It is true that India has always accepted pluralism as is evident from the Vedic literature which is replete with such hymns and verses.
The Congress, which slammed its former leader and former President Pranab Mukherjee for accepting the invite from the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) to address its passing out parade, took a U-turn after his speech. The party said that he had shown a mirror to the RSS as he termed pluralism and tolerance as the soul of India. The volte face is understandable as now the Congress Party is hoist with its own petard. Mukherjee’s decision to accept the invite and his description of KB Hedgewar as “a great son of India” is a mirror to his former party as well that no one is untouchable in a democracy. Jayapraksh Narayan (JP) was also accused of having bequeathed legitimacy to it by allowing its entry into the movement in 1974 and then making Jana Sangh part of the newly-formed Janata Party in 1977. But JP was clear in his thought that ostracising an organisation is no solution as it is tantamount to pushing it to the wall which would only accentuate its rancor and rabidity. Thus, Mr Mukherjee has shown statesmanship by addressing the RSS cadre and not losing sight of pluralism and inclusiveness which is the hallmark of the Indian culture. Mukherjee referred to Surendranath Banerjee who founded the Indian National Association on 26 July 1876. In 1978, he exhorted people to keep united, “Let the word “Unity” be inscribed there in characters of glittering gold…There may be religious differences between us. There may be social differences between us. But there is a common platform where we may all meet, the platform of our country’s welfare.” Unfortunately there is no such platform now for the exchange of ideas. Even Parliament has been reduced to a battleground leaving little space for debate and dialogue.
It is heartening that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also said that every Indian is our own. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who used the word “Hindutva” for the first time raised the issue of pitribhoo (fatherland) and punyabhoo (holy land) that India must be fatherland and holy land of all Indians. This may not be acceptable to non-Hindus who may accept India as their fatherland but not as the holy land. However, Bhagwat did not impose any such condition.
It is true that India has always accepted pluralism as is evident from the Vedic literature which is replete with such hymns and verses. Ironically the most oft-quoted verse to prove it is “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” which was actually spoken with the intent to deceive. It is a story from Hitopadesh in which a cunning jackal trying to create a place for himself in the home of a native deer says “udar charitanama vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (The whole world is one family for the large-hearted.) Other animals warn the deer not to trust someone without ascertaining his antecedents, nature and motive. As the credulous deer ignores the warning, the jackal wins over his confidence with persuasive words and moves into his home. Later, the deceitful jackal tries to get the deer killed. So, the moral is that blindly trusting those pontificating universal brotherhood may lead to one’s own perdition.
However, there are a catena of verses which preach tolerance and pluralism. The Rigveda proclaims: “Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti.” (The Truth is one though scholars put it differently.) Verse no. 7 of Shiva Mahimna Stotra says, “The different practices based on the three Vedas, Samkhya, Yoga, Pushpa-ntamata, Vaishnavamata, etc., are nothing but different paths (to get to the Greatest Truth) and people because of their different aptitude choose from them whatever they think and deserved to be accepted. But as the sea is the final resting place for all types of streams, You are only reaching place for all people whichever path, straight or zigzag, they may accept.” Swami Vive-kananda elaborated on it in his Chicage address.
Nationalism is not a narrow term. In September 1916, Rabindranath Tagore went to Seattle where he was butt of swingeing criticism for his frontal attack on nationalism as a cult of evil.
The Detroit Journal published a warning to the people against “such sickly saccharine mental poison with which Tagore would corrupt the minds of the youth of our great United States”. Even his countrymen staying there did not spare him. Some young Indians belonging to the revolutionary Gadar Party excoriated his denunciation of nationalism as the betrayal of Indian nationalist aspirations. Since he was Knighted by the British Government the previous year, he was branded as a British agent sent to the USA to besmirch the image of his own nation. Ironically, he British authorities too, not able to digest his severe criticism of the war, covertly encouraged the rumour that the Indian Nobel Laureate was being used as a tool of German propaganda to wean American sympathy from the British and Allied war efforts. Tagore was deeply hurt and terminating his contract for the lecture tour prematurely, he returned to Indian.
When Gandhi launched his swadeshi movement by organizing a bonfire of foreign cloth, C. F. Andrews remonstrated with him, “I know that your burning of foreign cloth is with the idea of helping the poor, but I feel that you have gone wrong. There is a subtle appeal to racial feeling in that word foreign, which day by day appears to need checking and not fomenting. The picture of your lighting that great pile of beautiful and delicate fabrics shocked my intensity. We seem to be losing sight of the outside world to which we belong and concentrating selfishly on India; and this must, I fear, lead back to the old, bad, selfish nationalism… Do you know I almost fear now to wear the khaddar that you have given me, lest I should appear to be judging other people, as a Pharisee would, saying, “I am holier than thou.” I never felt like this before.” The bonfire coincided with a famine in the Khulna district of Bengal and the picture of shivering naked villagers appeared revolting to him. Mohan replied to dear Charlie (Gandhi and Andrews were Mohan and Charlie to each other) affectionately: “To me it seems utterly degrading to throw foreign cloth in the face of the poor because we have no longer any use for it…If the emphasis were on all foreign things, it would be racial, parochial, and wicked. The emphasis is on all foreign cloth. India is racial today; the people are filled with ill-will. I am transferring the ill-will from men to things.”
This is the Indian tradition which always allows latitude for different viewpoints. Andrews was not suspected to be a spy; in England, even D. H. Lawrence was under surveillance during the World War I as his wife Freida was a German. However, the latitude does not mean freedom to raise anti-India slogans and questioning every move of the security forces and raising the human rights issue at the drop of a hat. India has been different from the West. We have seen the worst phase of nationalism during the World War II. Six million Jews were killed in the holocaust in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Many scientists and philosophers like Albert Einstein, Max Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno, Karl Popper, and many others fled away from Germany. However, killing and spreading hatred were not the sole domain of Nazis. There were many who spread animus against Germans as well and pleaded for their extirpation. Russian writer, journalist and cultural figure Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg has been accused by many literary figures of having led hate-campaign against Germans during World War II and incited people to kill Germans.
India never spread hatred against any nationality or race despite suffering the worst of exploitations, tortures and killings at the hands of firangs (foreigners),
The writer is a senior TV journalist, columnist and author