Friday, 6 December 2013

The Base Text and Its Commentaries: Problems of Representing and Understanding the Cārvāka/Lokāyata - PART I

Ramkrishna Bhattacharyya


The base texts of most of the philosophical systems of ancient India are in the form of a collection of aphorisms (sūtra-s). The aphorisms are so brief and tersely worded that their significance can seldom be understood without the help of a commentary or commentaries. Sometimes, the literal meaning of an aphorism needs to be qualified or modified by an explanation found in the commentary. If a reader relies exclusively on the literal meaning of the aphorisms in the base text without having recourse to any commentary or disregards all commentaries, he or she may miss the point. Contrariwise, if a reader relies exclusively on a commentary and disregards the literal meaning of an aphorism, he or she will commit another kind of blunder. Ideally, equal attention should be paid to the base text as well as the commentary or commentaries. Even then, all problems are not automatically solved, for it is an uphill task to decide when to go by the literal meaning of the aphorisms and when to follow the commentary. In their polemics against the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, Jayantabhaṭṭa (c. ninth century C.E.) and Hemacandra (eleventh century C.E.) erred because they did not follow the golden rule stated above and consequently misunderstood and misrepresented their opponents’ contentions.


The base texts of most of the philosophical systems of ancient India are in the form of a collection of aphorisms (sūtra-s). The aphorisms are as a rule very brief and terse, even to the point of being incomprehensible. The task of the guru was to make his pupils understand what was in the mind of the author/redactor of the sūtra-s. The base text was meant to be committed to memory, not to be consulted as and when necessary. Hence, the shorter the better. Since the extreme brevity was meant for facilitating learning by heart, there is a maxim: “Grammarians rejoice over the saving of (even) the length of half a short vowel as much as over the birth of a son”, ardhamātrā lāghavena putrotsavaṃ manyante vaiyākaraṇāḥ (NĀGEŚABHAṬṬA 1960–1962: 122). The Kalpasūtras, ancillary works of Vedic ritual literature, and more importantly the ancient grammatical work, the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini (sixth/fifth century B.C.E.) were the models of composing such brief aphorisms. The custom was followed by the founding fathers and/or redactors of the philosophical systems. 

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it entails a fundamental problem: for the sake of terseness the aphorisms were sometimes composed in the form of incomplete sentences without verbs. Sometimes just a word was considered sufficient to form an aphorism. The task of the guru was to fill in the gaps by supplying the missing words (technically known as adhyāhāra, supplying). Not all gurus agreed on the right adhyāhāra. There is a Cārvāka aphorism (I.4): tebhyaścaitanyam, ‘Consciousness out of these’ (BHATTACHARYA 2009: 79, 87). From a preceding aphorism (I.2) it is to be understood that the word tebhyaḥ, ‘out of these’, refers to the four elements, namely, earth, water, fire and air. Nevertheless, does consciousness arise (anew) or is it merely manifested (as if it was pre-existing)? Two anonymous commentators offered two such adhyāhāras, utpadyate and abhivyajyate. Later writers merely repeat the alternatives or opt for either one or the other (KAMALAŚĪLA II: 633–634).1 Similarly, one guru would suggest one explanation; another guru, something else. Such a difference of opinion inevitably led to confusion. The student was expected to accept either or both as equally probable.2 In any case, book learning, that is, learning from written commentaries, was not considered to be a proper substitute for learning from the mouth of a guru (gurumukhī vidyā). As Rangaswami Aiyangar says:

Reliance on a book for elucidation was therefore held as likely not only to mislead but to convey wrong impressions of [the] authentic doctrine. This is why we find in smṛti literature, even in ages in which documents and writings came to be the mainstay of judicial decisions, denunciations of dependence on books, side by side with praise of gifts of purāṇas as among the donations of most sanctity. Devaṇṇa Bhaṭṭa (thirteen century) quotes the authority of Nārada for including dependence on books along with women, gambling, addiction to the stage, idleness and sleep among the impediments to the acquisition of knowledge. Mādhava also quotes Nārada to show that “what is learnt from books, and not from the teacher, will not shine in the assembly of the learned”. The familiar denunciation of the sale (vikraya) of knowledge is aimed as much at teaching under contract for a fee as at the sale of the books which will supersede the teacher. The result of the prejudice was twofold: first, improvement of the memory to make its retentiveness greater; and secondly, to make citation in books aim at the utmost accuracy to escape the familiar charge (AIYANGAR 1941: 10).

