April 10, 2002


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Anil Athale

Jinnah's true inheritors: The Sangh Parivar

On June 25, 1945, Lord Wavell, the penultimate viceroy of British India, organised a conference of Indian leaders in Simla. This was possibly the last attempt to avoid Partition. But Mohammed Ali Jinnah was adamant and wrecked this attempt. Soon he gave a call for 'Direct Action' and unleashed communal violence all over India. He secured the help of mullahs who went round the country with asthi (bones) claiming that those were the bones of Muslim victims of Hindu violence in Bihar.

Fifty-seven years later, the Sangh Parivar is following in the footsteps of Jinnah and his Muslim League. Even the slogans are similar: 'Hinduism is in danger!' The Vishwa Hindu Parishad wanted to go around the country with the ashes of the Godhra victims. Jinnah wanted a 'Muslim homeland'; the Parivar wants a 'Hindu Rashtra'.

The result of Jinnah's folly was Partition in which over 1.5 million Hindus and Muslims died in riots and the world witnessed the largest exodus in human history.

That all this is happening when the Indian Army is in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the enemy gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim of the Sangh Parivar to hold monopoly rights over patriotism. The Gujarat riots forced the army to withdraw forces from the border and deploy them on internal security duty. Mercifully the riots did not spread to other parts of the country, or else we were sure to be plunged into a war on two fronts. With one stroke the Parivar achieved what Musharraf and the ISI could not in the last three months, namely, reduce the military pressure on Pakistan.

The Sangh Parivar is blind to the plight of Islamic Pakistan that is torn by a sectarian divide between Shias and Sunnis and reduced to a 'failed state'. The outdated ideas, strategy and tactics of the 1930s are still held dear to the Parivar's heart. There appears to be no realisation that Guru [M S] Golwalkar and his concepts are irrelevant in the 21st century.

Sri Lanka provides another example of the disaster that religious nationalism brings to a country. In the decade beginning 1956, S W R D Bandaranaike promoted the cause of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In doing so he sowed the seeds of the civil strife between Sinhala and Tamil and brought that peaceful country to the stage of a living hell. It is only now, after massive bloodshed, that the hapless Lankans are taking the first few halting steps to peace.

With such examples in our region, it is indeed unfortunate that the Sangh Parivar wants to learn nothing from the sorry plight of a theocratic Pakistan and the misguided Sinhala nationalism of Sri Lanka.

Greatest threat to Hinduism

The VHP and the lumpen elements in the Bajrang Dal today pose a threat to the nation as well as the basic ideology of Hinduism also called Sanatan Dharma (ancient faith).

Hinduism is a unique way of life and differs from the people of the book in some basic features. There is no single and right path as far as Hindus are concerned. It accepts idol worship as well as the formless god. There are close to 330 million (thirty-three crore) devatas or gods. It also believes that all living beings are a part of god and their soul is immortal.

In addition, it has not put a cap on the prophets. In fact the Gita propounds that whenever sin abounds, god manifests himself to re-establish dharma. Thus Hindus have no problem in accepting the prophets of other religions or a new prophet, should one be perceived as one.

Theological arguments aside, the ground-level impact of this has been that Hinduism accepts plurality of thought, worship and behaviour at the very basic level. It is this acceptance of plurality that has often been mistaken for tolerance. Hindus are as intolerant as the rest of humanity, but since their basic philosophy itself is pluralism, Hindus seem tolerant of dissent within and differences without.

This unorganised and amorphous nature means that there is no rigid definition of 'standard' or 'true' Hindu. The attempts of the VHP and Sangh Parivar at the regimentation of Hinduism are, therefore, not acceptable to the majority.

The Left, secularists and zealots from other religions have been guilty of singling out some or the other unsavoury aspects of the practices of Hinduism and then tarring the whole community with the same brush. The Parivar, however, has gone in the direction of trying to 'Semitise' Hinduism. Thus Maryada Purshottam (model of rectitude) Ram has been made into 'Ram Lalla'. If these people have their way, the day is not far when in the Hindu Rashtra of their dreams there will be fights and killings between Ram bhakts and Krishna bhakts or between Vaishnavas and Saivites.

In its history of over 5,000 years, except for Aurangzeb and Jinnah, India has never had a state based on religion. Else how does one explain that while Asoka the Great spread the Buddhist faith all over Asia, India itself remained Hindu! Or for that matter, despite 800 years of Muslim rule in north and central India, 85 per cent of the country remained Hindu.

The Parivar's idea of a Hindu Rashtra is an imitation of the concept of Islamic state and borrows heavily from the European concept of nation state. Sixteenth century Europe paid a heavy price in blood for this folly and is now coming together in a union. When we already have one, the Europhile semi-educated 'leaders' of the Parivar want India to repeat the folly of 16th century Europe in the 21st century.

False notions of the Parivar

The electoral victory of the BJP and its ascent to political power was not due to the support of Hindus to a theocracy of a Hindu Rashtra. This was mainly a reaction to the proxy war and a desire to see a strong India with the belief that the BJP wants to usher in genuine secularism. The Left and some secularists have been guilty of mollycoddling minority fanaticism while criticising Hindu reaction. Fanaticism, whether of the majority or the minority, is equally bad and needs to be rooted out.

But the BJP and the Parivar are living in a fool's paradise if they take this to be support for their retrograde ideal of Hindu Rashtra.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale, former director of war history at the defence ministry, is a frequent contributor to these pages.

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