Photograph of Anil Chawla

GODHRA, GUJARAT AND AYODHYA
- A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Author - Anil Chawla



Every country has some periods that she would rather forget. But unfortunately, it is in times like these when history is truly shaped, when the country seeks its identity. These are periods when the sensible people take a back seat and neurotics, visionaries, opportunists, anarchists or fanatics take over controls. The moral man, the humane face of the Homo sapiens gets lost in his animal identity and the raw brute rules.

The last two days of February and the first two weeks of March will be remembered as such a period in the history of India. Burning of a train coach filled with Hindus by a Muslim mob started a communal frenzy that has left hundreds dead in Gujarat. The drama in and about Ayodhya came at the same time and the worst was feared. Fortunately, things seem to be cooling down. Though one cannot really say. Fires are smouldering below the surface and it will not take much for flames to erupt.

At such charged times, the temptation to act as judge and pass value judgements is too difficult to resist. Newspapers are full of such articles by wise men. The same wise men can also be seen on TV quarrelling about religion, rights of Hindus, ethnic cleansing, secularism, minority rights etc. etc. These self-appointed judges can be classified into two categories. Each category has his admirers, who are apparently the only people listening to such acrimonious debates.

Without getting involved in such acrimony, it is important to understand the underlying social currents and look at the developments from a historical perspective. Invasion of India from West Asia has been a recurrent feature since times immemorial. However, the invaders got their major victories around 1000 AD. The early invaders were only interested in plunder and had no intentions of settling in the country. Subsequently, the invaders decided to make India as their home and became rulers. Yet, as rulers they were only interested in enjoying the royal luxuries and had no interest in governance as we understand it today. During much of so-called Islamic rule in India, the civil law was Hindu law as enshrined in 'Smritis'. Even during Moghul emperor Akbar's rule, a commentary of the 'Smritis' was written By Todarmal instead of writing a new law. This effectively meant that the common man continued in his day-to-day customs to a large extent in the same manner as he had continued for centuries. Islam was nibbling away at the Hindu way of life by converting people to Islam either by force or by favours or by presenting a Sufi face. Islamic rulers destroyed the institutions that had created 'Smritis' and who could have modified the 'Smritis' as per changing social circumstances. Notwithstanding the pressures from the rulers, Hindus resisted and kept alive a distinct life style. Yet, a live dynamic ever-changing religion was being fossilized.

When British conquered India, the impression in India was probably that they would continue in the same manner as the former rulers. Instead, British brought about a change in paradigm of governance (Read the author's "Republic in Ancient India - Need for a New Paradigm of Political Science"). For the first time, political power meant the power to make laws without any restrictions. British rule was not just an open plunder and loot of India. It also meant a complete break from the past.

Resistance to British rule was initially a predominantly Hindu movement. This is not to say that Muslims did not participate in such resistance. The first freedom struggle of 1857 emerged out of the revolt of Hindu as well as Muslim soldiers. Yet, the ideological fervour of the movement was essentially Hindu. The last years of nineteenth century and the beginning of twentieth century was characterized by an ideological awakening started by a number of Hindu social reformers and led by visionaries like Swami Vivekananda. Swadeshi and Vande Matram, the two icons of India's freedom movement were products of this era and were first adopted by Hindu Mahasabha. It was almost two decades later that Gandhi used these icons.

On one hand Gandhi adopted a Hindu saint like look and sang devotional songs. And on the other hand Gandhi tried to enlist the support of Muslims. One of his first movements in India was Non-cooperation movement, which was primarily in support of Khilafat movement or for the demand of restoration of the institution of Caliph in distant Turkey. Gandhi did attract a large number of Muslims to be his followers, but by and large the Muslims did not accept him as their leader. The partition of India should serve as sufficient proof of that. Jinnah and other leaders of Muslim League always looked upon Gandhi and Nehru as Hindu leaders in spite of the claims to the contrary by Congress. The all-religion songs of Gandhi, like "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Ishwar Allah Tere Nam", were never accepted by Muslims. By saying that Ishwar and Allah are the names of the same Almighty, Gandhi was trying to unite the two communities. But in the view of Islam, there cannot be anything more blasphemous than that. So, except for a handful of progressives, the Muslim community used Gandhi when it suited them and dumped him when it did not.

