The idiocy, intolerance and arrogance of some of the new breed of leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party seem to have no bounds. They are so drunk on power that they think they can get away with anything – not only verbal violence but also instigating physical violence and even economic terrorism.
In their bid to impose rigid cultural uniformity on Hindu society, they are hurting the soul of Hinduism, which is its incredible diversity and its widely admired spirit of tolerance and respect for other faiths and cultures. They are also hurting the soul of India, which prides in its even greater diversity and is universally admired for its commitment to unity in diversity.
Look at this tweet by Tejasvi Surya, the rising star in the BJP, the president of the party’s youth wing the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, and a member of the Lok Sabha from Bengaluru. Reacting angrily to an advertisement by the garments and furnishings brand Fabindia.
This is the advertisment that Fabindia quickly pulled.
Five things needs to be said to show all that is wrong and ominous about the young BJP leader’s outburst.
First: You are making an allegation about the “abrahmisation of Hindu festivals”. It’s ironic that you are doing so using an abrahmic language. Or has the Hindutva School of Linguistics lately discovered that English is an original Bharatiya language?
Two: You insist that Deepavali should be celebrated by wearing only “traditional Hindu attires”. Pray, what are these “traditional Hindu attires”? Come to Mumbai’s slums and see how millions of poor Hindus celebrate Diwali – along with their Muslim, Christian and Buddhist neighbours. They don’t wear the “traditional Hindu attire” from Maanyavar and Mohey. Yet, their celebration is more festive than in the homes of millionaires.
The men usually wear trousers and shirts, which are not of Indian origin. They came to India from Christian England during the era of colonialism. But they are now a part of India’s socio-cultural traditions. Even I wear the same workaday dress, on Diwali and other festive days. By so doing, do I, and millions of devout Hindus like me, become sartorial Christians?
Three: No Hindu festival is celebrated in a uniform manner all across India. The common element of Diwali is the lighting of lamps to signify the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and immortality over death. Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists celebrate their Diwali in very different ways.
Furthermore, syncretism is very much a part of the celebration of festivals in India. In the part of rural Karnataka where I grew up, the entire village community, including Muslims, celebrated all festivals (including Diwali and Eid) together, making no artificial distinction between abrahmic and non-abrahmic traditions.
When I celebrate Christmas at home, my Christian friends never complain that I do so in a non-abrahmic way. When my Muslims friends greet me on Diwali, Holi or Dussehra, I do not insist that they do so in a strictly “Hindu” way.
Let me narrate a personal experience here. A few years ago, I went to Toronto to meet Tahir-ul-Qadri, a renowned Pakistani-Canadian Sufi scholar. Among his many books is Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, in which he shows how terrorism, extremism and hatred in the name of Islam are against the core teachings of the Holy Quran. The purpose of my visit was to know from him how to promote better relations between Hinduism and Islam, and between India and Pakistan.
It so happened that I landed in Toronto on the day of Diwali. To my utter and pleasant surprise, he invited me to a vegetarian dinner, with a special decoration of Diwali lamps. We ate our meal after prayers – he saying an Islamic prayer and I a Hindu prayer. Should I have protested that he was “abrahmising” my festival?
Four: Tejasvi, you have used the word “Hindu” in your tweet. Is it non-abrahmic? There is a mountain of evidence to show that the words “Hind” and “Hindu” were used by Persians and Arabs. Even the name of our nation “India” is abrahmic. Will you stop calling yourself a Hindu and an Indian?
You want to call out those who are using Urdu words for Diwali in a deliberate attempt at “abrahmisation of Hindu festivals”. By the same logic, you should also call out Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and crores of other Gujaratis – for saying “Saal Mubarak” or “Diwali Ni Mubarak”, which are Urdu / Persian words, to greet each other on the occasion of the same Hindu festival.
Why don’t you also call out US President Joe Biden for this tweet on November 20, 2020?
By the way, you should also take your own government to task for “abrahmising” the greatest festival of all Indians (Hindus included) – August 15, India’s Independence Day. Do you know the official name for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence? It is “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” – the celebration of the elixir of freedom? “Azadi”, if you didn’t know, is a Persian/Urdu word.
Here is the official logo for the celebration. Why don’t you post a tweet calling for a boycott of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”?
