The British foreign office had invited some of us to a weak-long conference in a small town near London which, for some reason, got into trouble right at the start. The conference was supposed to be on foreign investment in Sough Asia, which means, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but there was nobody present from Pakistan, at least nobody I had heard of. Our friend P Chidambaram was present but he was not minister at the time. I do not now remember who represented Bangladesh, but the participants, which included representatives from the World Bank and IMF, and a number of diplomats from European countries, were concerned only with India, for obvious reasons.
The conference went very well, at the end of which many in the audience could pronounce “Bharatiya” correctly and also the tongue-twister “Swayamsevak”, a word most of them were not familiar with. I was told that the local high commission had done very little over the years to bring them up to date on India, which was not surprising considering that at one time, its P.R. department was headed by Khushwant Singh. Many of them were hearing about RSS for the first time and had no idea what the letters stood for.
“You will not even begin to understand India,” I told them, “until you take trouble to get to know the Hindu nationalists and, of course, the BJP and RSS. After all, if a movement associated with them could bring down a disputed structure in broad daylight, only a few hundred miles from Delhi, what else could it not do in future?
Chidambaram was very much present at the conference but throughout the seminar and other meetings he never mentioned the Hindu nationalists nor, understandingly, the disputed structure, much to everybody’s surprise.
In the course of the conference, some of us were invited by the BBC either for an interview or a talk. I had taken part in BBC programmes before, but this was supposed to be something special – the interview would be telecast immediately after the morning news. The interviewer, a lady, came to the point straightaway.
“Your people destroyed an ancient Muslim mosque (i.e. disputed structure) in a place called Ayodhya,” she said. “Surely that is not something political parties do.”
“It was not a mosque,” I said, “No Muslim has been near if for decades. It was actually a Hindu temple where Hindus had been worshipping for decades.”
This was not something she was prepared for. Most people in Europe, and also in America, have no idea how different communities worship in Eastern countries.
“Surely,” she said, raising her voice, “A mosque is a mosque, old or new. Why did your people attack it and brought it down?”
These are not her exact words, as I have not kept notes, and I saw the programme only after I had returned to India. and, in any case, it happened a long time ago (in 1993). But she obviously believed, or had been led to believe, that we Hindus had no business bashing up somebody else’s places of worship.
I told her that the structure had been built on Babar’s orders, and Babar was an invader and aggressor, who had no business putting up a structure on other people’s property. Assume, I said, if Adolf Hitler had invaded your country during the last world war, as he had been threatening to do for months, and removed Admiral Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square and put up his own statue there. Would you still keep Hitler’s statue there after the war, after you had defeated him? I asked.
“Certainly not,” she said.
“Well,” I said, “That is what we did. The Moghuls, Babar included, were invaders, as Hitler would have been. We did exactly what you would have done.
It was rather a longish interview, and I have no means of knowing whether the whole of it was carried by the network. On return home, I was told by people who saw it – it was apparently shown at night – that it went very well.
This has always been my attitude to the so-called Hindu-Muslim and India-Pakistan issue. The India-Pakistan issue is not a Hindu-Muslim issue, as it is made out to be. Pakistan is a Muslim country, but we have fought three wars with it as one country does with another, not because Pakistan is Muslim, and India is Hindu. We have been fighting all aggressors – the Turks, the Afghans, and, of course, the Moghuls – for centuries, ever since they committed the original sin of invasion on a peaceful country and a peaceful people, and, it is immaterial whether they were Muslims or Esquimos. We fought the Christians too, the British and the Portuguese and the French, for the same reason.
This is our country and anybody who violates it is our enemy, whatever their faith. For a thousand years, we have been subjected, in one way or another to their savage attacks, and we have always fought and we shall always fight, with everything at our command, just as other countries do. Britain fought Hitler, not because he was a Christian – Britain is also a Christian country – but because he was an outsider and therefore beyond the pale. The Soviets fought Hitler too, not because he was a Christian, as they had no religion, but for the same reason, nations have been fighting one another for centuries and will, no doubt, continue to do so as long as they are threatened and their freedom is in peril. Freedom is my birthright, said Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a revolutionary fighter in a long line of military and political warriors, not because he was a Hindu or a Brahmin, but because he was an Indian, and he wanted his country to be free. Religion just does not come into it, though it often does in a complex situation created by foreign invaders.
India has always been a Hindu nation, and remains so to this day. The Pakistanis left India, or were driven out of India, because they considered themselves to be outsiders, and did not think that India was their country. The Moghuls too were forced to leave India, though by that time they were a spent force. An outsider doesn’t leave a country and claim that what has been left behind belongs to him. Adolf Hitler did not claim that the loot he collected during his campaigns belonged to him. And what is good for the Nazi’s is also good for the Moguls and their remains in India.
(This is the sixth of a series of articles on the Ayodhya movement.)