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An Open Letter To Mr. Sushil Kumar Shinde

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By Karmanye Thadani:

Dear Sir,

This letter is in connection with your remark accusing the RSS and BJP for actually training saffron terrorists in their camps. I am neither a member of the RSS, nor the BJP, nor am I a subscriber of the RSS ideology, nor am I a blind supporter or ardent critic of any of India’s political parties. In fact, not too long ago, I wrote an article criticizing the BJP for blocking legislative debates in parliament, and I am writing a series of articles on anti-Muslim prejudices, the first article of which has already been published. In another article, I even appealed to fellow citizens to protest for meting out justice to victims (irrespective of religion) of human rights violations by militants and even our soldiers in Kashmir, and I earnestly request you to take steps to alleviate their pain (perhaps by amending the AFSPA and Public Safety Act).

That being said, as much as many Islamists (Islamism, Zionism and Hindutva are obviously not to be equated with Islam, Judaism and Hinduism respectively) and Muslim-sympathetic left-liberal friends may despise me for saying this, it is indeed the most convenient mode of silencing voices by simply delegitimizing them (by conflating the loonie fringe elements with the entire corpus of people), and by depriving a certain section of the intellectual spectrum a reasonable opportunity of being heard, whether by the force of law or by creating the impression by means of propaganda that their views must necessarily be trashed, and the pseudo-secular brigade has actually achieved the same to quite an extent. I am writing this open letter, knowing that many would doubt my secular credentials. Yes, without any sense of shame or guilt, I would like to say that the RSS, an organization that is not legally a banned organization and makes demands for the rights of Kashmiri Hindus, discontinuing Haj subsidy, abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution or for a uniform civil code (I don’t see how any of this is communal), being baselessly labelled as a terrorist organization by you is a matter of concern for me as a citizen of this country, in spite of my having several differences of opinion with the Sangh on several issues, as I have outlined later in this letter. Yes, the RSS has also raised demands which have a religious colour to them, such as banning cow slaughter, and it has tried to insist that Muslims and Christians in India must embrace the national song, Vande Mataram. It also demanded that a Ram temple be constructed in Ayodhya on the site where the Babri Masjid stood. But again, none of this amounts to hate speech, the likes of which we witnessed recently in the case of Akbaruddin Owaisi and earlier, Varun Gandhi. Stifling voices we disagree with is not the way forward, nor is delegitimizing a voice by making baseless accusations (Pakistani liberals are sought to be delegitimized by the Islamists there by labelling the former as CIA/RAW/Mossad agents). As Voltaire said — “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Undeniably, some members of the RSS have been involved in communal riots, which must be condemned in the strongest terms, but so have some members of the Congress, not only in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots but others as well. The VHP, an organization that affiliates itself to the Sangh, has been involved in gruesome violence against innocent Muslims and Christians as also acts of moral policing, especially its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal. But the Sangh per se, has been held ‘not guilty’ time and again by various commissions. The Sangh comprises people cutting across generations who meet at shakhas, discuss socio-political issues concerning the country and carry out physical exercises. The RSS even has strongly committed Muslim and Christian members, who see no problem in taking pride in India’s Vedic heritage, acknowledging their Hindu ancestry or singing Vande Mataram, nor do they have an issue with a uniform civil code or a cow slaughter ban. In fact, RSS Muslims have created their own organization affiliated to the Sangh, called the Rashtrvadi Muslim Morcha (RMM). I have known many RSS members who are humanistic to the core, with friends of diverse faiths, though in my opinion jingoistic about India’s Hindu heritage and axiomatically believing in India’s morality in foreign policy (except on the issue of Indo-Israeli relations when they don’t see India as being friendly enough to Israel), only alleging its naiveté or passivity, but that is merely a matter of opinion, and everyone is entitled to his/her own. RSS-run schools, coaching centres and relief activities reach out to all, irrespective of faith. The very same Golwalkar who said that Muslims and Christians must give up all extra-territorial loyalties and identify with India’s ancient heritage also went on record to say —

In service, no distinction should be made between man and man. We have to serve all, be he a Christian or a Muslim, or a human being of any other persuasion; for calamities, distress and misfortunes make no such distinction but afflict all alike. And in serving to relieve the sufferings of man, let it not be in a spirit of condescension or mere compassion, but in the true spirit of our dharma of surrendering our all in the humble service of Lord who abides in the hearts of all beings.”

In that spirit, RSS workers donated blood to save the lives of Christian priests who were victims of a truck accident in the Sambalpur district of Odisha in 2005, and a madrasa alumnus studied in an RSS-run coaching centre to crack the UPSC exam in 2008. The RSS even opposed the VHP move to appeal against the Allahabad High Court verdict conferring one-third of the disputed site to the Muslims.

