Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Failure of Leadership in Past & Present

As we debate on revitalizing Hinduism, it is essential to understand the reasons members of other religions were able to vanquish Hinduism. It is only when the causes of downfall are understood that measures can be taken to counteract their influence and bring in a new dispensation. This is fundamental to any reform initiative or a call for a revival of lost glory.
A lack of introspection on the other hand ensures that such factors continue to plague society and undermine it from inside. This is the first of a mini series of articles which will focus on three major factors which in my opinion led to the defeat of Hindus and whose effect is still influencing us today: Failure of Leadership, Intellectual backwardness and Caste system. This series of essays will also take into account the collapse of the Majpahit empire in Java and the consequent Islamisation of the Indonesian archipelago along with the current status of Indonesian Hindus.
The lack of effective leadership was a major factor in the Hindu defeat. Unfortunately the same factors continue to plague the current socio-political Hindu leadership of the RSS. This is not a comprehensive article on the RSS since that will come later. This essay merely looks at the leadership failures in the past and shows how they continue in the current leadership as well.
1. Inferior military leadership and the inability to adapt to new methods of warfare
Militarily, the Hindu leadership was weaker[1]. While the Turks came from a region where expert military leaders used to develop new strategies and new weapons of war, the Rajputs had stuck to their age old methods of warfare. Thus the Rajputs depended on their infantry which was no match for the mobility and maneuverability of the Turkish cavalry[2]. Further, the Rajputs used outmoded tactics and relied on elephants whose role was dubious since they often trampled their own men. In contrast, when the Turks used elephants they handled them with greater care and used them only to meet other elephants or to break open gates[3].
As military leaders, the Turks came to understand that the Rajputs excelled in hand to hand fighting. They understood the strong and weak points of their enemies and avoided close combat as far as possible[4]. They excelled in archery and pushed this advantage in every battle. In contrast, the Hindu leadership made no attempt to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their adversaries and continued to fight stubbornly in their age-old fashion, even when it did not give them results. The Turks were masters of innovation, while the Rajputs were masters of habit. Not surprisingly they lost.
Even in military strategy, the Turks were superior. The Turkish generals functioned as true leaders directing the movements of their troops and resorted to personal heroism only at critical moments of their battle. On the other hand, the Hindu military leader paid more attention to exhibition of personal valour than directing troops[5].
Further, while the Turkish generals saw to it that they remained away from the scrutiny of the enemy, the Rajput leaders distinguished their elephants or horses with such decorations that they could be spotted from afar. This helped the Turks wound or kill them in full sight of the soldiers so that they became demoralized and often fled the battlefield[6].
While the Turks kept reserves which were pressed into battle at critical moments, the Rajputs committed all troops at one go so that reserve Turkish troops were able to defeat a tired army with relative ease[7]. Neither did the Rajputs ever use any cunning strategies such as clever maneuvering, feigned retreats, attacking from the rear or using spies or bribes[8]. The Rajputs always fought a defensive battle while the Turks fought an offensive one. The Turks fought to win while the Rajputs fought to build a reputation for bravery.
Much is made of the fact that the Rajputs did not hurt common people and did not engage in terror tactics like the Turks. What is not highlighted is the fact that Rajput commanders were extremely careless of the lives of their soldiers and sacrificed them for a false sense of personal prestige. In the event of a defeat, they never thought of disengaging from the battlefield and leading the largest number of soldiers to safety. Therefore casualties were extremely high on the side of the Rajputs, which severely limited future military resources[9].
Finally, the Turks had superior technology in the form of new machines like majniqs, arradasfor making breaches in forts. Shihabuddin captured Bhatinda with ease while Prithviraj Chauhan took 13 months to do it even when he was extremely familiar with it. In 1196-97, the Chauhans and Solankis were victorious in battle. However, they could not capture Aibak who had withdrawn to the fort of Ajmer and despite their best efforts they failed to breach the fort[10].
2. Individual vs. Ideology
The Turks fought with a missionary zeal, which received its expression in the form of glorifying Islam as well as winning precious booty. In contrast, the Rajput armies had no such incentive. They fought for the glory of a particular king and had no chance of winning wealth or social position through their military prowess. Further, while the Turkish soldiers were trained professionals who were well versed in the art of warfare, the Rajput armies comprised feudal levies, who fought for their local leader, not even the king. And they fought only so long as their leader fought in the battle. With his death or defection, they too disappeared[11].
For this state of affairs, the Hindu kings were equally responsible. Instead of inspiring their subjects and more importantly their armies to fight for the state, they sought to direct all energies to themselves. The entire army then became a bodyguard for the king. In such a case, it was easy for the Turks and Afghans to aim directly for the king, secure in the knowledge that the fall of the king would end the war.
There was no second line of defence. This is what happened in the battle of Sindh. Once Dahir fell, the resistance just collapsed like ninepins. And the same pattern was repeated ad infinitum. The Hindu leadership just refused to learn from its mistakes. The battle of Sind was fought in 712 AD. Mahmud Ghazni came in 1000 AD, Muhammad Ghori in 1192 AD and the Mughals in 1526 and 1556 AD. Each time the same pattern was repeated. Hemu was actually winning the war with Akbar till he got an arrow in his eye. The moment he fell down the entire army fled. The lessons of Sind had not been learned even after 800 years. The leadership was just not willing to engage in self-introspection and reform.
