Saturday, August 28, 2010

Terrorism, Indian Muslims and Muslim intelligentsia

Ever since my last posting has gone on the blog there have been quite a few reactions from friends – both known and unknown. Some have bombarded mails attacking for criticizing my ‘own fellow Hindumen’; while a few said I was not fair to Muslims and that reflected my personal prejudice.
Honestly, none of the versions is true. Without trying to glorify my own involvement, I have tried to put across certain ideas I thought I should write.
This has not happened for the first time. I had faced this on my book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’. The argument put across that the post-Godhra violence had a salutary effect in uniting the majority community cutting across caste lines had left many angry.
The Hindus, housewives (many of them my innocuous aunts who have least to do with Sangh Parivar, BJP politics etc), eminent social workers, journalist friends, intelligence officers and academicians would nail me for attacking Hindus. Their argument was if Hindu unity is possible because of a riot so be it!
In fact, I have lost good relations with a family friend of mine. This retired Nagaland government employee, now residing in Kolkata, questioned me, “now that you have written so much against Hindus and RSS, tell me what’s your contribution for the Hindu society you belong to?”
I am struggling to form an answer to this question!
So Hindu unity or for that matter the desire for a Hindu unity and giving a sanction for violence for the same was not merely confined to boundaries of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, so called Hindutva laboratory. It had takers even in Kolkata and other parts of the country, including Mumbai and of course Delhi and some overseas.
In fact, the theory of unity among the Hindus comes as a major achievement for the champions of Hindutva who have been struggling for decades to integrate various castes into a harmonious force. In Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray’s xenophobic Shiv Sena is seen in that perspective by many Hindus – including Bengalis and for that matter the North Indians though the Marathi chauvinism – especially by the splinter Sena group led by Raj Thackeray has left all and sundry shell-shocked.
This also underlines the success of a VHP line for over three decades that --- “all Hindus should unite against Vidharmis (non-believers)”.
So how much is it different from the schools o Islamic or jehadi terrorism?
No wonder, the Home Minister P Chidambaram’s ‘saffron terror’ remarks has assumed much political debate. Even Congress always keen to keep both sides happy eyeing the all important votes has again played safe. The party’s chief spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi, a point-man of Sonia Gandhi, distanced the party from Home Minister’s statement and even asked him to be cautious while choosing words.
This brings us straight to the definition of terrorism. The internet Wikipedia says, there is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism but largely it is considered that terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.
Terrorism, according to CIA’s definition of 1980, which was accepted by US State Department, is a threat or use of violence for political purposes by individuals or groups, whether acting for or in opposition to established government authority, when such actions are intended to shock, stun or intimidate a target group wider than the immediate victims.
In any case, the general understanding is that terrorism encompasses those acts which are intended to create fear (terror), and are perpetrated for an ideological goal --- mostly opposed by the other side.
The disregard shown to the safety of non-combatants forms a basic aspect of terrorism. But conflict remains whether ‘insurgency’ can be called terrorism. So is the debate with Kashmir conflict. Pakistan calls the “secessionist movement” as proclaimed by India as “freedom fighting”. Similar is the dispute as regard the ‘insurgency’ in Nagaland or Manipur!
Radicals from contradictory schools of thought want to dub Naxalism also as “terrorism”, while the secular brigade calls Hindu chauvinism and violence and rhetoric perpetrated by the Hindu groups as also terror.

Indian Muslims and Intellectuals:

Having taken a closer look at the historical factors those led to the present morass the Muslims as a community has landed into, it’s also important that we understand the role of Muslim intellectuals and the Urdu press.

Recently a practicing Muslim politician Farooq Abdullah while speaking in Lok Sabha (on August 26) folded his hands his hands as he looked towards the seemingly stunned press gallery above and urged them to be cautious about the style of functioning of a section of local Urdu press in the valley.
Earlier during the debate reacting to certain remarks by JD(U) leader Mr Sharad Yadav that elections in Kashmir was allegedly rigged in 1980s, Mr Abdullah sprang up on his feet and alleged that it is the media ‘which had ignited the fire”. Farooq Abdullah is not alone.

Moving onto another plane, Mohd. Wahiduddin in his book ‘Indian Muslims: Need for a positive outlook’ draws our attention to a these critical questions.
“The Muslim press has been suffering from what I can only call quite unjustifiable self-righteousness on the part of Muslim intellectuals,” writes Wahiuddin.
It’s typically on the same line, some of my intelligence agencies friends have spoken from time to time. There’s a pattern among “Muslim scholars, press and others” when they deliberately avoid gazing in their own hearts and to do stock taking on their own shortcomings. So the best option is to raise the bogey of “plots and conspiracy”! Therefore, these sections often end up instigating the minority community, mostly battered, playing up the never ending demon of “enemy” --- the Hindus, the Christians, the Jews et all. In the process, constructive engagements and objective way of looking at things is just not there.
Therefore, often non-issues are hyped. The campaigns are launched that “innocent Muslims” were framed and put behind prisons in India. They are “mentally tortured by pro-Hindu police” by depriving them of the Quran in their cells.
Otherwise, what’s the logic when we find local Muslims taking to the streets in Varanasi even preventing the arrest of a terror suspect?
Secular brigade and their distorted championing the cause of Muslims only make things further complex.
So who all are defended by secularists at the end of the day? Afzal Guru, man sentenced to hanging for attack on parliament; or Sohrabuddin in Gujarat!
On the other hand, in historical perspective, the ‘tyrant Aurangzeb’ is often regarded as a saint since he could sew caps and also sold calligraphic Korans to raise revenue for constructing mosques and even persecuted Hindus.
In his book “The World of Fatwas”, Arun Shourie tells how the fundamentalist Islamic Ulema controls each and every aspect of an orthodox Muslim’s life by giving a religious dogmatic dimension to even personal matters like shaving and having sex.
Muslims are also made to believe that the one who dies fighting his ‘jihad’ gets paradise.
Rightly goes that melancholic Urdu couplet, “…. Parai sholon ka dar nahi. Mujhe kauf Ataish Gul Se hae, yeh chaman kahin jala na de (I have no fear of aliens, but I fear that the fire of the rose can burn down the garden)”.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where’s the will to fight the communal menace ?

So Continuing with the previous posting on the mindset of Indian Muslims, it would be now only relevant to look at the Hindu mindset vis-à-vis the Muslims.
Indian Hindus as a group do not have very fond memory of their past – medieval history - when enthroned at Delhi, Indian Muslims reigned supreme from the Himalayas to Cape Cormorin, as stated once by Lord Dufferin.
On the other hand, Muslims have for all practical reasons not been able to give up the obsession of that golden era. “It was an image which spurred them to demand first a special political position in British India and then in the nineteen-forties, independent statehood should the British leave,” wrote P Hardy in ‘The Muslims of British India’ (published in South Asia by Foundation Books).
The Hindus’ views about Muslims, even in contemporary setting, is purely guided or prejudiced much by the happenings during this golden era of the Muslims. Even the violence in Gujarat, the Hindu chauvinists only sought to avenge the injustice meted to Hindus during the period. The Sangh Parivar’s much talked about movement associated with Kanshi, Mathura and Ayodhya temples is no different. It is just aimed at undoing the destruction of the Hindu temples by Muslim rulers.

Hindus think they have natural reasons to grudge Muslims as not only they were empire builders of medieval India, they were also the ruling aristocracy. The period under many Muslim rulers in Delhi also marked aggression and oppression for the Hindus. The ‘jauhar’ by Rajput women only signifies this point as these Hindu women were taught out to end themselves rather than surrender before ‘par purush’, especially Muslims.
Moreover, the caste menace haunting the Hindu society, only ensured that the Islam was a great unifying factor for backwards, underprivileged and lowly social groups. This has left a permanent scar among Hindus that their own brethren had been converted into Islam and in later period to Christianity.
The partition in the 20th century was yet another testimony for the Hindu radicals that Muslims would never be part of Indic civilization, as they understood.
India and Pakistan and in later stage Bangladesh were born in tears and bloodshed. The tears and blood are still flowing. The hatred infused then has now only blossomed - fanned by vested interest, political lobbies in each of these countries, the fundamental elements and also the influence of the western powers.
Over the decades, one cannot agree more that Pakistan has been the epicenter of this ‘terror storm’. On the other hand, India on its part has been a peculiarly soft state as also one which goes into selective amnesia from time to time on terrorism, the terror strike and the need to fight it. Indian statecraft since 1947 has never had any concept of strategic planning be it Pakistan or terrorism.
This school of thought which believes in inherent ‘soft approach’ by the Indian official apparatus is gradually swelling their numbers. A large number of Indians, and more especially the Hindus, believe there is a deliberate ‘Muslim appeasement’ card by the non-BJP political class.
Moreover, the terrorism was gradually getting an Islamic face, partly deservedly and partly due to the overall global campaign on that line.
Now when the government of India’s ‘battle preparedness’ to deal with Pakistan and its proxy war was not reaching the expectation level, the Hindu chauvinists have a vacuum space.
Now comes another damning term the ‘Hindu terrorism’. On the face value and not without reasons, the Hindus in general are anguished and shell-shocked at the allegation that their faith, known for its tolerance, is being linked to the worst challenge before the mankind, the terrorism.
One may not agree with the phrase, but Hindu assertion is a reality in last two decades with educated upper caste middle class particularly endorsing such a scenario. They think the wrong doers --- the Pakistan or the Muslims – should be given a lesson and a large number of Non Resident Indians spread the globe endorse this and even allegedly fund Hindu organizations.
Even doyens among the Hindus seem to endorse what’s going on these days. As mentioned in an earlier blog (see link ..) the legendary scholar-saint Aurobindo had said, “Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of the Hindus”. (India’s Rebirth, Page 164).

