Monday, November 20, 2006

A report on the 'attack' on RSS Headquarters on June 01, 2006

The official version of events raises scores of doubts. The team wanted simple clarifications from the Commissioner of Police, Nagpur and approached him continuously for five days. That the Commissioner persistently declined to meet the team and answer these simple queries, reveal his unwillingness and/or his inability to answer these questions.

It also suggests that he chose to hide certain facts. And this leads the team to question the veracity of the Commissioner of Police's narration of the encounter. The Cock and bull story of the encounter thus compels the team to infer that the encounter appears to be fake and requires, in the interest of the nation, a fair probing.

Constituent member organizations:

People's Union for Civil Liberties,

Nagpur Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights,

Mumbai Dharma Nirapeksh Nagarik Manch, Nagpur

Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee,

Hyderabad Indian Association of People's Lawyers Bahujan Sangharsh Samiti
List of Members

Head of the Team, Justice B G Kolse Patil, Rtd Judge of Mumbai High Court, Convenor, Dr Suresh Khairnar,
Members Dr Anand Teltumde, CPDR, Mumbai; Adv. P Suresh Kumar, Andra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Hyderabad; Mr Ahmed Latif Khan, Civil Liberty Monitoring Committee, Hyderabad; Dr D John Chelladurai, India Peace Centre, Nagpur; Mr Nagesh Choudhury, Bahujan Sangharsh Samiti, Nagpur; Mr Arvind Ghosh, PUCL, Nagpur; Adv. Anil Kale, Indian Assn of People's Lawyers; Adv. Surendra Gadling, Indian Assn of People's Lawyers; Mr Gaffar Shakir, Dharma Nirapeksha Nagarik Manch, Nagpur; Mr Ashish K Ghosh, PUCL, Nagpur; Mr Arvind Deshmukh, Bahujan Sangharsh Samiti, Nagpur; Mr T V Kathane, Nagpur, Bahujan Sangharsh Samiti,Nagpur; Adv. Anand Gajbhiye, IAPL, Nagpur


The nation awoke on June 01, 2006 hearing the shocking news of an attempted attack on the RSS headquarters building. It was a respite that the news of police foiling the attempt too came along.

The news of attempted attack on the Head Quarters of the RSS reportedly by fidayeens of a Pak based terrorist group, sent a spine chilling fear in the minds of millions of peace loving people in the country. We all know very well, the potential of such a happening to ignite a trail of tragic clashes among the communities. The peace loving masses heaved a sigh of relief as the leaders of every community promptly condemned the heinous act and appealed to the masses to maintain peace, and peace did prevail. In the next twenty four hours quite a lot of information, almost all the information pertaining to the attackers had been published obviously supplied by the police department to the media.

The narrative of the whole encounter as reported on June 02, 2006, instead of clearing the mystery of the attackers, unfortunately confounded the citizens all the more. The reports were conflicting and left innumerable questions on ground zero situation unanswered.

The foiled attempt and the appreciable tranquility maintained by the masses were a great relief. However the deadly weapon and ammunition with which the 'fidayeens' (as told by the Commissioner of Police) appeared, and the ease with which the police claimed to have liquidated them, suggested that the Police team had a 'cake walk' over the deadly terrorists. The very next day a section of the media aired their doubt over the whole happening (as reported by the Police Commissioner), most of them quoting wide sections of the national community, including senior leaders.

The peace loving social activists and campaigners for communal harmony based in Nagpur were at first relieved by the success of the police over the terrorists. However the confounding report that appeared in the media and the doubts aired by masses and leaders prompted them to read between the lines. Particularly, the 'Islamic' terrorist attempting to attack RSS Head Quarters has a larger implication. It has the potential to push the nation into a communal strife. Scuh a thing should not be allowed to happen in any manner, orchestrated by any group. The confounding report of the 'encounter' therefore requires an honest study.

The above stated social organizations, hence constituted a fact finding team comprised of the above mentioned activists. The team is headed by Mr B G Kolse Patil, retired Judge of Mumbai High Court, and Convened by Dr Suresh Khairnar, a renowned social thinker and activist. The team visited the site of the encounter, spoke to the people residing in the vicinity. The team also visited the RSS Head Quarters and met Mr Shirish Wate, the HQ incharge.

The team went to Government Medical College to meet the doctors who carried out the postmortem. Dr Dhavane, who was present gave elementary information but declined to give details. The team spoke to Dr Vibhawari Dani, Dean, Govt Medical Hospital and College on telephone. The Dean also declined to reveal the postmortem report. It was a classified document, she said.

The team repeatedly sought an appointment with the Commissioner of Police. The CP too declined to meet the team. On the contrary the CP asked the respectable members their credentials; who funded the team, what international connections does the team have and similar questions with apparent intention to intimidate the team from their earnest effort to help the society to know the truth.

The Incident as reported by Mr S P S Yadav, the Commissioner of Police, Nagpur
The Special squad of the City police who were on high alert following specific input from intelligence agency spotted a white Ambassador car moving in a suspicious manner in Lakdi Pul in Mahal area and started tailing it. Two cars, a Tata Sumo and a Qualis were used in the operation. The tailing cars were unmarked and all police personal in it were wearing plain clothes.

When the ambassador car with red beacon atop moved towards RSS Head Quarters, one for the constables in the Tata Sumo casually asked the young occupants about their intentions. Rattled by the enquiry the militants opened fire on the police vehicle even as they tried to get away. In the process they dashed into the barricade near the eastern side of the RSS HQ. The alert cops led by PSI Rajendra Tiwari, PSI Arvind Saraf and PSI JA More replied to the Gunfire. It was their bulletproof jackets that saved police personnel. The terrorists also threw a hand grenade on the police party. But it failed to explode. They threw the grenade without pulling out the pin.

The gun battle lasted about 20 minutes in which the militants fired 76 rounds while the cops retaliated with 63 rounds. The terrorists had three AK-M automatic weapons, 12 hand grenades and 5.6 Kgs of highly explosive materials with them. They also had three spare magazines for their fire arms each carrying 30 rounds. They had hundred and twenty rounds each, said Mr S P S Yadav. Mr Yadav also reported to have said, looking at their preparation and determination to storm RSS HQ at any cost despite heavy police deployment, indicates that it was a 'fidayeen' attack.

Refusing to divulge the exact identity of the three militants, who were in the age group of 20-22 years, Mr Yadav described them as 'Islamic militants.' At this point of time, he added, it is too premature to associate them with any outfit.

Media reports

As per the details received from the police a white Ambassador car MH 20-8979 with a red beacon and three persons on board dressed as police sub-inspectors, was first spotted by the patrolling police party at the central avenue some time before the incident. The car was heading towards Badkas Chowk. As it emerged form Chitaroli, two police vehicles, a Tata Sumo carrying two PSI and five constables and a Toyoto Qualis with 5 PSI got suspicious about the car. The police vehicles hastened the chase of the suspicious ambassador car. At Badkas chowk the ambassador car took a left turn towards Junta chowk and again turned right towards the Sangh building from the Lakdipul side.

Presuming the car might have gone towards Ayachit mandir the police stopped the chase for a while. However when the police jeep came back to the same place during their routine patrol, they noticed the same car in a small alley between Lakdipul and Gajanan Mandir towards the eastern gate of the RSS Head Quarters. The Police vans then closed in on the ambassador car. However, without paying heed to the police patrol the car tried to force its way through the temporary barricade erected 50 meters before the main entrance of the RSS HQ. At this juncture the PSI Tiwari intercepted the ambassador car and enquired as to where it was heading. Instantly thereafter the two ultras who were seated on the rear seats came out of the car with a grenade in their left hand and AK56 rifle in the right hand. One of them lobbed the grenade at the police, but since the pin was not fully removed it failed to explode. Seeing this the ultras opened indiscriminate fire at the police party. In the melee PSI Saraf who just alighted from the police vehicle got hit at his abdomen. However, since he was wearing a bullet proof vest the bullet did not pierce his body. Soon after this police force and the ultras started exchanging fire in which two of the three militants were killed on the spot. The driver of the car then tried to flee towards the Bhauji Daftari School. However he could not escape the bullets from the police and he too was killed on the spot. The entire shoot out went on for just around 15 minutes between 4.00 and 4.15 AM.

The police then informed the control room and the commissioner of Police about the shoot out. The senior police officers immediately reached the spot and shifted at the three ultras to the government medical college where they were declared brought dead. The members of Dautkhani family along with other neighbours woke up at the sound of the firing and one of his family members opened the door of their house to peep outside.

However alert cops told the family members to shut the door and remain inside the house only. It was to prevent the terrorists from taking shelter in the Dautkani house and taking them as hostages. The operation was carried out by the city police successfully without any loss of life other than that of the militants. The press reported on the 2nd June that, all the three terrorists are said to be Pak nationals. Two of them hailed from Lahore and the third from Gujranwala. The police had seized from the place a dairy which contained email addresses in Urdu, a few phone numbers of Lohare and Gujranwala. Rs 45,000 and maps of the city were recovered from the terrorists.

The names of three terrorists are said to be Afsal Ahmed Bhat, Bilal Ahmed Bhat and Mohammed Usman Habib. Loksatta, (Indian Express Group) Nagpur Marathi edition, dated June 03 2006 carried an article containing the following detail. 'Normally the attacks by the terrorists are preplanned meticulously and they seldom fail in their attempt. This being the public opinion, the recent futile attempt by the terrorists on RSS building and the success gained by the police in thwarting the attempt creates suspicion in public mind as well as among RSS people and their rivals.

Though normally terrorists claim the responsibility of the attack, no terrorist group has claimed any responsibility to this attempt. Therefore the question arises, whether they were hardcore Islamic terrorists or just any other newcomers. According to police statement, threat of attack on RSS head quarters loomed large for the last one year and there was security cordon around the building. Yet the attackers seemed to have no idea of any of them, neither did they seem to know the roads leading to RSS building. And no map of the building and its surrounding could be found with them.

During the whole encounter with the police the terrorists got only one chance to lob a grenade and that too did not explode. That not a single policeman was injured by the bullets of the attackers, puts a question mark on the ability of the terrorists. The attackers could bring a car load of guns and bullets, hand grenades, powerful explosives like RDX from places thousands of kilometers away without being detected or checked by any police or civic authorities, is a matter of surprise even in the RSS circles.

The RSS which usually take such attack on them seriously and go for nationwide protest, unusually kept extraordinary silence and the morning shaka at the headquarters went on with more people attending it. It was a surprise even among the cadres of RSS. This also has created among their functionaries doubt over the bona fide of the attackers. However, they speak in a low voice.

' Mahanayak, a Marathi news paper from Mumbai, published a title page news from its special correspondent from Nagpur, with the caption: "Mahanayak's Special Story on the Attack on RSS Head Quarters." The news goes like this: There is a talk among the Nagpur police that, of the 11 police who conducted the encounter, 6 police did not even know how to handle a carbine. Some of them were under demotion on account of departmental disciplinary action, and they were given this 'chance' to prove their 'worthiness.' Sources close to the police circle say, none of the eleven cops had special commando training. The authorities punished two of them, for they extorted from a 'gutka' merchant a huge amount (Rs 3.5 lakhs) five months ago, in the Panchpoli police station area. At the orders of the CP they were shifted to another 'punishment' section. Police inner circle is surprised at the composition of the squad for most of them do not know to handle guns properly.

The reporter gives details of many indisciplines of the eleven police personals and wonders how and on what basis they were selected for Special Squad to handle such an important assignment in the RSS HQ.

