November 28, 2023

Limits of the Hindu Rashtra : Sri Girilal Jain

 Girilal Jain is one of the India’s leading journalists. He was editor of the Times of India until 1989. After that, he did not really retire, but continues to function as one of India’s most respected columnists. In these, he has taken an increasingly bold and outspoken stand in favor of the recognition of India as a Hindu Rashtra, as the political embodiment of Hindu civilization. Unlike the many who don’t go beyond a petty criticism of the injustices done to Hindus, Mr. Jain draws attention to the configuration of the large historical forces at work.

The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri dispute has brought to the fore the critical issue of the nature of the Indian state as nothing else has since partition and independence in 1947.

The secularist-versus-Hindu-Rashtra controversy is, of course, not new. In fact, it has been with us since the twenties when some of our forebears began to search for a definition of nationalism which could transcend at once the Hindu-Muslim divide and the aggregationist approach whereby India was regarded as a Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Christian land. But it has acquired an intensity it has not had since partition.

This intensity is the result of a variety of factors which have cumulatively provoked intense anxiety among million of Hindus regarding their future and simultaneously given a new sense of strength and confidence to the proponents of Hindu Rashtra. The first part of this story beings, in my view, with the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam in Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu in 1981. and travels via the rise of Pakistan-backed armed secessionist movements in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, and the second part with the spectacular success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last polls to the Lok Sabha and State Vidhan Sabha. These details, however, need not detain us in a discussion on basic issues.

The basic issues, I need hardly add, are extremely complex; and judging by what has been written and spoken in recent months, they, I am afraid, are once again being simplified and sloganized. This is a pity in vies of the gravity of the situation we face and the nature of the stake we have in the outcome. I, therefore, wish to draw attention to what appear to me to be lacunae in the current and previous debates, and that too in a general fashion; for that alone is possible in this space.

In much of what I have read and heart on the subject, an awareness of the civilizational aspect of the problem has either been absent or warped, though its very mention should suffice to convince us that this is a matter if the greatest importance. India, to put the matter brusquely, has been a battleground between two civilizations (Hindu and Islamic) for well over a thousand years, and three (Hindu, Muslim and Western) for over two hundred years. None of them has ever won a decisive enough and durable enough victory to oblige the other two to assimilate themselves fully into it. So to the battle continues. This stalemate lies at the root of the crisis of identity the intelligentsia is incidentally not a monolithic entity. Though its constituents are not too clearly differentiated, they should broadly be divided into at least two groups.

The more resilient and upwardly mobile section of the intelligentsia must, by definition, seek to come to terms with the ruling power and its mores, and the less successful part of it to look for its roots and seek comfort in its culture past. This was so during the Muslim period; this was the case during the British Raj; and this rule has not ceased to operate since independence.

Thus in the medieval period of our history grew up a class of Hindus in and around centres of Muslim power who took to the Persian-Arabic culture and ways of the rules; similarly under the more securely founded and far better organized and managed Raj there arose a vast number of Hindus who took to the English language, Western ideas, ideals, dress and eating habits; many of these men came from the earlier Islamized groups, such as the Nehrus, for example; they, their progeny and other recruits to their class have continued to dominate independent India.

They are the self-proclaimed secularists who have sought, and continue to seek, to remark India in the Western image. The image has, of course, been an eclectic one; if they have stuck to the institutional framework inherited from the British, they have been more than willing to take up not only the Soviet model of economic development, but also the Soviet theories on a variety of issues such as the nationalities problem and the nature of imperialism and neo-colonialism.

Behind them has stood, and continues to stand, the awesome intellectual might of the West, which may or may not be anti- India, depending on the exigencies of its interest, but which has to be antipathetic to Hinduism in view of its non-Semitic character.

Some secularists may be genuinely pro-Muslim, as was Nehru, because they find high Islamic culture and the ornate Urdu language attractive. But, by and large, that is not the motivating force in their lives. They are driven, above all, by the fear of what they call regression into their own past which have come and continue to come understandably from the Left, understandably because no other group of Indians can possibly be so alienated from the country’s culture past as the followers of Lenin, Stalin and Mao who have spared little effort to turn their own countries into culture wastelands.

As a group, the secularists, especially the Leftists, have not summoned the courage to insist that in order to ensure the survival of the secular India state, Muslims should accept one common civil code, and that Article 370 of the Constitution, which concedes special rights to Jammu and Kashmir mainly because it is a Muslim-majority state, should be scrapped. They have contented themselves with vague statements on the need for the majorities to join the mainstream, never drawing attention to the twin fact that, of necessity, Hindus constitute the mainstream and that this mainstream is capable of respecting the identities and rights of the minorities, precisely because it is inclined to take note of the international aspect of Indian Islam.

Personally I have never been inclined to favour one common civil code. I regard such a demand as being Semitic in its inspection and spirit. A Hindu, in my view, can never wish to impose a code on a reluctant, in this case defiant, community. Even so I find it extraordinary that those who call themselves modernizers and secularists-the two terms are interchangeable-should shirk the logic of their philosophy of life.

