There are many journalists who have used their professional work as a launch pad for a career in politics. But of those, not many returned to full-time journalism. Ashutosh belongs to the latter category. A well-known face of TV news in India, he joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2013, but resigned last year .
His political career may not have taken off, but he seems to have put his time away from journalism to good use. He’s written a book about the Sangh Parivar’s capture of political power, titled Hindu Rashtra , which came out last month. In a freewheeling interview, he spoke about, among other things, his disillusionment with politics, the death of secularism, and the danger of an ideological state. Excerpts:
Why a book on Hindu Rashtra?
I’ve always been fascinated — maybe ‘fascinated’ is the wrong word — by the RSS and its ideology, though for the wrong reasons.
Why ‘wrong reasons’?
The RSS ideology wants to divide Hindus and Muslims, and is based on hatred. Any ideology based on hatred is not good for the country, and that’s why I’ve been studying RSS for a very long time.
You began your career as a journalist. What prompted you to switch to politics, and then back to journalism?
People generally don’t believe me when I say I hated politics. I never wanted to get into politics. In December 2013, when Arvind Kejriwal asked me to join his party, I took the plunge because I firmly believed these people were genuine. They were a breath of fresh air at the time. They were not doing politics, they were trying to change politics. It was this thought that made me join AAP.
But over a period of time, I got disillusioned. I realised that politics eventually appropriates even a great movement. The moral capital of AAP got eroded. It was no longer connected to the hopes with which I had joined it. It was a painful decision for me to leave. I quit on August 15, 2018.
Did you expect Modi to become the Prime Minister?
No. I was shocked. I felt let down by Indian democracy.
Let down by Indian democracy? How?
It’s not as if India became a democracy only in 1950. India as a civilisation has always been democratic. Hindu religion is very democratic. It’s not like Islam.
Ancient India only had kingdoms. Where was democracy?
I am saying, at the level of thought. There is no one god or one book.
Hinduism has had the caste system for 2,500 years. You think the caste system is democratic?
That’s a different aspect altogether. I am talking of Hinduism as a religion. I can be a Hindu even without worshipping any god. In other religions, you have to get up in the morning and pray. But Hindu religion provides me a democratic experience. My father prays every morning. But he never tells me, why don’t you pray. So I have always believed that Hindu religion is truly democratic. But then there is this other way of thinking, with which it’s clashing.
Which other way of thinking?
I mean the clash between the RSS thought process or Hindutva, and classical Hinduism. In 2014, I was surprised. I thought the RSS thought process will not win, but it did. I believe Hindu religion and Indian civilisation are going through a deep crisis. It needs to be understood. Unfortunately, we are not introspecting. How can a democratic society and democratic religion give space to such hatred? That is the disturbing thing.
You make a distinction between ‘classical Hinduism’ and Hindutva. In the current elections, the Congress has become a ‘party of Hinduism’ to fight the party of Hindutva. Is it a good move?
One of the sad things about Indian history of the last 70 years is that Hindus have forgotten that they are Hindus. They never flaunted their Hindu-ness. This provided an opening for the RSS. So, I am happy that Rahul Gandhi is going to temples, I am happy he is calling himself a ‘ Janeu-dhari Hindu’, and I am happy he is embracing Hinduism. Why should the RSS be the only stake-holder of Hinduism? If I am a Hindu, if you are a Hindu, we are all equal stakeholders.
In America, no president is shy about being a Christian. Go to any Muslim country. They flaunt their identity as Muslims. Why should Hindus feel shy about flaunting their identity as Hindus? I think that is a mistake we made as a country, and we are paying the price now. I blame the Leftists for this, because their ideology is a negation of religion.
But the Left was never in power in India.
But it was the hegemonic ideology among intellectuals in every sphere — historians, political scientists, journalists, academia. They are the reason we didn’t flaunt our Hindu-ness. There is a difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. Hinduism is about our Hindu-ness, whereas Hindutva is a political ideology that exploits Hinduism for political gains. It has nothing to do with religion. We should all feel proud that we are Hindus. We should take back our gods — the RSS can’t be the owner of our Ram, our Krishna, our Shiva. As for those who say that Rahul Gandhi is indulging in soft Hindutva, I can only say that these people are not willing to learn from our history.
We have a secular constitution, which says religion should be kept out of politics.
How can you fault Rahul Gandhi for going to a temple?
Would Nehru have done it as part of his poll campaign?
That time was different. Now it’s different.
Hinduism hasn’t changed in the last 60 years. How does it matter if that time was different?
Why did Congress reach a nadir of 44 seats? It’s because the RSS successfully portrayed them as a Muslim party. Unless Congress flaunts its Hindu-ness, it will be dumped in the dustbin of history. Once Rahul started visiting temples, the whole narrative changed. If we allow the RSS to keep asking, why are you ashamed of being Hindus, then we will lose the plot completely. The current crisis is a civilisational one because the RSS wants to change the core values of Hinduism — ahimsa, satya, tolerance, vasudhaiva kutumbakam. It considers these to be perverted virtues that make Hindus weak and cowardly. So it wants Hindus to become ruthless and cruel — it’s a diabolical ideology, and that’s what the Hindu Rashtra project is about. Gandhi was a true Hindu. He used religion to mobilise people, but nobody could call him communal. He was also a proud Hindu. But unfortunately, after Gandhi, Nehru did not call himself a proud Hindu.
In your book, you say the big challenge to Hindutva will come not from Nehruvian liberalism/secularism but from the “Ambedkar army”.
Yes, absolutely. Nehruvian liberalism is dead. In 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished and Hindutva forces were victorious. But subsequently, who kept them in check? It was a combination of the OBCs and Dalits. Again in 2019, it is Mayawati and Akhilesh who are giving a tough time to Modi and the RSS. Dalits and OBCs have been at the receiving end of Hinduism for centuries. Now they feel empowered. They want their share of power, and this is what has created a sense of insecurity among the traditional, upper caste ruling elites. Not surprisingly, it is the upper castes that are overwhelmingly supporting Modi and BJP.
What could happen with a second term for Modi?
The 2019 election is a battle not between two political parties but between two Indias: a Hindu India and a Hindutva India. At stake is the entire Hindu civilisation.
Not a battle between Hindutva India and secular India?
Secularism is dead. What has passed for secularism in India is a negation of religion. Secularism as a negation of religion will never work in India. Secularism that maintains equidistance from all religions, and allows Hindus to flaunt their Hindu-ness, Muslims their Muslim-ness, and so on — that secularism will be the new norm in Indian democracy.
You haven’t said what happens if Modi wins again.
If there is a second term for Modi, India will for the first time be in danger of becoming an ideological state. In an ideological state, everyone, and every institution — the press, judiciary, election commission, RBI — has to work for the construction of a utopia. It is evident that many of these institutions have already surrendered.