That being said, I differ with the RSS on its portrayal of rulers like Rana Pratap as “national heroes”, since he only fought to protect his kingdom, or even Shivaji, for his was a case of Marathi nationalism and his concept of levying taxes outside his kingdom for no plunder seems quite unsophisticated to me even for that period of history, brave warriors as they undoubtedly were. I disagree with the RSS trying to portray the Abrahamic faiths’ exclusivist truth claims as necessarily making only them faiths that have produced extremists engaging in mass murders or demolition of places of worship of other faith communities, when Hindu rulers like Mihirakula and Pushyamitra Shunga too meted out the same treatment to the Buddhists (there were some Taooist rulers in China too who exhibited similar maltreatment to Buddhists), though overall, the anti-Buddhist intolerance of Hindu rulers may not have matched the anti-Hindu intolerance of Muslim rulers later in our history. I differ with the RSS on its demand for prohibiting cow slaughter, its desire for the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution and insistence on Indian Muslims and Christians singing Vande Mataram. I disagree with its trying to suggest that the insurgencies in Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya primarily have to do with Christian fanaticism. I disagree with its supporting seemingly strong but easy-to-misuse anti-terrorism statutes.

But I am not against the Sangh’s demand for a uniform civil code, its demand for putting a stop to conferring citizens’ rights to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh when the Chakma refugees were denied of the same for decades or turning our attention to Hindu victims of ethnic cleansing, like those displaced from Kashmir, and indeed, only the RSS has made noise on these subjects of concern. I agree with the RSS when it condemns financially incentivized conversions to Christianity (in this context, I’d recommend one and all to read with an open mind Arun Shourie’s thoroughly well researched book Missionaries in India) and I see no problem with its appealing to such Christians to reconvert to Hinduism, and I may mention that I have several Christian friends, both Indian and of other nationalities (with whom I have discussed these issues, but that in no way ever became an obstacle to the friendship).

Just because some members of an organization have committed some condemnable activities certainly doesn’t justify stereotyping the organization. If some RSS members have been involved in any violence of any kind, they should be brought to book and punished as per the law, but to blame all RSS members for the same makes no sense. That way, members of the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind have also been found to be involved in riots; why don’t you brand that organization the same way? Pragya Thakur, Purohit and others allegedly involved in acts of terrorism have not been proved to have had any conspiracy with the RSS leadership to commit these acts of terrorism. On the other hand, according to the police, they were plotting to kill senior RSS leaders, including Mohan Bhagwat, who these terrorists felt were “not doing enough for Hindutva”!

The worst is how the RSS is blamed time and again by your party for Gandhiji’s assassination, even though Godse had quit the Sangh before he killed the father of the nation. He had even written an article, which stated that the RSS was a bunch of “impotent” Hindus not standing up to Muslims. If the RSS can be blamed for the actions of an ex-member, then as the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena has pointed out, why not the Congress for Jinnah’s communal politics and mobilizing anti-Hindu riots (the Dirtect Action day riots), for Jinnah too had indeed been a Congressman earlier, and in fact, a senior leader!

Now, coming to the BJP, to say that the strongest opposition party in India promotes terrorism in its camps is to make a sham of Indian democracy. Even Digvijay Singh, with all his RSS-bashing, had to concede that blaming the BJP made no sense, for then, if you have any evidence, you ought to submit it to the Election commission and have the BJP deregistered. I am quite sure that Jaswant Singh (with his balanced views on Jinnah), Arun Jaitley, Shahnawaz Hussain, Muqtar Abbas Naqvi and Nirmala Sitaraman are not members of a saffron terror outfit! Yes, the BJP has elements that have been convicted for communal violence, but just like the 1984 anti-Sikh riots do not alone define the Congress, nor do the 2002 Gujarat riots or 2008 Kandhamal riots define the BJP. In fact, the criminalization of politics, whether communal, regionalist (as in the case of the MNS), casteist or even generally, has unfortunately made its presence felt in all major political parties in our country.

Rather than defending these ridiculous and baseless remarks that have won you the vocal admiration of 26/11 mastermind Hafeez Saeed who got yet another opportunity to wash his hands off the dastardly crime and float ludicrous conspiracy theories, it’s time you took your job as home minister more seriously. Else, future historians will never forgive you for damaging the national cause.

A concerned citizen

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  1. Akhil Kumar

    A minor correction:
    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
    Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote it in Voltaire’s biography.

    1. Anshul Tewari

      Testing reply.

    2. Karmanye Thadani

      Please delete this comment testing the reply and this very comment of mine. Thanks.

