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Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Savarkar was secular, not extremist

Jyotirmaya Sharma’s book misinforms the public about Hindutva and about our national heroes.

Jyotirmaya Sharma

t's a pity that the delight and beauty of the Tehelka Think Festival held in Goa has been overtaken by other unfortunate events. But it was a spectacular show, the speakers, artists and scientists, masters in their fields, and magnificent was the hospitality. Every minute from early morning to late night was unadulterated joy: Aladdin's Carpet: Hail a taxi in the sky, by Jerry Sanders and Beauty and The Beast by Tina Brown were outstanding performances. It was a marvellous kaleidoscope of star studded celebrities and celebrities from a vast array of avocations, ranging from Bollywood and Hollywood stars to Nobel Laureates. Several contemporary topics, social and societal trends were presented to the audience. Perhaps, the only subject that did not seem to find place was "philosophy" or "spirituality", an eternal ingredient of all societies, West or East, seeking answers to questions that abound at all times in the human situation. Nevertheless, the mandatory session on Hindu bashing was very much there. The speaker was one Jyotirmaya Sharma, of the archetypal neo-secular variety, professor of political science, fellowships in European universities, with a deep desire to clothe his level of scholarship with half-truths. As a great believer of freedom of speech, I uphold his liberty to state his piece, provided it is based on proper facts and events, and survives a rational and unbiased debate. However, it was unfortunate and somewhat sinister that the organisers left no room for healthy discussion on a subject as serious as this, expressed so inadequately and inaccurately.

This item on the programme was to be a dialogue between Tarun and Sharma. It started with a question from Tarun about who is a Hindu. An honest and knowledgeable scholar would have sketched the historical, political and religious evolution of the word Hindu and Hinduism, and what they mean today, their plus and minus points. All of this has been authoritatively and exhaustively documented by national and international historians, about which I have written extensively in my previous pieces. Sharma could have used this knowledge base to describe the territorial and etymological context of the word "Hindu", or the difference between "Hinduism" and other revealed religions like Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, that have identifiable founders and exclusive binding scriptures, or the freedom of thought and belief intrinsic to Hinduism that includes monotheism, polytheism or even atheism, the complete absence of blasphemy or excommunication laws, etc.

But Sharma wanted to have nothing to do with an erudite or even well informed answer. He answered with misplaced levity, almost like a robot programmed by the fashionable neo secular brigade, that a Hindu is one who hates others and plans their extinction. The tenor and content of his talk disturbed me, and I actually went and bought his book at the festival bookshop, Hindutva, Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism, to know a little more about him. And I was quite appalled with what I saw, particularly in his chapter on Veer Savarkar. The opening paragraph in its premeditated, judgemental tone declares that Savarkar was an extremist, that he politicised religion, pioneered extreme Hindu nationalism, and had a single point agenda of establishing India as a Hindu nation. The author shows no desire to present his facts in an unbiased manner, discuss pros and cons, build an argument or to debate the issue. Instead, he goes straight for the jugular with his wired thesis. It is something like paid news or a commissioned book. And rather doctrinaire too, just like the Tehelka organisers not allowing any debate on the subject, even though it is well known that sections of the intelligentsia are being bought over and radicalised by neo secular think tanks, patronised and promoted by utterly communal forces. Their objective clearly is to ensure the permanent weakness and disunity of 80% of our population, break their self-esteem, and keep India weak. I have spoken about it adequately last week.

Jyotirmaya Sharma would have been easy prey. His book suggests a complete lack of originality or self confidence, and an immature, stubborn obsession with the European philosophic concept of "self" and "other", through which he wants to attain intellectual heights of being the Jacques Derrida of Hindustan, and the deconstructionalist of Hindutva.

The man makes rather desperate attempts to transpose it on the development of Hinduism in the society and politics of India during the Independence movement, particularly on Savarkar. He does not juxtapose this with the development of other religions in India during the same time, in which also there was considerable churning going on. This would have provided a valuable comparative context, and a forum for debate. But he prefers stripping his own version of the "self" from the "other", his special affection being reserved only for Hinduism. He uses a strange intellectual model of first creating his communal template, and then tailoring Veer Savarkar into it. What his communal template will not accept is the fact that Savarkar was secular, and relied on reason and not "beliefs". Jyotirmaya Sharma should actually admire men like Savarkar who advocated secularism much before it popped up as an election stunt by the Congress Party, who use it without making anyone understand what it means. I wonder whether Sharma would agree that a text book on secularism of the genuine variety should compulsorily be part of every academic curriculum, including of the madrasas.

I wonder why the writer does not inform his readers about the intellectual talents and extraordinary abilities of Veer Savarkar as a poet, writer, playwright, and his opposition to the caste system. He created the term Hindutva, which he saw as an inclusive collective identity, as distinct from Hinduism, the religion. The Supreme Court has, in 1995, confirmed the concept. But Sharma, whose book is supposed to be about Hindutva, written in 2003, well after the Hindutva judgement, does not consider it important to even mention it in his book. This is what Hindutva is as stated by the Supreme Court — a way of life or a state of mind and it is not to be equated with, or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism. In Indian Muslims: The Need For A Positive Outlook by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (1994), it is said (page 19): "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 between all of the cultures coexisting in the country. This was felt to be the way to communal harmony and national unity. It was thought that this would put an end once and for all to the minorities problem." The above opinion indicates that the word Hindutva is used and understood as a synonym of Indianisation, i.e., development of a uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country. What objection or threat can anyone perceive in this? I would suggest that the author read the Hindutva judgment and apply his mind to it, instead of keeping his readers uninformed about it, either through design or ignorance.

The book also remains silent on Veer Savarkar's contribution to the freedom movement. He was passionately committed to it and showed enormous bravery and daredevilry, jumping off the ship on the English Channel, and swimming to the French coast, after his arrest in London in 1910 for his connections with the revolutionary group India House. He was sentenced to two life terms of imprisonment totalling 50 years, something unprecedented, and was moved to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Savarkar has often been described as an atheist by some of his biographers. In fact, he stated in his will that he should be cremated without religious ritual in a crematorium. Does this sound like a Hindu extremist? I return to the observation I have made in my last week's piece that a strong Hindu makes everyone uncomfortable, including other Hindus. After almost a thousand years of subjugation, perhaps we too have become socially programmed and are most comfortable in a passive state. I only hope I am wrong. But strong people like Savarkar are bound to exist, until all religions in India become truly secular.

The book is a neat and pretentious handbook to provide home grown, "intellectual" support to Congress vote bank politics, something that is easily seen through. It inspires the hate posters about Veer Savarkar, the great patriot, displayed at the JNU, in a hideous game of national disintegration. It is mischievous and criminal.

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