Due to the conflicting priorities of individual vs. ideology, Hindu ranks were replete with traitors. The novel 'Somnath' by the Hindi language author Acharya Chatursen, throws light on the situation at Somnath at the time of the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni. Acharya Chatursen reveals that there was a political struggle between two priests of the Somnath temple. In order to gain precedence over the other, one of the priests named Rudradeva actually helped Mahmud to gain access to the city so that the other priest would be vanquished. What he did not bargain for was that Mahmud would kill him and destroy the temple and loot all the wealth that had been promised as a bribe. Muhammad Ghori received similar assistance from Govindraja, the son of Prithviraj Chauhan in Ajmer and Ajaypala, a relative of Chandrasena of Baran. And this continued throughout the Turkish reign.
Consider the fact that the army of Mahmud of Ghazni had Hindus as well. He even had a Hindu general named Tilak. How could Hindus have agreed to become soldiers in the army of a known iconoclast? The answer is that the concept of belonging to a larger religious identity just did not exist. Hindus in Gujarat or the Gangetic belt were foreigners for the likes of Tilak who were Hindus possibly of Afghanistan or the North West frontiers. Possibly it made no difference to them that Mahmud was destroying temples. These were not their temples and the Hindus of Gujarat or Mathura or Varanasi were not their people. So long as their private coffers were being filled, nothing else mattered.
3. Personal ambition and disunity
Hindu rulers never presented a united front to the Turks. They were intensely individualistic or clannish. That Jaichand refused to help Prithviraj against Shihabuddin is well known. What is often ignored is that they never acted in tandem. There were numerous revolts against the Turkish occupation in the initial years but they were all crushed because they were never co-ordinated. Had simultaneous revolts occurred with the various Hindu chiefs acting in tandem with each other, they would have succeeded in driving the Turks out. But uprisings were never co-ordinated because each chieftain was fighting for his own petty kingdom.
If this was not enough, there was the overarching personal enmity with each other, which was not even extinguished in the face of the Muslim onslaught. Not even the destruction of temples in their own kingdoms would motivate them to cast aside hereditary or political enmity and unite to face the Muslim invasion.
What else can explain the fact that Ramchandra Deo of Devagiri helped Malik Kafur to invade the south? Malik Kafur's army had destroyed temples at Devagiri and continued its iconoclastic campaign in its further invasions. Yet Ramchandra did not even protest. The four kingdoms of the south were enemies of each other. That the northwest of the country had fallen into Turkish hands and that the Turks had come to occupy the whole of northern India made no difference to them. When Allauddin had attacked Deogiri in 1296, his victory had been due to the fact that Ramchandra Deo's son Shankar Deo had taken the major part of the army to fight a battle with the Hoysalas. Thus fellow Hindus were to be attacked but not the Turkish kingdom of Delhi. When Kafur attacked the Hoysala kingdom, its ruler had gone to fight the Pandya kingdom. And when Kafur attacked the Pandya kingdom, the estranged brother of Vira Pandeya as well as the Hoysala king Vira Ballala out of his personal enmity for the Pandyas helped Kafur to do so[12].
Shah Jahan demolished the great temples of Orcha in front of the eyes of the captains of the Sisodiyas, Rathors, Kachhwahas and Hadas who stood docilely[13]. When Aurangzeb was destroying temples none of his Hindu nobles protested for fear of destroying their career prospects at court. The famed Rathor chiefs who prided themselves on their so called descent from Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis of myth looked the other way when Aurangzeb destroyed the temples of Mathura and Varanasi. Even after this destruction, the Rajput chiefs continued serving Aurangzeb and rose in revolt only when Aurangzeb coveted the throne of Marwar.
The situation was no different in Indonesia. Raden Vijaya had founded the Majpahit empire in Java in a stroke of genius. He took advantage of Kublai Khan's attack on the then Singosari kingdom. When the Mongol troops were exhausted after defeating the native troops, Raden Vijaya made a surprise attack on the Mongols and defeated them. Thus was founded the great Majpahit empire in 1292 AD. If only Rana Sanga had taken the same action.
But Raden Vijaya's progeny soon forgot his lessons. When the Islamic kingdoms were engaged in attacks on the Majpahit empire, its Hindu nobles used the opportunity to set up their own kingdoms and war with each other. While the Islamic kingdoms acted in concert with each other, they could count on the fact that the new Hindu kings would engage in warfare rather than co-operate with each other. And by the time the Hindu remnants of Majpahit realized the threat, it was too late.
4. Inward Orientation and the refusal to look outside Indian boundaries for threats
The Gurjara Pratiharas made no attempt to dislodge the Arabs from Sind and believed that they would remain ensconced in those domains. That the Arabs were expanding their influence throughout the known world made no difference to them. Only the Shahiya dynasty put up any fight. It was the Shahiya king Jayapala who attacked Subuktgin in his capital.[14] But they received little help from any of the other Hindus. The fact that India escaped attacks in the 8th and 9th century from the passes of Afghanistan owes to the might of the Shahiyas who kept a constant watch over the Indian borders. With their downfall the borders were open for any marauder to come for rich pluckings.
