The Hindu Phenomenon
Subject: The Hindu Phenomenon
Mr. Girilal Jain, the former editor of The Times of India, was one of the most-
original thinker-journalist of his time. His latest book: The Hindu Phenomenon,
published posthumously, is certainly provoking a heated scholarly debate in the
news-papers columns and attracting critical and commending reviews in the
media. Here below are some excerpts from the book.
THE HINDU PHENOMENON
By: Girilal Jain
I must say at the outset that I think in terms which are different from the
ones that have dominated the public discourse in our country for a century and
longer. I think in terms of civilizations, and not territorial states. It is
not that I do not believe in the validity of the concept of the nation-state as
an organising principle in the economic and political field. I do. But I do not
regard it as adequate for defining the nature of our enterprise and therefore
the obligation of our state which must flow from a definition of its nature.
Indeed, I believe that it is our failure to view ourselves as a civilisation
and to formulate the tasks for our state accordingly that lies behind many of
the problems we face.
As I said at the outset, I think in terms of civilisations and not of
nations or territorial states. This is a relatively new development in my life
and, to be candid, I do not believe it would have crystallised to the extent it
has if the VHP's campaign on Ramjanambhoomi temple in Ayodhya had not acquired
the sweep it had by the time of the Shilanyas in 1989; if this sweep had not
got translated into support for the BJP in the elections that followed the
shilanyas; if the BJP had not, as a result, become a significant factor in
Indian politics, and, finally, if the popular response to LK Advani's rath
yatra had not been as overwhelming as in fact it turned out to be.
Success, as the saying goes, has many fathers and failure none. But there
is a difference between what we call opportunism and willingness to recognise a
significant change, especially a change that promises to mark the end of an
epoch and the beginning of new one. I am persuaded that we are witnessing a
change of that order in India.
So, as I view the scene, it is no longer particularly relevant to debate
whether Hindu Rashtra is desirable or not, though many of us, mired as we
human beings mostly are in modes of thought which have had their day, will
continue to engage in this exercise. It has been firmly and finally put on the
agenda, though, again many of us would try hard to avoid this recognition
because, more often than not, wish is the father of thought for most of us. The
pertinent question now is the speed with which this possibility is likely to
I for one do not regard speculation regarding the time frame to be in order.
As a Hindu believes in the ineluctable power of the time spirit: Mahakala will
deliver on time - neither earlier nor later. What is material is that the
country is well set on the road, and while there may be, indeed there shall be,
setbacks, these will be temporary. History zigzags; it never moves in a strai-
ght line. But it moves, and according to a pattern.
An epchal change, it is hardly necessary for me to point out, cannot take
place unless the existing order has more or less exhausted its beneficial
potentialities, and the new order has been in the making for quite some time.
Unknown to us and invisible to us, the two processes are more or less simultan-
eous. This has been the case in India, as I hope to be able to show. The sub-
ject is extremely complex and I cannot possibly do anything like justice to it
for a variety of reasons. This would have been the case even if I was concerned
only with the post-independence period, or the freedom movement. But I am con-
cerned with a whole millennium. So you can imagine the difficulties I face in
working out and presenting a theory which is reasonably coherent, intelligible
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 mille-
nium 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 the assault. Only on a
superficial, so-called rational, view can it be regarded as an accident that
the millenium 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 Ram temple at a site millions of ordi-
nary Hindus regard as the avatar's janambhoomi.
For me as an analyst, the condemnation of the campaign in favour of the
temple as Hindu 'communalism', 'obscurantism', 'relapse into medievalism' and
'fascism' is as besides the point as condemnation of the destruction of Hindu
temples, including the famous Somnath, by Mahmud Ghaznavi at the beginning of
the eleventh century. As a Hindu, I, of course, welcome the former and feel
saddened by the memory of the latter. But analysis is a different matter
altogether. It has to be clinical in its rigour. By that yardstick, the first
is an expression of Hindu resurgence and the second of the second Islamic
esplosion centered on Central Asia, as the first was centered on Arabia.
Religious-civilisational explosions are like floods and earthquakes. Only
in retrospect do their adherents and proponents look for and offer justifica-
tion for them. When they take place, they are their own justification, or
condemnation for victims. This was clearly true of the first Islamic wave in
the seventh and eighth centuries, which saw the beginning of the attack on the
frontiers of our civilisation in Afghanistan, Eastern Iran, Baluchistan, and
Sind, and this was equally true of the second Turkic Islamic wave which over-
took us precisely because our defences on the border had finally given way
after three to four centuries of bitter fight.