    3. Karmanye Thadani

      Thanks for the correction, buddy! 🙂

  2. Ashish Mishra

    How can the demand of RSS that muslims and christians must embrace the national song, Vande Mataram, be called a demand with religious fervour? The constitution of India gives the status of national song to the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram. So, in a way, not embracing the national song is about being communal. And, if demand for embracing the national song is a demand with religious fervour, then it implies that constitution of India is not secular. However, the preamble of the constitution says that India is a secular country.

    Also, how can Rana Pratap be only seen as saving his kingdom when he clearly said that he can only call Akbar, a “turk” and not an emperor? And, if it was just about the rule of one king or other king, then why were there occurences of Jauhar in Chittaur?

    “RSS trying to portray the Abrahamic faiths’ exclusivist truth” is because Abrahimic faith preach the idea of exclusive truth. And you also agree that “anti-Buddhist intolerance of Hindu rulers may not have matched the anti-Hindu intolerance of Muslim rulers”. Your idea of equating the anti-buddh hindu rulers with other rulers who were biased against other faiths in their kingdom does not hold because kings from abrahimic faiths were biased on the idea of their faith preaching exclusivist truth.

    1. Karmanye Thadani

      Ashish, you have misunderstood me. Firstly, speaking of Rana Pratap, he may have called Akbar a Turk, but the Rajput rulers often did fight with each other. Rana Pratap only made an attempt to garner solidarity with other kingdoms when his own kingdom was under threat. I do not deny that the people of his kingdom supported him, but that doesn’t make him a hero for all Indians.

      Speaking of ‘Vande Mataram’, the Abrahanmic faiths don’t permit bowing before or worshipping anyone other than the Almighty, not even your parents or country. They ought to be respected, yes, but not worshiped. If Muslims and Christians don’t sing Vande Mataram owing to religious reasons but are willing to sing other patriotic songs, then I have no issue. I don’t know if Ashfaqullah Khan sang Vande Mataram or not, but I would certainly value him more than a corrupt politician like Bangaru Laxman or Sancheti, both of whom have been from the BJP, a party that has done a lot of chest-beating over the Vande Mataram issue, or I would say, non-issue. Finally, the Abrahamic faiths do have exclusivist truth claims, but they also advocate peaceful coexistence with those of other faiths. To give an analogy, they are like a coaching centre that claims to be the only one that can get one admitted to IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students (adherents of the faith) to peacefully encourage (convert) others to join the institute (faith), but not to force others to do so or not peacefully coexist with those going to other coaching centres or not taking any coaching (there are verses in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and the Quran, which might suggest otherwise but not if taken in context, and there are many other verses advocating peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood as well). Nonetheless, this exclusivism in truth claims unintentionally breeds a sense of intolerance among many (not all) Christians and Muslims, as it has over the centuries, and it is perfectly legitimate for the RSS to criticize the same, but there was intolerance by Hindu and Taoist rulers, and mind you, intolerance by Hindu rulers wasn’t directed only against Buddhists, but there was a lot of in-fighting between Shaivites and Vaishnavites in North India until Goswami Tulsidas’s time, and it continues in South India even today. While these may not be comparable to acts of intolerance by Christian and Muslim rulers, it is wrong to simply gloss over inconvenient truths.

    2. Ashish Mishra

      The question was “How can the demand of RSS that muslims and christians must embrace the national song, Vande Mataram, be called a demand with religious fervour?” Your arguments donot answer the question. These arguments simply imply that there are patriots among christians and muslims, and i agree to this. But, Vande Mataram, with first two stanzas, has been accorded the status of national song. To demand that national song be embraced is on fairly legitimate grounds. How can it be a demand with religious fervour? Moreover, many people do go to many dargahs, bow and worship there. So, is it not just a myth that people from abrahimic religions do not bow before or worship anyone other than almighty?

      To your analogy of religion with coaching centres, students in a coaching center are not that emotionally attached with coaching center while people in religion are emotionally attached with their faith and religion. So, your analogy is wrong.

      Moreover, would you please give some authentic references about your claims that Hindu rulers were anti-buddh and their buddh following janta had to undergo discrimination and had to bear violence perpetuated by their rulers because they were following different rituals? Also, please give the references that in-fighting between shaivites and vaishnavites bred so much intolerance which led to violence and strong conversion strategies among them and references which show that intolerance was comparable with the intolerance between shia and sunni. And if you say that these are not comparable to acts of intolerance by christian and muslim rulers, then why are you bringing in the argument about intolerance by hindu rulers? If A and B are incomparable, one cannot logically use A to make a point about B and vice versa.

      Also, i would like to know what do you mean by hindu ruler when the term hindu was not there in those times.