When Muhammad Ghori was consolidating his empire, Prithviraj Chauhan did nothing. He did not even gaze towards the west and preferred to fight battles with the rest of India. Had Muhammad Ghori been attacked while his power was in its infancy the course of Indian history would have been changed. In fact what is not known is that Muhammad Ghori turned towards Punjab only because it was being ruled by the weak successors of the Ghaznavids. The Chauhans could have dislodged them easily but their main target remained fellow Hindu kings not the enemy from the northwest[15].
As late as the 16th century, the Rajput kings had failed to learn their lessons. Rana Sanga invited Babur to invade India and then kept away. Sanga had the golden opportunity of attacking Babur while he was recovering from his fight with Ibrahim Lodi. But Sanga had fantasies that Babur would disappear after his fight. Three centuries of Turko-Afghan rule had not taught any lessons to the Rajput kings. Their foolish pride saw their subjugation and India's domination.
The Hindu rulers refused to help each other against attacks by the Turks etc. Thus both Vijaynagar and Orissa were at constant warfare with each other over territory. It never occurred to them that they could or should undertake a joint front against the Deccani states or even the Delhi Sultans who were unpopular and weak. In fact Krishnadeva Raya could have very well emulated Rajaraja Chola and invaded the north.
In his memoirs, Babur feared the intervention of this king in the state of affairs in northern India. But the south looked to the south or at the most to its northern borders and even able rulers were bound by their own limited paradigms. So internecine was the warfare between the Hindu kings that after the fall of Vijaynagar the last king of its successor state ran to secure the aid of the Adil Shahis who were the cause of the destruction of Vijaynagar. This was because his own Hindu feudatories were trying to rob him. It was when the Adil Shahis targeted him that he took refuge in Mysore.
5. Lack of Character
The Rajput kings lacked the qualities of head and heart, which are so celebrated in Rajput ballads. Rank cowardice was the rule of the hour especially when Mahmud engaged in his expeditions[16]. Mathura and Varanasi did not even put up a fight and its rulers just vacated the city. There was no attempt to harass Mahmud while he was deep inside the Gangetic heartland. Had they even created problems of commissariat and hampered Mahmud's supplies, he would have been compelled to withdraw. A myth of victory had been created around Mahmud and the Rajput kings were whole hearted believers in this myth. In fact Mahmud only had to announce his targets and he could be certain that the way would be open.
Vidyadhar, the Chandel king of Bundelkhand had formed a makeshift confederacy to punish Rajyapala of Kanauj who had failed to provide any protection to Mathura and Varanasi. Rajyapala was killed. Mahmud took it as a challenge and decided to punish Vidyadhar. He met Vidyadhar in 1020-21. Vidyadhar had come with a huge army but he lost his composure and ran away in the night. In the morning Mahmud found the field to be empty and had a free hand in destroying the wealth of the Chandela kingdom. Similarly, the Somnath raid had been announced a year in advance. Yet there were no military preparations to meet Mahmud. Rather there was an increase in pilgrim traffic as distraught devotees rushed to have a last darshanbefore Mahmud destroyed the temple. The only defence came from devotees, not battle hardened soldiers. In fact when Mahmud came, its ruler retreated without even offering battle[17].
6. Lack of Vision
Hindu kings had come to completely lack any initiative and vision. For the past thouand years or more our leaders have had their sights on their petty turfs. Never did they think of venturing out or setting up a new dispensation. Our religion and polity have actually seen no change from those days. The only change was brought by the Turks and Mughals. While Babur had the vision of creating a pan-Indian empire, none of the Rajput chiefs of the time even thought of creating a pan Indian empire or establishing a sound administrative system or bringing in much needed reforms.
The lack of vision is also the greatest failure of the Marathas. They had the desire to fly the saffron flag from Attock to Kanyakumari but they behaved like little more than brigands. Instead of building an empire and spreading order, they were responsible for far greater mayhem. Like parasites they demanded Chauth and Sardeshmukhi which led to massive exploitation of the peasantry, but did nothing to improve the land and increase its productivity. They became such a menace that other Hindu rulers looked to their downfall. In the decisive battle of Panipat in 1761, most of the Rajput rulers stayed away hoping that the Afghans would defeat the Marathas as they did. Incidentally the same factors which secured the victory of Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori continued to play here. Bhao sahib was outmanoevered by Abdali and brought to decisive battle at Panipat in unfavourable conditions[18].The lessons of war had not been learned even after seven centuries.
Even after the defeat at Panipat, the Marathas refused to learn their lesson. They made frequent raids on the Rajput kingdoms and left behind a trail of famine and destruction. In 1806, the Maharana of Mewar was so harried by the Marathas on the one hand and his feudatories, the Rajput chiefs of Jodhpur & Jaipur on the other that he consented to the murder of his daughter Krishna Kumari as the only way of preserving Rajput independence. Yet the Marathas did not care. Between 1806 and 1817, Mewar was ravaged so badly by the Marathas that it was reduced to a state of abject desolation. It was this selfishness and cruelty of the Marathas towards their fellow Hindu brethren, which pushed the Rajput chiefs to seek British protection which was accorded to them in 1817[19].
Fall of Hinduism in South East Asia
The failure of leadership is strikingly seen in the fall of Hinduism in South East Asia. Let us examine the conversion of the Malay and Indonesian archipelago to Islam. The following account has been gleaned from the Indonesian time line[20] and an analysis of the defeat is offered. In the 1300s, Indonesia and Malaysia were being ruled by the powerful Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit empire but its influence was declining towards the end of the 14th century.