Yet commentaries and sub-commentaries began to appear to meet the need of the students who could not find any guru to guide them through the maze of the base text. Even though a poor substitute, the commentary literature ultimately turned out to be the most viable means of understanding of the philosophical systems. Surendranath Dasgupta, however, notes:

[T]he Sanskrit style (sic) of the most of the commentaries is so condensed and different from literary Sanskrit, and aims so much at precision and brevity, leading to the use of technical words current in the diverse systems, that a study of these becomes often impossible without the aid of an expert preceptor (DASGUPTA 1975, I: 67).
Thus, in spite of the written commentary, oral exposition by a guru cannot be dispensed with. We are back to square one. Commentaries and sub-commentaries, however, served one important purpose. As early as 1805, Henry Thomas Colebrooke noted:

It is a received and well grounded opinion of the learned in India, that no book is altogether safe from changes and interpolations until it have been (sic) commented: but when once a gloss has been published, no fabrication could afterwards succeed; because the perpetual commentary notices every passage, and, in general, explains every word. […] The genuineness of the commentaries, again, is secured by a crowd of commentators, whose works expound every passage in the original gloss; and whose annotations are again interpreted by others (COLEBOOKE 1977: 98–99).

Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that different systems of Indian philosophy developed and grew out of the expositions, commentaries and subcommentaries composed by the adherents of the systems. When such secondary works are written by the professed adherents of the respective systems, they become a part of the tradition. Yet such works would have to digress to at least some areas that might very well have been totally alien to the sūtrakāra/s, the originator/s or the original systematiser/s.

Moreover, it is well known that commentaries or sub-commentaries are sometimes written to defend a system of philosophy that has been attacked by some exponents of another antagonistic system. Uddyotakara’s (sixth century 136 Ramkrishna BHATTACHARYA C.E.) Vārttika to the Nyāyasūtra is a case in point. The Vārttika was basically a work of defence against the objections to Gautama raised by the Buddhist philosophers, especially Diṅnāga and Vasubandhu, and also Nāgārjuna. Such an apologia is bound to introduce new matters and invent novel interpretations of the original sūtra-s.3

Another sort of problem crops up when the expositor or commentator does not belong to the system he is elucidating, yet for reasons best known to him he composes a commentary on the base text. When a versatile scholar like Vācaspatimiśra, the sarvatantrasvantra (independent) expositor, writes commentaries on the Sāṃkhyakārikā or the Vedāntasūtra or other base texts, he does not represent the tradition of any of the systems; he relies wholly on his personal understanding and perhaps what he had learnt from his gurus. How much reliance is to be placed on his exposition? We know of at least two commentators on the Cārvākasūtra, Aviddhakarṇa and Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa, whose works are permeated with the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika terminology. Their names are known from other sources as belonging to the Nyāya tradition.4 There is no way to ascertain whether they were Cārvākas themselves or merely assumed the role of being so. Would it be wise to accept their interpretations as reflecting the mainstream view of the Cārvākas?

All the same commentaries are useful aids to the understanding of all sorts of texts, not merely philosophical ones. Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi is not alone in grumbling that no good Sanskrit text can be interpreted without a commentary (KOSAMBI 1975: 284). A variety of commentaries, from the brief ṭippanī to the elaborate bhāṣya, with many varieties of glosses and interpretations, such as anutantra, avacūrṇī, cūrṇī, pañcikā (pañjikā), vyākhyāna, vārttika,vṛtti, etc., lying in between, have made their presence felt in the corpus of Indian philosophical literature.5

The same base text generates a number of commentaries and even sub-commentaries. As it is to be expected, the commentators do not agree among themselves; sometimes they erect new hurdles by introducing matters not found in the sūtras themselves. Vātsyāyana, for example, in the introductory sentence of his comments on Nyāyasūtra, 4.2.18 mentions a mysterious person whom he calls ānupalambhika. Neither he nor any sub-commentator such as Uddyotakara or Udayana bothered to explain exactly who or what kind of a person is meant by this strange appellation. Widely divergent identifications have been made, but it is still a far cry from unanimity or even near-unanimity.6

