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No one burnt my cottage – The Indian Express

My recent book, Sunrise over Ayodhya: Nationhood in Our Times, is over 300 pages long. Throughout the book, I have sought to support and endorse the Ayodhya judgment, despite many of my legal colleagues having doubted its legal correctness, acknowledged and praised the philosophy of Hinduism, underscored the humanist dimensions of Sanatan Dharma. The thrust of the book is to promote religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims and highlight the Ayodhya judgment as an opportunity to find closure on the unpleasant past and look forward to a shared future.
Sadly, all this received little attention from the national media and members of the ruling party. Instead, they latched on to one sentence in Chapter VI that makes a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva: “Sanatan Dharma and the classical Hinduism known to sages and saints was being pushed aside by a robust version of Hindutva, by all standards a political version similar to the jihadist Islam of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram of recent years.”
The outrage seems directed at my questioning the nature of Hindutva and even more at seeking to underscore its similarity with Boko Haram and ISIS. Since then, I have answered questions repeatedly put forward by the media, many salivating at the mouth, as well as numerous persons who inevitably start their conversation by expressing disappointment that I have taken this position. Some go further to ask if I am accusing Hindutva of terrorist conduct. When I respond by saying that the word “terrorist” has not been used anywhere, the media promptly says I have clarified and withdrawn my accusation. Pointing out that the word used is similar (saman) and not same (waisa hi) to highlight the common trait of misinterpreting religion and using a distorted version to hurt humanity, falls on deaf ears.
Even as trolls were having a field day, I was fortunate to be a special guest on the last day of the Kalki Mahotsav at Kalki Dham. The Peethadhishwar Shri Acharya Pramod Krishnam was his usual generous self and I was in addition fortunate to receive the blessings of Jagadguru Shankaracharya Narendranand Giriji Saraswati Maharaj of Kashi Peeth, who spoke at length about the unity of humankind and not letting religion or caste divide us. My obeisance to the Shankaracharya, praise for Sanatan Dharma, endorsement of the Ayodhya judgment, appeal for reconciliation, reiterating the role of Ram as Imam-e-Hind mean nothing unless I endorse and submit to the political misuse of a noble religion. When my adversaries speak of getting the book banned they forget that such a ban will operate on the judgment extensively extracted in the book. This might well be the irony of our times. Or else, I must be dragged to a criminal court for having praised Lord Ram.
Interestingly, my senior colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad has, perhaps unwittingly, added fuel to the fire. His suo motu signed statement released within hours of the book release leaves me perplexed, whilst the media has declared that a vigorous debate has begun in the party with him being the lead naysayer. But two points need to be kept in mind: Azad too has rejected Hindutva as a political ideology, although for what reason he does not say. He then goes on to say that Hinduism has a composite culture but comparing Hindutva with Boko Haram and ISIS is factually wrong and exaggerated. But there must be something identifiable that can be exaggerated. I am reminded of the song lyrics, “killing me softly with a song”. Comparison is about similarities, not about identical features, and exaggeration can only be of something that exists as a fact. I am not even inclined to fall back on a video of Azad from some years ago in which he equates Hindutva with ISIS. Are we disagreeing on degrees, not substance, or have times changed?
Several interlocutors asked me to show even a single instance of unwholesome conduct by a Hindutva follower. There is a long list but revisiting those negates my purpose of reconciliation. Besides, they are hardly likely to accept what happened. P Chidambaram put it wonderfully at the book release function when he said, “Just as no one killed Jessica, no one demolished Babri Masjid.” My conversations with a variety of worthies from the BJP, the Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad et al can add to that: No one lynched Pehlu Khan and Akhlaq; no one killed women and children in Naroda Patiya in 2002; no one raped girls in Unnao and Hathras; no one burnt homes in Muzaffarnagar; no one killed Ishrat Jahan; no one mowed down farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. And, of course, no one killed Gandhi.
I am all for debate but should that not have been within the party rather than by issuing suo motu statements? Besides, there is now a clear opinion expressed by former Congress President and top leader, Rahul Gandhi, who has lately focussed on ideological clarity in our thinking. Having said that Hinduism and Hindutva are two different things for the reason that the latter participates in the killing of innocent persons, what debate survives? The truth is that we have for too long given the forces of Hindutva the freedom to push us around, giving the impression that they have a monopoly of the truth. As a strategy, it was expected to fade away as nature healed itself and public discourse returned to normal. Yet, this latest episode tells us that each time we give an inch the adversary tries to occupy several feet.
It is time to draw a red line, not just for our welfare but for the survival of our nation as we have known and imagined it. Further, it is not just about disagreeing about the nature and behaviour of the Hindutva forces but of applying ourselves to protect a glorious religion, Hinduism, from people who are threatening to undermine its humanism and who want a permanent divide between two important communities. We have to make a stand now and here. The time for quibbling and hedging is long over. The fear of adverse reactions has prevented our best case from being put across and we have been written off by friends, even as the enemy has continued to batter us. Falsehood has never before had the stage as in recent years. Now, what do we have to lose but the chains in which the forces of the right have sought to place us?
Loss of freedom is not just physical confinement, it is about chains on the mind and tongue. People who propagate Hindutva are mortally scared of the truth. First, they try to shout it down and then use every weapon of coercion to stifle it. Our Gandhian commitment must ensure that we abjure violence and grossness but are ready to suffer the consequences of passive resistance. Our adversaries are charged by hate, we stand firm in the name of truth. Friends must choose where they stand.
When my cottage in Nainital was attacked with fire, I was asked who I thought had done it. Boko Haram, ISIS, or Hindutva, I replied. Let the wise choose.
The writer is a senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister
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Salman KhurshidThe writer is senior Congress leader and former external affairs minis… read more

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