In 1401 a war of succession began in Majapahit, lasting four years and the power of Majapahit begins to lessen. At this time, Paramesvara, a prince of Palembang ( a port in Sumatra ) was driven from Palembang to Tumasik (today's Singapore) where he founded the kingdom of Melaka. In 1414, Paramesvara converted to Islam. The archipelago depended on trade and Arab merchants with Islamic proselytizing zeal had been persuading local kings to convert in order to benefit from increased commercial ties with West Asia. A thousand years earlier, trade with India had brought Hinduism. Now with the ascendancy of the Arabs, Islam was to be favoured. But the conversion process was complex and protracted and took over two centuries to complete.
Under the rule of Parameswara (who now called himself Iskander Shah) and that of his successors, Melaka's trading fleets brought Islam to coastal areas of the archipelago. But resistance to Islam was strong. In 1447 Kertawijaya, became King of Majapahit. He converted to Islam on the advice of his wife, Darawati, a princess of Champa (in what is now Vietnam) and began to spread Islam around the Javanese city of Surabaya. In 1451 he was murdered and replaced by Rajasawardhana, who hindered the spread of Islam in Majapahit.
But Islamisation was occurring elsewhere with alarming speed. In 1456 Palembang in Sumatra turned to Islam while the Islamic kingdom of Melaka conquered some regions on the Malay peninsula and converted them to Islam. The nobility of the Majapahit empire remained unconcerned about these developments and remained engrossed in private power struggles. There were further disturbances in 1468 and many hindus left Java for Bali.
In 1478, the Islamic kingdom of Demak was founded which began to make attacks on the Hindu kingdoms. The Majapahit empire was now collapsing. The decisive moment came in 1512, when King Udara, ruler of the kingdom of Pajajaran, a remnant of Majpahit attacked Demak with the help of the King of Bali. Majapahit forces were driven back and many more supporters of Majapahit fled to Bali.
The process of Islamisation now strengthened in East and Central Java. Demak's rulers engaged in covert and overt missionary work in West Java to weaken the kingdom of Pajajaran and its alliance with the Portuguese. As a result, the local ruler of Banten, formerly dependent on Pajajaran, converted to Islam and joined Demak's side. About this time much of Java began to convert to Islam, including Banten, Mataram and Central Java, and Surabaya. In 1527, Demak finally conquered Kediri, another Hindu remnant of Majapahit state. Demak, with help from Banten, defeated Pajajaran and Pajajaran kingdom was pushed away from the sea. It was the only Hindu kingdom left on Java.
However the rest of the archipelago had still not converted. Kalimantan, much of Sumatra and Celebes remained under the rule of Hindu kings. In fact the kingdom of Gowa in Celebes was aggressively expanding under its Hindu kings. But such a state of affairs was not to last for long. In 1565, Kalimantan converted to Islam while in 1579, the kingdom of Banten took the remaining part of Pajajaran in Java and converted it to Islam. The kings of the archipelago seemed to have recognized the state of affairs. In 1600 the Raja of Minangkabau area in Sumatra who had so far resisted converted to Islam. In 1605 the King of Gowa in Celebes converted to Islam and invited other kings to do the same. On their refusal to do so, Gowa attacked them and converted them to Islam.
The turn of the century saw the revolt of the Hindus and the kingdom of Balambangan was founded in East Java. In 1633, the sultan of Mataram raided east Java. The kingdom asked the Dutch for help but was refused. Balambangan then asked the King of Gelgel in Bali for help. Initially the sultan was defeated but he managed to conquer it. Balinese forces retook the area in 1647, but their power was weakened in 1660 when the Balinese kingdom split into nine states. And their influence on Java ended. This pulled down the curtain on Hinduism in Indonesia. Hindus would now be confined to Bali and a portion of Lombok island.
Unlike India where Islam was imposed by foreign conquerors, local princes converted to Islam especially in the coastal areas to gain wealth and power and then used Islam as a vehicle for their political aspirations. Why were the Hindus defeated? The answers are not hard to glean from the available evidence. As in India, Hindu kings refused to put up a united front against Islamic kings and remained ensconced in personal intrigues. While Islamic influence was growing in the coast, the Hindu nobility in Java was engaged in power struggles so that they failed to realize the seriousness of the threat till it was too late.
Even when they acted it was largely in isolation, not in unison. The ruler of Balambangan took the help of Bali only after the Dutch refused to help. And the ruler of Pajajaran was abandoned after a joint campaign with Demak failed. Pajajaran existed till 1579 but received no more help from Bali. It was clear that Islamic kings were uprooting Hinduism but Hindu kings failed to raise a common front against the threat.
By 1530, Java had largely succumbed to the Islamic states but there were powerful Hindu kings elsewhere whose support could have been utilized. No initiative was taken by the Balinese king to combine forces with the king of Gowa or Kalimantan or Sumatra. Nor did the Balinese take any initiative to move against the Javanese states in the 1600s when the entire island was racked by warfare by competing Islamic kings. The Balinese saw themselves as the heirs of Majapahit and saw no commonalities with other Hindu kings.
It was the narrowness of the worldview of the Balinese which allowed precious opportunities to slip by. The final straw on the camel's back was the propensity of Hindus to retreat rather than fight. In 1468, 1512 and 1527, large numbers of Javanese Hindus fled to Bali to escape disturbances and persecution. This flight rather than fight response was a primary cause of the fall of Hinduism and its confinement to Bali.
