November 23, 2002


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Dilip D'Souza

Pseudo Begets Pseudo

The danger of throwing insults about is that sometimes they come back to bite you. Home Minister L K Advani found out the truth in that this week. "Pseudo-secular" was a phrase he first dreamed up. Hordes of his fans took his cue and began flinging it around liberally, later shortening it to the clumsy "psec". They all thought they had hit upon the ultimate term of abuse, at least judging by the evident glee with which the term was used. "Psecs", they wanted us to believe, are a truly contemptible lot.

So there was irony indeed when the label -- yes, "pseudo-secular" -- was pinned firmly on Advani himself, and by his own fans. We have come full circle indeed in this orgy of name-calling, all in the name of a hollow "ideology" that Advani set rolling over a decade ago. And because we have, because we are now witnesses to these "ideologues" hurling their own abuse at each other, we know exactly how empty it all was to begin with. We know just how cynical was Advani's ploy then, how well he knew its power to polarise us and thus put him and party in power; in fact, he knew that such polarisation was the only way they could find power.

So here we are today. Replying to a debate in Parliament, Advani announced that India can "never become a Hindu Rashtra" and was "committed to secularism". (Nope, no "pseudo" there). In doing so, Advani only echoed what others in power before him, those he specifically invented that phrase for, had always said. That is, in doing so, Advani was fully aware of the compulsions of being in power, as opposed to rabble-rousing from atop a Toyota dressed up as a chariot. But of course, this pronouncement incensed his own fans above all. "Mr Advani's statement," said Hindu Hriday Samrat Thackeray, "is a stab in the back ... of the Hindu community." If that wasn't an unkind enough cut, Ashok Singhal of the VHP offered this observation: "Mr Advani's secularism is pseudo-secularism."

Which is, more or less verbatim, how Advani himself has referred to the Congress party and its leaders, to V P Singh, to any number of political adversaries. "Pseudo-secularism" is the stick he has used for years to bash them.

How does the bite feel, Mr Advani?

Perhaps it sounds like I'm rubbing my hands in glee at all this delicious irony. The truth is, I'm not. The machinations of Advani, Thackeray, Singhal and their faithful have resulted in property incalculable in value destroyed; a nation held ransom to the fate of a bit of land in a dusty UP town; divides that run so deep that they may never be bridged; the blood of thousands of Indians of every religion shed. And they have managed to give respectability to, even institutionalise, hatred.

I find nothing in the least gleeful in all this. Nor in watching these schemers now turn on each other. Instead, I sorrow for a country led to this tragic state. Not that the sorrow comes as a surprise. Advani and his supporters -- psecs or backstabbers or whatever they want to call each other -- are demonstrably as uninterested in addressing India's problems as Congress mediocrities like Indira, Rajiv and Rao ever were. Therefore they must find empty mantras to rouse us, just as the Congress did: "garibi hatao" meets "garv se kaho, desh ko hamen banana hai" stacks up against "pseudo-secularism".

So in this time of mediocrity and backstabbing, it seems almost fitting to me that a new study tells us just how industrious the faithful have been in pushing their real interest: hatred. You probably know that I'm referring to the study of the way a US-based organisation called the IDRF raises money in the USA and spends it in India. (You can read it for yourself at various places on the Web, like here).

I won't even try to cover all that's in this report here. But to me, there were a few telling points that came from it.

One, the IDRF -- full name, India Development and Relief Fund -- claims in the US to be an organisation that supports development and relief efforts in India, and claims this because it can then operate as a tax-exempt charity under US law. Two, the majority of the money it collects in the US ends up with groups in India that are not working on relief and development, but on essentially "religious" -- or let's say "Hindutva" -- activities. I use the quotes because some of those "activities" have included violence. Maybe you see no contradiction between religion and violence (me, I see religion provoking violence), but I bet many of the people who donated to IDRF would see one.

And three, this deception -- not the activities, the deception -- says a lot about the IDRF and the groups it sends money to in India, and about this "Hindutva".

As the report says:

    The IDRF operates in the US under the rules governing tax-exempt charitable organisations. These rules prohibit such organisations from participating in political activity of the kind that involves funnelling money overseas to violent sectarian groups. ... [T]he IDRF's claim of being a non-sectarian organisation that funds development and relief operations in India is disingenuous at best, and [this] claim is strategically designed to insert IDRF into the cultural milieu and goodwill of the Indian diaspora as the 'charity of choice.'
For me, the "disingenuous at best" part became clear by merely looking at the IDRF Web site, and the listed development and relief programmes that you can contribute to. These include such laudable causes as: child victims of Kargil, terrorism in Kashmir, cyclone relief in Orissa, drought relief in Rajasthan, earthquake relief in Gujarat, health care in Hubli, and more. Fine so far. But the entire site has not a mention of, let alone a call for contributions to help, the victims of the terror that overwhelmed Gujarat earlier this year. Not a mention.

"India is our mother, not just a nation," reads a line at the top of the front page, "and it is our duty to serve her." But when this service is so selective as to leave out an entire catastrophe, I know just how seriously to take IDRF's pledge, also available on their site, to "serve economically and socially disadvantaged people irrespective of caste, sect, region or religion". Why, were the victims of Gujarat 2002 not "economically and socially disadvantaged"?

But there's more than just disingenuousness. IDRF has collected large amounts from American corporates -- one example is Cisco -- that have programmes to match their employees' charitable donations. It has managed to do this using its claim to be involved in development and relief work. Yet Cisco policy explicitly describes organisations that are ineligible to receive its funds -- ones "whose primary mission is to promote or serve one culture, race or religion".

Ineligible. Couldn't be clearer.

Such a policy rules out Cisco contributions to, for example, Christian nutcases like Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart, regardless of how many Cisco employees choose to throw money foolishly at them. So how an organisation that has intimate links with Indian "Hindutva" groups, which sends most of its funds to such groups, can evade Cisco's description is beyond me. Yet that is precisely what IDRF has managed.

That is precisely the deception I'm referring to.

Let's be clear here. If people in the USA want to support "Hindutva" in India, if they want to send their money to the groups here that propound that uniquely twisted vision of India, they are welcome to do so. After all, thousands upon thousands send cash to the Swaggarts and Falwells. I don't like it, but that's hardly the point. People must and will spend money as they want, no matter how I like it.

But this supposes that they know just what they are spending their money on. It supposes that they know exactly what the organisation that's taking their contributions is involved in. And in the case of IDRF, such knowledge is just what the donors do not have. For me, the truth of that begins with its very name: the clever use of the words "development" and "relief" for an organisation whose focus lies elsewhere.

Look at it this way: what if the IDRF was called "RSS of America"? Or "Foundation to Promote Hindutva"? Both would certainly be closer to the spirit of the organisation than the name they have. But how many Indians who have contributed to it as IDRF would have done so under one of those other names? More than that, how many Ciscos -- companies, remember, that will not fund groups "whose primary mission is to promote or serve one culture, race or religion" -- would have sent matching contributions to them?

IDRF knows the answers well: far fewer and none, respectively. Which is exactly why they choose to call themselves what they do. Which is how they have got numbers of Indians and their employers to donate to them. And I think as I read this report: if these "Hindutva" people cannot even be open about what they do, if they themselves have so little respect for their "Hindutva" as to camouflage it behind words like "relief" and "development", what is this ideology after all? What respect should we have for a "Hindutva" that is promoted by deception like this?

And what manner of Hindus are these, "garv se kaho" or no?

Pseudo-Hindus, that's what. Which is the real reason they are today calling each other names. Including the one that is laden with the greatest contempt they can feel: "pseudo-secular".

Dilip D'Souza

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