An emerging India
AYODHYA and 6 December: one a place, the other a date; but the place is not a mere geographical entity; it is, in a very real sense redolent with the very essence of India. Because, whether one believes or does not, Ayodhya has been sung through the centuries as the birthplace of a ‘maryada purush’, a concept unique in any civilisation. There is of course no empirical way in which it can be established whether Ram is a deity or how it is a concept. But there is one absolutely incontrovertible fact: Ram as a concept profoundly moves millions of Indians. And as a deity, it equally has many million followers.
There is yet another, a third level, that which I would call the suffusion of Ram in our very civilisational core. For example, it is routine to say ‘Arre Ram, anarth ho gaya’. In large parts of India, it is common for people to be named after Ram, either as a suffix or in prefix. Or take the saying derived from the concept of ‘maryada purush’: ‘Uska to Ram hi utar gaya’. Now in that sense, Ram is an integral of our civilisational consciousness. It is this Ram who is believed to have been born in Ayodhya.
Some people have disputed this belief saying it is necessary to find evidence for it. That evidence, about faith, is then to be judged against the certainties of our current law. But the belief far predates this law. You cannot, in that sense, put belief to the test of this law just as I think it would be absurd to attempt to identify that very stable in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born. It is a matter of belief, of faith which has moved Christendom for twenty centuries. Or for that matter, in today’s world obsessed with scientific analysis, a denial of the possibility of virgin birth as a biological impossibility, is I think to engage in a disputation that really diminishes humankind.
That is why when we try to find an interrelationship between Ayodhya and 6 December, we are not really attempting a simple thing like establishing an event at a geographical place. We are, in a very real sense, attempting to reduce the entirety of the mystery and mythology of Ayodhya, the symbolism of it, the infinity of the concept of Ayodhya, to finite date. That is also why at a certain philosophical level, there is a fracture here, a conceptual fracture. There is then, unacceptable simplicism in the general comments made on Ayodhya-6 December: ‘India has broken apart; ‘India will disintegrate’; ‘end of our secular order’, and all such other outcries distress me greatly because they are so overstated: reacting to the immediate in apocalyptic terms.
What happened at Ayodhya on 6 December was of course unfortunate; it was unprecedented and the sheer drama of that gripped the nation. To start with, across the length and the breadth of the country, everyone felt something wrong had taken place, that it was something that could have been avoided. But as we moved onwards from 6 December (and here one has to say in parenthesis that not unnaturally, when one looks at the events and occurrences, it is inevitable that one comments upon them depending on the totality of one’s thought processes our swabhav, born of one’s sanskara, from which evolves vishar), the whole scene and mood was transformed. That is what we have to examine; did we judge the mood of the land correctly? Are we doing so now? That is what will enable us to understand the catalytic effect.
Examine, then, the incident at the level of political responsibility; it is necessary to do so before we proceed further. The party to which I belong gave a public commitment that the disputed structure would not be touched and that commitment was given in various fora. But we were unable to keep that commitment. For a political party to fail to keep its word is, without any doubt, a great failing. Mindful of that the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh resigned. The leader of the opposition in Parliament resigned. I am distressed that the first resignation was treated by the government with scant respect and after it they dismissed the Kalyan Singh government. I find that an act of very petty political vendetta. Thereafter, to arrest the leader of the opposition and to charge him on a totally fabricated FIR, an FIR that is not only illegal but is also illiterate, is both an insult to the person concerned and to the intelligence of the large mass of India.
These were acts of pure political vendetta, not statesmanship. The occasion for meeting the challenge of the times was lost, and every subsequent reaction of the Government of India has been of very shallow politics, guided much more by factors like dissension within the cabinet, discord within the party, compulsions or pressures from outside, and the desire of the present incumbent to somehow keep secure a particular office or a particular chair. This is distressing in the extreme because even a modicum of moral responsibility for the events has not been accepted, not even by a single utterance of the ruling party or the government.
