Appendix 1. Girilal Jain on Hindu Rashtra
Girilal Jain is one of the India’s leading journalists. He was editor of the Times of India until 1989. After that, he did not really retire, but continues to function as one of India’s most respected columnists. In these, he has taken an increasingly bold and outspoken stand in favor of the recognition of India as a Hindu Rashtra, as the political embodiment of Hindu civilization. Unlike the many who don’t go beyond a petty criticism of the injustices done to Hindus, Mr. Jain draws attention to the configuration of the large historical forces at work.
I have included here two of his columns published in Sunday Mail (which have been honored with page full of reaction by Shankar Aiyar and P. Sainath), and an interview given to J. D. Singh and published in The Daily.
Limits of the Hindu Rashtra
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri dispute has brought to the fore the critical issue of the nature of the Indian state as nothing else has since partition and independence in 1947.
The secularist-versus-Hindu-Rashtra controversy is, of course, not new. In fact, it has been with us since the twenties when some of our forebears began to search for a definition of nationalism which could transcend at once the Hindu-Muslim divide and the aggregationist approach whereby India was regarded as a Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Christian land. But it has acquired an intensity it has not had since partition.
This intensity is the result of a variety of factors which have cumulatively provoked intense anxiety among million of Hindus regarding their future and simultaneously given a new sense of strength and confidence to the proponents of Hindu Rashtra. The first part of this story beings, in my view, with the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam in Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu in 1981. and travels via the rise of Pakistan-backed armed secessionist movements in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, and the second part with the spectacular success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last polls to the Lok Sabha and State Vidhan Sabha. These details, however, need not detain us in a discussion on basic issues.
The basic issues, I need hardly add, are extremely complex; and judging by what has been written and spoken in recent months, they, I am afraid, are once again being simplified and sloganized. This is a pity in vies of the gravity of the situation we face and the nature of the stake we have in the outcome. I, therefore, wish to draw attention to what appear to me to be lacunae in the current and previous debates, and that too in a general fashion; for that alone is possible in this space.
In much of what I have read and heart on the subject, an awareness of the civilizational aspect of the problem has either been absent or warped, though its very mention should suffice to convince us that this is a matter if the greatest importance. India, to put the matter brusquely, has been a battleground between two civilizations (Hindu and Islamic) for well over a thousand years, and three (Hindu, Muslim and Western) for over two hundred years. None of them has ever won a decisive enough and durable enough victory to oblige the other two to assimilate themselves fully into it. So to the battle continues. This stalemate lies at the root of the crisis of identity the intelligentsia is incidentally not a monolithic entity. Though its constituents are not too clearly differentiated, they should broadly be divided into at least two groups.
The more resilient and upwardly mobile section of the intelligentsia must, by definition, seek to come to terms with the ruling power and its mores, and the less successful part of it to look for its roots and seek comfort in its culture past. This was so during the Muslim period; this was the case during the British Raj; and this rule has not ceased to operate since independence.
Thus in the medieval period of our history grew up a class of Hindus in and around centres of Muslim power who took to the Persian-Arabic culture and ways of the rules; similarly under the more securely founded and far better organized and managed Raj there arose a vast number of Hindus who took to the English language, Western ideas, ideals, dress and eating habits; many of these men came from the earlier Islamized groups, such as the Nehrus, for example; they, their progeny and other recruits to their class have continued to dominate independent India.
They are the self-proclaimed secularists who have sought, and continue to seek, to remark India in the Western image. The image has, of course, been an eclectic one; if they have stuck to the institutional framework inherited from the British, they have been more than willing to take up not only the Soviet model of economic development, but also the Soviet theories on a variety of issues such as the nationalities problem and the nature of imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Behind them has stood, and continues to stand, the awesome intellectual might of the West, which may or may not be anti-India, depending on the exigencies of its interest, but which has to be antipathetic to Hinduism in view of its non-Semitic character.
Some secularists may be genuinely pro-Muslim, as was Nehru, because they find high Islamic culture and the ornate Urdu language attractive. But, by and large, that is not the motivating force in their lives. They are driven, above all, by the fear of what they call regression into their own past which have come and continue to come understandably from the Left, understandably because no other group of Indians can possibly be so alienated from the country’s culture past as the followers of Lenin, Stalin and Mao who have spared little effort to turn their own countries into culture wastelands.
As a group, the secularists, especially the Leftists, have not summoned the courage to insist that in order to ensure the survival of the secular India state, Muslims should accept one common civil code, and that Article 370 of the Constitution, which concedes special rights to Jammu and Kashmir mainly because it is a Muslim-majority state, should be scrapped. They have contented themselves with vague statements on the need for the majorities to join the mainstream, never drawing attention to the twin fact that, of necessity, Hindus constitute the mainstream and that this mainstream is capable of respecting the identities and rights of the minorities, precisely because it is inclined to take note of the international aspect of Indian Islam.
