The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Liberalism and belief in the democratic ethos hit their limit with Mr Singhal’s celebration of the Gujarat pogrom

There is one thing to be said in favour of Mr Ashok Singhal, the international working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He never leaves you in doubt about where he stands. Those who have been following his singularly unedifying but spectacular rise to public prominence know of his hatred of Muslims and of his advocacy of a creed he calls Hinduism but which has no resemblance to any of the tenets associated with the faith that goes by the name of Hinduism. Thus it is not surprising that Mr Singhal announced, in a small function in Amritsar, that Gujarat had been a very successful experiment. He acclaimed the fact that entire villages had been “emptied of Islam” and that large numbers of Muslims had been dispatched to refugee camps. All this, according to Mr Singhal, was a victory for Hindu society. For good measure, he added that the Gujarat experiment would be repeated all over India.

It is true that fanatics all over the world, irrespective of their religious and ideological colour, do not follow the dictates of reason nor do they speak the language of decency. Thus, it is only to be expected that Mr Singhal should spout hatred in the name of religion and that he should celebrate the killing of Muslims and the destruction of their properties. The problem lies elsewhere. The immediate question that springs to mind concerns the extent of freedom that can be allowed in a democracy. Should Mr Singhal or any one else be allowed to make statements of this kind and propagate a creed that violates not only the tenets of secularism enshrined in the Constitution but also destroys the very basis of any kind of civilized existence' Liberalism in India and the belief in the democratic ethos hit their limits with the kind of pronouncements made by Mr Singhal. At a strictly legal level, Mr Singhal is guilty of inciting communal passions, and his speech in Amritsar was openly inflammatory.

The point is important because hatred of Muslims and all things Islamic is at the very core of the creed Mr Singhal advocates. It is, in fact, the raison d’être of the organization, the VHP, that Mr Singhal heads. Moreover, such hatred was the driving force in the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha, out of which have sprung organizations like the VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, the founding fathers of the Hindu Mahasabha, made no secret of their belief that Muslims were aliens in India and of their intense hatred of Muslims. Mr Singhal is part of this long line of fanaticism and he is merely echoing his gurus. That, of course, makes his ideas even more despicable and dangerous.

The danger does not lie only in the threat that Mr Singhal and the VHP embody in a pluralist society like India. It lies in two opposite directions. One is the relegation of Mr Singhal to the loony fringe of Hindutva. The other is the space being given to him and other elements of the sangh parivar to set the national agenda. Critics of Mr Singhal are guilty on both counts and that is why he flourishes.

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