CHAPTER IX ****
The Determinants of Hindu Defeats
It is true that Hindus resisted Islamic imperialism for a long time, and overcame it in the long run. But it would be foolish to forget that their failure for a long time in the face of an enemy with whom they had become familiar pretty soon, was of frightening proportions. It is this failure of the Hindus and not the defeat of the Muslim marauders which invites a serious review and reflection. I will, therefore, do my own loud thinking on this subject. For I feel very strongly that the lessons we may learn from these failures are still valid for us.
It is held by almost all historians of this period, including those who neither swear by Marxism nor apologise for Islam, that the Hindu failure had its source in the Hindu social system, particularly the caste structure. But that proposition does not stand a deeper probe. Moreover, the proposition is preposterous because it reverses the chronological sequence. The Hindu social system became moribund and the caste system rigid only after Hindus had lost political power. There is sufficient evidence to prove that on the eve of Islamic invasions, the Hindu social system did not harbour the defects which it developed at a later stage. It is my considered opinion that it was their highly organic social system which saved the Hindus from extinction in the initial stages, and provided the powerful impetus which propelled them to victory in the long run. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa were engulfed by Islam because they did not have a social structure which could withstand the storm.
At a first glance, the Hindu failure looks like the failure of their art of warfare, pure and simple. The traditional Hindu warriors, particularly the Rajputs, were in no way inferior, if not superior, to the Turks in terms of valour and tenacity. Nor were the Muslim mercenaries any match for the Hindu warriors when it came to dedication to ideals of freedom and sense of honour and sacrifice. But the superiority of the Turkish art of warfare in terms of strategy, tactics, mobility, military morale, and arsenal set at nought the Hindu superiority and Muslim inferiority in many other respects.
At a second remove, the Hindu failure can be perceived as a political failure, a failure of their state system. In the initial stages at least, the larger Hindu states like the Shahiyas, the Chauhans, the Chandellas, the Gahadvads, and the Chaulukyas were far superior to the Islamic invaders in terms of financial means as well as manpower. But Hindus failed to mobilise these resources in any worthwhile manner. They could not have mobilised these resources even if they had wanted to, without radically reforming their state system. The decentralised and democratic character of the Hindu state, and the paucity of central revenue under the Hindu system of public finance, prevented Hindu princes from maintaining standing armies on a permanent war-footing. Hindu princes had to depend largely on levies recruited on the spur of the moment. And most of the time, these levies behaved no better than mobs. The larger the mob, the lower was its power to withstand assaults from solid phalanxes such as the Muslim conquerors brought to the battlefield. The battle could last only so long as the small number of trained and traditional Hindu warriors could sustain the shock. The Muslim war-machine on the other hand had been reared by a militarised state system, and was geared to withstand a stiffer strain.
But the deeper reason fails to be satisfied even by these explanations of the Hindu failure. Why did not the Hindus mend their art of warfare after they had seen the superiority of Muslim military methods? Why did the Hindus refuse to streamline their state system till it was too late? The military as well as political failure could have been overcome speedily if some deeper failure had not continued to linger for a long time. It is this deeper failure which I want to discuss in this chapter.
The Foremost Failure: Spiritual
To start with, what strikes me most is the steep decline in the Hindu spiritual perception. The sacred and philosophical literature produced by Hindus from the 5th century onwards compares very unfavourably with similar literature of an earlier age - like Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the earlier literature Manusmriti. The earlier literature dwells naturally and effortlessly on the Himalayan heights of the human soul, but at the same time it pays due attention to every detail of terrestrial life. The family, the clan, the village, the janapada, the rashtra - life at each of these levels is sustained by a dharma appropriate to the level and complexity of relationships involved. The janmabhumi, the motherland, is equated with the janani, the loving mother, and endowed with sanctity higher than that of heaven. Human society in its smaller as well as larger segments is an enabling environment in which the individual seeks abhyudaya, mundane welfare, as well as nisshreyas, spiritual salvation. Society has a lot to give to the individual in terms of upbringing, education, status within the brotherhood of the varNa, and livelihood in the fraternity of the jati. But society also demands a lot in terms of self-discipline, performance of duties due from one’s station in life, and sacrifice which mostly means living for others. The raja, the state, is an embodiment of the protecting power of the Divine, and demands in turn taxes and obedience to legitimate laws.