Observations of the fact team

1. When the police had prior information about possible attack on RSS Head Quarters and the police were prepared, as stated by the Commissioner of Police (CP), to handle possible attack, why did they allow the attackers to go close to the RSS HQ? Why did the Police not stop them at first sight?

2. We hear from the residents, that the police had a kind of rehearsal to the 'encounter' few days back on the same spot. Police even fired in the air on the occasion, they claim. And when the actual encounter took place, these residents said, they first thought that it was yet another demonstration. Why did the police take a demo a few days ago?

3. The CP has said, "when the ambassador car with red beacon atop moved towards RSS HQ, one of the constables in the Tata Sumo casually asked the young occupants about their intentions. Rattled by the inquiry the militants opened fire on the police vehicle even as they tried to get away." For the constable to ask casually, either he must have brought his car (the police vehicle) side by side to the terrorist vehicle or he (the constable) must have come by foot close to terrorist vehicle (and asked them). In either case the constable must have been exposed to the terrorist attack at close quarter. How did the constable escape unhurt? The narration of the incident doesn't have any detail to clarify this.

4. There is no eyewitness to the whole happening. The encounter took place according to the police at 4.15 AM. The bodies of the assailants were removed even before the press reporters (who were the first people other than the Police) reached the spot, close to 5.00 AM. Why this hurry?

5. Day one media report says, Deputy Commissioner Mr Prabhat Kumar was in the patrolling team and he smelled foul and started tailing it in their unmarked blue Tata Sumo. Why did the CP not bring him (Mr P Kumar) in his (CP) narration of the encounter? Why did CP hide the DCP?

6. Another report says that the patrolling police that tailed the ambassador at one point "presumed the car might have gone towards Ayachit mandir the police stopped the chase for a while. However when the police jeep came back to the same place during their routine patrol, they noticed the same car in a small alley between Lakdipul and Gajanand Mandir towards the eastern gate of the RSS Head Quarters. As the point where the police missed the ambassador car and the place where they saw them again are the same small alley, do the police mean to say that the attackers were waiting over there until then?

7. It is said that the attackers' car tried to force its way through the barricade. The said barricade was installed a couple of weeks before June 01 2006, in the aftermath of weapon seizure from antisocial elements in the State. When the attackers came where were the sentries posted at the barricade? They must have been the first one to stop the terrorists or get attacked by the terrorists. Where were they?

8. The exchange of fire took place for twenty minutes, it was reported. Can anyone explain how the police disabled the terrorists from using the dozen hand grenades and the 360 rounds of bullets?

9. That the terrorists had 12 hand grenade, 360 rounds of bullets, 5.6 Kgs of highly explosive material which was later stated to be RDX, and they battled for twenty minutes 'hopelessly' not using any of them, is a narration that fails to convince common sense.

10. It was reported that the police recovered from the terrorists' vehicle a sealed case containing 12 hand grenades. The terrorists coming on a deadly mission carrying their munitions in sealed cases does not comply the logic of terrorist attack. They did not even open them when they were fighting for 20 minutes in a losing battle makes the narration all the more unconvincing.

11. That the terrorists, reported to be 'fidayeen' who chose to travel on white ambassador car with red beacon atop, not knowing what is the official protocol but chose to wear PSI dress, does not comply with the statement of the CP that the terrorists were a trained fidayeens.

12. The reported information that the police recovered wet underwear and soaked bathing soap from the white ambassador car suggests that they could not have been 'terrorists' on a mission involving their very life.

13. The police declared them as 'Islamic' terrorist and Pak based 'fidayeens'. The stated seizure of a diary containing all their names and their own telephone numbers sounds farce. Usually we do not write our own telephone numbers in our dairy. Terrorists of deadly mission carrying a dairy with their own identities when they were on an attack, do not appeal common sense.

14. Even if the police had found a dairy belonging to the attackers, how did they decipher the code names and codified messages in so short a time that in less than 10 hours the CP could reveal their identity as 'Islamic' terrorist and 'fidayeens'? (the history of terrorist attack tells clearly that the terrorists do not carry written documents. If they have to write anything they choose to write in codes and false names.)

15. What authentication did the police possess to finally declare them as Muslims and bury them according to Islamic rituals? What was the hurry to bury the dead bodies of the terrorists without establishing their identity?

16. Few holes on the walls (opposite to Bharat Mahila Vidyalay) are, said by the CID official present at the site, as bullet marks. Two of the six marks found to be marks of bullets fired from right across, at 90 degrees. One bullet mark, as marked by the police on the Bharat Mahila Vidyalay wall too clearly indicates that the bullet was fired at 90 degrees. Were the police and their vehicle come side by side the terrorists? It was amusing, that the police officer present at the time of the team's visit to the spot, told that bullets fired by the policemen down the lane from behind the terrorist vehicle possibly took an aerial curve and hit the wall at 90 degree.

17. There is hardly any mark of terrorist bullets on the other side, except on the Police vehicle.

18. The blue Tata Sumo vehicle that was tailing behind the terrorist vehicle had six bullet marks. Two of them were at least apparently pistol bullet marks. The police report did not mention terrorists having used pistols. How did pistol bullet marks appear on the police vehicle?

19. The terrorists were reported to have fired from AK-M automatic guns. The bullet marks on the blue Tata Sumo of the police bear bullet marks that are all single shot marks. There is no series of bullet marks (which is expected if the opponents were using automatic guns) that raises the doubt over nature of the exchange of fire.

20. One bullet hole was found (in the police blue Tata Sumo vehicle) on the right side front door from inside. The point of hit was almost at the hip of the driver. Had the driver been on his seat he should have been hit. There was no such report. It is clear that the driver was not in the seat at the time of firing. We found bullet marks on the same police vehicle hit from three angles on the left side of the vehicle. Three bullets were 45 degrees from behind, two bullets 90 degrees on the left and one bullet 130 degree further that hit just below the front windshield. The question is, if the vehicle is not on the move during the attack, (as the bullet did not hit the driver), then how did the bullet mark appear from three angles? This question assumes significance as it was not possible for the terrorists to move to such wide range and fire from all three angles, for they were caught in their vehicle that was trapped in a narrow alley and they were immobilized.

21. Mr S P S Yadav, Commissioner of Police is reported to have said, "Looking at their preparation and determination to storm RSS HQ at any cost despite heavy police deployment, indicates that it was a 'fidayeen' attack." This conclusion of the CP amounts to be hasty in his decision; or the terrorists were in his hands prior to the encounter, for him to know about them in detail.

22. On the site of the encounter was parked a white Maruti Omni car at the premises of Mr Jopat, the compound wall being fenced by barbed wire. As the house is the first one in the lane (in front of which raised the barricade) and the attackers were inside the lane, if the police wanted to target the attackers, they should have gone some where behind this Maruti Omni car. When there was over 140 rounds of fire, there is not a single bullet mark on the vehicle.

This creates strong doubts over the nature of reported encounter.


The official version of events raises scores of doubts. The team wanted simple clarifications from the Commissioner of Police, Nagpur and approached him continuously for five days. That the CP persistently declined to meet the team and answer these simple queries, reveal his unwillingness / inability to face these fair queries.

It also suggests that he chose to hide certain facts. And this lead the team to question the veracity of the Commissioner of Police's narration of the encounter. The Cock and Bull story of the encounter thus compels the team to infer that the encounter appears to be fake and requires, in the interest of the nation, a fair probing.

The team therefore, calls upon the Central government to appoint a judicial enquiry committee headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court and probe the whole episode.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

RSS : World's largest terrorist Organization?

What makes one or an organization terrorist?

American Heritage Dictionary: The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

Does the Sanghparivar have any of these qualities in its work to make it not to declare a terrorist organization?

An American research centre has placed our ultra-nationalist Rashtrya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) on its terrorist list. The East Virginia-based Terrorism Research Center (TRC) is closely connected to the American government and many of its directors and researchers have closely worked with US administrations and have taken part in research and planning for the US administration.

In the list of ?? in India, the TRC has placed RSS under no. 21. Here is the link as it appeared on 9 September 2004 on the group?s website under the caption ?Known Terrorist Groups Operating in India?.


The RSS was founded in 1925 by the Maratha Brahmin Keshav Baliram Hegdewar o­n the Aryan Vaishnava Holy day of Vijaya Dashami (the 10th day of the moon) when the Aryan invader Rama destroyed the Dravidian Empire of Lanka [ Sangh ]. This was done to symbolise its inherent anti-Sudra nature. Its organisation is highly skewed, with the Sar Sangh Chalak (supreme dictator) at the top [ Roots ]. This person can o­nly be a Brahmin.

RSS militia is organised around local cells or `shakas' where weapons are distributed to its hardcore members, who are drilled in a vigorous program of harsh discipline. RSS converted hindu temples serve as repositories of weapons as well as centers of dissemination of its racist ideology of Aryan supremacy. RSS cadre graduate to the BJP.

VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad)

The council was established o­n August 29, 1964 in Bombay, Maharastra [ Biju ] with a political objective of establishing the supremacy of Hinduism all over the world. It obtains funds and recruits from Aryan Hindus all across the globe, especially from the US, UK and Canada and has grown to become the main fund-raising agency of Brahmanist Fundamentalism. The council was instrumental in the demolition of the holiest Islamic shrine in Oudh, the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya and has organised several massacres of Muslims and Christians. It is in the forefront in the call for a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu State ethnically cleansed of its non-Aryan populations.

Bajrang Dal ( Party of Monkey God called Hanuman.)

The militant wing of the VHP, it was formed "to counter `Sikh militancy' " during the Sikh Genocide of 1983-84 [ Bajrang ]. Created with the objective of the eradication of Sikhs which it has termed "Muslims in disguise", its cadres fought alongside Congress-backed Hindutva militias during the massacre of 200,000 Sikhs under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Recruits carry a " knife-like trident to be slung across the shoulder - an answer to the Sikh kirpan " [ Bajrang ]. later it has subsequently expanded its targets to include Muslims and Christians as well.


This front comprises students of Hindu religious schools (vidyalayas). It has expanded its base by infiltration into `secular' universities. Its higher-ranking cadres are well-equipped with weaponry; they often organise communal campus disturbances against Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. Most of its members graduate to become hardcore RSS and VHP militants.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sanitising RSS Supermo


by Subhash Gatade

RSS, the biggest 'cultural' organisation on the face of the earth (?) had five supremos or 'Sarsanghchalaks' since its inception. Starting from founder member Hedgewar and leading upto KS Sudarshan the present incumbent, the interregnum was filled by Golwalkar, Deoras and Rajendra Singh. If one takes a synoptic view of each of these periods then one can definitely discern the definitive impact each of them has had on the organisation.Of course none of them proved as controversial as the second incumbent namely Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar whose birth centenary is being celebrated by his followers this year.

