Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Pseudo-secular minority report

by Rakesh Sinha

Followers of Islam or other non-Hindus have shown reservation with Hindu philosophies, culture, traditions and intellectual contributions which had existed much before their birth/advent in this country. The advocacy of Hindutva primarily reinforces this fact. However, any such advocacy is termed as communal today. Cultural integration is a pre-condition for the survival of secularism. One instance can make the concept more clear: Buddhism came into existence and expanded as a revolt against the Vedic religion. But it did not expound separate nationality. The contrast between Buddhism and Indian Islam throws light on this very significant fact. Unless religion accommodates culture, it cannot become the vehicle for national integration.

In India, even after Partition, measures were not taken to protect secularism from the onslaught of authoritarian religions. Hinduism is a democratic philosophy which permits co-existence of other religions, philosophies, splits in sects and benevolent revolt against the hegemony of any philosophy or religion. It allows transformation of religious codes and cultural values. This is why Indian culture is described as rich, despite many ills in its society and religious traditions. Semitic religions do not tolerate the existence of other religions, culture or traditions. They perceive other religions not only from a competitive perspective but also as an opportunity and challenge for aggression.

The report of the Niyogi Commission formed in the early-50s to investigate religious conversions in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh is a testament to this fact. The commission pointed out the methods adopted by Christian missionaries to convert tribal Hindus to Christianity. Even they had problems with the opening of Government schools which the missionaries considered as their competitors. Madarsas were allowed to hegemonise education of Muslim children. Their curriculum is incompatible with modern education. Any attempt to curb the madarsas is considered an attack on Islam, while the Muslim elite count the number of Muslims in the civil services and Government jobs.

Constitutional integration is the minimum requirement for the creation of civil society. However, the Indian situation gives a gloomy picture. What is the rationale behind the special constitutional provisions (Article 29 and 30) for separate minority institutions? Does it not presuppose the presence of majority-dominated educational institutions? It shows that Indian leaders were either not confident of enforcing equal treatment of minority students in state-run educational institutions or they deliberately and consciously made such provisions to win over the minorities. Appeasement is another name of self-destruction. It is a virus which multiplies and remains always hungry. The protagonists of minority special rights do not give any unambiguous answer to the question as to what special purpose Jamia Milia or AMU serve, and how do they help in strengthening secularism.

Another premise of a liberal democratic society is gender justice. But this is hardly applicable on Indian Muslims. They have not allowed even the judiciary to introduce changes. In the Shah Bano case, the present form of secularism proved hollow. The logic that change should come from within is deceitful. Not only the Muslim elites but even the Indian Marxists, whose mental understanding can be described as the "Red-Green Club", do not permit even a discussion on the Uniform Civil Code. This constitutional provision (as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy) is considered as potentially divisive by them. It is this mental make up and outlook of Nehruvian secularism that has weakened the secular resilience of society and state.

Hindutva aims at correcting the aberration in secularism and liberalism. It defines nation in the context of culture and professes to integrate minorities on both constitutional and cultural planes. The secularists' understanding of Hindu society is illusionary. They quote Swami Vivekanand, Dayanand Saraswati, Raja Rammohun Roy and others to differentiate between saffron Hindu and secular Hindu philosophies. Polemically it suits them. Hindutva takes its energy from the above-mentioned Hindu philosophers and reformers. After all, Raja Rammohun Roy raised the question of gender justice and confined himself to Hindu society. Does it not mean that he was aware of the limitations posed by Islam? He is regarded as the father of Indian renaissance. On the basis of secularist parametre, he can best be called a prophet of Hindu renaissance.

The BJP must re-articulate its programme and agenda based on its unambiguous philosophy of Hindutva. The pseudo-secular governance of the UPA is bound to give Hindutva the centrestage again.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Secularism as a Tool of Adharma

by Satya Sarma

The basis of Bharat was the eternal dharma. I use the past tense deliberately, because in the short space of the last ten days, ironically on the day we Bharatiyas celebrate dharma's victory over adharma, we awoke to the fact that this was no longer the case. How we got to this point, and how the path of secularism took us there is the story I want to tell here.

Let us begin then with the arrest of Kanchi Sri Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal: an arrest the police conducted without any definitive basis in fact being provided, beyond contradictory and vague rumors disseminated in the press.

Follow that up with the dispatch of police officers to the Kanchi Math, to the schools it runs and to the NGOs it funds, as well as the daily harassing and interrogations of its employees.

Next, examine the delays and hurdles erected by the state in its legal deliberations -- a judicial hearing ruled upon in the absence of the defense counsel, a simple bail hearing unresolved for over a week, the refusal to provide any consideration for the health of the Acharya or the observance of his math traditions.

When it came to an old sanyasin who has concerned himself in this life with the welfare of our society and its dharma, the secular humanists could see no humanitarian grounds to spare this guru physical pain. When it came to the observances of a 2,500-year old Bharatiya tradition, they could find no reason for religious impartiality.

Swamigal could rot in a cell for all they cared, be beaten and tortured by interrogators, if that's what it took. And if the Shiv puja could not be properly carried out, if the rituals that connect the bhakthas to Bhagavan are disrupted, then why should proponents of religious freedom be concerned? If a sanyasin's dharma must forcibly be forbidden him – so what? Do not, the libertarians cautioned, be prejudiced in favor of a defenseless old man's liberty.

None of the human rights activists who keep their eyes peeled for even the faintest transgression against the practice of faith can spot religious persecution in India today. Such is their secularism.

“The law is the law,” they shrug their shoulders to say. What law? Our secular laws are treacherous: full of loopholes for those who harm society, but stern to punish those who work for its benefit. Professional thieves, habitual murderers, rabble-rousing rowdies, thugs and goondas – secularism allows all these to write its laws, even laws that confer them immunity. Now, when a fragile old man who has given up all possessions and all allegiances except to the path of truth is imprisoned arbitrarily, these very looters will point out to us that it is all very legal.

Look at who has custody of this law today: this secular law that prosecutes our Swamigal, who is ours because he has dedicated every breath of his life to our wellbeing. This selfless samaj-sevak who literally gave sight to so many thousands is accused by people who refuse to open their eyes – who deliberately blind themselves, even to the extent of wearing dark sunglasses indoors.

How do such willfully ignorant men gain custody of secular institutions? There are those in our society – or indeed any society – who by nature are debauched. They revel in misery both their own and that of others. Their predatory greed is whetted by those who seek to rule us. Malicious people feed their putrid minds with hatred. Then that fattened hatred is wielded like a cudgel.

There are those in our society or in any other who lack control over their emotions. When their anger is inflamed, they hit out in a blind rage, like children in a tantrum, breaking everything before them. Secular leaders take advantage of that blindness. They make sure this mad anger is kept alive, so that they, being shrewder, can stay in charge of the secular institutions.

Indeed, the institutions of secularism are built on a graveyard of political murders and mass riots and secular justice gropes around there blindfolded, innocently unaware of the slaughterhouse she lives in.

Who are these people to judge a jagatguru? What are their bonafides? How clear are their minds, how clean their hearts? What good have they done in the world to show their credentials to sit in judgment of our Swamigal? They are the talking puppets of a blindfolded woman with empty scales.

And then there are the so-called journalists who are supposed to be the secular guardians of truth. In reality, they are sensationalists and rumormongers, who treat Sankaracharya and Veerappan as equally novel curiosities. They can barely tell the difference between them. Today, in their craving for scandal, they cannot seem to remember the deeds and words our Acharya has left behind. They cannot remember the hospitals, or the temples, or his efforts to make peace between warring factions.

Who should you rely upon? Ask yourself!

Let me tell you what I think of this secularism that strangles dharma and tolerates adharma. I say this secularism and the constitution it is based on is the death-knell of Bharat. I say tear up this constitution. I repudiate its secular basis, because this secularism takes no cognizance of the eternal dharma.

All I know – all I care to know is my dharma, my birthright bequeathed to me through the accumulated wisdom of my ancestors, and kept alive by our jagatgurus. What are the antecedents of this secularism that I should give it even a moment's notice? Secularism was brought here by some foreign invaders, who stole from my Bharat everything that they could carry. Now those invaders are gone. Why should I put up with the refuse they have left behind on my soil? Why should I let the law take its course, when it is taking a course that demolishes the path of sat? Why should I accept the decision of a court that has no authority except in that truth-demolishing bulldozer called secularism? Why should I respect a raaj that has forgotten – worse, lost sight of – even the concept of dharma?

While secularism blindfolds Justice, our dharma urges us to open our eyes. Our dharma asks us to cleanse our own thoughts and our minds, to repel corruption of any kind. Why then should we respect these secular institutions, which are built on corruption, held up by the corrupt – in fact, corrupt through and through?

Our gurus, from Vivekananda to Shirdi ke Sai Baba have taught us all how to make our minds peaceful, how to fulfill our obligations and how to live in society in harmony with sat. The path they have shown us through the example of their existence is open to everyone, regardless of creed or status. It stops at mandirs and dargahs and gurudwaaras, runs through villages and cities. What has secularism done – this secularism that wallows in the filth of corruption?

There is a lesson in our history that many have not learnt. In Bharat, there are still Duryodhanas who clamor for adharma, Dushaashanas who drag the virtuous by their hair to ridicule and insult. There are still Shakunis – foreign-born ones – who smilingly indulge them, there are still turbaned Dhirthrashtras who stare vacantly on. Even today, there are Pandavas who hang their heads in shame, powerless against a corrupted raaj. And then there are Dronas and Kripas, who know better, but stay silent because they remain confused about where their obligations lie. And there is even a Bhishma, who watches in anguish, but fails to lift a finger. To these I say: if you watch silently now while the virtuous are humiliated, you have made your bed of arrows today.

