U.R. Ananthamurthy on How Gujarat Produced a Pan-Indian Hero

In this extract from Hindutva or Hind Swaraj, the celebrated writer dwells on the theme of crime and punishment

U.R. Ananthamurthy. Credit: HPNadig/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

U.R. Ananthamurthy. Credit: HPNadig/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

In his foreword to U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Hindutva or Hind Swaraj, the sociologist Shiv Viswanathan writes that the book is a sign that the “age of the manifesto” is still with us:

“One of India’s greatest storytellers, he chose the manifesto as the genre for his swan song. One needs the speech of manifestos to cut to the very core of Indian politics, the heart of darkness we call the nation state. When Narendra Modi’s victory was imminent, an impassioned Ananthamurthy cried out that he would not like to live in an India ruled by Modi. An irked BJP ideologue asked him to leave for Pakistan. Ananthamurthy’s answer to Giriraj Kishore and other vociferous critics was this text. His last work was more than a manifesto. It was a prayer, a confession, a plea, an argument, a conversation capturing a world we might lose….

“Ananthamurthy states his methodology clearly. He warns that the dialogic encounter he seeks to develop is distinct from the debates of the ancients, the point–counterpoint of older debates and discourses. He places before the reader two sets of texts, which are roughly contemporary, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj confronts Savarkar’s writings, and URA contends that Modi is only enacting the logic of a Savarkar script. Modi is thus not an original but merely a mimic, following the logic of a historical position. Ananthamurthy reads Modi as a giant clone, a copy of the original Veer Savarkar. There is an aesthetic of layers in his presentation. It begins from the topical and moves to the philosophical and ethical. Eventually, what he presents is a civilizational response to Modi….

“URA argues that one must challenge the shibboleth that, merely because one has ascended to power through a majority, one can exonerate it from reason. Democracy, he claims, thrives by providing space for the non-majoritarian. Yet he locates such a politics in a wider space as part of an understanding of evil. He realises that one has to go back to the very notion of evil and explore the evil that lurks behind words like patriotism and development. He notes that a phrase as unpoetic as ‘in the national interest’ seems to permit any kind of crime or atrocity. URA as poet is measuring the genocidal quotient of words, and especially evaluating the official concepts of the Modi regime, like nation state, development and democracy.”

U.R. AnanthamurthyHindutva or Hind Swaraj

U.R. Ananthamurthy
Hindutva or Hind Swaraj
HarperCollins, 2015

Extracts from Hindutva or Hind Swaraj by U.R. Ananthamurthy

In Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky has created an unforgettable character: an impoverished young man wandering around St Petersburg in tattered clothes, unwashed and unfed. Extremely attached to his mother and sister, the protagonist is mortified that he has to live off their hard-earned money. He borrows some money from a pawnbroker – money that could have bought him a meal – but seeing a man much worse off than himself, the young man gives him the money and walks away.

In that utterly abject, pitiful, penniless state, lonely, but with no desire for friendship, a thought comes to Raskolnikov. Why did Napoleon become great? Because he had the courage to do something big. What is this courage? Winning a battle after slaying countless people and then without remorse preparing for another? Does poor Raskolnikov have this courage?

Through this protagonist, Dostoyevsky presents a novel idea. An idea that is important to understanding human history. Raskolnikov was ashamed of his shyness. His cowardice. His damaged conscience. How could he overcome them? For many discontented young men in Europe of that time, Napoleon had become a hero. Napoleon, who came from a humble background, rose like a rocket to fame and power during the French Revolution. Many people in Europe who celebrated his success were disappointed when he declared himself emperor. Beethoven who had planned to dedicate one of his outstanding symphonies to Napoleon tore up the dedication….

Raskolnikov thinks about Napoleon too. He has very strong feelings of aversion towards an unpleasant old woman who is a pawnbroker and moneylender. She lives in a narrow lane, in a secure little nest. Raskolnikov thinks that if he can kill her and overcome the guilt, he will know that he has the strength of Napoleon. Obsessed with this thought, he hides an axe under his cloak and knocks on the old woman’s door. Cautiously, fearfully she opens the door. Holding out a tightly wrapped bundle, he says, ‘Take this cigarette case and give me some money.’ While she is trying to unwrap the packet, he strikes her with the axe. He is shocked. He doesn’t know what to steal from there. He stuffs whatever is at hand into his pockets.

