A FRUSTRATING DIALOGUE
Ashok V. Chowgule
In late 1996, the Oxford University Press in India brought out a book entitled "Making India Hindu", (published in the USA by the University of Pennsylvania Press as "Contesting the Nation") edited by Prof David Ludden, Associate Professor of History and South Asia Regional Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The blurb on the cover jacket of the Indian edition says, "Today, powerful political forces seek to make the Indian state Hindu. Their rising influence since 1980 has occurred during a period of radical change in Indian society and politics, and has been accomplished by electoral means as well as by organised violence.....Making India Hindu explores Hindu majoritarian politics over the last century and its dramatic reformulation during the decline of the Congress Party in the 1980s."
Since the mid-80s, a special industry has developed in the academics with a programme to rationalise the rise of what is called Hindu fundamentalism, and to explain it as an anti-Muslim pogrom, an assault on secularism (without defining what secularism actually means), a means to perpetuate the alleged hegemony of the upper castes, etc. Prof Ludden's book is a product of this machinery. None consider the fact that Hindutva has come to the centre stage of India's political discourse only since the mid-80s. Prior to this date, the destiny of this nation was being guided by the very people who are today spending all their time in seminars and writing books on anti-Hindutva issues. The implied assumption is that things were normal right up to 1985, and it is the rise of Hindutva that has caused all the tensions in the society in India. The only conclusion that one comes to after reading all this material is that the RSS is a very responsible organisation - it is responsible for all the problems in this nation!
Prof Ludden says the book was a product of five-hour weekly meetings during one academic year, a two-day workshop organised by him at his university in February 1994, and communication amongst the contributors as the book took shape. There were thirty papers presented, and twelve were chosen 'to keep the cost of the volume low and its coherence high'. Prof Ludden contributed an introduction to the book.
As an active supporter of the RSS, I thought it would be useful to present to Prof Ludden the RSS perspective of the issues that were raised in his book. I decided to take the assistance of Shri Dinesh Agrawal, another activist, who teaches Physics at another USA university nearby to Prof Ludden's. Shri Agrawal established the first contact with Prof Ludden, and it was decided to that our dialogue would be conducted over email. The inaugural message was sent on Dec 14, 1996. Our first essential point was that the authors of all the papers that were submitted were those who hold an anti-Hindutva view point and that there was none who could give the pro-Hindutva perspective. The second essential point was that it was these very anti-Hindutva protagonists who were guiding the destiny of the nation at least up to the mid-80s - a point that has been dealt with above.
Dineshji posted extensive information from the Justice Bahri commission which inquired into the proposed ban of 1992 on the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, and the highly favourable comments that Justice Bahri made on the work done by the organisations. The excerpts from the interview of Shri V S Naipaul in June 1993, on his perspective of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, were sent to Prof Ludden. We also mentioned to him there is sufficient evidence that establishes that a temple for Lord Ram was destroyed in 1528 AD and the Babri structure built in its place. Prof Ludden raised various issues, which we attempted to address to the best of our abilities.
A feature of the first round of discussions was that there were questions galore from Prof Ludden, but no answers to the counter-questions raised by us. In particular he did not address the issue of no one to represent the pro-Hindutva view point nor did he address what the anti-Hindutva protagonists did while they were guiding the destiny of the nation. When one keeps asking questions, without considering the answers given, eventually one runs out of questions to be asked. And this is what happened, and by Dec 20 the messages from Prof Ludden dried up. Six days may appear too short a time to have a dialogue in writing. But, we were corresponding over email, and every day one or two messages were being exchanged.
Even when the messages from Prof Ludden stopped, we continued to send information that we thought was relevant. In the middle of January we asked him whether he wants to continue with the dialogue. He sent a reply saying that due to his other commitments he is not able to respond, but is keeping the messages for future reading. We were disappointed, and felt that he really did not have any logical answers to the issues that we placed before him. However, Dineshji felt that we should not stop the flow of information from our side. Dineshji proved right, and on Feb 15 we hit pay dirt.
