119 years of Trust BOOK REVIEW
Sunday, March 14, 1999
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Who is the most charismatic of them all?
Prime Ministers: Nehru to Vajpayee by Janardan Thakur Eeshwar, New Delhi. Pages 456. Rs 325.
NO man is a hero to his valet. Similarly, after reading veteran journalist Janardan Thakur’s 456-page account on the lives and times of independent India’s 12 Prime Ministers, it becomes clear that no Prime Minister can be a hero to an unbiased political journalist. Even the best among them had warts. The people adored some of them, but got very little in return.
Reviewed by V. Gangadhar

The making of an intolerant India
Secular Challenge to Communal Politics — A Reader edited by P.R. Ram. Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai. Pages xii+306. Price not stated.
Reviewed by D.R. Chaudhry

Sanskrit works are secular
Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims (Eighth to Fourteenth Century) by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya. Manohar, New Delhi. Pages 129. Rs 250.
Reviewed by Bhupinder Chaudhry

Burgher, burgher, not burning bright
Spit and Polish by Carl Muller. Penguin, New Delhi. Pages 435. Rs 250.
Reviewed by Harjinder Singh

Tributes to two Marxist titans
Remembering Dr Gangadhar Adhikari: Life, Reminiscen-ces, Tributes, Selected Writings edited by Amar Farooqui. Pages 146 Rs 200. S.G. Sardesai: Patriot and Communist edited by A.B. Bardhan et al. Pages 190. Rs 150. Both by People’s Publishing House, New Delhi.
Reviewed by Bhupinder Singh

50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence

Who is the most charismatic of them all?

Prime Ministers: Nehru to Vajpayee by Janardan Thakur Eeshwar, New Delhi. Pages 456. Rs 325.

Reviewed by V. Gangadhar

NO man is a hero to his valet. Similarly, after reading veteran journalist Janardan Thakur’s 456-page account on the lives and times of independent India’s 12 Prime Ministers, it becomes clear that no Prime Minister can be a hero to an unbiased political journalist. Even the best among them had warts. The people adored some of them, but got very little in return.

Thakur says he wrote the book in 38 days. But "Prime Ministers" is not a quickie. The author had covered Indian politics for decades and written extensively on the men who made the nation move. He knew his ropes and had developed extensive contacts.

Writing and passing judgements on the 12 men who controlled India’s destiny for short or long periods was not an easy task. They were different in nature, came from different backgrounds and were moulded by different ideologies. How exactly could their "greatness" be measured?

Writes Thakur "Prime Ministers are not expected to be mahatmas; the best of them would fail in the new milieu. But Prime Ministers do have to be agents of transformation, especially in a developing society like ours.... A good leader should be able not only to concretise those aspirations, but he must also have a vision of what the country should strive to become. He must be able to sell his vision to the country.... Mere vision is not enough; a good leader has to be an actualiser as well. Leadership is essentially about leading, not being led."

Sensible words. But going by these, how many of the 12 would qualify as a good leader? Despite some harsh criticism of her style of functioning, Thakur has to admit that Indira Gandhi was the only leader after Jawaharlal Nehru who had an instinctive feel for the people’s pulse. Indira Gandhi was a great communicator, a great arouser of the people. She could inspire the crowds as few could, and what made her stand out from the rest even more was the amazing vigour and energy that she brought to her task as the leader.

Thakur mentions his poll coverage of Gujarat in 1974 where Indira Gandhi’s hectic campaign took one’s breath away. As a Times of India reporter, I too had covered the campaign. How did one describe it? Breathtaking! The author need not be hesitant in his conclusion that perhaps a bit of charisma was a necessary ingredient to lift a leader from the ordinary. Our people love leaders with charisma.

The book quotes scholar Rafiq Zakaria’s views on why Indira Gandhi had been our best Prime Minister. She understood the real security needs of India. Despite the much-acclaimed friendship with the Soviet Union, she opened up India to the powerful nations of the West.

Mind you, it was her own assertiveness which enabled her to dictate terms to leaders of the First World. Unmoved by American President Ronald Reagan’s red carpet welcome and glittering receptions, Indira Gandhi declared that a nation’s policies were not made at banquet tables.

