On social media

27 November 2008

On The Verge Of Cataclysm

The return of an old terror strategy will ultimately lead to public defiance of law in India
A terrorist in action

Here he is joined by an accomplice (snaps from a television footage)

Fire engulfs the Taj Palace Hotel

Employees and guests of the Taj Palace Hotel being rescued by a fire crew

Policemen taking position at the site of attack in the Colaba area
All photos above: AFP

A policeman supports an elderly man after assailants opened fire at a Mumbai railway station
Photo: Reuters

Scenes of scare and chaos such as this one were all over the blood-splattered streets of Mumbai last night
Photo: AP

Some victims of the terror strike inside a local hospital
Photo: AFP

Surajit Dasgupta

The shooting spree that the terrorists got into last night in Mumbai, killing more than a hundred citizens and tourists, indicates a possible return of the bloodcurdling days of the modus operandi of Sikh terrorists in the Punjab-Delhi belt of the 1980s. After years of blasting cities across the expanse of India, terrorists have perhaps realised that their stratagy just isn't working, as every targeted city is found to spring back to 'life' right on the next day. Though this is not to endorse the asinine political line of congratulating Indians for being 'resilient', it cannot be denied that the sheer uncertainty of the location of the next possible bombing site might have just made us think that it is futile to take caution. And then, there is this compulsion of fending for our families for which we cannot but stay indoors. Besides, in a bomb blast, the here-and-now sight of a horrifying killer is conspicuous by its absence, thereby making the scene less of a spine-chiller psychologically. The visualisation of a band of gun totters spraying bullets at a crowded market place, on the other hand, would make even a braveheart have second thoughts about venturing out of home. Is this what the "Deccan Mujahideen" — or whosoever the malcontents guilty of the crime are — reckoned before carrying out yesterday's strike? One suspects so, as this line of attack has not been tried by the terrorists for ages in a metropolitan city.

That in no way means that Indians cannot or do not have an answer to the return of the menace of the 1980s' vintage, although the establishment is for sure clueless. Terrorism was defeated in Punjab and so will it be in every other region of the country. It’s good that more and more Muslims are disowning the black sheep in their community. It is good that an RSS would not like to share the stage with an Abhinav Bharat anymore. The Akalis had similarly distanced themselves from the Khalistanis before Punjab saw the return of normalcy. But today’s situation is beyond a politican’s pale. Who cares if the left-of-centre no longer denies Islamic terrorism? (Or is it still living in denial, almost two decades into the scourge?) Who cares if the right-of-centre now says killing innocents (including those who are Muslim!) is criminal?

Now the Indian on the street is not just tired; he is not just impatient; he is now angry. Very angry — with a government that has run out of ideas, with an opposition that is lost in a maze of political U-turns and with the rest of the polity that couldn't care less. The situation is turning more and more bread-earners, hitherto aloof from politics, into politically conscious citizens of the volatile kind. This, rather than being a catharsis, is a cataclysm. When people are angry with a system that does not have a face unlike an individual enemy, they become a law unto themselves. This the state is witnessing in ample measure in the form of lawlessness in every aspect of our quotidian civic lives. From this increasingly lawless society will rise lynch mobs that will not vent their frustration on petty pickpockets, as the scene has been in so many public places so far. Hereon, they may well beat to death any character suspected to be a terrorist. And this would be the gravest consequence of our politicians’ collective callousness. If terrorists too merit some positive words once in their lifetime, it is now. Let’s thank them for jolting us out of our slumber. But no, let’s lament the end of our humanity.

The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a science journalist, a teacher and a marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations

A slip in the first sentence of this blog-post went unnoticed yesterday, conveying a meaning not intended by the writer. It read: "The shooting spree that the terrorists got into last night in Mumbai, killing more than a hundred citizens and tourists, indicates a possible return of the bloodcurdling days of Sikh terrorism in the Punjab-Delhi belt of the 1980s." The error has been corrected. Yesterday's wrong message is regretted.

04 November 2008

Blame RSS For Terrorism

It's time the Hindu right wing owned up the black sheep in its herd and the administration stopped hounding innocent Muslims
N Jamal Ansari
Some of the recent revelations on the 30 September Malegaon incident of bombing indicate that some fanatics from the Hindu community are indulging in terrorist activities and they are sure that the blame will go on to the Muslims. It is because whenever any blast takes place anywhere, the media and security agencies name culprits within minutes, which is impossible in such circumstances. Highly communalised police investigate the incident in their own way. Innocent Muslims become their target. In the process, real culprits go scot-free.

Earlier, despite some incriminating evidence, investigating agencies and the media never tried to question violence-driven Hindu outfits. But of late, reality is coming on the surface. Voice of America was the first to report the involvement of sundry Hindu outfits in terrorist activities; the Indian press followed the lead.

The involvement of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and two others confirms the worst fears of the saner elements of society. The harsh reality is that from the very beginning, investigations in different cases of bombing were initiated with a biased premise and, hence, had to move in all wrong directions. One of the factors behind the carelessness in such a sensitive issue is the approach of the police, which of late has become communalised to a great extent.

Let us consider another development. Soon after the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, BJP President Rajnath Singh issued a press statement stating, “The BJP or RSS workers are never involved in terror activities. Also, terrorists have no religion. The term Hindu terrorism is highly objectionable and no one should attempt to link any community with terrorism.”

I agree with Rajnath Singh fully. But whenever any alleged Muslim terrorist is arrested, usually the media and spokespersons of security agencies call the activity “Islamic terrorism” or “jihAd”. Rajnath Singh never condemned that tendency. Now when it is his men and organisation under the cloud of suspicion, he is turning sober.

It is for the first time that some people once associated with a national political party have been alleged to be involved in terrorist activities. The involvement of former ABVP activists has exposed the claims of the party to be against terrorism. Though it is a fact that Hindus by and large are not involved in terrorism, the fanatics in the community have long been associated with it due to ideological and historical reasons.

There is a difference between Hinduism and the so-called “Hindutwa”. While Hinduism is rather a way of life, Hindutwa is a political ideology evolved by the likes of Savarkar to make India a Hindu Rashtra. It should not be overlooked that Savarkar had apologised to the British authorities for his involvement in India’s freedom struggle so that he could be released from jail. His intentions and mission were doubtful.

Terrorism is part of that man’s legacy. There are historical documents to prove its true nature. Archival evidence of the 1930s indicates the agenda of Hindutwa in clear terms. Hindu nationalism was originally borrowed from European Fascism. In fact, they expressed their admiration for authoritarian leaders such as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and for the Fascist model of society. This influence continues to the present day.

Many of those who witnessed the growth of Hindutwa organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS in the years around the Second World War were convinced of their Fascist outlook. The first Hindu nationalist who came in contact with the Fascist regime and its dictator was BS Moonje. He had been RSS founder KB Hedgewar’s mentor. Between February and March 1931, Moonje went on a tour of Europe, covering Italy in the trip. There, he visited many military schools. He met Mussolini too. He recorded the meeting in his diary spread over thirteen pages. (Source: Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Moonje Papers)

The structure of the RSS was a result of Hedgewar’s vision and work. Moonje played a key role in moulding the RSS along Italian lines. Once Moonje was back in India, he started to work for the militant reorganisation of the Hindu society in Maharashtra immediately. Soon Fascism became a subject of public debate and Hedgewar was among the promoters of a campaign in favour of militarisation of society. On 31 January 1934, Hedgewar presided over a conference on “Fascism and Mussolini” organised by Kavde Shastri. (Source: Moonje papers, microfilm, diary m2, 1932-36, NMML)

The intimate connection between Moonje and the RSS and the Fascist character of the latter was confirmed by British sources also. An intelligence report published in 1933 entitled, “Note on the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh” ascribed to Moonje the responsibility of the reorganisation of the Sangh in 1927. The report warned: “It is perhaps no exaggeration to assert that the Sangh hopes to be in future India what the Fascists are to Italy and the Nazis to Germany.” (Source: NAI, Home poll Department, 88/33, 1933)

In the late 1930s, Savarkar arrived on the political scene. He was released from jail after he tendered an apology to the British government in 1937.At once he was declared the president of the Hindu Mahasabha. He held that office till 1942. Savarkar was also a believer in Fascism and openly supported Germany in the Second World War. In 1938, he stated in a rally of RSS activists, “In Germany the movement of the Germans is the national movement but that of the Jews is a communal one” (Source: MSA, Home Special Department, 60D(g) pt 3, 1938)

A feeling of admiration for the Jewish policy of Germany seems to have been shared by all believers of Hindu nationalism, know known better as “Hindutwa”.

The above discussion has shown: (a) The chief historical organisation and leaders of Hindu nationalism had a distinctive and sustained interest in Fascism and Nazism; (b) Fascist ideological influences on Hindutwa were present and relevant; and (c) to a certain extent, these influences were channelled through direct contacts between some fanatic Hindus and members of the Italian Fascist state.

There is not even an iota of doubt that beginning with the early 1920s and up to the Second World War, the Hindu right wing looked at the political reality of Fascist Italy and of Nazi Germany as a source of inspiration. One of the results of the contacts between Fascism and fundamentalist Hindus was the attempt to militarise the Hindu society and create a militant mentality among the Hindus. That can best be understood by watching the proceedings of any RSS शाखा/shAkhA where the activists are seen proudly brandishing trishuls (tridents).
The Fascist and violent approach of the subscribers of Hindu protectionism has wreaked havoc on the composite culture of the nation and is constantly tearing apart its secular fabric. But our ruling elite kept silence and did not learn any lesson even from the assassination of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

Now when investigations in the Malegaon bombing case are revealing names of those who are associated with right wing Hindu organisations, those who know the real face of this camp are not surprised. Saner elements of the Indian society had been warning the government, investigation agencies and the media that investigations are not being conducted in an impartial way and that the selective war against terrorism would not be fruitful. Muslims have been treated as terrorists, providing a convenient shield to the Hindutwa Brigade to launch its war against them. It is to be asserted that Muslims are not terrorists; rather, they are the terrorised.

Hindutwa activists have achieved an extraordinary success. But will they remain content with these victories? After tasting blood, can their enthusiasm for further triumphs be contained? Do not forget that Hinduism has been resurrected for political ends and goals. This fact will naturally lead to more conflicts, given the multi-religious character of India.

Terrorism should be crushed with an iron hand. But a selective war against it will not yield any result. What is required is a clear perception of what constitutes terrorism and how it can be challenged so that all communities in the country are able to live and work together for building the nation. It will take a lot of political will and honesty.

The writer is an Aligarh-based newspaper columnist. The views expressed in this article are his own

31 October 2008

Finally, Hindus Take To Terror

So what if the RSS is not involved? So what if just a handful of Hindus have taken to terrorism? It's an ominous beginning for sure
Surajit Dasgupta

Local residents and police officers clear debris at
a blast site in Malegaon, 29 September 2008

Photo courtesy: REUTERS

Much as the journalists may detest the forum for having encroached upon their exclusive right to comment on society, orkut is where I have been getting instant gratification as a commentator the moment anything worth commenting upon happens anywhere in the world, since the days when I was banished from writing by my former employer, The Pioneer. I was not complaining as the forum called "Indian Politics" in which I wrote boasted of a membership strength of more than 21,000 back then whereas my employer's newspaper had a circulation of less than one-fourth the number. Also, I had to word my expressions far more carefully online as it had an overwhelming presence of good leftist writers who would otherwise protest instantly, unlike in a newspaper where I could happily ignore a couple of disagreeable responses to my article in the form of letters to the editor that were likely to reach the office a week later.

