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Mainstream, VOL LV No 35 August 19, 2017

Communal Challenge to Free India: Some Reminiscences and Reflections

Sunday 20 August 2017, by D.R. Goyal


Desh Raj Goyal, 84, passed away in New Delhi after a brief illness in the afternoon of February 3, 2013. A veteran journalist and academic, he was the editor of Secular Democracy. From 1963 to 1967 he edited Mainstream.

Goyal-sahb was a crusader against the growing menace of communalism in the country since he fully comprehended the threat it posed, having himself been a full-time RSS pracharak in his youth. He later eschewed his connections with the RSS and joined the Communist Party. He also taught in Kirorimal College. He played a vital role in the struggle against Hindu communalism through the vehicle of late Subhadra Joshi’s Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, and became the editor of Secular Democracy.

We reproduce here, for the benefit of our readers, an article he had written for the Independence Day Special of Mainstream (August 16, 1997) on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of our freedom. This article brings out his metamorphosis from an RSS activist to a Communist with a broad national outlook, and calls for rooting out communalism.

Communal Challenge to Free India: Some Reminiscences and Reflections

D.R. Goyal

For a person nurtured in the RSS culture it was not possible to share the euphoria touched off by the advent of independence. All the more so in Punjab which was bearing the brunt of partition.

I did not belong to that part of Punjab which became part of Pakistan but I had been reading newspapers which first gave expression to the anxiety that gripped the Hindus in that area. As the historic day approached, expression of anxiety gave place to tales of horror, of murder and rape and kidnapping. Then followed train-loads of refugees who confirmed that what had appeared in newspapers was not only true but only part of a much more grim reality. In the circle in which I moved, that is, the RSS group, there was no mention of the heroic efforts of those who retained their human conscience in the midst of that beastly frenzy.

Imagination thus overheated, I as well as my colleagues further exaggerated whatever we heard or read in newspapers. Our anti-Muslim sentiment, till then based on speeches and stories heard in the RSS shakha, was inflamed into a furious thirst for revenge. Senior leaders of the Sangh encouraged us to form groups for killing Muslims so that the land that was India could be cleared of potential enemies and fifth columnists.

I participated in such actions in my home town Moga and in neighbouring Ludhiana. No heroic deeds these but shameful, cowardly acts which would not find approval of any sane person. My mother, illiterate and totally ignorant of any kind of politics or political ideas, cursed those who indulged in those orgies. She did not know that I was one of them. Nor was she aware that it was happening on a large scale. An ordinary housewife in a lower middle-class household, for her the world did not exist beyond the neighbourhood. She cursed because the cowherd, Gama, a Muslim, who had tended our cows, had been killed.

In Ludhiana, besides wayside stabbings, we concentrated on frightening away the family of Maulana Habibur Rehman. He was a nationalist, a Gandhian, a leading light of Jamiat-Ulama Hind. His persistent stay was a message to Muslims that they must stay put. Ludhiana, we thought, would not be cleared of the ‘pest’ as long as he was there and given police protection because he was close to Gandhi and Nehru. The local bureaucracy and police was not bothered much about what happened to others but any harm to the Maulana would bring upon them the wrath of the Prime Minister. Therefore, we thought of creating a situation in which the officials concerned may be justified in forcibly taking the family out as a rescue operation.

The madness did not last long. As a full-time RSS pracharak before that I had been questioning leaders about the shape that the Hindu Rashtra would take, how it would solve the problems of the people, whether the departure of the British would mean independence and, if not, what steps were contemplated to realise our dream. Not having got any satisfactory answers and having witnessed the hypocrisy about claims of high moral character, I had already taken up a job in Ludhiana as the editor of an Urdu weekly, Sandesh, run by a Hindu Mahasabha leader.

Unable to sustain enthusiasm about the murders and mayhem, I thought of leaving Ludhiana and boarded a refugee train to Delhi where I landed up in the Hindu Mahasabha Bhawan. I got a job in an Urdu daily, Sangram, which was a venomous communal sheet and was banned by the government. In the Hindu Mahasabha Bhawan I came in contact with people who talked in terms of establishing a Hindu Rashtra by eliminating from the Indian scene the ‘anti-Hindu’ trio of Gandhi, Nehru and Azad.

How full were minds like mine with hatred of these people I shudder to recall now. I had got a job as a sub-editor with the Hindi daily Milap where I was given the duty to report Gandhi’s speeches at his daily prayer meetings. I dared not refuse the assignment for fear of losing the job but reported the speeches by listening to the radio broadcast. I had a feeling that seeing his face would be a kind of pollution. The day he was assassinated I was told by some people in the Bhawan that I must attend Gandhi’s prayer meeting in person because something historic was to happen. However, the foul deed was already accomplished before I could arrive at Birla House. I heard about it from people at the corner of Aurangzeb Road and returned to the office.

