Thursday, February 28, 2013

Politicisation of Indian Culture

(Lecture Delivered at the Rotary Club of Bengaluru on 12-05-09)

Let me at the outset thank the Rotary Club of Bengaluru for inviting me. I am returning to a Rotary event after almost a decade. I had occasions to address the District Conferences of the Club twice before when I was at Hyderabad. I further thank the organisers for asking me to speak on a topic that is ‘hot’ all over India and especially hotter here in Karnataka – “Politicisation of Indian Culture”.

There has been a serious debate over this topic in India in the last few months. There was name-calling, blame-games and high-pitch allegations galore over this question of Indian culture. Sadly, most of it remained ill-informed and rhetorical.

I don’t mean to say that there was no issue. There are genuine issues relating to what is happening in India in the name of culture. It is a cause for concern when someone comes and attacks a pub or a group of people try to disturb a fashion show calling it anti-Indian culture or some groups go berserk attacking gift shops or boys and girls in parks on Valentine’s Day in the name of protecting Indian culture.

We are all concerned about such violence. There should be no place for it in a democratic set up. If it is anti-Indian culture for young boys and girls to go to pubs it is equally very un-Indian culture-like to beat up young girls by unknown hooligans on the streets. I call it Semitisation and Talibanisation of our culture. We all must stand united to condemn such violence. We in the RSS have done it whenever such incidents happened.

But most of the times, the response of the rest of the society is also a cause for equal concern. We assume pink chaddies (underwear) are an answer to pub attacks. In our eagerness to respond to one type of radicalism we inadvertently resort to another form of fundamentalism. Then we have our ‘progressives’ for whom these issues have become bread and butter issues. They provide them an opportunity to shout and scream and get a few tele-bytes space on popular channels.

The violence stems from our refusal to engage groups in a civilised dialogue. We are living in a democracy. Every viewpoint calls for respect. But most of the times we resort to downright condemnation calling the protagonists names. They are branded Hindu fundamentalists/Hindu Taliban and what not. Actually this Fascist response of the progressives is what lends more ammunition to the ‘culture crusaders’ like Muthaliks .

Hence while condemning this violence in the name of culture we must not forget that politics of culture involves larger issues and it is not just Indian but a global phenomenon today. We are living in an era of what is called ‘Identity Politics’. Globally there is a new kind of awakening where nations and peoples are trying to reinvent themselves on the basis of their historic and cultural identities.

Who are we?’ asked Samuel Huntington in 2003, highlighting the serious question of the American identity. America cannot remain a ‘melting pot’ forever; it must create an identity for itself failing which it will disintegrate, he insisted in his path-breaking work. He used Max Weber’s expression ‘Protestant Ethic’ as the identity of America only adding ‘Minus Church’. In other words, Protestant value system, not the organised Church, should be the pan-American identity according to Huntington.

Huntington’s book generated great debate all over the world. When I met him in 2006 at the beautiful Martha’s Vineyard off Boston coast I asked him whether he still believed that the real identity of a nation should be the historic-cultural identity and not the politico-geographic identity. He was categorical and insisted that his later research showed that very soon several European nations too are going to raise these questions about their identity beyond Nation-State. That is what we witness in several parts of the world today.

  • When thousands of farmers marched through the streets of Paris to protest against McDonald’s a couple of years ago, they were not merely opposing a food joint; they were actually protesting against Mc Donaldisation or Americanisation of France.

  • When Moscow declared ‘No Entry’ to the Pope it was trying to prevent the influence of Western Catholic Church over the Orthodox Christian population of Russia.

  • That is the reason why China, while allowing Christianity as part of its great ‘Four Modernisations’ programme, strictly prohibited Chinese Christianity from having any connection with the Vatican.

  • Even the Pope, realising the growing identity concerns of various peoples, asked his Bishops and Fathers in the East European countries NOT to convert but just to preach.

  • A Minister in Ghana, one of the rich and stable countries of Africa declared openly that their tribal identity is under threat due to the Western Missionaries and called upon his tribesmen to rise against them.

  • Even the most modern South Korean capital city Seoul witnessed a massive protest rally attended by 150000 people accusing the ruling alliance of destroying the Buddhist identity of the nation by aggressively promoting Christian values.

These incidents are symptoms of a malice that has been introduced into the global body politic by the Western nations. The collapse of Communism and Socialism has removed the Marxist explanations concerning economic development. The Marxists attempted to create a global economic identity in the name of Communism. They tried to destroy cultures and create a new global culture based on economic principles. They did it wherever they became powerful. They did it in Russia; they did it to the great Tibetan culture; and they tried to impose their material interpretations even in India trying to re-write history and essentially negate the true one. But the Cultural Determinist School of scholars never let their designs succeed whether in Russia or in India.

The global capitalist order is now attempting to create what they describe as a ‘Global Popular Culture’. It attempts to commoditise culture; sells it aggressively through market; and attempts to destroy all other forms of culture in order for the giant multi-lateral corporations – the neo-evangelicals – to flourish. The whole world is expected to eat, dress, behave and live according to the standards set by these global neo-evangelicals. They do not deny the primacy of culture; they only want to change it; and they think they can do that.
"The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself", declared Daniel Patrick Moynihan succinctly summing up the grand design.
Culture of a nation is the manifestation of the sum total of the cumulative wisdom compiled by a people over millennia-old historic experiences and experiments. Thus every culture has its own beauty and uniqueness. Our culture, which we call as Indian or Hindu, is pluralist at its core, catholic in its content and progressive in its vision.

The global popular culture seeks to annihilate this very essential pluralist ethic. The West is clear in its agenda. It tries to project this global culture as an epitome of development and progress. All other cultures are considered inferior.

Under this scheme pubs become ‘popular culture’ and our very own Bharata Natyam becomes ‘Folk Art’. What is ‘Folk Art’ if not popular culture? Who are the ‘Folks’?

Richard A.Shweder in "Moral Maps, 'First World Conceits, and the New Evangelists” asserts that these judgmental views are frequently the "ethnocentric misunderstanding and moral arrogance" of "cultural developmentalism." He criticises that it is a return to the "White Man's Burden" beliefs of the Western imperial era.

The developmental standards against which cultures are currently judged are slippery, he points out with ample examples. There is much in Western culture that is questionable, and much in third world culture that is laudable. He is sceptical about current views on the causation of economic development. He notes that different cultures have been wealthy and powerful at different historic times.

As the capitalist economy has grown in influence and power, much of other cultures have been expropriated and commoditised, warns Shweder. Their use value increasingly takes second place to their exchange value. As he very aptly points out, nowadays we create less of our culture and buy more of it, until it really is no longer our culture.

A far greater part of our culture is now aptly designated as "mass culture," "popular culture," and even "media culture," owned and operated mostly by giant corporations whose major concern is to accumulate wealth and make the world safe for their owners, the goal being exchange value rather than use value, social control rather than social creativity. Much of mass culture is organized to distract us from thinking too much about larger realities. The fluff and puffery of entertainment culture crowds out more urgent and nourishing things. By constantly appealing to the lowest common denominator, a sensationalist popular culture lowers the common denominator still further. Public tastes become still more attuned to cultural junk food, the big hype, the trashy, flashy, wildly violent, instantly stimulating, and desperately superficial offerings” he bemoans.

