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François Gautier in his TOI blog ( Sept 17, 2016)
Once upon a time Hindus had power: emperors like Chandragupta, who was advised by the remarkable Chanakya, or Kautilya, possessed territories so vast, that they extended from Karnataka till the present day Afghanistan. His soldiers were feared by enemies – in fact, contrary to what western history books tell us, Alexander the Great, who had the most powerful army of this time, encountered tremendous resistance in India and had to retreat, dying from his wounds on the way back to Greece. Yet, Hindu power had discrimination: battles were only fought betweenkshatriyas, during the daytime and the crops and lives of farmers were never touched. Hindu power could also be ‘soft’: contrary to Christianity and Islam, Hindus never sought to impose militarily their religion and way of life to other nations. Yet, Hinduism went peacefully towards the East and can still be seen today in Bali, Laos or Cambodia, witness Angkor Vat; and towards the West, where it had a great influence on the Greek and Celt philosophy and religion. It should be noted that Hindus, during the centuries to come, gave refuge to all the persecuted religious minorities of the world, from the Jews to the Parsis, from the Christian Syrians to the Tibetans today.
The administration that Chanakya and Chandragupta established, was so remarkable that it was later used by the Mughals and the British with little modifications. Many more great Hindu civilisations then rose-up: in the South, for instance, the Pallavas of king Simhavishnu conquered Ceylon, as well as annexing the Chera, Cholas & Pandya kingdoms. We owe them the superb sculpted temples of Mahabalipuram and powerful cities such as Kanchpuram. Under their rule, Sanskrit went through a revival period and the mandapam technique of temples flowered like never before, as did the Bhakti movement, which gave a fresh dynamism to Hinduism. In the Centre of India, the Vardhamana dynasty of king Harsha, added Bengal and Orissa, to an already powerful empire that included today’s UP, Bihar, and even spread northwards towards Nepal and Kashmir. French historian Alain Danielou wrote « that King Harsha symbolised all that was right in Hindu monarchy, wielding an absolute power, but each sphere of administration was enjoying a large autonomy and the villages were functioning like small republics.
Even after successive centuries of violent Arabs invasions, Portuguese and Chinese travellers still marvelled at the land of ‘milk and honey’ that India was, where practically ‘no beggars could be seen’. The last great Hindu Empire was that of Vijayanagar, where the kings also ruled in a dharmic manner and provided justice, education to all, freedom of religion and the flowering of art and culture. Historians tell us that the sacking of Vijayanagar was one of the most bloody ever in the history of India: rivers ran red with bloods for days, ten of thousands of Hindus were brutally killed, the looting went for six months, all the statues had their noses and ears chopped and every Muslim soldier went back to his land with a bounty of gold, horses, women and slaves…
Hindu power then vanished for nearly 450 years. The British, who rightly understood that Hindus were the principal obstacle to their colonising the land and the minds of India, further undermined Hindu power by dividing India on the lines of religion and castes, a legacy that lingers even after Independence, and shaping-up in Cambridge and Oxford an elite class of Indians who today still think and act British. In 1947, Nehru who had already embraced the British idea of socialism, saw to it that Hindus still be denied any form of power, by promoting other religions, erasing from history books most traces of Hindu greatness, taking over Hindu temples, and restraining the few Indian Hindu nationalists, whom he had to admit to his govt, such as the no-nonsense Sardar Patel.
In the year 2000, Hindus at last came back to power, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected Prime Minister of India. Hindus had great hope in him, but Mr Vajpayee, in true Hindu tradition, showed lack of insight, by giving orders to leave Sonia Gandhi alone and driving to Lahore in a ‘peace bus’, while Pakistani President Musharraf was sending his disguised soldiers to take over the Kargil hills. The BJP was also complacent, thinking that the little bit economic progress they brought to India, would be enough to win the next elections. But he Congress was re-elected for ten years and Mrs Gandhi, far from being grateful, mercilessly went all out after the BJP and Narendra Modi. And once more, Hindu power was snatched away.
Then Mr Narendra Modi appeared on the scene: he was a remarkable chief minister of Gujarat, making his state the most prosperous in India, the least corrupt, the greenest and the only one where ministers actually worked for the people – instead of for themselves or their parties. Many did not forgive him for not calling the army immediately after the anti-Muslim riots, triggered by the burning of Hindu pilgrims in the Sabarmati train, but that did not stop him from positioning himself as a prime ministerial candidate.
More than even Mr Vajpayee, Mr Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014 on aunited Hindu vote, from the Dalits to the Brahmins. Hindus voted Mr Narendra Modi to power, because he pledged many things that they had been yearning for a long time: a Common Civil Code, the removal of article 370, or the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. They also liked the fact that Mr Modi was a fiery Hindu, so different from Mr Vajpayee: he called a spade a spade, was not afraid of naming his enemies and was a passionate and eloquent orator. Mr Modi thus became Prime Minister of India with a huge majority, and all Hindus hoped that power had come back to them after 5 centuries, for at least several generations… (to be continued)…
*About the writer: François Gautier was political correspondent in South Asia for 10 years for Le Figaro, France’s largest daily. He is now the editor-in-chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde, published by Les Editions de l’Harmattan (Harmattan.fr). François has written several books on India: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a Guru of Joy (Hay House 2009), A History of India as it Happened (Har Anand, New Delhi, 2013), Apprendre à Souffler (Hachette Marabout, 2016). Francois practices basketball, jogging, cycling, tennis & badminton. Follow him on: Facebook/francoisgautierofficial