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9. Secularism and India’s integrity

9.1 Separatism and anti-Hinduism

In the present context, the link between history-writing and actual politics is extra-ordinarily strong. Witness the crucial role of the Aryan invasions theory in the secularist and casteist/Ambedkarist ideologies, as earlier in the missionary and colonial ideologies. In fact, I can not think of any situation in world history where history-writing was so intertwined with both long-term political philosophy and short-term political equations. This is partly because an unusually large chunk of India’s history is fundamentally under debate, either because it has not yet been mapped (so many unknowns may be decided on overnight once the Indus script is conclusively deciphered), or because it has been questioned for ideological reasons even while well-established (like the denial of Islam’s utterly destructive role). Nowhere else can so much be read into history according to one’s ideological compulsions, because nowhere else is so much history so undecided and disputed.

This link between the two, history and politics, works in both directions. Secularism as a political philosophy is intellectually dependent upon the secularist version of history. Conversely, once secularism as the official state ideology is fully discredited, secularist history-writing cannot survive for long. Now in fact, Nehruvian secularism as a political philosophy has effectively lost its credibility. It has proven worthless as a national motivating force and as a moral framework, judging by the many forms of corruption at every level. It has proven unable to create a secular national unity (Bharatiyatva, Indian-ness). Secularists go on lambasting the Ram devotees that with their Janmabhoomi demand they cannot expect the minorities to remain in India, that they are driving the minorities to separatism. This contention unfortunately draws an objective outsider’s attention to the fact that these minority separatisms are already there.

There are Muslim, Sikh, Communist and Christian separatist movements who carry on an armed struggle against the Indian secular republic. The Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu has, after the Chinese invasion in 1962, decided to limit itself to demands within the Constitution, and to drop its separatism ; however, with the DMK talking of the need to go back to the roots, and depending on the outcome for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, it might reassert its separatist tendencies. It is significant that it was Annadurai, the least anti-Hindu among the Dravidian leaders (he supported the RSS in putting up the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, against the Christians) who called off the separatist programme.

There are also Dalit fringe groups who demand a separate Dalitastan or Achootistan. Some of these groups are militantly atheist (like the Dravidian movement), some are Christian-or Muslim-leaning, some profess Buddhism of the Ambedkarite variety. The one thing that all these separatist movements without exception have in common at the ideological level, is their hatred of Hinduism. Every separatist movement in India is an anti-Hindu movement.

In fact, as I write this, the papers report on pamphlets being spread among the tribals in Gujarat, demanding for a separate tribal state Bhilistan, as well as for five more tribal states in other parts of India. And what is the punch line in the pamphlet ? Exactly : “We are not Hindus”. Of course, the number of tribals rallied behind this demand may not exceed a handful, but the point that separatism in India invariably implies anti-Hinduism is certainly corroborated.

The Hindus may profess secularism as much as they want : for their enemies they are still too Hindu. And their enemies will try to separate from them from the very day they feel strong enough to do it, in order to create a Pakistan, a Khalistan etc. Secularism, which is purely a negative ideology, which merely divorces one of the strongest motivating forces in an individual’s life from public life, is proving incapable of overcoming these separatisms.

I am not saying that all minorities ipso facto harbour separatist tendencies and will invariably launch a separatist movement if strategically given a chance. The Parsis or the Jains are not going to start their own Khalistan agitation, I am sure. The ordinary members of the Christian community, everywhere where it is living mixed with other communities (i.e. except in parts of the Northeast), have a constructive attitude and are, as far as I can see, increasingly being absorbed into the mainstream. Among the Sikhs too, the separatist movement can still not claim a majority of the community as supporters of the Khalistan cause. And among the Muslims, it is only in Kashmir that they massively support separation from India. I have to agree with the remark of some secularist, that the Muslims who stayed behind in India in 1947, in a sense “voted for India with their feet”. All I am saying is that those who are bent on creating a separate communal state, will want to do so regardless of whether the Hindus call themselves Hindu or secular.

Therefore, V.P. Singh missed the point when he declared on Doordarshan (with an explicitness that bordered on incitement) that, if the Hindus claimed the Ram Janmabhoomi, there was no ground for stopping the Sikhs from demanding Khalistan, and other such separatist demands. The separatists have not waited until the Hindu mobilization for Ram Janmabhoomi to start their anti-India movement ;nor will they call it off if the Hindus call off the Janmabhoomi campaign.

9.2 Secularist-separatist nexus

The nexus between the anti-Janmabhoomi demand and anti-Hindu separatism, has been worked out more closely by Tavleen Singh in her article Apocalypse Soon.1 Let us take a close look at her analysis and prediction. She starts out by mentioning the opinion, fairly common in Pakistan, that India should be partitioned once more, and a big chunk of the North given to the India Muslims. Since Ayodhya, she thinks that this prospect has acquired a grim chance of materialization. After all, the VHP Hindus have become so fanatical that they think : “We will have to get rid of these Muslims. They must be kicked out and sent to Pakistan, after all it was made for them.” So, on the Hindu side, we have strong words.

