U R Ananthamurthy’s Serial Distortions

U R Ananthamurthy’s Serial Distortions


In the past few days, the Kannada media has seen a lot of discussion pertaining to the remarks made by Dr. U R Ananthamurthy (URA) about Narendra Modi. Many columnists have penned scathing rebuttals to what can only be termed as hare-brained remarks from URA. All this is fine considering we enjoy a relatively free if not entirely fair media. URA was well within his rights to defend himself by substantiating his remarks with articles in any of the mainstream newspapers. He did not do that. Instead, we were treated to a bizarre public statement issued by a bunch of litterateurs like H S Doreswamy, Girish Karnad, Prof. B K Chandrashekar and others. It was titled Character Assassination in the name of Freedom of Expression (translated). The last few lines in that statement were particularly interesting (translation mine): ….it is relevant to discuss if the language and conduct of media is to be regulated by law or is it best left to self-restraint. We are in favour of self-restraint. In other words, this bunch of litterateurs issues a veiled threat about legally regulating freedom of expression. What temerity does this bunch have to even talk of curbing freedom of expression? The answer to this can be traced back to Nehruvian times.

Being touchy of criticism (Dr. Shyam Prasad Mookerji can attest to this), Nehru went on to impose that sly “subject to reasonable restrictions” condition on freedom of expression in the Constitution. This kind of ambiguous wording meant a lot of scope for misuse. His daughter Indira Gandhi exploited it to the hilt when she imposed a gag on the press during the Emergency. It is for this reason that URA and his ilk love the Congress. And the Congress in turn rewards them with awards and plum postings. Now, back to the ill-advised public statement we were discussing. People enraged by such high-handedness poured out their outrage in the Kannada media, a heartening sign.

Serial Distortions

On 25 September 2013, it was reported that URA was at his antics again. This time, he had spoken of things ranging from Mahabharata, Hinduism, Savarkar, Nehru, Patel and others. Destroy Hindutva, Save the Congress was the gist of his talk. While he is free to have his opinion, it smacks of intellectual laziness when sweeping statements are made without a shred of evidence.

We can begin with this assertion: ‘If not a writer, who would raise these issues?’

In the last few years, the Kannada print media has hosted several important discussions on such important issues as conversion, Tipu Sultan and on the message of Avarana, the novel by the noted Kannada litterateur, Dr. S L Bhyrappa. URA contributed nothing to these discussions by way of writing. Indeed, he is only to be seen in interviews or public events, like a typical professional politician. Thus, URA comes across as a politician more than anything else. Words spoken vanish into thin air. That however, is not the case with writing. It takes effort to write something worthwhile. Also, words spoken can be disowned; or they can always be attributed to ‘misquoting’ by journalists. But writing does not offer this leeway. Once something is written, it stays. It cannot even be disowned. Therefore, URA does not write a great deal. Perhaps it was to accommodate economy-mode writers like URA that the Jnanapith award began to be given away under the “cumulative contributions” category.

Note the ambiguity in URA’s wording, which means it can be interpreted to mean anything. And where there is room for interpretation, there is room for corruption. Look at it whichever way, responsible writing is not URA’s strength. In stark contrast, the legendary Kannada novelist Dr. S L Bhyrappa directly initiated or catalyzed all the aforementioned debates (Conversion, Tipu Sultan and Avarana) by way of writing. All the people who contributed to those debates by their writings, irrespective of the stand they took, deserve appreciation. URA was not one of them. Now, it is up to the readers to evaluate which is the more honourable way for a writer.

Further, in politics, it is very rare to hear people cry ‘insult’. Politicians believe in slugging it out no holds barred. That is what gives them their aura and appeal. Similarly, writers are expected to contribute to political discourse by way of their writings, either as facts or by way of symbolic fiction. Instead, if a writer struts around passing irresponsible remarks and still expects to be accorded the respect due to a writer, he/she can only become the butt of jokes. If we look at it from this perspective, politicians are a cut above URA. Folks like him, who cry ‘insult’ at the first hint of criticism directed at them, would do better to introspect. These worthies have no compunctions in labeling Mr. Modi as communal or Fascist. No court in India has convicted Mr. Modi. So, how is it that these worthies call him names so liberally? Perhaps their confidence comes from their faith in the CBI’s ability to pin Mr. Modi in one of the many cases that are being investigated.

Accusing the RSS

And here’s what this selfsame URA had commented on the relief efforts during the Bhuj earthquake at the start of the century: ‘The volunteers of the RSS reached the affected areas swiftly and served the people. But they would not return the gold they got there to their rightful owners.” Isn’t this character assassination? How can a person who labels thousands of volunteers as thieves without a shred of evidence be respectable?