When Draupadi was humiliated with only Bhagavan for refuge, only a terrible war could restore dharma. What the consequence will be of today's paap, I cannot tell. But fight we must to our dying breath to restore dharma.

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Monday, December 27, 2004

'Secularism', Colonial Hegemony and Hindu 'Fanaticism'

by Arjun Bhagat

Consider the following examples of double standards against India and its heritage:

  • In the late '80s and early '90s, Japan was crushing the United States in business and trade. We saw a plethora of 'voluntary' quotas being applied to articles as disparate as automobiles, steel and electronics in trade between the two countries.

  • Today, with competitive advantage guaranteeing the complete annihilation of the Western world's textile industry, there are similar 'voluntary' restrictions on textile exports from developing countries such as India, Thailand, Mauritius etc. Steel dumping charges by the United States are being used as coercive tools to limit the supply of competitive product from countries as diverse as Brazil, South Korea, India and Russia.

  • When ISKON – a relative anomaly within the fold of Hinduism, in that it actively proselytized and converted – started to successfully propagate and grow rapidly in the '70s, it quickly got labeled as a 'cult'. In the West, it was vilified, discredited and attacked at virtually all levels; the State, legal, popular media (print, TV, movies) and at the level of ordinary individual discourse.

  • Even today, many Western European countries have 'state' churches. What this means is that the state officially supports that particular church, legally, monetarily and politically. (A telling factoid; when a Belgian or a German begins to work and earn, there is an AUTOMATIC tax deduction from his paycheck that is money collected for the State Church.) Interestingly, these are also the countries that are quickest to label 'different' religious organizations as cults, especially if they are A) fundamentally alien to Christian thoughts and values and B) aggressive proselytizers. Witness the treatment being meted out to the “Church of Scientology” in Germany for example.

  • In most Islamic countries, where their religion is so fundamental to their very existence, proselytizing by – and sometimes, even the practice of – other faiths is banned, and can lead to severe retribution.

  • Whenever there has been a large, relatively sudden – and therefore socially traumatic – inflow of 'foreigners' into a particular society, there has, almost invariably, been a strong backlash. Witness again, the Turks entry into Germany, the 'Pakis' entry into England, the Irish into Boston, the Italian into the New York area, or the Indian into New Jersey.

What all these examples illustrate is a very fundamental truth of human – and therefore societal – nature. If human beings feel that their way of life is truly being threatened, NO MATTER WHAT THE RULES AND LAWS STATE – they will react strongly to get rid of that perceived threat. Yet, when Hindus in India – a group that has been awfully maligned, their traditions and spiritual practices denigrated, their objects of devotion heaped scorn upon – resist what they see as an Abrahamic onslaught of proselytization, they are branded as xenophobic fanatics.

Now, if one were to use the above observation to explain the phenomenon of 'Hindu fanaticism' as defined and articulated by the Indian and Western media, one would get some – but only a partial – understanding of the issue. Because there is a far more profound explanation for this phenomenon. To understand the true significance of the issue, one needs to look at not just 'Hindu fanaticism' but equally, the vitriolic attacks Hindutvaadis face at the hands of the media, both the Indian secular as well as the Western.

Why, in a world where proselytizing is banned by virtually every Islamic country, where Hindus have been virtually 'cleansed' out of Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Kashmir valley, are Hindutvaadis singularly such a key target of the world press? Why, in a world where the Pope – the official head of the largest Christian denomination of the world – talks about “harvesting Indian souls” is it that there is such a concerted effort by the popular media worldwide to demonize aggressive Hindus – and only Hindus – as 'fundamentalists'?

That the effort by the media to taint the emerging 'vocal' and 'public' Hindu as a fanatic is a concerted one hits one smack in the face every time one reads anything on this issue. By the choice of words (Gujarat 'pogroms'), by the selective focus on victims (Dalits, Muslims, missionaries, but never a Kashmiri pandit or Hindu worshipper); by the number and prominence of articles focused on 'Hindu fanaticism' (front page news) versus 'other fanaticism' ('40 pilgrims gunned down” blurb half way down on page 26 of your local newspaper).

It is only when we understand that the creators, definers and propagators of the 'rabid Hindu fanatic' image worldwide – the secular intelligentsia and media – is but the other face of the same coin, will we understand the true dimension of the battle being waged.

For a battle it is. A battle at the most fundamental level of man's worldview on human rights and religious freedom. IN ITS ESSENCE, THE BATTLE IS BETWEEN THE RELATIVE MORALITY VERSUS IMMORALITY ASSOCIATED WITH RELIGIOUS CONVERSIONS. On one side, we have the Abrahamic juggernaut, draped in a pristine white secular garb, using as its awesome cudgel the worldwide media; on the other, we have the dharmic perspective that various indigenous movements claim to represent, but that are savvy neither in the projection of image in worldwide media nor savvy enough to compete in the academic marketplace where scholarship is bought and sold under the garb of endowments and other means of power projection.

It is a skewed playing field. The winner is pre-determined.

No wonder then, what should have been a true intellectual battle of two moral – but completely incompatible – worldviews has become a rout. Leave alone those that have grown up in Abrahamic cultures, even the average open minded Indian intellectual, though having grown up in a dharmic culture, sees the battle as between the secular good versus evil Hindu fanaticism.

A good way to contextualize this battle is to look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[iv] which was first adopted by the U.N in 1948 and is to this day a standard bearer of what should constitute genuine humanistic principles. Though the document covers virtually every facet of individual and societal space – economic, cultural, religious, physical, intellectual and political – for purposes of this discussion, we will focus on only a few sentences:

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. …

Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

The Christian worldview, with its predilection to proselytize and convert others into its fold has chosen to focus on only one element amongst all those present in the three articles listed above; namely the freedom to change one's religion or belief and made that the cornerstone of their 'religious freedom index'. In other words, those cultures and societies that allow active proselytizing and conversion are considered more 'religiously tolerant' and open societies.

With their fundamental belief in the absolute uniqueness of Christ as compared to the rest of us mortals and sinners, and thus the path to salvation, a BELIEVING Christian has NO CHOICE but to consider all other spiritual paths and religions as being confused at best and minions of the devil at worst. This worldview creates a proselytizing juggernaut that can be broken down into three different tiers.

1. The most 'benign' group of Christians would be the 'modern, enlightened' group. People in this group would probably never even consider directly proselytizing to a 'non-believer' themselves. However, by virtue of their numbers and wealth, they are a big source of funds, and hence the engine that empowers the next two groups.

2. The second group consists of the 'legitimate' proselytizers. Using funds received from the first group, these people use standard business practices in order to increase Christianity's market share. That is their overriding goal and singular focus. Towards that end, they carry out fund-raisers, competitor analysis, marketing and advertising, create incentive schemes, build hierarchical organizations, look at return on investment etc. In this category, you can lump all of the mainstream missionaries – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical – and churches. From the Pope down to the local Indian missionary working in a Tripura or a Kerala, they use words like 'planting' (ministries/churches) and 'harvesting' (Souls). The more forthright ones are openly religious while some of the more insidious ones pose as secular humanists. However, their agenda of bringing more souls into the Christian fold is clear and focused.

3. The last group, consisting of Christian fundamentalists see the whole believer / non-believer schism in far starker terms. Their language is liberally sprinkled with words such as pagan, devil worshippers, idolaters etc. Interestingly, if their language were used in terms of differentiating peoples or races rather than religion, it would clearly qualify as hate speech, with potential societal, political as well as legal censure!

Looking at what both group 2 and 3 say, do and preach, and juxtaposing that against the very humanist principles outlined in the above three articles from the Charter of Human Rights, it is clear that they are in violation of both the spirit as well as the letter of all three articles, when dealing with 'pagans' such as us Hindus. Yet, they carry the halo of religious enlightenment within the world's 'secular' media.

To summarize: The western-secular – and therefore dominant – worldview would have us believe that the most enlightened form of religious tolerance and freedom a society can create is one where everyone is freely available for conversion. How this conversion occurs, what methods are used (assuming it does not entail coercion; subterfuge and inducements are acceptable) or the consequences to the culture and society are all of little consequence.

On the positive side, their worldview allows for the least restraint on free speech, and the theoretical benefits that accrue from allowing contesting ideas to battle each other in the marketplace of the individual's mind. However, such an advantage can only be had if ALL the competing players are interested and willing players in an arena where aggression and subterfuge is rewarded, and the law of the jungle which favors the strong is considered moral and just.

However, there is an opposing dharmic worldview, which, in its essence is far more pluralistic, non-dogmatic and accepting of different points of view. The spiritual traditions of Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Hinduism see little good or morality in uprooting people from their own traditions and culture and replanting them in to an alien one. For, when all the different paths lead to the same spiritual goal, what possible purpose can be served by severing somebody from his or her own roots?

The essence of this dharmic perspective is probably best captured in the Bhagavad Gita, 4:24 – 4:32. Here Lord Krishna in essence explains to Arjuna that though there are many different methodologies as well as objects of worship (only some of which are listed) they all lead to the same goal of enlightenment.

As in so many other instances, this dharmic principle of religious enlightenment is taken to its loftiest heights by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. “I came to the conclusion long ago ... that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and that whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu ... But our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”[viii]

Here then, is the dharmic perspective on what constitutes a religiously enlightened society. Compare that to the Christian perspective. Now, lay them both side by side with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and decide for yourself which of the two worldviews occupies the higher moral, spiritual and dharmic plane.