The commoditisation of culture can be seen quite starkly in the decline of children's culture. This process, whereby a profit-driven mass culture pre-empts people's culture, is extending all over the world, as third-world critics of cultural imperialism repeatedly remind us.

Hence while condemning what Muthaliks do, let us not lose sight of the larger question of threats to cultural pluralism. Do we want our own distinct cultural identity to remain intact or want to just become a minor partner in the giant global popular culture which is essentially market-driven and multi-national corporations-guided?

If there are any negative aspects in our culture Gandhiji’s approach is the right approach for us. Don’t blame our religion for all the faults you find in our lives today, cautioned Gandhiji. Blames yourselves that you have brought in all that ruin through your actions and have become unworthy inheritors of that great culture. We have to try and reform it, not negate and annihilate it.

Every culture has its own great values and weak points. Protestant nations are said to have lower levels of corruption because the Protestant sects emphasize personal responsibility for avoidance of sin, whereas Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox doctrine accepts inherent human weakness and the need for the intervention of a forgiving Church.

We have to learn from the experience of Japan. Landes provides an account of the Meiji Restoration in Japan. Japanese culture - work ethic, effective government, self discipline, nationalism - made the difference. The Japanese determined to learn and adopt the best practices in the European world and the U.S. They were spectacularly successful.

"Other countries imported foreign technicians to teach their own people; the Japanese largely taught themselves. Other countries imported foreign equipment and did their best to use it; the Japanese modified it, made it better, and made it themselves.

"The difference was cultural - a deep sense of national responsibility. The new imperial state and its educational system brought the Japanese people a strong sense of nationalism and duty to the nation. It was a Japanese version of the ‘Protestant ethic’ of work and responsibility described by Max Weber in ‘Economy and Society’". That is the basis for the explosive growth of Japanese human capital.

In conclusion, I would like to clarify that I am not advocating protectionism and close-mindedness. Indian culture always believed in the dictum:

Aano bhadrah kratavo yantu vishwatah’ - Rigveda

Let noble thoughts come from all sides of the world”.

I quote Gandhiji to end my speech.

Let my windows and doors be open for the outside world. Let the cool and soft winds blow from all sides into my house. But I should not be blown off or uprooted’.

Vaishno Devi Tomorrow

(Article written in 2010)

The Government of Jammu & Kashmir didn’t stop at revoking the land allotment. It actually affected status quo ante by taking over the Yatra arrangements from the Amarnath Shrine Board and placing them under the Tourism Ministry. This issue, which is tantamount to literally dismantling the Shrine Board, has somehow been completely ignored by the country.

It is sad that by taking back the land allocated to the Shrine Board the J&K Government has completely surrendered before the Jehadi forces. It is clear to the entire nation that the Shrine Board wanted that land to provide some improved facilities for the pilgrims during the two months of the Yatra. It is a tragedy that pilgrims embarking on such an important pilgrimage had to use open pits as toilets with jute sheets separating them. The effort by the Board in the last couple of years to build prefab sheds and toilets with proper arrangements for hygiene are laudable.

In view of the fact that these facilities had to be dismantled every year involving unnecessary expenditure the Board approached the State Government in 2005 with a request for transferring the land on lease basis to the Board so that those prefab structures can remain there and can be used every year during the Yatra time. The State Government sat on the request for three years. Finally the State Cabinet approved land lease in 2008. Law Minister Muzaffar Beig and Tourism Minister Quaza, both from the PDP, were a party to this decision.

However a huge controversy was kicked off. The Jehadis entered the scene with absurd arguments that it was a Israel-type conspiracy to settle Hindus and change the demography of the Valley. Baltal is a place which is covered by snow and under constant threat of avalanches for almost 8 months in a year. Moreover, the only permanent thing that the Board thought of constructing there was a 3-feet high wall to protect the prefab sheds from the snow slides. In any case the State has a reprehensible law that prohibits non-State subjects from settling down in its territory. More than 2 lakh Hindus, who migrated to J&K at the time of Partition, still don’t have citizenship rights in that State whereas their fellow-travellers like Gujral, Manmohan Singh and Advani became Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers of the country. How can any Hindu go and settle at Baltal, thus affecting “demographic change” in such a scenario?

Forest land argument too is equally specious. Hundreds of acres of forest lands were freely granted for many civic purposes like erection of electricity towers, telephone towers, construction of schools and hotels and even construction of Golf courses for the fun of biggies like Farooq Abdullah. In fact the Shrine Board was granted land on the condition that it would put up two trees for each tree uprooted from the land. In any case how can replacing open pits with prefab toilets be called environmental hazard?

It is pretty clear that all the arguments against the allocation of the land to the Shrine Board are hollow. And that is what makes the entire episode murkier. What prompted the State Government to take back not only the land but also the entire Yatra arrangements and confining the Shrine Board’s authority to performing rituals at the shrine? It is understood that pressure was mounted from Delhi on the State Government to not just take over the land but actually take over the entire pilgrimage. Surprisingly, why is the country silent over this dangerous move and talking only about taking back the land?

It is now becoming clear that the Jehadis are out to destroy symbols of Indian nation in the State completely. What better way is there to do it by destroying two most potent Hindu shrines – Amarnath and Vaishno Devi!

Amarnath and Vaishno Devi are two main pilgrimages that attract millions of Hindus from all over the country and abroad to J&K. They are one of the major bonds the rest of India has with that State. It is this bond that the Jehadis want to destroy. We must not forget that the Jehadis have tasted blood.

Amarnath and Vaishno Devi pilgrimage has become increasingly popular and successful ever since they came under the management of independent Boards. Credit should go to Governors Jagmohan and Lt. Gen Sinha. In fact the very fact that the Amarnath Shrine Board started building prefab structures and was ready to get land on lease spending crores rupees is in itself an indication of how successful the Board has been.

Similarly the Vaishno Devi Board too has become hugely successful in the last several years. These Boards have good income too. The Vaishno Devi Board has started a University in Katra and is in the process of setting up a big Cancer Hospital. All these things have made these Boards very popular too.

It is this success, and the money that perhaps became intolerable for the Jehadis. The argument of the Jehadis that the Amaranth Yatra was being run even when there was no Board is a clear message that they don’t want the Board. Going by the same logic it can be argued that we don’t need Hajj Houses anywhere in India. But the Hindu psyche is different from that of the Jehadis.

It is a pity that the Chief Minister, who got his Cabinet sanction land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, now singing a different tune and arguing that the Tourism department is better placed to conduct the Yatra than the Board. With this success the Jehadis would step up their campaign for the removal of the Vaishno Devi Board also. There is no dearth of secular Jehadis in media and intelligentsia who would be more than happy to toe this line and insist that a secular Government has no business to patronise Hindu Boards. The clamour will soon begin, first to remove Governor from the post of the Chairman of the Board and then to gradually dismantle it.