There is some truth in Thakur’s arguments putting Indira Gandhi ahead of her own father in political acumen. He makes too much of the western mindset of Nehru labelling him the "best Englishmen to rule India." How fair was he in concluding that Nehru found it difficult to understand the language of the common people? If that were so, how did he become the darling of the masses? As for the "woolly thinking" on economic issues, it should be understood that Nehru was more impressed with the example of the Soviet Union of the 1950’s where everyone had something to eat and a roof over the head and not by the USA where the disparity between the rich and the poor was glaring. His socialism found it abhorrent to hand over the nation’s industry and economy to the richer classes which had not contributed much towards the poor.

Thakur’s arguments (often repeated by others) that Sardar Patel would have made a better Prime Minister does not impress me. The Sardar, no doubt a good administrator, lacked the vision to carry India towards a bright future. Can one blame Nehru for putting down leaders like Tandon and Rajendra Prasad? These were only conservative regional leaders who found themselves comfortable within the narrow confines of Hinduism.

The argument that Lal Bahadur Shastri would have made an extraordinary Prime Minister is not convincing. His tenure was too brief and in his government’s propagation of Hindi, he proved totally insensitive to the emotions and feelings of South India.

One had heard much of Shastri’s swimming the Ganga to reach school because he had no money for the boat ride. Shastri was too "umble" and self-effacing to have made a mark as a great Prime Minister. I agree with Thakur’s assessment of Morarji Desai. Too rigid, too many fads and prejudices. Desai acted as though he had a hot line to God but on issues more terrestrial, like the financial dealings of son Kantibhai, he preferred to be ignorant. He was an "anachronism" incapable of adjustment, who had a healthy contempt for fellow leaders, including Indira Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan. But for JP, Desai would not have realised his dream of becoming Prime Minister but once the chair was his, he quickly forgot all about the Lok Nayak.

This became the general trend in Indian politics. After the Nehru-Shastri era, Prime Ministers had to contend with declining moral standards and horse trading. Loyalty became a commodity, available to the highest bidder. Chronicling the careers of Prime Ministers meant understanding the cross-currents of defection politics and money power. Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar came and went. The emergency and the ouster of Indira Gandhi brought into focus the illusory visions raised by JP. A dreamer who had shirked the responsibility of leading the nation, he planned a total revolution while being the guest of a corrupt press baron. Here was a saviour India could have done without.

Thakur’s assessment also draws our attention to a disturbing trend in Indian politics. Why did well-intentioned leaders with years of political experience behind them go haywire when the "kursi" was finally available? Chandra Shekhar, the Young Turk turned padyatri, was at home in the company of the coal mafia dons of Dhanbad and saw nothing wrong in allowing Gulf-bound US military aircraft to refuel in India.

Despite a Gandhian veneer, Charan Singh, whose India existed only between Jaipur and Patna, relied on Jat power and could never tolerate the advance of the dalits. V.P. Singh’s secular mask fell off when he telephoned Advani and told him about his readiness to do kar seva at Ayodhya. Rajiv Gandhi who started off brilliantly acquired a streak of arrogance which led him to humiliate his own Foreign Secretary in public.

To complete the sad picture, look what is happening to Atal Behari Vajpayee! The minor fry among the Prime Ministers, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral, also could not escape this failing.

Yet, these were the men and women who fought hard and bitterly to rule India. Thakur’s portrait gallery of the Indian Prime Ministers makes one wonder whether democracy had really taken root here. One shudders to think what the next 12 Prime Ministers of India will be like.

"Prime Ministers", with its exhaustive analysis, gives us a clue of what to expect in the days to come. For those who want to understand Indian politics, Thakur’s book is a must.Top


Tributes to two Marxist titans

Remembering Dr Gangadhar Adhikari: Life, Reminiscen-ces, Tributes, Selected Writings edited by Amar Farooqui. Pages 146 Rs 200. S.G. Sardesai: Patriot and Communist edited by A.B. Bardhan et al. Pages 190. Rs 150. Both by People’s Publishing House, New Delhi.
Reviewed by Bhupinder Singh

THAT the Indian communist movement has not only managed to survive and avoid the fate of the communist parties in the rest of the world (except perhaps South Africa) is not only due to the charm that Stalinist development still holds for a socially backward and poverty- ridden India. It has also been due to the large number of dedicated cadres and leaders whose resilience and commitment has been matched by their intellectual depth and cosmopolitan outlook vis-a-vis the rest of the political parties.

