Let's Make a Great India
Few concepts in recent years have galvanised such a fierce national debate as
Hindutva. And no one has personalised that debate as much as BJP President
LK Advani. Recently, Blitz brought out a special issue on the Republic Day
and called this issue:SUPERPOWER INDIA: MAKE THE DREAM HAPPEN. For this issue,
Blitz specially interviewed Advani ji in order to elicit his views on what
constitutes Hindutva and whether it has any inspiring ideas to offer for taking
India out of the present crisis and closer to its destined greatness and glory.
Here I reproduce this interview in its entirety.
LET'S BUILD GREAT INDIA, NOT SUPERPOWER INDIA
L.K. Advani in Blitz, January 29, 1994
Blitz: Advaniji, is it right to dream of a Superpower India?
LK Advani: If the word 'superpower' or 'great power' were to be replaced by
'great', I presume that it would convey what you have in mind. For historical
reasons, the word superpower or great power conveys a certain negative meaning.
This is so because of the background of half century of cold war, when two
superpowers dominated the world for their own selfish reasons. As a result, the
word superpower came to be associated with military strength, which, I am sure,
is not what you had in mind when you conceived of this Special Issue. What we
should aim is to make India a great nation.
Blitz: What is your vision of a great India?
LKA: It is essentially of a nation which commands the respect of the world and
also its own respect, and which is able to fulfil the aspirations of its
people. These aspirations found expression in the course of India's struggle
against the colonial rule. So it was believed that with the onset of Indepen-
dence, these aspirations would be fulfilled and, in course of time, India would
acquire a global stature commensurate with the greatness derived from its
ancient glorious past and its immense potential for the future. That vision
is still valid.
Blitz: In flesh and bone terms, what does the vision of a Great India consti-
LKA: It is what makes of our Constitution envisioned- the dream of a country
which has political, social and economic democracy, which guarantees justice
to all, and one in which there is peace and harmony. It is the kind of vision
which is contained in the preamble to the Constitution and which, prior to
independence, Gandhiji used to describe as Ram Rajya. It is this vision of a
society in which, apart from the fulfilment of the material needs of the
people, the country would be able to become respected in the world, as Swami
Vivekananda conceived, even in spiritual terms. In fact, he used the word
'spiritual socialism' to describe this vision.
What Swamiji had in mind is that the Western concepts of capitalism and
socialism are confined to material needs, whereas happiness of society depends
very much on that society and the individual being at peace with himself, which
peace will not come merely from fulfilment of material needs. The fulfilment
of the material needs cannot be disregarded. But, at the same time, both the
individual and society should have the capacity to rise above fulfilment of
their material requirement.
For example, there is a contradiction between how the West pursues happiness
and growth and how we, ideally, would act for the fulfilment of values we
cherish. In the West, there is nothing wrong about pursuit of unrestrained
ambition. That is, indeed, considered a big spur to social development. But it
is only in India that the highest ideal is selfless duty: you do your duty,
don't worry about the fruits thereof, as the Gita says. In India, this value
commanded the highest respect in society.
The ancient concept of a Brahman was that he was wise, but not rich and had
no power. The Kshatriya had power, but he was not highest. The highest was
someone who had renounced material well-being, but who was wise and tried to
attain some spiritual height. Now, if these ideals can be translated in real
life, then India does not become a replica of what is supposed to be the best
in the West. If we become a replica of the USA or any 'successful' Western
society, I do not think that would contribute to real happiness. When we think
of greatness, we think of greatness of the kind which commands respect all over
the world, not merely because of material prosperity, which is a must, but
because of the higher values we cherish.
Blitz: Isn't it true that the fulfilment of the people's material needs is a
prerequisite for the individual's and society's higher development?
LKA: It is true, there can be no doubt about it. Without the fulfilment of
basic material needs, an individual cannot attain any spirituality. As they
say, Bhukhe bhajan nahi hoy gopala (A hungry man cannot do bhajan). Religious
leaders like Vivekananda have stressed that alleviation of people's misery is
the principal task of any society. It is unfortunate that even after 45 years
of Independence, we cannot ensure even the minimum needs of our common people.
Blitz: Why did we fail?
LKA: One basic reason is we lost the national spirit. There was nothing to
inspire us to build India according to our understanding of greatness. I am
not dealing here merely with the errors of policy. Of course, India committed
a mistake when it devised its economic strategy under the Soviet influence,
adopting a model which failed to yield results. The capitalist model may have
created social tension and other injustices, which the Soviet model also has
not been able to avoid, but at least it contributed to greater economic growth.