Islam has been a politico-religious movement. From the days of the Prophet, Islam was as much a political movement as it was religious. For centuries Islam provided the necessary fig-leaf-cover to Arab nationalism or as some might call it Arab Imperialism. Muslims in India have faced a dilemma ever since the Moghul Empire declined. There are debates among Muslim intellectuals whether an Indian Muslim should be Indian first or a Muslim first. Such intellectual musings aside, it is clear that Islam, with its roots in Arab world, cannot provide a basis for building an Indian identity. Islam is more likely than not to even act as a stumbling block for the emergence of such an identity, for at least a large number of Muslims in India if not for all.

The need to define and evolve an Indian identity has not really been appreciated as well as it should have been done. The British as well as the rulers preceding them had made all attempts to undermine and destroy any such identity. The official propaganda during this time denied that there existed anything like a country called India or Bharat prior to the colonial rule. India was portrayed as a conglomeration of countries or nations rather than as a nation. The greatest challenge faced by freedom movement was therefore to counter this propaganda and build a common identity called India.

The search for Indian identity could not be undertaken without looking at the history, culture and traditions of India. Before the arrival of Muslim rulers, the dividing line between religion on one hand and culture, traditions etc. on the other was very thin in India. The two were almost inseparable. However, this had changed after the arrival of Muslims who destroyed all the universities of India. The destruction of the universities was a big blow since they were the only lawmakers in the country. After the destruction of universities, Hinduism lost its essential source of creativity and dynamism, which had allowed it to continuously adapt to changing times for more than two thousand years. This was the beginning of hardening of the Hindu faith into rituals and superstition.

At this dark hour, when Hindu was fighting a tough battle for survival, Bhakti (Devotion) movement emerged. The movement was a great soothing balm in times when there seemed to be no hope. Goswami Tulasidas, Surdas, Mira, etc. are some of the saints who led this movement. It is no coincidence that there is not a single 'bhaktimargi saint' (one believing in devotion as a way to salvation) before about 1200 AD.

Bhakti movement had and continues to have a profound influence on Hinduism. It led to emergence of saints who chanted the name of God and were far removed from the world. With due apologies, one may say that they hid their heads in the sand of holy hymns to seek salvation. This escape from reality was a good safety valve in a time when there seemed to be no opportunity to fight back. However, in course of time, this became the only known face of Hinduism. Bhakti movement, which began with saints without any worldly attachments, soon spawned its own clergy and institutions, who acquired wealth. Each one of them declared oneself to be the true upholder of faith.

These self-declared upholders of the faith were the first to oppose Swami Vivekananda whose philosophy of doing action was in sharp contrast to the escapism of Bhakti movement. Swami Vivekananda's discourses inspired a generation of leaders of freedom movement. Swami Aravind, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, are some of such well known names. It also a well-known fact that freedom movement leaders included some of the best known scholars of Hinduism of the last century. Lokmanya Tilak, Radhakrishnan, Vinoba Bhave, K.M. Munshi were just a few of such leaders, who helped in the development of a better understanding of Hinduism as distinct from Bhakti movement.

The schism between the karmamargis (ones who believed in action as a way of salvation) and (bhaktimargis) (ones who believed in devotion as a way of salvation) grew during the freedom movement. It can be said that the freedom movement as well as reformist movements like Arya Samaj led to the rise of the Karmamargis during the period from the last decade of nineteenth century to the day when India got independence in 1947.

During this period, communists were an insignificant force who criticized the freedom movement as a bourgeois activity. After independence, the communists suddenly gained respectability by managing to strike a friendship with some leaders and also because of the influence of the erstwhile USSR. The process was aided by declaration of India as a secular country.

Secularism had emerged in Europe as a reaction to the influence of the Church in matters of State. Its meaning was defined only as opposed to theocracy. It was never tried as an ideology to keep a balance of power between majority and minority communities. Indian Constitution adopted in 1950 tried to achieve this feat. In reality, Indian secularism went even further. Under the influence of Communist and Socialist ideologues, secularism became a denial of religion.

