Feb 21, 2024
Feb 21, 2024
by V. Sundaram
Ram Swarup (1920-1998) is perhaps the greatest Hindu intellectual of post-independent India. His most outstanding disciple was Sita Ram Goel, an 'Intellectual Kshatriya'. The intellectual and emotional relationship that existed between them for more than five decades is a glorious chapter in the history of Hindu revival after 1947. The relationship between these two great men was similar to the relationship between Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda in the latter half of the 19th century and between Dr Hedgewar and Sri Guruji Golwalkar in the 2nd quarter of the 20th century. Sita Ram Goel often used to acknowledge the fact that he came back to the fold of Hinduism from the concentration camp of communism only on account of the spiritual influence of Ram Swarup.
Ram Swarup was firmly of the view that the foremost task of an intellectual lay in his effort to break down the stereo-types and reductive categories which have a limiting and choking impact upon human thought and communication. As early as in 1949, in his book 'Let us Fight the Communist Menace', he challenged the orthodox communist party view that every intellectual must be a man or woman of the Left. After the II World War, all the worldly powers in all areas of life effectively co-opted the intelligentsia to an extraordinary and unprecedented degree. The results were disastrous. As Wilfred Owen puts it poetically:
'The scribes on all the people shove And bawl allegiance to the State'.
Against this contemporary situation of serfdom, Ram Swarup in the India of 1949 functioned as a 'One Man Brigade' against communism in India and the Indian State which was getting into the vicious grip of Russian brand of communism under Stalin. Ram Swarup felt that it was his principal intellectual duty to make an earnest search for relative independence from such pressures pointed out by Wilfred Owen. As a powerful political writer against communism, he tried to speak the truth to power.
Ram Swarup worked for Mahatma Gandhi's English disciple Mira Behn (nee Madeleine Slade) when she retired to Rishikesh after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi to edit her correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi which unfortunately was not completed. During this period Ram Swarup engaged himself in exploring the relevance of Gandhism to real life problems, a subject which sustained his interest for a long time. As late as in 1977, he published the booklet called 'Gandhian Economics' as an alternative to the ideology which was rapidly gaining ground among the intelligentsia around him: 'Communism'.
|Ram Swarup was born on October 12, 1920 in Sonipat in Haryana. His father was a private banker. Ram Swarup (formerly Ram Swarup Garg, his Gotra name and belonging to the Agrawal caste) took his degree in economics from Delhi University in 1941. Like others of his generation he too joined the Gandhian Movement during the Quit India Agitation of 1942. He acted as the over-ground contact (Post box) for the underground rebels like Aruna Asaf Ali. He had to spend a week in custody when a letter bearing his name was found in the house of another activist, the future Homeopath Dr. Ram Singh Ratna. He worked as a clerk in the American Office in Delhi from 1942 to 1944. This office had been set up in the context of the Allied War Effort against Japan. He became very popular in several progressive circles in Delhi and New Delhi on account of his capacity for lively conversation and astringent wit. He was a great admirer of Aldus Huxley, Bertrand Russell and a literary imitator of George Bernard Shaw.
He started an intellectual club called 'The Changers' Club' keeping in mind Karl Marx's dictum that philosophers have only interpreted the world instead of changing it. It was nothing more than an academic discussion forum for a dozen young intellectuals which included the future diplomat L.C. Jain, the future Planning Commission Member Raj Krishna, the future Times of India Editor Girilal Jain, and his intellectual protï¿½gï¿½ Sita Ram Goel. What is interesting to note is that at this time Ram Swarup was a committed atheist and this was reflected in the motto which he inscribed in the Changers' Club manifesto in these words: 'Butter is more important than God'. This club was disbanded in 1947 because most of the members were sucked into the vortex of real life.