Plans are afoot to have year-long activities which would begin from February 24 with a grand inaugural function in Nagpur. And the concluding ceremony of the celebration has been planned in New Delhi on February 18, 2007. A team of 122 members, belonging to different spheres of social life, besides 53 prominent saints and spiritual leaders of the country as patrons, has been constituted for the birth-centenary year celebrations.It has been decided to have 'social harmony' (samajik samrasta) as central theme of the year long celebrations during which Hindu rallies will be organised at the block level all over the country. ?Meetings of caste and religious leaders will also be held with the objective of promoting social harmony. Seminars, symposia, lectures, etc. will also be organised to propagate the ideas and vision of Shri Guruji?.(Organiser 29, 2006)

Reports coming in from MP tell us that a film on the life and times of Golwalkar is also under preparation which would be ready by the end of March. Recently a children's magazine coming out of the same state which has a vast network also published a special issue of the same which was released by vice president Shekhawat. Coming to Golwalkar, his biographers tell us that Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar got the alias Guruji for his brief stint in the zoology department of Banaras Hindu University in the early thirties as a teacher. We are also told that he was a latecomer to the RSS, as he was more keen to undertake a spiritual journey via the Ramakrishna Mission. Despite his late entry to the organisation, he earned the confidence of the founder-member Hedgewar in a very short time supposedly because of his brilliance and sharpness of logic. It was logical that when the supremo breathed his last, he left a note asking his followers to make him the next Supremo.(1940)

Golwalkar carried on with this responsibilities for a span of 33 years till his death, a period which saw lot of turmoil within the organisation and also witnessed a consolidation and expansion of the same via a network of organisations. Insiders to the organisation as well as many external watchers agree to the fact that he could be considered the key figure who provided a theoretical background to the project of Hindutva and laid down the seeds of the vast organisational network. As of now the plethora of anushangik ( affiliated) organisations which owe allegiance to the ideology of Hindutva would run in hundreds, each catering to a section of society. Scholars as well as activists, who may posit themselves diametrically opposite vis-a-vis the weltanshauung of this Hindu Supremacist organisation , also need to study in detail the way an organisation which was on the margins of Indian society for a long time could reach the centrestage of Indian politics. One still remembers how RSS people were made a butt of jokes in popular culture in Maharashtra especially --Marathi dramas in late sixties-early seventies ? mainly because of their remaining limited to Brahmins or their insistence on mechanical style discipline. It is true that this era in RSS history it is long passe.

Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar spanned a period in world history which could be said to be unique in many ways. It was a period when Nazism-Fascism was ready to swamp the whole of Western Europe, a period when national liberation struggles in many of the third world countries were near culmination and the great experiments of Socialist construction undertaken in Soviet Russia coupled with the rising tide of communist led militant movements were proving to be a defining characteristics of the era.
Retrospectively one can say that it was such a juncture in world history when the old world of feudalism, colonialism, was crumbling down and a new world was emerging. And it would not be incorrect to state that due to his peculiar weltanshauung which yearned for building a Hindu Rashtra based on the ?glorious traditions of Hinduism? and which looked towards Muslims as bigger adversary vis-a-vis British colonialism and which sought inspiration from the experiments in ? social engineering? undertaken by Nazism-Fascism, he completely failed to have a pulse on the march of history. In fact due to his intransigence he not only kept himself personally aloof from the surging anti-colonial struggle but also did not chalk out any positive programme for his organisation to participate in it.

As already mentioned the first of his theoretical contributions for the cause of Hindutva appeared in the form of a pamphlette called ?We or Our Nationhood Defined? ( 1938). It was so straightforward in its appreciation of the ?ethnic cleansing? of Jews undertaken by Hitler and such an unashamed proponent of the submergence of ?foreign races? in the Hindu race that later day RSS leaders have tried to create an impression that the said book was not written by Golwalkar but it was merely a translation of a book ? Rashtra Meemansa? by Babarao Savarkar. It is a different matter that in his Preface to We or Our Nationhood Defined dated March 22, 1939, Golwalkar himself described Rashtra Meemansa as one of my chief sources of inspiration and help. The American scholar Jean A. Curran who did a full length study on RSS in early fifties, in his sympathetic book, Militant Hinduism in Indian Politics: A Study of the RSS (1951) confirms that Golwalkar?s 77-page book was written in 1938 when he was appointed RSS General Secretary by Hedgewar and he calls it as RSS Bible --- A. G. Noorani in his famous book ' The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labour, {Pgs. 18-39} Leftword Books) also tells us that :Rajendra Singh and Bhaurao Deoras made an authoritative statement on that book in Para 10 of their 1978 application:?With a view to give a scientific base to propagate the idea India being (sic) historically from time immemorial a Hindu Nation, late Shri M.S. Golwalkar had written a book entitled, We or Our Nationhood Defined In Para 7 they ?placed on record? his book Bunch of Thoughts (1966) in order to clarify and understand the true purpose, the exact nature, the ambit and scope of the RSS work and its activities A quote from the 77 paged book would be opportune at this moment.

?The foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen?s rights. There is, at least, should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation; let us deal, as old nations ought to and do deal, with the foreign races, who have chosen to live in our country?.( Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined)

A third arena where Golwalkar proved much behind his times was his love for Manusmriti?s edicts. When leaders of newly independent India were struggling to have a constitution which was premised on the inviolability of individual rights with special provisions of positive discrimination for millions of Indians who had been denied any human rights quoting religious scriptures, it was Golwalkar again who espoused the same Manusmriti as independent India?s constitution.-'Organiser' (November 30, 1949, p.3) the organ of RSS complained :But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu's laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.?

When attempts were made under the stewardship of Ambedkar and Nehru in late fourties to give limited rights to Hindu women in property and inheritance through the passage of the Hindu Code Bill , Golwalkar and his associates had no qualms in launching a movement opposing this historic empowerment of hindu women which was to take place for the first time in history. Their contention was simple : This step is inimical to Hindu traditions and culture.

One can go on enumerating instances to communicate the ideological limitations of the Golwalkarian project which acted as a hindrance to the building of modern India. It is clear to any impartial observer that, the way he tried to divide a wedge between the broad unity of the Indian people on the basis of religion , the way he lauded experiments in ethnic cleansing in Western Europe and the way he glorified Manusmriti till the end of his lfe, demonstrate that his project was essentially inimical to the cause of social harmony.
It is a different matter that despite espousing a sectarian agenda the Golwalkarian project of remaking of Indian society continued to move ahead albeit slowly. The 'success' of the Golwalkarian project in winning over a chunk of our society to its side definitely demands a separate treatment which is beyond the purview of this short note.

For the followers of Golwalkar the birth anniversary of one of their Pratasmaraniya ( worth remembering in the morning) icons has also been an occasion to revisit that period during which the second supremo held sway. And surprisingly they are not finding themselves much comfortable with it for various reasons. It is evident in the way in which on the one hand they are lauding him for his 'contributions' but are also simultaneously engaged in surreptiously sanitising him and presenting him before the guillible public under a more acceptable, humane face.
Of course not that they have second thoughts about the vision espoused by him, rather they have continued to show their adherence to it by organising the 'successful experiment' in Gujarat in 2002. The only problem they have is the presentation of the vision. Looking at his controversial pronouncements from time to time on various issues of social-political concern and his transcending the 'calculated ambiguity' on many a occasions which is a hallmark of the organisation which he built, it is not surprising that he has always come under barrage of attack from all those people/groups/organisations who differed with the weltanshaaung of the RSS or who opposed the project of Hindutva on various grounds.

The feverish and foolish attempts undertaken by the Swayamsevaks to show that Golwalkar was not the author but basically the translator of the controversial book , the way in which they are engaged in presenting concocted proofs to show that they did participate in the independence movement ( while their very own Golwalkar Guruji had the audacity to make a fun of the tremendous sacrifices made by the people in the anti colonial struggle) or the way they have dedicated the year long celebrations in his honour to the cause of 'social harmony' all goes to show their keenness to present the Second Supremo in a Sanitised form.

It was Ben Johnston, who divides history into three categories Remembered history, recovered history and inverted history. Independent analysts have produced tonnes of literature to prove how the loyal soldiers of the Guruji were engaged in 'inverting history' during their six year tenure at the centre. Of course nobody could have had the premonition then that a day would come when they would unashamedly 'invert their own history'. The way we are being presented with a repackaged Golwalkar just goes to show that their 'mission rewriting history' is really endless!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

India: A Democracy is Near Collapse in to Religious Terror : Martha Nussbaum

While Americans have been focused on the war on terror, Iraq, and the future of democracy in the Middle East, democracy has been under siege in another part of the world. India -- the most populous of all democracies, and a country whose Constitution protects human rights even more comprehensively than our own -- has been in crisis. Until the spring of 2004, its parliamentary government was increasingly controlled by right-wing Hindu extremists who condone and in some cases actively support violence against minorities, especially the Muslim minority. Many seek a fundamental change in India's pluralistic democracy. Despite their recent electoral loss, these political groups and the social organizations allied with them remain extremely powerful. The political future is unclear.

What has been happening in India is a serious threat to the future of democracy in the world. The fact that it has yet to make it onto the radar screen of most Americans is evidence of the way in which terrorism and the war on Iraq have distracted Americans from events and issues of fundamental significance. If we really want to understand the impact of religious nationalism on democratic values, India currently provides a deeply troubling example, and one without which any understanding of the more general phenomenon is dangerously incomplete. In order to understand the situation, in turn, we need to turn to a set of events that show more clearly than any others how far the ideals of respectful pluralism and the rule of law have been undermined by religious ideology. These events are a terrible instance of genocidal violence; but they are more than that. The deeper problem they reveal is that of violence aided and abetted by the highest levels of government and law enforcement, of a virtual announcement to minority citizens that they are unequal before the law and that their lives are not worth the protection of law enforcement.

The focal point of the recent controversy over religion and democracy in India is a set of religious riots that took place in the state of Gujarat in Western India in February/March 2002. The precipitating event was an incident near the station of Godhra, in which one car of a train of Hindu pilgrims erupted into flames, killing fifty-eight men, women, and children, almost all Hindus. The fire was immediately blamed on local Muslims living near the tracks. (As we shall see, forensic reconstruction has cast grave doubt on this allegation.)

In the days that followed, wave upon wave of violence swept through the state. The attackers were Hindus, many of them highly politicized, shouting Hindu-right slogans, such as "Hail Ram" (a religious invocation wrenched from its original devotional and peaceful meaning) and "Hail Hanuman" (a monkey god portrayed by the right as aggressive), along with "Kill, Destroy!" "Slaughter!" There is copious evidence that the violent retaliation was planned by Hindu extremist organizations before the precipitating event. No one was spared: young children were burned along with their families, women were raped, mutilated, and then set on fire. Over the course of several weeks, approximately two thousand Muslims were killed. Approximately half of the dead were women, many of whom were raped and tortured before being killed and burned. Children were killed with their parents; fetuses were ripped from the bellies of pregnant women to be tossed into the fire.

Most alarming was the total breakdown in the rule of law -- not only at the local level but also at that of state and national government. Police were ordered not to stop the violence. Some egged it on. Gujarat?s chief minister, Narendra Modi, rationalized and even encouraged the murders. Meanwhile, the national government showed a culpable indifference, suggesting that religious riots were inevitable wherever Muslims live alongside Hindus, and that troublemaking Muslims must have been to blame. Leading politicians conveyed the message that government would treat the nation's citizens unequally: some would receive the full protection of the law, and others would not. Prosecutions resulting from the riots have faced related problems: the bias of local judges, the intimidation and bribery of witnesses.

Gujarat provides a vivid example of the bad things that can occur when a leading political party bases its appeal on a religious nationalism wedded to ideas of ethnic homogeneity and purity. We need to understand this example in order to begin forming an adequate conception of the problem of religious nationalism in today?s world. But Gujarat also shows us something else: the resilience of pluralistic democracy, the ability of well-informed voters to turn against religious nationalism and to rally behind the values of pluralism and equality. In May 2004, the voters of India went to the polls in large numbers. Contrary to all expectations and all polls, they gave the Hindu right a resounding defeat. Because even exit polls, taken in cities and towns, did not predict the result, it is clear that impoverished rural voters played a major role in giving India a new government.

