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No dialogue between sheep and wolves

John Dayal 20 Jan 2016

 
I had my first close encounter with Mr. Narendra Modi in the late 1990s, sometime before he was parachuted into Ahmedabad as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s choice as the new chief minister of Gujarat.  He had accompanied RSS chief  Kuppahalli Sudarshan, now dead, to the office of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in New Delhi to meet Archbishop Alan de Lastic, the late Archbishop of Delhi  who was then head of the Catholic Church in India.

It was not a structured “formal dialogue”, but the Archbishop was persuaded to meet them after a long chain of violent events, with several intermediaries including a US-based Christian scholar who claimed he was doing a doctoral research study on inter religious dialogue. The man did not explain why the talk was fixed with the RSS chief, and not with the several Shankaracharyas and heads of various sects and “mutts” in India, or even with the Ramakrishna Mission with whom the church had, through its interfaith dialogue commissions, been regularly in touch then, as it is now.

The Archbishop insisted that the talk be held in his headquarters, and not at the RSS offices, or even a “neutral” place. He also chose a delegation of clergy, women and some laypersons, I among them, to join the meeting.  I was even more reluctant than the Archbishop. In a lifetime in journalism – now 46 years and counting – I had covered scores, if not hundreds, of riots targeted at Muslims, and the one against Sikhs in 1984, had read every single judicial enquiry report, and seen first hand Sangh “shivirs”, training camps and shakhas in various states of India, including Delhi. As most reporters of that time did, we had also gone through the founding texts of the RSS, including “A bunch of Thoughts”, and “We, our Nationhood Defined”. And most of the “parchas”, booklets, pamphlets and handbills that we could collect in the riot hit areas. I am sure the police and the Intelligence Bureau would have sackfuls of these in their archives. 

The so-called meeting was the disaster it had been anticipated to be by the Archbishop. Mr. Modi uttered very few words, but Mr. Sudarshan was articulate in his opposition to Hindus being converted to Christianity, which he implied was not at their own volition, but by some fraud or trick being played by Christian priests. He wanted the Church to stop conversions immediately. Archbishop Alan tried to explain to him the theological underpinning of conversion, a change of heart and mind-set. I do not think Mr. Sudarshan was listening. He said no one converts as a matter of choice, or of free will, a concept of which he was perhaps ignorant. One of the women in our delegation, a social worker and communications expert from Nagpur, and an official of the Church of North India, told Mr. Sudarshan that she was the daughter of a Hindu family, upper caste at that, a post graduate, and had converted to Christianity without anyone forcing her to do so. Mr. Sudarshan was not expecting this retort, and from a woman at that. He kept quiet. That was also the end of the meeting. 

It was also the only time in my life I have been in a “meeting” or a “dialogue” with the RSS, though I routinely attend meetings with almost all political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, and count many religious heads, including prominent Hindus, among my friends. I meet them frequently, alone, in groups, and in formal “dialogue” settings.  

There may be individuals, possibly those seeking some political opportunity, who may have met RSS leaders in the almost two decades since then, and of course those living in Nagpur who run into the Sangh leadership in the city which is their headquarters, but to my knowledge, there have been only two major group meetings between Christian religious leaders and the Sangh leadership of any senior rank. There are many genuine and self styled Christian Bishops, and others, including former Supreme court judges, who routinely meet BJP leaders, and a few who even subscribe to the BJP ideology. But they remain in a very small minority. 

One of the women in our (Chritistian) delegation, a social worker and communications expert from Nagpur, and an official of the Church of North India, told Mr. Sudarshan that she was the daughter of a Hindu family, upper caste at that, a post graduate, and had converted to Christianity without anyone forcing her to do so. Mr. Sudarshan was not expecting this retort, and from a woman at that. He kept quiet.

One of these two meetings was in Bhubaneswar-Cuttack in Orissa in the wake of the massive violence against Christians in the district of Kandhamal. Just to recall, more than 6,000 houses and more than 300 churches were destroyed in district wide arson in August 2008, following the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad  leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati by Maoists in his ashram in the district. More than 120 Christians were murdered, and about 60,000 people had to flee into the nearby Sal forests to save their lives. The death toll would have been massive if the forests had not given them shelter. Tens of thousands remain in government camps because of continuous threats. The church helped rebuild their houses when the government arbitrarily shut down the camps. The other meeting was in a guise of a Christmas get together where Mr. Indresh Kumar, the senior RSS leader, was present.  He is apparently the point person for Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. This is not the occasion to dwell on his antecedents and his record at the hands of the National Investigations Agency. 