It will be outside the scope of this discussion for me to go into the state
of India at that time and the nature of the Indian response. Even so, it is
necessary to make a couple of points in passing because a distorted perspective
has come to dominate our thinking in this regard. India, of course, could not
mobilise against Mahmud Ghaznavi and subsequent invaders the kind of vigorous
response Chandragupta Maurya had after the raid of Alaxander the Great in the
fourth century BC, but this was primarily because the center of political power
had moved from North India, which had to bear the brunt of Muslim invasions,
to the Deccan and the south. It is really a shame that so few Hindus are alive
to the achievements of the Rashtrakuta, Satvahan, Chola and Vijaynagar empires.
This applies as much to those who rejoice in the Rajput resistance, followed
by Maratha and Sikh resistance, as to those who take pride in the 'glory' of
the Mughal empire.
It would also be in order to emphasise that the Hindu resistance to Muslim
invasions, conquests and rule was truly heroic, both in fact and in spirit.
The first aspect is by now well recognised and need not therefore detain us.
The latter aspect has, however, not received much attention at the hands of
historians and, therefore, needs to be specially emphasised.
The Bhakti movement was doubtless part of the Hindu response to Muslim rule.
But it is a travesty of the truth to suggest, as is done by any number of
Hindu intellectuals, that it represented an attempt to produce a synthesis
between Hinduism and Islam. If anything, it was an attempt, even if unconscious
to disarm Islam with the help of a popular movement which clearly demonstrated
that equality before God was as much part of Hinduism as it was of Islam. The
Bhakti movement was a form of resistance and not an attempt at synthesis or
Many Hindu intellectuals are just not able to comprehend the fact that there
is no human aspiration or experience which lies outside the range of Hinduism;
it provides for even demon-Gods. In contrast, all religions are in the nature
of sects, though they cannot be so defined because of their insistence on
their separateness and, indeed, hostility to Hinduism.
The point I wish particularly to underscore is, however, different; which
is that when Hindus fought and lost, they did not throw up prophets of woe
and doom; they did not bemoan that their Gods had let them down because they
had been 'disloyal' to them. Hindus are perhaps unique in this respect.
A large number of Hindus, of course, cooperated with Muslim rulers and
millions even got converted to Islam. It is important to know, even in retros-
pect, how Islam spread. But, for one thing, the distinction that is often made
between conversion by force (sword), temptation (favours by the court) and
persuasion (influence of pious Sufis) is rather arbitrary because all three
factors operated in conjunction with one another; and, for another, the more
critical point for us is that by the time the Mughal empire went into decline
in the early eighteenth century, a kind of stalemate had been reached, with
neither the Hindus nor the Muslims able to dominate India as a whole. It was
in this context that the British came to rule over India.
It is commonplace that the Raj was very different from Muslim rule. Two
differences have been spotlighted by any number of historians and commentators.
They have said that the British remained foreighners, while Muslim invaders
and immigrants made India their home, and the British drained India of its
wealth which Muslim rulers did not because the latter settled down here for
For me, however, there is a third difference which is of critical importance
This difference is that the British did not come to India - and did not rule
over India - as part of proselytising enterprise in the religious realm.
Indeed, it was with great reluctance that the authorities in Calcutta, acting
on behalf of the East India Company, yielded to the pressure from London to
allow Christian missionaries to enter India and engage proselytisation. In the
absence of backing by the state, however, the Christian missionaries could
achieve only a pretty limited measure of success and, that too, largely among
weaker sections of society, which could be tempted and manipulated.
This absence of a direct link between the state and the Church offered
great relief to Hindus and ensured their survival in freedom, and, therefore,
held out the prospect of Hindu self-affirmation. It is my contention that a
process of self-affirmation, in fact, began with the establishment and consoli-
dation of British rule. I view Raja Rammohan Roy and other reformers as much
in that light as men such as Ramakrishna Paramhans, Swami Vivekananda, Sri
Aurobindo and Maharishi Raman.
The British ruled over India as representatives of Western civilisation.
Christianity was doubtless a major constituent of that civilisation. But with
Renaissance in 15th century and Enlightenment in the 18th, Christianity ceased
to be its 'informing principle.' The Graeco Roman heritage took its place.
This heritage was pagan; it provided for plurality in every sphere of human
activity, and it therefore promoted acceptance of a relativist approach. As
such, Hinduism could easily come to terms with it and, in fact, accommodate it.
And precisely for the same reason, Islam could not come to terms with it. By
virtue of being a legatee of Western civilisation (rooted at least as much in
an ancient pagan civilisation, similar to India's, if not India's sister or
daughter via Egypt, as in Christianity), the Raj constituted a chalenge to
Islam, while it served as a stimulus to Hindus for self-discovery and recovery.