But this is not all. Islamic rule in Indonesia was followed by rapid Islamic missionary activity in which entire populations were converted often forcibly to Islam. But nothing mattered to the Balinese princes. It was the famed Hindu priest Nirath who had once been an outcaste for marrying a Shudra girl who came to the rescue. Nirath went on reconversion efforts to other parts of the archipelago and helped many of those who had been forcibly converted to return to Hinduism. But his was a solitary effort and he received no help. And when he became the target of assassination attempts, none of the Balinese princes moved to help him. Later when those who were reconverted by Nirath were again converted to Islam, the Balinese princes turned a deaf ear to their cries.
How are the factors that defeated Hindus centuries ago operating today? Let us look at factors which have been identified as the cause of the Hindu defeat and examine their relevance for our times.
1. Lack of Vision
The lack of vision is still apparent in the Hindu leadership of today. The 60s and 70s saw great interest among westerners in the Hindu religion. Yet the Hindu leadership never made any effort to invite them to be Hindus. In fact in many temples restrictions on non-Indian Hindus are still prevalent. And the Hindu leadership has done nothing to make life hospitable for anyone wanting to be a Hindu. The leadership will warn about the increase in Islamic population but will do nothing either to create conditions which would encourage Hindus remain within the fold or create a supportive environment for the integration of others who are interested in the Hindu religion. The Hindu Reform group has several Caribbean members, and several have complained that the RSS brand of Hinduism with its India-centric focus is not suitable for them. However the same blind policies continue.
Suggestion: The RSS needs to develop a platform for Hinduism that is not solely related to India and reach out to non Indians as well as the Indian Diaspora in their own milleu. Many westerners would be interested in Hinduism but there is a real need to reach out to them and create a supportive atmosphere so that they feel welcome in the Hindu fold. There is the need to fashion a global Hindu identity than merely an India based one.
2. Inability to adapt to new methods
The Hindu leadership has failed to adapt to professional skills needed in the world today. There is indeed a media bias against Hindu causes but the solution lies not in blaming the media but creating an atmosphere conducive to building relationships with the media. There is a complete lack of professionalism and public relations skill in dealing with media.
The RSS consistently gives out press statements to the media which are absolutely terrible. Those who release the statements do not even know how to write and present facts in a cogent manner. Further, RSS members regularly write letters to the media which are filled with abuse and hate mail. Frustration and anger ooze from every sentence which only leads to further hiatus with the media as well as others.
In the Hindu Reform group, I have tried in vain to request RSS members to examine the format and content of their letters. Some of us who work in the media have even offered to edit letters to be sent to the media by the RSS. But even the offers to aid have not been heeded. Worse RSS members regularly demonise Indian newspapers and then expect to be treated well by the media. Surely this is not possible. Time and again RSS members have been cautioned at my group about the need to present their arguments logically and create an image that was positive about themselves but no one has ever bothered to consider these words. Instead, it has been easy to target the media.
Now I agree that there is a bias against the RSS and there is indeed a refusal on the part of the Indian media to cover events where Hindus have been at the receiving end. This was driven home to me when I was trying to raise attention on the tragedy in Bangladesh. Some of us wrote to Indian newspapers requesting that they take up the tragedy. One of our members who had contacts with the Birla family even got the owner of HT to request the editorial board to take up the matter. But the editorial seemed to have rejected the request since no such coverage was made. From other contacts I found out that it was politically incorrect to cover events where Hindus were victims and therefore the terrible tragedy would not receive the coverage it needed. And that turned out to be true.
Having conceded the reality of a bias, let me now elucidate the failure of the RSS leadership. Every organization faces challenges and overcoming the challenges is a test of the organization's character. Instead of meeting this challenge, the RSS has not even evolved a strategy to deal with the situation. The RSS has been in existence for 75 years. This should have been enough time to allow it to train new graduates and get them to join the press.
Instead a policy of opposing English was espoused which only resulted in anti-RSS people coming to the fore in the media. Further, the RSS/VHP do need to learn to adjust to modern realities and make use of modern tools. This is an age old Hindu weakness. The rajas who fought Ghazni and Ghori suffered from the same disdain for contemporary realities and refused to adjust to changes happening elsewhere.
In contrast Christian missionaries get far more sympathetic coverage because they inculcate good PR skills and take pains to cultivate a positive image with the press. Even their disagreements with the media are never accompanied by slogan shouting, threats and abuses that characterize the RSS's interactions with the media.
The refusal to look at methods has taken its toll in other spheres too. We are all agreed on the idea that the leftist orientalist view of history is blinkered and suffers from inconsistencies and inaccuracies. The proper way to have gone about correcting the leftist distortions would have been to convene a conference of historians and thrashed out these issues. Instead a controversy has been created and critics have been shouting about historical revisionism which has found sympathetic ears everywhere.
The rajas of old never employed any professional soldiers as leaders of their armies and the same disdain for professionals continues in the RSS. None of its leaders have been trained in leadership. While Christian missionaries are regularly trained in leadership and management development skills which enhance their personal effectiveness, the leaders in the sangh parivar are left to their own wits. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Had they been open minded, the lack of formal training could have been offset by the inputs gained from new ideas seeping through other channels and a willingness to try and implement those ideas. However that has not been the case. Individuals get prominence by mouthing substandard abuse and have no idea of leading people to achieve a vision. A command and control mechanism seems to be in place which may explain why the RSS places heavy emphasis on obedience to elders. But such a leadership style is outmoded and will not work in the 21st century.