The so-called dialogue in Orissa saw the Sangh repeat its well-known arguments as it blamed the Christians for inviting the violence on them. At the end of the “talks”, the Sangh leaders went away saying they would decide on a statement. The statement never came. This is the way these dialogues end. 

The church loves dialogue. It is a tenet of the Catholic teachings. Various Popes and Congregations have propounded on the need for continuous dialogue. A special emphasis is dialogue for peace, against terrorism, and for the welfare of people. But it does not see dialogue as capitulation to evil, or violence, or to moral issues, which go against the values taught by Jesus Christ.  “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” refers to governments, constitutional agencies, official and accepted structures as excising in democracies, and sometimes even in dictatorships. Many in the church still look askance at some of the actions of the Church during the rule of Adolf Hitler. 

The current talk of a possible dialogue is because of a report that the Sangh is setting up a Rashtriya Isai [Christian} Manch on the lines of its frontal organisations for Sikhs and Muslims. Both communities have rejected those organisations, which now remain mostly on paper with a few minority representatives heading them for the occasional show at election time. 

According to the Catholic media, the Church is on a wait-and-watch mode towards the RSS' plans to float the  Christian Manch. Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the current president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has said that he was yet to be convinced about the new outfit's actual objectives. The Cardinal is not unaware of the ideology of the Sangh.
                                             
Apart from the main objection to the ideology of the RSS, which is rooted in a Nazi-Fascist inspiration, and racist and religious hate against other faiths, there are several other reasons why I oppose any bilateral dialogue with a group whose short history of 90 years is so steeped in violence and bloodshed. 

The presence of Christians in India is historic, and they constitute an important strand that makes the composite culture of the south Asian landmass. Their contribution towards the evolution of a modern nation is also historic. But it is often forgotten in debate that their citizenship, as of other religious minorities, is cemented in the Constitution. They are not here on sufferance, or because they are “tolerated” by another group or political entity. 

As citizens of a constitutional state, they are answerable to other instruments of state, such as the courts, and parliament. How can they allow themselves to be judged by non–state actors such as the RSS?  

A dialogue with non-state actors effectively betrays the State, and the Constitution, and dilutes the rule of law. There can be no question of Muslims, Sikhs or Christians “buying” or negotiating collective or separate peace and security with the RSS. The Constituent assembly saw the creative dialogue required for rule of law and creation of a civil society in which people can live in peace and pursue development and happiness. 

Can Christians, or any other community, seek bilateral treaties with various groups in India?  This suggestion is fraught with serious consequences for the unity of the country. All communities have to live together, and this can happen only if they swear common allegiance to the Constitution and the rule of law. We shudder to think of a situation there two or more communities gang up against a third one. This has happened in some nations, which have been rent asunder in civil strife. 

What will be the Terms of Reference, TOR, of any dialogue? What will the Christian community seek in such a dialogue? That it be left alone? Or seek a certificate from the RSS that it is a good Christian community?  That it will give up all its unique activities, including speaking of Jesus Christ and will confine itself to mere closed-door rituals?  That it will run its schools and colleges and hospitals as mere social work or commercial establishments and not reach out to the poor, the Dalits and tribals, the marginalised people? 

What is the guarantee that any assurance by such non-state actors can be trusted? 

There is an ongoing dialogue of life between people of all groups. For Christians, this dialogue of life is 2,000 years old, beginning in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  

This on-going dialogue between the peoples of all communities is why there is peace in the countryside in such a complex nation, unless fanatics such as of the RSS come and polarize the people. This dialogue, which brings unity in commerce, social needs and goodwill, and a common commitment to the rule of law, is permanent. This is the experience of all democracies across the world. 

Dialogue is good. We need to dialogue with other spiritual traditions. We need to dialogue with different Christian denominations. And in the Catholic Church, there must be a healthy dialogue between the laity, the religious, the hierarchy, and the clergy. This is essential for a healthy church. Let us begin with this essential dialogue. And let the RSS learn more about India and its constitution.