An important point to make is the distinction between A) accepting the teachings of Jesus, and B) converting to Christianity. A does not require leaving one's tradition by birth, especially since Hinduism does not forbid respect for Jesus as Avatar or guru or as a great rishi. Hence, one could be a proud Hindu who also respects and believes in the teachings of Jesus. However, B calls for “conversion away from” one's tradition. It means that one's ancestors were wrong, one's neighbors and relatives who are unconverted are condemned and inferior. B is divisive and exclusive. The problem from Hinduism's perspective is not accepting Jesus' teachings but the demand that there can be only one true religion, that this religion must require the abandonment of all other faiths. In Japan, in a survey about people's faiths, over 75% of the population listed having more than one religion at the same time, Buddhism and Shinto-ism being the most common combination. There are many Hindu-Sikhs, many Hindu-Buddhists, many Hindu-Sufis. In fact, Hinduism itself could be thought of as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Tantra, Shakta (Goddess) and other traditions, and that many Hindus have multiple traditions that they are involved in simultaneously. The Abrahamic problem is the demand of one-religion only. This is anti-freedom because it reduces the freedom of a person to explore many spiritual paths and to combine them.

Over the last two hundred years, the U.S. has done an outstanding job of leading the world in the area of racism and race relations. It has led the world from an era when espousing theories of races being at different stages of evolution was considered legitimate and acceptable[ix] to a point where any kind of denigration of a particular race invites swift opprobrium and retribution. For this, humanity in general, but 'minorities' such as ourselves in particular should be grateful to the Americans. I do believe the world would have been a far more hostile place if the center of gravity had remained in Europe, or shifted to Japan for instance.

However, what we see today is a 'religionism' not that different from the racism of fifty years ago. For obvious reasons, this is not a battle that we can expect America, steeped in its Judeo-Christian culture, to fight. This is a battle that India, the cradle as well as the last remaining significant bastion of dharmic civilization in the world, needs to fight. It is India's opportunity to do for the world in religion what America did for races. As a society which has a dharmic based majority, it needs to work on creating laws and codes of conduct that are enlightened but disallows the denigration of others' religions and spiritual traditions. It needs to use the UN charter as the basis for creating its legal framework. To do this effectively, it needs to take the moral and intellectual high ground, which is its rightful place.

If freedom of speech no longer provides protection to racial hate mongers in the U.S.; if in that bastion of economic freedom that is America, a private landlord can go to jail for discriminating against potential tenants based on race, why is it so difficult for India to create a dharmic based set of laws that ban 'religionism'? For, if India can get it right, I foresee such an enlightened perspective on religious freedom spreading rapidly across the Far East, from Thailand to Japan. After all, these cultures still have the dharmic DNA embedded in their cultural genes.

There is no reason why, fifty years hence, the current denigration of other religions by Christians (or Muslims for that matter) is not frowned upon by the world the way denigrating other races is frowned upon today. The question is, do the torchbearers of dharma in India have the intellectual prowess and media skills required to succeed? For humanity's sake, I fervently hope so.


Need I belong to only one religion?

by Sankrant Sanu


Religion and secularism are both hot topics of discussion in India today. With rare exceptions, commentators on all sides of the debate in India, suffer from a general malady – that of using Western[i] terms, categories and worldviews to understand an Eastern society. We explore how adopting Western worldviews and nomenclature has distorted the Indian reality, to the extent that we have ceased to understand ourselves.

The confusion starts from basic concepts such as the difference between religion and dharma. We look at the pluralistic nature of Indian dharmic traditions and how they have both changed and stayed consistent through the centuries. Understanding these constructs, and ourselves, will allow a better framework for approaching the situation in India today.

Is religion dharma?

Prof. Arvind Sharma is a professor of Hinduism and Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal. In a landmark essay[ii] he points out that the word religion as used in the standard form carries three connotations:

(1) That a religion is conclusive, that is to say it is the one and only true religion;

(2) That a religion is exclusionary, that is to say, those who don't follow it are excluded from salvation and

(3) That a religion is separative, that is to say, in order to belong to it one must not belong to another.

In each of these three ways the notion of dharma, which is the original Indian concept, is very different from the notion of religion.

In the essay, Prof. Sharma, points out that these three notions of religion are not a universal idea and by and large do not express the reality of what are called Eastern religions. For instance, the conclusive and separative notion of religion implies that one can only be a member of one religion or another. In both Eastern and many indigenous societies, this does not hold true. For instance the 1985 figures for religious affiliation in Japan were 95% professing Shintoism and 76% professing Buddhism – clearly a considerable number (over 70%) chose to suggest that they subscribed to multiple “religions.” Similar statements of non-exclusiveness can be made about Confucianism and Taoism in China, again not religions in the Western understanding of the word.

These three notions of religion – conclusive, exclusionary and separative, give Abrahamic religions a hard-edged identity. In Abrahamic religions there has been a strong emphasis on the separation of “believer” and “non-believer” and a religious imperative to move as many people from the latter category to the former. Truth has been conclusively and unquestionably revealed and captured in a book, and those that follow it are the only ones that are on the right path. Quite literally, this means that you are “with us or against us” – that the believers are right and represent the good who are “with God”; and all the others are misguided and are part of the darkness and deprived of any direct access to what is the ultimate good. The pagan, the heretic, the kafir, the unconverted represent the darkness against which the true believers are enjoined to wage war, either literally or figuratively. In the Roman Catholic Church this is enshrined in the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (“There is no salvation outside the church”)[iii], and in Islam in the clear distinction between mumin and kafir, and between dar-ul-Islam and dar-ul-harb. So in the Abrahamic world, the identity of a religion and religious group is in fundamental opposition to those that are not part of that group. This means that per the religious doctrine of Abrahamic religions, there is an inherent conflict with any other people who have not converted to their particular conception of God. Any true believer then must do his part to affect this conversion, not doing so is only betraying his faith.

By contrast, the worldview of the dharmic traditions is that while scriptures can be very helpful, Truth cannot be found by scripture alone but by a path of experiential realization and Self-discovery – and in that sense religion is not conclusive. It is also not separative and exclusive in the sense of dividing the world into believers and non-believers. The dharmic worldview is that there are many tribes throughout the world, and many teachers and teachings. Each tribe has good and bad people in a continuum; people that have a greater degree of access to truth and “goodness” are worthy of respect; and others less so. Since there is a continuum of “goodness” among individuals of each tribe, the need for converting other tribes to a particular conception of God as a religious imperative is not really there. A teacher can share his or her understanding of the truth; and means and ways for others to access this; but there is no underlying belief that only one such way exists. These ideas find clear expression as far back as the Rig Veda, with its famous quotation:

"Ekam sad; vipra bahudha vadanti" (while Truth is One, the wise describe it in different ways) I.164.46 of the Rig Veda

So dharma itself does not create a religious identity. One's worldly self-identity in the dharmic model derives from one's local community, profession or ancestry, jati or kul, but that identity is not a religious identity, fundamentally opposed to the existence of the identity of the “other” as a manifestation of falsehood.
While, in my personal experience in a practice of both a form of esoteric Christianity and Sufism, there are dharmic truths found in higher interpretations of both Christianity and Islam, mainstream understanding of both these systems have a strong focus on the uniqueness of religious identity, in a manner quite different from dharmic ways, which do not establish identity in the religious sense of uniqueness and virtue in contrast with the “other”. In the discussion below we continue to refer to religion in the mainstream sense and dharma as the universal conception of what is right and true, understood by different cultures and cultural concepts in different ways or panths.

It is also worth examining this related term – panth. Even the idea of panth (as in “Sikh panth”) does not equate to religion. Panth does have a sense of identity, as in the followers of a particular teaching or teacher, but is again quite different than the strongly exclusive identity of Abrahamic religions. The idea of identity in panth (or way) is an inherently non-exclusive conception of itself as a “way” among many and hence without the injunction to regard those outside that particular way to be inherently on the side of darkness and ignorance, and thus needing to be converted to the “right side”. The Buddhist terminology of sangha (community of the followers of the Buddha) is quite similar to the notion of pantha as well.

Harmony between panths: the principle of dharmic pluralism

The recognition that multiple legitimate paths exist, by itself, precludes the kind of religious conflicts that have distinguished Abrahmic religions. In the dharmic approach, conquest, conversion or continued conflicts are not the only options in an encounter with a new tribe or civilization. A dialogue of understanding is also a possibility. Thus we find in the dharmic history of India a multiplicity of dialogues within and between different individuals and panths.

While the panths followed different enlightened teachers and had different favored expressions (or “Ishta-devas”) to relate with Reality (including agnostic and atheistic schools) these doctrinal disputes were more often dialogues in a process of deepening the understanding of Truth, than in the establishment of political hegemony. To assure that these doctrinal differences stayed within the limits of civil discourse, the Indian sages enunciated a vital corollary to the principle of One Truth most clearly:

Sarva Dharma Sambhava, Sarva Panth Samadar

(Each one's dharma is of equal value, all paths are worthy of equal respect)

This in a nutshell is the principle of Indian pluralism, articulated by the Indian sages centuries before the West had understood the need for secularism.

Note however, that the principle of “Sarva Pantha Samadar” can be understood both as a statement of truth, as well as a treaty. And as a treaty it works only if all the participants in the fray accept it as valid. As we shall see later, this provides us at least one of the clues to religious conflict in India.

When dharma meets religion: the creation of Hindu identity

When we begin to understand what dharma is and that it has been a very different concept than religion, it follows then that the concept of a “Hindu” religious identity, if understood in the image of Abrahamic religions is not really an original dharmic concept. Neither is “Hinduism” a religion in the same sense that Christianity is a religion.