Personally I have never been inclined to favour one common civil code. I regard such a demand as being Semitic in its inspection and spirit. A Hindu, in my view, can never wish to impose a code on a reluctant, in this case defiant, community. Even so I find it extraordinary that those who call themselves modernizers and secularists-the two terms are interchangeable-should shirk the logic of their philosophy of life.
A number of Indians have tried to define secularism as sarva dharma samabhava (equal respect for all religions). I cannot say whether they have been naive or clever in doing so. But the fact remains that secularism cannot admit of such an interpretation. In fact, orthodox Muslims are quite justified in regarding it as irreligious. Moreover, dharma cannot be defined as religion which is a Semitic concept and applies only to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is not a religion in that sense; nor are Jainism and Buddhism, or for that matter, Taoism and Confucianism.
The state in independent India, has, it is true, sought, broadly speaking, to be neutral in the matter of religion. But this is a surface view of the reality. The Indian state has been far from neutral inn civilizational terms. It has been an agency, and a powerful agency, for the spread of Western values and mores. It has willfully sought to replicate Western institutions, the Soviet Union too being essentially part of Western civilization. It could not be otherwise in view of the orientation and aspirations of the dominant elite of which Nehru remains the guiding spirit.
Muslim have found such a state acceptable principally on three counts. First, it has agreed to leave them alone in respect of their personal law (the Shariat) so much so that when the Supreme Court allowed a small alimony to a Muslim window on the ground that she was indigent and therefore viable to become a vagrant, parliament enacted a law to overrule such interventions in the future. Secondly, it has allowed them to expand their traditional Quran-Hadith-based educational system in madrasahs attached to mosques. Above all, it has helped them avoid the necessity to come to terms with Hindu civilization in a predominantly Hindu India. This last count is the crux of the matter.
I do not believe for a moment that a genuine Hindu-Muslim synthesis took place in India during the Moghul period, or that the British policy of divide-and-rule was solely, or even mainly, responsible for the Hindu-Muslim conflict under the Raj. Two caveats, however, need to be entered on these observations. First, after the beginning of the collapse of the Moghal empire with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, new power Hindu-Muslim co-existence and co-operation on terms less onerous for Hindus. Second, the very consolidation of British rule on an all-India basis led to a search by both Hindus and Muslims for self-definitions on the same all-India basis. This search led to a sharpening of the conflict between which the British exploited to their advantage.
Be that as it may, however, there is a basic point which has generally failed to attract the attention it deserves. Which is that a triangular contest is inherently not conducive to a stable alliance. So all equations (Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-British and Muslim-British) had to be unstable under the Raj; they were unstable. Each co-operated and clashed with the other two and each was also divided within itself. For example, just as Sir Sayyid Ahmed propagated the cause of co-operation with the British among fellow Muslims, the pan-Islamic sentiment began to spread among them on the Turkish question, inclining them finally to accept Gandhiji’s leadership of the Khilafat movement in 1921. Gandhiji saw this triangular contest in civilizational terms. He juxtaposed all traditional civilizations against the modern scientific-technological civilization, which he called Satanic. Nehru saw the contest in economic terms. He juxtaposed the capitalist-imperialist and exploitative West against the exploited anti-imperialist East in which he included the Soviet Union.
Gandhiji sought Hindu-Muslim amity on the platform of essential unity of the two religion and Nehru on that of a common fight against feudalism, exploitation and poverty. Both approaches failed to produce the desired result; they had to fail. The two leaders tried to wish away the unresolved and stalemated civilizational conflict and they could not possibly succeed. The nobility of their purpose, the intensity of their conviction and the Herculean nature of their effort could not prevail against the logic of history. The alternative to Partition would have been infinitely worse.
For the first time in a thousand years, Hindus got in 1947 an opportunity to resolve the civilizational issue in the only manner such issues can be resolved. History clearly of one civilization alone produces the necessary condition for the assimilation of another. The predominant culture too changes, as any student of the Arab conquests of Christian Syria and Egypt in the seventh century. would know. But that is how civilizations grow.
Hindus missed the opportunity, not so much because Nehru happened to be at the helm of affairs, as because they did not possess an elite capable of rising to the occasion. Indeed, Nehru himself was not an aberration. He was representative of the dominate elite which must not be equated with the Congress organizational leaders. The sweep and success of the campaign against Sardar Patel in 1947-48 should clinch the argument.
Hindus were just not in a position to assert the primacy of their civilization and they are still in no position to do so. The case for Hindu Rashtra rests on the failure of the Nehru model and its pull on the rise of a vast unprivileged intelligentsia, mobilization of vast masses as part of the democratic process and the modernization programme.
While a proper discussion of this question must wait, I would wish to add in conclusion that V.P. Singh and Mulayam Singh have rendered a yeoman’s service to the cause of Hindu Rashtra, the former by splitting the secularist forces in the political realm, and the latter by showing Hindus how contemptuous and brutal the Indian state can be in its treatment of them.
