"An area of awakening"
Interview by Dilip Padgaonkar - of - V.S. Naipaul
The Times of India,
18 July 1993.
Padgaonkar (P): The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rise of Islamic nations in Central Asia, the Salman Rushdie affair, similar harassment by fundamentalists of liberal Muslim intellectuals in India: all these factors taken together persuaded some forces to argue that a divided Hindu society cannot counteract Islamic fundamentalism.
Naipaul (N): I don't see it quite in that way. The things you mentioned are quite superficial. What is happening in India is a new, historical awakening. Gandhi used religion in a way as to marshal people for the independence cause. People who entered the independence movement did it because they felt they would earn individual merit.
Today, it seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history. Romila Thapar's book on Indian history is a Marxist attitude to history, which in substance says: there is a higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that. The correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their actions. They were conquering, they were subjugating. And they were in a country where people never understood this.
Only now are the people beginning to understand that there has been a great vandalizing of India. Because of the nature of the conquest and the nature of Hindu society such understanding had eluded Indians before. What is happening in India is a mighty creative process. Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on, especially if these intellectuals happen to be in the United States. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.
However, we are aware of one of the more cynical forms of liberalism: it admits that one fundamentalism is all right in the world. This is the fundamentalism they are really frightened of: Islamic fundamentalism. Its source is Arab money. It is not intellectually to be taken seriously etc. I don't see the Hindu reaction purely in terms of one fundamentalism pitted against another. The reaction is a much larger response. Mohammedan fundamentalism is essentially negative, a protection against a world it desperately wishes to join. It is a last ditch fight against the world.
But the sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a new thing. Some Indians speak about a synthetic culture: this is what a defeated people always speak about. The synthesis may be culturally true. But to stress it could also be a form of response to intense persecution.
(P): How did you react to the Ayodhya incident?
(N): Not as badly, as the others did, I am afraid. The people who say that there was no temple there are missing the point. Babar, you must understand, had contempt for the country (that) he had conquered. And his building of that mosque was an act of contempt for the country. In Turkey, they turned the Church of Santa Sophia into a mosque. In Nicosia churches were converted into mosques too. The Spaniards spent many centuries re-conquering their land from Muslim invaders. So these things have happened before and elsewhere.
In Ayodhya the construction of a mosque on a spot regarded as sacred by the conquered population was meant as an insult. It was meant as an insult to an ancient idea, the idea of Rama, which was two or three thousand years old.
(P): The people who climbed on top of these domes and broke them were not bearded people wearing saffron robes and with ash on their foreheads. They were young people clad in jeans and tee shirts.
(N): One needs to understand the passion that took them on top of the domes. The jeans and the tee shirts are superficial. The passion alone is real. You can't dismiss it. You have to try to harness it.
Hitherto in India the thinking has come from the top. I spoke earlier about the state of the country: destitute, trampled upon, crushed. You then had the Bengali renaissance, the thinkers of the nineteenth century. But all this came from the top. What is happening now is different. The movement is now from below.
(P): My colleague, the cartoonist, Mr. R K Laxman, and I recently traveled thousands of miles in Maharashtra. In many places we found that noses and breasts had been chopped off from the statues of female deities. Quite evidently this was a sign of conquest. The Hindutva forces point to this too to stir up emotions. The problem is how do you prevent these stirred-up emotions from spilling over and creating fresh tensions?
(N): I understand. But it is not enough to abuse them or to use that fashionable word from Europe: fascism. There is a big, historical development going on in India. Wise men should understand it and ensure that it does not remain in the hands of fanatics. Rather they should use it for the intellectual transformation of India.
Times of India, August 8, 1993
Dileep: You have of course been following whatever has been going on in India: the incident in Ayodhya, the communal riots and so forth.
NC Chaudhary: There must be a complete recognition of the historical responsibility on both sides. They must not try to avoid it. All Hindu historians are liars. From 1907 onwards we became aware of the Hindu-Muslim problem as regards the nationalist movement. From that date until 1946 every fellow Bengali I have asked and every other Indian too had only one standard argument: The Hindu- Muslim problem does not exist. It has been created by the British.
My point is that it is the very nature of things. That what happened in Ayodhya should not have happened is another matter. But I say that the Muslims do not have the slightest right to complain about the desecration of one mosque. From 1000 A.D. every Hindu temple from Kathiawar to Bihar, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas has been sacked and ruined. Not one temple was left standing all over northern India.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Jesuit priest and mathematician Tippenthaler noticed in the evenings as he travelled from Malwa the flickering flames of tiny earthen lamps placed by the villagers at some risk to themselves. Temples escaped destruction only where Muslim power did not gain access to them for reasons such as dense forests. Otherwise it was a continuous spell of vandalism. No nation with any self-respect will forgive this. They took over our women. And they imposed the Zazia, the tax. Why should we forget and forgive all that?
What happened in Ayodhya would not have happened had the Muslims acknowledged this historical argument even once. Then we could have said: Alright. Let the past remain in the past and let us see how best we can solve this problem.
From the 18th century onwards the Hindus took the offensive. They would not allow the Muslims to lead their way of life. In the 30's I wrote several articles on the subject. The last one was in 1939. I have not changed my views from the ones I expressed then. The gist of the argument is that the Hindu view of life and the Muslim view of life are completely oriented towards a clash. The muslims were the first to invent the theory of permanent revolution. The communists took over from them. No Muslims can live under the political domination of non-Muslims. Secondly, Muslims divide the world into two: regions of peace and regions of conflict. It is the duty of of every Muslim to bring the latter within the fold of Islam.
The Arab equivalent of the caliph is "Commander of the Faithful". And his obligation is jihad (holy war). Where do you think the word mujahedin comes from? Mu in Arabic means 'to be with'. Mujahid is to be with the jihad and Mujahedin is its plural.
Why, I ask the English people, do you call them fundamentalists in Kabul and nowhere in England? The reason is that the English people have become completely ignorant. What is more, like us, they cannot face reality...