Shift in Hindu Mindset:
This “shift” in Hindu mindset is not new as illustrated by Aurobindo’s statement. He was not alone. The crave for freedom and influence of Gandhiji was so dominant for Indians that immediately after independence they embraced Nehruvial socialism and democracy.
Sardar Vallabbhai Patel was no doubt, therefore, could emerge as a formidable character before Indians despite his known contradictory opinion on Nehru’s philosophies. Kashmir was one area, when he strongly advocated for hardline stance.
After independence, one must say here in no uncertain term that the Hindu mobilization owes its origin to years of Muslim appeasement by the Congress and the Communists and lately by other secular brigade. It was given a momentum during the Ayodhya movement. Notably, the right wing Hindu leadership also won the support of Dalits and OBCs --- especially the upwardly mobile strata with the electoral slogans “Abki bari Atal Bihari” and “Ram Mandir Banana hai”. Then came Gujarat 2002. The Godhra train mayhem had left the Hindus anguished to the core.
The subsequent riot was precisely the beginning of Hindu assertion as even RSS leader M G Vaidya later admitted in a press conference in Mumbai that post-Godhra retaliation was “unlike a Hindu reaction”.
The middle class Hindus were found looting the shops and hotels run by Muslims. In the process, the Dharma, the essential facet of Hinduism was the casualty though the votaries of ‘Hindu renaissance’ don’t seem to bother.
This is not to suggest that the Sangh Parivar or principal opposition party the BJP or other organizations associated with it are part of the Hindu terror phenomenon. The BJP and other Sangh Parivar elements might not endorse such extreme strategy, but they ought to realize that the demon they have created – perhaps unknowingly – now is a difficult phenomenon to be controlled.
It is like the Naxalism, once patronized and sympathized by the Left and then by Congress party in some states. The RSS leaders are on defensive and suggesting that “unwanted” elements have got into and bringing bad name to the RSS.
Fundamentalism be it in the form of Hindu chauvinism or the Islamic fundamentalism also have a lot to do with today’s polarized situation.
It is not without good reason now that the “common thread” to the 2007 bomb blasts in Ajmer, at Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid, and in Malegaon hail from Madhya Pradesh's Malwa region and all have alleged connexions to Hindu groups.
What started as minor skirmishes and the alleged political vendetta by the Congress-led UPA to discredit the BJP and the latter’s principal support base now has assumed a more serious dimension.
The Congress cannot wash off its hands either.

The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Rajasthan anti-terror squad made a string of arrests from in and around Indore. But all that is being done is not above board.
A large number of people believe the Congress party led by a Christian and that too a foreign lady is indulging in politics to defame the Hindu organizations and thus win over their lost support base among the Muslims. They have been unduly slow and lackadaisical towards the execution of parliament attack accused. The BJP and its friends say Congress appeasement of Muslims has crossed all limits.
In the communal frenzy, as the pun goes, ‘Hamam mein sab nangey haen' meaning no one is away from the needle of suspicion).


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Muslim Mindset and What awaits Muslims in India?

I have said earlier that certain things keep coming back both to me and also to our country and one such hot potato is communal conflict. The issue has again attracted public attention following threats to the Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2010. The threat has come from the Muslims posing as a serious challenge to the communal harmony in trouble-torn Kashmir as also in other parts of the country.
According to media reports, Sikhs living in Kashmir received anonymous letters directing them to "embrace Islam, join the protests against civilian (read militants/supporters/sympathizers among others) killings or pack up and leave the Valley."
The issue has already figured in parliament forcing adjournment once in a while amid uproar. The UPA government, swearing day in and day out about secularism, has reacted rather passively saying Sikhs have been assured etc etc.
I won’t dwell much on the imbroglio in Kashmir, it certainly deserves another series of postings.
I rather try to debate on the Muslims’ mindset and how things unfold for Muslims – when secular brigade including the Left, Congress other socialist democratic parties try to overdo each other in ‘appeasing’ the Muslims. The purpose being only to garner their votes.
This is largely because unlike the Hindu voters, Muslims in most elections have voted according to certain pattern.
They voted for Congress and other ‘secular’ parties in 2004 deciding the fate of BJP and BJP-led NDA candidates following a specific pattern. No wonder it is this ‘pattern’ of Muslim voting which makes many Congress men confess in private that they would like to continue to lose Gujarat to Hindutva’s new political icon Narendra Modi, so that they continue to win the rest of India citing Modi’s ‘fear factor’ to the Muslims.

Now, before going at the Muslims mindset, I must share something else here. At a different plane, yet again, I am reminded of an observation made by my Education professor at Kohima College in Nagaland. Prof H Rehman, who once told us that the name Hindus to ‘Hindus’ were not given by the community but by the Muslims to describe those who arguably did not embrace Islam and held fort about their traditional Indus valley civilization. Hindus originally called only Sanatan Dharmi if at all they ought to call themselves. It is only in post medieval period that Hindus started calling themselves Hindus. Thus he would argue when a Hindu aggressively called himself Hindu, he was only parroting a name given by the Muslims and was denying himself the original – putripurush identity of Sanatan Dharmi.
No wonder, that way again there is a big merit in the argument that Hinduism is not a religion and rather a way of life. In the recent times, Hindutva is given that definition and even has the endorsement of the judiciary.
Muslims would not consider Hindutva as a way of life. They would take Hindus or for that matter even Sikhs as ‘kafirs’. Therefore, from traditional Islamic point of view – and in isolation of the concept of a modern state – Muslims, at least hardliners, believe they have the religious approval to act against ‘non-believers’.
Even Muhammad s believed to have prescribed that : “When you meet your enemies Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. ... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay Jijya (tax) accept it. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them...." (Shaih Muslim 19.4294)
So what’s wrong in threatening Sikhs either to embrace Islam or leave Kashmir?
This brings us to the question, what really awaits the fate of Muslims in the contemporary India. I have posed this question my book ‘Godhra – A Journey To Mayhem’ also. As a Hindu boy, brought up in northeastern hills of India amidst Christian strongholds and continuously confronting the problem of influx of Muslim Bangladeshis from across the border, I had often endorsed and perhaps even believed in pro-Hindutva line.
But I always wondered, what could one really prescribe for a religious group, whom I have occasionally thought of a group supporting Pakistan during cricket match, who have insisted on ensuring a Masjid at Ayodhya, the birthplace of our overwhelming majority Hindus’ Lord Rama, who have pushed out large number of Kashmiri pandits from Kashmir and are now targeting the Sikhs.
May be Indian Muslims have not realized the futility of their confrontation. It is this confrontation attitude Muslims had taken up at the instance of self-proclaimed secularists and their own religious (communal) leaders like Shahi Imam of Delhi Jama Masjid --- that they are perhaps fighting a lost battle.
The same argument perhaps holds good for the partition of India and how much this has harmed the Muslims.
During my stay in Mumbai, I had interviewed noted Muslim scholar Rafiq Zakaria. The author of ‘The Man Who Divided India’ on Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Zakaria, Zakaria had argued that he did not believe in Jinnah’s two-nation theory, as the partition had in no way helped Muslims. In Gujarat, especially after the riots of 2002 and interacting with elderly surviving inmates in the camps, I for one had reasons to endorse Zakaria’s observations that partition has not helped Muslims. Think of a united India and the political strength of Muslims – vis-à-vis – their population size.

On a different plane again, post-1857, Muslims had a very positive contribution at the altar of the nationhood. For the colonial masters, Muslims in general meant a rebel and several historians had recorded that once the Sepoy Mutiny was kindled, Muslims not only joined the Hindus --- they in fact fanned the flames of discontent and took upon themselves the mantle of spearheading the movement against Britain. There have been records of much Muslim uprising against the British in Delhi, Awadh, Meerut, Farukhabad, Bengal and even countryside. In Aligarh and Rohilkhand, Muslims to Britishers were mostly known as rebels. It is not without good reason that Jawaharlal Nehru himself said that the “heavy hand” of the colonial masters fell more on Muslims than Hindus. It is only the quirk of history that Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a man who single-handedly masterminded the partition of India on the basis of Hindu-Muslim division.
In her book ‘The Sewing Circles of Herat – A Memoirs of Afghanistan’, Christina Lamb endorses this view by stating, “although Hindus and Sikhs also participated in the uprising, the British blamed the Muslims and began dismantling institutions associated with the former Moghul empire”.
There’s another aspect to the Muslim history in British India and it is vital for historians and also the followers of contemporary settings. Even as education was unifying Muslims and often threatening Islamic values in the eye of fundamentalists, the Indian Islamic scholars got divided into two camps. One group founded the Aligarh Muslim University, a progressive institution where students wore fez and also ties, played cricket and debated in both Urdu and English. The other group created the deobandi school to train a generation of Islamic followers for whom Koran was the blueprint for everything.
Notably, the madrasas run by deobandis became the fastest growing education system in South Asia, particularly in northern India, Pakistan and in later years in parts of Afghanistan.
To be Continued……

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lalu Prasad Yadav : Riding the success graph in rustic style

Lalu Prasad Yadav, the man who gave altogether a different definition to eccentricity in public life, besides his eventful political career would be also remembered for long time for making Biharis take pride in impulsive and totally unsafe kind of mannerism. The former Bihar Chief Minister admired even among bitter political rivals for his charismatic and mass appeal (had) has his trump card rested on being a parochial casteist leader with a slogan promising a new day to his underdog Bihari voters.
“Bihar can be bifurcated only on my dead body,” was such an example of rhetoric mannerism when he wanted to oppose carving out of Jharkhand state.
His face had an impression of an extra-ordinary rustic look suiting his image and his political constituency. In rest of India or in big cities, while people of all political hues struggled to present themselves as sophisticated and intelligent, Lalu preferred to play a “gaon ke bekoof (rustic buffoon)” promising to even “make Bihar roads shine like actress Hemamalini’s cheeks”.
Paradoxically, he did not earn ridicule for the sexist remark but rather attracted applause.
Instead Lalu’s mannerism and inherent acceptance it had from the crowd only leads one to ponder - which one is more ridiculous: to appear a fool or to pretend to be smart!
A host of internet jokes surfaced on him involving global personalities like US President Bill Clinton and Pervez Musharraf.
Character actor Paresh Rawal has already acted in a film emulating Lalu while another film starring Sunil Shetty has been named after him. Prakash Jha-made ‘Gangajal’ shows politically-motivated violence under his rule and ironically the negative protagonist of the film is named after his brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav.

Born on June 1, 1973, Lalu married Rabri Devi, whom he selfishly imposed as Bihar’s Chief Minister once he was named in the fodder scam and the CBI investigations intensified. Father of two sons and seven daughters, he even made his large family a platform to make frontal attack on Indira Gandhi’s forced sterilization programme during the emergency. He named his eldest daughter Misa Bharati after the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) enacted during emergency between 1975-77.