(The author is a journalist, occasional documentary film maker and social activist)

No dialogue between sheep and wolves


 
I had my first close encounter with Mr. Narendra Modi in the late 1990s, sometime before he was parachuted into Ahmedabad as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s choice as the new chief minister of Gujarat.  He had accompanied RSS chief  Kuppahalli Sudarshan, now dead, to the office of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in New Delhi to meet Archbishop Alan de Lastic, the late Archbishop of Delhi  who was then head of the Catholic Church in India.

It was not a structured “formal dialogue”, but the Archbishop was persuaded to meet them after a long chain of violent events, with several intermediaries including a US-based Christian scholar who claimed he was doing a doctoral research study on inter religious dialogue. The man did not explain why the talk was fixed with the RSS chief, and not with the several Shankaracharyas and heads of various sects and “mutts” in India, or even with the Ramakrishna Mission with whom the church had, through its interfaith dialogue commissions, been regularly in touch then, as it is now.

The Archbishop insisted that the talk be held in his headquarters, and not at the RSS offices, or even a “neutral” place. He also chose a delegation of clergy, women and some laypersons, I among them, to join the meeting.  I was even more reluctant than the Archbishop. In a lifetime in journalism – now 46 years and counting – I had covered scores, if not hundreds, of riots targeted at Muslims, and the one against Sikhs in 1984, had read every single judicial enquiry report, and seen first hand Sangh “shivirs”, training camps and shakhas in various states of India, including Delhi. As most reporters of that time did, we had also gone through the founding texts of the RSS, including “A bunch of Thoughts”, and “We, our Nationhood Defined”. And most of the “parchas”, booklets, pamphlets and handbills that we could collect in the riot hit areas. I am sure the police and the Intelligence Bureau would have sackfuls of these in their archives. 

The so-called meeting was the disaster it had been anticipated to be by the Archbishop. Mr. Modi uttered very few words, but Mr. Sudarshan was articulate in his opposition to Hindus being converted to Christianity, which he implied was not at their own volition, but by some fraud or trick being played by Christian priests. He wanted the Church to stop conversions immediately. Archbishop Alan tried to explain to him the theological underpinning of conversion, a change of heart and mind-set. I do not think Mr. Sudarshan was listening. He said no one converts as a matter of choice, or of free will, a concept of which he was perhaps ignorant. One of the women in our delegation, a social worker and communications expert from Nagpur, and an official of the Church of North India, told Mr. Sudarshan that she was the daughter of a Hindu family, upper caste at that, a post graduate, and had converted to Christianity without anyone forcing her to do so. Mr. Sudarshan was not expecting this retort, and from a woman at that. He kept quiet. That was also the end of the meeting. 

It was also the only time in my life I have been in a “meeting” or a “dialogue” with the RSS, though I routinely attend meetings with almost all political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, and count many religious heads, including prominent Hindus, among my friends. I meet them frequently, alone, in groups, and in formal “dialogue” settings.  

There may be individuals, possibly those seeking some political opportunity, who may have met RSS leaders in the almost two decades since then, and of course those living in Nagpur who run into the Sangh leadership in the city which is their headquarters, but to my knowledge, there have been only two major group meetings between Christian religious leaders and the Sangh leadership of any senior rank. There are many genuine and self styled Christian Bishops, and others, including former Supreme court judges, who routinely meet BJP leaders, and a few who even subscribe to the BJP ideology. But they remain in a very small minority. 

One of the women in our (Chritistian) delegation, a social worker and communications expert from Nagpur, and an official of the Church of North India, told Mr. Sudarshan that she was the daughter of a Hindu family, upper caste at that, a post graduate, and had converted to Christianity without anyone forcing her to do so. Mr. Sudarshan was not expecting this retort, and from a woman at that. He kept quiet.

One of these two meetings was in Bhubaneswar-Cuttack in Orissa in the wake of the massive violence against Christians in the district of Kandhamal. Just to recall, more than 6,000 houses and more than 300 churches were destroyed in district wide arson in August 2008, following the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad  leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati by Maoists in his ashram in the district. More than 120 Christians were murdered, and about 60,000 people had to flee into the nearby Sal forests to save their lives. The death toll would have been massive if the forests had not given them shelter. Tens of thousands remain in government camps because of continuous threats. The church helped rebuild their houses when the government arbitrarily shut down the camps. The other meeting was in a guise of a Christmas get together where Mr. Indresh Kumar, the senior RSS leader, was present.  He is apparently the point person for Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. This is not the occasion to dwell on his antecedents and his record at the hands of the National Investigations Agency. 

