Book Extract: from Hindutva or Hind Swaraj?


In this last work before his death in 2014, U R Ananthamurthy paints a sharp and prophetic picture of India in the time of full-blown Hindutva. The Indian Cultural Forum is proud to be the first to carry a translated extract from the first chapter of Ananthamurthy’s book – he was one of the first writers to support the idea of an Indian Writers’ Forum.

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How do I begin this response to the apparent optimism about Modi's election in the media and in the public, and my own apprehensions about it?

I am faced with a problem. The Nehru family has been liberated from those flatterers who believed that only that family was fit to rule the country. We have been liberated from them too. (The assassination of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi by the evil ones is a tragedy that we should not forget). At a time when it seemed as if the nation was delivered from one family, in an election campaign that resembled the presidential form of electioneering, no South Indian, Assamese, Bengali (in fact no one from a non-Hindi speaking state) could have won an election the way Modi did, with his loud and rhetorical use of Hindi. By pointing out to me that a democratic agreement exists between the system essential to create a community and the institutions that preserve law and order and courts that deliver justice, that I should accept someone who has ascended to power through a majority because it is a democratic norm, is what I don’t agree with. For me, providing room for those not in majority, is fundamental to democracy. Therefore, I will speak to you ignoring those who have denigrated me nation-wide, because of my skepticism about Modi. For the sake of convenient communication, I will enumerate my views in the form of sutras, a set of aphorisms.

• I will start with the story of Job from the Old Testament. Is evil also present along with what we believe is the goodness of the Divine will? In the 1950s Carl Jung, a visionary author, wrote Answer to Job in which he examines what the Christian world underwent throughout its symbolic history to overcome evil. Similar to this is the Satya Harishchandra story in which Raja Harishchandra is repeatedly tested for his adherence to truth. Can knowing that good and evil which are inseparable and exist together, make us aware of the evil which might be concealed in our love for the nation? Every time the leaders of the Modi Government open their mouths they utter the words ‘in the national interest’. That is to say in the ‘national interest’ one can do anything. Like God. We have a saying: he who gives up pride and shame is like God.

• Let me mention here the protagonist of a Dostoyevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is a young man who aspires to be a Napoleon, an ordinary man who became a kalapurusha, the man of the times, and acquired glory despite killing thousands in war. Raskolnikov is deeply anguished because he could never be like Napoleon, who disregarded the commonly held perception of evil when he slew thousands in war, without guilt. Someone who thought differently from Raskolnikov was Godse. Through his readings of Savarkar, Godse, in his love for Bharat, truly believed that Gandhi, the advocate of nonviolence, was an impediment. Godse’s final speech should be compared with Modi’s fervent words of patriotism. There is one difference. When Godse could find no other way to put an end to Gandhi’s all powerful influence in the country, he killed him. The Congress, which has somehow managed to obtain nuclear friendship with the US, allowed Savarkar and Modi to occupy the space vacated by Gandhi. Modi has become the true voice of the innate desire for development of the Congress, which is slightly embarrassed by memories of Gandhi.

Instead of the gentle satvik1 face of Manmohan Singh, we see before us the imperious rajasik2 face of Modi, in keeping with his kshatra3 traits. This change of face is the result of the obsessive greed of the middle classes, fueled by Modi. This face became a favorite of the media during the elections and thousands of his fans flaunted it as a mask. Even so, I voted for the Congress which had given to the poor the Right to Information and the Right to Food. Throughout human history, people have accepted the victory of the victorious as inevitable. This acceptance is born out of complacency, of the assurance of a comfortable life. In one of Auden’s poems the sound of a knock on the door is heard in the dead of night, somewhere far away. The comfort that it is somewhere in the distance and not on his street is short lived. With the sound of the footsteps drawing nearer it is his door that is broken.

• I would like to compare Raskolnikov, who because of his overarching ambition lost faith in Christ, but regained it through anguish and love, and Godse, who recognizing the strength of Gandhi, assassinated him while he was on his way to pray to the Almighty for the well-being of the country rather than his own. Raskolnikov had an inner voice which he despised but could not deny. Godse too may have had it. Born after three male children had died, Godse was brought up as a girl by his parents. Even his name “Nathuram” meant one who wears a nose stud.

But it was not the desire to prove his manliness that made Godse first fold his hands and then shoot the bare chested old man, the father of the nation, walking eagerly towards the prayer meeting supported by two girls. The act did not need either machismo or plot. Gandhi did not even have police protection. The hindutvavadi Godse’s action, committed with utmost detachment and in cold blood was the sacrificial offering made at the yajna of nation-building. And the text for this yajna was the Savarkar ideology. Only in a democratic system, this sentiment, latent in all of us, finds expression in the smooth-tongued Modi raising an aarti to the holy Ganga.

• I will compare Savarkar’s analysis of Hindutva with Gandhi’s book Hind Swaraj which came out around the same time. It does not mean that I will examine them in the same order as above. History with its equalities and inequalities and highs and lows, has flashes of inner turmoil. My search is for the underlying coherence in it. This writing, born in the current Modi era should be viewed as an attempt to swim against the tide.

From Hindutva or Hind Swaraj?, U R Ananthamurthy, translated from Kannada by Keerti Ramachandra and Vivek Shanbhag, HarperCollins Publishers India, forthcoming February 2016.

1. Satvik: more analytical, sober, gentle.
2. Rajasik: action oriented, more reactive, less analytical.
3.Kshatra/Kshatra dharma: implies temporal authority and power which was based less on being a successful leader in battle and more on the tangible power of laying claim to sovereignty over a territory, and symbolizing ownership over clan lands. This later gave rise to the idea of kingship.