[Sunday Mail, 2/12/1990]
The Harbinger of a New Order
A spectre haunts dominant sections of Indian’s political and intellectual elites-the spectre of a growing Hindu self-awareness and self-assertion. Till recently these elites had used the bogey of Hindu communalism and revivalism as a convenient device to keep themselves in power and to legitimize their slavish imitation of the West. Unfortunately for them, the ghost has now materialized.
Million of Hindus have stood up. It will not be easy to trick them back into acquiescing in an order which has been characterized not much by its appeasement of Muslims as by its alienness, rootlessness and contempt for the land’s unique culture past. Secularism, a euphemism for irreligion and repudiation of the Hindu ethos, and socialism, an euphemism for denigration and humiliation of the business community to the benefit of ever expanding rapacious bureaucracy and politocracy, have been major planks of this order. Both have lost much of their old glitter and, therefore, capacity to dazzle and mislead. By the same token, re-Hinduization of the country’s political domain has begun. On a surface view, it may be a sheer accident that the battle between aroused Hindus and the imitation Indian state, neutral to the restoration of the country’s ancient civilization on its own oft-repeated admission, has been joined on the question of the Ram Janam-bhoomi temple in Rama’s city of Ayodhya. But the historic significance of this accident should be evident to anyone familiar with Rama’s place in our historic consciousness.
Rama has been exemplar par excellence for the Hindu public domain. There have been other incarnations of Vishnu in the Hindu view and the tenth (the Kalki avatar) is yet to arrive. But there has been no other similar exemplar for Hindu polity. In historic terms, therefore, the proposed temple can be the first step towards that goal. The proper English translation of Hindu Rashtra would be Hindu polity and not Hindu nation.
The concept of nation itself is, in fact, alien to the Hindu temperament and genius. It is essentially Semitic in character, even if it arose in Western Europe in the eighteenth century when it had successfully shaken off the Church’s stranglehold. For, like Christianity and Islam, it too emphasizes the exclusion of those who do not belong to the charmed circle (territorial, or linguistic, or ethnic) as much as it emphasizes the inclusion of those who fall within the circle. Indeed, the former, like the heretics and pagans in Christianity and Islam, are cast into outer darkness.
Two other points may be made in this connection, though only parenthetically. First, the nation could become the new icon and wars between nations replace religious (sectarian) wars in Western Europe precisely because it was a secularized version of Christian and sectarian exclusivism. Second, the Western European imperialist expansion into pagan lands was not unrelated to the spirit of heresy hunting from the very beginning of the Christian enterprise.
Spaniards and the Portuguese made no bones about it. They went about the task of destroying pagan temples and converting the peoples they conquered with a ruthlessness perhaps without a parallel in human history. Latin America bears witness to the earnestness and thoroughness of the Spanish-Portuguese Christian soul-rescue mission.
The British and the French took a different route to the same goal of decimation of other cultures. They sought not so much blessed with the light, compassion and love of God’s own son Christ, as to introduce these victims of primitive animism superstition, idolatory and female irrationalism to the world-ordering masculine rationality of the West. They too did as thorough a job of under-mining pagan civilization as their Spanish and Portuguese predecessors. The continued adherence to the concept of nationalism and secularism of our elites are evidence of the success of the British in our case.
Obviously, I am calling into question the conceptual capital of the dominant elites. Equally obviously, I cannot deal with the issues I am raising even in the telegraphic language. But, fortunately, an American anthropologist, Ronal Inden, has written a book entitled Imagining India (Basil Blackwell) exposing the distortions our heritage has suffered in interpretations by Western orientalists, whether materialists (British and French) or idealists (Germans). He has not discussed how Western-education Indians have swallowed lock, stock and barrel these distorted interpretations of our past. But that should become obvious once we become aware of the misrepresentations. The book available in Delhi.
To return to the issue under discussion, Hindus are not a community; they cannot become a community. This fact has less to do with the caste system even in this present degenerate from than with the essential spirit of Hinduism which is inclusivist and not exclusivist by definition. Such a spirit must seek to abolish and not build boundaries. Manava-dharma must come before swa-dharma in the hierarchy of our values. That is why I have said again and again that Hindus cannot sustain an anti-Muslim feeling except temporarily and that too under provocation. The provocation may not come directly from Muslims. But that is a different proposition not under discussion in this piece.
Hindus have been compelled to recognize boundaries, as towards the end of tenth century when Eastern Afghanistan fell to Muslim Turks after a valiant struggle by shaivite princes lasting over three centuries and their access to Central Asia was effectively blocked as a prelude to the invasion of Bharat Varsha itself by Afghans converted to Islam (for details of the struggle see Andre Wink’s Al Hind, Oxford University press). And they are obliged to recognize frontiers now even within the sub-continent which has been the heartland of their civilization. But that limitation cannot make them into a nation.
