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Arun Shourie Column ()
March 23, 1998

Author: Arun Shourie Column
Publication: India Connect
Date: March 23, 1998

"And what about the pogroms that go on from time to time?," the caller
asked. Late at night, an editorial writer with one of the world's
best-known papers was calling from the USA. It was becoming evident that
the BJP would form the Government, he was gathering background
"What did you say?," I asked. Even though I had heard the word clearly
enough, I wanted to see if he would repeat it.
"Pogroms," he repeated.
"What do you mean, 'pogroms'?"
"It is an East-European term....," he began.
Now, even a brown Asiatic like me knows the meaning of the word. The
person had lived in India for some time, as the India correspondent of
this important paper -- enough years to know that even we know that it
is a term which is used to describe the massacre of millions of white
Europeans by white Europeans.
"Which specific incidents did you have in mind?," I asked.
"Oh, like the riots in Bombay after the demolition of the mosque...."
"Have you looked into the origin of the riots, or the course they took
? Have you investigated any other riot?...."
No, he hadn't. Can you recall any account of any riot or killings which
was based on an actual investigation? No, he couldn't. But "pogroms" it
On the day Mr. Vajpayee is sworn in as Prime Minister, a journalist
friend in London sends me a message over email. He refers to an article
in The Guardian by the paper's Delhi correspondent. "The Bharatiya
Janata Party, whose coalition is to be sworn in as New Delhi's next
Government tomorrow," the article opens, "has temporarily forsaken its
crusade against India's minorities and turned its sights on a new enemy
: foreign investment."
Its "crusades"? You mean, the things European Christians launched
against Muslims in the course of which they butchered hundreds upon
hundreds of thousands of Muslims ? "Against minorities"? Till yesterday
the BJP's "crusades" were supposed to be against the Muslims only. Now
that the party is forming the Government, are the paper and its
correspondent proffering a promotion -- from being a party that was
engaged in "crusades" against Muslims alone to being one in the business
of "crusades" against all minorities? And that forecast -- "The
Bharatiya Janata Party.... has temporarily forsaken its crusade...."
And that characterisation about the party's attitude to foreign direct
investment : "its new enemy". Europeans nations protect their own
producers with piles of subsidies, with tariff barriers, with
quantitative restrictions. The Americans most certainly, and most
blatantly do. And anyone who has read statements of the American
government, and analyses in American papers would know that the Japanese
do so as well. Do foreign correspondents reporting from those countries
characterise what those countries do as their putting down an "enemy"?
And, especially after what has been happening to the "miracle economies"
of East Asia, which fool would assert that a country should not take
steps to protect its interests?
"Vajpayee leads the Bharatiya Janata Party," says Newsweek in its
newsreport, "with its Muslim-bashing thugs...." "The BJP is a
Hindu-nationalist party, unashamedly hostile to the country's 120
million Muslims and other minorities.... The BJP is undeniably ugly, yet
less so than it was....," pontificates The Economist.
I am not, however, on the point about such reportage, such "analysis"
being authentic drivel -- that it manifestly is. I am on the fact that
such drivel flows so naturally in regard to a group which these persons
and their counterparts here have decided is "Hindu fundamentalist", that
drivel has become a habit with them. As a consequence they see
everything the group does as confirming this perception of the group :
if the BJP advocates a Common Civil Code, it is seen as conspiring to
whip the minorities out of their identities -- of course, when members
of the sae minorities go to the USA, and have to live by the White
Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethic underlying the laws there, none of these
commentators sees that as a conspiracy to erase the identities of
minorities; if the BJP agrees not to press its view on the Code, they
shout, "But it is giving up its character" -- but why, pray, are you so
distraught at its "giving up its character"? After all, by your own
reckoning that character has been "Fascist", "Fundamentalist".
Moreover, so accustomed have these commentators become to their drivel
being swallowed unchallenged, that, should someone question them, they
shout "Fundamentalist", "Fascist", and the rest. Not one of them, when
working in an Islamic country, dares to refer to those societies in the
pejoratives he slips into his "news reporting" of India. None of their
scholars working on the old Soviet Union or China dared use such
pejoratives about those societies. If one of them slips and does so
inadvertently, not only do those societies deal with him, a score of his
own countrymen pounce and pronounce him guilty of "Orientalism", and
thereby quarantine the damage. But here in India, it is open season for
all of them.
The friend in London sends another sentence from The Guardian reporter's
little "crusade". "Although the next Government appears an odd
assortment of old style socialists, Sikh separatists, Hindu
supremacists, and regional barons, the blueprint reveals their shared
suspicion of market reforms introduced seven years ago...."
More drivel, of course. But assume for a moment that what she says is
true - -- that "Sikh separatists" and "Hindu supremacists" are today
together in Government. It seems "odd" to her. It is joy to me. And
completely in character.
Throughout the years in which terrorists were killing in Punjab and
Kashmir, no one was as energetic in reading a "freedom struggle" into
their cruelties than some of these foreign news agencies : the BBC's
broadcasts of the period really ought to form compulsory viewing in
media courses. And no one seems to have been as disappointed as them at
the fact that those "freedom struggles" against "Hindu hegemony"
But that very fact -- of the kinds of persons who were joining hands in
the new Government, as their counterparts had done in the last one -- is
the one that delighted me at the swearing-in ceremony. The DMK and the
AIADMK, for instance, are offshoots of a movement that not long ago used
to advocate breaking away from India. That same DMK was in power at the
Centre in the last Government -- its members held very important
portfolios, they acquitted themselves as well as anyone in these
assignments. No one but no one, can point to a single decision they took
as having been inspired by any anti-national design. Today, the AIADMK
delegates are members of the new Government. The two parties oppose each
other -- but neither tries to outdo the other by raising anti-India or
even anti-North sentiments.
Similarly, both parties are the offspring of the movement whose original
inspiration and commander used to break idols of Hindu deities in public
squares. To this day, just yards from the Kanchi mutt stands his statue.
It bears his famous dictum :
There is no God.
There is no God.
There is no God at all.
The inventor of God is a fool.
The propagator of God is a scoundrel.
The worshipper of God is a barbarian.