“Jashn-e-Azadi” is a very common name in India for Independence Day celebrations. Since you have such intense dislike for Urdu words, here is a piece of information that would surely infuriate you even more. The one patriotic song that is invariably sung alongside the national anthem Jana Gana Mana on Independence Day and Republic Day is Allama Iqbal’s Sare Jahān Se Acchā Hindustān Hamarā. It was also sung, by Sucheta Kripalani, in the Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 15m 1947, after Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his immortal “Tryst With Destiny” speech.
Continuing with this tradition, the Indian armed forces play it each year on Independence Day, Republic Day and at the culmination of the “Beating the Retreat” ceremony. You should write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh demanding an end to this “abrahmisation” of India’s patriotic celebrations.
Here is a little bit more about Iqbal’s song, which he composed in 1904 in mellifluous Persian and Urdu words. Please pay attention to the following lines to know how anti-Hindu and anti-national your tweet is.
Sare jahān se acchā Hindustān hamārā
Ham bulbuleṃ hain us kī, yi gulistān hamārā […]
Mażhab nahin sikhātā āpas mein bair rakhnā
Hindī hain ham, vatan hai Hindūstān hamārā
Better than the whole world is our Hindustan
We are its nightingale, and here is our rose-garden […]
Religion does not teach mutual hatred
Hindustan is our common motherland.
Since Iqbal may be anathema to you, let me invoke the following famous lines from Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, which have the same message for you and your ilk.
“…Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
… Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
… Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
Do you even realise that you, and others like you in the BJP, are breaking up our country “into fragments” by erecting “narrow domestic walls”?
Five: And this, Tejasvi Surya, is the most dangerous and reprehensible part of your tweet. You say that “Fabindia must face economic costs” for its “misadventure” of putting out an advertisement calling for the celebration of Diwali in a way that does not conform to your standard Hindutva template. This is economic terrorism, pure and simple.
If the law of the land were applied properly and without discrimination, you would be liable for prosecution for issuing such a threat. Remember, as a member of Parliament, you have taken an oath that you “will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established…” Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution of India provides Right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business of their choice to all citizens without any fear, coercion or discrimination.
If Fabindia has pulled its ad – and other brands like Tata’s Tanishq have also done the same for the same reason in recent years – it is because they know that the coercion comes from those belonging to the ruling party, that its followers know how to enforce the boycott call given by their leaders, and also that the law enforcement machinery will not come to the aid of the victims if their shops are vandalised.
A lesson from Yugoslavia
The kind of threat Tejasvi Surya has issued is by no means an exception. It is part of a systematic campaign by Hindutva forces to claim that “Hinduism sankat mein hai”, that Hinduism is facing a crisis and, therefore, Hindus need to become militant against non-Hindus.
In recent times, Hindutva goons have attacked shops and commercial establishments owned by non-Hindus (mostly Muslims) in scores of towns across India for not adhering to the cultural norms set by the attackers. These establishments are not fancy or branded ones like Fabindia, and therefore fail to make national news. Such attacks happen mostly in BJP-ruled states.
The local police know who the culprits are. But no action is taken against them because they have political patronage. In WhatsApp groups and on social media platforms, it is not uncommon to find strident calls for the economic boycott and isolation of Muslims.
Precisely for this reason, it is important for all of us to realise that what is happening is no longer a fringe phenomenon. Tejasvi Surya is as mainstream as it gets. Unless India’s secular mainstream wages a peaceful but determined battle against this majoritarian menace with all its combined might, our national unity and integration will face a real and growing danger.
Tailpiece: I am writing this article from Dubrovnik, Croatia, a place of magical beauty on the coast of Adriatic Sea in south-eastern Europe. But its beauty brings with it a sombre lesson, so relevant to India, from Croatia’s dark and ugly recent past. Croatia, now an independent nation, was one of the six constituent republics that made up Yugoslavia, the others being Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Yugoslavia disintegrated after a series of wars and conflicts (including genocide and ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims) between 1991 and 2001, which led to the killing of nearly two lakh people.
“Why did Yugoslavia break up?” I asked a Croatian woman. She replied: “There were many reasons. But the main reason was the majoritarian mindset of Serbians. We in Croatia were not allowed to keep our Croatian identity, sing Croatian songs, celebrate Croatian festivals, and so on. We were simply asked to follow what Serbia decided.”
Tejasvi Surya’s Diwali tweet should not be dismissed as the harmless fulmination of a 30-year-old budding political leader. It connotes majoritarian intolerance, exclusivism and divisiveness that are now rapidly spreading in India. Yugoslavia’s fragmentation started in a similar sinister manner.
Sudheendra Kulkarni served as an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is the founder of the Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni and he welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org