We had sent him a copy of the press release by the Overseas Friends of the BJP in the USA, in context of the resounding victory of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP alliance in the Punjab assembly elections of Feb 97. Prof Ludden responded, with the crux of his message being: "Has the BJP made any more headway in attracting allies from among other parties in the country? It seems that its inability to do so following the Lok Sabha elections in 1996 marked a national consensus against the BJP as a national ruling party." This showed a clear bias on the part of Prof Ludden, particularly since we had sent him the results of the opinion poll that appeared in India Today, where it had shown that the BJP's support base (including that of its allies) had increased substantially from 23.5% in March 96 to 28% in February 97, which could translate into 240 seats in the Parliament. The other two combinations, viz the United Front and the Congress and its allies, had declined not only in terms of votes but also in number of seats. Significantly, the BJP led combination is the largest in terms of votes and number of seats.
In this message, Prof Ludden said that he would be giving a talk in Toronto, Canada, on "Power and Legitimacy in Modern States: Hindu Nationalism in Comparative Historical Perspective". According to him, the short form for the title would be "Making India Hindu". We informed him that according to us he should deal with the various issues that we raised in our dialogue and the information that we sent him. We contended that issues relating to Hindu nationalism in India has to consider the RSS perspective.
There was a short gap in getting further response from Prof Ludden. On Feb 23 we received a message from him, in which he said that he has 'lost touch with the current VHP position on some major issues'. He then asked some questions on the VHP, repeated from the earlier correspondence. Our frustration was building up, and we sent a strong communication to him saying: "(We) must admire your singular capability of completely ignoring the messages that we have sent to you, your tenacity in keeping on asking questions, and your perseverance in refusing to answer questions asked of you. (We) must also admire your arrogance in being ignorant of many issues of the Sangh parivar and yet write a book with a title 'Making India Hindu'. All this must make you a highly esteemed member of an organisation whose sole objective is to denigrate Hinduism in general and the Sangh parivar in particular."
This, probably, made him realise that we had seen the game that he was playing, and he tried to justify his asking questions because people expect him to be able to report on what the VHP and the BJP are doing and saying. In other words, he had projected himself to be an expert on the VHP and the BJP, and perhaps the Sangh parivar. However, he did say that he will follow our advice and cull out the information that we had sent him, and offered to answer the questions that we have. We were now in a position to have a true dialogue. But, it is doubtful that he did any culling of the information sent to him.
To our observation that Prof Ludden did not have anyone to present the pro-Hindutva perspective, he said that he and his colleagues had done 'a lot of reading of tracts' produced by Hindutva thinkers since the 1920s, and that they were 'inundated' with information on the BJP. Therefore, Prof Ludden felt that there was no 'need to invite anyone to represent the Hindutva perspective, because it was well represented already'. He also wondered what exactly they 'would have gained by hearing' a pro-Hindutva perspective. This would appear to be complete lack of academic professionalism. The obvious answer to this observation is that there was no need to invite anyone to represent the anti-Hindutva perspective, since they had an avalanche of information on the subject. One also has to ask what exactly was the gain by hearing the anti-Hindutva spokespersons. It would appear that the objective of getting the people together was some sort of bonding by the anti-Hindutva gang - a perfectly valid objective, provided it was stated as such.
We had sent to Prof Ludden the evidence on the history of the Ram Janmabhoomi, and the destruction of the temple in 1528 AD. He responded that he is not particularly impressed with the evidence provided, without saying which part and why. This is the same tactics that is used by the pseudo-secularists in India, and is a well established method of dismissing what is not convenient. He also contended that the dispute about the Ram Janmabhoomi arose in the 19th century. This shows that Prof Ludden had not studied the evidence that has been submitted by the VHP, although the bibliography in his book refers to it.
We had sent a note on why we consider that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not anti-Muslim. Our essential point is that since the Babri structure was built after destroying a temple in honour of Lord Ram, it could not possibly have any religious significance, and that it was a symbol of our slavery. We also contended that anyone who holds a contrary view are upholding the memory of Babur and simultaneously denigrating that of Lord Ram. We said that the latter was not a way to build up our nationalism.
