Saturday, June 25, 2005

False gods and failed ideas
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant SinghWhile L.K. Advani is busy explaining what he meant by describing the destruction of the Babri Masjid as "the saddest day of his life" and lauding Jinnah as a genuine secularist, he has yet to explain why and on what grounds he imposed his deification of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar on the nation.

He had the airport at Port Blair in the Andamans named Veer Savarkar airport and a life-size portrait of his hero hung alongside that of Mahatma Gandhi in the Central Hall of the Parliament. He took the idea of Hindutva from Savarkar and described it as "a noble concept."

The question we have to answer is does Savarkar deserve to be honoured as a national hero? The answer is clearly no. The facts and Savarkar’s own utterances leave one in no doubt that he was not cast in the heroic role and was among many Hindu leaders, including Lala Lajpat Rai, who believed that Hindus and Muslims could not co-exist in peace in one country.

Savarkar started off as a revolutionary in England. On March 13, 1910, he was arrested in London and transported to India. In two trials, he was sentenced to 50 years of imprisonment and sent to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans. He was unable to stand up to solitary confinement and hard labour. While most other revolutionaries remained adamant, Savarkar cracked up and decided to make terms with India’s British rulers.

When Sir Reginald Craddock, Home Minister of the Vicerory’s Council, came to inspect the Cellular Jail, Savarkar personally gave him a petition for mercy. I quote his exact words: "I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious, so I hope my future conduct would be. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and, therefore, where else can the prodigal son return but the parental doors of the government ?"

His 50-year sentence was reduced to 14 and he was transferred to a jail in Maharashtra and then allowed to settle in Ratnagiri on the condition that he would not leave the district and not take part in any political activity. This did not prevent him from organising the Hindu Mahasabha, converting Muslims to Hinduism (shuddhi) and exhorting Hindus to go for the defence services to fight for the British against Netaji’s INA. He also came round to the view that Hindus and Muslims were separate nationalities.

In his presidential speech at the Mahasabha conference in Ahmedabad in 1937, he said: As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supporting that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so. These well-meaning but unthinking friends take their dreams for realities."

Seven years before Jinnah and his Muslim League put up the demand for Pakistan (1940), Savarkar in Nagpur said " I have no quarrel with Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations."

The Hindu Mahasabha had no problem joining the Muslim League government in Sindh and Bengal. He was also the supporter of the princely order and thought it would not be a bad idea if the King of Nepal became the Hindu Emperor of India. Though acquitted in the Gandhi murder trial, there were many, including Sardar Patel who believed that Savarkar inspired Godse to commit the trial.

If you want to recheck what I have written, take a look at Savarkar: Myths and Facts by Shamsul Islam (Media House).

Men and rivers

The importance of rivers is mentioned in The Bible in the following words: "It shall come to pass, that everything that liveth, which moveth, whither soever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters will come thither: for they shall be healed; and everything shall live whither the river cometh. "Ezekil 147:9)

Come to think of it all ancient civilisations came up along the banks of great rivers: the Indus, Mesopotamia (Tigris and Euphrates), Pharonian (the Nile) and many others. Most great cities were built along river banks: Indraprastha (now Delhi), Baghdad, Cairo, Paris (Seive) was London (Thames) and dozens of others. They have been lauded in song and music: the Blue Danube, Song of the Volga Boatsmen, Oleman river (Mississipi) Some rivers are at places as broad as the Sea: Indus, the Brahmaputra, Irravady, Padma, Mekong, the Rhine, the Amazon, Mississipi, Missouri. Though all rivers are cherished by the people who live by them, we Indians are perhaps the only people who worship our rivers as if they were our deities. Apart from the Brahmaputra which is a male river, most of our other rivers are named after goddesses. By far, the most sacred is the Ganges.

I have yet to discover why the Ganga is the most revered of all rivers of the world. There are many much broader and larger than her. There is no truth that its waters have medicinal properties. No such healing qualities are attributed to waters of canals that take off from the river or is piped into homes. Besides, it is only the earlier stretches of the Ganga as it comes tumbling down the Himalayas to the plains up to Varanasi that it is accorded sanctity. As an agnostic, I do not worship the Ganga; I love it and till recently make it a point to call on her at least twice a year at sunset time to kiss her feet.

We have a new talented poet joining the band of Ganga worshippers. Subash Misra was born on its banks at Mirzapur, educated on its banks at Varanasi and made his livelihood in Kolkata where she is named Hoogly. In his collection of poems Gangasmriti & Other Poems (Writers Workshop), he goes ecstatic in praise of Srishti: The Creation:

I born on the banks of another river Another name for self and all of us

I was not born in these plains — watching your slide

Nor in those woods hearing the sound of your struggles

Nor did I arise where the barriers to meditation

Are left behind. If you are looking for the root

You will find it in ‘I’ and Us. That is where

My ancient land was before it became country, nation, state, date and repeatedly rewritten history.

Later, from the maturing rhyme

From the earliest of all times

You awoke us

Making your own sand and smiles

Creating your own gods, grains and grass

Gliding gently, dashing wildly, turning seductively

Reclining piously on flowers and brass

From sweating snows to sleepy morning dew

From hot and humid days to a regional blue.