But here again lies a trap. If the present leadership of the government engages only at this level of purely personalised, intensely selfish, subjective politics and says, we will call it an event of ‘historical proportions’ but we will treat it as just another incident, then I think the country will inevitably have to pay a price for it. But it is not necessary to do so, it is not necessary to always fall into that trap. I would really much rather that people attempted to understand and synthesise a timeless concept like Ayodhya with a finite date like 6 December, and out of that draw or attempt to chalk out the direction in which we ought to face. Only then can we begin to take the steps. Some more things have to be stated, because of what is being commonly said: ‘death of secularism’, ‘end of Constitution’, etcetera.
I have heard that some of these things are said because apparently there was a call that ‘Ayodhya is only the beginning’ and that ‘there is still Kashi and Mathura’. It is also argued that secular India has been destroyed; that all this gives a go by to our Constitution, and so on. In order to deal with such arguments, I will have to spend a little time on stating what is meant by ‘secular’. What is secularization, what is fundamentalism, what is this Indian nation all about?
The concept of ‘secularism’ has been analysed endlessly. But following upon the incidents of 6 December, there is need to examine it afresh and at great length and in detail. It is no good simply taking a brush, dipping it in tar and tainting the BJP with it. Many diplomats have come to meet me recently, and to one of them I observed (he was commenting upon the incidents in Bangladesh, the incidents in Pakistan, and also some stirrings of trouble, despite internal difficulties, in Afghanistan) upon the fact that what happened on 6 December in Ayodhya has resulted in reactions in Pakistan, in Bangladesh.
At one level, these can be seen as events in themselves, happenings in Karachi or Lahore or other parts of Sindh, Dhaka or wherever. At another level, I am tempted to reflect upon the sheer inseparability of the subcontinent: All of us who are bound by the Hindukush and the ocean in the South are so inextricably linked by history and time that no matter what faith we subscribe to, there is something that binds us together. Of course, we are politically separated; Pakistan and Bangladesh are separate nations, and very good luck to them. But why ought they to react in the manner that they do when something happens in India? They went away from it. They wanted to be separate and to be not troubled by what happens in India. And yet if they are, then there does exist an umbilical cord that ties us all together. And it’s really that which is the essential unity of this subcontinent. I am not talking of political unity, I am talking of a kind of human unity.
Here I want to dwell a little on this journey that we started upon, really in 1947, but effectively when we adopted the Constitution. It is not sufficiently well known that neither in the original draft of the Constitution nor in the Constitution proper, as adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1950, was there any word like ‘secular’. It was only in 1976, during that fraudulent Emergency, when the Parliament was captive, when things were being done without debate or discussion, that the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution was moved and in that amendment, the ‘Republic of India’ suddenly became both ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’. This is a historical fact.
Now if the original Constitution makers did not choose the word secular, are we to believe that they were deficient in some manner? Was it a deliberate omission? Was it amnesia? It was none of these. Because the concept of secularism is a Christian concept. It is a derived concept, it is inapplicable to India. I think that this is a fact upon which all the ‘super-secularists’ ought to reflect deeply. Why was the word secular not included in the Constitution earlier? Why was it done in 1976 when there was an Emergency in force and the Parliament was captive. Secondly, in practice, the word ‘secularism’ as we have used it, has acquired two characteristics. One, it has been used as a device to generate fear amongst the minorities, and thereafter this fear is employed to garner the minority votes; a purely partisan and political consideration, hardly secular. Inevitably, therefore, after constant misuse and misapplication, the very word has got perverted, politically. Today, if you are a minority you can, for example, run your own educational institution without any governmental interference. Ramakrishna Mission, named after one of the greatest saints that India has produced, goes to the Calcutta High Court and says: ‘We are a minority. We wish to run schools. Give us the same benefit as you give, for example, to Christian convent schools, or to Muslim madrasas. We are not, therefore, to be categorised as Hindu.’ But this is only a minor example.
The real damage, I hold, to the very fabric of India was caused in the decade of the 1980s. I cannot imagine a more profligate decade – socially, economically and politically. It is only twelve years since 1981; yet, reflect upon how much has happened since then. It was in 1980 that some very thoughtful and concerned Indians produced ‘An Agenda for India’ (Seminar 251, July 1980). Look back on that Agenda for India, and see what it was then trying to say for the coming decade.