To understand how most of the Indian dharmic community came to be called “Hinduism” it is worth recalling the origin of the word Hindu. It is well recognized among scholars that Hindu came from the Sanskrit word “Sindhu.” In Old Persian the 'S' became an 'H' and the word become Hindu, a geographical designation of the place beyond the Indus, i.e. India. On a recent trip to Mexico, it was interesting to find that Indian food is called “La comida Hindu.” Even now when it is considered archaic (and extremely politically incorrect) to call all Indians “Hindu”, etymologically the words are the same – Hindustan is a synonym for India. In some ways this sense was retained all the way up to the 20th century when Indian Muslim poet Iqbal wrote a national song that inspired many in the freedom movement:

“Sare jahan se acchha, Hindustan hamara…”

So how did “Hindu” become a religious designation? It was in the encounter with the adherents of two major proselytizing Abrahamic religions – first Islam and then Christianity that the idea of “Hinduism” successively took shape in the form of an Abrahamic religion. The question of religious identity was first posed to the dharmic community in its encounter with Islam, which had a very clear separation of believer and infidel, of us and them, in a way that was alien to the dharmic way, and was not a party to the dharmic truth treaty of “Sarva Pantha Samadar.” “Hindu”, which started of as a geographical term, was turned into a religious identity mainly by negation, first in contrast to the Islamic invaders[v]; and later on by the British.

At the same time, dharmic society's natural response to the Abrahamic threat was to harmonize it in accordance with the eternal dharmic principles – and to attempt to appeal to the higher interpretation, to “Indianize” them, or to broaden their worldview and have them accept the treaty of “Sarva Pantha Samadar.”

It is no surprise then, that during the Islamic rule emerged great teachers such as Guru Nanak, who again reinforced dharmic truth and downplayed the idea of religious identity.

“Neither Hindu nor Muslim, all our bodies breathe a life from the same God, called Ram or Allah.” Similarly, experiments by Akbar and Dara Shikoh in Din-I-ilahi were attempts to bring Islamic religious ideas into harmony with the dharmic traditions of India.

The many Indian bhakti poets like Kabir, Rahim and Raskhan played their part in this effort. The reign of Aurangzeb was a setback to this to integration – religious identity was the determining factor in applying the “jaziya” tax, so the population needed to again be clearly categorized as “Muslim” and “non-Muslim” aka Hindu. Nonetheless, there is evidence to suggest that in the absence of disuniting political forces, Indian Muslims had been on a path towards being integrated within the dharmic panoply of Indian traditions.

Enter the British: Fomenting religious conflict

Even while the influence of dharmic traditions had partially been in the process of healing from the shock of the Islamic invasions, along came the British. It was a time when India was in a politically vulnerable and fragmented situation with the decaying Mughal Empire. The British with their policies opened up some wounds that had not yet completely healed. In consolidating their rule over India, British employed three techniques. The first was the policy of divide and rule, the second was the destruction and replacement a of well-developed native education system with a system for educating the elite in their own language and worldview; and the third was to denigrate native traditions and establish their “natural” superiority in the minds of the elite, to make the country easier to rule.

Much of the British divide and rule between different communities is well documented in historical accounts. There is a fascinating book “Richer by Asia” written by Edmund Taylor, an American intelligence agent posted in India during World War II, which gives us another insight into understanding religious strife in India. Edmund Taylor was in the division for Psychological Warfare. Being both a professional in the field and detached from contemporary British and Indian politics gave him a unique vantage point to study British policies in India. He writes:

“… when the Sikhs rose up against British domination, a young British officer, Lieutant Edwardes, won fame 'by availing himself of the hostility which he knew to exist between different races of the Panjab' to raise against the Sikhs a levy of Moslem Pathans … the British during the Great Mutiny of 1857 'afterwards armed the Sikhs against the Mussulmans and Hindus of Delhi. …

“The British assault on the Indian psyche has sometimes escaped the notice of Western historians… not because it was committed in secret but because it was committed too openly… The flames of civil strife … were constantly being renewed by the incendiary results of British state policy. …

“If the United States Army had the policy of balancing every white regiment by a Negro regiment, if it systematically employed Negro troops to quell riots or uprising among the white population and white troops to quell Negro disturbances, then race-relations in America would be a good deal worse then they are. A more effective program of psychological warfare against the American people could hardly be devised. Yet, for fifty years after the Great Mutiny, according to Garratt and Thompson, this policy of racial 'counterpoise and division' governed the employment of the Indian Army.

The creating and denigration of Hindu identity

With the native schooling system and economy destroyed, there was a huge demand for English education among the Indians for government jobs. In their education system, the British trained an intermediary ruling class from among the natives. This ruling class learnt first to understand religion in Western terms, including the use of the term “Hindoo” as a religious designation to refer to a large part of the dharmic community, and then later learnt the antidote of secularism for this peculiar, but apparently universal, disease of religion.

Education was largely in the hand of the missionary schools, even though it did not always involve explicit preaching for conversion. However, one goal of both the missionary and the secular administrator was to denigrate native religions and practices – the former to convert to the one true religion and the latter to instill in the natives the aura of Anglican superiority.

So firstly there was the creation of a “Hindoo” label for much of the indigenous dharmic community and then the systematic destruction of the “brand-value” of the label within the elite by holding “Hindoo-ism” to be responsible for a large number of social ills. Along with the use of the Manusmriti in the pattern of the scripture-based interpretations of Christian law, the idea of a homogenous religious identity with conclusive doctrines in the image of Christianity was perpetuated. This is not to suggest that everything that the British did was deliberate – this would imply more agency to them than they possessed, but that they could not transcend their experiences and ideas of what religion is, or the self-conceived superiority informed by their religious beliefs. They operated from the worldview of fixed laws handed down by revelation and interpreted by centralized church authorities and believed that was how religions must operate. They were largely unable to comprehend the dharmic system -- that shared an acceptance of diverse worldviews with considerable flexibility of interpretation among different social, regional and linguistic groups.

Over time, the denigration of the “Hindu” brand created a natural force for communities like the Sikhs to gradually cease to self-identify as Hindus (the notion of the Khalsa Pantha, was similarly understood as an Abrahmic religion with a separative identity), and a number of people from within the dharmic communities to develop a distaste for “Hinduism” amid considerable confusion, that continues today, about what that term really means.

Hindu identity in Contemporary India

The forces in play during the Indian freedom struggle, and the events leading up to and including the partition, had a significant role in continuing to shape religious discourse and conflict in India. That period, ending with the partition of India, is a testament to the cumulative failure of the political leadership in bridging the religious divide in a meaningful and effective way.

The politics of independent India have played a part in the continued formation of the Hindu identity along religious lines, largely by exclusion. After having accepted Western categories of religion and having just emerged from the terrible religious conflict of the partition, the political elite of India was highly sensitized to assuring a religiously harmonious India. So they swore by the secularism that they had dutifully learnt was the antidote for the disease of religious conflict and “minority rights” the antidote for “majoritarianism.”

Unfortunately, the constitution and, more significantly, the politics of independent India, served to make the situation worse rather then better. The perception that the constitution of India has afforded to the minorities privileges apparently denied to the “Hindu” majority, for example the right to run educational institutions without interference from the state, steadily led to both a pull away from the Hindu label, as well as a backlash against that pull. A famous example in this regard was the case by the Ramakrishna Mission that claimed they were not Hindu to avoid persecution from the communist government in West Bengal (they lost).[viii]

Finally, the entire spectrum of political forces in contemporary India, those that exploited minority fears to create religious “vote banks”, counting on a caste-based division of the Hindu populace to win, and those that opposed it by forging a pan-Hindu identity, as well as much of the discourse in the intelligentsia, have contributed to the rise of the Hindu religious identity in the form of Hindutva.

The rise of Hindutva is an expression of the majority dharmic community in pro-actively claiming a religious identity, instead of constantly being defined by negation. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword – while it may serve to protect, if it takes the form of an exclusivist religion, instead of a pan-Indian shared ethos, that would itself be a defeat for the dharmic traditions.

Thus, for our dharmic plurality, there is an anguish in this encounter with separative, exclusivist religions in either direction – the option of not having a religious identity has not really been available in the encounter, since the “other” is insistent that they do have a clearly defined religious identity; yet the option of taking on an identity in the image of “religion” is equally a cause of anguish, since it is a lie to who we are. This anguish is the very source of the debate and ambivalence in the Indian society towards the idea of “Hindu identity” that is present in the rise of “Hindutva.”

Is it necessary to belong to only one religion?

Despite all the assaults on the Indian psyche and a pressure for conformance into the Abrahmic modes of religious identity, deep down we remain a deeply pluralistic people. This is surprisingly true on both sides of the Hindutva debate. Secularism has succeeded in India precisely because of our pluralistic dharmic roots. But even now, when we have mentally accepted Abrahamic religious categories and its antidote of secularism, these categories continue to disturb our sensibilities. We understand what they tell us what religion is, but deep down we cannot accept it as our way.

Let us take some examples from contemporary India that show this ambivalence.

Kushwant Singh is widely hailed as a liberal secular journalist. In a recent article, he writes:

“There was a time when filling up forms against the column 'religion', I would triumphantly put down 'none'. It would be more accurate if I wrote 'khichdi' i.e. a mixture of a few. I am by no means the only one who is confounded by the demand that we specify the one and only one religion we belong to. Many people take what they believe is good from different religions and make a tasteful pot-pourrie.
“This was brought home to me by my neighbour, Reeta Varma, who is an Assamese Goswami Brahmin. When her husband died, there were Hindu, Buddhist and Christian prayers at his cremation. Last month she rang me up on Id-ul-Fitr and asked me cheerfully, “Sir, can you guess how I celebrated Id?” I replied: “You may have gone to a dargah, or simply eaten sayviyaan (vermicelli pudding) as most Muslims do on Id. “No,” she replied triumphantly, “I went to Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Chandni Chowk. You think I am going nuts?”