Hindus are not a nation in being or becoming. They cannot be, not because of the illiterate view that they are divided on the basis of caste and language but of the deep and profound truth that they have been and are meant to be a civilization. A civilization must, by definition, seek to be universal. Of the great civilizations, China alone has been an exception to this rule. That has been so because Chinese civilization alone has been based on, and has derived sustenance from, the ethnic unity of its populace.
It is this approach that I had in my mind when I wrote the article entitled “Rama and not temples is the issue” in his journal on November 4, though I took have been obliged since to speak of Hindu nation in order to bring out the absurdity of the Indian concept of secular nationalism which its proponents treat as being culturally neutral. As such I find it painful that even well-meaning Hindus should make a distinction between Hindu culture-civilization and Hindu religion, little realizing that Hinduism is not a religion, and say that Rama was both a cultural hero and a religious figure as if he can be so split. No, he epitomizes our civilization in its totality.
The construction of the proposed temples in the city of his birth, as we know it from Ramayana which, much more than the Maharashtra, has shaped the Hindu world view at least in this millennium of deep trouble and continuous struggle against foreign inroads, cannot symbolize the return of Rama as such. But it can mark the beginning of the process which must in the nature of things be prolonged and painful.
The Hindu fight is not at all with Muslim; the fight is between Hindus anxious to renew themselves in the spirit of their civilization, and the state, Indian in name and not in spirit and the political and intellectual class trapped in the debris the British managed to bury us under before they left. The proponents of the Western ideology are using Muslims as auxiliaries and it is a pity Muslim leaders are allowing themselves to be so used. Developments in this regard have, however, not been without a positive aspect since 1986 when the padlock on the gate to the structure known as the Babri mosque were opened and Rama Lala (child Rama) which was already installed at the site sanctified by tradition as the place of Rama’s birth. On the contrary, it can argued that in the absence of opposition by the state and Muslim leaders the necessary task of mobilizing Hindus would have got neglected, with adverse consequences in the long term. Proponents of a Hindu order have reason to be particularly grateful to the U.P. chief Minister, Mulayam Singh, who on October 30 and November 2 gave Ram bhaktas an opportunity to prove that they could withstand a mass massacre. That is how instruments for fulfillment of historic destiny are forged. In the past up to the sixteenth century, great temples have been built in our country by rulers to mark the rise of a new dynasty and/or to mark a triumph which they have regarded as vindication of their claim to the Chakravarti status. In the present case, the proposal to build the Rama temple has also to help produce an army which can in the first instance achieve the victory the construction can proclaim.
The raising of such as army in our democracy, however flawed, involves not a body of disciplined cadres, which is available in the shape of the RSS, a political organization, which too is available in the Bharatiya Janata Party, but also an aroused citizenry. That had so far been missing. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its allies have fulfilled this need in manner which is truly spectacular.
So long as this task of mobilizing support continues, delay in the actual construction of the proposed temples need not be a cause for concern. That can well await the arrival of a Hindu government in New Delhi. Indeed, it would be in order to build the temple then. It can appropriately herald the dawn of a new order.
I am in no position to say whether the mobilization programme has been flawed because the organizers have not taken adequate precautions to ensure that it is not allowed to acquire anti-Muslim overtones, or whether that was unavoidable on account of V.P. Singh’s duplicity and Mulayam Singh’s desperate search foe power on the strength of the Muslim card. Indeed, I must confess that the top BJP leaders, especially L.K. Advani, could not have been more careful; they spelt it out day after day that they were not guided by anti-Muslim bias. Even so, no effort should be spared in future to avoid the risk of Hindu-Muslim clashes.
The BJP-VHP-RSS leaders have rendered the country another greater service. They have brought Hindu interests, if not the Hindu ethos, into the public domain where they legitimately belong. But it would appear that they have not fully grasped the implications of their action. Their talk of pseudo-secularism gives me that feeling. The fight is not against what they call pseudo-secularism; it is against secularism in its proper definition whereby man as animal usurps the place of man as spirit. The concept of man as an economic being is a complement to the secular man.
In the existing West-dominated political-intellectual milieu, it is understandable that BJP leaders act defensively. But it is time they recognize that defensiveness can cripple them, as it did in the past when they sought respectability in claimed of adherence to Gandhian socialism, whatever it might mean, and this time in a context favourable to them. The Nehru order is as much in the throes of death as its progenitor, the Marxist-Leninist-stalinist order. A new order is waiting to be conceived and born. It needs a mother as well as a mid-wife.
[Sunday Mail, 9/12/1990]
This is Hindu India
Giri, would you define the India of your dreams?
First, let me tell you I am not a dreamer. I am not a utopian. I am an analyst. I analyze the correlation of forces and make certain assessments on that basis. You would never have seen a statement by me which is not backed by. analysis of forces in play.