The Nyāya and the Vedānta systems have the largest number of commentarial apparatus. It is rather odd that, in spite of the existence of so much explanatory materials for these systems, or perhaps because of it, some cruxes in the base texts cannot still be resolved. Plurality of interpretations confuses rather than convinces the learner about the true intention of the sῡtrakāra, composer of the aphorisms. Too many cooks spoil the broth, sometimes irredeemably. For example: what is meant by ākasmikatva (accident) in the Nyāyasūtra (NS) 4.1.22–24? Does it signify the absence of the material cause (upādānakāraṇa) or of the instrumental cause (nimittakāraṇa) or of both? Vātsyāyana, the first known commentator of the NS (but writing many centuries after the redaction of the base text) explains the opponent’s thesis as “effects have material causes only, but no efficient cause”. However, later commentators, such as Varddhamāna Upādhyāya and others take the sūtra to mean that “an effect has no invariable or fixed (niyata) cause,” thereby eliminating both material and instrumental causes. In the interpretation of Vātsyāyana and Uddyotakara, ākasmikatva = yadṛcchā (chance). According to Varddhamāna and Varadarāja, however, ākasmikatva = avyutpanna (non-derivable).7 A new learner is free therefore to choose either of the two interpretations, but the earlier one is more probable.

The problem arises because some sūtra-s are too brief to indubitably suggest one or the other interpretation; without the help of the commentator/s, one cannot form any opinion from the words of the text itself. Moreover, the irreconcilable differences in the two interpretations offered by earlier and later commentators makes the task more difficult. There are also other factors, such as partisan approach (due to affiliation to particular schools), factional quarrels, etc., which vitiate some commentaries. We need not go into all the details here. It is wise to follow the sage advice: don’t rely exclusively on the commentator. One should initially try to make out the intention of the sūtrakāra from the words of the aphorisms themselves, but when the words are of dubious significance or open to more than one interpretation, help from the commentators has to be sought. Even then, it is not obligatory to accept the view of the commentator who is as much fallible as we are. Uncritical acceptance of whatever a commentary says is inadvisable; at the same time, however, total rejection of the commentaries is equally impracticable. In any case, a student at first should try whenever possible to make the most of the literal meaning of the aphorisms and then turn to the commentaries and other aids (such as secondary works, expositions, etc.).

Even this golden rule of following the middle course — paying due attention to both the base text and the commentary (or commentaries) but not accepting any of them uncritically — does not solve all problems. A commentator, one would naturally expect, should be faithful to the author; he must not say anything that the author did not mean or could not have meant. Such a fond expectation is often belied by the commentaries. A commentator is seldom satisfied with merely providing glosses. He adds to or modifies or qualifies the statements of the author. All this is recognized to be the duty of the commentator. He is expected to clarify what is rather opaque in the text, supply whatever the author of the sūtra-s had forgotten to provide and even what he failed to notice!8 The problem is that every commentator on a philosophical text is himself a philosopher of a sort who is sometimes tempted to rewrite the contents of the base work by elaborating certain points that are not mentioned or even hinted at in the extremely concise sūtra-s. There should be a permanent caveat for the students of Indian philosophy: B ewa r e o f the c omment a to r! Never cease to ask yourself: is he being faithful to the intention of the author or using the base text as a peg on which to hang his own speculations? Blind acceptance of the commentator’s interpretation, whoever and however exalted he may be, is not to be recommended under any circumstances.9 At the same time, some aphorisms are so obscure that one is at a loss without a commentary. There is no denying that some explanations are indeed illuminating. The crux of the matter is: when to abide by the literal meaning of an aphorism and when to follow the interpretation given in a commentary. Everything depends on a judicious choice on the part of the student of Indian philosophy.