On the Muslim side, according to Tavleen Singh, the radicalization has already gone a big step further. Just a week before, the Muslim Personal Law Board has issued a religious sanction to fight, if necessary, for the Babri Masjid. “All God-fearing Muslims will consider it their religious duty to participate in the new jihad. This would lead automatically to the internationalizing of the dispute… If the mosque is knocked down, [not only Pakistan but] many an oil-fat Arab country would be only too willing to come to the defense of the faith.”

What is our secularist commentator implying ? That India should let its policy on Ayodhya be sidetracked at the Muslim countries’ gunpoint ? Politically, it is a concession (i.e. a reward and an encouragement) to threats of coercion and aggression, if the Ayodhya or Kashmir policies are made dependent on the assent of mujahedin either inside India or in the Muslim countries. Strategically however, it is very useful and timely, that an unsuspected secularist points to the danger of jihad. While Hindus would be politically justified in ignoring such undemocratic and terrorist threats, in terms of strategy they should think twice before provoking a reaction for which they are not prepared.

When the Shilanyas ceremony took place, thirty-five Muslim countries have protested. At that time, there was no call for jihad. If we add pan-Islamic solidarity to the call for jihad, then India is in for some serious trouble. However, at the time of writing, no Islamic country has voiced any threat against India. So far it is only the secularists who have tried to intimidate the Ram Mandir campaigners with threats of international Muslim retaliation.

As part of the same effort, they have also been accusing the Ram activists of endangering the safety of the Hindus in Muslim countries. This effectively means that, in the secularists’ perception, those minority Hindus are really hostages, and the secularists are supporting the anti-Janmabhoomi demands of the hostage-takers, the Muslim majorities in Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Malaysia. “Be good, otherwise something very unpleasant will happen”, so the secularists say, repeating the canonical line of hostage-takers.

Even if those countries with Hindu minorities are Islamic republics, they still have laws against looting, arson, temple-destruction, and rape and slaughter of citizens even if these belong to the minorities. Moreover, India has treaties with Pakistan (inherited also by its partial successor state Bangla Desh) concerning the safety of the minorities. As for actual jihad from Muslim countries against India, there are international treaties (as well Nehru’s famous “five principles of peaceful co-existence”, accepted by the Non-Aligned Movement to which many Muslim countries belong) prescribing respect for a nation’s sovereignty, and guaranteeing non-interference in internal affairs, and non-aggression. All these safeguards against aggression on Hindus and India are a juridical reality.

However, in the present discourse, our secularists have exchanged these realities belonging to the level of Right, for the logic of brute Power. They choose to treat the situation not in juridical but in strategic terms. Maybe they are right. But then it implies that “the friendship with the Arab countries that Nehru so wisely built”, which in the spring of 1990 had seemed to hold out against Pakistan’s attempt to rally support for its claim on Kashmir, is not resistant even to the Ayodhya affair, i.e. the relocation of one non-mosque. What kind of friendship is this, where a sovereign act can get punished with jihad ? To say the least, this is not a tribute to Nehru’s international legacy by his otherwise devout followers.

This jihad will also (if not primarily) come from inside India : “Even on a domestic level, there are likely to be serious problems. So far, we have been spared Muslim terrorist groups, at least outside Kashmir, but for how long ?” Tavleen Singh even quotes a Muslim leader saying : “Once Muslims feel that the state is not going to protect them and they are on their own, it is only a question of time before they start doing what the Sikhs are doing in Punjab. As it is, when we visit a town after a communal riot, people say : if the police wasn’t there, we could take the Hindus on.”

It is an interesting though experiment, what Tavleen Singh presents here. Some people will say that already the riots are mostly started by Muslims and that they too are a form of terror. Even if that is true, there is still an essential difference with a real terrorist campaign : there is no well-defined and persistent demand animating each of those separate instances of violence. What would the explicit objective be around which an all-India Muslim terrorist campaign would rally ? Does she really think that this miserable non-mosque is a sufficient occasion to get such a terrorist campaign going ?

Then Tavleen Singh assesses the Sikh reaction. In Amritsar, she talked to a lot of Sikh militant leaders, who almost all of them brought up the Ayodhya issue. Incidentally, I know decent anti-fanatical Sikhs who would get killed if they went near Tavleen’s militant friends, merely because they call terrorists by their proper name. In November 1990, the Sikh terrorists have issued orders to the press, one of these being that no negative terms like terrorist can be applied to them.2 It struck me that most secularists in the press are not affected by the death threats issued to journalists who don’t fall in line, because they already use the terrorist-friendly (or at least neutral) language. It does not in the least surprise me that Tavleen Singh is on such good terms with the militants. After all, the main plank in the separatist and the secularist platforms is the same : We are not Hindus.