In the eyes of this highly vigilant spirituality, evil is as much present in human nature as the good, and manifests itself in as many ways as the good. This spirituality is, therefore, wide awake to every eruption of evil, individual as well as collective. It can spot evil at the ideological and the psychological level as easily as at the level of its physical manifestation or concrete action. And it recommends a combat with evil, devasura-saMgrama, in every sphere of life. In this spirituality, there is no place for suffering evil silently, or for explaining it away, or for facing it with a subjective sanctimoniousness, howsoever elevated the language that sanctimoniousness may employ. When Alexander had asked a Brahmin as to what they taught which inspired Hindu warriors to such high heroism, the Brahmin had replied in one sentence ‘We teach our people to live with honour.’
While it does not lose any of its heights, its grip on life as lived in this world gets greatly loosened. There is an insistent and increasing rejection of terrestrial life, and turning one’s back upon it is termed as the highest human endeavour. Dharma is no more a comprehensive concept embracing the wide wealth of human relationships; it is narrowed down to specialised disciplines enjoined by the goal of individual salvation. In fact, human relationships start getting redefined as so many snares which entangle and encumber the individual soul in its journey towards the supreme attainment. Honour and heroism now become lower values when compared to the herculean effort of breaking the shackles of karma and getting across the ocean of rebirth. Most spiritual seekers now not only take to sannyasa but also go into seclusion in search of samadhi, the mystic trance. Tantra, mantra, maNDala and yantra follow in sequence till spirituality in most cases gets reduced to some sort of an esoteric ritualism which is loath to subject itself to any objective test of character or performance. Those who do not feel drawn towards this highly elaborate but entirely subjective spirituality are now free to pursue artha, acquisitions, or kama, pleasures, or both, without any guidance from dharma.
Many students of the spiritual literature of this period have hailed the medieval siddhas and the saints as harbingers of a casteless society. They do not see the perspective in which varNa and jati become irrelevant for the spiritual seekers of this period. The perspective is one of social indifference, not one of social concern. The siddhas and the saints are indifferent not only to varNa and jati, but also to the raja and the rashtra. None of them tells the princes that the supreme test of their prowess and honour is the protection of their praja. Some of them do bemoan the terror, destruction, desecration, and spoliation perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. But the complaint is addressed to God Almighty who allows such horrible things to happen. The voice which a Valmiki or a Vyasa would have raised for resistance to and destruction of the dasyu, marauder, and the atatayi, gangster, is missing. Samartha Ramdas is the only exception.
It is small wonder, therefore, that Hindu saints of this period failed to see Islam with the eyes of a wholesome spirituality practised in earlier ages. They took at face value the professions of Islam that it was a religion like one of their own. Some of them were impressed by Islamic monotheism, and started denouncing the multiplicity of their own Gods and Goddesses. None of them could see that the Kalimah - there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his last prophet - could emanate only from a beastly rather than a religions consciousness. Not a single Hindu saint made the effort to see or succeeded in seeing through the professions of Islam or the piety of its sufis, and exposing the sin and the sham masquerading as religion and sainthood. The NirguNa saints did question the exclusive claims of Islam. But none of them questioned its claim as an alternate path of salvation. And all of them assailed Brahmanism and polytheism.
The thinkers and philosophers of this period proved worse than the saints in this respect. They argued back and forth on all possible positions in metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, logic, linguistics, social ceremonies, and religious rituals. But none of them made a systematic or serious study of Islam, or traced to its scriptural source its terrorism and cruelty. The saints at least soothed and strengthened their people by their songs and sermons. The thinkers and philosophers cannot claim even that much credit. They only divided their people by their highly sectarian scholasticism. A majority of the Muslims were Hindu converts who had been forced or lured into the fold of Islam which sat lightly on them for a long time. Hindu society closed its doors on them, and condemned them to permanent and progressive alienation. The results would have been radically different if Hindu thinkers and philosophers had rejected Islam, and won back the converts to Islam into their mother society.
The Second Failure: Cultural
The failure of Hindu spiritual perception had something, perhaps much, to do with the failure of the Hindu cultural vision. There was a lapse of historical memory and cultural tradition about the essential unity, integrity, and sanctity of what the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas, and the Dharmashastras had clearly defined as Bharatavarsha. This vast land which Islam has dismembered in due course into the separate states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Hindustan, and Bangladesh had been a single indivisible whole since times immemorial. Bharatavarsha had been termed by the ancients as the cradle of varNaśrama-dharma, witness to the wheel of the caturyugas, and the kShetra for chakravartya, spiritual as well as political. This historical memory and cultural tradition was alive as late as the imperial Guptas. Kalidasa had clothed it in immortal poetry in his far-famed RaghuvaMśa.