Some of the issues that led to the rejection of the right were economic rather than religious. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of the Hindu right) had used the campaign slogan "India Shining," emphasizing economic gains through foreign investment in the cities. But the rural poor had seen few benefits from globalization, and their lives were not particularly shining. Many rural areas have no safe water supply, no reliable electricity, no public transportation, and no schools. (The literacy rate is around 60 percent for the nation as a whole; this average conceals large rural/urban and regional differences, and also differences by sex, since the female literacy rate is no higher than 50 percent.) Voters living in such inadequate conditions reacted angrily to the claim that India was doing splendidly, a claim that excluded them and denigrated their struggles.

The state of the economy, however, was not the only major electoral issue. Prominent as well was a widespread popular rejection of religious extremism. The Congress Party, which won, had drawn attention to religious tensions throughout the campaign, and had strongly repudiated the BJP?s idea of India as a nation for Hindus first and foremost. Both party leader Sonia Gandhi and the new prime minister, economist Manmohan Singh, insisted throughout the campaign that India is a nation built upon equal respect for all religious groups and all citizens. In his first speech as prime minister Singh drew attention to this issue: "I do not want to begin my career by accusing the previous government," he said. "But divisive forces were allowed a free play, which I believe is extremely injurious to orderly development . . . We as a nation must have a firm determination that these things should never happen." Singh, a Sikh, is India?s first prime minister to come from a religious minority.

Over the next few days, I want to blog about this story '- a story of democracy' s near-collapse into religious terror and of democracy's survival (at least for the time being) -- a story that has important lessons to offer to all nations struggling with problems of religious extremism. The posts are all drawn from a book manuscript I am now finishing up. When I began to write that book, the story seemed almost unrelievedly grim. As my posts here will reveal, however, now it is a different story: of what can go right as well as what can go wrong, of what preserves democracy as well as what threatens it. From this story we Americans can learn a good deal about democracy and its future as we try to act responsibly in a dangerous world.

India's story is of intrinsic interest and importance. By following the story of Gujarat, Americans can begin to understand better than most currently do the political and religious dynamics of the world's most populous democracy, a nuclear power, and a nation that will play an increasingly large role on the world stage. India is typically not well covered by the U. S. media or by education in U. S. schools and colleges. Indian scholars who have written extremely well about their own situation, in books and articles and in a national press that is admirable for its quality and its openness, have little name-recognition in the U. S. and are rarely read. During the ascendancy of the Hindu right, when intelligent diplomatic pressure could have achieved change, U. S. foreign policy was largely indifferent to internal tensions in India, focusing only on the threat of nuclear conflict with Pakistan. American ignorance of India's history and current situation was largely to blame for such omissions. Americans typically follow events in the Middle East rather closely. If one wants to know about Israeli-Palestinian relations, for example, ample material for such an understanding is readily available from daily newspapers, television, and the internet. India is simply not as "present" to the American mind, because it is not as present in the American media. Thus India's own struggle with religious extremism is little known, and the lessons it can teach us are little appreciated.

I decided to write on this subject primarily in order to correct this imbalance. In the spring of 2003, I was invited to present a paper on a panel at the American Philosophical Association entitled "Philosophical Perspectives on the Israel-Palestine Conflict." That topic interested me, but I also knew that there were many fine philosophers who could speak on it, and that most people in the audience would be tolerably well informed about the issues. So I asked whether, instead, I might offer a comparative paper on Gujarat and Hindu-Muslim tensions in India. The offer was accepted. I wrote the paper, which was ultimately published as an article in Dissent ("Genocide in Gujarat," Dissent 61-9 (Summer 2003)). Another related article, on the rapes of women in Gujarat, was published in The Boston Review. ("Body of the Nation: Why Women Were Mutilated in Gujarat," The Boston Review 29 (2004), 33-38). The aim of both of these articles was not to say anything terribly surprising: public intellectuals, politicians, and activists in India had been analyzing the story of Gujarat often and well for some time. It was, however, to make Americans aware of the events, and of the work that had already been done on them.

People in the U. S. who read these articles often said to me things like, "That is really bad. I didn't know that was happening." It would have been possible for them to know what was happening, had they tried to read Indian newspapers online or bought books available only in India. But of course people don't do that unless they have some antecedent connection with the country. U. S. media were not making the information available to people who did not make that sort of unusual effort. So I began to think that it might be valuable for me to write a book on the subject of Gujarat and the Hindu right in India for the American public. The events of Gujarat were not inevitable. They were aided by the silence of the world. With these posts and my future book on this subject, I aim to break that silence. Intelligent action from the world community is important in sustaining recent good developments and in preventing a recurrence of genocidal violence.

My determination to write about Gujarat was increased when I encountered another kind of reaction. If I said to friends that I was writing on "religious tensions in India," a surprising number of highly intelligent people, some of them leading academics, said to me things like, "What's happening? Are the Muslims stirring up trouble again?" And of course that is precisely what the Hindu right wants people to think: Muslims are troublemakers wherever they are, and if there is trouble it is very likely to have been caused by them. The Hindu right seeks to exploit for its own purposes thoughts that come all too easily to many Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. Leading members of the Hindu right whom I have interviewed assume that as an American I am a potential sympathizer, since they assume that I already believe that Muslims are troublemakers. When people I admire repeatedly fell into this inaccurate and crude way of perceiving the Indian situation, I began to feel that it was urgent that the real story be told, so that our relations to this important nation would not be guided by stereotypes and misleading anti-Muslim propaganda.

I write not only to present a case study in the threat to democracy from religious tension, not only to engage Americans in an informed dialogue about India, but also to defuse the inaccurate and unhelpful assumption that Islam is a global monolith bent on violence. When people talk of the 'clash of civilizations,' or opine that Islam is not compatible with democracy, I find that (quite apart from their omission of Turkey and Lebanon) they typically know little about South Asia. ('South Asia' is the term usually used to refer to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and sometimes Indonesia and Malaysia; it is distinct from 'Southeast Asia,' the term that refers to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, etc. One sign of this general ignorance: My c.v. mentions that I am a member of my university's Committee on Southern Asian Studies. When I am introduced for lectures, it is very common that the introducer changes this to 'Southeast Asian Studies,' as if it was always fine to substitute a familiar term for an unfamiliar one.) Few know, for example, that Bangladesh is a thriving, if poor, Muslim-majority democracy (about 85% Muslim), with democratic self-government, two energetic women who lead the two major parties, a strongly pro-woman official policy, and a constitution that protects fundamental rights very strongly, similar to India's constitution. Its national anthem, 'Amar Sonar Bangla' ('My Golden Bengal') is a song written by Hindu Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. As Amartya Sen says, 'This must be very confusing to those who see the contemporary world as a 'clash of civilizations' ' with 'the Muslim civilization,' 'the Hindu civilization,' and 'the Western civilization,'' each forcefully confronting the others.? (Amartya Sen, 'Tagore and His India,' The New York Review of Books June 26, 1997, 55-63.)

Few know that the Muslims of Bangladesh and the 12% or so of India?s citizens who are Muslims have virtually no ties to international Islamic radicalism or to terrorist organizations, relatively few political or organizational ties even to Pakistan. (The struggle over Kashmir is an exception, but it is not related to the events that are my focus.) India is the third largest Muslim country n the world, with more Muslims than Bangladesh and nearly as many as Pakistan. Muslims in India are by and large a hard-working impoverished minority, who have lived alongside Hindus for centuries and who today strongly support and participate in democratic self-governance at all levels. A recent study has also shown that they strongly support education for girls (more strongly on the whole than the Hindu population). (Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon, Unequal Citizens: Muslim Women in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004)). Islamic fundamentalism has no grip in India, despite discrimination and even persecution; it is to be hoped that, despite events like Gujarat, this good record will continue. The wise decision to include Muslims in prominent positions in the new government is a hopeful sign for the future. (For example, Muslim feminist Syeda Hameed, whose organization first took down testimony of women raped in Gujarat, currently holds a seat on the Planning Commission; Muslim political scientist Zoya Hasan has been put in charge of the rewriting of school textbooks to remove errors introduced by Hindu extremists eager to portray all of India?s suffering as caused by Muslims.)

In the case of India, the threat to democracy comes not at all from Muslims, or any ?clash? between European and non-European civilizations, but from something much more sadly familiar: from a romantic European conception of nationalism, based on ideas of blood, soil, purity, and the Volksgeist. The founders of the Hindu right in the 1920?s and 1930' s were enamored of European romantic models of nationhood. They greatly admired the early fascist versions of these ideas that they found in both Italy and Germany. They made these ideas popular in India, and worked hard to make them take root, through highly effective grassroots organization prominently featuring programs for young boys. Their ideas were appealing in India for some of the same reasons they were so appealing in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's: because people who see themselves as having been humiliated and emasculated by conquest easily turn to thoughts of purity and a cleansing by violence to wipe away the stain. Hindus in India have internalized a historical narrative according to which they are a pure and peaceful civilization who have been conquered again and again: in the Middle Ages by Muslim invaders, in recent times by the British.

This narrative is simple, but it certainly contains some truth. The painful experience of colonial subjugation, together with the racism that accompanied it, left many Hindus in India vulnerable to a simplification of truth and to the refuge offered by romantic/fascist European ideas of blood and purity. Instead of looking at a 'clash of civilizations' here, Europeans and Americans, looking at India, should see the reflected face of their own ugly history, made the more malign by the anger that accompanies the repudiation of longstanding colonial domination. The appeal of these ideas was enhanced by the failure of liberal/pluralist leaders, after the deaths of Tagore and Gandhi, to mount an effective program of grassroots mobilization that would link the intense emotions of religion and patriotism to a program of cooperation and mutual respect.

A further reason for writing these posts and my book, then, is to argue for the need for more complicated and individualized models of religious violence. When we are dealing with a complex and variegated world, simplistic thesis such as the 'clash of civilizations' idea are not at all helpful. What we call 'Western civilization' contains many incompatible ingredients, as we easily see if we survey the history of the twentieth century, with its aspiration to universal human rights and its descent into horrific cruelty. (When asked by a British journalist what he thought of 'Western civilization,' Gandhi said, 'I think it would be a very good idea.') Even the normative ideas embedded in 'Western civilization' are highly heterogeneous; they include liberalism, fascism, Marxism, various different religious conceptions, and many others.

The category 'non-Western' is still less helpful; I am inclined to think it an utterly useless category. The nations of Asia and Africa have little in common with one another as a group. They do not share a common history or common political, philosophical, or religious values. All, moreover, are internally heterogeneous, containing religious plurality and other struggles, for example struggles for women?s equality or the equality of other marginalized groups. To the extent that some religions appear in various parts of Asia and Africa, these diffused religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam) also turn up in the 'West', as, of course, do the Western ideas of Marxism, which have had enormous influence on the history of Asia and Africa. Speaking in terms of 'West' and 'non-West' often leads to crude errors: we forget that modern mathematics, which played a key role in the European Enlightenment, had its origins in Arab culture; we forget that Christianity had its origins in a part of the world that nowadays is treated as 'non-Western.' We forget that the roots of ideas of human equality, democracy, and human rights existed in many different cultures and that their full development in 'our own' is a very recent matter. We forget that ideas of religious toleration and equal respect were well known in India by the time of Ashoka's empire, in the second century B. C., a very long time before they were known in Europe. (Ashoka, a convert to Buddhism from Hinduism, wrote eloquently of the important of respect between the different religions; he said that by denigrating another person?s religion a person degrades his own.)