So, the militants told her that “they felt now that the struggle for Khalistan was entirely justified because if the minorities in India could not even be ensured protection for their places of worship then Indian secularism is nothing but a lie”. This statement calls for some serious comment.

Let me point out first of all that no place of worship of any minority is threatened by the building of the Ram Mandir. The place has already been a functioning Hindu temple since 1949. If at that time it was a functioning mosque (which is very doubtful, see ch.4.1.), then a minority place of worship was not properly protected at that time, in 1949, the glory years of Jawaharlal Nehru. But now that it is a Hindu temple of long standing, the whole affair really concerns a simple architectural reform entirely internal to the Hindu community. It is the fault of press people like Tavleen Singh, that people inside and outside India have come to believe that a mosque is threatened.

As the Chinese philosopher Confucius has pointed out, we can only begin to set the world in order, if we call things by their proper names. This whole Ayodhya problem would not have existed if secularist politicians and intellectuals had called the disputed building a non-mosque and an effective Hindu temple. Because that is what it is : a building containing idols is by definition not a mosque, and a building not used for namaz is in effect not a mosque. But a building where Hindus come to worship idols, is called a temple or Mandir.

But now the damage has been done. With their false language, the secularists have convinced crores of people that the Ayodhya dispute is a struggle between majority Mandir and minority Masjid. So, the militants think that the minorities are under threat.

The second damage that has been done, with full co-operation of the secularists, is that the status of Sikhism as a separate religion has become firmly established in the minds of many Sikhs. This separate status is entirely a British fabrication, later amplified by Sikh who, like many Hindus, had come to think that being a Hindu is a shameful thing. The Sikhs have always been one of Hinduism’s many panths (sects). The claim to being a separate religion, which is now being propped up in many anti-Hindu books, has been conclusively disposed of by Rajendra Singh Nirala, an ex-granthi who came to realize that what the Akalis told him was not the same as what he used to recite from the Granth.3

Nonetheless, it is the secularists, including Khushwant Singh (the dirty old man of Indian secularism), who have been championing the Sikhs’ right to preserve their communal identify.4 As if any Hindu has challenged that right or even just asked them to drop their distinctive ways : it is not Hindu pressure, but the impact of modernity that was making Sikhs shed those outer emblems that constitute their distinctness. It is again the secularists who, with their anti-Hindu propensities have laid the blame for Sikh separatism at the door of those Hindus who restate the demonstrable historical truth that Sikhs are nothing but a Hindu sect. Assimilative communalism, they call it. When Hindu historians point out the radical and irreducible difference between Hinduism and the closed monotheistic creeds like Islam, they are dubbed communalists; but when the same people point out the radical sameness of Sikhism and other varieties of Hinduism, then for that they are again dubbed communalists.

Anyway, the situation today is that the armed representatives of the Sikh community (remark that Tavleen Singh only quotes militant Sikhs : in the strategic assessment they are indeed the ones who count) consider themselves a separate non-Hindu minority, and identify with the Muslim communalist viewpoint on Ayodhya. They don’t want to see anymore how many times the name Ram is reverentially mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib5, and what horror Guru Nanak has expressed at Babar’s Islamic acts of mass slaughter However, it is yet something else to suggest (as they seem to do) a causal relation between the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the fact that “they felt now that the struggle for Khalistan was entirely justified”.

The contention that the Ayodhya events could add one percent to their 100% dedication to the Khalistan cause, is nothing but rhetoric. If the Hindus give up their Ram Mandir, the Khalistani terrorists will not fire one bullet less, let alone give up their demand for Khalistan. Before the Ram Mandir became hot news, they already felt justified in killing dozens of people every week, for Khalistan. Postulating a causal link between Ram Janmabhoomi and Khalistani terrorism, is just a ploy to lay the blame for their communalist crimes at someone else’s door. And of course, the secularists, from V.P. Singh to Tavleen Singh, rhetorically support them in their ploy.

9.3 Victory through more concessions ?

Passing the buck from the machinegun-wielding communalists in the Khalistani camp, to the Ram campaigners with their tridents and Ram hymns, Tavleen Singh writes : “Ironic, isn’t it, that those who believe that Ayodhya has become the symbol of Indian nationalism and that Hindutva is virtually synonymous with patriotism, could well be responsible for dividing the country once more.” Ironic, isn’t it, that those who lecture others on being responsible for dividing the country, and who declare that secularism is virtually synonymous with patriotism, are effectively giving the armed separatists a good conscience by putting the blame for their communalist crimes on people who merely want to renovate their own Ram temple.