Among the long list of brilliant harbingers of the communist movement in India the names that come to mind are P.C. Joshi, S.A. Dange, Bhowani Sen, B.T. Ranadive, Basavapunniah, Muzzafar Ahmed, G. Adhikari, S.G. Sardesai, Mohan Kumaramangalam and N.K. Krishnan. Some of them later shifted to the CPM after the historic split in 1964.

The CPI-controlled People’s Publishing House has brought out the two books under review. One of them is on Dr Gangadhar Adhikari (1898-1983), and the other on S.G. Sardesai (1907-1996).

Dr Adhikari is now primarily remembered for the Pakistan thesis that he expounded in 1945. Adhikari advocated the creation of Pakistan and therefore called for joint CPI-Muslim League action. The CPI quickly backtracked on the thesis and corrected its mistake.

Adhikari was called "The Doc" by those close to him. He was a brilliant chemical scientist who earned his Ph.D. degree in Berlin in 1927 and worked with some of the best scientists there, attending lectures by Max Plank and Albert Einstein. His colleagues there were Lee Slizard and Wigner, both of whom were later associated with the Manhattan project, making the atom bomb.

It was in Germany that Adhikari was attracted to Marxism and joined the German Communist Party. He returned to India in 1928 and joined the nascent CPI. He was immediately arrested in the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Albert Einstein wrote an open letter to the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald seeking release of the brilliant scientist Adhikari whom he had known in Berlin.

Adhikari went on to become the leading theoretician of the party. His best years were during World War II when he was involved not only in formulating the policies of the party but was involved in guiding its day-to-day activities.

He remained the party’s topmost theorist till 1950 when Comintern rejected the left adventurist line the CPI followed under the ultra sectarian B.T. Ranadive. Adhikari had been one of the three politburo members at that time. He was hounded out of the leadership and started "all over again".

The book under review contains a few reminiscences, a brief biography and some articles by Adhikari. The book suffers from bad editing and a lackadaisical selection of his writings. His thesis on Pakistan is completely left out, except for a brief mention by Satyapal Dang. Right or wrong, it is a historic and pioneering document on the nationalities question in India. That it has been excluded in the present selection is an unpardonable oversight on the part of the editor.

* * *

The volume on S.G. Sardesai is much better edited and has much more careful selections from his writings. Sardesai, like Adhikari, hailed from Maharashtra. Incidentally, he was from the famous Kirloskar family.

Sardesai too was one of the theoreticians of the CPI both before and after independence. Groomed in Sanskrit and with liberal Bramanic education, he became a communist around 1927 when he was 20 years old. He first gained public notice with his speeches at the Tripuri Congress in 1939.

Sardesai was well placed to write, as he later did, tracts on "Marxism and the Gita", where he provided a critical and caustic evaluation of the Gita. One observation he made was that nearly all commentaries on the Gita have been made by those with an upper caste origin (Tilak, Gandhi, Aurobindo, Radhakrishnan). Those representing the lower caste movements (including Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Phule) have tended to ignore the Gita. He also pointed to the justification of the caste system provided in the Gita, with its bias towards the lower castes and women.

His "Progress and Conservatism in Ancient India" is an excellent and original work where he traced the absence of a social revolution in India to geographical factors.

Sardesai lived long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was shocked. Nevertheless, even in his eighties, he frequently wrote on the socialist crisis. The present reviewer, a college student about a decade back, was enthused by the letter that Sardesai wrote to him. It was touching and inspiring to hear from him not only the need to think, but rethink Marxism in the late 20th century, even as cynicism was gaining ground all around.

The CPI has done well to bring out both books. The party is now in its waning years, but it has made a glowing contribution to the freedom struggle and its continuation. It has been led by a galaxy of outstanding leaders. However, over the last two decades it has driven away a number of intellectuals and sympathisers who provided it with leading cadres. There are many reasons for its decline and this is not the place to go into them. But one of them has been the lack of people of the intellectual stature of Adhikari and Sardesai.

It will be good if the CPI brings out a similar volume on P.C. Joshi. He has been neglected for too long and most of his writings are no longer available except perhaps in the CPI archives. It will be a tribute to the person who more than anyone else provided a cultural and humanistic breadth of vision to the CPI, even as it remained confined, theoretically and organisationally, within Leninism and Stalinism.Top


Sanskrit works are secular

Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims (Eighth to Fourteenth Century) by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya. Manohar, New Delhi. Pages 129. Rs 250.
Reviewed by Bhupinder Chaudhry

THE work undertaken with the intention of writing an essay turned out to be a monograph which introduces us to a subject mater — the representation of new comers like the Yavanas, Mlecchas, Sakas, Turuskas or the Muslims in Sanskrit sources, from a new angle altogether. The sources consulted represent the perspective of only those familiar with the literary convention in the subject and cannot be said to have reflected the people’s perception as their authors belonged to the socially dominant strata of medieval society such as the Brahmans and Kayasthas.

