Ayodhya And The Future India

Ayodhya and Future India
edited by Jitendra Bajaj,
Centre for Policy Studies, Page 260, Price Rs. 120/.

The book under review is a collection of seven talks delivered by eminent public men and thinkers under the auspices of the Centre for Policy Studies, Madras, about two months after the Ayodhya happenings. The book itself was released by L. K. Advani at a function attended by some leading lights of the Sangha Parivar. That should be sufficient adverse (?) publicity for a book which otherwise merits serious notice. Among the contributors to this volume, representatives of Hindutva outnumber others. Of course, that itself cannot be held against the book. It would also be wrong to describe it as an attempt at intellectualization of Ayodhya events. The chief merit of this book as I see it is the bold attempt it makes to face some questions that have all along been evaded in public life. The volume, (which has a lengthy introduction by the Director of CPS, Jitendra Bajaj), includes three who can clearly be identified as spokesmen of Hindutva (Arun Shourie, Govindacharya, and Gurumurthy); two represent the religious ‘other’ (Abdus Samad and Rev. Gananadickam); one is an ardent secularist (S. Guhan) while two others (Bajaj and Dharampal) are difficult to place, though many would regard the former as a ‘radical’ representative of Hindutva.

The Introduction by Jitendra Bajaj is a very hard-hitting piece. He attempts to place the Ayodhya events in the larger context of the ‘insult and humiliation’ that our people have all along been suffering because our public spaces are cluttered with structures and monuments reminding us of our defeats. According to Bajaj it is ‘normal’ for a society that has come into its own to pull down such structures and monuments glorifying the conquerors.

Bajaj quotes from Arnold Toynbee’s Azad Memorial Lecture (1960) wherein Toynbee administers a mild rebuke for putting up with structures and symbols of conquest. Giving the example of the Poles pulling down the Eastern Orthodox Christian Cathedral erected by the Russians in the city-center of Warsaw, Toynbee remarks: “Perhaps the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians’ self-discrediting monuments in Warsaw than you have been in sparing Aurangzeb’s mosques.”

Bajaj sees a design in the perpetuation of the structures and symbols of conquest in India. He argues that far from showing a lack of discrimination it means that those who came to power after independence began seeing themselves as successors to the conquerors of India. The ruling elite of India did not spare even Mahatma Gandhi. On his death the avatara of Ahimsa and Swadeshi was put on a gun-carriage and subjected to the alien ritual of a salute by cannon fire! The Ayodhya happenings are a warning to the ruling elite that the people of India have not become really obedient and they continue to keep their own counsel about what is worth preserving in the past and what needs to be forgotten.

Among the contributors who uphold Hindutva, Gurumurthy’s arguments deserve special mention. He maintains that Hindutva is not only pluralistic but integrative as well. It has been able to withstand the onslaught of Islam, while Arabia, Persia and Afghanistan have all crumbled under the onslaught of Islam with no traces of the earlier society or religions. Hindu India is more or less intact. Gurumurthy attributes it to the inherent strength of Hindutva, its ‘inclusive’ and ever changing, reforming character. In contrast, Islam has never allowed any reformation and has remained ‘exclusive’ since its birth.

The unreformed, ‘exclusive’ Islam cannot therefore live in harmony with the ‘inclusive’ ever reforming and integrative Hindutva. Islam in India must change its ways and the initiative for it must come from within. According to him it is very significant that today even the west perceives a threat from the ‘exclusive’ Islam.

Though this thesis of Hindutva is very neat and well presented, one can easily pick holes in Gurumurthy’s arguments. How come the integrative and ever reforming Hindutva is riddled with casteism? Why is it that Muslims are not adequately represented in the armed, police and para-military forces? How is it that the poor Muslim artisans are denied the backward tag that is easily granted even to the land-owning caste Hindus? And the most dangerous suggestion implicit in Gurumurthy’s argument is that since even the west is hostile to Islam we can use the present situation to our advantage.

Arun Shourie’s piece falls flat from the very first word. He is the least conciliatory in tone and brings in all the familiar arguments, of appeasement of Muslims and discrimination against Hindus. He contends that the Ayodhya events are the direct result of the politics of appeasement of the last 30-40 years. He sites the Shah Bano case and holds the Muslims leadership solely responsible for the condition of the Muslim masses. He does not for a moment think that Hindu society is partly to be blamed for keeping the ordinary Muslims in poverty and misery. He refuses to analyse the reasons why it has taken so long for Hindu society to pull down structures that offend their aesthetic sensibilities. Shourie also outlines the future India that he wants. The state would be so strong that he wants. The state would be so ‘strong’ that strikes and bandhs would be eliminated. Militancy, terrorism etc. would be answered with bullets. Industrial workers would not be permitted to ‘work to rule’ etc. All glory to the state and bullets and lathis to those who challenge the powers that be!

Govindacharya, the idealogue of the BJP, suggests that the Ayodhya events are only the first step in the direction of Swadeshi and Gram Swaraj. There is a conspicuous absence of rhetoric in his presentation.

Among the two representatives of the religious ‘other’, Abdus Samad stands out for his spirited defence of the right of the Muslims to their way of life. There is very little bitterness or anger in his presentation. His statement that nothing happens without the will of god and hence what has happened should be accepted is in great contrast to Arun shourie’s assertion: “If the Shahabuddins persist in this kind of communal politics, then… in the other 520 minus 72 constituencies the Hindus as Hindus will determine the outcome”. (p.59)

Guhan, the avowed secularist, does not concede any of the points made by the advocates of Hindutva. To him the whole thing is a game plan of the Sangha Parivar. He does not find proof of anything, not even that the faith in Sri Rama is widespread!

Dharampal is neither excited nor depressed at the happenings in Ayodhya. On hearing the news about the demolition, he says, he was really relieved. He is more concerned at the splits and divisions in our society, and the indolence and sloth in our life. He is annoyed that whenever our people decide to act to express their innermost feelings they are described as ‘lumpens’. He gives an instance which moved even Mahatma Gandhi to expend his emotions – being shown the desecration of the Sharana Basappa temple in Gulbarga in 1924. Dharampal concludes: “If what they (our people) are doing and what they have done reflects their innermost feelings – rational or irrational reasonable or unreasonable – then there is a chance that we would be on the road to recovery and to a different polity”. (p.229)

On the whole the book is important in so far as issues that have never been discussed in the open, public forums have been discussed in a civilized manner. At the end of each talk, questions that came up and the answers given have been included. These make very interesting reading.

Reader in Sociology
Bangalore University