I do not have a vision of Hindu India. I certainly do not have a blueprint for Hind India. What I see is the disintegration of the existing order, then I try to analyze the reasons responsible for it and indicate a possible solution, or, to put it differently, an alternative model of development which may hopefully turn out to be more viable and healthier.
What are these forces ?
It is for instance, sheer escapism on our part to believe that the Hindu-Muslim problem is of a recent origin, or that it is solely the product of the British policy of divide and rule. This is a thousand-year-old civilizational problem which has not been resolved. In the seventh century Islam arose in Arabia and expanded rapidly in the West, reaching up to the Mediterranean and beyond within a hundred years and the north conquering Persia and then, Central Asia. It moved into India with far greater difficulty. The resistance was formidable and continuous.
Most people who comment on these matters have no idea that Shaivite kings, backed by Buddhists, resisted the Islamic onslaught in eastern Afghanistan, which was then part of India for close to four hundred years, It was only in the last part of the tenth century that the Ghaznavid kingdom was established there.
Similarly, most people have no idea of the resistance Muslims met on the Makran coast which was also an integral part of India. But this is all by way of information. The central point is that Muslim rule could never be fully consolidated in India. Muslim rulers remained for most part like military garrisons.
I am not taking a moralistic position either on the fact of the Muslim attacks or on the fact of Hindu resistance. I am stating these facts as a student of history.
Incidentally, while the Muslim occupation of Sind took place in the eighth century with Mohammed bin Qasim, up to the 11th century there was very little conversion in Sind. The resistance was very tough and Muslims had to come to terms with local centres. But all this is also incidental to my argument.
Conversion, however, took place in India on a mass scale from the time of the Sultanate till the end of the 17th century under Aurangzeb ; the Muslim population multiplied for a variety of reasons. The people captured in war were, for example, given the option of being killed or converted. You will appreciate that most of them agreed to get converted. Similarly, like all invaders in that period, Muslims took women as prisoners and distributed them among soldiers. So they produced children who helped swell the Muslim population. But in spite of all that, the Muslim population did not exceed 25 per cent of the population on the subcontinent at any time.
My difference with most contemporary writers on the subject arises from their perception that a Hindu-Muslim synthesis took place and a new civilization, or a new culture, which could be called Into-Muslim, arose. In my opinion, nothing of that kind happened on a significant scale.
To begin with, it needs to be emphasized that Muslims themselves were broadly divided into two categories - the foreigners and their descendants who constituted the ruling elite, and those who were converted or born of Indian parents. The social status of these people remained more or less what it was at the time of conversion.
This is in spite of the fact Islam believes in equality?
The Islamic claim to equality is not false. All Muslims pray together in a mosque. There is no gradation. But Islam could not possibly overcome social stratification and ethnic distinctions.
Not only in India but also abroad?
The Arabs, for example, continue to regard themselves as superior to Muslims elsewhere even today by virtue of being the people of Mohammed. To return to the issue of Hindu-Muslim synthesis, however, only a small group of Hindus took to Persian culture and language in and around the Muslim courts. Only this small crust at the top took to what we may, for the sake of brevity, call the Muslim way of life, though they also continued to practice the old rituals at home and avoid social contacts, like eating together with Muslims. The most prominent groups among them were the Kayasthas of UP and Bihar and the Kashmiri pandits who had migrated to north India.
At the other end of the spectrum, ordinary converted Muslims remained close to the Hindus in their way of life. The best illustration of this fact is that even as late as the last part of the 19th century in Bengal, many Muslims kept Hindu names and at the time of the 1871 census no one knew, or suspected, that Muslims constituted a majority in Bengal.
Every single Islamic concept in Bengal had to be explained to Muslims there in terms of Hindu concepts and practices, so much so, that the prophet himself was represented as an incarnation of Vishnu. There is substantial literature on the subject which shows that Muslims were indistinguishable from Hindus for all practical purposes. Finally, a kind of situation was reached where at the top you had Islamized groups among Hindus and just below that, you had more or less Hinduized groups among Muslims and you can say that a kind of coexistence prevailed. With the decline of the Mughal empire the country broke up into different kingdoms whose rulers were neither capable of, or interested in, imposing their way of life on people of the other faith.
My other point of departure with most of my fellow commentators is that they assume unity of all religions as given. There is, of course, a transcendental unity of all faiths. But that transcendental unity is, for practical purposes, less significant than the differences in religious forms. The difference of form is extremely important. Along with it, comes the difference of culture. Now there is a world of difference between what Western scholars call natural religions, that is religions which have grown over hundreds of years in a natural way, and prophetic religions. There is a would of difference between the Semitic spirit and the Hindu-Buddhist-Jain spirit, that is the Indian spirit.
