5. The murder of Swami Shraddhananda
At long last, Ayub Khan leaves the sweeping generalizations of the usual secularist discourse behind to get down to specifics. It is about the murder of Swami Shraddhananda, a leader of the movement for Hindu Sangathan (self-organization) and Shuddhi ("purification", conversion to Hinduism), applied on a sizable scale to the Malkana Rajputs, a community that had been islamized under duress in centuries past but wanted to return to its Hindu roots. The Muslims on their part intensified their perennial effort of Dawah, missionary work:
"He writes that Arya Samaj leader Shradhhananda became active in Shuddhi work only after discovering Dai-e-Islam, the so-called 'secret' pamphlet of Khwaja Hasan Nizami, which called upon Muslims to engage in Dawah work. Elst doesn't mention the fact that the activities of Khwaja Hasan Nizami and other luminaries of the Tabligh/Tanzeem movement were a reaction to the massive conversion efforts of Arya Samaj and not vice versa. The Dai-e-Islam was not a 'secret' pamphlet but was distributed widely in the public. The year 1923 alone, in which it was first published, saw three editions of the book. By 1925 it has already seen its fifth edition. Does any book that was supposed to be secret, ever published on such a massive scale? Additionally Elst doesn't mention that there were similar allegations of a 'secret' Shuddhi book from the Muslim side. Tabligh leader Ghulam Bhik Nairang had claimed that the Kashmiri ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh had commissioned a 21-volume Hindi encyclopaedia by the name of Ranbir Karit Prayaschit Mahanibandh (Ranbir's Great Essay on Repentance), which suggested strategies for converting to the Hindu fold many neo-Muslim communities in India. This encyclopaedia was alleged to have been secretly circulated among prominent Hindus so that the Muslims remain unaware of the plot. An unbiased scholar should have mentioned this allegation as well but may be that is too much to expect from a person like Elst."
Frankly, I had never heard of this latter counter-allegation. From the information which Ayub Khan provides, it sounds like a totally ludicrous allegation: a Hindu encyclopaedia of no less than 21 volumes was to be kept secret, but not a brief Muslim pamphlet? There is little need to enumerate all the instances of secularist double standards, but this one can certainly join the list. Indeed, the counter-allegation sounds as just that: a futile attempt to counter an allegation not with a refutation but with an echo allegation. Typically the impulsive reaction of someone who knows he has been caught in the act. As I have observed before (viz. in the conduct of the anti-temple historians in the Ayodhya debate), liars often aren't very creative, so the lies they think up are transparent of the truth. In this case: the allegation of a Hindu secret encyclopaedia was made by people conscious of their own involvement in circulating a Muslim secret pamphlet, who thought in terms of secret propaganda and couldn't think up an allegation except one in those same terms. Mr. Khan may justifiably hold it against me if I am unaware of pertinent facts, but not if I have failed to hear about some silly rumour.
At any rate, within my thesis, the background information to the murder of Swami Shraddhananda, involving the "secret" pamphlet, was exactly that: part of the background. I had no particular message about these events nor claims of an original finding, they were just part of the story's thread. Therefore, I considered it safe to rely for that on one of the most authoritative secondary sources on his life and on Arya Samaj history: Prof. J.T.F. Jordens' book Swami Shraddhananda, His Life and Causes (OUP, Delhi 1981). Jordens writes:
"The Urdu pamphlet Daî Islâm by Khwaja Hasan Nizami came into his hands. He immediately wrote in answer a pamphlet, the title of which clearly expressed his violent reaction: 'The Hour of Danger: Hindus, be on your guard! The order has been given to attack and destroy the fortress of your religion in the hidden dead of night!' (*) The Swami found out that the pamphlet was in fact only the introduction to a larger volume called Fâtamî Dawat-i-Islâm, which had been published as early as 1920, years before the shuddhi of the Malkanas started. In this the Swami saw proof that the Muslim reaction of the day was not merely against the shuddhi and sangathan movements, but rather was part of a sinister plot hatched years earlier. In his pamphlet the Swami went on to show how Nizami in his own introduction referred to his consultations with many Muslim leaders, including the Aga Khan, and how all had agreed that the publication of his work should remain a carefully kept secret within the Muslim community. The single purpose of the pamphlet was to describe all the means, fair and foul, by which Hindus could be induced to become Muslims. (*) In the conclusion of his own booklet, the Swami suggested some ways in which the Muslim threat could be countered. The openness and ethics of his methods stood in strong contrast with Nizami's tactics." (p.140-141)
It is the word of the top-ranking scholar Jordens, a Christian and as such no sympathizer of Hindu revivalism, against that of the Islamist militant Ayub Khan. Whom should I believe?