So, I was happy putting my thoughts in those slots of 2,048 characters in 'threads' discussing last month's bombing in Malegaon, where the instant nature of responses had once again ensured that the much-berated '20-somethings' succeeded in expressing their angst not only before print medium columnists but even before television talk show panelists. That was unless my attention was drawn towards the latest article by Chandan Mitra, whose paper I haven't read since May this year. A very well argued piece as usual, but one on the expected lines at that. This is exactly where a Hindu not belonging to the BJP must differ and admit that, yes, Hindu terrorism has arrived.

Unlike the BJP that used to cry foul about "Islamic terrorism" all these years and is now saying "terrorism does not have a religion", and unlike the lib-left brigade whose stand was and is that "terrorism does not have a religion," if other Hindus did not shy away from calling it Islamic Terrorism till September 2008, let them have the honesty to mark the bombing outside a sealed SIMI office as Hindu Terrorism now.

A trial cannot lead to justice unless you call the guilty by name.

I will first write to what extent I agree with Mitra's analysis and then specify where I disagree. The following paragraphs in this section, where I agree with The Pioneer's Editor, include my posts in a forum in orkut in 2007, addressing the Muslim members of the online community. Some additions have been made to peg it to the current affairs.

Before Nanded, Kanpur, Kandhamal, Bengaluru and Malegaon began happening, whenever members of some obscure Hindu outfit have scared the hell out of common people, I, like any affiliate of the RSS of which I am not a part and don't intend to be so, have insisted that if terrorism has a religious adjective, it can only be Islamic.

First, ransacking gift shops before the Valentine's Day or vandalising cinema halls for screening a film on 'converted' lesbians could not be classified as Hindu terrorism, but simply as hooliganism.

Second, even when bombs were involved, they were reactions from some fringe elements that were not backed by a big terrorist organisation that has a well-defined agenda or programme.

Third, in riots perpetrated by Hindus, there has been no continuity in the rioters' programme between one riot and another, unlike all acts of bombing by Muslims that are preceded by almost identically worded threats and succeeded by almost identically worded justifications.

Most Hindu acts of riot were sparked off by some provocative action. Unlike in the case of outbursts by Muslims driven by a perpetual, never-ending and overriding sense of being 'deprived' by the state, riots by Hindu groups had always had an immediate, local reason. For proof, study the third column, a whodunnit of sorts, of this well-researched work by an institution that is the lib-left's delight:

"Communal Riots in India"
A Chronology (1947--2003)
B Rajeshwari

Commissioned by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies

People outside India may be surprised to know that from the Partition-time riots in 1947 to the Gujarat riots in 2002, a community that does not let go its official status of a 'minority', nevertheless musters the bravado to challenge the majority into a duel on most occasions! And then the inevitable happens: When a much larger, spread-out Hindu population retaliates, the casualty is much larger on the ghettoised Muslim side.

Fourth and more distinguishable is the factor of the passive role played by the intellectual heads of the community. Unlike liberal Muslim writers, liberal Hindu writers never write of any "root cause" of Hindu anger, thus making the specific acts of terrorism by certain little known Hindu outfits unrepresentative of the Hindu population at large. I have yet to see any Muslim writer call Osama bin Laden a terrorist without qualifying the remark further. They always find 'reasons' for him to have become an international outlaw. No Muslim says Mohammed Afzal, the mastermind behind the attack on Parliament House, should be hanged. But look at Hindus: While there are many who want him hanged, there is an equal number that is emphatic and vociferous in his defence, who are saying he didn't get a fair trial. Modernist Muslims must shrug off the homogeneous nature which the community as a whole projects. The Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid may not compare to lyricist Javed Akhtar. But in his speech, an Akhtar too would talk of the "cause" of Muslim frustration. Ever read an article by Praful Bidwai or Ashis Nandy on the "cause" of Hindu frustration? This is proof of Hindu heterogeneity and Muslim homogeneity. The reason behind the negative labelling of Islam that, obviously, no Muslim would like, lies in these sights of Islamic society's monolithic character.

To not be categorised as a society with a given mindset, every member of the society must have individualistic opinions on communal issues. Slowly the world will treat those members as independent individuals without thinking of them as dwellers of a ghetto.

If terrorists have a constituency, Hindu terrorists don't. Even Hindu-centric politics has the Indian Hindu population divided. Most Hindus do not subscribe to the 'cultural' (read political) agenda of the Sangh, let alone the programme of some Hindu Jan Jagaran Manch. Recall the uproar of protest from Hindu modernists when Babri Masjid was demolished and then recall the squeak of displeasure from Muslim moderates when the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed. The Babri incident had such a lasting reaction from Hindus that so many years later even now the Congress and the Left (both parties full of Hindus) find the BJP an untouchable party.

My fifth point is addressed to theologists. Every time there is an outrage perpetrated by Muslim terrorists, all that we hear from the moderate Muslim clergy is that the act is "anti-Islamic", "Islam means welfare", "Islam teaches peace and tolerance", blah blah. It was no different in the orkut forum where I wrote the above. An Indian Muslim scholar and lesser intellectuals from Pakistan pointed out how, according to the Qur'an, the Hadith and the Shari'ah, terrorism was فساد/fasAd and not جهاد‎/jihAd. They remarked that terrorists who were found to be Muslims were not "true Muslims".

Now the question is: One, does an Ayman al Zawahiri think of himself as a 'false Muslim'? How does one part of a community's population decide that the other part is untrue? What if the 'untrue' part denounces the 'true' part, citing an equal number of verses from the scriptures? And they indeed do so. That is why more and more members of the community join their fold, convinced that it's the terrorists who know the right definition of jihAd. And global jihAd spreads to more countries of the world. Whereas, while most Hindus disown the Sangh, the Parivar at the most calls them "pseudo-secular"; one never heard of anything like an "untrue Hindu"! For, that's not possible by definition. No Hindu scripture has a concept comparable to کفر/kufr (infidelity), emboldened by which the clergy can declare someone an apostate. Two, it may well be true that moderate Muslims have the right interpretation of Islamic scriptures. But in this busy world a Hindu does not have the time to read his own religion's scriptures. How can he spare time to read the remaining international tomes on theology? His obvious recourse is to understand Islam from the conduct of Muslims. And what does he see? He sees, for example, that Islam is finicky about cleanliness and hygiene. The believer is exhorted to do a وضو/wuzU where, when others wash only the palms while washing the hands, a Muslim must clean the forelimbs till the elbows. Contrast this with the filth in any Muslim neighbourhood. Why talk just of poor Muslims? Look at the mess middle class Muslims make of the international terminals of Indian airports during Haj. So, what value should one attach to the scriptures of a religion when the religionists are not going to abide by it in letter and spirit, anyway?

My last argument in this section deals with internationalism. Why the label "Islamic", the politically correct word for which is "Islamist", seems to be permanently pasted on terrorism while the liberals argue that India's Maoists should then be called Hindu terrorists and Naga militants be called Christian terrorists? The answer is too obvious and yet it needs to be put down in words so that one can wait for its riposte from the liberal camp, worded, hopefully, in sound logic.

A certain prominently visible factor is absent in terrorism by all communities save that by Muslims: a global reach and appeal. What makes people around the world associate global terrorism with Islam is the concept of a ‘nation’ called Islam.

Irrespective of your official nationality, irrespective of what you do and who you are, and irrespective of whether or not an issue affects you, if you are a Muslim in Hawaii Islands and you find another Muslim in Siberia in some kind of a problem, you get worked up. Such 'brotherhood' is unheard of among Christians. This does not happen to Hindus. This does not happen to Buddhists. This does not happen to anybody except Muslims.

But why? Why should the Muslim grocer in my neighbourhood get overtly animated on the issue of a fence in Israel erected to protect motorists from being bombed by the men of Hamas and Islamic Jehad? If that fence is demolished, will the grocer's life change? No. But the mullahs who brainwash a Muslim right from his childhood wouldn't let them feel for any local identity of his. It seems as if a Muslim's other identities like being a Bihari, an Indian, a student, a teacher, a trader, etc are all secondary.

Why don't terms such as Hindu terrorism, Christian terrorism, Buddhist terrorism, etc., get coined? Simple. If a Pakistani Hindu militant outfit -- there is none worth its salt -- says that some Krishna temple in Lahore is to be demolished; so Hindus all over the world unite and declare a धर्मयुद्ध/dharmayuddha against the state of Pakistan, Hindus from the rest of the world will either not bother to listen or have a hearty laugh and get on with their routine lives. But tell a Muslim in Rio de Janeiro that a mosque/dargah in Seychelles is going to be razed; and for days on end he will forget about food, shelter, clothing and other pressing needs and get energised to seek revenge against the Republic of Seychelles, never mind that he may not have the wherewithal to do so! And then we might well see a certain Amar Singh giving geography lessons to a remote Muslim-dominated village in Uttar Pradesh. Soon a Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan would replicate the act in Muslim pockets of Bihar. Would seasoned politicians resort to such motivated, misleading campaigns if they knew that a Muslim voter's concern is as local as a Hindu voter's?

Let's think of Irish Republican Army and NSCN (Naga militants) — mostly Catholic Christians, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — all Hindus, Ku Klux Klan — all White Protestant Christians, Maoists — tribals and Hindus mostly, etc. Is/Was any of these terrorist organisations an umbrella spread in the name of religion? No. Their objectives are local; their issues are political and economic but not religious. Did the almost liquidated IRA have a single recruit who was not Irish? No. Does NSCN have a single recruit who is not a Naga? No. Does LTTE have any Hindu among them who is not a Tamil? No. Do Naxals have any Hindu among them who is not an Indian? No.

So why do we have among Kashmiri terrorists such Muslims who are not Kashmiri? Why should an Afghan, Arab or Pakistani be bothered about Kashmir, if not the factor is Islam?

If to terrify someone makes one a terrorist, then even a train dacoit is one. But the dacoit is not resorting to "the use of violent action in order to achieve political aims or to force a government to act", as the Oxford English Dictionary defines "terrorism".

The next definition, hence, involves terrifying someone or some people for political gains. Here is where I shall drift away from the BJP's stand personified by Mitra's article.

I had written in orkut in 2007:

Do organisations such as Bajrang Dal do that (terrifying someone or some people for political gains)? Yes. But what is their wherewithal and reach, and how much is their appeal? Can the Sangh Parivar execute a phenomenon like 9/11? Can they (or do they even want to) hijack a plane to ram it into a building or to get some prison detainees released? Do lathis and handmade weapons compare with AK 46, AK 57 and Stinger missiles? You must be kidding.
The recent incidents have forced the following rethink:

First, we are discussing terrorism based on the term's definition in standard English dictionaries. Since the definition does not mention proportions, the distinction between a bullet from an AK 47 and that from a country-made pistol is immaterial.

Second, we are discussing if Hindu terrorism has arrived, and not if the recent incidents of terrorism necessarily bear an RSS signature. Therefore, it does not matter if the two persons who got blown off in Kanpur while making bombs "had been expelled from the (Bajrang) Dal 12 years ago and were probably involved in a conspiracy to settle scores with their tormentors in that organisation".

The Congress's policy may smack of Muslim appeasement, but it still cannot afford to use a term like "Hindu terrorism". So, it settles for "RSS terrorism". And BJP spokespersons and journalists like Chandan Mitra try to prove it is not. But what's the big deal in proving false what is obviously false? So, let political scribes fight a faux battle while bloggers practice politically incorrect truth.

