The posthumous publication of Girilal Jain’s book* is the last will and testament of an intellectual who never declared his basic beliefs during his professional career. He was first and foremost an editor; that meant he had to be a commentator and critic rather than the protagonist of one or other political, economic, social or religious system.
Between the lines of his editorials and articles for this paper, we could gauge that he wished to conserve traditional values. But he didn’t lay stress on any particular brand of religious conservatism. By and large, he seemed to support the Gandhi-Nehru model of development. He is known to have actively advised Indira Gandhi at various junctures during her years as prime minister.
Though it was evident to some of his readers that he was an avid student of Hindu and Muslim thought, it never seemed that he considered more than 600 years of Muslim rule in India to be a long barren period: the unuttered reason being that Islamic civilisation in India remained obsessively closed, theocratic and that it didn’t evolve any statecraft except under Akbar. While he held the view that early Hindu states had always based themselves on the concept of the Maharaja as Chakravarty, ruling over all according to Hindu traditional civilisational values – sanatan dharma – he never said it was the only dominant trend.
Later in his thinking he considered Buddhism and Jainism as incidental deviations from Hinduism. He seems to have forgotten that Ashoka based his kingdom not on dharma, the sum of religio-political values; he based it on Buddhist dhamma, the sociopolitical basis for a welfare state. Though he seemed to have accepted a Nehruvian model for his own life style, his book reveals that he always believed, from the civilisational historical point of view, in the Hindu tradition espoused by Tilak, Aurobindo and Lajpatrai. He considered their beliefs to be a truer base for the Indian national struggle than the secularist forces of reformers like Ram Mohan Roy, Keshub Chander Sen and Ishwar Chander Vidyasagar. The last three, as Jain knew, took a stand against the Manusmriti tradition of sati, widow remarriage and child marriage.
In his book he privileges Ramakrishna-Vivekanand Hindu bhaktism over the synthesis which Ram Mohan Roy stressed: a combination of Vedic cosmic awareness, the Islamic concept of Allah as universe, the one who sustains all, and Buddhist and Christian compassion.
While approving of the Mahatma’s struggle on behalf of the Harijans, he deplores his adoption of the programme to restore the Turkish Caliphate in order to bring Muslims more actively into the national movement. He suggests rather that it was on the Ram Raj emphasis of the Mahatma that the basis of his popular appeal lay.
He seems to consider the Hindutva campaign of recent years as an inevitable resurrection – a rebirth of the civilisational basis of Hindu nationalism which included Gandhi’s Ram Raj. In other words, he sees Hindutva as an inevitable replanting of India’s roots for the cultivation of a ‘new national flowering’.
By opting to side with those installed, in place of the Mahatma’s concept of Ram Raj, the idol of Ram at the alleged Ram temple in Ayodhya, and by approving of the destruction of the Babri masjid, Girilal Jain exalts a Bollywood style of ritual. He also exalts the kind of Hindu civilisational state with which the Bhartiya Janata Party seeks to replace a liberal humanist secular state.
Jain’s position gives way to the illiterate and fanatical element of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, to mendicant sadhus, and to the Shankaracharya of Puri who states that a woman cannot be allowed to recite the Vedas. By so doing he brings himself down to the level of those who mechanically queue morning and evening to offer garlands to and ask favours of tinsel gods or goddesses.
Hindu civilisational tradition as Jain defines it precludes the uplift of outcastes, a human right knitted into the preamble of our democratic Constitution. This does not seem to have struck him as a serious flaw in his argument.
All emergent hitherto rejected peoples, Nagas, Bodos, Jharkhand Santals and a large number of Muslims will not accept Jain’s thesis that they will have scope to flourish in the proposed Hindutva civilisation of the old Chakravartin tradition, with Hindus on top and the rest having to declare that they are Hindus.
Girilal Jain probably had no time to speculate on India’s place in global civilisation. It was into the currents of that civilisation that Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru wished India to enter. He considers the liberal humanist Panchashil of co-existence, drafted by Nehru, to be irrelevant.
He regards the withering away of totalitarian Communist states as a final end. But in any reckoning of the future development of states, unbridled Capitalism and Stalinist Communism are equally doomed.
The demand for equal human rights is a universal phenomenon.
The people of the old colonies of Western Imperialism will attain Equality just as they have attained national Liberty.
India cannot wipe out the first six pages of its Constitution.
Neither Muslim nor Hindu fundamentalisms can last out against the need for a caste-less non-denominational, egalitarian secular order.
Our civilisation attained freedom under a political leadership dedicated to our unique practice of dharna, a sit-down at the door of the authority. We became a free people by non-violent strikes not by violent struggles. Because of our practice of dharna during the freedom struggle, we were not nor are we a nation in the Western sense of the term.
Ours is an emergent synthesis of a traditional acceptance of all with a Western emphasis on equal human rights, and we will remain a multi-racial multi-religious, multi-tongued order of peaceful co-existence. And we will not become a Hindu theocracy dominated by an upper-caste fantasy.
* The Hindu Phenomenon By Girilal Jain UBSPD, New Delhi Rs 150
The Times of India, 28 August 1994