A number of Indians have tried to define secularism as sarva dharma samabhava (equal respect for all religions). I cannot say whether they have been naive or clever in doing so. But the fact remains that secularism cannot admit of such an interpretation. In fact, orthodox Muslims are quite justified in regarding it as irreligious. Moreover, dharma cannot be defined as religion which is a Semitic concept and applies only to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is not a religion in that sense; nor are Jainism and Buddhism, or for that matter, Taoism and Confucianism.

The state in independent India, has, it is true, sought, broadly speaking, to be neutral in the matter of religion. But this is a surface view of the reality. The Indian state has been far from neutral inn civilizational terms. It has been an agency, and a powerful agency, for the spread of Western values and mores. It has willfully sought to replicate Western institutions, the Soviet Union too being essentially part of Western civilization. It could not be otherwise in view of the orientation and aspirations of the dominant elite of which Nehru remains the guiding spirit.

Muslim have found such a state acceptable principally on three counts. First, it has agreed to leave them alone in respect of their personal law (the Shariat) so much so that when the Supreme Court allowed a small alimony to a Muslim window on the ground that she was indigent and therefore viable to become a vagrant, parliament enacted a law to overrule such interventions in the future. Secondly, it has allowed them to expand their traditional Quran-Hadith-based educational system in madrasahs attached to mosques. Above all, it has helped them avoid the necessity to come to terms with Hindu civilization in a predominantly Hindu India. This last count is the crux of the matter.

I do not believe for a moment that a genuine Hindu-Muslim synthesis took place in India during the Moghul period, or that the British policy of divide-and-rule was solely, or even mainly, responsible for the Hindu-Muslim conflict under the Raj. Two caveats, however, need to be entered on these observations. First, after the beginning of the collapse of the Moghal empire with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, new power Hindu-Muslim co- existence and co-operation on terms less onerous for Hindus. Second, the very consolidation of British rule on an all-India basis led to a search by both Hindus and Muslims for self- definitions on the same all-India basis. This search led to a sharpening of the conflict between which the British exploited to their advantage.

Be that as it may, however, there is a basic point which has generally failed to attract the attention it deserves. Which is that a triangular contest is inherently not conducive to a stable alliance. So all equations (Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-British and Muslim-British) had to be unstable under the Raj; they were unstable. Each co-operated and clashed with the other two and each was also divided within itself. For example, just as Sir Sayyid Ahmed propagated the cause of co-operation with the British among fellow Muslims, the pan-Islamic sentiment began to spread among them on the Turkish question, inclining them finally to accept Gandhiji’s leadership of the Khilafat movement in 1921. Gandhiji saw this triangular contest in civilizational terms. He juxtaposed all traditional civilizations against the modern scientific-technological civilization, which he called Satanic. Nehru saw the contest in economic terms. He juxtaposed the capitalist-imperialist and exploitative West against the exploited anti-imperialist East in which he included the Soviet Union.

Gandhiji sought Hindu-Muslim amity on the platform of essential unity of the two religion and Nehru on that of a common fight against feudalism, exploitation and poverty. Both approaches failed to produce the desired result; they had to fail. The two leaders tried to wish away the unresolved and stalemated civilizational conflict and they could not possibly succeed. The nobility of their purpose, the intensity of their conviction and the Herculean nature of their effort could not prevail against the logic of history. The alternative to Partition would have been infinitely worse.

For the first time in a thousand years, Hindus got in 1947 an opportunity to resolve the civilizational issue in the only manner such issues can be resolved. History clearly of one civilization alone produces the necessary condition for the assimilation of another. The predominant culture too changes, as any student of the Arab conquests of Christian Syria and Egypt in the seventh century. would know. But that is how civilizations grow.

Hindus missed the opportunity, not so much because Nehru happened to be at the helm of affairs, as because they did not possess an elite capable of rising to the occasion. Indeed, Nehru himself was not an aberration. He was representative of the dominate elite which must not be equated with the Congress organizational leaders. The sweep and success of the campaign against Sardar Patel in 1947-48 should clinch the argument.

Hindus were just not in a position to assert the primacy of their civilization and they are still in no position to do so. The case for Hindu Rashtra rests on the failure of the Nehru model and its pull on the rise of a vast unprivileged intelligentsia, mobilization of vast masses as part of the democratic process and the modernization programme.

While a proper discussion of this question must wait, I would wish to add in conclusion that V.P. Singh and Mulayam Singh have rendered a yeoman’s service to the cause of Hindu Rashtra, the former by splitting the secularist forces in the political realm, and the latter by showing Hindus how contemptuous and brutal the Indian state can be in its treatment of them.

[Sunday Mail, 2/12/1990]

Reference Book: Ayodhya and After by Koenraad Elst.

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