Why is it Hindu terrorism this time? Because, the answer to the question I had used in the first section of this article --
is the terrorist organisation an umbrella spread in the name of religion? -- is "yes". Unlike Hindus in the Maoist camp, Hindus in the Hindu Jan Jagaran Manch do not bear a grudge for the 'wrong' economics of the country. Unlike Hindus in the LTTE, Hindus in the HJJM are not fighting for the rights of a community distinguishable by its language. Until recently, any subversive act by a group with mostly Hindu members had the following characteristics: (a) The 'club' members' religious identities were coincidental; (b) the club's formation was not based on the premise of 'protecting' a given religion by means of violence, and (c) its appeal was not to the followers of one religion to fight those of another, all of whom were identified as the 'enemy'. If the respective agendas of the RSS and the VHP match these three parameters only partially, the very formation of an outfit like the HJJM has clearly defied this formula to earn the dubious distinction of being a "Hindu terrorist" outfit. More so because like terrorists it did not need an immediate provocation that was hitherto symptomatic of every riot where large Hindu mobs attacked Muslim dwellings (since 1947, as explained above in the first section of this article).

And like Islamic terrorism's ever-increasing influence that has witnessed the popping up of sleeper cells and other motivated Muslim terror outfits all over the country, if Bajrang Dal has become stale news by now, here is HJJM at your service! Now, if you say the HJJM has no link with the RSS, nor has the Indian Mujahideen any link with Al Qaidah. This is not to equate the RSS with Al Qaidah. It is to say that inspiration suffices; the man with a gun does not need to be officially associated with the man with a mike.

When The Indian Express's 22 October report suspected a Hindu outfit's hand in the Malegaon blasts, and the issue was raised in my orkut forum, I wrote:
I had suspected so right after the bombings in the named places. The spots and timings of the blasts had clear tell-tale signs. But the supporters of the Sangh said that could be a red herring and, so, I pointed it out to them that I had used the word "suspicion". Now, it is beyond the level of suspicion, though the trials on the cases are awaited.

Our worst fear has come true. Decades of our establishment's rubbishing the genuine Hindu grievance of Islamist terrorism has left the majority totally disillusioned and frustrated. It's true that only the community's fanatic fringe will indulge in such nefarious activities, as Hindus by and large are quite casual about their religious identity. But passive support by law-abiding Hindus to such abominable acts of violence will witness a rise. The community that is known for its heterogeneous political views, the people who are known to raise the din in protest of Babri Masjid's demolition perhaps louder than the Muslims, will increasingly get muted. Most Hindus will still not justify violence in open, public fora. But they will just remain quiet and, in private circles, say, "This was bound to happen!"

Our country is in for serious trouble.
Finally, I have another pertinent point to make about terrorism. I, along with a big circle of friends with whom I have grown up since my school days, have been amused by the statements issued by politicians after every terrorist act. It is not that the present Home Minister of India, Shivraj Patil, is the first funny politician the country has ever had. Here is why their post-terrorism sound-bytes have always been funny.

It's not funny to call terrorism a "heinous crime". It's not funny to call a terrorist strike a "dastardly act". It's not funny to "condemn" a terrorist strike. But, considering suicide bombers specifically, how can one call a person who blows himself off for a 'cause' -- howsoever wrong -- a "coward"? Agreed, living takes more courage than dying, but programming one's own death and embracing it the next moment may be mad; it can't be cowardly.

Of course, all other terrorists are certainly coward. And the biggest cowards are Hindu terrorists. Here is another of my posts from orkut to conclude:
To attack the evil can be a policy. To identify an attacker as an evil and then hit him back cannot be a policy. If someone is evil, he must have been so even before he attacked you.
So, what about self-defence?
This offence is not defence. The Hindu right wing in India could never attack the attacker. Throughout history, whenever Hindus have been assaulted, the leaders of the community were either defeated or they surrendered and submitted meekly. What do you mean to convey now by attacking the attackers' kinsmen and future generations who, needless to add, do not have the wherewithal to put up a formidable defence? Can you attack Dawood Ibrahim? No. Can you attack Osama bin Laden? No. Can you bring back or go and kill in Pakistan the 20 odd criminals who are wanted by India's police? No. Then, if you think by attacking other Muslims, you are getting even, you are grossly mistaken. Only a coward attacks a weak.


  1. Before you say I should have waited for the trial of the accused in the Malegaon case and its verdict before 'jumping to any conclusion', spare a thought for our judiciary's unassailable backlog.
  2. If "Islamic terrorism" does not mean all Muslims are terrorists, "Hindu terrorism" does not mean all Hindus are terrorists. In fact, since it is just a beginning, members of the second community who may be swayed by the extremist ideology is, at the moment, negligible, albeit present for sure.
  3. As a linguist, I do not make a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutwa. To me, "-twa" is a Sanskrit suffix as "-ism" is an English one. I do not use the word "Hindutwa" in an otherwise English sentence just as I do not use the word "Hinduism" in an otherwise Hindi sentence.
The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a science journalist, a teacher and a marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations
The article on Chandrayaan will be written after the mission's lunar capsule lands on the moon surface

22 October 2008

Chandrayaan: ISRO's Homework

Inside Chandrayaan I:
Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft undergoing pre-launch testsMoon Impact Probe integration with Chandrayaan-1 spacecraftReadying Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft for Thermovac testFully integrated Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft (left) and loading it to Thermovac Chamber (right)

PSLV-C11 Third and Fourth Stages:
PSLV-C11 fourth stage
PSLV-C11 Vehicle stacked up to fourth stage
Hoisting of third and fourth stages of PSLV-C11

PSLV-C11 Second Stage:
Hoisting of PSLV-C11 Second Stage
PSLV-C11 Second Stage with its VIKAS engine

PSLV-C11 First Stage:
Loading of PSLV-C11 First Stage Nozzle End Segment
PSLV-C11 First Stage Nozzle End Segment on its way to Vehicle Assembly Building
Positioning of PSLV-C11 First Stage Nozzle End Segment over launch pedestal

PSLV-C11 Strap-on:
Unloading a PSLV-C11 strap-on from transporter at Vehicle Assembly Building
Fully Assembled First Stage surrounded by strap-ons of PSLV-C11

PSLV-C11 On Launch Pad:
PSLV-C11 comming out from Vehicle Assembly Building
PSLV-C11 on Launch PadPSLV-C11 at Vehicle Assembly Building
PSLV-C11 on its way to launchpad
PSLV-C11 on its way to launchpad from Vehicle Assembly Building

Photo courtesy: Indian Space Research Organisation

Article on India's first moon mission to follow

27 September 2008

The Parivar Must Split

The VHP, Bajrang Dal and their supporters in the RSS are blots on Hindu society; it's time the community's visible, educated faces disowned them openly
Surajit Dasgupta
In the aftermath of the Union Government's gentle threat to the Orissa and Karnataka Governments and the mild censure of the militant Hindu outfits by BJP leader LK Advani, some apologists of the Sangh Parivar have now started a wild goose hunt for justifications. Never mind that when Muslims talk of their 'grievances', these very apologists say terrorism cannot be thus justified. This article is not to equate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal with terrorists. It is to equate how both Hindu and Muslim thought leaders try to justify the violent outlet of frustration and anger by some fellows from their respective communities.

One of the several excuses for hounding Christians in Karnataka, which the Parivar's defenders are forwarding, is the publication and circulation of a certain evangelist book in Kannada called ಸತ್ಯ ದರ್ಶಿನಿ/Sathya Darshini in towns in the districts of Mangalore, Udupi and Chikmagalur. When translated, a part of the book's contents are as follows:
# उर्वषी/Urwashi - the daughter of Lord विष्णु/Wishnu - is a prostitute. वशिष्ठ/Washishtha is the son of this prostitute. He in turn married his own mother. Such a degraded person is the guru of the Hindu god राम/Rama. (p 48)
# When कृष्ण/Krishna himself is wallowing in darkness of hell, how can he enlighten others? Since Krishna himself is a shady character, there is a need for us to liberate his misled followers, (p 50)
# It was ब्रह्मा/Brahma himself who kidnapped सीता/Sita. Since Brahma, Wishnu and शिव/Shiwa were themselves the victims of lust, it is a sin to consider them gods। (p 39)
# When the Trinity of Hinduism (Brahma, Wishnu and Shiwa) are consumed by lust and anger, how can they liberate others? Their projection as gods is nothing but a joke (p 39)
# When Wishnu asked Brahma to commit a sin, he immediately did so. How can such an ‘evil Brahma’ be the creator of the universe? How is it possible for both the sinner and the entity, which provoked the sin to be gods? (p 39)
# God, please liberate the sinful people of India who are worshipping false gods that believe in the pleasures of illicit ‘व्यभिचारी’/wyabhichArI relationships. (p 39)

One may recall the furore in Kerala over a comparable evangelistic literature, Haqeeqat, almost two years ago. Some of its contents were:
# Hindu gods and goddesses are fictitious and were invented to persecute Dalits;
# To prevent indigenous people from acquiring knowledge, Saraswati invented difficult Vedas (which nobody can understand);
# With the progression of time, people all over the world (except India) were freed of their ignorance and they began to disown wicked and cruel gods and goddesses. But in India, because people are (enveloped) in the darkness of ignorance, imaginary gods and goddesses are still worshipped;
# Naked सन्यासी s are worshipped by (Hindu) women. The moment (Hindu) women see naked sanyAsIs, they fall on the ground and prostrate themselves before the sanyAsIs. (Hindu) women pour water on the sanyasis' penises and then happily drink that water. लिङ्ग देवता Linga Dewata is gratified when he sees all these repulsive things and feels empowered... These people are ignorant and do not know the difference between what is right and wrong.
# Sita was abandoned in the forest as per Rama's wishes... Rama later asked Lakshmana to kill Sita. In the end, Rama, frustrated with life, drowned himself in the Saryu. Such are the teachings of half-naked rishis who are praised by हिंदुत्ववादी/HindutwawAdIs.
# Lord Shiwa, to get people to worship him, dropped his penis on the Earth Goddess, shaking the ground and the sky! ... . Poor धरती देवी/Dharti Dewi was shaken by the weight of his penis. Seeing this, all the gods were scared. It seems gods would use their penises as bombs! Whenever and wherever they wanted to, they would drop their 'penis bombs' to terrorise the people. Thus, they were able to enslave the people... But compared to foreign bombs, these penis bombs were a damp squib.
# (Ramakrishna) Paramahansa should have known that Ganga is the world's filthiest and dirtiest river. How many dead bodies float down this river every day? How many half-burnt dead bodies are dumped into it every day? And Hindus call it the holy river! In fact, all the rivers of India are dirty and polluted... HindutwawAdIs pollute the rivers... and then depend on their false gods to cleanse them...
# (For Hindus) men can be gods, women can be goddesses... animals are gods, snakes are gods... they (Hindu gods) fight among themselves, marry among themselves, throw out their wives, run away with others' wives, they steal, get intoxicated, drink blood, are reincarnated as animals, fish and tortoise, some of them can lift mountains... Some gods are in same-sex relationships and are yet able to produce babies. These gods and goddesses are always armed because they believe in killing and plunder. Some gods think their penises are more powerful than nuclear bombs. Others like animals live naked among their followers. Some of them spend their time in yogic exercises, others are in samAdhI and happy to see the number of blind followers swell... You can wash away your sins by worshipping the penises of gods;
# How could आर्य/Arya Hindus bring Aryanisation on this earth? To be Arya, one has to be born of an Arya womb... If Arya Hindus want to bring Aryanisation then they must lend or rent out all Arya wombs to non-Aryans. Non-Aryans should be given Brahmin women so that children are born from Brahmin womb;
# In modern India, many Ramas of this belief are living a carefree life. They marry several times, desert their wives, marry several times, and leave them. Many Ramas kill their Sitas. They are following their god, Rama;
# Krishna had a despicable sex life... Krishna is famous because of his love life. He had 16,008 wives. And all Yadawa women were his illegitimate lovers. (Hindu) women are drawn towards him because of pornographic and vulgar tales of his sex life...