It is necessary to understand this Jehadi game plan whose ultimate objective is to finish off the vibrant symbols of Indian nationalism in J&K – the Amarnath and the Vaishno Devi.

Tibet: Resumption of the Dialogue is the Only Way

(Article written in 2008)

China reacted predictably. It insisted that the Buddhist monks in Lhasa and elsewhere had indulged in arson and violence. It reiterated its resolve to ‘crush’ the voices of independence. It accused His Holiness Dalai Lama of masterminding the uprising and described him a ‘wolf’. The Communist Party of Tibet called him a ‘jackal in ochre robes’.

China’s predicament is quite obvious. Unlike on earlier occasions – whether it was Tiananmen Square massacre or the Tibetan uprisings in late 80s – today the technology has become a big bane for her. Despite her best efforts to gag the media, jam satellite transmissions and launch propaganda offensive it couldn’t really suppress the details of the happenings from reaching the outside world.
Dharmashala, which apparently has some channels of communication still open with the gadget-savvy monks and other Tibetans in Tibet and around, has valid reasons to believe that the Chinese Government is indulging in genocide. Even His Holiness had claimed that 70-80 Tibetan demonstrators were killed in the crackdown by the Chinese security forces. Samdong Rimpoche, the highly revered Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile, too expressed his serious concern over what he termed as the ‘Cultural Genocide’ launched by China in Tibet.

All this happened so suddenly and swiftly that even the so-called Sinologists and Tibet experts were caught completely unawares. The uprising of Tibetans on the occasion of the 59th Anniversary of the last battle for saving Tibet thus brought the question of Tibet’s future onto the centre-stage again.

While the Chinese Government is fuming at the rising demand for Tibetan Independence not only within the occupied Tibetan territory but all over the Western world, certain individual and national players are looking at this crisis as an excellent opportunity to further embarrass, if not put pressure on, the Chinese by way of the boycott of the Olympics scheduled to take place in a few months from now in Beijing. They also see an opportunity for them to meddle in the troubled waters with demands like UN sponsored lawyers and jurists in Lhasa etc.

As it happens always, in this melee the core issue for which His Holiness and the Government in Exile are fighting is totally left by the wayside.

I was in Lhasa towards the end of last year. No doubt Lhasa is a well-developed city today - with good roads, flashy cars, upmarket malls and omnipresent advanced electronic gadgets. But keen observers don’t miss the fact that while the city has everything that the other developed cities in China boast of, the only thing conspicuous by its absence is Tibetanism, the essential persona of Tibetan identity.

Tibetans are no doubt there, but largely as pullers of rickshaws and push-carts, doing small-time businesses or petty jobs. There is a glaring demographic division – which some rightly prefer to call as invasion by the Hans – that has left the Tibetans at the lower rung, both numerically as well as in terms of development.

More importantly, they find themselves far removed from their spiritual and temporal leadership.

What is of paramount importance for the survival of Tibetanism in Tibet is the return of His Holiness and his followers to the Potala Palace. No one knows its significance more than His Holiness himself. That is the reason why he and his Government in Exile are prepared for the autonomy offered, albeit half-heartedly, by the Chinese.

There were several rounds of talks between the leaders of the Government in Exile and the Chinese Government that led to agreement on several points. Yet the stalemate continues, especially on two crucial issues.

One is the demographic and geographic question. China, after annexing Tibet in 1959, divided it into 6 different regions. What is today described by China as the Autonomous Region of Tibet is just one of those 6 regions. All the 6 regions are inhabited by a good number of Tibetans. In fact the recent uprisings were witnessed in almost all these regions. His Holiness wants unification of Tibet which is vehemently opposed by the Chinese.

Second issue on which stalemate continues is about what should be the history taught to the Tibetans in their schools and monasteries. Tibetans want freedom to teach their history as how they look at it. But the Chinese want it the way they manufactured and propagated. In fact the Chinese version of the Tibetan history has been showcased in the museums across the Tibetan region including Lhasa.

What is most unfortunate is the breakdown of the talks sometime in 2006 after which China never showed any interest to resume them.

It is a razor-edge walk for His Holiness and his men. A section of the exiles is vociferously opposed to the very idea of autonomy. Anything short of total independence is not acceptable to them. Many in India and elsewhere who have been ardent supporters of the Tibetan cause too feel let down by the acquiescence of His Holiness for autonomy.

However none can deny the fact that His Holiness is the right man to decide on such matters. In a conflict between urgent and important it is his wisdom coupled with experience that would guide the Tibetan struggle. As one of the senior leaders in the Government in Exile put it succinctly ‘the fire of independence can never be doused’.

Recent violence has provided justification for China to vilify and in the event further delay the process of reconciliation set off by His Holiness. But it can’t escape the responsibility for the violence as it is essentially an outcome of the breakdown of dialogue. News trickling down from Lhasa of the crackdown by the Chinese forces is disturbing and will certainly not help in finding a solution to this problem. China should realise that this time round the uprisings are quite widespread clearly indicating that the displeasure and opposition to its stranglehold over Tibetans is becoming bolder and shriller. It is not in its interest to use its Cultural Revolution-style responses against popular revolutions. Brutal oppression, military action, media gagging etc might have paid off in the previous century. But they will only harm the Chinese interests if pursued in this age and time also. Ominous signs are visible already, with Chinese intellectuals – perhaps for the first time after the dreaded Cultural Revolution experience – have openly raised their voice and questioned the stand taken by their own Government. Their language betrayed clear defiance which would certainly rattle the Chinese leadership. It is time the Chinese started responding differently. It should positively receive the offer of resumption of talks by His Holiness.

India has maintained the position that Tibet question is an internal matter of China. With 150,000 Tibetan citizens living on its soil in exile, many of whom shuttle between India and Tibet frequently, India nevertheless has a role in the resolution of this issue. Also, with Tibet in its control China became India’s Himalayan neighbour. Violent struggles in the Himalayan region are a matter of concern for our national interests. Whether it is Burma or Nepal or Tibet, these violent struggles have the potential to allow certain western powers to gain strategic foothold. This may, in the short term, help in containing and pinning down China. But it can not be overlooked that India’s strategic interests lie in keeping the Himalayan region free from any influence of outside powers.

Dismantle Evangelical Establishment

(Article written in 2009)

Do religious conversions – especially the Missionary conversions to Christianity – affect nationally unity? Do the loyalties of a citizen really change after conversion to Christianity? These questions can be answered only through experience only.

When one looks at the first Christians who have entered India’s southern state of Kerala in 1st century AD, one finds it difficult to support this thesis. The traditional Christians of Kerala – the Syrian Christians, the Mar Thomites etc – have been like milk and sugar in our society. They produced some of the best Christian leaders in the country, both religious as well as secular.

However when we look at what happened to countries like Indonesia we find justification for this argument. The creation of East Timor as a separate nation was the New Millennium gift of the United Nations to the world. World thought that Pakistan and Israel will be the last countries to be carved out on the basis of religion.

