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14 excerpts show why RSS doesn't want you to read Bipan Chandra's NBT book

Praneta Jha | Updated on: 7 September 2016, 13:05 IST

When Baldeo Bhai Sharma took over as chairman of the National Book Trust in March 2015, he said he didn't want to "bring any controversy and politics into NBT's work.". That doesn't seem to have worked out for Sharma, a former editor of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece Panchjanya.

Sixteen months later, on 9 August, NBT suddenly withdrew a Rs 49 lakh print order for Hindi reprints of a popular social science book by late renowned historian Bipan Chandra, titled Communalism: A Primer. This was done without any official explanation.

The book in question - called Sampradayikta: Ek Praveshika in Hindi - not only explains the ideological character of communalism, but also slams the RSS and its political godchild, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Only one newspaper has reported the NBT's decision to cancel the print order for 3,100 copies of the book, some three weeks after it happened.

The news report said efforts were on to stop the English and Urdu editions of the book as well.

Chandra was himself chairman of NBT between 2004 and 2012. NBT is an autonomous apex body under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Established in 1957, it publishes low-cost books on a variety of subjects in 31 languages, including English and Hindi.

Chandra, a key figure in the left-of-centre nationalist school of history in India, died at the age of 86 in August 2014, barely three months after the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power with an unprecedented mandate.

Here are some excerpts from his book Communalism: A Primer. Perhaps they would give some idea why the RSS lobby doesn't want you to read it.

On the spread of communalism

"It (communalism) is no longer a local or regional phenomenon. It has become a nationwide phenomenon as the electoral success of the BJP and the growth of the other frontal organisations of the RSS in the last few years indicates."

"The BJP and its parent body, the RSS, recruit their cadres through strong and naked communal ideology."

On the Ram Janmabhoomi issue

"The BJP and its sister organisations, the VHP and Bajrang Dal, all carefully controlled by the RSS, have succeeded in harnessing the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and its religious appeal to gain entry into the minds of a large number of Hindus and to weaken their resistance to communalism."

On the 2012 Gujarat pogrom

"Those who killed and looted were strongly condemned and exemplary action demanded against them, but action against those who had preached and propagated communal hatred prior to the carnage was seldom demanded. Even Modi was criticised for not taking adequate action against, or even collaborating with, the rioters, but not for having generated in the previous months and years the atmosphere of communal hatred which had led tribals, urban poor and the middle classes to participate actively in the carnage. And not one question was raised as to who had communalized Narsi Mehta's, Gandhi's, and Morarji Desai's Gujarat."

On the impossibility of BJP becoming secular

"... it is futile to talk of reforming the BJP in a secular direction, as many had tried to do in 1977-78 in case of the Jan Sangh, the earlier incarnation of the BJP, or as many of the BJP's NDA allies believed they could do, or to ask the RSS to give up its anti-minority outlook, or to suggest that minus communalism the BJP would be 'alright'. This is to ignore the centrality of communal ideology in a communal party. The BJP minus communalism would not be 'alright'; it would be politically a big zero-and the BJP leaders know it."

On Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani

"... when BJP came to power (in 1998) I heard many suggest that Atal Behari Vajpayee is a sober, soft spoken and decent person and that the BJP has, under his leadership , become humanized and is now less communal especially as it is learning to function in a coalition government. In the nineties of the last century, we used to hear the same argument with regard to L.K. Advani. This view is not only facile but dangerous because leaders and parties cannot be separated from the ideology with which they operate among the masses. This is evident from Advani's Rath Yatra in 1990 and his and Vajpayee's ideological stand at crucial moments, especially with regard to Modi and the Gujarat carnage and Murli Manohar Joshi's implementation of BJP's policy of communalization of education."

On the charges of 'pseudo-secularism' and 'minorityism'

"A major attack on secularism by the RSS-BJP takes the form of describing secularism as pseudo-secularism and minorityism. An important component of communal propaganda, usually carried on in a subterranean manner through word of mouth, is that the secular parties and individuals have been favouring the minorities and reducing the Hindus to second class citizens. The purpose is to create a feeling of fear-the fear of being over-powered by the minorities-in the minds of the Hindus, who otherwise constitute more than 80 per cent of the population.

