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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

John Dayal: “ People have rejected the ideology of hate”

John DayalJohn Dayal, veteran journalist and outspoken spokesman of the Christian community, spoke on the post-polls scenario to Fr. Paul of Sathyadeepam weekly of Kerala. Excerpts:

How do you evaluate the defeat of the BJP and the coming back to power of the Congress? How come the Left parties had an unprecedented success this time?

The people have spoken, unequivocally, that they will not suffer for very long any ideology, policy or programme that goes against the grain and the values of the Indian civilization – equity, fraternity, acceptance of richly poly-ethnic culture. Secularism is but a part of this.

They have through this elections given their definition of Rajdharma – the State must take care of, and protect the citizen, and civil society should assist in it. This is why the BJP and its RSS cadres lost large tracts of their erstwhile strongholds in Gujarat, the Hindutva Laboratory. 

Rajdharma means, and requires, a total commitment to the poor, the farmer, and the landless worker. The NDA government of AB Vajpayee failed to do – as had the state governments in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka for that matter. While Atal’s spin doctors were devising slogans such as “India Shining”, the Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu were happy at their meetings with Bill Gates, farmers were committing suicide, prices were soaring, women were facing atrocities and workers were being sacked in disinvested industries without a safety net.

But above all, the people have rejected the ideology of hate, consisting of xenophobia, narrow nationalism and a sustained persecution of Muslims and Christians, which was such a hallmark of the Atal government – whether it was in legislative practices such a the passing anti-conversion laws and POTA, or in the articulation of its chief voices, Uma Bharati, Singhal, Togadia, Bal Thakarey… 

Although I for one have never taken Atal to be the moderate many think he is compared to LK Advani, he is certainly the lesser of the two evils. Advani’s second rath yatra, Gaurav Yatra as he called it, made it clear that he was eying supreme power. The voters saw through it. They knew a vote for Atal meant a vote for Advani, the Guru of Gujarat mass murderer Narendra Modi and the man who persuaded Jayalalitha to assume a Hindutva posture, aided by ideologues Govindacharya and Gurumurthy. India may have tolerated, even respected Atal for five years, but there was no way it would transfer this acceptance to Advani, seen as the chief architect of nuclear-powered and war-mongering Hindutva Raj in South Asia.

But that of course does not mean that in the defeat of the NDA, the Congress has won by default. The Congress worked for this victory, and worked very hard. Sonia must take full credit for it. She led from the front, risked life and limb and traveled 60,000 km on a marathon election tour. She voluntarily gave away her right, as party president, to be the next PM (even before going into the elections), and finally she astutely formed both pre-poll and other alliances with Laloo Yadav and the left. The record breaking 100 per cent sweep of the Congress-DMK alliance against Jayalalitha and the BJP crushed not only the opposition but also sundry spectators like psephologists, newspaper analysts and television anchors.

For me the danger still lies in the fact that the BJP has done well in the states over which it took control in the recent assembly elections – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. The party retained the vote in the Lok Sabha election too. These are states with large tribal populations, which have been the target of the RSS and the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, with its shishu mandirs and trishul distributions – financed generously by NRIs. The RSS can be expected to create trouble in these regions.

What is the future of the Hindutva ideology?
There is no future for Hindutva much as there is no future for neo-Nazism, Apartheid, or the xenophobia that guided Enoch Powell in the UK in the sixties. This is a sick ideology that is fighting against history, cultural anthropology, and human nature. 

This divisive ideology, derived directly from Hitler and Mussolini and finetuned during the Partition of India, preaches silly theses of One Nation, One People, One Culture. There is no place in it for religious diversity. There is no place in it for Dravidian culture, for the indigenous people of the North East and the Chhotanagpur tribal belt. There is no place for the Dalits. There is no place for reason, for dissent and for the rule of law.

The ideology gained political ground riding hate campaigns in Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat over the years through a sustained vilification campaign against Muslims, first, an then Christians. In fact it is all but forgotten that the Hindutva forces had also targeted Sikhs and were directly responsible, during the partition of Punjab and the formation of Haryana, for creating a cleavage between the two communities on the issue of Hindi as the natural mother tongue of all Hindus. The first blow that eventually ended up in the rise of terrorism.