This failure of Hindu cultural vision had serious consequences. Hindus failed to organise a collective effort to guard the frontiers of Bharatavarsha. Hindu princes in the interior did not rally round Raja Dahir when Muhammad bin Qasim violated the sacred soil of Sindh. They made some better effort when the Hindu Shahiyas of Udbhandapur were challenged by Subuktigin. But the effort fizzled out before long, because very few of them had their heart in it. Hindu princes by now had taken a deep dose of Kautalya’s Arthaśastra which, along with Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, had become a prime part of their political education. In this sterile statecraft, centred on the politics of the maNDalayoni, one’s neighbour was always an enemy, and the enemy of an enemy always a friend! Hindu princes, therefore, failed to hang together in the face of a common calamity. In the event, they were hanged separately.
The Third Failure: Mental
The third failure which was closely linked with the first two was the failure of mental alertness to what was happening in the world around. Hindu merchants were still selling the products of Indian agriculture and industry in all lands invaded by Islam. Hindu saints, particularly the Buddhist monks, were still practising their austerities and preaching their sermons in their farflung monasteries in Iran and Khorasan. But none of them could see the storm that was rising on the sands of Arabia and sowing a harvest of mass slaughter, pillage, plunder and enslavement, not even when it swept over neighbouring lands. They waited where they were till they were slaughtered and/or plundered in their own turn, or, if they fled back home, they did not say the word that could have served as a warning. Nor were the Hindu princes in a mental mood to heed any warning even if it had been tendered to them. An awareness of what was happening in neighbouring lands was no more needed by them. Each one of them was busy with his immediate neighbours. There was no lack of martial spirit, or sense of honour, or sentiments of chivalry in them. But all this wealth of character was wasted in proving their prowess over primacy of the right to a first dip in holy rivers and tanks, or to the hands of pretty princesses. What they lacked was statesmanship which is always an outcome of an alert and wide-ranging mind. They learnt neither from their own defeats, nor from the victories of the enemy. They mended neither their statecraft, nor their system of revenue, nor their military establishment, nor yet their art of warfare.
It cannot be maintained that Islam did not provide an ample opportunity to Hindu saints, philosophers and princes to understand its true character and role. Before the armies of Islam invaded India, the sufis had settled down in many parts of India, built mosque and khanqahs and started their work of conversion. They were the sappers and miners of Islamic invasions which followed in due course. Muinuddin Chishti was not the first ‘saint’ of Islam to send out an invitation to an Islamic invader to come and kill the kafirs, desecrate their shrines, and plunder their wealth. He was following in the footsteps of earlier Islamic ‘saints’ functioning as fifth-columnists for Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud Ghaznavi. There was an interval of two and a half centuries between the Arab demonstration in Sindh of what Islam had in store for the Hindus, and the horrors let loose by Mahmud Ghaznavi. Again, there was another interval of a century and a half between the invasions of Mahmud Ghaznavi and those of Muhammad Ghuri. But neither the Hindu saints, nor the Hindu philosophers, nor the Hindu princes could see the sufis for what they were in essence, or draw any worthwhile conclusions about the character of Islam.
This triple Hindu failure on the spiritual, cultural, and mental levels prevented Hindu society from evolving and pursuing policies which were imperative in the unprecedented situation, and which would have saved it from the permanent scourge of a malignant fraternity embedded in its very heart.
The Policies Which Were Not Pursued
The first need of the situation was a centre round which Hindus could rally, and from which Hindu resistance to the Islamic invasion could be directed. The effectiveness of such a centre was demonstrated first in Mewar under Maharana Pratap, secondly in the South under Vijayanagara, thirdly in Maharashtra under Shivaji, and lastly in the Punjab under Banda Bahadur. But these centres crystallised too late. A nationwide centre established earlier could have contained Islamic imperialism at the borders of Bharatavarsha, or defeated and driven it out from wherever it had secured a foothold. Chandragupta, Vikramaditya, and Skandagupta had headed such a centre, and saved the motherland by hurling back the barbarians as soon as they came.
