Excerpted, with permission, from a longer article in the January 2005 issue of New Humanist magazine.

The second-term election victory of George Bush--and India's ownexperience with Hindu nationalist BJP rule, off and on, through the lastdecade--captures a dangerous moment in world history. We are witnessing theworld's first and the world's largest liberal constitutional democracies,officially committed to secularism, slide toward religious nationalism. Byvoting out the BJP and its allies in the last election, the Indian votershave halted this slide, at least for now--a heartening development,compared to the virtual takeover of America by Christian evangelicals andfundamentalists.The question that interests me in this electoral route to faith-basedgovernance is how this counter-revolution is actually accomplished.I have been watching with concern how modern science itself--perhaps thesingle most powerful force for secularization--is being re-coded as sacred,either as affirming the Bible or the Vedas, or as 'lower knowledge' of 'deadmatter,' in need of spiritualization. My fellow intellectuals in the UnitedStates and India, who identify themselves with social justice,anti-imperialism, women's rights and sustainable development, havethemselves paved the way for the re-sacralization of science.Many of the Hindutva arguments for 'Vedic science' find a resonance with thefashionable theories of alternative sciences.Indeed, postmodernist andmulticulturalist critics of modern science are re-discovering and restatingmany of the arguments Hindu nationalists have long used to assert thesuperior scientificity of Hindu sacred traditions.***Under BJP rule, superstitions started getting described as science. Hindunationalists started invoking science in just about every speech and policystatement. But while they uttered the word 'science'--which in today'sworld is understood as modern science--they meant astrology, vastu, Vedic creationism, transcendental meditation or ayurveda. This was not just talk: state universities and colleges got big grants from the government to offer post-graduate degrees,including PhDs in astrology; research in vastu shastra, meditation,faith-healing, cow-urine and priest-craft was promoted with substantialinjections of public money. Nearly every important discovery of modernscience was read back into Hindu sacred books: explosion of nuclear energybecame the awesome appearance of God in the Bhagvat Gita; the indeterminacyat quantum level served as confirmation of Vedanta; atomic charges becameequivalent to negative, positive and neutral gunas, or moral qualities; thereliance of experience and reason in science became the same thing asreliance on mystical experience, and so on. Contemporary theories ofphysics, evolution and biology were wilfully distorted to make it look as ifall of modern science was converging to affirm the New Age, mind-over-mattercosmology that follows from Vedantic monism. 'Evidence' from fringe scienceswas used to support all kinds of superstitions, from vastu, astrology,'quantum healing' to the latest theory of Vedic creationism. Science and'Vedas' were treated as just different names for the samething.
On the one hand, the BJP and its allies presented themselves as greatchampions of science, as long as it could be absorbed into 'the Vedas,' ofcourse. On the other hand, they aggressively condemned the secular andnaturalistic worldview of science--the disenchantment of nature--as'reductionist,' 'Western' or even 'Semitic,' and therefore un-Hindu andun-Indian. Science yes, and technology yes, but a rational-materialistcritique of Vedic idealism no--that became the mantra of Hindutva.Why this overeagerness to claim the support of science? There is amodernizing impulse in all religions to make the supposedly timeless truthsof theology acceptable to the modern minds raised on a scientificsensibility. 'Scientific creationism' among Christian and Islamicfundamentalists is an example of this impulse. But while Christianfundamentalists in America indulge in creationism primarily to get past theconstitutional requirement for a separation of church and state, in India itis motivated by ultra-nationalism, Hindu chauvinism and the nationalist urgeto declare Hinduism's superiority as the religion of reason and natural lawover Christianity and Islam, which are declared to be irrational andfaith-based creeds. Contemporary Hindu nationalists are carrying on with theneo-Hindu tradition of proclaiming Hinduism as the universal religion of thefuture because of its superior 'holistic science' (as compared to the'reductionist science' of the West). Besides, it is easier to selltraditions and rituals, especially to urban, upwardly mobile men, if theyhave the blessings of English-speaking 'scientific' gurus.***Presenting India as a source of alternative universals that could heal thereductionism of Western science became the major preoccupation of Indianfollowers of science studies. Vandana Shiva wrote glowingly of Indian viewsof non-dualism as superior to Western reductionism. Ashis Nandy declaredastrology to be the science of the poor and the non-Westernized masses inIndia.Prayers to smallpox goddesses, menstrual taboos, Hindu nature ethics whichderive from orthodox ideas about prakriti or shakti, and even the varnaorder were defended as rational (evensuperior) solutions to thecultural and ecological crises of modernity.All this fitted in very well with Western feminist and ecologists' searchfor a kinder and gentler science. The deep investment of these philosophiesin perpetuating superstitions and patriarchy in India was forgotten andforgiven.***
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