He had been also alleged to be so much blinded by greed for holding onto power that he turned blind to reasons and the sentiments of those who should have mattered to him. It took him no time to split Janata Dal when the party favoured his resignation following the fodder scam investigation revelations. He floated RJD anointing himself as its president and made his wife, till then a shy housewife and a semi-literate as Bihar’s chief minister.

In fact, 15 long years from 1990 to 2005 - Bihar’s story has been the story of Lalu’s his love affair with the seat of power of the strife-torn state. For Lalu Prasad Yadav, the state has been his fiefdom – a land where he is alleged to have been presiding over and also inflicting anarchies but he did not want to give up the power. Voted out of power in a fractured mandate in February 2005 assembly polls, he forced UPA regime to deny opportunities to rival parties to take over. Manmohan Singh government’s decision to impose President’s Rule came in for severe criticism by the Supreme Court and its own minister Ram Vilas Paswan took up the cudgels against government’s move.
In the subsequent November 2005 polls, Lalu and Rabri Devi were faced in catch22 situation: can the rendezvous with destiny be postponed indefinitely.

He saw the writing on the wall as the state seemed slipping out of his grip.
In the run up to the polls, voters realized one thing that Lalu’s ‘jalwa’ (magic) was missing.

But Lalu is a person who won’t give up easily and therefore as a strategist to turn disadvantages to advantage, he has made an all out attempt to present himself an innovative administrator. Dubbed as the country’s foremost white elephant, he left nothing to chance to take the credit for bringing about the
financial turnaround of Railways, a portfolio he had reluctantly accepted after Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh denied him home portfolio.

But he has been making news also for wrong reasons in railways. Firstly, he mad a hyped campaign on ‘kulhad’ (earthen tea pot). He also booked railway officials either for mishaving with RJD MPs or not for providing a good service during his trips.
He also used his Railway portfolio and ordered a probe on Godhra train carnage only to be ridiculed by the BJP and his bete noire in Bihar politics Nitish Kumar, the former Railway Minister and the incumbent Chief Minister of Bihar who outwitted Lalu in the backyard of his fiefdom.
Nevertheless, he got a best weapon now to claim about his administrative ability and thus he challenged that he can bring results in any other Ministry. The statement again sounds buffonery but such reasoning of wisdom could be only a metropolitan myth as ordinary Indians do think that Lalu singularly deserves kudos for turning the fortunes of Indian railways.
This profit of Rs 90,000 crore for railways was subsequently challenged by his immediate successor Ms Mamata Banerjee, who implied that the figures were fudged by Lalu.
In the ultimate analysis, only time will tell whether his tales of mannerism and caste idiom politics sprinkled generously with the stance of Muslim appeasement will help future historians to pen a compendium as a political obit or a victory tale of a folk hero.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Lalu bangaya PM ! Thank God, it’s a Mock

On August 20, 2010, Lalu Prasad Yadav attained a new milestone. The illustrious former Bihar chief minister, once in the thick of fodder scam controversy, and more recently formally declared as the Chief Minister-In-Waiting by his alliance for Bihar polls, attained the position of Prime Minister of India, albeit in a mock session in the Lok Sabha after the lower House was adjourned for the day.
Immediately after the House was adjourned by the Deputy Speaker Mr Karia Munda in view of uproar created by opposition members from BJP, RJD and Samajwadi among others over salary hike demand and protest of passage of government legislations, the agitating opposition MPs led by Mr Lalu Prasad, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Gopinath Munde sat on the floor staging a dharna inside the well and staged a mock parliament.
BJP deputy leader became the Speaker while RJD chief Mr Prasad posed as the prime minister. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was given the task of ensuring smooth functioning of the mock session.
During the mock session, which was participated by around 70 MPs, 'debates' were held.
During the 'debate', Ms Maneka Gandhi (BJP) spoke even as her speech was cut short by the 'Speaker' Munde who asked her to wind up the speech owing to paucity of time.
Mr Prasad sporting the characteristic smile later said, "I was elected prime minister for today. We will see what is to be done tomorrow. I heard the views of the 'House' and the people's government decided to reject outright the bills cleared today".
Lalu Prasad’s RJD said even in December 2009 during the winter session of Parliament, the Manmohan Singh government had pushed for and passed five important bills and introduced two others amid the din. The bills passed included one on raising Salaries and Allowances of
Ministers and another providing for creation of commercial divisions of High Courts, they alleged.
Like many journalists of my time, the politics of Lalu Prasad Yadav always give a kick.
On October 10, 2005, Vijaya Dashami day I was in Patna to cover the Bihar assembly polls which ultimately ended Lalu Prasad’s 15-long years of fiefdom over the ill-managed state.
I had mailed to my former PTI colleague in Mumbai, Jaicinta D’Souza, now shifted to Bangalore, that even Dushera pandals in Patna smelled of politics and of course the caste game.

It was early morning by the time one started along the poorly maintained road in a haze of dusty wind. The houses were small and looked like shanties. So much of the evidence of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s work for the downtrodden that each shop and the house reflected a small victory for the human spirit that made man brave through the situation. It is also called survival.
But again, it was perhaps only a metropolitan myth that constitutional impropriety vis-à-vis dissolution of Bihar assembly was seen as main factors weighing against Lalu. Though my urbane political reading suggested that Bihar was slipping out of his grip, if the commoners in Patna, were any barometer, there was absolutely no wave either in favour of JD (U) Chief Ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar or against the Bihar’s uncrowned king for last 15 years.

They could shock a questioner on the pathetic conditions of the roads or power failure. “Why blame Lalu alone? It is a New Delhi conspiracy."
More than the issues of constitutional impropriety, the alleged abuse of power by the then Bihar Govenor Buta Singh and the Supreme Court ruling just a few weeks back against Centre for denying Nitish Kumar a chance to form government in early 2005, the common voters attached closer affinity to their castes and more mundane issues of roads, employment and power crisis.
The caste division was well reflected even among Muslims who are otherwise suppose to cherish the classless and casteless principles of Islam. “The mood of Muslim voters is vital in any election in Bihar. It is going to be all the more crucial this time. Lalu Yadav cannot count us any longer,” remarked my taxi driver. The Lalu yadav regime – either under him or under Rabri Devi - only helped out the case of “upper echelons” among Muslims. This is why JD (U) mascot Nitish Kumar is so sanguine about reservation for Dalit Muslims.

The mandate just within weeks proved him to be correct.
By the end of November 2005, there was no Lalu in Bihar samosa.
But Lalu continued as railway minister in the centre. But the real downslide journey came in 2009 Lok Sabha polls when his party could win only 4 seats --- including his and ironically three other MPs from upper caste. Lalu is shaken and this fear is gaining currency as heart-in-heart he knows Nitish Kumar can again prove himself a better mettle in the ensuing state assembly elections of 2010.
(More on his political career, anecdotes and the much popular humour dose in my next posting)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Platonic Love in Journalism! - Triumph amidst Despair

Certainly, unwittingly I tend to come back to journalism. After all it has been my constant companion – amid all seasons. As I have said earlier, hundreds of people have helped during my career. They are of course, not responsible in any way, for the person and journalist I have turned out to be, particularly for the negative straits. But the charismatic Naga lady Chipeni is one exception who should get some credit for little of what I have achieved for myself. She was always a good-humuored soul ready to befriend all kinds of people. But undoubtedly, our friendship just clicked, something that would defy definitions and reasons.
A class mate of my English lecturer, she has been the best of the lot. A middle-aged soft-spoken, senior in profession and age and in a way a linguist (who knew English, Hindi, Assamese, Nagamese and Bangla to an extent). Her Thatcher like feature and curious eyes gave no clue that she was an information department official, the Editor of the government mouth-piece ‘Warrior’.
It would be hard to believe for others as equally I could not believe it then. She was afraid, concerned and also anguished to know that I received an anonymous letter of threat. We journalists in Nagaland had given a pun to that calling such missives as ‘Love Letters”.
Actually, it was my mistake that I could not believe her. Loyalty to friendship – if they had committed – has been always a great Naga virtue.
There is no offence meant when I say, unlike most communities including our own Bengalis and even other northeastern people, the Nagas have a very sense of gratitude for friendship. In many places I have seen life-long friends turned against them overnight evidently in self-protection. I have first hand experience of such instances – and quite a few during Gujarat riots of 2002. I would have possibly done that myself. But Nagas would not; just as they would not forgive any act of betrayal – even wrongfully perceived one.
Many others who have studied and grown up in Nagaland would testify that class mates have been always invaluable friendship than anyone else.

In professional world today, I am sure many would find their career hampered merely because of openly befriending a man who had fallen from the management grace. Well, I am personally a testimony to that. In May 2001, I found myself in that situation the moment words spread at 4 Parliament Street that I had fallen from the boss M K Razdan’s grace.
Not long ago, all my colleagues would be impressed as I was flattered by his use of the phrase, “ND is a man for all seasons”. (Wow!)
But the moment it spread like wildfire that I had spoken against the boss and had some kind of argument in his ‘closed’ chamber, my colleague and supposedly the best of friends and colleagues initially whispered and then slowly thought it was best for them not to speak to me.
Even outside PTI; I found as I negotiated my way through the ruthless world of the working atmosphere of Delhi, or in general the so called world of achievers and winners – I am sorry to say, I often had to cope with the mean. Somehow I thought, one should get isolation from the self-seeking lot!