But if it is believed that the socially dominant strata had a considerable role to play in the formation of popular notions, the significance of these sources cannot be underestimated. The book under review is bound to impress those who feel concerned with the recent attacks on minority groups by projecting them as "others". The research undertaken by the author acquires special importance in the present context as it challenges the stereotype perception of "others".

A general depiction of the new comers, according to the author, remains a problem with modern historical writings in spite of their not using the terms "Hindu" and "Muslim". The Hindu-Muslim division in such writings is implicit whereas the continuity, interaction and modification of the cultural elements of the past are ignored. These writings began in the mid-19th century and contribute significantly in constructing the collective consciousness during a particular period of history.

This consciousness has a strong bearing on the present in terms of creating conducive conditions for those who attempt to project a particular community as the "other". This creates an impression that people in the past consciously put up collective or cultural resistance to the rule of new-comers. Such impression, says the author, flows from historiographical writings which tend to convert a single representation into an absolute empirical reality.

The Sanskrit sources consulted for the purpose refer to terms Mleccha, Turuska, Tajika, etc. that denote "outsiders", which the author believes are both adopted and modified or indigenous in nature and have geographical or generic origin. For example, the term Mleccha is of indigenous origin that refers to barbaric people and those outside the Brahminical social order of varna. Gradually these terms seem to have changed connotation and were used with reference to Muslims.

Epigraphic sources of western India record Tajika, a term denoting "outsiders", along with local communities subdued by indigenous feudatories. Along with their projection as adversaries, Tajikas could be seen as part of the ruling group considered to be the protector of an ideal socio-religious order as the indigenous feudatories could appoint them as governors.

The fact that Turuska figures in the list of conquered along with local rulers, shows that these "outsiders" were merely considered as political adversaries and conquest against them cannot be regarded as successful resistance in the face of the threat to the integrity of the country, as agreed by some scholars.

The two Sanskrit "mahakavyas" analysed by the author presents Muslims in a different light than what is commonly believed. Though references to conflict with Mlecchas are many, the fact that they form only part of the narration of conflicts with kingdoms and other activities shows that the Muslims were not a unique foe. "Rastraudhavamsa Mahakavyam", a text belonging to the 16th century, explicitly brings out the fact that the Muslims were not challenged as a religious community.

The text refers to a local ruler Bhairavasena who was hailed for destroying a Yavana ruler Sulema Saha and protecting the king of Mandaparvata (Mandu). The same text records Bhairavasena extending help to a Turuska, Narendra Bahadur Shah, the ruler of Gujarat, who was said to have been protecting his subjects with "respectful adherence to the appropriate to his own descent".

The inscriptions dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries reinforce the author’s contention regarding continuity from the pre-Sultanate to Sultanate period. In the perception of the authors of the inscriptions, Delhi was first ruled by Tomaras, followed by Chauhanas and then by the Sakas, the Muslims. The fact that the Muslims were mentioned only as part of genealogy of the rulers of Delhi shows that they were not considered as different, a threat to their culture and religion.

This formulation is further strengthened when the symbols and metaphors used in the inscriptions are taken into account, as they are used not only to record the facts but also the idealised picture of rulers, as perceived by the people. Once Muslims became rulers they were accepted as part of the established social order.

Some texts have sanskritised the Muslim names and titles and linked some Muslim rulers to the lineage of Pandavas or projected them as Rama. Akbar’s association with Jain teachers has been interpreted as his keenness to get rid of his "bad karma". Use of motifs to sanskritise the Arabic and Persian terms should be seen as an attempt to legitimise the political authority in terms of Brahmanical discourse which very much resembles the early Indian traditions of Brahmanical religion to incorporate pagan or animist groups in its fold. But this is not the universal picture, which emerges from the reading of Sanskrit sources.

Metaphors and motifs have also been used to underscore the calamity of Mleccha rule. Muslims have been projected in some sources as destroyers of order in society. The problem, therefore, seems to be much more complex. Such representations of a contradictory nature can be understood only in the context of periodicity of the sources. Muslims are projected as destroyers of the ideal social order when they are invading and as protectors when they are ruling.