Thinking in terms of a 'clash of civilizations' also leads us to ignore the interpenetration and mutual influence among cultures that has been a fact of human life throughout history, wherever human beings encounter one another. We give ourselves credit for ideas of human rights and human equality, ignoring the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr., deliberately modeled the civil rights movement on Gandhi?s ideas. (Gandhi, in turn, he tells us, profited from the influences of Ruskin and Tolstoy.) We think of progressive education as a native American plant, forgetting that John Dewey?s experiments in progressive education were in conversation with the reforms of Friedrich Froebel in Germany (the founder of the 'kindergarten') and the more comprehensive reforms of Tagore in India.

In talking about India it is not enough to avoid the misleading West/non-West dichotomy. It is also important not to employ a simple model of a single 'civilization', ignoring both internal diversity and cultural borrowing. There is probably no nation more internally diverse than India: seventeen official languages, over three hundred languages that are actually spoken, major religious groups including Hindus (with many different regional cults), Muslims, Christians (Protestant and Catholic, and each of these stemming from several different European origins), Parsis, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, a small number of Jews. Regional differences are immense; some regions, especially in the South, had for centuries more interaction with other parts of South and Southeast Asia (and with Europe) than with the rest of what is now called India.

It is also futile, and usually not terribly important, to separate the British elements of ?Indian culture? from the rest of what is Indian. By now India has creatively appropriated the colonial culture and intertwined it with its own traditions. Indian English is different from British and American English ' still fully intelligible, but a distinct dialect. It would make no sense at this point (although elements of the Hindu right disagree) to displace English on the grounds of its colonial origin. It is a lingua franca in a nation of linguistic and cultural differences, and Indian English is a wonderfully rich, supple, and expressive literary, legal, and political language. Nobody could read an Indian novel in English, or an Indian Supreme Court opinion, and deny that Indians have made this instrument their own in ways that give reason for pride, not shame and repudiation. The British were appalling tyrants, exploiters, and racists. But their culture is now part of Indian culture for better or for worse ' and often for better on both sides, in the sense that independent India has greatly improved many of the elements (legal, literary, and artistic) that it has borrowed.

Anyone who wants to understand today's India needs to approach the nation with open eyes and curiosity, looking to see the variety that is there, rather than to judge prematurely that a given custom or idea is the 'real' India and another one less 'authentic.' Such artificial ideas of purity and authenticity are not only misleading, they are also the very ideas that have been exploited politically by the Hindu right in trying to cast non-Hindus as alien polluters of the national fabric. They know that they find a receptive audience in America, since Americans (in addition to their widespread suspiciousness about Muslims) are currently very guilty about the legacy of colonialism, and thus all too inclined to accept the fiction of a pure unsullied 'other' that was polluted by external forces. Usually such fictions mask a history that was always divided, contentious, and heterogeneous. Many of the painful struggles over the teaching of history in today's India concern just such soothing but deeply misleading fictions of the past. One cannot understand the current political debate if one begins from the position of romantic nationalism that the Hindu right has expended so much energy in marketing.

So: the story of Gujarat, in addition to its intrinsic interest and its lessons for the future of democracy, offers a lesson in the complexity of cultures, the danger of simple categories, and the importance of a nuanced understanding of internal diversity and cross-cultural similarity if we are to make any progress in understanding this complex and threatening world. When a respected editor states that the main job of liberals in this era is to counteract the influence of Islamic totalitarianism (See Peter Beinert, 'An Argument for a New Liberalism: A Fighting Faith,' The New Republic, December 13, 2004), I feel alarmed. For it seems to me very clear that our task must be first of all to understand the complexities of the world in which we live, and this complex understanding is menaced by the idea of an Islamic extremist monolith, just as it is by all seductively simple ideas. No, the job of concerned citizens in this era is to resist cruelty, inequality, and genocidal violence, whoever the perpetrators are, to recognize that the perpetrators are varied, and that some of them are Euro-Americans and their imitators. The story of Gujarat is helpful to good thinking, then, precisely because the perpetrators are not Muslims, because they exploit widespread fears of Muslims, and because they are indeed ?us,? that is, European-influenced thinkers who have twisted the Hindu tradition into a near-unrecognizable form. (For what person who loves stories of the sensuous music-loving Krishna, the playful candy-loving Ganesha, and the loyal yet gentle Hanuman would not be deeply grieved to encounter their unfamiliar Hitlerian face in the propaganda of the Hindu right, as Hanuman becomes a ferocious killer of Muslims, as Ganesha becomes a warrior with rippling muscles and a sword held on high?)

Even before the crisis of 2002, religious tensions were increasingly defining lives in many regions of India. Poor women in Gujarat would talk about how they sought to work together for women's human rights, but were increasingly driven apart by community organizers who foment hatred, making it difficult for Hindu women to live and work alongside Muslim women. Female students in Lucknow, once a home of Hindu-Muslim cooperation and amity, would speak of the daily threat of physical violence from organized brigades of Hindu-right students, who menace them with bodily abuse if they wear blue jeans, or celebrate Valentine's Day or birthdays (customs deemed unacceptably Western). New textbooks commissioned by the BJP's minister of education, Murli Manohar Joshi, were beginning to teach young children habits of intolerance and suspicion. ('Kabeer is a nice boy,' one first-grade reader goes, 'even though he is a Muslim.') In the universities, all public and therefore vulnerable to political pressure, academics reacted with alarm to assaults on their freedom to speak and publish the truth about both history and current events. Academic friends of long standing told me of threatening phone calls in the night, of efforts to deprive them of prestigious fellowships.

One should not exaggerate these threats: Indian universities remained strong bastions of academic freedom even during the ascendancy of the BJP, and the national press is, it seems to me, more free in some crucial respects than our national media in the U. S., in the sense that the leading newspapers are more diversely and independently owned, less vulnerable to economic pressures that lead to a degeneration of journalistic quality. The level of debate and reporting in the major newspapers and at least some of the television networks is impressively high. A particularly striking feature of Indian media is their openness to the ideas of intellectuals: any academic who wants to get involved in a national debate can do so, as is certainly not the case in the United States. Nonetheless, there was, and still is, much that saddens, and an atmosphere of anti-Muslim feeling that is deeply alarming.

Consider the movie Dev, a popular 'Bollywood' film released in 2004, starring the great actor Amitabh Bachchan and directed by admired independent filmmaker Govind Nihalani. This film, loosely based on the events of Gujarat, features Bachchan as the "good cop" Dev, who resents being told to sit on his hands by his corrupt superior Tej (played by another great actor, Om Puri), while thousands of innocent Muslims are dying. The underlying message of the film is that ordinary people want peace and harmony; religious animosity is whipped up by politicians for the sake of power, and it is bad for everyone. Hindus and Muslims can live in amity, if only politicians stop trying to use them for their own gain. The movie ends with the suicide of the corrupt cop, who can no longer live with himself after his righteous friend's defection and death, and with the adoption of a young Muslim lawyer into the good cop's family, as a surrogate son. And yet, Dev had a funny way of showing its good intentions. But the script seemed to me to make far too many concessions to current Hindu-right propaganda: it showed Muslims as having active and large scale terrorist organizations (for which there is no evidence, although there are some small terrorist groups focused on the Kashmir question), and it indicated that Hindus have no such organizations (for the existence of which there is large-scale and indisputable evidence). Nonetheless, when I watched this film in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, right where the massacre occurred, and two years later, the mood of the audience was staunchly anti-Muslim. (Although the film, in Hindi, was shown with Gujarati rather than English subtitles, my research assistant, fluent in both Hindi and Gujarati, whispered translations in my ear. The outstanding acting, together with the broad style of Bollywood, made the story easy to follow.) People kept cheering on the bad cop, and jeering at the young Muslim hero. So, election or no election, the atmosphere is very brittle, and the Hindu right has not by any means disappeared from power, or from its seat in many people?s hearts.

One way of understanding the choices before India today is to think of the nation's choice of national anthems. At the time of Independence, and ever since, two different poems have been competing for this coveted spot. The losing candidate in 1947, now vociferously championed, once again, by the Hindu Right, is a song known as 'Bande Mataram,' 'Hail Motherland,' written by the Bengali novelist Bankimchandra Chatterjee. Chatterjee himself was a complex figure, and he may or may not be endorsing the sentiments of his song, which occurred in one of his novels. But the song, quickly taken up by the nationalist movement of the early twentieth century, portrays Indian identity in a manner strongly influenced by Western romantic European patriotism, as a matter of adoring the motherland, and being prepared to shed one's blood in her cause:

Mother, I bow to thee!
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
Bright with thy orchard gleams,
Cool with thy winds of delight,
Dark fields waving, Mother of might,
Mother free.
Glory of moonlight dreams
Over thy branches and lordly streams,
Clad in thy blossoming tress,
Mother, giver of ease.
Laughing low and sweet!
Mother, I kiss thy feet,
Speaker sweet and low!
Mother, to thee I bow.

Who hath said thou are weak in thy lands,
When the swords flash out in twice seventy million hands
And seventy millions voices roar
Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?
With many strengths who are mighty and stored,
To thee I call, Mother and Lord!
Thou who savest, arise and save!
To her I cry who ever her foemen drave
Back from plain and sea
And shook herself free.
Thou art wisdom, thou art law,
Thou our heart, our soul, our breath,
Thou the love divine, the awe
In our hearts that conquers death.
Thine the strength that nerves the arm
Thine the beauty, thine the charm.
Every image made divine
In our temples is but thine.

Thou are Durga, Lady and queen,
With her hands that strike and her swords of sheen,
Thou are Lakshmi Lotus-throned,
Pure and perfect without peer,
Mother, lend thine ear.
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
Bright with thy orchard gleams,
Dark of hue, O candid-fair
In thy soul, with jeweled hair
And thy glorious smile divine,
Loveliest of all earthly lands,
Showering wealth from well-stored hand!
Mother, mother mine!
Mother sweet, I bow to thee,
Mother great and free.

(Translated from the Bengali by the philosopher Sri Aurobindo, and on file in the the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, available on-line.) Bande Mataram contains some beautiful imagery, and one can understand why it captivated readers, then and later. There are, however, some aspects of Chatterjee's vision of the nation that disturbed early proponents of Indian independence and that still disturb its democratic citizens now: the song' s insistence that the motherland is an object of slavish and uncritical devotion, its extremely militaristic and potentially violent conception of that devotion, its idea of the unity of India and Indians as depending on a blood tie to a mother, an idea that seems at least potentially exclusionary. In Rabindranath Tagore's 1914 novel The Home and the World (to be discussed in chapter 3), the young wife Bimala, excited by the fervor of the nationalists and their charismatic leader Sandip, criticizes her husband for his lack of enthusiasm for the Chatterjee song, and he responds to her. She recalls this conversation later, after her husband?s tragic death:

And yet it was not that my husband refused to support Swadeshi [the boycott of foreign goods], or was in any way against the Cause. Only he had not been able whole-heartedly to accept the spirit of Bande Mataram.

"I am willing," he said, "to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it."

The husband' s discussions with Sandip make it clear that the spirit of Bande Mataram is indeed exclusionary: Muslims will not be equal citizens in Sandip's projected nation. The husband prefers a more inclusive and universalistic conception of Indian unity. Similar sentiments are expressed by the song's critics now, when the question of the national anthem is, as often, debated. The song's supporters argue that the nation needs an image of military strength and aggression, and that a deep religious devotion to the motherland is the right way to cement the unity of a people.