Ram Swarup's first two books, 'Let us Fight the Communist Menace' (1949) and 'Russian Imperialism: How to Stop it?' (1950) were published by Prachi Prakasham, an anti-communist publishing house founded by Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel in Calcutta which was then the Mecca of Indian Communism. This publishing house was part of their 'Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia' (SDFA) about which I shall speak in greater detail below. The great benefactor who came to the rescue of Bharath Mata at that time by way of financial assistance for this great national cause was Hari Prasad Lohia. These two books attracted attention in high places. Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Union Home Minister, took a decision to establish the 'Democratic Research Service' (DRS), a think tank specifically devoted to monitoring communism, which was formally launched in November 1950. It was sponsored by the family of G.D. Birla and was initially led by Morarji Desai, who later passed on the responsibility to Minoo Masani. It was as Secretary of the DRS that Ram Swarup prepared a 'History of the Communist Party of India' which was later published by Minoo Masani in his own name. On account of strong differences with Minoo Masani, Ram Swarup resigned from the DRS to re-join Sita Ram Goel in Calcutta.
Together Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel established the 'Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia' (SDFA) in 1950. In his landmark work called 'Decolonising the Hindu Mind' (2001), Dr. Koenraad Elst writes emphatically: 'The most authentic and effective Indian centre of fact-finding and consciousness-raising about the communist menace in Asia was undoubtedly the Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia (SDFA).' It published some important studies, which were acclaimed by leading anti-communists in the West and Taiwan, and on one occasion violently denounced in the Pravda and the Izvestia. Until its closing in December 1955, the Centre was the main independent focus of ideological opposition to communism in the third world.
Ram Swarup's main books on communism are: 'Let us Fight the Communist Menace' (1949); 'Russian Imperialism: How to Stop It?' (1950); 'Communism and Peasantry: Implications of Collectivist Agriculture for Asian Countries' (1954); 'Gandhism and Communism' (1954); and 'Foundations of Maoism' (1956). In his 'Gandhism and Communism' Ram Swarup stressed the need to raise the struggle against communism from a military to a moral and ideological level. This book was taken to the attention of Western anti-communists including some Congressmen in U.S.A. Some core ideas of Ram Swarup were adopted by the Eisenhower administration in its agenda for the Geneva Conference in 1955.
Arun Shourie who had the good fortune of being a good friend of Ram Swarup wrote this about his struggle against communism: 'Ram Swarup now in his seventies, is a scholar of the front rank. In the 1950s when our intellectuals were singing paeans to Marxism and to Mao in particular, Ram Swarup wrote critics of communism and of the actual ï¿½ that is dismal ï¿½ performance of communist Governments. He showed that the 'sacrifices' which the people were being compelled to make had nothing to do with building a new society in which at some future date they would be heirs to milk and honey. He showed that the claims to efficiency and productivity, to equitable distribution and to high morale which were being made by these communist Governments in Russia and China, were wholly unsustainable, that in fact they were fabrication. Today, anyone reading Ram Swarup's critiques would characterize them as prophetic. But thirty years ago, so noxious was the intellectual climate in India that all he got was abuse and ostracism'.
In every society we have a handful of unusual persons with an unusual sensitivity to the sacred and an uncommon reflectiveness about the nature of their universe, and the rules which govern their society. Ram Swarup was a rare intellectual who asserted his right to have his own space to walk around, the space in which to stand and talk back to authority. In all his writings he declared that an unquestioning subservience to authority in today's world is one of the greatest threats to an active, and moral, intellectual life. Ram Swarup had the rare gift of exposition which turns popularization into an art. All his life he spoke up for the free mind which is the glory and torment of the modern world.
Ram Swarup, as a fearless intellectual, did not feel powerless in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful network of social authorities, the communist mafia of mass media, the government and business corporations, etc which were competing with one another in crowding out the possibilities for achieving any decent change in post-independent India.
He openly came out against the disgraceful public performance of Nehruvian intellectuals marked by strategic pre-meditated trimming, careful silence, patriotic bluff and bluster and above all a self-dramatizing and retrospective apostasy.
