Meghnad Desai, ECONOMIST
Why do you say that the phenomenon of Hindu terror is not likely to go away?
India is not a secular nation, it is a Hindu nation. And reviving the Hindu nation has been the aim of a very important branch of politics. In a lot of ways, people like Vivekananda, who are now termed secular, were not secular at all. They had no reason to be secular. The lesson for (Bal Gangadhar) Tilak from the Bhagwad Gita was ‘karmayoga’, which was supposed to be a militant struggle, not just a curricular term. So one should not be surprised that Hindu religion has the tendency to take up armed struggle, because it was not called terrorism earlier. And Abhinav Bharat, which (Veer) Savarkar started ages ago, is seen today planting bombs and so on. This is a longstanding tradition. Madan Lal Dhingra and Savarkar supported violence — and Dhingra is considered a hero of the freedom struggle. The Congress may not accept it but the roots of this religious violence come from them. So if there is Hindu terror, one has to understand it comes from a background where it was considered an honourable way.
But how can these groups justify their acts in today’s world? By creating the ‘other’ in the Muslim?
They probably hate the Congress as much as they hate Muslims. They believe that the whole dream of the Indian nation has been betrayed by Partition. They can’t understand the concept of secularism and the push for it in a Hindu majority nation — that if democracy is a majority concept and if Hindus are the majority, why can’t India be a Hindu nation? This is the sort of naïve logic on which they play.
And, of course, they are against Muslims because they term them ‘traitors’, sometimes because of Pakistan, and sometimes even talking about Muhammad bin Qasim! They would even go back to things that happened a thousand years ago! It is quite similar to how the concept of Islamist terrorism works. One should then think about where these youngsters throwing bombs around come from. Earlier it was the British, now it is the Muslims to throw bombs against.
So it’s a response to Islamic terror?
No. It was there even before Islamist terrorism started. It may have flared up because of what Lashkar-e-Toiba and such groups did, but Abhinav Bharat had been around before 9/11 or Islamist terrorism even cropped up. They were never a big movement but are very much now directing their angst against Muslims, rather, against the concept of secularism.
But political parties too have been directly involved in this. Indresh Kumar and Swami Asimananda have been close to the top BJP leadership. Asimananda was with the RSS and claims to know LK Advani and AB Vajpayee personally.
It is time for the BJP to stand on its own feet as a normal political party which caters to all Indians and is based on a fairly healthy theory of nationalism. They like RSS when Nitin Gadkari is appointed the chief and even Advani and Atal have acknowledged that being in RSS was a great thing for them — so has Narendra Modi. But it cannot escape the fact that some people in RSS are connected to Abhinav Bharat and follow the line of thinking that the only way of attaining Hindu dominance is through terrorism.
‘Some in the RSS think that the way to attain Hindu dominance is through terror’
Also, RSS has its main base in Maharashtra and the Marathi-speaking people have had this great burden of history — that they nearly came to power as the last Hindu empire to rule the country but lost in 1761. The idea that Marathas would have come to Hindu Padshahi still is a dream. 1857 was their last revolt in trying to defeat the British and take back that dream that the British had snatched away. Such views and dreams among certain sections of Marathas — in the RSS or closer to it — are still there. Shiv Sena, for example, takes up that kind of politics citing history and the dream.
Also, after Gandhi came, the religious movements completely got marginalised. So the RSS hates Gandhi because he claimed the Hindu space of freedom struggle and won!
Where does the Indian Muslim find himself in all this?
The Indian Muslim has always had a great problem because of what happened during Partition. The whole question before Partition was about minority rights and their protection when India attains independence. Nobody had thought about democracy or majority rule and governance till then. Partition has weakened Muslims in India enormously. What was once about one-third of the population is now about 15 percent.
And today the Indian Muslim cannot behave like a Hindu or a Christian. He is always examined much more sharply. Even the so-called Congress secularists want Muslims to ‘behave’ properly. If a Muslim is critical of Congress rule, they’d say “What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he realise that we are his only guarantee for secularism?” There used to be a lot of left-wing Muslims before Independence but we see little of that kind of critical thinking about Islam and even politics and governance among the Muslims today. So this sort of push for a secularist ethos has confined Muslims to a corner.
You come from Gujarat, where there has been a lot of talk about development. Newly appointed VC of Dar ul-Uloom Deoband was recently in controversy for talking about it.
The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation ranks all states according to development and governance and had ranked Narendra Modi’s Gujarat as the best governed state a few years ago. Gujarat comes high on the list of wellgoverned states in the country. Congress wants to keep pushing the thing about Modi being bad and communal. They are now in an absurd position where nobody has been able to indict Modi in nine years, but bad as he might have been in 2002, he has brought about development. Gujarat’s numbers are extremely good compared to other states – on education, employment, etc. Let us judge Gujarat like any other state and not say that nothing good can happen there because Modi is bad. So Vastanvi says after his experience in Gujarat what he has seen.
‘The RSS hates Gandhi because he claimed the Hindu space and won!’
Vastanvi has a good reputation and the institution (Dar ul- Uloom) needs him. I hope he gets re-elected when the Shoora meets on 23 February. What he says about Modi is not relevant to what he can do in such a great university.
What does the term fundamentalist secularist mean?
Like fundamentalist Islamists, there are fundamentalist secularists who refuse to believe that the Muslims can do any wrong. For example, in the Batla house case there was a huge debate over the death of Mohan Chand Sharma. Similarly, there are people who believe that the Parliament attack never happened and that the BJP staged it. Such people are not the friends of Muslims, are happy to keep them neglected. After Maulana Azad, there has not been one strong leader from among the Muslims in this country. A Muslims can be President or Vice-President but not a minister for finance, foreign affairs, home, defence, etc.
What do you think about TEHELKA’S recently published SIT report indicting Modi?
All that is there in the report is known. They say he had done this in the aftermath of the riots. The case is yet to be decided. CBI has not been able to indict Amit Shah either. Do the investigating agencies have a case that they can take to the court and get a proper conviction? When TEHELKA published the report one newspaper clearly pointed out that there isn’t enough evidence to lead to Modi’s conviction whereas others said, ‘Oh, now it has been proved he was behind the riots’. There are people trying to keep the issue boiling and not bringing it to a conclusion. They want BJP and Modi to be on the defensive. There have been no convictions in 1984 riots case either.
But there is mention of police officers showing selective amnesia about specific incidents and speeches made by Modi.
It is strange that evidence can be leaked this way in India. Police are involved in unprofessional behaviour and leaking of evidence. The case needs to stand in court and we should wait for that.