Phony Mahabharata

URA also spoke about a story involving sage Gautama and Ahalya attributing it to the Mahabharata. He further commented that this story was narrated by Bhishma when he was on the bed of arrows. Having read the critical text of the Mahabharata in its entirety in the original, I can say that no such story exists there. The burden of proof is on URA. Here is how he has been reported to have elaborated on this fiction.

“Bhishma had seen the wickedness of the Kauravas. He was also sure that that they were wrong. Yet, he was inclined to be law-abiding. Hence, he was not sure whether to take side with the Pandavas or the Kauravas. This is Hindu Dharma” (Translation mine)

Note the sly manner in which URA seems to suggest that confusion is the essence of Hindu Dharma. He is basically trying to tell his audience that like Bhishma, he is not too keen to take sides with either the Congress or Modi but he would still go with Congress (like how Bhishma ended up with the Kauravas). Here, URA is implying that he is on the same moral plane as Bhishma was. A renowned warrior who could not protect the honour of a helpless woman is indeed a great moral example to emulate! Indeed, Duryodhana himself gives us the best assessment of Bhishma and the other elders of the Kaurava assembly. When the popularity of the Pandavas was on the rise, Duryodhana plans to banish them to Varanavata where they would be burnt to death in a palace made of combustible material. When his father expresses his anxiety about offending the elders in the Kuru assembly, here is what Duryodhana tells him.

मध्यस्थः सततं भीष्मो द्रॊणपुत्रॊ मयि स्थितः ।

यत्र पुत्रस्ततॊ द्रोणॊ भविता नात्र संशयः ॥         (१.१३०.१६)

Bhishma is always neutral. Drona’s son is with me. Drona will be where his son is.

कृपः शारद्वतश्चैव यत एते त्रयस्ततः ।

क्षत्तार्थबद्धस्त्वस्माकं प्रच्छन्नं तु यतः परे ॥       (१.१३०.१७)

Krupa will be where these three are. Vidura, despite being our dependent, is a secret supporter of Pandavas.

न चैकस्सः समर्थॊऽस्मान् पाण्डवार्थे प्रबाधितुम् ।

सविस्रब्धः पाण्डुपुत्रान् सह मात्रा विवासय ॥        (१.१३०.१८)

But he alone cannot hurt us in our dealings with Pandavas. Hence, suspend your anxieties and banish the Pandavas with their mother

And we all know what followed. This is proof enough of how Bhishma’s neutral or ‘non-aligned’ policy supported evil men like Duryodhana. If Bhishma had put his foot down against injustice at this junction, Draupadi would probably have been spared her humiliation. And there would probably have been no war at all. Indeed, the destruction of the entire clan of the Kurus can be root-caused to this ‘non-aligned’ disposition of Bhishma. And Nehru, despite leading a democracy, was likewise in joining hands with dictators like Nasser in the name of the inconsequential ‘non-aligned movement’. URA says Nehru and Patel were like Bhishma. While he was true about Nehru, he is entirely wrong about Patel. Just one evidence is enough to prove it. If Patel was as confused as Bhishma was, he would not have been able to integrate even one princely state to the Indian Union, let alone 500+. Nehru dealt with only one – Kashmir. And it is a headache even today. So much for U R Ananthamurthy understanding of Mahabharata and Sanatana Dharma!

Message of the Mahabharata

As a digression, it is worth examining what the message of the Mahabharata is. It is elucidated at the very beginning of the epic:

क्षत्तुः प्रज्ञां धृतिं कुन्त्याः गान्धार्या धर्मशीलताम् ।

वासुदॆवस्य माहात्म्यं पाण्डवानां च सत्यताम् ।

दौरात्म्यं धार्तराष्ट्राणामुक्तवान् भगवान् ऋषिः ॥  (१.१.५९)

The learned Vyasa narrated about these – the ever-aware intellect of Vidura, the tenacity of Kunti, the righteousness of Gandhari, the greatness of Krishna, the truthfulness of the Pandavas and the deceitfulness of the Kauravas.

It is Krishna that the epic considers as great; not Bhishma. Indeed, on that point, our national epic entertains no doubts. When Krishna comes to Hastinapura to seek peace with the Kauravas, Duryodhana tries to win him over with lavish hospitality. But Krishna is a man who can see things for what they are, unlike Bhishma. Thus, he says – ‘A messenger partakes of hospitality only after his job is well done. Once you do what I want of you, I shall partake of all your hospitality’. When Duryodhana presses him further, Krishna speaks these immortal words –

नाहं कामान्न संरम्भान्न द्वेषान्नार्थकारणात् ।

न हॆतुवादाल्लॊभाद्वा धर्मं जह्यां कथञ्चन ॥  (५.८९.२४)

Desire, indecision, hate, money, hollow polemics, greed – None of these shall move me away from the right path.