The inscriptions and other literary sources were written by individuals not having any connection with the ruler but having a place of eminence in society owing to their affluence. The sources that meant to record the meritorious deeds of these individuals represent the faiths and regimes as components of the same world. The citation and interpretation of Jagaduh Charita by the author in this context brings out this fact in an explicit manner. The list of beneficiaries of charity of Jagadu, a wealthy merchant, during the times of drought include Hindu as well as Muslim kings. Along with his patronage to Jain religious shrines, he was shown to have constructed a mosque. He was revered by people cutting across regions and faiths.

The invocation of what was seen in consonance with the convention and increasing use of the non-Islamic terms to record the meritorious deeds of Muslim rulers shows the growing synthesis of the two cultures. In a Qutb Minar inscription of 1369, the renovation work undertaken by Sultan Firuz Shah was said to have completed with the grace of Sri Visvakarma, the deity of architects and craftsmen, Similarly terms such as gotra and punyartha have been used with reference to the meritorious deeds of the members of the Lodhi family.

The interpretation of the Sanskrit sources by the author from a new angle, paints an unconventional picture of the Indian past. The illuminating work, for sure, would serve as an eye-opener for those who see history as a saga of antagonism and struggle between different cultures and faiths. Top


Burgher, burgher, not burning bright

Spit and Polish by Carl Muller. Penguin, New Delhi. Pages 435. Rs 250.
Reviewed by Harjinder Singh

WHY is it that almost everything written in English in the subcontinent seems so immature compared to the literature in vernacular as well as works coming from other English-speaking parts of the world? This is a question that remains even after so many of us have come to accept English as a language common to the small middle class of this country and the neighbours.

The best that one could say about the literary aspect of the book in hand, "Spit and Polish", by Carl Muller is that it is a J D Salinger located seven seas and half a century afar from the original man, but (and this is the sad part) without a taste for either a good title or quality content.

The subject matter of the book is the collective male psyche deprived of a healthy natural environment and wasted away in its chauvinistic, charlatan, sex-obsessed existence. To make the point clear and loud, the subject is the worst of the inventions of the male of the species —namely, the armed forces.

Muller is a Sri Lankan burgher. Presumably more than a mere urbanite, he seems to be a product of the hybrid culture originating from the mixture of the colonial European ways and the native varieties. He can relish liberties in expressing acquired prejudices and innuendoes towards his own kind that the western white world dare not.

Of course, taking a moralist position would be foolish. In fact, Muller seems to be the epitome of what one finds in much of English writing from the subcontinent, the search or amusement in self-denigration, elaboration of trivia for the western reader and such items that could go well in a tourist guide, but not in anything claiming to be a piece of literature.

There are frequent euphemisms like: "...Vesuvius and several synchronised bowel movements and what happened in Iran each time the Ayatollah mumbled through his beard. Quite unimaginable and wholly devastating." If you are not so smart as to catch on to the wit and laugh out loudly, well, you do not know that this is the great literature from the subcontinent. That you grew out of it in your teens is another matter.

Between chapters where the male beasts are let loose on each other, there is an attempt to narrate history. Once again one finds a form that has been used by numerous writers before, except that in his great enthusiasm to explain the details (as he sees it and history is always seen through coloured glasses), our writer displays a remarkable lack of skill to mould facts and fiction in a single frame. So instead of a John Updike and his "Couples" (which could be a prescription for those who wish to indulge in using history in fiction), we have what could best be compared to a singer who stops intermittently to tell us the history of bhangra after every two lines of "Mamla gadbad hai".

Anything written in English goes. So we have high sounding blurbs for this mediocre narration of the supposed adventure of a eighteen-something stud called Carloboy von Bloss into a four-year training in the one-ship Royal Ceylon Navy. So, wait for the unknown(!) world, the gang of men, with its language in which every other word is related to the parts of the body that the human race keeps hypocritically covered, the brawls, alcohol, the hierarchies and violence. We are informed by the blurb at the back that this is part of a series of novels portraying the von Bloss family and through the saga of these mortals, the history of their times.

Perhaps there is a point in sketching the obvious. Not many realise the futility of it all, the ridiculous constructs of human ego, loyalties and wars, the thing called discipline of the forces (with a capital D, sure!). There are good reasons to review and question world wars and their less localised versions and to think of how different we are today because of these progressively more destructive activities of our brethren.

