In quest of Hindu nationalism
by Kanchan Gupta on 05 Nov 2018 11 Comments

[As the Ram Janmabhumi reemerges into the public limelight only to be pushed back once again by a Supreme Court unable to decide between holding day-to-day hearings to settle the title suit expeditiously or further prolonging the vexatious dispute while maintaining an express pipeline for so-called public interest matters, we republish a book review of Girilal Jain’s posthumous, The Hindu Phenomenon, by eminent journalist, Kanchan Gupta, who emphathised with the cause in those heady days of Hindu resurgence and reaffirmation – Editor]


Just before he fell ill and was admitted to hospital, never to return home again, Girilal Jain would often tell his close friends about how was working on a book in which he would grapple with the question of Hindu nationalism.


This book had been in the making for the past many years – first in the depths of his mind later in the form of notes. Any other author would have taken much less time in putting together a manuscript, but not Girilal Jain, and this was primarily because he could not limit his scope to a few ideas and thoughts. Each day for him brought forth new ideas, new discoveries, new links in the chain he was meticulously building to substantiate his thesis. As a result, Girilal Jain could never stop adding to the broad outline of his book.


After his death last July, the draft and notes, much of it hand-written, were found in his study. These have been put together to give shape to his dream of publishing a book that would put into historical perspective the reassertion of Hindu nationalism and pride. With politically incorrect title like The Hindu Phenomenon, it is bound to raise hackles in many quarters, especially among professional secularists who can be expected to savage its contents.


But this will not detract from the fact that Girilal Jain’s book be the first of its kind and seeks to present an alternative explanation for the assertive mood among Hindus. Even otherwise, this is not the first time that Girilal Jain’s views will run into rough weather: Even during his lifetime, he faced violent knee-jerk reactions to his writings which were not in tune with the fashion of the day.


A magazine editor, who masquerades as a Marxist and takes time off now and then to protest against “fascist attacks the freedom of expression,” once publicly demanded that Girilal Jain’s writings should be banned. Hopefully, he will now raise the demand that the book be proscribed - it will at least serve the limited purpose of drawing attention to what is clearly a grossly underestimated work of intellectual brilliance.


Unlike many other contemporary intellectuals, many of them academicians of repute, Girilal Jain did not think in terms of territorial states but civilisations. For him, any useful discourse was possible only in the context of a whole millennium.


As he explains in the introductory chapter, “Why do I think in terms of a whole millennium which, on the face of it, is fragmented at so many points? My reason is simple. The beginning of the millennium witnessed the beginning of the assault on Hindu India and as we approach its end, we can clearly see the approach of the end of that assault. Only on a superficial, so-called rational view, can it be regarded as an accident that the millennium which began with the destruction of hundreds and thousands of our temples should be drawing towards a close amidst an unprecedented upsurge on the question of the construction of a Ram temple at a site which millions of ordinary Hindus regard as the avatar’s janmabhoomi.


It is this premise which forms the core of The Hindu Phenomenon. Girilal Jain looks at the civilisational aspect of Hindu nationalism, emphasising on its cultural identity, to argue that it is different from all other forms of nationalism. He explains the various stages of the growth of Hindu nationalism, the shaping of its cultural, social and political contents.


He shows how 1857 marked a watershed insofar as the emasculation of the then traditional leadership was concerned; with the banishment of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, it marked the closure of an era that had begun with the arrival of Mahmud Ghaznavi in the 11th century.


Quoting extensively from diverse sources, Girilal Jain has outlined the shaping of modern nationalism and its synthesis with Western concepts. He shows how the “history of the past two centuries has been the history of the rise of Hindus after a lapse of centuries of Muslim invasions and rule.”


By his own admission, this is a “wholly revisionist view of history” which will be resisted by the “dominant elite which has both made history in this period and written it”. But then, the entire book is a rejec­tion of conventional wisdom that has ruled our thought pro­cess and thereby facilitated the stranglehold of this dominant elite over society at large. In a sense, Girilal Jain has cocked a snook at the thought police.


“It never occurred to me till recently that the Hindu-Muslim problem, as we faced it in the whole of this century, was the result of an old civilisational stalemate and that Partition had finally ended it in favour of Hindus in three-fourths of India,” says Girilal Jain for whom “our civilisation is universal in the deepest sense of the term by virtue of its being the only primordial civilisation to have survived intact and not to have degenerated into a nar­rowly defined religion”.


For Girilal Jain, Hindu natio­nalism is not exclusivist but inclusivist and transcends the barriers of a nation state. He did not see the assertion of the Hindu identity in its narrow religious context but as an attempt to re-invigorate the spirit of our civilisation and culture. The fight, for him, is not between Hindus and Muslims but Hin­dus and a state that has gone astray.


The section on Nehru and the foisting of what later came to be known as the Nehruvian model, is particularly interest­ing as it demolishes more than a few myths that have been perpetuated by the dominant elite. As Girilal Jain explains, Nehru’s secularism “did not provide, even in theory, for a cultural synthesis. It sought to bypass the civilisational-cultural issue altogether”.


Much as his critics would love to brand him as a “Hindu fundamentalist” or even a “communalist”, Girilal Jain, as The Hindu Phenomenon shows, was a Hindu who was proud of his cultural heritage and saw the Ayodhya move­ment as not merely an agita­tion against a derelict disputed structure but an attempt at Hindu self-renewal and self-assertion.


His view of history is entirely different from the manner in which we have been told to view history. No less remarka­ble is the scholarship of a man who spent a lifetime first work­ing for and later editing what used to be the country’s best newspaper: Despite his profes­sional commitments, he found the time to read and under­stand India’s past which has a direct bearing on the nation’s future.



Girilal Jain




The Pioneer, 30 July 1994

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