I found it most bizarre: a Hindu celebrating a Muslim festival in a Sikh temple. But why not? Then I got a letter from Kulshreshtha of Faridabad. It started with a question: “Is it a must to belong to one religion only?” It went on to say that a neighbour who is Hindu likes to fast during Ramzan and offer namaaz; and another neighbour, a Muslim is a regular visitor to the Ayyappa temple. In the first census of Gujarat in 1911, the census superintendent recorded 35,000 'Hindu-Mohammadans'. He was soundly ticked off by his superior.

Now this kind of flexibility in religious practice and designation is a particularly dharmic formulation, which has largely been alien to Abrahamic society outside of India. However, it is not unrepresentative of the conflict that religious identity has created within the Indian mind. Unfortunately, as we are accepting Western categories, we are going backwards from a dynamic dharmic pluralism in a direction where a Hindu-Mohammadan designation will indeed seem absurd to us and our “Abrahamization” will be complete.

Nonetheless there is hope for the dharmic worldview from all quarters. This is what Suma Verghese, an Indian Christian, writes in her essay “Indian Christian: In Search of the Christ Within” about her discovery of dharma:

"Discovering this wisdom in our own backyard awoke in me a passion for India and the Indian way of life. I was Indian whether or not a Christian."

Adds Raimondu Pannicker, author of A Dwelling Place for Wisdom: "If we as Christians... could succeed in undergoing the Advaitic experience... then Christians, at least of Indian origin, would be automatically enabled to live an advaitic-Christian faith, which makes possible both a fully Hindu and a fully Christian life—without the pain of a split personality.

Similarly many Indian Muslims are not only culturally Indian, but have also connected in a deep way with their dharmic roots. Of the numerous examples here, I will choose a recent one, an article by Saeeq Naqvi in the Indian Express, where he waxes nostalgic about the dharmic pluralism of India:

“…In fact in this long poem, 'Lamp in a Temple', Ghalib describes Varanasi as the 'Kaaba of Hindustan', somewhat in the same vein as Iqbal's description of Lord Rama as the 'Imam of Hindustan'. …

Krishn ka hun pujari/ Ali ka banda hoon/ Yagana shaan-e-khuda/ Dekh kar raha na Gaya (I am a pujari of Krishna and a devotee of Ali/ I cannot help myself when I see the wonders of God).” …

Visit Ustad Alauddin Khan's house in Maihar and you will be witness to one of the great spectacles of composite culture. The great master said his namaaz five times a day but his music he derived from Saraswati, who adorns all the walls of his house.

The sad part is that we are nostalgic for pluralism -- wasn't secularism, the antidote for the disease of religion, supposed to make us “more plural”? Why do we then find ourselves less so after 50 years of taking secularism pills? Or are we suffering from a misdiagnosis instead?

In contemporary intellectual analysis, the RSS is considered the main threat to India's pluralism. Did this organization single-handedly change India's pluralistic traditions? Do we need to imagine it so powerful that it can change our very nature? We checked the RSS website and found the following statement as the first point in their mission statement:

“a) The truth is one but can have plural manifestations. This plurality need not be in conflict with one another; it can be cooperative and complementary. To understand, appreciate and realize the unity in a tremendous vortex of diversities, should be the humanity's goal of life.[xii]

Isn't this backwards from what we've been taught? In the Western worldview and terms of discourse, it is naturally assumed that the “Hindu Right” (another Western category) must be doctrinally opposed to pluralism, just as the religious right is in the West, or the orthodoxy is in Islamic countries. But if dharma is, by its nature, pluralistic, can any organization that claims to be Hindu be anything other than pluralistic?

On the other hand, if RSS is truly pluralistic as it claims here, we need to hold it to its stated objectives. We cannot condone violent inhumane actions by anyone irrespective of religious or organizational affiliation. Such action can neither uphold dharma nor be considered dharmic. But the larger question is, what is the conflict about? Is the conflict between Hindutva and secularism, as we are currently led to believe, or is the real conflict between pluralism and the ideologies of exclusivism?

The seeds for dialogue

The surprising finding here is that the positions of the “liberal” Khushwant Singh, the “Christian” Suma Verghese, the “Muslim” Saeed Naqvi and the “Hindu right-wing” RSS, at least on paper, don't seem all that far apart – in fact they all point towards the ethos of Indian pluralism. The hard-liners on all sides will be shocked that these different constituencies are even quoted together, but our hopes for peace don't lie with the hardliners. They lie in having truly pluralistic Indians discarding pre-conceived labels and beginning dialogues that shed light on current issues. Dialogue, rather than sticking to pre-conceived ideologies and positions about who we can or cannot talk to will lead to real change. Not simply by the enforcement of the law, not by writing articles about the “fascist saffron” threat to Indian secularism in the international media, not by labeling people as “pseudo-secular”, none of these will help us to move towards a genuine peace. If we desire peace, we need to learn how to talk to each other directly and to understand ourselves. This has been the Indian Way that we must reclaim if we are to live together in harmony.

What is required then is for truly pluralistic Indians to gather together and change the parameters of this debate. The battle is not between Hindutva and secularism. The battle is between all those who support the dharma of a pluralistic and diverse society vs. all those extremists who would convert us to an exclusivist creed. Pluralism is our natural state and pluralistic Indians are found across the political and religious spectrum. And these pluralistic Indians must speak up against the actions of extremists and exclusivists of all hue whether they be found among Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Communists or any other affinity. If the pluralists don't speak out, the extremists will control the discourse, as has been happening so far.

Finally in pursuing this dialogue we must recognize that we have been looking at each other through the tinted glasses of a Western world-view which has distorted what we see and know about ourselves. We have been fighting with shadows without even understanding the source of our conflict. Understanding ourselves as truly as possible on our own terms then becomes a crucial first step towards sustaining this dialogue for building a harmonious society.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Why is being a good Hindu politically incorrect in secular India?

by Pritish Nandy

Last week I wrote about the inaugural address by the new American President George W Bush and how he referred in it, again and again, to God, the Bible and Christian values.

He sounded almost like a scripture teacher in one of our convent schools. The American media noticed it, even commented upon it. But no one ever suggested that he sounded like a fundamentalist. A good Christian, perhaps. But a fundamentalist, heavens no!

Now imagine if someone like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were to talk so much about Ram or Hindutva in his inaugural address, or flaunt his Hindu education and background the way Bush flaunted his Christian upbringing, can you think of the outrage it would have provoked?

Everyone, including our media, would have flayed him for stoking the fires of Hindu fundamentalism. As it is, the world press keeps referring to the BJP-led NDA as spearheading Hindu fundamentalism.

In other words, being a good Christian is politically correct in free America but being a good Hindu is politically incorrect in secular India. Why? Why is the American President not slandered as a bigot when he speaks about God, the Bible and Christian values while the Indian prime minister is called a Hindu zealot when he refers to Ram or Hindutva?

After all, what are we looking for in our leaders? Denial of religion? Atheism? Is atheism synonymous with secularism? Or is secularism the ability to pursue your own faith with conviction and respect the right of others to do the same?

We are back to semantics here and this is the real difference between secularism as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi and secularism as it has been practised by his political heirs led by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Gandhi saw it as the co-existence of all religions and urged everyone to follow his own faith with even greater conviction while Nehru, a self-professed agnostic, saw it as the gradual erosion of the role of religion in a modern society.

So, while Gandhi pleaded for more faith, better understanding and a bigger role for religion in creating a truly secular state, Nehru idolised the blossoming of the scientific temper, which he believed would eventually diminish if not entirely wipe out the role of religion in our political culture. It achieved precisely the opposite.

But, before that, let me return for a moment to President Bush. On Thursday, I sat with heads of state and leaders from different parts of the world, as well as many of America's most influential senators and Congressmen, listening to the new President explain his vision for a new America at the 49th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. It was an amazing experience, made doubly impressive by his touching faith in the power of religion to resolve social and political conflict.

Bush was not in the least embarrassed by his faith. In fact, he saw it as his strength. He saw it as the strength of his nation. So he dropped all pretences, all hypocrisy and spoke out openly for what he thought was the solution to most of America's problems, as well as the world's. Faith. Religious faith. In his case, Christianity. But, for others, whatever their faith is.

His argument was exactly what I wrote: It is not religion that exacerbates conflict; it is the absence of religion. When we stop being good Hindus or good Muslims or good Christians, that is when we pick up weapons against each other to fight wars in the name of religion.

All conflict is actually secular. People may raise the banner of faith but they are actually covering up the real reasons for the conflict which are sometimes political and, more often, plain criminal.

The conference was a unique experience and what impressed me most was political America's fierce commitment to its faith. Of course Christianity was there, centrestage. But it was there as a symbol of America's faith in all religions and their right to coexist.

There was Benazir Bhutto arguing for her right to dissent. There was Roshanara Ershad, young son in tow, demanding that her imprisoned husband be given a free and fair trial. There were many heads of state. The president of Congo sitting right next to the president of Rwanda. The president of Macedonia next to me.
On the other side were the prime ministers of the Slovak Republic, Albania and Greenland. On the next table, the presidents of Croatia and Serbia and the governor of the Cayman Islands. My friend, the home minister of the Tibetan government in exile, and his wife, the Dalai Lama's sister were on the adjoining table. It was a sangam of all faiths. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists. They were all there, praying for a better, stronger, more compassionate world.