Suggestion : The RSS must learn professional skills and employ professionals/train volunteers in modern managerial skills. The RSS desperately needs to learn to interact with the media to create a positive image not only for itself but its agenda. It must recognize its faults and be willing to rectify the same.
3. Inferior Leadership Strategy
The rajas of yore never seemed to have employed any credible leadership strategy. They seemed to have attacked the Turks not with a view to win India's freedom but to be remembered by their followers for their bravery and for their ballads to be sung by Rajput minstrels. The same pattern seems to be visible in the RSS. The failure of leadership in the RSS is very grave.
Let us review the Jhajhar case from the point of view of leadership exhibited by the RSS in this critical event. It is becoming apparent that the Jhajhar massacre was committed by the police who proceeded to blame the RSS/VHP combine. The ever critical Indian media found another stick to beat the RSS with and the newspapers were filled with details of atrocities against dalits committed by the RSS. Many individuals including myself believed these reports and condemned the RSS for a crime it did not even commit. What could the RSS have done in this situation? Could the situation have been resolved to the satisfaction of the RSS?
Actually the situation was not only salvageable but could have marked a turning point for media coverage on the RSS. The RSS leadership should have immediately condemned the incident and offered an independent enquiry to clear the matter. The sarsanghachalak or someone high up in the RSS hierarchy should have also reached the spot as soon as possible to inquire into the incident and show sympathy with the victims. This would have demonstrated seriousness and resolve on the part of the RSS and built its credibility.
Secondly, a quick and independent enquiry should have been held and its results widely publicized with special emphasis on the actual facts of the case and the guilty named. This would have cleared matters. Thirdly it should have instituted a case of defamation against the newspapers which made those baseless allegations and alerted the people to the campaign of abuse against it. Starting out with difficulty, the RSS could have turned the tables on its opponents and forever changed the nature of the spotlight on itself.
But it did nothing. In fact it did worse than nothing. Firstly there was absolute silence which led all of us to believe that the RSS was hiding something. And then came the statement by Acharya Giriraj Kishore that the life of a cow was more precious than the life of a man. Acharya Kishore should never have made such a statement. It is highly insensitive. Surely he could have been more sensitive to the sufferings of dalits. Further, it suddenly 'proved' to all of us that the RSS was really involved in the crime and that it was shielding the guilty. It brought condemnation from all quarters as all the enemies of the RSS found another stick to beat the RSS with. This time the stick was provided by the RSS itself.
There were so many alternatives available, any of which could have brought forth a new dispensation for the RSS. It could have used the opportunity to announce positive steps to protect the dalits and bring about a move to integrate the dalits more successfully into Hindu society. Had such a step been taken, even the antagonistic media would have been forced to accept that the sangh had done a good job.
It would have been forced to re-examine its attitude to the VHP. Neither did the RSS take any effort to set up a transparent inquiry and bring the accusers to court. The result is that the image of the RSS as villain is firmly etched in public memory. There was a golden chance for the RSS to reverse stereotypes and bring laurels to itself. But the opportunity was literally thrown away and abuse deliberately invited.
Neither is there any ability to think things through. Following the Gujarat riots, there has been an attempt to consolidate a Hindu identity that would transcend caste and class. Thanks to the findings of India Today (contested by others), there has been much chest thumping that this strategy has succeeded. I have two responses to this. The first is that a single election win cannot negate social contradictions. Even if the BJP wins, it will not solve social problems which have been existing in society. Will that lead to upper castes sharing power and resources with lower castes in the name of Hindu unity? Will dalits feel emboldened as hindus to live lives of self respect and dignity no longer at the feet of upper castes and feel free to engage in social interactions including marriage with upper castes of similar socio-economic background? These are extremely important issues to be addressed.
More importantly it is important to consider historical parallels. Even a more united group like the Muslims have not stood united in the face of social forces. In 1947 almost the entire community united to demand for Pakistan and then let loose a reign of terror on Hindus in various areas of Pakistan. Yet in a few years the notion of Islamic unity had dissipated and linguistic/regional sentiments came to the fore resulting in the birth of Bangladesh. Now this happened to a religious community in which there is relatively greater freedom in social interactions among members of different backgrounds.
Further, the Muslim identity is one that has been in existence for 1400 years and has been stressed upon by all Islamic clerics. When even the Muslims couldn't stand united in the face of linguistic & community identities, it is impossible to expect this show of unity to last in the case of Hindus who hardly even acknowledge the legitimacy of a Hindu identity. Unless serious reforms are undertaken in the Hindu community this sentiment will dissipate soon and take with it any semblance of the Hindu identity.
Secondly, despite the so called hindu wave, Modi the newly acclaimed sardar of Gujarat has vacated his Rajkot seat because he fears lack of support from members of the Patel caste. Which Hindu unity are we talking about?
Suggestion: The RSS needs to develop leadership and visioning skills and learn to work out appropriate strategies. It must constantly seek opportunities to improve its image and take constructive steps to further the Hindu cause. The RSS must strategise to achieve results and create positive vibes in the media rather than seek to gain publicity anyway.