So the kind of poverty we see today may not have been there had we rejected the
But apart from the adoption of the wrong policies, it is the gradual erosion
of idealism and the national spirit which has really caused the present
deformities in our society. Prior to 1947, the freedom movement itself was a
factor which strengthened nationalism and the patriotic urge in the common man,
investing in him a capacity for sacrifice and selfless action. After indepen-
dence, however, there has been no such inspiration for them. And with the
passage of time, as decadence set in the political system, values and ideals
started crumbling and Indian society lost its dynamism.
Blitz: Can that dynamism be recovered, and how?
LKA: Without recovering that dynamism we cannot really hope to achieve anything
And it can be recaptured. After all, even in that pre-1947 phase there had to
be leaders like Gandhiji, Aurobindo, Nehru and others to kindle that flame. In
fact, I would say that, if you contrast the performance of the Muslim League
and its leaders Md. Ali Jinnah, it was just a struggle for political power. I
am not saying this pejoratively, I am only contrasting this with the kind of
inspiration that the freedom movement, which was institutionalised by the
Congress, generated among the Indian people. Apart from the Congress, there
were also others like the Revolutionaries, Subhash Chandra Bose and Dr Ambedkar
who tried to impart a certain positive social content to the freedom movement.
All of them saw political freedom as a pre-condition for building a just strong
and self-confident India.
All this produced dynamism of an idealistic kind. And what we need today is
a similar dynamism of an idealistic kind which is determined to build India in
accordance with its potential and its own ideals of happiness, so that in the
21st century India becomes a country reckoned as great by the whole world on
Blitz: What can be the source of such inspiration in today's world?
LKA: Unfortunately these days the movement to which I belong has been subject
to calumny and disinformation of a very high intensity. As a result of which,
the moment you talk about Hindutva, the conception is that it is something
narrow and sectarian. Sectarianism cannot inspire, narrowness cannot inspire.
When the leaders of the freedom movement interpreted or tried to compress the
entire national movement in the chant of Vandemataram, there were critics who
decried that slogan as being unacceptable, as being idolatrous, etc., etc.
But it goes to the credit of our leaders of that time that they did not
buckle under such criticism. They explained that it is only the cult of
worshipping the motherland as Mother India which can raise the people to levels
of sacrifice which simply a political struggle cannot. Therefore Bharat Mata ki
Jai and Vande Mataram and all the associated ideas and symbols became very
soul of India's freedom movement. Unfortunately, if anyone tries to emphasise
these ideas as vital to the country to come out of the present degenerate
situation, it is supposed to be sectarian and communal.
Blitz: Does this point to a fundamental civilisational clash between Indian
ethos and an exclusivist Islamic civilisation which history brought India in
LKA: Not merely that. I would think that the Indian Constitution itself derived
the concept of secularism from Hindutva. After all, none of semitic religions
would accept that all religions are correct. It is only in India where it is
supposed to be ipso facto true. Thus, the concept of secularism itself is
rooted in the traditional beliefs and values of this country, which we today
emphasise by calling it Hindutva. There would not have been the need to
emphasise this subject had not the Hindu word been made a taboo by the
Blitz: But do you foresee that, in the near future, Hindutva will be understood
not as a sectarian concept, but as an essential and vital nationalistic concept
LKA: I am sure of it. And I would not blame only my adversaries for the miscon-
ception on this score. It is our failure also, though circumstances and deve-
lopments have made our task difficult to explain the concept of Hindutva in
such a manner as to make it acceptable to all. We should not always explain it
in a manner that it may be perceived to be a result only of criticism by our
adversaries. It is necessary to project Hindutva in a positive way, as a
concept that offers sound solutions to the many problems facing society. But
I am confident that in course of time, this will happen.
Blitz: What social tasks do you see for Hindutva in the coming years?
LKA: Removal of internal discrimination in Hindu society on the lines of caste
and sub-caste will have to be a principal task before the Hindutva movement,
if Hindutva is to become acceptable to adherents of faiths that have not had
their origin in India. The first and foremost responsibility of those who
advocate this viewpoint is to see that the kind of injustices which have been
perpetrated by the Hindu society itself are completely redressed. Without this
there can be no real progress.