In 1980, India Gandhi was returned to power. In 1981 started the troubles in Assam. They kept on deepening, and in 1983 took place that horrendous election in Assam. It is shocking that the deaths and killings in Assam at that time numbered about 5000. Or that the average vote in Assam in the 1983 elections was barely 2%. Yet I don’t remember the English press or anyone else at that time pointing out to, in similar terms, the dangers of what was happening. Only the BJP was concerned that something terrible was happening, had happened; that it would profoundly affect India. What was the issue? Illegal immigration: the identity of a people.
In 1983 Punjab was already on the boil. I hate to make this first person singular, but parliamentary records and my writings will reveal my repeated warnings to the government. I was then accused of being a communalist for pointing out an obvious wrong that was taking place in Assam, and only because the victims of that wrong were Hindus. And only because the vote bank of the Muslims had to be protected by the Congress.
However, to go back to Punjab in late 1983. If one recollects, in the early talks, and I was involved in the tripartite talks in both Assam and Punjab, demands were separated into two: there were what were called ‘religious demands’ and there were ‘political demands’. I won’t go into an analysis of the handling of the entire situation except to point out a rather incontrovertible fact. Every time a solution was in sight in Punjab – and Sardar Swaran Singh is a living witness to that – every time he brought in a solution, with the agreement of the whole of Punjab and the entire spectrum of the Akali leadership to the then prime minister, something would happen to scuttle it.
When the Asiad took place in New Delhi, great indignity was inflicted upon very eminent Sikhs of the country. For example, when they were travelling from say, Chandigarh to Delhi, to witness this spectacle, the state of Haryana which intervened treated them with inhuman, unbelievable mindlessness. However, when a decision was taken to ‘create’ Bhindranwale – what happened then to the Constitution, the law, the courts of law? Bhindranwale was convicted for murder. He was wanted for murder. He travelled all the way from Haryana to Mehta Chowk. After Mehta Chowk, he travelled to Delhi with an accompanying truck full of young Sikhs armed to the teeth with automatic weapons. And he went back to Mehta Chowk, from where he ‘negotiated’ the terms and conditions of his arrest!
All this sent out various kinds of signals to the collectivity of that which is called ‘this country of ours’. The army, despite my protestations in writing, was finally employed at the Darbar Sahib. I was here, in Delhi, from the 30th of October 1984 to the 7th of November. Over 3000 Sikhs were killed in a week, most of them in Delhi. Almost 150 – and this is a matter of Parliamentary record, I could be faulted on the exactness of the figure – were killed in uniform: service personnel travelling in trains, pulled out even though they were in uniform and killed, only because they were Sikhs. Almost a decade after that tragedy not one person has been found guilty, let alone punished. Who was the Home Minister then? P.V. Narasimha Rao. And the successor Prime Minister announced that ‘jab koyi bara ped girta hai to dharti hilti hai!’
In the ensuing 1984-85 elections, full page advertisements were put out by the Congress party depicting scorpions and centipedes, snakes and barbed wire. Some of the advertisements asked: ‘Do you feel apprehensive when you come out of the airport and look at your taxi driver?’ I believe that was the most perverse, cynical misuse of the media by the state – to exploit fear to garner votes. Whose fear was being exploited then? The fear of the middle class Hindu: that is the vote that was wanted.
A book was published by an author of Indian origin. No one had read this book, for example, in Iran or Saudi Arabia leave alone Delhi or the rest of India, where there isn’t such a large readership of English books in any case. The then government fell over backwards and proscribed the book. One doesn’t need to be reminded who the Home Minister was then. At that time in Parliament, I asked whether the Home Minister had even read the book that was being proscribed. Why was this done? Only to garner votes, only to come across as the messiahs of the minority.