Compare this with Chipeni’s reactions at my misery.
I had said earlier even other Naga friends Charles and Lelie kept their friendship and assured me that nothing adverse would happen. With regard to Chipeni, whom I also jokingly called Madam Merry, on one occasion I confided in her about my parental pressure and that I too was planning to quit Nagaland; she immediately screamed that I was wrong.
She promised me that I would be constantly tailed by her. “You should no go. This is your place. I am here,” she shouted. Such words from someone whose relation with me was hardly few years’ and that too platonic would not be understood by many.
Ironically, some months later, I don’t know what came to her mind; she encouraged me to try move out of Nagaland and look for greener and bigger pastures in the national media scene. Again, she was so thoughtful and committed that at one point of time, she screamed rather rudely, “You rot here”. Not surprisingly, when I had to rush to Delhi from Kohima for interview with PTI on a very short notice, it was she yet again who handed over Rs 5000 to her cash-starved friend.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Independence Day Special: Remembering A faceless Bhuj Tremor survivor

Chamon Handoli shows the way. Here, I should take a break from my journalism fable as also the previous subject I wanted to generate a debate on the Hindutva and various facets of communal conflict in the country. I promise I will come back to these issues – close to my heart any ways sooner than later.
But on the occasion of yet another Indepedence Day, let me try shake up the nationalistic fervour in all of us. But it essentially, humanitarian fervour!
The inherent resilient power vis-à-vis the economic recession and successful management of its economy and its democratic polity – with all limitations - has earned the country a respectable position in the comity of nations.

But my decision to bring a faceless Chamon Handoli here is to lay emphasis on individual virtues --- fast vanishing but so essential for the human race.

Chamon Handoli is no intellectual giant or philanthropist, as anyone would understand by the term. This is a faceless individual – victim of the millennium’s first natural disaster to strike Gujarat’s Kutch belt. In my later years since meeting this shy man not even posing to be a social worker, I realized that my curiosity factor if not love for Gujarat owes a lot to my meeting with him on that chilly January night of 2001. Just as the devastation left by Tsunami in December 2004 had created a concern for good Samaritans across the subcontinent, sitting on the safe lap of island city I shared this story with a few friends in Mumbai.
Here was a man, who could prove that how often the faceless victims can show the scribes, primarily the skeptics lot, that despite all odds there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. As I write few lines on him, today, August 15, 2010, I do not know where he is. Is he still alive? Could he join his family who parted ways for safety after the killer quake? But in a way, it is a kind of paying tribute to that great soul. And no day could be better than this?

Here was a shy man cherishing silence as his essential value. Following my over half-an-hour interaction with him, I could realize that greater part of his life has been of silence. His can be called a story in which his silence was never heard amid a world of rhetoric and big talks. What burnt in his heart will be perhaps never known but I ought to say that virtues of personalities like him should not wash away with the tears one could be shedding.

Perhaps I also sought to search the soul of Gujaratis --- as demonstrated by Chamon Handoli – when I covered post-Godhra riots of 2002 extensively and also subsequently penned a 200-odd page book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’.
In retrospect and talking in first person, the profession of journalism has not only given me self-confidence and self-respect but it also took me to places and made me witness events – both happy and sad - many others would never get opportunity. Truly, post-Godhra riots in 2002 were foremost striking among them but visit to Bhuj and adjoining places three days after the killer quake that shook western India on January 26, 2001 was also quite a significant one. Of course there were fundamental differences between the two, one man-made catastrophe and the other natural disaster.
In introduction to ‘Journey to Mayhem’ (Samskriti Publication, New Delhi 2004), I have candidly admitted that due to my childhood upbringing in northeast India, I always took pride in mentioning that I hailed from the hotbed of extremism. Thus, I had a notion that by temperament, I was a tough man and could face any extent of human tragedies.

The anti-Muslim carnage had left me anguished on how human beings could be so merciless with each other whatever be the provocation; while the earthquake in 2001 had only made me feel so hapless about human vanity. Man is just a toy in the hands of nature and a lethal coquetry of nature like the earthquake only exposes his humbleness.
Assigned by Press Trust of India (PTI) to travel from Gujarat capital Ahmedabad, we had reached Anjar village on a chilly winter night. At first sight, we could not grasp the idea that a human civilization had been there only a few days back with all modern amenities from banks to concrete shopping malls. But everything had been razed to the ground as if a victorious army in a fiercely fought battle has ravaged the area. It all looked unbelievable and to recall that experience is similar to try penning a fiction.

There was very little the pastoral folk of the Kucth could do in the face of the merciless disaster, especially when there have been very little from the administration to harness alternative arrangements. Even the international aid and NGO support was still to reach the villagers.
In Anjar, buildings and other constructions had gone three feet underneath and only living beings across could be made out from howling of dogs. On the roadside near the entry point to the village were few tents local relief workers had put on and in a corner sat Chamon Handoli cross-legged on a broken cot.

Wrapping his face with an old “gifted muffler”, I was told later, to protect from icy cold breeze, Handoli was staring somewhere towards the stars blinking far off piercing the thick blanket of winter fog. As I said “namaste”, he looked out of place and initially refused to acknowledge the standard Indian way of greeting. But mercifully – for my job - he gradually opened up narrating the story of his village devastated in no time. “It all happened within minutes. My entire property is deep inside. I cannot recognize my house now,” he said narrating me how family – wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and grand children have been moved out of Gujarat.
In fact, his was only a family among thousands rendered homeless in the killer earthquake. As I listened to his tale and jotted down points on my tiny reporting pad with fingers shivering in cold, I recalled how only in the afternoon I had faxed PTI, New Delhi office an elaborate story of Kutchis, natives of Kutch belt, fleeing their homes.

My draft from Nanicharai hamlet had begun: “Holding a six month old baby in arm Miraben sobbed as she prepared to leave home for nowhere. This is what the black Republic Day tremors have done to her and thousand others in the Kutch region. Alive for a predicament they could hardly visualize even few months back when the region was limping back to normalcy braving the summer drought”. Those who willfully decided to migrate included businessmen, government servants, agriculturists and probably people from every known social stratification. With shutter down at his factory, salt worker Ason from Nanicharai village, around 25 km from Anjar, told us that he had little choice other than leaving his grounded house and the hearth. It was a double pathetic condition greeting the citizens.

The Gujarat government’s inability to reach out to them had all the reasons to provoke the natives. The complaints kept pouring in from every corner on the way authorities were responding to the crisis. Satya Narain Bansal was a well-to-do businessman forced to hound out of Gujarat. Halting at a roadside relief camp in village Nanicharai, he had told me ventilating his anguish: “When international relief and rescue teams could reach Kutch, we fail to understand why Gujarat government was sleeping for days”.

Speaking to Chaman Handoli, I wondered how someone in his position could be still optimistic – after days that a few human lives could still be saved from underneath the debris. But there was inordinate delay in clearing the rubbles.
With rubble scattered around and clearing work either going notoriously slow or confined only in urban and accessible pockets, over 80 per cent of Anjar and the walled city of Bhuj still provided some hopes to the citizens that their near and dear ones could be alive. But amidst all these anxiety Chaman Handoli was in his best form of courteousness and upholding the value he cherished despite the tragedy. He simply shocked me when he said after the quake his brother went missing and he thought the fellow could be underneath the debris. Yet, he offered me a pouch of water out of a few left on his cot by volunteers from the near by tent.
My PTI bosses, especially the CEO Razdan had rightfully advised me not to eat or drink carelessly as apprehension of epidemic was not ruled out. “I like this fellow, I don’t want him to die,” Razdan had told a colleague while I was taking instructions from him.

Naturally, I hesitated to take. Handoli again insisted saying in chaste Hindi, “Pani Peelo Sahab, nahi toh mere gaon ka Bura hoga (Please drink a little water Sir because as a guest if you do not accept that, it will befall bad omen for my village)”.

Any Indian in normal course of life must have heard and uttered these words numerous times. But to make such a remark given his state of mind – missing brother, separated from family and everything worth property ruined – was not easy. It was not easy for Handoli either as second after as I gazed towards him, I saw in the half moon night and focus of a petromax light - tears rolling down his cheeks.

Sitting back today, as I key these lines, I recall reading somewhere in a fictional work ‘Children in the Moonlight’ written by a Nagaland-based IAS officer E T Sunup. “God made the moonlight neither bright enough for the day nor dark enough for night. This is kind of unreal”.

My vanity of being from a tough profession and hotbed of extremism – that is the insurgency-hit Northeast was exploded.

It was not easy for me either to listen to the man or face him eye-to-eye. I was to experience a totally “unreal” kind of situation where in despite all odds a helpless man had not forgotten his values and more importantly still thinking so strongly about his village. As I quickly turned back taking his leave to rush towards my parked vehicle, only feeling haunting me was --- what was really left to bring worse for his village.

It was already devastated and all hopes lay under the debris. But Chaman Handoli’s spirit and his faith in Indian value system or his rustic culture refused to be shattered! On the backdrop of this spirit, it was painful when we heard that natives were stealing away the blankets from various relief camps or picking up more than one (blanket) unmindful of hundreds of others who lay shivering unprotected.

In next few days, we had other stories to file like hoarders taking advantage of the liberal distribution of relief materials. Local people constantly fed in allegation to the scribes that an unholy nexus thrived between officials and voluntary workers only to add to the problem.

Appreciating the dimension of the problem, the Bhuj police set up was also geared up and DIG A K Singh also had made an announcement to deal sternly with unscrupulous elements.

Subsequently, in 2002 when media lambasted anti-Muslim riots; Chief Minister Narendra Modi took up the cudgel on behalf of Gujarati pride (sic) and retorted more than once that it was the same kind of people trying to defame him (for the riots) who had described Gujaratis as “blanket thieves”. Ironically, I was to cover all the incidents; allegation of theft of relief materials, the riots and also Modi’s outbursts “against the media”.
In this context, I ought to say that when I had asked Handoli why he did not desired to have a blanket. His reply was equally moving; “I am okay with my shawl. They can give blankets to others”. Such was the spirit of share and care of a Kutchi or a Gujarati. But in 2002 when riots broke, the good Samaritans had done a vanishing act fearing backlash with hardly any social workers seen around for days in and around Ahmedabad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Journalism --- Association with Fear?

But over all your mother accepted the reality of her life. Thus most often we – as husband-wife – are a team, compromising with ourselves and learning to carry out a peculiar job routine.
Often mosquito nets would be hung and she would embrace my half-naked body – but I would go through some books or scribble down few lines as you - my little daughter - would dutifully sleep.

At the end of the day, now about 20 years in the profession, I should say the struggles associated with it made journalism exciting and challenging.

My love for journalism developed primarily due to my fascination for Politics. Political choice for a youngster like me kept on changing. I was a pro-left in the initial years – seeing a hero in Jyoti Basu and hating the Congress. Then I grew up with a soft corner for Nagaland and Assam regional parties like the Nagaland People’s Council and Asom Gana Parishad.
Then BJP came in next - as in the far-flung northeast we thought the “party with a difference” would bring in the necessary drastic changes in our social and political life.