4. Individual vs Ideology
The RSS could perhaps be commended for the fact that it has been able to recognize the importance of ideology over individuality. Previously individuals acted alone and their actions were not effective. The ideology of Hindutva has been created with a view to promote Hindu unity and create a platform which would encourage Hindus to act together in common interest for the sake of Hindu dharma. The sentiment is highly laudable but there are several problems.
Hindutva has been used to develop a positive self consciousness for the Hindu identity. In the process many hindutva supporters have attacked other religious traditions especially those involved in attacks on Hinduism. Unfortunately, this attack has gone too far. Now supporters of Hindutva refuse to look at the problems which are gnawing at Hinduism from within. Instead of looking at our own problems which induce Hindus to convert, Hindutva has focused on targeting other religions which provide the final and immediate inducements. It is because of such insensitivity that Hinduism is declining and people are joining in droves to leave Hinduism. The movement of people going out of the Hindu religion is a trickle which is fast gaining momentum and will become a raging flood if injustices continue.
Suggestion: The RSS must seriously look at problems within the Hindu community than continue blaming other religions. Hindutva ideology needs to develop a perspective which allows and even encourages self introspection to weed out mistakes.
5. Inward Orientation
The factor of inward orientation continues with the blind attack against westernization. Thus attacks on Valentine's Day have made it highly unpopular in urban India, but this has not diminished the popularity of this celebration. Recently the Indian Express carried reports of camps being held by the VHP for girls near Bombay. Apart from the military style training at these camps, the girls were asked to abjure from wearing jeans and western wear. What is the problem with jeans and casual western wear? Further, professional standards demand that all professionals dress smartly in western style. It is unwise for the RSS to hit out at professionals and professional standards.
In any case the charge of western wear being shameful or titillating needs to be discarded. Recently there was a statement from information minister Sushma Swaraj that Indian films should not show kissing and love scenes. It is an attitude that has been endorsed by the RSS. But our leadership needs to remember that Hinduism has always been accepting of sensuality. The temples of Khajuraho, Konark and Vijaynagar have been decorated with erotic sculpture and are a reminder to the freedom of our society and the liberality of the attitudes of our ancestors. Surely that can be retained. In the ancient period, when the Greeks came in contact with India, both cultures benefitted each other. The westernization of today may be considered a second wave of westernization after the first one in the early Christian era. India gained much in the sciences especially astronomy, architecture and numismatics. Graeco-Roman lifestyles were also common. Yet these changes were readily accepted by our ancestors. Why is there so much opposition now?
Suggestion: The RSS must work in tandem with current lifestyles and trends rather than blindly oppose them. Westernization is here to stay and is perfectly capable of co-existing with Hindu beliefs. It is important that the RSS differentiates between Hindu beliefs and principles on the one hand and Hindu practices (which in any case depend on time, place and culture) on the other. It is practices which need to be changed but not core beliefs. Any dogmatism in this regard will only result in Hindu youth turning away from Hinduism as many have already done.
6. Disunity
The RSS needs to support the cause of Hindu unity. RSS members complain of the injustice meted to Kashmiri pandits by the media and the political establishment but in spite of being part of this political establishment for the past few years, they have not come up with strategies to redress these issues. When the Hindus of Bangladesh faced persecution, neither the BJP government nor the RSS took any cogent measures for the relief of these Hindus. The IDRF did raise funds to help victims but surely more could have been done to raise the issue in the international media and even in India. Similarly the Balinese Hindus continue to suffer at the hands of Islamic extremists throughout Indonesia. As pointed out in this article, many Indonesian Hindus have been forced to convert to Islam or Christianity. The RSS needs to become aware of the unique identity of Indonesian Hindus and the issues they face in their society.
Nor has personal ambition been subordinated to a larger cause. The 'Italian dog' statement of Togadia is a prime example. RSS members seem to be taking to muttering street abuses in public forums in order to increase their own stock vs others. That there is a chasm between the old and the young guard is wellknown. But let me ask some hard questions? What is Togadia's contribution to securing relief for Hindu Kashmiri pundits? What concrete steps has he taken in this regard? There are none. Real work has been ignored for creating a hungama that will secure public attention and notoriety and help in the game of one-upmanship over others in the organization.
Recently, Togadia gave a lengthy interview to columnist Tavleen Sigh for Indian Express. Now Tavleen Singh is a responsible journalist who has voiced her concern over Islamic fundamentalism and covered grievances of Hindus. If anything, she should have received a modicum of respect. Further, the interview was going to be published in a major newspaper so polite manners was a basic minimum guideline by which Togadia should have abided. Instead, Togadia was at his best or worst depending on one's framework. Several times he threatened to stop the interview and his demeanor was extremely insulting. In behaving as he did, he and therefore the Sangh lost the opportunity to gain a fair hearing from a committed writer.
Indeed it is because of people like Togadia that terms like the 'Ugly Hindu' are bandied around which also stick. The evidence left by the likes of Togadia is so overwhelming that even neutral people become anti-hindu. And his example is spurring others to behave irresponsibly. Recently another RSS leader in Bhopal who also belonged to the BJP disrupted a Buddhism meet. The leader entered the venue shortly after the departure of CM Digvijay Singh and started shouting that a pamphlet contained insults to Ram, Sita and Hanuman. The cry was taken up by BJP leaders who went on a rampage tearing up pamphlets and disrupting the meeting. Such behaviour is deplorable and can only strengthen the enemies of the RSS.