1 For further details, see BHATTACHARYA 2009: 121 n. 49.
2 For such an instance, when commentators retain both explanations as two equally valid alternatives, see BHATTACHARYA 2009: 159–160.
3 The situation is similar to what happened in the grammatical tradition. Kshitish Chandra Chatterji put it succinctly: “It would appear that it took several centuries for Pāṇini’s grammar to establish itself and that even at the time of Patañjali [second century B.C.E.] grammarians belonging to other schools tried their level best to point out errors of omission and commission in the grammar of Pāṇini. Patañjali had to meet the objections put forward by these captious critics and for this purpose he had often to turn and twist the rules of Pāṇini. This is why in some cases we remain in doubt as to the true views of Patañjali, his words conveying the impression tha t the y a re m er e l y int ende d t o s i l e n c e h i s a n t a g oni s t.” (CHATTERJI 1972: vii). Emphasis R.B.
4 For a detailed analysis, see BHATTACHARYA 2010a; BHATTACHARYA 2010b; BHATTACHARYA 2010c.
5 For a general discussion on Sanskrit commentaries with special reference to philosophical works see the two essays by Jonardon Ganeri (2008) and Karin Preisezdanz (2008) respectively. See also BHATTACHARYA 2010a and BHATTACHARYA 2010b.
6 For further details, see BHATTACHARYA 2007: 13–18.
7 TARKAVAGISA’s elucidation of NS 4.1.22. [In:] GANGOPADHYAYA 1973: 27––31.
8 Cf. HARADATTA 1965 (Padamañjarī 9): yad vismṛtam adṛṣtaṃ vā sῡtrakāreṇa tat sphuṭam | vyākhyākāro vravītyevaṃ tenādṛṣṭaṃ ca bhāṣyakṛt.
9 DASGUPTA (1975: 462, n. 1) provides an excellent example from Śaṅkara’s commentary on Gītā 14.3: “mama yonir mahad brahma tasmin garbhaṃ dadhāmy aham… Śaṅkara surreptitiously introduces the word māyā between mama and yoni and changes the whole meaning.” To take another example: Vātsyāyana in his comments on NS 1.1.1 writes: “[…] The inference (anumāna) which is not contradicted by perception (pratyakṣa) and scripture (āgama) is called anvīkṣā, that is, knowing over again (anu, literally ‘after’) of that which is already known (īkṣita) by perception and scripture […] the inference which is contradicted by either perception or scripture is pseudo-nyāya.” Trans. M.K. GANGOPADHYAYA 1982: 4 (emphasis R.B.). The repeated addition of scripture is totally unwarranted, for NS 1.1.5 states that inference is to be preceded by perception – tat (sc. pratyakṣa) pūrvakam, and nothing else. The preceding sūtra defines perception without mentioning scripture at all.

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkata.

This paper was first published in Argument: Biannual Philosophical Journal, Vol. 3, no. 1 (2013), pp. 133-149 (

Kashmir: Understanding Article 370

Ram Puniyani
Those gripped by religious nationalism are unable to understand the regional-ethnic aspirations of the people. Many an ultra-nationalists of different hues also fall into this trap many a times. With formation of Indian nation the integration of regions like Himachal Pradesh, North Eastern States and Jammu& Kashmir created some challenging situations. Though in all these cases the challenges were met in different ways and are even now continuing to pose some issues of serious national concerns, but those related to Kashmir require some more pressing attention. Located in a strategic geographic area of great significance, the global powers have also added their own weight behind complicating the matters in Kashmir. Kashmir remains one of the most contentious issues between the two neighbors, Pakistan and India. In addition the communal forces in India have been making it a bone of contention all through.

It is in this backdrop that when the BJP’s Prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi gave a call for debating the article 370, a whole hell broke loose. His intention in saying ‘who it has benefited’ was to indicate that it is unnecessary and should be abolished. To buttress his point, BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitly reiterated that abolition of article 370 is an integral part of agenda of Hindutva-RSS, BJP’s parent organization. Jaitly also went to uphold the stance taken by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Bhartiya Jansangh, the predecessor of present BJP, that of complete and immediate integration of Kashmir into India. Jaitly also distorted the contemporary history and events by saying that ‘Nehruvian vision of a separate status has given rise to the aspirations for pre 1953 status, self rule and even Azadi. Many a TV debate participant on the issue have shown their ignorance about the status and content of Article 370 as such.