6. Hedgewar's and Golwalkar's record
Ayub Khan writes: "One cannot but help notice Elst's attempts to whitewash the horrible heritage of the Hindutva movement. He defends RSS' less than patriotic record during the freedom movement by creating lame excuses. Hence RSS founder Hedgewar kept his outfit away from Gandhian agitation 'partly for safety reasons, not to endanger the young sapling, and partly because he had a metapolitical project in mind'. (p.145)"
It is simply a fact that through K.B. Hedgewar, the RSS was an offshoot of the freedom movement. He himself had been involved with the revolutionary wing of the freedom movement in Bengal, and had drawn his lessons about the needs of Hindu society on the eve of the (by then increasingly inevitable) transition to freedom. The RSS uniform was originally the uniform of a safety squad guarding a conference of the Indian National Congress, which had felt the need of extra security after the Khilafat riots against Hindus because most politicized Muslims saw Congress as a Hindu phenomenon. Hedgewar's successor M.S. Golwalkar had been a teacher at Benares Hindu University, a centre of nationalist agitation. So, through different tributaries, the RSS was entirely rooted in the freedom movement, in both its Gandhian and revolutionary wings. For a "less than patriotic record", Mr. Khan may look to the Muslim League, which firmly collaborated with the British and received the overwhelming majority of the Muslim votes in the 1945-46 elections on the single-point programme of rejecting the secular state in favour of Islamic separatism.
And then, Mr. Khan throws what must be the perennial trump card in the secularists' deck: "We have often read this infamous statement of Golwalkar from his book We, Our Nationhood Defined: 'From this standpoint, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment -- not even citizen's rights'. Elst explains it away as a 'juvenile mistake' on the part of Golwalkar and that he (Golwalkar) himself withdrew it and that a majority of Hindu nationalists have never read it. One only needs to look at the statements of current RSS chief Sudarshan where he routinely asks Muslims and Christians to Indianize (read Hinduize) to realize the falsity of this argument."
It is simply a matter of record that the RSS has chosen not to reprint Golwalkar's booklet We after the seizure of its remaining stock in the police crackdown on the RSS in the wake of the Mahatma murder in 1948; and that the post-1948 generations of RSS workers have had no exposure to it. That it was Golwalkar himself who "withdrew" the booklet is not only the unanimous testimony of a number of Sangh activists I interviewed, but is also a matter of simple logic: in the much-maligned hierarchical structure of the RSS, the decision not to reprint his own booklet was obviously made by the top leader, and could at any rate not have been made against his will.
None of this is refuted by the correct observation that the theme of "Indianization" of the minorities has remained a central concern from (before) Golwalkar down to K.S. Sudarshan. The latter didn't need the former's booklet for reiterating this most central and founding concern of the organization. But this concept of Indianization need not mean that citizen's rights are denied to the minorities. Contrary to Khan's intimation, there is no continuity on this point from the young Golwalkar down to Sudarshan, who has never expressed such an opinion. Indeed, there was not even such a continuity between the younger and the older Golwalkar (d. 1973), whose later writings and communications were a lot more conciliatory than his maiden attempt, We, written in 1938.
7. BJP secularism
The BJP's term in government has confirmed my prediction that the party doesn't mean business when it comes to redressing specific Hindu grievances. Mr. Khan emotionalises this impeccable observation, but otherwise is correct in rendering my viewpoint:
"If we are to believe Elst, the Bharatiya Janata Party is more secular than other parties and that RSS is Boy Scouts like organization whose members think that it deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for their 'constructive work'. (p.155) According to him BJP has outdone even the Congress and other secularist parties in reaching out to the Muslims. He criticises the BJP ministers for not introducing even an ounce of Hindutva when they are in power. They are simply too nice. (p.245). They have gone soft and are acting like the 'secularists'. The growing militancy of Parivaris is simply not good enough for him. He is pained by the token gestures that BJP makes towards Muslims. Downplaying RSS' shrewd tactics he says it is a 'big dinosaur in a small brain'. (p.234) He is exasperated with the RSS' culture of 'anti-intellectualism' and argues that other parties profit from this scenario."