The illusion, however, soon got over. Gujarat 2002 was perhaps also responsible; thanks to PTI and the confidence vested in me by PTI’s general manager (now CEO) M K Razdan, who deputed me from Mumbai office to Ahmedabad for five months – starting from the morning after the train burnt in Godhra on February 27, 2002.

But the arrogance of BJP leaders was a more dominant factor. At times, they seemed turning more Congressmen than most Congressmen.
The communism was nevertheless not yet a dirty word in my paradigm. But slowly it became with Nandigram and Singur.
In theory, I could soon be convinced that if communism was great; why it had to be imposed by force. Why it had to show its ugly face in 2006-07?

The communism as I understood inspired loyalty. Your nana, whom you also called ‘bhai dadu), my father-in-law in the backyards of Tripura was a loyal leftist definitely. But, may his soul rest in peace; I thought he was not a thinking communist. He was more a comrade even in his private life.
Is it without good reason that H Y Sharada Prasad, one time media advisor to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and later her son Rajiv, once wrote that communism succeeds only if it is Chinese.

For your information, I should say having chosen the career in insurgency-hit Nagaland, Journalism for me also got associated with fear. To plunge into a profession like this in insurgency-stricken state of Nagaland was itself risky in its own enterprise.
From the very beginning of my work there in Nagaland, I realized the fear of antagonizing sensitive Naga sentiments was a constant companion.
But I learned to live with it and not many people would also know about it. Least – my home front and parents as that would signal the end of my obsession with the vocation or the profession of journalism.
Amidst all these situation in 1991 winter months I received an anonymous letter cautioning me against “interfering in Naga affairs”. The unsigned letter was good enough to spoil my sleep for few weeks. I would avoid active work and run to my seniors in the profession with the plea not to report anything about the missive. On one occasion, I ran to a local editor of ‘The Nagaland Observer’ Charles Chaisie’s house and in his absence so much desperate I was that I jotted down a few lines requesting him not to report on that threat letter as my parents would then force me give up trying anything silly with my life.
Probably till date neither my parents nor brother Nirmal or my sister Rinki (Mahua) knows about the letter.
Thanks to the late colleague, Lelie Legissie, who personally consoled me and tried to convince me that the anonymous letter writer had probably done it only in jealousy!

But the fear stuck. It was like a dull ache – amid all the local help I got and the excitement of covering Nagaland state politics was.
Honestly, that feeling of stress and the fear never left me.

But there was a change as I started working for the Press Trust of India (PTI), country’s premier news agency. In effect, the fear and stress multiplied. The agony was more as no body would understand my situation, nor could I explain. Working for PTI and stationed at Kohima was such a risky proposition that for every violent story one filed, one would fear adverse reactions.
PTI would expect prompt and good copy on insurgency-related incidents, while in Nagaland no top civil or police official would divulge details of any incidents nor would even confirm.

In his memorable work, Max Hastings wrote, soldiers and journalists make uneasy bedfellows. Well in Nagaland of 1990s – when insurgency killings had suddenly revived after a decade long lull, a non-Naga scribe and the Naga guerillas, otherwise brave, also made very strange bedfellows.
I started getting into trouble more than once primarily for PTI dispatches on incidents of violence or covering some particular stories.

One such episode related to ambush on former Congress leader Rajesh Pilot’s convoy when he was returning to Delhi from Kohima. The Late Rajesh Pilot called me up at PTI office from Dimapur saying he was ambushed. I had the sensational piece of information but struggled for a while to get confirmation from the police sources. Ultimately, the state DGP said he also got a call from Pilot about the incident. The story went on the ticker …..

Next day, a local daily reported about ‘hoax shoot out incident’ and suddenly entire Kohima looked like an unknown patch of land for me. I could be shot any time, warned some friends and also non-journalist staff at the agency’s fledgling office. This is just one example.

I survived. I also survived two other such incidents more direct one in 1993 when Dimapur railway platform was blasted and another when the jeep we were traveling reached the incident of exchange of fire between Naga guerillas and security forces little late as the driver had to meet his family members mid-way!

But amidst all these, there were some lovely occasions too. Friendship with elegant and enlightened Chipeni Merry was one such sweet experience.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Journalism - My profession – My Obsession

I think the Hindutva and the issue of communal conflict is getting too heavy for a blog reader. So let us shift to something soft but serious.
I owe it to myself more then to you my daughter to write about journalism, my obsession – something which started as an adolescent love and incidentally has stuck lifelong. It’s a difficult ballgame to continue to be with it. There are a plethora of reasons for that. But one factor is driving down the road I find I cannot do anything else. Often the entire scene in journalism would turn frustrating. This fact one day made me jot down a few words for my gmail chat message box – Journalism – Sharm se hae lab siley hue (The shame of media world is making me shut up my lips)!
In pursuance of my career in journalism unwittingly often I seemed to long for isolation from the self-seeking politics of the less meritorious.
But is it all that bad?
Well, before delving in details into this question and also how I had to often cope with the hostility of the mean people; I think firstly I should say how journalism really came about for me.
It came as a mystery and an accident. Actually, gradually I have come to believe that life has the habit of betraying those who want to believe in calculations with it. It was a sheer element of uncertainty, after my failed honeymoon with science that had propelled me into the enchanting illusion of media and for me or my family a totally uncharted territory of journalism.
I must say the words like mystery/accident/surprise are the most un-prescribed terms to use for oneself. But most of my steps about myself, life and career have been surprising. Most of the career moves were shrouded in mystery. My move to choose journalism, when I had actually hardboured an inclination for creative writing. Similar was the case when I got an opportunity to move to Delhi from the backyards of Nagaland journalism and then midway moving to Mumbai, quitting PTI and then trying it out in IT (niche) journalism leaving behind my original constituency of political reporting – actually all came unplanned. Sheer desperation often leads to sweetest of experience. I have thus slowly but certainly started believing that to the best of those who plan out lives, uncertainty and uncharted ways come.
The individuals would not understand what was really going around them.
Another thing that definitely drove was the encouragement. Well, nothing to hide about it; all that did not come easily and very rarely from parents.
And I don’t grudge them as many parents of their generation have done the same. How could they approve their off-spring to try to find livelihood in something which would not predict stability and financial security. More so in insurgency-hit Nagaland where journalism by a non-Naga like me could also provoke extreme reactions.
I would be often dismissed and even forgotten in personal or family life though right from the start of the career as a rookie reporter for All India Radio, Kohima and local papers I was often respected in the professional world.
My relationship with parents was not distant but it was peculiar in more ways than one. With father I was more formal. Thus the only informal relationship was with my brother Nirmal (Raja). He used to be the only man I could open up. I would be repetitive but it is true very few would be lucky to have such encouraging younger sibling.
My desire to write only grew stronger as my brother would sing “jis raha chuni tuney (Don’t give up the path you have chosen)” --- screaming in awful voice that I should not give up looking for a career in writing.
Next, my perception about my job would not end without talking about your mother and the hurdles created by her and support she would render.
In a profession like ours and not well paid situation like mine, I ought to be grateful to my wife; despite my oft-repeated screaming at her. Mili does help me through the trying time knowingly or otherwise. Daughter of a full-time practicing Marxist school teacher she was never an ideal passive partner. But she created an at home easy going atmosphere most of the times as I could took liberty from the pressure of handling the domestic demands. Making some extra money by working extra hours on an article for All India Radio or so demanded that I am left to myself. She would slog often, pick up vegetables, call the plumber or fetch the atta packet regularly.
On her part, she would be a critic often both of my habits and also of my few writing pieces. I would dismiss her criticism, but sometimes did value them though those were hardly followed by corrective steps. Like all nagging wives, I suppose, your mother’s problem has been that while she unfailingly picks up right vibes but often did so at wrong moments.

More on this would follow……….

(sent on Aug 12)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Veer Savarkar and the league

Dear Tinni, You were conceived in Mumbai,Maharashtra.
I would share my views on Mumbai and Maharashtra after a few days. Meanwhile continuing with the Hindutva icons, I must here throw lights
on Veer Savarkar and the polity later created by his admirers.

This is yet another facet on patriotism of Hindutva icons. In this context, the controversy around Savarkar is foremost and is often debated. “I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be ….. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the government,” he had written in a petition on November 14, 1913 to the Home Member of the Government of India.
This letter of Savarkar is often hotly debated and the Sangh Parivar has to struggle much doing the defence or even resort to vandalism so that no blasphemy is committed against their icon. Congress Minister in the Centre Mani Shanker Aiyar, an one-time confidant of Rajiv Gandhi, had to come at receiving end from Shiv Sena for his orders to remove Savarkar’s plaque from Cellular Jail in Andamans. Sena leaders including their supremo Bal Thackeray had applied shoe lacing on Mani’s effigy. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj moved out on a Bharat Parikrama to tell countrymen how a “freedom fighter” was insulted by Aiyar.

In March 2005, Shiv Sainiks ransacked ‘Business Today’ office in Mumbai for inviting the Minister for an award function. On his part, Aiyar said his opinion on Savarkar remained unchanged while Sena officially clarified that no Sainiks were involved in storming into the media office at Jolly’s Chamber in Nariman Point, South Mumbai.

But the very concept of the ‘Hindu’ also calls for closer study. According to scholarly work of Ashis Nandy’s ‘Exiled At Home’, there were certain inherent contradictions about being a Hindu also. And he argues the statement rather caustically. A Hindu, for instance he says, could be aggressive while talking about pacifism, dirty in spite of his ideology of purity, materialist while preaching spirituality and comically Indian when trying to be a western.

