Religious intolerance of no kind can be condoned. The RSS, the mother of all Hindu nationalist bodies, is often known for its aggressive posturing, and therefore deserves blame for inciting communal passions and for its divisive ways. This is an organisation that had been banned following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 and also later. Yet, it is another story that it is an entity that took part in the Republic Day parade of 1963 at the invitation of none other than Gandhi’s lieutenant, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had praised its social work during India’s war with China a year earlier. Pro-Hindu the RSS is, just as any Christian body is pro-Christian and a Muslim forum pro-Muslim.
That said, the importance of being earnest in debates is crucial in a democracy, however flawed it remains. It is intellectual bankruptcy to slot all comments of the Hindu religious Right in the same box as, say, Yogi Adityanath’s vitriolic anti-minority outbursts. It is no sin to admit that like the bigoted bunch, India’s so-called liberals too get it wrong, and very often, especially when it comes to comparisons and accusations. The unkindest and perhaps most preposterous remark that comes to my mind is the one from that high priest of Marxism in India, the late EMS Namboodiripad, who in the 1990s compared the religiosity of Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad with that of criminals like Abdul Nasser Madani, the leader of a Muslim fringe group that spawned Islamist radicalism in India’s most literate state, and a few others. Similarly, in a farcical statement, LK Advani of the BJP, whose political sensibilities were ironically shaped in the crucible of the RSS, described one of the Subcontinent’s most subversive politicians ever, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as ‘secular’. That Jinnah ate pork or drank whisky (both considered haraam or sinful in Islam) and never read the Qur’an was enough for our liberals to brand him ‘cosmopolitan’, overlooking the man’s anguish and jealousy over Gandhi’s nearly divine status in the region that pushed him to campaign for a separate Muslim homeland, a project that was grossly mishandled by another false hero worshipped by colonial historians for the strangest of reasons, Lord Mountbatten.
Interestingly, both EMS and Advani demonstrated how severely measures taken for short-term electoral gains could distort political priorities—be it preparing the ‘ideological’ ground for cobbling an alliance with a minority group, or an effort to soften one’s image as a hardliner. The bottomline: it is fallacious to describe the RSS as the epitome of schismatic politics and in the same breath categorise the Darul Uloom Deoband as a ‘revered seat of Islamic learning’ (for all its anti-women fatwas and subversive teachings). More importantly, the spirit of debate shouldn’t be allowed to be doused by sweeping statements. In one such move that smacked of hypocrisy and nothing else, left-liberals took the side of ‘offended’ Christian organisations when RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, while praising the services offered by the likes of the late Mother Teresa, described her motive as the conversion of others to Christianity. In a vehement counter-attack, a Christian priest announced in a TV debate that his religion was superior to Hinduism. In a column on a website, the CPM’s Brinda Karat attacked Bhagwat passionately and lavished praise on Mother Teresa’s work for the destitute, the abandoned, the sick and the dying on the streets of Kolkata, as though the late missionary had only one motive: to serve the poor. Scores of others threw their weight behind those ‘hurt’ by Bhagwat’s remarks on a lady canonised by the Vatican. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had worked with Mother Teresa at Nirmal Hriday ashram in Kolkata, tweeted asking people to ‘spare the noble soul’. A pro-Christian daily in Kerala cried, ‘Protests Mount over Bhagwat’s Remarks’.
Read the rest of the article at Open magazine.