As Benazir pointed out, there are nations in South Asia where politicians are either in power or in prison. As Roshanara Ershad lamented, it is a short distance from being a president's wife to being a luckless refugee. Luckily we, in India, have a strong judiciary that refuses to yield ground to over-ambitious political leaders. We have a democracy that is stubborn, brave, uncompromising.

Maybe it is time to reject cant and hypocrisy, shed this sham of political correctness. Let us, as a nation, admit to ourselves that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when we speak of our religion, our faith.

A good Hindu is no less than a good Christian or a good Muslim and it is time we acknowledged this simple, inescapable fact in a nation that has been the crucible of faith for centuries.

In this acknowledgement lies our future. As Hindus, as Indians. As a nation on the move.

There is, there can be nothing endearing about faithlessness.


Missionary Activity And Secularism In Light Of The Pope's Visit To India

By David Frawley

Secularism is based upon a separation of church and state, removing religious control over the government. It arose to counter the influence of the church on politics and the religious sanction given to kings and their armies during the Middle Ages. Secularism grants freedom of religion to all citizens. It recognizes that many different religions exist and that people should be free to follow any or none of these. It regards differences in religion like those of race, language or culture, as incidental more than fundamental, and as involving the private life rather than the political sphere.

Opposite to secularism, both in ideas and in practice, is missionary activity, which is the attempt to convert the world to a single religious belief. Starting from the Christian takeover of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, European governments have used their influence to promote the conversion process. In time this gave rise to the Inquisition and to colonial efforts to convert native peoples. It resulted in a history of violence and genocide on a global scale that literally devastated the populations of entire continents. Missionaries used the political and military might of Christian states to discredit other religious beliefs, conquer other religious groups and destroy their holy places.

While modern secular Western states have removed overt religious influences from their governments, they have not removed the influence of religion altogether. In a democratic society any group that can produce votes becomes valuable. Western political leaders cultivate good relations with Western religious leaders in order to access their political goodwill.

Western governments today favor their majority religions in foreign affairs. It is obvious to see how much more sensitive Western Christian countries are to the welfare of the Christian community overseas than they are to the welfare of the non-Christian community. Religious oppression of Christians is quickly highlighted in the Western media, while oppression of non-Christians is seldom regarded as newsworthy. The entire history of Christian conversion activity is forgotten, as if the missionaries were only charity workers with no overt religious agenda!

A good example is Robert A. Seiple, the American ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. Is the man a seasoned diplomat, sensitive to other cultures and religions, as would be expected for the post? No, he was for eleven years the head of World Vision, the largest privately funded relief and development organization in the world, which is a Christian charity and connected to various missionary activities.

Seiple was formerly President of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a Christian missionary, which on the Protestant side is dominated by the Baptists. A person with such a background is inappropriate for the role that he has been given, which would be like giving it to a Catholic priest. It reflects an American religious bias not a diplomatic sensitivity and objectivity. Not surprisingly, his report on religious freedom in the world highlights oppression of Christians but ignores oppression perpetrated by Christians, as if Christian groups were entirely innocent of any wrong doing anywhere!

Even the secular West will bow to religious influences when it deems necessary. The result is that missionary activity, which was the main arm of the religious state, is learning to hide itself under the guise of modern secularism, working to subvert it from behind the scenes now that its overt control is a thing of the past.

Let us not forget its history. Missionary activity first arose in a religious state as its main means of expansion. Missionary activity per se is the extension of a medieval state attitude - that there is only one true religion like only one true king. It has had a long alliance with colonialism and with racism, with colonial armies marching with priests and friars, denigrating non-White religions as pagan and barbaric.
Missionary activity, therefore, is the very denial of secularism, which it has regarded as its enemy. The missionary movement holds that only one religion is true for humanity. It creates funds and personnel to convert the world to the one true faith. It targets the poor and uneducated who are vulnerable to favors. It does not work through reason or through friendly debate but through every sort of persuasion and intimidation, friendly or unfriendly.

Secularism and Missionary Activity in the New World Order

The problem for new democracies of the post-colonial era like India is that foreign missionaries use the very freedom of a secular state to promote their anti-secular agendas. A free state means that missionary activity is allowed and that conversion is tolerated. In a colonial state, one religion, that of the foreign rulers was favored at the expense of the others. In a free state, Western missionary religions can use the greater wealth of Western countries, which perpetuates their advantage. They also manipulate the Western dominated world media for their cause. For this reason a Hindu Swami in India is ill equipped in terms of money and media facing Christian missionary forces in his own country. He is dealing with the multi-national conversion business that has tremendous resources at its disposal, to use with little scrutiny or accountability.

The very groups that denied or limited religious freedom during their colonial rule now want to make sure that religious freedom is maintained in their former colonies, not because they honor diversity in religion, but to maintain their conversion efforts and to sustain the minorities that they carved out by their missionary activity. Such an action is hypocritical to say the least. It doesn't represent a change of heart by the missionaries. It is not a sign of their new secularism but merely a convenient way to keep their agendas going in the changing world order.

Christianity is today and has historically been an anti-secular religion. Christian churches may tolerate the laws of living in secular countries, but they have not yet adopted a secular acceptance that many religious and spiritual paths can be valid and that no one religion has the last word. One could argue that any religion based upon an exclusive belief, thinking that only its religion, bible, prophet or savior is true, is inherently anti-secular.

Islam is more obviously anti-secular than Christianity because it generally has no separation of church and state. Christianity was compromised by a resurgence of earlier Greco-Roman pagan ideas of pluralism and democracy, but though softened has still not given up its goal of converting the world. Christianity needs to go forward with its reformation by giving up its exclusivism and apologizing for its history of intolerance. The Islamic world needs a similar reformation to begin as it stands much where Christianity was at the end of the Middle Ages, still harshly controlling the minds and lives of its people and preventing any religious diversity from arising.

The Pope's Visit

The pope's upcoming visit to India is a product of the same old anti-secular and intolerant Christian conversion agenda, which has not fundamentally changed throughout the centuries. The pope can be described, though perhaps unflatteringly, as a Christian chauvinist leader encouraging massive conversion efforts to eliminate non-Christian beliefs. He is not a bringer of peace but a destroyer of culture. The pope has never stated that any other religion is as good as Christianity. He has never said that Jesus is not the only Son of God. He has never said that salvation can come from outside the church or apart from Jesus. He has made statements of brotherhood, peace and tolerance but has not removed the barrier of religious intolerance and exclusivity that upholds these. All Hindus, including the so-called fundamentalists, have not made such chauvinistic statements as the pope. They recognize the existence of many religions and of many paths. They are not promoting the idea that Hinduism alone is the true path and that non-Hindus must go to hell. They are not insisting that everyone in the world become a Hindu. They are not asking everyone to bow to Kailash or Kashi.

Recently Ashok Singhal, head of the (VHP) Vishwa Hindu Parishad, asked the pope to "announce that Christianity is one of the ways that can lead to salvation and not that Christianity is the only way to salvation." The newspapers called Singhal a "hardline" Hindu leader but did not accuse the pope of being rigid in his views. Yet Singhal accepts a pluralism to religion and salvation but the pope does not. In terms of ordinary religious discourse Singhal has more liberal views than the pope does but he is called a hardliner because he is questioning the missionary process! A very statement asking the pope to affirm religious tolerance is itself styled intolerant! In other words Hindus should tolerate the effort to convert them but it is intolerant for Hindus to question the motives or ideas of those who denigrate their religion. That such statements are accepted in the modern media shows how deep-seated the anti-Hindu and pro-missionary bias is.

Make no mistake about it. The pope is not a friend of Hindus. His visit is organized to promote his evangelization activities, his targeting Hindu India for Christian conversion. The pope wants to convert Hindu India to Christianity. He would be happy if all Hindu temples were abandoned in favor of churches. He would be happy if all the swamis, sadhus and yogis either became Christian priests or disappeared altogether. He has no praise for a Ramana Maharshi, a Sri Aurobindo, a Ramakrishna, or a Shankaracharya. He does not honor the Vedas and the Gita like the Bible. He does not allow pujas to the Gods or the chanting of Om in churches. He has nowhere apologized for the use of the Inquisition in India or elsewhere. He has nowhere said that Hindus won't go to hell. He may claim to honor India's spiritual traditions but not to the extent that it requires him giving up his efforts to convert Hindus.

Let all Hindus therefore ask the pope to say that he respects Hinduism, that Hinduism can also lead people to the ultimate goal of life, and that Catholic efforts to convert Hindus are a mistake. Let the pope repeat the mantra of sarvadharma samabhava, that all dharmic teachings are in accord, and ekamsad vipra bahudha vadanti, that the enlightened seers declare the One Truth in various ways.

Let the pope have a conference in Rome and bring the main Hindu religious leaders to dialogue with Catholic leaders on the nature of God, consciousness, the universe and immortality. Let such dialogue occur above board, out in the open and with the educated people in the field, rather than a secretive Christian targeting of poor Hindus. This would be the correct procedure if discover of truth was the goal of such encounters.

If the pope will not do these things then let us call him an intolerant and chauvinistic religious fundamentalist, which is what such behavior would be called in a Hindu. And let Hindus stop bowing out of respect to the pope, prostrating to a religious leader who does not respect their religion, who is in fact plotting its downfall. It is time for Hindus to take the offensive on religious tolerance and freedom, even if it means confronting the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has been in India for centuries. There is no reason why Catholic leaders can't appreciate the Vedas, Upanishads or modern Hindu teachers as having insights as great as those of Jesus. And this should be done starting with the pope, not with some Indian priest that has no real power in the church or influence outside of India.

