Former President Pranab Mukherjee addressed volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at its Nagpur headquarters on the 7th of this month. His speech was keenly awaited by leaders of the RSS, while his very presence at an RSS meet was openly disfavoured by the Congress party. Now what he spoke matters.
“Any attempts at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity…… We derive our strength from tolerance ......” were some of the formal high-sounding words Pranab Mukherjee uttered at Nagpur. At one end these words seem to convey right and noble thoughts, but at the other end they really ride over reality. Anyone who remembers the bloodied history of India’s many regions and the attack on its ancient Hindu religion - the assault continuing to this day in creeping milder forms– will know that the former President skillfully said nothing worth remembering.
No one quarrels with Pranab that “hatred and intolerance” cannot be the proud hallmarks of a nation’s character. Hatred generally connotes a blind unreasoned dislike for another person, and it cannot help a peaceful society. As for intolerance, no doubt the former President spoke of it as a cousin of hatred, i.e., an attitude that allows little room for free speech and legitimate dissent in a democracy. So far so good. As for “dogmas of religion”, we know that the Indian Constitution does not allow such dogmas guiding the affairs of central and state governments – as in the Vatican City or in Saudi Arabia. So dogmas are not a real issue with anyone. What Pranab spoke in the same breath calls for criticism.
Pranab said that our nationhood is not to be defined in terms of “identities of religion, region” also. Did he mean that no one should imagine India as a Hindu nation or Muslim nation or Christian nation or a nation of any other religion? No, he meant only one religion. He spoke his words when, amidst forced and enticed conversions witnessed all through in India, Hindus make up for nearly 80% of India’s population, Muslims 14% and persons of other religions 6% - according to 2011 census. He frowned on “identities of region” when followers of the majority religion in India consider Kasi, Mathura, Ayodhya and Rameswaram among their holy places and the Ganges and a few other rivers specially sacred, and so hold the whole of India dear to them.
India is the heartland of Hindus. Hindus take pride in being Hindus and passionately look upon India as a Hindu nation, with its fabled Hindu history and epics. Though Indian Hindus speak different languages, their religion is their unifying force. It is the deep widespread Hindu faith of its people that holds India together, and nothing else comes close, not even the Constitution. Then why should they not feel proud about something that keeps them together and not say it aloud too? Whom does it bother if they do it?
Though Pranab did not specify a religion, obviously he sensed an urge among Indian Hindus to view India as a Hindu nation and so he spoke of it disapprovingly. If their urge was not real and widespread, he would not have talked about a non-existent wish among any sizeable group of people. So it is clear he was really cautioning about the Indian Hindus.
No other country, no other people, will find it odd that Hindus of India consider their land a Hindu nation - just as, for good reason, Pakistanis look at their land as a Muslim nation or the Israelis call their country a Jewish state. It is some Indians who, aiming for domestic political gains, do not relish Indian Hindus calling India a Hindu nation. Congressmen in India take this stance in the hope of harvesting bulk votes in some quarters. Perhaps the Congressman in Pranab intrinsically got the better of the Hindu in him.
Every society may look upon something it possesses to feel special and proud about itself. Such a feeling binds them more and helps their progress. That sentiment is to be welcomed and applauded, so long as it is not a tool to subjugate or attack other people. For Indian Hindus, forming 80% of the Indian population, their religion and their land are special. They will naturally identify their country with them and with their religion, even as they are friendly with religious minorities. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are religions born in India, out of the Hindu religion, but to this day Hindus keep friendly relations with people of those faiths. That is enough proof that Hindus are a tolerant society, not easily found elsewhere. But if some religions and their heads pose a threat to Hindu beliefs and culture, why will Hindus of today not resist and rally among themselves to guard their religion?
It was because India’s regions and Hindu religion were tolerant to other faiths – and overly accommodating too – that foreign religions could enter and thrive in India. As late as 1950 when India’s Constitution was adopted, when Hindus formed 84% of the Indian population as found in the census of 1951, some special favours too were conferred on religious minorities. Which other people of a country have denied some special favours to themselves though forming 84% of the population, while granting them to religious minorities under a Constitution? And then going down on numbers in their land once conquered and ruled by people of other faiths who are now growing in size within the country? Facing the prospect of its majority religion slowly turned into a minority? And still getting a rap from a former President for its people being naturally proud of their region and religion? Out of this bakwas, let my country awake.
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2018