Going further on this, one can cite the argument of Nirad C Chaudhuri, often dubbed as the lobbyist for the English. “The current belief is that the Hindus are a peace-loving and non-violent people, and this belief has been fortified by Gandhism” Chaudhuri writes and adds, between third century BC and the twentieth century of Mahatma Gandhi ‘there is not one word of non-violence in the theory and practice of statecraft by the Hindus”.
In fact, Gandhi himself had said that he had borrowed his idea of non-violence not from the sacred texts of India but from the Sermon of the Mount. Rightly points out Nandy again, “In the 150 years of British rule prior to Gandhi, no significant social reformer or political leader had tried to give centrality to non-violence as a major Hindu or Indian virtue”.
It is thus left purely to Mahatma Gandhi the credit or discredit of giving an essentially non-violence face of Hinduism. This is certainly debatable as the Hinduism is better known as a tolerant religion, something accepted even by former Christian leader and ex-Nagaland Governor M M Thomas, now deceased.
The other school of thought argues that the Sanatan Dharma of the Hindus only talk about love, compassion and pristine purity. Therefore, after 2002 Gujarat riots, even Hindu intelligentsia believed the mayhem was a classic case of “negation of Hinduism” and total anti-thesis to the belief and even Hrishi Charbak’s view that “jabat jibo, sukhot jibo (let others live in happiness as you may)” is part of the Sanatan doctrine.

They the present Hindutva votaries have only made an attempt to counter one-book religions like Islam and Christianity. This factor has singularly made the creation of an emblem in Lord Ram as a “strong unification factor”. Those who propound this brand of militant Hinduism are blinded by the expansion of Islam and Christianity. In the process, the Dharma, the essential facet of Hinduism has come as a first casualty. Ironically, it is in the name of religion and the need to protect it that the Dharma, considered both a goal and the path in Hinduism and presupposing the special human capacity for concern and interests of others has become almost a forgotten matter. According to an authoritative study on Hinduism, courtesy ‘Themes and Issues in Hinduism’, edited by Paul Bowen, “the personal attainment of worldly success and enjoyment by inflicting pain and suffering on others, or by denying them the right freely to pursue these ends, is opposed to Dharma”.
Now to counter those who are trying to emphasis on the emblem of Lord Ram vis-à-vis the Hinduism or for that matter their battle over the Ayodhya temple.

The temple cults as such are no part of true Hinduism. Going to a temple or worshipping an image is not counseled in any scriptures. Therefore, the temple movement at least for Hindus as against that of Muslims is only a political emancipation. But this is not for the first time that political goals are being sought with the Hindu religion as a vehicle.
“In olden days kings turned to religion for the sake of conquest, for the preservation of their kingdom and for the recovery of the lost thrones,” writes Nirad C. Chaudhuri in his popular ‘A Passage to England’. Thus materialism did form part of Hindu religious outlook though there is over emphasis to spirituality.
Lord Rama himself performed a Puja of Goddess Durga before conquering Ravana’s Lanka to rescue his wife Sita. Moreover, as again pointed out by Chaudhuri, in Hinduism it is not the dread Goddess kali only who extracts a bloody sacrifice, even the benign Mother Goddess Durga requires this.

To be Continued......

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Welcome to India ---- A Father’s Diary

Welcome to India ---- A Father’s Diary

My dear kid, the sweetest one! It is still months you are to arrive. This is my first letter drafted for my yet to be born daughter – later fondly named Tanvi (Tinni) way back on December 13, 2004.

Your mom and I took some time to come to terms with the reality as doctor said that finally you would join us. ‘Welcome to India’ I would often murmur. As your mom and I wait eagerly to welcome you, there is lot of astonishment and excitement in us, and it is predictable. Life has been going on like that --- generations after generations in every civilization and in every country. Every father has perhaps hoped of a great time for his children. Every father has dreamt and also had few demands off his kids.

A few days after receiving the ‘good news’, I mailed a few words to my younger brother, Nirmal, fondly called Raja! This is what copy-paste passage reads:
“It feels great – I can tell u. But u also feel a hell lot of responsible more than the excitement part of it. May be one sees a lot of dreams. Perhaps the world has grown like that -- generations to generations in perhaps every family and every civilization.
You will of course be an important figure in all that drama to unfold. As 'Chachu' or kaku -- or whatever name u will get -- u also will enjoy that relation.

To give you a brief background, your uncle Nirmal is damn organized person as compared to often the charge of carelessness I am deservedly given.

My brother and my wife always say that I was very bad as financial manager. I was spent thrift on unrealistic matters. Never could I realize that counting every pie in life was the secret of accumulation of wealth. I considered it as a vice. Nor I understood that putting everything on the expenditure tray with hardly a thought of tomorrow could leave me only poorer. But I did save some money by traveling in city bus or taking long walks. But at the end of the day, call it my ego, oriental orientation or some kind of a gut feeling, I was eternally confident and remain up to this day that no hurdle could really stop my movement.

The following passages - My diary notes – including much of anecdotes – written haphazardly with primary objective of telling you about this world in my unique fashion - dwells around this country --- length and breath across India that I have lived and experienced both in my profession and in life. May be these passages will provide some help to you and people of your age to prepare better to face the life, especially in the context of being an Indian.

Actually, the very issue of ‘being an Indian’ could be only half wrong or half-truth --- the way you look at things as you grow up gradually step-by-step. You could also realize how different - nay difficult – it is to be a “Bharatiya” than an Indian. Scholars will tell you that while “India” has progressed, the other half of our nationhood ‘Bharat Varsha’ has lagged behind.
Few civilizations have perhaps witnessed such transitional phase in history than India. Yet, it is to our strength that the country has made giant strides. The colonial invasion, gory past of bloodshed or the nefarious caste system – actually nothing could mar the spirit of optimism – the countrymen display braving all odds. In the words of longtime India watcher Mark Tully, the famous BBC journalist, “India is often likened to an elephant lumbering along unstoppable”. Yet Tully wrote in his one of the numerous masterpieces on our country, ‘India in Slow Motion’ that the country has been “never going anywhere”. In fact, he suggests quite lucidly that the elephant, that is our India, is most of the time seen “shackled”. Another writer and former CEO of Procter and Gamble India, Gurcharan Das argues rather passionately. “…. India will never be a tiger. It is an elephant that has begun to lumber and move ahead. It will never have speed but always have stamina”.

My friend in PTI Siddhartha Kanungoo on his transfer from New Delhi to Bhopal told me once that to an extent he has moved into a “village”. I was shell-shocked, “Bhopal is after all a state capital and it is not in Bihar”, - I tried to reason. Siddhartada shot back, “unlike Delhi or Mumbai, in Bhopal I have to travel for quite sometime to reach a cyber café”. This was in November 2004 and he was giving his reasons for not being able to e-mail me regularly.

There can be a list of one thousand points how and why India has not been able to make optimum use of the potentials. In the following passages, I try to touch upon various such factors and also celebrate our great spirit of survival. In deed, the value system I have been talking about is more prevalent among “Bharatis”, the faceless simpleton folk rather than the urbane elite “Indians”. The ivory tower experts have only sought to offer ideas --- indulged in lectures on television channels - most often not backed by actions from their end.
You will be proud to note very quickly in life that despite odds, the common people in this country have tried to uphold some of the values. Be it in northeast of India, so often described as the hotbed of extremism, or in Gujarat where riots of 2002 had approval from the “common people”, I have found citizens extending their helping hand to each other.

If you think your father that is myself, born and brought up in the far-flung northeast India and who made a chance beginning with the profession of journalism, has come some way ahead in places like Mumbai or Delhi --- undoubtedly I owe it to hundreds of those who never expected anything in return. No dear! They need not be one of those relatives or family friends.

On the contrary so much self-seeking motives drive near and dear ones; I always thought friendship bond --- especially between two hitherto unknown people - has been always stronger than the blood relation.

You know how does a poet sing: “mere dil ke andar chhupa hae ek bachcha, baro ki dekh kar duniya bara honey se darta hae”. This could be true of the world in general but from my experience I would say this applies to middle class kith and kin more than anyone else.
Our world, the world of elderly people, is truly ruthless more often.

I don’t want to scare you nor I want you to grow with skepticism about life and other human beings around you. In fact, human life is the best of gifts the God Almighty could have gifted. Here you have an opportunity to serve your fellow beings. As a Bengali, it has nothing to do with my parochial sentiments that, I have always been touched by the childhood tale of Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest Indians born ever.
I hold him such high esteem despite my disagreement on many issues and also on his latent Hindu chauvinism.

During his childhood Narendra Dutta, Vivekananda’s real name, on one occasion when he touched his mother’s feet – prompt came the blessing, “bless you son so that you can do good to others”.
I feel tempted to shower all such blessings on you knowing fully well in months and years to come I will be selfish, if I have to use that term, and perhaps would bless you, “Long Live Baby and so on”. Naren was transformed perhaps that very day. Swami Vivekananda was actually born on the day his mother blessed him to do good unto others. It is the gold mine that produces gold and how shamelessly many of us cannot understand something so obvious like this.

Dwelling more on my selfish motive vis-à-vis my offspring, like any ambitious or rather patronizing father, I also dream great dreams about you.

History belongs to dreamers, they say, in my case I also want that history should belong to you. Well, to sum up my dream cum ambition about you, I can only refer to what Oscar Wilde had said years back, “anybody can make history only a great man can write it”. I want you to that.

Indian fathers are truly patriarchs and if history recorders and analysts are to be believed even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was no exception to this. The shadow of Bapu hovers large over our national psyche. But there have been stories and pages written on the ungenerous manner Gandhi treated his children.
As regard his son Manilal Gandhi, a longtime editor of ‘Indian Opinion’ founded by his father, vis-à-vis his keenness to marry in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi behaved like the classic Indian patriarch. He had flatly told his son that he could not marry though he preceded the communication with the phrase, “You are a free man; so I cannot force you to do anything”. Rejecting his son’s proposal, Gandhiji wrote, “you cannot forget that you are my son ….. If you enter into this relationship, you may not be able to render any service. I fear you may not be the right person to run ‘Indian Opinion’. It will be impossible, for you, I think, after this to come and settle in India”. (Courtesy: ‘Gandhi’s Prisoner – The Life of Gandhi’a son Manilal’ by Uma Dhupelia Mesthree)

Historians are not quite respectable lot in this country. Interestingly, they have only compartmentalized themselves – right wing and leftists.
In India we talk about Pakistan on daily basis --- at practically all levels of the society on cricket, terrorism and the history of partition; but surprisingly the children do not study Pakistan in their formal curriculum.
In the words of US-based Amitava Kumar (Author of Husband of a Fanatic – a Penguin publication), there is also substantial provocative rumuor dished out as history. “One writer named P N Oak has been claiming for some years that the Taj Mahal is in reality an ancient Shiva temple called Tejo Mahalya – more magnificent and majestic before it was reduced to a sombre Islamic cemetery”, writes Amitava Kumar.

