Ashutosh says the Ram mandir issue forced many in Bharat to rethink their politics, the idea of Hindutva slowly seeped into India.
Ashutosh was earthy when I first met him at the offices of Business India Television (BITV), a channel that raised hopes with some interesting programming but tanked because some fools ill-advised the owners to hire rusty satellites based out of the Soviet Union which, in turn, destroyed the reach of the channel.
But television journalists from BITV made their mark elsewhere, Ashutosh turned into a fine anchor with his silver streak hair and lovely black suits that jelled perfectly in the expansive studios of Aaj Tak, then headed by the legendary SP Singh. His next stint was at IBN7, now a part of the News18 Network. And then, Ashutosh took the plunge; it was like seeking Gangajal from Sangam. He joined the Aam Admi Party, headed by IIT-trained Arvind Kejriwal, a man known for raising questions and leaving - strangely - everything to the masses. Ashutosh was Kejriwal’s Man Friday and vociferously defended him on forums and television debates, and even wrote a book on Kejriwal.
And then Ashutosh changed track, moved out of AAP and turned a columnist and started writing interesting books. His latest, Hindu Rashtra, by the very name shows he hates the idea of a Hindu nation that is plugged by the right-wing BJP and he wants India to be a truly secular nation in the face of such challenges. Ashutosh lives in the hope that Bharat - it appeared to me that India is not uppermost on his mind - will actually emerge out of its communal conundrum, and a Ram-Rahim Rajya will take charge. It’s almost like asking Bengalis to take over the PMO, there is ample fear that the show could be messed up. But no one can doubt Ashutosh about his hopes, and his love for this billion-plus nation.
So let’s discuss Hindu Rashtra. Does it actually exist, or does it not, or are we actually heading towards one? And more importantly, what does Ashutosh, the writer, wants to happen in India. Ashutosh says the Ram mandir issue forced many in Bharat to rethink their politics, the idea of Hindutva slowly seeped into India. Ashutosh says it was also triggered by the way the Congress continued its policies of Muslim appeasement, especially in the light of the Shah Bano case when the party tried to reverse a Supreme Court order in the Parliament. The Congress, argues Ashutosh, also lost its sheen from 1982 onwards, and it was around the time the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP offered the other idea of Hindutva. Peppered with interviews, the book highlights how Mahatma Gandhi and MS Golwakar clashed with their ideas of how India as a nation should be conceived. Gandhi believed Hindus and Muslims were his two eyes, Golwalkar blamed Gandhi for appeasing Muslims and felt Muslims should leave for Pakistan if they were not keen to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture. The RSS was not powerful to confront the Congress for a very long time, not anymore.
Ashutosh says since the late 1990s, the Hindutva ideology has gained immense support and the RSS has mounted a severe attack on the Gandhi–Nehru vision of the nation. He fears that the Hindutva brand of new nationalism supports Golwalkar’s idea of Muslims as the internal enemy and belief that those who support them are anti-nationals.
But Ashutosh plays safe; he, probably, has learnt how politics and politicians work after his stint with AAP. He says there could be multiple ideas of nationalism, and positions can be defined in the way leaders want it to shape. For the records, Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose favoured violence as a tool to attain freedom, but Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru followed the path of non-violence. But how do you define nationalism now, is the question Ashutosh asks.
He knows the BJP way of using religious festival to mobilise masses is not new Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Bal Gangadhar Tilak also walked the same talk and argued in the favour of a religious renaissance for the regeneration of India in general and the Hindus in particular. Ashutosh wonders if this is good, or is it bad. Should political parties stop Durga Puja processions because of Muharram marches just to appease Muslims (always a solid vote bank) or should Hindus always remain all-inclusive, all-encompassing, accommodative and not confrontational. In short, Hinduism could be the mother of all religions but there should not be any place for hate (never mind how temples after temples were destructed by Moghul invaders and reconstructed).
Ashutosh is seeking answers. He should, he is a journalist. He must ask questions. And also offer answers, without which India, the nation, will not be complete. Why not undertake a great journey across India - like the late PM Chandra Shekhar - to understand the level of poverty. Maybe Ashutosh will find his answers in the hinterland, his Bharat. His book - at times a bit harsh on Hinduism - is still a riveting read.