The pompous Pavan Varma attacks Hinduism

published on December 2, 2013

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Mr. Pavan Varma is a retired diplomat who now acts as advisor to the Nitish Kumar government. He has also written books and a volume of poetry and considers himself something of an intellectual on the Indian scene. At first glance his appearances on national television indicate a man who is merely opposed to the prospects of Shri Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister of India. In articles he fulminates against the Sangh Parivar organisations. But that is not the whole story.

His recent book Chanakya’s New Manifesto : To Resolve the Crisis within India’ ( 2013) signals his hostility towards his Hindu heritage. Mr. M.Pramod Kumar has provided an insightful critique of this book in his article ‘Does Hinduism connive at corruption ? ‘ (Vijayvaani. com, 18 November 2013) :

“In his recent book titled, Chanakya’s New Manifesto : To Resolve the Crisis within India, Pavan Varma comes up with an absurd theory which seeks to stereotype the Hindu religion and millions of its followers as morally loose and ‘corruption friendly’ . Varma writes , “At least in Hinduism, there is no binding or universal code of conduct that gives unequivocal primacy to the moral dimension. . . The essential point I am trying to make is that Hindu tradition, for all its philosophical loftiness, has always allowed for a convenient response to the moral imperative. Ethics are conceptually grounded in a utilitarian framework where there  are no uncontested definitions of right and wrong. The only consistent concern is the end result. In the pursuit of the desired goal, morality, is not so much disowned as it is pragmatically devalued ” (p. 127-128).

Pramod Kumar takes him to task for this astonishing statement, given the fact that Varma is an educated Indian. Every Indian knows that the country has become the mother of all corruption and that it is concentrated in the upper echelons, as the recent scams have revealed and as is well known in the shocking amounts of black money stashed away in Swiss banks. The average Hindu has no complicity in this massive network of mega corruption.

What anyway does  any of the above have  to do with Hindu moral and ethical philosophy ?  Pramod Kumar points  to the Veda, the Ithihasas and the Dharmashastras which have given detailed accounts of moral and social philosophy. Pavan Varma has clearly not read any of this and his education at St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, would not have prepared him for this either. This deficiency is evident in his theory, which Kumar rightly calls ‘absurd’.

Kumar also cites the contemporaneous accounts of travellers in ancient and medieval times who spoke favourably about the honest and high ethical standards of the Hindus of the country. In addition he cites contemporary accounts of studies done by many international  organisations which attest to the honesty of every day Indians in general throughout the country.

Kumar concludes with the right diagnosis of what ails the country : “corruption in India multiplied by leaps and bounds in the post Independence era not because of Hindu Dharma but because education and public life in India became divorced from Hindu Dharma in the name of secularism. “

Varmas’s prescriptions for the ills of Indian society can stand on their own without his ill starred attempt to implicate Hindu Dharma in them. No one can quarrel with his remedies : good governance, electoral reform etc., weeding out of corruption, a genuine lokpal bill and so on. It is his ludicrous attempt to link corruption to Hindu Dharma that makes his whole project look suspect.

Why this excursion into Hindu social and ethical philosophy which he is singularly unfit to judge, both by his defective educational background and his continued ignorance of his Hindu heritage, an ailment that he shares with some at least of his contemporaries ? Rather than engage in an ill prepared and ill informed  attack on that heritage he would do well to return to it and engage with it in a serious manner.

This would give his writings and as well his public appearances on national television some authenticity. As it stands,his political analyses oscillate from what appears to be an attempt to set himself up as a latter day savant and a bumbling search for the right words for the right concepts. He comes out looking pompous and lacking in credibility.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

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