सम्प्रीतिभॊज्यान्यन्नानि आपद्भॊज्यानि वा पुनः ।

न च सम्प्रीयसे राजन्न चाप्यापद्गता वयम् ॥ (५.८९.२५)

When you eat in someone else’s home, it is either because you love them or because you have no food to eat. You have not given me cause to love you and I am not short of food.

अकस्माद्द्विषसे राजन् जन्मप्रभृति पाण्डवान् ।

प्रियानुवर्तिनॊ भ्रातॄन् सर्वैः समुदितैः गुणैः ॥ (५.८९.२६)

Ever since birth, you have hated the virtuous Pandavas for no reason.

सर्वमॆतदभॊक्तव्यमन्नं दुष्टाभिसंहितम् ।

क्षत्तुरेकस्य भॊक्तव्यमिति मॆ धीयते मतिः ॥ (५.८९.३२)

The food that you are offering me owes its root to evil. I believe that only Vidura’s food is worth eating here.

In the end, Krishna goes to Vidura’s home and enjoys his hospitality.

What’s noteworthy here is Krishna’s assertion that no food except Vidura’s was virtuous in that assembly. Not even Bhishma’s. He did not choose Bhishma for his seniority. He also did not choose Drona, Krupa or Ashvatthama for being preceptors and Brahmins. He ended up choosing the son of a maid, Vidura, purely for his virtues. Krishna has suffered from no confusions whatsoever. And that is why the epic considers him great. And, this is indeed is one of the essences of Sanaatana Dharma. Likewise, if the son of a tea-vendor on a railway platform is winning the hearts and minds of millions of Indians today, it is only for reasons of his virtue.

Now, we can see why the Mahabharata rates Kunti highly. When all efforts to make peace between the Kauravas and Pandavas fail, Kunti sends forth these messages to his sons through Krishna.

To Yudhishthira, she says –

पित्र्यमंशं महाबाहो निमग्नं पुनरुद्धर ।

साम्ना दानेने भेदेन दण्डेनाथ नयेन च ॥ (५.१२०.३०)

Either by way of Sama(diplomacy), Dana(giving some quarter), Bheda(dividing the united), danda(force), reclaim your inheritance.

इतो दुःखयरं किं नु यदहं हीनबान्धवा ।

परपिण्डमुदीक्षामि त्वां सूत्वामित्रनन्दन ॥ (५.१२०.३१)

Having given birth to you, a source of joy to your enemies, I find myself alone and away from my loved ones and am spending my days eating someone else’s food. What can be more tragic?

To Arjuna and Bhima, she says –

एतद्धनञ्जयॊ वाच्यो नित्योद्युक्तो वृकोदरः ।

यदर्थं क्षत्रिया सूते तस्य कालॊऽयमागतः ॥  (५.१३४.९)

Arjuna and Bhima shall be told that the reason, for which a Kshatriya woman bears sons, has come.

She gives another piece of advice to Arjuna –

तं वै ब्रूहि महाबाहो सर्वशस्त्रभृतां वरम् ।

अर्जुनं पुरुषव्याघ्रं द्रौपद्याः पदवीं चर ॥  (५.१३४.१९)

Tell that warrior legend Arjuna to follow in the footsteps of Draupadi.

This is probably the only instance where a mother asks her son to follow in the footsteps of the daughter-in-law. She tells Krishna to repeatedly remind her sons of the humiliation suffered by Draupadi. From these verses, it is clear that even in her old age, Kunti had no confusions about what is right. This ability to take the right decisions in any given situation is one of the defining traits of Sanaatana Dharma. Finally, a few years after the Kurukshetra war, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari decide to retire to the forest. Kunti, who could have enjoyed the comfort of the palace after long years of suffering, decides to follow them instead. Until the very last moment, she would not have told her decision to anybody. When the time to leave came, she says these parting words to Yudhishthira – ‘Do not hurt Sahadeva; Remember Karna; Conduct yourself in a way that pleases Draupadi; I will retire to the forest and spend the rest of my days serving my in-laws’. If this is not tenacity, what else is?