In his approach to public affairs, Ram Swarup often found exhilaration in danger and relished nothing better than a controversy. His was the spirit in opposition, rather than in accommodation. He was firmly of the view that the romance, the interest, the challenge of intellectual life was to be found in dissent against the status quo in India immediately after 1947 when the struggle on behalf of the under-represented and disadvantaged groups seemed so unfairly weighted against them.
As a young intellectual, he had the integrity and moral courage to proclaim that standards of truth about human misery and oppression should be upheld by fearless intellectuals regardless of their party affiliation, regional background and primeval loyalties.
Edward W Said, an internationally known literary critic, beautifully describes the predicament of a committed and ardent intellectual in this context: Witnessing a sorry state of affairs when one is not in power is by no means a monotonous, monochromatic activity. It involves what Foucault once called ' a relentless erudition ', scouring alternative sources, exhuming buried documents, reviving forgotten (or abandoned) histories. It involves a sense of the dramatic and of the insurgent, making a great deal of one's opportunities to speak, catching the audience's attention, being better at wit and debate than one's opponents. And there is something fundamentally unsettling about intellectuals who have neither offices to protect nor territory to consolidate and guard, self-irony is therefore more frequent than pomposity, directness more than hemming or hawing. But there is no dodging the inescapable reality that such representations by intellectuals will neither make them friends in high places nor win them official honors. It is a lonely condition, yes, but it is always a better one than a gregarious tolerance for the way things are.
Ram Swarup, through his life and writings as a fearless fighter for great public causes, gave a cubic content to the above words of Edward Said. All his life he stood upright and talked back to authority. He was disgusted by the unquestioning subservience to authority in the India of his time and viewed it as the greatest of threats to an active, and moral, intellectual life. He often told his friends that the hardest aspect of being an intellectual is to represent what you profess through your work and interventions, without hardening into an institution or a kind of automaton acting at the behest of a system or method.
When he and Sita Ram Goel were fighting together against the menace of communism in India after 1949, Ram Swarup viewed Gandhism as an alternative to communism. In a pamphlet written after the assassination of Gandhiji ' Mahatma Gandhi and his Assassin ' (1948), he expressed the view that martyrdom was only befitting a man of Gandhiji's elemental greatness.
After waging a relentless intellectual battle against communism and serfdom, Ram Swarup turned to religious and philosophical issues after 1957. Apart from contributing a large number of seminal articles on Hinduism, Islam and Christianity from several points of view to important newspapers like The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Observer and Hindustan Times, he also wrote a series of important books on comparative religion and philosophy. Some of his main works are: Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism (1958), The Hindu View of Education (1971), The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods (1980), Hinduism vis-a-vis Christianity and Islam (1982), Christianity, An Imperialist Ideology (1983), Understanding Islam Through Hadis (1983), Hindu-Sikh Relationship (1985), Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity (1986), Cultural Alienation and Some Problems Hinduism Faces (1987), Hindu View of Christianity and Islam (1992), Woman in Islam (1994), On Hinduism: Reviews and Reflections (published posthumously in 1999), and Meditations: Gods, Religions (published posthumously in 2000).
Ram Swarup was an unassuming, quiet and reflective type of person. He never sought a job; he never got married and he never did any business for commercial profit. After a life of strenuous and unremitting intellectual labor, Ram Swarup passed away peacefully during an afternoon nap on 26 December 1998 leaving to the world a splendid example of lonely and disinterested pursuit of truth and light.
When Ram Swarup's Hindu View of Christianity and Islam was published in 1992, Syed Sahabuddin, a Janata Dal Member of Parliament wrote a letter on 20 August 1993 to his co-religionist, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs (Late) P M Syeed, asking the government of India to have the book examined from the point of view of banning it under the law of the land. Syed Sahabuddin's vile attempt to get Ram Swarup's book Hindu View of Christianity and Islam banned by government of India in 1993 failed totally.