In Israel’s case there was a justification. The Jews were the people thrown out of their lands by the invading Romans some 2000 years ago. They were a nation living in exile. After the II World War a home land was carved out for this ‘wandering nation’ and Israel came in to existence in April 1948 as the Father Land of Jews. In a way that was the last country to be created exclusively on religio-national grounds in the 20th Century.

A few months before that, another religio-national entity was created in the name of Pakistan in 1947 August. Unlike Israel, the creation of Pakistan was the greatest mischief of the Colonizers. While in Israel’s case a nation was re-inventing its Father Land, whereas in case of Pakistan, it was the creation of a religion-based national identity. The disastrous consequences of this experiment have convinced every political pundit in the world that Pakistan will be the last such misadventure for the mankind.

But they were shocked when they were told at the crack of the 21st Century dawn that the Christians of East Timor, a chain of tiny islands off Indonesian coast, are a separate nation and hence needed a separate country. People of East Timor have been living there for several centuries before Christianity came to their shores. Initially it was merely a change of religion. But eventually it turned out to be a change of national identity too. Creation of East Timor has brought back the fears of many nations that religion continues to act as a tool for imperialism.

Our experience in the North East too is not very different. A region that had such rich cultural integration with the rest of India that dates back to the times of Maha Bharata today spawns loads of anti-national and separatist movements. It is a well-known fact that secessionism in the North East is a gift of local missionaries. For decades, the Naga separatist movement was led by missionary leaders like Reverend Phizo. The Baptist Church was accused by the Marxist Chief Minister of Tripura Sri Manik Sarkar of being the main sponsor of separatist TNLF terrorism in that state. The nexus between the Church and separatists in the North East is an open secret.

However, whether it is East Timor or Nagaland, ethnic identities are always played up to justify the struggles. That East Timorians are ethnically different from the rest of the Indonesians and that Nagas are a different race become justification for the Church support for these movements.

This brings us to the crucial question that whether conversions can be questioned merely on religio-political experience. Because what they actually do is to snap the cultural identities first, thus making ethno-political identity paramount. Whether it is Pakistanis or East Timorians or various groups in the North East, what changed for them was the snapping of their cultural bond with the rest of the people. Once the cultural bond is destroyed no nation can protect its unity.

Religious conversions that affected cultural identity of peoples had dangerous consequences for nations. Very rarely that one would come across Kerala-type experiences. Experience elsewhere is just the opposite. Conversions world over meant not just change of religion, but change of culture too.

Today the South Korean Buddhists are up in arms against their Government for promoting Christianity aggressively because they find Christianity as destroying their homes and families. It may be remembered that more than 50% of nearly 5 crore South Koreans have ‘no religion’. Yet they are angry with Christianity which has a following of about 15% converts because the converted refuse to take part in even the ancient traditional family rituals for ancestral worship. They are angry not because their family members have changed religion. For, conversion meant much more than mere change of mode of worship. It cut at the root of their cultural identity. That is why 150,000 South Koreans took to streets last month protesting rising conversions and increasing influence of Christianity.

Whether it is the Buddhists of Malawi and South Korea, or the Muslims of Indonesia or Hindus of India and Nepal or the non-religious rulers of China – all have same concern, that conversions are much more than mere change of religion.

It is this growing opposition to conversion in various parts of the world, especially the eastern world that is forcing the Church leadership to sit up and change tactics. They increasingly talk about human rights, freedom of religion etc. They try to stress that the missionary activity of conversion is perfectly in line with the December 1948 charter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, Article 18 of which declared freedom to ‘change’ and to ‘manifest’ one’s religion or belief in ‘teaching, practice, worship and observance’ as a universal fundamental right.

It may be noted that a major lobbying by the Church groups was responsible for inclusion of Right to Conversion as an individual right in the UN charter of Universal Human Rights. There was very little participation from the Eastern world in formulating this charter in 1948. What the Church actually wanted in the charter was much more than what they finally got. Western Christian leaders, who were actively involved in the drafting of the UN bill on Human Rights, came out with a statement on ‘Human Rights and Religious Freedom’ in March 1947 in which they wanted freedom to propagate and ‘persuade others’ to be a part of it.

This whole debate needs to be put on a different track altogether now. Confining issues relating to freedom of religion and conversion to the 1948 UN charter is no longer feasible. The social and cultural rights of communities have to be taken into account while deciding about the rights of individuals. This is necessary because there is a basic difference between the thought process of the East and the West. The West tends to be more individualistic whereas the eastern societies emphasise more on the collective rights of the people.

The following comments of Mahatma Gandhi during the run up to the UN charter reflect the thinking of the Indian and eastern civilizations.

“Begin with a Charter of Duties of Man… and I promise the Rights will follow as spring follows winter. I write from experience. As a young man I began life by seeking to assert my Rights and I soon discovered that I had none not even over my wife. So I began by discovering performing my duty by my wife, my children, friends, companions and society and I find today that I have greater Rights, perhaps than any living man I know”. (Richard L. Johnson, Gandhi’s Experiments with Truth)

There is a need for the Church leadership to think afresh on the issue of conversions, especially in the light of growing resentment among the non-Christian world. In fact it is necessary from the point of view of the internal discourse of the Church also. Inter-denominational conversion or proselytism has become a major irritant within Christianity too. In fact the previous Pope had described the Latin American evangelists as ‘rapacious beasts’ out to steal his flock.

More recently the Pope advised Catholic missionaries operating in the Orthodox Christian countries like erstwhile Soviet countries ‘not’ to be ‘aggressive’ in conversion activities. This stand was necessitated by the strong opposition of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Catholic expansionism. In fact when I met the Orthodox Church officials in Moscow they made it clear that even the Pope is not welcome to Russia since he brings with him the non-Orthodox version of Christianity.

All these irritants led the UN to declare an International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966 in which it was clarified that: “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”.

Many countries including India have introduced religious freedom in their respective Constitutions in the light of the 1948 UN charter of Human Rights. Indian Constitution states in Art. 25 (1) that: “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”

However the experience made it clear that this provision needed more clarity, especially when the missionaries insisted on unhindered right to convert people. That is why the Supreme Court of India had to step in and make it clear in 1977 in the famous Rev. Stainslaws case that: ‘what is freedom for one is freedom for the other in equal measure. And then therefore there can be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert one person to one’s own religion’ and ‘… right to propagate one’s religion does not grant the right to convert another person to one’s own religion’.

The Church should call for a serious internal discourse on the question of conversion. Earlier discourses have lead to partial answers like inculturisation etc which do not really address the concerns of the opponents of conversion. What is needed is to dismantle the superstructure of evangelical establishment and confine Church activity to presenting God to the believers. Conversion may be restricted to bringing believers closer to God rather than ‘Harvesting Souls’.

Conversion militates against the core ethos of our nationhood as understood through the true meaning of Secularism i.e. Sarva Panth Samaadar – equal respect for all religions. Conversion implies superiority of certain religions over others. It is nothing but ‘Religious Imperialism’. Swami Vivekananda had ridiculed the Missionary claims of superiority while Mahatma Gandhi unequivocally declared that he would prohibit conversions if he had the power.

“Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another”. These words of Mahatma Gandi may sound harsh to many a missionary, but they are true.

Terrorism in India: Democratic Dilemmas

(Paper presented at a conference in Israel in 2008)

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"--Mahatma Gandhi.

The following litany of death covers major incidents in the last decade in India--

14-02-1998 Coimbatore (South India) --46 dead
01-10-2001 Jammu-Kashmir Legislative Assembly --35 dead
13-12-2001 Parliament of India, Delhi --06 dead
24-09-2002 Akshardham Temple, Gujarat --31 dead
14-05-2003 Army Camp, Jammu --30 dead
25-08-2003 Bombay (Car Bombs) --52 dead
(This was the culmination of a series of 5 incidents in 8 months in Bombay)
15-08-2004 Assam (East India) --16 dead
05-07-2005 Ayodhya (Ram's Birthplace) --03 dead
29-10-2005 Delhi (Serial Blasts) --70 dead
07-03-2006 Benaras --21 dead
11-07-2006 Bombay (Train Blasts) --200 dead
08-09-2006 Malegaon (Central India) --37 dead
18-05-2007 Hyderabad (South India) --13 dead

Myriad other sporadic incidents complete a picture of insane violence to the Indian Nation, the raison d'etre of which is not quite clear even to the perpetrators! Yet, almost since its independence on August 15, 1947, India has been assailed by attacks internal and external: without any provocation. Communal riots, caste conflicts, linguistic confrontations--a whole gamut of flashpoints have unleashed violence in a nation largely inhabited by a serendipitous people. Even a cursory examination of any of these incidents reveals a sinister design. Further investigations have routinely pointed at cold-blooded planning by certain vested interests.

The Indian democracy has a wide pluralistic base and robust, impartial electoral machinery. The majority Hindu community is itself a variegated tapestry of ethnicities, languages, lifestyles. Pluralism is its ethos. Due to Hinduism's magnanimous acceptance of influences, initial forays by Arab adventurers were met with sangfroid bordering on welcome by some petit princes. When a sizeable chunk of Hindus converted to Islam due to fear or inducement, the reaction was strange. The converts were declared untouchable outcastes like many other communities which had been pushed away due to some misdemeanor or other. These pre-Islamic outcastes had never left Hinduism, so it was unfathomable to Hindus that the converts would declare separation. However, a counterpoint was marked in the Indian reality when Islam took root as a culture which looked back at Semitic history rather than Indian past. Those who had taken up this new identity however, were pulled between known lifestyles and unknown rituals. Over the years, this dilemma bred a huge population of confused and irritable people who were as Indian as any Hindu but were reluctant to identify.

The choice of governing India as a democratic republic with a federal nuance but a unitary bias was a deliberate one. Our Constituent Assembly enshrined all liberal democratic values in our Constitution with enough provisos to implement them. This should have assured all of India about peoples' rights and duties. The Constitution reads like the blueprint of an ideal State. However, internecine squabbles instigated by unfriendly neighbors and global interests marred this perfect plan. There is no region of India untouched by some division or other. Many a times these little differences took a serious turn and resulted in major loss of life. Yet these affected merely the interlocutors. The ordinary citizen was largely unaffected.

This changed in the mid-nineties. All of a sudden hapless commuters were blasted with sophisticated bombs by people who wanted to establish the supremacy of one faith. There was no clear adversary to these 'religious warriors'. They were angry: and that was that. The generally nonchalant nation was taken aback. There weren't even apt laws to combat. Some stringent anti-terrorist laws were framed, only to be withdrawn later. India must be the only nation to have repealed anti-terror laws!

What were the compulsions? The compulsions were that of democracy.

"Democracy is good. I say this because other systems are worse."--Nehru

Mr. George W. Bush feels that democracy will awaken the Middle East to its global responsibility. Democratic Indonesia and Malaysia have rabid Islamist sections that dared not raise their head during previous autocracies. Similarly, as Farid Zakaria pointed out, 20 years of the iron rule of Lee Kuan Yu made the multi-cultural society in Singapore one of the world’s most developed nations.

In India, democracy translates into vote-politics. The all-powerful Parliament is chosen by direct single ballot in which every sane Indian above 18 years may participate. This is irrespective of caste, creed, race, gender or faith. The wily ways of Indian politics have created what is known as 'vote-banks'. These are cliques arranged according to caste or religion. They wield power proportionate to their numerical strength. The political parties may ignore them at their own risk. In fact some regional political parties represent these parochial interests and have no influence beyond their chosen community.

The Hindus thus, have been portioned according to caste and are no influence as a single religious group. The Moslems (though they have carried the vestiges of caste), are a unified interest-group who vote assiduously and with great deliberation. They are usually guided by their religious leaders in matters political as well as spiritual. This brings us to the dilemma of democracy.

Not all Moslems are terrorists or their sympathizers, but Jihad is a holy duty and the same clergy who inspires the believers to fight for Ummat holds the key to the Moslem 'vote-bank'. Which politician worth her salt will dare cross them?

As a result anti-terror laws perceived as anti-Moslem are repealed by a 'secular' government while democracies like USA frame the Patriot Act. Death sentence to the mastermind behind the Parliament attack is discussed threadbare in the human-rights-champion press and the liberal verdict on it is that in the interest of 'secularism' the convict must get reprieve. Neutralizing terrorists in action lands the police in embarrassing post-facto probes and reprimands.

In such a situation, a large section of the population, the second-largest in fact, has to be treated with kid-gloves. Every terrorist act is followed by a great uproar in the media. The police have vindicated themselves very well in every instance by nabbing the perpetrators. Woe betides the investigators if they try to unravel the web of harbourers and sympathizers! The whole bevy of liberal media and 'secular' wannabes pounce on the system and scare it to a grinding halt.

"The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular."--Mahatma Gandhi.

The very spirit of democracy is throttled in such a situation. Any opposition to groups harboring or encouraging terrorism is labeled sectarianism. All attempts to identify the roots of terror are decried. Most nationalist groups face systemic persecution for demanding respect for the sovereignty of India.

A methodical misrepresentation of the Indian situation is afoot. It reflects in western media and intellectual deliberations. What needs to be done is to allow a debate on how the democratic process is manipulated by vested interests and the lack of political will is an advantage to merchants of death.

Yet, India shall pull itself out. It has no history of aggression and through time immemorial it has a global presence through spirituality and trade. Some sober thought has to be given to these dilemmas by nations in similar straits and a way must be found out.

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall--think of it, ALWAYS."--Mahatma Gandhi.

Russia – The Country that we chose to forget

(Article written in 2010)

“Medvedev practises Yoga everyday”, announced Moscow Times, the prominent English daily of Russia the day I landed in Moscow in mid-April for meetings with various Government and non-Government agencies. Quoting the wife of the 42-year old President-elect the paper went on to add that over 10% Russians have been attracted to Yoga, Meditation etc.