The two aforementioned evangelist pamphlets are still in circulation. Disgusting indeed! The thought, the expressions, the writers, the books... everything about them. But, and this is a massive "but", articles of the type being discussed here are criticised even by the lib-left media. It's curious to note that those who have dug pornography out of the scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma belong to an unscientific, creationist religion that bears the contemptuous sexist belief that the first woman was born of the thirteenth rib of the first man. A Hindu writer may also point out in retort with reference to the Testaments that pigs don't fly. Without sounding salacious, a Hindu may further question the immaculate conception. But such two paise worth evangelist literature can in no way be touted as the 'reason' for vandalism and thuggery by the Bajrang Dal's hoodlums.

Here is a report on what happened in Karnataka and elsewhere after the first evangelist literature quoted above was circulated (other action-reaction theories like induced conversion, too, were cited as a reason for Hindu anger):
MANGALORE/UDUPI/CHIKMAGALUR: After Kandhmal, it is the turn of Christians in Karnataka to face the ire of right-wing Hindu mobs. ( Watch )

Suspected Bajrang Dal activists vandalized seven churches and a house in Mangalore, Udupi and Chikmagalur districts on Sunday, protesting alleged conversions of Hindus to Christianity.

Some preachers and parishioners were assaulted and church property damaged in the attacks. The police in the three districts are yet to arrest anyone.

In Dakshina Kannada district, the activists targeted the Adoration Monastery just off the Milagres Church on Falnir Road. The 10-member group barged into the prayer hall and damaged the tabernacle, where the holy Eucharist is kept. They damaged windowpanes, furniture as well the crucifix. Police said the same group attempted to vandalise another prayer hall in Kankanady, but were driven back.

Later, Christians gathered in large numbers in front of the Milagres Hall to protest against the series of attacks. The day-long stand off between the protesters and the police resulted in violence. Protesters hurled stones at the police who lathicharged them in return. Several vehicles were damaged, including the jeep of the city DSP D Dharmaiah.

Police burst teargas shells to disperse the angry youth. Some of the protesters took shelter in the Milagres Church Hall premises to escape the mob fury. Prohibitory orders have been imposed in the area up to 8 am on Wednesday.

SP N Sathish Kumar said the police stood guard at some churches that they suspected would be targets of attacks. However, the miscreants had changed their plans in the last moment and attacked churches that did not have police security.

In Udupi district, three places of worship belonging to the New Life group in the district were attacked while the Sunday prayers were in progress. No arrests have been made so far.

A prayer hall near the KSRTC bus station was attacked around 10.20 am during a prayer. Over 15 activists entered the hall and attacked the people and ransacked the entire place. A music system and projector were damaged. According to sources, the miscreants came in vehicles.

In Shiroor, near Baindur, the prayer hall of the same group was attacked. A vehicle was burnt and some members of the congregation, including the pastor, were attacked. A similar incident was reported from Mudur near Kollur where some materials were damaged. However, the police prevented another such attack in prayer halls of the New Life group in Kaup and Karkala. Udupi SP Pravin Pawar said he suspected Bajrang Dal activists were behind the attack.

He told TOI that the police registered cases and investigations had started. In Chikmagalur district, the activists attacked three churches and the house of a neo convert. In one incident, 15 activists came in a vehicle and barged into Harvest India church at Makkikoppa near Jayapura in Koppa taluk in the morning and assaulted a parishioner and the protestant pastor. They broke the window panes and the plastic chairs.

Concerned over the prospects of an anti-Christian campaign spreading to Karnataka soon after attacks on minorities in Orissa, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew the attention of chief minister B S Yedyurappa to reports of such incidents earlier in the day.

He also talked to governor Rameshwar Thakur. The stage for the PM's telephonic talks had been set by a Congress demand for central interventions to end attacks on churches and Christian institutions allegedly by Sangh Parivar activists. In a statement, party leader Veerappa Moily said that several outfits of the Sangh Parivar had attacked churches and Christian buildings in a number of districts in southern Karnataka.

He said that such incidents had been going on for the past few weeks. Claiming that the culprits were allowed to go free, Moily claimed that the BJP government in the state had looked the other way instead of arresting the hoodlums. "Congress demands that the state government initiate immediate action; otherwise we may have no option but to approach the government of India for appropriate intervention," he said in a statement.

They know not what they do! Innocent Christians assaulted allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists..

Question: How could the women seen here have been a threat to Hinduism?

Photo courtesy: Mangalorean.com

Since the gruesome murder of Graham Staines and his two sons in 1999, a majority of Hindus living in different parts of India have been wondering, "Why Christians?" For, an average Indian Christian is identified as a law-abiding citizen who does not take religion that seriously. To that extent, his thinking matches that of an average Hindu. A few months ago one was pleasantly surprised when television news channel Times Now, while trying to ascertain the extent of alienation among India's Muslims, came across a young, urbane member of the community who said something to this effect: "It's a selfish world where nobody has time to spare a thought for anybody. So, for Muslims to think that nobody thinks about them is foolish." We need a majority of Muslims to think like that young lad.

Such people, who do not wear their religion on their sleeve, are badly needed in our times ridden by faith-driven terrorism. It is utterly harebrained of any Hindu organisation to antagonise especially Christians — most of whom are as casual about their religious identity as Hindus are — when those outraged by bombs detonating in every corner of the country must all be seen standing united inside one fortress.

As for the offensive literature, first, all Hindus do not subscribe to the Puranas. Still if, say, followers of the Vedanta too have been offended, they may not be sure how to defend all of Hindu mythology. Second, even if the Vedantis make an effort in that direction, those bent on inducing conversion cannot be expected to appreciate the extensive use of metaphors in Hindu mythology and their implicit meanings. So it’s better to ignore them as pig-headed propagandists. Why chase their fellow religionists out of their homes and hearths though they may not share the same view? The response to a work of pen must be another work of pen, not a work of swords, pistols and bombs. The VHP must admit that putting down in words their protest against pamphleteers is beyond the capability of their challenged grey matter. As for oratory skills, their speeches lack the educated substance that can sway the Hindu audience.

India reads in newspapers and hears on television a Swapan Dasgupta defending the BJP, and it reads and hears a Ram Madhav feeling duty-bound to defend all actions of every offshoot or sister concern of the RSS. The country may or may not agree to all that Swapan says, but while it listens to him with intent, Ram only manages to make most educated people either baulk or burst into derisive, dismissive laughter. Such is the paucity of knowledge of India's extreme right that it does not surprise when one finds that the wing is in its elements only on the streets. When given a chance to debate in a civilised forum, it looks like two left feet on the dance floor. To every Hindu who has ever felt outraged at an act of evangelism or ﺗﺑﻟﻳﻍ/tablIgh', the Sangh Parivar is a big let down and a terrible embarrassment to be seen as fellow members in the same camp.

Already much of the media led by NDTV is hostile to the right wing. Their strategy is somewhat like this: They will call a BP Singhal to defend his party, knowing fully well that the man loses his cool at the drop of a hat and starts stammering. If it's a more composed character and can articulate better, say someone like Ravishankar Prasad, the show anchor will interrupt only when he speaks or won't intervene when his opponents howl at him when it's rightfully his turn to speak after others have already spoken at length, uninterrupted. It is only when the channel partly agrees with the right wing's position on a one-off issue that an Arun Jaitley or a Sushma Swaraj would be invited to the debate.

When the leftist camp has its publicity machinery ready 24x7 to attack the rightist camp, it becomes imperative for the latter to brush up its knowledge on every issue that concerns the nation. But this is a mission the Sangh's members are too lazy to undertake. They have found in Koenraad Elst and David Frawley two foreign observers to counter Romila Thapar's propaganda. The assumption is that words from the pink lips of a white skinned man would be deemed neutral and the observer cannot be 'accused' of being affiliated to the Parivar.

Indeed, that is the left wing's propensity. Indian observers fear being branded by them as 'fundamentalists' and hence most do not come out in the open to defend even the economic policies of the NDA Government (1998-2004), let alone Advani's Rath Yatra of 1992. But why bite the bait to subscribe to the left's tacit suggestion that if a Hindu speaks for Hindus, he must be a member of the RSS? Why, to avoid this stereotyping, must Indians leave the work of neutral observation of history to the West?

The Parivar's emptiness is not restricted to poor knowledge of history. It pervades every field of study from science to geography to linguistics. Pick up any volume of the RSS mouthpiece and you will be startled out of your wits if you happen to find any technically rich content in the publication. You won't. Most articles have about a paragraph or two that the writer somehow managed to write, followed by half a dozen conveniently picked quotes from established writers who do not belong to the camp.

For one, it is curious that the VHP, which cannot appreciate the difference between a channel and a canal, is fighting the Sethusamudram Project. While writers sympathetic to it can only manage to forward the logic of preservation of a symbol of faith, the publishers affiliated to the Sangh go about copying science-oriented articles that are critical of the project, written by authors not from the Sangh, and pasting them in their own websites with impunity. Such articles include one by yours truly. One may also find this writer's article on River Saraswati featuring in a few pro-Hindutwa websites. Did they seek my permission before using my article? No. Do I want my name to be featured among a plethora of fundamentalists' in a hawkish website? Most certainly not. But I do not belong to the litigious West. I will not sue them. I can only pity the class of gentry their camp has.

The common factor between Muslim and Hindu fanatics — and all fanatics for that matter — is that they are alien to the idea of verbal shields and swords. However, they cannot ignore the importance of mass media in this day and age. So Muslim fanatics seek shelter behind the writings and utterances of the left-of-centre camp and Hindu fanatics find refuge behind the polemics of the right-of-centre camp. But why should the men of letters oblige? An Ashok Malik is better off advocating Narendra Modi's economics of 2008 rather than defending the Gujarat Chief Minister's politics of 2002. While the first, something substantive to write home about, must continue, the second, leaving one awfully discountenanced, can be done away with for all times to come.

The BJP may well be an offspring of the RSS. The party may well be crippled during elections without the help of the RSS cadre. But writers with right-of-centre faith, especially the few who did not join the Sangh or the BJP to further their careers, are under no such obligation.

The BJP too must realise that, first, the RSS is old enough to be sent off to वानप्रस्थ /wAnaprastha. A new generation must take over the ‘kingdom’ as per the Hindu tradition, if the party must stick to it. Second, Hindus by and large are not given to daily provocations; so, the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena can forget the Archies and Hallmark shops during Valentine's Day and other non-issues they constantly sniff out. Third, for the second reason, the NDA coalition appeals to India far more than the BJP flexing its muscles all alone. Of course, allies like the Janata Dal (United) and weathercocks like the Telugu Desam Party and Trinamool Congress must see sense in the repealing of communal laws like Article 370 and separate Personal Laws for different religions. But that's about it.

A big section of Hindu thought leaders had had their schooling in Catholic missionary schools. They will not speak in favour of the goons who attacked their teachers. As for other ordinary Hindu citizens, once in a blue moon, a few think about a temple in Ayodhya (or the mosques in Kashi and Mathura). Even fewer ever lose sleep over it. So, Rajnath Singh, get over it. But we know you won't.

The RSS's myopia did not let it understand Atal Bihari Vajpayee's inclusive politics and the former prime minister was ridiculed and panned by the Sangh's lumpen SMS brigade as a "ﻣﻳﺎﮞ"/"Mian" (the Urdu honorific is the equivalent of “mister”, but Hindu fanatics used it to mean “mullah”). The army of dimwits did not stop at that. Hundreds of स्वयंसेवक /swayamsewaks sabotaged the BJP's campaigns in the 2004 general elections which, for this reason as much as the middle class's lethargy — induced further by the unbearable heat of April and May afternoons — witnessed slim attendance of voters in all polling booths across the country (leaving mostly the abject poor, a class that is always dissatisfied and anti-incumbent no matter whose government it is, to vote). And now the same numskulls will campaign for Advani, hoping he will become the next prime minister and do what Vajpayee didn't.