The second need of the situation was a forward policy which would have taken the war into the heartland of Islam, instead of being fought over the length and breadth of Bharatavarsha. But the Hindus during this period were afflicted by a fortress psychology. They waited for the invader till he arrived at Panipat, or shut themselves into citadels which could be stormed or starved into surrender while the unprotected populace outside was slaughtered. Nor did they ever pursue and destroy the invader even when he was defeated and made of flee. If the Chaulukyas of Gujarat had pursued and destroyed Muhammad Ghuri and his hordes when he was defeated by them in his first expedition in 1178 AD, he would not have come back to Tarain in 1191 AD. Again, if the Chauhans had pursued and punished Ghuri after his defeat in the first battle of Tarain, there would have been no second battle of Tarain, and perhaps no more Muslim invasion of India, at least for some time to come. The effectiveness of a forward policy was demonstrated first by the Marathas under Shivaji, and later on by the Sikhs under Banda Bahadur. But that was against an Islamic state already established in India. Meanwhile, Islam had succeeded in doing very severe damage to the self-respect and self-confidence of Hindu society, particularly to the psyche of its elite.
The consequences of this damage to the Hindu psyche came to the surface during the days of the Mughal empire. Hindu generals like Mansingh Kacchwaha, Jaswant Singh Rathore, and Mirza Raja Jaisingh, to name only the most notable, proved their great calibre when employed by an alien imperialism. Hindu administrators like Raja Todarmal streamlined the revenue system of an alien state. But they could not use their abundant talents for establishing their own leadership in the service of their own nation. The Marathas who finally occupied Delhi in 1771 AD provide an excellent example of this loss of elan. They could not muster the courage to proclaim their own sovereignty over their own motherland, and continued to function in the name of a phantom whom they had themselves freed from British captivity. They were frightened of their own greatness. The notion of an independent nationhood no more informed their vision.
The third need of the situation was a policy of reciprocity which nations have to follow when they are faced with gangsterism. Islam was suffering from the high fever of self-righteousness, and was badly in need of some strong medicine. If the Islamic invaders had been made to understand that what they intended to do to Somnath could also be done to the Ka’bah, they would have paused to think and shed some of their self-righteousness. But Hindus never tried to cure Islam of its iconoclastic zeal. On the contrary, they used every opportunity to convince Muslims that their mosques, mazars, and khanqahs were absolutely inviolable. No wonder Muslims came to the conclusion that while Somnath was built from bricks and mortar, and the Śivaliñga made of mere stone, the Ka’bah was hewn out of some spiritual substance and the sang-i-aswad hallowed by the Almighty Allah. Muslims felt sure that while Hindu images had no power to protect themselves, their own idol in Mecca was capable of hurling into hell whole armies of infidels. Their sense of surety would have been shaken and done them immense good if it had been demonstrated by Hindu armies that the Ka’bah was also built from bricks and mortar, and that the sang-i-aswad also had no power to save itself, not to speak of sending even a mosquito to perdition.
Europe saved itself from the depredations of Islam because it had a centre in the Catholic Church which gave a call for action to Christian princes, and followed a forward policy in the Crusades. It did not allow Islam to retain any of its self-righteousness. Spain was ruled by Muslims for several centuries. But today there is no Muslim ‘minority’ in Spain to poison its body politic, and no Muslim ‘places of worship’ from which Muslim hooligans can hurl stones on Christian processions or in which they can assemble arsenals.
Islam Is Still Self-Righteous
Islam in India is still suffering from the high fever of self-righteousness, though lately it has shifted its claim from the ‘only true religion’ to the only ‘human brotherhood’. Powered by petro-dollars, it is again dreaming of an empire in India. Hindus, on the other hand, have learnt no lesson from history as is evident from their slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava vis-a-vis Islam which is only a totalitarian and terrorist ideology of imperialism. And now the Hindu secularists are bent upon perverting the historical record in order to prove that Islam never intended any harm to Hindus or Hinduism! Will Hindu society have to pay the price again? It is highly doubtful if Hindu society will survive another determined assault from Islam, such is the mental, moral and spiritual health of this society.
A society which has no self-confidence, which suffers from self-pity, which indulges in breast-beating at the behest of every Hindu-baiter, and which stands in daily need of certificates of good conduct from its sworn enemies, has not the ghost of a chance in a world which is becoming deadlier with the passing of every day. Can such a society make any creative contribution to the greater good of mankind? Let every Hindu search his heart, and seek the answer.