The so-called dialogue in Orissa saw the Sangh repeat its well-known arguments as it blamed the Christians for inviting the violence on them. At the end of the “talks”, the Sangh leaders went away saying they would decide on a statement. The statement never came. This is the way these dialogues end. 

The church loves dialogue. It is a tenet of the Catholic teachings. Various Popes and Congregations have propounded on the need for continuous dialogue. A special emphasis is dialogue for peace, against terrorism, and for the welfare of people. But it does not see dialogue as capitulation to evil, or violence, or to moral issues, which go against the values taught by Jesus Christ.  “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” refers to governments, constitutional agencies, official and accepted structures as excising in democracies, and sometimes even in dictatorships. Many in the church still look askance at some of the actions of the Church during the rule of Adolf Hitler. 

The current talk of a possible dialogue is because of a report that the Sangh is setting up a Rashtriya Isai [Christian} Manch on the lines of its frontal organisations for Sikhs and Muslims. Both communities have rejected those organisations, which now remain mostly on paper with a few minority representatives heading them for the occasional show at election time. 

According to the Catholic media, the Church is on a wait-and-watch mode towards the RSS' plans to float the  Christian Manch. Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the current president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has said that he was yet to be convinced about the new outfit's actual objectives. The Cardinal is not unaware of the ideology of the Sangh.
                                             
Apart from the main objection to the ideology of the RSS, which is rooted in a Nazi-Fascist inspiration, and racist and religious hate against other faiths, there are several other reasons why I oppose any bilateral dialogue with a group whose short history of 90 years is so steeped in violence and bloodshed. 

The presence of Christians in India is historic, and they constitute an important strand that makes the composite culture of the south Asian landmass. Their contribution towards the evolution of a modern nation is also historic. But it is often forgotten in debate that their citizenship, as of other religious minorities, is cemented in the Constitution. They are not here on sufferance, or because they are “tolerated” by another group or political entity. 

As citizens of a constitutional state, they are answerable to other instruments of state, such as the courts, and parliament. How can they allow themselves to be judged by non–state actors such as the RSS?  

A dialogue with non-state actors effectively betrays the State, and the Constitution, and dilutes the rule of law. There can be no question of Muslims, Sikhs or Christians “buying” or negotiating collective or separate peace and security with the RSS. The Constituent assembly saw the creative dialogue required for rule of law and creation of a civil society in which people can live in peace and pursue development and happiness. 

Can Christians, or any other community, seek bilateral treaties with various groups in India?  This suggestion is fraught with serious consequences for the unity of the country. All communities have to live together, and this can happen only if they swear common allegiance to the Constitution and the rule of law. We shudder to think of a situation there two or more communities gang up against a third one. This has happened in some nations, which have been rent asunder in civil strife. 

What will be the Terms of Reference, TOR, of any dialogue? What will the Christian community seek in such a dialogue? That it be left alone? Or seek a certificate from the RSS that it is a good Christian community?  That it will give up all its unique activities, including speaking of Jesus Christ and will confine itself to mere closed-door rituals?  That it will run its schools and colleges and hospitals as mere social work or commercial establishments and not reach out to the poor, the Dalits and tribals, the marginalised people? 

What is the guarantee that any assurance by such non-state actors can be trusted? 

There is an ongoing dialogue of life between people of all groups. For Christians, this dialogue of life is 2,000 years old, beginning in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  

This on-going dialogue between the peoples of all communities is why there is peace in the countryside in such a complex nation, unless fanatics such as of the RSS come and polarize the people. This dialogue, which brings unity in commerce, social needs and goodwill, and a common commitment to the rule of law, is permanent. This is the experience of all democracies across the world. 

Dialogue is good. We need to dialogue with other spiritual traditions. We need to dialogue with different Christian denominations. And in the Catholic Church, there must be a healthy dialogue between the laity, the religious, the hierarchy, and the clergy. This is essential for a healthy church. Let us begin with this essential dialogue. And let the RSS learn more about India and its constitution.

(The author is a journalist, occasional documentary film maker and social activist)

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