If terrorism is 'un-Islamic', hooliganism is 'un-Hindu'. It's time law-abiding, peaceful Hindus — the majority, that is — disowned the militant fringe of the community loud and clear in every public forum possible. Continuing as members of this big joint family has become untenable. The Parivar must split.

The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a science journalist, a teacher and a marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations
In transliteration from Indian languages, the conventional use of the letter 'v' has been consciously avoided as this European sound does not exist in any Indian language; 'w' has been used to represent the Sanskrit letter/sound, 'व'. In common nouns, a capital letter vowel, even in the middle of a word, signifies a stretched sound; it's to address the confusing, non-uniform use of 'a', 'aa', 'i', 'ee', 'u' and 'oo' by Indians. Names of organisations have been spelt conventionally.

Debate on the article on orkut

01 September 2008

Two Great Indian Humbugs: Secularism & Gandhi

Revision of contemporary history for school kids
[The link to a debate in an orkut forum on this article appears at the end of this article]
Surajit Dasgupta

This article has been necessitated by a debate that followed the last blog-post, "Can't Let Go," which went in for a major digression on to a debate on secularism at the insistence of a person opposed to the tenor of the article. This post, hence, seeks to achieve three objectives: first, telling those who have been out of touch of history, civics and politics — ever since they left these subjects at the secondary school level — not to trust entirely what they were taught by their textbooks; second, telling Muslims to be wary of bleeding-heart secularists and, third, putting the record of MK Gandhi straight.

I begin by addressing blog member Sandeep Nadar's last comment (edited): "For a solution to the communal situation, the first option is 'one religion'. The second is 'no religion'. The third is 'have your religions but don't object to those of others even if they do' (this is what Gandhi died for). Which one would you pick?"

The third one, of course. I would, however, propose a better (fourth) solution: "Let the people have religions if they wish to; nevertheless, the government must conduct itself in a manner as if it does not know such a thing as religion exists." All amateur political observers must know that no Indian political party or individual, not even Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, followed this path. Three comments on Gandhi by my opponent make for what children learn about the personality at school; rather what the government [50-year-old Congress governments — 1947-77, 1980-89, 1991-96, 2004-09 (expectedly) — to be precise] forces down their throat in the name of education.

Real secularism, the one India tried to inherit from Europe, meant "the separation of the state from the Church" (in India's case, "from all religions"). That never happened. The two Hindi/Sanskrit/Indian translations for the term — सर्वधर्म समभाव/sarwadharma samabhAwa and धर्मनिरपेक्षता/dharmanirapekshatA — are both mischievous. The term has been deliberately interpreted in a manner so as to leave enough room for the politicians to constantly poke their noses in affairs of religion.

sarwadharma samabhAwa means “same feeling for all religions”, literally. That’s totally unwarranted. What the Indian state should have is “no feeling for any religion”. For, it is next to impossible for a religionist, least a politician, to divide his/her feelings into equal parts!

dharmanirapekshatA means “not in favour of any religion”. This is slightly better than the other Indian translation. Yet, it’s off-track. Being in favour or not being in favour of any religion both allude to dealing with religions. Why should the government have anything to do with religions? The exact translation of “secularism” is “धर्मोपेक्षा/dharmOpekshA (धर्म/dharma + उपेक्षा/upekshA), i.e., “indifference towards religion”. Only when religion does not concern you can you be just towards the followers of all religions. Well, so far this was my take on the linguistic interpretation of the term “secularism”. Indian politicians claim that the translation shows their sensitivity and that they prefer the first rather than the second as the latter sounds atheistic. That's a red herring. I’ll explain why it wasn’t just a linguistic deliberation but a well-intended scheme to be practised day in and day out to meet political ends.

Right from my childhood I have been amused by the itineraries of prime ministers, chief ministers and other political leaders of India. In the days of Doordarshan, I would watch an Indira Gandhi and then a Rajiv Gandhi bow before some temple’s deity and make it a point to pay obeisance before a درگه/dargah too. I found VP Singh and Narasimha Rao continue with the same funny practice. In no other secular country does one come across this burlesque show of ‘equality’. Whom were they trying to fool?

First, it’s impossible for a spiritual person to enter a communion with God following (two or more) different methods.

Second, visiting the sites of two/three different religions on the same day — and doing so every time — clearly showed it was a vacuous gesture aimed at titillating the sentiments of all religious communities in the constituency and had nothing to do with the leader’s faith.

That the motive was mischievous became clearer by the brand of confused secularism that Rajiv Gandhi followed, wherein he was not sure which section of the population he should appease and to what degree. He overturned the Supreme Court’s decision on the Shah Bano alimony case to appease orthodox Muslim patriarchs. Then he tickled Hindu fanatics by throwing open the gate of the disputed structure in Ayodhya for a शिलान्यास/shilAnyAs (laying the foundation of a temple, following Hindu rituals). It was unfortunate for Narasimha Rao that Babri Masjid got demolished during his tenure as the prime minister. The way the Nehru-Gandhi family’s scion was going about handling the affair, the same eventuality would have unfolded under his regime and he, rather than Rao, would be accused of complicity with the likes of the Bajrang Dal, had he not been assassinated a year prior to the incident.
Interview With Koenraad Elst by Ramesh N Rao, August 2002. Excerpts: “As a political framework, secularism requires that all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their religious affiliation. That is a definitional minimum. An Indian secularist would therefore first of all be found on the barricades in the struggle for a common civil code, against the existing legal apartheid between Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. But the only major party to demand the enactment of a common civil code, as mandated by the Constitution, happens to be the BJP. On election eve, the others run to the Shahi Imam to pledge their firm commitment to the preservation of the Shari'ah for Muslims. In the West and in the Muslim world, the upholding of religion-based communal legislation is rightly called anti-secularist.

I have often discussed this point with Indian secularists. Their usual argument is that, you see, India is a peculiar case, the uniform civil code issue has been ‘hijacked’ by the Hindus, and for now the country needs these separate civil codes. I am not convinced, but even if we concede that India is better off with the present system, that still doesn't make it secular. The opponents of the common civil code, the upholders of discrimination against the Hindus in education and temple management, the defenders of a special status for states with non-Hindu majorities -- they should have the courage of their conviction and call themselves ‘anti-secular’.”

Let me now open the eyes of ‘NCERT’s progenies’ to show them how secular India’s ‘secular’ parties are. This article will not raise the issue of 'pseudo-secularism' or 'Muslim-appeasement' that is blurted out ad nauseam by the Sangh Parivar. Rather, it will expose that the Congress's and the Left's concern for Muslims is as fake as the BJP's concern for Hindus. In fact, it's worse. If the BJP is only anti-Muslim, the Congress and the communists are not only anti-Hindu but also anti-Muslim. Should the second group's posturing alone make India's Muslims feel protected under leftist or left-of-centre regimes?

If you go through the official records of Muslims killed since 1947 — in riots or otherwise — you will see that hundreds of Indian Muslims have been eliminated from the national scene in a cold-blooded manner every year during the first 30 of the 50 years that the country has been ruled by the Congress. Any member of the Congress party (my late father was one of them) aged over 40 has heard in the party offices how those killings were planned, how they were made to look like ‘collateral damage’ or ‘police encounters with criminals’, if not ordinary accidents. A riot merely helped various Congress governments camouflage their intentions better and achieve bigger ‘targets’ in smaller time spans.
"... what will you say about the secular Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi when she goes to Gujarat and then under the advice of her colleagues refuses to visit the house of Ehsan Jafri (the former Congress MP who was killed by rioters) to offer condolences to the victim's family? I am not making the charge that the Congress president became communal. But she certainly succumbed to societal pressure.
— Arif Mohammed Khan, formerly member of the Congress, then the BSP; currently member of the BJP

Next to be dealt with are the left parties, by far the closest to the concept of secularism, more so for their atheistic rationalism (not rationality).

It was the morning of 7 December 1992 in Park Circus, Kolkata. The previous night, some of our Muslim friends — this coinage is just for the convenience of nomenclature; there’s nothing communal about it — from college, living in the area, had got the news of Babri Masjid’s demolition and had feared a communal flare up. Scared for their lives, they sought our help. About 15 of us, college friends (all Hindus), went over their place to provide a human shield. Early morning as we were having tea at their balcony, a mob emerged from one of the lanes with sticks, swords and ‘petrol bombs’ (bottles half-filled with petrol, with a burning wick attached to the caps). Contrary to what we had feared — that a Hindu mob could encircle the Muslim locality and wreak havoc — it was a Muslim mob, hunting for Hindus in that Muslim-dominated pocket. They were locals; they could make out we did not belong to that neighbourhood. In a strange turn of event, we, the ‘protectors’, had to become the protected. Our Muslim friends managed to save us by telling them we were Muslims. That couldn’t, however, save some Hindu households in the vicinity.

About half-an-hour after the incident, a procession wielding red flags emerged to assure us of ‘normalcy’ and ‘safety’. We went down the stairs and approached a crowd gathered around a house that had lost its two male earning members (they were hacked to death). As we recounted the violent incident, some Hindu communists spewed frustration: “You Hindus are worms, you deserve to die.” A DYFI [Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the CPI(M)] activist turned to us, boys, and uttered in disgust, “jakhon musolmanra apnader akromon korechhilo, apnara ki secularism cho**chchhilen? (When the Muslims attacked you, were you fornicating with secularism?)” Then they turned to the just-widowed, wailing Hindu women, left a little boy with a country-made pistol for his family’s ‘protection’, theatrically thundered, “लाल सलाम/LAl salAm!” and left the scene to shower ‘sympathy’ on other victims of the mini-riot.

That was more or less a repeat of the scene on 2 November 1984 that I had witnessed in Bokaro Steel City, the city that had lost 42 Sikhs (official figure) — toll next only to the country's capital — to the pogrom allegedly engineered by RK Dhawan-Jagdish Tytler-HKL Bhagat-Sajjan Kumar’s Delhi-centric Congress, post-Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The only difference there was that the ‘sympathising’ Youth Congress leaders had spoken in Hindi with a Magahi accent. And instead of a “lAl salAm”, they shouted, “Indira Gandhi अमर रहे / amar rahe (Long live Indira Gandhi)!”

Secularism, Congress style! "When a tree falls, the earth shakes," then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had said in response to the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The earth is still shaking

Closer in history, The Pioneer’s Kolkata-based correspondent Saugar Sengupta was relating an incident that followed the hooliganism perpetrated by Idris Ali in Kolkata to demand the ouster of Taslima Nasreen in November 2007 (it was a ploy to divert people’s attention from the CPI(M)’s atrocities in Nandigram; but let’s not digress). The journalist was accompanying the current Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, on a trip to the affected areas after tempers had cooled down. While the two were inside the car, Dasmunshi pointed towards the Muslim dwellings and said, “ei puro elakata talibani; eder ekta uchit shikkha dewa dorkar (This area is infested with Taliban-like elements. They must be taught a lesson).”

A few minutes later, the car reached the village centre. Dasmunshi and Sengupta disembarked; a few party workers rushed some villagers to the spot, and the politician stood on a wooden stool to address them in 'Bangdi' (Bangla influenced Hindi). The crux of the speech roughly translated to: “We, the Congress, are the only party that understands and appreciates your religious sentiments. I assure you on behalf of my government that immediate action will be taken (in the matter of Taslima Nasreen)!”

I told Saugar it was a scoop; why did he not expose Dasmunshi’s double-face in his report? He said that would have amounted to a “breach of privilege” and that every politician thereafter would be wary of interacting with such a journalist.