In the Nehru era, it became fashionable to talk of religion as something obscurantist and as synonym of superstition. The era heralded a denial of the values of the freedom movement. Karmamargis as well as Bhaktimargis were dumped in favour of the so-called "temples of modern India", an expression that Nehru used for huge public sector industries. The complexity of Tilak's "Gita Rahasya" (a philosophical commentary) had been dumped in favour of a diluted version of the philosophy of USSR. The country had great hopes from the new temples.

The defeat at the hands of China shook up the nation. But a collapse of hopes took some more time. By the onset of nineties, no one really believed in the temples of modern India; USSR had disintegrated; Russia was going through a nightmare; Socialism was no longer a fashionable word. During the four decades (approx. till late eighties) when the ruling class paid lip service to socialism and used it to increase their personal wealth, the Hindu mind had been going through a transformation.

Prior to independence, Muslim League used to always look upon Congress as a Hindu party. The political force represented by Hindu Mahasabha in the first decades of the century had been effectively submerged in Congress. Gandhi himself was a devout Hindu. During the Nehru era, Congress leaders fought shy of their colleagues who were known as scholars of Hindu philosophy and culture. "Discovery of India" by Nehru was the new bible and Swami Vivekananda was passť. Matters were complicated by the assassination of Gandhi. It was alleged that this was a handiwork of Hindu zealots like Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. The oppression of these organization pushed them to fight for survival. Eventually RSS survived and managed to project itself as the sole representative of Hindus in the country.

RSS had no such intentions to begin with. It had begun as a militia to provide military training to Hindus who were supposed to be soft. In due course as Congress vacated the Hindu political space, RSS found it faced with a role that it was never designed for. Dr. Hedgewar, the founder of RSS was not an ideologue. His successor wrote "Bunch of Thoughts", which is accepted as a holy book by the die-hard followers of RSS. The book is devoid of any intellectual arguments. RSS clan believes that arguments are a waste of time and are a "budhi-vilas" (a derogatory term meaning the luxury of mind) that must be shunned by the true "swayamsevak" (literally meaning volunteer but used to denote a member of RSS). RSS created a cadre consisting at the top of fulltime workers. These fulltime workers are called "pracharaks" (literally meaning one who propagates). A pracharak is supposed to be someone who can organize well. He is supposed to be a man of action and is never a man of ideas. RSS thinks that an organization is built by hearts and the ones who use their heads cause harm to the organization by indulging in arguments that cause discord. In a way, this is an extreme form of karmamarg (the path of action).

The paradox of the path of action is that there can be no action without thought. Swami Vivekanand and the scholar-leaders of freedom movement understood this very well. RSS ignored it and set up a clergy of propagandists who have only a faint idea of the concept that they are supposed to propagate. This clergy started dominating everything in RSS and its offshoots like BJP (and earlier Jansangh), Vishwa Hindu Parishad, ABVP, BMS, SJM etc. Atalbihari, Advani, Kushabhau Thakre, Jana Krishnamurthy, etc. - all the top leaders of BJP are or were at one time a part of this clergy.

A few years back, I went to Jana Krishnamurthy who was then in charge of BJP intellectual cell to suggest that intellectual cells be started in state units. He gave a patient hearing and referred me to Kushabhau Thakre, who had not yet become the party president and was supposed to be looking after the MP state unit. Thakre did not even give me a patient hearing. He was candid enough to reject the idea and say that party cannot be built by such people. He said that such persons come with high expectations and since the party leadership cannot fulfill such expectations, there is heartburn. Thakre was referring to sharing the fruits of power and in effect said that he had no intentions to oblige anyone who can just think, read and write. It should also not surprise anyone that the magnificent building of BJP at Bhopal built at a cost of about Rs. 30 million (excluding cost of land) does not have a library. When this was suggested, the top leaders responded with astonishment and said that a political party has no use for a library.