But when a poor and aged divorcee from Indore, denied her maintenance, finally reached the Supreme Court and that court ruled that whatever your faith, you are entitled to due upkeep, there was an uproar. It was considered an interference with personal law. If you can have income tax, if you can have customs duties, if you can have sales tax, an excise duty, if you can have a criminal law that does not make any distinction on grounds of faith, how can you have a civil law that permits this kind of differentiation? Yet the government of the day bent over backwards all over again and went through all kinds of contortions, finally coming out with an Act of Parliament annulling the judgement of the highest court of the land.
What was the message that was sent out? That judgments of courts could be annulled if they proved inconvenient. In any event it had already been done earlier, in the case of an earlier Prime Minister whose election had been set aside by a court. That too was highly inconvenient, politically, so the law had to be changed. And, therefore, when people now talk of the 6th of December as being that great cataclysmic event, I wonder.
So far as the Babri masjid and Ram janmabhoomi dispute is concerned, a court case was initiated in 1949 and was finally ruled upon in 1955. It then went to the division bench which ruled in 1956 that the idols should stay in the structure, worship continue, although on grounds of law and order, visitors could be prohibited from coming to the site. So a lock was placed on the masjid and there it remained until 1986. In that year (1986), the magistrate was persuaded by the government of the day to have the lock removed. Regular ‘darshan’ now became routine.
In 1989, having first demonstrated to the country how in 1984-85 a highly communal election campaign could be conducted, the then Prime Minister launched an election campaign by going and performing ‘shilanyas’ on these very 2.77 acres, at this very Ayodhya, at this very Ram janmabhoomi. And in the very first election speech of that campaign, he invoked ‘Ram rajya’.
In the meantime what had taken place in Kashmir? I don’t want to go into any detailed analysis of that tragedy. There, between 1989 and 1991, over 40 temples were destroyed. This can be verified by parliamentary records because the government has said so. An argument is put forward that those temples were destroyed by terrorists. I don’t know if they were terrorists or secessionists, but there was not even a whimper of protest over this; there were, alas, no marches then from India Gate to the Boat Club. Almost 200,000 Kashmiri pandits were driven away from their homes. I don’t recollect any delegation of concerned Indians going to Jammu saying that what has happened is wrong, or protesting against the indignity that had been inflicted on Indians by converting them into refugees within their own country.
All this also sent out a message. On a political level there are two aspects to this message: One, that this whole misemployment of the term ‘secularism’ or ‘secular’ is coming home to roost. If you misemploy something, then you have to pay the price. And two: that as a nation we still have to confront the real questions. Do you know that there are almost 40,000 Hindus driven out from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in Poonch, who have been denied Indian nationality for the last so many years? They cannot have a job, they cannot have a ration card, they cannot seek medical benefits. And currently in the gurdwaras and temples around Delhi live 20,000 Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan denied refugee status. The sum total of it being that ‘secularism’ is but a handy device; it is a pliable political convenience; a ‘force multiplier’ of votes.
Then the next question arises: what is this ‘Hindu rashtra’ and ‘Hindutva’? I believe that a nation has to have a character, an identity, and we as Bharatvarsha, or as Hindustan or as India, have to be clear in our minds as to what we are. What is at the core of our national identity? I quite often reflect upon the comment made by some others that perhaps because we are the only nation in the world that has three names, our personality is schiozoid. We are fractured. And yet, this nation is not Hindu in the sense of observance, ritual, the modes and methods of worship; it is Hindu in a civilisational sense. People ask, but why call it ‘Hindu’? Then suggest an alternative. What ought we to call ourselves? What is the difficulty with ‘Indian’, is then the question. Because it lacks the flavour of this beautiful land: ‘Indian’ is too Anglicised. And what is wrong with Bharatvarsha? To me there is no difference because I am really talking about the civilisational essence of my country.
There is objection raised at times to the lighting of a lamp at inaugural functions because this is such a ‘Hindu’ ritual. If a ship is being launched, what is wrong with breaking a coconut? What should we break? A bottle of Indian-made foreign liquor? In this land in which there is an instinctive, untaught veneration for the Himalaya, for our great rivers, the mightiest and the most venerated of them all being the Ganga, these are all civilisational quotients. So a suggestion is made, why don’t you call your culture ‘composite’. Of course it is composite in the sense that many thoughts have flowed into it, many influences have come into it, and many have been absorbed, transformed, and have thus become ‘Hindu’. But ‘composite’ is not what we are – as a nation we are one.