His followers today troop to the Sabrimalai shrine in the same black
shirts that the movement had made so dreaded an attire. They take oaths
of office in the name of God ! A man of passion and fervour, he roused
millions on the heady decoction of secession. Today his progeny swear to
protect the sovereignty and integrity of India, they swear to live by
the Constitution!
For these observers all this is something "odd", a let-down, if I may
say so. For us it is an outcome foreseen, it is a thing to celebrate.
The caste system is justifiably condemned -- for the rigidities which
came to characterise it, for the exclusions, and much else. But it has
also been well said that it was the Indian, specifically Hindu
alternative to the Westerner's genocide. What did the white man do --
Bible in hand -- when he came across a people who were different? The
Native Americans in North America? The native peoples of South America?
He did not decimate them -- for the word means killing off every tenth
man. He killed them off completely.
By contrast when our society encountered a people who were in some sense
not on the same scale as yet, it put them on the escalator of social,
intellectual and occupational progress. I have had occasion earlier to
recall examples from the work of even a scholar whose views in so many
respects provide grist to the Marxist mill, Professor Suniti Kumar
Chatterji. Even a single paper by him -- his Presidential Address to the
All India Oriental Congress, 1953, for instance -- contains scores of
examples of this progressive harmonization, of embracing and advancing.
The assimilation of ruling houses of different races and tribes through
the deliberate extension of Kshatriyahood upon them by the Brahmins :
hence the formation of the Surya- and Chandra Vansh lineages, the
formation later of the Agni-Kula by the conferment of Kshatriyahood on
to "some powerful Hinduised aristocracies of Turki and Iranian origin",
and of the Indra-Vansh by the adoption within the Brahminical fold of
the Ahoms in the North-East - -- "a Thai or Sino-Siamese people," says
Professor Chatterji. He recounts, similarly, the recognition of the
Bodo royal household of Dimapur and Kachar as being the descendants of
Bhima, of the Meithi kings and upper classes of Manipur and Tripura as
Chandra-Vansha Kshatriyas....
The interpenetration of languages....
The mingling of rituals : of the fire-centered rituals of the Vedas --
in which fire is the messenger to carry prayers to the deities -- with
the flower offerings of rituals in the south -- where the powers of the
deities are brought down to inhere in the idol or symbol which is then
venerated; the substitution of sandal and paste for the blood of
animals which had figured in the Austric rituals....
And the deities themselves. Here is the decree the white-Western races
followed : You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations
you shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon
the hills and under every green tree; you shall tear down their altars,
and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their [deity] with fire; you
shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name
of that place....
Not from some Islamic book -- though those books enjoined such dicta by
the score -- but from the ever-so tolerant Bible ! By contrast, in
Hinduism the gods and idols of the peoples of different parts are woven
together in legends, they are given different colours. Animals
worshipped by tribes are not suppressed or slandered away as "animism"
and "paganism" -- they are given places of honour. Often they become
objects of intense devotion themselves : Hanuman. Often they are joined
together with anthropomorphic deities -- the elephant's head in Ganesha.
Often they become the vahanas of other gods and goddesses -- Nandi of
Shiva, the lion of Durga, the swan of Saraswati, the tiny mouse of
Ganesha, the peacock of Kartikeya.... Trees, plants, mountains, the sea
-- each of them revered by someone are all blended into a deep reverence
for nature as a living, pulsating, vibrant whole.
But this too was condemned by the forbears of our analysts and
"reporters". Recall what these fellows say : if the "Hindu
fundamentalist" BJP advocates a Common Civil Code, they shout, "Fascists
trying to wipe out the minorities"; if it does not press the point, they
shout, "Giving up its character." Similarly, the missionaries: if Hindus
excluded some from their pale, they shouted, "Inhuman, Intolerant,
Exclusivist"; if they embraced them as in the examples above, they
shouted, "The Hindu boa-constrictor."
A continuity in their prejudices, therefore. But a continuity in our
practice too. And the result : while they keep spewing the same bile,
here "Sikh separatists" and "Hindu supremacists" together take oaths to
safeguard and serve our country, to abide by our Constitution !
"Odd" for the observers, exasperating if truth be told. All in a day's
work for us.

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