Dr Jay Dubashi
The British Foreign Office is in the habit of holding conferences in London from time to time to which non-officials are invited. One such conference was held on March 1993, a few weeks after the fall of the disputed structure, though the topic of discussion was entirely different – foreign investment in India and south Asia. Foreigners are obsessed with foreign investment and keep writing and talking about it as if the world depended on it. To me, however, foreign investment was the least of our concerns. Foreign investment is actually a plague and it destroys everything in its path. It was foreign trade, later expanded into foreign investment, that helped the East India Company capture, first India’s foreign trade, and later India herself. The British have not forgotten they were once our “Maliks” and hope to be “Maliks” again through trade and investment.
The seminar was on investment but it was obvious you could not discuss anything about India without also discussing the so-called Hindu nationalists. The British probably had never met a Hindu nationalist in flesh and blood, and I was perhaps the first such animal they were encountering and were curious to know what this new species was like. But the animal was no different from other Indians, at least outwardly. After all, I had spent seven years in London immediately after the last war, and knew England and Englishmen inside out. They simply could not understand that a Hindu nationalist would be no different from other specimens of mankind. He dressed like them, spoke like them, ate like them, swore like them, and was, for all practical purposes, no different from them. So why were Hindu nationalists made out as a dangerous species, different from the Nehru and Gandhi, and from all those who had passed through Oxford and Cambridge, with false accents and false notions of India’s history and past?
The British, along with other westerners like Americans, had never met genuine Hindus, Hindus who do not go to Oxford or Cambridge or Princeton or Harvard, and were indeed a different species.
They had met phonies like Jawaharlal Nehru, and even more phonies like Sonia Gandhi, who was not even an Indian, and was, in fact, a Roman Catholic, cut from an entirely different cloth. They had also met Indian writers, who wrote and thought in English, and whose one aim in life was to get a book published by a British or American publisher and reviewed in a London or New York magazine or newspaper. These people were phoneys too, Indians only in name, because apart from being born in India, they had nothing Indian about them.
The genuine Hindu nationalist, or Hindu Indian, was a totally different kind of animal. He had no idea where London or Harvard were and did not know what a Booker prize was. He did not want his book to be published by an English or American publisher, because his audience was here in India, not on the banks of the Thames in London, or the Potomac in Washington. He wrote for his countrymen, for Hindus and for Hindu nationalists, not for some Westerners with foreign names. A Hindu nationalist was a Hindu first, and everything else afterwards, and his audience was right here, on the banks of the Ganga and Yamuna, and in villages in and around the great Indian cities like Varanasi and Mathura, and if it came to that, Mumbai and New Delhi, modern Indian cities poised to surpass similar western metropolis thousands of miles from India.
When I was invited to speak on the so-called Hindu nationalists, I discovered that this westernised audience from Pakistan and Bangladesh with a sprinkling of Chinese, knew virtually nothing about Indian history, which means Hindu history. They had never realised that Hindu history is tied up intimately with the history of Indian rivers and mountains, that our Gods and Goddesses have sprung up from our mountains and rivers, that a river like the Ganga is as much a river as our Mother, and the Himalayas are not just some soulless mountains but the abodes of our Gods and ancestors, and the rocks and the waters and the air we breathe are as much a part of our nationhood as the land we call Hindustan. The Hindu nationalist is not, therefore, someone who stands apart from the country, like say, an American, most of whom were born outside America and emigrated to America. The Indian rose from the Indian soil, like the Himalayas and is an integral part of the country, like the air he breathes, and the crops he grows, and is a product of the country he calls his own.
My audience, which consisted mainly of diplomats from Western countries, had, of course, met Indians before, but had never come across Hindu nationalists. Many of them could not even pronounce Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh correctly, or, for that matter, Bharatiya Janata Party. Janata yes, they had heard it before, but what was Bharatiya , and why not Indian instead of Bharatiya? After all, the Indian National Congress had a perfectly English-sounding name, which made sense to a Western era. Why not have a name like that – say Indian People’s Party?
I told them that Indian National Congress was a western name, because it was founded by a clutch of Englishmen, and the principal Englishman behind it was a retired civil servant, who, instead of going back to England, after retiring, stayed behind to set up the Congress, which was as much a British institution as an Indian one. The men who founded the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP were Hindu nationalists, totally different in their approach to history and politics then the anglicised Indians associated with the Indian National Congress.
My audience simply could not understand how an old-established hundred-odd-year old party, and that too with an English-sounding name could suddenly be outnumbered and out-manoeuvred by a name which they could not even pronounce and about which they knew next to nothing. It only indicated what an ignorant lot they were, and that it they really wanted to know and understand India they could do so only through Hindu institutions and Hindu history, because that was what decided the contours of modern Indian politics, and only those parties or institutions, with their feet firmly planted in Hindu history, could link the present with the past, and only through them that history made sense, and made sense.
(This is the fifth of a series of articles on the Ayodhya Movement)