It is true that in Kashmir today there are many tendencies, which vary from asking for total independence, Azadi to Autonomy. There will hardly be any popular support for debating or abolishing article 370 as such at broad layers. Difficult to say how many fall in which category, but a large number are for more autonomy, with article 370 in place.

There is a complex history to the issue. As is well known Kashmir was one of the princely states without direct rule of the British. Dogra dynasty's King Hari Singh, who ruled Kashmir, refused to join the constituent assembly under the Cabinet mission plan.  Eighty per cent population of J&K was Muslim. With India’s independence the Maharaja had two options, one to remain independent, two either to merge with India or with Pakistan. Maharaja was tending to remain independent. The Hindu leaders of Jammu supported Maharaja in this separatist plan. ‘J &K Rajya Hindu Sabha’ including the ones’ who later on joined Bharatiya Jana Sangh, vociferously argued that “a Hindu state, as Jammu and Kashmir claimed to be, should not merge its identity with secular India" (Kashmir, Balraj Puri, Orient Longman 1993, 5).  The attack of Kabaili-Tribal, supported Pakistan military changed the whole scenario.

After this attack the Maharaja due to his inability to protect the Kashmir requested the Indian Government to bail him out of this problem. Indian Govt. wanted the state to accede to India before it could send the armed forces to ward off the Pakistan's aggression. The accession treaty was signed with the provision of article 370. It was not a merger. India was to look after defense, currency, foreign affairs and communication while Kashmir was to have its own constitution, flag, Sadar-I-Riyasat and Prime Minister. Justifying this action Pt. Nehru in a broadcast to the Nation on Nov.2, 1947 said, “…Both the Kashmir Govt. and the National Conference pressed us to accept this accession and to send troops by air, but made condition that the accession would have to be considered by the people of Kashmir later when the peace and order were established…"(Nehru, CW, XVIII, 421). India approached the UN with a request to get the aggression vacated and to supervise in the process of plebiscite. Multiple factors operated here in due course of time and the holding of plebiscite got postponed sine die.

With this another process began at home. Jana Sangh Chief Shyama Prasad Mookerjee's insistence, supported openly by the Jana Sangh and covertly by some bigwigs in Congress as well, asked for the total merger of Kashmir with India. At this point Nehru was under the external pressure of Jana Sangh and internal pressure from some of his colleagues in the cabinet to totally integrate Kashmir with India. Nehru pointed out "We have to be men of vision and there has to be a broad minded acceptance of facts in order to integrate (Kashmir, added) really. And real integration comes from mind and the heart and not of some clause, which you may impose, on other people. "

Since then lots of water has flown down the Jhelum. The pressure of communal forces, the doubts raised in the minds of Sheikh Abdulla due to murder of Gandhi and rise of communal politics, led him to think whether he has done a right thing in deciding to accede to India. He wanted to be part of a secular polity, but communal teeth of the country started becoming more visible. His doubts and their articulation led to his arrest for 17 long years. And this is where the process of alienation of Kashmiri people began. This alienation was duly aided by Pakistan, in supplying arms to disgruntled youth. The matter got worst compounded with the entry of Al Qaeda elements in Kashmir in the decade of 1980s. These elements, whose US sponsored mission of defeating Russian army in Afghanistan was over and they were looking around for other areas for implementation of their mistaken notions of Jihad. They joined in and the earlier struggle in Kashmir, on the grounds of Kashmiriyat, was communalized by them.  An atmosphere was created which made the Kashmir struggle as the distorted version of Jihad, undermining its Kashmiriyat. This is what led to targeting of Kashmiri Pundits. This gave a big handle to the communal elements in India to propagate the separatism of Muslims.

The things started improving in the first decade of this century. Still the accumulated agony of Kashmiri youth started manifesting in ‘Stone thrower youth’ emerged along with a total disenchantment with the state of affairs prevailing in Kashmir. In the light of this the Central Government appointed a team of interlocutors. The recommendations of the group of interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M.Ansari (May 2012) in nut shell asked for rejection of the return to pre 1953 position, at the same time asking for measures for restore the autonomy of Kashmir. The team suggests that the parliament will not make any law for Kashmir unless it relates to the security, internal and external of the state. Significantly it gives the status of ‘special’ instead of ‘temporary’ to the article 370, which is the bone of contention for the ultra nationalists like the BJP. Very correctly the team says that the proportion of officers in the state should gradually be changed to increase the weight-age of the local officers. It also talks of creating regional councils with financial powers, and measures to promote cooperation across Line of Control (LoC) while talking of resuming dialogue with Huriyat and Pakistan both. The Government has been non committal about it so far. While the BJP has rejected them on the ground that it is a dilution of the accession of Kashmir to India. The separatists find it insufficient saying that there is no political settlement of the issue.