The above digression was just an illustration of the mind of RSS clan. Mindless action led to the clan growing physically, but becoming weak internally and ideologically. The extreme form of Karmamarg that RSS espoused had led to it becoming hollow. In its more than seven decades of existence, RSS has failed to make any ideological or intellectual contribution to the growth of Hindu thought. The names of Swami Vivekananda and Veer Savarkar are often mentioned in RSS discourses, but their cadre has no idea of the ideological position of these thinkers as distinct from that of Gandhi or Ambedkar. BJP swears by Deendayal Upadhyay's Integrated Humanism (Ekaatm Manavwad), but the author has yet to meet a BJP leader who can explain the philosophy of this ism with any degree of intellectual depth.

There can be no vacuum in political and philosophical matters. The inability of the RSS clan to provide any intellectual leadership to Hindu thought and the deserting of Hinduism by Congress led to a collapse of the pre-independence Karmamargi school of thought which had been developed by scholar-leaders of the freedom movement. This naturally left the field open for Bhaktimargis.

The rise of the Bhaktimargis was aided by the changes in the socio-economic scenario. The so-called "temples of modern India" had become loss-making giants. The nationalization spree under the garb of socialism had run its full course. Hopes had given way to despair. Rising unemployment was leading to high levels of youth frustration. Spread of television during the eighties meant that people's expectations were rising. But there was no corresponding rise in income to support the rising consumerist expectations. The winds of economic reform started by Rajiv Gandhi did increase incomes in metros, but the small towns were witnessing closure of industries. Nehru era's romanticism had died by the seventies and "angry young man" had risen to fight the establishment. By the end of eighties, the angry-young-man was tired; the youth did not even see a point in fighting the system or in reforming it. In this dark hour the youth lost faith in the political establishment and political leaders. Escape from the harsh reality to the soothing balm (or opium if you prefer) of bhaktimargis seemed the only course open to the youth.

RSS clan, unable to offer any new hope or ideological direction, decided to jump on this bandwagon. Ayodhya movement was originally not a movement of the RSS or BJP or VHP, but they decided to use it. This was a case of Karmamargi extremists coming to the aid of Bhaktimargis.

During almost a century of the growth of Hindu ideology in modern India, no political formation had taken recourse to saints, sadhus and shankracharyas. The scholar-leaders of the freedom movement were incessantly criticized and rejected by the bhaktimargis, who have no ideology of governance or of running a state. For all practical purposes, the bhaktimargis can be classified as either anarchists or opportunists or naÔve, depending on one's own biases. It was these that VHP decided to bring together in the Ayodhya movement. Advani is credited with bringing the Ayodhya movement to national centre-stage, but he was only a mascot who believed that he was leading a movement while the fact was that he had no control on the movement. Advani and BJP were being driven by a motley crowd of arrogant egoist men dressed in saffron. RSS clan's single-minded devotion to action in an organized manner helped the motley crowd to dominate the national agenda. On the other hand, the blessing of BJP by this crowd helped BJP rise to power.

Support of Bhaktimargis can help one to come to power, but it can be of practically no use when faced with the onerous task of running a government. A mob with no common ideology can make life difficult for any ruler and especially for someone who has risen to power due to the support of the mob. The only common bonding that this mob seems to have is a hatred for Muslims and Christians. The mob defines Hinduism as something that is neither Muslim nor Christian. BJP and VHP have tended to support this negative definition of Hinduism for the simple reason that the geographic definition of Hindu (everybody living in India is Hindu) adopted by the RSS clan has failed to convince Hindus as well as Muslims. In practical terms, the acceptance of the negative definition of Hinduism has led to an anti-Muslim and anti-Christian mindset.

To sum up the present mindset of the ground-level worker of BJP or VHP or RSS, one can just say that it is a combination of three factors:

The purpose of this article is not to undermine or criticize or pass value judgments on any of the above three factors. The problem that this article seeks to address is the inadequacy of the three factors either individually or jointly to provide sufficient ideological strength for a political formation and for a party in power.

A party in power needs to have a clear direction in economic sphere. It needs a system of selecting and promoting competent people who can perform in an efficient manner. It needs to act as a nursery of talent rather than as a closed club based on I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine concept. A political formation has to lead the mind of the nation in a direction that helps growth and development. It has to be a moving force rather than be one riding on waves of mob frenzy.

