For quite some time now, my well-rehearsed line to politely, if lazily, duck publishers who nudge me to write a book is, editors write books between jobs. I understand this can’t be said for all editors. One set of professionals to whom it applies fully, however, are politicians. Politicians write books between jobs, or when out of power. As Salman Khurshid of the Congress has done now, giving fuel for several hours of prime time maara-maari, or what passes for debate there.
This phenomenon cuts across parties. L.K. Advani spent his years in opposition writing his voluminous memoir. Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Manish Tewari of the Congress, Pranab Mukherjee (although he wrote a couple of volumes from Rashtrapati Bhavan), and many others have written theirs. Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh have written so many that I can’t keep count.
Trust Salman Khurshid to get the headlines, however. You don’t even have to read the book. You don’t even need to remember its name (it’s called Sunrise Over Ayodhya). It will now be debated, noted, remembered in history and probably even be bought because of that one line, I suspect of indiscretion, comparing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh with ISIS, or Islamic State (Daesh, for further clarity). Rahul Gandhi has poured further gas into the blaze, speaking on a video that looks like it was recorded in a cardboard container. Am sorry to say, but the visual signal it gives you is of an interrogation chamber in Guantanamo Bay.
He’s taken Khurshid’s argument a step forward by underlining the distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva. Does Hinduism teach you to kill someone like Akhlaq? Does Hinduism teach you to hate the minorities? Good questions. And the answer would be what he wants it to be: No, it doesn’t. The corollary for his argument is that Hindutva, on the other hand, does so. Narendra Modi, the BJP and the RSS insist that there is no distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva. They are the same.
What is Hindu and Hindutva, are they the same or different, is one just the practice and belief in the faith and other its politicised ideological version, in which case is Hinduism also a political faith as pan-Islamism, Christianity of the past? Or even Sikhism, given that the Akal Takht at Amritsar is the supreme seat of its spiritual and temporal power?
Do the Hindus now have a party like that? Is that party the BJP? Or the ideological and philosophical parent from which it rises, the RSS? That’s an interesting and important debate. But would it then make it the same as ISIS? We might need to think much harder.
There is a lot that is common between all social forces that mix religion with politics. It can range from the Indian Union Muslim League to Abbas Siddiqui, the maulvi of Furfura Sharif near Kolkata, to elements of the old Kerala Congress, Akali Dal and definitely, the elephant in the room, the BJP. None is shy of employing religion for political power. None is shy of saying rude things about those of ‘other’ faiths. Yet, would you compare them with ISIS?
Do they kill, enslave, torture those of other faiths, and probably even more of their own, at mass levels? For all the awful things ISIS might have done to the Yazidis; its massacres, torture, enslavement, rapes, sexual slavery, instant “justice” by execution or beheading have harmed several times more its fellow Muslims. Why does the ISIS hate most or all the regimes in Islamic theocracies? Because it wants to create a pan-national new state knitted together by one solitary thread: Islam. And there too, its chosen version of it. Any surprise then that the nations fighting it most brutally are mostly from the world of Islam, republics, sultanates or emirates? Do any of these parties want to create a state within a state? If not, a new state stealing from a dozen legitimate, well-settled states?
We might be getting ahead of ourselves with these comparisons. Obviously, Salman Khurshid will say with a sense of righteous hurt that this is not what he was implying. He will be right in essence. But, as a public figure whose word will be taken seriously by friend and foe, would he rethink the wisdom of making such a comparison? Particularly when he’s still a senior member of the Congress and an active politician?
Of course, it has divided his own party. Ghulam Nabi Azad was the quickest off the mark questioning him. And now, with Rahul Gandhi having weighed in, the Congress party has something it hasn’t for some time: Public disagreement and debate over a key ideological issue.
It is for them to decide whether it was wise at this point, or if this is the ideological issue they needed to settle first. But, at this point they’ve handed over quite a lot of the middle-ground Hindu vote, which may be getting disillusioned with the Modi government, back to the BJP. And, by implication, the RSS. Adherents of which faith anywhere in the world won’t find it revolting if their faith was conflated with ISIS? Most of all, the Muslims would be furious. ISIS is their biggest enemy.
We understand where Khurshid, Rahul and their many supporters (watch the social media outrage over this column) are coming from. They argue that the BJP is just the political face of the RSS. That it appeals only to the Hindu vote. It works on a simple principle that if nearly or ideally more than 50 per cent Hindus vote for it, it can continue ruling all of India. Never mind if to achieve that, it needs to demonise the minorities, especially the Muslims.
Its governments are selective in their treatment of crimes against Muslims, or by them. That it has kept India’s Muslims systematically out of all power structures, politics, top civil services, security, judicial positions. Also, that often enough, it says rude things about Muslims to offend them as a tactic. But, does that prove RSS=ISIS?
A debate, however divisive, can still be healthy. But easy, lazy labels often crush it into just an awful sludge of abuse and counter-abuse. Irrespective of their voting preferences, most voters would find this comparison with ISIS revolting. More specifically, would it persuade anybody who voted for Modi to change their minds? Equally for them, in fact many more numerous than the ‘Modi is Hitler, RSS are Nazis’ believers, would think he’s no less than a divine reincarnate and the history of Bharatvarsha resumed in 2014 after a 1,200-year hiatus under invaders or the deracinated flotsam they left behind.
Didn’t like that description, no? Deracinated flotsam? Nor would I use it in normal speech or writing. I am only making the point that it is tempting to throw a label as a gaali (cuss word). It might give you a moment’s satisfaction, a release for your outrage, or what would be called in the Hindi Heartland, bhadaas. It makes zero difference to anybody’s political fortunes.
The worst, and yet the most emptying, thing about using labels is intellectual laziness. The killings of 1984 in Delhi and elsewhere, Gujarat in 2002, many before that, Bhiwandi, Bhagalpur, Hashimpura, Moradabad, were terrible massacres. The first two, we do not even call riots. Because these were politically supported killings, one by each of our main political rivals. But were any of these the Holocaust? That was more than 60 lakh Jews gassed, slaughtered and ploughed into the ground. How much was that for a relatively small European population? Wasn’t the thousands killed in 1984 or 2002 bad enough? Of course, it was. But Holocaust? To call it that is rude to the Jews and their most painful heritage.
The problem with labels is not that they spark debates, but that they close the doors on any arguments or counter-arguments. Think about the BJP-RSS side calling somebody anti-national, Pakistani or Chinese agent, taking orders from Rome, presstitute. How hurtful that is for the recipient? But it does nothing for the BJP or its supporters.
Salman Khurshid isn’t the first to succumb to such pre-siesta intellectual laziness. A historian of the Left as eminent as Prof. Irfan Habib had made the same comparison in 2015. I had then responded with this column. Congress leaders taking it up at these high levels need to read up a bit more on ISIS, and learn electoral politics all over again.