While calling for debate around article 370, one needs to understand as what the Kashmiris want, a mere assertion from ultra nationalist tendencies will harm the process of healing of wounds and the march towards a better democratic process in the state. As Nehru pointed out, what is more important is to win the hearts and mind of people, the laws can follow. Integrating the people by considering their aspirations is what is the need of the hour, such outbursts are counterproductive for the people at large.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Honoring Hate: Public Felicitation of Riot Accused

Ram Puniyani

Communal violence has tormented our country, more so from last three decades in particular. From the decade of 1980s its form has taken very menacing proportions and the country bleeds from time to time with the death of innocents, and at the same time takes place political ascendance of those behind engineering the violence. As such this violence does not begin with the weapons or the strong arms. It begins in the mind, with the idea of ‘hate’ for other community. This Hate is constructed around the falsification of history and the present, both, as per the contingency of the communal force. Communal forces translate this Hate through local idiom, to spread the violence in particular areas. The nature of violence is not static; it keeps changing its form, from place to place and with the time. Beginning as an urban phenomenon, now it is being reached to small towns and villages. Those instigating the violence are the ones’ who benefit from it politically and electorally. The key to involve the foot soldiers into the acts of violence is to put in their minds the fright minority community. This fright of the minorities has been successfully propagated and made the part of the understanding of large sections of society. The result is that those spreading Hate also claim to be saving ‘their community’ ‘their religion’ and that’s how they emerge politically taller after the bloodshed and violence.

In a political rally which was later addressed by the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Nov 21, 2013, two BJP MLAs, who are alleged to be instrumental in spreading Hatred against minorities by giving the Hate speeches revolving around the theme of ‘the honor of our daughter-sisters is in danger’ from the religious minorities. One of them uploaded a video clip on face book, which showed the brutal killing of two youth by a Muslim looking crowd. As such the clip was from Pakistan, it was projected as being the one which happened in Muzaffarnagar. These two BJP MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, accused of inciting communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, were felicitated on Thursday (Nov 21) at the rally in Agra.

As a part of clever strategy the felicitation of these ‘Hate mongers’ was done before Modi took the stge. Both these MLAs are currently out on bail. How do we understand this public celebration of the accused? On one hand their role in the violence and on the other their felicitation?

In recent times we have seen the three major carnages, Delhi anti-Sikh, Mumbai and Gujarat Anti Muslim and Kandhmal Anti-Christian. The two leaders who were behind the violence in Mumbai and Gujarat, emerged as the Hindu Hriday Samrat (emperor of Hindu hearts), after their role in the violence. The first one is late Balasaheb Thackeray. His role in the Mumbai violence was chronicled by Srikrishna Commission report. This report indicted him of leading the violence like a General.  The report points out " From the conversation which could be heard [by Yuvraj Mohite, Mahanagar Reporter, at Thackray house during the riots], it is clear that Thackeray was directing Shiv Sainiks, Shakha Pramukhs and other activists of Shiv Sena to attack the Muslims, to ensure that they give tit for tat and ensure that 'not a single landya (a derogatory word used for Muslims) would survive to give the evidence’ [vol.ii, Page 173-174] While the report aptly describes his role which deserved severe punishment, in popular psyche he was successful in projecting that it is due to him and his boys (Shiv Sainiks), that Hindus were safe. And so he started being called Hindu Hriday Samrat. The violence paid rich dividends to his party Shiv Sena, it came to power in Maharashtra Assembly along with their ally BJP, after the violence.
As per Gujarat carnage, no official report has come out yet, but the major Citizens Tribunal report, coordinated by Citizens for Justice and Peace, outlined the role of Modi led state in the violence. Similarly the international women’s tribunal summarized the situations as follows, “…the various arms of state were complicit both in the initial attacks on Muslim community as well as the later continuing violence. The state and central Government both played a major role in Gujarat violence causing sexual violence to women, destroying property and killing members of Muslim community. The acts of continuing violence and denial of all rights to Muslim community could not have happened without the complicity of the state and its institutions. The role and functioning of Gujarat Government has directly been influenced by the penetration of Sangh Parivar. This fact underlies the conduct of the state before, during and after the peak period of the pogrom.” (