I remembered a senior ISKCON official in US once claiming that about 1% of Russians are today the followers of ISKCON and various other Hindu missions. As part of my schedule when I visited the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Culture (JNCC) which is a part of our Indian Embassy activity in Moscow I got to know that the Centre runs courses in various Indian cultural forms like Bharata Natyam, Odissy, Tabla, Flute, Vocal etc which are hugely popular with the Russian youngsters.

Such examples abound.

This is the new Russia that many in India didn’t know. We used to be obsessed with Russia in its erstwhile avatar as Soviet Union. Many households including that of mine used to get magazines like Soviet Land regularly. This was the case till the 70s. Things changed with the advent of Islamic terrorism. We got embroiled in Pakistan quagmire which continued till the dawn of the new Millennium.

Today the obsession for an average Indian is no longer even Pakistan. It is China now. Man on the street in India today knows and talks a lot about China. We no longer consider Pakistan as any competition or rival. We think we are much bigger and better. The new competitor is China, the big and mighty Eastern neighbour. We are obsessed with it in many ways - its size, population, development, Tibet, Arunachal, Sikkim, border disputes, incursions – anger, fear, admiration and awe mixed up.

Somehow post-Soviet we forgot Russia. But the Russians didn’t. Their interest in our country is still intact, and the knowledge too. The Hindi Department in the Moscow State University is a standing example. They speak fluent Hindi – students and teachers alike. What is more interesting is the fact that for them learning Hindi is a means to learning about Hinduism. Of course they are fond of Bollywood… this Khan and that Khan. They now talk not just about Raj Kapoor’s Aavara; they talk about the latest flicks like Jodha Akbar too.

They were curious to know more about Hinduism. In fact the Russian women like to marry Hindu men because of the strong family values, I was told. Visiting India is an important aspect of life for many in Russia.

My visit to the Russian Academy of Sciences was a revealing one. This Soviet era institution boasts rightly of having world renowned scholars on its rolls. It has numerous institutions and campuses. I was invited to the Institute for Oriental Studies, a premier Institution focussing on the Orient. Its Director is a burly old man, a great scholar himself. The 30-minutes time that I spent with him was a memorable one. He informed me that he was a disciple of Ramakrishna Math. He has keen interest in and knowledge of Hindu spirituality.

What transpired in the following meeting was another eye opener. I was invited to address the scholars of the India Studies department of the Institute. About 25 scholars were present and I noticed that I was the youngest among the group. Head of the Institute was a dynamic and scholarly lady who visits India frequently. When I rose to speak I naturally thought that I should start by introducing my organisation. However, before I could complete my first sentence about the RSS one of the senior scholars interrupted to inform me that they knew very well about the history of the RSS as they had been following it for last several decades. This was an indication of how keenly they were watching us right through the Soviet era till now. Before I could restructure my speech he quickly added: ‘We have been studying your organisation although you are the first RSS functionary to visit our Institute. We would like to know more about your organisation’s position on various contemporary issues’. Naturally, that made things easy for me too, the very fact that I was speaking to a group of scholars who know a lot about us.

The discussion that followed reinforced my view that this kind of engagement is necessary in view of the fact that we all live in a media-driven world. Many stereotypes, misconceptions and misunderstandings need to be corrected from time to time.

Another interesting aspect of my visit was my meeting with the senior officials of the Russian Orthodox Church. A very ancient religious institution, this body faced persecution under the Communist rulers. Religion was the opium of masses as per the Communist belief. The Orthodox Church was banned from undertaking religious activity. Its seminaries were closed down, the most prominent among them being the Sergei Passad – a priest-training centre of the Church about 100 miles from Moscow.

Post-Soviet era reforms saw the revival of this Church headed by a Patriarch. Today it is in a way the official religion of Russia. Russian Orthodox Church is considered the most orthodox and puritanical church. It doesn’t allow ordainment of women priests. It has a strict religious code.

But it has several interesting features that need to be noted by us. One of them is its commitment to non-conversion. The Orthodox Church is opposed to proselytisation. That puts it in conflict with other Christian denominations like the Catholics etc. In fact the Orthodox Church has successfully prevented the Pope from visiting Russia on the ground that he will bring Catholic religion to Russia and encourage proselytisation.

But the very same argument is being used to trouble organisations like the ISKCON. ISKCON premises in central Moscow were forcefully occupied by the local Government ostensibly at the behest of the Orthodox Church. Subsequent legal battles saw the restoration of the premises to the ISKCON. When asked about it, the Church officials argue that they were not opposed to ISKCON building a temple, but the size of it should be in proportion to their influence. ‘ISKCON wants to build a temple bigger than our Church in a neighbourhood which is predominantly Russian Orthodox. We opposed it and said that they can build it outside the city near the airport’, they told.

Is the Orthodox Church opposed to other religions? The officials vehemently deny it and say that they have respect for all religions. They organised a conference last year in which representatives from all world religions including Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism were invited.

In Russia four religions have the status of recognised religions by the Government. They are: the Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. Practitioners of these religions have been there from a very long time. In fact a couple of States in South are predominantly Buddhist. Governor of one of the States openly expressed his support to HH the Dalai Lama. HH the Dalai Lama visited Russia in 2000 for the last time.

Can this status be extended to Hinduism also? The Orthodox Church seems totally opposed to that idea, at least for the present. Their opposition seems partly to be stemming from the fear of losing flock, the same fear that forces them to prevent the visit of the Pope.

The ISKCON is meanwhile trying to overcome the problems. It has a committed group of devotees and Sanyasis. Many other Hindu groups are also active in Russia.

The Indian Embassy in Moscow, the Ambassador in particular, is very keen to improve ties between Russia and India. There is enormous potential too. Russian oil economy is booming. Their cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg etc are full of activity. Infrastructure is very good. Yet, in a world dominated by powers that hate the rise of that country, Russia seems to be losing out on publicity front.

For India the strategic advantage relationship with Russia offers is immense. Russia is an important country in our vicinity. It is a democracy, however nascent it may be. It is a huge economy. It is also a free trade country. But the only problem is that the political climate in the country is still stifling. Although the Soviet era of Iron Curtain has gone, the climate still smacks of those very days of Big Brother Watching.

Ram in Hindu Belief – Immortality is Historicity

(Article written in 2010)

It was Rosh ha-Shanah or the Jews on that day, 12-13 September – when I visited Jerusalem, the ancient capital city of the State of Israel. It is from there that the Government of Israel functions to this day, although for the outside world Tel Aviv is the capital.

Many Jews resent this. For them Jerusalem is the living testimony of the history and struggles of the Jewish peoples over Millennia. Tel Aviv, according to one scholar, is just a piece of jewellery that Israel wears on its body, whose soul lies in Jerusalem. “America is afraid that if they recognise Jerusalem as our capital, 1 Billion Muslims in the Middle East will stop drinking Coca Cola. It is just the economics”, says he deridingly.

You have to be in Jerusalem to see what Rosh ha-Shanah means to the Jews. It is their new year from the tradition. It is this calendar that Israel officially uses in its functioning. This Rosh ha-Shanah marked the year 5768 in Jewish calendar. The entire country was in a festive mood. Even the public transport – buses, trains – is closed down. A nation proud of its long history!

