I got acquainted with Meera Nanda’s writing for the first time a few years ago when I read her fascinating piece in Frontline about the schizophrenia of Indian science – on the one hand, our scientists and engineers build missiles and nuclear power stations; on the other hand, many of them practice highly ritualistic forms of religion, and are captive to all manner of superstitions.
Meera Nanda’s new book – The God Market: How Globalization is making India more Hindu (Random House India, 2009) – is a thought-provoking addition to the contemporary literature that looks at where India is today, and that seeks to understand where it is headed. This book is firmly rooted in contemporary sociological perspectives on secularism and modernity, and this strong conceptual base provides a powerful lens to look at the growth of Hinduism in India.
Meera Nanda argues that the Indian middle class has grown more prosperous thanks to economic liberalisation, but, contrary to some of the dominant theories regarding secularism, has become more visibly and ritualistically religious. This growth in religiosity has gone along with a growth in jingoism, a sense that India’s time has come, and an attribution of India’s progress to the genius of the Hindu mind. Though the State remains officially secular, a sense of majoritarianism has crept in that attributes all good things to Hindu thought and culture. This majoritarian orientation does not, in Meera Nanda’s view, bode well for the future.
A useful contribution of this book is an attempt to document the growing nexus between the State (politicians, bureaucrats), organised religion (popular Hindu godmen) and big business. Meera Nanda identifies religious tourism, higher education and infrastructure as three domains in which the interests of these three actors coalesce.
It is difficult to disagree with much of what Meera Nanda says in this book. Though her data and evidence are not watertight, in aggregate they make a compelling case. And, we need to just look around us and reflect back to realise that the Nehruvian concept of secularism has take a severe beating and been replaced by a “Soft Hinduism” that pervades much of Indian society today. As the author observes, it is not as though every member of the (Hindu) Indian middle class has antipathy towards other communities and religions; but by failing to respond to the majoritarian viewpoint that has become dominant, we are more complicit than we realise.
This is fascinating book – it holds up a mirror to contemporary Indian society in a completely unique way.