. 
They will never rescue themselves from this situation unless they part ways with those who led them to an “exaggerated” stand on Hindutva like Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar, A.K. Singhal, Togadia, Sudarshan and others. Leaders like Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel, or Tagore never manifested an inferiority complex. They were proud of the Indian civilization, its cultural heritage, its philosophical traditions, its values systems, its sense of togetherness. They did not live on grievances, but dealt with those who differed from them with intelligence, balance and respect. The brought the entire nation together, and therefore they succeeded. An “exclusivist” ideology may help them in elections, but will not promote the economy. Even our very survival will turn difficult, if we turn everyone into an enemy. 
We are willing to understand past mistakes, but we want to look to the future with hope:

We very well UNDERSTAND why Hindutva-inspired leaders who were for the first time in power “exaggerated”: in their words, threatening minorities; in their early strategies, blatantly promoting Saffron interests. This is not, however, an approach which can contribute to nation-building. We urge you to leave these oddities behind. Now that you have matured in office, allow temples to be constructed by temple personnel, cows be looked after by cow-keepers, food choices be decided by the persons concerned. Let government money be used for people’s welfare and government agencies be at the service of the fellow citizens. Avoid exaggerations. 

What we need to do today is to demolish walls of prejudice, build bridges, and initiate dialogue (Kung 2007: xxiv). All should come together: politicians, business people, media men, educators, associations. Everyone’s opinion is important, everyone’s criticism is welcome. Negative memories should be shed, and sensitivity across cultures fostered. We eagerly look for bridge-builders, who, despite all difficulties, past clashes and confrontations, are eager to search for areas of agreement in view of the common good, and have a Message to give.  People are eagerly waiting for some inspiring voices. May balance return, good sense prevail, and may we be united in a common venture. 


Elst, Koenraad, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2001 
Hashmi, Taj, Global Jihad and America, Sage Publication, New Delhi, 2014
Kung, Hans, Islam, One world Publications, Oxford, 2007
Kung, Hans, Christianity, SCM Press, London, 1995

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