“Hinduism has an infinite capacity, almost incredible capacity, to survive and endure the outrages committed on it by its followers… Hinduism has always been an admixture of foreign goodness and indigenous debasement.”
This quote by Nirad C Chaudhury, one of the most irreverent yet incisive critics of all things Indian, is very apt and useful if you want to understand the current outrage over actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan’s recent statement, that Nathuram Godse was the ‘first Hindu terrorist’ in India.
Let us be specific. The outrage is not nationwide; it is only confined to a section of the RSS-BJP Parivar.
(I am saying ‘only a section’, because I know there are many people in the RSS and its affiliates, who recognise that a Hindu can be a terrorist.)
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BJP’s Narrative Of Majoritarian Nationalism
Most Indians have no sympathy whatsoever for Godse, who assassinated the Father of the Nation on 30 January 1948, and for which crime, he was hanged on 15 November 1949. They have not engaged in any academic debate over whether the killing of Mahatma Gandhi comes under the category of terrorism or not. They only know that it was an act of unmitigated evil, indeed a sinful act. In India’s religiously moulded national consciousness, judging an act as paap (sin), carries a far higher indictment than something seen only as aparadh (crime).
Why is there outrage in a section of the Sangh Parivar? The reason is obvious. This is election season – and a very difficult season indeed for the ruling party and its ‘Supreme Leader’.
Unsure of getting a renewed mandate on the basis of its unfulfilled 2014 promise of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ and ‘Achche Din’, the Bharatiya Janata Party has determined that its best bet is to polarise the electorate on communal lines. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has used the ‘majority vs minority’ language in his election speeches, with the least fear of being censured by the Election Commission.
For the past five years, PM Modi and his storm-troopers have built a narrative of majoritarian nationalism, in which the majority community (Hindus) have a default claim on being ‘true Indians’. Even secular Hindus, who question this communal ‘Idea of India’, have been routinely branded as ‘anti-nationals’.
The binary of ‘Bajrangbali vs Ali’, ‘Ramzade vs Haramzade’, ‘Shamshan vs Kabrastan’ – has made it clear how the BJP has tried to consolidate its Hindu vote bank.
‘Demonisation’ of Pakistan, ‘Otherisation’ of Muslims
A logical extension of the agenda of communal polarisation of India is the projection of terrorism and national security from a majoritarian perspective. It is true that most of the terrorist acts in India and the around the world in recent decades, have been carried out by Muslims. It is also incontrovertible that these misguided Muslims have misinterpreted and misused their own religion, Islam, both for self-motivation and goal-setting. In the Indian context, it is equally undeniable that most acts of terror have been directly and indirectly aided and abetted by Pakistan. Both official and non-official Pakistan have been guilty of this.
While Pakistan must be held accountable in India’s fight against terrorism, the BJP (along with its ally, the Shiv Sena) is the only party in our country that has used Pakistan-bashing as the centre-piece of its election campaign.
This is not surprising because the explicit demonisation of Pakistan, and implicit ‘otherisation’ of Muslims, are two sides of the same coin in the BJP’s narrative of Indian nationalism.
However, history is always a thorn in the flesh of those who try to falsify it. Even though most acts of terrorism in India have been carried out by Muslim extremists, at least some – (according to probes conducted by India’s own investigative agencies) – have also been perpetrated by Hindu extremists. In the past five years, the Modi government has done everything possible (by way of misuse of institutions) to help the accused go scot-free. In spite of this, some are still facing terror charges. Acceptance of this reality is inconvenient to those who claim that a Hindu can never be a terrorist.
What BJP’s Choice of Pragya Thakur As A Candidate Means
Under normal circumstances, whether a Hindu can become a terrorist or not would have remained a somewhat inconsequential debate, confined to the op-ed pages of newspapers. But this being election time, and since the BJP has been compelled to junk its plank of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ in favour of muscular Hindutva nationalism, it suddenly found it electorally expedient to claim that a Hindu can never be terrorist.
The pretext was the Congress party fielding its veteran leader Digvijaya Singh – former Madhya Pradesh chief minister – as its candidate from Bhopal. Since no leader of his stature in the BJP was willing to contest against him, the BJP strategists decided to turn the adversity into an opportunity for their party’s Hindutva-inspired election campaign nationwide. Hence their choice of saffron-clad Pragya Thakur, who is still a terror-accused in the Malegaon blast case, as the party’s candidate from Bhopal.
Now, it is not necessary here to go into the question of whether Digvijaya Singh coined the term ‘Hindu terror’. (He has denied it.) In any case, the term is as inappropriate and unacceptable as the counterpart term ‘Muslim terror’, since both terms wrongly identify terrorism with a specific religion.
But what is instructive is, how the BJP chose to justify Pragya Thakur’s candidature. The party’s propagandists said it was their way of telling the electorate – not only in Bhopal but also all over India – how the Congress is actually anti-Hindu, because it insulted Hinduism by coining the term ‘Hindu terror’.
The Outrageous Falsification of History
No less than Prime Minister Modi himself led the charge against the Congress. In his campaign speech at Wardha in Maharashtra, he went beyond saying that a Hindu can never be a terrorist. Shockingly, Modi said a Hindu can never be involved in an act of violence. If he is to be believed, no Hindu has ever participated in communal riots, mob lynching and other violent hate crimes. Falsification of history could not have been more grotesque and outrageous.
In a TV interview, Mr Modi subsequently defended the BJP giving a ticket to Pragya Thakur to contest the elections.
So far, there has not been a word of condemnation, not even disapproval, from him, with regard to Pragya Thakur’s outrageous slander of super-cop Hemant Karkare, who was martyred in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. (Karkare, in his last interview to Aaj Tak’s Sahil Joshi, just hours before he was killed, clearly states that the investigative agencies had solid evidence against the Hindus accused in terror cases.)
Not All Hindus Are Peaceful & Tolerant; Godse Proves This
It is against this background that Kamal Haasan, a staunch critic of Hindutva, has said that Godse was the first ‘Hindu terrorist’ in India. To counter him, some BJP spokespersons have argued that Godse was an ‘assassin’ but not a ‘terrorist’. The point here is not whether assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was an act of terror or not. The point is that it was a far graver hate crime. It was no doubt motivated by the same extremist Hindutva ideology that is responsible for so many violent attacks on innocent Muslims. (In the same way that the extremist Islamist ideology has been responsible for many violent attacks on innocent non-Muslims as well as Muslims in many parts of the world, including Pakistan.)
But what elevates Godse’s action in the hierarchy of crimes against humanity is that it killed one of the greatest human beings to have sacrificed his life for peace and Hindu-Muslim unity.
Yes, Hinduism is a religion of tolerance. It is a religion of non-violence. (Non-violence is at the core of all religions.) The Mahatma himself was the greatest Hindu of our times, a venerable apostle of ahimsa. But that does not mean all Hindus are tolerant and non-violent. Godse, and his hidden admirers in the Hindu community, who have debased Hinduism, exemplify this truth.
(The author was an aide to former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has recently founded ‘Forum for a New South Asia’, which advocates India-Pakistan-China cooperation. He welcomes comments at email@example.com. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)