That shouldn’t surprise other scribes. They are used to hearing so many similar, off-the-record statements from communist politicians as well. They all agree unofficially that there is merit in the politics of the BJP, but it would be politically suicidal for them to toe the rightist line. Even officially, from RSP leader Abani Ray to CPI leader AB Bardhan, most leftists admit that the original ASI affidavit that disputed the existence of the Ramayana’s Rama and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's act of cocking a snook at the Hindu deity were insensitive and unwarranted acts, even if the right to practise atheism should be granted. One may recall that in 2002, after the attack on the American Centre, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had accused the مدرسة/madrassahs in his state of harbouring terrorists. The state's Muslim community leaders then launched a statewide agitation with over a hundred thousand students of madrassahs taking to the streets. If that was Bhattacharjee’s emotional outburst, remember, in a huff one always forgets political correctness and speaks his mind.

To show how vacuous the secularism practised by India's 'secular' parties is, furnishing some facts that cannot be called this writer's subjective observation at all is imperative. You think the communists must be atheists, or at least agnostics if not irreligious? If yes, how come in Kerala, where there is a cult surrounding Ayyappa, the LDF governments — as much as their UDF counterparts — on the last day of the visit in January, officially involves the state's electricity department, forest department and temple administration in the function? On the other hill near Sabarimala, the Marxist government arranges for the illumination of camphor to cater to the devotees' faith surrounding a divine light?

This is not to force a case of the state's disregard for any religion. The question is: Why government? Let any private trust take up the job.

As for West Bengal, every Bengali in his lifetime in West Bengal or during an autumnal visit there has encountered hoodlums of the CPM fold extorting from the people chanda (donation) for Durga Puja. How much of the collected amount goes into the coffers of the neighbourhood puja committee is anybody's guess. Even if it is handed over honestly to the organisers of the festival, it is actually an ugly contest — which local honcho's arena looks more flamboyant than his peers’. That, in turn, reflects who wields how much clout in the locality.

Inverse proportionality! Muslims make the most deprived section of the local population in states that boast the most of secular governments — Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee report

That is, my children, the real face of secularism practised by the Congress and Indian communists. My advice to Indian Muslims: Assume Hindu names and seek the membership of any party you consider secular (according to your own distorted version of the term). You will know what the secularists speak of you when they think no Muslim is overhearing them. It would, of course, call for a different article to analyse why the Congress and the communists do not have similar surreptitious and evil designs for other religious minorities.

This is not to suggest that the BJP, of all parties, is secular. Rather, the difference is that the party is unabashedly reactionary. Recall Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1988 interview on Doordarshan: “मन्दिर को लेकर राजनीति हो रही है क्योंकि मस्जिद को लेकर राजनीति हो रही है/mandir ko lekar rAjnIti hO rahI hai kyon’ki masjid ko lekar rAjnIti hO rahI hai”, implying, in active voice, “We have politicised the temple issue because you have all along been politicising the mosque issue.” It is this political naïveté of the BJP for which it takes all the blame for ‘communalism’. But when you are dealing with it, you are at least not dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Before this section ends, we must of course ascertain whether there is any point in the song and dance about secularism. Here are some well-known religious irritants Indians come across in their day-to-day lives. Some snapshots from the capital of the country would represent what one runs into in every city and town of the country. Right in the beginning of Vikas Marg after the ITO river-bridge, a temple, and right in the middle of Janpath, a mosque, create terrible bottlenecks in peak-hour traffic. No state government has so far been able to demolish either. This is not to advise a repeat of the folly in May 2006, when the nation saw and heard the furore created in the aftermath of the razing of a dargah in Vadodara, Gujarat. Since the structure was 300-year-old or older, if it was obstructing traffic, the fault lay with the civic planners, especially cartographic analysts who designed the road in a manner that the shrine came in its way. But neither of the Delhi structures are that old. In fact, they were built after the construction of the respective roads and the concrete platform surrounding them gradually encroached upon the roadway. Such deliberate encroachments to grab public property by vested interests are a common site everywhere in the country.

Also common is the fact that most cities are urbanised villages, instead of new areas that came up on empty stretches of land. Delhi, a city of this kind, thus is a place whose majority lives in lower middle-class areas. There, any fine morning you could see your passage to the main road blocked, thanks to your insensitive neighbour whose whim dictated him to conduct a जागरण/jAgaraN in the narrow lane that he shares with you and other inhabitants of the area.

That reminds me, many years ago when I lived in such a locality, we would be disturbed almost everyday by some unemployed youth of the area pressing the doorbell frantically for donations to “माता का जागरण /mAtA kA jAgaraN”. One day, my mother, not well versed with this Punjabi version of Hinduism, had asked one such boy, “Why does the holy mother fall asleep so often? Just the other day, we paid Rs 100 to wake her up!”

If not jAgaraN, it could well be a notoriously noisy Punjabi wedding with a sickening display of ill-gotten wealth blown off in a night. Worse, components of the illegal dowry being paid by the bride’s family to the groom’s would be splashed all over the place.

Not my money! So I shouldn’t bother. But my objection is: Why should I be obstructed on the way to my office in the morning and why can’t I have sound sleep in a noiseless night? Off and on, government musters some courage to regulate wedding extravaganzas. But no secular authority has the guts to protest the Bollywood-music inspired awakening of the divine mother. And the biggest farce of secularism is to see a certain Subhash Chopra of the Congress proudly put up signs in every nook and corner of southern Delhi, declaring how benevolent he has been to all religious bodies (as much as to sundry residents’ welfare associations). As if that were not enough, he would physically come over, onto the makeshift stages, to join the cacophonous chorus.

Nationally, the government officially declares holidays on all religious festivals. Temples, mosques and churches are allowed to be erected inside the premises of government’s and political party’s offices and government lands are allotted for religious purposes. Prayers are allowed during office hours. Government officially patronages pilgrimages, and provides all facilities and extends financial concessions to them. The Haj subsidy — and the recent subsidy announced by the Government of Andhra Pradesh for trips to Bethlehem and Jerusalem — are cases in point. These are instances where government appears more zealous than the devotees themselves; as the Haj subsidy is irreligious since the pilgrimage must be undertaken by the believer’s hard-earned money according to Islam, and a pilgrimage to Jesus’s birthplace is not even mandated in Christianity.

The phenomenon of marriage of politics and religion cuts both ways. Not only have politicians exploited people’s religious sentiments but hundreds of religious bodies too have extracted their pound of flesh from the powers that be. From a wakf board to a Hindu shrine board, the accounts of no religious body are audited and they are all entitled to full tax exemptions. And then there is the guilt conscious of the unethical businessman who donates a chunk of his illegal money to these outfits in the name of charity in a hope to ‘wash away’ his sins.

A certain Dhirendra Brahmachari and another Chandraswami had become influential power brokers during Indira Gandhi’s and Narasimha Rao’s tenures as prime minister respectively. The sight of our rulers’ subservience to cult babas is splashed in mainstream newspapers quite often, where one sees a certain unkempt ‘saint’ placing his feet suspended from a machAn (bamboo platform) on a prime minister’s head. We have also seen several presidents of India prostrate before certain ‘holy’ personalities.

The point is not against the personal beliefs of our political masters. But somebody/anybody touching the prime minister’s head with his feet is an affront to the nation. A minister may stand upside down on his head in front of a godman if that is what his faith demands of him. But why should he do so in the capacity of a constitutional office bearer? And if there is no politics involved in his faith, why is he accompanied by camera crews of the press?

Simply, secularism is impossible in India, a country whose people are not satisfied merely by bowing before the Almighty; they want to be noticed publicly doing so! To hell with spirituality; roadside spectators are more important than God. The Goebbels of the country have hoodwinked people into believing that “secularism” is the antonym of “communalism”. And the educated buffoons, including television’s darlings from communist universities, are happily marketing this falsehood.

The movements known as “secularism” and “pseudo-secularism” in India are nothing but two major rackets. The two poles of Indian politics are living off brouhaha. They want to treat all religions — “equally” in words or unequally in practice, but treat they must. A couple of months ago, I asked an RSS ideologue, “What if the Congress and the communists stop minority appeasement? You came into existence opposing this idea? What if the idea itself vanishes? Won’t your organisation cease to be in the absence of your prime motivation — which is an angry reaction to pseudo-secularism?” The response was several seconds of silence, with his gaze sweeping the floor, followed by a muted, admissive “yes”. I rest my case.
[Click on the headline of the article to view a chronology of communal riots that took place in India and a brief description of each in the period 1947-2003. Courtesy: B Rajeshwari, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies]

Formative years of the 'Mahatma'

Let’s address the second subject of the article now — ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi. Today if many criticise Gandhi, the demonising is a counter-reaction to his deification. Had you not given him an unquestionable status, people would have questioned him less today. After all, it itches to bust a myth. Anyway, the assessment in this article is not an exercise similar to bringing down the statue of Lenin in the Lithuania of 1991. It is to give Gandhi a Trishanku-like status.

Gandhi's political beliefs and actions, as readers will find in the following passages, constituted a series of capricious flip-flops. Now, he is loyal to the Brits. Now, he is fighting them! Now, he supports imperialist violence. Now, he exhorts Indian freedom fighters to be non-violent! Now, he goes on a hunger strike to have his way in a people's movement. Now, he does nothing to dissuade separatists! Now, his sartorial sense tries to identify with the teeming millions of poor in the country. Now, he maintains a diet that only a fitness freak daughter of a filthy rich businessman can afford! In his final years, Gandhi even lost his faith in non-violence!

Gandhi was, to begin with, an ordinary man. His ordinariness — as much as his humility — was self-confessed. He said in a speech in 1925: "I never had a brilliant career. I was all my life a plodder. When I went to England... I couldn't put together two sentences correctly. On the steamer, I was a drone... I finished my three years in England as a drone." Twelve years later in another speech he said, "At school the teachers did not consider me a very bright boy. They knew that I was a good boy, but not a bright boy. I never knew first class and second class. I barely passed. I was a dull boy. I could not even speak properly. Even when I went to South Africa I went only as a clerk." Here, of course, it must be added that as a social animal, those found mediocre in academics excel more than the bookworms, as the latter generally are a selfish, self-centred lot.

To see Gandhi’s ordinariness, hence, we must look into his performance as a lawyer. As a student in London, he was acutely worried about making the ends meet. He failed as a barrister and could only earn some Rs 300 a month in Gujarat as a writer of petitions and memorials (this experience, however, came in handy as a politician later). He fell foul of Edward Charles Ollivant, the British political agent in Rajkot, in whose court he had to do most of his work. Frustrated, he accepted a job from a friend (Dada Abdullah, an Indian merchant) of his brother in Natal. He was to get the first class fare, but only £ 105 and local expenses for the year. He was put up as a boarder in Pretoria. He showed little interest in politics and had no experience of being in — or running — an organisation except for his work with the Vegetarian Society in London.

In South Africa, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899, Gandhi had formed an ambulance unit to support the British forces. He led his men on to the battlefield and received a War Medal for his 'chivalry' and loyalty to the Queen of England. That was a time when Gandhi had not realised himself. He was a rank average person drifting along the tide of time.

The media of Gandhi's era was not as hyperactive as it is today. Or else, he would have measured his words more before uttering them. Sample this: In a public meeting in Bombay on 26 September 1896, Gandhi spoke thus about the Indian struggle in South Africa: "Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness." For the information of Indians, the insinuation "whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with" referred to the lives of the local Black population.