Awarness of the world around and interaction with journalists shattered the secure unques-tioning certainty I had imbibed in the RSS days. It had weakened earlier but the new awareness created curiosity to know more. Another experience, after Gandhi’s murder, further demolished the make-believe world. Arrested on suspicion of involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Jawaharlal, I happened to be lodged in Delhi District Jail in a barrack in which HMS leaders, V.G. Deshpande and Mahant Digvijay Nath of Gorakhpur, were kept. They got from outside all kinds of delicacies, ate the best food and spent most of the time in gossip. Their food I could relish but not their gossip. I got books from the jail library to spend my time. During the month I spent before release I read Urdu translations of Duma’s L’Miserables, Prince Kropotkin’s Problem of Bread and What is Marxism? by Emile Burns. That opened a new world for me.

Out of prison I began to keep company with leaders of the Students’ Federation, as alongwith my job, I had resumed studies in college. The big change came when I came in contact, after an inter-college debate, with Dr K.M. Ashraf. I had more opportunity to interact with him when I became a lecturer in Kirorimal College where Dr Ashraf was a senior member of the staff. I was on the lookout for a political outfit which would be different from the RSS and opposed to the Congress, hatred against which I still retained, a residue of my RSS days. The CPI was what, I thought, I was looking for. Dr Ashraf encouraged me to join it but purged my mind of anti-Gandhi and anti-Nehru prejudice.

Despite the pervasive anti-Congressism of the CPI, I was inclined more to such activity as would save the people from the poison that the RSS was injecting. It was somewhat disappoin-ting to note that none of the secular parties, despite their anti-communal rhetoric, was taking up cudgels against the RSS. The way Golwalkar discarded his non-political veneer at the time of the India-China conflict of 1962 and strutted about the national stage spewing venom against Jawaharlal Nehru gave me a feeling that the people must be made aware of the danger the RSS posed. Never throughout the period when the people were waging a gruelling struggle against British imperialism did he stir out of his non-political cocoon. Rather, he used to preach that to be anti-British cannot be considered a mark of patriotism. The same Golwalkar was now equating patriotism with anti-Nehruism and the monopoly press seemed to be one with him.

Mrs Subhadra Joshi, then a prominent Congress Member of Parliament, had attracted national attention when she defeated Atal Behari Vajpayee in the parliamentary election. Before that she had conducted a determined struggle against communal elements in Jabalpur where the first major riot had occurred after the partition killings. I, therefore, joined her campaign in the late sixties.

Jawaharlal Nehru was an unremitting critic of the communal ideology of the Muslim League variety before independence and of the RSS-Jana Sangh brand after 1947. His seemed to be a one-man crusade because the conduct of his party did not match it, even though he exhorted his partymen not to neglect the danger. As a result after his demise there was a vacuum in this context. Mrs Joshi alone had thought of organised combat by setting up the Sampra-dayikta Virodhi Committee after the 1962 elections.

The Committee made a big impact in the decade 1965-75 when it exposed the RSS hand in the major riots that occurred during that period. It sent investigating teams to the riot-affected areas, got help and succour for the victims, published literature and held numerous seminars and conferences to build up an anti-communal temper.

In all this there was encouragement and patronage from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It proved both a positive and a negative factor. Many people flocked to it and provided it support more because of Mrs Joshi’s perceived closeness to the Prime Minister than for the intrinsic national value of her campaign. It created an illusion in the Committee that it had succeeded in developing the desired temper and atmosphere. That it should take advantage of the situation to build its independent cadre never occurred to its leadership and it remained satisfied with its catalyst role in bringing together all non-communal parties and groups for the campaign.

The illusion broke when during the Emergency Mrs Gandhi changed her attitude under the influence of Sanjay and Mrs Joshi fell out with her. In the new political strategy of concentrating on the Hindu majority, Mrs Gandhi saw no place and no use for Mrs Joshi and her Committee. In other words, she considered it only an instrument to woo the Muslim electorate and not an agency to promote secular and scientific temper. As the message went round of the soured relationship, most of its supporters and adherents, the bulk of whom belonged to the Congress party, stopped associating both with Mrs Joshi and the Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee.

The near-exclusive pre-occupation of political parties with electoral politics tends to render values like secularism and social justice into mere vote-gathering gimmicks and people begin to lose faith in all claims in respect of them. Particularly when they see secular parties joining hands with parties and groups they declare communal as happened in 1967, 1977, 1989 and 1991. Or when avowedly secular parties are seen to adopt the communal agenda, as the Congress did between 1977 and 1996.

