In this first of a two part interview, we speak with Dr Koenraad Elst about his areas of research, his books and his interest in Indian history, triggered by the politics around the Ram Temple in the late eighties.
Dr Koenraad Elst is a distinguished historian and an expert in amazingly diverse areas of study such as Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. His deep scholarship is not just restricted to the confines of the academia and his active interest in current affairs, along with a dispassionate disposition, makes him one of the most insightful commentators on socio-cultural and political matters in India and the West.
The beginning of his interest in India coincided with the Ram Temple agitation of the late eighties, when he found himself researching and writing about the dispute. To his surprise, though the facts were pretty straightforward, no one was willing to report them objectively, leading to a great political upheaval that literally brought millions of Hindus out into the street in protest against the discriminatory behaviour of the Indian state. His work was widely quoted not just in popular writings but also as part of the legal proceedings in the matter.
Further, he continued his research on India and carried out original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998 from the Benaras Hindu University. As an independent researcher, he has earned great praise and criticism for his blunt writings on Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European languages, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. He has also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.
In this conversation with Ashish, Dr Elst talks about his research work, his books, his views on the Ram Temple dispute, secularism in India and his “Idea of India”.