My own profession - journalism is also better known as the “first draft of history” - a different kind of history writing. Therefore, I do not want you to write tales of victors or paint sketches of glorifying someone and someone’s ideology that gives you monetary or other worldly benefits. Nor I want you to be in journalism, which I think has already lost its luster. Well, to quote from a fictional work ‘Letter’ by Hejmadi, “it is hard to have the mind of a man and heart of a woman”.

Am I being very demanding? But that’s one area that you could try to excel and serve your fellow beings. Actually every spheres of life in this country is passing through transitional period and therefore some crisis or the other. Here is the opportunities for you do something – repay the life and this great country!
You just have to nurture a solid will power.

Crisis to your nation and community

Now it is my obligation to tell the younger generation about the real crisis afflicting both the nation and the community – I and we belong to – India and the Bengalis. Choosing of the title to this chapter is deliberate so that people of your generation can identify directly with what I am trying to say. But before saying all that, I must glimpse you a quick recap of history of both our nation and the Bengali community. It is the past that is the foundation of present and similarly, my sweetest one; the present signifies to a large extent what future is stored in. Indian history as much as that of Bengal or the community of Bengalis, in 19th and 20th centuries, is akin to a creature tied to the earth but with the desire to flight. There are truly certain inherent paradoxes to such a situation. In the words of a former Mexican ambassador to India, Octavio Paz, what surprised him most about India “was the diversity created by extreme contrast: modernity and antiquity, luxury and poverty, sensuality and asceticism, carelessness and efficiency …..”. (Courtesy: In Light of India) In fact, his list could go on. He is also right that the co-existence of Hinduism and Islam is a remarkable aspect of India. But the religious affiliations are also our unmaking.
The two religious communities over the ages have only grown mutually suspicious about each other.
Indian Muslims as a group had a very fond memory of their “hey days” when --- enthroned at Delhi, “they reigned supreme” from the Himalayas to down South. Muslims have for all practical reasons not been able to give up the obsession of that golden period. “It was an image which spurred them to demand first a special political position in British India and then in the nineteen-forties, independent statehood should the British leave,” wrote P Hardy in ‘The Muslims of British India’ (published in South Asia by Foundation Books). On the other hand, the Hindus’ views about Muslims, even in contemporary setting, is also guided or prejudiced much by the happenings during this golden era of the Muslims. Even the violence in Gujarat in 2002, according to Hindu chauvinists, and not surprisingly will include your next door neighbours and even friends and relatives, sought to avenge the ‘injustice’ meted to Hindus during the period.
After all, the Sangh Parivar’s much talked about movement vis-à-vis the Kanshi, Mathura and Ayodhya temples is also aimed at undoing the destruction of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers. In the context what I have said about Hindu-Muslim disunity in India, I tend to agree to pertinent question raised by Octavio Paz. “Are they two civilizations occupying a single territory, or are they two religious nurtured by a single Civilization?” The question ought to be answered.
On this backdrop I must tell that as the Britons prepared to leave the Indian shores, the division surfaced to the hilt and two countries were carved out mercilessly from the body of mother India.
Ace Bengal poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s idealistic lines, “Ek hi brinte dooti Kusum, Hindu Musalman; Hindu taar noen moni, Muslim taar pran” (Two buds in one stem, Hindus and Muslims – one complimentary to the other) had just died within the pages of books and rhetoric of the netas.
The partition is the worst known event of contemporary history when religious affiliations were used for the first time in human civilization to create two warring countries --- in continuous one-upmanship and relentless competition against each other.
Ironically, Pakistan, which had promised a haven for Muslims could not keep its eastern limb of Bengalis together for long. Bangladesh was carved out of it and by the quirk of history Kazi Nazrul Islam was designated as national poet of the new country.
Creation of Bangladesh only deepened the crisis of confidence between Islamabad and New Delhi. Pakistan virtually vowed to avenge Bangladesh for Indira Gandhi’s role in helping Bengali Mukti vahinis. They eyed towards Muslim-dominated Kashmir with a new vitriolic approach and the beautiful valley and hills of Jammu and Kashmir soon became a new destination of killings and arson.

Partition and Politics

No matter how much is talked about, written and read; the ‘Partition’ remains an absorbing subject in the history of the subcontinent and it will continue to cast its shadow over relations between India and Pakistan and more so between the Hindus and the Muslims. But the creation of Pakistan also left manifold ramifications for Muslims for all the time to come. In his landmark book, ‘Prelude to Partition’ (Oxford University Press), British writer David Page is forthright: “Until the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, most Pakistanis saw the emergence of their country primarily as a religious or ideological phenomenon. This view was shaken by the secession of East Pakistan, which raised important questions about Pakistan’s identity as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent”.

There was a major strategic change in the subcontinent geo-politics that would both interest and baffle the students of South Asia and India pretty more.
Nationalism became a powerful yardstick in determining practically all issues including even gentleman’s game – Cricket. Years of independence both for India and Pakistan have done very little to remove the mutual suspicion between the Hindus and the Muslims and between Pakistan and India.

During his stint after taking over the reins of Pakistan in a coup, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq launched operation ‘Topaz’ aiming to foment internal division in India, especially on communal lines and reportedly hundreds of ISI agents and ‘Indian khabris’ were put on the job to spread canard about Hindu-Muslim relationship.
The ISI have fomented trouble for India even in the eastern front and used Bangladesh territory and support of radicals to trigger off series of law and order problems in northeastern India by landing all sorts of help to various northeast based insurgent groups. Needless to add, in many cases, Bengalis have been at the receiving end and subsequently the Hindu Bengali --- especially those who left eastern Pakistan - mindset has got clouded with long term affect.

I for one despite my utter affection for northeast in general and the state of Nagaland in particular later decided to fend for greener pastures in the mainstream India.
There is also another story. As Hindu Bengalis felt disturbed and made compromises for survival in north-east, the flood-gates of influx remained opened all along despite utterly parochial ‘Bongali kheda’ movement in Assam. Bangladeshi Muslims did cross over regularly into northeast and entered various parts of thinly populated region.
But the bitterness between the Hindus and the Muslims did not end up there. In the words of David Page, “partition is (has remained) an event of such momentous significance for states, for families and for individuals that it needs to be examined in many different ways and re-interpreted by every new generation”. Similarly, events of communal nature --- whatever be the provocation and circumstances -- in northeast, Jammu and Kashmir or in Gujarat also had a lot of “momentous significance” and thus indifferent nature of various communities ought to be understood in that spirit.

Here, I cite the instance of Bengali Hindus. Very often we tend to give communal or parochial colour to everything - that the entire world is against Bengalis and the line that we have been wronged. There could be exaggeration in stating some of the obvious facets of history but the history of Bengalis, especially Hindu Bengalis from East Bengal (Bangladesh and those of us are also called ‘Bangal’), have been really turbulent in last 60 odd years.

It not only got carried forward but with perhaps a greater intensity in free India, which nevertheless had embraced parliamentary democracy on the basis of adult franchise.
Hindus, Muslims along with other religious communities and groups got equal rights. But with the democracy came in several inherent problems and occasions when Hindus were drawn at dagger hands with Muslims. By mid-eighties and nineties, things had reached a zenith and communal riots became a political terminology for greater milestone.

Muslims forgot quite often that their Hindu neighbours have been friendlier to them since ages. Similarly, the Hindus forgot the immense contribution of Muslims in nation building and also during freedom struggle against the British.

In retrospect, the Hindus or the hardliners Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the variety of Narendra Modi are not only to be blamed. The other side, the so called secular forces have only spoken about appeasement to minorities --- Muslims, Christians and others. The Congress party and the communists are also to be blamed as much the advocates of radical Hindutva.

I have dwelt a few points in the book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’. The common Hindus, especially the upper caste by tradition and the middle class by economic stratification, found only BJP as a political outfit trying to protect their interest and respect their sentiments. The Ayodhya movement played a great role in cementing this unity among commoners to endorse the Hindutva cause. The overwhelming participation of middle class people in the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat only showed that the Hindutva had become the new mantra for the Gujaratis and other Hindu population in Gandhi’s state.
Even Muslim cops got a feel of the change in the wind with many of the IPS officials dropping their nameplates. Loot was carried out driven by middle class greed but there was a refrain that they wanted to loot only Muslims. Mind you not the common Muslims, but the political leadership of the so called secular variety only repeated utterances seeking only to appease Muslims and other minorities. This had left Hindus aggrieved and thus such polarization.

Honestly, the polarization was not confined to Gujarat alone. Even from other places, the common Hindus endorsed the violence directed against Muslims. In Mumbai, where the riots of 1992-93 were still debated, many Hindus spoke in private that the English press was constantly toeing an anti-Hindu line and that the Hindus ought to stand up firmly to protect their rights in their own land.

There is no gainsaying for me to point out that among other vices and limitations, Indians as much as we Bengalis are also ill-informed. The reading habit is negligible and most of the time assumptions and presumptions are created following the word of mouth; - most of which are either deliberately distorted or based on rumour and originating from the rock bed of ignorance. And importantly these runours need not be innocuous or driven by innocence.
The Hindus read very less about themselves not to talk about Muslims and minorities read much less about themselves than they presume they know about themselves. The people of your generation, one hopes would be able to brave through this “lack of knowledge and reading habit” --- but this only augurs bigger challenge because of the advent of technology, internet revolution and the television industry.

As you grow up and take a closer look at these issues, you must try to analyze the Muslim mindset and how the community leaders like Shahi Imam Bukhari have only harmed their interest.

Taking a historical look you will take interest in what Hindu monks and leaders, worth calling them, had to speak about Muslims, Hindus and the relationship between the two communities.
Islam, for Vivekananda, was built upon a degree of narrow-mindedness and claims of knowing God’s will. “This bred a great degree of arrogance among its followers. The march of Isalm was on the strength of sword in one hand and the Quran in the other hand,” writes Jyotirmaya Sharma, one time resident Editor for Times of India (Hyderabad) in his book ‘Hindutva – Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism’. Sharma’s analysis has been that Vivekananda felt that Islam was too “bound to itself” which resulted in own dynamic of selfishness and immortality. Sharma also felt that Vivekananda found Muslims hate for Hindus maximum and “more than the Jews and Christians”. Hindus, to Muslims, Vivekananda’s interpretation was, also “hated kafirs, idolators and deserved to be butchered”. (Hindutva, published in Viking by Penguin Books India 2003).