To this Prof Ludden said, "Hindutva is majoritarian....It is a particular variant of nationalism that does not allow for the 'nation' itself to be defined in multi-cultural terms." In response to a query as to what is a Muslim culture in India and how is it related to the Muslim cultures in other parts of the world, Prof Ludden admitted that 'the Muslims do not have one culture'. However, as is common with the confusion on the secular aspects of culture, he talks about Muslims having contributed to music, poetry and science. What is not explained is what is common in these secular areas amongst the Muslim countries of the world. We pointed out that the Muslims in Egypt and in Iran will not admit that they have a common culture. Thus, what is defined as Muslim culture in India is actually Hindu culture, the culture that the Muslims belonged to before they got converted. In the same way, the Egyptians and the Iranians have a culture which predates Islam. At the same time, we do admit that there have been influences from outside, but not only Muslims and Christians who came here as invaders, but many others besides. It is the same situation all over the world.
On the question of majoritarian we sent an article written by Shri Clifford Longley "A very British lesson Muslims must learn" (The Times, London, July 8, 1989) in the context of the Satanic Verses affair. The point that Shri Longely makes is: "Islam is a social creed, a radically different way of organising society as a whole.....(T)he very presence of Muslims in Britain can only be on terms which are acceptable to the majority.....(T)he painful shock of a confrontation may regrettably be necessary before the British Muslim community is brought face to face with the reality that tolerance and compromise over fundamentals, are a fundamental requirement of life in Britain. And that they have no other option." And then we posed: "If this is the way the British expect Muslims to live in the UK, why should the same not be applicable to India. Similarly, would this not be the way the Muslims should live in the USA?"
Prof Ludden said: "This article has no bearing on India, but only on the regulation of threats to law and order." And our response was: "What you are really saying is that it is legitimate for the British to expect that Muslims must respect the sentiments of the white people, but it is not legitimate for the Hindus to expect that the Muslims should respect the sentiments of the Hindus. (We) will not argue about such nonsense."
One of the contributors to the book said that pro-Hindutva journalists have 'infiltrated the major national dailies in order to promote Hindu nationalism'. We made a list of the newspapers, morning and evening editions and different languages, in Mumbai with a list of the editors, and their political inclination. In this list we included all the national papers which have a Mumbai edition. From this list, we could find that only one editor of an English publication to be pro-Hindutva and amongst the Indian language papers we could find no evidence of the infiltration that is being talked about. Prof Ludden's response was: "Your evidence is interesting but completely self-serving and idiosyncratic. If you could cite a study conducted by someone other than yourself or a member of the RSS, it would be more convincing." Prof Ludden also accused us of taking an unrepresentative sample.
In this context we accused Prof Ludden of lack of intellectualism on his part. This is not the only instance where we have made this charge. Specifically, we said, "(A) statement based on no evidence is perfectly acceptable to you. But (our) statement on the basis of a near complete sample of the major newspapers in Mumbai is self-serving and idiosyncratic. A study conducted by a member of the RSS is to be scoffed at, but a statement from an anti-Hindutva brigade must be held aloft for the whole world to see." Of course, Prof Ludden is not the only person in the world to display this bankruptcy of intellectualism. Many a times we had requested Prof Ludden to ask the contributor to give her list of the infiltrators in the national dailies. We are sure that the pseudo-secular intellectuals would be eternally grateful to Prof Ludden for exposing these infiltrators.
The essence of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement cannot be put in words better than what Shri V S Naipaul had done. The sum and substance of the message was: "What is happening in India is a new historical awakening....Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening." It was clear that Prof Ludden was not aware of the views of Shri Naipaul, and that his anti-Hindutva colleagues dared not bring it to his notice. Prof Ludden's response was: "I am not particularly impressed by Naipaul's interview." His next sentence ("If you read his work you will see that he has opinions consistent with those of the VHP and the BJP.....") tells the whole story. As he had dismissed the statistics given by us to disprove the infiltration of media thesis, so anyone whose views are consistent with the VHP and the BJP has to be consigned to the dustbin. No wonder Prof Ludden had decided that anyone with a pro-Hindutva viewpoint would not add any value to the work that he was undertaking.
When we pressed which part of the interview he was not particularly impressed with, the response from Prof Ludden was interesting: "You can cite any number of people who agree with the RSS. So what?.....Citing one more supporter whose name is well known does not add weight to your legitimacy." Here is a classic case of substituting English for logic, an art which the pseudo-secular leftists are particularly adept at. And they think they use this very effectively when they want to slide away from answering a difficult question. An appropriate response to Prof Ludden was: "You can cite any number of people who disagree with the RSS. So what? Citing one more supporter whose name is well known does not add weight to your legitimacy." We could not resist adding, "Touché, we think."