The Foreign Ministry official who conducted me to several places in the city showed me what they call as ‘the Temple Mount’. What stands there is the famous al-Aqsa Mosque from where Prophet Muhammad was believed to have ascended to heaven to receive Allah’s Commands for humanity. This site is the centre of all those battles that the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians have been waging with each other over the last one Millennium.

There is this world famous ‘Wailing Wall’ just underneath the al-Aqsa Mosque. The official explained to me that where the al-Aqsa Mosque stands today is where the Temple of David built by King Solomon in around 560 BCE – more than 2500 hundred years ago – stood. It was destroyed more than 20 times by various invaders, before it was taken over by the Muslims in the 6th century to build the al-Aqsa Mosque. Beneath the Mosque are the remains of an ancient temple wall, which the Jews regard as part of the Temple of David. Every New Year day, the traditional Jews assemble at the Wall to offer prayers, and many literally wail. Again a nation proud of its history!

I travelled towards the Lebanese border. On the way we were stopped by the sea-side. There stands the long and very old aqueduct – about 11 miles long when built, which was constructed by the Jewish rulers some 2300 years ago. The Israel Government showcases it as a great monument of the ancient history of the Jewish people. Again a nation proud of its history!

As I was returning to my hotel my mobile rang bringing me the information about that infamous affidavit that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had dared to submit before the Supreme Court bench looking into the matter of Setu Samudram Project.

The contrast was too glaring to be missed. Here is a nation that I am visiting – proud of its Millennia old history and heritage; and here is the nation to which I belong – writhing in self-denial and self-hate.

When I met Prof. Samuel Huntington in 2005 in his beautiful villa in Martha’s Vineyard off Boston he made a very interesting argument about his just released book “Who Are We”. America, although a nation with just 500 years of history, must invent a cultural identity for itself, he insisted. This identity can be the product of its history of five centuries plus the Protestant values that it has inherited from its early English and Spanish migrants; but any further delay in creating a core American cultural identity will only end up in breaking up of the great continent, according to him.

He even added that the entire Europe also will sooner than later begin this exercise of ‘getting to its roots’. Any careful observer of the European developments would vouch for this fact that while on one hand efforts are on to bring all the European nations together through the formation of the European Union etc, the raising sentiment of national identity is quite conspicuous on the other hand.

While this is the trend elsewhere all over the world, here we are - a nation in a hurry to negate its past, its history and its heritage. In fact self-flagellation has become the favourite pastime of our intellectuals, leaders and scholars.

How else can we explain the attitude of the Government that goes about proclaiming that Lord Ram was just a myth and Ramayan a cock and bull story? You can deny something only after examining it. This is the fundamental of honest enquiry. Have we done enough research on Ramayana and the description therein? Can the ASI enlighten us as to what sort of research and study have they undertaken to prove the non-existence of Ram and Ramayana?

Dr. S.R Rao, as the head of the ASI had undertaken study of the submerged Dwaraka off the Gujarat coast. Thanks to his research today we know that there exists a city under water which could be the Dwaraka of the Age of Lord Krishna. Even that research has not gone further. The Archaeological Survey should have utilized the opportunity provided by the Sethu Samudram Project controversy to undertake this all-important study of the historicity of Ramayana.

It happened in several other countries. Sri Ashok Malik had pointed out in his article in Pinoeer that even the Illiad and the saga of the Trojan War were dismissed as Homer's imagination until Heinrich Schliemann conducted 20 years of excavation in the 1870s and 1880s to establish that Achilles and Hector did actually fight to the death outside the gates of Troy.

On the contrary we dismiss Ram and Krishna as mere figments of belief. If that is true, how come these items of mere belief remained in the public memory for so many millennia when similar Hellenic and Roman Godheads like Apollo, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Thor etc have vanished from the public memory?

Dieties depend on worship and the travails of time obscure them. Heroes deified appear unreal but their very historicity ensures their immortality.

Aldous Huxley expressed his doubt that even the historicity of Gandhiji could be put to question by the future generations because of the virtuous life he lived. “Generations to come will find it difficult to believe that such a man walked the earth in flesh and blood”, he wrote.
It is that general mood of self-hate and self-denial that is responsible for our negationist utterances, not the real knowledge about the issue. We tend to become so obtuse as to ask as to which Engineering College did Ram graduate from!

The other day I was on a TV show with the daughter of Karunanidhi, who has been made the Rajya Sabha MP recently. I wanted to know how come the champions of the Dravidian cause hold Ravan, a Brahmin, their idol whereas Ram, a Kshatriya and one who killed Ravana, the Brahmin becomes their persona non grata! Her argument was that Ravan couldn’t be a Brahmin as Brahmins are not entitled to be the rulers according to Manu’s code. She must be ignorant of the Shunga dynasty, Brahmin who ruled for more than a century nearly the whole of India with the valiant Pushyamitra etched in the Indian mind as the greatest resistor of the Shakas and the Huns.

Now, Kannimozhi’s party has prepared a new caste certificate ready for Ravana. Then how come Lord Ram is a myth?

It might interest the DMK to know that their betenoir, the Right-wing Sinhalas are re-discovering themselves through the Hela movement, which lionises Ravana as their greatest king and condemns Ram as aggressor. This movement takes inspiration from the research done by Dr. Arisen Ahubudhu who authored a book called ‘Sakvithi Ravana’. He gave the age of Ravana as 2554 BC – 2517 BC.

However, Ram is never regarded by Hindus merely as a God. He is Maryada Purushottama – Epitome of Virtue. Even a committed Socialist like Ram Manohar Lohia used to pray: “Hey Bharatmata! Ram ke samaan maryadit vyaktitva, Shiv ke samaan vishaalta, Krishna ke samaan unmuktata de”.

For Gandhi Ram was life and death. He espoused the cause of Ram Rajya throughout his life and died with his name on the lips. "To me Ram, described as the Lord of Sita, son of Dasharatha, is the all-powerful essence whose name, inscribed in the heart, removes all suffering - mental, moral and physical."(M.K.Gandhi, Harijan, 2-6-1946).

Sage Valmiki, who authored Ram’s history, categorically stated that he had seen and talked to Ram. The following three Shlokas from Uttar Kand of the Ramayana stand testimony to that fact:

taam drishtvaa shrutimaayaanti brahmaananugaamineemim
Vaalmeekeh prishthatah Seetam saadhuvaado mahaanbhoot

(Sita,walking behind Valmiki,looked like a goddess.All present hailed her glory)

iyam Daashrathe Seeta suvrata dharmachaarini
apavaadaat parityakta mamaashramsameepatah

(O Dasharath's son Ram,Sita is righteous and austere in her spiritual quest.You had abandoned her near my hermitage for fear of public outrage and calumny)

prachetaso-aham dashamah putro Raghavnandan
na smaraamyanritam vaakyamimau tu tav putrakau

(I am the tenth son of Pracheta, O Ram! I have never spoken a lie. I truthfully tell you that these two are your sons)(U.96.19)

Ramayana, or for that matter all our scriptures have been written in verse gaining the epithet Kaavya. But Kaavya is not mythology. It is the epic rendering of history. It is true that we Hindus have not maintained proper record of our history in its Western sense. But our Kaavyas and Puranas are our history. It is the duty of the scholars and historians to study their historicity before rejecting them.