Let the Christians in India not appeal to Hindu tolerance but show their own tolerance and acceptance of other faiths by saying that though we believe in Christ we also accept Rama, Krishna and Buddha as sons of God. Let them declare a unity of religions that includes Hinduism and Buddhism as true faiths and does not require placing Jesus at the top for everyone. While Christians in India are unlikely to do this, the challenge for them to do so is bound to impact their community and cause a deeper introspection.

As long as we hold that only one religion is true, that it must convert the world, and that other religions must be false we are not good citizens with respect for all, much less secular people. We are promoting an agenda of intolerance and violence that must cause conflict and suffering, even if we are doing so in the name of God. If we truly honor the Divine we will recognize the Divine Self in all and will afford each individual their own perspective on truth and their own search for enlightenment, not to be circumscribed according to a church or a creed. If the West is so modern and enlightened it should stop exporting its intolerant medieval religions and become open to the great wisdom of the yogis and sadhus of India. Then a real basis for religious tolerance and spiritual growth could occur without obstruction.

The Future of Secular Values

by Wang Gungwu,
Director, East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore

At a conference held three weeks after the September 11th, 2001, I spoke on secular values in the context of a discussion on “Asian values and Japans’ options”. My view about Asian values is that there is nothing substantive in them. The political references to them represent merely new versions of an older dichotomy. Their roots could be found in ideas concerning the Occident and the Orient; East and West. The Japanese had made an early contribution to this dichotomy by using Toyo (Eastern Ocean) and Seiyo (Western Ocean) and influenced the Chinese to adopt the same terms, Dongyang and Xiyang. The word “Asian” is a post-World War II revision of the word “Oriental”. In any case, both sets of alternative terms were really derived from European usage.

The recent manifestation of “Asian values” is a reply to American-led pressure on some Asian governments following the end of the Cold War, during which another dichotomy, that of (Western) capitalism and (Eastern) communism, had supported the notion of a “central balance” in world politics. That pressure was accompanied by a note of triumphalism that seemed to underlie a new mission to civilise the world in secular terms, for example, the focus on democracy, human rights and a free global market economy. The Asian response recalls for us the original Japanese and Chinese use of ideas about (Eastern) foundation (ti) and (western) application (yong) prevalent at the end of the 19th century. The stress on the ti may be traced back to the 19th century idea of kokutai or guoti (National foundations) which the new Western learning could be used (yong) to defend.

Understandably, recent events lead us back to Huntington’s “clash of civilisations”. Are we now facing a conflict between Christian and Islamic civilisations in which the East Asian “Confucians” would have to chose sides? Huntington is misleading in his use of the word “civilisation” and, perhaps even more so, in suggesting some sort of collaboration between Islam and Confucianism. As a political scientist, he was primarily describing the continuation of Great Power relations that would turn back to an older set of divisions derived from different religious traditions and value-systems. The struggle that he envisaged, however, would really be driven by secular power where the West was concerned, and this would be governed by a scientific and humanist spirit.

It is this secular drive that characterizes our age. This is where the image of civilisations as power players in global affairs rings false. The major value systems in the world today are each quite distinct in their respective relationship with secularism. These distinctions would be better understood if the value systems are recognised as having three different sources.

Firstly, the monotheistic religions. The two dominant variants of these are those with strong mission values. One is Christianity in its several forms. The other is Islam in at least two main divisions. What they both have in common is the mission to bring the only true God (that is, the only Truth) to the world. This has been the source of the continuous rivalry between them. In modern times, the major division has arisen from their very different attitudes towards the rise of secularism. With Christianity initially resisting but eventually accepting the separation of Church and State, secular values reached mainstream status among all states with Christian backgrounds. With Islam, this road has been all but impossible to take, despite the efforts of individual political leaders, intellectuals and scientists who recognise the secular basis for the modern world. How to be secular without losing one’s faith in Islam has met with too many obstacles. The answer for many today seems to be that protecting Islam is preferable to the material benefits of secular values.

Secondly, the “South Asia” religions, notably Hinduism and Buddhism. These emphasise values based on concepts of inward purity, either via many gods and many castes, as in Hinduism, or in variations permitting Buddhism to migrate and take root far away from home. In rejecting God or gods, this Buddhism may seem to have been somewhat of a heresy, but in essence, it still focuses on an inner tranquility that derives from the same source as Hinduism. The point to emphasise here is that, while neither of these religions has pushed for secular solutions to the world’s problems, they are both able to tolerate and embrace secular values that they see as being no threat to their core doctrines.

Thirdly, there are the secular faiths that were derived from the ancient Greco-Roman world and East Asia. Both have undergone transformations during the past two millennia. The new phase of these faiths is now led by Western Europe and its extensions in the Americas and Australasia and its offerings are being emulated to a greater or lesser extent in East Asia. But their separate origins are still important enough to create a strong tension between them. Both would claim the universality of the secularism they represent, with one largely claiming this through a scientific and legal spirit embodied in free individuals, and the other through an emphasis on social morality and harmony.

Let me add that the Greco-Roman spirit in itself had lost its way and had to be reborn by its recovery among Christian scholars. Therefore, it has been modified by, and has modified, Christian mission values. On the other hand, it has not succeeded in modifying Islamic mission values despite the fact that the classical texts that represent that spirit were well-known to early Muslim scholars. The Christian success was greatly stimulated by the church-state separation after the Renaissance. This provided the necessary condition for intellectual elites to advance the scientific & technological revolution that has shaped the modern world today.

As for Confucian moral secularism, the idea of shishu (being of this world) had also been found wanting by the end of the Han dynasty (3rd century, A.D.). It, too, had to be rejuvenated by religions that met the spiritual needs of the people. It was challenged and then modified by the Mahayana Buddhism that was brought from India, as well as by other faiths that remained popular among the majority of people who lived under Confucian principles of secular rule. The Confucian-Buddhist cosmology underlying the idea of rule by virtue did not require a dichotomy between God and Caesar, rendering it unnecessary for the separation of Heaven and Ruler. Hence the lack of binary centres, which differentiated the Chinese value system from that of Europe. While inspired by secular goals, different kinds of inclusive institutions were developed for their achievement.

Given the three dominant value systems in the world today, my thoughts on the future are as follows:

  1. There are clearly no sets of values that are purely secular. Spiritual needs have to be met and secularism has been enhanced by at least two religions, Christianity and Buddhism. The question is whether their secularism has risen above the religions that had nourished them or whether they would remain divided by the different moral and spiritual roots that cannot be easily reconciled.

  2. In modern times, secular values are considered to be universal. However, they have been selectively used by nation-states, each often claiming to be supported by the divine guidance of inherited religious traditions. This has been the source of continuous conflict, especially among Great Powers that sought imperial dominance and fought two World Wars. As a result, national secularism has steadily undermined the universal features of the value system.

  3. Nevertheless, secularism was so dominant that it had no credible enemies from the traditional religions for more that two centuries, especially during the five decades since the end of the Second World War. The arrogance of the secularists led to a civil war between the two power groupings, capitalism and communism, which divided the world and asked the world to believe that the victor would have the Truth. When one side did eventually win, the triumph of global capitalism may have appeared final to some, but also exposed to many people the destructive capacities of secular ways.

  4. It is in this context that older religions and their modern revivalist manifestations have begun to find their voice. Resistance against the secular had remained weak for centuries. Of late, it has found its strength in a fundamentalist defence against secularism that feeds on some of the glaring results of the secular civil war that we have just been through, notably where rich and poor seem further apart than ever, where narrow and selfish national interests have been paramount, and where the powerful exercise double standards for their own gains. Skepticism of the very basis of secular power has grown and calls for mission zeal to resist that power is being heard again.

  5. When secular values are globalised and their limitations exposed, they are challenged by a global opposition. For many, a new dichotomy is needed to highlight the spiritual vacuum that many people feel. Therefore, they stress values that contradict the secular in order to dramatise a growing desperation that is seeking to gather strength world-wide.

  6. The West and East Asia are the two nodes of modern secularism. It appears that the West is confident of its own set of secular values. Japan and China each tried to improve on the alternative versions they had, the former by adopting specific institutions from Western Europe and the United States early, and the latter ultimately choosing the “Western heresy” of communism. They are both seeking to redefine what they have accepted of modern secular values as ti (foundation) by using (yong) what they can of their past to minimize the spiritual damage to their peoples.

  7. Finally, where is the future of secular values headed? There can be too much secularism. When Greco-Roman and Confucian values were dominant in their respective regions, they both failed. The former could have been revived by Islam, but were only rejuvenated by a divided Christianity. Confucian values were reinterpreted through a unique blend of Buddhist and Taoist ideas and regained a dominance that they retained until the 20th century. These comparisons suggest that secularism by itself cannot satisfy the human psyche. But what can soften and rescue modern secularism today? Christianity and the South Asian religions have contributed to a balance of secular and spiritual values, but sections of Islam have been alienated, not least by a perception of a persistent crusading bias against it. Obviously, the issue of Muslim-Christian tensions is too complex to be dealt with here. But it is unlikely to be solved by portraying the Confucian East as allying with Islam against a Christian West, least of all by driving that East to help Islamic states against a missionary secularism led by a dominant West.

One thing is clear. A divided secularism can be easily challenged. By itself, letting religion back in is not the answer. The greater and more urgent need is an objective re-examination of the roots of modern secularism. Most important of all, secularists will have to admit that there are fundamentalists among them too, including those who couch their faiths in terms of sovereign nationalist interests or insist that only their claim of universalism is valid and all others must conform to their standards. Today the proponents of secularism must consider how they can eschew the fundamentalism that has divided them. Without sufficient attention to spiritual needs, especially of people in the poorer nations in the world, secularism does not deserve the respect it has had so far.