The Semitic spirit is informed by an earnestness and a single-mindedness which are wholly absent in the Indian spirit. The Semitic spirit is intolerant and insistent on the pursuit of a particular course, whereas the Indian spirits is a broadminded and tolerant one. To say therefore that Ram and Rahim are the same is, in my opinion, a form of escapism or make-believe.
There is no concept, for example, in Hinduism of kafir. You cannot be a kafir in Hinduism. You do not cease to be a Hindu whatever you do, unless you choose to get converted to another religion. You can be a Buddhist and a Hindu at the same time, not only in a social sense but also in religious terms. I do not know what would have happened if the British had not come. Probably, adjustments at the local or regional level could have taken place and a new kind of reality might have emerged.
You talk of adjustments, not assimilation ?
Assimilation is possible only id one civilization prevails over the other. Assimilation is not neutral. For example, Syria was a major Christian centre before the rise of prophet Mohammed. When the Arabs conquered Syria, Christianity was, however, on the decline. As one writer has put it, there was a lot of cultural property lying around waiting for somebody to take it over and give it a new shape and life. Islam provided the form in which the old content t was absorbed and reshaped. That is assimilation.
Assimilation in India is treated as if it is a neutral concept, which it is not. Assimilation is critically dependent on the predominance of the form over the other. As a result of assimilation, the dominant culture also changes its shape and its character. But broadly speaking, it retains more of its old form, content and spirit than the other which is absorbed. In India such a situation has not arisen.
Can one speculate that if the British had not come the adjustment Would have been smoother ?
Although Muslim power weakened and disintegrated after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, nothing like a composite Hindu power emerged. The two dominant groups, Sikhs in the north and Marathas in the west, did not show the capacity to prevail on an all-India scale. The failure of the Marathas was more significant than that of the Sighs. Sikhs were a small community but Marathas possessed the necessary numbers. They ranged all over the country at one stage. But they could not establish a kind of predominance which could have held out promised of Hindu triumph.
As the British power got consolidated, local adjustments also began to be subordinated to the urge for larger unity. Hindus began to define themselves in pan-Indian terms and Muslims in pan-Islamic terms. By this logic, I would regard partition not only inevitable but desirable. Many would share this view.
In the wake of partition, the India that emerged could not, in a sense, but be Hindu India because, for all effective purpose, the Muslim component of state power moved to Pakistan. The army was partitioned along religious and communal lines. The police was partitioned along the same lines. The bureaucracy was partitioned and much of the top crust of the Muslim elite migrated to Pakistan from various parts of India. This reality however, we refused to recognize.
What would this recognition have implied ?
Recognition would have meant, first of all, an assurance to Hindus that they had at long last come into their own. The Indian elite has spent the last 43 years in trying to convince Hindus that they have not come into their own. That has not been the intention but that has been the result. This recognition should have been made like in the case of Arab nationalism. No Arab nationalist will, for instance, refuse to recognize the fact that this nationalism is underscored by its commitment to Islam. Even Christian Arabs recognize this to be the case. If we had owned the India that emerged as a result of partition as a Hindu India, then a new process of adjustment could have taken place which, in my opinion, would have been far healthier.
Was failure of leadership responsible for it in some measure? The dominant Hindu intelligentsia is the product of the Macaulay school of education. It has got alienated from its own roots. It has to an extent lost its sense of identity. It is anxious to join the Western world even if as a very junior partner. It thinks mainly in Western terms. Its conceptual equipment and intellectual baggage is wholly Western in its origin. Such an intelligentsia could not and cannot possibly recognize the reality.
Was it not possible for the leadership to give a different kind of orientation ?
If any Congress leader other than Nehru had been the first prime minister of India, a movement in that direction Might have taken place. If, for instance, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad or C. Rajagopalachari were at the helm, the orientation would surely have been more sympathetic to the aspirations of ordinary Hindus. Nehru was quite alien to the world of Hinduism. In reality, he had a contempt for popular Hinduism’. His autobiography and his Discovery of India can leave no score for doubt on that score. But the very fact that Nehru was popular and he remained prime minister, even after the debacle in 1962 at the hands of china, would show there was widespread sentiment in favour of his policy.
I would not be able to say whether it was more the result of his talk of socialism than of his talk of secularism. As far as I know, Nehru never defined secularism n its proper European and historical context.
The Muslim community as a whole was very glad that India had not declared itself a Hindu republic and had set out to become a secular republic. This was possibly the result of two undercurrents of thought. First, judging by their own attitude to other religions, they could well have believed that a self-confessed Hindu India would be intolerant of their faith. Secondly, even those who remained here had good reasons to feel that as a result of this policy of secularism, combined with the pursuit of democracy, they would have a better chance of getting a share in power than they would have in Hindu India. Again a misconception.