Finally, we can look at Vidura. Vidura is nothing but Krishna without his extraordinary abilities to get things done the way they need to be done. He is the role-model for an honest and vigilant citizen. He had the moral courage to call a spade a spade. We have seen Duryodhana himself testifying to this. Be it in helping the Pandavas tunnel out of Varanavata or advising the Pandavas against accepting the invitation to play dice or protesting against the humiliation heaped upon Draupadi or being the eternal conscience-keeper of Dhritarashtra, Vidura comes across as a steady and fearless voice against injustice. Finally, when Vidura breathes his last, the great sage Vedavyasa himself performs his last rites and accords the respects due to a sage.

It is because of these reasons that Krishna, Vidura and Kunti become the flag-bearers of the great epic.

U R Ananthamurthy is Bhishma

However, URA could only think of Bhishma! And look at the statement that he makes based on such lowly understanding – ‘I can link to my past. But Modi and Sangh Parivar cannot.’ I presume the absurdity of this statement needs no explanation.

And then, URA narrates another story of Bhishma. This time, the story is related to a bunch of Brahmins ‘ready’ to sacrifice cows for a yajna. Even this story is not in the Mahabharata. I wonder which version of Mahabharata URA is referring to. The burden of proof lies again with him. But even this URA-concocted story is a demonstration of Bhishma’s confusion. This is what he had to say – ‘Bhishma knows that the yajna cannot be stopped. He does not endorse it either. But his sympathies are with the cows’. In essence, URA wants to say that Brahmins had no qualms killing cows whereas he, despite not opposing yajnas has sympathy for them. I have only one issue with this. We are not told whether Bhishma had problems with killing animals for yajnas alone, or whether he was only against killing cows for any reason. I would like to look at this issue from the point of view of the animal being killed. This is important because, for an animal getting killed, it hardly matters. Getting killed as part of a yajna is no different from getting killed for someone’s lunch or dinner. Only a pure vegetarian has the right to oppose animal sacrifice in yajnas. And Bhishma, by virtue of being a kshatriya is more likely to be a non-vegetarian. And thus, Bhishma has gotten it all wrong. I don’t know whether URA is a vegetarian. But, because he is a ‘progressive’ it is likely he is not a vegetarian. And hence, his objections carry no credibility.

At this point, it’s also pertinent to examine URA’s modus operandi: project Bhishma’s confusion as a big virtue, concoct self-serving narratives using Bhishma and as a consequence, equate himself with Bhishma. Next, from this position, create doubts in the minds of the people about Modi or at least wean them away from voting for for anyone at all. URA is not alone in this game. In fact, the mainstream media in the country have been leading this effort for the past 11 years. Yet, Modi has been going from strength to strength. It is a testimony to both his tenacity as well as the intelligence of the populace of this country. Recently, actor-turned-politician Ambareesh praised the incumbent CM of Karnataka, Mr Siddarmaiah by comparing his administrative acumen to that of Modi!

However, one clarification is necessary. Animal sacrifice, including cow-sacrifice was a reality in Vedic India. Gavalamba and Gomedha are examples of such yajnas. In fact, animal sacrifice was present in all ancient cultures. There is nothing embarrassing about it.

The much-maligned Manusmriti, which gets portrayed as nothing beyond a manual for caste-based discrimination has this memorable verse –

न मांसभक्षणे दॊषॊ न मद्ये न च मैथुने ।

प्रवृत्तिरॆषा भूतानां निवृत्तिस्तु महाफला ॥

There is nothing wrong in eating meat, drinking liquor or engaging in intercourse. It is but natural for beings. Transcending them though, is virtuous.

This view was proposed 2000 years ago. And, in our times, it is fashionable to flaunt these same views as ‘progressive’.

Savarkar is a Fascist

If this was not enough, URA goes further and brands Savarkar as a fascist. It is now common knowledge that URA can stoop to any level for political patronage. This is just one more instance.

We can begin by recalling B R Ambedkar’s views on Savarkar. The special edition of the monthly ‘Janata’, which used to be published by Ambedkar, had this to say in April 1933 – ‘The work of Savarkar in social reform can be compared to that of Gauthama Buddha himself.’ There are letters written by Ambedkar to Savarkar praising his work in social reform. These details can be found in Savarkar’s definitive biography penned by Dhananjay Keer. Aravindan Neelakandan too has written an erudite piece on this at Savarkar even employed a Harijan for the job of an archaka, a priest, in the ‘patit-pavan mandir’ in Ratnagiri during the 1930s. Later, when Savarkar was arrested following the murder of Gandhi, it was Ambedkar who confessed to L B Bhopatkar, Savarkar’s lawyer, that the case was on flimsy grounds (The Men who Killed Gandhi, Manohar Malgaonkar). He was proven correct: Savarkar was acquitted. But, by then, he had suffered imprisonment for a year under preventive detention, a law, which today, is not applied even to terrorists! (Well, it will not be applied to ‘young’ Muslim terrorists only). In summary, as far as Ambedkar was concerned, Savarkar was anything but a fascist.

