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May 22, 1998


The Rediff Interview/Ramagopalan

'Hinduism and fundamentalism are contradiction in terms'

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N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

He would have gone mostly unnoticed on any crowded street, his age and face rendering him inconspicuous. And if you were to glance at him in that crowd, you would pass on to the next man, dismissing him for one of those retired middle class government employees, spending his days in prayers and pilgrimage.

Prayers, yes. Pilgrimage, too, yes. But in the case of Ramagopalan, it does not stop there. His prayers and pilgrimages are backed by a fervent thought that's Hindu.

For an engineer by training, 71-year-old Ramagopalan has come a long way. He has been president of the Hindu Munnani, and spews Hinduism in its militant form. He has been a target of Islamic fundamentalists in Tamil Nadu, and moves around only with police escort. And he is now busy, giving final touches to the graha-pravesh ceremony he has in mind for the new office building of the Hindu Munnani in Madras, the old one having been blasted off with a few of its occupants, allegedly by Islamic terrorists a few years back.

Ramagopalan spoke to N Sathiya Moorthyat Madras.

Al Umma leader S Basha has said Hindu fundamentalists alone are to blame for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism...

Hinduism and fundamentalism are contradictions in terms. Only faiths that have 'one god, one path, one messiah' as their motto can become fundamentalist in nature, if at all. Hinduism is a way of life, not a call of duty, and there has never been any talk of defending the faith or protecting the religion, for it to acquire fundamentalist characteristics.

What about the Coimbatore blasts then?

It was a plain and simple proxy war by the Pakistani ISI. Even the very choice of blasts-sites, as many newspaper have reported, was done with military precision.

If fundamentalism is alien to Hindu culture, why the Hindu Munnani?

As you may know, the Munnani was formed in 1980 as a fallout of the Meenakshipuram conversions, of Dalits to Islam, and we are still against such conversions, and for the spread of Hinduism...

What's wrong with religious conversions? After all, the converts do it on their own...

Even the Constitution gives you freedom to 'preach, profess and practise' any religion of your choice. Preaching and professing is one thing, but proselytisation is another. We are only against such mass conversions, where extraneous causes find a play..

Was it why you wrote to the chief minister, seeking a ban on mass conversions?

Yes. If you start convincing people, if at all, that your religion is better than mine, then it becomes my duty to tell the people why my religion is still better than yours. That's where tension and friction start. Also, all those who seek out converts only go to the poor, less educated masses. I have offered to debate the issue with anyone at any place. But no one has volunteered for an intellectual debate on the truthfulness of their claim.

What was the state government's response to your letter?

The government first said it was for the Centre to legislate on the subject. We then pointed out that states like Arunachal Pradesh and Orissa already have laws of the type. The matter stands there.

What about the annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival? It wasn't there on a mass scale in Tamil Nadu 10 years back, and has suddenly become a major source of concern on the law and order front, not to mention the religious emotions it evokes...

You should feel happy that in a state where Vinayaka idols used to be broken with immunity as part of a perverted ideology, you now have the very same Vinayaka taking a vishwa-roop in the form of massive idols during the 10-day Ganesh festival in August-September...

But that does not answer the charge...

If you care to recall, the Ganesh festival was designed here only as a societal event for the Hindus, like Christmas and Id, for everyone to participate. It started off with a small idol and a group of five or six people in the Triplicane locality of Madras, and slowly caught the public's imagination..

But every other year, there has been tension and violence on the day of the procession...

The tension and violence started only when Muslims objected to the procession passing near a mosque. We were using only the road, that too with police permission and protection, yet they would instigate the processionists by throwing chappals, stones and the like from inside the mosque.

But this time, you seem to have invited the chief minister?

Yes, I met him recently, and invited him to participate in the function.

For a Dravidian leader with rationalist ideologies, what was his reaction?

He has not rejected our invitation. Instead, he said there was a long time yet for this year's celebrations. This by itself should be a welcome change, but then he has also told an interviewer that he too was a Hindu, as defined by Swami Vivekananda.

But what about the Coimbatore blasts? You have charged the DMK government in this regard though Chief Minister Karunanidhi says they saved Advani's life.

The Coimbatore blasts became possible only because of the indulgence of the DMK government, which released on bail those who had been taken into custody by the previous regime. If Advani escaped, it was only because his flight was delayed. They ignored our warnings... the government.

Karunanidhi has said the police was taking action on your tip-off about possible blasts in 100 more places in the state.

We had the information, and I warned the state government. And every time we warned the government, I was proved correct, unfortunately for the state. That was because the government ignored our warnings, but let's see what they are doing now.

That way, you seem to have a better information network than the police intelligence...

Yes. We get information from grassroots, who in the course of their trade and daily chores as artisans, carpenters, masons and vendors, pass on such information. When the local police fail to act on their tip-off, they approach us through our grassroots-level workers. We promise to protect their identities, and keep the promise.

You met TMC chief G K Moopanar as well... What was his reaction?

I read in the newspapers that he approved of at least some of our ideas. I invited him to the Ganesh festival this year, and he readily agreed.

The Hindu Munnani produced the first Sangh Parivar MLA in Tamil Nadu in the 1989 election. Will the Munnani contest elections again?

No. Even in 1989, we only backed an Independent candidate. Politics is not for us, but we will support anyone who accepts our 13-point demand, relating to conversions, cow protection, extension of minority rights to Hindu-run schools, and the like... Only the BJP has accepted it, and we support the BJP.

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