I am nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So I’m a Hindu nationalist. So yes, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu,” The moment Narendra Modi said this in his interview to Reuters last week, the secular hounds set upon him.
One of the secular hounds is Salman Kurshid, India’s External Affairs Minister. First, Khurshid being a Muslim, his secular credential is presumed. But, he has more claims to be secular. In the Indian political theatre just as hounding Modi is sufficient to prove one’s secular credential, admiring him is adequate to prove the lack of it. When Khurshid was chief of the Congress in UP, he defended the Islamic terrorist outfit Students Islamic Movement of India [SIMI] - reincarnated later as Indian Mujhahideen - as peace-loving lads, arguing as its counsel in courts. This was in 2001.
Some ultra-secularists might even feel that, by defending the ‘innocent’ SIMI, Khurshid qualifies for Padma Vibhushan, one notch less than Bharat Ratna. But they may not know that long back, in 1986 itself, he had qualified for Bharat Ratna for his book At Home In India; A Statement of Indian Muslims, expounding secular Muslim views. In that book, Khurshid wrote that in 1984, when the Sikhs were massacred in Delhi, “there was terrible satisfaction among the Muslims, who have not completely forgotten the Partition’s unpleasant aftermath. Hindus and Sikhs were alike paying for their sins. They were paying for the blood they had drawn in 1947”.
It is with such high credentials Khurshid says Modi’s claim of being Hindu Nationalist is oxymoron. The dictionary meaning of oxymoron is ‘a speech in which opposite or contradictory ideas are combined like thunderous silence or sweet sorrow’. That is, according to Khurshid, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Nationalism’ are opposites. If his poor prose is excused, he may have only intended to say that religion and nationalism contradict. But is ‘Hindu nationalism’ oxymoron? Test this on those who had laid the foundation for Indian freedom for contemporary India.
Take Swami Vivekananda first. The Swami’s nationalist exhortations deified the nation, seeded the freedom movement. The British Police repeatedly found Swami’s literature in the hands of the freedom fighters and revolutionaries, even mulled action against the Ramakrishna Math. Vivekananda inspired the passivists as well as the revolutionaries. The tallest leaders acclaimed him. Mahatma Gandhi: ‘reading Vivekananda had made me love the country ‘hundred fold.’ Subhash Bose: he ‘was the spiritual father of modern nationalist movement’. Rajaji: but for him ‘we would have lost our religion, not have gained our freedom; we owed everything to him’. Rabindranath Tagore: ‘if you want to know India, study Vivekananda.’ Finally, the ultra-secular Jawaharlal Nehru: ‘he was one of the great founders of national movement, who inspired the freedom fighters.’ Even mystics like Maharishi Aurobindo and Subramanya Bharati were inspired by him. And what did Swami Vivekananda stand for. “A nation in India,” declared Vivekananda, “must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune.”
Swamy Vivekananda repeatedly declared India as Hindu nation. Comparing the three living nations - English, French and Hindu - he said ‘the Hindu nation is still living’ because of its religion. He condemned the Hindus saying most of the real evils for which the foreign races abuse the Hindu nation are only owing to us and pointed to jealousy as the reason why the Hindu nation with all its wonderful intelligence have gone to pieces.
Agonised at religious conversions - he calls them perversions - which have turned the converts enemies of the mother society, he said, “every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.”Is Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary the entire nation including Salman Kurshid’s Government is celebrating, an oxymoron for being a Hindu nationalist?
Move on. Maharishi Aurobindo, revolutionary, freedom fighter and mystic-philosopher, asserted Nationalism is no longer “a creed, a religion, a faith.... This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish. The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism.” Is Aurobindo oxymoron? Move further. ‘If we lay stress on common heritage forgetting all our differences that exist among the different sects...we shall ere long be able to consolidate different sects into a mighty Hindu nation. That ought to be the ambition of every Hindu.’
This is not Mohan Bhagwat. It is Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the first Indian to declare “Swaraj is my birth right”. Before Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the scene, the famous threesome ‘Lal-Bal-Pal’ [Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal] guided the freedom movement. They are Hindu nationalists. Even today the Odisha government website proclaims them so. Are Lal-Bal-Pal oxymorons? More.
“Though the majority of the Mussulmans of India and the Hindus belong to the same ‘stock’, the religious environment has made them different.......being heir to fresh traditions he exhibits the virility of a comparatively new system of life.......1,300 years of imperialistic expansion has made the Mussulmans fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of aggressive spirit. The Hindu is an age-old civilisation. He is essentially non-violent.” Who’s this? Mahatma Gandhi.
In Hind Swaraj, which is his fundamental ideological text, he pointed out how Hinduism is the core of Indian nationalism. Gandhi said: ‘those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setubandha (Rameshwaram) in the South, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage were no fools. They knew that the worship of God could have been performed just as well at home and yet they argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world. But they saw that India was one undivided land.’
When asked about the advent of Muslims on the unity of India, Gandhi replied: ‘foreigners merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it. That country must have a faculty for assimilation, India has ever been such a country.’ Is Gandhi oxymoron?
And finally the Supreme Court of India. The highest court declared, “Hinduism or Hindutva are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the people of India or depicting the way of life of the Indian people.....in the abstract these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practising the Hindu religion as a faith.”
The court quoted with approval the views of Maulana Wahiuddin Khan who wrote: ‘The strategy worked out to solve the minorities problem was, although differently worded, that of Hindutva or Indianisation. This strategy, briefly stated, aims at developing a uniform culture by obliterating the differences.... This was felt to be the way to communal harmony and national unity and put an end once and for all to the minorities’ problem.’ Is the law declared by the highest Court oxymoron?
One thing is evident. The national discourse is devoid of historic sense. It does not even look at the law laid down by the Supreme Court. Result. Whatever inspired the freedom movement, whether it is Vande Mataram composed by Banchim Chandra or the ideal of Rama Rajya revered by Mahatma Gandhi or the concept of Hindu nationalism expounded by Swami Vivekananda and Maharishi Aurobindo, is regarded in the dictionary of Indian secularism as communal and anti-secular.
Are Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Tilak, Gandhi and all other revered national leaders, who spent their whole life to arouse the people to battle for freedom with their inspiring life and thoughts, all oxymorons then?
Postscript: Imagine, like Khurshid, Modi had said that there was terrible satisfaction among Hindus that Muslims, who were killed in the Gujarat riots, were only paying for their Godhra sins! What would the seculars have done? Or would not have?
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.