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Friday, December 24, 2004

Are you a Secularist? Then please answer these questions

  1. There are nearly 52 Muslim countries. Show one Muslim country, which provides Haj subsidy.

  2. Show one Muslim country where Hindus are extended the special rights that Muslims are accorded in India?

  3. Show one Muslim country, which has a Non-Muslim as its President or Prime Minister.

  4. Show one country where the 85% majority craves for the indulgence of the 15% minority.

  5. Show one Mullah or Maulvi who has declared a 'fatwa' against terrorists.

  6. Hindu-majority Maharashtra, Bihar, Kerala, Pondicherry, etc. have in the past elected Muslims as CMs; Can you ever imagine a Hindu becoming the CM of Muslim - majority eg J&K?

  7. Today Hindus are 85%. If Hindus are intolerant, how come Masjids and Madrassas are thriving? How come Muslims are offering Namaz on the road? How come Muslims are proclaiming 5 times a day on loudspeakers that there is no God except Allah?

  8. When Hindus gave to Muslims 30% of Bharat for a song, why should Hindus now beg for their sacred places at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi?

  9. Why temple funds are spent for the welfare of Muslims and Christians, when they are free to spend their money in any way they like?

  10. In what way, is J&K different from Maharashtra,Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh, to have article 370?

  11. Why did Gandhiji support the Khilafat Movement (it had nothing to do with our freedom movement) and what in turn did he get?

  12. Why did Gandhiji object to the decision of the cabinet and insist that the Somnath Temple be reconstructed out of public funds and not government funds,while,in January 1948 he presurrised Nehru and Patel to carry on renovation of the mosques of Delhi at government expenses?

  13. If Muslims & Christians are minorities in Maharashtra, UP, Bihar etc., are Hindus not minorities in J&K, Mizoram,Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya etc? Why are Hindus denied minority rights in these states?

  14. Do you admit that Hindus do have problems that need to be recognized. Or do you think that those who call themselves Hindus are themselves the problem?

  15. Why post-Godhra is blown out of proportion, when no-one talks of the ethnic cleansing of 4 lakh Hindus from Kashmir?

  16. In 1947, when India was partitioned, the Hindu population in Pakistan was about 24%. Today it is not even 1%. In 1947, the Hindu population in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was 30%.Today it is about 7%. What happened to the missing Hindus? Do Hindus have human rights?

  17. In contrast, in India, Muslim population has gone up from 10.4% in 1951 to about 14% today; whereas Hindu population has come down from 87.2% in 1951 to 85% in 1991. Do you still think that Hindus are fundamentalists?

  18. Do you consider that - Sanskrit is communal and Urdu is secular, Mandir is Communal and Masjid is Secular, Sadhu is Communal and Imam is Secular, BJP is communal and Muslim league is Secular, Dr.Praveen Bhai Togadia is anti-national and Bhukari is Secular, Vande Matharam is communal and Allah-O-Akbar is secular,Shriman is communal and Mian is secular, Hinduism is Communal and Islam is Secular, Hindutva is communal and Jihadism is secular,and at last, Bharat is communal and Italy is Secular?

  19. When Christian and Muslim schools can teach the Bible and Quran, Why cant non-christian and non-muslim schools teach the Gita or the Ramayan?

  20. Abdul Rehman Antuley was made a trustee of the famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple in Prabhadevi, Mumbai Can a Hindu – say Mulayam or Laloo - ever become a trustee of a Masjid or Madrassa?

  21. Dr. Praveenbhai Togadia has been arrested many times on flimsy grounds. Has the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi,Ahmed Bhukari been arrested for claiming to be an ISI agent and advocating partition of Bharat?

  22. When Haj pilgrims are given subsidy, why Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath, Sabarimalai & Kailash Mansarovar are taxed?

  23. A Muslim President, A Hindu Prime Minister and a Christian Defence Minister are running the affairs of the nation with a unity of purpose. Can this happen anywhere, except in a HINDU NATION - BHARAT ?

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Secular press promoting casteism

Author: Narad
Publication: Organiser

Will some Congress notable kindly enlighten the general public as to what exactly is meant by secularism? Is it related strictly to religion? Can one be casteist and still be secular?

The word, unfortunately, has Latin origins. But in the Indian context, anyone who is casteist should automatically be damned to perdition as a communalist. By that reasoning, and looking at the Maharashtrian political scene, all Congressmen must be branded as communal judging by the manner in which Sushil Kumar Shinde has been shunted to Andhra Pradesh. ‘Maratha Lobby Averse to Shinde as Chief Minister’ was the heading to the lead story in the Chandigarh-based The Tribune (October 29).

Practically all newspapers made the distinction between the Maratha lobby and the Dalit lobby. What sort of ‘secularism’ is it when casteism is openly—and brazenly—practised? Do we have perpetually to think in terms of our leaders as belonging to this caste or that? B.G. Kher, the first Chief Minister of Mumbai, was a Brahmin—and the best Chief Minister Mumbai ever had. Morarji Desai, his successor also distinguished himself as a Chief Minister but it never occurred to anyone to paint either of them as Brahmins. Yashwantrao Chavan was an excellent Chief Minister but no one talked of him in terms of his caste. They were Chief Ministers because they were such good administrators.

What has Congress come to? It is just as communal as the parties it so disdainfully dismisses as communal. The hypocrisy of the English media in this connection as in others is to be seen to be believed. Such is the hypocrisy that when the Gujarat government and Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) bagged the Gold Award of the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management for ‘Innovation in Governance’, not a single Mumbai paper cared to publish it as a news item. Why? How can Narendra Modi be given any credit for good administration? Never mind if the Commonwealth Association is a world-renowned organisation ‘dedicated’ as Deccan Herald (October 29) put it, “to strengthening public management, consolidating democracy and good governance in Commonwealth countries”.

One can be sure that the organisation went thoroughly into Narendra Modi’s administrative record and into charges that he is fascist, communalist, saffronist, etc. etc. before giving his administration any award. He won. But our English media couldn’t care less. One is reminded of the lines quoted by Jawaharlal Nehru during the time when the Nehru family was being scandalised. ‘When all its work is done’ went the lines, ‘the lie shall rot’. Truth is great and shall prevail when none cares whether it prevails or not. Damn Modi by all means. This is a free country, but give him credit where credit is eminently due.

Now think of this: Months ago The Indian Express made serious charges against Petroleum Minister Ram Naik for allotting petrol pumps mostly—almost exclusively—to his party supporters. Ram Naik was painted in pretty lurid colours as a communalist. During the old Congress regime, Capt. Satish Sharma was charged with corruption, too. Now, according to The Statesman (November 2), “Close friend of the Gandhi family, Capt. Satish Sharma, may get reprieve from corruption cases because the Union Home Ministry has refused to sanction his prosecution.”

How nice! According to The Statesman, “The CBI today petitioned a Delhi court to close 15 cases of irregular allotment of petrol pumps, gas agencies and kerosene dealerships registered against the former Petroleum Minister…..” The Hindu (November 3) pointed out in a report that the cases against him were pending for nearly five years before being turned down. Why were they kept pending? Why didn’t the BJP-led government act against Capt. Sharma? If it had, then it would have been charged with vengefulness. Meanwhile, no less a paper than The Hindu itself has written a strong editorial condemning the reprieve given to Capt. Sharma, saying: “The blame for the state of affairs that led the CBI to seek a Delhi court’s permission to close 15 cases against Capt. Sharma must be laid squarely at the door of the Central Government. It was the Home Ministry’s prejudiced and politically suspect decision of refusing the investigative agency sanction to prosecute the Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and close friend of the Sonia Gandhi family that has resulted in a situation where justice is in serious danger of being subverted. The Home Ministry’s decision, which was ostensibly taken after consulting the Law Ministry and after ‘considering all factors in totality’ has left the government open to the charge that it is trying to protect Mr Sharma from being tried in a court of law.”

To the best of one’s knowledge, the editor of The Hindu is not a communalist or a saffronist, a point that needs to be stressed these days when virtue has been monopolised by the Congress and Leftist parties, and those that don’t follow their line are dubbed as unworthy citizens fit to be banished from all public life. Incidentally, those who belong to the midnight generation and even older with poor memory may find it very educative to read an article on the Communist Party in all its avatars published in, of all newspapers, Gomantak Times (October 28). The article is written by M.A. Sunderam, a retired bureaucrat. It is a fairly good exposure of the party. Towards the end, Mr Sunderam writes: “The Indian communists have been great at piggy-back riding. They let down my generation of bureaucrats who reposed great faith in them. These bureaucrats had the satisfaction of breaking bread and wine with the ‘so-called progressive Left’. In the twilight of their lives, they have reason to believe that they were let down also. Marxism is not dead but Indian communism is.”

And, then there is the interesting story carried by The Statesman (November 1) about the Ayodhya issue. Says the story: “The BJP-led NDA had a ‘widely acceptable’ solution to Ayodhya but postponed its implementation on the sure bet that an early Lok Sabha poll would bring back the coalition to power... . And the BJP arguably lost the chance to go to voters with an Ayodhya package.” It is an ‘exclusive’ story, a scoop—and so far it has not been denied. Many names have been mentioned as being involved in the negotiations between the government and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a majority of whose members “consented to the construction of the proposed Ram temple provided certain conditions were met”.

It is an exciting story and, if true, could lead to the settlement of a problem that has haunted the country for years. What is intriguing is that no other paper has followed The Statesman story according to which “the talks had been so fruitful that the construction (of the Ram temple) could have begun on Ramnavami.”

One can be assured that, if true, our secularists will see to it that no settlement takes place. Our secularists have a stake in keeping the embers of Hindu-Muslim distrust burning. Fancy a nation at peace: What on earth would our secularists have to do if the Ram temple becomes a reality?

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