Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The "Roman Brahmin"

Arun Shourie
"Zee News at 9.40 p.m. on Saturday (August 21) showed clipping of Vajpayee addressing an election rally at Thiruvananthapuram," declared the spokesman of the Congress (I) in a written statement on 24 August.

"He declared that the building of Ram Mandir, abrogation of Article 370 and bringing in the uniform civil code were an intrinsic part of the BJP's manifesto."

In fact, Vajpayee had addressed no public meeting at Thiruvananthapuram at all. But hardly one to be deterred by facts, the Congress (I) went on to describe Vajpayee as "a habitual liar," as one who was making a "completely ridiculous" statement when he expressed surprise at what Govindacharya, a General Secretary of the BJP was reported to have said.

In fact, the answer Govindacharya had given to a journalist's question had been twisted, and words had been put in his mouth in the first place.

A day had not passed, and The Indian Express made out that the BJP's candidate for New Delhi, Vijay Kumar Malhotra had said that Dr Manmohan Singh should take off his turban so that people could see whether he was a Sikh. In fact, Malhotra had said nothing of the kind. He tried repeatedly to contact the paper to have it correct the concoction, to no avail. He sent a strong denunciation of the report, his contradiction was not published.

The concoction was picked up. It became the ground for much moral-breast beating by the Congress (I), and by secularist newsmen. The latter were led by the very editor who had done most to invent "atrocities on Christians". The damage done, after three days The Indian Express put out the truth -- but as Malhotra's version!

Such lies have by now become a hallmark of campaigns of the Congress(I). One day it is "Rs. 50,000 crore loss because of the telecom scam," the next it is some other concoction about purchases of telephone exchanges.... The amounts involved being so huge, the least you would expect is that they would follow up their allegations, that they would produce at least an iota of proof. None has been produced on any allegation. Just "spit and run."

And so confident are they that no one else will examine their allegations that they do not bother to check even the basic facts before hurling the accusation -- as in that concoction about the Prime Minister addressing a public meeting at Thiruvananthapuram. The Prime Minister and his family being involved in the purchase of telephone exchanges? I checked. The purchases are handled entirely by the Telecom Commission. The head of the Commission told me that files concerning purchases do not come even to him, that these are handled entirely by two subordinate members of the Commission, that the file on them just never goes to the PM's office. But what concern is that of the Congress' Spit-squad?

The other feature of the Congress (I) campaign has been, "No to this, No to that, No to everything." Pokharan-II, Lahore, economic revival, communal harmony, Kargil -- "No, No, No." No, even when the step is one that their own governments had been trying to take.

Recall what had been declared as far back as 1991, "We are deeply concerned that Pakistan is developing nuclear weapons. It is hoped that they will desist from this disastrous path. They have already inflicted four wars upon India. In case Pakistan persists in the development and deployment of nuclear weapons, India will be constrained to review her policy to meet the threat." And which party had said this in its 1991 manifesto? The Congress(I)!

Pakistan certainly persisted in its clandestine programme to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. Congress(I) governments scheduled nuclear tests in 1983, and again in 1995. On both occasions, western powers got to know of the preparations. They brought pressure to bear. And Congress (I) governments cancelled the tests. By contrast, Vajpayee's government successfully carried through the tests.

Buddha's tradition abandoned, Ashoka's tradition abandoned, Gandhiji's non-violence abandoned, shouted spokesmen of the Congress (I). When the backlash of popular sentiment hit them, their Working Committee turned turtle: we congratulate the scientists, it said in its Resolution, but the government is yet to go in for nuclear weaponization!

When the weapons were developed, the party was back at shouting, "This government has plunged the sub-continent into an arms race"! And the latest, "No, whatever its merits, why did they release the nuclear doctrine paper at this time?" That is always a favourite: when you can't find fault with something on merits, demand, "But why now?"!

But what could be a better time for releasing the paper? Elections are supposed to be a time when different parties acquaint the people with their views on issues. Here is an issue central to our future. An expert group has prepared a formulation about what our stance to nuclear weapons should be. In the main, the government agrees with the formulation. What better time than elections could there be for circulating the proposed doctrine among the people? It really would be good, wouldn't it, to hear the great thoughts of Sonia Gandhi on the nuclear doctrine?

Moreover, the paper is a reminder that the country is now a nuclear power. The person who becomes prime minister shall have his or her finger on the nuclear trigger. In whose hands they want to place that trigger is surely something people should reflect upon. But as that reminder is ever-so-inconvenient for the Congress (I), they cry, "But why now?"

The third feature of their campaign has been a peculiar species of logic. Who is to be given credit for the 1971 victory? Indira Gandhi, of course. Who is to be given credit for the Kargil victory? The army alone!

For the victory, the credit goes to the army. But if some section of Military Intelligence did not detect the intruders in time, the Prime Minister is personally responsible!

If intelligence was not collected in time, it is the failure of the Prime Minister personally. On the other hand, for the Harshad Mehta bank scam, neither the then Congress (I) Finance Minister nor the then Congress (I) government is to be considered responsible. That was a "systemic failure"!

The lies, the casuistry, the foreign-ness put me in mind of days long past. "Through Madura there ran one day a striking piece of news," writes J. N. Ogilvie in his work, Apostles of India. "It was told how a strange ascetic from some far land had arrived, drawn to the holy city by its great repute, and that he had taken up his abode in the Brahman quarter of the city. Soon visitors flocked to the house of the holy man to see what they should see, but only to find that the Brahman's servants would not permit their entrance. 'The master,' they said, 'is meditating upon God. He may not be disturbed.' This merely helped to whet the people's desire and increase the fame of the recluse. The privacy was relaxed, and daily audiences were granted to a privileged few."

