In his latest book, The End of India, Khushwant Singh warns about the lethal combination of religion and politics. ‘‘These are dark times for India — fascism has well and truly crossed our thresholds and dug its heels in our courtyard,’’ he says. The writer spoke to Humra Quraishi on why he feels that way. Excerpts from the interview:
Do you agree with the Hindutva brigade’s definition of nationalism?A nationalist is one who is concerned about his country and also about equal treatment to all citizens. The Hindutva Government is not treating all its nationals as one, on the same footing — I know for a fact that there is discrimination against the Muslims and Christians. Discrimination against Muslims culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and then the massacres in Gujarat by Hindu terrorists destroyed the notion that Hinduism is more tolerant than Islam. The murder of Christian missionaries, attacks on them and the burning of Bibles have done similar damage. In fact, let me also mention here that much before Jinnah had come up with the two-nation theory, it was people like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, V.D. Savarkar, who had come up with the Hindu nation theory. In fact, Lajpat Rai had even drawn a map of divided India — along religious lines.
In your book, you have written extensively on the Gujarat riots. Do you notice any similarity between that and the ’84 Sikh riots?Yes, it was quite obvious in both cases that the police was told not to control the rioting. I am a witness to the Sikh riots in New Delhi and I saw police doing little to control the rioters. And journalists and activists who recounted the Gujarat carnage told me of similar happenings in the riots there. In both the cases, it was said that the riots were provoked — the Sikh riots were said to be provoked by the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the Godhra incident was blamed for the Gujarat riots. If that was the case, why were the culprits not caught? It seems that the government has almost abdicated its duty and power to control mobs and what I find very disturbing and dangerous is that communal parties have launched their own private armies. Any government which allows private armies affiliated to political parties is doing nothing short of making inroads for fascism.
Why do you say fascism is here?Whatever one is seeing around are all signs of fascism — appointments to important offices are not done on merit, key posts are given to their men, even Governor-level appointments. There could be some two or three showpieces from other communities, otherwise its ‘‘their’’ men in all key positions — Hitler functioned in exactly the same manner. And while Hitler’s main target was the Jews, for this brigade it’s the Muslim population in the country.
Do you think their tactics will overpower the so-called liberals?The saffron tide is rising and I have written this book with a deep sense of concern for the country. Unless we immediately react and reject the communal policies, there is going to be disaster. It’s time that right-thinking persons or liberals rejected these communal moves.
In 1989, you proposed the name of L.K. Advani as MP from New Delhi. Today you are his worst critic.Yes, I did propose his name but that time I was totally disillusioned with the Congress. Ever since his Rath Yatra, I have been severely critical of him, and, at public fora, I’ve told him that he is responsible for sowing the seeds of hatred between the two communities.
Why do you think the Congress has not been able to take on these communal parties?The Congress has no clear policy, it has not been able to take a firm stand on any issue and seems to be compromising on even vital issues. If today, the party follows the principle laid out by Jawaharlal Nehru, it could make some impact.
Why doesn’t the Indian middle class react to communal politics?I think most Indians cannot really visualise the magnitude of the communal problem, although the signs are writ large all around — besides communal rioting, the way M.F. Husain’s paintings were burnt, or for that matter the shooting of a film stopped, or changes brought about in school text books. There’s a propaganda that the Christian population is rising because of conversions but the reality is that the Christian population in India has actually gone down. And the Sangh has capitalised on old prejudices about Muslims — that they are multiplying at an alarming rate, when the census figures clearly show that the rate of growth of the Hindu population has always been higher; and since Independence, in almost every communal rioting, the Muslim loss of life and property has been almost ten times that of the Hindus.
Do you think the situation will improve anytime soon?No, I’m not optimistic but one should fight, one should make every single effort to save the country and openly challenge and take on these men who are destroying the country. We have to battle with them at any cost, give it back to them, abuse for abuse — for if we love our country we have to save it from these communal forces. And though the liberal class is shrinking, I do hope that the present generation totally rejects the communal and fascist polices.