BJP and its sister organizations have failed to satisfy almost each of the above criterion. They have failed to lead the Hindu mind towards a path of development and growth. Instead of promoting scholar-leaders of Hindus, they have promoted propagandists with no mind of their own. For governance BJP has been forced to rely on retired bureaucrats who have brought no new ideas and are actually promoting the Congress style of governance. During the past one year, only retired bureaucrats have been appointed as Governors of various states. During the past four years not a single political person from RSS clan has been appointed as Ambassador of any country. Wherever BJP has appointed some of its own cadre, exceptions aside, the persons are most unsuitable for the job. Incompetence is one word that can best describe the working of BJP appointees in states as well as centre.

It should come as no surprise that there is wide disillusionment with BJP in every state where BJP has come to power in the last two decades. In no state has BJP managed to increase its popular support after being in power for any length of time. The same is likely to be the case with the Atalbihari Government. The failure of RSS clan has led to frustration not just among the cadre but also among the top leaders, who can sense that their ship is sinking but do not how to save it.

A typical behaviour that has been observed in sinking business giants may be of interest. Managements of such enterprises tend to look back at their own experiences and try to do everything that took them to the top in the first place. They do not realize that times have changed and what took them to the top a decade earlier may no longer be relevant. They continue in their old ways with higher vigour often leading to a faster collapse of the corporation. They refuse to take fresh initiatives either because a new initiative is too risky or because they have no creative minds in their top echelons and they have no structures that enable the young creative minds to rise above hierarchy. BJP and RSS clan face the same situation today. They know that they have failed to govern. They know that as a political establishment they are facing a struggle for existence. Unfortunately, their reaction is like that of any sinking corporation. They are trying to repeat the history that led them to rise in the first place, little realizing that their failures today are due to the contradictions inherited from their own history.

The flaring of Ayodhya movement after ten years of silence needs to be viewed in this light. RSS clan is fuelling this movement little realizing that nothing reflects the failure of BJP's governance as much as Ayodhya does. Day-to-day hearing by Allahabad Court that has been ordered now could have been ordered four years back. Parliament could have been presented with a Bill (if necessary Constitution Amendment Bill) creating a Special Bench of Supreme Court to hear the Ayodhya case on a day-to-day basis with no provision of appeal to any higher court. All political parties would have been constrained to support such a Bill. BJP took no such initiatives and instead let the issue simmer till it exploded. The attempts to bring the Ayodhya issue to the centre-stage of India's political thought are reminiscent of the movement led by Advani more than a decade ago. However, the irony is that the movement that led to the rise of BJP may also be the cause of its fall.

While BJP faces this unprecedented crisis, Congress seems to be rubbing its hands in glee. BJP's fall may mean short-term benefits for Congress. But from a long term perspective Congress has lost as much as BJP has. The allegations that Congress masterminded the Godhra carnage have done enormous damage to Congress in minds of Hindus as well as of Muslims. After the Godhra incident, Hindus felt hurt and the statements of Congress leaders added salt to the wounds. The subsequent riots at Gujarat harmed the Muslims much more than they harmed the Hindus. Though the common Muslim blames extremist Hindus for the riots, but he has no sympathy or support for the Congress either.

Congress at one time represented the liberal progressive face of Hinduism. Today it is being increasingly seen as a party without any ideology. The lip-service paid by Congress leaders to secularism does not mean anything in positive terms to any community. The absence of an alternative may help Congress get votes but the party has failed to provide leadership to the country through its hour of crisis.

Godhra, Gujarat and Ayodhya have exposed the inadequacies of not just Congress and BJP, but of the entire Indian political establishment. India surely needs better political leaders than the ones on stage today. Never has the country felt it as strongly as in the past few weeks. That might just be the proverbial silver lining to the dark clouds. Realizing the limitations of the present is the first step to the creation of a new future. Let us hope and pray that the dark events of Godhra and Gujarat will help the nation to seek and build a new political class. Let us also hope that India will be able to get over the traumatic events and build a progressive, liberal new identity for itself in the years to come.

ANIL CHAWLA

26 March 2002

Please write to me your comments about the above article.
anil@samarthbharat.com
hindustanstudies@rediffmail.com



ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.


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