    3. Karmanye Thadani

      Ashish, your questions are very meaningful and please consider my answers with an open mind. Let me straight away address each of your questions one by one –

      1) “Moreover, many people do go to many dargahs, bow and worship there. So, is it not just a myth that people from Abrahamic religions do not bow before or worship anyone other than almighty?”

      My friend, “durgahs” are Sufi shrines, and many versions of Sufism are highly heterodox. Most “mainstream” Muslims do not believe that it is appropriate to pray in ‘durgahs’, and consider it ‘shirk’ or bowing before anyone other than Allah. In fact, Muslims from sects like Wahabism would, in many cases, even stay away from durgahs. Others who visit durgahs also include those who respect the saints but consider it inappropriate to bow before their graves, but they consider the Sufi saints “friends of Allah” and make petitions to Allah through the saints, considering them intermediaries between themselves and Allah, but they do not worship the saints. In fact, even those who do worship the saints would tell you that they subscribe to the doctrine of ‘tauhid-e-wajudi’ or ‘unity of being’ i.e. to say, to explain in Hindu terms, that these saints have attained ‘moksh’ or have become one with Allah; hence, bowing before the graves of these saints amounts to bowing before Allah; so, it’s not bowing before anyone other than Allah (the Almighty), like your parents, elders or country. Thus, it is certainly not a myth that the Abrahamic faiths prohibit worshipping anyone other than the Almighty.

      You have accepted, like any rational person, that there are Muslims and Christians who are patriotic Indians (I’d like to believe that most are, and I am obviously not pseudo-secular as the gist of the article, written by me and on which we are commenting, conveys), and so, if they are uncomfortable with singing Vande Mataram that venerates the motherland, like they would be uncomfortable with bowing before their parents, it doesn’t make sense for us to insist on them compromising on their religious tenets, so long as they are loyal to the country. Singing or not singing one particular song is no barometer of patriotism (they have not objected to singing patriotic songs in general) and we need to focus on real socio-economic issues that unfortunately seldom get genuine attention in our country. How many drawing room conversations take place about what’s right and wrong with the Right to Education Act, for example? Or how we can improve the National Midday Meal Scheme?

      I know about the recent incident of a Muslim MP from the BSP walking out of the parliament in protest against Vande Mataram being the national song in the first place, but we should not give inflated importance to such retards as it only helps their cause of gaining some cheap popularity.

      2) “…in a way, not embracing the national song is about being communal. And, if demand for embracing the national song is a demand with religious fervour, then it implies that constitution of India is not secular. However, the preamble of the constitution says that India is a secular country.”

      In this context, as a lawyer by qualification, I’d request you to read about the Bijoe Emmanuel case.

      3) “To your analogy of religion with coaching centres, students in a coaching center are not that emotionally attached with coaching center while people in religion are emotionally attached with their faith and religion. So, your analogy is wrong.”

      Bro, the analogy was not to equate religions with coaching centres but to explain that at the doctrinal level, there is no contradiction between the Abrahamic faiths’ exclusive truth claims and their advocacy of peaceful coexistence with those of other faiths. Just like a coaching centre claiming that it is the only one that can get you admitted to IIT and encouraging its students to get more students admitted to it doesn’t mean it advocates its students not being friendly with those who don’t accept this claim or instructing its students to kill those in other coaching centres or no coaching centre, Christianity and Islam respectively claim to be the only religion leading to heaven and even encourage their followers to peacefully convert those of other faiths, but don’t advocate hatred or violence against those of other faiths who mean no harm to Christians and Muslims respectively.

      4) As for anti-Buddhist Hindu rulers, there is ample historical record of Mihirakula, Pushyamitra Shunga and Shashank of Gauda. Speaking of sectarian violence between Shaivites and Vaishnavites, it was prevalent in South India to quite an extent in South India in the 19th century and social tensions, even if not violent, still persist, and have even been depicted in the South Indian film Sooryavansham. In North India, their conflicts were resolved by Tulsidas, and any biography of Tulsidas, written even by the most ardent Hindu rightist, accepts this fact.

      I said that the level of intolerance exhibited by Hindu rulers to Buddhists or by Shaivite or Vaishnavite rulers to each other may not have matched the religious intolerance of Muslim rulers, because we have more detailed evidence of the latter, but that cannot lead us to a definitive conclusion.

      5) As for my usage of the term ‘Hindu’, there can also be a problem then with the usage of the term ‘Christian’ for all those who practiced what we know as Christianity till before the term ‘Christian’ came about in the English language.

      Thanks for the civil tenor of the discussion.

  3. Anshul Tewari

    Good article.

    1. Karmanye Thadani

      Thank you so much.

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