The two decades during which the success graph of the RSS-sponsored political formation, Jana Sangh or BJP, has registered a rising curve is the period when this phenomenon has been most manifest. The resurgence of the Hindutva forces is mainly due to this factor although other factors have also contributed. The tendency among political analysts to project the idea that in view of the electoral clout of parties like the BJP, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Muslim League, the attitude of treating them as untouchables is irrelevant or invalid democratically tantamounts to capitulation. It shows the bankruptcy of thought on the part of such think-tanks. Impressed by the spectacle of electoral success and high-pressure propaganda of communalist outfits they fail to dig deeper into the ground realities.

It is hardly recognised that as long as it was frontally challenged and its sinister nature exposed in public, the electoral support of the BJP (or the Jana Sangh earlier) never reached the double figure percentage in terms of electoral support. In 1996 also, when it was supposedly isolated, the barrage of criticism was directed mainly against Narasimha Rao and the Congress. Even on the score of demolition of the Babri Masjid. Of course, Narasimha Rao had many things to answer for, including his failure, as the leader of the ruling political party, to perform his duty of making people aware of the sinister nature of these outfits and even to convince his own partymen about his commitment to secularism.

With its strong sub-conscious tendency to worship the rising sun, our urban intelligentsia has made it a fashion to look for ingenious arguments to explain, and thus justify, the rise in the influence of the Sangh Parivar. For this ample ammunition is churned out by the so-called centres of learning built by the Western imperialist countries. The media, controlled by Indian and foreign vested interests, has become an instrument of spreading new shibboleths like ‘clash of civilisations’, rise of ‘fundamen-talism’ with the same intensity that was witnessed in propagating the bogey of pan-Islamism in the inter-war years. The post-independence generation of the secular nationalist segment also laps up this new demagogic phraseology without caring to understand its sinister import. Never do these people ponder that if it were a reality, then why there should be conflicts like Iran-Iraq or Saudi-Iran or Iraq-Syria or Morrocco-Algeria.

Instead of independently analysing develop-ments the political and media elite fall for one or the other form of communal extremism, either of the RSS variety or the separatist minority tendency represented by various faces of Jamaat-e-Islami. The interface gives a boost to both.

The grossest example of this phenomenon was manifested in the handling of the Babri Masjid imbroglio during Rajiv Gandhi’s time. First the locks of the disputed structure were opened on specious grounds which was the virtual opening of the gates for mischief. Thereafter busybodies went about trying to argue and bring about conciliation between the extremist antagonists, the Ram Janmabhoomi morcha and the Babri Masjid Action Committee. Both at the official and non-official levels there was no serious attempt to mobilise public opinion on the basis of a democratic and scientific attitude on the issue. The inevitable result was a deep communal divide. Subsequently Narasimha Rao pursued the same course and did not realise the blunder even after December 6, 1992, even though popular revulsion against the deed was sufficient evidence that people at large do not approve either extreme.

At the ideological level protagonists of secular politics have signally failed to make a distinction between the Western concept of secularism found in dictionaries and encyclopaedias and the practical way of coexistence adopted in the Indian Constitution as freedom of conscience with the limitation that the freedom of any one community does not interfere with the freedom of the other. It is neither negation of nor indifference to religion nor compulsion for equal respect for all. Even Jawaharlal Nehru had cautioned that the expression ‘secular’ is the nearest equivalent of our practice. Its translation as dharmanirapekshata has played havoc because both believers and non-believers have gone to town with the misinterpretation so that people at large have become indifferent to secularism and communalism.

I do not share the defeatist view that India is doomed to be taken over by the communal forces, be it the BJP or Sangh Parivar. If we could withstand the worst onslaught on the secular character of the people in 1947 and go ahead to build a nation-state, territorially the largest in the history of the subcontinent, the people still have the strength to defeat the challenge that is seen in the fiftieth year of independence. In these years the deprived and the depressed, the wretched of this earth, have developed a voice. They see hope in democracy, in unity, in peace. Only their positive instincts and energies have to be mobilised. The biggest failure of the secular segment of opinion-makers is the inability to maintain the pre-independence tempo of mass contact. The tendency to depend on community and caste loyalties for support rather than building united organisations at the grassroot level for finding concrete solutions to common problems has provided justification for communal parties. The campaign against communalism has to be directed towards changing this tendency and reviving the constructive work approach with which Gandhi imparted a mass democratic character to the freedom movement.

(Mainstream, August 16, 1997)

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