In the six years that the NDA has been in power, the Hindutva gurus have had their men and women penetrate all strata, and all segments, of the ruling apparatus – from the subordinate judiciary and the police on the one hand, to the welfare and human resource ministries, the entire education system, and the constitutional entities such as the Minorities, Schedule Castes, and Women’s commissions. The media, specially the official media such as Doordarshan, also has been thoroughly penetrated.

This poses a challenge to the new government. It must take urgent steps to purge these institutions of such elements. It must take steps to investigate the funding of Hindutva agencies. It must punish those guilty of hate campaigns, and especially those guilty of Gujarat 2002 massacres. Even the Supreme Court has spoken on these issues.

The RSS must, I think, be investigated internationally as it poses a threat to India, South Asia and World peace.

Will the Christians and other minorities face an increased violence once the Sangh Parivar is in opposition?

As I cautioned earlier, much of Central India with its huge tribal population is still in BJP and Hindutva control. The governments in these states even during the Congress time had given a free hand to such organisations to distribute trishuls, run schools and try to covert tribals to Hinduism in the so-called Ghar Wapsi programmes of that criminal politician Judeo. 

The Sangh Parivar will try to provoke and aggravate the situation here. We can expect more Jhabuas with BJP MLAs and Sadhvis actively participating, as they did three months ago, in the violence. This will also be to test the strength and resolve of the Central government – to see how far it will refuse to intervene…
But of course the Sangh Parivar has also learnt that a roused people can beat it at its own game. Let us hope Uma Bharati and the chief ministers of Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan learn this lesson and ensure that the rule of law prevails at all times. If they do not, the Centre must act.

What is the duty of Christians in the new political situation? Do you think some Christians compromised with their values for personal or otherwise benefits by supporting the Sangh Parivar?

As a citizen and part of the Civil Society, we Christians need to understand that our community’s interests are best served in a secular polity where the Constitution and the rule of law are supreme.

It is because of this I have opposed dialogue with the Sangh Parivar. It is because of this that I have supported the Left as our natural allies across the country in the battle against the Sangh Parivar and against communalism of all varieties. Some Christians did compromise with the Sangh Parivar – a few in Kerala, some more in Bangalore and Chennai, some even in New Delhi. But I am proud to say that the All India Catholic Union and the All India Christian Council never compromised on principles, ideology and freedom of faith.

We seek no special favours, and we will not tolerate any discrimination. We also do not want bilateral deals and assurances that are also simultaneously given to all religious minorities. The anti-conversion laws have to go as they discriminate against Christians in practice. The Dalits must get their full rights as the Presidential order of 1950 discriminates against Muslim and Christian Dalits and erodes the Constitution’s secular character. And economic reforms must touch the Christian community, which is amongst the poorest of the poor wherever the majority is of Dalits or Tribals. It is only in the thin coastal belt that Christians have food on the table. And even there, they do not all have a job in hand. There is no entrepreneurship. There is little artisanship. There is little land.

As a Christian how do you see Sonia's refusal to be the prime minister?
I do not look upon Sonia specifically as a Catholic. Her religion is her personal choice and we must respect her privacy. She is a national leader who revived a dying 110-year-old party, made it Number One in the nation once again. Just for that she is worthy of salute from any political observer. Her renouncing the top position of Prime Minister of India is an individual act of supreme renunciation. There are just no examples of this sort. Charlatans and small leaders in the BJP may seek to belittle her, but their lies have been exposed. There was no question of the President raising the issue of her Italian origin, as the BJP planted in some newspapers. Nor was she coerced by the likes of Uma Bharati and Sushma Swaraj threatening to shave off their heads and boycotting parliament. These may have amused her. But as she said, her inner voice to which she listened, must have spoken something different. This was a monumental tribute to civilizational values of India.

Sonia Gandhi is no coward. That she may be assassinated if she becomes Prime Minister has never been an issue with a woman who routinely breaks security cordons to talk to women. And the BJP’s threat of a national and divisive agitation if she assumed office can hardly be a threat. The nation will, I am sure, honour her for what she has done. «

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