The term pseudo-secularism implies that those who profess to be secular are really not so but are really anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim. The charge of 'minorityism' implies that they really favour the minorities and cater to them while taking the Hindus for granted and trying to keep them down, that there was, during the Nehru era and after, 'discrimination against Hindus' and 'favouritism to minorities'. The secular forces are regularly accused of 'Muslim appeasement'."

On the myth of 'minority appeasement'

"Despite the so-called 'minority appeasement', there is not a single area of life where Muslims are favoured; not in government services, educational institutions, armed forces, the media, private business or public sector. In fact, Muslims have not made any gains as Muslims. Their educational, economic and social backwardness has continued as before... For example, the representation of Muslims in the government services is 4.5 per cent in Class I, II and 6 per cent in Class III and IV. Their share of employment in the corporate sector is even less."

On communalism as nationalism

"The real struggle against communalism will take place on the terrain of nationalism, for the communalists claim to be nationalists and communalism masquerades as nationalism."

On exploiting religion for communalism

"It is necessary in this respect to distinguish between religion as a belief system and the ideology of religious identity for economic and political purposes which is communalism. The two are very different.

However, while religion does not lead to communalism, religious narrow-mindedness, bigotry and obscurantism (in the name of going back to the so-called earlier purer form of a religion) do create a certain receptivity to communal ideology and politics."

On giving 'saffron' a bad name

"The terms saffron, saffronization, Sangh parivar, etc. are also to be avoided. For example, saffron is a hallowed colour in Hindu mythology. It was also the colour of Shivaji's flag. National revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh hailed the saffron flag, Hindu holy men usually put on saffron-coloured clothes. The Hindu communalists would like to appropriate the saffron colour. Why should it be handed over to them?"

On giving the word "parivar" a bad name

"Similarly, the word parivar (family) connotes something desirable, something all of us would like to be part of, something we love. The BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, HMS, etc. are not part of a parivar and should not be so described and thus given a pleasant nomenclature. They are the front organizations of the RSS, the public, the political-ideological instruments of the RSS, and are best described as such."

On communalization of religious-cultural figures and festivities

"... such universally respected religious-cultural figures as Ram and Krishna, respected equally by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, are being communalized. Such is also the case with such religious-cultural-social functions as Dussehra, Diwali, Holi, various Pujas of local gods, goddesses and faqirs, Muharram, Id, Shab-e-Barat, Christmas and birthdays of Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus, etc. ... Till recently, and even now in many areas, an atmosphere of social harmony prevailed in Indian towns and villages, with people of different religions participating in one another's festivals, marriages and other domestic events and sharing their joys and sorrows."

On BJP members

"Most of the members of the BJP are liberal communalists and not extreme communalists; however, its ideologues and organizers, trained by the RSS, belong to the latter category."

A past example of ignoring the ideological character of communalism

"...many secular persons and parties have tended to ignore the ideological character of communalism. A good example of this was the manner in which the secular and socialist segments of the Janata Party (1977-79) permitted the Jan Sangh-RSS segments of the party to penetrate and control the educational structures and government media, though in the end Chandra Shekhar,Madhu Limaye and some others did protest. Similarly, the secular allies of the BJP in the NDA had permitted the RSS-BJP segments of the Alliance to occupy all the ministries dealing with culture, education, youth affairs, and All India Radio and Doordarshan, and Home Affairs which deal with bureaucracy and intelligence services."

Academics speak up

Sahmat released a statement on NBT's decision to withdraw the print order on Communalism - A Primer.

"We have been shocked to learn that the very National Book Trust over which he had presided, has revoked the reprint order for the Hindi version of his book, Communalism - A Primer; and it is reported that the English and Urdu versions of the book are also being withdrawn. Such action on part of the NBT is a gross violation of freedom of views, and amounts in effect to the assumption that communalism is now the official doctrine of the country and no criticism of it or its practitioners can be permitted," the statement reads.

"As academics and citizens we fear that such actions as that of the NBT in respect of Bipan Chandra's book portend the imposition of an authoritarian regime. We, therefore, demand that the NBT remove its ban on Communalism-A Primer and continue to reprint and publish it," adds the statement signed by the likes of Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, Ania Loomba, Vivan Sundaram, Sohail Hashmi and others.

First published: 7 September 2016, 13:05 IST