Prof Ludden asked us questions on the BJP's economic policy. When we asked him to refer to the BJP's manifesto, we had a confession from him that he has not read it. This is the level of the professionalism amongst one who is considered a walking and talking expert on the BJP. But, Prof Ludden is not unique in this aspect as well.
There were other issues that we touched on. The reader should by now have the flavour of the type of responses that could be expected from Prof Ludden. However, what is amazing is that there seems to be a whole group of people who go around pretending to be experts on the Sangh parivar, and who have not done any substantive reading on what the Sangh has to say about itself. They have read only what an anti-Sangh person said what the Sangh has to say. Sometimes it does bring out very funny reactions from the reader, as in the case of Shri Ansar Khan in his book, "The Rediscovery of India", (Orient Longman, India, 1995, p 249.), where he says: "The authors of Khaki Shorts Saffron Flags have done a signal service to the cause of India's future by drawing attention to these parts of the Sangh's work. But then they try to give these positive observations an ufavourable twist. (Looked at another way, their criticism of the Sangh is in fact in many parts favourable.)"
We would like to take up a couple of points that were introduced by Prof Ludden in the course of our dialogue. He objected to the word "infiltrators" to describe the illegal migration that is taking place from Bangladesh and that he thought India would benefit by having an open border with Bangladesh. His objection is again the standard thought process of the pseudo-secularists in this country. Shri M J Akbar had written that the BJP should be happy about the infiltration, since these Bangladeshis have disproved the two-nation theory by voting with their feet. We challenged Prof Ludden to advise the USA to have the open border with Bangladesh, and once this happens we will urge the Indian government to follow suit. Because it will not matter since the Bangladeshis will flood the USA and leave our country alone.
The response from Prof Ludden was the standard evasion when he could not face logic: "You are wrong if you think I would defend the US policy concerning borders. The point of this argument follows the logic of the cold war and military build ups for many centuries. It is futile and misses the point. Would more open borders around India help or not? I think so." What Prof Ludden misses is that if open borders helps India, it should help others, and why is it that these other countries, beginning with the USA, do not open their borders.
The second point relates to India's poverty. Prof Ludden said, "India is a poor country. What does the BJP and VHP and RSS propose to do to improve the lives of the people? What are the economic programme and the steps you would recommend to raise living standards among the poor? These questions - rather than those concerning mosques here and there, Naipaul, Mother Teresa, and all - would seem to be most pressing for (potential) leaders of the Indian people." Obviously, the second essential point that we have made at the beginning of the dialogue - viz., that the rise of Hindutva is a post-86 phenomenon, and that the anti-Hindutva people were guiding the destiny of the nation up till then - was completely ignored. So, we had to respond: "You might wish to ask your colleagues whom you invited to the two-day workshop about the steps they would recommend to raise the living standards among the poor, and why they did not institute these steps earlier."
Having started with an anti-Hindutva bias, and making a living out of it, Prof Ludden would naturally find this line of inquiry destroying the very purpose of his scholarship. So he reworded the question and asked the old one again. And so I had to give my old answer once more - and following his example, I reworded my answer.
When we started the dialogue, we thought that we would be dealing with an unbiased person in search of truth. We thought the American academics would put a very high premium on integrity - an issue which has been agitating the minds there with some very famous cases of plagiarising and rigged experiments. But, it became quite obvious that our hopes were going to be dashed. Towards the end, Prof Ludden exhibited his virulent anti-Hindutva stand, and the same inability of looking at Hindutva from a logical point of view, instead of resorting to arguments by labels. We are convinced, in line with the pseudo-secularists in India, that he has an agenda of his own, and integrity is the least of his concerns. He exhibits the sort of intellectual fascism that is common amongst many of the so-called intellectuals all over the world when it comes to discussing issues relating to Hindutva.
When Prof Ludden next expresses his views on
the Sangh parivar, we hope he will preface his remarks by first informing the
audience that he is virulently anti-Hindutva that he has never discussed issues
of Hindutva with those who are its votaries, that his information about Hindutva
is obtained from those who are anti-Hindutva, and that he has not read, for
example, the manifesto of the BJP. At least the audience would be informed
that they are dealing with a biased person and consider his views with a handful