My friend Margaret Alva wears a mangalsutra and a bindi. I once asked her why, being a devout Catholic? She answered simply that she was culturally a Hindu: ‘I think it is beautiful to wear a bindi. And a mangalsutra is such a wonderful symbol of the state of marriage of a woman,’ she said. Objections are raised to wearing a sari, as happened for a brief period in Punjab. We are thus rebelling against the cultural symbols of our nationhood.
If, for example, the United Kingdom can call itself a Christian country, if in Western Europe, most of the countries claim to be a Christian land, does it mean that they are non-secular? If the President of the United States of America takes his oath of office upon the Bible, does it mean that the United States of America is not a secular country? If the sovereign of the U.K. is the head of the Church of England, does it mean that they are not secular? Every sitting of the House of Commons begins with a reading of a Psalm from the Bible. Yet, in our Parliament, with our obsession and our misconceived interpretation of secularism, we take exception to a recital even of Vandemataram. There is, therefore, clearly a need for us to find our nationhood. Thus the two principal points of the current political debate are really secularism and nationalism.
When we examine what happened on 6 December, we have to do so in the context of all that took place before it, including the efforts to arrive at a negotiated settlement. No doubt, on 6 December, our leadership lost control. Without doubt a wrong took place. But in this act of destruction, I do not see the kind of cataclysm that people are pointing out, or wish to draw attention to. What I do see is that those verities, or what we treated as verities, certain fixed points of our political comportment that we were working with for the past 50 years or so, and to which we continued to subscribe (despite the fact that they had lost their relevance), finally collapsed. I think in a very real sense, and this might hurt many, a political era ended on 6 December. It is a matter of great sorrow to me that this transition from the old order towards an emerging India – you can question whether the emerging India is the ‘right’ India or whether it ought to be moving differently – had to occur accompanied by violence. But it is without doubt a transition from the old to the new.
That is why when cries of ‘end of secularism’ or statements like ‘Gandhi was murdered on the 30th of January 1948, but his soul is being buried now’, or ‘mixing religion with politics is unacceptable’ are raised, people forget that the person who first did this was Gandhi. And he used religion with great finesse and dexterity. He talked of Ram rajya. It was he who said that cow protection to me is so important that I will give up the freedom of India for the protection of the cow. And, therefore, cow protection became a constitutional obligation. We forget all these things because we are obsessed by and, understandably perhaps, overawed by the horror of the present. Because of that, we don’t reflect upon what has brought about the present, what has preceded it and, therefore, what is likely to follow.
So, what 6 December and Ayodhya do is to bring the two strands of secularism and nationalism to the forefront. Ayodhya and 6 December really mean that finally, even as we are putting that past behind us, it is still only a search, rather it is the beginning of a search, a search that was inarticulate all this time but which is now going to be much more articulate, much more focused in political terms. Whatever else you might think or say, this is certainly not the demise of India. It is also not the beginning of any theocratic state. India cannot, will never be, and certainly the BJP is not an advocate of a theocratic state. It is not the beginning of a right-wing, Hindu fascist takeover of the country.
All those who suggest these various cataclysmic consequences really do great disservice to themselves and to our nation. There are times when I think that they do so only because along with the fixed points of the departed decades has also evaporated the very raison d’etre of their own political identities. Have no doubt that this land of ours shall survive. We have not overcome many centuries of foreign occupation and other varieties of disasters both natural and man-made; we have not survived drought and hunger and great destitution only to now be pulled under because we wail like widows. It is really up to us to mould this event and the consequent opportunity, to see it for what it actually is: a milestone, a catalyst of the transformation of our land, in its march for its inevitable date with a glorious destiny.
* Reproduced from ‘Ayodhya’, Seminar 402, February 1993.