Gandhi with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War, South-Africa, 1899-1900.
Standing: H Kitchen, L Panday, R Panday, J Royeppen, RK Khan, L Gabriel, MK Kotharee, E Peters, D Vinden, V Madanjit. Middle Row: W Jonathan, V Lawrence, MH Nazar, Dr LP Booth, MK Gandhi, PK Naidoo, M Royeppen. Front Row: S Shadrach, 'Professor' Dhundee, SD Moddley, A David, AA Gandhi

Back to India after his formative years as a politician in South Africa and England, Gandhi was not a freedom fighter driven by conviction. His following statement at that time is proof enough: “Though empires have gone and fallen, this empire may perhaps be an exception... it is an empire not founded on material but on spiritual foundations... the British constitution. Tear away those ideals and you tear away my loyalty to the British constitution; keep those ideals and I am ever a bondsman” (Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolutionary, Martin Green, p 208). As for Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, did he apply it on himself? Green wrote in the same book: “Gandhi himself had twice volunteered for service in this (British Imperial) war, in France and in Mesopotamia, because he had convinced himself that he owed the empire that sacrifice in return for its military protection.” (p 267)
We are... presented with the seeming anomaly of a Gandhi who, in Britain when war broke out in August 1914, instantly contacted the War Office, swore that he would stand by England in its hour of need, and created the Indian Volunteer Corps, which he might have commanded if he hadn’t fallen ill with pleurisy. In 1915, back in India, he made a memorable speech in Madras in which he proclaimed, “I discovered that the British Empire had certain ideals with which I have fallen in love...” In early 1918, as the war in Europe entered its final crisis, he wrote to the Viceroy of India, “I have an idea that if I become your recruiting agent-in-chief, I might rain men upon you,” and he proclaimed in a speech in Kheda that the British “love justice; they have shielded men against oppression.” Again, he wrote to the Viceroy, “I would make India offer all her able-bodied sons as sacrifice to the empire at this critical moment...” To some of his pacifist friends, who were horrified, Gandhi replied by appealing to the Bhagavad-Gita Gita and to the endless wars recounted in the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, adding further to the pacifists’ horror by declaring that Indians “have always been warlike, and the finest hymn composed by Tulsidas in praise of Rama gives the first place to his ability to strike down the enemy.”

This was in contradiction to the interpretation of sacred Hindu scriptures Gandhi had offered on earlier occasions (and would offer later), which was that they did not recount military struggles but spiritual struggles; but, unusual for him, he strove to find some kind of synthesis. “I do not say, ‘Let us go and kill the Germans,’ ” Gandhi explained. “I say, ‘Let us go and die for the sake of India and the empire.’ ” And yet within two years, the time having come for Swaraj (home rule), Gandhi’s inner voice spoke again, and, the leader having found his cause, Gandhi proclaimed resoundingly: “The British empire today represents Satanism, and they who love God can afford to have no love for Satan.”
The Gandhi Nobody Knows by Richard Grenier

The NCERT history textbook I read in school said that Gandhi's appeal to Indians to join the British Army and help it in the First World War was against the promise by the British authority to grant India independence in case Britain won the war. Years later, I found no official document of the Raj era talk of any such promise. If the word was verbal, it must have been similar to the one given by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Indira Gandhi of settling the Kashmir issue if he were offered a face-saver in the form of the Simla Agreement, which the former would tout as an honourable truce in front of his domestic constituency.
Gandhi showers encomia on the Emperor
from website gandhiserve, p 3, VOL 5 : 6 NOVEMBER, 1905 - 3 NOVEMBER, 1906:
He (King Edward) has endeared himself to his subjects the world over because, being lord of all, he has made himself the servant of all. In the whole history of the world, no throne has been so firmly established in the hearts of the people as that of the King-Emperor today. That he may live long to add lustre to that throne is the earnest prayer of British Indians, the humblest of his subjects but not the least in loyalty and devotion.
Indian Opinion, 11-11-1905

Gandhi's April 1918 letter to John Maffey:
I would like you please to read the letter to the Viceroy and wire to me at Nadiad whether His Excellency has any reason why it may not be published. It is intended to counteract forces of darkness. I am simply besieged with inquiries as to my position. The people are befogged. Dame Rumour is doing all the mischief she can. I want to overtake her. You will forgive me for my apparent impatience.
The other enclosure contains my offer. You will do with it what you like. I would love to do something which Lord Chelmsford would consider to be real war-work. I have an idea that, if I became your Recruiting Agent-in-Chief, I might rain men on you. Pardon me for the impertinence.
The Viceroy looked pale yesterday. My whole heart went out to him, as I watched him listening to the speeches. May God watch over and protect him and you, his faithful and devoted Secretary. I feel you are more than Secretary to him".

1. As late as 1928, Gandhi resisted Nehru and Bose, and campaigned for the rejection of a resolution calling for complete independence at the session of the Indian National Congress. And unlike other leaders in the freedom struggle, Gandhi often entertained false hopes about the British. In a 1930 letter, Motilal Nehru chided Gandhi for resting his hopes on the Labour Government and the sincerity of the Viceroy.
— from an article in a Ghadar Party mouthpiece

2. Gandhi’s take on Bhagat Singh’s execution: “The government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who possess them only if they are enjoyed in name only."
Collected Works (translated from Gujarati), vol 45, p 359-61
There are also several pieces of evidence to suggest that the British Empire did play a role in the making of the ‘Mahatma’. Was his personality an imposition by the imperialists on a rebellious nation, which would ensure that the freedom movement would never go out of control of the administration? Well, it was intended to be so by the British. But it did not quite work out that way. Neither the Congress nor Gandhi remained what the imperial rulers wanted them to be: English-bred Indian aristocrats who would mewl — but never bark, let alone bite — in protest of imperialism. Using an analogy from the past that is more recent, Gandhi was to Indian politics what Mohammed Azharuddin was to Indian cricket — a person chosen by the authority for his docility, but who found his spine once he was a few years old as the team’s captain.

A mysterious omission bugs the reader when he follows the chronology of events in Gandhi's life. Everything is detailed since his birth in October 1869 to the Indian Relief Act signed in South Africa in June 1914. Then, on 18 July, it says Gandhi left for India via England. On 19 December 1914, Gandhi sailed for India and reached home on 9 January 1915. None of the biographies by Gandhians reveal much about the events that occurred in the period between 4 August (when Gandhi had reached London) and 19 December 1914 except the raising of the Indian Volunteer Corps and सत्याग्रह/satyAgraha over administrative interference in the corps.

Other biographies, however, leave quite some room for suspicion. Gandhi had received the news of World War I breaking out while he was crossing the English Channel before he reached London. On 8 August, he was given a reception at Hotel Cecil, London, by his English and Indians friends; Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sarojini Naidu were among those present. On 13 August, a circular was signed by Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and Sarojini Naidu affirming resolve to tender unconditional service to the Empire; it was issued for signature by supporters. The next day, Gandhi offered to raise the Indian Volunteer Corps for ambulance work. So far, one can appreciate Gandhi's compassion for wounded soldiers, irrespective of their nationality. What disturbs Indians is the signed document declaring his submission to the Empire on India's behalf.

On 18 September, Gandhi met Gopal Krishna Gokhale in London for the first time before the latter left for Vichy to recuperate in a different weather. On 6 October, Gokhale returned to London and then arrived in Bombay on 13 November. On 26 November, Gandhi took ill in England for the third time. The same day, he wrote to Gokhale "I do not want to live on any terms…" On 18 December, he was given a farewell party at Westminster Palace Hotel on the eve of his departure for India. All other recorded events during the period relate to the IVC.

How can this person suddenly turn a revolutionary, leading India’s struggle for independence from the British rule?

Idealists are not born; a few men cultivate idealism and then become too hot to handle by anyone. An ordinary Gandhi undertook regular exercises of introspection and in the course felt quite guilty about what he thought were the ‘sins’ he had committed in the past and worked towards overcoming them. One may refer to the day when an average person's self-realisation is complete as his rebirthday, per se. That rebirth took time to materialise. The making of the 'Mahatma' was not an overnight phenomenon. It must have taken almost the whole of the first two decades of the 20th century. That was the time span during which, despite the negative publicity — which is the better form of advertising — by virtue of a ban by the British government on the compendium of his ethics, Hind Swaraj, it drew negligible response from Indian intellectuals of the era. Which means that Gandhi’s thoughts might not have been stimulating enough for the brain. But who cares? Rabindranath Tagore’s songs did not turn six generations of Bengalis into crazy fans due to Lord Byron-style aristocracy or PB Shelley-style rationality or John Keats-style pictorial effects. To turn a loitering crowd into a motivated procession, you need an idea that is more than the average but less than the extreme. Striking that balance was Gandhi’s USP.

Of all the movements conceived or initiated by Gandhi, the one which was undisputedly a stupendous success was the Dandi March. It was a masterstroke of political genius. Gandhi complied with the law that makes it mandatory to let the authority know of planned political demonstrations. He informed the then Viceroy Lord Irwin that he was about to flout the prohibition on the production and sale of salt by Indians. The Viceroy's men could not fathom what that could imply and laughed it off as another of Gandhi's quixotic steps. But then, the NCERT books are right in appreciating, Gandhi did not break the law straightaway. Instead, he took a 388-km-long procession from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, arousing people's nationalist, anti-British sentiments all along the tortuous route, raising the political din decibel by decibel, yet keeping the British administration guessing as to what ground could be cited to halt the march. What can be done to thousands of unarmed people walking towards a beach where there is something to be made but nothing to be plundered or destroyed?

Lifting a fistful of salt from the Dandi beach was a mere planned culmination of the demonstration. What was more important was the mega-marathon march that spanned between 12 March and 6 April, 1930. It was given a grand coverage by The New York Times whose correspondent followed every stage of the march. After feeding an Associated Press reporter with heady sound-bytes when Gandhi declared with a lump of salty mud in his hand the next day that he was “shaking the foundations of the British Empire”, the stiffest of the British upper lips loosened in his awe.

Today’s young Indians fed round the clock a staple of frivolous news by moronic television news channels wouldn’t normally know what it was even till 20 years ago to be covered by the most reputed of American newspapers and news agencies. So, crowds of 10,000 to 30,000 greeting Gandhi at every stoppage on the way to Dandi, and a pinch of salt made by the leader selling at Rs 1,600 at an auction sound like make-believe. But these are facts as is the fact that Indians all over the country started flouting British laws openly thereafter.

A journey is more important than the destination, Gandhi knew. The main idea was to build up an atmosphere of defiance of the authority, bit by bit, mile by mile, so that when salt is finally made, the motivation to revolt would be a nationwide phenomenon. Attaining a philosophical goal by keeping in mind a physical symbol was a Hindu idea Gandhi translated into politics brilliantly. Hindu children may relate the event to Vaishno Devi. Since most Hindus are idolaters, when one treks the steep hills of the Trikuta Range to reach the Vaishno Devi shrine for the first time, he keeps wondering all along what a 'pinDi' — signs put up on the way talk of such a thing — might mean. Finally, when he reaches the spot, he is disappointed not to see any deity's idol there. Then, while returning to his lodge downhill, it slowly dawns upon him that it was the arduous journey that had the essence of the pilgrimage. For, nobody walks 12.5 km uphill just for the heck of testing one’s physical endurance; the mission is to make a gala event out of a necessity; the necessity is to realise that the unfair present cannot be changed from the comfortable confines of one’s home. The Dandi March was a political equivalent of a pilgrimage. Brilliant!

In comparison, be it the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Non-Cooperation Movement or the Quit India Movement, they were all damp squibs. And the fault was not the people's. Nor did the British have an effective counter-strategy to defeat the movements. They all failed for the sheer arbitrary behaviour of their mastermind, Gandhi.

He treated every pro-independence political movement during the Raj as his patented, intellectual property. He considered not only a movement that he conceived but also the components thereof to be his copyrighted material. The excuse of Chauri Chaura to call off the almost successful Non-Cooperation Movement was one such example. Subhas Chandra Bose wrote on the occasion: "To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma — Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai — who were all in prison, shared the popular resentment. I was with the Deshbandhu at the time, and I could see that he was beside himself with anger and sorrow” (The Indian Struggle, p.90). Gandhi’s decision to call off the Non-Cooperation Movement had come a mere three years after he went all over the country urging Indians to join the army and help the British in the First World War! The irony is: Since he was loyal to Britain, the British must have been his own people. Second, he believed in teaching his own people rather than preaching others. So, why did this messiah of non-violence not teach the British, his own people, the virtues of his patented philosophy? What kind of non-violence was the First World War?