Just then, the old woman’s sister walks into the room. She is described as a meek, submissive and abused woman. Raskolnikov, who had gone there to commit one murder, ends up committing two. This becomes a complex moral dilemma for him. The Christian faith pulls him in, but he does not submit. He despises himself because he cannot become a Napoleon. This symbolic story is necessary to understand the history of Europe.

People like Napoleon who perpetrate unimaginable violence without any sense of shame become heroes in the eyes of the public. Those who are capable of making their country a great nation are like Napoleon. Or like Hitler. Mao’s great nation China, which invaded Tibet, is on the same path. For countries where money grows no amount of space is sufficient.

I will attempt to weave in another story with Raskolnikov’s. No matter how vehemently Indians declare that we are non-violent, in our movies and our songs we applaud those who come to power through extreme violence. People may practise non-violence in their daily lives but the Indian psyche also admires acts of brutality. Even the names of many Hindu deities would suggest such a reading. Consider the name Murari– one who has vanquished the demon Mura. We do not extol Shivaji for his acts of good governance, but for his skill with counter-offensive tactics. We forget Emperor Ashoka in our political discourse.

It is the same in Europe; perpetrators of violence become rulers. If you go to the Tower of London, you will see that several queens were put to death because they did not produce a male child. Up until now, human history has only recognised heroes who have emerged victorious in battle. We thought that Gandhi’s message of freedom through ahimsa heralded a change. Ironically, this ahimsa was fraught with violence too. Streams of blood flowed during the Hindu-Muslim riots. With a staff taller than himself, Gandhi walked barefoot through Noakhali. India celebrated Independence in the absence of Gandhi.

How did Gujarat produce a pan-Indian hero? The Gujarat massacre took place when he was chief minister. To say that he tried to prevent it but failed would mean he was weak. Nobody can say that. One is reminded of an image used by the poet Adiga. When yajnas are conducted, everyone present is involved in some task or the other. But a mantrajnya, an expert in the mantras, does not participate. He is known as the ‘brahma’, and is crucial to the ritual. The brahma does nothing.

Modi was the brahma. Whatever happened has happened. Raskolnikov was tormented by the thought that he should not have committed the murder. A hapless prostitute teaches him love. Modi also feels remorse. But of another kind. A remorse that says if a pup gets run over by a car, what can be done? One could say, oh poor thing. If the car had stopped, would the puppy have lived?

Here I will dare to express a thought. Maybe this is why the people of India appreciated Modi; see how he silenced the minorities…

I have reservations about how Savarkar paints the word Hindutva with the power and glory of kshatra in a highly emotional manner. In the process of establishing nationhood, all countries draw pictures of a flawless past. We can view our past with its many joys and sorrows without exaggerating them. The Upanishads and the Mahabharata can thrill us. When one looks at the heroes of the Puranas – performing animal sacrifices, and destroying forests, animals and birds to establish a country – one can only wonder, in bemusement, whether they are not champions of modern development. But the nationalist Savarkar did not see a world like the one he lived in, suffering and struggling to overcome the humiliation of British rule. Instead, he saw a glorious, mythical, unique world to be emulated exactly.

The truth of life is different. For Buddha, who lived in ancient times, life was full of suffering. A seeker of truth must, like Gautama, sees a corpse, an old man and a sick person groaning in pain. In his search for the truth, he must renounce the world and then come back to it.

Two important events from our past are Dharmaraja’s sorrow after his victory in the battle of Kurukshetra and the anguish and compassion that liberated Buddha, making him relevant even today. Savarkar’s line of thought could generate in us the daring to kill our enemy, but it cannot satisfy us. The coronation of Sri Rama is a golden moment in our mythology. That’s all it is. We take pride in it. To be liberated, though, we need the Upanishads and Buddha.

Savarkar’s emotion-charged logic flows in this manner: If India is to be a Hindu state, if all citizens of the country are to be considered Hindus, when will we be able to call a Muslim a Hindu? Maybe at some later date, not now. At the time when this idea becomes a reality, there will be no arrogance amongst the religious. The followers of religion will give up their arrogance and live in harmony, a state which is natural to human beings. Or religion itself will become irrelevant.

Contrast this with what Gandhi says: No religion is complete in itself. That is why all the religions of the world should survive. With equal respect….