But while they welcomed the commitment of the state to secularism, they were not prepared to take to secularism themselves. For example, at no stage have Muslims shown the slightest inclination to accept one common civil code. There has also been a tremendous expansion in the traditional Quranbased education in madrasas attached to mosques, since independence. There commitment to the shariat has remained unshaken.
I must emphasize at this point, that I do not criticize Muslims on these counts. I regard it as the right of Muslims to stick to the shariat. As such, I am not opposed to their opposition to one common civil code. I do not believe in imposing such a code. I do not believe in imposing such a code on a reluctant minority.
Has uniformity no merit?
Uniformity has no place in the Hindu view of life. Also, Hindus do not believe in abstract laws and abstract principles. Both these are the products of Europeans.
Would not lack of it encourage separatism?
By itself it would not encourage separatism. What encourages separatism is our refusal to recognise that Muslims are different. They have, of course, their rights as citizens which they exercise. They have every opportunity to raise in life. But that can be possible only when they conform to the general atmosphere and ethos. After all, you cannot become a professor in a university unless you acquire the same kind of knowledge as your Hindu counterparts. You cannot be a top bureaucrat, or a general, unless you grow up in the same discipline and speak the same language, at least in the public domain. The confusion has arisen because their distinctness is not recognized.
Again, in my view, nation-building is not a hopeless enterprise in India. May I point out in his connection that a vast majority of Muslims have for 200 years or more, refused to Shah Wali Ullah in the early part of the 18th century till today, that is for nearly 300 years, and especially since the rise of Al-Wahab in Saudi Arabia and the spread of his influence in India in the 19th century, there has been a persistent campaign to rid Indian Islam of saint worship and so-called Hindu accretions and influences. But, by and large, ordinary Muslims have stuck to saint worship as a visit to any important durgah would show. So there has been a potentiality for the rise of an Indian Islam, provided power equations were clearly understood.
By Indian Islam do you mean a modified version of Islam? No. Most Hindus have not tried to understand what is Islam. As in Christianity for 600 years, there were major dissent movements in Islam for 300 years, particularly the powerful sufi movement, emanating from Iran with its Zoroastraian background, and Central Asia with its Shamanistic-Buddhist background. It is interesting that the powerful sufi movement arose not in the heartland of Islam but on the periphery of the world of Islam. When the juridical approach finally triumphed in the 10th century, something like a Muslim creed emerged. Islam was frozen in its present shape in the 11th-12th century.
Let me make another point which is not too well remembered in this country. This is that all idolatrous practices against which Mohammed fought in the seventh century were prevalent at the time of rise of Al-Wahab in Saudi Arabia in the 19th century. The sayings and activities of the prophet; polytheism could not be eliminated even in Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. Such is the power of this phenomenon. To say that an Indian Islam would have differed from the pristine from is Islam will thus be only partially valid. There is just no pristine Islam, whatever Muslim might say and believe. However, an Islam broader in its vision and more tolerant in its spirit could have arisen if the power equations were made explicit.
But this did not happen even in the Central Asian republics in the Soviet Union.
The Central Asian republics example is not valid in our case because the Russians tried to exterminate Islam. Extermination never succeeds. Incidentally, it should be noted that the revival of Islam has taken place in Central Asia not through orthodox ulemas but through the Sufi brotherhoods. Thus, in a sense, the pre-Islamic tradition is asserting itself in Central Asia. Incidentally, the Shia search for spiritual life can also be traced back to Zoroastrianism.
Two other developments tool place which worked against assimilation. I am not against Urdu. But Urdu makes a departure from what was called Hindvi with the imposition on that growing language of Persian and Arabia words and concepts. Urdu in its grammar and in respect of the roots of most of its vocabulary, is not different from Hindi. When the Persianization and Arabization of Hindi began, the Sanskritization of Hindi also began.
At the time of partition or soon after partition, Nehru divided the problem of Muslims in two parts: one of containing Pakistan and the other of accommodating Muslims and restoring their confidence in the economic-political set-up of India. The containment of Pakistan required that on the world stage we aligned ourselves with the more powerful of the two blocs, the Western bloc. In the very act very act of not doing so, he made sure that Pakistan would not be effectively contained. The Kashmir crisis is thus primarily his gift to the country.
He also failed to understand that we could not allow continued proselytization and conversion except at the grave risk of hurting the Hindus psyche. The result is there for anyone to see. I for one regard Meenakshipuram as a very critical and dangerous development. After the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam came the trouble in Punjab. It was followed by the rise of revivalism and fundamentalism in Kashmir, though it fully exploded in our face only in 1989-90. All in all, the impression began to grow among Hindu that they were besieged in their own country.
Is the Ram temple issue a reaction to it?
The VHP is closely linked with the RSS. It would be dishonest to deny that link. But the popular appeal it has made has very much to do with the prevalence of the siege psychology among Hindus. The idea that the Allahabad High Court can settle the issue I regard as irresponsible. Courts cannot settle such questions. There are historians who raise such absurd question as whether Ram was ever born, whether he was a historical figure, whether Ayodhya was his city. All this is irrelevant and worse.