A thing that cannot be missed in a revision of Gandhi is his “experiments with truth” in his personal life. Is it fair to feel guilty if somebody’s father dies at the same time when he is involved in an act of sex with his wife? That is debatable. What is certainly not healthy thinking is associating the concept of evil with sex for the rest of one’s life because of such an incident or otherwise. Gandhi’s abstinence from sex years after his marriage — it cannot be called ब्रह्मचर्य/brahmacharya (celibacy), one can be a ब्रह्मचारी/brahmachArI, cannot turn into one — was triggered by one such incident. What followed was more revolting.

"The Sarla Devi episode in his life establishes his humanity," wrote Rajmohan Gandhi in his book, Mohandas - A true story about a Man, his People and an Empire. That the 'Mahatma' used to sleep nude with Manu is "a matter of historical record. This has been written about many times. Even Gandhi wrote about it. In doing so, he was surrendering his sexuality and that of his partner’s, after passing a huge test,” his septuagenarian grandson says.

Elsewhere, Sushila Nayar had once told Ved Mehta that she used to sleep with Gandhi as she regarded him as a Hindu god.

“Gandhi spent years testing his self-discipline by sleeping beside young women. He evidently cared little about any psychological damage to the women involved. He also expected his four sons to be as self-denying as he was.”
— By Johanna McGeary, Time, 3 January 2000

“My way or the highway!” seemed to be the Mahatma’s maxim.

However, unlike many, I wouldn’t blame him for whatever treatment he meted out to his wife and children. The Ramayana is a traditional Indian example that depicts the predicament a political leader faces while trying to be fair to both his family and countrymen. What I censure is the idea of extending undue favours to the adversary to show one’s ‘ideal of justice’. Here, the adversary is not undivided India’s Muslim population; it is a country born out of hate for the very idea of India. But that will come a bit later.

Before that, Gandhi’s sincerity in opposing partition, too, is suspect. There is enough evidence to suggest that Nehru was in a hurry to become India’s first prime minister and several other Congress leaders were dying to taste the fruits of power, once the British left. That could not have been achieved due to the towering counter-image of Mohammed Ali Jinnah among the majority of the Muslim population. The Gandhi-led Congress did not give time to the retreating British government to prepare a foolproof plan for the separation of the land and its peoples, which could have avoided the confusion and scare that led to the biggest riot in world history, costing thousands of lives. A chunk of land from the west and another from the east of mainland India being demarcated as Muslim-dominated was both harebrained and artificial. For one, pre-1947, most Muslims who wanted to join Pakistan belonged to the region that spans the present states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and not the region that is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hence, the migration of Muslims from the central regions of India and of Hindus from the newly formed countries had to be chaotic, if not violent. But the Congress leaders, impatient to grab power, irritated the hell out of the British administrators who, thus, failed to do their job more sensibly.

The Muslim League had then accused the Congress of being “unwilling to share power with Muslims”. If Gandhi was really impartial, why couldn’t the Muslims trust him? Why couldn't Gandhi's image as a great proponent of egalitarian justice vis-à-vis religionists quell separatism? His sarwadharma samabhAwa was not a convenient political tool, unlike that of today's politicians. Couldn't the Muslims who demanded Pakistan appreciate a devotee of Ram extending brotherhood to the devotees of Rahim? On another front, as Gandhi was known to go on hunger strikes at the drop of a hat to push for his ‘patented’ political movements, why didn’t he quit eating till the time the demand for Pakistan was withdrawn?

He couldn’t have. Gandhi knew his appeal among the country’s Muslims had dwindled. Few Muslims would have withdrawn their support for a new ‘home’ to save a leader they saw as essentially a Congressman and, hence, Hindu. Therefore, a fast-unto-death would have blasted the idol of himself the ‘Mahatma’ had consciously cultivated and developed — a god common to both Hindus and Muslims.

The drubbing Gandhism received in the form of the establishment of the state of Pakistan, however, did not dampen Gandhi’s cacoëthes to play god. He chose not to occupy any seat of power after independence and yet play an unquestionable, above board authority post-1947. And Jawaharlal Nehru — revered as ‘Pandit’ — and Vallabhbhai Patel — saluted as ‘Sardar’ — had to oblige the ‘Bapu’. He had major differences with both on the issue of India-Pakistan bilateral relations. He went on a fast-unto-death again when Patel proposed withholding Pakistan's share of cash balances left by the British in the wake of Pakistani infiltrators’ attack on Kashmir. The then home minister had initially blocked the release of Rs 55 crore to the Government of Pakistan, apprehensive that the money could finance the war against India in Kashmir. The cabinet approved his point. But Gandhi went on a fast-unto-death to obtain the release of the amount, fearing further "communal violence". Does this not mean that Gandhi thought the Muslims who had preferred to continue living in India were sentimentally attached to Pakistan? Or else, why would blocking funds to Pakistan raise communal tension in India? Patel, who had the right prescience of Pakistan's intentions, was deeply hurt at the rejection of a Cabinet decision taken at his behest. He tried to prevail upon Gandhi, but finally relented in order to save the life of the ‘Father of the Nation’.

To save that one life, the lives of a billion Indians of the coming generations were to stay troubled for decades.

All said and done, I still do not consider Gandhi a villain of modern Indian history. He was, to me, a “politician trying to be a saint” (his own words) rather than a saint trying to be a politician (that his followers believe about him). His brand of freedom struggle was indeed unique and perhaps more effective in chasing out the British colonialists than killing a stray officer here and some officers’ women and children there (accidentally). A spiritualist who is conscious of the decibel of applause to his discourse cannot be a saint. His flaw also lay in trying to suffocate other movements to let the one he ‘owned’ prosper. He treated the Congress no better than his fief. How he had sulked in 1939 after the Congress elected Bose as the party president, defeating Gandhi’s candidate Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya, is too well known to be narrated all over again.

The long and short of it, Gandhi can be understood neither by deifying nor by demonising him. Let us treat him as an ordinary human being who underwent several bouts of extraordinariness.

I recall my days with the Congress student wing Chhatra Parishad’s boys in the Calcutta of 1989-92. Fuming with rage at the arrogant communist chief minister Jyoti Basu’s atrocious remarks on several social issues — like calling middle class people bhikhiri (mendicants) and saying that he couldn’t cancel his foreign trip to check his policemen who had raped a slum dwelling woman — they would often toy with the idea of his assassination. Then someone sensible would rise from the mess and surmise, he wouldn’t like the veteran communist to be known as “Shaheed” Jyoti Basu. Gandhi would not have been a god, had he not been assassinated. Howsoever big a proponent you are of non-violence, you cannot deny a myopic assassin Nathuram Godse’s role in turning the cow holy for ever.

Besides, Gandhi's conviction in non-violence wavered in the last years of his life.
And suddenly Gandhi began endorsing violence left, right, and centre. During the fearsome rioting in Calcutta he gave his approval to men “using violence for a amoral cause.” How could he tell them that violence was wrong, he asked, “unless I demonstrate that non-violence is more effective?” He blessed the Nawab of Maler Kotla when he gave orders to shoot 10 Muslims for every Hindu killed in his state...

When Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist in January 1948 he was honoured by the new state with a vast military funeral – in my view by no means inapposite.
The Gandhi Nobody Knows by Richard Grenier
I have been asked to clarify on phone, in the comments that follow this blog-post and the debate on the issue in orkut as to why (a) I have been soft on the BJP in the portion on secularism and (b) several important instances involving Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi are missing in the second section. The reasons are as follows.

This article, as the introduction has suggested already, is a myth-buster. That the BJP is communal is a widely held perception and this writer does not consider it a myth. The party's stand is that its policies with respect to the state's dealing with religious communities are dictated, or rather provoked, by the prolonged exercise of minority appeasement by all governments that have been in the country between 1947 and 1998 and then from 2004 till now. But two wrongs do not make a right. If the Congress and the left parties in India have been communal, the reactionary response to that by the BJP too is most certainly communal.

Insofar as Gandhi is concerned, this writer believes that none of the three movements of defiance spearheaded by the 'Mahatma' — Civil Disobedience Movement, Non-cooperation Movement, Quit India Movement — not even the third, bore the ultimate desirable result: the British colonial rulers' ouster from the country as the immediate, logical, political culmination of the programme. However, that these movements eventually proved fruitless is well known. There could not have been a myth-busting exercise on that on the part of this writer.

As for the Khilafat Movement, of course, it could be mentioned as another example of Gandhi's whims. After all, why should Indians — Muslims or otherwise — lose sleep over the fate of the Ottoman Empire? But was it the Congress's ploy to garner Muslim support for the pro-Swaraj agitations? 'We support your Khilafat, and you support our Swaraj' — was it such a quid pro quo? If the Congress thought so, it must have had the stereotypical image of Muslims having trans-national loyalties. That only goes on to prove the stand taken in the first part of this blog-post: What the BJP speaks is what the Congress thinks, but does not dare speak.

PS: Unlike in the political scene in north and west India, Gandhi is not a holy cow in the rest of the country. One comes across critiques on the ‘Mahatma’ more often than one reads his eulogies in Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. In the remaining parts of the Northeast and southern India, the word “Gandhi” evokes little response among the masses except for the senior citizens whose opinion on the persona is divided.
Debate on this article in an orkut forum

The writer’s political beliefs and background: He is, as a matter of principle, against all ‘educated’ voters who invariably have favourite political parties to which they remain loyal for life, irrespective of the favourite’s performance in the five years or less period that lapsed after the last elections. He thanks the illiterate voters of the country who prove to be more politically educated, as they prevent power from becoming a monopoly.

The writer’s late father and uncles were loyal to the Congress. After getting their brides from some families of suburban West Bengal, it was discovered that the women were communists. As a boy, the writer grew up arguing the Congress’s case with his Marxist cousins. After acquiring the franchise, he voted for the Congress in 1991 for the Lok Sabha constituency of South Calcutta and in 1996 for the Lok Sabha constituency of South Delhi. In the West Bengal Assembly elections in 1991, he had voted for the CPI(M)'s ally RSP.

After the result of the 1996 elections were out, he saw his colleagues celebrate the fall of the corrupt government of PV Narasimha Rao. He questioned himself why he was sad, why he was so blind in Congress’s love.

Around the same time, the orators from the BJP fold were dazzling on Doordarshan’s screen as urbane, sophisticated parliamentarians par excellence even as the MPs of the Congress and the United Front looked silly, trying to stretch the life of an unnatural government to keep the corruption cases against criminals in both the groups buried deep under the files.

The writer missed the 1998 elections as he was away in Glasgow to complete his formal education in mathematics. On return, he was outraged by the outright unethical manner in which the then BJP government was made to fall by a single vote in the parliament. That motivated him to vote for the BJP in 1999. He repeated his vote for the BJP in 2004 for executing Narasimha Rao’s economic policies better than the Congress.

Finally, while working with a de facto BJP mouthpiece, he came across the party’s second-rung leaders and some RSS ideologues, and got completely disillusioned with the right wing, seeing their shallow knowledge on almost all subjects, aversion to intellectual pursuit and, the worst of all, their terrible, nagging sense of insecurity that makes them scheme against each other all the time.

He wants the UPA Government to fall for its horrendous economics, communalism and opaque, rigid policies on science & technology and national security. But he does not want the NDA to come back to power. For, he has experienced first hand how inhuman they become while trying to grab and keep power.

In the 2009 elections, the writer has to choose between good people with bad policies, average people with no policy and bad people with good policies

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.