In this context it would be well to consider Ramesh Rao's description of the RSS which he aptly described in his article 'Don't Coddle the Goons'. According to Ramesh Rao, “the RSS is a loose configuration of organizations with a tangled network of communication lines, a long history of poor conflict management, unwise exercise of patience at the wrong times and foolish bravado at other times, little control over truant members, and a plethora of affiliates, some of whose leaders have become power centers to the detriment of overall organizational efficiency and salience[21].” I couldn't have put it better.
The same problem of disunity is also present in Indonesia. Allow me to provide the information in some detail. Following independence, the republic of Indonesia declared the principles of Pancasila. The foremost principle was 'Belief in the One and Almighty God'. This was followed by the Ministry of Religion formulating a definition of religion (agama) that required a sacred tradition to be monotheistic, universal and scriptural in order to qualify as religion. This step led to a wide variety of ethnic religions being equated with primitive animism and the hindu beliefs in Bali were among these.
Such beliefs and their adherents became the target of proselytisation efforts by Christian as well as Islamic missionaries. In 1961, the Balinese religious leaders who had so far not identified themselves as Hindu unanimously declared that the Balinese religion was Hindu and received official recognition and consequently government aid from the Ministry of Religion after a long struggle[22].
Subsequently several other ethnic religions also declared themselves to be Hindu after Sukarno began to lay stress on loyalty to an established religion and to escape becoming targets of Christian and Islamic missionaries. These ethnic religions began receiving Hindu priests who were from Bali. Unfortunately the Balinese failed to respect local sentiments and began to impose a Balinese conception of Hinduism which denigrated the beliefs and practices of ethnic communities and proclaimed cultural and religious superiority for the Balinese.
This has led to considerable resentment amongst ethnic communities which has not only prevented them from developing a strong sense of solidarity but also led to reconversion to either Christianity or Islam. Others have even advocated a separation of Hinduism. In turn the Balinese themselves were divided on lines of social status, education and sect which made Hindu unity impossible[23].
A further problem now emerged in the 1980s with the government of Suharto advancing the interests of Islam. As a result of this there was a massive cut in financial support on the part of the Indonesian state. Unlike Muslim and Christian congregations who received considerable foreign funding, the Balinese had none which led to the closure of several state aided schools and temples throughout Indonesia. If this was not enough, fundamentalist Muslims as well as Christians openly began to denigrate Hinduism. Forced conversions to either of the two religions have been taking place in government institutions outside Bali.
As a result many Balinese have begun developing contacts with Indian Hindus which has been aided by the Indian expatriate community in Indonesia. Many modern Balinese have begun adopting Hindu practices from India since Balinese temple rituals cost much money as well as time. This has alarmed traditionalists in Bali as well as other parts of Indonesia and a clash is brewing. Martin Ramstedt, a scholar on Balinese Hinduism warns that the clash of traditionalists with neo-Hinduism “threatens to dwarf the future development of Hinduism in Indonesia[24].”
In turn the Balinese Hindus feel shortchanged by Indian Hindus. Personal conversations with Mr. Ramstedt reveal that the Balinese have been put off by claims of cultural and religious superiority on the part of Indian Hindus so that the gulf between the two communities has not been bridged. In fact they feel pride in preserving the ancient rituals of Hinduism which did not even survive in India.
Suggestion: The RSS must disallow its leaders from engaging in abusive language and behaviour as a way to gain attention. Such behaviour boomerangs on the RSS and the Hindu community it seeks to represent as a whole. Leaders in the RSS must be asked to take concrete steps to resolve issues rather than engage in shouting and screaming tamashas which are so popular today. Extreme care should be taken while engaging with members of other religions especially related faiths like Buddhism.
Further, the RSS must reach out and develop links with Indonesian Hindus in Bali. This should be part of a larger effort to help Hindus facing persecution across the world. The RSS needs to develop strategies to bring about amelioration of their problems rather than cry about them. And Hindus across the world need to be given the freedom to develop Hinduism according to their local mileu instead of imposing a selective variation of India centric Hinduism on them.
To conclude, it is high time that the Hindu leadership considered not just the historical mistakes but also the ones it continues to make today. The situation within Hinduism is becoming intolerable for several deprived communities and the leadership of Hindu organizations is only adding to the problems, not solving them.
The mistakes of the past led to our slavery. The mistakes of the present will imprison our future.
[1]A.B.Pandeya, Early Medieval India, P.34-35, Central Book Depot, Allahabad,
[12]L.P.Sharma, Madhyakaleen Bharat, p.131, Laxmi Narayan Agarwal, Agra
[13]Abraham Eraly, Emperors of the Peacock Throne, P.507, Penguin India, New Delhi
[14]L.P.Sharma P.48
[15]L.P.Sharma P.45
[16]L.P.Sharma P. 28
[17]L.P.Sharma P. 28
[18]Percival Spear, A History of India, P. 75, Pelican, London
[19]John Keay, India Discovered, P.194, Harper Collins, London
[20]Sejarah Indonesia Website ( Indonesian time line )
[21]Ramesh Rao, Don't Coddle the Goons, Sulekha
[22]Martin Ramstedt, Hinduism in Modern Indonesia, P. 141, Indonesia: A New Beginning ( Edited) Satish Chandra Baladas Ghoshal, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi
[23]Martin Ramstedt P.159-160
[24]Martin Ramstedt P.163

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