The account is about that great Italian hoax, Father Robert de Nobili. A missionary, De Nobili came to India in 1608. In Church lore, he is credited with having secured among the largest harvest of converts for Jesus. What a current ring accounts about de Nobili have! The personage in seclusion, and then, ever so carefully, "The privacy was relaxed, and daily audiences were granted to a privileged few."

Mosheim in his Ecclesiastical History described the key insight of this fake: "....Considering, on the one hand, that the Indians beheld with an eye of prejudice and aversion all the Europeans, and on the other, that they held in the highest veneration the order of Brachmans (sic) as descended from the gods; and that, impatient of other rulers, they paid an implicit and unlimited obedience to them alone, he assumed the appearance and title of a Brachman, that had come from a far country, and by besmearing his countenance and imitating that most austere and painful method of living that the Sanyasis or penitents observe, he at length persuaded the credulous people that he was in reality a member of that venerable order. By this stratagem, he gained over to Christianity twelve eminent Brachmans" -- does the Working Committee of the Congress too consist of twelve members?! -- "whose example and influence engaged a prodigious number of people to hear the instructions, and to receive the doctrine of the famous Missionary...."

De Nobili put out the fiction that he was a "Roman Brahmin" -- Romaca Brahmana was the title he gave out. Francis Ellis, in his contribution to the 1822 Transactions of the Asiatic Society, explained, "Nobili, who was looked upon by the Jesuits as the chief apostle of the Indians after Francois Xavier, took incredible pains to acquire a knowledge of the religion, customs, and language of Madura, sufficient for the purposes of his ministry. But this was not all: for to stop the mouths of his opposers and particularly of those who treated his character of Brachman as an imposture, he produced an old, dirty parchment in which he had forged, in the ancient Indian characters, a deed, showing that the Brachmans of Rome were of much older date than those of India and that the Jesuits of Rome descended, in a direct line from the god Brama. Nay, Father Jouvence, a learned Jesuit, tells us, in the history of his order, something yet more remarkable; even that Robert De Nobili, when the authenticity of his smoky parchment was called in question by some Indian unbelievers, declared, upon oath, before the assembly of the Brachmans of Madura, that he (Nobili) derived really and truly his origin from the god Brama. Is it not astonishing that this Reverend Father should acknowledge, is it not monstrous that he should applaud as a piece of pious ingenuity this detestable instance of perjury and fraud?"

It turns out that forgery was a regular industry with de Nobili. He produced a "fifth Veda" into which he had smuggled notions which would help inveigle people into Christianity. Ellis found the original forgery in the possession of Catholic missionaries in Pondicherry. He found that our artful missionary had similarly produced versions -- with convenient alterations and interpolations -- of the Rig, Sama, and Atharva Vedas too. And several other "scriptures"!

To deceive people into conversion, de Nobili not only altered his own appearance, he disguised rites such as baptism, the service etc. And he asked his disciples as well as the new converts to retain Indian appearances: "....His converts retained the 'Shendi' or tuft of hair which marked the caste Hindu," Ogilvie writes, "they wore a sacred cord indistinguishable from that of their Hindu neighbours, and they bore an oval caste mark on their brow, the paste composing or being made of the ashes of sandalwood instead of as formerly the ashes of cow dung."

When his rivals in the Church charged de Nobili with dissimulation, he argued that what he was doing was in accord with the prescription of Saint Paul: for had Paul not advised missionaries to be sure that they became "all to all"?

But one problem continued to dog our benefactors. In spite of all that dissimulation, the wretched natives never quite got over the foreign-ness of de Nobili and his associates. In his Annual Letter of 1651, Father Antony Proenca pleaded with his readers, "Among my readers, there will surely be some who could procure for us some lotion or ointment which could change the colour of our skin so that just as we have changed our dress, language, food and customs, we may also change our complexion and become like those around us with whom we live, thus making ourselves 'all to all', Omnia Omnibus factus. It is not necessary that the colour should be very dark; the most suitable would be something between black and red or tawny. It would not matter if it could not be removed when once applied; we would willingly remain all our lives the 'negroes' of Jesus Christ, A.M.D.G. [to the greater glory of God]."

After his death, de Nobili's mission went through many vicissitudes. But the techniques -- that of deceiving people into believing that they were "Roman Brahmins," the show of austerities -- remained the ones he had pioneered. Mosheim recorded of de Nobili's successors, "These fictitious Brachmans, who boldly deny their being Europeans or Franks, and only give themselves out for inhabitants of the northern regions, are said to have converted a prodigious number of Indians to Christianity; and if common report may be trusted to, the congregations they have already founded in those countries grow large and more numerous from year to year. Nor indeed, do these accounts appear, in the main, unworthy of credit, though we must not be too ready to receive, as authentic and well attested, the narrations that have been given of the intolerable hardships and sufferings that have been sustained by these Jesuit-Brachmans in the cause of Christ. Many imagine, and not without good foundation, that their austerities are, generally speaking, more dreadful in appearance than in reality; and that, while they outwardly affect an extraordinary degree of self-denial, they indulge themselves privately, in a free and even luxurious use of the creatures, have their tables delicately served, and their cellars exquisitely furnished, in order to refresh themselves after their labors."

The dissimulation is on display on the public platform every day. In the beginning, the recluse. Then the carefully planned public exposure. The daily audiences to the privileged few. The central claim of being the "Roman Brahmin". The stout denial to being European. The falsehoods which are put out on behalf of, and for the advancement of the Romaca Brahamana.... Alas! The "lotion or ointment" is still not at hand...

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