Since intellectuals of different hues began warning us over a year ago against ‘enemies’ of ‘true’ Hinduism out to ‘semitise’ it, I have waited for a statement by anyone of them on what precisely alarms them in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I have waited in vain. Instead, we have been treated to lectures, heavily loaded with quotations from newly discovered Vivekanand, on the ‘unity’ of all faiths.
Apparently, the defenders of ‘tolerant’ Hinduism do not have much respect for the intelligence of their readers and listeners. Or else they would not assume that they can sell such contradictory propositions. All faiths are essentially one; still it is possible for some evil-minded persons and organisations to recast one in the mould of others to the great detriment of the original and its adherents. So they tell us.
This is only one aspect of the story. For they also tell us that when two or more faiths co-exist in a country for centuries, as they have in India, it is only natural that they freely borrow from one another to produce a synthesis. Indeed, some of the forbears of the proponents of ‘tolerant’ Hinduism have even contended that the great Sankaracharya himself was greatly influenced by Islamic monotheism and that this was reflected in his philosophy of Advaita.
Something is obviously worrying them, however. And what is worrying them is no secret. A large number of Hindus have begun to realise, as the followers of Guru Nanak realised in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that it is necessary to reintroduce the Kshatriya element among people who for centuries have been brought up on varieties of Bhakti (piety) on the one hand, and British theories which made many of us feel inferior and cowardly in our own eyes on the other. Witness martial-non-martial race theory.
The very choice of the term kar seva in connection with the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya makes it obvious that the proponents of Hindutva derive inspiration from Sikhism and not from Semitic faiths, incidentally a euphemism for Islam, though the proponents of the Hinduism of Swami Vivekanand and Mahatma Gandhi would never admit it.
The Khalsa was not deliberately designed. It grew and crystallised over a period of time in response to a specific challenge; Guru Govind Singh presided over the process of crystallisation. It has had an enormous appeal for the Hindus, especially in north India, ever since, occasional conflicts between its adherents and some other Hindu organisations like the Arya Samaj notwithstanding.
The surprise, therefore, if any, is not that someone in the RSS or the VHP should have thought of using some Khalsa practices, but that the proponents of Hindutva should not have moved further in that direction. Imagine the impact on middle class urban Hindus if they were to take to the kara.
Both Swami Vivekanand and Mahatma Gandhi were painfully aware of the consequences of the disarming, especially moral, of middle class urban Hindus. Vivekanand’s speeches proclaim that awareness, as it were, from the house top. Witness his repeated call for ‘nerves of steel’, his talk of a ‘Hindu soul in a Muslim body’ and his emphasis on physical culture so much so that he spoke of football being a better passport to heaven than meditation. Revolutionary leaders in Bengal, including MN Roy and Aurobindo Ghosh, derived inspiration from the teachings of the Swami.
It is at best a matter of academic interest to debate whether this approach could have produced the desired results. For it was abandoned not only because the British police were efficient in unearthing underground movements but also because Gandhiji, with his insistence on non-violence, came to dominate the national scene at the end of World War I.
Non-violence, as the Mahatma did not tire of emphasising, is the weapon of the brave and not of the weak and the cowardly. Thus, it is not an accident that it was used most effectively by the Sikhs and the Pathans in the pre-independence period; during the emergency (l 975-77) too, the non-violent resistance was best organised among the Sikhs.
It is thus indisputable that satyagraha was successfully applied not by social groups who swear by ahimsa as a doctrine but by groups who accepted non-violence as a policy instrument. The Indian National Congress also accepted nonviolence only as a policy. Mahatma Gandhi’s own case was different. For him, ahimsa was a means for his personal elevation to the status of a Mahayogi in the Hindu tradition. Indeed, his search for truth which he equated with God would have remained, as it were, suspended in mid-air without tapas (austerities) which, for him, was an integral part of ahimsa.
As an individual, he, of course, succeeded remarkably well. He became totally fearless. But while he could promote defiance of authority on a pretty big scale and with it a measure of courage among ordinal people, he could not possibly implant in the general middle class urban Hindu mind the kind of fearlessness which alone can be basis of ahimsa in the active sense.
This is not to deny his achievement; it was great; he shaped men out of dust, as Pandit Nehru said, but the success was in some ways flawed. This should be evident from the demonstration of lack of courage of conviction among Congress leaders soon after independence. Almost all supporters of Sardar Patel and opponents of Pandit Nehru and his theory of socialism switched over to the latter after the former’s death in 1950 to give just one example.
The Hindus in question remained disarmed in ideological-moral terms under Gandhi’s leadership on other counts as well. He abhorred Western civilisation which in some ways had served as the basis of Hindu self-renewal and self-affirmation. He sought to negate much of what had taken a century to achieve. He of course, did not succeed; his own ‘army’ consisted largely of men and women westernised in varying degrees; but he reinforced the ambivalence and confusion which haunts us till today.
Nationalism under Gandhiji’s leadership came to be defined largely in negative anti-British and anti-western terms divested of cultural content. His concept of village republics rested on a myth invented by the British and his economic and education programme based on it proved a nonstarter. His valiant campaign against untouchability met a desperate Hindu need. But it could not serve as a framework for the remaking of India.
In all probability, however, we might have continued to drift on the Gandhi-Nehru route if first the communist system and then the Soviet Union itself had not collapsed under the weight of internal contradictions. This has deprived us of even the semblance of a coherent outlook. The Nehruvian concept of secularism has, for instance, been reduced to an empty slogan without the underpinning provided by socialism of the Nehruvian variety and non-alignment. Obviously a tripod cannot stand as one leg.
Inevitably there is search for a new framework. No one has a blueprint. But it is obvious that the status quo cannot be preserved. Indeed, the dominant elite has already abandoned it in the fields of economic, defence and foreign policies. Marxists of various varieties do not subscribe to the changes. But they have nothing concrete to offer. In effect, they too, are hanging on to one piece of the old tattered banner. This desperate act can confuse and delay the march forward with serious consequences for the nation. It cannot help restore the status quo ante of the Gandhi-Nehru design.
The Times of India, 8 April 1993