Ziya Us Salam

Dreams of different kinds

U.R. Ananthamurthy Photo K. Gopinathan.   | Photo Credit: K Gopinathan

In the age of Right to Information we are denied the right to introspection. A society pledged to development has no compunctions in passing off the greed of the vast multitudes as their need. A nation drunk to the potion of growth cares little for shade-less roads, chopped trees and smog-filled sky. It is the same overweening desire to possess, to attain which collectively propelled Narendra Modi to the august office of the Prime Minister.

Indeed at a time when the nation has all but forgotten Naroda Patiya, it is futile to look for Mahatma Gandhi of Noakhali. The dead of Gujarat were just puppies that came under the wheel of the car, deserving of no rituals. Modi’s politics is not about moderation, but exclusion. As Shiv Visvanathan says so succinctly in the foreword to U.R. Ananthamurthy’s “Hindutva or Hind Swaraj”, Modi’s nationalism is about elimination of opposites. Not accommodation of differences. “Modi is not the liberal mind, wondering how to deal with all the vexations: the Dalit vexation, the Muslim vexation, the cosmopolitan vexation. Like the liberal, he does not fear he might lose his morality trying to manage these tensions. Such sensitivity is unnecessary for those who manage the nation. Nationalism eliminates opposites. Like Mao. Like Stalin. Like Napoleon. Like Modi.”

Throughout this wonderful book, hurriedly penned by URA in his last days, Modi comes across as an ideological offshoot of Savarkar. And URA, one of the first to speak up for the soul of India when Modi’s victory seemed inevitable, again and again warns the nation that if in today’s battle stakes Savarkar wins, Godse wins. It is important to secure victory for Gandhi, the man who thought of the nation state as evil, as opposed to Modi who sees it as god.

As Visvanathan reminds us, “URA claims that Gandhi and Godse were dealing with two separate notions of evil. For Godse, evil was external. For Gandhi, evil was encompassed in the textures within. For Gandhi and Tagore, the nation state was the unfolding of evil. For Godse and Modi, it was both God and the ultimate good.”

Bit by bit, brick by brick, URA lays bare the soul of the nation. Though he had written this “manifesto” in the autumn of his life, he manages to paint with words. And quietly, almost imperceptibly, he paints a portrait of Modi, it is a portrait Modi, just soaking in the adulation of his wax peer, won’t be very proud of. URA begins with the past, not out of nostalgia but a dispassionate observation facilitated by the passage of time. “When I was growing up in the pre-war years, we complained that goods ‘Made in Germany’ were difficult to get, and dismissed as ‘Made in Japan’ all the shiny, cheap items that we actually used….Today all that glitters is ‘Made in China’. America is incapable of manufacturing even a pin or a shirt. What it can produce are weapons of war and supercomputers.”

Soon, he comes to the main subject: Hindutva and Modi. Here he first talks of Godse who “recognising 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. 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 Savarkar’s ideology was the text for this yajna. Only in a democratic system does this sentiment, latent in all of us, find expression in the smooth-tongued Modi raising arti to the holy Ganga.”

There is more. URA touches upon the issue of Israel too, and is happy to connect it to the Modi Government’s change in policy with the State. When the Western world created Israel by banishing the local people, Gandhi opposed it as he felt that the Jews should accept the land where they lived as their own. Savarkar, of course, considered him a traitor due to “his indifference to the nation state”. “The Modi Government, inspired by Savarkar’s idea of a Hindu state on the lines of Israel, is clearly aligned towards Israel. Modi, who was like a ‘brahma’ during the Gujarat yajna, differs from the stand taken by the Vajpayee government.”

Having used his pen like a scalpel on the issue of Israel, he returns to the artist in him. Outlining that Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Hind Swaraj would have been a fine alternative to the much hyped Hindutva today, URA writes, “He who does not dream is not human. One dreams of the well-being of mankind, a green earth and a clear sky. A dream of Gandhi’s ahimsa. A dream where man works for a living, uses the benefits of science wisely and makes sure the environment is not destroyed. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj envisaged such an India. Modi’s victory is in direct opposition to that dream. His triumph has moved closer to Savarkar’s idea of Hindutva, without actually saying so.” Pertinently, URA draws attention to Mahatma Gandhi’s response to violence at the time of Partition. When Sardar Patel broke the news to him that Delhi was not the Delhi of old and thousands of Hindus had occupied mosques while Muslims had fled to Karachi, Gandhi asked him to “immediately remove the Hindus who were occupying the mosques.

He urged Patel to bring back the Muslims who had fled to Karachi and reinstate them in their homes.” About Gujarat 2002, he leaves the answer blowing in the wind. Ah! The joy of the unsaid.

Reason enough to read URA, among the first to speak up about the challenges that were likely to confront India post-Modi’s victory. He famously pledged to leave India if Modi won, something the Hindutva elements did not tire of reminding him. A few days of Modi’s rule and God took that decision out of the equation for him. Long may URA be read. Longer still may he be heeded.

(The author is a seasoned literary critic)

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 3:00:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/dreams-of-different-kinds/article8509242.ece

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