The current national anthem of India, adopted on January 24, 1950, is a song whose words and music were both written by Tagore. As one of the earliest critics of Bande Mataram, he deliberately constructed an alternative vision of national unity and national devotion (although of course, writing long before Independence, he did not write the song as the future national anthem). Known as 'Jana Gana Mana,' the song, in English translation, goes like this:

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India?s destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of the Punjab,
Sindhu, Gujarat, and Maratha.
Of the Dravid, and Orissa and Bengal.
It echoes in the hills of Vindhyas and Himalayas, mingles in the music of the
Jamuna and Ganga and is chanted by
The waves of the Indian sea.
They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise,
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
Thou dispenser of India?s destiny.
Victory, victory, victory to thee.

The song was written in 1911, and was first sung at a meeting of the all-India Congress (the movement that later became the leader of the Independence movement and, eventually, the leading political party). Opponents of the song repeatedly charge that it was written for a visit by King George V, and that the addressee of the song is the British king. There is, however, no foundation at all for this supposition. Tagore made it clear that the address of the poem was the divine spirit of righteousness, understood in his own eclectic universalist way (in keeping with his humanist 'religion of Man'). He actively denied that the song was written to honor the King, and his later actions, returning his knighthood after the British murdered innocent civilians at Amritsar in 1919, show that he was no uncritical admirer of the monarchy. More important, his contemporaneous critique of Chatterjee in his novel shows that he repudiated all adoration directed at the nation itself or its human representatives. Only the universal spirit of morality deserves our worship.

The song, then, is addressed to the divine, understood as a universal human spirit of morality and justice. This spirit rules 'all people' everywhere in the world, and it is also 'dispenser of India's destiny.' Tagore makes it plain that this spirit animates the emotions of people in all of India's diverse ethnic and geographical regions: all are equally animated by the love of rightness and justice, and parts of the nation are equally under this spirit?s care. (Some of these regions, at the time, were predominantly Muslim and some Hindu, some inhabited by Tamil/Dravidian people and some by speakers of languages descended from Sanskrit. Tagore pointedly includes them all.) There is no mention of military force or violence; instead, the ?dispenser of India?s destiny? is the moral law, and it is the victory of justice for which Indians ask when they sing it.

It is rare that a nation has a national anthem that expresses the idea that humanity is above nationality, and righteousness above aggression. But the idea of a moral law that unswervingly guides our destiny is deeply rooted in Indian traditions, more deeply perhaps than it is in Euro-American traditions, where such ideas are associated with a critical and counter-traditional Enlightenment intelligentsia rather than with traditional religion. Indians connect these ideas to many sources, but prominently to the concept of dharma, or right, in ancient Hindu texts. Tagore's take on the traditional concept is humanist and critical, but it also resonates with much that already animates India's traditional sense of its unity; no doubt this is why has been able to win wide acceptance.

'Jana Gana Mana' is no pallid Kantian fantasy of what a rational national anthem should be. It is a beautiful song, beautiful in both its poetry and its music, and it is sung with great passion by Indians all over the nation (and abroad). They resonate not only to its invocation of the natural beauty of the nation and its rich regional and ethnic diversity, but also to the idea that there is a spirit of right that rises above wrong and injustice, a very important thought for a formerly colonized people. The hero in Tagore's novel did not know how to use poetry to express his humanist vision; that was his great weakness. But Tagore himself, like Walt Whitman, did know how to create a public poetry of inclusiveness and moral commitment.

It is not surprising, however, that a certain type of nationalist would not be satisfied. Supporters of a more aggressive nationalism keep returning to Chatterjee for a more tough-mindedly 'masculine' conception of the nation and its pride. We might say that the struggle to be depicted in these posts and my book is just this struggle: between two visions of patriotism, two visions of the nation, two visions of masculinity.

Martha Nussbaum received her B.A. from NYU and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. She has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford Universities. From 1986 to 1993, Ms. Nussbaum was a research advisor at the World Institute for Development Economics Research, Helsinki, a part of the United Nations University. She has chaired the Committee on International Cooperation and the Committee on the Status of Women of the American Philosophical Association, and currently chairs its new Committee for Public Philosophy. She has been a member of the Association's National Board. In 1999-2000 she was one of the three Presidents of the Association, delivering the Presidential Address in the Central Division. Ms. Nussbaum has been a member of the Council of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Board of the American Council of Learned Societies. She received the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in Non-Fiction for 1990, and the PEN Spielvogel-Diamondstein Award for the best collection of essays in 1991; Cultivating Humanity won the Ness Book Award of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 1998, and the Grawemeyer Award in Education in 2002.Sex and Social Justice won the book award of the North American Society for Social Philosophy in 2000. Hiding From Humanity won the Association of American University Publishers Professional and Scholarly Book Award for Law in 2004. She has received honorary degrees from twenty-five colleges and universities in the U. S., Canada, Asia, and Europe, including Grinnell College, Williams College, Bard College, Knox College, The University of St. Andrews (Scotland),the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), the University of Toronto, The University for Humanist Studies (Utrecht, the Netherlands), the New School University, the University of Haifa, Ohio State University, and Georgetown University. She received the NYU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000, the Grawemeyer Award in Education in 2002, and the Barnard College Medal of Distinction in 2003. She is an Academician in the Academy of Finland.

Professor Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics,appointed in the Philosophy Department, Law School and Divinity School. She is an Associate in the Classics Department and the Political Science Department, an Affiliate of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She is the founder and Coordinator of the new Center for Comparative Constitutionalism.

Her publications include Aristotle's De Motu Animalium (1978), The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986, updated edition 2000), Love's Knowledge (1990), The Therapy of Desire (1994), Poetic Justice (1996), For Love of Country (1996), Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997), Sex and Social Justice (1998), Women and Human Development (2000), Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001), and Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004). She has also edited thirteen books. Her new book, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2005. Her current work in progress includes The Cosmopolitan Tradition (the Castle Lectures delivered at Yale University in 2000 and under contract to Yale University Press), Democracy in the Balance: Violence, Hope, and India's Future (under contract to Harvard University Press), The Fixed Star: Religion and Equality in American Public Life (under contract to Basic Books), and Compassion and Capabilities (under contract to Cambridge University Press). Professor Nussbaum is on leave in 2005-6.

Born: 1947
Education: B.A., 1969, New York University; M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1975, Harvard University

Holy lies

A holy site in the small Indian town of Ayodhya has become the focus of communal strife between Hindu nationalists and Muslims - hundreds have been killed in the past two months. At stake is the plan, backed by rabble-rousing politicians, to build a temple in place of a ruined mosque. Behind it, Pankaj Mishra uncovers a saga of falsified history, opportunistic abbots and a spurious legacy of the British Raj . writes Pankaj Mishra

Saturday April 6, 2002, The Guardian

Ayodhya is the city of Ram, the most virtuous and austere of Hindu gods. To travel there from Benares - across a wintry north Indian landscape of mustard-bright fields, hectic roadside bazaars and lonely columns of smoke - is to move between two very different Hindu myths, or visions of life. Shiva, the god of perpetual destruction and creation, rules Benares, where temple compounds conceal internet cafes and children fly kites next to open funeral pyres by the river. But the city's aggressive affluence and chaos feel far away in Ayodhya, which is small and drab, its alleys full of the dust of the surrounding fields. The peasants carrying unwieldy bundles bring to mind the pilgrims of medieval Indian miniature paintings; and, sitting by the Saryu river at dusk, as the devout tenderly set afloat tiny lamps in the slow-moving water, one feels the endurance and continuity of Hindu India.

After this vision of eternal Hinduism, the mosques and Moghul buildings of Ayodhya come as a surprise. Most are in ruins - especially the older ones built during the 16th and 17th centuries, when Ayodhya was the administrative centre of one of the Moghul empire's major provinces, Awadh. All but two were destroyed as recently as December 6 1992, the day, epochal now in India's history, when a crowd led by politicians from the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), or Indian People's Party, demolished a mosque they claimed the 16th-century Moghul emperor Babur had built as an act of contempt on the site of the god Ram's birthplace.

Memories of that demolition, and the subsequent anti-Muslim pogroms, have been reawakened in the past two months after a Muslim crowd in Gujarat burned alive 58 Hindu activists on a train. The activists were returning from Ayodhya, where they had participated in preliminary rituals for building a new Ram temple, which BJP leaders, who now run the government in Delhi, had vowed to build on the site of Babur's mosque. Hindu militants in Gujarat retaliated by killing more than 600 Muslims. With Hindu passions so aroused, the construction of the new temple seems more, not less, likely. As for the mosques destroyed in 1992, they are unlikely ever to be restored. The Muslim presence in the town seems at an end for the first time in eight centuries.

That was the impression I got even in January, a full month before the anti-Muslim rage exploded, when I visited Digambar Akhara, the straw-littered compound of the militant Sadhu sect presided over by Ramchandra Paramhans, who in 1949 initiated the legal battle to reclaim Babur's mosque, or Babri Masjid, for the Hindu community. The sect, Paramhans told me, was established four centuries ago to fight Muslim invaders who had ravaged India since the 10th century, and erected mosques over temples in the holy cities of Ayodhya, Benares and Mathura. It had been involved, he said, in 76 wars for possession of the site of the Ayodhya mosque, during which more than 200,000 Hindus had been martyred.

Paramhans, who is now more than 90 years old, exuberantly directed the demolition squad in 1992, and now heads the trust in charge of the temple's construction. When we spoke, he expected up to a million Hindu volunteers to reach Ayodhya by March 15, defy a Supreme Court ban on construction at the site, and present a fait accompli to the world in the form of a semi-constructed temple.

Two bodyguards watched nervously as he told me of his plans; other armed men stood around the wall of the compound. The security seemed excessive in this exclusively Hindu environment but, as Paramhans said, caressing the tufts of white hair on the tip of his nose, the year before he'd been attacked by home-made bombs delivered by what he called "Muslim terrorists". "Before we take on Pakistani terrorists," he added, "we have to take care of the offspring Babur left behind in India - these 130 million Muslims of India have to be shown their place."

This message was briskly conveyed to the Muslims of Gujarat by Paramhans' associates, leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, a sister organisation of the BJP. According to reports from Gujarat, Hindu militants incited, and in some cases organised, the killing of more than 600 Muslims during four hectic days in late February and early March. The chief minister of Gujarat, a hardline BJP leader, quoted the English scientist Newton while defending his government's inability or unwillingness to stop the massacres: "Every action," he said, "has an equal and opposite reaction."

The reaction wasn't equal, though - the final tally of Muslim dead may exceed 1,000 - but it did display a high degree of administrative efficiency, as was also evident during the anti-Muslim pogroms in Bombay in 1992-93, when members of the Hindu extremist group, the Shiv Sena, went around mixed localities with electoral lists of Muslim homes. In Gujarat's cities last month, middle-class Hindu men drove up in new Japanese cars - the emblems of India's globalised economy - to cart off the loot from Muslim shops and businesses. These rich young Hindus in Benetton T-shirts and Nike sneakers seemed unlikely combatants in what Paramhans told me was a holy war against the traitorous 12% of India's population - both wealth and education separated them from the unemployed, listless young small-town Hindus I met in Ayodhya, one of whom is a local convenor of the Bajrang Dal, the stormtroopers of the Hindu nationalists.

