Thursday, February 17, 2005

INDIA: Historic disinformation

+ Regrettably, this foreign minister doesn't know his own home. He recognises the existence of so many Muslim countries from Mauritania to Indonesia but says there is little historical and cultural proof in support of India as a "Hindu" country. India, according to him, is an influx, "continued intermingling of diverse people, communities and religions," or in other words, a cultural harlotry. It is another thing that foreign ministers, whether of Britain or Saudi Arabia immediately associate "Hindu" with India and India with "Hindu." The word India, is a Greek derivative of the word Hindu. Indeed, vigorous races like Greek, Sakas, Kushanas, Huns had entered ancient India belligerently. They scored, indeed, spectacular military victories before being defeated by the Hindus inside a generation or so. They had brought no proselytising religion with them. Saka king Kanishka had become a Buddhist and died fighting the Chinese, Hun leader Mihir Gul, a worshipper of Rudra (Shiva) even before he was defeated by the Guptas. Streams of these races lost their separate identity into the vast Indian pluralistic milieu known as Hinduism. +

Historic disinformation
Balbir K. Punj

External affairs minister K. Natwar Singh, in his "12th Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture" (The Asian Age, The Op-Ed Page, February 4, 5 and 6), typical of a loyal Congressman, has seemingly RSS (established 1925) and BJP (established 1980) to blame for 1,200 years of bad blood between Muslims and Hindus. Will this problem vanish from India, let alone the subcontinent, if the Sangh Parivar and the BJP cease to exist tomorrow? Is that likely when Buddhism, the religion of peace, disappeared from India in the 13th century before the Islamic sword, and Gandhiji failed to make Muslims walk alongside him?

But perhaps he had forgotten when Pakistan attacked India in 1965, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri personally rang up the RSS chief Guru Golwalkar in Maharashtra and invited him for the All-Leaders Conference. In Delhi, for the entire period of 22 days of war, traffic control was transferred to the swayamsevaks to free the police for more pressing tasks.

The admittedly pro-Communist and RSS-baiter Jawaharlal Nehru, realised his folly in the twilight of his life during the 1962 Indo-China war. Nehru, in recognition of the Sangh's services, invited the RSS contingent to take part in the Republic Day parade of 1963. It proves that even Congressmen know whom to rely upon during times of such national crisis.

Mr Singh, of course, is selective in the recall of history. After the crushing of the 1857 uprising, a golden moment in the Hindu-Muslim relations in the subcontinent, the British resorted to the policy of divide and rule. While Hindus mostly ignored their overtures, the bulk of the Muslims fell for the bait, hook, line and sinker. On March 16, 1888, at Meerut, Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan (founder of Aligarh Muslim University, the "epic" centre of partition) spoke of "our Mohammedan nation" and divided the country into "Muslim nation" and "Hindu nation." On October 1, 1906 at Shimla, Aga Khan, at the head of a Muslim delegation, put two demands to Viceroy Lord Minto — Muslims should be represented by Muslims and the representation should be in excess of their numerical strength. Only two months later, in December 1906, the Muslim League was born in Dacca.

So the Muslims embarked upon a separatist agenda (with British sponsorship). The Congress response to this challenge can be divided into two categories. The likes of Gandhiji started pandering to the fundamentalists amongst Muslims to win them over. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, decided not to succumb to this blackmail but to confront the anti-national mentality instead. Till the Mopla riots (a sequel to the Khilafat movement), Dr Hedgewar was a Congress activist, and earlier, a revolutionary of repute.

To what extent the Congress under Gandhiji crawled before Muslim fundamentalism is best illustrated by a memorandum which he drafted during the Khilafat movement in consultation with the Ali brothers and presented to Viceroy Chelmsford in January 1920 at Delhi. It said, "The loyalty of Indian Musalmans, no less than that of other communities of India to their sovereign, has been an abiding asset." In spite of stooping so low by the Congress, let us see what Muslims felt about the "secular" Congress.

The Muslim community, in deference to the stern advice of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, kept away from the Congress. One finds Muslim icons from Sir Sayyid to Jinnah branding the Congress as a majoritarian Hindu organisation. Gandhiji, who made the Congress a mass movement, bent over backwards to court Muslim participation. He so yoked Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements together that the illiterate Muslim masses felt that Swaraj implied re-establishment of Muslim rule in India.

"Can any sane man," says Dr B.R. Ambedkar in Thoughts on Pakistan "go so far, for the sake of Hindu-Moslem unity? But, Mr Gandhi was so attached that he did not stop to enquire what he was really doing in this mad endeavour" (Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 8 p. 155). Despite that, the Congress could not woo even 4% Muslims.