It is after this massive carnage that Modi became more firmly entrenched in the seat of power in Gujarat and the tottering BJP Government in Gujarat gave way to the authoritarian Modi led BJP Government, firmly in saddle in Gujarat. What a contradiction? The same understanding applies here. While a critical observer can see the role of Modi and company in the violence, the popular perception which was constructed that it is due to Modi that Hindus, Hinduism has been saved and the minorities have been shown their place. It is after this that Modi also started being addressed as Hindu Hriday Samrat.

In anti Chriistian violence in Kandhamal, two BJP leaders Manoj Pradhan and Ashok Sahu amongst others played the role of instigating the violence and lo and behold they also went up on the political ladder, won the elections. One recalls, Maya Kodnani, who is currently undergoing the jail term for her role in Gujarat carnage, also rose to be the Minister in Modi’s Cabinet after her role in the carnage. Punish the crime and be rewarded.

There is another aspect of this felicitation meeting which one can register. The Muzaffarnagar accused were felicitated before Modi came to the stage. It was a well timed maneuver. There was a twin strategy involved in this move. On one hand it was to give the message to Hindu community, about the communal intentions of RSS-BJP and on the other to keep projecting Modi on the plank of development agenda. With the Parliamentary elections on the political sky RSS-BJP-Modi are adopting a multi pronged strategy. The major one is the ‘development’ image of Modi. They presume his role as the one presiding over Gujarat carnage has to be put under the carpet. His so called ‘Gujarat model, the myth of development of Gujarat has to be aggressively sold in the electoral market. At the same time a polarizing communal violence has to be kept alive. Not only in Muzaffarnagar, in Bihar after BJP left the coalition with Neetish Kumar, there has been a series of communal violence in Bihar. At yet at another level, the polarizing impact of terrorist violence has also been utilized in other places and lately in Bihar. At yet another level, the issues of Ram Temple, the so called Hindutva agenda has to be kept in the backdrop to ensure the support from BJP’s constituency.

We are in for times where the communal forces are making an all out effort to come to power. Their strategies are obvious. What we need is not the identity based polarization and the promotion of ‘Hate other’ through moves like honoring the riot accused, what we need is to overcome the polarizing impact of communal hate speech and communal violence. What we need is to affirm the roots and values of amity between different communities. 

Modi on Rampage: Reckless Abuse of History

Ram Puniyani

History is not just the past. It is a potent weapon for various political agendas in the present. It can be clearly seen in the use of history in rise of Hindu-Muslim rightwing in India. As far as presently dominant Hindu national politics is concerned, this abuse of history can be seen in the type and period of History used. When Meenaxipuram, conversions of dalits to Islam took place in 1981, the message taken up was that of Islam’s spreading in India as a ‘threat’. With the rise of Ram Temple movement, the indication was towards the Muslim kings’ destroying Hindu temples and insulting Hindu religion. The Babri demolition and consequent violence had the underlying propaganda of temple destructions by Muslim kings. At the same time a slogan came up ‘Muslaman ka do hi sthan: Kabristhan ya Pakistan (only two places for Muslims: Pakistan or graveyard), asserting that India is meant only for Hindus. As we move a bit more towards Gujarat carnage 2002 we see the projection of ‘terrorism’ and Muslims on one hand and the projection of Miyan Musharraf as the symbol of Indian Muslims. In Maharashtra Shivaji was projected in various ways to show the tyranny of Muslim kings. Currently serials like Bharat ka mahan Saput Rana Pratap, and Jodha Akbar also give the same message.