By now, the reader should understand fully why Tavleen Singh is such a welcome guest in militant circles. The Khalistani terrorists say : If you can have your Ram Mandir, we must have our Khalistan. And Tavleen Singh says : If you really want your Ram Mandir, you should be ready for Khalistan. The terrorists don’t talk in terms of rights, but in military power terms (“facing the consequences”). Tavleen Singh helps us think about the matter in those same terms.

Tavleen Singh’s pious advice to the Janmabhoomi activists is this : “A temple built beside the mosque would be a far more powerful symbol of Indian nationalism than a temple built in place of a mosque.” Well how utterly ignorant. In the 18th and 19th century, the Hindus worshipped Ram on a platform just next to the Babri Masjid. That didn’t stop the Muslims from attacking the nearby Hanumangarhi temple in 1855. The Hindus accommodated themselves with the mosques that replaced the Hindu temples in Mathura and Varanasi, by building a temple next to them : that didn’t stop the Muslim League from creating Pakistan and committing countless atrocities on the Hindus. When in 1905 the Akalis threw out the “Hindu” idols from their Gurudwara, Pandit M.M. Malaviya refrained from even protesting, and built a new idol temple next to it. That didn’t stop the Akalis from developing into a separatist movement.

So, one more Hindu concession, viz. building the new temple next to the existing structure, is certainly not a “powerful” symbol. It may be nice, it may be harmless, but it is by no means powerful. India is full of examples (not mere symbols) of Hindu accommodation, but that has not stopped the separatist movements from multiplying and hardening their demands. The Indian Constitution is a mighty case of Hindu accommodation to some minorities’ demands for privileges, but that hasn’t stopped the Khalistanis from burning it, nor has it stopped the Babri Masjid movement from calling for a boycott of Republic Day 1987.

If the Muslims would finally take their turn at making concessions, and agree to let the Hindus build their Mandir, and then build their own Masjid next to it, that would indeed be a powerful symbol of Indian nationalism.

But Tavleen Singh is fooling someone if she thinks that yet another Hindu concession is going to mollify any armed separatist.6 Such people have only respect for strength. In fact, even ordinary people have more respect for strength than for pliability. All these cries of “We are not Hindus”, which are mostly coupled with separatist demands, are partly the result of the over-all image of weakness which Hinduism has continued to acquire during the last few centuries. Nobody wants to belong to such a weak community with so little self-respect. The day Hinduism shows strength, all these separatists will proudly declare : “We are Hindus”. They will even shout at each other: “We are better Hindus than you”.

Summing up, we must thank Tavleen Singh for not pontificating about secular principles, and for rightly pointing out that this is fast becoming a matter of strength more than of principles. Guns are pointed at India, or rather at Hindu India, and if Hindus don’t behave nicely, they will justify Khalistani terrorism and provoke Muslim terrorism, and then “we need to be prepared to deal with the spread of the AK-47 on an undreamed-of scale”.

What does this state of affairs have to say about four decades of secularism ? Apparently, something has gone wrong. Let us take a closer look at that peculiarly Indian variety of secularism. We need to plunge deep into fundamentals and initiate a thorough diagnosis, because this patient is gravely ill.


  1. Indian Express, 9/12/90. 

  2. A week after issuing their new rules for journalists, they effectively killed the Panjab AIR director, R.K. Talib, apparently for hosting a talk about the terrorist ultimatum. Five of the separatist groups issued a joint statement claiming responsibility for the murder. They opened up new horizons in cynicism by declaring that they had nothing against the man personally, and that “the murder was only symbolical”. Subsequently, their demand for more Panjabi and less Hindi on the radio was obediently complied with. 

  3. Rajendra Singh Nirala : Ham Hindu Hain, Bharat-Bharati, Delhi 1989 ; Ham Hindu Kyon, id. 1990. 

  4. In his History of the Sikhs (1963), he has argued for a Sikh state within India, in which the use of Gurumukhi and the learning of the Sikh Scriptures would be obligatory in the schools, and in which the state would actively protect and promote Sikh culture. If that is secularism, let him explain what communalism is. He rejected the concept of a Panjabi Suba as a dishonest cover for what was really intended as a Sikh Suba. Later he opposed the separatist militants, but has defended his Sikh Suba as protector of Sikh identity in some more articles. 

  5. K.P. Agrawal took the trouble of counting how may hundreds of times Hindu names and concepts, like Parambrahma, Omkara, Veda, Hari, appear in the Guru Granth. “Ram” figures about 2400 times. See his Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib ki Mahima (Bharat-Bharati, Delhi 1985), p.2. 

  6. The following excerpt from a Times of India editorial (14/12/1990) is basically about Tavleen Singh’s stand : “As long as determined killers are charitably viewed as misguided and alienated individuals who can be reformed by showering generous doses of love and affection, the Panthic Committee will continue to have a free run.”