Girilal Jain was one of the rare intellectuals who welcomed the movement for the Ram temple at Ayodhya, birthplace of the God-King and kingdom of the illustrious solar dynasty, as part of an historical process of Hindu civilisational affirmation and reclamation of ascendancy in national life.
Jain believed that Hindu rejuvenation began two centuries ago as a by-product of the consolidation of the British Raj, which disrupted the uneasy equilibrium between Hindus and Muslims; and that this process has not been reversed since, despite the Partition in 1947. Every important Hindu leader from Rammohan Roy to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru contributed to this Hindu resurgence, and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was its latest manifestation. It was unique in that it placed the issue of the civilisational base of Indian nationalism at the core of the nation’s political agenda. The Ram Temple was central to this process because Ram was the exemplar par excellence for the Hindu public domain.
In his writings of the late 1980s and early 1990s (he died in July 1993), Jain held that the political-economic order fashioned by Jawaharlal Nehru was dying, just like its parent Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist order. Two of its major planks, secularism and socialism, had lost much of their appeal, and the third, non-alignment, had become redundant. This vacuum prompted a re-Hinduization of the political domain, a quest for ‘Hindu rashtra’, the proper English translation of which is ‘Hindu polity’ and not ‘Hindu nation’.
The concept of nation, Jain argued, was alien to the Hindu temperament and genius. It was essentially a Semitic concept which arose in Western Europe in the 18th century after it had shaken off the Church stranglehold. Like Christianity and Islam, it stressed the exclusion of those who did not belong to the charmed circle (territorial, linguistic or ethnic) and a corresponding inclusion of those who fell within the circle. The essential spirit of Hinduism was, by contrast, inclusivist; it sought to abolish and not build boundaries. That is why, Jain contended, Hindus cannot sustain anti-Muslim sentiments except temporarily, that too, under provocation.
Jain reasoned that the temple, though outwardly contentious, was not a Hindu fight with Muslims. It was a Hindu attempt to renew themselves in the spirit of their civilization, to break free of the debris under which the Raj, its successor Nehruvian secular state, and the fellow-traveller intellectuals it patronized, had interred us. Subsequent events in the Muslim world, particularly in the past decade, have awakened large numbers of Muslims to the reality that the Western world has used Muslims as foot soldiers of the colonial and post-colonial world order. Sadly, even today, Indian Muslims are unwilling to draw the relevant conclusions and seek new equations and new understanding with the Hindu people.
Girilal Jain was no ordinary journalist, but an institution in himself. He was considered by many as the last of the great editors of the pre-independence generation, who left an indelible mark on Indian journalism. Giri, as he was known to friends and colleagues, was a serious and self-educated intellectual, who saw his work as a means of moulding public opinion and influencing social and political processes in the country. He viewed journalism, particularly the editorship of The Times of India, as part of this mission.
Jain’s friends said he saw himself as an Indian Raymond Aaron, the French conservative eminence grise. Yet he was conscious of the limitations of conservatism and was remarkably open at the philosophical level to other viewpoints, including left-wing views. Indeed, for all his scathing criticism of communism, he acknowledged a great debt to the Marxist intellectual tradition. He was forever willing to engage in debate and discussion on the issues of the day, combining a focus on the immediate with a concern for long-term, larger questions.
Jain’s forte was his acute understanding of power and the ends to which it is deployed in the Indian context. He was a powerful supporter of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, though he never completely endorsed the Emergency and the censorship it unleashed. But he campaigned against the Janata Party’s efforts to isolate and prosecute her in 1977-79 because he admired her mastery of power politics and her (shared) concern for the preservation of the Indian State.
His attitude towards Rajiv Gandhi was more ambivalent, and he felt Rajiv had been misguided to try to break with standard Congress politics by downgrading the party. Post-1987, after the Bofors scandal surfaced, he felt compelled to defend the Indian State from the virulent opposition attack, for he firmly believed in a strong, cohesive, and centralised State.
Girilal Jain was born at Piplikhera, Sonepat, in 1922 and studied at a village school. He graduated in History from Hindu College, Delhi. As a youth, he was attracted to politics, joined the Quit India Movement, and was jailed in 1943. His initial attraction to Marx and Lenin turned into disillusionment on reading Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, and for a while he became a disciple of M.N. Roy, even working in the Royist paper, Vanguard, in 1945.
During this student days, he was attracted to Sri Aurobindo, and spent a few months at the Pondicherry Ashram, thinking to become a sadhu! The seeds of his interest in Hindu, and indeed all civilisations and cultures, were sown in this period, and he became an avid student of history, religion, art and culture, of all nations and peoples. He was returned to the real world by the Master himself, with the prediction and blessing that he had a great mission to fulfill in the world. Much later, when the cub reporter went to pay respects to the dying M.N. Roy (1954), the Guru said, ‘Giri, I bless you with the editorship of The Times of India.’
Jain had joined the News Chronicle in 1948 under the editorship of his mentor and friend, Sham Lal, and later followed him to The Times of India, along with other colleagues, when Times of India started its Delhi edition in January 1950. After a year as a sub-editor, he became a reporter and was promoted as chief reporter in 1958. In 1961, he was posted to Karachi and a year later made London correspondent. Returning three years later, he was made an assistant editor by the then editor, N.J. Nanporia. In 1970, he became resident editor of the Delhi edition of The Times of India. He was Editor-in-Chief of the paper from 1978-88. This was a period of cataclysmic changes in national life, and the period in which he was once again captivated by “the Hindu mind” and the Hindu for national self-renewal.
His last and best known work, The Hindu Phenomenon, was completed after his death by his eldest daughter, Meenakshi Jain. It became his last testament to the Hindu Rashtra whose emerging contours he sensed in the craving to recover the sacred birthplace of Sri Rama.
– Sandhya Jain