And now, we can look at what the British, whom Savarkar fought, think of him. It is a practice in London to commemorate places of historical interest with a blue plaque giving the description of the place. The plaque near India House, where Savarkar had stayed reads thus: ‘VINAYAK DAMODAR SAVARKAR, 1883-1966, Indian Patriot and Philosopher Lived Here. And, by the way, this wasn’t put up by the RSS! In contrast, the wretched Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar desecrated his memorial. In 2004, this vile Congressman ordered the removal of a plaque commemorating Savarkar in the Cellular Jail at Andaman. The request from the BJP to replace it was stonewalled by the Congress. Indeed, from Nehru onwards, the Congress has always subverted the contributions of true patriots like Savarkar. However, Indira Gandhi comes across as a surprise. When Savarkar breathed his last in 1966, she remembered him as a ‘by-word for daring and patriotism, who was cast in the mould of classic revolutionaries and countless people drew inspiration from him’.

Now, back to URA. He fares worse than a ruthless politician like Indira Gandhi. Now that says something about the depths URA is plumbing. Further, in 1970, Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s government issued a commemorative stamp in honour of Savarkar. In 1983, the birth centenary year of Savarkar, the Films division of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry prepared a documentary film at the behest of Indira Gandhi braving enormous opposition. This information was revealed by the then I&B minister Vasant Sathe during the controversy that erupted in 2004 related to the unveiling of a portrait of Savarkar in Parliament Hall. Sathe also revealed that Mrs Gandhi had made a contribution of Rs. 11000 from her personal account towards the Savarkar Memorial Fund. It is pertinent to remember what Field Marshal K M Cariappa had said after the China debacle in 1962 – ‘Had we paid heed to Savarkar’s advice of modernizing the Indian Army, we would not have faced this humiliation.’ Many such details can be obtained from a book titled Savarkar – The Much-maligned and Misunderstood Revolutionary, edited by Y G Bhave. It is this iconic patriot and revolutionary who appears like a Fascist to the perverse mind of URA.

Supreme Court Verdict on Hindutva

For all the fuss made about it, it is pertinent to quote what the Supreme Court of India thinks about Hindutva. The definitive judgment was delivered on 11 Dec, 1995 by a three-judge bench headed by Justice J S Verma. Invoking a number of past Constitutional bench decisions, this is what they concluded –

These Constitutional bench decisions, after a detailed discussion, indicate that no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms 'Hindu', 'Hindutva', and 'Hinduism', and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of these decisions, the term 'hindutva' or 'Hinduism' per se, in the abstract can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry….

And this is what the Supreme Court concludes:

It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on Hindu religion as opposed to other religions or that the use of the word Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practicing any religion other than the Hindu religion……and it may well be that these words are used in a speech to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian cultural ethos…..There is no such presumption permissible in law contrary to the several constitutional bench decisions'

For long years, the left-leaning media propaganda has demonized everything other than secularism. And now, to witness Narendra Modi defying this dictum and proclaim himself a proud Hindu is more than they can stomach. This is the reason they are pulling all stops to sabotage his march towards Delhi. It is the duty of all well-meaning citizens to thwart these attempts at the subversion of democracy.

Closing Remarks

Finally, to conclude the URA episode, it is necessary to look into his suggestion that Modi sharing the dais with General V K Singh is somehow tantamount to a prelude to a takeover of the nation by the Army. It is an undisputed fact that the Indian Army is amongst the most professional in the world despite a history of being at the wrong end of bureaucratic high-handedness. If such an institution can be doubted, what is the reason to have any confidence at all in the Congress, which had thrust this country into a Stalinist Emergency?

Mr. U R Ananthamurthy, I know it is a little too much to expect a written reply from you. The best you can do is to foul-mouth ‘hindutvavadis’ among your peers at the next public event you will attend. At any rate, I know better than to waste advice on you.

And, before I wrap up, Mr. URA, did you hear the statement of Bhavesh Patel, a suspect in the Ajmer bombings? He has alleged that senior Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh, Sriprakash Jaiswal and the ‘innocent Muslim youth icon’ Sushil Kumar Shinde have ben forcing him to indict the RSS. Oh but of course, it MUST be an RSS conspiracy!

Vasuki H A

The author is an Information Technology professional and a student and practitioner of Sanskrit poetry.