I lay particular stress on another crucial task. Eradication of illiteracy
must become a matter of top priority for all socio-political organisations -
governmental as well as non governmental. Unless we promote primary education
in a big way, India's future generation will not be in a position to meet the
challenges of the 21st century. Alongside, the quality of education at all
levels must be improved. Without education, all dreams of making India a great
nation will come to nought. That is why I keep telling the Chief Ministers in
my party's governments, "If I were to tell your governments to accomplish only
one thing, it is: Improve education, with particular focus on spreading primary
Blitz: But what needs to be done to endear Hindutva to religions which have
not had their origins on Indian soil? In your recent press conference in
Bombay you had said that you would not do anything wrong to get the support
of Muslims. But is there anything right which needs to be done in order to
endear Indian Muslims to Hindutva?
LKA: To the extent that Hindutva can be explained to the country and to the
world as not in any way hamstrung by religious dogma, but being identifiable
with India's national interest, to that extent the followers of faiths which
have not had its origins in India can also be persuaded to identify with
Hindutva. What, after all, is the heritage of this country? What is the
contribution of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Gita to the making of
India's history, tradition and social practices? What are the cultural under-
pinnings of this country?
If Muslims think of these questions in an objective manner, without blindly
accepting the criticism of Hindutva by its detractors, they will realise what
the movement to which I belong is doing is neither anti-Islam nor anti-Muslim.
It will take its own time, but to the extent that we are able to ensure that
there is no discrimination between non-Muslims and Muslims, and to the extent
that our governments guarantee communal peace, Hindutva will also endear itself
to Indian Muslims.
Blitz: You said, earlier, that the word superpower has a negative connotation
for historical reasons. How do you understand power in the emerging global
LKA: Yes, the word superpower has come to have a negative connotation because
of its close association with military power. But that does not mean that we
should be against military power itself. That is why, the school of thought
to which I belong has been advocating for a long time that India should
become a nuclear-weapon state.
Ours is the only party pleading that India build a nuclear deterrent of its
own, not because we would like India or, for that matter, any country in the
world to use nuclear weapon again. I hope and pray that the two bombs dropped
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be the last bombs thrown on any country. But,
at the same time, we are aware that in the conduct of international relations
today, sheer diplomatic experience shows that a nuclear power carries a greater
weight than a non-nuclear power.
Similarly, we have always welcomed demonstration of power by the government
whenever it has served our legitmate national interest and has added to India's
strength - whether it is the police action in Hydrabad or the merger of Goa
with India or the nuclear explosion at Pokharan. On all these occasions, the
world has not viewed India's actions kindly, whereas I do think that after
each of these actions our position to deal with the world and solve our own
problems has somewhat improved. And therefore it is that, even though, in
totality, our objective should be to make India great, in the present world
context India cannot become great unless our country gains allround strength.
Blitz: It apprears to us that the present political system is a big stumbling
block in India's efforts to become a great nation. Many great leaders of the
freedom movement, like Gandhiji and Aurobindo, had a deep distrust of the
party system. Do you agree that today's competitive political system based on
political parties has been dissipating our national energies?
LKA: Having distrust of a certain system without being able to offer a viable
alternative can be extremely damaging for the country. And, frankly, despite
the shortcomings that I see in the present system of governance and even while
agreeing with your observation that party system dissipates national energies,
I am hesitant to suggest that we should do away with this system. For these
failings, I would not blame the system so much as the people who have been
running the system. I am inclined to rely on what Chrchill had to say: Parlia-
mentary democracy is a bad form of governance, but we have not been able to
find a better one.
Blitz: Looking at the nation's interests from a long-term point of view, it is
obvious that there cannot be two national mainstreams in politics. Your party
is trying to emerge as a national mainstream, but the Congress is showing no
signs of a total disintegration. Doesn't this point to the imperative of
closer cooperation between the Congress and your party, so that the coming
together of these two mainstreams can re-energise the national spirit, which
alone can make India great?
LKA: There was a time when, within the Congress, the two ideological streams
coexisted. They had Pt Nehru as well as Sardar Patel, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad
or Gandhiji himself. Nehru represented a distinct ideological strand whereas
the others were different but still the two co-existed. Neither of them regard-
ed the other destructive of national interest. The unfortunate situation today
is that our viewpoint is supposed to be subversive of national interest and
there is a constant effort to isolate us. Of course, this also has its own
response; sometimes if adds to our strength. But it would be a happy situation
if these two strands of opinion keep competing and discussing and debating,
always keeping the national interest uppermost in their calculations.