Mohammed Ali, alter ego of Gandhi during the Khilafat and Non Cooperation Movements, spoke his mind in a speech at Aligarh in 1924: "However pure Mr Gandhi's character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion, inferior to any Musalman, even though he be without character." In another meeting held at Aminabad Park in Lucknow, Mohammed Ali endorsed his previous statement without any hesitation: "Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Musalman to be better than Mr Gandhi" (Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 8. p. 302).

Over 90% of the subcontinent's Muslims rallied behind Jinnah's masculine call "Ladke Lenge Pakistan" (We shall fight and gain Pakistan). Partition came because Congress promised Muslims equality in independent India, while Muslims did not want equality, but superiority as in yore.

Congressmen exploited the Muslims by using them as a counterweight against the possible rise of any nationalistic force like the Jan Sangh, the way the British had used them to check the Congress. But subsequently, other "secular" parties, like Samajwadis in Uttar Pradesh, RJD in Bihar, Marxists in West Bengal, outdid the Congress in its own game of "secularism."

Mr Singh lives in a time-warp. Perhaps he remembers the other clichés of Nehruvian India: "socialism," "Afro-Asian unity," "Indo-Egypt friendship," "India as Asian leader," "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai," "Indo-Soviet amity," "Hindu rate of growth" and Non-Aligned Movement. Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhaism exploded on Nehru's face; through the "look East" policy we are ingratiating to the Asian Tigers who have no spare time to think of "Afro-Asian unity." The present Egyptian President has not found time in the last 24 years to visit India, while the berated Israel has helped us in so many ways; Soviet Union no longer exists and even the Congress stresses on better relations with the US; NAM members have found new allies: the "Hindu rate of growth" that persisted throughout the "secular" Congress' years was shattered in Vajpayee's era, which has become the new benchmark of India's economic performance. So much about the infallibility or those once sacrosanct concepts of the Congress era!

Regrettably, this foreign minister doesn't know his own home. He recognises the existence of so many Muslim countries from Mauritania to Indonesia but says there is little historical and cultural proof in support of India as a "Hindu" country. India, according to him, is an influx, "continued intermingling of diverse people, communities and religions," or in other words, a cultural harlotry. It is another thing that foreign ministers, whether of Britain or Saudi Arabia immediately associate "Hindu" with India and India with "Hindu." The word India, is a Greek derivative of the word Hindu.

Indeed, vigorous races like Greek, Sakas, Kushanas, Huns had entered ancient India belligerently. They scored, indeed, spectacular military victories before being defeated by the Hindus inside a generation or so. They had brought no proselytising religion with them. Saka king Kanishka had become a Buddhist and died fighting the Chinese, Hun leader Mihir Gul, a worshipper of Rudra (Shiva) even before he was defeated by the Guptas. Streams of these races lost their separate identity into the vast Indian pluralistic milieu known as Hinduism.

Those who came as warriors, got assimilated, those who came as refuge-seekers, viz. Jews, Syrian Christians and Zoroastrians, co-exist peacefully till date. But the impact of Islam can't be defined by this conventional paradigm. Islam came with a religious mission, to extirpate idolatry and infidelity, and convert people to the true faith. Forced change of faith resulted in the converted adopting an alien culture — exclusive in outlook and intolerant of pre-Islamic identity. For example, the forefather of Ayatollah Khomeini was a Zoroastrian, of Maulana Masood, a Buddhist, and Allama Iqbal, a Kashmiri Pandit.

Singh says, "It is a fact that from Mauritania to Medan Muslim psyche has been hurt and needs to be healed." On the other hand, he is quite sure that the Hindu psyche has absolutely no scar, historic or contemporary, but roses and kisses. But then the greatest hurt for Muslims was the loss of India to the Sikhs, Marathas and the British in the 19th century. This was the genesis of the Ahl-e-Hadith or the Wahhabi movement by Shah Abdul Aziz (who, Mr Singh says, was a devotee of Krishna) in the early 19th century which said that India had ceased to become Dar-ul-Islam (House of Islam) and it was incumbent on Muslims either to re-establish the Muslim supremacy or undertake Hijrat (migration) to any Muslim dominated land like Afghanistan, Persia or Iraq.

The subcontinental ummah was also hurt by Indira Gandhi's Bangladesh War in 1971, which broke the integrity of the world's biggest Muslim country, Pakistan. Every Muslim country, from Mauritania to Indonesia, was against this disintegration. I would love to know how Mr Singh proposes to redress these two great losses that hurt the Muslim psyche. Should we undo them? Muslims won't be found lacking in enthusiasm, I can assure.

The BJP and the RSS look at all Indians as equals and follow the policy of justice to all and appeasement to none. We cannot undo historical wrongs but we cannot have communal amity by falsifying history. Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Balbir K. Punj is a Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the BJP's think tank.