It is believed that the first written Ramayana dates back to 4th century. Before that it was only the oral tradition that carried this history for Millennia through generations. Hindus are the practitioners of oral traditions unlike their co-religionists like the Buddhists. Since it is oral tradition verse was chosen in place of hard text. To deny historicity to our scriptures merely because they were in verse is foolishness.

By the same argument, if Ram is a myth what about Sage Valmiki? Is he also a myth? Or he existed but was a liar?

If Ram is a myth and Valmiki is a liar, why do we celebrate Ramlila on every Dusserra day and light countless lamps on Diwali? Why do those very same leaders who want to deny Ram his historicity vie with each other to participate in Ramlilas?

Denial of historicity of Ram is denying the very identity of this nation. That may not do any harm to our religion because as a religion we Hindus are not much bothered about this historicity question. Remove historicity from Jesus’ life or remove Bethlehem and Jerusalem from his history, Christianity will collapse. Remove historicity from Prophet Mohammed, Islam will collapse.

Hindus are not a people driven by history. Hinduism will survive any onslaught. But as a nation we will pay a very heavy price for questioning the existence of Ram, the Imam-e-Hind.

Kashmir – The Argument of Power

(Article written in 2010)

A historic agitation came to an end with eloquent symbolism. Terror struck in the heart of Jammu city around the time the Jammu Accord is being penned between the leaders of Sri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SASS) and the representatives of the Governor. Terrorists held several people, including children, captive in a major hostage drama that kept the security forces on tenterhooks for almost a day – children remained hostage in the hands of the terrorists till the end – before coming to a happy end with all the three terrorists dead and hostages rescued.

Situation turned so tense that the SASS was forced to cancel a rally scheduled for 25 Aug. While the agreement reached between the SASS and the State administration was a moment for jubilation, the terrorist attack in the wake of that agreement is a reminder that the challenges still remain.

So much was written and talked about the Jammu agitation. While the entire nation supported the very just and simple demand of the SASS for allocation of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, skeptics felt that the agitation has once again infused life in to the Separatist groups in the Valley. The Jammu agitation has helped various separatist factions to re-unite and boldly take on the Indian Government and our security forces, they repent.

One of the Congress’ Ministers from J&K repeatedly accused us – the Sangh Parivaar – in one TV show that we destroyed all that ‘they’ have achieved in last 20 years. Who are ‘they’? And what 20 years was he talking about? The mess in J&K was the creation of the very same forces which were responsible for the present mess also. It was these forces – represented by parties like Congress, NC and Communists etc – which were responsible for what they are now claiming to have cleared.

In fact the history of the Separatist movement in Kashmir has been written so many times that for me to repeat it here will be a sheer waste of space and valuable time of our readers. Suffice to say that Congress has no right to take moral high-ground on Kashmir.

In a way the Jammu agitation has done several good things to the country in general and the Government in particular. It highlighted the fact that contrary to the rosy picture painted by the ruling Congress and its allies that everything is fine in the Valley, the Separatist elements there are very much alive and kicking.

Secondly, it has provided an excellent opportunity for our Government to once again reiterate to the entire world that Kashmir is an integral part of India and it has every right to do whatever it deems proper. The victory of the SASS – in real sense – is the victory to our country and our Government.

Several unpleasant things happened during the course of the two-month long historic agitation in Jammu. Role of the new Governor left a very bad impression about his ability and capacity to run a State like the J&K. In stead of attending to and addressing the demands of the agitators, efforts were made to exhaust them by non-response, trying to split the movement, spreading canards, using police repression etc. Governor conducted himself in a poor manner when he went to town cribbing about the agitators calling him ‘Gilani ke Aulad’ etc.

Valley based parties too behaved in a manner that exposed their real colours. Even the so-called best bet in the Valley, the National Conference, too proved that when it comes to saving their skin they do not mind second-fiddling Separatists.

But all this needs to be put on back-burner for the time being. There are challenges ahead and they demand that we rise above other petty quarrels.

The violent reactions in the Valley for last couple of months would remind one of the late 80s and early 90s. The country witnessed separatist frenzy reaching its zenith at that time. An able and stern Governor Jagmohan saved the day for us. Television visuals of the recent turmoil made many think that those bad days are back again.

But there is one difference. There was rhetoric. There was frenzy. There were Pakistan flags. But there were no Kalashnikovs. There were violent demonstrations on the streets. But no comparison to the 90s when small towns like Anantnag used to witness half million strong demonstrations.

On top of it, differences between various factions remain as strong as they were before. Despite this agitation warring Hurriyat factions failed to unite. And if the NSA was to be believed Hurriyat leader Aziz was killed not by the security forces but by the Separatist guns. All this points to the fact that our case for Valley is far from lost as Arundhati Roys and Veer Sanghvis would want us believe.

In 90s when Jag Mohan was handling J&K situation he told me once that what we need for that State is a ‘stern State’. What he meant was that the Government should act tough. During one of my visits to Srinagar I had a very interesting conversation with a small time local leader. The point he made was a real eye-opener. “Most people in the Valley who side with the Separatists do so because they are not sure that the Indian guns would protect them in case they went against the Separatists. The day they are assured of that they are with India”.

Sadly, our governments always believed that they can manipulate and even ‘purchase’ the loyalty of the Separatist leaders by opening bank accounts for them in Delhi and flooding them with ‘gifts’. Governments are not just ready, but eager to ‘talk’ to Separatists. Because, as C. Raja Mohan very eloquently put it in one of his papers, Indian leaders had contempt for ‘power politics’. They always believed – since they are a great and ancient civilization – in the ‘Power of their Arguments’. It is time, he says, India started giving ‘Arguments of Power’.

Let the Government say boldly that it would talk to only those elements which recognize India’s suzerainty over J&K. That is the argument of power.

Let it tell those who want to sell their apples in Muzaffarabad in PoK rather than in Delhi and Chandigarh to happily go and dump their products in the sinking Pakistan economy. Apple business across the border is welcome; terrorism business is not; this is the argument of power.

Gilani and Moulvi Farooq may be set free from the prison. But no Government security for them anymore. Indian Government protects only the loyal citizens; not the anti-India forces. They can have their own security, or sit at home. This is the argument of power.

Elections will be held on schedule come what may. And it will be ensured that people vote without fear. That will be the argument of power.

But what is new in these arguments? The one new argument of power that our nation can give - if it has the will and courage and its political leaders can rise above petty party considerations – is to declare that not a single anti-India element will be allowed to enter J&K Assembly.

Next J&K Assembly should have only those as members who have the courage and conviction to hail India in the House. That means no place for Mufti and his daughter who threaten dismemberment of India. That means no place for supporters of militancy.

If all major parties including Congress, BJP, Communists and NC can make up their mind to ensure this, then that will be the real Argument of Power.