Mr. Khan imputes to the Sangh Parivar a very clever strategy, though he fails to cite any actual successes that would prove this cleverness. Has cow-slaughter been banned? Has the Ayodhya temple, of which the first stone was laid in 1989, been built by now? Has the special status of Kashmir been abolished? Has a uniform civil code been enacted? Anyway, he wants me to pay more attention to dishonest propaganda emanating from the Sangh Parivar, which includes the BJP's apparent pro-Muslim gestures:
"A glaring omission from the book is the analysis of RSS' propaganda machinery. It is really surprising how Elst could miss the Sangh's masterful use of catchy slogans, provocative art and inflammatory rhetoric. The RSS is anything but innocent when it comes to propaganda but Elst blissfully ignores it. Anyone with some familiarity with the Sangh's tactics knows that all these gestures of goodwill towards Muslims are just a façade to mask its real dangerous intentions and to gain acceptability in the populace. Elst himself hints towards this when he writes that the shift from 'Hindu' to 'Indian' in the formation of BJP was not due to conviction but to fear. (p.158) At another place he admits that 'anti-Muslim feelings are hiding just beneath the surface of Muslim-friendly statements'. (p.362)"
Yes, fear, or less dramatically the calculated avoidance of conflict with the secularist opinion hegemons and with Muslim muscle power, is the explanation of many of the Sangh Parivar's positions and moves. I have often noticed that Hindus have a double discourse regarding Muslims: privately hostile but full of praise in public. That may not be very brave, but it does indicate a power equation. If the Hindus were really the powerful and overbearing majority to which Communalism Combat always alludes, this fearful double discourse wouldn't be needed.
As for catchy slogans, I agree that some of them have been right on the mark. Thus, "Hindu India, secular India" correctly drives home the message that Hindu society guarantees "secularism" in the sense of tolerance and pluralism. My problem with the RSS is rather that its thinking rarely gets beyond the level of slogans.
Ayub Khan takes issue with a minor remark I made in passing: "In discussing the alleged Indian Muslim power to ban books Elst makes a patently false claim. He says that Richard M. Eaton's Sufis of Bijapur is banned in India because in it 'a few marginal sentences casts an unfavourable light on the Sufi tradition.' (p.318) According to Dr. Richard Eaton this book was never banned. As a matter of fact when the book went out of print with its original publisher, Princeton University Press, it was picked up by Munshiram Manoharlal in New Delhi and is still available from them."
On the matter of the alleged banning of Eaton's book, I concede that closer inquiries do contradict the received wisdom I had taken for granted. I had heard from a number of different contacts in Delhi that Sufis of Bijapur (1979) had been banned. It now appears that the story can be traced to a single, usually well-informed source, viz. the late Girilal Jain. When he was editor of the Times of India, he often had private meetings with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Sometimes he was privy to their discussions with close advisers, often more important in the decision-making process than formal cabinet meetings. It was on such an occasion that Indira Gandhi, freshly reinstated as Prime Minister, took up a suggestion to ban Eaton's book.
Unfortunately, Girilal Jain has passed away, and so have the others most likely to have been present. Consequently, it is impossible to get at closer details, unless some notebook of one of them turns up. I suppose it must have been Nurul Hasan or P.N. Haksar who brooked the idea, Indira's confidence men who changed the face of India by handing complete power in the cultural and academic sectors to the hard Left. But it was only the idea of a few anti-Hindu intellectuals, not a demand made on the streets by marching Muslim crowds, so it seems the Prime Minister didn't consider the matter very urgent. While Mr. Jain came away with the knowledge that she had okayed the plan of banning the book, it seems she didn't care enough to go out of her way and actually implement the ban. So, nothing came of it.
This turns out to be one case where inside information can be misleading, and I'll take it as an interesting learning experience. The dangers of misinformation against which reporters and historians must be on their guard are numerous and of many different types.