Seen in one perspective, "Spit and Polish" is a good attempt to shock our middle-class sensitivities. Besides, the juvenile humour is not so bad really. After all, even the most serious amongst us need moments of leisurely relaxation watching some junk on TV or looking at cartoons. Well, "Spit and Polish" is better than most things. Besides, the history that Muller tells has a lot of India in it; the INA of Subhas Bose that may interest a lot of us.

In fact, we read fiction not merely to be taken by the play of words, the fantasy in thought and in the arrangement of black dots on paper, we are also interested in how it relates to the realities of our lives and of our times. The written word transcends the writer (if it is a good work) but not what the writer is made of, his/her spatio-temporal characteristics.

And in the writer as one individual of our contemporary world, each of us locates a bit of own self. Thus, even in this bizarre and yet real world of the forces, where the Carloboy von whatevers are destined to be wasted away, one seeks one’s own image (it is hard to imagine how a female could do that, but in a cerebral sense that too should be possible). Having discovered this, there is certainly a bit of pain that one is left with and there the fiction becomes worth its while. Top


The making of an intolerant India

Secular Challenge to Communal Politics — A Reader edited by P.R. Ram. Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai. Pages xii+306. Price not stated.
Reviewed by D.R. Chaudhry

L.K. ADVANI’s 1991 "rath yatra" during V.P. Singh’s rule, after completing its tortuous journey, ultimately crashed against the dilapidated structure of Babri Masjid and brought it down with a bang in 1992. Now its wreckage has surfaced as a mammoth communal juggernaut being driven by a horde of saffron-clad and trishul-wielding warriors of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the vast army of the Sangh Parivar. It is out to usher in a Hindu "rashtra" in the hoary land of the Aryans, which came under the heels of heathens masquerading as secularists by a quirk of history! History must be rewritten and no amount of blood would be spared in this crusade!

A high degree of religious intolerance being displayed by the Hindutva forces by burning M.F. Hussain’s paintings, vandalising theatres screening a particular film, digging up cricket pitches, torching churches, raping nuns and culminating in the macabre incident of burning alive an Australian missionary and his two minor sons in Orissa has come as a shock. Hinduism is known for its liberal ethos, plurality and catholicity.

In this land of the Hindus all were welcome, ranging from Persian fire-worshippers and Syrian Jews to Christians in the first century AD and Muslims later, besides a myriad of sects and religions that sprang from the native soil. Now the phenomenon of a section of its followers acting as blood brothers and clones of the Taliban of Afghanistan is beyond the comprehension of many. The book under review with contributions by several scholars can be of great help in grasping the essence of this phenomenon.

Romila Thapar in her illuminating piece "Communalism and the historical legacy, some facets" hits the nail on its head when she observes that the communal ideology is an attempt to prevent radical movements. It is a response to the challenge being posed by the hitherto deprived sections of Indian society like the dalits, other weaker sections, tribals, etc. who now demand a share in power and resources. There is an attempt to shape the Hindu community as a monolith, ignoring all its diversities and differentiation.

Some particular personalities from Hindufold, known for their antagonism to the Muslims in history are projected up as heroes to build Hindu pride while more important historical personages such as Ashoka and Akbar are ignored. The projection of Hinduism as a homogenising force is a clever device to perpetuate the Brahmanical social order that has come under threat after the emergence of new social forces. Inventing hate objects, Muslims earlier and Christians now, is necessary to whip up communal frenzy to unite the Hindu community as a homogeneous bloc.

The medieval period in Indian history is the preferred ground of the Hindutva forces to promote their communal agenda. Asghar Ali Engineer advances cogent arguments to explode the myth of the golden period of Indian history in the past and slavery of Hindus in the medieval period. Muslims and Hindus were not two antagonistic entities always pitted against each other. There flowered a composite culture during the medieval period and there were enmities between different Muslim kings and alliances between Muslim kings and Hindu rulers.

K.N. Panikkar stresses that the multi-religious character is an important fact of Indian society from medieval times to the modern age. This was reflected in the complexion of the administrative structure of both Hindu and Muslim rulers which had a fair share of followers of both religions. Hinduism has always been largely a mix of parallel systems and the attempt to construct Hinduism as a coherent religion is a 19th century phenomenon. The attempt by Hindu communalists to interpret the uninterrupted history of Hinduism is a device to weld the Hindu community as a monolith, on the basis of the legitimacy derived from the past. Panikkar rightly concludes that the campaign against communalism is a struggle for the minds of the people. Culture is the most important terrain in this battleground.