…Gandhi’s clarity of thought comes from the greatness of ancient India as well as the meanness of its decadent practices. In his words, Gandhi paid more attention to the greatness, but in his actions, he focused on its meanness. Like untouchability, casteism and unclean holy places that discriminated among people on the basis of their caste. Gandhi observed a fast for one day because Kasturba, along with his secretary Desai, went to the PuriJagannath temple where untouchables were not allowed. This is how he acted. Gandhi’s egoless courage is unique in that it allows him to reject modern medicine, the British Parliament, railways, lawyers and doctors. Some of his words are as follows:

Nothing can equal seeds sown by ancestors, Rome went, Greece shared the same fate, the might of the Pharaohs was broken, Japan has become Westernized, of China nothing can be said. But India is still somehow or other, sound at the foundation.

Civilization is that mode of conduct which points out to man the path of duty.

Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible terms. To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions. So doing, we know ourselves. The Gujarati equivalent for civilization means good conduct.

If Savarkarism is a display of valour, Gandhism advocates morality and self-realisation. Even as he builds the argument, Gandhi recalls the Gujarati word for ‘civilisation’. His modernism is not cosmopolitan. It has its roots in Gujarati, it grew in India and its branches spread across the sky. In the early twentieth century, these two Indias, the cosmopolitan and the other rooted in India, germinated among the Indians living in England, and sprouted and spread to India as well.

Extracted from U.R. Ananthamurthy, Hindutva or Hind Swaraj (HarperCollins, 2015) and used with permission from the publishers.

  • Zulfiqar Ali

    The story is built around what URA said about Modi and then his views?? Are we dealing with facts on how an individual with his well known hatred for a particular person, opines about that? Gandhi was a reformer but never said a thing about Islam? His blatant support for Khilafat in 1919 was similar to anyone supporting ISIS today?
    If you read Hindu texts with clear intention to read them and not to ridicule them, you know that the Ramayana says that it is the courage (shourya) that is paramount quality of a person. All qualities of a person are waste without courage. Gandhi lacked courage to reform Muslim community. He constantly found faults in Hindu society and that is that is when Hindus lost self respect.
    Gandhi did not have a moral compass to avoid partition. He just wanted a Nobel peace prize and live like our Kejriwal do today – all authority and no responsibility. He could have delayed independence if it was coming through a bloody partition killing a million people. He did not do that? why? ’cause JLN promised him to make father of nation?
    The problem with intellectuals is that they create virtual scenarios; like bollywood movies – a Hero who can sing , dance, fight, is good looking, is successful in business, tops the class but but but…. belongs to a poor family. That is how we created the personality of a man who took poor decisions when there was a chance to excel.
    Nelson Mandel spent 28 years in jail and then got freedom for his people and then lead a suitable government system. Gandhi… he was above law….above any responsibility…..Only wanted propaganda around him.

  • HVSR

    I grew up reading URA’s writings and poems as a part of my language studies after that the next time I heard about URA was when he got Jnanpith Award and after that when I heard about him was when we had BJP forming their first Government in Karnataka. Then again the next I heard about him was during the recent general elections. This is the time he also made as Mr. Shiv Vishwanathan says “When Narendra Modi’s victory was imminent, an impassioned Ananthamurthy cried out that he would not like to live in an India ruled by Modi.” During this time he even went on to support and canvas on the street for Congress in Bangalore.
    Where I am coming from is this man, URA, like his fellow arm chair intellects, appears only when it is to speak against BJP/Hindu/Hindutva/RSS. Never have I seen or heard these arm-chaired intellects with verbal diarrhea when it comes to speak against Congress or CPI or MIM. The same people like URA speak to their heart’s content about these things to Indians and Indian media, and then complain to foreign media that India has become a intolerant nation, free speech is under threat.
    Why are these armchair dogmatic intellects so biased against one particular party/religion/sect? Does corruption not exist in other political parties?
    Why can’t the same people with so much time who read and study various books try spread out ancient learnings and wisdoms? why not try to bring out the best in each religion and try to spread to all the fellow citizen? All these people are trying to do is make it a fashion to blame everything against Hindus/RSS/BJP, and these are the people who are dividing India by trying to bring out the long forgotten religious identities.
    PS: I am not against any other party/religion/faith, rather my girlfriend is from a different faith and I follow a different faith other than the one I was born into.