Lately the present history, history of Modern India is under the chopping block of communal forces. On one hand the projection of Sardar Patel, with emphasis on his being anti-Nehru and the other various conjectures of this period are being dished out. It is being asserted that Congress ‘facilitated Partition’ (Narendra Modi while talking in Kheda in Gujarat). This is a very motivated statement. As a matter of fact the two major leaders who were handling the negotiations at that time, on behalf of Congress, were Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Mr. Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah, taking one sided view blames Nehru-Patel for partition. It was banned by Modi in Gujarat, as he won’t brook any criticism of Sardar Patel. Here with a forked tongue, two things are being said at the same time, Patel eulogized for his contribution and Congress being blamed for partition, unmindful of the fact that it was Nehru-Patel duo, which was acting together on the issue of India’s partition.

That way the tragedy of India’s partition is like a big canvass, and most of the commentators look at the part of the canvass which suits their politics and put all the focus on that. This focusing on one part of canvass, selective historiography, is due to the motives and political understanding of these commentators. Seeing the whole process will tell us a different tale. The partition tragedy cannot be located just in the final phase when the negotiations between British rulers, Muslim League and Congress were going on. Partition process was the culmination of a long process, which began with the aftermath of anti-British revolution in 1857. The first factor in the process of division was the British decision to implement the policy of ‘Divide and rule”, thereby to introduce communal historiography. The second major factor was the persistence of feudal classes despite the beginning of industrialization and modern education. These feudal elements, the declining classes, felt threatened by the rising, nascent democratic nationalism, as represented in the formation of various organizations of industrialists, workers and educated classes and the formation of Indian National Congress. These declining classes, Hindus and Muslims landlord-kings, were together in the beginning. One major step in the direction to break them along religious lines was Lord Elphinstone’s encouragement to Muslim landlords, Nawabs, and to recognize them as representatives of Muslims. This led to formation of Muslim League in 1906. In tandem with this Punjab Hindu Sabha came up in 1909, Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and RSS in 1925. These communal organizations started getting support from section of educated elite apart from some upper castes and traditional traders. These communal organizations were against democratic nationalism and articulated religious nationalism.

A group photo of people accused in the Mahatma Gandhi's murder case. StandingShankar KistaiyaGopal GodseMadanlal PahwaDigambar BadgeSittingNarayan Apte, Vinayak D. Savarkar, Nathuram GodseVishnu Karkare
(Courtesy: Wikipedia)
The third and major theoretical expression for partition comes from the ideologue of Hindu Mahsasabha, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who said that there are two nations in the country, the Hindu nation and Muslim nation. The separate country for Muslims was articulated by Chowdhary Rahmat Ali in 1930, Pakistan. This got politically consolidated in 1940 with Jinnah’s demand for a separate country in the form of Pakistan (West and East). Fourth important step in the direction was the fact that the demand of Pakistan suited the designs of British colonialist’s long term plan to have a base in South Asia. As Communism, Soviet block was progressing and inspiring leaders of many national movements, like China Vietnam in particular, colonialists wanted to counter this by having a political base in South Asia. In India, Soviet Union inspired the communist and socialist movement. People of the caliber of Nehru, Jaya Prakash Narayan and others were with Congress Socialist Party, an in-house organization within Congress. Seeing the influence of socialist ideology on the major leaders of national movement, the colonialists and imperialists were keen that India should not remain united. There keenness of partition encouraged the demand of Pakistan.

Congress at this point of time found itself in a trap. On one side the stalwarts of National movement, Gandhi and Mualana Azad were opposed to the partition in the deeper political way. Nehru and Patel; experienced the blockades put up by the Muslim League in interim government. The choice before this duo was either to go on with a Cripps mission plan, which gave very little power to the center, or to go for partition and have a strong Center in India. The calculation of Nehru was that without the centralized economy; country cannot progress. The Bombay plan, economic blueprint of industrialists, wanted the state to provide for heavy industries, as industrialists realized that they are not capable for setting up large industries. This was parallel to the vision of Nehru, who envisaged land reforms and industrialization to take India forward. Sardar Patel had the vision of the strong center so he was also not for the loose federation of states as provisioned by Cripps mission.

To blame Congress of facilitating India’s partition is nowhere close to the truth. But the way History, even the modern Indian history, is being bulldozed for the political convenience, and the eagerness to grab power come what may, sacrificing the truth, is not a big deal for the communal politicians.  


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