9. The demolition
Mr. Khan thinks that I am trying to shield the BJP from the blame for the Ayodhya demolition. Given the trouble it has predictably caused the BJP, it is indeed entirely rational to consider the BJP an unlikely culprit. But that's still some distance from blaming arch-secularist V.P. Singh:
"Regarding Babri Masjid Elst continues his blame game by pointing fingers towards Narasimha Rao and V.P.Singh. He writes: 'I was told at the BJP office that Prime Minister V.P.Singh had suggested to Advani that he create some public opinion pressure on the Government concerning Ayodhya. That way, V.P.Singh (who rejected the claim that the disputed building was a 'mosque') could explain to his Muslim supporters that in the face of such mighty pressure, he would be unable to keep his promise to give them the disputed site. So, possibly that is how the BJP decided to have the Rath Yatra.' (p.174) V.P.Singh has always denied this charge."
He would, wouldn't he? But here again, the suspicion is perfectly rational, entirely logical with V.P. Singh's interests and tactical constraints. To avoid misunderstandings, this does not mean that he contrived to have a wild demolition as took place on 6 December 1992. Like Rajiv Gandhi before him, he merely wanted a hand-over of the site to its legitimate owners, Hindu society, in exchange for some favours to the Muslim leadership. As a pragmatic way of calming tensions, such political deals are respectable and not a cause for "blame". As for the actual demolition:
"With regards to Narasimha Rao's government's involvement in the demolition of the Babri Masjid Elst writes: 'Consider the matter from his (Narasimha Rao's) viewpoint: as long as the 'mosque' (for the BJP, 'the disputed structure'; for commentator Girilal Jain, 'the non-mosque') was standing, the BJP could use it as a rallying-point, a visible 'sign of national humiliation imposed by the invader Babar' kept in place by the 'pseudo-secularist' Congress Government. On the other hand, if the building was demolished in a BJP-related action, this could be used against the BJP and the whole Hindu movement, viz. as a reason to dismiss the BJP state governments and ban the Hindu mass organizations. This is at any rate what effectively happened; the Ayodhya theme was killed as a BJP vote-getter, and the BJP's march to power was temporarily reversed'. (p.175)"
That still sounds like a correct assessment of the considerations factored into Rao's decisions. Of course, his intimate thoughts are a black box to me, but the output from that black box, viz. his actual policy, seems to fit my hypothesis nicely. Let me also mention that I have had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rao, near the end of his life at some India event hosted by the State Department in Washington DC, and telling him in person that I consider him India's best Prime Minister to date (Yes, I'm a sycophant). Unlike Atal Behari Vajpayee, he actually implemented a serious part of the BJP programme.
Fortunately, Mr. Khan hasn't wasted his time reading my book. He found some useful information in it:
"Apart from Muslim-bashing, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind throws up some interesting side notes as well. For example that one of the nieces of L.K. Advani converted to Islam and married a Muslim man with his blessings. According to Gurudatt Vaidya, a prominent Arya Samaji and Jana Sanghi, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Jan Sangh leader, died of a heart attack in his prison cell because he ate two chickens against his doctor's orders. So much for Sangh's advocacy of vegetarianism."
To be sure, the latter account is based only on a personal testimony (though the medical records may yet confirm it), but I considered it important enough to at least not let it go unmentioned, if only because it provides a down-to-earth counterpoint to the exalted hagiography surrounding historic Sangh leaders. Personal anecdotes are not my main line of interest, but a different type of historian may take up this lead and explore the matter further. Meanwhile:
"In short Elst is a very useful writer for the Parivar even though he admits that the relationship has soured because of his criticism of RSS. But despite that it appears that the Parivar is taking him seriously. The very selective appointments of Sangh oriented individuals in scientific, educational, cultural and literary councils, and attempts to re-write the history, aggressive campaigns against Muslims and other minorities, all indicate that slowly but surely Elst's recommendations are being implemented. The relationship between the two is mutually beneficial. The Parivar gets a seasoned and ardent advocate for its agenda in the West and Elst (a self confessed apostate from Christianity and one whose sole source of income is writing) gets an ideology to hold on to, apart from the material benefits that come along with it."
I wonder on what planet Ayub Khan has been living lately to think that a pro-Hindu stance could be lucrative. If lucre and career prospects had been my motivation, I should have joined the anti-Hindu camp, which controls all the appointments and grants in the Indian Studies field. At the very least, that choice could have landed me a job with publicly-funded outfits like Communalism Combat, the organ of combative communalism.
© Dr. Koenraad Elst