What they shared, however, was a particular worldview, outlined most clearly by students at Saraswati Shishu Mandir, a primary school in Benares, one of 15,000 such institutions run by the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), or Association of National Volunteers, the parent group of Hindu nationalism from which have emerged almost all the leaders of the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. The themes of morning assembly were manliness and patriotism. In the gloomy hall, portraits of militant Hindu freedom fighters mingled with such signboarded exhortations as, "Give me blood and I'll give you freedom", and "Say with pride that you are a Hindu". For an hour, boys and girls marched in front of a stage, where a plaster of Paris statue of Mother India stood astride a map of south Asia, chanting about the perfidy of Pakistan, of Muslim invaders and of the gloriousness of India's past.

Most of the students came from middle-class areas of Benares. Their bare, thin limbs shook with their passion and efforts to memorise arcane Sanskrit words. The principal watched serenely. He told me that Joshi-ji, the education minister, was making sure that new history textbooks carried to every school in the country the message of Hindu pride and Muslim cruelty. It is a message that resonates at a level of caste and class privilege, flourishing in a society where deprivation is always close at hand. An out of work upper-caste advertising executive I met in Benares seemed to be speaking of his own insecurities when he said, after some talk of the latest iMac, "Man, I am scared of these Mozzies. We are a secular, modern nation, but we let them run these madrasas [religious schools], we let them breed like rabbits and one day they are going to outstrip the Hindu population, and will they then treat us as well as we treat them?"

The Muslims, of course, have a different view of how they've been treated. In Madanpura, Benares's Muslim district, I met Najam, a scholar of Urdu and Persian literature. He is in his 30s, and grew up during some of the worst anti-Muslim violence of post-independence India - in the 1992 slaughter, he saw Hindu policemen beat his doctor to death with rifle butts. "I don't think the Muslims are angry any more," he said. "There is no point. The people who demolished the mosque at Ayodhya are now senior ministers. We know we will always be suspected of disloyalty, no matter what we say or do. Our madrasas will always be seen as producing fanatics and terrorists. There is no one ready to listen to us, and so we keep silent. We expect nothing from the government and political parties. We now depend on the goodwill of the Hindus we live with, and all that we hope for is survival with a bit of dignity."

Hindu devotees throng the Viswanath temple in Benares, but few, if any, Muslims dare negotiate a way through the armed police and sandbagged positions to the adjacent Gyanvapi mosque, one of two that the Hindu nationalists have threatened to destroy. It is not easy for an outsider to grasp the Muslim's sense of isolation here. There was little in my own background that could have prepared me to understand the complicated history behind it - being Brahmins with little money, we saw the Muslims as another threat to our aspirations for security and dignity. My sisters attended a RSS-run primary school, where pupils were indoctrinated into disfiguring images of Muslim rulers in their textbooks. At my English medium school, we were encouraged to think of ourselves as secular, modern citizens of India, and regard religion as something one outgrew. So when, in the 1970s and 1980s, I heard about Hindu-Muslim riots, or the insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir, it seemed to me that religion-based identities were the cause of most conflict and violence in India. The word used in newspapers and academic analyses was "communalism", which was described as the antithesis of the kind of secularism advocated by the founding fathers of India, Gandhi and Nehru, and also of Hinduism itself, which was held to be innately tolerant and secular.

I spent several months in Benares in the late 1980s, unaware that this ancient pilgrimage centre of Hindus was also a holy city for Muslims - unaware, too, of the 17th-century Sufi shrine just behind the tea shack where I often spent my mornings. It was one of many in the city that both Hindus and Muslims visited, a legacy of the flowering of Sufi culture in medieval north India. Only this year I discovered from Najam that one of the great Shia philosophers of Persia had sought refuge at the court of a Hindu ruler of Benares in the 18th century. And it was after returning from my trip to Ayodhya that I read that Ram's primacy in this pilgrimage centre was relatively recent - for much of the medieval period, Ayodhya was the home of the much older sect of Shaivites, or Shiva-worshippers (Ram is one of many incarnations of Vishnu, one of the gods in the Hindu trinity, in which Shiva is the most important); that many of Ayodhya's temples and sects devoted to Ram had actually emerged under the patronage of the Shia Muslims who ruled Awadh in the early 18th century.

Paramhans had been quick to offer me a history full of temple-destroying Muslims and brave Hindu nationalists. But his own militant sect had been originally formed to fight not Muslims but Shiva-worshipping Hindus; and it had been favoured in that long and bloody conflict by the Muslim Nawabs. The Nawabs, whose administration and army were staffed by Hindus, kept a careful distance from Hindu-Muslim conflicts. One of the first such conflicts in Ayodhya came in 1855, when some Muslims accused Hindus of illegally constructing a temple over a mosque and militant Hindu sadhus (mendicants) massacred 75 Muslims. The then Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, a distinguished poet and composer, refused to support the Muslim claim, explaining, "We are devoted to love; do not know of religion. So what if it is Kaaba or a house of idols?"

Wajid Ali Shah, who was denounced as effeminate and inept and deposed a year later by British imperialists, was the last great exponent of the Indo-Persian culture that emerged in Awadh towards the end of the Moghul empire. India was then one of the great centres of the Islamic world, along with the Ottoman and Safavid empires. In India, Islam had lost some of its Arabian and Persian distinctiveness, and had blended with older cultures. Its legacy is still preserved - amid the squalor of a hundred small Indian towns, in the grace and elegance of Najam's Urdu, in numerous songs and dances that accompany festivals, in the subtle cuisines of north India - but one could continue to think of it, as I did, as something without a history or tradition. The Indo-Islamic is an embarrassment to the idea of India maintained by the modernising Hindu elite for the past 50 years.

That idea first emerged in the early 19th century, as the British consolidated their hold over India and found new allies among upper-caste Hindus. As elsewhere in their empire, the British encountered the stiffest resistance from Muslim rulers. So they tended to demonise the Muslims as fanatics and tyrants, and presented the British conquest as at least partly a humanitarian intervention on behalf of a once-great Hindu nation. Most of these British views of India were useful fictions at best - the Turks, Afghans, central Asians and Persians, who together with upper-caste Hindu elites had ruled a variety of Indian states for more than eight centuries, were more than plunderers and zealots. The bewildering diversity of people who inhabited India before the arrival of the Muslims in the 11th century hardly formed a community, much less a nation; and the word "Hinduism" barely hinted at the almost infinite number of folk and elite cultures, religious sects and philosophical traditions found in India.

But these novel British ideas were received well by upper-caste Hindus, who had previously worked with Muslim rulers and began to see opportunities in the new imperial order. British discoveries of India's classical sculpture, painting and literature had given them a fresh, invigorating sense of the pre-Islamic past; they found flattering and useful British Orientalist notions of India that identified Brahmanical scriptures and principles of tolerance as the core of Hinduism. In this view, practices such as widow-burning became proof of the degradation Hinduism had suffered under Muslim rule, and the cruelties of caste became an unfortunate consequence of their tyranny.

A wide range of Hindu thinkers, social reformers and politicians began to see imperial rule, with all its social reforms and scientific advances, as a preparation for self-rule. Some denounced British imperialism as exploitative, but even they welcomed the redeeming modernity it brought and, above all, the European idea of nation - of a cohesive community with a common history, culture, values and sense of purpose - that for many other colonised peoples appeared a way of duplicating the success of the all-conquering west. Muslim leaders, on the other hand, were slow to participate in the civilising mission of imperialism; they saw little place for themselves in the nation envisaged by the Hindu elite. British imperialists followed their own strategies of divide and rule: the decision to partition Bengal in 1905 and to have separate electorates for Muslims reinforced the sense among upwardly mobile Indians that they belonged to distinct communities defined by religion.

It is true that Gandhi and Nehru worked hard to attract low-caste Hindus and Muslims - they wanted to give a mass base and wider legitimacy to the political movement for self-rule under the leadership of the Congress party - but Gandhi's use of popular Hindu symbols, which made him a Mahatma, or sage, among Hindu masses, caused many Muslims to distrust him. Also, many Congress leaders shared the views of such upper-caste ideologues as Veer Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar. These men saw India as essentially the sacred indigenous nation of Hindus which had been divided and emasculated by Muslim invaders, and that could only be revived by uniting its diverse population, recovering ancient Hindu traditions, and weeding out corrupting influences from central Asia and Arabia. This meant forcing Muslims to give up their traditional allegiances and embrace the so-called "Hindu ethos", or Hindutva, of India - an ethos that was, ironically, imagined into being with the help of British Orientalist discoveries of India's past.

The idea of Hindutva included an admiration for Mussolini's fascism and Hitler's Germany, which, as Guru Golwalkar wrote in the Hindu nationalist bible, We or Our Nationhood Defined (1938), expressed "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews. It inspired the Brahmin founders of the RSS in 1925, and comforted many upper-caste Hindus who felt threatened by Gandhi's emphasis on a federal, socially egalitarian India. It was the rise of the Hindu dominated nation that Gandhi was accused of obstructing by his assassin, a Brahmin member of the RSS.

By the 1940s, the feudal and professional Muslim elite had grown extremely wary of the Hindu nationalist strain within the Congress. After many failed attempts at political rapprochement, they finally arrived at the demand for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. The demand expressed the Muslim fear of being reduced to a perpetual minority in a Hindu majority state, and was, initially, a desire for a more federal polity for post-colonial India. But the Congress leaders chose to partition off the Muslim-majority provinces in the west and east, rather than share the centralised power of the colonial state that was their great inheritance from the British.

This led to the violent transfer of millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims across hastily-drawn, artificial borders. Massacres, rapes and kidnappings further hardened sectarian feelings: the RSS, which was temporarily banned after Gandhi's assassination, found its most dedicated workers among middle-class Hindu refugees from Pakistan, among them the current home minister, Lal Krishna Advani, who was born in Karachi and joined the RSS as early as 1942. The RSS floated a new party and entered electoral politics in independent India in 1951 with the renewed promise of a Hindu nation; and although it worked for much of the next three decades under the gigantic shadow of the Congress party, its sudden popularity in the 1980s now seems part of the great disaster of the Partition, which locked the new nation states of India and Pakistan into stances of mutual hostility.

In Pakistan, a shared faith failed to reconfigure the diverse regional and linguistic communities into a new nation. This was proved when the Bengali-speaking population of East Pakistan seceded, with Indian help, to form Bangladesh in 1971. The ideology of secularism, backed by the prestige and example of Nehru, seems to have had a more successful run in India, which after Partition had, among its vast population, almost as many Muslims as Pakistan. In reality, India's Muslims lost much of their educated elite to Pakistan, and since 1947 they have been a depressed minority. They continue to lack effective spokespersons, despite, or perhaps because of, a tokenist presence at the highest levels of government. Politically, they are significant only at election time, when they form a solid vote for Hindu politicians who promise to protect them from discrimination and violence. Urdu, the language the Muslim presence in India had created - which is barely distinguishable from spoken Hindi - was an early victim of attempts to institute a Sanskritised Hindi as the national language.

Secularism, the separation of religion from politics, was always going to be difficult to impose on a country where religion has long shaped political and cultural identities. But it was a useful basis upon which the Delhi government could, in the name of modernity and progress, establish its authority over a poor, chaotically fractious country. However, when Sikh and Muslim minorities in Punjab and Kashmir challenged the great arbitrary power of the government, Nehru's heirs - his daughter, Indira, and grandson, Rajiv - were quick to discard even the rhetoric of secularism and to turn Hindu majoritarianism into the official ideology of the Congress-run administration.
The uprisings in Punjab and then in Kashmir were represented by the government and the middle-class media as fundamentalist and terrorist assaults on a secular, democratic state. In fact, although tainted by association with Pakistan and religious fanaticism, the Sikhs and Kashmiri Muslims were expressing a long-simmering discontent with an anti-federalist state: a state that had retained most of the power of the old colonial dispensation, and often used it more brutally than the British ever had. The uprisings were part of a larger crisis common in post-colonial states: the failure of a corrupt, self-serving political and bureaucratic elite to ensure social and economic justice for those it had claimed to represent in its anti-colonial battles.