An instantaneous reaction from Arun Shourie fully exposed the unfounded prejudice of Syed Sahabuddin in the whole affair and a statement made by a group of intellectuals, under the leadership of K S Lal against Syed Sahabuddin's proposal to impose a ban on that book also had the desired impact.
In their statement on that occasion these intellectuals declared as follows: We strongly condemn all recent attempts in India and abroad to prevent free enquiry into the history and the doctrines of various religions. In particular we condemn the attempt by Syed Sahabuddin to make the Indian authorities impose a ban on the book Hindu View of Christianity and Islam by Ram Swarup published by Voice of India, New Delhi in 1992.
This book is one of the first serious comparative studies of religion written from the Hindu viewpoint; banning it would be a direct attack on the right of Hindu society to develop an intellectual response to ideological challenges.
Ram Swarup was a crusader for ' Sanathana Dharma ', Hindu culture, Hindu civilization, Hindu society, Hinduism as a whole and above all for things, issues and ideals Hindu in character. He wrote in his Hindu View of Christianity and Islam: If religious tolerance is a value, Christianity as well as Islam lacks it badly. Wherever they have gone, they have carried fire and sword and oppressed and destroyed as far as it lay in their power. They demolished and occupied the temples and shrines of others. Any tolerance shown was an exception, intolerance was the rule. Ram Swarup clearly concluded that the destructive record of Islam and Christianity through the ages has been outdone only by communism. Likewise, he rejected the philosophy of ' Sarva Dharma Sambhava ' of Mahatma Gandhi on the ground that the tolerant polytheistic Hinduism can never be equated with brutal monotheistic religions like Islam and Christianity.
Under the 'Islam-embracing, Christianity-coveting, Hindu-hating, caste-Quota-loving' UPA government in New Delhi, Hinduism has become a dirty word and Hindus are being made to disown their identities. Smaller identities and narrower loyalties, once an integral part of a larger Hindu milieu, are being mischievously thrown to the forefront by planned anti-social and anti-national policies. Castes and creeds are becoming more prominent at the highest levels of governance. Such dangerous forces have acquired their own momentum, power, justification and vested interests. Their game is obvious; it is to confuse the nation's counsel, to weaken its will, to create a soft society so that its parts can be picked up one by one and the nation dismembered and destroyed to the total pseudo-secular satisfaction of all tall leaders in New Delhi!
Renascent Hinduism will have to contend with these forces. It will have to overcome the forces of self-denigration, self-alienation and even self-destruction.
I would like to pay my tribute to Ram Swarup in his own words in which he gives a clear and clairvoyant message to all of us: Those who are against India are even more opposed to Hinduism, a name for India at its deepest and most cultural and spiritual; Hinduism embodies India's civilisational dimension and gives it cohesion, integrity, continuity and unity. They know that before they can subvert India, they must subvert Hinduism, that the country's Balkanisation is not possible without prior fragmentation of the Hindu society. Hence, the tenacious attack on Hinduism, their need to unleash caste politics. The game-plan allows the talents of corporate caste giants like V P Singhs, Chandrasekars, Lalu and Mulayam Singh Yadavs, full scope. It allows the Naxalites, the Marxists, Macaulayites to make their full contribution; it allows Pakistan, petro-dollars, evangelists, liberation theologians and several other unnamed agencies to play a crucial role not always hidden.
Are we going to be wise enough, brave enough and united enough to imbibe the letter and spirit of this message and act upon it immediately? This is the question of questions today.
More by : V. Sundaram
|Shri Ram Swarup's writings in 'Voice of Dahrma' are extraordinary and very insightful. I am truely greatful to Shri Ram Swarup for his humble yet extremely lucid and unambiguous expression of views and facts. I am also greatful to Shri Sitaram Goel who I view as an intellectual Kshatriya, who could not be dared during his lifetime.