If this school of thought is believed, India stopped progressing during the Muslim rule. “The question of progress did not arise, says Vivekananda, because all the energies of the Hindus were directed towards self-preservation,” writes Sharma.

Another hardliner advocate of Hindu Rashtra, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, echoed almost similar sentiments when he argued that before the Muslims invade of India, Hindusthan was a “land of peace and plenty”.
“At last she (mother India) was rudely awakened on the day when Mohammed of Ghazni crossed the Indus …. That day the conflict of life and death began”, Savarkar said (couresy Sharma’s ‘Hindutva’).
Along with India’s freedom from British colonial masters, Savarkar longed that “all territory from the river Attock to the Indian Ocean was to be freed from the hands of the Muslims.

But Savarkar was unlike Vivekananda or even unlike Aurobindo and Dayananda Saraswati. Sharma, who also lectured at universities at Hull and Oxford, says Savarkar had very little to do with matters of faith. “…. Yet, unlike anyone before or after him, Savarkar politicized religion and introduced religious metaphors into politics …….His life exhibited an unwavering pursuit of a single ideal: to establish India as a Hindu nation. Even today, Savarkar remains, the first and most original, prophet of extremism in India”.

But Savarkar had rightly acknowledged that Muslims also had certain qualities which were missing in the Hindus. “…. The community that is out for the propagation of their faith and is taught the fierce doctrines of believing other religions as passports to hell …. is better fitted to fight and vanquish its opponents,” Savarkar said in praise of the single-mindedness of Muslim religiosity and the sense of solidarity.
Savarkar though believed that as an individual, the Hindu common man was as “valorous and devoted to his faith as a Muslim”, unlike the Hindus, the Muslims were “fiercely united by a theocratic patriotism that incited them to do or die under the banner of their God. The Hindus, therefore, had to learn a great deal from them about building “a commonly shared national life and consolidating the place of faith in their commonly shared lives”, writes Sharma.
Sharma also interprets Savarkar’s thinking on how he thought it was pertinent for Hindus to prove their strength and seek retribution for the wrongs done to them as a nation and a race.
“Any attempt to extend a hand of friendship to the Muslims or accept a hand extended by the Muslims, had to be based on perfect equality”. No wonder, the modern proponents of the Hindutva -- likes of RSS, VHP and BJP hardliners, often echo similar words with the commonly used refrain that for long due to the reason of history and also since independence Muslims have been pampered.

There were also other deeper questions raised by the proponents of the hardliner school of thought who believe that Hindutva is as good as Bharatiyata (Indianness). Savarkar had pointed out that in fact by virtue of inheritance of the Hindu blood or otherwise hundreds of Muslims had love for ‘Hindusthan’ just as hundreds of Muslims, say in Kashmir, follow caste rules similar to the Christians from South. Thus to an extent, the common feasts, festivals, rites and rituals formed essential unifying factor for the apologists of Hindutva.
Bohras and Khojas cherished a lot of Hindutva. They worshipped “ten incarnations” of Vishnu and only added Prophet Muhammad as the eleventh. Sharma’s analysis was thus rather cryptic: “From the perspective of rasthra, jati and sanskriti, Bohras and Khojas identified with Hindutva and were undeniably Hindus”.
But when it came to Gujarat 2002, VHP and its supporters did not spare Bohra Muslims. Most of them expressed shock that despite following several Hindu way of life strictly, like preferring vegetarian food habits, they were singled out and subjected to a systematic ethnic cleansing during post-Godhra riots. You can read more on these in my book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’.

The gravity of the issue of the Hindu unity despite caste divisions should be understood in all their metaphysical and pragmatic contexts. I take you back to Gujarat 2002, where despite intra-Hindu differences based on caste, the “Hindu laboratory” (Gujarat) was successful in cementing an unprecedented Hindu unity --- when Hindus of all caste and creed participated in and also cherished the anti-Muslim insane rage.

The theory of Hindu unity vis-à-vis Vidharmis (non-believers) has not come out of the blue or all of a sudden. Apologists for Vivekananda, says Sharma, have often seen him as a great opponent of caste; but this was “only partially true”.

“….. the caste ideal was central to his (Vivekananda’s) plan for the regeneration of India”. Vivekananda perhaps saw in the caste system “the greatest social institutions the Lord gave to man”.
The caste system, to Vivekananda, was a natural order but he understood the magnitude of the misuse of the system and thus advocated for a new caste order where the need was to “raise” the lower caste to the higher caste rather than bringing down the higher caste.
He was not against Brahamanism and in fact termed ‘Brahamanhood’ as the idea of humanity in India but he also wanted to raise the Chandalas, the lowest among Sudras, to the level of Brahaman. His strong advocacy for the Hindus in general and the lower castes in particular to learn Sanskrit should be appreciated in that paradigm of things.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and even Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83) in fact took to the argument that Indians or the Hindus had been great in the ‘past’ and had declined because of compromises in Brahmanism and also the bravery of true Ksatriyahood.

The cyclonic monk, as Vivekananda is described, was perhaps more farsighted than his time when he envisaged of a future for India, where the Sudra caste would be eliminated altogether “because machines would do their work”.
Vivekananda also felt that the Kalyuga, the contemporary epoch, would belong to the Sudra as all the first three castes had their day and by the theory of cycle, the Sudras would have to inherit or for that matter even snatch authority in India. Thus, his convictions were neared to Biblical thought, which propounded the cherished philosophy that the meek shall inherit the earth.

In respect of Hindu-Muslim relationship, Vivekananda was a strong believer in the theory that Hinduism was the repository of such tolerance, acceptable and sympathy. He also did not miss the point that for any kind of relationship and to study it objectively, history would be somewhere a living tower casting its shadow on the very concept of one-ness and fellow-feeling. Sharma again says Vivekananda wanted that, Hindus must build churches and mosques in India “despite the hatred, brutality, cruelty and the vile language of the Muslims and Christians”.
Now, perhaps we could come to a bigger point of debate and when we find Sharma maintaining that “Vivekananda could never take that all-important leap into rejecting sweeping racial and religious stereotypes. When he says Muslims, he meant all Muslims and so with Christians. The subtlety of the idea of rejecting English rule but not the English had to wait for more than a decade for Gandhi to formulate it”.

Patriotism of Hindutva icons:

Now we come to a more complex issue- the sense of patriotism of Hindutva icons. Let us examine various facets including the fact that the political Hindutva takes on many guises.
To Sri Aurobindo, patriotism was a “national religion”. Under his philosophy, new nationalism was only an attempt to bring about a happy union of religion and politics. He strongly believed that the national awakening was impossible without religious awakening. He, therefore, wanted that all Hindus must come to a common agreement about the need to cherish Hinduism as a sacred and inalienable possession.

In Hinduism, Aurobindo found a “non-dogmatic inclusive religion (which) would have taken even Islam and Christianity into itself, if they had tolerated the process”.
It will be interesting to note how Sharma also analyses that Aurobindo “welcomed pan-Islamism and the rise of a separate Muslim self-consciousness”. Sharma argues that in that process Aurobindo “saw it as a sign of the vitality of nationalism and as a part of nation building”. But he was opposed to separate electorate and believed it was the colonial masters who wanted to fuel the differences between Hindus and Muslims.

Umpteen times, his philosophy has been interpreted, referred and misquoted by the votaries of Hindutva – the VHP and the RSS. One area is rather rampant and that is Aurobindo’s argument that Muslims should not be flattered nor should they be approached with weakness and cowardice.
Sharma says, Aurobindo was “prepared to meet the Muslims in a manner chosen by them”. It could take the form of the firm clasp of brother or the resolute grip of the wrestler.

A ‘hero’ of Bengalis Aurobindo, however, did not attain the immortality of Subhas Chandra Bose or celebrity status of Rabindranath Tagore. Often credited for giving a sophisticated form of Hindutva, ironically had his primary and longer innings of education in west under the influence of European scholars. His father Dr Krishna Dhan Ghose had forbidden his three sons to come under the influence of Indian mysticism. Sent to England by his father, Aurobindo was also given a western middle name – Ackroyd by his father. He was put under the charge of Latin scholar Rev Drewett.
Having done well at King’s College, Cambridge, he did not remain confined to western circles alone. He joined and also took up as secretary of Indian Majlis in Cambridge and just before he left England, he had become a member of a secret group called ‘Lotus and dagger’ formed by Indian students. Today, the Lotus is symbol of Hindutva’s political wing BJP and Dagger (if it is taken for Trishul) is symbol of Hindu awakening and militant Hindutva under the tutelage of VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS.

On his return to Indian shores, Aurobindo approved of clearly the efficacy of violent revolution and also worked towards organizing secret revolutionary activity as a preparatory stage for open revolt and insurrection.

It is also interesting that Aurobindo was charged with sedition and jailed in Alipore jail for his “inflammatory” writings. Aurobindo’s views on Hindu-Muslim relationship kept on undergoing significant transition from time to time. By 1910 he had taken upon himself to cease from participation in active politics and also become a Maharshi.
Few years later, Aurobindo did not hesitate in cautioning Muslims: “It is no use ignoring facts, some day the Hindus may have to fight the Muslims and they must prepare for it. Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of the Hindus”. (India’s Rebirth, Page 164).
Ironically, in 1909 Aurobindo himself had rejected such a resolution by Hindu Sabha dubbing it as “low motive”.
Aurobindo’s life and works also needs to be analyzed in another context. He in more ways than one symbolized a more universal response to the splits which colonialism induced. Someone brought up culturally as a European child he did own up his Indianness. His spiritualism was also a language of defiance which sought to challenge the cultural aggression of the colonial masters. But importantly he had a universal appeal all throughout and never gave up the western culture and values had had imbibed. For him the western culture remained a vehicle of his creative self-expression, says Ashis Nandy.
To be Continued …………