By the 1980s, the Congress party was in decline. It kept raising the bogey of national unity and external enemies, but the disturbances in Kashmir and Punjab only gave more substance to the Hindu nationalist allegation that the Congress had turned India into a "soft state" where Kashmiri Muslims could blithely conspire with Pakistan against Mother India. And, with the pseudo-socialist economy close to bankruptcy, the nationalists saw a chance to find new voters among upper-caste Hindus. Like the National Socialists in Germany in the early 1930s, they offered not so much clear economic policies as fantasies of national rebirth and power. In 1984, the VHP announced a national campaign to rebuild the grand temple at Ayodhya that they claimed the first Moghul emperor Babur had destroyed. The mosque that replaced it, they said, was a symbol of national shame; removing it and rebuilding the temple was a matter of national honour.

Both history and archaeology were travestied in this account of the fall and rise of the eternal Hindu nation. There was no evidence that Babur had ever been to Ayodhya, or that this restless, melancholic conqueror from Samarkand, a connoisseur of architecture, could have built an ugly mosque over an existing Ram temple. Ram himself isn't known to recorded history - the cult of Ram-worship arrived in north India as late as the 10th century AD, and no persuasive evidence exists that a Ram temple ever stood on the site. But the myths were useful in shoring up the narrative of Muslim cruelty and contempt. They found their keenest audience at first among wealthy expatriate Hindus in the UK and US, who bankrolled a movement that, in upholding a strong, self-assertive Hinduism, seemed to allay their sense of inferiority induced by western images of India as miserably poor. In India itself, deeper anxieties made many upper-caste Hindus turn to the BJP.

In 1990, the government, which was then headed by defectors from the Congress party, decided to implement a longstanding proposal to reserve government jobs for poor, "backward-caste" Hindus. Upper-caste Hindus were enraged. The BJP saw the plan for affirmative action as potentially destructive of its old plan of persuading lower-caste groups to accept a paternalistic, upper-caste leadership in a united Hindu front against Muslims. Later that year, the leader of the BJP, LK Advani, decided to lead a ritual procession on a faux-chariot - actually a Chevrolet - from Gujarat to Ayodhya, where he intended to start the construction of the Ram temple.

The previous year, the BJP had passed an official resolution demanding that the temple be built on the exact spot where Babur's mosque now stood. Advani had then said, "I am sure it will translate into votes." Appropriately, he began his journey to Ayodhya from the temple in Somnath, Gujarat, which was looted by a Turk conqueror in the 11th century AD and which had been lavishly rebuilt in the early 1950s. Rapturous Hindu activists waited by the roadside to apply ritual marks of blood on his forehead. This was not just play-acting: more than 500 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the rioting that accompanied Advani's progress across India. Hindu policemen were indifferent, as they were last month in Gujarat, and sometimes even joined in.

It is strange to look back now and see how little known the controversy in Ayodhya was only two decades ago. Local Hindus first staked a claim on the mosque in the mid-19th century, and were allowed by British officials to worship on a platform outside the building. In 1949, two years after independence, a Hindu civil servant working together with local abbots surreptitiously placed idols of Ram inside the mosque. The story that Lord Ram himself had appeared to install the idols inside the mosque quickly spread. Local Muslims protested. Nehru sensed that nothing less than India's secular identity was threatened. He ordered the mosque to be locked and sacked the district official, who promptly joined the Hindu nationalists. But the idols were not removed, and Muslims gradually gave up offering namaz, or prayers, at the mosque. In the following three decades, the courts were clogged with Hindu and Muslim claims on the site. In 1984, the VHP began a campaign to unlock the mosque. In 1986, a local judge allowed the Hindus to worship inside. A year later, Muslims held their largest protest demonstration since independence in Delhi.

Before then, Babur's mosque had primarily been of concern to a small circle of litigious, property-hungry abbots in Ayodhya. Religion was always a fiercely competitive business here: the abbots fought hard for a share of the donations from the millions of poor pilgrims, and, more recently, from wealthy Indians in the US and UK; they were also notorious for murder and pillage - the bomb attack on Paramhans, which he blamed on Muslim terrorists, was probably the work of rival abbots. But as the movement to build the temple intensified, entrepreneurs of religiosity such as Paramhans were repackaged by nationalist politicians as sages and saints, while Ram himself evolved from the benign, almost feminine, calendar-art divinity of my childhood to the vengeful Rambo of Hindu nationalist posters.

The myths multiplied when, in October 1990, Advani's procession was stopped and police in Ayodhya fired upon a crowd of Hindus attempting to assault the mosque. The largest circulation Hindi paper in north India spoke of "indiscriminate police firing" and "hundreds of dead devotees", and then reduced the death toll the next day to 32. These rumours and exaggerations, part of a slick propaganda campaign, helped the BJP win the elections in four north Indian states in 1991. The mosque seemed doomed - then, in December 1992, a crowd of mostly upper-caste Hindus armed with shovels, crowbars, pickaxes, sometimes only bare hands, demolished Babur's mosque, and the police simply watched from a distance. One of the more vocal Hindu nationalist politicians, Uma Bharati, who is now a senior minister in the central Indian government, urged on the crowd, shouting, "Give one more push and break the Babri Masjid." The president of the VHP announced the dawn of a "Hindu rebellion".

That evening, a crowd rampaged through the town, killing 13 Muslims, including children, and destroying scores of mosques, shrines and Muslim-owned shops and homes. Protests and riots erupted across India. Altogether 2,000 people, most of them Muslim, were killed. Three months after the massacres, Muslim gangsters retaliated with bomb attacks that killed more than 300 civilians.

In Delhi, the elderly Congress prime minister, Narasimha Rao, napped through the demolition. The next day he dismissed the BJP governments, banned the RSS and its sister organisations, and promised to rebuild the mosque. The leaders of the BJP tried to distance themselves from the demolition, saying it was a spontaneous act of frustration, provoked by the government's anti-Hindu policies. But the Central Bureau of Investigation concluded that senior BJP leaders had planned the demolition well in advance. As for the anti-Muslim violence, Advani claimed in an article in The Times of India that it would not have taken place had Muslims identified themselves with Hindutva: a sentiment echoed after the recent riots in Gujarat.

Six years after the demolition, the BJP, benefiting from India's first-past-the-post electoral system, became the dominant party in the ruling National Democratic Alliance in Delhi. Despite being forced to share power with more secular parties, BJP's ideological fervour seems undiminished, if as yet unfulfilled. Responding to a question about the Ram temple two years ago, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told expatriate Indians in New York that he needed a clear two-thirds majority in parliament in order to "build the India of our dreams". Certainly, the Hindu nationalists have tried hard to whip up Hindu passions. In their first few months in power, they conducted nuclear tests, explicitly aiming them against Pakistan, which responded with its own tests.

The VHP and Bajrang Dal, which distributed radioactive earth from the nuclear tests site as sacred offerings, were responsible for an unprecedented series of mob attacks on Christians across India. About half of these occurred in Gujarat, but Advani claimed that there was "no law and order problem in Gujarat", and shared the dais at a meeting of Hindu nationalists with the new chief of the RSS, KS Sudarshan, who asked Christians and Muslims to return to their "Hindu roots". Sudarshan also attacked secular intellectuals as "that class of bastards which tries to implant an alien culture in their land" and spoke of "an epic war between Hindus and anti-Hindus". Barely a week after the VHP's plans to start construction of the Ram temple caused some of the worst violence in India since independence, the BJP-led government asked the Supreme Court to allow VHP leaders to perform rituals at the site of the mosque on March 15 - an appeal wisely rejected.

Even so, the temple in Ayodhya seems inevitable. You reach Ramjanmabhoomi (Ram's birthplace), as it is now called, through a maze of narrow, barricaded paths. Armed men loom up abruptly with metal detectors and perform brisk body-searches. These are members of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), notorious for its pogroms of Muslims in north Indian towns. The men look mean for the cameras. Pictures of the site have not been allowed by the government for the past decade.

A canvas canopy protects a platform built above the rubble of the mosque, on which stand the idols draped in garlands and sequinned cloth. A priest sits below the platform, briskly dispensing prasad - tiny sugary balls - and squirreling away the soiled and wrinkled rupee notes tentatively offered by peasant pilgrims.

As I groped for small change, a PAC inspector wandered over, asked if I was a journalist from Delhi, and attempted a little history. He told me that Lord Ram had placed the idols inside the mosque in 1949; it was his wish that a temple be built on his birthplace. My companion, a resident of Benares, challenged this account, saying that the idols had been placed there by the then district official. The inspector did not defend his story; he only smiled and replied that this proved that the official was a true Hindu.

Many such "true Hindus" looked the other way while the temple was slowly prefabricated. In a vast shed near the Ramjanmabhoomi lie stacks of carved stone pillars. Here, you can buy promotional liter-ature - The Blood-Soaked History Of Ayodhya and Ayodhya: An Answer To Terrorism And Fundamentalism are the bestselling titles - and admire a miniature glass-cased model of the temple.

The labour is cheap - ?2 a day for craftsmen - but the temple, whose architect previously designed the Swaminarayan temple in Neasden, north London, seems to have come out of a garish fantasy of marble and gold.

The impatience of abbots such as Paramhans is understandable. Offerings at the temple are likely to run into millions of dollars annually; much has already arrived from donors in India and abroad. No one knows where most of it has gone - rumours point to new buildings in Ayodhya and elsewhere, including some owned by Paramhans, who is moved to rage if you raise the possibility of Muslim opposition to the temple. "There are only two places Muslims can go to," he shouted, echoing a popular slogan of the early 1990s, "Pakistan or Kabristan [graveyard]."

As for the mosque - which appears now in memory as a melancholy symbol of a besieged secularism - there seems little doubt that it will never be rebuilt. It has fallen victim not just to the ideologues but to less perceptible changes in India's general mood in the past decade. The talk of social justice, the official culture of frugality, the appeal, however rhetorical, to traditions of tolerance and dialogue - all these seem to belong to the past, to the early decades of idealism and delusion. A decade of pro-globalisation policies has created a new, aggressive middle class whose concerns now dominate public life. This aspiring class replaced expatriate Indians as the BJP's primary constituency - referring to them in a recent cover story, India Today spoke of the "return of the militant Hindu".

This powerful Hindu minority supports the insidious campaign against madrasas, and the more brutal assertion of state power in Kashmir. It demands a nuclear attack on Pakistan; aspires to superpower status, and fervently courts the US as a political, economic and military ally. It is of this new India that Gujarat provided a glimpse last month, as young Hindus carted off looted digital cameras and DVD players in their new Japanese cars. It is of this India that Ayodhya presents both a miniature image and a sinister portent, with its syncretic past now irrevocably falsified, its mosques destroyed, its minorities suppressed: an Ayodhya where well-placed local abbots helped by politicians wait for lucrative connections to the global economy, and prove, along with much else, the profound modernity of religious nationalism.

? Pankaj Mishra is author of The Romantics (Picador)