Two facts are important in this regard. First, for several centuries there has been a struggle over that site. Hindus have been one in regarding that site as holy. The chabootra adjoining the mosque where prayers and worship have been going on ever since, was allowed to be constructed by Akbar. From the 16the century this has been a live issue. Those who raise the question of whether a temple existed on not, are not aware of the dangerous implications of what they are saying. For there is no dearth of mosques in India which stand at temple sites.
Second, Muslims believe in fighting idolatry. It has been an article of faith for them to destroy idols. They have lived according to their perception of the faith . By modern criteria, it may have been wrong, but by the criteria of the day, it was not wrong. Nor can all these wrongs be set right. They are important symbols which cannot be disregarded. Ram is by far the most important symbol of Hindu identity. For anyone to raise this kind of issue in respect of what millions of Hindus regard as Janmabhoomi of Ram is to ask for trouble. The issue would have been settled long ago if politicians had not intervened in the manner they have.
It is extraordinary that a man like Mulayam Singh who otherwise has shown scant respect for court judgments should swear by the court in this case. It is also extraordinary that V.P.Singh should speak one language in private and another in public. I have the same feeling about Rajiv Gandhi. These people have played politics of a dangerous variety.
What solution have you to offer?
The least Hindus need is a symbolic victory. The Babri mosque does not exist. A structure exists which is called a mosque. Equally important, it can never be a mosque again. Muslim shall not pray there ever again. So it is defunct. The issue is not whether the mosque should stay or not. The issue is whether Hindus are allowed to build the temple. But I do not really believe that Muslim activists are going to compromise on this question. So I think this conflict will continue.
How do you see the communal issue in its larger perspective?
I don’t take such a pessimistic view of this problem as many others do. I do not believe that we are in anything like the 1946-47 situation. Communal riots have taken place and more riots may take place. But I see the situation differently. I see it in terms of a redefinition of Indian politics of which this controversy has become a major instrument.
My assessment falls into two parts. First, the existing order is in a pretty bad shape. It is not only that one-tenth of members of Parliament have formed the government. It is not only that horse trading has taken place, in new Delhi, Ahmedabad, Patna and Lucknow. There has been a general decline in the quality of our democracy.
Indeed, our slogans no longer keep pace with reality. For the past 20 years, money earned through smuggling, bootlegging and muscle power have been significant factors influencing the course of elections. And yet all the time we have talked of the nexus between politics and big business. I am not suggesting that big business does not have any influence on politics in a subterranean manner. I am suggesting a new element has entered the situation, which is called criminalization of politics. In U.P. and Bihar a large number of MLAs have criminal records. The crimes include charges of murder. Mafia dons have become extremely influential. I for one, am not surprised at this development. But that is another story.
As of the other pillars of our system - secularism and socialism - the communal situation is precarious and nothing more need be said about it. And socialism, as is well known, has produced a parallel black money economy of unprecedented proportions. I do not see any signs of improvement in that situation. One reason for all these developments is the denigration by the power elites of traditional mores. Everyone knows that religion has been the most important restraining influence on our appetites. Our appetites have now been unleashed, and we have set for ourselves the American model where consumerism is the ideology.
In view of the decay of the present political order, the struggle for the rise of a new order is unavoidable. In my opinion, the BJP represents the wave of the future precisely because it emphasizes the link between religion and politics. That is why I attach a great deal of importance to the activities of the BJP.
Whatever else the RSS may have done, nobody can suggest that its members have ever engaged in anti-social activities. Nobody can deny that they are a very disciplined group. If the BJP gains access to power it would have to defer in a big way to the RSS cadres who are highly motivated, patriotic and disciplined. So we can get a new kind of policy.
But the BJP stands isolated today and is confined to the Hindi heartland.
No, the BJP is no longer confined to the Hindi belt. The RSS has a presence throughout the country. In western India, the BJP itself is quite strong. There is widespread speculation that if an election is held tomorrow, the BJP would sweep in Gujarat and do reasonably well in Maharashtra. The main check on the BJP in Maharashtra is the personality of Sharad Pawar. In Tamil Nadu. Hindu organizations are beginning to do well. In Karnataka, the BJP is gaining in influence. In north India, its presence is quite strong. The next place where it will consolidate itself will be U.P., epicenter of the Mandir-Masjid storm.
That the BJP is isolated among the established political organizations and the Westernized intellectual elite is not only logical in view of what I have said but also desirable. It is logical because all other parties, including the Congress, represent the status quo; the BJP alone stands for a new order which is rooted in the country’s cultural past. And it is a desirable one, that it helps avoid an erosion, as in the past, of the BJP’s identity, commitment and programme.
[The Daily, 23/12/1990, with J.D.Singh]