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Hedged in by Hindutva again

We need to examine why appeal to religion remains so important to us Indians who otherwise pretend to be secular, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2008 18:38 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

The drubbing that the Congress got in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh state elections has changed the political map of India: The BJP now rules larger territories and people than any other party; Communists and regional parties retain their hold on states they rule. Mayawati's BSP holds India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress party’s moral authority to govern the country has been seriously eroded. However, unpalatable this be to people of my way of thinking, we have to face the harsh reality and consider whether or not the UPA government at the centre should hold out for its full term or call for general elections earlier to renew its mandate. Virtually with only one woman as its all-India vote-catcher, its prospects look grim.

One thing is clear: we were wrong in assuming that call for Hindutva by the BJP and its allies was on deaf ears and that it has little to offer in terms of industrial and economic development. It has a mixture of both: Hindutva gives it electoral sustenance.

We need to examine why appeal to religion remains so important to us Indians who otherwise pretend to be secular. I believe its roots lie in xenophobia—dislike of what we conceive as foreign elements.

It started with Muslim invaders of our country. It spread to those who converted to Islam. No matter how much descendants of Muslim invaders Indianised themselves, the feeling of resentment against them took deep roots in our minds. Then came Europeans—Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. They brought Christianity. Our freedom movement first targeted the British, Mahatma Gandhi, who led this movement, did his best to separate anti-British feeling from reservations against Muslims. He succeeded in doing so for some years but was defeated by the partition of the country, which was supported by the majority of Muslims. His martyrdom and the long rule of Pandit Nehru, our first PM, kept the Hindu resentment against Muslims subdued. Then it burst in the open with the RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal.

The BJP is the chief beneficiary of this anti-Muslim sentiment. Its leaders, mainly L.K.Advani, incited Hindu mobs to destroy the Babri Masjid. Not one of them has even bothered to tender an apology to the Muslims. At least three more historic mosques were on their hit list. I do not know whether or not they are still marked for destruction. Meanwhile, the target has shifted to Christians and their churches in Orissa. How can any patriotic Indian not feel disheartened by this turn of events? I only hope my analysis of the saffron upsurge flawed.

Breathing one’s Last

Some people are very fortunate in the way they die. One of them was my brother-in-law, retired Brigadier Anant Singh. He got up as usual at 6AM, went to the loo, washed his face, rinsed his mouth and came back to bed for his morning cup of tea and the newspaper. He was in good health and mentally all there. He put his head on his pillow and without a whisper of farewell stopped breathing and faded out of life. He was 95. He did not get to know about Benazir’s assassination later that day (27th December) under circumstances less fortunate. What had he done in life to earn such a wonderful gift?

Anant Singh was a product of Delhi’s Modern School, St. Stephens college and Roorke Engineering College. From there he went on to the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun and joined the Indian Army in 1935.

He was with Bombay Sappers as an Engineer, he held many top jobs in different parts of the country but unlike most Indians, he rarely talked about himself.

He had a slight stammer, which embarrassed him, so what he said was brief. The only two events he mentioned to me were his role in organising building Bailey bridges and roads at the sangam in Allahabad for an estimated 50 lakh pilgrims for the Ardh Kumbh Mela and as Chief Engineer Western Command in 1953, having to build the Tribhuwan Rajpath connecting Kathmandu to India, when neither skilled labour, nor any building material was available in Nepal.

He was not the kind of man to whom retirement meant having nothing to do. He took to designing furniture. He read books on the subject, converted his garage into workshop, hired two carpenters and got down to the job.

He chose the right kind of wood, instructed his carpenters how to fashion it and what kind of polish to use on it. Soon he had a flourishing furniture business going with orders, which had to work overtime to fulfill.

Every time he spent his holidays in my villa in Kasauli, he left some memento or other: a light folding table, desk or a chair. The last gift he gave me was a four-wheeled tray trolley with two layers of plate glass to wheel lunch or dinner items with crockery and cutlery right from the kitchen to where I sat by the fireplace. He also helped members of the family to sort out their property disputes. He asked for nothing in return — not even a word of thanks.

He lived a happy, contented life with his wife Bali on Sardar Patel Marg. What did he do to earn such a peaceful end? I am not sure but I think it is because he was a God-Fearing, Good Man—all words in capital letters.

Benazir: An Obituary

One more victim to terrorism, one more martyr to democracy

Most ominously forewarned, a most courageous lady

Or shall we say, a nursling of tragedy

In line with the cursed families of the sub-continent

Snuffed out so violently!

Looked upon critically in her lifetime

Cut down cruelly in her prime

Highlighting the state of world, so insecure and stark

She has left behind many a question mark :

Shall we ever learn from our tragic history

And root out from our midst fanaticism and bigotry!

(By Kuldip Salil, Delhi)