Religious intolerance as reflected in the policy of some Muslim rulers in medieval times is the major issue of debate between Hindu communalists, on the one hand, and secular and progressive intellectuals, on the other. Destruction of Hindu temples is cited as the most glaring example of Muslim bigotry. Aurangzeb is the major figure in this context. In the opinion of this reviewer, progressive intellectuals, including the three referred to above, are often defensive in this debate.

The example of a Hindu ruler of Kashmir who got temples demolished to loot their wealth is cited to suggest that vandalism was an economic activity cutting across the religious divide. It is argued that a temple is not a symbol of religion alone. The destruction of the places of worship is supposed to symbolise the assertion of the political and cultural superiority of the conqueror. The question arises as to why it should not symbolise religious superiority. Where religion ends and culture begins is difficult to say. Why not take straightforward position in this respect?

Many barbaric acts took place in the past that cannot be used as a pretext to settle scores in the modern age. If history were to be repeated, the very face of the modern world would change and it would become a highly unliveable place. If a religious zealot had committed some wrong in the past, the punishment would not visit his co-religionists in the present. A ruler like Aurangzeb who ordered the beheading of a Sikh guru in Chandni Chowk could be nothing but fanatical but this historical wrong cannot be righted by treating Muslim community as a hate object now. Historical wrongs belong to the past and must be buried along with it and to resurrect them now is to divert attention from the momentous problems which different religious communities and groups face now.

The face of Hindutva is exposed in all its ugly manifestation by Sumit Sarkar in his penetrating analysis of its fascist characteristics and by P.R. Ram in his elaborate treatment of its social roots. Hindutva resembles fascism as it grew in Italy and Germany in the use of street violence, infiltration in administrative and army structures and the connivance of "centrist" political leaders. But Sarkar points out that the Indian situation is different because of the absence of any major threat to the capitalist order from organised labour. The Congress party is lambasted by him for playing the "Hindu card" in the eighties and the Sikh massacre in 1984. He stresses the importance of a mass campaign to check the growth of the communal ideology as seminars and middle class cultural programmes alone would not do.

In Ram’s opinion the Hindutva movement is based on the premise that Hindus alone constitute the Indian nation. The project is aimed at keeping the dalits, poor sections and women in their place in order to perpetuate the status quo.

Tanika Sarkar examines the gender aspect of the Hindutva movement. It treats women primarily as mothers who are supposed to rear children within the RSS framework of "samskaras". They are asked to ensure healthy bodies that would guarantee the production of efficient combatants. There is no place for selfhood and gender justice in this worldview and the emphasis is on authoritarian community commands and a patriarchal family order. It does bestow a degree of empowerment and a sense of confidence upon women of conservative milieu but it is located in the larger authoritarian and anti-democratic social and political order.

"Discourse of the Dravidian movement" is an excellent piece by Anadhi S. to illustrate the betrayal of Periyar’s rich legacy by his followers in the political arena. Periyar’s self-respect movement was aimed at transforming the victims of inequality into active subjects to ensure their emancipation. Adi Dravidas, shudras and women were the real victims of the Brahmanical ideology. The DMK constituted a monolithic Tamil community around the language-based identity by ignoring multiple contradictions in this community based on class, class, gender, etc. This, in Anadhi’s opinion, signifies an ideological regression.

Jayaraman’s is another searching piece exposing the fraud being perpetrated by Hindutva idelogues on science in the name of Vedic mathematics, etc. Science is intrinsically secular. Mathematics has ceased to exist as a research discipline in Pakistan as proponents of "Islamic science" claim that the Koran contains all possible science. Similar is the standpoint of Hindu fundamentalists who claim that the Vedas contain all knowledge.

Last of all, the book stresses the importance of culture in the fight against the Hindutva forces. In fact, culture is the site on which Hindu Right launched its offensive. A small piece by Imtiaz Ahmed and axioms of Rustom Bharucha treat the struggle for the cultural terrain as the most important task for the secular forces.

The book under review is a commendable attempt by a Mumbai-based organisation concerned with deeper issues of social relevance. It is a comprehensive reader to analyse the phenomenon of Hindutva in all its facets. It is of great use to all those who are interested in understanding the emergence of the Hindu Right and the subsequent growing intolerance in Indian society. Top

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